Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Last Call For Vote Like It Matters

Next time somebody tells you your vote doesn't matter in local and state races, remember 2017 in Virginia.

A Republican seat flipped Democratic in a wild recount Tuesday - with the Democrat winning by a single vote - creating a rare 50-50 tie between the parties in the House of Delegates and refashioning the political landscape in Richmond.

Democrat Shelly Simonds emerged from the recount as the apparent winner in the 94th District of the House of Delegates, seizing the seat from Republican incumbent David Yancey. A three-judge panel still must certify the results, an event scheduled for Wednesday.

Of the 23,866 votes cast in the Newport News district on Election Day, Yancey held a tenuous lead of just 10 votes going into Tuesday’s recount.

But five hours and much nailbiting later, after painstaking counting overseen by local elections officials and the clerk of court, Yancey’s lead narrowed before it gradually disappeared and then reversed, allowing Simonds to beat him by one vote.

The final tally: 11,608 for Simonds to 11,607 for Yancey.

Power sharing in the House of Delegates is an awkward exercise. Committee chairs have to be negotiated as does the person who will serve as Speaker. With the parties split 50-50, there is no mechanism to break ties and any legislation short of 51 votes does not advance. Republicans hold a slight 21-19 edge in the state senate but with a Democratic lieutenant governor to break ties, and a Democratic governor with veto power, Republicans may be forced to advance a more bipartisan agenda.

One vote flipped a seat from GOP to Democratic.  That one flipped seat in turn tied up the State House of Delegates rather than giving the GOP control.

One single vote.

One single vote may be the difference between Medicaid expansion in Virginia and no expansion, which the GOP in the House of Delegates swore to block.

One single, solitary vote.

No wonder the GOP is trying to do everything they can to disenfranchise Democratic voters.  One vote can change everything.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

The Mueller probe continues (for now at least) and so do the House and Senate investigations. They're following the money, separately and in tandem, and apparently the trail of Russian meddling and the 2016 election has led to the doorstep of one third-party candidate: Green Party gadfly Dr. Jill Stein.

The top congressional committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has set its sights on the Green Party and its nominee, Jill Stein.

Dennis Trainor Jr., who worked for the Stein campaign from January to August of 2015, says Stein contacted him on Friday saying the Senate Intelligence Committee had requested that the campaign comply with a document search. 
Trainor, who served as the campaign’s communications director and acting manager during that time, told BuzzFeed News that he was informed of the committee’s request because during his time on the campaign, his personal cell phone was “a primary point of contact” for those looking to reach Stein or the campaign. That included producers from RT News, the Russian state-funded media company, who booked Stein for several appearances, Trainor said. 
“Then I was told by Jill just to wait for further instructions,” Trainor said, adding that he was told the campaign would contact him in the next week with instructions, presumably from the Senate Intelligence Committee, for executing the document search, including precise search terms. That has not happened yet, Trainor said. 
When asked Monday what the committee was looking for from the Stein campaign, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman, responded, "collusion with the Russians." Burr said that the committee is "just starting" its work investigating two campaigns, but did not elaborate. 
Stein did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trainor, who has done on-and-off work for Stein since formally leaving the campaign in 2015, said he is inclined to cooperate with the committee’s request but wants to first seek legal counsel. He said he believes Stein plans to comply as well and post the documents on her own website “in an effort to show complete transparency and kind of wage her own war against [...] what I imagine she thinks is an overblown investigation into collusion.” 
Stein has not previously been a major focus during the Russia investigations on Capitol Hill, but her name has surfaced occasionally. The Senate Judiciary mentioned her in a letter to Donald Trump Jr. in July, requesting copies of “all communications to, from, or copied” to the president’s son that related to Stein and a long list of other, more prominent figures in the investigations. 
Trainor said he would be surprised if Stein ever communicated with Trump Jr., who participated in an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors for more than nine hours last Wednesday. “Don Jr. has been incredibly cooperative with the committee,” Burr said Thursday. 
Stein’s name has also come up in the context of a 2015 dinner hosted by RT in Moscow. Stein sat at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Michael Flynn, who served as Donald Trump’s first White House national security adviser until he was ousted just 24 days into the job. Flynn recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting a criminal investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. 
Trainor said he expects the Senate Intelligence Committee will want to know more about the Moscow dinner, but that he wasn’t employed by the campaign at that time and therefore wouldn’t have any documents related to the event. Stein has said that unlike Flynn, she was not paid to attend the dinner and paid for her own travel costs.

That Russia Today dinner with Flynn and Putin has always struck me as weird, if not outright bad news.  Sure, you couldn't find a better third-party foil to mess up America's elections than Jill Stein, especially if you were trying to throw the election away from Clinton by attacking her from the left.  I always figured Stein was Putin backup plan, considering he had the man he wanted, Donald Trump, squarely in the spotlight.

Then again, Stein's margin in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are what cost her those states and the election.  If she hadn't siphoned votes from Clinton, Hillary would have won.

I don't feel bad at all that she's drawn the attention of investigators.  Meanwhile a Washington Post piece from last week is getting attention because it flatly points out that the nation's intelligence services knew the Trump campaign team was compromised by the Russians, but Trump refused to lift a finger to do anything to stop them...and still hasn't done so.

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

The story goes on to say that the intelligence bureaus straight up told Trump that they had evidence that Putin himself had given these orders to interfere in the election, but Trump's ego refused to allow him to believe that he was helped to a victory he clearly felt he had been granted by dint of his own glory.

And Trump still has yet to deal with Russia. He's not going to, because he's a Russian asset.  Don't take my word for it though, take Jim Clapper's.

While his career had its ups and downs—you don’t work in any trade for over 50 years without missteps—the former far outweighed the latter. Clapper, a retired Air Force three-star general, is widely respected in national security circles, across partisan lines, as a guy who knows his stuff and focuses on the job. Naturally, he’s exceptionally discreet as well. 
That changed yesterday, when Clapper went on CNN to drop an unimaginably large bombshell on President Donald Trump. Since the inauguration in January, Clapper has made a few critical comments regarding the president and his strange ties to Moscow, but these have been largely anodyne. Clapper began showing his hand in September, with a comment that the IC assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election raised questions about why Trump was in the White House: it “cast doubt on the legitimacy of his victory in the election,” he stated
At the end of October, in an interview with Politico, Clapper added more about Kremlin interference in the 2016 election: “The Russians have succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations.” Clapper dismissed President Trump’s repeated attacks on the investigation of his Moscow links as “fake news” with a warning that the Russians “have been emboldened and they will continue to do this.” 
Clapper went considerably further yesterday in his appearance on CNN’s The Lead, in which he finally let his top secret mask drop to say what he really thinks about our 45th president: 
I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president … You have to remember Putin’s background. He’s a KGB officer. That’s what they do. They recruit assets. And I think some of that experience and instincts of Putin has come into play here in his managing of a pretty important account for him, if I could use that term, with our president. 
When pressed about what exactly he was saying, Clapper explained that he meant his words “figuratively,” but that barely mitigates the shock value of what he said. To be perfectly clear: America’s most experienced spy boss publicly termed our president an asset—that is, a witting agent—of the Kremlin who is being controlled by Vladimir Putin. Even if meant only “figuratively,” this is the most jaw-dropping statement ever uttered about any American president by any serious commentator.

Once again, Trump is attacking our intelligence services because they have the evidence that he is a Russian asset.

And most of the rest of the GOP knew this and went along willingly.

The Blue Wave Builds, Con't

Democrats continue to hold a double-digit lead in the generic congressional ballot numbers as Trump is now dragging the GOP down like a millstone.

If this lead continues to hold (or grows, certainly possible if things start going south on the economy or otherwise) then Democrats are looking to make big gains in the suburban swing districts that will allow them to retake the House.

From Texas to Illinois, Kansas to Kentucky, there are Republican-held seats filled with college-educated, affluent voters who appear to be abandoning their usually conservative leanings and newly invigorated Democrats, some of them nonwhite, who are eager to use the midterms to take out their anger on Mr. Trump. 
“If you look at the patterns of where gains are being made and who is creating the foundation for those gains, it’s the same: An energized Democratic base is linking arms with disaffected suburban voters,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who as a member of Congress in 2006 helped Democrats win back the House. “The president’s conduct has basically given voters this permission slip to go against the Republicans.”
Congressional Republicans are scrambling to fortify their defenses. 
On Wednesday, the last five leaders of the House Republican campaign arm privately addressed Republican lawmakers, outlining the sort of suburban districts most at risk and imploring members to contribute to their colleagues. Former Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York said it had been aimed at dozens of lawmakers elected since 2010 who had never faced a Democratic wave. 
The general tenor was: This is not a year like most of you have seen, because you’ve not seen wind in your face,” said Mr. Reynolds, who led the House campaign committee in 2006
While Mr. Trump has seemed eager to engage in the midterm races, it is unclear where he would campaign and unlikely his presence would help Republicans in many imperiled districts. Already, his unpopularity is luring candidates into races once considered long shots. Democrats need 24 seats to take back the House. 
In October, Mayor Ben McAdams of Salt Lake County, a Democrat, announced a bid to oust Representative Mia Love in Utah, a conservative state stocked with educated Mormon voters who view Mr. Trump with disdain. In early December, Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington, Ky., a Democrat, kicked off a campaign against Representative Andy Barr, about 40 percent of whose electorate is in Lexington, home to the University of Kentucky. 
Outside Philadelphia, Scott Wallace, a lawyer and philanthropist whose grandfather was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president, is exploring a challenge to Representative Brian Fitzpatrick in a traditional haven for white-collar Republicans, people who have spoken with Mr. Wallace said. And P. G. Sittenfeld, a Cincinnati City Council member who briefly ran for Senate last year, is being recruited by House Democrats to challenge Representative Steve Chabot in a district that mixes African-Americans and urban and suburban whites. 
“It has all the trappings of a winnable seat if the climate cooperates,” Mr. Sittenfeld said.
Should that climate worsen, Republicans say, lawmakers not previously thought to be at risk could be endangered, like Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, who is facing a former State Senate leader.
Beyond the biggest blue states, perhaps two dozen red-hued districts with significant suburban populations could be winnable for Democrats in a banner year, including those held by Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dave Reichert of Washington State; Ted Budd and Robert Pittenger of North Carolina; and Kevin Yoder of Kansas.

Seeing Steve Chabot knocked off in Cincinnati and Andy Barr knocked off in Lexington would be the kind of wins Dems need in order to take the House back.  And a 2010-style wave election could put dozens of seats in play for the Dems that gerrymandering has put out of reach, places where Dems would need a double-digit advantage to win.

That's why the GOP is running scared right now.  They know the axe is coming.


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