Priorities USA Regroups

There’s a good article in the Washington Post about Priorities USA – the leading Democratic super PAC during the last two presidential elections – readjusting itself in anticipation of Donald Trump assuming the presidency.  From the story:

Priorities USA Action is merging with a nonprofit voting rights group called Every Citizen Counts to form an expanded organization with an ambitious agenda, according to veteran Democratic strategist Guy Cecil, who ran both organizations and will lead the merged group.

The group — which already has the backing of allies such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the American Federation of Teachers, the Human Rights Campaign and the Latino Victory Project — could serve as a major center of gravity on the left as Democrats seek to regain their footing in the Donald Trump era.

Cecil said Priorities USA will seek to amplify rather than compete with other efforts, noting that the organization intends to partner with the rapid-response war room run by Center for American Progress Action and similar projects. Priorities USA expects to pair up with at least 25 organizations and will convene regular strategy sessions with allied groups, Cecil said.

“We’re trying to build the overall capacity of the progressive infrastructure,” he said.

To do so, the organization is taking on a broad portfolio, assuming tasks that traditionally are in the purview of the national party.

It will continue the voters rights work started by Every Citizen Counts, which financed lawsuits in states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin and registered 425,000 voters. And it aims to be an incubator to help spread local Democratic models, such as the work of Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who has sought to expand the party’s reach in that state.

Priorities USA is also launching a research initiative called the BluePrint Project, which will focus on voters who backed both Obama and Trump and on Democrats who did not turn out at the polls last month, seeking new ways to engage them.

CIA Concludes Russia Wanted to Help Trump Get Elected, Will Congress Investigate?

The Washington Post dropped a bombshell yesterday revealing the existence of a secret CIA assessment that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was done with the intended purpose of helping him get elected, as opposed to the previous theory, which was that it was about creating chaos and mistrust in the American political process:

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

The article also notes that the intelligence was challenged by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Donald Trump himself repeatedly questioned the accusation that the Russians were behind the hacked DNC and John Podesta emails being published by WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign, and the Trump Transition put out the following statement last night in response to the story:

Setting aside the inaccuracy of their claim of “one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history,” the Post’s reporting was subsequently confirmed by the New York Times, which added another detail to the story: Russians hacked Republican National Committee computer systems, but did not publish any of the information they obtained.

Democrats and some congressional Republicans are asking (and in some cases, promising) investigations into various angles of the Russian hacking.

From the Trump transition team’s perspective, this Russia hacking assessment would put another asterisk on their election victory, the first being that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. The fact that Trump himself and Republicans in general gleefully cited the emails being dumped daily by WikiLeaks during the campaign, as well as the fact Trump himself called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email, does not help their case either.  The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote a good article about the political dilemma Republicans find themselves in regarding how to handle this. As national security columnist John Schindler pointed out on Twitter:

Watching this story play out from the perspective of international leaders who will have to deal with President Trump for the next four years, those leaders can draw two conclusions: first, the President-elect only receives an intelligence briefing once a week, according to Reuters; second, that the president will not believe or openly dispute the findings of his own intelligence agency. The latter may wind up undermining Trump himself later on. If he has to rally international support for diplomatic action against a country or organization, and he cites U.S. intelligence findings as his evidence, who is to say that a skeptical country such as China or Russia or Venezuela won’t come back with a response along the lines of “Why should we believe your intelligence when you don’t even believe in it yourself?”

It will be interesting to see to what extent the Republican Congress is willing to investigate this in the months ahead, and if they do, how deep the rabbit hole goes.

UPDATE: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell is reporting that Donald Trump has chosen Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State, according to two sources. According to the Wall Street Journal, Tillerson has ties to Putin and Russia:

Among those considered for the post, Mr. Tillerson has perhaps the closest ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, having negotiated a 2011 energy partnership deal with Russia that Mr. Putin said could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion. In 2012, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.

This pre-existing relationship with Mr. Putin complements Mr. Trump’s push to improve U.S.-Russia ties. A number of Republicans have urged him to be wary of working closely with Russia, warning that it is trying to expand its influence in a way that runs counter to U.S. interests in places such as Ukraine and Syria.

Exxon has a large global presence, and this could introduce sticky conflicts of interest if Mr. Tillerson is selected. The company explores for oil and gas on six of the world’s continents and has operations in more than 50 countries.

Mr. Tillerson, who is slated to retire next year, has retirement funds worth tens of millions of dollars, a value that could potentially be affected by State Department activities. For example, he could benefit from such potential department actions as the lifting of sanctions on Russia.

In light of the CIA assessment on Russia’s role in the election, this confirmation hearing will be a lot more interesting than if Trump had chosen a more conventional nominee like Mitt Romney or Bob Corker.

UPDATE II: Mitchell also reporting that former Undersecretary for Arms Control and UN Ambassador John Bolton is Trump’s choice for Deputy Secretary of State. Democrats wouldn’t allow a confirmation vote on Bolton for the UN ambassador nomination during the Bush years, so he was a recess appointment.

Rust Belt Democrats Want to Meet With DNC Chair Candidates in December

Here’s a good scoop from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti:

Top Democratic officials in four Rust Belt states that voted for Donald Trump earlier this month have invited the candidates for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship to formally share their thoughts on how the party can compete there at a meeting next month.

A letter obtained by POLITICO and circulated by officials with the Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania Democratic parties on Tuesday evening invites the candidates to the Ohio group’s executive committee meeting on Dec. 10.

“As Chairs and Vice Chairs of states in the industrial Midwest — traditional bellwether or ‘red’ states — we are particularly concerned to hear the ideas and plans you and other candidates have to help us turn this critical region blue again. How will you continue to energize the coalition that has performed so well to elect Democrats at times, while also making inroads in the areas where President-Elect Trump did so well across our states? We are also eager to share our ideas,” the letter reads.

“Bottom line: We’d be honored to have you come to our region to hear directly from Democrats, present your plans and ideas, and engage our grassroots activists who are eager to be part of the conversation.”

If any of the candidates accept, the letter notes, the hosts will invite all DNC members to attend.

Hillary Clinton’s losses in this region were perhaps the most alarming development of the election for state and national Democrats. With the exception of Ohio and Indiana, Democrats had a lock on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in presidential races since the 1980s. A combined margin of victory of approximately 107,000 votes in those three states secured the presidency for Donald Trump, despite a 2.36 million vote lead in the popular vote for Clinton as votes are still being counted.

Will be keeping an eye on the DNC candidates to see how they respond to this invitation. Any responses will be updated and added here.

President-Elect Questions Integrity of Election He Won, State Officials Say Allegations Are Unfounded

The subject of losing the popular vote is a touchy issue for President-elect Donald Trump. Yesterday, he tweeted (among other things) this:

Not stated in the second tweet: Trump lost all three states, which also happen to have Democratic governors. In other words, the implicit subtext is that Hillary Clinton didn’t win those states fairly.  Officials from all three states have weighed in (including the Republican governor-elect of New Hampshire) on the accusation:

UPDATE: CNN’s Don Lemon made an interesting observation tonight, asking if there isn’t some sense of irony or payback for Obama supporters in all of this because President Obama had to endure years of questions about the legitimacy of his presidency at the hands of people like Donald Trump because of the birther lie.  [Note: This is a paraphrase, I will add an update to this post with transcript or video clip when it becomes available.]

UPDATE II: Here’s the transcript

MCENANY: He would have won it because he would have campaigned differently. But you have people out there calling for recounts that are unsubstantiated based on no evidence. You have Jill Stein coming on our network an hour or so ago suggesting that there were hacks or potentially hacks and we won’t know until we count the votes. There are people trying to delegitimize the president-elect of the United States?

LEMON: Why would he care? And here’s the other thing. Here’s the other thing, though. I mean, don’t you think that people are going on maybe even the current president is sitting there going, now you know how it feels to have people try to delegitimize you as a president?

MCENANY: I think you do. And in some ways the president of the United States is sticking up for Donald Trump on this and saying —

LEMON: But he did it for years with the whole birther thing.

MCENANY: He asked the question and he got his answer.

LEMON: This is karma.

MCENANY: And he moved on. But no, the president of the United States —

SELLERS: No, he never moved on.

MCENANY: I have to praise President Obama because he has actually slapped this down, and said, hey, you know what, the people spoke, let’s give him a chance. And that’s commendable.

LEMON: I don’t know — I don’t know – wait a minute. I don’t have — I have no idea what you’re saying.

MCENANY: I’m saying President Obama has been really great in all of this, and I want to commend him for really standing up for the people’s vote and saying let’s give this guy a chance. I think it’s fantastic.

LEMON: OK. But my question was, now he knows how it feels to have people say, you know, or at least insinuate that you’re not a legitimate president. Because he did it for so many years. What does that have to do with the president saying, you know —

MCENANY: Well, I think —

LEMON: Because he was being gracious and class in saying —

MCENANY: Sure.

LEMON: We must accept the outcome of the election.

Tulsi Gabbard Meets with Donald Trump

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) met with President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence today, making her one of the first Democrats to do so, amid the flurry of meetings they are holding with potential cabinet and White House appointees.

Gabbard was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the Democratic primary, and is also a vocal opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an issue Trump ran against during the campaign.  McClatchy notes that, “Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, reportedly likes Gabbard because of her stance on guns, refugees and Islamic extremism along with her ability to invoke strong anti-establishment populist sentiment on the left.”

What – if anything – this means as far as a possible Gabbard role in the Trump administration is not known at the present time.

UPDATE:

From CNN’s Sara Murray:

From NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, here is Gabbard’s statement on the meeting: