Beto O’Rourke Will Run Against Ted Cruz in Texas 2018 Senate Race

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) will announce on Friday plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. From the Houston Chronicle:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat and ex-punk rocker who pulled a stunning upset to win his House seat six years ago, plans to declare his candidacy on Friday for the Senate seat held by Ted Cruz, according to Democratic sources in Texas.

O’Rourke’s fledgling campaign has scheduled an announcement on Friday in El Paso, his hometown. He has traveled heavily in Texas over the last three months making contacts, barely concealing his political plans.

“I’m very moved to do it,” O’Rourke, 44, said in an interview earlier this month, adding that he had reached the “emotional decision” about his candidacy.

Campaign aides declined to confirm that he will enter the 2018 Senate race.

The article also points out that Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) is still thinking about whether or not to get in this race, though the article notes that Castro has climbed the ladder in the Democratic House caucus farther and faster than O’Rourke, implying that Castro would have more to lose if his Senate run fell short. Most of the Texas Democrats I’ve spoken to in the past several weeks and months mentioned Castro as a probable candidate for 2018 and possibly their best (albeit longshot) chance at unseating Ted Cruz.

Millions of Americans Could Lose Health Insurance Under Republican Health Care Proposal

Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration had 24 million reasons to be unhappy on Monday: that’s the number of Americans who would lose their health insurance under the Republican-crafted American Health Care Act by 2026, according to a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.  The major findings of the CBO estimate:

  • The AHCA would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion from 2017-2026.
  • The biggest savings would come from reductions in Medicaid and the elimination of subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act.
  • The biggest costs would come from repealing changes to the Internal Revenue Code caused by the ACA.
  • In 2018, there would be 14 million more uninsured people than under the current ACA law.
  • This figure will continue to increase by 21 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026.
  • By 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be without health insurance, compared to 28 million people for current projections under the ACA.
  • The reduction in insurance coverage between 2018-2026 would be in large part from states discontinuing the Medicaid expansion program offered under the ACA.
  • In 2018 and 2019, average premiums for single policyholders would be 15-20 percent higher than under the current law. Average premiums would start to decrease in 2020.
  • By 2026, average premiums for single policy holders would be 10 percent lower than under the current law.
  • However, the savings on premiums (or lack thereof) vary by age:
    • For a 21-year-old: 20-25 percent less
    • For a 40-year-old: 8-10 percent less
    • For a 64-year-old: 20-25 percent higher
  • Medicaid spending would decrease by $880 billion from 2017-2026.
  • By 2026, Medicaid spending would be 25 percent less than what the CBO estimates currently under the ACA.

Republicans – who had previously cited CBO estimates as evidence to attack the ACA – had been preemptively attacking or trying to question the credibility of the agency in the days leading up to the estimate’s release. Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, told Fox News, “We will see what the score is, in fact in the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless.” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters, “We disagree strenuously,” with the CBO’s findings.

Not all Republicans were optimistic about the proposed law, even before the CBO estimate was released. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) warned House Republicans that they would be risking their majority if they voted for the AHCA, and told them, “Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote.”

Opposition to the bill is not limited to Democrats. A variety of organizations ranging from the left, right and center have all publicly come out against the AHCA. They include the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, Moveon.org, and the Center for American Progress.

Democrats attacked the AHCA almost immediately after its unveiling last week, because it finally gave them a concrete Republican policy proposal to target after nearly seven years of a vague and undefined “repeal and replace” pledge Republicans offered as an alternative to the ACA.  The CBO estimate will provide them with quantifiable data for campaign ads and talking points to target Republicans running for election or reelection in the 2017 and 2018 cycles.

In a statement, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said, “Donald Trump’s ‘insurance for everybody’ pledge was a big fat lie.”

“The CBO, which is headed by a Republican-appointed director, just made it clear that Trump’s health care plan will cause up to 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance. At the same time, the plan slashes Medicaid, drives up the cost of care for older Americans, and defunds life-saving services provided by Planned Parenthood. The only winners here are Trump, and the corporations and rich people who get to pocket new tax breaks.”

“Of course, instead of admitting that the bill would leave millions without health insurance, Republicans are desperately trying to discredit the CBO with more ‘alternative facts.’ The American people are smarter than that.”

Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement saying, “Every single House Republican owns this catastrophic bill and should be prepared for backlash at the ballot box, particularly given the anticipated loss of coverage for 14 million people as early as next year.”

UPDATE: Politico viewed a White House assessment of the AHCA which estimated 26 million Americans would lose their health insurance by 2026 – two million more than the CBO estimate. The explanation for the document from White House Communications Director Michael Dubke was, “This is OMB trying to project what CBO’s score will be using CBO’s methodology.”

Democratic Senator Accuses Attorney General of Perjury

Minnesota Senator Al Franken said he thinks Attorney General Jeff Sessions committed perjury when he failed to disclose his meetings with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearing. The written defense of Sessions’s testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee did not convince Franken.

“It’s hard to come to any other conclusion than he just perjured himself,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. It was Franken who asked the key question during the confirmation hearing whose response put Sessions in the center of a media and political firestorm. The controversy forced Sessions to recuse himself from any Department of Justice investigation into Russia’s hacking during the 2016 election, coming amidst numerous calls from Democrats for him to resign.

Some context here: Al Franken – who previously was a Saturday Night Live cast member, as well as a liberal pundit and talk radio host – has kept pretty quiet in terms of partisan rhetoric since he was elected to the Senate. Franken and Sessions were both members of that elite political club that which, despite sharp political differences, tends to place an emphasis on decorum among its members.

In other words, accusing Sessions of perjury is not a charge that Franken makes lightly. I’m old enough to remember the controversy surrounding John Ashcroft’s nomination as attorney general. The controversy over Sessions even before the Russia controversy erupted makes Ashcroft look tame by comparison. 

Heidi Heitkamp Endorses Pete Buttigieg for DNC Chairman

ATLANTA – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) endorsed South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg in his race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. “Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate who has demonstrated he has what it takes to organize and win in places where Democrats haven’t competed for years,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “This is bigger than what happened in 2016 and what will happen in 2018. This is about the future of our party. Pete Buttigieg offers us the best opportunity to be put on a path to victory for decades to come. I proudly endorse Pete Buttigieg and a fresh start for the Democratic Party.”

Heitkamp’s endorsement offers Buttigieg one final big-name endorsement – though she is not a voting DNC member – less than 24 hours before Democrats elect their next chairman. Though the two front-runners in the race continue to be Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Buttigieg has been quietly gaining momentum and endorsements – most notably from five former DNC chairs, including Governor Howard Dean – in recent weeks and has emerged as the leading candidate from the rest of the field.

While the Ellison-Perez battle is seen by many observers and journalists as a proxy war through the prism of the 2016 primaries – Ellison was a Bernie Sanders supporter and Sanders has endorsed him in this race, Perez is seen as having the support of many former cabinet officials in the Obama administration and people close to the former president, including Vice President Joe Biden. Buttigieg – who wrote an essay praising Sanders when he was still in high school and endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 – is perceived by many as a possible alternative candidate who is not tainted by the lingering Clinton-Sanders divisions within the party. At the recent DNC forum in Baltimore less than two weeks ago, Buttigieg said, “I didn’t enjoy the 2016 primary the first time. I don’t know why we would want to relive it a second time.”

Heitkamp is considered one of the Senate Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2018. Though North Dakota has a record of electing Democratic senators like Heitkamp, Byron Dorgan, and Kent Conrad in the past, Donald Trump won the state by 36 points in 2016.

Howard Dean Calls Top Senate Democrat’s Endorsement “the Kiss of Death”

ATLANTA — Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean took a swipe at Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer while addressing a room full of DNC members earlier today.

“I think Chuck Schumer’s endorsement is the kiss of death,” Dean said at a lunch organized by South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running to be the next chairman of the organization.  Dean has endorsed Buttigieg.

The context for the comment was an argument that Dean – then the DNC chairman – and Schumer – then the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – had approximately a decade ago over use of party funds. According to Dean, Schumer wanted more money from the DNC for his committee, a decision Dean opposed by investing the money in state and local parties. During Dean and Schumer’s tenures as chairs of their respective committees, Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress in 2006, and expanded their congressional majorities and won the White House in 2008.

The subtext to Dean’s comment – implicit or not – is the fact that Schumer was one of the earliest and most prominent Democrats to endorse Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) in the DNC race when it began in late 2016.  Ellison was considered one of the frontrunners in the race along with former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez for the past several weeks, but Perez has apparently seized the momentum in the final stretch of the race after unveiling a series of endorsements from voting members of the DNC in support of his candidacy over the past 48 hours.  According to Politico, Schumer sent out a letter to DNC members yesterday reaffirming his support for Ellison and defending him on Israel.

Native American Democrat Blasts President Trump’s “Pocahontas” Insult

ATLANTA — A Native American Democratic official blasted President Donald Trump’s use of “Pocahontas” as an insult in his ongoing war of words with Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren. “There has been no outrage about ‘Pocahontas,’” Frank LaMere said during a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Native American Council. “If he had said the N-word, the whole Democratic Party would have been after him. ‘Pocahontas’ is no different.”  LaMere is the associate chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party and a DNC member.

The Pocahontas insult – a reference to the 17th century Native American from Virginia’s colonial period – is in regard to Senator Warren’s claimed Native American heritage, which became an issue during her 2012 campaign in Massachusetts. Republican incumbent Scott Brown challenged her ancestry and seemingly implied that she was a beneficiary of affirmative action by claiming Indian heritage during school and job applications.

Rion Ramirez, the chairman of the DNC Native American Council, elaborated on LaMere’s comment, saying “She [Senator Warren] needs to take him [President Trump] to task,” for the Pocahontas insult, before adding that she also needed to elaborate on her own ancestry. “She needs to step up and explain her relationship with Indian country.”

Senate Finance Committee Democrats Boycott Confirmation Votes

Happening this morning on Capitol Hill:

Senate Democrats on Tuesday refused to show up to committee confirmation votes on Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price.

Democrats led by Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden announced they would not participate in the session just as the panel was scheduled to vote.

Democrats suggested Mnuchin and Price misled senators in testimony to Congress and said they wanted more information.

At issue: in Mnuchin’s case, an explosive report from the Columbus Dispatch alleging he misled the Finance Committee on OneWest Bank’s practice of robo-signing on foreclosure documents.  More details from the story:

“Robo-signing” is the informal term for when a mortgage company employee signs hundreds of foreclosures, swearing they have scrutinized the documents as required by law when in fact they have not.

“OneWest Bank did not ‘robo-sign’ documents,” Mnuchin wrote in response to questions from individual senators, “and as the only bank to successfully complete the Independent Foreclosure Review required by federal banking regulators to investigate allegations of ‘robo-signing,’ I am proud of our institution’s extremely low error rate.”

But a Dispatch analysis of nearly four dozen foreclosure cases filed by OneWest in Franklin County in 2010 alone shows that the company frequently used robo-signers. The vast majority of the Columbus-area cases were signed by 11 different people in Travis County, Texas. Those employees called themselves vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, managers and assistant secretaries. In three local cases, a judge dismissed OneWest foreclosure proceedings specifically based on inaccurate robo-signings.

At issue in Price’s case is the revelation by company officials from Innate Immunotherapeutics that Price did in fact get an offer to buy company stock at a 12 percent discount, contradicting Price’s sworn testimony.   The value of the company’s shares has tripled since the offering.

Here’s the statement from Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon):