More than three months have passed since President Obama first asked Congress for $1.8 billion to fund the fight against the Zika virus, and the full amount is still nowhere in sight.
The mosquito-borne virus, which can also be transmitted between humans, has become a growing concern in recent weeks. The CDC announced Friday that the number of pregnant women with the virus has tripled, and that number is only expected to swell as the summer months bring more mosquitoes to the United States and its territories. People with Zika do not always show symptoms, further complicating the ability to monitor the spread of the virus.
Despite the alarming developments, Republicans have balked at the request by the President, offering a fraction of his requested amount. The House on Wednesday passed the Republican-backed Zika Response Appropriations Act, a bill that would provide $622.1 million in funding towards Zika but would also lead to other cuts — including on funds allocated for the fight against Ebola — in order to satisfy Republican demands to limit deficit spending.
Democrats have called out Republicans for failing to allocate the necessary funding, which would be used for training efforts, testing, and mosquito control. The Senate on Tuesday voted to push forward $1.1 billion in emergency funding — still less than the amount requested by the President. No Democrats opposed it.
Some Republicans, particularly those representing the Southeastern United States where the Virus is expected to be the most prevalent, have called on Congress to provide as much funding as the President has requested.
“There is no reason why we should not fully fund this,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said earlier this week. Rubio went on to slam the House bill, saying “Quite frankly, that’s just not going to cut it.”
Obama warned Congress on Friday not to go on recess without first addressing the funding he has requested, noting that it is not yet time to panic but that the issue should be taken seriously. The president met with his top public safety officers and said there is still more research needed to find answers on the virus — research that can only happen once the necessary funding is allocated by Congress.
The long wait for funding has had a ripple effect on the local level, at least for the time being. The CDC was forced to move $44 million from state and local governments — including $1.1 million in New York City — to fight the Zika virus. Local governments will be limited in their ability to respond to other public health emergencies until adequate funding is made available.
By: Matt Tracy, The National Memo, May 20, 2016
“I Can Feel Your Excitement Already”: Sorry, Liberals. Elizabeth Warren Isn’t Going To Be Hillary Clinton’s Running Mate
As speculation on whom the presidential nominees will select as their running mates gets louder, almost inevitably eyes are turning to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden apparently wanted her to be his vice presidential candidate if he ran for president this year. She’s gleefully turning herself into a thorn in Donald Trump’s side. And as Sam Stein and Ryan Grim report, people within Hillary Clinton’s campaign are pushing her to select Warren as her running mate.
My dear liberal friends, I can feel your excitement already. But while Warren will be a great anti-Trump surrogate for Clinton — maybe the best Clinton will have — she’s not going to be on the ticket. Sorry to deliver the bad news.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is that Clinton and Warren aren’t close or even particularly friendly, and personal rapport is a key part of an effective working relationship between the president and vice president, as Clinton surely understands. Warren would come to the office with her own agenda on economic affairs — an agenda more aggressively liberal than Clinton’s, particularly when it comes to how the government should deal with Wall Street. Warren would also bring her own constituency, which could make her an unwanted headache for Clinton, who like all presidents would want a vice president who has no goal other than advancing the president’s goals.
Second, picking Warren would make for a historic all-female ticket, and that could be a risk. To be clear, it’s ludicrous that there should be something troubling to anyone about having two women running together. After all, we’ve had over a hundred all-male tickets in our history, and only two with one man and one woman. But there could well be some number of voters — how many is difficult to tell — who would vote for Clinton with a male running mate, but would find Clinton with a female running mate just too much to handle. It’s sexist, but Clinton is going to need the votes of people who have some sexism somewhere in their hearts, just like Barack Obama needed the votes of people with some racism somewhere in their hearts.
And Hillary Clinton is nothing if not a risk-averse politician. She’s been blessed with Donald Trump as an opponent, and she isn’t going to take any big chances between now and November that might complicate things.
Third, and probably most important, right now the governor of Massachusetts is a Republican, Charlie Baker. That means that if Warren stepped down to become vice president, Baker would appoint a temporary successor for her Senate seat. In other years this might have been a relatively minor consideration, but in 2016 it’s absolutely central to the fate of Clinton’s presidency.
Right now Republicans have a 54-46 advantage in the Senate, but they’re defending many more seats up for reelection. Seats in Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire may well turn to the Democrats, but it’s likely to be very close. It’s entirely possible that we could have a Senate that’s 51-49 for the Democrats, or even 50-50. One vote could make the difference between Clinton getting her nominees confirmed and having some chance at legislation passing (depending on what happens with the filibuster and the House), or finding herself utterly paralyzed by Congress. Giving up a seat for the sake of a compelling running mate is an enormous risk, one Clinton would be foolish to take. Which, by the way, also rules out a number of other potential vice presidential candidates, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
And though Warren won’t rule out accepting a spot on the ticket if it’s offered, there are good reasons why she would view the vice presidency as a step down. It won’t be a springboard to a presidential campaign, since Warren turns 67 next month, and if Clinton were to win and then run for reelection in 2020, the next chance Warren would have would be in 2024, when she’ll be 75 and probably too old for a bid. Warren has built her career on policy entrepreneurship (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was her idea, and she has advocated for initiatives like postal banking), but as vice president she’d have to just sell whatever President Clinton wanted to do. If she stays in the Senate, she can keep using her office as a platform to advocate on the issues that are important to her, and she can probably keep her seat for the rest of her life if she wants to.
The good news for Warren’s fans is that it looks like she’ll still have an important role to play in the general election. She has turned her Twitter feed into an unceasing string of criticisms of Donald Trump, and not too surprisingly, it has gotten under his skin (Trump obviously finds it deeply unsettling when a woman stands up to him). He has countered by dubbing her “Goofy Elizabeth Warren,” which is not exactly the most stinging moniker he has come up with.
Warren’s popularity on the left means she could play a key role in convincing Bernie Sanders’ supporters to get behind Clinton, and the plainspoken charisma that made her a star in the first place will also make her a sought-after surrogate for Clinton in the media. All of which means that once the election is over, she’ll return to the Senate in an even stronger position than she was in before. Don’t be surprised if Warren — to an even greater degree than Sanders — becomes the clear leader of the party’s liberal base as it grapples with a Democratic president with centrist impulses. That could make her even more important than if she had been vice president.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 13, 2016
By most measures, Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) tenure hasn’t gone especially well. The Tea Party Republican, elected twice after an independent candidate split the center-left in both races, has generally earned a reputation as an offensive buffoon, whose antics often border on repulsive.
But as WMTW in Portland reported yesterday, the Maine governor is nevertheless ready for some kind of promotion.
Gov. Paul LePage hopes Donald Trump picks him to be part of his administration if he is elected to office.
If not, he’ll run against Angus King for U.S. Senate in 2018. That’s what the governor said at his town hall meeting in Lewiston on Wednesday night.
“I said earlier that if I’m not into the Trump Administration, I will be running against Angus King,” LePage reportedly said. “Now, don’t tell my wife. She hasn’t said yes yet.”
In other words, the Maine governor is so confident in his successes as a state policymaker, he’s ready to parlay his unique talents into shaping federal policy, too.
The Republican didn’t specify exactly which job he’d like to have in a Trump administration – LePage has no real areas of expertise – and the presumptive Republican nominee, who picked up the Maine governor’s endorsement in February, hasn’t publicly suggested he expects LePage to be part of his team.
And yet, the governor, perhaps tired of his current job and the frequency with which his many vetoes are overturned, is nevertheless daring to dream.
Of course, if Trump loses in November – or, as hard as this may seem to imagine, if a President Trump declines to offer LePage a powerful federal job in Washington – the Maine Republican will apparently turn his attention to Sen. Angus King’s (I) re-election bid in 2018.
As the Bangor Daily News reported this week, some progressive activists in Maine believe that would be a terrific idea.
“Your opponents deserve the delicious schadenfreude of watching the Hindenberg-level disaster that a LePage Senate campaign will deliver,” reads a new MoveOn.org petition.
By: Steve Benen, The Madddow Blog, May 6, 2016
Looking at the 2016 Senate elections, Democrats have an obvious goal: a net gain of five seats would give the party its majority back. And as things stand, Dems feel they have a credible shot.
It’s probably best to think about the landscape in tiers. There are several states in which Dems are optimistic about flipping red seats to blue seats: Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The second tier features seats currently held by Republicans that could be quite competitive if the prevailing political winds shift in Democrats’ favor: North Carolina, Iowa, and Missouri.
And then there’s John McCain, whose lock on his Arizona seat has been a foregone conclusion for decades, but who’s feeling quite a bit of anxiety right now about his 2016 odds. Politico reported overnight:
Publicly, John McCain insists Donald Trump will have a negligible effect on his campaign for reelection. But behind closed doors at a fundraiser in Arizona last month, the Republican senator and two-time presidential hopeful offered a far more dire assessment to his supporters.
“If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life,” McCain said, according to a recording of the event obtained by POLITICO. “If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country, you will see that it is all anti-Trump. The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I’ve never seen in 30 years.”
According to the Politico report, McCain made the comments at an April 8 event. Despite his public confidence, he conceded when talking to supporters behind closed doors, “[T]his is going to be a tough campaign for me” – largely because of his party’s presidential nominee.
Two weeks after the event, McCain announced he will skip this year’s Republican National Convention, insisting he’s “always done that when I’m up.” (Unfortunately for the senator, that claim is plainly untrue.)
All of which leads to a dynamic in which it’s hard to know just what to make of McCain’s chances, and what “tier” he belongs in.
On the one hand, the longtime incumbent has never faced a serious re-election challenge; he has plenty of money; and his relationship with Arizona’s Latino population is vastly better than Trump’s.
But on the other hand, as we discussed a month ago, the senator is not nearly as popular in Arizona as he once was, and there’s at least some evidence that Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) is prepared to give the incumbent the toughest race he’s ever seen.
Before he can even reach a difficult general election, McCain also faces an Aug. 30 primary. Odds are, he’ll prevail, but the fact that he’s facing a challenge at all is a reminder about his vulnerability.
Is it any wonder the Republican senator is telling supporters how worried he is?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 6, 2016
When Bernie Sanders struggled during a recent interview with the New York Daily News, the criticisms largely focused on his apparent lack of preparation. It’s not that the senator’s answers were substantively controversial, but rather, Sanders responded to several questions with answers such as, “I don’t know the answer to that,” “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot,” and “You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer.”
He ran into similar trouble during a recent interview with the Miami Herald, which asked Sanders about the Cuban Adjustment Act, which establishes the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that may be due for a re-evaluation. The senator responded, “I have to tell you that I am not up to date on that issue as I can” be.
The interviews raised questions about his depth of understanding, particularly outside of the issues that make up his core message. Yesterday, making his 42nd Sunday show appearance of 2016, Sanders ran into similar trouble during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash.
BASH: Let’s talk about something in the news that will be on your plate as a sitting U.S. senator. Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of American assets if Congress allows the Saudi government to held – to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the 9/11 attacks. How do you intend to vote as a senator?
SANDERS: Well, I need more information before I can give you a decision.
Though the senator spoke generally about his concerns regarding Saudi Arabia, the host pressed further, asking if he supports allowing Americans to hold Saudi Arabia liable in U.S. courts. Sanders replied, “Well, you’re going to hear – you’re asking me to give you a decision about a situation and a piece of legislation that I am not familiar with at this point. And I have got to have more information on that. So, you have got to get some information before you can render, I think, a sensible decision.”
I can appreciate why this may seem like a fairly obscure issue, but the legislation Sanders was asked about was on the front page of the New York Times yesterday morning and the front page of the New York Daily News on Saturday.
It’s not unfair to ask a sitting senator about legislation pending in the Senate that’s quite literally front-page news.
Sanders’ campaign later issued a written statement, clarifying the fact that the senator does, in fact, support the legislation.
The broader question, I suppose, is whether a significant number of voters care about developments like these. It’s entirely possible the answer is no. Sanders isn’t sure how best to answer some of these foreign-policy questions that fall outside his wheelhouse, but for the senator’s ardent fans, the questions themselves probably aren’t terribly important. Sanders’ candidacy is focused primarily on income inequality, Wall Street accountability, and opportunities for the middle class, not international affairs.
At a debate last month, the Vermonter conceded he’s a “one-issue” candidate, and for many of his backers, that’s more than enough. It’s not as if Sanders’ support dropped after he made the concession.
But when it comes to building a broader base of support, and demonstrating presidential readiness, these are the kind of avoidable stumbles the Sanders campaign should take steps to correct.
Postscript: Let’s not brush past the significance of the bill itself. The Times’ report from the weekend noted that Saudi officials have threatened to “sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”
The State Department and the Pentagon have urged Congress not to pass the bill, warning of “diplomatic and economic fallout.” The legislation is nevertheless moving forward – it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously – and it enjoys support from some of the chamber’s most liberal and most conservative members.
Update: Several readers have noted that Hillary Clinton, during a separate interview, was asked about the bill, and she said she’d have to look into it because she hasn’t yet read it. That’s true. The difference, of course, Clinton isn’t a sitting senator and she isn’t getting ready to cast a vote on the legislation. What’s more, there’s also no larger pattern of the former Secretary of State passing on questions related to foreign policy.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 18, 2016