Allen West holds live Facebook event on 17 July 2020, three days before his election as the new chairman of the Texas GOP. Allen West YouTube video
[Ed. – This should bode well for November. It’s a strong affirmation from the state party that there won’t be a feint to the left. Only the state GOP of Florida really rivals that of Texas in terms of importance to national momentum. As the article notes, it’s especially significant in a year when the Democrats are going all-out to make inroads in Texas races. Congratulations to Texas and Chairman West.]
Former U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida, a firebrand conservative who once called for President Barack Obama’s impeachment following a short stint in Congress, was elected chair of the Republican Party of Texas during a turbulent virtual convention early Monday.
West’s ascension comes four months before what could be an unusually competitive Election Day in America’s biggest red state. …
West, who was elected to Congress in 2010 and moved to Texas after serving just one term, won the leadership post during a virtual convention that was wracked by delays and technical problems. …
Former Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to speak on behalf of presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden this August at the Democratic National Convention, according to the Associated Press.
Kasich is one of many high level Republicans expected to support Biden, an anonymous source “with direct knowledge of the plans” told the AP.
YOUNGSTOWN, OH – MARCH 14: Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks to supporters at a town hall meeting at Brilex Industries, Inc. on March 14, 2016 in Youngstown, Ohio. The campaign stop comes less than 24 hours before polls open in Ohio’s winner-take-all primary election. (Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)
Kasich throwing his support behind Biden could help the former Vice President win the Buckeye State, where polling from RCP shows a tight race between the two presidential contenders. In 2016, Trump won Ohio by over 8% of the vote against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
While requesting an FBI briefing, top House and Senate Democrats said that Republican Senators are using messages from Moscow To investigate Biden.
The letter was written by Speaker Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Schumer, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and ranking Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Mark Warner to FBI Director Chris Wray:
Dear Director Wray:
We write to request that the Federal Bureau of Investigation provide a defensive counterintelligence briefing to all Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate regarding foreign efforts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
We are gravely concerned, in particular, that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November.
Given the seriousness and specificity of these threats, as members of congressional leadership and the congressional intelligence committees we believe it is imperative that the FBI provide a classified defensive briefing to all Members of Congress and that the briefing draw on all-source intelligence information and analysis, consistent with due regard for the protection of sensitive intelligence sources and methods.
Due to the ongoing nature of these threats, we ask that the FBI provide this briefing prior to the August recess at the earliest possible opportunity, and that your office outline a plan for the briefing by Monday, July 20.
We appreciate your prompt attention to this important request.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump insisted “good things” were underway on the next COVID-19 aid package Monday as he met with Republican congressional leaders, but new divisions between the Senate GOP and the White House posed fresh challenges as the crisis worsened and emergency relief was expiring.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been prepared to roll out the $1 trillion package in a matter of days. But the administration criticized more virus testing money and interjected other priorities that could complicate quick passage.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Trump said as the meeting got underway.
But the president acknowledged the “big flare up” of rising caseloads and deaths in the states. “Unfortunately, this is something that’s very tough,” he said.
Lawmakers were returning to a Capitol still off-limits to tourists, another sign of the nation’s difficulty containing the coronavirus. Rather than easing, the pandemic’s devastating cycle is rising again, leaving Congress little choice but to engineer another costly rescue. Businesses are shutting down again, many schools will not fully reopen and jobs are disappearing, all while federal aid expires.
Without a successful federal strategy, lawmakers are trying to draft one.
“We have to end this virus,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday on MSNBC.
Pelosi said any attempt by the White House to block money for testing “goes beyond ignorance.”
The political stakes are high for both parties before the November election, and even more so for the nation, which now has registered more coronavirus infections and a higher death count of 140,500 than any other country.
McConnell and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy huddled with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Mnuchin vowed passage by month’s end, as earlier benefits expire, and said he expected the fresh $1 trillion jolt of business tax breaks and other aid would have a “big impact” on the struggling economy.
Mnuchin said he’s preparing to start talks with Democrats. He and Meadows were headed to the Hill later to brief lawmakers.
“We can’t pass the bill in the Senate without the Democrats and we’re going to talk to them as well,” McConnell agreed.
The package from McConnell had been quietly crafted behind closed doors for weeks and was expected to include $75 billion to help schools reopen, reduced unemployment benefits and a fresh round of direct $1,200 cash payments to Americans, and a sweeping five-year liability shield against coronavirus lawsuits.
But as the administration was panning some $25 billion in proposed new funds for testing and tracing, said one Republican familiar with the discussions. Trump was also reviving his push for a payroll tax break, which was being seriously considered, said another Republican. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks.
Trump insisted again Sunday that the virus would “disappear,” but the president’s view did not at all match projections from the leading health professionals straining to halt the alarming U.S. caseload and death toll.
“It’s not going to magically disappear,” said a somber McConnell, R-Ky., last week during a visit to a hospital in his home state to thank front-line workers.
McConnell also faces divisions from some in his ranks who oppose more spending, and he is straining to keep the package at $1 trillion.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer warned Monday his side will block any effort from McConnell that falls short.
“We will stand together again if we must,” Schumer said in a letter to colleagues.
The New York Democrat is reviving his strategy from the last virus aid bill that forced Republicans to the negotiating table after McConnell’s original bill was opposed by Democrats. This time, the House has already approved Pelosi’s sweeping $3 trillion effort, giving Democrats momentum heading into negotiations.
Trump raised alarms on Capitol Hill when he suggested last month at a rally in Oklahoma that he wanted to slow virus testing. Some of Trump’s GOP allies wanted new money to help test and track the virus to contain its spread. Senate Democrats were investigating why the Trump administration had not yet spent some of $25 billion previously allocated.
The payroll tax break Trump wanted also divided his party because it historically has been used used to fund Social Security and Medicare. Cutting it only adds to the nation’s rising debt load at a time when conservatives are wary of any new spending. Some Republicans also see it as an insufficient response to millions of out-of-work Americans.
This would be the fifth virus aid package, after the $2.2 trillion bill passed in March, the largest U.S. intervention of its kind.
While many GOP hoped the virus would ease and economy rebound, it’s become clear more aid is needed as the first round of relief is running out.
A federal $600-a-week boost to regular unemployment benefits would expire at the end of the month. So, too, would the federal ban on evictions from millions of rental units.
With 17 straight weeks of unemployment claims topping 1 million — usually about 200,000 — many households are facing a cash crunch and losing employer-backed health insurance.
Despite flickers of an economic upswing as states eased stay-at-home orders in May and June, the jobless rate remained at double digits, higher than it ever was in the last decade’s Great Recession.
Pelosi’s bill, approved in May, includes $75 billion for testing and tracing to try to get a handle on the virus spread, funnels $100 billion to schools to safely reopen and calls for $1 trillion to be sent to cash-strapped states to pay essential workers and prevent layoffs. The measure would give cash stipends to Americans, and bolster rental and mortgage and other safety net protections.
In the two months since Pelosi’s bill passed, the U.S. had 50,000 more deaths and 2 million more infections.
“If we don’t invest the money now, it will be much worse,” Pelosi said.
“[Biden’s team] still haven’t explained what they could do to power our great plants and factories, but at some point I’m sure we’ll learn that from AOC, who’s in charge of energy,” Trump said Wednesday in Atlanta, referring to the New York congresswoman who was on the Biden-Sanders “unity” policy task force. “She’s in charge along with Bernie. AOC and Bernie, our judge of energy.”
Biden has pitched his clean energy plan as an economic stimulus that will help clean up the environment, including plugging thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells that pose ecological hazards. And he’s taken pains to say that although he wants the nation’s power plants to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2035 and for more cars to run on electric power, he doesn’t plan to try to outlaw fracking, the technology that lifted U.S. oil and gas production to record levels last year and has made the country the world’s leading energy producer.
But Biden has said he would not allow new oil and gas development on federal land or waters. And in one debate, he misstated his own position, saying he would allow “no new fracking,” which his campaign immediately walked back. The Trump campaign, however, broadcast the slip to paint Biden as aligned with Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who both have called for national fracking bans.
Biden has otherwise been consistent, even telling a news station near his Scranton, Pa., hometown earlier this month “fracking is not going to be on the chopping block.” He’s often noted most fracking happens on state and private lands and that prohibiting the practice would require congressional action. That’s unlikely to draw much political support, given thousands of jobs spread across dozens of districts represented by both Republicans and Democrats — including an estimated 26,000 in in Pennsylvania.
Despite his reassurances that he won’t seek to ban fracking, Pennsylvania gas drillers have zeroed in on Biden’s debate stage gaffe, said David Spigelmyer, president of industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition. And the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action has spent more than $1.2 million in Pennsylvania on politicaladvertisements hitting Biden on fracking.
“I think there’s a lot of distrust there,” Spigelmyer said of Biden. “It is also concerning that the far left of his party is pushing him to eliminate hydraulic fracturing.”
Spigelmyer has already asked Trump to speak again at the group’s annual conference, which is scheduled for this fall, and he is planning to invite Biden to clear up his position on the issue.
But the confusion around Biden’s position irks some of his advocates.
“I don’t know how many times he has to say he does not favor banning fracking. I want to see what the lack of clarity is. I mean, he has said that how many times on the record including in the past week?” said Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who helped develop many of the climate and energy policy recommendations that Biden included in his new environmental agenda.
Pennsylvania Democrats contend that Biden’s fracking stance and his calls to transition the economy to clean energy will benefit his campaign in the state.
“I’ve always said Democrats need to get honest about energy, and Republicans need to get honest about climate. And I think Joe Biden walks that line very effectively,” said Pennsylanvia Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat who hails from the natural gas-rich western portion of the state. “And he is absolutely immune to any attempts to try to paint him as some kind of ‘ban fracking on the first day’ with hard environmental terms.”
But Fetterman said the current economic worries and public health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic are likely to overshadow fracking for most voters in the state in this year’s election.
Mike Mikus, a western Pennsylvania Democratic consultant, agreed, and said people’s minds are already made up between Biden and Trump. A Monmouth University poll released Wednesday showed Biden leading Trump in the state by 13 percentage points.
Still, Biden’s positioning that fracking will continue for now but that the region needs to prepare for an inevitable transition to clean energy resonates beyond the actual industry. That frankness shows respect for middle class values that will be key to turning out northeastern Pennsylvania, said Fetterman, who campaigned for Clinton in 2016.
Mikus acknowledges the political sentiment is different in the southwestern part of the state, where he says polling indicates Biden would benefit from some “targeted communication” to make his fracking position clearer. And he says Biden’s path to victory will require him to peel off some votes in counties that are likely to back Trump.
“They’re looking for somebody who’s going to aggressively work to fix the climate change change problem, while also understanding the realities that, you know, if fracking went away today, a lot of people would lose their jobs and energy costs would go up,” Mikus said of the state’s voters.
For green advocates, however, Biden’s reluctance to take a stronger stance against fossil fuel production is troubling, particularly amid the rising warnings from scientists that aggressive active is needed now to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. While he has received praise from green groups, it’s not clear whether they’ll bring the same intensity to helping his campaign that that they did for Bernie Sanders.
“The level of excitement amongst young people in these places — it’s not where we want it to be and we know we’ve got our hands full trying to make sure these people get out,” said Evan Weber, political director with the youth-led environmental group Sunrise Movement, which has led the charge for a Green New Deal. “The Biden campaign making its commitment to these issues — to moving off fossil fuels, to addressing the climate crisis at scale — more firm and clear would make our job a lot easier.”
Attorney General William Barr earlier this year stated Durham’s findings have been “very troubling” and involve investigation into some familiar names.
Republican lawmakers have focused on several high-profile figures, including former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Meadows praised Senator Lindsey Graham for releasing declassified documents showing senior FBI officials skeptical of the narrative that the Trump campaign had been in contact with Russian intelligence.
“Lindsey Graham did a good job in getting that out,” Meadows explained. “We know that they not only knew that there wasn’t a case, but they continued to investigate and spy.”
.@MarkMeadows expects indictments after the evidence he’s seen. We’re going to see more documents that suggest not only was the Trump campaign spied on, but the FBI was acting inappropriately as they were investigating. pic.twitter.com/QQC1VuUeh3
Last month, President Trump implied that former President Barack Obama committed treason over the investigation into his presidential campaign’s supposed contacts with Russia.
“Treason. Treason. It’s treason,” Trump told CBN News. “They’d been spying on my campaign. Turned out I was right. Let’s see what happens to them now.”
EXCLUSIVE: President Trump on what crime President Obama would have been potentially committing regarding the previous administration spying on his campaign: “Treason. It’s treason.” Watch the explosive clip from my White House interview with @realDonaldTrump@POTUS@WhiteHousepic.twitter.com/IFui3fNigS
Trump said he was eager to see the results of Durham’s investigation calling him “highly respected.”
The President tweeted early Monday about the spying.
“So we catch Obama [and] Biden, not to even mention the rest of their crew, SPYING on my campaign, AND NOTHING HAPPENS?” he wrote. “I hope not! If it were the other way around, 50 years for treason. NEVER FORGET!!!!”
Will Meadows’ prediction of indictments and jail time come to fruition?
In his two bids for the presidency in the 1950s, Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson mobilized support from his leading ally Eleanor Roosevelt’s loyal base of followers in Brooklyn — the vast ranks of which included Bernie Sanders’s mother, Dora. Amid the Korean War, Stevenson challenged Eisenhower by casting himself as a supporter of peace and international cooperation, calling for US adherence to the United Nations policy in Korea and touting his support for the New Deal.
As Eleanor told readers of her widely syndicated “My Day” column in late October 1952, “I think the overriding concern about peace, and about preserving the well-being that the people now enjoy in this country, will make them vote for Governor Stevenson.” Although Adlai got crushed, losing both New York State and the nation by 55-44 percent, he carried Brooklyn by over 200,000 votes. Over one-quarter of those tallies came from the Sanders family’s district in Flatbush (now Midwood).
In late October 1954, Stevenson came back to Brooklyn to stump for Eleanor’s New Deal slate in the New York statewide races — and this time he landed three blocks from the Sanders family’s home. Bernie later explained that his parents “went to only one political meeting that I can recall, when Adlai Stevenson spoke at my elementary school, PS 197.” Bernie (born 1941) was in eighth grade at the time.
Bernie and his parents attended what the then-liberal New York Post described as a “tumultuous rally,” joining one thousand fellow Democratic loyalists who were “yelling themselves hoarse” and “wielding cowbells.” Outside, an additional thousand Stevenson enthusiasts gathered to listen to the proceedings via loudspeakers. Stevenson was there to express support for Averell Harriman, a former Truman cabinet member now running for governor of New York; and FDR, Jr, a member of Congress (representing Manhattan’s Upper West Side) but now vying to become the state’s attorney general.
As the Post noted, Stevenson’s address focused on national rather than local issues. While the governor himself was a relative moderate on economic issues, his stump rhetoric, aimed at New York City’s large base of left-liberals nostalgic for FDR. He accused the Eisenhower administration of “giveaways” to favored business interests. “From taxes to atomic energy,” Adlai declared, and “from oil to timber to grazing lands,” the Republicans had shown “a vigorous consistency in transferring from the many to the few.” More than six decades later, Bernie would echo that critique at his own raucous rallies in Brooklyn and across the nation.
Bernie’s first foray into politics reflected the Cold War humanitarian liberalism espoused by Eleanor and Adlai. In his first few years at James Madison High School, Bernie had been more focused on athletics, gaining notoriety as a standout runner. His older brother Larry (b. 1935) was president of the Young Democrats at Brooklyn College. Larry brought Bernie to a few meetings but says that Bernie did not fully immerse himself in political issues.
As Larry recalls, he and his parents were thus “all caught off-guard” in the fall of 1958 when Bernie told them he planned to run for class president for the spring semester. Bernie then surprised his classmates by making a foreign policy issue the centerpiece of his platform.
Earlier in the fall, Bernie’s friend Myron Kalin — who had been elected as treasurer of the student government and would be named “most popular boy” in the Madison senior yearbook — had helped spread word about the plight of Korean war orphans. Kalin remembers first learning of the hardships faced by the 200,000 children in need (most of whom had been fathered by US soldiers) at a city government event for high school student leaders.
Bernie, one of three candidates for school president, then made the orphans’ plight central to his platform. “It was so far out in terms of what we usually heard,” says Bernie’s classmate (and fellow track star) Lou Howort, “that it went over students’ heads — and I knew he wouldn’t get elected.” Bernie indeed finished third. The winner, Robert Rockfeld, had been the leader of Sing, the school’s very popular musical production group.
Bernie, however, continued to serve as a fundraiser for Madison’s orphan support efforts, which included sponsoring an elementary school student in Korea. With Rockfeld’s assistance, Bernie fulfilled a campaign pledge by organizing a charity basketball game in late March 1959, raising money for the child.
Although Bernie’s initial political work was in sync with mainstream Democrats of the era, his eyes were soon opened to alternative visions. As Bernie later explained to novelist Russell Banks, it was at a freshman orientation event at Brooklyn College in 1959 that he was first introduced to Eugene Debs.
At a table for the campus chapter of the Eugene V. Debs Club, Bernie asked about the group’s figurehead. “We’re the local socialists,” a club member told him. And Bernie said that he was “amazed” because “here there were real live socialists sitting in front of me!”
Even though the campus was known as the “Little Red Schoolhouse,” Bernie was not politically active during the year he spent at Brooklyn College. According to Banks, Bernie’s “one major political act … was to write a letter to the school newspaper complaining about regulation against sitting on the campus grass.”
After his freshman year, Bernie left Brooklyn College for the University of Chicago, where his enthusiasm for Debs grew exponentially — and where he became active with the Congress of Racial Equality and other groups.
Bernie’s first semester in Hyde Park also saw the election of John F. Kennedy, the archetypal cautious Cold War liberal who dodged the pressing issue of segregation. While Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley famously helped deliver Illinois for JFK, the Democrat’s nearly two-thirds margin in Brooklyn enabled him to carry New York. In Brooklyn, JFK united FDR’s Jewish-black coalition with the borough’s large Catholic vote. And in the Sanders family’s district, the Democrat took home over 75% of the vote.
But Bernie had begun to move to the left. It was on the segregated South Side of Mayor Daley’s Chicago, as he later recalled, that he “first began to understand the futility of liberalism.”
“Everybody” didn’t believe that — but Mr. Trump seemed to. In remarks this winter and spring, he pushed the possibility that the virus “goes away” with heat and light, one of several rationales he has used to assert that the virus would disappear at some point.
While some administration officials had cited a study indicating that heat could be detrimental to Covid-19, no one had a bigger megaphone to amplify this scenario than Mr. Trump. When he said that “they” had been wrong, he didn’t point the finger at himself, though. Katie Rogers has more on the striking Fox News interview below.
Here’s what we do know: It’s very hot right now in much of the country, and Covid-19 cases have been surging, particularly in some of the hottest and sunniest states.
And we also know that Mr. Trump has lost more ground in polling to Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent, in which candidate is seen as better equipped to handle the pandemic. Even Republican officials are starting to part ways with Mr. Trump on the virus; more on the polls and that Republican divergence below too.
It’s hard to avoid the takeaway that the heat is now on Mr. Trump on a number of fronts. He is trying to do something about that — installing a new, battle-tested campaign manager and attacking Mr. Biden more aggressively and frequently. Many incumbents — Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Bush 41 and 43 — stuck to a so-called Rose Garden re-election strategy by and large, trying to stay above the political fray, but Mr. Trump is acting more like the underdog he appears to be.
As for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Mr. Biden said recently that the background checks on his possible vice-presidential candidates are expected to conclude this week, after which he would narrow down the list and conduct interviews with contenders. He’s expected to announce his V.P. nominee as early as August 1 — the end of next week.
All of which is to say that the Trump campaign, struggling to define Mr. Biden negatively, will soon be taking intense aim at the Democratic ticket. It will likely use the V.P. pick, the August conventions, the three presidential debates and one running mate debate, any misstep by Mr. Biden and his team and every division within Democratic Party to try to win the campaign.
It’s just over 15 weeks to Election Day, everyone. Stay cool today.
Many senior Republicans are increasingly doubtful that Mr. Trump will ever play a constructive role in addressing the coronavirus crisis, given his failure to contain the outbreak and his refusal to promote clear public-health guidelines. Some have concluded that they need to work around the president and ignore or even contradict his statements.
“The president got bored with it,” David Carney, an adviser to the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, a Republican, said of the pandemic. He said that Mr. Abbott directs his requests to Vice President Mike Pence, who has echoed Mr. Trump publicly but is seen by governors as far more attentive to the continuing disaster.
Once-reticent Republican governors are now issuing orders on mask-wearing and business restrictions that run counter to Mr. Trump’s demands. Some of those governors have been holding late-night phone calls among themselves to trade ideas and grievances.
In addition, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, recently broke with Mr. Trump on nearly every major issue related to the virus, stressing the importance of mask-wearing and expressing “total” confidence in Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. “The straight talk here that everyone needs to understand is: This is not going away until we get a vaccine,” Mr. McConnell said last week.
But some of Mr. Trump’s closest advisers insist that the best way forward is to downplay the dangers of the disease. Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, has been particularly forceful in his view that the White House should avoid drawing attention to the virus, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The president’s false and misleading claims are scrutinized by Fox News’s Chris Wallace.
The host, Chris Wallace, tried to fact-check him, leading to several clashes:
The president made a litany of false claims about his administration’s handling of the virus, including that the United States had “one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.”
“That’s not true, sir,” Mr. Wallace said. Indeed, The United States has the eighth-worst fatality rate among reported coronavirus cases in the world, and the death rate per 100,000 people — 42.83 — ranks it third-worst, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
After calling current polling showing him trailing Mr. Biden “fake,” Mr. Trump suggested that he might not accept the election results if he loses. Mr. Wallace noted that Mr. Trump had said the same thing in 2016.
“You don’t know until you see,” Mr. Trump said. “It depends. I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election. I really do.”
Mr. Trump, who has voted by mail, has repeatedly warned, without evidence, that mail elections would involve robbed mailboxes and forged signatures.
Race and Policing
Mr. Trump claimed that Mr. Biden wanted to defund the police, suggesting this was evidenced by his work with more progressive Democrats to create a charter pledging to work together on matters including changes to policing.
“It says nothing about defunding the police,” Mr. Wallace said of that document.
National security leaders urge federal funding for election security.
A bipartisan group of former national security officials is urging Congress to provide more funding for states to shore up election security as the country faces the threat of hostile foreign actors seeking to undermine confidence in the electoral process and as it prepares to hold the November elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The group of 34 national security leaders, including Chuck Hagel, Tom Ridge, Susan Rice, John Kerry, Michael Chertoff, Leon Panetta and Madeleine Albright, argue in a letter sent to Congress on Monday that the funding provided in the most recent coronavirus aide package, the CARES act, “has not been enough” to help states cover the costs of expanding mail-in ballots and providing protective equipment for in-person voting.
“To cover some of the shortfall, state election officials have redirected federal funds that were intended for election security improvements,” the letter states. “Local election officials from both parties have expressed the need for more resources to ensure that voters can participate safely in elections this year, and urged Congress to provide more funding in the next coronavirus stimulus package.”
The letter comes two days before the Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on election preparedness.
On Friday, Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, indicated that he had begun receiving intelligence briefings, and issued a stark warning about foreign interference in the election based on the reports he was receiving.
“We know from before and I guarantee you I know now because now I get briefings again, the Russians are still engaged in trying to delegitimize our electoral process,” Mr. Biden said at a fund-raiser, according to a pool report. He cited China and Russia specifically in his remarks.
In March, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University estimated that it would cost an additional $2 billion to shore up the electoral system amid the coronavirus pandemic. But after watching states like Wisconsin hold elections amid the pandemic that were marked by long lines and overwhelmed elections officials, the Brennan Center has since increased its estimate, now saying that it will take $4 billion to properly secure the elections in November.
Numerous Democratic senators have been pushing to direct more resources toward safer voting. In April, Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced a bill to expand early voting and mail-in voting around the country as part of the coronavirus aid package. Senator Kamala Harris of California introduced a similar bill in April, calling for $5 billion in election funding.
Georgia Democrats will decide today who will fill John Lewis’s seat.
Not even 72 hours after the death of Representative John Lewis, the civil rights giant and 17-term congressman, the Georgia Democrats will select his replacement Monday afternoon.
Since Georgia’s primary elections took place last month, top state party officials will on Monday select a replacement nominee for the November general election. (The seat will remain vacant until the winner is sworn in until January.)
Being the Democratic candidate in Georgia’s Fifth District is tantamount to a ticket to Congress: Mr. Lewis won with at least 70 percent of the vote in all but one of his re-election bids; Hillary Clinton won 85 percent against Mr. Trump in the district during the 2016 presidential race.
After putting out a call for applicants Saturday, 131 people wrote the Democratic Party of Georgia to say that they wanted to represent the district, which covers parts of Atlanta and seeps into suburban DeKalb and Clayton counties.
A nominating committee of seven local dignitaries — including the party’s last two gubernatorial nominees, Stacey Abrams and Jason Carter, along with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta — will narrow the list to three to five people. They are expected to release the short list, as well as the full list of applicants, around 10:30 a.m.
The state party’s 44-member executive committee will then meet on a noon Zoom call to debate and discuss the appointment.
It wouldn’t be a Democratic appointment without some drama. Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote Sunday that the clubhouse leader to replace Mr. Lewis is Nikema Williams, the state party chairwoman who represents the Atlanta portion of the district in the State Senate. But there has been a push from many Democrats, including Mr. Lewis’s longtime aide Tharon Johnson, to appoint a place-holder nominee who plans to resign the seat upon being sworn in to allow for a special election to be decided by the district’s voters in 2021.
Two new polls show more grim news for Trump.
Two polls released on Sunday showed how badly Mr. Trump’s virus response has dented his re-election prospects.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that by 20 percentage points, Americans said they trusted Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump to handle the pandemic.
Back in March, the country was roughly split on that question, according to an ABC/Post poll at the time.
Mr. Trump’s overall job approval rating sank to 39 percent in this weekend’s poll, his lowest score of the year. In a head-to-head matchup, Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump among registered voters, 55 to 40 percent, the former vice president’s widest advantage since becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee.
In a Fox News poll also released Sunday, 56 percent of voters disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic. That marks his worst rating yet in five consecutive months of Fox polling on the issue. By more than two to one, voters who told Fox that the virus was the No. 1 issue confronting the nation preferred Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump.
Mr. Biden still trails Mr. Trump in the realm of voter enthusiasm. While 69 percent of Trump supporters said in the ABC/Post poll that they were very passionate about voting for him, just 39 percent of Mr. Biden’s voters said the same about him.
Yet this may not be a fatal flaw for the Democratic candidate: Most of his voters said in the poll that it was their passion for defeating Trump, not for their own candidate, that would drive them to the polls in November.
Biden’s playing it safe. Democrats in states like Wisconsin are just fine with that.
If Mr. Biden hopes to maintain his advantage nationally and in swing states like Wisconsin as November draws near, Democrats in the state have some advice, akin to the medical principle of “do no harm”: Keep it boring.
The former vice president’s campaign strategy — designed to bring together moderates, seniors, working-class voters across races and former supporters of Mr. Trump — has helped him jump out to an early lead in polling, including in Wisconsin, which the president narrowly won in 2016.
It has also helped Mr. Biden fend off attacks from Mr. Trump, who has sought to cast his opponent as a radical progressive despite his lengthy career as a moderate lawmaker.
Which is why Mr. Biden’s allies in Wisconsin think that being politically milquetoast is part of his appeal. They say it’s driving his ability to attract progressives in Milwaukee, moderates in suburbs like Waukesha and more rural voters in places like Adams County, one of the 22 counties in the state that voted for Mr. Trump after backing President Barack Obama in 2012.
They don’t lament that Mr. Biden is not a historic candidate like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, or that he lacks bumper-sticker progressive policies like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — they’re grateful for it.
“Biden comes across as someone who’s moderate and has experience on both sides of the aisle,” said Nate Zimdars, a Democratic candidate for the Wisconsin State Assembly. “My close family and friends, who are a little more on the Republican side of the fence, said if Biden became the nominee they would vote for him.”
Reporting was contributed by Alexander Burns, Nick Corasaniti, Reid J. Epstein, Shane Goldmacher, Maggie Haberman, Patrick Healy, Astead W. Herndon, Jonathan Martin, Katie Rogers and Giovanni Russonello.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Sunday signaled there could be some indictments coming as part of U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe into the FBI’s conduct in the Russia investigation.
Meadows said during an interview on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that he expects to see indictments based on the evidence he has seen of then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign being spied on.
“I think the American people expect indictments. I know I expect indictments based on the evidence I’ve seen. Lindsey Graham did a good job in getting that out. We know that they not only knew that there wasn’t a case, but they continued to investigate and spy — and yes, I used the word spy — on Trump campaign officials and actually even doing things when this president was sworn in and after that and doing it in an inappropriate manner,” Meadows advised.
He continued, “You’re going to see a couple of other documents come out in the coming days that will suggest that not only was the campaign spied on, but the FBI did not act appropriately as they were investigating. It’s all starting to come to unravel, and I tell you it’s time that people go to jail and people are indicted.”
Indeed, Esper has managed the coronavirus crisis with just one active-duty death so far and without broadly halting training or operations. He has carried out improvements to base housing, secured the largest research and development budget in the department’s history and spearheaded a $5.7 billion cost-saving effort. But some of those efforts have been stymied by near-constant global crises and more than a dozen senior-level vacancies, seats the Pentagon has struggled to fill amid the White House’s post-impeachment loyalty purge.
Formerly a little-known defense executive and Trump’s third choice for Army secretary, Esper has also been constantly overshadowed by more outspoken members of the Trump administration. When Esper first took the job, Bolton, the former national security adviser, was seen by many observers in and outside the administration as having the Pentagon under his thumb. After Bolton left it was Pompeo who exerted outsize influence, cutting Esper out of Afghan peace negotiations and blitzing the airwaves after the military strike on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Even Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has a close relationship with Trump, has at times eclipsed Esper, in one memorable incident cutting the Defense secretary off during a news conference.
Esper’s biggest fault has been his failure to stand up for his people, said Marc Polymeropoulos, who retired from the CIA in 2019. He pointed to Esper’s silence on reports of intelligence that Russia paid bounties to militants for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan — an allegation some top defense officials say is unproven — as well as Vindman’s resignation.
“A key leadership principle is you make a pact as a leader with the people under your command. … At the end of the day, he broke that pact, and that disturbed me profoundly,” Polymeropoulos said. “Where is his sense of outrage?”
Fulfilling the president’s agenda
While at first glance the 56-year-old Esper might not be the most obvious pick for the job of Defense secretary, he has many of the qualities that make him a good fit to lead Trump’s Pentagon. A Gulf War veteran who rose to lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and later worked on Capitol Hill and in the defense industry, Esper is a disciplined and routine-oriented secretary. He works out every day, avoids after-work social activities, and likes to eat breakfast one-on-one with his wife, Leah, during his many international travels. And as a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense, Esper understands the Pentagon bureaucracy and the importance of the civil service.
Unlike his predecessor, Jim Mattis, who slow-rolled many of Trump’s requests, Esperis committed to carrying out the president’s policies and is not “running a separate agenda,” said one former White House official familiar with Esper’s relationship with the White House.
But far from being a “yes man,” Esper knows how to make his voice heard, Punaro said.
“He understands that he’s got to basically maintain a good working relationship with the White House,” Punaro explained. “I know he doesn’t hesitate to give his views, but on the other hand he understands when a decision is made, you’ve got to basically execute.”
Some of the perception of Esper’s weakness stems from the circumstances of his promotion to the job, which came about almost by accident. The department had been without a permanent leader for six months, as Trump left then-acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan in limbo over whether he would get the job. Finally, in May 2019, Trump announced he would nominate Shanahan to the permanent post, but Shanahan suddenly withdrew from consideration just weeks later over reports involving past tensions with his ex-wife and children. In a tweet disclosing Shanahan’s decision on June 18, Trump announced he would nominate Esper for the role instead.
Even before Esper had officially stepped into the acting role, he was forced to confront an international crisis as Trump’s more established deputies jockeyed for influence. Two days after Trump’s announcement, a simmering conflict with Iran erupted when Tehran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone over international waters in the Persian Gulf. As the new guy in the room, Esper tried his best not to step on anyone’s toes. As Shanahan — who was still in the acting job — Pompeo, Bolton and then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford debated an appropriate response at a breakfast meeting, Esper remained “largely silent,” Bolton recalled in his recently released memoir. The group ultimately agreed that a retaliatory strike would target three Iranian sites, only to have Trump call off the attack at the last minute.
Esper “started off like anyone starts — in observer mode,” the former White House official said. Hoffman, Esper’s spokesperson, stressed that at the time Esper still had not technically stepped into his new position.
After he officially started the acting job on June 24, Esper’s position within Trump’s cutthroat Cabinet was still precarious. In one glaring example, he was largely cut out of Afghan peace negotiations. Unbeknownst to him, Pompeo’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, had begun discussing a peace deal with the Taliban. When Esper discovered the effort on July 1, he called Pompeo to suggest bringing the deal back to Washington for review, according to Bolton, who wrote that Pompeo “screamed” at Esper for getting involved in the negotiations. Hoffman said the contentious exchange did not happen, noting that the two men have been “friends for decades.”
Nonetheless, the Pentagon remained largely cut out of the peace talks even after Bolton departed, said one former senior defense official with firsthand knowledge of the discussions, noting that “the peace process was very much dominated by the State Department and Khalilzad.”
“There was a sense we didn’t have full visibility into the negotiations,” the former official said.
A senior defense official agreed that the State Department had the lead on the peace negotiations, but noted that Esper received regular updates from the team on the ground.
Meanwhile, a national security crisis was brewing that Esper was powerless to stop. Less than threehours before Esper was ceremonially sworn in as Defense secretary on July 25, Trump had hung up the phone with President Volodymyr Zelensky after pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Joe Biden and his son, allegedly in exchange for military aid to defend against a Russian invasion — money the Pentagon had already approved.
Esper, along with Pompeo and Bolton, repeatedly pressed Trump over the next few months to release his hold on nearly $400 million worth of security assistance to Kyiv before the end of the fiscal year, when the authority to spend it would run out. Their pleas fell on deaf ears until the fall, when Trump released the aid just before the deadline. By that point it was too late to stem the fallout: the incident ultimately prompted Trump’s impeachment.
After Bolton left the White House last September, Esper gradually regained some control over national security decisions with the help of his former counterpart at the Army, Milley, who took over the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs in December.
For example, early on, Esper ended the apparent practice of Pompeo meeting directly with the four-star officers in charge of the department’s combatant commands.
“He took back control of the Pentagon,” said the former White House official. Now “the team of him and Milley are very much calling the shots.”
But despite their best efforts, the Esper-Milley team failed to prevent several disastrous Trump foreign policy decisions, perhaps most notably a crisis in Syria. During a phone call with Trump last October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked the president to move U.S. troops out of the way of a Turkish military operation across the border. The move cleared the way for Erdogan to launch a bloody invasion that killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurdish civilians. Esper and Milley have said publicly that once they knew Erdogan’s troops were crossing the border, they both advised the president to move U.S. forces out of their way.
Esper strongly defended Trump’s decision in public, claiming he was prioritizing the safety of American troops and that the United States would not have been able to deter Turkey from invading. Esper seemed to throw America’s Kurdish allies under the bus, noting on CBS that although the Kurdish fighters have been “very good partners” in the fight against the Islamic State, “we didn’t sign up to fight the Turks on their behalf.”
“We did not want to get involved in a conflict that dates back nearly 200 years between the Turks and the Kurds and get involved in yet another war in the Middle East,” Esper said.
Esper’s talking points mirrored Trump’s, and seemed scripted by the White House, and deliberately misleading, to boot: Few analysts believed Turkey would have invaded Kurdish territory had Trump not removed the troops.
Behind the scenes, however, Esper helped to prevent a full U.S. withdrawal from Syria, eventually convincing Trump that he should leave a few hundred U.S. troops there to continue the fight against ISIS and protect the region’s rich oil fields, Polymeropoulos said. But the abandonment of the Syrian Kurds “upset a lot of us,” he said.
“Where was Esper?” he said.
Throughout the fall and winter that followed, Esper was overshadowed by Pompeo, who maintained unusually high visibility on military issues for a leader of the State Department, particularly when it came to Iran.
“There was some frustration from DOD that the State Department was trying to own defense operations,” the former White House official said, pointing to Pompeo’s string of TV appearances after the strike on Soleimani in January. “When it comes to military operations, that’s squarely in the realm of DOD, but Pompeo does five Sunday shows.”
The senior defense official pushed back on the idea that Esper was frustrated by Pompeo’s media blitz after the Soleimani strike, noting that the secretary of State’s TV appearances were “a deliberate effort by the administration to make sure that we were showing a diplomatic face and to encourage deescalation.”
During this tense time, Esper showed some willingness to distance himself from the president publicly. Days after the Soleimani strike, he ruled out military attacks on cultural sites in Iran if the conflict with Tehran continued to escalate, despite Trump’s threat to target them.
Meanwhile, the White House was perturbed by Esper’s at times “loose” messaging in press appearances, particularly a January interview after the strike on Soleimani. During the interview, Esper told NPR that the U.S. does not have the authority to attack proxy groups in Iran as retaliation for their actions in Iraq under the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
After the interview concluded, Esper requested a follow-on meeting to clarify his remarks, offering that the administration actually does have that authority under Article 2 of the Constitution, the commander in chief’s authority to defend the nation.
“He’s made some communication errors during some critical times, and the president values good communications,” the former official said. “One of the things that you don’t do is get out in front of the president on any major piece of news, and he’s fallen into that trap a couple times.”
It didn’t help that Esper was frequently in the crosshairs of Trump’s new national security adviser, Robert O’Brien. O’Brien has expressed an interest in defense and military issues, particularly procurement issues, that make Esper “very uncomfortable,” said one administration official.
Esper believes O’Brien is angling for his job, the official said.
Looking toward the Pacific
Inside the Pentagon, Esper has fared better. When Esper first started the job, he injected some structure into a department that was hard-hit by Mattis’ resignation and the subsequent exodus of senior officials loyal to him. Esper instituted weekly Monday meetings that brought together all of the Pentagon’s military and civilian leaders to touch base on the week’s events. He made a point of listening to civilian Pentagon leaders, who complained of being overshadowed by the generals under Mattis.
Esper made clear from the start that his top priority in his first year was carrying out the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s pivot from counterterrorism to competition with China and Russia, dedicating each Monday afternoon to that topic. In September, he directed a “sprint” on Russia, in which department leaders looked at “every facet of competition” with Moscow for three or four weeks in a row, said the senior defense official.
Competition with China remains Esper’s primary focus. Esper often talks about how he and fellow Army junior officers could rattle off facts about the Soviet Union’s military capabilities and identify on sight different Russian tanks and carriers, suggesting that’s the level of intensity needed to address the challenges posed by China.
“They studied constantly the Soviet way of war,” the senior defense official said. Esper now believes “that’s the type of culture the U.S. military needs to have vis-a-vis China.”
Esper can point to several concrete achievements in reorienting the department toward the Pacific, including directing National Defense University to rewrite its curriculum to focus on China. He also created and filled a new deputy assistant secretary of Defense for China. And Esper convened senior leadership sessions about China, bringing together members of the Joint Staff, the services and the combatant commanders to discuss the issue.
Esper has also initiated a review of the military’s footprint across the globe, including in Europe, to determine whether resources could be better allocated to support the National Defense Strategy. Although no final decisions have been made, the review is roughly half complete, said the senior defense official.
Another of Esper’s priorities is finding cost savings in the department’s vast budget. The Defense secretary spent more than an hour each week reviewing the budgets of the department’s 27 “fourth estate” support agencies for opportunities to cut costs. Esper announced in December the review had yielded more than $5 billion in savings.
A pattern of delegating authority
But to some inside the Pentagon, the cuts seemed rushed and arbitrary, and further eroded morale.
“It was very poorly run. It was kind of this break to make a splash,” said a second senior defense official familiar with the review, noting it ultimately didn’t find much excess spending, so in the end “the final cut decisions to meet this $5 billion goal that he had were made after the fact and in a closed-door room.”
The first senior defense official noted that the review was done quickly because Esper wasn’t confirmed until the end of July and the process had to be complete before the next budget was submitted, a deadline that was just months away.
“He was beholden to the calendar and he was determined not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” the official said.
But two defense officials, who requested anonymity to protect their jobs, criticized Esper’s overall management of the department. Esper often delegates issues he doesn’t take a personal interest in to his deputy, David Norquist, who many officials believe is overwhelmed by the tasks given to him, said one senior Pentagon official.
“Secretary Esper has certain issues he is passionate about, particularly anything military related, and he is closely involved in those things. Then there are other issues where you cannot connect with him at all because you are left to follow up with his staff,” the official said. “I have heard several principals in OSD say ‘I didn’t come here to report to his staff.’”
Hoffman, Esper’s spokesperson, defended the Defense secretary’s record, noting that to confront challenges in such a vast organization “you have to delegate some tasks to highly capable subordinates.” He added that Esper has tackled “budget, process and staffing challenges alike — and quickly.”