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- 08/04/17--06:01: _EMILY's List Expand...
- 08/04/17--11:41: _The Justice Departm...
- 08/04/17--15:31: _Hillary Clinton Hir...
- 08/08/17--06:32: _De Blasio: Broken W...
- 08/09/17--07:44: _The Confederate Fla...
- 08/09/17--13:53: _Our Revolution Take...
- 08/10/17--13:30: _Trump Suggests Sena...
- 08/10/17--15:22: _Jeff Flake Isn’t Wo...
- 08/12/17--20:14: _Trump's Response Le...
- 08/13/17--14:46: _How Charlottesville...
- 08/14/17--09:00: _RNC Chairwoman Come...
- 08/14/17--21:10: _A Top Lawyer Asks S...
- 08/15/17--11:14: _Alabama Republicans...
- 08/15/17--11:28: _A California Sherif...
- 08/16/17--20:35: _Liberal Groups Said...
- 08/17/17--06:39: _Donald Trump Just R...
- 08/17/17--09:13: _Steve Bannon's Fant...
- 08/17/17--15:38: _Arkansas Paid Cash ...
- 08/17/17--17:59: _Stacey Abrams Wants...
- 08/18/17--04:01: _Planned Parenthood ...
- 08/04/17--11:41: The Justice Department Is Reviewing Obama-Era Journalist Protections
- 08/04/17--15:31: Hillary Clinton Hires Two Former Campaign Aides For "Resistance" PAC
- 08/09/17--07:44: The Confederate Flag Fight Is Back
- Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who in May signed a bill that protects Confederate monuments in her state. Her spokespersons did not reply to emailed questions. Nor did representatives for Sen. Luther Strange, Rep. Mo Brooks, or former state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore — the three top contenders in the state’s closely watched special Senate primary. All three acknowledged the Charlottesville events on Twitter.
- South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who succeeded Nikki Haley, one of the Confederate flag’s most prominent foes. Haley two years ago pulled the flag from Statehouse grounds after a racially motivated shooting at a black church. McMaster, who has faced criticism for his membership in an all-white country club, alluded to Haley’s efforts in a Saturday tweet: “South Carolina showed world her heart when confronted by hatred & violence. Pray for our brothers & sisters in Virginia.” A spokesperson did not reply to a request for additional comment.
- Catherine Templeton, a past Haley cabinet member who is challenging McMaster in next year’s GOP gubernatorial primary. At a public forum this month, she pledged not to remove other Confederate symbols and lamented that “a bad person took something that’s dear to us, took our heritage, and turned it into hate.” Templeton and a campaign aide did not respond to requests for comment this weekend. But she acknowledged Charlottesville in a tweet that appeared to reaffirm her support for Confederate nostalgia: “It is the uneducated criminal who uses our history for horrible racist violence. Learn from the past.”
- State GOP chairmen in Florida and North Carolina. Stewart told BuzzFeed News last week that, following his strong showing in Virginia, he heard from potential candidates seeking his counsel on running pro-Confederate campaigns in both states.
- 08/14/17--21:10: A Top Lawyer Asks Supreme Court To Hear A Major Death Penalty Case
- 08/17/17--09:13: Steve Bannon's Fantasy, Donald Trump's Reality
EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock in 2015.
Kris Connor / Getty Images
At EMILY's List, officials are tearing down a wall in the Washington headquarters, adding enough space for a new conference room and another 25 to 30 staffers. On the campaign team, they've nearly tripled their state and local staff. And for the first time, they've built their training program into a stand-alone department, adding a new role for vice president of training, and a spot on the senior leadership team.
For the 32-year-old organization, founded with the mission to recruit and elect pro-choice women, Donald Trump’s presidency has marked a record level of political engagement — and a rush to meet the moment at a new and uncertain scale.
“This is it,” said Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List. “I almost feel like we’ve been practicing for three decades for this moment.”
The reason for that, and for the recent efforts to expand key programs, is this: In the nine months since the election, more than 16,000 women have reached out to EMILY’s List to inquire about running for office, many of them first-time candidates new to politics. In the two-year period from 2015 to 2016, the group heard from a total of 920 women — a record-setting number at the time. “That was our Hillary bomb," Schriock said. "That was an amazing year for us."
If 2016 was supposed to be the year that electrified women with Hillary Clinton’s historic campaign, then either that didn't happen outright or something extremely unusual has happened since her loss. In the span of a few weeks, the health care debate on Capitol Hill sent "another thousand requests" rolling into the website portal, an official said.
“It grows by 20 to 50 people a day."
The explosion of interest has nevertheless come at a tense moment for Democrats, who continue to sort out the party's ideological and organizational future after a divisive 2016 primary campaign and devastating presidential loss, with record electoral deficits at the state and local level. Even in recent weeks, amid headlines about Trump, Russia, and the failed Republican health care effort, Democrats managed to make their own — fighting over a new slogan, and opening a tense debate over who stands where on the idea of a "litmus test" in the party on the issue of abortion.
Schriock, a campaign veteran who took the helm of EMILY’s List in 2010, succeeding founder Ellen Malcolm in the group’s first leadership change, said that 2017 will change the “size and scope” of its work, but not the work itself. That revolves largely around the idea of a “pipeline” of women in politics, recruiting and advising candidates early on. (“EMILY” stands for “early money is like yeast.”)
Of the 16,000 women who have contacted EMILY’s List, half are under the age of 45, according to Schriock. “These are women who are going to be running for decades to come.” At the least, she said, these women have crossed over what the group sees as its biggest recruiting obstacle: “a woman saying, ‘Yes, I am interested in running for office.’ That’s so much of what we do. We sit down at the table and say, ‘Just say yes. Please say yes. Or don’t say no.’”
Schriock put it more bluntly: “These are not women who are waking up and saying, ‘I'm running for the US Senate today.’ They’re not men,” she laughed. “They just wake up and want to run for president. That’s what they do.”
So far, EMILY’s List is backing at least 42 candidates. Many are statewide incumbents already in the “pipeline.” Some, however, are among the wave of first-time, nontraditional candidates that emerged after 2016, and are seen by Democrats as a potentially powerful force in the midterm elections. (One that Schriock highlights is Chrissy Houlahan: air force veteran, businesswoman, “angry at the election,” “called us up,” now running for Congress in Pennsylvania.)
EMILY’s List officials said the group is currently in touch with 130 women across 80 U.S. House districts about the possibility of running in down-ballot races. What happens with the 16,000 more broadly comes down, in part, to scale. The team tasked with state and local candidates has nearly tripled in size, but still only stands at 14 people. Eight are “advisers” based regionally in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Montana, Virginia, and North Carolina, officials said.
The revamped training department, led by Mũthoni Wambu Kraal, an EMILY’s List official since 2009, is now working to create a digital platform that can reach the influx of interested women en masse through webinars. The group has already held in-person trainings, and plans to hold 25 this year.
Schriock said the training itself won’t be all that different from previous years.
“They just need basic tools and support, especially emotional support, to step up and run.”
Alex Wong / Getty Images
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a harsh rebuke of leaks and the media that report them on Friday — echoing criticism levied regularly by President Trump over the past year — and signaled that the Justice Department could be changing how it deals with reporters in such cases.
Sessions announced at a news conference on Friday morning that the department is reviewing its policies for subpoenaing reporters, suggesting that Obama-era guidelines that placed limits on the practice could be rolled back.
The department will "respect the important role that the press plays," Sessions said, "but it is not unlimited."
Reporters "cannot place lives at risk with impunity," Sessions said. "We must balance their role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law -abiding Americans."
Sessions offered no details about the scope or timeline of the review. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters that the review was in its early stages, and was prompted by concerns raised by career prosecutors about finding ways to speed up the pace of cases.
"We're taking basically a fresh look at it," Rosenstein said. Asked if the Justice Department would commit to not prosecuting reporters, Rosenstein said he would not comment on hypotheticals.
Rosenstein did say, however, that there is a new unit at the FBI focused on investigating leaks to reporters, saying that these cases raise "unique issues."
Trump made attacking the press a central feature of his campaign, and has continued the negative rhetoric against the media since taking office. Sessions, as a senator, had sparred with journalists' groups at times, including opposing efforts to provide protections for journalists wishing to shield their sources.
Sessions' announcement represents a particular setback for the press, which worked with former Attorney General Eric Holder on the revised subpoena guidelines amid an uptick of leaks prosecutions, and revelations that federal investigators had obtained emails and phone records from journalists.
Press freedom advocates criticized the Obama administration for its aggressive approach to leak prosecutions, and expressed concern on Friday that the progress they nevertheless managed to make with Holder would be undone.
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told BuzzFeed News that Sessions' announcement was "disconcerting."
"The effort that went into revising [the guidelines] in 2015 had a huge amount of input from career prosecutors, and interests of law enforcement and national security were all carefully taken into consideration as well as the interests of reporters and the public in getting info," Brown said. "We thought a pretty good balance was struck."
Under the revised guidelines adopted by Holder — first in 2013 and then in 2015 — the attorney general must sign off on subpoenas to reporters and to third-party communications providers for records about journalists, with a few exceptions. The department also expanded the circumstances in which journalists would get advance notice that prosecutors were seeking their records.
Rosenstein told reporters on Friday that he expected Justice Department officials to consult with media representatives as part of its review, adding that a meeting might take place next week with the Media Dialogue Group, a coalition of media lawyers and journalists first convened by Holder in 2014. A DOJ spokesperson confirmed later that the meeting would take place on Aug. 9.
Sessions announced the review of media subpoena guidelines as part of a broader statement on Friday about the administration's intent to crack down on leaks that threaten national security.
He said that in the first six months after Trump took office, there were nearly as many criminal referrals concerning leaks of classified information as there were in the previous three years combined. A criminal referral means a request that the Justice Department investigate a possible leak of classified information that could harm national security. A referral can come from the intelligence community, or other sources outside the Justice Department.
Rosenstein declined to comment on the reason for the increase in referrals, but he issued a warning to government officials and employees, saying that any policy disagreement with the administration "doesn't give them the license to leak information to a reporter."
The Justice Department declined to provide the number of criminal referrals related to the possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
Sessions said that since January, the department has more than tripled the number of active leak investigations, as compared to the number of investigations open when President Obama left office. Sessions said that four people had been charged with leaking classified information or hiding their contacts with foreign intelligence officers; Rosenstein clarified that just one of those cases, the prosecution of federal contractor Reality Winner, involved information shared with the media.
Sessions did not take questions, leaving that job to Rosenstein — his "fine deputy," as Sessions called him. Rosenstein said the Justice Department's efforts were focused on the disclosure of classified information that could harm national security. Noting that the term "leaks" can refer to a number of things, he distinguished the types of case that the Justice Department was focused on from other leaks that did not involve classified information or carry national security risks.
Sessions did indicate in his remarks that the department would likely be looking into the leaked transcript of Trump's conversations in January with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.
"No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information," Sessions said. "No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders."
Trump has routinely complained about leaks in his administration. Asked if Sessions' focus on leaks was an effort to appease the president — Trump has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian influence in the election — Rosenstein declined to comment.
Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway told “Fox & Friends” on Friday that “it’s easier to figure out who’s leaking than the leakers may realize.” Asked if lie detectors could be used, she said: “Well, they may, they may not.”
Monica Schipper / Getty Images
Hillary Clinton has hired two political operatives from her 2016 presidential campaign to help manage Onward Together, the project she founded this spring with former governor Howard Dean to fund and support a coalition of Democratic groups led by activists and organizers.
The new additions, Emmy Ruiz and Adam Parkhomenko, held central roles on Clinton’s campaign: Ruiz delivered key victories as state director in Nevada during the primary and in Colorado during the general election; Parkhomenko worked in headquarters as her director of grassroots engagement before moving to the Democratic National Committee. Both served on Clinton’s first presidential bid in 2008.
Dean, the Onward Together co-founder, confirmed the recent hires on Friday. The two former campaign aides will be working on Onward Together as consultants.
Clinton's new group, registered in May as a 501c4 organization with an affiliated super PAC, is working to establish a small but diverse cooperative of about 10 to 12 grassroots efforts, each one focused on a different area of the energy and activism set off by Donald Trump’s election and presidency. Dean said they are still in the process vetting groups to add to the coalition, which already includes organizations such as Swing Left, Emerge America, and Run For Something.
Ruiz, last with Tom Perez’s successful campaign for DNC chair, has been working to systemize and add structure to that process, steering the process and guiding next steps, while also working the collection of outside groups.
“She’s moving us right on task, which is what we really needed,” said Dean.
Parkhomenko, a longtime Clinton loyalist who founded the PAC Ready For Hillary in early 2013, will focus on the larger political landscape for both Onward Together and, tangentially, Clinton’s activity on behalf of Democrats, looking at the question of how, when, and where she can be helpful to candidates in upcoming races.
That Clinton play a role at all in electoral politics after her failed 2016 campaign is a source of debate among Democrats, some of whom have said that the former candidate needs to step back, clearing the way for new voices in politics. Clinton, however, has made it clear she is receding entirely into private life: She has made headlines for pointed remarks about Trump and Russia and has a memoir coming out next month that aides have described as a candid and at times raw account of the Democratic primary fight and the general contest against Trump.
Clinton has received at least one request to campaign as a surrogate — from New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, according to a Democrat close the campaign there. In the 2018 midterm elections, there will be races in 23 congressional districts that Clinton carried at the top of the ticket but Republicans held down-ballot.
Ruiz and Parkhomenko, who both started their work at Onward Together this summer, will join a small core team that includes Dean, the former Vermont governor and DNC chair, along with Judith McHale, an undersecretary under Clinton at the State Department, and Amy Rao, a Silicon Valley businesswoman and a longtime supporter and donor. The aides in Clinton’s New York office, including former campaign vice chair Huma Abedin, finance director Dennis Cheng, and press secretary Nick Merrill, are also working on the project.
Dean and McHale in particular have been working on vetting groups, which are expected to submit a budget for funding and provide a full account of their activity and management setup.
Clinton and her aides have also spent the summer on her new memoir, What Happened, which comes out in September and will be followed by a book tour.
Some of the fundraising work has already started, “but it’s been slow going because we’ve all been so busy,” said Dean. “Now that we’ve got some staff it’s really terrific. Somebody had to have the big picture, and that would now be Emmy and Adam."
Sina Schuldt / AFP / Getty Images
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio advocates for "a version" of broken windows policing, saying the term itself got a bad rap under previous administrations but that is right in principle.
He argues that the principle is to "address little things that come from big things. You respond to quality of life concerns that come from the community."
Activists have long argued the implementation of broken windows policies ultimately contributed to unnecessary conflict with police. De Blasio is a guest Tuesday on the podcast Pod Save the People by activist DeRay Mckesson.
Said de Blasio, "I wanted to get away from the policing that existed previously. I wanted to get away from the broken policy of stop and frisk and I wanted to change the relationship between the police and the community. I believe [in] quality of life policing — which I think is the better phrase than broken windows because broken windows has some very understandably troubling associations in people's minds — quality of life policing is necessary and I've been in favor of that all along."
Mckesson then asks de Blasio what he felt the difference was between broken-windows policing and "quality of life policing."
"It is similar vain but different associations is what bluntly what I'd say," said de Blasio.
He continued, "I think broken windows policing got a bad name in part because it was associated with the Guiliani administration and there are a lot of reasons to be highly critical of the Guiliani administration. But I think the underlying principle was the right principle, which is you address little things that come from big things. You respond to quality of life concerns that come from the community."
De Blasio said communities in years passed were "under-policed." He made an example to support his view.
"If you're someone who lives in an apartment building and you say, 'Hey, there's a bunch of teenagers outside my window making a lot of noise and it's 2 a.m.' — you should get a response," he said. "That response should be a smart one and one that is respectful of everyone involved. But you have a right to your quality of life as a resident of New York City."
"So that is a version of broken windows policing, but I think the reason I like the phrase 'quality of life' better is broken windows came with some philosophical questions" and an association with Rudy Guiliani, de Blasio said.
Mckesson's group, Campaign Zero, has called for an end of the practice of the policing of offenses such as open alcohol containers, trespassing, jaywalking or loitering.
"A decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and activities — a practice called Broken Windows policing — has led to the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color and excessive force in otherwise harmless situations," its position on the issue says. "In 2014, police killed at least 287 people who were involved in minor offenses and harmless activities like sleeping in parks, possessing drugs, looking 'suspicious' or having a mental health crisis. These activities are often symptoms of underlying issues of drug addiction, homelessness, and mental illness which should be treated by healthcare professionals and social workers rather than the police."
De Blasio said he worked with his police commissioners under his watch to re-train the police force, emphasize discretion and de-escalation, and giving officers the ability to give warnings. He said the city also established policy like eliminating arrests for low-level marijuana possession, saying that arrests in many cases are a last resort.
Then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, at the July 2015 bill signing that removed the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds.
Sean Rayford / Getty Images
Two years ago last month, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pulled down the Confederate flag down that flew over the grounds of the South Carolina capitol. The move unified her party and her state, and it transformed her into a national figure and the embodiment of the future of the Republican Party.
Then, Haley’s move seemed to bring a close to the long-simmering question of whether the flag, and Confederate nostalgia more broadly, had an acceptable place in American politics despite their offensiveness to black Americans. But two years later, the flag and the Lost Cause are flickering back as potent symbols in American politics — symbols sometimes of an open new white nationalism, but more often as the emblem of a brand of identity politics that prizes upsetting liberals above all else, in which the Confederate flag also serves as emblem against “political correctness.”
There are flickers across the old South: This year, New Orleans officials removed Confederate monuments under the cover of night amid protests and security concerns. Then a Virginia Republican crusaded on the issue (and his support for President Donald Trump) and nearly secured the nomination for governor. And a leading candidate to occupy Haley’s old seat in the governor’s mansion in Columbia is describing herself as a “proud Daughter of the Confederacy.”
Virtually all established Republican Party leaders would like, as they say, to “move past” the issue — and few want to talk about it. But the people who want to talk about preserving monuments and keeping the flag in the sky really want to talk about it. And in the ground zero of the flag fight — South Carolina — Republican operatives describe it as a one-time response to a tragedy that rekindled wide national scrutiny of the Confederate flag. (The killer, Dylann Roof, had been photographed with the flag.)
The issue popped up last week in the state’s competitive Republican race for governor. Several audience members at a forum in conservative Pickens County grilled Catherine Templeton — a former member of Haley’s cabinet whose consulting firm was among those who cheered the flag’s removal at the Statehouse — about her stance on removing Confederate symbols.
“You cannot rewrite history,” said Templeton, who has emerged as a top primary challenger to Henry McMaster, the lieutenant governor who became governor after Haley left to become the US ambassador to the United Nations. “I don’t care whose feelings get hurt.”
Templeton went on to talk about her grandmother — “a daughter of the Confederacy” — and about “standing on the shoulders of giants in South Carolina.” But that answer wasn’t enough for some in the crowd. She was pressed on the issue twice more at the live-streamed forum.
Would she have voted for Haley’s legislation to bring down the flag at the Statehouse? “I think what we did was we reacted, and I think that’s what happens in government a lot,” Templeton replied, sidling away from her firm’s past praise. “We have an emergency, and we create a response because it’s the only thing we have control over. … I’m proud of the Confederacy. But I’m not going to second-guess what the people in the Statehouse did when I wasn’t there.
“I live in Charleston. I drive by [the church] on a daily basis,” she added. “And a bad person took something that’s dear to us, took our heritage, and turned it into hate, and I think we reacted as a result.”
Would she back a bill to prohibit moving any monuments unless they were moved to a more prominent place? “The answer is yes. We have a law in place now, and I would enforce it. … I would not allow monuments to be taken down. I want to be very direct with you.”
The next day, following local media coverage of her remarks, Templeton issued another statement on social media.
“If it’s politically incorrect to say I’m a proud Daughter of the Confederacy, then call me politically incorrect,” she wrote. “My father was named after Judge William Brawley, a Confederate soldier who fought under Gen. Robert E. Lee, and lost his arm at the Battle of Seven Pines. I have a son named Hampton and a dog named Dixie but that doesn't make me a racist. It makes me from South Carolina and proud of it. It’s outrageous to me that some would have me disavow my family and our history. … Our history is not always comfortable, but it made us who we are.”
Confederate symbols have faced increased scrutiny in recent years, and several of those — most notably Haley — who have led the charge have seen their political stock rise. In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s push to bring down four Confederate monuments, including a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, has earned him buzz as a future Democratic presidential prospect. And in Biloxi, Miss., Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich easily won a GOP primary and re-election this year after banning Mississippi’s state flag, which include a Confederate emblem, from city buildings.
Corey Stewart, a Trump supporter and native Minnesotan with a pro-Confederate message, sees an opportunity — for himself and for others — after his surprise success in this summer’s primary race for Virginia governor.
After barely losing the nomination to establishment favorite Ed Gillespie, Stewart immediately launched a Senate campaign. And he told BuzzFeed News this week that candidates in several states want his advice on how to run on similar themes. Stewart’s racially divisive strategy involved embracing Confederate symbols and opposing the removal of Confederate monuments and statues. He has objected to plans to remove a Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“This,” Stewart said, “is the biggest cultural issue that will be on the plate in 2018.”
Stewart declined to identify those who have sought his counsel but said calls have come “from Florida to North Carolina,” from “people who are thinking about making this a central issue of their platforms.”
It’s a subject many Republican leaders are not comfortable talking about it openly. A spokesman for the Republican National Committee, whose then-chairman, Reince Priebus, joined Haley at her news conference to call for the flag’s removal, declined to comment. Several Southern state chairmen contacted by BuzzFeed News either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to discuss the topic on the record, including South Carolina’s new GOP chief, Drew McKissick.
Representatives for McMaster and Templeton also did not respond to requests, nor did Mikee Johnson, a prominent Haley ally who now is helping Templeton raise money.
Others in South Carolina agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity, to avoid being publicly linked to a position on a subject that continues to divide Palmetto State voters.
“It seems to me that Catherine is trying to have it both ways,” said one senior GOP operative in the state. “The right-wing base and chamber of commerce are both getting a wink and a nod.”
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Republicans who embrace Confederate symbols “risk alienating a big portion of constituents” in key states.
“It is sad to see Republican candidates touting images of the Confederacy, which to many in this country symbolizes hate and racial oppression,” Singh added.
Stewart disputes accusations of racism. “This isn’t about race,” he told BuzzFeed News. “It’s about destroying history. The thing is that political correctness has been used to ridicule people who simply want to honor their heritage. People know instinctively that is wrong.”
He believes his near-miss earlier this year — roughly 4,500 votes — is a harbinger of things to come, even if it was only one party primary in one state.
“It just takes the first politician to make this a big issue in a big race,” Stewart said. “After I showed that you could stand up for Confederate monuments and ... withstand the punishment from the mainstream media, I knew that others would follow.”
Turner and Sanders last year.
Mary Altaffer / AP
“Dictatorial.” “Arrogant.” “Pompous.” “Superficial.” “Tone-deaf.” “Tone-dead.” “Out of line.” “Insulting” — “absolutely insulting.”
These are the words that Nina Turner, president of the group founded by Bernie Sanders to further his "political revolution," used in an interview to describe the Democratic National Committee. The grievances converge around a recent trip to deliver petitions to the party’s headquarters in Washington, where Turner and other progressives were greeted by barricades, security guards, and an offering of donuts and water, an empty gesture indicative, as she saw it, of an institution that isn't “smart enough, humble enough, to say let’s take a step back and really listen to the people," that instead is far too willing to “disregard people,” to “dismiss,” “belittle,” and “shun,” to “push them to the side” — all of which has left Turner with the view, as she puts it, that "the establishment side of the Democratic Party have shown themselves to be dictators" who "want to dictate the terms of unity."
In the months since last year’s long and fraught Democratic primary, Sanders and allies like Rep. Keith Ellison have become key partners in that same "establishment side," working from new leadership roles in the U.S. Senate and at the DNC.
If Sanders is working to change the system from within, Turner's approach at Our Revolution looks to be the opposite: After taking over last month, she's taking on the same institutional forces that are allied with Sanders, rallying supporters against the familiar target of the DNC, and offer candid at times cutting critique of the party and its centers of power — a newly aggressive posture toward the Democratic Party that puts Our Revolution out in front of its own figurehead.
“It is time to make the Democratic Party ‘Feel the Bern’ again,” Turner wrote in an email to Our Revolution members on Tuesday. "The DNC may think that they can continue working behind closed doors, but they will know different when millions of us come knocking.”
The email recounted the same July 25 visit to DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill.
Turner, the 49-year-old former Ohio state senator and DNC member herself, led about 60 supporters that day to the DNC offices to deliver petition signatures supporting the “People’s Platform,” a 2018 policy agenda drafted by Our Revolution in response to the one unveiled that week by party leaders in the House and Senate.
When they arrived, she said, barricades blocked the entrance steps and a handful of DNC staffers stood waiting outside. “I was absolutely stunned,” Turner said Tuesday. “For them to be that tone-deaf, or that arrogant, to think that it’s OK to put up a barricade so that the people can’t even — I mean, we were not even good enough to stand on their stairs.”
Citing the current political climate in Washington, DNC spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa said the barricades are put in place anytime there is a large crowd — protocol set by the “building security team,” she said, not party officials.
A spread of donuts and water had also been set up for the Our Revolution party. Turner took particular issue with the donuts and water, which she called “hand-out trinkets."
“They tried to seduce us with donuts and water,” she said. “They’re pompous and arrogant enough to say to the people, you’re not good enough to be on our property — and, oh by the way, we’re just gonna hand you donuts and water over the barricade. That is insulting. Absolutely insulting.”
Turner decided to write to Our Revolution members about the incident because, in her view, she said, it embodied the same problems that made the DNC a source of mistrust among progressives in the first place. She recalled the brief remarks from DNC political director Amanda Brown Lierman, who told the crowd that Democrats would need their support in 2018. “That’s the problem,” said Turner. “You think people are just gonna do what you say, and you don’t have to really listen.” The DNC recounted the moment differently: Brown Lierman “expressed gratitude on behalf of the DNC,” and spoke about the party’s “shared values,” Hinojosa said.
The donuts and water, too, were meant as a token of goodwill, officials said. That the snacks were a source of animus came as a surprise inside the building.
On her end, Turner said, the incident remains unresolved: DNC chair Tom Perez “would be wise” to call her to apologize, she said, quickly recalling his weakness with progressives in the tight chair's race earlier this year against Ellison, now serving as DNC deputy chair. “Chairman Perez won, but the energy was behind Congressman Keith Ellison," said Turner. "The chairman would be wise to embrace this energy. He would be wise to make a phone call. He should have reached out to me by now to apologize for the way the people who came to the DNC were treated.”
Our Revolution’s indictment of the DNC, amplified in Tuesday's email, comes at a critical but tenuous moment for the party: Even as Democrats look to 2018 as a singular opportunity to win back seats in the House of Representatives, seizing on voters’ dissatisfaction with the president and the failed Republican health care effort, they are also struggling to settle on an effective economic message and resolve their approach to policy issues like abortion and single-payer health care.
Turner rejected the idea that a new DNC fight would stir up old feelings of division and mistrust. “I want to flip that on its head," she responded. “Why won’t the Democratic Party partner with the progressive left — i.e. Our Revolution?” (Our Revolution has been invited to meetings with progressive groups at the DNC, the last one in July, according to a DNC official, and “they haven’t showed up." The official also noted that Our Revolution and the DNC worked together earlier this year on the party's "unity"-themed tour, headlined by Sanders and Perez.)
Some in the Sanders orbit attributed the DNC offensive to a new phase of Our Revolution under Turner, a founding board member who assumed the role of president in July, taking the reins from one of the senator’s long-serving political advisers, Jeff Weaver.
Turner, a self-described “justice warrior,” operates from the position that, as she put it, “the system has to be shaken up from time to time.” That was evident in late 2015, when she stunned the Clinton campaign by jumping ship for Sanders, and it’s been evident in her first few weeks at the helm of Our Revolution, where she seems eager to take on her own party. (“Be sure to ask her about donuts and water,” one Our Revolution staffer advised.)
Both ends of the leadership change — Turner’s rise and Weaver’s departure — promise a new dynamic between Sanders and Our Revolution, likely one with more distance, current and former aides said. Although Weaver managed the group from something of a remove, spending much of this year working on a new book, he did serve as a central link to Sanders. To some of Sanders hands, his exit was a signal that the senator’s political focus lies elsewhere. To others, it meant a step away from the group’s state and local campaign effort, which has struggled to secure victories under the Sanders banner. (“Disappointing but not surprising,” said a former Sanders campaign adviser of the shift. “Voter contact is hard. Cheap stunts are easy.”)
Turner, who also sits on the DNC's Unity and Reform Commission, has already made Our Revolution a more forceful presence in the party — and in the press — willing to weigh in or take positions where Sanders has not. (Most recently, Turner voiced support for a progressive “litmus test” in 2018. Sanders has not backed the idea.)
One Sanders aide described their work as parallel but separate: The senator is working “inside the system,” the aide said, and Our Revolution is working “outside the system."
The points at which those tracks converge, and conflict, however, will prove more difficult to navigate, with Sanders working with the same party leadership that Turner has made a new target. (Ellison, the deputy DNC chair and a leading progressive, found himself in the middle of the petition upset, assuring Turner that he hadn’t known anything about it beforehand, that he was “shocked” to hear about the greeting, and would take the issue to the chair, according to Turner.)
So far, Our Revolution has only highlighted its recent conflict with the DNC.
In addition to the Tuesday email, the group has used footage of Turner’s remarks at the petition drop in July — a pointed response to the DNC barricades, donuts, and water — in digital acquisition ads directing new members to their signup page.
Asked what what it would look like to “make the Democratic Party ‘feel the Bern’ again,” as Tuesday's Our Revolution email puts it, Turner cited the group's work at large.
"We have a component within our mission that talks about transforming the party,” she said. “And that’s what we do every day.”
Pool / Getty Images
President Trump on Thursday suggested Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should step down if he can't successfully push through the White House's agenda.
Speaking to reporters while vacationing at his golf club in New Jersey, Trump was asked whether the Kentucky Republican should resign. Trump responded by saying he'd first like to see what the Senate gets done, "then you can ask me that question."
Trump specifically called out Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, pass tax reform, and approve a new infrastructure package.
"If he doesn’t get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn’t get taxes done — meaning cuts and reform — and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done — infrastructure — if he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that question," Trump said.
The president has been skewering McConnell on Twitter over the last few days, telling him to "get back to work," and taunting him over his failure to pass a Republican health care bill.
Earlier this week, speaking to an audience in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell had said the president "had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process" since he has "not been in this line of work before."
In response, Trump tweeted, "I don't think so. After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?"
The conflict comes less than two weeks after the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare, a major defeat for McConnell, who had trumpeted the Republican effort since 2010.
Trump's team has also been commenting on the spat.
Asked about Trump and McConnell's relationship, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I think you can see the president's tweets. Obviously, there is some frustration."
On Wednesday, Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, attacked McConnell on Twitter for saying that the president had "excessive expectations," slamming the Republican leader for making "more excuses." He then followed up with #DrainTheSwamp.
Dan Scavino / Twitter / Via Twitter: @DanScavino
McConnell's office has declined to comment.
Republican leaders, however, have been rallying around McConnell, fraying the already tense relationship between Congress and the White House as they try to achieve any major items on their lengthy to-do list.
"Senate Leader McConnell has been the best leader we've had in my time in the Senate, through very tough challenges," Sen. Orrin Hatch tweeted. "I fully support him."
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump supporter, defended McConnell, noting that the president also bears some responsibility for the Republicans' inability to deliver on their promise to repeal Obamacare.
"The fact is, with a very narrow margin — 52 people — Mitch McConnell got 49 out of 52. I think the president can't disassociate himself from this," Gingrich said in an interview on Fox News. "[Trump] is part of the leadership team. He is not an observer sitting up in the stands. He is on the field. It was a collective failure."
Sen. Jeff Flake
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Robert Mercer, the Republican mega-donor who backs President Donald Trump, is spending big money to defeat Sen. Jeff Flake, one of Trump’s loudest Republican critics, in 2018.
Kelli Ward, the candidate Mercer favors, fell short last year in a bid to unseat Arizona’s other Republican senator, John McCain — despite a major investment from Mercer and his wife.
“They supported Kelli Ward last cycle, and she still lost by double digits,” Will Allison, a spokesperson for Flake’s reelection campaign, told BuzzFeed News in a Thursday email.
Robert and Diana Mercer gave $700,000 to Ward’s super PAC during the McCain race, accounting for nearly all of the group’s revenue. BuzzFeed News reported in May that the couple had already donated to Ward’s campaign against Flake. And now Robert Mercer is sending another $300,000 to the super PAC — a development first reported this week by Politico.
The Mercers have also been generous contributors to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which as an incumbent-retention organization is likely to back Flake.
Flake’s reelection bid will be viewed as a fight between his brand of classic conservative Republicanism and Trump’s brand of ideology-bending populism. Flake's new book, Conscience of a Conservative, is a scathing critique of Trump and other Republicans who have enabled Trump’s rise. (“My Party Is In Denial About Donald Trump” read the headline of an excerpt that caused a stir within the GOP after being published last week by Politico Magazine.)
The criticism has made Flake a target for Trump allies and possibly for Trump himself. Whispers of a White House-backed primary challenge have been out there for months. Ward is the only announced opponent. Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who had a national role in Trump’s campaign, and former Arizona GOP chairman Robert Graham are two other prospects.
“Not a good re-election strategy,” Graham, who has yet to announce a decision on the race, told BuzzFeed News last week after reading the excerpt from Flake’s book.
Mercer support aside, Ward is not a consensus alternative to Flake among the pro-Trump wing. Her loss to McCain is one factor. Her habit of making overly provocative statements is another. Ward, a physician, called McCain “old” and “weak” during last year’s race. More recently, after McCain was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Ward raised doubts about McCain’s recovery in a radio interview and talked herself up as a successor if McCain can’t finish his term.
"I would never presume to say what someone's prognosis is without having exams," Ward said in the interview with WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "As a Christian, I know there can always be miracles. But the likelihood that John McCain is going to be able to come back to the Senate and be at full force for the people of our state and the people of the United States is low."
Steve Helber / AP
White supremacists marched into Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday brandishing shields, batons, and pepper spray, and the result was shocking violence — with the deaths of a young woman who was run over by a car, and two police officers killed in a helicopter crash. Dozens of counterprotesters were wounded.
Republican and Democratic political leaders swiftly condemned white supremacists in the aftermath. But there was one curious exception from the near-universal censure: the president currently facing the most serious domestic crisis of his administration.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides," President Donald Trump said in a brief statement on Saturday afternoon, calling for a restoration of law and order. "It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America."
Asked if Trump or his administration would have further comment or call out white supremacists specifically for the violence on Saturday, a White House official told BuzzFeed News that the president already addressed it in his initial remarks. In an additional comment to reporters, an official said Trump's intention was to condemn hatred, bigotry, and violence "from all sources and all sides."
"There was violence from protesters and counterprotesters today," the official said.
Trump's vague public response prompted fury across social media, and drove Republican lawmakers to say that Trump needed to do better.
Sens. Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, and Orrin Hatch used the terms "white supremacists," "Nazis," and "domestic terrorism" in their tweets about Saturday's violence, but others went further, questioning whether the president of the United States is afraid to go after white supremacists who support his administration.
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, said that Trump has had "a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the alt-right, nationalist part of his support base," and that the president doesn't take a lot of opportunities to criticize his own supporters.
"I think his advisers have to help, they have to be better, more adamant," he said. "Not rising to this moment gives his opponents a very easy attack to use against him and the Republican Party, as unfair as I think that is."
"I think it's obvious that he has a problem, he will not do it," Evan McMullin, a Never Trump conservative who ran for president as an independent, told BuzzFeed News of the president's seeming hesitance to explicitly call out white supremacists. "He speaks in the vaguest of terms, only in the worst of situations, only when there is public outrage."
"He was vague and not biting or specific," Rev. Al Sharpton, who is preparing for a march of ministers in the name of social justice and civil rights this month in Washington, told BuzzFeed News. "He will not denounce Nazism or white supremacy by name. It's telling and insulting. It will intensify our 1,000 Minister's March and I'm glad we have Jewish faith leaders up front with us."
David Duke, a former Louisiana politician and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, responded by issuing a warning to Trump on Twitter that he not forget who made him president.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic governor of Virginia, targeted white supremacists by name in a somber speech on Saturday night, saying there is no place for them in America.
"I have a message to all of the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth, shame on you. You pretend that you're patriots, but you are anything but a patriot," he said.
Trump later tweeted condolences to the Virginia state police officers and the young woman who died in the car attack. The attack resulted in at least 19 other injuries, and charges against a 20-year-old suspect.
Steve Cortes, a Fox News contributor and Trump surrogate, said it was "nonsense" to suggest that Trump has been hesitant to disavow and condemn white supremacists.
"He made a very brief statement, I suspect it was off the cuff," Cortes said, despite the fact that the president spoke more than 12 hours after white supremacists first descended on Charlottesville on Friday night. "I don’t think he’s ever afraid to denounce racism. In the immediacy of the moment the most important thing is to denounce violence clearly. The worst violence was from the white supremacist racists, but there was violence on both sides."
But Democrats and some Republicans explicitly lambasted Trump, suggesting that his refusal to call out white supremacists by name is driven by a nakedly political rationale.
Democratic National Committee deputy chair, Rep. Keith Ellison, tweeted a damning appraisal of Trump's comments. "A frightening truth," he wrote. "Our president has no problem with violence being perpetrated on people who are not in his base."
"It's a moral issue, it's beyond politics," said Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, the largest civil rights organization in the country.
Morial said it's important for the president to rise to the occasion and respond with a new statement condemning white supremacists in "clear and unequivocal terms" that reflect a "force and fury of language."
But McMullin said Trump tips his hand on how he feels about the alt-right by keeping around his embattled but influential senior strategist Steve Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart.
"He has someone who has empowered them in his White House, who helped grow the alt-right through the Breitbart platform," McMullin said. "Will he remain? Does the president care that he has someone who played a significant role in fomenting the bigotry of the alt-right movement?"
White nationalists, alt-righters, and others march on Saturday in front of a Robert E. Lee statue scheduled for removal.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
A renewed fight to preserve Confederate symbols has escalated.
White supremacists and neo-Nazis were among those behind the violent, and — in at least one instance — deadly demonstrations this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a statue commemorating Confederate army Gen. Robert E. Lee is targeted for removal next month.
To many offended by Confederate nostalgia, the images of swastikas and burning tiki torches confirmed what they have long believed: that racism, and not respect for history or a desire to lash out against liberals and politically correct culture, is fueling this debate.
It’s a debate with political ramifications, especially for Republicans. Some — notably Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado — have unequivocally denounced the Charlottesville unrest as racism and bigotry.
“We are the Party of Lincoln and a party that stands against divisive and hurtful symbols,” McDaniel said Sunday in statement to BuzzFeed News. “As Americans we can find ways to preserve our history but only if we are working toward an inclusive future that separates us from a hateful past.”
But President Donald Trump, whose campaign offered racialized rhetoric and never consistently disavowed his support among white nationalists, issued a response Saturday that did not call out white supremacists — and instead criticized the violence on “many sides,” while ignoring reporters’ shouted questions about white nationalists. His vague remarks underscore how uncomfortable a topic this is for others in the GOP, particularly those in the Old South, where politicians often are expected to pick a side.
How uncomfortable? BuzzFeed News contacted more than 15 Republican candidates, operatives, and officeholders in Southern states with the same basic question: Does seeing these symbols embraced in the name of racism and in a violent manner change how you feel about pro-Confederate politics? Only two replied. None answered the question as posed.
Those unheard from include Ed Gillespie, who in June narrowly beat a pro-Confederate candidate in Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial primary. The posturing by his rival, Corey Stewart, forced Gillespie to take a more explicit position on the Lee statue. (“No, Ed Gillespie doesn’t support removing Confederate monuments,” read the headline on a Gillespie campaign statement that pushed back on a Stewart claim.)
On Saturday, Gillespie condemned the “ugly events” in Charlottesville. “Having a right to spew vile hate does not make it right,” he said in a campaign statement. “These displays have no place in our Commonwealth, and the mentality on display is rejected by the decent, thoughtful and compassionate fellow Virginians I see every day.”
On Sunday, he went a step further: “We've seen evil in white supremacist torches and howling neo Naziism,” Gillespie said in a Twitter post honoring state troopers killed in a helicopter crash during the previous day’s unrest.
But a spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether the racism and violence in Charlottesville has prompted Gillespie to reconsider his position.
The silver Dodge Charger allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. into a crowd of protesters and other cars that ultimately killed a woman and left more injured.
Others who did not respond:
Stewart did not make himself available for another interview this weekend. His spokesperson, Noel Fritsch, did not respond directly to a question about whether neo-Nazis rallying around the Lee statue in Charlottesville might change Stewart’s thinking on the issue.
“Was Tim Kaine marching with the hammer & sickle?” Fritsch replied in an email, referring to the Democratic senator Stewart hopes to unseat next year and to a Communist symbol.
That deflection was consistent with the whataboutism Trump offered in his Saturday remarks — the president condemned “hatred, bigotry, and violence” … “on many sides” — and was on display later that evening in a video statement Stewart made on Facebook.
Stewart took swipes at Kaine and, without offering specific examples, accused Democrats of not condemning or denouncing violence by organizations on the political left, such as Antifa, an anti-fascist group. “If free speech is not protected, people do sometimes turn to violence,” he said. “That is not the right way to go. We must always condemn it. But we must not allow the left to crack down on free speech, to crack down on conservative speech, in the aftermath of what is happening in Charlottesville today.”
A Virginia Republican Party spokesperson sidestepped specific questions Saturday on the appropriateness of pro-Confederate politics and instead pointed to a statement on the party’s website: “The Republican Party was created to end slavery in the mid-1800s and our party today continues to stand for equality for all persons regardless of their race or ethnicity,” Virginia GOP Chairman John Whitbeck said. “We condemn the hatred and racism on display today in Charlottesville and note that there is nothing conservative about messages of that nature.”
Haley’s effort to bring the Confederate flag down in South Carolina propelled her — and the issue — to national prominence. Then–RNC chairman Reince Priebus stood with her the day she announced the push, signifying how important the issue was to a party that at the time was eager to build bridges with black voters and other minorities.
More recently, though, the decisions have occurred on the local level, with Mayors Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans and Andrew “FoFo” Gilich in Biloxi, Mississippi — a Democrat and Republican, respectively — leading the charge against Confederate symbols. In Richmond, Virginia, once a capital of the confederacy, Democratic Mayor Levar Stoney has called for adding context to old monuments, rather than tearing them down.
Another Democrat, Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington, Kentucky, announced Saturday that he would seek to move two Confederate monuments from the lawn of an old courthouse.
“The tragic events in Charlottesville,” Gray said on Twitter, “have accelerated the announcement I intended to make next week.”
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
In a rare break with President Donald Trump, Republican National Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel explicitly condemned the racist angle of weekend rallies and protests around a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, multiple times before Trump did so himself.
At an event on Monday in Detroit, McDaniel made clear that she expected the president to follow her lead and speak out more forcefully on the violent, deadly incidents soon. (He did so later on Monday, in remarks at the White House.)
“The president is going to have a conversation today,” McDaniel said while addressing reporters at a roundtable with black leaders — an event planned before the Charlottesville unrest.
Chad Livengood, a reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, shared video of the remarks on Twitter.
Trump, McDaniel said, “obviously this weekend denounced bigotry and racism and hate in all its forms, and today I think he’ll go even further. The vice president did yesterday. It is important that we address that white supremacy, neo-Nazi, KKK. Any type of hate and bigotry is not welcome, not just in our party, but in our country. And all of our leaders have to do that across party lines. And we have to unite together. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is an American issue. I’m a mom. I don’t want my kids growing up in a country that says this is OK. So we have to have that conversation, and I think the president will address that forcefully today.”
A few hours after McDaniel's remarks, Trump condemned racism as "evil" and singled out white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Chad Livengood, via Twitter
White supremacists and neo-Nazis were among those protesting the upcoming removal of a statue commemorating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. One counterdemonstrator was killed after a car plowed into a crowd. Two state troopers died in a helicopter crash during the unrest.
Trump, whose presidential campaign offered racialized rhetoric and counted white nationalists among its supporters, issued a response on Saturday that did not call out white supremacists — and instead criticized the “hated, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”
Reporters in Detroit asked McDaniel, the past chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party who has become one of Trump’s staunchest defenders, if the president should have been more forceful sooner.
“His comments came right during the events,” McDaniel replied. “And he did say that it is egregious, hate is unacceptable, bigotry is unacceptable. I think that defines what white supremacy stands for — hate and bigotry. Today, I think he’ll address those in a more specific way now that we know what happened on the ground.”
It’s the third time in as many days that McDaniel has been more direct than Trump or some others in her party have been about the racially charged aspects surrounding the defense of Confederate symbols. On Saturday, for example, she was among the first Republican leaders to call out the protesters in Charlottesville unequivocally. Republican senators like Ted Cruz, Cory Gardner, and Orrin Hatch have also strongly condemned the actions of white supremacists.
And on Sunday, in a statement to BuzzFeed News for a story on whether the events in Charlottesville will change GOP attitudes on Confederate nostalgia, McDaniel proclaimed: “We are the Party of Lincoln and a party that stands against divisive and hurtful symbols. As Americans we can find ways to preserve our history but only if we are working toward an inclusive future that separates us from a hateful past.”
RNC officials have not specified whether McDaniel was denouncing all Confederate symbols.
Yuri Gripas / Reuters
WASHINGTON — One of the country’s top lawyers is asking the Supreme Court to take up a case that could reshape — or even end — the death penalty in America.
The aggressive filing comes as the Supreme Court is already set to hear a high-profile series of cases.
An Arizona death row inmate, Abel Daniel Hidalgo, has been arguing for the past three years that the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional because it doesn’t do enough to narrow who is eligible for the death penalty, among those convicted of murder.
Earlier this year, Neal Katyal, best known these days for serving as the lead lawyer for Hawaii’s challenge to President Trump’s travel ban, agreed to serve as Hidalgo’s lawyer at the Supreme Court.
Katyal, the former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, asked the justices in Monday’s filing to hear Hidalgo’s case and to strike down Arizona’s death penalty law.
The filing comes more than two years after Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, called for a wholesale review of the constitutionality of the death penalty. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has also expressed great concerns about the courts’ handling of death penalty cases, as well as some states’ death penalty laws.
And Justice Anthony Kennedy has expressed concerns about the death penalty’s imposition, and has cast key votes excluding groups of people — like children or the intellectually disabled — from being eligible for the death penalty. He has not, however, given any specific indication that he is ready to join Breyer’s call to review the constitutionality of the death penalty overall — and has allowed several executions to proceed since Breyer's call.
Katyal, however, joined by other lawyers at his firm, Hogan Lovells, as well as Susan Corey and others at the Office of the Legal Advocate in Arizona and Arizona attorney Garrett Simpson, thinks the time is now — a move that could be tied to concerns by many liberal lawyers about whether and when Kennedy, at 81, might retire from the court.
“I have spent the last few years with my team looking for cases that highlight the gross problems with the death penalty in practice, and this case is a perfect example of them,” Katyal told BuzzFeed News on Monday evening. “We look forward to the Supreme Court's review of Mr. Hidalgo's petition.”
In 1972, the Supreme Court found the death penalty in America unconstitutional as then implemented, the court, in Gregg v. Georgia. Four years later, the court brought it back — with new constraints — by approving several states’ new laws. In Monday’s filing, Katyal wrote of that case, “[T]he Court acknowledged that it might someday revisit the constitutionality of the death penalty in light of ‘more convincing evidence.’”
He continued: “The evidence is in. The long experiment launched by Gregg — in whether the death penalty can be administered within constitutional bounds — has failed. It has failed both in Arizona in particular and in the Nation more broadly.”
The brief points out that the court in Gregg found the new state death penalty laws to be constitutional because they required the finding of “aggravating” circumstances — a move that the court’s controlling opinion concluded would “direct and limit” who was eligible for execution “so as to minimize the risk of wholly arbitrary and capricious action.”
Forty years later, Arizona’s death penalty law is such that there are so many aggravating circumstances that “every first degree murder case filed in Maricopa County in 2010 and 2011 had at least one aggravating factor” making the person eligible for the death penalty. Hidalgo pleaded guilty in 2015 to two January 2001 murders in a murder-for-hire scheme in Maricopa County, Arizona. He was then sentenced to death by a jury.
“Arizona’s scheme utterly fails,” Katyal wrote, to “genuinely narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty” as the court has required over the time since Gregg.
For this reason alone, Hidalgo’s legal team argues, the court should take the case and strike down Arizona’s death penalty law.
But, beyond that, the filing goes on, “A national consensus has emerged that the death penalty is an unacceptable punishment in any circumstance.” The brief argues that the court should take the case and rule that the death penalty, nationwide, is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.
This is so, the brief argues, because “the number of death sentences imposed and carried out has plummeted.”
The brief also points to three further key arguments in support of this larger aim: First, states can’t give guidance that ensures that only “the worst offenders” are sentenced to death. Second, states can’t enforce the death penalty without “ensnaring and putting to death the innocent.” And, finally, “the present reality of capital punishment” — decades spent on death row with “the remote but very real possibility of execution” — is its own possible constitutional violation.
Hidalgo’s is not the first death penalty case Katyal’s team had considered taking to the Supreme Court. In the fall of 2015, just months after Breyer and Ginsburg’s statement about reviewing the death penalty, Hogan Lovells took on representation of Julius Murphy, on death row in Texas. The Texas courts, however, put that execution on hold indefinitely before the Hogan Lovells team had a reason to take the case to the US Supreme Court.
Read the filing:
Sen. Luther Strange and Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year.
Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have feuded over the failure to pass a health care bill, were a united front in Tuesday’s special election in Alabama.
Both want appointed incumbent Luther Strange to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat. And their efforts helped Strange secure second place and emerge from a nine-candidate primary.
But Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was poised to finish first — short of the 50% threshold he would have needed to head straight to the December general election. Moore and Strange now will compete one-on-one in a September runoff.
Going into Tuesday, the suspense centered on whether Strange could clinch the second spot — polls showed Moore in the lead, but below 50% — despite the presence of a third prominent candidate: Rep. Mo Brooks.
On the Democratic side, former US attorney Doug Jones won his party's nomination outright after leading a seven-candidate field.
For all the talk this year of House races in Kansas, Montana, and Georgia being referendums on Trump — Trump-backed candidates won all three — the Alabama race is a test of something different: Can a political marriage of convenience between Trump’s anti-establishment brand and McConnell’s insider brand ultimately produce a winner?
A super PAC aligned with McConnell has spent about $4 million to boost Strange. Trump joined the fray in the closing days, tweeting out his surprise endorsement of Strange last week — some expected he would stay neutral — and taping a Monday robocall. A Trump-approved super PAC also has chipped in with a $200,000 digital advertising push.
“Senator Strange has already proven himself to be the best possible candidate in this race to stand beside our President and make America great again,” Erin Montgomery, a spokesperson for America First Action, said in an email announcing the pro-Trump group’s support.
Moore and others discounted the significance of Trump’s endorsement. "I think the people are not voting for President Trump," Moore said last week while campaigning in Montgomery, according to AL.com. "They're voting for his agenda, which I firmly believe in.”
Moore has a controversial history nationally: He was suspended from Alabama’s state Supreme Court after he issued guidance to probate judges in the state to ignore federal court rulings on same-sex couples’ marriage rights. That was actually the second time he was relieved of duty on the state Supreme Court; about a decade before, he was removed after a federal standoff over a monument to the Ten Commandments. His defiance in both cases has earned him admiration on the right. He recently announced endorsements from more than 50 religious leaders.
Alabama is one of the minority of states in which Trump’s approval rating is above 50% — and he remains immensely popular among Republican voters who will decide the Senate race.
Strange’s allies, laser-focused on Brooks, attempted to paint the congressman as anti-Trump and pro-Nancy Pelosi, despite Brooks’s embrace of the president’s agenda. The McConnell forces dredged up remarks Brooks made during last year’s primaries, in which he referred to Trump as a “serial adulterer.”
Brooks also was criticized for airing a TV ad that featured audio of gunshots fired at a baseball practice for congressional Republicans in June. Brooks was on the field at the time of the shooting, which critically injured Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican. The ad reaffirmed Brooks’s support for the Second Amendment, even after the attack.
“This makes my stomach turn,” Scalise’s chief of staff tweeted after seeing the spot.
Strange, Alabama’s former attorney general, eventually could pay for his ties to Robert Bentley, the former governor chased from office by scandal and threats of impeachment earlier this year. Critics have questioned Strange’s handling of an investigation into Bentley’s conduct, and linked it to Bentley’s eventual appointment of Strange to the Senate seat Sessions vacated when Trump tapped him to lead the Justice Department.
"I asked the team I put together to follow the truth wherever it led,” Strange told the Associated Press this month. “They did. So the governor resigned.”
Other Republicans who competed in the Tuesday primary include state Sen. Trip Pittman; Randy Brinson, head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama; and lesser-known candidates James Beretta, Joseph Breault, Bryan Peeples, and Mary Maxwell.
The GOP runoff will be Sept. 26, with a general election between the Republican nominee and Jones scheduled for Dec. 12. Given Alabama’s deep-red Republican status, the GOP nominee will be heavily favored.
In another special election contest Tuesday, John Curtis won the Republican nomination to fill the seat vacated by retired Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Curtis, the current mayor of Provo and a former Democrat, faced an onslaught of attacks from his two GOP rivals, who attempted to cast him as insufficiently conservative, but managed to maintain an early lead in a race that has largely stayed off the national radar. The result makes him the overwhelming favorite to replace Chaffetz, in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 5-to-1.
He now goes on to face Democratic nominee Kathryn Allen, as well as several third-party candidates, in November’s special election.
Jim Dalrymple II contributed reporting to this story
@ACSOSheriffs / Twitter / Via Twitter: @ACSOSheriffs
As the fallout from this weekend's white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that left three dead led to anti-racism protests and rallies across the country, a retweet of white nationalist Richard Spencer on Monday night led to questions about what exactly was going on at the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.
The person responsible told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that the move was an accident resulting from the department's attempts to prepare for a white nationalist rally scheduled to take place in the county at Berkeley on Aug. 27.
"We absolutely oppose bigotry and hate speech. I do not support it in any way," Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday, noting that the department "does not condone" discrimination of any type.
"It was an honest mistake," Kelly said of the retweet. "I am sorry that it happened."
@ACSOSheriffs / Twitter / Via Twitter: @ACSOSheriffs
"We are preparing for the upcoming rally at the university," Kelly said. The county has dealt with several rallies over the last year, including the April 15 rally at Berkeley that involved violence between the alt-right and antifa.
"Given the recent events in Charlottesville … our media people, myself included" have been examining social media, he said, and trying to understand better what is being planned.
"My job is to stay current on what’s being said," Kelly said. "When we know what people are saying; we know what to expect."
@ACSOSheriffs / Twitter / Via Twitter: @ACSOSheriffs
He said that's why the Alameda County Sheriff's Office account began following "Based Stickman," the account of Kyle Chapman, an alt-right figure allegedly involved in violence at prior Berkeley protests who has supported efforts to militarize elements of the alt-right.
@BasedStickman_ / Twitter / Via Twitter: @BasedStickman_
"We were going to follow them briefly to keep up with what they were saying," Kelly said. After criticism, he said the office decided to use other methods to handle tracking.
As to the Spencer retweet specifically, Kelly said, "Yesterday, we were looking at Richard Spencer’s account … it led to a Periscope press conference." In trying to close the video, he accidentally retweeted it to the sheriff's office account. "It was not a two-step. It was just a one-step retweet."
(While an ordinary retweet takes two steps, Kelly is correct that if the video in Spencer's tweet was open on the Twitter application, touching the retweet button below it automatically sends the retweet to the person's own account without a second confirmation step necessary.)
Once he was told what had happened and was able to figure out how to undo it, Kelly said he took the retweet down. It took more than a half-hour for the account to remove the retweet — with one tweeted reply addressing the issue in the meantime.
@ACSOSheriffs / Twitter / Via Twitter: @ACSOSheriffs
Acknowledging that others may have handled the situation better, Kelly said, "I am not so savvy."
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
As progressives and liberals decide where to direct their attention in the nonstop news cycle that is the Trump era, civil rights groups have focused on two people: Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.
Initially, leaders from the civil rights groups also included Stephen Miller with the other two in a news release — but, oddly, he was not included after that.
Early Sunday afternoon, in the midst of white supremacist protests in Charlottesville that sparked counterprotests and violence, some top liberal and progressive advocacy groups announced a call urging action from President Trump.
The news advisory about the call — sent out at least by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund — made clear the groups would be calling on "Trump to fire White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, White House Deputy Assistant Sebastian Gorka and White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller."
When the call took place about two hours later, however, the aim had been reduced by one name.
"President Trump should remove Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who have stoked hate and division, from his administration," the head of the Leadership Conference, Vanita Gupta, said.
"Firing Mr. Bannon and Mr. Gorka would be a sign that he’s serious about changing direction," said Richard Cohen, the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Discussing white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, Muslim Advocates' Farhana Khera said, "He must rid his administration of those who give comfort and support to these groups. Specifically, I’m talking about Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka."
None of the advocates who spoke even mentioned Miller's name in their statements made during the call.
In the past, liberals and others have pointed to Bannon's work as the head of Breitbart, and his statement that the site is a "platform" for the alt-right, and to reports that Gorka belonged to Historical Vitézi Rend, a far-right Hungarian group that had ties to the Nazi party and a complicated history. Gorka has denied he belonged to the group and denied holding anti-Semitic beliefs.
A petition launched by the Leadership Conference in the aftermath of the call similarly only named Bannon and Gorka.
The same focus appears to be coming from liberals in Congress as well.
On Wednesday, BuzzFeed News reported that a planned censure resolution being introduced by Democrats would include censure for, according to the resolution, "employing people with ties to white supremacist movements in the White House, such as Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka."
Asked about why Miller's name was included in the news advisory but not the call, a Leadership Conference spokesperson initially provided a statement condemning all three men — but drawing a distinction between Bannon and Gorka, and Miller's policy work.
"The Leadership Conference strongly believes that supporters of white supremacy and white nationalism, including the so-called ‘Alt right’, violent extremism, racial bigotry, and neo-Nazism should not serve in the White House or at any level of government. That includes people like Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who have clear ties to organizations that promote hate, and Stephen Miller, an architect of policies like the Muslim ban and the curb on legal immigration that stoke hate and division," according to the statement.
Asked for further clarification, the spokesperson acknowledged that the call on Sunday focused on Gorka and Bannon, but still maintained that the group continues to oppose Miller's continued employment in the White House: "The Leadership Conference urges the president to fire Stephen Miller, who creates and pushes policies that seek to divide us, like the Muslim ban and the latest anti-immigrant policies."
As to the censure resolution, a spokesperson for one of the leaders of the effort, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, said the language wasn't limited to them, in effect, and called Bannon and Gorka just "the most obvious" names.
President Donald Trump
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Expectations are now sky-high that President Donald Trump will endorse a Republican primary challenger to Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona — perhaps as soon as next week.
The buzz has been out there for months: Flake has been one of Trump’s most persistent critics in the GOP, and the White House political team has spoken with potential rivals.
The buzz grew this week, when Trump announced plans for an Aug. 22 campaign rally in Phoenix. And it will grow even more after a Thursday morning Twitter missive in which Trump encouraged the candidacy of Kelli Ward, who for now is Flake’s only declared opponent.
“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate,” Trump tapped out to his followers. “He's toxic!”
Flake has been unabashed in his criticism of Trump. His recently published book, Conscience of a Conservative, is a scathing repudiation of the president’s brand of Republican politics.
Asked for a response to Trump’s tweet, Flake spokesperson Will Allison replied: "You don't serve Arizona by cutting backroom deals in Washington, D.C. That's why Senator Flake will always fight for the people of our state.”
And the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which backs incumbents, responded with a strong statement of support for Flake: "The NRSC unequivocally supports Senator Flake in his reelection bid," said the group's chairman, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.
Republican sources have told BuzzFeed News that the White House is showing increased interest in the race. But Arizona operatives aren’t sold on Ward. Her failed primary challenge last year against Sen. John McCain is not fondly remembered — and she since upset party leaders by raising doubts about McCain’s prospects for recovery after a recently diagnosed brain tumor. (She also suggested she should succeed McCain if he can’t finish his term.)
There are at least two other GOP prospects being mentioned as alternatives: State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, and former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham.
The Washington Times, citing unidentified sources, reported on Wednesday that Trump was leaning toward declaring his support for DeWit at next week’s rally. A spokesperson for DeWit, who had a national role in Trump’s campaign last year, would not comment on the record but pointed BuzzFeed News to Phoenix-area reports in which DeWit called the Times story “fake news.”
Other sources who spoke to BuzzFeed News before Thursday’s tweet were skeptical that Trump would issue an endorsement next week, though they also noted that the president is known for doing the unexpected. (An endorsement of DeWit or Graham before either has a campaign infrastructure ready to handle donations or respond to inquiries would be unusual, too.)
There’s also the Mercer factor: GOP mega-donor Robert Mercer, a major Trump backer, recently donated $300,000 to Ward’s super PAC. And Eric Beach, the founder of a pro-Trump super PAC, is advising Ward’s campaign.
The Times story reported that Trump had soured on Ward — a notion that Ward emphatically denied to BuzzFeed News. “Our private discussions with the White House have been extremely positive and any report that say otherwise is utterly false, or fake news,” she said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “I will defeat Senator Flake next year and make sure the president has a conservative ally from Arizona who is committed to moving his America First agenda forward.”
Graham has not returned telephone calls seeking comment. Arizona-watchers believe DeWit, Graham, or any other potential primary challenger will be hesitant to jump into the race if Ward remains a candidate. Trump’s tweet, combined with Mercer money, is hardly discouraging for Ward, and could make the primary less appealing for other prospects.
Alexis Levinson contributed reporting.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images
Perhaps the only surprising thing about Steve Bannon’s self-immolation is who he handed the match to: a bearded liberal editor he’d never met named Robert Kuttner.
But Kuttner isn’t just a generic liberal Washington editor — liberals come in various stripes — he’s a leading figure of the labor left, an enemy of Bannon’s neoliberal enemies, and a voice of what’s long been a losing stream of Democratic policy: the Bernie-Warren-Brown camp, the ones who believe that the harm trade has done American workers outweighs the growth that cheap Chinese labor has given the American economy.
Bannon called Kuttner as part of what Kuttner paraphrased as a strategy “to battle the trade doves inside the administration while building an outside coalition of trade hawks that includes left as well as right.”
Bannon, who talks to people you wouldn’t expect him to talk to all the time, isn’t on some quixotic mission to make new friends. He’s playing for — or at least fantasizing about — a major realignment of American politics. He’s been saying the same thing for years to anyone who will listen: that trade and manufacturing are the core issues for working Americans, who also want their sons and daughters back from foreign wars; and that a president who can deliver that will “get 60% of the white vote, and 40% of the black and Hispanic vote and we'll govern for 50 years,” as he told Michael Wolff in the heady days of mid-November.
If you squinted at Trump, as Bannon — who only joined the campaign a year ago — seems to have been doing, you could see him as that candidate. He had been popular, once, with working people of all races. His views on trade, industry, and foreign policy roughly aligned with that new coalition. His own exploitative business and deference to the prerogatives of wealth didn’t, but, well, that’s why you had to squint.
This dream of realignment helps explain Trump’s total inability to work with Congress. In that model, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are the sworn enemies of most of his agenda; Senate leftists like Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown are his likeliest friends. Trump was, Bannon believed, going to reshape congressional politics to his will. "It's everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I'm the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.”
“It will be as exciting as the 1930s,” Bannon said.
Well, everyone is talking about the 1930s these days. But they’re not talking about the New Deal. They’re talking about the last time American Nazis felt ascendant. And Bannon has become just the latest American political figure to dream of a class-based politics, and then to founder on the thing that really makes American politics exceptional: its deep racial divisions. Virtually every other industrialized nation developed that politics of class, represented by a powerful Labo(u)r or Socialist party.
Bannon’s rhetoric, if you listen to it right, sounds at times like the Democrats’ European-style dream. The labor wing of the Democratic Party has always sought — with mixed success — to create those cross-racial coalitions. I heard a particularly blunt version of this in West Virginia in 2008: "I'd rather have a black friend than a white enemy," the legendary United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts said as part of the Democrats’ failed pitch for Barack Obama in the state.
Non-presidents like John Kerry and Walter Mondale and their old-line union allies talk less bluntly. Indeed, through the years the words at AFL-CIO rallies grew halfhearted and wooden — about uniting working people across racial lines, around their shared interests. The modern Republican Party is shaped in part by Richard Nixon’s almost effortless response to that goal, a “Southern Strategy” that appealed to the racial, rather than class, resentment of whites. And before the center-left of the second half of the 20th century looked to elevate class over race, the Communists gave it their best shot, emerging in the 1930s Popular Front era as key civil rights allies — which helped doom their appeal to white workers.
Trump showed, arguably, a flicker of this appeal in his election. He did better last November with Latino voters than most observers suspected he would, and his presence on the ballot didn’t drive black turnout the way the Clinton campaign had hoped. His appeal to them was the same as to white workers: Competition with new immigrants is lowering wages; he’d put America back to work.
But Trump grew up in a New York politics in which class was a sideline, race always the main game. He may have blustered about China here and there, but his formative political gambit was a breathtakingly cynical campaign to execute five black boys falsely accused of raping a white woman, the most archetypal race-baiting America can offer. That’s To Kill a Mockingbird, not The Jungle.
Bannon has a bizarre dual role as Trump’s ideologist: He’s the guy selling a new cross-racial coalition; and he’s the chief arsonist of that coalition, using racism as a kind of cultural token for anti-elite politics. The congressional coalition he imagines, in which Democrats cross the aisle to join Trump under the red flag of socialism, is now laughable. Trump has lost Ryan and McConnell without gaining Schumer and Pelosi. And the notion, after Charlottesville, of a cross-racial coalition requires imagining a president so deeply and dexterously committed to reconciliation that you are imagining a different human being.
Bannon likes to excuse Breitbart’s race-baiting as a kind of footnote — white supremacists are “a collection of clowns,” and the issues of race seem to him to be less about their actual substance than about how he can piss off progressives.
Kuttner left his conversation with Bannon wondering about this particular point. “More puzzling is the fact that Bannon would phone a writer and editor of a progressive publication … and assume that a possible convergence of views on China trade might somehow paper over the political and moral chasm on white nationalism,” he said. Bannon might be forgiven by being puzzled that liberals who spent their careers fighting the class war would let a little thing like white nationalism get in their way.
But this is where class-based movements in American politics have always washed up. For race has trumped class. And what Bannon used to talk about as a strategy can probably better be seen now as the excuse, explanation, or diagnosis for a presidency that’s failing.
Jack Gordon Greene
via Arkansas Department of Correction
Arkansas has obtained a new supply of a key execution drug and officials are preparing to use it in the near future.
The state, which tried to carry out eight executions in April before a key execution drug expired, succeeded in carrying out four of those death sentences. Others were halted by state and federal courts.
On Thursday, though, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the state's governor, Asa Hutchinson, to set an execution date for Jack Gordon Greene.
"We've received the letter from the Attorney General's office," Hutchinson spokesperson JR Davis told BuzzFeed News. "The Governor will set a date, but there is no specific timeline."
Greene is on death row as a result of the 1991 murders of his brother and a retired preacher, whose home he had gone to in the aftermath of the first killing. He received a life sentence for the killing of his brother, but a death sentence for killing the preacher, Sidney Jethro Burnett.
"The ADC acquired a supply of Midazolam on August 4, 2017. Once the Governor issues a warrant, the ADC will be prepared to carry out the sentence," Solomon Graves, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Correction, told BuzzFeed News.
via Arkansas Department of Correction
According to documents provided to Greene's lawyer, the director of the Department of Correction, Wendy Kelley, paid $250 cash for the new supply of midazolam at 5:40 p.m. Aug. 4.
via Arkansas Department of Correction
A week later, Kelley submitted a "miscellaneous expense reimbursement form" to recoup the expense.
via Arkansas Department of Correction
Greene's lawyer criticized the state's move in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
"Today the Attorney General has requested an execution date for a severely mentally ill man. Jack Greene has well-documented brain damage and mental illness," John C. Williams, assistant federal defender, said in the statement. "Capital punishment should not be used on vulnerable people like the severely mentally ill. We hope Governor Hutchinson will refrain from setting an execution date for Mr. Greene since he is not competent for execution."
Before the last set of attempted executions, Kelley drove to obtain a supply of potassium chloride, one of the other drugs used in the state's protocol.
Former House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly Stacey Abrams in her office in Atlanta in 2016.
Melissa Golden / Melissa Golden/Redux
On a recent sleepy afternoon inside the Georgia State Capitol, Stacey Abrams was wearing a meticulous twist-out and standing near the well of the house. She was speaking to 35 black students, mostly teenagers.
The 43-year-old legislator had the students participate in a mock debate over a bill she named “HB1,” which proposed to outlaw peanut butter from school grounds. Abrams slow-walked through the particulars of the bill, halting when floor procedure was broken. (A complicated sequence confused one of the young students, and Abrams leaned her six-foot frame leaning down to tell her not to worry. “You've got people who have been here for four years who still don't understand that.”) The “bill” was killed on the floor and the kids applauded.
“OK, questions,” she said. No, she doesn’t have kids. She likes reading and pasta, yes. Has she passed any bills? Abrams slipped into a version of her stump speech, and when she got to “and now I'm running for governor of Georgia” they cheered louder than when the peanut butter bill died. Pleased, her smile was visible for a moment.
Someone asked who she was running against. Abrams pointed to a spot elsewhere in the chamber: “She sits right there.”
A mere 11 black women have been independently elected to statewide executive office in the history of the United States — Abrams wants to be the 12th. In recent years, Georgia has become a state perpetually on the verge of theoretically turning blue on the strength of the state’s influx of affluent, diverse, and college-educated voters. If Republicans continue to win in Midwestern states like Wisconsin and Michigan, Democrats will need to reliably win states like North Carolina and Arizona to stay competitive. Under this vision for Georgia, Abrams seems like a potentially strong candidate: National progressives like her but she has an ability to work with state Republicans (until she stepped aside a few weeks ago to run for governor, she was the minority leader of the Georgia Assembly, a body dominated by Republicans), along with a vision for the state and a history of helping register hundreds of thousands of minority voters.
Her colleague and challenger for the nomination, Stacey Evans — the pair share the same first name in a parable-like twist about the short-term direction of Democratic politics — represents a slightly different vision for the party’s future. Evans, who is white, is less experienced than Abrams. But a powerful rendering of her life story got the attention of prominent Democrats, and decisively shifted the trajectory of the primary, once considered Abrams’s to lose. Titled “16 Homes,” the ad features Georgia-born Evans sitting alone and explaining that she'd grown up poor, and once experienced the trauma of watching her mother be physically abused. Her life changed when she received the state’s HOPE scholarship, and now, she explains, she simply wants to make her story possible in Georgia again. The Democratic strategist Paul Begala watched, then tweeted, “This. This. This. This is why I'm a Democrat.”
The race between the Staceys comes at a tense time for the party. After an unexpectedly raw presidential primary and Hillary Clinton’s stunning defeat, Democrats are still sorting out the party’s ideological and organizational direction, on everything from whether supporting abortion rights should be a candidate requirement to whether white-working-class voters or suburbanites should be targeted. The Georgia primary is a microcosm of that existential crisis, bringing delicate but explosive questions about race and party politics to the fore. What kinds of candidates should the party favor? What kinds of voters should they seek? Abrams is banking on an outpouring of black voters inspired by the possibility of making history, and Evans on the prospect of peeling off moderate, and some conservative, whites. How, exactly, should Democrats in Georgia be trying to win statewide elections?
“We’re a black party, that’s kind of the deal. But you don’t put [Ossoff’s] number up without white folks voting for you.”
The primary is already causing anxiety in the party at places like Manuel’s Tavern, a Democratic watering hole where it’s considered impolite not to go drink-for-drink, and the conversation often goes back to old campaigns. (One recent afternoon, Jon Ossoff, the young candidate who lost a close special election in the state’s sixth congressional district, ambled in and had a few with Evans’ campaign chairman.) Lots of these Georgia-based Democrats still long to reach white voters that abandoned them. Georgia last went blue in a presidential election in 1992, when southerner Bill Clinton ran the first time (but not the second); the state’s last Democratic governor, Roy Barnes, left office 14 years ago.
“I think there's a debate about Democratic base turnout versus persuasion, but that's a false debate because we have to do both,” said Jeff DiSantis, one of the state’s top Democratic strategists. “I don't see how you [win] without both increasing the Democratic base turnout and winning over some people that we’ve lost over that last few decades.”
At Manuel’s, people are quick to note the silver lining in Ossoff’s loss: He swung the Republican-leaning district by 20 points, months after Hillary Clinton improved on Barack Obama’s performance there by double digits. “We’re a black party, that’s kind of the deal,” one strategist who asked not to be named so he could speak freely told BuzzFeed News. “But you don’t put [Ossoff’s] number up without white folks voting for you.”
Some in the white liberal political class here worry about something they would never say publicly: If Abrams wins the nomination, they think she’s going to lose some of the 23% to 25% (Democrats vary on this number) of white voters who vote Democrat every election. National progressives watching the state argue that number isn’t going to budge — and that Abrams could improve on previous Democrats’ performance with especially black voters, but also Latino and Asian voters. After all: Georgia is one of the most diverse states in the country: Statewide, nearly 45% of Georgians are people of color, and the states’ 1.5 million black people make up a third of the total population (and more than half of those people of color live in suburban or rural areas).
The fraught tensions around the primary, and the feelings among some black progressives that Democrats aren’t giving Abrams enough support, bubbled up last weekend at Netroots Nation convention. The event has become a landing place for protest; at Phoenix’s 2015 gathering, protesters famously interrupted and challenged appearances by Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, pressing the candidates on the recent death of a black woman, Sandra Bland, in prison following a routine traffic stop.
This year, in Atlanta, as Evans took to the lectern, protesters shouted “Trust black women” and “Support black women” as Evans attempted, unsuccessfully, to address the audience. The protesters distributed fliers comparing Evans to Betsy DeVos; they argued that Evans was moderate speaking at a progressive conference; and said that Evans’ views on education are harmful to black children. (A specific point of contention is that Evans has voted in support of charter schools and backed a plan that would have given the governor more power to make dramatic changes to troubled schools.)
Evans asked the protesters to let her talk, asking for a dialogue with anyone who would listen as they shouted her down. She eventually chose to power through her speech, and at one point even chanted back, “HOPE! HOPE! HOPE!”
Protesters disrupting a speech by Stacey Evans at the morning plenary session at the Netroots Nation annual conference.
Christopher Aluka Berry / Reuters
In response to a series of questions regarding the protest and whether the Abrams campaign supported the action or knew about it in advance, a spokesperson said, “The campaign received a call on Friday night from Netroots staff indicating that a protest against Evans might take place. Regarding participants, as we were not present, we know what was publicly reported.”
The Evans campaign declined to comment further, referring to remarks she made to the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the protesters deserved to heard, and so did she. In a series of tweets, Abrams defended the protest, saying her commitment to public education and opposing privatization “stands in stark contrast to all my opponents” without naming Evans. “My parents were civil rights protestors [sic], and taught me to lead peaceful demonstrations against apartheid, the Confederate flag, and in support of the LGBT community. I will not condemn peaceful protest. From what I observed from Savannah, activists in Atlanta peacefully protested this morning on the critical issue of preserving public education for every family in our state. The mantra of ‘trust black women’ is a historic endorsement of the value of bringing marginalized voices to the forefront, not a rebuke to my opponent's race.” On Aug. 14, she wrote on Facebook, "I will never engage in any form of campaigning designed to ostracize my opponents based on race."
“I don't look like what people expect. And that expectation often is transmuted into whether they think I can be successful.”
Meanwhile, Patrick Husbands, the vice president of the Young Democrats of Atlanta, said matters of race won’t matter, at least as much as everyone thinks. “In Georgia, they’re ready to have real people run for office,” he said. Husbands thinks it's a narrative being pushed by the national media — and members inside Abrams camp agree. “We’ll let the press do that,” said Marcus Ferrell, a former Bernie Sanders hand who drove his Jeep to Atlanta from Phoenix to help Abrams. “Building a new coalition is what excites us, and I think if you ask anyone on our campaign, if we execute the plan to the best of our ability it won’t matter what the press says.”
Even if everyone says they don’t want to talk about it, it’s clearly weighing on Democratic minds here in Georgia. And for her part, Abrams has thought a lot about the role race plays in chatter surrounding the primary. “I am always aware both internally and often externally that I don't look like what people expect,” she said in July. “And that expectation often is transmuted into whether they think I can be successful.”
Abrams urges people to vote during a visit to a Piccadilly Cafeteria at the Gallery at South DeKalb in Decatur, Ga., Oct. 26, 2016.
Kevin D. Liles / The New York Times
Over the last decade, the “rising star” label has been attached to Abrams possibly more than any other Democrat in American politics. In some ways, she’s emerged as progressives’ answer to, say, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger: accomplished, charismatic, and possessing at a young age the quality of having A Future in politics, even if what that future in American politics should be wasn't quite clear.
Born in Madison, Wisconsin, to parents who were then a library sciences student and a shipyard worker, Abrams grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi. She gets laughs when she says that her mother, Carolyn, called their family the “genteel poor” — “We had no money, but we had class. We watched PBS and read books.” Carolyn and Robert emphasized public service for their children.
Their daughter jokes she got tricked into going to Spelman by her mother, but was convinced to stay when she saw cute boys at Morehouse. Her career at Spelman, though, belies her drive: Either unable or unwilling to decide on a major, she became the school’s first ever interdisciplinary studies major in school history, all while clashing with the administration as student body president. She convinced the school’s president, Dr. Johnetta B. Cole, to sit in on one board meeting with CEOs and prominent alumni. “The person next to me just slid their materials over,” she said. Soon she was going all the time. They helped shape her understanding of how an enterprise needs funding. (Amid her political career, Abrams has also pursued business in consulting, finance, and bottled water — and is an accomplished novelist under the pen name Selena Montgomery.) She once barged into a meeting of the school’s board of directors. The University of Texas, a Truman Fellowship, and Yale Law School followed.
By 29, she was deputy city attorney for the city of Atlanta under then-mayor Shirley Franklin. When state Rep. JoAnn McClinton decided not to run past 2006, Abrams’ decided to jump in. She ran and won against a pair of opponents. “She was a little bit fearless,” Columbus Rep. Carolyn Hugley recalled, saying that Abrams cared little for deference to the House Speaker. “Everybody knows that it’s not a good idea to challenge the ruling of the chair even if you are correct, but she was all business.” Abrams quickly built a reputation of a legislator who worked harder than most.
Along the way, she also began playing in wider Georgia politics, something that may be causing her some real problems now: She endorsed a candidate in the 2010 gubernatorial race then refused to change alliances when Barnes, the last Democratic governor, decided to run, too. She also backed a challenger to Kasim Reed, the Atlanta mayor who still holds a lot of sway in Georgia politics. (So angered was Reed at Abrams, one source said, that Abrams believed he was using his connections in Washington to keep her out of fundraising networks. Reed, who himself had designs on statewide office, views her as a rival, “and, accordingly, hates her,” a Georgia insider said. “Plus, she's not ‘of’ the Atlanta Black establishment, so they’re sniping and backbiting.” After asking BuzzFeed News about this story, Reed’s office did not return requests for an interview.)
“I am tired of being first. I want to be last.”
Regardless, Democrats elected Abrams to lead their caucus in 2011, and she does have support in the party in Georgia. John Lewis recently endorsed her, for instance — a big time endorsement. In general, though it’s been a tough time to be a Democrat. The party has been slaughtered in state elections — Republicans nearly hold a supermajority. Abrams, however, has made noise on both ends: trying to compromise to hold ground on priorities with Republicans, while leading efforts to protect voting rights through the courts and in registration efforts. Abrams was the chief architect and founder of a plan, the New Georgia Project, that registered thousands of the estimated 800,000 eligible voters of color who lived in Georgia but were not registered to vote.
These kinds of efforts, her role in the assembly, and her appeal have garnered national attention, the kind that can help a state politician become a national politician: The activist Ben Jealous, a notorious networker who is running for governor of Maryland, asked the Democratic activist and donor Steve Phillips to meet with Abrams about four years ago. “It was clear to me that she had the most detailed and sophisticated understanding of her state’s politics and how to win in her state than anyone I’ve ever met in any other part of the country,” said Phillips, who is among the national progressives helping Abrams. “The level of depth and strategic sophistication was a higher level than you find for people in politics.” EMILY’s List — the fundraising group that aims to elect pro-choice women — awarded her the first Gabby Giffords Rising Star Award in 2014. During her acceptance speech, Abrams posited that acquiring power means that you can be the “last” woman to deal with a laundry list of political, sexist, or racist shit. “I am tired of being first. I want to be last,” she said. “We will populate the heavens and we will all become last! And the first to say thank you.” (In July, Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List said that Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi had all spoken that night but all that anyone remembers or talks about is Abrams. “She stole the night.”)
And now she’s running for governor.
Both of Abrams’ parents later became ministers, and Abrams often speaks with the cadence of the ministry. On a recent visit to Columbus, about 90 minutes southwest of Atlanta, she recounted a story about once when she and her older sister had gone searching for their father, who had a habit of walking or even hitch-hiking home, along a highway in the middle of winter. They found him, coat-less, on the side of the highway. No, he hadn’t lost his jacket. He’d given it to a homeless man on the highway. “My dad said, ‘That man was alone and I knew that he'd be alone when I left.’ But he said, ‘I knew y'all were coming for me.’ I'm running for governor because I'm coming for Georgia.”
Too many families are left behind who have what it takes to succeed but “because they're the wrong color or they live in the wrong zip code or they make the wrong mistakes,” things don't always go their way, Abrams said. And though some Georgians have seen progress, “it has not seen them.”
Abrams, she said, wants to be “the governor of the whole state of Georgia.”
Stacey Evans, who is running for governor of Georgia, addresses Netroots.
Christopher Aluka Berry / Reuters
Planned Parenthood canvassers go door to door about the Zika virus in Florida last month.
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Planned Parenthood wants to put the next health care fight in the hands of its volunteers.
Over the next 12 months, the 100-year-old women’s health and abortion rights group will build a corps of 600 volunteer-led community organizing teams across the country, each one located near a Planned Parenthood health center, officials said this week.
The new organizing project, seeded with an initial $500,000, begins in September with four regional “bootcamps,” where 1,000 hand-picked volunteers will undergo intensive training, return home with new organizing tools, and form the basis of an effort that Planned Parenthood officials believe is “unlike any other than we’ve ever made.”
That’s how Planned Parenthood’s national organizing director Kelley Robinson described the decision to invest in a nationwide network led entirely by volunteers, focused on building “intersectional” local campaigns to “protect and promote” women’s health. (The $500,000 will be a joint investment made by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its linked political arm, Planned Parenthood Action Fund.)
For the volunteer leaders that Planned Parenthood trains next month, that could mean building local campaigns around legislation in Washington, or sexual-assault awareness on campuses, or ballot initiatives in the state. The idea more broadly, said Nilofar Ganjaie, a lead Planned Parenthood field organizer based in Seattle, is “to actually put this the hands of activists” and “scale up in a way that we haven’t been able to do.”
Looking ahead after the Republican health care defeat, officials see that kind of self-organizing network as the key to more “long-term power” — and the next step in a recommitment to grassroots organizing at Planned Parenthood first set off by last year’s election.
The organization spent millions to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including a $30 million push targeting millennial voters in the final stretch to Election Day. When they lost, said Robinson, “the strategy for our organization was called into question.”
“It was time for us to start going back to our block and tackle, meaning it was time to go back to the basics — the things that we’ve always done well to survive in the last 100 years,” she said. “We started thinking about our grassroots first.”
Over the next nine months, as Republicans worked to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and cut or redirect federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the organization developed new organizing tools and added 226,000 volunteers and 1 million total supporters.
In the lead-up to last month’s vote, they held 2,400 marches, meet-ups, phone banks, and rallies, and collected 1 million petition signatures, according to the group. They made 200,000 phone calls to members of Congress, followed by calls to people who live in the same state to tell them to call their members of Congress (including 20,299 to tell Nevadans to call Sen. Dean Heller). They drafted 90,000 supporters to a “Defenders” program, with tools for “real-world actions” and an “Emergency Guide” to the latest “urgent action to focus on.”
Planned Parenthood, the nation’s single largest abortion provider, has been at the center of flare-ups in Congress over abortion, health care, and federal funding since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives seven years ago.
Their work during the health care debate this year, said Robinson, reaffirmed the “grassroots-first” mentality set in November, but left the group seeking more long-term organizing.
“Now we’re ready to turn to a different phase,” she said.
The training work itself won’t exactly be a departure for Planned Parenthood. The group has trained thousands of “patient advocates” to deploy personal testimony in support of the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood clinics, and hosted “Power of Pink” trainings for supporters. The “curriculum” they plan to use next month will be an updated version of one used they’ve used before, though never at a program of this scale.
“We’ve always had local organizers, activists, supporters, but not 1 million new supporters who are ready to come out and do the organizing work,” said Kersha Deibel, the group’s director of constituency organizing.
The 600 volunteer leaders, able to collaborate with local Planned Parenthood staff, will be autonomous, said Ganjaie, the Seattle-based field organizer, who has been helping plan the bootcamp trainings and identify top-tier volunteers to attend.
At each of the four gatherings, planned for Seattle, Phoenix, Charlotte, and Kansas City, around 250 hand-picked volunteers will undergo three days of trainings, covering digital programs, protests, congressional town halls, and the more basic work of building volunteer structures. Planned Parenthood will equip volunteers with online tools like phone banks and webinars, an official said, as well as “lots of pink materials, including shirts” — uniform of the “pink army” known to appear at rallies and protests.
As it stands, 600 of the 1,000 expected attendees will be chosen as volunteer leaders.
“We’re looking to pick out volunteer leaders who have naturally demonstrated leadership, folks who are already organizing on their own time,” said Ganjaie.
And after that, she said, they go home and “continue organizing.”