(Editor’s Note: Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of a still-shocking mass-killing that left more than 900 people dead in “Jonestown,” a remote settlement in Guyana founded by cult leader Jim Jones. Most were poisoned with a cyanide-laced drink. Leo J. Ryan, a Democratic lawmaker from San Francisco, had traveled to Jonestown to investigate reports of people being held against their will in Jonestown. Ryan and four others were fatally shot at a nearby airstrip. Rep Jackie Speier, D-Calif., then a Ryan staffer, was among several more who were shot repeatedly and left for dead at the airstrip. The mass killing began soon afterwards.)
The 40-year-old audiotape sounded tinny and indistinct to Rep. Jackie Speier. In her Capitol Hill office, the California Democrat leaned forward in her chair to listen to the voices from the recording on the laptop computer.
On the tape were her former boss, Rep. Leo J. Ryan, her 28-year-old self and Debbie Layton Blakey, an escapee from the settlement in Guyana called Jonestown. Speier had not heard the recording since shortly after it was made on September 1, 1978. After the National Archives made the tape available a few years ago, Speier said she was eager to be one of the first to listen to it.
At the time of the recording, Ryan, 53, was investigating the Peoples Temple, the organization that moved its headquarters from northern California to the tiny South American coastal nation in July 1977; Speier was his staff legal advisor. The 25-year-old Blakey had been a Temple member, lived in Jonestown for four months, re-located to the capital Georgetown in March 1978 and fled the Temple and Guyana to the United States in mid-May 1978.
In June 1978, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story in which Blakey accused Temple leader Jim Jones of abuse and threatening to wipe out the community of 1,000 people. Speier and Ryan read the story in July, reached out to Blakey and met with her at a Wells Fargo branch in downtown San Francisco.
“There was a lot of stuff that went went on in the church and you’re afraid to leave,” Blakey told Ryan and Speier on the tape.
“Physical violence?” Ryan asked.
“Oh yeah, and you’re afraid to leave, because there’s this threat that they’ll either kill you or beat you up,” Blakey replied.
By now, Speier had leaned back in her chair. Fifteen minutes into the tape, Ryan asked Blakey why residents had not left Jonestown.
“Well, it’s not that simple, see. They’ve got armed guards. You can’t get out,” Blakey said.
“Do the armed guards shoot if anybody tries?” Ryan said. “Has that ever happened?”
“I don’t …” Blakey stammered.
Ryan raised his voice a pitch higher. “Do the armed guards shoot anybody?”
Picking up on the exchange, Speier had bent her right ear to the laptop. She looked sorrowful.
Her boss had anticipated the scenario which would result in his murder 78 days later.
Ryan was more than victim, though. He planned to rescue Jonestown residents willing to escape.
“Okay, we were talking about not believing you,” Ryan said to Blakey. “Let’s suppose that I went down there, to Guyana, to Jonestown, and said, ‘If anybody wants to leave, they can leave with me right now and I will stay here until everyone who wants to leave has found a way to get out and I’ll provide some sort of transportation?”
Ryan paused. Then he raised his voice. “What would the result be?” he asked.
“I don’t think anyone would leave with you,” Blakey said.
Speier smiled after Ryan recognized Blakey’s doubts about her veracity.
Yet Speier betrayed little emotion while listening to 20 minutes of the 76-minute tape on Friday, just two days before the 40th anniversary of the Her eyes moistened talking about Ryan after hearing the tape, but she mostly kept her feelings in check.
“It makes me very sad. You could tell, he was very probing that was part and parcel of his personality and there was an impatience you could hear on the tape,” she said of Ryan. “He wanted things to move. He wanted action and he sought truth.”
Blakey had warned federal authorities that Jones planned to kill everyone in Jonestown.
On November 18, 1978, Jones led 908 of his followers into a mass-murder and suicide.
Before Jones killed everyone, Ryan and Speier had contributed to rescuing 25 people.
Before Ryan could escort some the defectors to safety, he was murdered by the same armed guards he had asked Blakey about.
Speier was shot five times on her right side.
“Those people we did rescue, but there were 40 other people who wanted to leave the community who couldn’t get out,” Speier said. “We were ill-prepared.”
Speier has been an uneasy hero. Some Americans may think of Capitol Hill as filled with self-promoting hucksters. Yet Speier has downplayed her heroism. While she acknowledged her role in saving abuse victims at Jonestown, she declined to make this point in her new memoir, “Undaunted.”
Instead, Speier, 68, has emphasized her other personas. She is a survivor of tragedies.
“Women are tough in my family. We’ve had to be,” she said in the opening of the book, which she echoed in the book’s last lines.
She was an abuse victim. When she was 5 or 6 years old, she was molested by her paternal grandfather.
She is a leader on women’s issues, such as those related to the #MeToo movement.
In person, Speier recognizes Ryan and her role in his investigation as heroic. While she has said that Ryan declined to listen to her warnings about the trip, she has shown reverence for him on Capitol Hill.
On the wall to the right of the Catholic lawmaker’s desk which looks out at the National Mall are 5x7 pictures of Mother Theresa and Ryan side by side. Last year, Speier pushed for the House Democratic cloakroom to be christened with Ryan’s name on it as well as that of Rep. Gabriel Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who survived a gunman’s murder attempt.
“He was heroic. There’s no doubt in mind,” Speier said of her former boss.
Some members of Congress agree. In 1983, Congress awarded a gold medal posthumously to Ryan, one of the two highest civilian awards.
“Leo Ryan did it and went there for his constituents,” Rep. Charles Rangel, a retired New York Democrat said in a December 2016 interview. “He had more concern for human life than any priest or rabbi.”
Blakey, too, agreed. “I’m glad they went to Jonestown,” Blakey said in an interview.
Speier said she admired Ryan’s lonely stand for Jonestown residents, some of who were Ryan’s constituents.
Some academics have accused Ryan of precipitating the disaster, such as John R. Hall, in his book, “Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History.”
Speier rejected that idea.
She said that San Francisco politicians failed to hold Jones accountable before he fled to Guyana in July 1977.
“Elected officials in San Francisco put their political interests ahead of their public duties to enforce the laws,” she said.
At the same time that Ryan investigated Jonestown, California state Assemblyman Willie Brown was organizing a $25-a-plate fundraiser for the Peoples Temple in San Francisco, with comedy legend Dick Gregory as a headlining act and city supervisor Harvey Milk as a scheduled attendee.
Speier said that State Department officials failed to hold Jones accountable after he moved to the remote northwestern province of Guyana.
“The State Department did not do its job,” she said. “They had a duty to warn, a duty to investigate, a duty to protect, and they failed on all three of those.”
While Speier has downplayed her role, and Ryan’s, outside Capitol Hill, she has grim reminders of them every day.
Two dum-dum bullets remain lodged in her body. On the wall out of her Capitol Hill office is a 1 x 3-inch chunk of concrete from the Port Kaituma airstrip where she watched Ryan die.
Speier said she takes off the anniversary of the massacre.
That’s Sunday this year. She plans to attend Golden Gate Cemetery in San Bruno, where Ryan is buried.
Forty years ago Sunday, a young Jackie Speier was shot and left for dead on an airstrip in Guyana, after helping her boss — Rep. Leo Ryan — rescue 25 cult members from a deadly cult commune known as Jonestown. Ryan was shot and killed that day, shortly before more than 900 members of the commune died of a mass suicide and murder.
Speier, who has been a member of Congress from California since 2008, joined Roll Call to listen to recently uncovered audio of an interview her former boss conducted with a cult escapee, just months before Ryan was killed in the so-called Jonestown massacre.
Vice President Mike Pence is getting bipartisan backing for pressing Aung San Suu Kyi over the imprisonment of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar.
Pence met with the state counsellor of the country, also known as Burma, in connection with his trip to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, which has taken him countries across Asia, as well as Australia.
“As co-chairs of the Senate Human Rights Caucus, we have repeatedly condemned the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State and called on the Government of Burma to release Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” said Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del. “We applaud Vice President Pence for affirming the United States’ commitment to a free and independent press and delivering a strong criticism of the treatment of the Rohingya during his meeting with Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at the ASEAN Summit on Wednesday.”
The senators continued: “The Government of Burma should take immediate steps to improve conditions for the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities in Burma, including providing a pathway to citizenship for the Rohingya.”
Tillis and Coons expressed a commitment to assist displaced Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh. The development of democracy in Myanmar has been among the most-watched developments in foreign policy in the Senate.
That’s largely because of the long time interest in the country coming from current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Senior administration officials told reporters traveling with Pence that the vice president specifically asked Suu Kyi to pardon the Reuters journalists, apparently going even beyond what he had said to Suu Kyi in public.
At the top of the Wednesday meeting with Suu Kyi, Pence said, “Let me also say that, in America, we believe in our democratic institutions and ideals, including a free and independent press. And the arrest and jailing of two journalists last fall was deeply troubling to millions of Americans, and I look forward to speaking with you about the premium that we place on a free and independent press.”
“Let me urge all our nations to do more to address the plight of the Rohingya. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled their homeland because of the slaughter and persecution by Myanmar’s security forces and vigilantes. This is a humanitarian crisis, but we must also beware the potential radicalization of refugees,” Pence also said this week at an East Asia Summit Plenary Session in Singapore.
Watch Also: Ai Weiwei Discusses Refugee Crisis
Democrats’ draft proposals for overhauling the House rules would return at least some so-called regular order processes to the lower chamber by ensuring major bills go through committee before hitting the floor.
The requirement that all bills being brought to the floor under a rule must have gone through a committee hearing and markup is just one of several notable changes Democrats are floating to House rules now that they’ll be in the majority.
Incoming Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern presented the draft proposals, a list of which was obtained by Roll Call, to the Democratic Caucus Thursday afternoon.
Some of the notable proposals include:
One proposal not included on the list is a restoration of earmarks.
Since the 2010 earmark ban Republicans implemented was included only in their intraparty rules, Democrats technically do not need to use the rules package to restore them. They can just start using them again.
However, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who’s expected to be majority leader next Congress, has suggested that language be added to the rules package outlining the parameters under which earmarks could be used and providing guidelines for ensuring they are transparent.
Watch: Pelosi Talks Midterm ‘Wave,’ Says She Has Votes for Speakership
Rep. Ruben Kihuen harassed women who worked with him and violated the House’s official code of conduct, according to a House Ethics Committee report released Thursday.
“Kihuen made persistent and unwanted advances towards women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities,” the report says. The advances included kissing, grabbing and comments about underwear.
The release comes after a nine-month inquiry by an investigative subcommittee empaneled in Dec. 2017.
The Nevada Democrat refused to resign following allegations of harassment by women who worked for and with him, even after top Democrats called on him to step down. But Kihuen decided not to seek re-election, making the announcement a day after the Ethics Committee launched its investigation.
At the time, he disputed the allegations against him, but said they “would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a re-election campaign.”
Three women testified before the investigative subcommittee that Kihuen made unwanted physical and verbal advances toward them between 2013 and 2017. The report details Kihuen’s actions toward a D.C. “firm employee,” a campaign staffer and a Nevada lobbyist.
The committee found that while serving as a member of the House, Kihuen repeatedly kissed the firm employee’s cheek, touched her shoulders and back and commented on her physique. He also inquired about her relationship status and asked if she lived alone. Kihuen insinuated that he would help the D.C. firm employee with her career in exchange for a romantic relationship, according to the Ethics report.
The campaign staffer testified that Kihuen made unwanted advances toward her by touching her thigh while they were driving back from a meeting and by grabbing the back of her thigh as she stood up to check her computer. She told the committee that Kihuen would tell her “you look really good,” and “I would take you out if you didn’t work for me,” by suggesting that the two of them should get a room as they arrived at a hotel for a meeting, and by asking her if she ever cheated on her boyfriend.
The female lobbyist, who worked with Kihuen in Nevada between 2013 and 2015, testified that he slid his hand under her dress and onto her thigh, grabbed her buttocks, asked her to sit on his lap, inquired what color her panties were and suggested that she would look good naked. The report also says the lobbyist testified that he sent messages suggesting — through emojis — that they make a sex tape together.
The subcommittee’s full report includes over 100 pages of text messages, chats and emails between Kihuen and the women, along with the women discussing Kihuen’s behavior with other people.
While the investigative subcommittee chose not to “address whether any of Representative Kihuen’s behavior prior to being sworn in as a Member of the House” fell within the panel’s jurisdiction, the full House Ethics Committee asserted in the report that it has jurisdiction over “misconduct relating to a successful campaign for election to the House.”
The full Ethics panel decided that Kihuen’s behavior toward the campaign staffer, coupled with his actions when he was serving in the House, warrants “reproval.”
Reproval by the Ethics Committee is “intended to be a clear public statement of rebuke of a Member’s conduct issued by a body of that Member’s peers acting … on behalf of the House of Representatives.”
House Rule XXIII, clauses 1 and 2, states that “a Member … of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House” and “shall adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House.”
Roll Call Reporters Discuss Covering Sexual Harassment on the Hill in the #MeToo Era
The midterms have come and gone and it’s back to the Hill for members new and old. The lame duck sessions in the House and Senate gaveled in Tuesday while new member orientation kicked off its first week.
The chambers, along with orientation, recess next week for the Thanksgiving holiday and will start up sessions again the week of Nov. 26.
Here's the entire week in photos:
The House Ethics Committee found Rep. Mark Meadows failed to take “prompt and decisive action” to handle alleged sexual harassment in his congressional office, according to a Friday report.
The committee also found Meadows violated House rules by failing to take action to ensure his office was not engaging in discrimination.
The House Ethics Committee is requiring Meadows to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the amount paid to a Meadows staffer who was removed from his role due to allegations of harassment, $40,625.02.
A group of employees in Meadows’ Washington office reported in October 2014 to the deputy chief of staff at the time that Kenny West had acted inappropriately toward them. Meadows continued to pay West his full-time salary after he was moved to a part-time advisory role. The Code of Official Conduct for House members says that members may not “retain an employee who does not perform duties for the employing office commensurate with the compensation the employee receives.”
The Ethics Committee found that when West was demoted to senior adviser, his pay remained the same. The report says that the committee found “little evidence of official work that he completed during that time.”
“To cut off all contact between Mr. West and most of his female employees, caused another potential problem. An environment where only male staff have access to the Chief of Staff risks unequal treatment of employees based solely on sex,” the report said.
The committee found that Meadows did not know about West’s behavior until several of his female staff made complaints to him in Oct. 2014. Meadows arranged for an independent investigation through the Office of House Employment Counsel, or the Office of Compliance.
“After that independent review was complete, he ignored its findings and the recommendation by the independent investigator to terminate Mr. West’s employment,” according to the Ethics Committee report.
“While Representative Meadows took some important immediate steps – restricting Mr. West from the congressional offices and prohibiting him from contacting most of the female employees – those steps were essentially all he did to prevent and correct the alleged sexual harassment for nearly six months,” says the report.
Meadows was approached by GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, who told him that the measures he took to separate West from the female staff were not working. The speaker’s office got involved in the spring of 2015, which prompted Meadows to remove West from his supervisory role.
“There is no place in any congressional office for looking up skirts, or down shirts; staring at a woman’s chest; unwanted touching; or making sexual comments, even if subtle or in jest. The fact that Mr. West supervised the women he did these things to makes his behavior even more unacceptable,” says the report.
“Making sure my team feels safe and secure in our office is the highest priority for me and I’m truly sorry for any stress this situation caused them. I thank the Ethics Committee for their work in resolving this, and my office will remain committed to serving western North Carolinians every day to the best of our ability,” said Meadows in a statement Friday afternoon.
Meadows intends to pay back the severance as the committee requested, according to an aide.
A group of Senate Democrats want the private prison industry to explain whether it is complying with federal standards for housing at ICE immigration detention centers.
Led by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the senators have written to CoreCivic and GEO group about their housing practices following reports from the inspector general at the Homeland Security Department.
“These reports and the results of the OIG investigations indicate that the perverse profit incentive at the core of the private prison business model has resulted in GEO Group and CoreCivic boosting profits by cutting costs on expenditures including food, health care, and sufficient pay and training for guards and prison staff,” the senators wrote.
The senators want answers by the end of the month.
The signatories on Warren’s letters included a bunch of other potential 2020 presidential hopefuls such as Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Among the requests are for the prison operators to turn over any waivers that may have been granted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for noncompliance with relevant standards.
“In their review, OIG found that detainees in immigration detention facilities do not have access to basic necessities or prompt and adequate medical care,” the senators wrote.
Specifically, they cite a report about disturbing findings on the frequency of suicide attempts at a GEO Group-operated ICE facility in Adelanto, California.
“The report found that in 15 out of approximately 20 cells examined inspectors saw nooses fashioned from twisted bedsheets hanging from vents,” they said. “A detainee quoted in the report explained that detainees use braided bedsheets to attempt to commit suicide.”
The new House GOP leadership team gave no indication Wednesday it would reconsider its cozy relationship with President Donald Trump, despite losses in dozens of suburban districts in the midterms last week.
Newly elected House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California acknowledged at a press conference Wednesday that winning back the American suburbs will be a “challenge” in 2020 but said multiple times at the press conference that “history was against” the GOP keeping control of both chambers of Congress in a midterm election with a first-term Republican president in the Oval Office.
McCarthy declined to assign blame for any midterm losses to the president and his bombastic immigration-centric rhetoric. Instead, he attributed Democratic gains to millions of dollars in outside spending from billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others.
The new House GOP standard-bearer, who will serve out the lame duck session as majority leader, indicated Republicans would actively protect Trump by countering Democratic efforts to execute oversight over the Trump administration.
Democrats want to “disrupt” and “impeach,” McCarthy said. Democratic leaders and prospective House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler have not suggested at any point before or since the midterms that they plan to pursue articles of impeachment.
Nadler and Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Elijah Cummings have, however, already made clear that their top priority will be to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — including possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia.
Democrats have a laundry list of other matters they want to investigate — the president’s tax returns, possible violations of the Emoluments Clause, internal administration communications that led to the immigrant family separation policy at the U.S. border — but have said they know they will need to be methodical and prioritize.
The new Republican leaders panned the notion of Democratic House oversight over the administration.
“If their agenda is simply investigations and impeachment ... we’ll be there to defend the American public,” he said.
McCarthy and Scalise were flanked at the press conference by new Republican conference chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who will fill the position her father held three decades ago; conference vice chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina; conference secretary Jason Smith of Missouri; and policy committee chairman Gary Palmer of Alabama, the first conservative House Freedom Caucus member to hold a leadership position.
The new National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, did not attend the press conference.
Walker branded the House GOP as the party of the future, noting the average age of the likely top three leaders on the Democratic side are a combined average of 78 years old. The average age of the new GOP leaders is 52.
“We’re all about new ideas,” Walker said.
The new leaders have not had a chance to discuss how they will extend an olive branch to the Freedom Caucus and other supporters of its founder, Jim Jordan, who lost the race for minority leader to McCarthy, 159 votes to 43.
McCarthy thanked Jordan for running, suggesting it was good for members to have options to weigh for new leadership.
Trump has told confidants that he wants Jordan, a fierce and skillful defender of the president on the cable news circuit, to be appointed ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee to repel possible impeachment proceedings against him, Politico reported Wednesday. That appointment does not, for now, appear likely, as Republican Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio and Doug Collins of Georgia prepare to court steering committee votes for the post.
A spot has opened up for Jordan, though, to lead Republicans in the Oversight Committee. The current GOP chairman, South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, is retiring in January.
“I think Jim is an incredibly talented guy,” Palmer said. “I think he will [be the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee] one day. He’s that talented,” Palmer said.
He declined to say whether “one day” meant in the new Congress in January or further in the future.
President Donald Trump on Saturday said he can twist enough House Republican arms to give Nancy Pelosi the necessary votes to become speaker.
The California Democrat publicly says she has ample support within her own caucus to secure the gavel. But all indications are a floor vote could be close, meaning Republicans could opt — for a list of reasons — to put her over the top.
For Trump, making Pelosi speaker would give him the sense that she owes him legislatively and also ensure that his top campaign-trail foil, who remains intensely unpopular with Republican voters, remains in the headlines through his re-election bid.
“I can get Nancy Pelosi as many votes as she wants in order for her to be Speaker of the House,” he tweeted Saturday morning ahead of a trip to California to visit with people affected by wildfires.
He again wrote that Pelosi “deserves this victory, she has earned it — but there are those in her party who are trying to take it away.”
Ultimately, Trump predicted Pelosi “will win!”
I can get Nancy Pelosi as many votes as she wants in order for her to be Speaker of the House. She deserves this victory, she has earned it - but there are those in her party who are trying to take it away. She will win! @TomReedCongress
He reiterated his promise to assist Pelosi as he left the White House for California, saying he could get her however many GOP votes she needs, whether it was 100 or 10.
Pelosi said Thursday she intends to win the speakership with Democratic votes and would not accept help from help from Republicans.
“Oh please, no,” she said. “Never. Never. Never.”
Trump told reporters Saturday that his legal team would submit written answers to questions posed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
“They’re all done,” he said of his responses, which he claimed Friday to have written himself.
He also said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will brief him on Air Force One about the agency’s findings about whether Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump again said he has been told the crown prince was not involved in the assassination, despite reports the CIA has concluded the de facto Saudi ruler gave the green-light to lure Khashoggi to Turkey and then kill him.
Asked about a New York Times report that he is concerned over Vice President Mike Pence’s loyalty, Trump replied: “No, I don’t question his loyalty at all. … It was a phony story. I doubt they had any sources. … He’s been a trooper.”
“Mike Pence is 100 percent,” the president said several times.
Trump said he is not close to picking a nominee for attorney general, but is close to announcing a UN ambassador pick.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.Watch: Pelosi Talks Midterm ‘Wave,’ Says She Has Votes for Speakership
House Republicans on Thursday will consider changes to their internal conference rules, with several amendments targeting the process for selecting committee leaders.
The biggest proposed change comes from Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher, who wants committee members to be able to choose their own chairmen or ranking members.
His amendment would exclude the Rules, Budget and House Administration committees — the heads of which are appointed by the Republican leader — from the member-selection process.
Under the conference’s current rules, the Republican Steering Committee, a panel composed primarily of leadership and regional representatives, nominates committee leaders and the full conference ratifies those recommendations.
If Gallagher’s amendment were adopted, the Steering Committee would still be in charge of assigning members to committees.
Also Watch: Senate Republicans Talk Leadership Team and Special Counsel Protections
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who’s a proponent of allowing committee members to select their leaders, has an alternative amendment should Gallagher’s fail. Meadows’ proposal would at least reduce leadership’s influence in selecting committee leaders.
The North Carolina Republican wants to get rid of an existing rule that would allow the Republican leader’s vote to count as four votes and his deputy’s to count as two votes, so that their combined votes are equal to all other Steering members’ votes.
Meadows also has two other amendments. One would strike an existing rule that allows members who are appointed to the Rules Committee to reserve their seniority on one standing committee they had to leave to join Rules. The other would ensure that if the GOP leader convenes a panel to consider conference rules changes, the members he appoints would be “broadly representative of the diverse perspectives within the Republican Conference.”
Texas Rep. Pete Olson is offering an amendment to prevent committee leaders who reach their three-term limit (an existing conference rule that no one is proposing to change) from leading any of that panel’s subcommittees during the following three Congresses.
Many Republican committee leaders often retire from Congress after reaching their term limits, as five of them did for that reason this cycle. (Three chairmen who were not term-limited retired too). But Olson’s amendment would likely force even more into that decision and thus seems unlikely to be adopted.
Olson does provide a grandfather clause in his amendment that would allow any former committee leader who held subcommittee chairmanships this Congress to continue on in those roles for up to two more terms.
In amendment that is blatantly self-serving, Alaska Rep. Don Young is offering an amendment to allow the dean of the House to serve on the Republican Steering Committee when the dean is a GOP member. Young is the dean, the title ascribed to the longest-serving House member.
The final amendment comes from New York Rep. Elise Stefanik and would require members of elected leadership who decide to run for higher office like governor or senator to vacate their leadership positions after announcing.
It's unclear whether Stefanik’s amendment is meant to target a member of the leadership team the conference elected Wednesday. But it could seen as an insurance policy against Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney — who was elected conference chairwoman for the next Congress — using the leadership post as a platform to run against Sen. Michael B. Enzi for his Senate seat again.
Enzi is up for re-election in 2020. Cheney challenged him when he last ran in 2014 — she was not in Congress at the time — but ultimately dropped out of the race, citing family health issues.
Noticeably absent from the amendment offerings were controversial ones that arose two years ago over restoring earmarks.
At the time House Republicans, who banned earmarks after they won the House majority in 2010, appeared poised to provide a limited restoration of what proponents like to call congressional directed spending. But Speaker Paul D. Ryan urged the members to drop the proposal for further debate, promising a vote in the following months that never happened.
The reason GOP earmark proponents aren’t offering new amendments this year is likely because they’re not in the majority so wouldn’t have much power on their own to use them anyway. Plus, Democrats seem likely to lift the earmark ban as part of the House rules package for the 116th Congress.
Florida’s Senate race is proceeding from a machine recount to a hand recount, the Secretary of State announced Thursday.
It’s the latest development in the drawn-out race between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, whose margin remains under the 0.25 of a percentage point that automatically triggers a hand recount.
Canvassing boards in each county will have three days to examine “overvotes” and “undervotes” to try to determine how voters intended to vote. Overvotes are when the machine detects too many votes for the same office, and undervotes are when the machines don’t pick up any vote for a particular office. A Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times estimate found there could be anywhere between 35,000 and 118,000 of these ballots.
Democrats are seeking a hand recount of all ballots in Palm Beach County because of problems with the county's vote-counting machines.
Scott’s campaign claims that his lead grew by 865 votes during the machine recount. That would make his margin about 13,400 votes, according to his campaign. Nelson’s campaign believes the margin remains around 12,600.
Scott’s campaign, which has made multiple unfounded allegations of voter fraud in the week since Election Day, is calling on Florida to “move forward.”
But Nelson’s campaign remains optimistic about its chances to win the race and believes more votes need to be counted.
“It has never been our position that there was going to be one silver bullet that would change the margin in this race,” Nelson recount attorney Marc Elias said on a call with reporters Thursday evening.
Besides the hand recount, Elias believes Nelson can pick up votes from voters “curing” what’s known as signature mismatches. That refers to mail-in or provisional ballots that were rejected because the signatures on them did not match the signatures state officials had on record. A district court on Thursday extended the deadline for voters who were belatedly notified of a signature irregularity to correct their signatures on those ballots.
Elias also sees opportunity for Nelson to pick up votes from a pending lawsuit that would allow the counting of mail-in ballots that were cast by Election Day but not delivered in time.
Watch: Bill Nelson Makes a Statement on Florida’s Senate Race Recount
In the dog days of summer, before many Americans were tuning into the midterm elections, the leading Democratic super PAC dedicated to winning the House convened a giant meeting with dozens of outside groups.
That laid the foundation for an unprecedented coordination effort among Democratic independent expenditure groups that spent over $200 million in more than 70 House races, overwhelming Republicans and helping deliver a Democratic majority.
At the August meeting, House Majority PAC staffers passed out binders with race information, public TV reservations and examples of direct mail already circulating in specific districts. And most importantly, they pointed out the gaps — the places they needed other independent expenditure groups to jump in.
“It’s almost like an auction,” said Charlie Kelly, executive director of HMP, with different groups laying claim to spending responsibilities for different weeks on radio, TV, digital and mail. Kelly likened HMP’s role to playing “air traffic control.”
It’s the reason why HMP was created: to coordinate the vast army of Democratic outside groups to ensure there’s no duplicative spending in any one place. Veteran Democratic operative Ali Lapp founded the super PAC in 2011 just after Democrats lost control of the House.
Flashback: Democrats Are Breaking Fundraising Records 3 Weeks From Election Day
But HMP knew that this year was going to be different. For starters, it had to build the capacity to accommodate a surge in participation. With the fight for the House the Democrats’ only real way to register their opposition to President Donald Trump, interest in House elections among activists and donors was high. HMP and its affiliated nonprofit Patriot Majority USA raised $113 million compared to the $58 million they raised and spent in 2016.
There was also an explosion of grassroots organizing on the ground. The result was an unprecedented number of progressive groups coordinating on the Democratic side, most of which rallied around a central message across both working-class and suburban districts — health care.
Even outside groups that have their own niche found ways to make the Democrats’ health care message part of their paid communications. An ad from the League of Conservation voters in Iowa, for example, attacked GOP Rep. David Young for trying to cut environmental regulations, pointing out the health risks of increased pollution. It then tied that threat to Young’s vote for the Republican health care bill, which would have weakened protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
As a super PAC, HMP can legally coordinate with other independent expenditure groups, but not with the campaigns or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It involved the IE sides of these other groups — such as EMILY’s List, LCV, the Environmental Defense Fund, Priorities USA, VoteVets and various labor organizations — early on in its weekly calls about specific races and in broader conversations about its research and polling to figure out where Democrats should be investing.
Right after Labor Day (“Week 9” in campaign lingo that counts back from Election Day), HMP and these groups started their big wave of spending. “It was our shock and awe moment,” Kelly said.
Through communication between the different groups — from their political shops to compliance teams — spending was structured to avoid redundancies in the same district.
Democratic polling in June showed a good opportunity in Michigan’s 8th District, which Trump had carried by 7 points. So the various groups set about divvying up the responsibility of touting Democrat Elissa Slotkin while attacking Republican incumbent Mike Bishop. HMP’s polling suggested that contrasting her public service career with Bishop’s time in politics could be effective.
The super PAC went up in the ninth week in the Lansing market with a spot laying out that contrast. VoteVets went up in Week 6, followed by Women Vote!, the independent expenditure arm of EMILY’s List, in Week 5 in the Detroit market. HMP ran separate ads in Lansing and Detroit in the final weeks, with Independence USA closing in Week 2. The DCCC was also spending here, which was public information HMP could see. By the end of the race, which Slotkin won by nearly 4 points, Democrats had run 32,000 gross ratings points in the district compared to about 17,000 for Republicans, according to data from HMP. (A gross ratings point is a metric used to determine the size of an ad’s target audience.)
The super PAC undertook similar coordination efforts in districts across the country.
Illinois’ 14th District didn’t start as one of the most competitive races. But HMP’s early polling suggested there might be a chance to make it one. The super PAC continued to do benchmark polls through the fall, and by mid-September, it found that GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren was only ahead of Democrat Lauren Underwood by 2 points.
Women Vote! was doing mail, while HMP started a cable TV buy beginning in Week 5. By mid-October, HMP’s polling showed a tied race, with both Hultgren and Underwood at 46 percent. Combined with Women Vote! and Priorities, HMP started an expanded digital program. It then went up on Chicago broadcast, partnering with the American Federation of Teachers and the Black Economic Alliance to target African-American voters. Independence USA came in at the end on Chicago broadcast, allowing HMP to focus on cable. Independence USA ran what’s known as a dual track — one positive spot for Underwood and one negative spot against Hultgren — for the final 10 days. Underwood ended up winning by nearly 4 points.
Howard Wolfson, who runs Independence USA, admits he was a bit nervous about how so many outside groups would coordinate on so many House races.
“The last thing you’d want is people not talking to each other and duplicating efforts and not going in somewhere else,” he said.
But Wolfson said that never ended up being a problem, in large part because of constant communication. He estimates he was talking to Kelly from HMP three times a day.
“There was a time at which he was my first call of the day and last call at night,” he said.
Eventually, it became more efficient for Wolfson to move into HMP’s offices, where he remained for the final days of the election.