The first day of a new Congress is filled with ceremony and tradition, but there were a few things that set the start of the 116th Congress apart.
For the first time in history, a new congressional session began in the midst of a partial government shutdown. The swearing-in ceremonies and celebrations were clouded by the ongoing shutdown that’s now entered a second week. About a quarter of federal discretionary spending has run out, resulting in the shuttering of agencies and federal programs. But with the legislative branch already funded, there weren’t logistical problems on Capitol Hill that would devastate a high-profile day like the opening of a new Congress.
Another difference Thursday came when Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker — outgoing speaker Paul D. Ryan wasn’t there to pass her the gavel. Incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did the honor, representing chamber Republicans.
It’s the first time since 2007 that the outgoing speaker hasn’t handed over the gavel. Pelosi first received the gavel from Ohio’s John A. Boehner in 2007, when Boehner was going from majority leader to minority leader. That year, the previous speaker, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois did not seek a leadership role in the new Congress, opting for the back benches before resigning mid-term.
Watch: Pelosi’s first responsibility as speaker? A marathon of 300 photo-ops
Pelosi was sworn in by the dean the House, 85-year-old Alaska Republican Don Young. It was his first time with that responsibility. “Everybody be quiet,” he told the chamber, as children and grandchildren of members clamored to the rostrum to join Pelosi for her swearing in.
The new House is more diverse than ever before, with the first two Muslim women, the first two Native American women and a full roster of other “firsts.”
There was traditional garb on display rarely seen on the House floor. Democrats Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Deb Haaland of New Mexico all wore things that drew attention to their trailblazing. Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress (along with Omar), wore a traditional Palestinian dress called a thobe, that belonged to her mother. Many of her supporters took to social media to share photos of themselves wearing thobes, using the hashtag #TweetYourThobe.
Along with changing the demographics of Congress, Omar also had a hand in changing House rules. The former Somali refugee was the first person to wear a hijab, a Muslim religious head covering, on the floor of the House. She worked with Democratic leadership to change the 181-year-old ban on hats of any kind on the floor. The rules package adopted Thursday relaxed the prohibition to allow religious headwear, like a hijab or kippah.
Haaland, who along with Rep. Sharice Davids, is one of the first two Native American women to join the House, wore a traditional Pueblo dress. Her grandkids were also decked out in traditional wear. Haaland and Davids shared a long and tearful embrace after being sworn in.
Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is not new to the House; he was first elected in 2000. But he became another pioneer. The veteran and first quadriplegic elected to Congress was the first lawmaker to serve as speaker pro tempore in the new Congress. He presided over the opening debate on reopening the government.
“As Speaker, when America marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark, bipartisan Americans with Disabilities Act, it was my honor to implement changes to our institution to make it possible for our colleagues with disabilities to preside over the House,” Pelosi said in announcing her decision.
“How proud I am that we made a reasonable accommodation in the House of Representatives so that Mr. Langevin, as he properly should have the ability to do, preside over the House of Representatives,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said. “Congratulations, Mr. Langevin, for your courage and your leadership and your extraordinary example.”
The 116th Congress is also defined by an absence. A Shuster. With the exit of Pennsylvania’s Bill Shuster, who succeeded his father Bud Shuster in 2001, for the first time in 46 years, there isn’t a Shuster from south-central Pennsylvania in Congress.
Rep. Walter Jones will be sworn into the new session of Congress privately at his home in Farmville, North Carolina, because he could not be in Washington this week due to an unspecified illness.
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., swore in all members of the 116th Congress en masse on Thursday before a ceremonial swearing-in.
The 3rd District Republican has shared few details about his health status. Jones’ wife told WITN that he is in bed sick with a chest cold “on top of everything else” without going into details.
A local GOP official told the television station he has heard no news about Jones’ health. A neighbor who used to go on walks with Jones said he has not seen him around in months.
A spokesman in December said Jones was “getting a medical issue worked on and is looking forward to getting back to the Capitol in January,” after the Congressional Record showed House colleagues granted Jones a the leave of absence from the duration of the 115th term by unanimous consent.
Jones missed every vote in November and December, and missed about a quarter of all votes from July to September.
Jones said during his primary election that after nearly 24 years in Congress, this term will be his last.
During the campaign he listed reducing the national debt and withdrawing forces from Afghanistan as priorities for his final years in public office, according to the Daily Reflector.
He made news earlier this week when he suggested that President Donald Trump use some of his wealth to help pay for the wall he wants to build along the southern U.S. border that has led to the partial government shutdown.
Watch: Pelosi’s first responsibility as speaker? A marathon of 300 photo-ops
The partial federal government shutdown has closed most immigration courts, exacerbating the immigration case backlog as judges postpone scores of court cases.
Ashley Tabaddor, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said that many immigration judges are on furlough, or unpaid leave, and had to postpone immigration cases, which can take years before they are reheard.
“There is an irony of shutting down the immigration courts when the whole issue on the government shutdown is about immigration,” she said. “The court system should not be used as a political tool.”
The backlog of immigration cases has risen dramatically as President Donald Trump has tried to crack down on illegal immigration in his first two years in office. As of Nov. 30, 2018, the number of pending cases on the court’s active docket grew to 809,041 cases, a nearly 50 percent increase since January 2017, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC.
The Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review issued a memo on Dec. 26 that said all non-detained individuals with hearings scheduled since Dec. 22 will have their appointments canceled, while detained individuals will have their cases proceed as scheduled.
Immigration attorneys say the delay of court cases can cause financial strain on their clients.
“Some people have been waiting years to have their cases heard and now this delay will only exacerbate the problem,” said Allen Orr, an immigration attorney.
Orr argued that this also puts enormous pressure on immigration judges who are already burdened with a new quota system. Last year, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions imposed a case quota for immigration judges. Under the new quota system, immigration judges will be required to complete 700 cases a year and to have fewer than 15 percent of their decisions sent back by a higher court.
“It’s going to stress the court because they are going to be looking to hit numbers rather than administer justice,” he said.
Kate Voigt, the associate director of Government Relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that the shutdown is just one of many tactics the Trump administration has used to “erode the efficiency and due process in immigration courts nationwide.”
“The shutdown will undoubtedly make the immigration court case backlog worse, a backlog that already numbers around 800,000 cases,” she said. “Holding government operations hostage for a wasteful and ineffective border wall will do nothing to make our country safer, but it will undermine due process and make the court backlogs worse.”
The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22 after Congressional Democrats refused to provide $5 billion for Trump’s long-promised border wall in the spending packages for fiscal year 2019 and stated that they are only willing to give the government $1.3 billion for border security measures, which do not include the construction of a border wall.
However, Trump rejected the proposal and told reporters last week that he’ll keep the government closed “as long as it takes.”
Schumer: Trump holding federal employees ‘hostage’
ANALYSIS | President Donald Trump emerged from the Oval Office Friday afternoon after what congressional Democratic leaders described as a “contentious” meeting flanked by GOP immigration hardliners. What followed was more than an hour of presidential threats and backpedaling during an impromptu Rose Garden press conference.
At one point, the president confirmed something Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters just minutes earlier: That during the closed-door Situation Room session he threatened to keep a quarter of the federal government closed for “months or even years” unless he gets $5.6 billion for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“I did say that,” Trump said when asked to confirm his fellow New Yorker’s contention. But in almost the next breath, he said: “I hope it doesn’t go on, even beyond a few more days.” And near the end of the chilly outdoor question-and-answer session, Trump struck a much more optimistic tone, saying he thinks the shutdown “will be over a lot sooner than” many people think.
But Trump’s meandering, stream-of-consciousness style likely did not give the 800,000 federal workers who are out of work and wondering when they might get their next paycheck much solace.
“We won’t be opening until it’s solved,” Trump said of the border barrier standoff, adding this of Democrats’ proposal to pass six department-specific spending bills that are unrelated to the border and re-open the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 8 to allow time for non-shutdown border talks: “We won’t be doing it in pieces. We won’t be doing it in dribs and drabs.”
The president’s self-contradicting statements were just a few among several telling moments from another wild day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:
Trump appeared to walk away once and for all from the kind of concrete border wall reinforced with steel that he talked about at campaign stop after campaign stop during the 2016 presidential race.
“I think we’ll have to build a steel wall, as opposed to a concrete wall,” he declared Friday. “A see-through wall made out of steel is far stronger than a concrete wall.”
Fact-checkers have concluded Trump has uttered over 7,500 false or misleading statements since taking office. He added to that count by falsely saying he “never said concrete” when describing the proposed border barrier as a candidate.
Steel. Concrete. The semantics of what Trump says verbally, however, are undermined by his tweets, aimed at his conservative base about holding out to get his wall, which Democrats staunchly oppose.
The president is the head of the federal government. His picture hangs in most federal offices. But he appears unconcerned about the nearly 1 million employees — some who live paycheck-to-paycheck — who won’t be paid during the shutdown.
He was asked what safety net he sees for those employees — his employees.
“The safety net is going to be having a strong border because we’re going to be safe,” he shot back, also asserting again without proof that federal employees agree with him on a prolonged shutdown, if necessary, to get his wall funding. He called that a “higher purpose.” Expect Democratic members to use this line against the president in the public relations fight.
“Donald Trump said he was ‘proud’ to shut down the government — forcing 800,000 federal workers to go without pay. Meanwhile, members of the Trump Administration are getting a big raise. It’s an outrageous insult to hardworking Americans,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., tweeted Friday. (Later, Trump said he would “consider” freezing those salary hikes and his top spokeswoman said the White House is exploring “options” to freeze them until the shutdown ends.)
Donald Trump said he was "proud" to shut down the government - forcing 800,000 federal workers to go without pay. Meanwhile, members of the Trump Administration are getting a big raise. It's an outrageous insult to hardworking Americans.
Trump called the Friday meeting “productive” and predicted weekend talks with lawmakers and his team “will be very successful … because I think the Democrats want to do something.”
As Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House adviser Jared Kushner prepare to spend the weekend negotiating with lawmakers and staff hand-picked by Republican and Democratic leaders, a cloud already hangs over those talks.
That’s because Trump has contradicted offers Pence made to Schumer at least twice. Do Pence and Co. speak for the president? Why should Democrats be confident what they discuss or even agree to with the administration delegation will stand once the president gets involved? White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond to an email asking those very questions about her boss, who has contradicted her at times, as well.
On Thursday, Schumer said negotiating with Trump is like trying to hammer out a deal with “Jello” because he changes his mind so often. Trump’s remarks Friday appeared to do little to change the minority leader’s view.
Congressional Democratic leaders emerged from a lengthy White House meeting with President Donald Trump on Friday and said no deal was struck.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said staffs of congressional leaders and the president will negotiate over the weekend in hopes of ending the partial government shutdown.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said they made a “plea” to Trump to re-open shuttered agencies during a closed-door session in the Situation Room.
“He rejected it,” Schumer said, contending the president threatened to keep a quarter of the government closed for “months or even years.”
Trump confirmed after the meeting in a freewheeling White House Rose Garden press conference that he said the shutdown could last “months or even years.”
Watch: Schumer: Trump Holding Federal Employees ‘Hostage’
In the press conference, which stretched for more than an hour, Trump called the meeting “productive” and said the two sides plan to meet over the weekend.
“I hope it doesn’t go on beyond a few more days,” the president said, adding that he told leaders to bring as many lawmakers and staff to the weekend meetings as they feel are necessary.
He said he wants to give negotiations “a shot.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he saw the closed-door negotiation as one-sided.
“The president was very adamant that he is not going to do anything until essentially we agree with him,” Hoyer said.
DACA was not discussed at the meeting, Hoyer said.
“Clearly we want to make progress on making sure the borders are secure, but clearly we have a difference of opinion,” Hoyer added.
Asked if the DACA program and a pathway to citizenship was a part of the Friday discussion, Trump sidestepped. He instead talked about a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against his administration.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump and Democratic leaders understand one another better after the two-hour meeting over border security and a partial government shutdown.
But Pelosi and Schumer described the meeting as contentious, a signal the sides remain far apart on the 14th day of the shutdown.
McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Thune didn't attend the press conference, because they weren't aware it was going to take place.
“He and Thune left when the meeting was over. He was unaware of the press avail but of course would have gone if asked,” spokesman David Popp said in a statement.
McConnell called the meeting before Friday’s press conference a “spirited discussion.” He said the government couldn’t reopen until Tuesday of next week anyway, and called the agreement to meet “encouraging.”
“We'll have at least a working group of people who know the most about this subject to see if they can reach an agreement, and then punt it back to us for final sign off,” he said.
The president said during the press conference that he stressed human trafficking activity at the southern border during Friday’s meeting.
He said his administration built a wall in San Diego to combat traffickers, but they allegedly just “take a right” and later a “left, and it’s ‘Welcome to the United States.’”
He suggested the only way to stop traffickers is to have a “solid steel” structure, repeating that he understands why Democrats don’t want to call it “a wall.”
At one point, Trump demanded $5.6 billion for the border barrier and said the government won’t be opening until a deal is reached.
“We won’t be doing it in pieces,” he said. “We won’t be doing it in drips and drabs.”
The president said any border structure would be erected with 100 percent U.S. steel — something already covered by a separate bipartisan agreement.
“Steel is stronger than concrete,” Trump said, falsely stating he “never said concrete” when describing the proposed border barrier as a candidate.
He also signaled bolstering security at U.S. ports of entry would be part of any eventual pact.
Trump said he has considered using emergency powers vested in the office of the president to start building his border wall.
“Yes, I have. And I can do it if I want,” the President said. “I might do it.”
Lawyers for the House announced on Friday they had filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit brought by conservative state attorneys general targeting the 2010 health care law.
The motion comes after the House voted Thursday night on a part of its rules package, which included authorization for the House to join the lawsuit, Texas v. U.S.
A federal judge ruled last month the entire health law should fall after Congress ended the penalty for not having insurance coverage and Democratic attorneys general defending the law on Thursday filed a motion to appeal the ruling.
“On Day One of the new Congress, the new Democratic House took action to protect people with pre-existing conditions and all Americans’ health care,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement. “The Affordable Care Act and all its life-saving protections are the law of the land. While the Administration refuses to meet its responsibilities to defend the laws, the House of Representatives is acting to uphold the constitutionality of this law and protect the health care of every American.”
The House’s filing argues that Congress has the authority to defend federal laws when a federal agency does not. The Justice Department declined to defend the part of the law protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
The judge stayed the ruling pending appeals.
House General Counsel Douglas Letter is representing the House along with co-counsels Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the former solicitor general who argued on behalf of the Obama administration in the National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that upheld the law, and Brianne Gorod, chief counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center.
The House is set to vote on Jan. 9 on a standalone resolution to intervene in the lawsuit by freshman Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, Pelosi spokesman Henry Connolly said on Twitter. That resolution would be similar to Title III of the Democratic rules package detailing the authorization to intervene in the case.
OPINION — Through much of 2018 and especially in the weeks following the midterm elections, many opinion writers and other political pundits enthusiastically declared the Republican Party dead or at least relegated to life support.
The commentary was eerily reminiscent of the post-2006 declarations that the GOP was finished … over … no longer a viable political party.
Four years later, House Republicans were back in the majority.
When it comes to the GOP’s 2018 loss of the House, perhaps a little historical perspective — one based on numbers, not opinion — might be in order for both Republicans and Democrats, and the media, too.
In 2006, Democrats won the House national vote by 7.9 percent and picked up 31 seats; in 2018, the margin was slightly greater at 8.6 percent and they managed to flip at least 40 seats. Both were substantial victories that allowed Democrats to reclaim the majority and at least try to call it a mandate for what was then and is now an increasingly liberal policy agenda.
But it’s also important to remember that the House Republican wins in 1994, when they picked up 54 seats, and 2010 (63 seats) were even larger victories. So much for the GOP’s near-death experience.
For some added context, in 1994 when Democrats lost the House, their party had held control for an astonishing 40 straight years. It took them 12 years to regain the majority after losing in 1994 and eight years after losing in 2010. In contrast, after the 2006 elections, Republicans regained the majority in only four years and, overall, have held the House for 20 of the last 24 years.
If the past is prologue (though in politics prognosticating is risky business), what do the numbers tell us about Republicans’ congressional chances going into 2020 and beyond? Given the Democrats 235-seat majority (this assumes that North Carolina’s 9th District remains Republican — although there is a possibility for a special election), the GOP would need to take back 18 House seats to regain the majority in 2020 — a tough but hardly an impossible task. A look at close midterm House races shows a path for the GOP.
Flashback: McCarthy gives Hoyer a gift on the House floor
If Republicans were able to win districts where the Democratic congressional candidate got less than 51 percent of the vote, that would give them 14 of the 18 seats needed to regain control. If Republicans won the districts where Democrats got less than 52 percent, that would give them 22 seats and a majority coalition. Taking it one step further, if Republicans won those districts where Democrats were elected with less than 53 percent, that would net them 31 seats and control. In fact, Republicans could take the House back by winning only two-thirds of these targeted seats.
Is this scenario wishful thinking or a real possibility? Perhaps a little of both. For the GOP, it would mean winning virtually all current Republican-held House seats, including those they won with less than 53 percent of the vote; a number similar to the situation facing Democrats. A tall order? Maybe, but if you are a Republican incumbent who survived the toxic 2018 election environment, there is a good chance you can win in 2020, whatever the national circumstances.
So how could Republicans close the margins in those districts where Democrats won with less than 53 percent?
As I’ve pointed out in previous Roll Call columns, despite a significant increase in turnout, the 2018 election did not deliver the structural change in the electorate that the Democrats wanted, as ideology and party ID from exit polls show. Voters changed preference, not necessarily ideology, and several key voter groups led that shift.
Start with independents. Republicans lost them by 12 points last fall; in 2016, they won the group by 6. Given that 30 percent of the electorate are independents, simply getting back to Republicans’ previous levels of support among this group would significantly affect their chances in 2020.
The same goes for female voters. In 2018, the GOP lost them by 19 points but only by 10 two years earlier. Because women make up the majority of the electorate at 52 percent, reducing the margin of loss by 9 points would put control of the House in play. Add suburban, younger, senior and Hispanic voters into the mix, and neither party can take anything for granted heading into 2020.
If Republicans can reverse enough of the changes in voter preferences seen in the 2018 election and get back to the support they garnered in 2016 or even 2012 with key groups, an opening exists.
Now for the reality check.
Admittedly, given today’s negative political environment and evolving electoral demographics, winning two-thirds of those endangered Democratic seats will be tough. I remember the months after Republicans lost the House in 2006, and I can say things didn’t look much better. Yet, four years later Nancy Pelosi was handing the gavel back to Republican John “Where are the Jobs?” Boehner.
What were Republicans facing in 2006, and how different or not is it from today?
Election Day exit polls show attitudes about the direction of the country then and now are very similar. In 2006, 41 percent said the country was headed in the right direction while 55 percent said it was on the wrong track. In 2018, it was 42 percent (right direction) to 45 percent (wrong track). Presidential job approval rating is actually slightly better for Republicans. President George W. Bush was underwater in 2006 with 43 percent approving to 57 percent disapproving. In 2018, President Donald Trump’s approval/disapproval rating sat at 45 percent to 54 percent.
Party ID favored Democrats by 2 points in 2006, increasing slightly to +4 in 2018. But Democrats did not do as well among independents last year, winning them by 12 points, down 6 from their 18-point margin in 2006. The biggest difference between the two elections is the electorate’s attitude toward the economy. In 2006, 49 percent of voters rated the economy as excellent/good while 50 percent who said it was not so good/poor. In 2018, positive attitudes toward the economy outweighed the negative, 68 percent to 31 percent.
Comparing the Winston Group’s monthly surveys from December 2006 and December 2018, Republicans should take heart. On who can better handle the economy, the GOP starts off 8 points better than it did in 2006, going from trailing Democrats by 4 to leading them by 4. On the issue of jobs, there has been a 19-point swing in the GOP’s favor from -16 to +3. Even on health care, Republicans have slightly improved from -25 in 2006 to -19, not good but certainly better.
Despite the recent volatility in the markets, the economy remains a plus for both Trump and congressional Republicans. If that continues, it should create a better environment for the GOP than the fall of 2008 when the country lost about 400,000 jobs a month in the three months preceding the election.
Nonetheless, the impact of the presidential election remains as much a question mark this cycle as it did in 2008. The tenor of the Democratic primaries could be a big negative factor in 2019. So could the increasingly liberal ideology of the Democratic Party agenda and its congressional focus in the coming months.
While the Trump factor may also affect GOP prospects, the key for Hill Republicans is to move forward as they did in 2006. The ability of House and Senate Republicans to offer a positive agenda that addresses people’s kitchen table priorities, from jobs, wages and now retirement fears to health care concerns, could well be the deciding factor in who controls the next Congress.
David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, and is an election analyst for CBS News.
The Senate is moving quickly to assert its point-of-view on U.S. policy regarding Syria and in the broader Middle East, and it could serve as a rebuttal to the decision by President Donald Trump to pull back U.S. forces from Syria.
Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio introduced the first piece of legislation on the first day of the new Congress (designated as S 1), and it could lay a marker on the situation in Syria and the Middle East. The backers include the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Given the level of bipartisan support, the bill is being expedited through a Senate procedure that allows for bypassing the committee process, and the new chairman of the committee of jurisdiction for most of the bills is on board with the approach.
“This package of legislation is an important step toward finishing the work of the last Congress. Israel and Jordan have been steadfast allies of the United States that deserve this support,” Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch of Idaho said in a statement. “Also, it is vital to confront Syrian government atrocities and end discrimination against Israel. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reviewed these bills last Congress and they had near unanimous support. It is time to move them forward.”
The bill is expected to be among the first legislative items considered on the Senate floor, according to a Rubio aide.
“It is in America’s national security interests to ensure that our allies in the Middle East like Israel and Jordan remain secure amid the region’s growing destabilizing threats posed by Iran and Syria’s Assad regime,” Rubio said in a statement. “This important bill will also impose new sanctions against the Assad regime and its supporters who continue to commit horrific human rights violations against the Syrian people.”
The most notable component may be a bipartisan package of additional sanctions against the Syrian government, the Central Bank of Syria and affiliated entities. The legislation, which passed the House by voice vote during the last Congress, was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel.
Engel is the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee with the Democrats taking the majority in that chamber on Thursday.
According to the aide to Rubio, the Senate bill bundles together a total of four measures that did not get through in 2018. That includes an extension of a law authorizing defense cooperation with the Kingdom of Jordan and another regarding cooperation with Israel.
The package also includes a bipartisan bill opposing boycotts or divestment from Israel that Rubio authored with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia in the last Congress. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had pushed against incorporating such a measure into end-of-the-year spending legislation in the 115th Congress.
It’s likely to be considered on the floor early in the 116th Congress, and a senior Republican aide said more information would be coming soon.
“I am proud to sponsor this legislation, which enhances our alliances in the Middle East, condemns the heinous human rights abuses of the Assad regime, and takes a strong stance against the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic BDS movement,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., another of the co-sponsors.
Ammar Campa-Najjar nearly defeated California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter last tear as the incumbent faced a trial on charges of illegally misusing campaign funds. Next year, Campa-Najjar will try again.
The Democratic challenger filed a statement of candidacy form with the Federal Election Commission on Monday declaring his intention to run once more for the 50th District seat in 2020.
And he confirmed his candidacy on Twitter on Wednesday.
“I’m ready to pour my heart & soul into this race, community organize, listen, learn, and become the representative [the 50th District] deserves,” he wrote.
Campa-Najjar telegraphed his candidacy in an earlier tweet in which he compared his race to former Rep. Beto O'Rourke’s failed bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. The candidates lost by similar margins.
Filed ✔️ official announcement soon.
Hunter represents a political dynasty in the ruby red 50th District — which encompasses suburbs of San Diego — that stretches back nearly four decades. President Donald Trump carried his district by 15 points in 2016, but Hunter outperformed the president that cycle, trouncing his opponent by 27 points.
But his margin of victory narrowed dramatically in 2018 to just 3 points.
The Republican was hurt by an indictment in August alleging he used $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses ranging from tequila shots to dental work. He faces 60 federal charges. His trial is scheduled to begin in September.
House Republicans took up rules barring members facing serious legal issues from committee work. If found guilty of a felony, congressional rules would also forbid Hunter from casting votes.
“[50th District] taxpayers deserve better than a congressman who collects a paycheck to do nothing,” Campa-Najjar tweeted last month.
The California race also became a national flashpoint when the Hunter campaign released an ad smearing Campa-Najjar, who is a Palestinian-Mexican American, as part of a “well-orchestrated plan” by terrorists “to infiltrate Congress.”
But Campa-Najjar ultimately did not blame bigotry for his defeat.
“I don’t think it was is because of racism, bigotry or Islamophobia,” Campa-Najjar said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I think people voted their values, and I take some responsibility with the outcome and the fact there was probably a failure on my part to communicate my vision more fully.”
Hunter will also face a challenge from his own party.
Matt Rahn, outgoing mayor of Temecula, will also run for the 50th District seat, the Times of San Diego reported.
Rahn described Hunter’s legal troubles as motivating his decision to enter the race.
“There’s an opportunity to let this play out in the courts and I am interested in seeing the results just like everyone else is,” he said in an interview with Valley News. “I don’t need to get involved in an area that has good representation, and I don’t need to be there upset the apple cart, so to speak.”
Watch: Pelosi seeks a return to regular order, like many before her
The shutdown fallout may have handed Democrats an unpleasant start to their new House majority. But it also created a fresh opportunity for political victory on a bigger, broader disaster aid package that could hit the House floor in the coming weeks.
Billions are needed to rebuild after recent hurricanes, floods, fires and other natural disasters that ravaged the U.S. in 2018, such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael; mudslides and fires in California, including the Camp Fire that razed the town of Paradise, Calif.; floods and tornadoes that ripped across various parts of the nation; volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and a major earthquake in Alaska; and typhoons that devastated Pacific island nations and territories ranging from the Philippines to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
And Puerto Rico is still waiting for more aid to cope with the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria in 2017; the island territory estimates it needs $600 million to stave off reduced nutrition benefits for about 1.4 million residents when the money runs out in March.
House Republicans included $7.8 billion in disaster aid in a stopgap measure running through Feb. 8 that also tacked on $5.7 billion for border security as President Donald Trump requested. But that package fell flat in the Senate, precipitating the current shutdown of approximately 25 percent of government agency funding for day-to-day operations and services.
Republicans’ effort to acknowledge disaster needs was met with insults from Democrats, who called the package inadequate. During House floor debate, Democrats called for at least $1 billion more for agricultural and nutrition assistance programs alone, including the Puerto Rico request, on top of the $1.5 billion Republicans already included to compensate growers for crop losses, forest restoration and watershed protection.
The Pentagon would get $882 million under the GOP proposal to repair hurricane-related damages along the East Coast, particularly Florida and North Carolina. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said it wasn’t nearly enough, and that the big border appropriation ought instead to go toward repairing hurricane-ravaged military facilities and equipment, such as Tyndall Air Force Base in her home state of Florida and several F-22 Raptors stationed there.
“The disaster supplemental funds in this bill are designed to be a sweetener but aren’t even enough to give us a toothache,” said Wasserman Schultz, who will likely take over the Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee when the panel formally organizes for the 116th Congress.
Evan Hollander, spokesman for House Appropriations Democrats, said the panel will introduce a larger disaster package in the House soon.
“Beginning a new Congress with a government shutdown is an unprecedented situation, so Democrats are utilizing our limited time on opening day to reopen the government,” Hollander said, adding that the committee “will bring up a comprehensive disaster package in the coming weeks.”
Added Hollander: “Unlike House Republicans’ inadequate proposal, it will include resources to begin meeting the needs of Americans affected by recent natural disasters.”
During floor debate Dec. 20, incoming House Appropriations Chairwoman Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York said the GOP’s $7.8 billion proposal “fails to meet the urgent needs of disaster victims,” singling out for particular attention the unfunded Puerto Rico nutrition needs.
The root of Puerto Rico’s food benefit problems stem from a block grant program that is typically capped at $2 billion a year. Lawmakers addressed additional needs in the wake of Hurricane Maria by throwing an extra $1.27 billion into the program in Oct. 2017, making the funds available to more needy beneficiaries.
Puerto Rico’s governor has requested $600 million to keep the program running as part of a new tranche of hurricane aid for the country, estimated to keep nutrition funds flowing for another six months while a longer-term fix is discussed. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, a Democrat, wrote to lawmakers Nov. 19 outlining his requests, and followed it up with White House and Capitol Hill visits on Dec. 13, including with top Democratic appropriators in both chambers and incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that some 1.3 million Puerto Rico residents could see reduced benefits when the current batch of funds runs out in late February or early March, and the Puerto Rican government estimates 153,000 residents could lose benefits altogether.
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, cited the lackluster aid package as a primary reason for his “no” vote on the stopgap.
He called the disaster figure “token disaster relief for rural communities and farmers in Middle and Southwest Georgia that were devastated by Hurricane Michael and other disasters that occurred in 2018.”
Bishop went on to list a number of other funding needs, including the $600 million for Puerto Rico plus the following:
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