O’Rourke vs. Castro: 2 Texans eye White House runs
By WILL WEISSERT and PAUL J. WEBER
Thursday, November 29
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro were barely old enough for elementary school the last time a Democrat from ruby red Texas ran for the White House.
But after a midterm campaign that saw Democrats make inroads throughout the Sun Belt, both Texans are signaling they could make a play for the presidency. It’s a reversal for a state where Democrats often seek big-money donors, not White House hopefuls. And it could fuel a rivalry between two of the party’s brightest Texas stars.
For now, after decades of disappointment, Texas Democrats are excited about the potential of sending two of their own to the national political stage.
“This is a sea change,” said Garry Mauro, who was Texas director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “We have two candidates with star quality.”
The two men have taken different approaches to the White House buzz.
Castro, a secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama, has taken a methodical approach. He’s paid visits to the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and campaigned around the country for top Democrats ahead of the midterms. His new book, “An Unlikely Journey,” details his rise as the son of a Latina activist single mother to political heights, including being the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Arthur Schechter, a prominent Houston Democratic fundraiser, said he first spoke to Castro about a 2020 bid weeks ago and that he and his brother are “both very ambitious and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Castro has spent years studying to improve his Spanish skills and could be a strong contender for Hispanic voters, telling The Associated Press in a recent interview, “Part of my vision for the future of the party is to take the 78 electoral votes of Arizona, Texas and Florida,” all of which Trump carried in 2016 and have booming Hispanic populations.
O’Rourke, meanwhile, rocketed into the 2020 conversation almost overnight after coming within three percentage points of defeating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. He’s done little to build the groundwork for a presidential run and hasn’t contacted many top Texas donors. But his national profile is strong after raising more than $60 million for his Senate campaign — much of it from small donations — and coming close to unseating Cruz. He’s increasingly discussed as someone who could attract the same type of attention — and financial resources — as better established Democrats such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California.
“He’s in the top tier for sure. We saw Beto yard signs in Iowa. We have bumper stickers,” said Sean Bagniewski, chairman of Iowa’s Polk County Democratic Party, which recently invited O’Rourke and other top Democrats to visit the state. “He’s the only candidate that has that kind of enthusiasm at this point.”
O’Rourke said Monday that he prefers to finish his congressional term Jan. 3 before deciding what’s next. But that’s a far cry from repeatedly saying during the Senate campaign that he had no White House aspirations whatsoever.
So far, there aren’t signs of animosity between the Texans.
Castro campaigned with O’Rourke during his Senate run. He and his twin brother, Joaquin, a congressman from San Antonio, attended O’Rourke’s Election Night rally.
But O’Rourke has already eclipsed Castro’s national profile and, if he runs, may easily overshadow him. Castro insists he won’t be deterred by O’Rourke or other potential competitors, saying “I’m going to run regardless of what anyone else does.”
Intrastate clashes aside, a potential O’Rourke run could be especially challenging to Castro. Though the congressman is not Hispanic, he speaks fluent Spanish and champions his hometown of El Paso, on the Texas-Mexico border. Mustafa Tameez, a Houston strategist connected to top Democratic donors, said O’Rourke may trail Castro and other potential 2020 hopefuls in early preparations, but can catch up quickly.
“He created almost a million people that contributed to him,” Tameez said. “He can send out one email and raise more money than most established, seasoned veteran politicians and their bundlers.”
Both Castro brothers also sat out the 2018 cycle rather than try for a statewide office. At the time, avoiding what looked like a sure loss seemed bound to bolster a possible 2020 presidential bid. But jumping into a seemingly unwinnable race paid off for O’Rourke, laying bare the perils of being overly cautious rather than seeking out momentum in unlikely places.
The last Texas Democrat to run for president was Lloyd Bentsen in 1978. Republican George W. Bush went from the governor’s mansion in Austin to the White House in 2000 and fellow Texans Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Cruz have all made presidential bids since.
Some see O’Rourke’s strength this year as proof that Democratic hopes in Texas aren’t totally lost and, one day, the party could seriously vie for the state’s 36 electoral votes and choke off any viable Electoral College path to the presidency for Republicans.
“Since 1968, the dream deferred for the Democratic Party has been to win back Texas,” Bagniewski said. “We’re getting closer and closer every time. Beto showed us it could really happen in our lifetime.”
Opinion: How to Avoid More Florida Recounts
By Trey Grayson
Florida, it’s been fun, but there’s no need to keep having these dramatic recounts every 18 years.
As with most things in politics these days, the claims and accusations bandied about during this recount season overshadowed legitimate issues with our elections.
Here’s the reality: Florida found itself in what should have been a standard recount in response to a relatively close election. As much as we want to know the results quickly, counting mail ballots and provisional ballots takes time and often the count cannot be completed on Election Day
In addition, Florida allows active military and expats’ absentee ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days after the election. So we have to give time for those ballots to be received. As observers, we must adjust our expectations accordingly.
Three statewide races since the turn of the century have seen an outcome flip: 2004 Washington governor, 2006 Vermont auditor and 2008 Minnesota U.S. Senate. In these three races the average change in vote total was about 300, and the vast majority of the difference between the original total and the recount total were of absentee ballots added to the count. We saw similar minor changes in Florida.
So how did the Florida election officials let the narrative slip away from them so dramatically? It’s a now all too common result of partisans who want to weaponize the administration of our elections by taking advantage of a few simple errors to fire up supporters with false claims of voter fraud. We also saw a confusing ballot face and too many provisional ballots.
These issues can be fixed with a few common-sense reforms that conservatives and liberals alike should support, along with a commitment from election administrators to do what is necessary to build confidence in the system at a time when our institutions are under attack.
For starters, given the political and technological realities of our modern age — every step along the way should be transparent. Results should be released regularly and according to any laws or regulations that exist. Representatives from the campaigns, parties and the media should be allowed to observe the count.
Next, election administrators need to plan better, and local jurisdictions need to fund those improved plans. Administrators need to take advantage of the free resources, such as those from the Center for Civic Design, about how best to design ballots to avoid undervotes, like what appears to have happened in Broward County, or votes for the wrong candidate, like what happened with Palm Beach’s infamous butterfly ballot in 2000.
Further, there is no excuse for any county not to have sufficient machines and staffing to count ballots in time to meet Florida’s certification deadlines. Large numbers of votes cast early and by mail, as well as long ballots requiring multiple pages to accommodate a large number of races and ballot questions and various languages, are not new developments.
Finally, steps should be taken to reduce the amount of provisional ballots that are cast. A provisional ballot is a failsafe and really should be a last resort when a voter’s eligibility cannot be determined. After all, ideally the voter shows up, checks in and casts a regular ballot.
Inaccurate and outdated lists are one of the leading causes of provisional ballots, creating delays on Election Day and slowing the counting process. As we’ve seen in Florida recently, high numbers of provisional ballots create more room for minor errors by the administrators and more opportunity for fear-mongering from the political class.
Fortunately, we can vastly reduce the number of provisional ballots by overhauling our registration system to use modern technologies to ensure that name and address information is as up to-date and accurate as possible. One way to do is automated voter registration, commonly known as AVR. Automating the registration process will create more accurate and up-to-date lists, improve Election Day operations, and make recounts more efficient in close races.
AVR can also help to ensure that only eligible voters vote, for example, by connecting the voter list to another government list, such as a DMV list that contains citizenship information.
Finally, automating the data transmission not only means greater accuracy, it also saves money and time, which can be reallocated to address other potential threats like cyber security.
The fairness and accuracy of our elections are important to all of us. When elections are close, everyone wants to be confident that the count is done with integrity. Fortunately, our elections keep getting better. But as partisan attacks intensify, we must increase transparency and continue to make the changes necessary to maintain confidence in our elections. Florida has an opportunity to show the way forward.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Trey Grayson is an attorney with Frost Brown Todd in Florence, Kentucky. He served as Kentucky’s secretary of state from 2004 to 2011. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Paul Ryan lists immigration, debt as biggest regrets
By SCOTT BAUER
Thursday, November 29
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday named immigration and the national debt as his two biggest regrets as he prepares to leave office after 20 years in Congress, saying he has no immediate plans to return to public office.
The Republican lawmaker from Wisconsin, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, sat for an interview with The Washington Post as he prepares to step down. Ryan also delivered one of his final floor speeches, thanking his staff and voters of his Wisconsin congressional district, where he first won election in 1998 at age 28.
In a break with the GOP-controlled Senate, Ryan said he opposes a resolution passed there calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the Yemen war, led by Saudi Arabia. Congress has been debating how to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Ryan said the Yemen resolution “isn’t the way to go” and instead he favored invoking the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which gives the U.S. government the power to impose sanctions for human rights abuses.
“Yes, we have lots of strategic interests in alignment with the Saudis, no two ways about it,” Ryan said. “Still, we can speak with moral clarity. We can take actions that address these issues.”
Ryan sidestepped questions about his sometimes contentious relationship with President Donald Trump. But he bemoaned what he said was Trump’s “hostile” relationship with the media. He said that “tribalism” among Republicans and Democrats is “getting out of control” because “polarization sells.”
“That tribalism in our country, to me, is our undoing,” Ryan said. “Yes, the president has a hostile relationship with the press, no two ways about it. But that’s the new norm in this day and age.”
The interview came in the midst of a budget showdown with Trump over funding for Trump’s promised wall along the U.S-Mexico border. Ryan said he does not think Trump wants a government shutdown and “our hope is that we can get a successful conclusion.” He said the onus will be on the White House and Senate Democrats to find common ground on a budget bill.
“He thinks the issue of border security is a winner,” Ryan said of Trump. “I don’t think he sees a shutdown as a winner. I think he sees border security as a winner. … We don’t want to have a shutdown. I have no interest in doing that. That makes no sense.”
As for his regrets, Ryan cited not paying off the national debt and failing to pass an immigration overhaul. If those can be solved, Ryan said, “we will have a great 21st century.”
Still, Ryan said he thought “history is going to be very good to this majority” because of the tax overhaul passed under his leadership and increased funding for the military. Critics have said the tax changes benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
Ryan was elected speaker in 2015 after publicly saying he had no interest in the job. Ryan said that’s in contrast with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who has been bargaining with Democrats to secure their support for her to succeed Ryan.
“I could do it on my terms,” Ryan said. “This is the benefit Nancy does not now have, and I think it’s regretful. … Our members knew I didn’t need it, didn’t necessarily want it but was happy to do it joyfully and happily and I’m really glad I did.”
Ryan said when he saw Pelosi recently he offered her congratulations and condolences.
Ryan is leaving office as Mitt Romney, who picked Ryan as his running mate in the 2012 presidential election, prepares to join the Senate representing Utah. Ryan said he looks to Romney to be the “standard bearer of our principles.”
Republican Bryan Steil, a corporate attorney and former Ryan aide, won election in November to succeed him in Wisconsin.
Ryan, 48, did not say what he plans to do after leaving Congress, other than to take his wife on a beach vacation. When asked if he would ever be interested in serving as ambassador to Ireland, Ryan, who has Irish ancestry, said: “That’s the only other government job I would aspire to, in my 60s, to be ambassador of Ireland.”
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP
Senators send rebuke to Saudis, Trump over Khashoggi killing
By MARY CLARE JALONICK and SUSANNAH GEORGE
Thursday, November 29
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defying President Donald Trump, senators sent a strong signal that they want to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. By a bipartisan 63-37 vote, the Senate opted to move forward with legislation calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The vote on Wednesday was a rebuke not only to Saudi Arabia but also to Trump’s administration, which has made clear it does not want to torpedo the long-standing U.S. relationship with Riyadh over the killing.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis both came to Capitol Hill to urgently lobby against the resolution, which would call for an end to U.S. military assistance for the conflict that human rights advocates say is wreaking havoc on Yemen and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.
The vote showed a significant number of Republicans were willing to break with Trump to express their deep dissatisfaction with Saudi Arabia and with the U.S. response to Khashoggi’s brutal killing in Turkey last month. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has equivocated over who was to blame.
Khashoggi, who lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, was publicly critical of the Saudi crown prince. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which he had visited for marriage paperwork.
Echoing Trump’s public comments on the killing, Pompeo said after Wednesday’s briefing with senators that there was “no direct reporting” connecting the crown prince to the murder, and Mattis said there was “no smoking gun” making the connection.
Pompeo argued that the war in Yemen would be “a hell of a lot worse” if the United States were not involved.
Wednesday’s procedural vote sets up a floor debate on the resolution next week. It would be largely a symbolic move, however, as House Republican leaders have given no indication they would take up the war powers measure before the end of the year — the end of the current Congress.
Several senators said they were angry about the absence of CIA Director Gina Haspel from the pre-vote briefing.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speculated that Haspel didn’t attend because she “would have said with a high degree of confidence that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
And Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is often strongly allied with Trump, voted to move forward with the resolution and said he would insist on a briefing from Haspel. He even threatened to withhold his vote on key measures if that didn’t happen and declared, “I’m not going to blow past this.”
CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett said that no one kept Haspel away from the briefing. He said the CIA had already briefed the Senate intelligence committee and Senate leaders and “will continue to provide updates on this important matter to policymakers and Congress.”
In another explanation, a White House official said Haspel decided not to participate in part because of frustration with lawmakers leaking classified intelligence from such settings. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
The procedural vote received more Republican support than had been expected after the resolution, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, fell six votes short of passage earlier this year.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in the past he had “laid in the railroad tracks to keep us from doing things that I believe are against our national interest as it relates to Saudi Arabia.” But he said he believes the Senate should “figure out some way for us to send the appropriate message to Saudi Arabia that appropriately displays American values and American national interests.”
He said the crown prince “owns this death. He owns it.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted against moving ahead with the resolution but said a day earlier that “some kind of response” was needed from the United States for the Saudis’ role in Khashoggi’s death. On Tuesday, he said that “what obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world.”
Pompeo said U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to the Trump administration’s broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East. His language was blunt in a Wall Street Journal article, writing that Khashoggi’s murder “has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies.”
Trump has said it may never be known who was responsible for the killing, and in public comments — and a long and unusual statement last week — he reinforced the United States’ long-standing alliance with the Saudis. Trump has praised a pending arms deal with the kingdom that he says will provide the U.S. with jobs and lucrative payments, though some outside assessments say the economic benefits are exaggerated.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking, Maria Danilova and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.