Stacey Abrams to take to Georgia airwaves during Super Bowl
By BILL BARROW
Thursday, January 31
ATLANTA (AP) — Before Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams delivers her party’s rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, she’ll take her voting rights campaign to the airwaves during the Super Bowl.
Abrams’ political group, Fair Fight, has bought airtime on Georgia affiliates during Sunday’s NFL broadcast so the Atlanta Democrat can push for election law changes.
Abrams narrowly lost her November bid to become the first black woman to be elected governor, in a contest marred by disputes over ballot access and integrity. But she is still a rising star among national Democrats and is their top choice to run for a Georgia Senate seat in 2020.
In the Super Bowl ad, Abrams appears alongside a white Republican county commissioner from north Georgia. They call for hand-marked paper ballots to replace Georgia’s touch-screen voting system.
“We don’t agree on everything,” says the Republican, Natalie Crawford.
“But we love Georgia,” Abrams says, later adding, “Every vote should be counted, from every corner of our state.”
Fair Fight is spending $100,000 on the initial ad buy in multiple markets beyond the more expensive metro Atlanta market. Digital ads will be targeted to metro Atlanta residents.
In the days after the November midterm election, Abrams considered challenging her loss to Republican Brian Kemp, alleging that he presided as secretary of state over an election rife with irregularities, leaving ballots uncounted and denying others the right to cast ballots at all. Kemp vehemently defended his performance as chief elections officer.
Abrams bowed out of the race without a formal concession, then started Fair Fight as a vehicle to maintain a public presence and raise awareness about voting rights issues in Georgia and nationwide.
That advocacy is among the reasons that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York asked Abrams to deliver Democrats’ response to Trump’s State of the Union two days after the Super Bowl. Schumer also is pushing Abrams to run against Republican Sen. David Perdue next year.
Abrams has been consulting with House Democrats on their first signature legislation of the new Congress, which would mean sweeping changes for how the U.S. conducts elections.
In Georgia, a commission that Kemp appointed when he was secretary of state has endorsed a new touch-screen system that prints ballot receipts. State lawmakers are considering the matter during their current session.
Advocates of hand-marked paper ballots note the system Kemp’s panel backs could cost at least $100 million, more than triple what the paper ballot system could cost. Kemp hired as a top aide a former lobbyist for a private firm that sells the kinds of voting systems Kemp’s commission recommended.
Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP.
Democrats gain in statehouses as some GOP lawmakers defect
By MIKE CATALINI
Thursday, January 31
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Democrats’ gains in state legislatures didn’t end with last November’s elections.
Over the past two months, as lawmakers were sworn in and this year’s statehouse sessions got underway, Republicans in California, Kansas and New Jersey switched their party affiliations to become Democrats.
They cited various reasons, but the party-switchers have one thing in common: They say the GOP under President Donald Trump has become too extreme.
“The Republican Party, for all of its statements of having a big tent, continues to limit the tent,” said Kansas state Sen. Barbara Bollier, of Mission Hills, one of the switchers. “Those of us who were moderates are clearly not welcome.”
Bollier was one of four moderate Republicans from the Kansas City suburbs to switch parties.
The latest party-flip came this week in New Jersey. Republican state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, who represented a suburban Philadelphia district in southern New Jersey for nearly a decade, left the GOP, the minority party in both houses of the Legislature.
She cited the desire to “be a part of the discussion” in the Democratic majority but also hinted that the national Republican Party is no longer recognizable.
“My core values that originally drew me to the Republican Party have not changed, but the party which once echoed the vision of Ronald Reagan no longer exists,” she said in a statement announcing the change.
Her announcement came just days after California Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, who represents San Diego, left the GOP. He said he differs with his former party on immigration, health care, gun control, abortion and gay rights.
The defections come after the Democratic Party won control of the U.S. House in the midterm elections and gained seats in 62 of the 99 state legislative chambers, according to data provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures (Nebraska is the only state with a single legislative chamber).
They also come at a time when the president’s approval ratings are dipping.
“This is largely a product of the Trump phenomenon,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “President Trump has blown the lid off of this party. It starts to look like a personality cult.”
In Democratic-leaning states such as California and New Jersey, the defections add to the GOP’s challenges.
Republicans will have to focus on state issues to regain relevance and votes, said Jack Ciattarelli, a former New Jersey Republican lawmaker who says he is planning to run for governor in 2021. In New Jersey, that means focusing on underfunded public pensions and affordability.
“In this era, there will always be those whose intense disdain for Donald Trump will determine their vote,” he said. “But I still believe there are a majority of New Jersey independent-unaffiliated voters and even some soft Democratic voters that will vote for the party that’s going to solve the various crises.”
The political landscape in the party-switchers’ seats has been changing for some time, which also helps explain the shifts.
In New Jersey, Addiego beat her Democratic opponent with 63 percent of the vote in 2013. By 2017, her winning percentage was cut to 52 percent. And last November, Democratic Rep. Andy Kim defeated then-incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur in the 3rd U.S. House district, which includes all the towns Addiego represents in the state Senate.
Maienschein’s Assembly District has become more Democratic since his first election, when it was considered safe for Republicans. Republicans had 38 percent of registered voters to Democrats’ 30 percent in 2012. Registration is now roughly even. Statewide, independents now outnumber Republicans in California.
In Kansas, the four defectors were all from a congressional district that Trump narrowly lost in 2016 and that elected Democrat Sharice Davids last year.
Unlike the lawmakers in California and New Jersey, they went from the majority to the minority party. Republicans in Kansas pointed to the fact that the lawmakers were moderates who voted mostly with Democrats, anyway.
Republicans in New Jersey and California criticized the lawmakers for their switch, characterizing it as a ploy to hold on to power.
“People will view Addiego’s party change for what is — an attempt at political survival,” Ciattarelli said.
But voters were split on how they viewed her defection from the GOP.
Dick Bozarth, a 79-year-old retiree from the construction industry, said at a diner in Medford, New Jersey, in the heart of Addiego’s district, that the change sends a bad signal.
“She wants to be with the radicals right now?” he asked. “Is that what she wants to do?” Bozarth said he’s voted for Addiego before but will not do so again.
Dave DeAngelis, a 65-year-old retired auto repair shop owner who recently moved to Berlin, a town just outside of Addiego’s district, said he’s supported her over the years.
He said that because of her long political experience in local and state office, her political party isn’t important to him.
“If she still holds her opinions, I don’t think that would make a big difference,” he said.
The change could help her get more done: “It’s very difficult to be a Republican in this state,” he said. “She wouldn’t get anything through the state Assembly because she doesn’t have the votes.”
Party switching can go in both directions. In Oklahoma, state Rep. Johnny Tadlock, who represents a rural district in the state’s southeast corner, switched to the GOP. Democrats have been losing seats there over the last two decades.
Associated Press reporters Geoff Mulvihill in Medford, New Jersey; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; Don Thompson in Sacramento, California; and Sean Murphy, in Oklahoma City, contributed to this report.
Schumer wields leverage and a flip phone against Trump
By LISA MASCARO
AP Congressional Correspondent
Thursday, January 31
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House plan for peeling off Democrats to support President Donald Trump’s demands for billions in border wall money ran into a particularly stubborn obstacle: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s flip phone.
Schumer had already been talking with his colleagues for months, anticipating Trump’s fight long before the shutdown battle began. Soon after the midterm elections in early November, the New Yorker started doing what he does best, talking to his senators.
One by one, he dialed them on his vintage flip phone to gauge support for spending money on the wall with Mexico. He made a beeline for them across the Senate floor. He cornered them in the Senate gym. Most Democrats told him they were against it.
That unity buoyed Democrats during the just-concluded shutdown saga and is now girding them for the next round, with a second federal closure threatened by the White House.
While Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seized the starring role against Trump’s border wall, Schumer played no small part by helping shore up his side of the Capitol and bolstering Pelosi’s position.
It’s a strategy the Democrats will rely on as the next shutdown deadline, Feb. 15, nears, and as Senate Democrats use their minority status as leverage to align with Pelosi’s House majority on various fronts.
“If anything, our unity is stronger today than it was,” Schumer said Tuesday.
It was his most high-profile role since taking on the leader’s position in 2017.
During Trump’s first two years, Senate Democrats held together to vote against the Republican tax plan, resulting in a partisan measure that has failed to gain widespread popular appeal. Democrats also denied Republicans the votes needed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, after dissent from the GOP ranks left Republicans without enough support.
Schumer has been praised, but also criticized, for not forcing his senators to fall in line the way past leaders have done. Liberals railed against him for failing to stop Brett Kavanaugh from being confirmed to the Supreme Court, even though only one Democrat voted for Trump’s nominee.
Schumer is proving to be a different kind of leader, nudging his caucus to hold together on big fights, but also cutting senators loose to vote as they wish at other times.
Last year, Schumer looked the other way as several Democrats supported a Republican banking bill that reversed some Democratic changes put in place after the Great Recession. This month, as soon as the shutdown ended, Schumer lifted the blockade on a GOP foreign policy bill supporting Israel that divided Democrats; their votes allowed it to easily advance.
Schumer is showing the strength that Senate Democrats can assert in the chamber where 60 votes are usually needed to advance legislation to support or thwart Trump’s agenda.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., a member of the leadership team, said Schumer has “an uncanny way to be able to listen” to the various views and end up with a position that “eventually everybody can feel OK with.”
Days after the Nov. 6 election when Democrats suffered defeats in the Senate, Schumer started dialing up Democrats about the border wall. Four colleagues from states where Trump is popular lost their elections. But without much prodding, senators were lining up against giving Trump the money he wanted, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
Senators had approved a border security package and saw no reason to spend more. Plus, Democrats had just won the House, strengthening their hand. By the time the White House thought about flipping Democrats, it was too late.
“It’s old the minds and hearts thing,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Schumer, he said, “knows the minds and hearts of his colleagues.”
Even in Virginia, where Sen. Tim Kaine represents thousands of federal workers who would eventually go without pay during the record 35-day shutdown, Democrats held firm.
“The issue that the president chose to battle on, he just picked an issue where every Democrat is completely unified,” Kaine said. “Our caucus just welded together.”
In the end, just one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted for the wall money. The White House didn’t even bother trying to call another potential Democratic vote, Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama.
Emboldened by their newfound leverage, Democrats are now looking at areas where they can unite against some policies and perhaps win some GOP support on issues such as prescription drug prices, administration oversight or protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The night before a pivotal White House meeting in December, when the shutdown was a possibility but not yet reality, Schumer and Pelosi discussed strategy. They couldn’t have imagined what would come next.
With the television cameras rolling the next day at the White House, Trump said in an exchange with Schumer that he would “take the mantle” and own the shutdown. Schumer can be seen trying to hold back a smile.
A short while later Schumer arrived back at the Capitol for a private lunch with Democratic senators. They, too, were stunned.
The shutdown would drag for more than a month, but for Senate Democrats the new Congress was just beginning.
“It reinforced a lot of our steadfastness and resolve,” said Blumenthal, and “trust in our values and in the American people to see through Trump’s bullying and bluster.”
Follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AP_Politics and https://twitter.com/lisamascaro
Opinion: How Severe Will the Next Recession Be?
By Desmond Lachman
Calling the precise time of the next global economic recession is notoriously difficult. However, the same might not be true of calling how severe the next recession might be when it eventually occurs.
This would particularly seem to be the case in today’s context of excessively high global debt levels, global asset price bubbles, and the generalized wrong pricing of credit market risk. Those considerations, coupled with the lack of adequate policy instruments to respond to the next global economic recession, would suggest that when the next recession does occur it will be much more severe than the average post-war recession.
Among the more disturbing vulnerabilities of today’s global economy is the large amount of debt that was spawned by many years of ultra-unorthodox monetary policy by the world’s major central banks. Indeed, according to the IMF, today’s global debt to GDP level is 250 percent, or around 30 percentage points higher than it was on the eve of the 2008-2009 Great Economic Recession.
Handling a very high debt level in the midst of a recession will be a major challenge for policymakers. It might lead to a wave of defaults that could cause financial market distress that in turn would risk deepening the recession. That challenge would be substantially compounded if that debt proved to be owed by debtors of dubious creditworthiness.
Sadly, there are all too many reasons to fear that years of unorthodox monetary policy and low interest rates has led to a marked deterioration in lending standards. As former Fed Chair Janet Yellen has recently cautioned, the size of the risky U.S. leveraged loan market has approximately doubled from $600 billion on the eve of the 2008-2009 recession to more than $1.2 trillion at present.
At the same time, there has been a very large increase in lending to corporations of dubious creditworthiness in the emerging market economies. Particularly troubling is the fact that more than $3 trillion of that debt is in U.S. dollar-denominated terms, which will be difficult for those companies to repay if the world economy were to weaken and the U.S. dollar were to strengthen.
An important reason to be more concerned about high debt levels today than we might have been in 2008 is that the pricing of global debt in the current economic cycle is much more pervasive than it was back then. In 2008, that pricing was largely limited to U.S. mortgage lending whereas today it seems to be across the board and around the world. This would seem to set us up for considerable financial market dislocation should we get a serious repricing of risk to more normal levels and the bursting of asset price bubbles in the global equity and housing markets.
Examples of credit risk pricing include the U.S. high-yield debt market and the emerging market corporate debt market. Borrowing rates in both of those markets reached levels that did not nearly compensate the lenders for default risk. Bad pricing was also in evidence in the sovereign debt markets of very highly indebted countries like Italy, where until recently the Italian government could borrow long-term at interest rates very close to those in the United States.
Yet another reason to be concerned that the next recession is likely to be more severe than an average recession is that the United States would seem to be less well equipped now than it was in 2008 to fight the next recession. With interest rates still relatively low and with considerable political resistance to another round of quantitative easing, the Federal Reserve would seem to have very much less room for policy maneuver than before. Similarly, with the U.S. budget deficit already bloated by the very large Trump tax cut at a time of cyclical strength, there would seem to be little room for another fiscal stimulus package when the next economic downturn occurs.
The 2008-2009 Great Economic Recession caught global policymakers flatfooted. A coordinated global policy economic response was also required to get the world economy out of that recession. It is hoped this time around global policymakers will be better prepared for the next recession than before.
By the time that the next recession comes around one must also hope that the Trump administration will be taking a more constructive stance with respect to the need for global economic policy coordination. However, judging by the administration’s America First policy to date, I would not recommend holding one’s breath for that to happen.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Desmond Lachman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was formerly a deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s Policy Development and Review Department and the chief emerging market economic strategist at Salomon Smith Barney. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Rand Paul awarded more than $580K after neighbor’s attack
By BRUCE SCHREINER
Thursday, January 31
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was awarded more than $580,000 in damages and medical expenses on Wednesday in his lawsuit against the neighbor who tackled him and broke several of his ribs in a dispute over lawn maintenance.
A jury in Bowling Green, Kentucky, deliberated less than two hours before delivering the award to the Republican lawmaker who had been attacked while doing yard work at his Kentucky home.
Paul had testified during the three-day trial that he feared for his life as he struggled to breathe after Rene Boucher, an anesthesiologist by trade, slammed into him in their upscale Bowling Green neighborhood in late 2017.
The jury awarded $375,000 in punitive damages and $200,000 for pain and suffering, plus $7,834 for medical expenses.
Afterward, Paul said in a statement that he hoped the verdict would send a “clear message that violence is not the answer — anytime, anywhere.”
Boucher’s attorney, Matt Baker, said they would appeal.
“We all expected that Sen. Paul would get a verdict in his favor,” Baker said. “This far exceeds anything that we were expecting.”
The trial included testimony from doctors as well as other who live in the neighborhood, but the most riveting testimony came from the longtime neighbors — Paul and Boucher. Paul, a former GOP presidential hopeful, told the jury Monday that immediately after the attack, “the thought crossed my mind that I may never get up from this lawn again.”
An apologetic Boucher acknowledged he wasn’t thinking rationally and called it “two minutes of my life I wish I could take back.” Paul showed no outward emotion, sitting between his lawyer and his wife in the courtroom, as Boucher recounted the attack.
In his lawsuit, Paul sought up to $500,000 in compensatory damages and up to $1 million in punitive damages. Baker conceded during the trial that a “reasonable award” might be in order for Paul’s pain and suffering but said no punitive damages should be awarded. Baker said that Paul had resumed his “customary lifestyle” that includes golf and a skiing excursion.
After the verdict, Baker said “multiple issues” will come up during their appeal. Asked if Boucher has the financial resources to pay the damages, the attorney replied: “We’re going to talk about that.”
Boucher has already served a 30-day prison sentence after pleading guilty to assaulting a member of Congress. Federal prosecutors have appealed, saying 21 months would have been appropriate. Boucher also paid a $10,000 fine and served 100 hours of community service in the criminal case.
Both Paul and Boucher recounted with great detail their accounts of the attack.
Paul testified that he got off his riding mower to pick up a stick and was straightening up when Boucher hit him from behind with such force that both flew through the air 5 or 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters). He said he was wearing noise-canceling headphones and didn’t hear Boucher coming toward him.
For a moment, Paul said, he had a flashback to the 2017 shooting at a baseball field when members of Congress were practicing for a game. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana suffered serious injuries in that shooting.
The attack in Paul’s yard was motivated by lawn care, not politics.
Boucher told the jury that he attacked Paul after watching the senator begin forming a brush pile near their property line.
The day before the attack, Boucher said, he had burned another brush pile that Paul had created near the boundary. He doused that pile with gasoline and set it on fire, Boucher said. An explosion burned his face, neck and arms, and Boucher said he was still in severe pain when he attacked Paul the next day. Boucher testified he had hauled away previous brush piles accumulated by Paul without asking the senator.
Boucher testified that he tried to talk to Paul about his lawn maintenance concerns, but was rebuffed. Paul maintained in his testimony that he kept any brush pile on his own property.
Paul said after the verdict that people can hold different views whether it’s on politics, religion or “day to day matters. It’s never OK to turn those disagreements into violent, aggressive behavior. I hope that’s the message from today.”