Five lessons from Pennsylvania as Democrat holds narrow lead in US House race

Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2018 @ 7:43 PM

In the election version of March Madness, a closely watched special election for the U.S. House went into overtime on Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, as with almost all of the votes counted in the race, Democrat Conor Lamb held a less than 1,000 vote lead over GOP state Rep. Rick Saccone, with absentee ballots being counted after midnight and later on Wednesday.

“GOP voters either stayed home or flipped to Lamb. It’s as simple as that,” said political analyst Stu Rothenberg, explaining why the district could be so tight after a 20 point win for President Donald Trump in 2016.

The numbers in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District bore out a familiar pattern since the election of President Trump, as Democratic voters have been more energized to get to the polls, while turnout in reliably GOP areas has fallen back.

Even without a declared winner, here are five things we learned from this race in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.

1. Democrats still have the election momentum in 2018. As mentioned above, this was not a good result for the GOP. This was not a Democratic district. This was not a purple district. This was a solid Republican district outside of Pittsburgh that went for President Donald Trump by 20 points. This is Arnold Palmer territory in Latrobe, down the road from the “Trump House” of the 2016 elections. No matter who wins, it was yet another example from the past year of more Democrats getting out to vote, and a lot of Republicans staying home. “A narrow GOP win or loss in this district is a really bad sign for them, fullstop,” said Sean Trende, an elections analyst for Real Clear Politics.

2. The Saturday night Trump rally did not turn the tide. The races in 2018 for Congress will be partly a referendum on President Trump, just as the races in 2010 were a referendum on Barack Obama. Last weekend, Mr. Trump brought his campaign bravado to Moon Township, Pennsylvania, and held a rally that made it feel like it was 2016 all over again. But the results weren’t the same in that area, or in the rest of the 18th District. Would it be different if the Trump name was actually on the ballot? That’s a question for 2020, not this year. Remember, Democrats lost big for Congress in 2010, and Obama won two years later. That type of outcome cannot be ruled out in 2018 and

3. Other Republicans are watching and worrying. As Republicans in the House gather for a closed door meeting on Wednesday about the 2018 mid-terms, many GOP lawmakers will be wondering about their own fortunes in November. If the Democrats could come close to winning a seat where President Trump had won by 20 points in 2016, what does that say about their own chances. My father routinely compares elections to the tide on a beach. Sometimes your kid builds a sand castle that survives the high tide. But sometimes that high tide is very high, and the castle gets washed away. It’s the same thing with elections. If you didn’t win by much last time, this environment will have you worried.

4. Not all party members are party line. One thing that’s happened in the last 20 years in both parties is the near eradication of more conservative Democrats and more liberal Republicans. Democrat Conor Lamb would have likely been called a Blue Dog ten years ago, or a “Boll Weevil” back in the Reagan years – a Democrat, but not one who toed the line on every liberal issue. That’s how you get a majority in the Congress, is by having some lawmakers win districts which otherwise might not be attainable. Republicans said Lamb ran like a Republican, so a loss wouldn’t be that big of a deal – except it could be repeated in other red districts as well.

5. Every vote counts and every vote counter is different. As the votes came in on Tuesday night, and the race dramatically tightened as the hour grew late, it was another time to reflect on how important it is to fight for every single vote in an election. It was also a reminder of how counties across the United States conduct elections differently. Many now count absentee ballots first, along with early votes. Two of the counties from Tuesday night counted absentees after the election day ballots had been tallied. But two others will wait to finalize the numbers until Wednesday, keeping the winner of this race a mystery for now.

Who is going to win? The edge seems to be with Lamb and Democrats right now – but as with every election – wait until all the votes are counted.

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Congress sends giant government funding bill to President Trump

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 8:40 PM

Just over 24 hours after GOP leaders unveiled the details of massive plan to fund the federal government, the House and Senate gave easy bipartisan approval to the $1.3 trillion spending measure, even as members in both parties grumbled about the actions of their leaders, the process, the size of the bill, the amount of money involved, and the specifics.

The final Senate vote – which took place soon after midnight – was 65 to 32 in favor of the over 2,000 page bill, which no lawmaker claimed to have read from start to finish.

“Washington has reached a new low,” complained Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who ridiculed the increase in spending agreed to by both parties.

“This is beyond pathetic. It is irresponsible, and a danger to our Republic,” Perdue added.

“Our congressional budget process is badly broken, and this Omnibus bill is just another symptom of Washington’s sickness,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

Among the many items in the final bill:

+ A big boost in defense spending, giving the Pentagon $700 billion in 2018, an increase of over $60 billion.

+ A substantial increase in domestic spending, highlighted by money for infrastructure, medical research and more.

+ Two bills pressed in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting – the “Fix NICS” bill that would funnel more information into the instant background check system for gun buyers, and the “STOP School Violence Act,” which would help schools better recognize possible threats of violence in the future.

A rush to a final vote in the Senate was first delayed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who spent hours going through the bill, tweeting out what he found – but after about 600 of the 2,232 pages, the Kentucky Republican called it quits.

“I will vote no because it spends too much and there’s just too little time to read the bill and let everyone know what’s actually in it,” Paul tweeted.

“Every Republican would vote against this disgusting pork bill if a Democrat were President,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).  “This spending kegger is a wildly irresponsible use of the taxpayers’ money.”

At the White House, officials acknowledged that if the GOP had 60 votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster, they would have designed a much different bill to the fund the operations of the federal government through the end of September.

But they still argued the measure funded a number of the President’s priorities.

“It funds national defense,” said White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney. “It funds opioids, it funds school safety.”

Earlier on Thursday, the House approved the bill on a vote of 256-167, as the two parties switched arguments from several years ago – when it was Republicans complaining about Democrats bringing a big bill to the floor with little time for review.

This time, it was Democrats echoing the Tea Party line of, “Read the bill!”

When the bill reached the Senate, Senators were ready to quickly approve the plan, and head out of town on a two-week break for Easter.

But the fine print caused some troubles, as Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), reportedly objected to a provision put in the bill that would rename a park in his state after a former Governor, Cecil Andrus, described in home state press reports as a past rival.

In the hallways off the Senate floor, Risch was not interested in discussing the Idaho dust up with reporters.

The hours of waiting, which included a procedural vote that called on the Sergeant At Arms to request the presence of absent Senators – left one short-timer aggravated.

“This is juvenile,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is not running for re-election this year.

“This is a ridiculous process that we go through where people extort us, until we get so tired, that we are willing to do whatever it is that they wish for us to do,” said Corker just before the clock struck midnight.

Corker said it would have been better to come back at 8 am and vote, but he backed off that threat, and allowed Senators to finish work on the Omnibus, which funds the government only through September 30.



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McMaster out as Trump hires John Bolton as new National Security Adviser

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 2:34 PM

President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he will be replacing his National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, replacing him with former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, in another big shake up on the White House staff.

Making the announcement on Twitter, the President said McMaster had “done an outstanding job,” though there had been reports for months that Mr. Trump was unhappy with the Army General, who is reportedly expected now to retire from the military.

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Defense gets major increase, pay raise for troops in budget plan

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM

            Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The U.S. House passed a massive spending bill Thursday which includes $700 billion for defense, spends billions more on aircraft, ships and tanks and provides a 2.4 percent pay hike for troops.

The $60 billion increase in military spending is the biggest in 15 years.

The budget plan also includes $300 million to continue cleaning the Great Lakes, $400 million for cleanup at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, and millions of dollars for Ohio to combat opioid addiction.

The $1.3 trillion measure, which needs Senate approval by Friday night, keeps the federal government open until the end of September.

The Air Force share is $183.6 billion, which also aims to add 4,000 airmen by 2020, Air Force officials have said. It includes nearly $25 billion for procurement of aircraft, space vehicles, missiles, and ammunition and more than $49 billion for operations and maintenance, budget documents show.

“For the Air Force, the higher level of spending in the budget bill offers an opportunity to fix nagging readiness problems while moving forward with long delayed plans to replace Cold War aircraft,” Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said in an email. “It also provides seed money for a transformation in how the Air Force will assure U.S. air and space superiority in the future.”

The spending bill includes $1.08 billion to upgrade the Abrams M-1 tank. Most of that money will be spent at the JSMC plant in Lima.

Across all research, testing and technology accounts, it adds $25.6 billion, documents show.

Impact at Wright-Patterson

The influx of dollars is a particular windfall for research spending at the Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson, observers said.

“For Wright Patterson, the impending budget increase signals a surge in research spending to unprecedented peace time levels,” Thompson said. “This could be the beginning of a golden age for the Air Force’s premier research and modernization site if Washington can find a way of keeping spending levels high in the years ahead.”

AFRL’s budget could exceed last year’s level of $4.8 billion, which was nearly split between government appropriations and sponsored research.

This time, about $1.2 billion of that in government appropriations is headed to Wright-Patterson, according to spokespersons in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.

A breakdown of other budgets at Wright-Patterson was not yet available, spokeswoman Marie Vanover said Thursday.

But in some research accounts, such as materials and aerospace vehicles, spending could rise as much as 20 percent, said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.

The budget boost bodes well for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, also headquartered at Wright-Patterson, with money beyond the president’s request to procure more aircraft and will jump start new contracts that had been on hold without a permanent budget, Gessel said.

“The larger, overall funding level provided by this bill, which is accompanied by additional flexibility on spending authority, will relieve many budgetary pressures as the funding makes its way from Washington to field operations, including Wright-Patterson,” Gessel said in an email.

“There are provisions which give more flexibility in personnel management of civilian defense workers. This is important to Wright-Patterson because of the large percentage of civilians who work on the base.”

Non-defense spending

The bill provides $3 billion to reduce opioid addiction, of which $1 billion is set aside for grants that will go directly to the states. Fifteen percent of the state grant money has been earmarked for states which have been hardest by opioids, such as Ohio.

“This is good news for Ohio and good news for the millions of Americans who continue to struggle with addiction,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I’m particularly pleased that the bill includes $60 million for states to develop an infant plan of safe care to help newborns exposed to opioids and their families.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “while we know there is more work to be done,” the money in the bill “is a meaningful step forward for Ohio.”

The money for the Great Lakes was inserted into the bill after the White House did not include any money for the program, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program has strong bipartisan backing from lawmakers from both parties, such as Portman and Brown.

Both Brown and Portman pushed for more money to continue the cleanup at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, about 65 miles south of Columbus. The $400 million, Brown said, should guarantee no additional layoffs at the facility.

How Ohio lawmakers voted

The House passed the measure by a vote of 256-to-167 with local Republicans Mike Turner of Dayton and Steve Chabot of Cincinnati voting yes.

Republicans Jim Jordan of Urbana and Warren Davidson of Troy voted no.

In an interview on Fox News, Jordan complained that the 2,200-page bill “grows the government at a $1.3 trillion price tag which will lead to a trillion dollar deficit,” adding “this may be the worst bill I have seen in my time in Congress.”

By contrast, Columbus-area Congressman Steve Stivers said the measure “provides critical funding for our military and veterans, resources for opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, and resources for our schools to keep our kids safe.”

The Senate must approve the bill because lawmakers from both parties were unable to agree on a budget for the 2018 spending year which began on October 1 and ends on September 30. By passing the bill, the Senate guarantees the government will remain open for next seven months.


Get the latest news from our team on our Ohio Politics Facebook page and on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics

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Attorney representing Trump in Russia probe resigns

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 1:15 PM

In this April 29, 20111, file photo, attorney John Dowd walks in New York.
AP Photo/Richard Drew, File
In this April 29, 20111, file photo, attorney John Dowd walks in New York.(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

The top lawyer representing President Donald Trump in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election resigned Thursday, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

Attorney John Dowd’s resignation came days after he called for an end to Mueller’s investigation, claiming it was “manufactured” by former FBI Director James Comey and based on an infamous -- and mostly unverified -- dossier that was funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“I love the president and wish him well,” Dowd wrote Thursday in an email to The Washington Post.

>> More on Robert Mueller's investigation

The newspaper reported that Dowd’s departure was “a largely mutual decision” based on Trump’s recent belief that Dowd couldn’t handle Mueller’s investigation and the attorney’s frustration with the president’s recent additions to his legal team. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow earlier this week brought one of his friends, veteran Washington attorney Joseph diGenova, onto the team, according to The New York Times.

It was not immediately clear who would take over as lead of the president’s legal team. 

>> Related: Trump slams Mueller, McCabe in Sunday tweets

“John Dowd is a friend and has been a valuable member of our legal team,” Sekulow said Thursday in a statement to the Times. “We will continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the office of special counsel.”

CNN reported that Dowd’s exit could hint that Trump’s legal team plans to become more aggressive in defending the president.

>> Related: Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Dowd, who took over Trump’s legal team last summer, has advised the president to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation and refrain from publicly attacking the special counsel, the Times reported. Still, Trump has targeted Mueller for criticism in recent days, repeating his claims that the probe is little more than a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

Last month, Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three organizations on charges of interfering in the election. Three of Trump's associates -- former national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign aide George Papadopoulos -- have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges.

13 Russian Nationals And 3 Russian Companies Indicted In Mueller Probe
The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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