November 19, 2018

Lead Stories

The Hill - November 18, 2018

Rise of big cities push Texas to swing-state territory — maybe by 2020

For a quarter-century, Republicans have dominated Texas politics so much that the Democratic minority has often been an afterthought. The big political battles in Austin have been fought between conservative and centrist factions within the GOP, as Democrats watch from the sidelines.

But Democratic gains in this year’s midterm elections on the federal, state and county level show the prospect that Texas will become a swing state — a promise Democrats have made for years — is slowly coming to fruition. Texas’s evolution illustrates two of the defining inflection points in American politics today: A growing divide between liberal urban cores and conservative rural bastions; and a shift in attitudes of suburban voters turned off by President Trump and his Republican Party. Those factors have helped turn states like Nevada and Colorado blue, as large metropolitan areas like Las Vegas and Denver dominate more conservative rural areas. At the same time, they have pushed states like Pennsylvania and Michigan toward purple status, as the once-dominant metro areas like Philadelphia and Detroit lose population and political influence. In fast-growing Texas, both of those fulcrums are tipping toward Democrats. Hundreds of thousands of new residents are moving into Texas every year, choosing to live in fast-growing cities and suburbs around the state’s four largest metropolitan areas. Six of the nation’s 10 fastest-growing counties are in Texas. About one in every 10 Texas residents did not live in the state when Sen. Ted Cruz first won his seat six years ago. “We have a lot of new voters who have held up their hands. There’s thousands of new voters moving to Texas every week,” said Chris Homan, a veteran Texas Republican strategist. Those new residents are changing the partisan hue of once-reliably Republican suburbs and fueling a massive surge in new voters in solidly Democratic urban cores that even Republicans acknowledge will put the state’s massive haul of electoral votes in play for the first time in a generation. “Texas is a state that Democrats have been eyeing for some time now, because at the presidential level, it just keeps moving toward Democrats,” said Ethan Roeder, who ran data analytics for former President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns and who now works for the Democratic outside group Forward Majority. This year, Democrats scored big wins in the fastest growing cities in Texas. The party won a dozen seats in the state House, mostly in clusters around Dallas and Houston. Forward Majority spent $2.2 million on those legislative races.

Austin American-Statesman - November 17, 2018

Ken Herman: Redistricting. There’s got to be a better way

Though a noble goal, trying to take the politics out of redistricting is an elusive target. After watching the decennial mess and resultant litigation that redistricting is in Texas, I think we have general consensus that this is not serving us well, unless you’re a redistricting lawyer with visions of billable hours dancing in your head.

Time after time, census after census, redistricting after redistricting, we wind up with congressional and legislative boundaries drawn not only to benefit one particular party but often to benefit one particular member of one particular party. There’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be a way to remove politics, as much as possible, from such a crucial and inevitably political task. “Hey,” some folks have said ad infinitum over the years, “let’s have a commission do it instead of having the Legislature do it.” Well, that’s the beginning of a good idea. The challenge, of course, is picking the appointees and the appointers. That’s an especially vexing challenge in one-party-rule states, which Texas has been for many years. For a long time (and now it seems a long time ago), Democrats ruled and controlled the three branches of state government. Now the GOP has that control. So who’s going to select the members of a Texas Redistricting Commission? If it involves elected statewide elected officials, that has the distinct potential to guarantee maps that are as partisan as the ones the GOP-controlled Legislature would draw. Now, again, comes state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, with the first of what could be many attempts in the 2019 Legislature to rejigger how we rejigger districts, a task that will be done in the 2021 legislative session. Ever thoughtful, Howard has an idea on how to make this a bipartisan effort despite the unipartisan nature of Texas government as we now know it. She filed it into the bill hopper last week when bill filing began. Stick with me on this. It gets a bit complicated and would require legislative approval and voter approval of a constitutional amendment. The Howard plan calls for a seven-member commission. Here’s how commissioners would be appointed: The longest-serving members of the Texas House and Senate each would be one member. So that’s two. Two more would be picked by the longest-serving House and Senate members who are of a different political party than the aforementioned House and Senate members. So now we’re up to four, two picked by Republicans and two by Democrats. The four members selected by the above process would then pick a fifth member via a vote. This could get tricky and pivotal, but it could work. So that’s five of the seven members. That fifth member (who’d be the presiding member) would appoint two members, which gets us to the full seven. But wait, there’s more. Those two final members must be retired federal judges who were appointed to the bench by presidents of different political parties.

Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2018

Democrat Beto O’Rourke exposed a blue spine across the middle of red Texas

Beto O'Rourke exposed a blue spine in Texas politics that could remake the state's congressional delegation and affect President Donald Trump's re-election prospects in 2020.

By making a strong showing in the 21 counties along the Interstate 35 corridor from Laredo to the Oklahoma border, the U.S. Senate candidate from El Paso defied 30 years of political history in the Lone Star State. O'Rourke didn't just become the first Democratic Senate candidate in Texas to win the majority of votes along the corridor since the 1980s. He pounded U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz along the route, flipping counties that had not voted for a Democrat for statewide office since Ann Richards first ran for governor in 1990. Even in the counties O'Rourke lost, his defeats were often much narrower than those of past Democratic candidates. "This is a major structural problem for the GOP going forward," said Jay Aiyer, a political science professor at Texas Southern University in Houston. Texas's population growth has been dramatic in the urban and suburban communities along I-35, while areas that the GOP has long relied on in West Texas and East Texas are losing both population and voters. In other words, the Democratic base is expanding significantly, while the GOP's base is growing less or even shrinking, Aiyer said. Cruz narrowly won re-election by about 219,000 votes, out of more than 8 million cast, a margin of less than 3 percentage points, according to unofficial results. That's the closest U.S. Senate race in Texas in 40 years. Republicans had won the last four Senate races in Texas by 1 million votes or more. Cruz hung on by running up big numbers in the Texas Panhandle, East Texas and the northern Houston suburbs. And the impact of the blue spine went well beyond O'Rourke's race: Five Republican candidates for Congress in Texas, almost all of them big favorites, won with less than 51 percent of the vote. All five of their districts are along the I-35 corridor, making them all but certain to be targeted by Democrats in 2020. In the Texas House, Democrats flipped 12 seats previously held by Republicans. Ten of those districts are along I-35. In the Texas Senate, Democrats flipped two seats, both along I-35. And they nearly took a third seat north of Dallas, where Republican Angela Paxton won just 51 percent of the vote. Those results were no fluke, says Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. He said even in 2016, Democrats could see how suburban and urban cores along I-35 were changing, which prompted the party to be more aggressive in recruiting candidates there, even in districts that were considered solidly Republican.

CNN - November 18, 2018

As Trump doubles down attacks on McRaven, architect of bin Laden raid strikes back

Retired Adm. William McRaven on Sunday stood by his previous statement that President Donald Trump's attacks on the news media represent "the greatest threat to democracy" after the President dismissed him as a "Hillary Clinton backer" in an interview that aired on Fox News.

"I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else," McRaven, who oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, told CNN. "I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times." "I stand by my comment that the President's attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime," McRaven said, referencing remarks he made about Trump last year. "When you undermine the people's right to a free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the Constitution and all for which it stands." McRaven's comment came just hours after "Fox News Sunday" aired an interview with Trump in which the President dismissed McRaven and criticized the military for having not killed bin Laden sooner. Trump made the remarks during a tense exchange with Fox News' Chris Wallace after the host brought up McRaven, a vocal Trump critic who led the bin Laden operation in 2011 during former President Barack Obama's administration. "Bill McRaven, retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, former head of US Special Operations..." Wallace started. "Hillary Clinton fan," Trump said, cutting off Wallace. "Special Operations ..." Wallace continued. "Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan," Trump said. "Who led the operations," Wallace added, "commanded the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden, says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime." "OK, he's a Hilary Clinton backer and an Obama-backer, and frankly ... wouldn't it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that? Wouldn't it have been nice? You know, living -- think of this -- living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan." After Wallace asked if the President would give McRaven any credit for taking down bin Laden, Trump said "they took him down" but quickly shifted to talking about US aid to Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2018

Dallas County DA-elect Creuzot says Amber Guyger should be charged with murder in Botham Jean shooting

Dallas County’s incoming district attorney said Sunday that former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger should be charged with murder, not manslaughter, in the shooting of Botham Jean at his Cedars apartment.

ohn Creuzot told WFAA-TV (Channel 8) that murder would be the “most appropriate charge” based on his knowledge from news coverage of the Sept. 6 shooting. He said the district attorney is not bound to follow the charge police bring on a case and can downgrade or upgrade charges. Creuzot, a former judge and prosecutor who beat District Attorney Faith Johnson in the Nov. 6 election, said in September that the manslaughter charge was a "deviation from the norm." Dallas County authorities have charged suspects in similar cases with murder, he said. Creuzot, who will take office in January, said on WFAA's "Inside Texas Politics" program Sunday morning that the case is likely to go before a grand jury before the end of the year. Prosecutors will present a charge to jurors who can vote on whether to indict Guyger, which would allow the case to go to trial. Guyger, 30, was charged with manslaughter three days after she fatally shot Jean. She said she mistook Jean's apartment for her own one floor below and shot him thinking he was an intruder. Guyger was later fired from the Dallas Police Department. The Texas Rangers and district attorney's office were conducting separate investigations into the shooting. Jean’s family has said Guyger should be charged with murder, and about 170,000 people agreed in a petition submitted to Johnson on Sept. 28.

Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2018

Texas mom wins $15.25 million jackpot, bails son charged with raping child out of jail

A Texas woman bailed her child molester son out of jail days after winning the $15.25 million Lotto Texas jackpot but testified Thursday that he should qualify for services from a public defender.

Jason Wayne Carlile, 47, was sentenced to serve three years in 2007. He was accused and convicted of exposing himelf to a 2-year-old boy. He was required to register as a sex offender annually until 2020. He also was accused of paying a woman $3,000 in exchange for her 15-year-old daughter. U.S. marshals arrested him again in December 2017, accusing him of raping a child under 14 in January 2006. Assistant Public Defender Rebecca Ruddy filed a motion to reconsider Carlile's access to a public defender, saying he has access to money to hire a private defender because his mother won the lottery, bailed him out of jail and discussed hiring a private lawyer with her son, the Wichita Falls Times Record News reported. Carlile's mother and stepfather, Joann and Floyd Ames, spent their savings bailing him out of jail but expect to collect their winnings by the end of November, Joann testified, according to the newspaper. The winning ticket was bought at a Wichita Falls gas station Oct. 31, and the winners have 180 days to collect the cash value option, which they selected. Carlile remains free on bond, on the conditions that he live with his mother, wear a GPS monitor and obey a 7 p.m.-10 a.m. curfew.

Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2018

Trinity Railway Express not alone in scramble to Dec. 31 deadline for federal safety upgrades

Crunch time continues for the Trinity Railway Express, which is among a handful of commuter railroads nationwide racing to beat a deadline to avoid a federal shutdown over implementation of Positive Train Control safety equipment.

An extension of the Dec. 31 deadline for PTC will be requested for the TRE, which carries 6,500 passengers a day between downtown Dallas and Fort Worth. While Dallas Area Rapid Transit believes it will be granted the extension, would would allow service to continue uninterrupted, it has a contingency plan for shuttle bus service. DART runs the TRE in partnership with For Worth's Trinity Metro transit agency. Positive Train Control technology was the result of 2008 federal legislation. It requires commuter lines to be equipped to monitor and control train movements using GPS, Wi-Fi and high-band radio to reduce the chance of human error. As of Oct. 31, PTC equipment has been fully installed on TRE cars and track segments. Radio towers are installed and requisite band spectrum is available. Four PTC-required tests have been completed since September. But employee training is less than two-thirds complete and none of 32 miles of track were in actual PTC operation. The federal mandate also calls for the TRE system to be interoperable with five other railroads that have access to the TRE corridor. That hasn't happened yet. In a Sept. 13 Federal Railroad Administration update to Congress, nine commuter rail lines were listed as at-risk over PTC implementation issues. One is MetroRail, a service that features nine stops from Leander to downtown Austin. Others at risk include Rail Runner Express in Albuquerque, Altamont Corridor Express and Caltrain in California's bay area, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, Central Florida Rail Corridor, Maryland Area Regional Commuter and New Jersey Transit. In a news conference Wednesday, officials with the American Public Transportation Association said about 15 percent of its members' 13,543 employees aren't yet trained and 6 percent of the on-board equipment isn't yet installed.

San Antonio Express-News - November 19, 2018

Texas Power Broker Jennifer Gonzalez discusses housing policy, segregation, San Antonio’s affordable housing crisis

When Jennifer Gonzalez was growing up, her mother liked to drive her and her sisters around San Antonio to look at neighborhoods and visit model homes. It was the start of a lifelong hobby for her.

Today, her job as executive director of the Alamo Community Group requires her to do something similar: She drives around town looking for vacant buildings or plots of land where the nonprofit could develop affordable housing near jobs and transportation. “We try to be active in what’s going on in the city, and where any future growth is. We’re always scouting out, ‘Where’s that next place?’” she said. That mindset led the nonprofit to plan an apartment complex in one of San Antonio’s hottest real estate markets: the Museum Reach area north of downtown, where the Pearl has spawned hundreds of luxury apartments. The nonprofit will use federal tax credits to provide rents as low as $333 a month at the 94-unit complex, providing relief to renters as San Antonio faces a growing shortage of affordable housing, especially in areas around downtown. The complex, at the corner of North St. Mary’s and Jones, is expected to be complete by 2020. Gonzalez, who grew up in San Antonio’s suburban Northwest Side, got into the field of affordable housing by “accident,” she said. She began studying for a career in health care when she was in high school, but she decided to pursue her passion for sociology instead after working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a few years. “I absolutely loved it. But it was the VA. So it was, unfortunately, a lot of death. At some point I was like, ‘I’m just tired of people dying,’” she said. She began working for Alamo Community Group when a college friend who was an intern there told her about a job opening as an organizer. Two weeks after she started, the nonprofit sent her to be trained in Chicago. “Here I am out of college, and they’re talking about these issues about kids being shot in the streets, and people living with rats, and people being evicted,” she said. “This has nothing to do with sorting stuff in bins, which I thought I was going to be doing.” Gonzalez earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2005. She has served as the nonprofit’s executive director since 2007. "San Antonio definitely has a housing crisis. I remember the days when we were buying multifamily at a cost of $14,000 a door (i.e., per unit). Now we’re at $40,000 a door. The cost per door has a direct impact on what our ability to rent at is," she said. Development is certainly part of the crisis but other factors are at play too. Certainly the cost of development. It’s more expensive — land is more expensive, just working through the development costs, engineering, tree surveys, permitting. Impact fees. All of that adds to the cost of development, and unfortunately those are all costs that get passed to the consumer. "We’re also seeing people coming in from other markets with investor dollars, who find this to be an affordable market compared to the market they’re coming from. They’re willing to invest those dollars very, very quickly, and unfortunately it prices people out," she said.

San Antonio Express-News - November 18, 2018

‘Pecos Bill’ pilot and WWII veteran killed in airplane crash Saturday

Cowden Ward Jr. was doing what he loved most — taking a World War II veteran into the Texas skies in his vintage P-51 Mustang — when the plane crashed in Fredericksburg on Saturday, killing both men.

Ward would offer complimentary “Freedom Flights” to veterans and Purple Heart recipients in the plane he called “Pecos Bill.” Ward recently estimated he had flown more than 150 such flights over the years, according to his close friend and fellow aviator, Kevin Lacey. “It’s like him and that airplane were made to do exactly what he was doing,” Lacey said. Some consider the P-51, a long-range, single-seat fighter used to escort B-17 bombers during World War II, the “Holy Grail” of vintage aircraft. Many of the planes were modified to add a passenger seat. Ward offered the gratis flights to veterans “to thank them for their service to our country,” according to his website. Saturday’s trip began at an event at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. The museum hosted a battle reenactment, and one person who attended said Ward simulated air support for the program with his P-51. At the event, Ward met a B-17 pilot and World War II veteran and invited the man to join him in Pecos Bill, Lacey said. At around 3 p.m., the plane crashed into the parking lot of the Friendship Place Apartments on South Creek Street. Authorities have not confirmed the victims’ identities. Ward’s friends said he died in the crash. They did not provide the passenger’s identity. Keith Holloway, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said an agency investigator arrived on scene Sunday afternoon, but it would take time to determine the cause of the crash. Chris Arntz, an Army veteran who was at the battle reenactment with his wife and daughter, said Ward’s plane flew directly toward the audience of about 50 people, turned around and then flew back over their heads. Shortly afterward, it appeared to take a nose dive beyond a tree line, Arntz said.

The Hill - November 18, 2018

Veteran Crenshaw warns panel not to refer to Trump ‘attacks’ because ‘I was literally attacked’

Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, on Sunday warned a CBS News panel against referring to President Trump's "attacks" on the press, saying, "I was literally attacked."

"Let's choose our words carefully," Crenshaw said during a heated debate over whether Trump "undermines democracy" with his "attacks" on the news media. "I would argue that our president is consistently disruptive in ... press conferences, and I would argue that he treats [the press] with disrespect," Rep.-elect Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa.) said, arguing that the president sets a bad precedent for how to treat the media. "But how is that an attack on the press though?" Crenshaw asked. "Because it’s literally an attack on the press," Houlahan said. Before she could expand, Crenshaw interjected, "Oh, I’ve literally been attacked. So — let’s choose our words carefully." Crenshaw wears an eyepatch because of an injury he sustained while serving in Afghanistan. Houlahan did not address Crenshaw's point directly, continuing, "His language is an attack." The Texas Republican has enjoyed some limelight over the past several weeks after comedian Pete Davidson mocked his eyepatch on "Saturday Night Live" during a segment about the midterm elections. Crenshaw appeared on the show the next week to accept Davidson's apology and make a plea for civility and understanding, particularly toward veterans.

Houston Chronicle - November 19, 2018

Bonnen claims House Speaker post with strong leadership and sharp elbows

The Texas House will have a new leader come January, and Rep. Dennis Bonnen says he’s it. The Republican from Angleton, southeast of Houston, is already planning his swearing-in ceremony, although the vote of the 150-member House is seven weeks away.

Bonnen, a shrewd tactician who has served in the Texas House since he was 24, has a reason to be confident. He has amassed 109 pledges of support, from Republicans as well as 31 Democrats. Some members want to give him the gavel because they say he will work well with tea party Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate. Others want to elect him because they believe he’s willing to throw sharp elbows Patrick’s way. Abruptly shoving other contenders for speaker out of the way is the sort of thing his colleagues in the House expect from Bonnen, a 46-year-old bank executive who has spent virtually his entire adult life as a state representative. At the Texas Capitol, Bonnen has chaired committees under two speakers and served as speaker pro tempore when outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus was absent. “I can remember him getting angry,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, recalling a skirmish between the House and Senate over property taxes in the 2017 legislative session. “That’s what members want. They want someone to stand up for the House.” If he indeed gets the job in January, Bonnen will have to shepherd the Republican-led chamber through political issues that have stalled in the Legislature for years, like increasing state funding for schools and reforms to quell property tax increases by local governments. But his larger task will be to revitalize the party’s brand after an election with a dozen lost GOP seats and uncomfortably narrow political wins for others. “There was a clamoring from within the party, within the delegation, for him to ride in as a white knight and save the Republican Party,” Jones said. Republicans still have a commanding 83-67 majority in the House, but they also lost two seats in the Senate, where they now hold a 19-12 majority. Patrick won re-election, but by a narrow 4.8 percentage points, compared to nearly 20 percentage points four years ago. Bonnen appears to be up for the challenge, calling for unity as his central theme. Pledges supporting his candidacy have come from both Republicans and Democrats, and he has appointed a bipartisan group to begin vetting candidates for parliamentarian, a key job in the House entrusted to know and interpret the chamber rules. “He’s proven that he’s a strong leader. There’s no doubt,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman who has not pledged his support for Bonnen. “I think he’s proved that in his very short and very effective campaign for speaker.” Bonnen’s candidacy was something of a surprise. Months ago, Bonnen joked that the talk of him as speaker upset his family, according to the Texas Tribune, and asked that his name be taken off any list of potential candidates. He changed course in October, announcing he would run after 40 Republican lawmakers met in Austin and agreed he would be the best choice. Since then, every other contender for the race has dropped out, making him likely to win the post on the first day of the 2019 legislative session. Bonnen did not respond to a request for comment. Internal squabbles within the large Republican caucus caused major divisions in the House in recent years. Some praised Straus, a San Antonio Republican, for using his centrist views to operate as a voice of reason. Others claimed he used his influence to kill bills he didn’t like. State Rep. Jim Murphy, a Houston Republican, is convinced Bonnen would remain committed to “conservative principles” while showing fairness to the entire House. “I think having this level of consensus this early in the process bodes very well for the upcoming session,” said Murphy, who called Bonnen’s “passion” and “ability to speak clearly and bluntly” necessary characteristics of any speaker.

National Stories

New York Times - November 17, 2018

Stanley B. Greenberg: Trump is beginning to lose his grip

America’s polarized citizenry took a break from intense partisan bickering to produce the highest off-year turnout in a midterm election in 50 years on Nov. 6. Is it possible that all that effort actually nudged us forward a bit?

Because the votes were counted so slowly across the country, we were also slow to realize that Democrats had won the national congressional vote by a margin greater than that of the Tea Party Republicans in 2010. In fact, Democrats overcame huge structural hurdles to win nearly 40 seats. At first, the results looked like something of a stalemate. The Republican Party retained and even strengthened its hold on the Senate. President Trump’s approval rating was at 45 percent, one percentage point below his percentage of the popular vote in the 2016 election. Analysts said that Mr. Trump still knew how to get Republicans “excited, interested and turn them out” and that he had “deepened his hold on rural areas.” In the days that followed, though, it became clear that Democrats had made substantial gains. Analysts I trusted concluded that this was because suburban and college-educated women issued “a sharp rebuke to President Trump” that set off a “blue wave through the urban and suburban House districts.” At first, I also believed that was the main story line. But the 2018 election was much bigger than that. It was transformative, knocking down what we assumed were Electoral College certainties. We didn’t immediately see this transformation because we assumed that Mr. Trump and the polarization in his wake still governed as before. First of all, Democrats did not win simply because white women with college degrees rebelled against Mr. Trump’s misogyny, sexism and disrespect for women. Nearly every category of women rebelled. These conclusions are based on Democracy Corps’ election night survey for Women’s Voice Women’s Vote Action Fund and a study of the exit polls conducted for Edison and Catalist. Overall, white women split their vote between Democrats and Republicans, but it is clear which way they are moving. Interestingly, the white college women who were supposed to be the “fuel for this Democratic wave” played a smaller role in the Democrats’ increased 2018 margin than white working class women, because the former were 15 percent of midterm voters and the latter 25 percent.

New York Times - November 17, 2018

Top White House official involved in Saudi sanctions resigns

A top White House official responsible for American policy toward Saudi Arabia resigned on Friday evening, a move that may suggest fractures inside the Trump administration over the response to the brutal killing of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

The official, Kirsten Fontenrose, had pushed for tough measures against the Saudi government, and had been in Riyadh to discuss a raft of sanctions that the American government imposed in recent days against those identified as responsible for the killing, according to two people familiar with the conversations. Specifically, she advocated that Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, be added to the list, and he ultimately was. The exact circumstances of her departure are murky, and it is unclear whether her advocacy for a hawkish response to the killing angered some in the White House. When she returned to Washington, according to the two people, she had a dispute with her bosses at the National Security Council, where she had served as the director for the Persian Gulf region. A representative for the council declined to comment. Ms. Fontenrose did not reply to messages seeking comment. On Saturday morning, President Trump demurred about whether he would publicly hold the crown prince responsible for the death of Mr. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who lived in Virginia. He said he had not yet been shown a C.I.A. assessment that Prince Mohammed had ordered the assassination and expected to be briefed later in the day. “As of this moment, we were told that he did not play a role,” Mr. Trump said of the crown prince as he spoke to reporters outside the White House before heading to California to view wildfire damage. But when Mr. Trump spoke to reporters from Malibu, Calif., hours later, he insisted that the C.I.A. had not “assessed anything yet. It’s too early.” He said there would be a report on Tuesday that would address what “we think the overall impact was and who caused it, and who did it.” “It’s a horrible thing that took place, the killing of a journalist,” Mr. Trump said. Mr. Trump has steadfastly refused to directly blame Prince Mohammed, who is a close ally of his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and a linchpin of the administration’s Middle East policy. He has, however, condemned Saudi Arabia’s handling of the killing as “the worst cover-up ever.”

Washington Examiner - November 19, 2018

Democrat Nikki Fried declares victory after recount in close race for Florida agriculture commissioner

Nikki Fried appears to have narrowly won the election to become the next commissioner of agriculture in Florida, making her the the only statewide elected Democrat in office when she takes over the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in January.

The Broward County public defender and marijuana activist is poised to become the first woman to hold the position after a recount put her atop Republican Matt Caldwell by 6,753 votes out of roughly 8 million cast. The results still have to be certified on Tuesday, but Fried tweeted Sunday afternoon about her excitement to become agriculture commissioner. She is the first Democrat in the position in 17 years, and will now answer to Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and a state House and Senate both controlled by the GOP. Fried told the Miami Herald that her campaign’s success was because of her emphasis on the three "w’s": “Weapons, weed, and water.” She heavily campaigned on gun control and expanded access to medical marijuana, as well as her understanding of the farming community. In Florida, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is charged with issuing concealed carry permits. Incumbent Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was ousted because of term limits, was criticized heavily after a report earlier this year revealed his office failed to complete background checks before issuing tens of thousands of permits. Fried also campaigned on a desire to have the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services take over managing the state’s medical marijuana industry, which is currently under the purview of the Department of Health Office of Medical Marijuana Use. In November of 2016, 71 percent of Florida voters approved the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, which legalized some patient access to medical marijuana. Fried’s transition team, which she prematurely announced Nov. 10 before the recount, will be led by former Rep. Patrick Murphy, Rep. Darren Soto, and Fred Guttenberg, a gun-control activist whose daughter, Jaime, was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February in Parkland.

Washington Examiner - November 18, 2018

Fathers of slain US troops in Jordan see echoes of Jamal Khashoggi murder: 'Lie after lie'

Jordan rolled out false claims and gave shifting explanations after one of its soldiers killed three U.S. Green Beret trainers outside one of its bases in 2016, according to a new lawsuit brought by their families.

Fathers of the three slain soldiers who sued the kingdom this week say its handling of the deaths is reminiscent of Saudi Arabia’s changing explanations for the murder of Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at one its consulates last month. The lawsuit takes aim at key Middle East ally Jordan and its lucrative relationship with the U.S., which saw $1.7 billion in aid flow to the kingdom last year — another echo of the tens of billions of dollars in arms sales at the heart of the Khashoggi debate. “For life to work, we all have to be willing to hold the powerful accountable, whoever the powerful are, for whatever they’ve done,” James Moriarty, father of the Army staff sergeant of the same name, said at the National Press Club on Friday. “The Jamal Khashoggi case is virtually identical to this because you have lie after lie after lie after lie where people refuse to accept responsibility for what they've done.” Moriarty and the two other fathers, Chuck Lewellen and Brian McEnroe, are seeking monetary damages from Jordan as punishment for its behavior in the case, which drew international attention and sparked an investigation by the Pentagon that cleared the soldiers. The shooter, Maarek al-Tawayha, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison last year. The suit came as the Trump administration issued new sanctions against 17 Saudis accused of taking part in the Khashoggi killing at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. Eleven people have been charged by Saudi prosecutors with being involved in the plot, five of whom face the death penalty. “The biggest problem that we've had throughout the ensuring two years has been the Jordanian response to this attack. It has been very akin to the switching stories that has happened with Saudi Arabia's treatment of the Jamal Khashoggi killing,” said John Eubanks, the attorney for the families of the U.S. troops.

Washington Examiner - November 19, 2018

Pelosi as a 'transitional' leader? For Dems, the devil is in the details

Nancy Pelosi's allies say she might be able to pick up votes to be the next House speaker if she explains to Democrats what she means when she says she would be a "transitional" leader.

The California Democrat said she'd be willing to step down after some short period of time as a way of assuring new Democrats that she would make room for them in the House Democratic leadership structure. When Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., was asked if more specifics would help her case, he said, "probably." "If she were to say, 'I'd like to be a transitional leader for six months,' then that would probably change some votes," he said. Another ally, Rep. Catherine Clark, D-Mass., agreed that a more detailed timeline could help Pelosi pick up some of the votes that right now are opposed to her speakership. "It might help for some voters," said Clark, who is running for the No. 6 spot in leadership. "We'll have to see over the next week if someone steps forward ... That's going to be a decision for the caucus." Even one of Pelosi's possible challengers, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said Pelosi would help herself if she committed to a single term. The Ohio Democrat has been floated by multiple members who have urged the caucus to dethrone Pelosi, but have not come up with a concrete challenger yet. As of this week, however, Pelosi hadn't made clear how a "transitional" speakership would work. Many think she would only be around for one term, but Pelosi declined to lay out a timetable to The Atlantic — she said she wanted to be speaker for more than one year, and didn't commit to a single two-year term. “I’ll be a full term. I’m not here for a year. If I were here for a year, I’d go home right now," Pelosi said. “I’m not going to declare myself a lame duck over a glass of water."

Washington Post - November 18, 2018

House GOP women confront a political crisis — their party is mostly men

About a half dozen House Republican women gathered this week for a somber, post-election dinner. Exchanging thoughts about the brutal results for GOP candidates, they realized something depressing, according to one attendee. That small dinner group represented about half the total number of Republican women who would serve in the House next year.

Just 13 GOP women have won election so far to serve in the next Congress, down from 23 this year. With a half dozen races yet to be resolved, the House GOP — the minority party next year — is all but certain to have the lowest number of women in its ranks since 1994. That drop-off came amid a national political climate that saw female voters sharply break from Republicans. Women favored Democrats over Republicans for Congress, 59 percent to 40 percent, according to exit polls. It has set off a debate within the Republican Party about how to address this crisis, both in terms of appealing to female voters and recruiting and retaining women in Congress. “I think the Republicans have to get off of defense on this issue,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said Friday in an interview. Cheney was the uncontested winner this week in the race for House Republican conference chairwoman, which puts her in charge of the party’s communications and messaging strategy. She will become the party’s highest-profile woman in Congress, trying to rebuild and rebrand its battered image. Assuming the No. 3 leadership post, Cheney will reach a level no woman has ever attained among House Republicans. (The outgoing chair, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, is No. 4 in leadership ranks while Republicans are in the majority.)

Washington Post - November 18, 2018

In Mississippi, Republican concern rises over a U.S. Senate runoff that should have been a romp

A U.S. Senate runoff that was supposed to provide an easy Republican win has turned into an unexpectedly competitive contest, driving Republicans and Democrats to pour in resources and prompting a planned visit by President Trump to boost his party’s faltering candidate.

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith stumbled recently when, in praise of a supporter, she spoke of her willingness to sit in the front row of a public hanging if he invited her — words that, in the South, evoked images of lynchings. She has struggled to grapple with the fallout, baffling members of her party and causing even faithful Republicans to consider voting for her opponent, former congressman Mike Espy. That Espy is attempting to become the state’s first black senator since shortly after the Civil War made her remarks all the more glaring. It has positioned him to take advantage not only of a substantial black turnout but of a potential swell of crossover support from those put off by Hyde-Smith’s campaign. Espy remains the underdog in the conservative state, but Republicans with access to private polling say Hyde-Smith’s lead has narrowed significantly in recent days. Republicans need only to look to next-door Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones pulled out a surprise win last year, to stoke concern. Trump’s campaign announced Saturday that he would hold rallies for Hyde-Smith in Tupelo and Biloxi the night before the election. The Republican National Committee, meantime, has two dozen staffers in Mississippi and plans to send more. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is also sending reinforcements and last week made a $700,000 ad buy.

USA Today and Boston Globe - November 19, 2018

‘Nothing short of horrifying:’ Veterans' groups demand fixes at VA nursing homes

Six veterans’ groups are calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the quality of care at its nursing homes following a story by USA TODAY and The Boston Globe detailing “blatant disregard for veteran safety” at a VA nursing home in Massachusetts.

“Anybody who respects veterans should be angered by this,” American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad said. “America’s veterans deserve better.” The groups, who together represent nearly 5 million members, said veterans who risked their lives for our country shouldn’t have to risk their lives in VA nursing homes. In Brockton, Massachusetts, investigators found two nurses asleep during their shifts, even though the facility knew it was under scrutiny and inspectors were coming to visit, looking for potential signs of patient neglect. A whistleblower had reported that nurses and aides did not empty the bedside urinals of frail veterans, they failed to provide clean water at night and didn’t check on the veterans regularly. The VA said the napping nurses no longer work at the facility. The story was the latest in an investigation by USA TODAY and the Globe that revealed care at many VA nursing facilities was worse than at private nursing homes in the agency’s own internal ratings, kept secret from veterans for years. The stories detailed disturbing examples of substandard care – a veteran with undiagnosed scabies for months, another struggling to eat in Bedford, Massachussetts; and a third sitting for hours in soiled sheets and another writhing in pain without medication in West Palm Beach, Florida. A Navy veteran was declared dead after he walked out of a supposedly secure VA nursing home and was never found in Tuskegee, Alabama. An Army vet landed in intensive care suffering from malnutrition, septic shock and bed sores after a stay at a VA nursing home in Livermore, California. “The stories being reported about the treatment of some individual veterans at these facilities are nothing short of horrifying,” said Rege Riley, national commander of American Veterans, known as AmVets. He called on VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to “take swift and transparent action to fix this.” Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America joined AmVets and the Legion in calling for action. Together, the groups are known as the “big six” and wield considerable clout in Washington. “The VA must address and correct these issues,” said Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled Veterans of America.

USA Today - November 18, 2018

Protesters march against migrant caravan in Tijuana, chanting ‘yes to migrants, no to invaders!’

Hundreds of Tijuana residents, opposed to what they described as the "chaos" of the Central American migrant caravan, gathered at a prominent roundabout in Tijuana Sunday morning, before marching to a large, makeshift shelter, which now holds about 2,400 migrants.

They chanted “Mexico! Mexico!” and “yes to migrants, no to invaders!” They sang the national anthem and waved Mexican flags and banners and signs, with messages urging the migrants to go home and urging the government to take action. Some protesters said Mexico doesn’t have the resources to care for its own people, let alone migrants from Central America. They pointed to communities affected by a recent hurricane that hit Sinaloa and Nayarit, which caused flooding and other damage, as well as the homicide rate in Tijuana, which has reached an all-time high. Some said the Mexican government should follow President Donald Trump in enacting stricter border policies. They said the government should secure the southern border with Guatemala and require all immigrants to enter legally. They’re not racist or anti-immigrant, some protesters said, but they oppose how the migrants entered the country. “Our country doesn’t have the resources to sustain itself,” said Tijuana resident Guadalupe Barrera. She held a sign that read in Spanish “no more caravans.” “This is not racism,” she said. “We are opposed to the invasion.” She also said she’s concerned that the presence of the caravan would cause the US to close the border, jeopardizing people who live by the Mexican border and depend on the US economy. They pointed to how members of the migrant caravan had climbed the border fence between Tijuana and San Diego earlier in this week. This proves that the migrants are violent and disorderly, they said. America Villa was in Playas de Tijuana on Wednesday afternoon and watched as a young caravaner climbed up the border fence and tried to pull off part of the corroded wall. Seeing that, she said, proved to her that some of the migrants are delinquent. She said she would like to see the Mexican government register all the migrants. Those that have any criminal history should be immediately deported, she said. According to a Facebook invitation, the protesters want the migrants not engage in marches or protests that cause the closure of roadways and that they not engage in confrontations with immigration agents that cause the closure of ports of entry.

Wall Street Journal - November 19, 2018

Nissan to remove Carlos Ghosn as Chairman, says acts of misconduct uncovered

Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn was arrested Monday in Tokyo, Japanese media reported, and Nissan said it intended to oust Mr. Ghosn from his post after uncovering “significant acts” of financial misconduct.

Japanese prosecutors couldn’t immediately be reached to confirm the arrest, which was reported by public broadcaster NHK and other media. The sudden allegations are a blow to the legacy of Mr. Ghosn, 64 years old, who was credited with rescuing Nissan from near-bankruptcy starting in 1999. They also call into question the future of the alliance between Nissan and partners Renault and Mitsubishi Motors. Mr. Ghosn is also chief executive of Renault and chairman of Mitsubishi. Nissan said Mr. Ghosn worked with another executive at Nissan to underreport his compensation in securities filings—the same allegation that Tokyo prosecutors cited in arresting Mr. Ghosn, according to Japanese media. Public broadcaster NHK said prosecutors alleged that Mr. Ghosn understated his income in securities filings by about $44 million. The Nissan executive who is accused of helping Mr. Ghosn—representative director Greg Kelly—was also arrested, NHK said. “Also, in regards to Ghosn, numerous other significant acts of misconduct have been uncovered, such as personal use of company assets,” a statement by Nissan said. It said Nissan’s chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, would propose that the board promptly remove Mr. Ghosn as chairman. Renault shares fell more than 10 percent in European trading on the news, which occurred after the close of trading in Tokyo. Representatives of Renault and Mitsubishi declined to comment. Mr. Ghosn couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Mr. Ghosn has been the architect of the alliance, a rare success story of auto makers working together. He had said he wanted to cement the alliance and make it irreversible even after he departed from the scene. However, he has opposed Renault acquiring its two partners. “The last thing we want to do is by converging the three companies, do something where some people are demotivated, because they have the impression that they will be working for somebody else,” he said in June.

Wall Street Journal - November 18, 2018

John Bolton energizers Trump's agenda –– and his own

Soon after taking the helm as President Trump’s third national security adviser, John Bolton installed a gold-framed painting of President George H.W. Bush sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, surrounded by his vice president, national security adviser and the secretaries of State and Defense as they discussed plans to invade Iraq in 1990.

The painting, which hangs above Mr. Bolton’s West Wing desk, serves as a symbol of his approach to the job, seven months in. He favors high-level, small group, centralized decision-making. Mr. Bolton, who turns 70 years old Tuesday, has pared back the number of people accustomed to playing a bigger role in important national security debates and has convened fewer meetings than his predecessor of the White House “Principals Committee”—made up of Cabinet-level, national-security officials. Instead, he confers regularly over breakfast or lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and has frequent one-on-one audiences with the president. Although Mr. Bolton has scored key policy victories during his short White House tenure, his consolidation of authority has irked other administration officials, who say he and his National Security Council aren’t serving as honest brokers in coordinating the administration’s national security policies. “The role of the [national security adviser] is to advance the president’s agenda and to coordinate the interagency process effectively, not to advance their own agenda,” said one senior administration official. “Currently the coordination process is broken.” Administration officials said Mr. Bolton’s approach better suited this president by focusing on shorter meetings and a smaller group of decision makers. “There’s been an increase in national security policies, strategies and executive orders with Bolton at the NSC, because he understands how the president makes decisions,” said one senior White House official. In recent days, Mr. Bolton saw a check on his authority when the office of first lady Melania Trump took the unusual step of publicly calling for the removal from the White House of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel—Mr. Bolton’s handpicked No. 2. Mr. Bolton, long known for his pugilistic style, also has clashed with chief of staff John Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, particularly over how to handle migrants on the border with Mexico. Mr. Bolton’s ability to shape Mr. Trump’s priorities and pursue his own causes have given rise to a new nickname among some critics: President Bolton. His allies know the term could earn him the ire of Mr. Trump, who has been known to turn on others seen as stealing his spotlight.

The Atlantic - November 16, 2018

How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s plain black jacket became a controversy

Last week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a tweet: At congressional events, she shared (the representative-elect of New York’s 14th Congressional District is currently in Washington for a series of orientations on the workings of the House), she keeps being mistaken for an intern. Or sometimes for the spouse of the person who must be the true new member of Congress.

Ocasio-Cortez, a young woman who is also a woman of color who is also a democratic socialist—a politician who won her election, earlier this month, with 78 percent of her district’s vote—keeps getting told that she doesn’t quite belong in Congress. Her tweet sharing that experience was punctuated by a face-palm emoji. It went viral. The next day, Eddie Scarry, formerly a blogger for the gossip site FishbowlDC and currently a writer for the conservative Washington Examiner, posted a picture of Ocasio-Cortez, taken from behind, seemingly without her knowledge, as she walked through a hallway wearing a tailored black jacket and carrying a coat. He accompanied it with a note that doubled as a caption: “Hill staffer sent me this pic of Ocasio-Cortez they took just now. I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” This tweet went viral, too—not because of the insight it offered, but because of the opposite. People mocked it and memed it and objected to it, some indignant at the creep shot Scarry shared, many others referencing the obvious fact that it is possible to advocate for the working class and wear clothing at the same time. MORE STORIES Why the Pantsuit? MEGAN GARBER A Shocking Insurgent Victory in New York ELAINE GODFREY House Progressives Celebrate a ‘New Kind of Centrism’ ELAINE GODFREY First lady Melania Trump gets into her vehicle as she arrives at Joint Base Andrews on June 21, 2018, after visiting the Upbring New Hope Children's Center in McAllen, Texas Schrödinger’s Coat MEGAN GARBER Scarry’s tweet, on its own, isn’t worth much more discussion; it was a bad thought, posted in bad faith. What’s notable, though, is the way his tweet tangled with Ocasio-Cortez’s observation about the way she has been treated during her congressional orientation. Both tweets were asking questions about power and representation and belonging. Ocasio-Cortez was making a wry observation about how she has been seen, as a newcomer to the halls of Congress; Scarry was proving her point. He was suggesting that Ocasio-Cortez, the public servant who chose to don a well-cut jacket rather than a dirt-streaked potato sack to do her serving, must somehow be deceiving the public. He was insinuating that, the system being what it is, the success she has found within it must be its own evidence of manipulation. Don’t look like a girl who struggles: The comment was about the clothes, but at the same time it wasn’t about the clothes. It is never, really, about the clothes. It is about belonging. It is about power. It is about who is assumed to look like a congressperson, and who is not. In the short time that has found her as a fixture on the national stage, she has been a target for precisely such questions—membership, difference, disruption—joining the ranks of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters as a bogey(wo)man for the right. Many have challenged her own challenge to the status quo by questioning her legitimacy as an advocate for change. She is not what she seems, many pundits have suggested. She is a fraud, they have insisted. That has been the best way—the most convenient way, the least disruptive way—to make sense of her political success. Power that knows what it looks like; power that knows what an outsider looks like, too.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel - November 19, 2018

Brenda Snipes submits resignation as Broward elections supervisor

Just hours after finishing a tumultuous election recount, Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes submitted her resignation, ending a 15-year tenure full of botched elections, legal disputes and blistering criticism.

“It is true. She did send it,” said Burnadette Norris-Weeks, an attorney who works as counsel to the Supervisor of Elections Office. Evelyn Perez-Verdia, a former office spokeswoman who left several years ago, said Sunday evening she was told by people in the office that the letter was sent “to Tallahassee” earlier in the day. Norris-Weeks said she saw an early draft of the letter. In the version she saw, she said Snipes, 75, expressed a desire to spend more time with her family. The voice mail on Snipes’ cell phone was full Sunday night, and she didn’t immediately respond to a text message. The exact effective date of the resignation was unclear Sunday evening. Norris-Weeks said she believes it was effective Jan. 2. Perez-Verdia said she was told the effective date was Jan. 5. A January resignation would likely put responsibility for appointing a replacement in the hands of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, rather than outgoing Gov. Rick Scott. DeSantis’s swearing in is Jan. 8. Scott was elected to the U.S. Senate, and the swearing-in for that job is Jan. 3. Scott hasn’t said when he’ll leave office to become a senator, but Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera could be the state’s chief executive for several days in January. During the just-completed recount of the midterm election, Scott was a fierce critic of Snipes, accusing her of years of incompetence and asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate what he said “may be rampant fraud.” Scott never offered any proof of fraud committed by Snipes. Scott was elected to the U.S. Senate in the Nov. 6 election, in which final vote tallies were submitted by counties to the state on Sunday. DeSantis, elected governor at the same time, didn’t join in the criticism of the election system — or Snipes — during drawn-out original vote counting or the recount period. Broward’s vote counting was an outlier among the state’s 67 counties, taking a long time to complete. For days, Snipes wouldn’t say how many ballots were outstanding and uncounted and her office wasn’t reporting updated results as frequently as the law required.

Associated Press - November 19, 2018

No recount for Virginia Republican who lost by one vote

A panel of Virginia Republicans has voted against holding a recount of a GOP state House primary contest that was decided by one vote.

The Roanoke Times reports that a Republican legislative district committee voted Sunday not to perform a recount of Saturday's primary for the 24th state House district. Candidate Jimmy Ayers called for a recount after initial results show him losing to rival Ronnie Campbell by one vote with more than 2,000 votes cast. Republicans in the district voted Saturday to pick a nominee for a seat currently held by GOP Del. Ben Cline, who won a seat in Congress earlier this month. The district stretches from the West Virginia border to the Lynchburg area. GOP House Speaker Kirk Cox supported a recount.

The Guardian - November 18, 2018

The Democratic blue wave was real

As the returns poured in on the night of last week’s midterm elections, a narrative swiftly began to take shape: although Democrats succeeded in retaking the House of Representatives from Republican control, the vaunted “blue wave” had failed to materialize.

But just over a week later, the assessment has evolved just as rapidly amid a series of gains by Democrats in contests that on election night were too close to call. Democrats have now picked up 34 seats in the House – a tally that may inch closer to 40 with a number of results still outstanding. On Tuesday, the party was given another reason to rejoice when Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat to win an Arizona Senate seat in 30 years. Sinema’s hard-fought victory over her Republican opponent, Martha McSally, not only flipped a reliably red seat blue, but also countered the notion that Democrats had taken a beating in the Senate. The revised outlook has reinforced the Democratic party’s momentum in the current political climate, while also exposing the Republican party’s vulnerabilities with Donald Trump at its helm. The president sought to take a victory lap in the immediate aftermath of the 2018 midterms, insisting Republicans had exceeded expectations. And in characteristic Trumpian fashion, he added that those Republicans who did lose their seats were defeated over their refusal to embrace him. Trump’s claim was dubious then and even more questionable now, in the face of steady Democratic pickups in the week since the midterms. Contrary to the president’s efforts to downplay their outcome, the elections proved that Republicans have only a tenuous hold over the coalition that propelled Trump to the White House in 2016. “I think Republicans would be foolish to just think that this is simply a conventional midterm,” said Rory Cooper, a GOP strategist who served as a top aide to the former House majority leader Eric Cantor. “You have an economy that’s roaring and unemployment that’s historically low … and so you have to look for other indicators for why you’d lose that many seats.” Democrats needed to flip 24 seats in order to win back the House for the first time in just under a decade. The Senate map was less favorable to the party, with Democrats defending 26 seats – including many in states carried by Trump two years ago. Although election night saw Democrats triumph in the House, their victory was somewhat overshadowed by the loss of a handful of candidates whose challenges in conservative strongholds had garnered national attention. The Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke, whose campaign inspired millions in deep red Texas, came within three points of toppling Senator Ted Cruz. In Kentucky’s sixth congressional district, former fighter pilot Amy McGrath ran a similarly upstart campaign, powered by the grassroots, but in the end her Republican opponent prevailed. Until recently, it had been unthinkable that Democrats would mount credible challenges in such areas – which in part meant a disproportionate amount of coverage on the high-profile races where the party was ultimately unsuccessful.

CNN - November 18, 2018

Stacey Abrams calls Kemp Georgia's 'legal' governor, won't say he's legitimate

Former Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said Sunday that while her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, was the legal victor of the state governor's race, she would not call him the legitimate winner.

Abrams told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" that she thought there was deliberate interference in the election, saying "it began eight years ago with the systematic disenfranchisement of more than a million voters. It continued with the underfunding and disinvestment in polling places, in training and in the management of the county delivery of services. And I think it had its pinnacle in this race." "So yes, there was a deliberate and intentional disinvestment and, I think, destruction of the administration of elections in the state of Georgia," Abrams added. The Georgia race has stoked a fierce new front in the national battle over voting rights and access to the polls. Kemp, who as Georgia's recently resigned secretary of state promoted and enforced some of the nation's most restrictive voting laws, was accused repeatedly before and during the campaign of seeking to suppress the minority vote. Abrams on Friday ended her bid to become the first African American woman elected to lead a state. The announcement followed more than a week of post-election legal maneuvering from her campaign and allies, who sought to find enough votes to reduce Kemp's lead and force a December 4 runoff. In a fiery speech, Abrams announced plans for a "major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions." In a statement Friday, Kemp said he appreciated Abrams' "passion, hard work, and commitment to public service." "The election is over and hardworking Georgians are ready to move forward. We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia's bright and promising future," he said. Abrams continued to allege Kemp blocked eligible voters from voter rolls in her interview on Sunday. "Trust in our democracy relies on believing there are good actors who are making this happen, and he was a horrible actor who benefited from his perfidy." When Tapper asked Abrams whether Kemp was the legitimate governor-elect of Georgia, she said she did "acknowledge the law as it stands" that he received sufficient votes. "But we know sometimes the law does not do what it should and something being legal does not make it right," she added. "This is someone who has compromised our systems."

Weekly Standard - November 18, 2018

Acosta gets his press pass back but Trump is the real winner

Extra, extra, read all about it: CNN’s Jim Acosta has his press pass back. Last week, the Trump administration yanked the White House reporter’s credential following a silly spat with an intern over a microphone.

And OK, look, this is good news. The administration’s legal argument that it had the right to revoke any reporter’s access at any time for any reason was laughable. The White House isn’t President Trump’s private palace; it’s the nerve center of one of our three branches of representative government. As such, if the White House wants to crack down on reportorial bad behavior, they should develop standards for what kind of offenses would cause reporters to lose access—not just revoke passes willy-nilly when they provoke the administration. But make no mistake: The lawsuit may be a win for Acosta and CNN, but the story is a win for Donald Trump. It would be the easiest thing in the world for the White House to turn Acosta into a non-entity, just another cable-news squawker tut-tutting the president’s decisions into a camera from the White House lawn. Call on him, give him bland answers to his silly questions, and move on. Or don’t call on him at all! Instead, time after time, Trump and press secretary Sarah Sanders have allowed Acosta to harrumph them into tiffs that become news stories in themselves. Last Friday’s foolishness, with Acosta white-knuckling the mic and Trump shouting and that poor intern visibly wishing she’d taken some other gig, was just the latest, greatest example. Why? Because the White House loves it when Acosta is in the spotlight. He’s the perfect foil to Trump, the perfect face for the administration’s constant campaign against the “fake news media.” Acosta’s tedious furrowed-brow posturing and spotlight-hogging and his fixation on Trump’s meanness to the press are all catnip to a president who loves nothing more than to tell his fans that that’s what journalists are all about. Any time Acosta asks Trump a question, Trump gets to make a choice: Do I stay on whatever thorny subject I’m being asked about, or do I pivot to “Trump calls Jim Acosta names”? This president opts for the latter every time. So congratulations to Jim Acosta for reclaiming his rightful place in the White House briefing room. The celebrity death match nobody asked for will now proceed.

The Hill - November 18, 2018

Scott defeats Nelson in Florida Senate race after bitter recount fight

Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott has defeated Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in a nationally watched Senate race that triggered two recounts and a series of bitter legal and public relations battles.

The contest came to an end on Sunday as a noon deadline passed for county election officials to submit the results of a hand recount that showed Scott leading Nelson by about 10,000 votes, or 0.12 percentage points. The hand recount was ordered after a machine recount showed the two candidates separated by only about 12,600 votes, or 0.15 points. Shortly after the results came in, Scott released a statement saying Nelson had called to concede. “Things worked out a little differently than Grace and I had hoped, but let me say, I by no measure feel defeated,” Nelson said in a video statement on Sunday. “I was not victorious in this race but I still wish to strongly re-affirm the cause for which we fought: A public office is a public trust.” Nelson acknowledged that he had been “heavily outspent” by Scott, who pumped more than $51 million of his personal fortune into his Senate bid. He also warned of a “gathering darkness in our politics.” “My hope today can be found in the words of John F. Kennedy, who said civility can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future,” Nelson said. The latest results cemented Scott’s victory in a hard-fought race that stretched nearly two weeks past Election Day, when he appeared to edge out Nelson by less than 1 point. But as vote tallies continued to trickle in from heavily Democratic Broward and Palm Beach counties in the days that followed, Scott’s lead narrowed considerably, putting the race within the 0.5-point threshold required to trigger a recount.

November 18, 2018

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - November 16, 2018

Appeals court voids Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance

Handing conservatives a victory over Austin progressives, a state appeals court on Friday struck down a city ordinance requiring most businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees.

The Austin ordinance, which never took effect amid challenges from conservative and pro-business groups, is void because it improperly counteracts a state law, the Texas Minimum Wage Act, that bars cities from regulating wages paid by private businesses, the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals ruled. Friday’s decision returned the case to the trial court and ordered District Judge Tim Sulak to issue the temporary injunction blocking the ordinance that was sought by employers, business groups and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. City of Austin spokesman Andy Tate said officials were reviewing their options in the case. “Ensuring workers are able to take time off work when they are sick is simply the right and responsible thing to do, as many cities have already acknowledged,” Tate said. City Council Member Greg Casar, the lead sponsor of the ordinance, vowed to challenge the ruling. “We’re going to fight on,” said Casar, who noted that two of the three judges who issued Monday’s ruling — Justices David Puryear and Scott Field — were among four Republicans on the court who were voted out of office, losing to Democrats in the Nov. 6 election. “We anticipated that they may rush out some anti-worker rulings before they are replaced in January,” he said. “It’s clear common sense that the minimum wage is different than sick days, so we look forward to having the chance to argue the full merits in front of another court soon.” Lawyers for Austin argued that the term “wages” applies only to compensation for labor or services, not fringe benefits such as paid vacation and paid sick leave, but the appeals court rejected that idea. Writing for the three-judge panel, Chief Justice Jeff Rose said Austin’s sick leave requirement would increase the wages paid to workers. In doing so, he said, the ordinance violated the Minimum Wage Act, which bans city rules that regulate the wages of private employers. “An employer subject to the ordinance must pay employees who use sick leave for hours that they did not actually work,” Rose wrote. Therefore, he added, “the ordinance increases the pay of those employees.”

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2018

Energy Secretary Rick Perry flies wife around the world with Texas campaign cash

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry left the Texas governor’s mansion four years ago. But he is still tapping his Texas campaign account to fly wife Anita Perry around the globe for nuclear talks and to speak at international energy meetings, records show.

In Paris last year, Anita Perry spoke at a women in energy event. She also appeared alongside her husband in South Africa on a panel about natural gas, social media accounts show. Most recently, the campaign paid $17,000 to fly Anita Perry to and from London last March for Saudi nuclear meetings, finance reports show. It’s not clear what role Anita Perry — a nurse — played at the closed-door talks, though campaign finance reports said she went for government related activities. While spouses occasionally accompany cabinet members on foreign work trips, ethics experts said it’s unusual for them to participate in official functions. “It’s just not an area where spouses have traditionally been involved,” said University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush. “We don’t have a first lady to the Treasury Secretary.” The Department of Energy said Anita Perry doesn’t have a security clearance and hasn’t participated in any meetings requiring one. All her travel is reviewed and cleared by a department ethics official, said agency spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes. Rick Perry is one of several Trump cabinet members who have come under fire for racking up expensive bills on chartered jets and first-class flights. When Anita Perry has accompanied her husband on international trips, the Department of Energy says taxpayers aren’t paying the bill. State campaign finance records show that Texans for Rick Perry — the campaign account that bankrolled the Republican’s runs for governor — has picked up the tab for at least $60,000 worth of her flight costs. “Mrs. Perry has traveled with Secretary Perry on occasion, adding valuable support to him as he advances DOE’s mission abroad,” Hynes said in a statement. “As these filings confirm, no taxpayer dollars have been spent on Mrs. Perry’s air travel and funding for it is authorized under state and federal laws and regulations. The Department of Energy follows federal travel regulations without exception.”

Washington Post - November 17, 2018

Fight for House speaker explodes into national political campaign

While congressional leadership fights have historically revolved around insular matters such as committee assignments and rules changes, the battle over who will lead the newly empowered House Democrats has exploded into a national political campaign.

At stake is not merely the House speakership, a job second in line to the presidency, but who will emerge as the country’s most high-profile counterpoint to President Trump — who will set the strategy for investigating him, who will lead the opposition to his agenda, and who will be the face of the Democratic Party ahead of the 2020 campaign. The country’s biggest unions, arguing that Pelosi is the best equipped to take on Trump, have lobbied Democrats to back her. Top donors have placed calls to lean on undecided members. Celebrities have weighed in as well, and prominent liberal activists have openly discussed fomenting primary challenges in the next campaign against the leaders of the anti-Pelosi opposition. The battle lines have been drawn around identity, race and gender — issues that dominated this year’s midterm elections. Some in the pro-Pelosi camp have presented her speakership bid as the next logical step in the #MeToo movement, particularly after an election in which a record number of women ran for and won seats in Congress, and with many activists still angry over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who denied allegations of sexual misconduct. “There is some residual anger being worked out in the speakership race as a result,” said Shannon Coulter, who co-founded a large boycott of Trump-related businesses known as the Grab Your Wallet campaign, and has been advocating for Pelosi. A potential challenge to Pelosi from an African American lawmaker, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), threatens to further divide Democrats along racial lines as Pelosi has moved quickly to solidify her support among prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Already the first woman to serve as speaker, Pelosi has said emphatically she will make history again and become the first lawmaker to reclaim the gavel since 1955 when the full House votes Jan. 3. “I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House,” she asserted this past week as Democrats rolled up more wins to add to their majority.

New York Times - November 17, 2018

America’s election grid remains a patchwork of vulnerabilities

Nearly two decades after voting problems in a handful of Florida counties paralyzed the nation, America’s election grid this month remained a crazy patchwork of inconveniences, confusion and errors, both human-made and mechanical.

The lumbering system, combined with claims of voter suppression and skewed maps from redistricting, once again tested confidence in the integrity of the vote. As in 2000, no evidence emerged of widespread fraud or political interference. But just finding enough qualified poll workers to make Election Day happen was once again a challenge, as voters navigated more than 100,000 polling places, staffed by 900,000 mostly volunteer workers and administered by some 10,000 local jurisdictions. (After the 2016 election, nearly two-thirds of local elections officials nationwide reported difficulties in recruiting workers.) The unevenness of the system across the country — in 22 states, elections at the local level were overseen by just one person — made it a political process open to accusations of manipulation. In some states, including New Jersey, South Carolina and Louisiana, officials depended on electronic voting machines that have no paper backups in case of a contested outcome. In Georgia, 16-year-old machines led to the improbable scene of Brian Kemp — the secretary of state overseeing elections and the Republican candidate for governor — being briefly thwarted in his attempt to cast a ballot for himself. The computer system, running on Windows 2000 software, returned an error. Broader worries about the handling of provisional ballots in Georgia and the security of a computer system led a federal judge to delay certification of the state’s results. On Friday, the Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her bid for governor in the race against Mr. Kemp, while denouncing what she called “systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence.” Legal actions were initiated in Florida, where close margins forced recounts in the races for Senate and governor, and questions arose about whether eligible mail-in ballots were improperly rejected. Election officials were to conclude manual recounts in the Senate race by Sunday. But on Saturday evening, with a manual recount not conducted in the contest for governor, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee, conceded to Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate.

CNN - November 16, 2018

CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi's death, sources say

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, despite the Saudi government's denials that the de facto ruler was involved, according to a senior US official and a source familiar with the matter.

The senior US official told CNN on Friday the conclusion is based on a recording provided by the Turkish government and other evidence, including American intelligence. The sources told CNN that the CIA based its assessment on available intelligence, as opposed to any specific smoking gun-type of evidence. Investigators also believe an operation such as the one that ended in Khashoggi's death would not have happened without bin Salman's knowledge given his control of the government, the senior US official said. A Saudi Embassy spokeswoman said in a statement that "the claims in this purported assessment are false. We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations." The Washington Post was first to report on the CIA's assessment. According to the Post, US officials have high confidence in the CIA's assessment. President Donald Trump said Saturday morning that he had not yet been briefed on the CIA's assessment, but planned to speak with the agency and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his flight to California. "As of this moment, we were told that (bin Salman) did not play a role," Trump told reporters at the White House before boarding Air Force One. "We're going to have to find out what they have to say." The President, though, called Saudi Arabia a "spectacular ally." "We also have a great ally in Saudi Arabia. They give us a lot of jobs, they give us a lot of business, a lot of economic development," Trump told reporters Saturday, later adding that Saudi Arabia has been "a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development." A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment to the Post. The Saudi government has denied bin Salman's involvement in Khashoggi's death.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2018

Seven takeaways on how Rep. Dennis Bonnen broke away from the pack –– and has cred in saying he's Texas House's next speaker

It was a tumultuous week around the Texas Legislature. After Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate in the midterms, and a dozen in the House, Republicans at the Capitol suddenly showed signs they grasp that their political monopoly may be living on borrowed time –– especially in the House.

Into the void rode Angleton Rep. Dennis Bonnen, who offered a way for fellow Republicans to end their obsessing over outgoing Speaker Joe Straus' "original sin." A decade ago, Straus, a San Antonio Republican, formed a coalition speakership that at least in the run-up to his first election relied heavily on Democrats. Bonnen, a 22-year House veteran, though he's only 46, exploited infighting among backers of GOP speaker candidates who were more nearly Straus' ideological and stylistic soul mates -- John Zerwas, Four Price, Drew Darby, Travis Clardy. He then peeled away the chamber's most senior Democrat, Houston Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and a raft of younger Democrats. Bonnen saved his neatest trick for last. He won over 10 of 11 surviving members of the Texas Freedom Caucus. It was a group of a dozen staunchly conservative Republicans who came together in a formal caucus last session -- ostensibly, to enlighten the public on how Straus was a "squish." Never mind that the House passed further restrictions on abortion and a ban on "sanctuary city" policies. In the March GOP primary, Midland oilman Tim Dunn, his party-purifying group Empower Texans and some of their allies -- all of whom are big fans of the Freedom Caucus -- supported Baptist preacher Damon Rambo's bid to unseat Bonnen in his southern Brazoria County-Matagorda County district. Bonnen crushed Rambo, 77 percent to 23 percent. One, "he's Greek. Greeks rule" said veteran Republican consultant and Austin superlobbyist Bill Miller told me that on Monday night as I scrambled to write a mini profile of Bonnen. Two, Bonnen persuaded House colleagues he'd fight for them against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate. Bonnen earned his reputation as a skilled baiter of Patrick in a 2015 tax-cut tussle. Three, though he owns allegiance from Freedom Caucus types now, that wasn't always so. Four, the lobby and 'smart guys' always saw speaker potential in Bonnen. Five, beyond some diehard Team Straus members, Bonnen's most obvious weakness is among Democrats. Some still have hard feelings over his role in the sanctuary city bill debate last year. Bonnen was the "enforcer" who informed Democrats they'd huddled for too long, and a deal to soften the measure was off. Six, Bonnen and Patrick issued a statement saying they'd had a "great conversation" about next session, in 2015, Bonnen served as "Straus' pit bull" and went after Patrick –– and Abbott. With the GOP base, border security was a much bigger deal than the fine print of a tax-cut bill. Seven, with a little more than seven weeks until House members elect a speaker, Bonnen has his guard up.

Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2018

Fed Chair Jerome Powell jokes in Dallas, sort of: 'If we do something wrong, it's clearly my fault'

The Federal Reserve Bank is often under a microscope from its fans and detractors. But for most of the population, it's a mysterious black box. As part of an ongoing lecture series, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell came to Dallas last week to try to demystify the Fed.

Dallas Fed Chairman Robert Kaplan hosted the public event attended by about 500 people, many of whom said they work in finance. "Central banking can be pretty far from people's daily lives," Powell said. "... The public doesn't know that much, and that's not on them." Both men said they wanted to shed some of the mystery of central banking and also field questions from the public on trade, the global economy and, indirectly, President Donald Trump. The Fed chairman's words are among the mostly closely followed and influential in the financial world. "The No. 1 thing we've got to do is earn and sustain the trust of the public," Powell said. "And that means, be transparent about what we're doing and why we're doing it and speak in ways that the public can understand." Trump wasn't mentioned by name at the event, but he still loomed large over the proceedings. Trump has been critical of Powell in recent months for raising the federal funds interest rate, characterizing those actions as "loco" and "out of control." One audience member asked Powell about being "mentioned by political leaders over the past several months." "Subtle," Kaplan said over audience laughter. Trump previously wrote on Twitter that the Fed was penalizing the U.S. economy by tightening monetary policy. The president also said in a CNBC interview that he wasn't "thrilled" with the rate increases, although he described Powell as a "very good man." But later, he told Reuters: "Am I happy with my choice? I'll let you know in four years." Powell served in George H.W. Bush's Treasury Department but was appointed to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors by President Barack Obama. Trump nominated Powell to be Fed chairman in November 2017. Although the Fed chairman is chosen by the president, Powell, throughout the evening, de-emphasized the White House's role in his job. He pointed out that the central bank was created by Congress and that the legislative branch has oversight. The Federal Reserve's job is to strive for maximum employment, stable prices and a stable financial system, Powell said. And he said he's done that in a "nonpartisan, professional way." "We have the tools to do it, and we have the protections to allow us to do that without political involvement," Powell said. "That's our job. That's our sole focus. We don't try to control things we don't control." But Powell accepted the fact that he's the focal point of any Fed criticism. Trump has said he'll keep the heat on the Fed as long as it continues raising interest rates. "If we do something wrong, it's clearly my fault," Powell said, in one of the night's several laugh lines.

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2018

Educators, mayor see Amazon's jilting of Dallas as a call to action for tech education

Mayor Mike Rawlings took some flak this week for saying Amazon jilted Dallas in part because the region lacked educational offerings the behemoth company needed. However, educational leaders in the region viewed Rawlings’ statement not as a rebuke, but as a call to action for North Texas institutions and the state.

“While education has always been top of mind for our community, this idea of workforce development for job creation, corporate relocation or expansion — it’s really accelerated to the very top of the list, in terms of consideration for what we need to do locally,” said Dallas County Community College District Chancellor Joe May. “That’s a huge challenge, but it’s also an opportunity.” Amazon figures to receive billions in incentives to plant offices in the Washington, D.C., and New York City areas, but the company said a key factor in its decision was also those cities’ deep STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — talent pools. An analysis from commercial real estate services firm CBRE showed New York and Washington trailing only California’s Bay Area for the nation’s largest “tech talent” markets. In addition, colleges and universities in and around the New York City and Washington metro areas turned out 12,046 and 10,526 tech graduates, respectively, in 2016. Those ranked No. 1 and 2 in the nation. While Dallas’ growth in awarding similar degrees is rapidly on the rise — growing 82 percent from 2011 to 2016 — the region produced 5,697 tech graduates in 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In addition, some of the nation’s elite research universities in computer science and engineering are within 150 miles of Amazon’s new digs, including Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania, and state institutions such as the University of Maryland and New Jersey’s Rutgers University. And other top programs in robotics and artificial intelligence aren’t too much farther away: Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, Yale University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and upstate New York’s Cornell University. Dallas offered an enticement it dubbed “Amazon U.” The idea was for a joint effort from most of the major higher education players in Dallas education — the University of Texas system, the University of North Texas, Southern Methodist University, DCCCD and Dallas Independent School District — to boost the talent pool and address the company’s staffing needs. The bid in northern Virginia had a similar sweetener. Virginia Tech offered to build a $1 billion “innovation campus” in nearby Alexandria, focusing on graduate computer science and software engineering degrees.

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2018

DACA recipients, advocates hope time is on their side as program’s fate hangs in the balance

DACA was created through executive order by President Barack Obama. It grants two-year work permits and deferred deportation for certain undocumented immigrants who meet a very specific set of criteria. The program has been in President Donald Trump’s cross hairs since he was a candidate. Last week, his administration petitioned the Supreme Court to step in for three lower courts where DACA cases are pending.

The administration argued that the court system was slowing down the administration’s shuttering of the program and that a final ruling is needed to decide whether or not the administration’s move to close down the program is even reviewable by the courts. Two days later, California’s 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, where a case had been pending since February, issued its ruling -- in favor of preserving DACA. Gabriel Estrada is hoping that the Supreme Court will now wait until at least next spring to hear any of the DACA cases winding through the legal system so that he has enough time to apply for renewal once more. His work permit is set to expire in December of next year. Since receiving a work permit through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in early 2013, Estrada has gotten a driver's license and a job. Estrada, 24, is set to graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in public relations in December 2019. But now Estrada and more than 700,000 immigrants illegally brought to the country as children are almost back where they started: Living a life of uncertainty, waiting to hear whether the highest court in the land will uphold or bring down the six-year-old DACA program that has allowed them to live their lives as almost-everyday Americans. Thomas A. Saenz, general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that it is possible the Supreme Court may take up a DACA case and decide its fate by next June. He added that it is impossible to predict how the court will rule, even with the court’s new conservative majority. “We do know and we have known for a very long time that the real solution is in Congress’ hands,” Saenz said. “Maybe with the new Congress, there would be interest in addressing at least this particular group of immigrants.” Saenz and the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund intervened on behalf of 22 DACA recipients in a separate case filed in May before a south Texas federal court by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and six other states. The lawsuit argued that DACA’s creation was unconstitutional and that an injunction was needed to stop harm that the states were suffering because of DACA.

Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2018

Darlene Ewing, who helped turn Dallas blue in a decade as Democratic Party chair, dies at 64

Darlene Ewing, the longtime Democratic Party chairwoman who helped turn Dallas County reliably blue, has died. Ewing died Friday at age 64, according to the Dallas County Democratic Party. Services are pending.

Health problems from before she left her party post to become a family court judge persisted during her time on the bench. But she managed to get well enough to take her seat and work on cases. "She was a strong woman, and she never quit," said state District Judge Ken Molberg, a former chairman of the Dallas County Democratic Party. During a decade as the party's chairwoman, she helped usher in a period of dominance for local Democrats. From 2006 to 2012, Democrats won every contested countywide race they entered. The only blemish on Ewing's record was in 2014, when Susan Hawk beat Craig Watkins to become Dallas County district attorney. Democrats reclaimed that seat in November, when former state District Judge John Creuzot beat Republican Faith Johnson to avenge the loss. "She took the Democratic Party to where it is today," Creuzot said. Molberg said Ewing helped bring factions of the local party together amid internal fighting in 2005. She ultimately replaced Dallas lawyer Susan Hays as chairwoman of the party. "The party was somewhat unstable," Molberg said. "Darlene was the person that solidified the party. She was an active and committed Democrat for many years and a well-respected family lawyer. She was a person of substance." When Ewing stepped down, Carol Donovan took over as party chair and found that "she was a hard act to follow." "Darlene led the fight to turn Dallas County blue," Donovan said, "and she kept the county blue." Like today, the mid-2000s was a time of transition for the Democratic Party in Dallas, with minorities and women taking the dominant roles from white Democrats and organized labor, though both are still part of the coalition. "She could navigate a lot of territory," Molberg said. "She really came from the traditional Democratic segment of the party and was able to unite and keep all these different interests together and headed in one direction."

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2018

State report projects primary-care shortage to get worse

The University of Houston and Sam Houston State University took steps last week toward the creation of new medical schools focused on primary care, but a new report suggests the shortage of such doctors is going to get worse before it gets better.

Despite concerted efforts by the medical community in recent years to increase the pipeline, the shortage of primary-care doctors over the next 12 years will grow more than 250 percent in Houston’s region and more than 67 percent throughout Texas, according to projections by the Department of State Health Services. “I can’t say I’m terribly surprised,” said Dr. Rodney Young, an Amarillo family physician and former chairman of the Texas Medical Association’s council on medical education. “We’d love to see the trend start to change, but it seems ongoing efforts have been better at increasing the overall number of doctors than primary-care doctors.” The 2018 report attributes the shortage to continued growth in the state and says projections in medical school enrollment and resident positions are not sufficient to meet the projected demand. The report is just the latest to project or document shortages in primary care, which has been a national problem, locally and nationally, for more than a decade. Texas ranks 47th among 50 states in the ratio of primary-care doctors per person, according to a 2017 Association of American Medical Colleges report. The report is distributed to the governor, Legislative Budget Board, legislative appropriations and finance committees and to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Dr. George Santos, president of the Harris County Medical Society, said the projections show the need for more Texas residency slots, essential for keeping students in the state because doctors typically end up practicing where they train. “The key is to grow funding for medical education, not just shift it around,” said Santos, a psychiatrist. “The Texas Legislature has shown growing concern about the shortage of physicians currently and projected, but if new residency slots aren’t created we’ll fall back.” A state health spokesman said the projections took into account Texas’ recently opened medical schools — Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine in Edinburg, and the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine in San Antonio. They did not take into account the planned medical schools at UH and Sam Houston State and a joint Texas Christian-University of North Texas medical school in Fort Worth.

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2018

Is bigger better? Memorial Hermann and Baylor Scott & White merger raises questions

If all goes as planned, the merger of Memorial Hermann Health System of Houston and Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas would create a $14 billion health care behemoth, with increased muscle to negotiate better deals and the flexibility to innovate in challenging times.

The hospitals’ leaders insist bigger is better, and patients will be the winners, benefiting from easier access to medical services, greater efficiency and lower costs after merger closes next year. The nation’s health economists are less certain. “I know of no academic papers to show mergers reduce cost for patients,” said Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy. “The immediate motivation is profit.” The combination of Memorial Hermann and Baylor Scott & White would form the biggest nonprofit health care system in Texas and one of the biggest in the nation, merging two organizations that operate in different markets. Regulators and researchers have typically focused on mergers within the same markets and found that increased pricing power leads to higher health care costs. But now a growing body of evidence suggests that even mergers across different markets produce similar results. A study to be published next year in the Rand Journal of Economics, for example, found that mergers in the same state, but different local markets increased medical prices by as much as 9 percent. The study examined nearly 500 mergers between 2002 and 2012. “It is pretty significant,” Leemore Dafny, a co-author the the study, said of the price increases. Dafny, a professor at Harvard University Business School, grew up in Houston and is following the Memorial Herman-Baylor Scott & White deal. A separate and older analysis from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that “when hospitals merge in already concentrated markets, the price increase can be dramatic, often exceeding 20 percent.” The CEOs of Memorial Hermann and Baylor Scott & White, Chuck Stokes and Jim Hinton, are confident their deal will be different, potentially becoming a model for others. Hinton said the lowering patient costs was a “driver of the proposed combination.” Stokes said the merger would accelerate efforts to “to make health care more convenient and affordable for all.” “The reason for us to come together,” Stokes said, “is not to merge our balance sheets, but to better serve our communities.”

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2018

Lizzie Pannill Fletcher throws support behind Pelosi for House Speaker

Houston Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a potentially key freshman vote in the incoming class of 2018, said Friday she is supporting California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker in the next Congress.

Fletcher's decision, announced in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, adds momentum to Pelosi's quest to win back the gavel she had when the Democrats' last controlled the House in 2010. Fletcher, a Houston attorney, ran as a moderate in the Seventh Congressional District, which had been in Republican hands since George H.W. Bush won the seat in 1966. It was one of three Republican-held districts won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Despite an onslaught of GOP ads tying her to Pelosi, Fletcher has previously remained uncommitted to the Democratic leader, both as a candidate and as a congresswoman-elect. "What I committed to on the campaign trail was to come up to Washington for this orientation and see who the candidates are for leadership, and really get a chance to hear from them and ask questions on how they intend to govern," she said Friday. "After being here for a week ... I feel very confident that the current Democratic leadership is the team to lead forward this next Congress. I think they have the experience and the commitment to bipartisanship, to operating fairly and inclusively, and making sure that members of Congress can really represent their districts." The slate of frontrunners for leadership posts in the House includes Pelosi for speaker, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer for majority leader, and South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn for majority whip. Pelosi became the first woman to serve as House Speaker when she ascended to the position in 2007. "Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn deserve my support," said Fletcher, who won her seat with the help of centrist women in west Houston and the Harris County suburbs. "They have the experience we need to lead this country at this time." Newly-elected Democrat Sylvia Garcia of Houston also has expressed support for Pelosi as a strong backer of protections for Dreamers, or immigrants who entered the country illegally as minors.

Associated Press - November 18, 2018

Texas Democrat attends House orientation amid contested race

Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones has been in Washington attending orientation for new members of Congress despite Republican incumbent Rep. Will Hurd continuing to hold a lead of 1,000-plus votes in their contested race to represent a sprawling West Texas district.

Ortiz Jones could seek a recount and still has a couple of weeks to do so. She hasn't so far but also hasn't conceded — instead saying she's working to ensure that "every vote is counted." A spokeswoman for her campaign did not immediately return a phone message Friday. Hurd leads Ortiz Jones by 1,150 votes, out of a little more than 209,000 counted. The margin between the two candidates is 0.55 percent. Texas law allows, the trailing candidate to request — and pay for — a recount as long as the margin is less than 10 percent of the leading candidate's vote total. Because of the recount option, the race is one of six congressional elections nationally where The Associated Press has not declared a winner, in some cases because officials are still counting votes. The 800-mile district runs from San Antonio to El Paso and is a perennial battleground. Hurd, who was first elected in 2014, has already declared victory. Democrats flipped Republican-held Texas congressional seats in Dallas and Houston on the way to gaining control of the House. Ortiz Jones isn't the only Democrat trailing her race to attend congressional training in Washington this week. Meanwhile, her campaign has pushed to get counted more provisional ballots, which were cast but not counted until certain problems — like voters not having correct ID — were resolved.

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - November 17, 2018

Texas Tech revels in recognition from D.C. to New Orleans

From Washington, D.C. to New Orleans, Texas Tech reveled in national recognition this past week from both the NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Association of Public Land-grant Universities.

Tech President Lawrence Schovanec was featured in the nation’s capital Tuesday on the 2018 Sen. Paul Simon Award Presidential Panel as part of the International Education Week. Earlier this year, Tech was one of five institutions that received the 2018 Sen. Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization by NAFSA, the world’s largest non-profit association dedicated to international education. Schovanec addressed the internationalization of higher education, developing globally competent students and emphasized the value international students bring to the Tech campus. The Tech president said the university continues to seek new ways to internationalize its campuses, including offering study abroad programs to students and quality-enhancing programs, communicating globally and seeking research support in projects that involve international partners. The university opened a campus in Costa Rica this semester. Tech even brings about 20,000 grade-school students to its campus to introduce them to international ideas, cultural events and foreign holidays. Some of those students may have never been outside of Texas, Schovanec said, but they can learn about other countries. “Texas Tech University has promoted an internationalization agenda that has gained momentum over the years, and it is a distinct honor to be recognized for our efforts with the Sen. Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization,” said Sukant Misra, vice provost for international affairs at Tech, in a news release from Tech. “Learning and discovery of knowledge should know no boundaries, and we truly believe our robust international platform today delivers unparalleled international educational and outreach opportunities for our faculty, staff and students.” Tech is featured as a Simon Award winner in NAFSA’s recently published report, “Internationalizing the Campus: Profiles of Success at Colleges and Universities.” Last Sunday, Tech was recognized as a 2018 W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award recipient by the Association of Public Land-grant Universities, or APLU, at an annual meeting in New Orleans. As the winner of the Kellogg award, Tech was also named a finalist for a national award, the C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award. Both awards are given by the APLU and the Engagement Scholarship Consortium with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and both recognize programs that demonstrate how colleges and universities have redesigned their learning, discovery and engagement missions to become even more involved with their communities.

Houston Public Media - November 16, 2018

Lawmakers expect to focus on juvenile justice reform in upcoming legislative session

Appearing on TV 8’s Red, White, and Blue, Houston Democratic State Representative Gene Wu pointed to figures showing that Harris County sends more kids into the state juvenile justice system than any other county in the state. Wu called for early intervention on the county level.

“A lot of the kids in the juvenile justice system are in the CPS system and we want to take care of the kids that have been abused or neglected,” said Wu. Republican State Senator Paul Bettencourt agreed. He thinks counties could do a better job of providing mental health care and that could help lower the rate of recidivism. “We need to do the right economic thing, which is to get in early with a better treatment program that costs less,” Bettencourt explained. Both Wu and Bettencourt said they view the juvenile justice as a bipartisan issue where lawmakers could reach across the aisle to find solutions. As for other big issues in the new legislative session, Wu and Bettencourt also mentioned school finance, health care and property tax reform. Lawmakers are now pre-filing bills for the upcoming session, which begins January 8.

Austin American-Statesman - November 16, 2018

After flurry of complaints, board OKs new Texas curriculum

Responding to concerns that Texas public school students would no longer learn about Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller and defenders of the Alamo, the State Board of Education took a final vote Friday to reject recommendations from board-created working groups to remove the figures from social studies curriculum.

The board on Friday unanimously approved the curriculum, cementing dozens of changes the panel made earlier this week. The new learning requirements will go into effect for middle and high school in the 2019-20 school year and the following year for elementary schools. Making any changes to the social studies curriculum has deeply divided the board in the past, but board Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, said her fellow members were more willing to compromise this time around. “There’s a great deal of trust that has been built among ourselves and ... it’s not about scoring political points. We are trying to make those decisions as best we can. ... As a body, the board of education does our work in a very deliberative, thoughtful manner,” Bahorich told the American-Statesman. The board was charged with cutting down the voluminous amount of social studies material students must learn in a school year for state standardized tests. The board tasked multiple working groups of mostly educational professionals to make recommendations. Among the recommendations they made that received the most criticism from interest groups were the removal of Keller, a disability rights advocate; Roosevelt, known for her fight for humanitarian causes especially as first lady; Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. party; Women Airforce Service Pilots, who flew planes in noncombat roles in World War II; and the defenders of the Alamo and a famous letter from William B. Travis pleading for more help at the Alamo. Amid thousands of people expressing concerns about the recommendations submitted online and in person, the board in September voted to keep the Alamo defenders and the Travis letter and, this week, the female historical figures. “I think obviously in a subject area that there are tremendous amounts of opinions like social studies, what should matter is, is there an opportunity for the public to participate in the process?” Bahorich said.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2018

Dallas Women's Foundation gets a new name and grosses $1.5 million at its annual luncheon

The Dallas Women's Foundation announced a new name, the Texas Women's Foundation, and a robust $35 million in assets at its record-breaking luncheon on Nov. 7.

The 33rd annual event grossed $1.5 million and featured filmmaker Ava Duvernay speaking to a capacity assemblage of 1,570 guests. Lael Brodsky and Tricia Miller served as co-chairs with honorary chairs Matrice Ellis-Kirk and former Dallas mayor and ambassador Ron Kirk. "As Texas Women's Foundation, our goal is to transform Texas for women and girls by advancing economic security for women, girls and families across the state and by ensuring opportunities for them to lead in every sector — from the classroom, to the first job, the board room and the halls of government," said president and CEO Roslyn Dawson Thompson. Thompson also revealed that the group has reached its goal in the Unlocking Leadership Campaign launched in 2013, earning $50 million in donations and pledges. Campaign co-chairs Ashlee and Chris Kleinert, Paula and Ron Parker, and Trea and Richard Yip helped secure a cornerstone $5 million donation from Harold Simmons Foundation plus gifts from nearly 5,300 individuals, corporations and foundations. Funds support the agency's statewide research about issues affecting women and girls plus the annual distribution of $5 million in grants to further its mission.

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2018

Houston’s credit outlook takes hit after Prop B passage

Houston’s credit outlook has taken a hit after residents earlier this month voted to pay firefighters the same as city police officers. Fitch Ratings this week downgraded the city’s credit outlook from “stable” to “negative,” saying the anticipated $100 million annual cost of the Proposition B charter amendment will hamper the city’s spending ability and could lead to a downgrade in the its AA bond ratings in the future.

Such a downgrade would mean higher borrowing costs and further squeeze the city’s budget. Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city’s firefighters have spent months warring over the impact of Proposition B, but the Fitch analysis marks the first time an independent arbiter has weighed in. After Fitch Ratings released its assessment on Thursday, Turner portrayed the analysis as a validation of past warnings he has issued about the impacts of the proposition, even as city firefighters again accused him of “vindictively punishing” them. While the city saw its financial outlook improve last year with the passage of pension reform, Fitch Ratings Senior Analyst Steven Murray said Friday that the voter-approved ballot initiative is the latest financial challenge for the city, which has had a “periodic challenge” matching up revenues with expenses such as its pension obligations and debt payments. He warned that further cost-cutting would be necessary given the city's limited ability to raise revenue because of its property tax revenue cap, and increased public safety and pension-related spending. “Assuming Prop B is implemented, that’s going to be one more pretty big expense item that they’re going to have to deal with,” Murray said. “So we’re just putting them on notice that this is a concern for us.” Fitch’s, one of three nationwide ratings services, is owned by the Hearst Corporation, the parent company of the Houston Chronicle. Money managers and business leaders said Fitch’s credit outlook was unlikely to scare off investors or dramatically impact borrowing rates for now, but was nevertheless potentially worrying. Gilbert Garcia, managing partner of Garcia Hamilton & Associates, L.P., a local bond management firm which holds more than $13 billion in assets, said the fact Houston maintained its AA rating was a good sign. By contrast, San Antonio and Austin both have AAA ratings, while Los Angeles has a credit rating of AA- and Chicago’s bond rating hovers at BBB-.

National Stories

New York Times - November 16, 2018

McConnell tells trump a criminal justice bill is unlikely this year

Senator Mitch McConnell told President Trump in a private meeting on Thursday that there is not likely to be enough time to bring a bipartisan criminal justice bill up for a vote this year, regardless of the support it has in the Senate and the White House, according to people familiar with the meeting.

Mr. McConnell, who as majority leader controls the Senate floor, delivered the news in a previously scheduled meeting at the White House convened to discuss the chamber’s legislative agenda for the remaining weeks of the term. Lawmakers from both parties have been working furiously to build support for the compromise legislation that would begin to reverse some of the tough-on-crime federal policies of the 1980s and 1990s that incarcerated African-American offenders at much higher rates than white offenders. Mr. Trump enthusiastically endorsed the proposal this week, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, pledged to move it across the finish line in the House “this term.” But Mr. McConnell’s conclusion could all but foreclose the possibility that Congress will vote on the bill this year. Publicly, Mr. McConnell has avoided putting his thumb on the scale for or against the legislation. He told reporters on Wednesday that if proponents secured the support of at least 60 senators, he would be willing to push the bill forward, but cautioned that he would have to “see how it stacks up against our other priorities going into the end of our session.” Congress must also come to an agreement on how to fund some federal departments, including homeland security, and resolve an impasse over a major farm bill, among other issues. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, reiterated those points in a statement on Friday, adding, “The support for, and length of time needed to move the new bill is not knowable at this moment.” But Mr. McConnell told the president that the bill would most likely eat up about 10 days on the Senate floor — time that he did not have between now and the scheduled end of the legislative session on Dec. 14, according to the people familiar with the remarks, who were granted anonymity to describe the private meeting. They were not connected to Mr. McConnell. If the bill had enough support, Mr. McConnell said, he would be willing to bring it up next year, after the new Congress is seated.

New York Times - November 17, 2018

Midterms aside, big donors see a leftward path to beating Trump

As the debate rages among Democrats about how best to position the party to defeat President Trump in 2020, many big donors are signaling early support for expanding and firing up the party’s liberal base rather than backing centrist appeals targeting the Rust Belt.

Even though middle-of-the-road Democrats helped propel the party to broad gains in the House in the midterm elections this month, especially in coastal suburbs, influential donors signaled in postelection meetings that their priority would be to back progressive appeals in Sun Belt states. Efforts in particular to register and mobilize minority and low-income voters in the South and Southwest, they said, present greater potential return on investment for Democrats than trying to win back the white Midwestern voters who helped elect Mr. Trump. While left-leaning Democrats fell short in some high-profile races across the South — most notably Representative Beto O’Rourke’s effort to defeat Senator Ted Cruz in Texas and Stacey Abrams’s narrow loss in her campaign to become governor of Georgia — the gains they made underscored the changing demographics of traditionally Republican states and the long-term opportunity for Democrats, the donors said. “Once we expand the electorate in these places, there will be no turning back,” said Tory Gavito, the president and co-founder of a new coalition of mostly female donors called Way to Win. She made her case in presentations to major donors at a conference sponsored by WDN Action, the political arm of the Women Donors Network, earlier this month in Seattle and this past week at another put on by the Democracy Alliance, an organization that includes some of the party’s wealthiest and most influential donors. She promoted the impact of her group’s “New Southern Strategy,” which included steering $22 million to political efforts in the South and Southwest before the midterms. “The concentration of young people, poor people and people of color who used to sit on the sidelines because Democrats have not inspired them will upend the map,” she said in an interview. That assessment aligns with the passions of the party’s increasingly powerful small-donor base, creating a potentially potent early financial foundation for prospective presidential candidates who appeal to the party’s left flank.

Politico - November 18, 2018

Cisneros defeats Kim in Southern California, turning Orange County blue

Democrat Gil Cisneros has defeated Republican Young Kim in the race for California's 39th Congressional District, officially turning the former GOP stronghold of Orange County entirely blue.

Democrats, who needed a net gain of 23 seats to reclaim the House from Republicans, have now picked up 38 seats. The contest between Cisneros and Kim was the last House race of the 2018 cycle yet to be decided in California. Cisneros' win follows a victory Thursday by Democratic House candidate Katie Porter, who unseated two-term incumbent Republican Rep. Mimi Walters in California's 45th Congressional District — the penultimate Orange County district to fall out of Republicans' hands. Cisneros will replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican.

Politico - November 18, 2018

Republicans battle to defend Trump from threat of impeachment

The audition to become President Donald Trump's most visible defender in Congress — and lead the fight against any impeachment proceedings — is in full swing.

One of Trump’s fiercest allies, Rep. Jim Jordan, on Friday began flirting openly with a bid to serve as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, the panel where a flood of Democratic-led investigations, and potential impeachment, will begin. "We’re still looking at it," the Ohio Republican said when asked if he would run for the post. "I’ve always been one who’s going to fight to get the truth out no matter what role I have. So we’ll just wait and see." Republicans' pick will be critical for Trump and his party. The new House Democratic majority has detailed a long list of targets for investigation, from Trump’s business entanglements to his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey. Even after Republicans were routed in the midterms, GOP leaders are vowing to aggressively defend against Democratic probes, which they've labeled "presidential harassment." The top slot on the Judiciary Committee also comes with a powerful policy portfolio. The committee has jurisdiction over immigration, gun control and abortion, as well as oversight of the Justice Department and FBI. But with Capitol Hill polarized over the president, the next ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee will likely be spending more time fighting for Trump than legislating with Democrats. It’s a reality that is already coloring the jockeying for the job. Trump, in fact, has already given Jordan a boost — calling incoming GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and urging him to ensure Jordan, a longtime McCarthy adversary, got a top committee post next year. That led to whispers and speculation that Trump wanted Jordan in the Judiciary slot, though Trump has declined to explicitly endorse him. "I would like to see Jim in a high position ’cause he deserves it," Trump told the Daily Caller on Wednesday. "He’s fantastic, but I haven’t gotten into the endorsement or not."

Roll Call - November 17, 2018

Democrats who ran anti-Pelosi campaigns show signs of cracking

Some of the newly elected Democratic House members who said on the campaign trail they would not support Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker have already shown signs of cracking as Pelosi ramps up the pressure for them not to divide the party before it even takes control of the chamber in January.

Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill, a New Jersey Democrat who said during her campaign that the party needs “new leadership, and it starts at the top,” declined to affirm that statement after meeting with Pelosi on Friday. “I’m sorry, I got to go,” Sherrill told reporters waiting outside the minority leader’s office. She directed reporters to her press aide. In an interview on Oct. 11 on local TV, Sherrill blasted her Republican opponent for trying to tie her to Pelosi at a debate. “I don’t support Nancy Pelosi. I put out a commercial saying that I don’t support Nancy Pelosi,” Sherrill said. The New Jersey Democrat is one of a handful of freshman Democrats who have softened their opposition to the caucus’s likely choice for speaker in January. Rep.-elect Andy Kim, another New Jersey Democrat, defeated Rep. Tom MacArthur on a platform that included ushering in a “new generation of leaders” in both parties. But he dodged a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter’s question about his previous opposition to Pelosi and whether anything had changed. “Right now I’m not making any commitments,” Kim said. “I certainly wanted a new generation of leadership, and that’s certainly still something I want.” Haley Stevens, an incoming freshman member from Michigan, had also signaled during the campaign she would not vote for Pelosi for speaker on the House floor. But she kept her options on the table Friday before lawmakers and elected lawmakers, who’ve been at new member orientation this week, head home for Thanksgiving. “I haven’t said no,” Stevens said of supporting Pelosi, CNN reported. One new Democrat who has stuck to her guns in opposition to Pelosi is Virginia Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger, whose opponent in the midterm elections, Rep. Dave Brat, invoked Pelosi’s name more than 20 times in their debate in October. “I have tremendous respect for everything that Leader Pelosi has been able to accomplish thus far in her very distinguished career in Congress,” Spanberger said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “But I do think it is time, as we have such an incredible level of divisiveness in our political rhetoric and discussions. We need new leaders in the conversations.”

The Guardian - November 18, 2018

European diplomats mount last-ditch effort to stop US ditching INF treaty

European officials are seeking to act as intermediaries between Russia and the US in the hope of salvaging a cold war-era arms control treaty that Donald Trump has threatened to scrap. However, the diplomats involved are not confident of success in the effort to save the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

Although they have the support of senior officials in the US defence and state departments, they face opposition from the White House, particularly from the national security adviser, John Bolton. Nor is it clear whether Moscow is interested in a deal. The collapse of the INF would leave the Russian military free to deploy short- and medium-range nuclear missiles along its borders with Nato in Europe, and in China. It would be hard for the US to benefit militarily from the treaty’s demise, as it would need allied states to offer launch sites for its missiles if they were to be deployed within range of Russia and China – and it is far from clear what country would offer its territory and thus make itself a target. Yet Trump’s abrupt declaration at a political rally in Nevada on 20 October that he was going to pull the US out of the treaty, without informing allies, has focused criticism on Washington rather than Moscow. European officials have asked for time to make a last-gasp attempt to rescue the treaty, which they see as a key pillar of arms control in Europe. They have sought to persuade their American counterparts that US abrogation of the treaty – without giving Russia a final opportunity to come into compliance – could further undermine global support for the US, and allow Moscow to escape the full blame for the treaty’s breakdown. “The US administration needs to take the Europeans with them,” a European diplomat said. “It’s important that if the agreement fails it is clear to everyone that it is the Russians’ fault. I think the administration gets this.” Trump will meet Vladimir Putin and the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires at the end of this month, but it is not clear that the issue will be raised. Bolton told Putin when they met in Moscow in October that Trump had made up his mind to dump the treaty, which has kept nuclear missiles out of Europe for more than three decades.

The Guardian - November 18, 2018

'A dangerous precedent': Texans outraged at prospect of tent cities for migrants

The military base of Fort Bliss is so sprawling that it is bigger than Rhode Island and almost as large as Delaware. Sitting on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas, on the border with Mexico, the base and its host town remain at the epicenter of Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration.

Locals believe when the government starts erecting the “cities of tents” the president boasted about for detaining people crossing the border unlawfully, even if they seek asylum from gang violence, Fort Bliss will be ground zero. Many are outraged at the prospect of the military flying in hundreds of tents to Fort Bliss then guarding thousands of exhausted migrant families bussed into El Paso after being detained all along the US-Mexico border. “We know that both Fort Bliss and Goodfellow [air force base, in San Angelo] are being prepared to house migrants,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights. He was speaking at a demonstration last weekend, where up to 100 people marched in El Paso towards one of the nearby international bridges and a neighborhood where a border fence is being built, protesting the mounting militarization of the border. “It’s very concerning to us,” Garcia continued. “Recently the administration limited the ability of migrants to ask for asylum and we are concerned that this is only an effort to bring migrants into these facilities and to continue expanding the administration’s deportation machine.” In late June, the Department of Defense (DoD) unveiled plans to use Fort Bliss and Goodfellow to house thousands of migrant families as the government struggles to accommodate rising numbers of immigrants being detained upon entering the US. Since the initial announcement few further details have been disclosed. But some soldiers based at Fort Bliss believe that the construction of a temporary detention facility there is imminent, according to a local soldier who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to address the media. “What I can tell you is that the word circling around the base is that they are expecting the federal government will soon green-light such construction,” he said. “I’m in and out [of the base] all the time but I haven’t seen any construction taking place [yet].”

San Antonio Express-News - November 18, 2018

Undeterred by border crackdown, Central Americans still seek the U.S. ‘dream’

Frustrated this year by a spike in undocumented immigration and several caravans of asylum-seeking Central Americans heading for the U.S. border, President Trump has doubled down on his vow to close the border.

Trump has dispatched troops to the border to dissuade those crossing illegally. He’s also issued a presidential order — under challenge in the courts — requiring that, for the next three months, anyone seeking to apply for asylum must do so at international bridges or other official border posts. Saying they are overwhelmed with petitioners and short of detention space, officials at those legal crossing points are restricting the numbers of asylum-seekers who can be processed daily. That’s caused delays of days, even weeks, for those trying to make asylum claims according to the rules. The measures may be aimed at sending a tough message to the estimated 8,000 migrants in the caravans heading toward the border with California. But they’ll perhaps have a greater impact along the Rio Grande, especially in South Texas, where illegal crossings and asylum applications have for years been heaviest. “What’s going to happen to us now?” asked Dania Rodriguez, a clothing merchant from El Salvador who was waiting on the Laredo bridge with her daughter. She said they were fleeing threats from street gangs back home. “This is all going to make it harder for everyone, even those of us with legitimate reasons to be here.” Despite talk of a broken border, illegal immigration has been plummeting since the turn of the century as border security increased and Mexico’s economy and demographics have kept more people at home. Border Patrol agents detained slightly fewer than 400,000 undocumented migrants on the southwestern border in the twelve months ending in September. They arrested more than 1.6 million such migrants 18 years ago. But in recent years there’s also been a steady surge of teenagers traveling alone and of parents - like Gonzales and Rodriguez - migrating with children in hopes of winning asylum by asserting that they live under threat of violence from gangs, spouses or their governments. The Border Patrol detained 107,212 migrants traveling as families along the Mexico border in the twelve months ending Oct. 1, a seven-fold increase in such detentions compared with the 2013 fiscal year. An additional 50,000 minors traveling alone were detained at the Mexico border last year.

November 16, 2018

Lead Stories

New York Times - November 15, 2018

Nancy Pelosi’s path to House Speaker may be complicated by a ‘pink wave’

The fight over Representative Nancy Pelosi’s quest for the speaker’s gavel has become charged with the delicate and timely issue of gender, as Democrats wrestle with the importance of keeping a woman in the top job after a “pink wave” delivered the party back to the majority.

As Ms. Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, insisted on Thursday that she had enough support for the speakership, some of her newly elected female colleagues dismissed the notion that it was paramount to have a woman at the top. And some of her male critics — mindful of the optics of dumping the highest-ranking woman in American political history — began floating the names of other women to replace her. “There’s plenty of really competent females that we can replace her with,” Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, one of Ms. Pelosi’s leading critics, told reporters on Wednesday, listing the names of several. Among them was Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who now says she is contemplating a run. “Come on in, the water’s warm,” Ms. Pelosi said on Thursday, seemingly mocking Ms. Fudge’s challenge. Asked if she had the 218 votes necessary to win the speakership, she said emphatically, “Yes.” The notion that men are at the forefront of the opposition to the 78-year-old leader has infuriated her most ardent defenders, who regard the campaign against her as both ageist and sexist. Mr. Ryan and his group are being pilloried on Twitter as #FiveWhiteGuys, although they are joined by a woman, Representative Kathleen Rice of New York. “These male members were elected and got back here because of what women did,” said Representative Anna Eshoo of California, a close Pelosi ally, warning that they will risk primary challenges from women if they are not careful. “They’re playing with fire.” As the first woman to become speaker, Ms. Pelosi, of California, is a history-making figure in Washington. She held the gavel from 2007 to 2011 and is considered by both Democrats and Republicans to be the most effective speaker in modern times. Were it not for her political skill and keen strategic sense, they say, President George W. Bush could not have secured the bank bailout he needed to halt an economic free fall and President Barack Obama could not have passed the Affordable Care Act. 17 Democrats have signed a letter opposing Ms. Pelosi, and at least three others have said they will not vote for her. With roughly 230 Democrats in the next Congress (some races are still being decided), that is more than the number of votes she can afford to lose if she is to get to 218.

Associated Press - November 15, 2018

Whitaker told Graham that Mueller probe to go on

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker told Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in a meeting on Thursday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will proceed, according to a person familiar with the meeting.

The meeting with Graham and Whitaker comes as a bipartisan group of senators is pushing legislation to protect Mueller’s job. The senators are concerned about Whitaker’s past criticism of the Mueller probe, which is looking at Russian interference in the 2016 election and ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign. Trump appointed Whitaker as acting attorney general last week. Whitaker told Graham the investigation would be allowed to proceed, the person said. The person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the meeting and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. A Justice Department spokeswoman said earlier this week that Whitaker will follow Justice Department protocols and consult with senior ethics officials “on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal.” Democrats have also called for the special counsel bill to be added to a year-end spending bill that must pass in December to avoid a partial government shutdown. The bipartisan legislation, introduced more than a year ago, would give any special counsel a 10-day window to seek expedited judicial review of a firing and put into law existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel can only be fired for good cause.

Denton Record-Chronicle - November 15, 2018

Michelle Beckley, candidate who defeated Rep. Ron Simmons, denies racism accusation

Last week’s moment of celebration for Democrats was eclipsed this week as allegations surfaced that Michelle Beckley, newly elected to represent Texas House District 65, has dismissed or made racist comments toward people of color while campaigning.

As Beckley prepares for her move to Austin for the upcoming legislative session, Democrats in her home district are reviewing accusers’ claims about the Carrollton Democrat, party officials say. But the party indicated it is limited in what it can do about the situation. Beckley denies the allegations. The accusations range from jokes made by Beckley about her grasp of Spanish to claims about her campaign preferring white Democratic candidates over black or brown ones. Denton County Democratic officials and volunteers say they’ve heard from nearly a dozen people who allege they have experienced some form of racism from Beckley. Most of the accusers have not come forward publicly with their allegations. Others have, including Jennifer Fukuto, a longtime party volunteer and most recently the manager of Democrat Chris Lopez’s victorious justice of the peace campaign. In a statement obtained Wednesday by the Denton Record-Chronicle, Fukuto wrote Monday to the Denton County Democratic Party saying that an investigation should be launched into Beckley’s interactions with people of color. “In general, she has a history of harassment, and the worst of it is reserved to [people of color],” Fukuto wrote. “She feels entitled to their resources and their help, and if we don’t support her the way she wants us to, she makes up things about how we are working against her.” Fukuto wrote that Beckley, during a candidate event hosted by the Young Democrats of Denton County, said that the only Spanish she knows how to speak is “tacos and burritos.” Fukuto, who is a woman of color, said Beckley “intensely glares at prominent” candidates of color, making them feel “intensely uncomfortable.” In the run-up to the Democratic primary election, Beckley was alleged to have passed out only a white Democrat’s campaign literature while door-knocking; she is accused of not handing out literature belonging to Brandy Jones, candidate for Denton County Commissioner Precinct 2, or Lopez. Fukuto wrote that a campaign volunteer retraced the routes Beckley took during block-walking and found Jones’ and Lopez’s door-hangers missing from houses that were targeted as residences of potential voters. Beckley declined to comment about the allegations over the phone this week. But Jana Lynne Sanchez, another Democrat, relayed over the phone a statement on Beckley’s behalf that denies the claims: “These allegations are completely without merit and unsupported by fact,” Sanchez said, in reading the statement. “They were launched by people who openly supported my Republican opponent [state Rep. Ron Simmons]. I remain focused on the things that are of greatest importance to the people of District 65: health care and education.”

Star-Telegram - November 15, 2018

Some in Tarrant GOP want to push Muslim out, but he still sees ‘good people around’

Southlake Mayor Laura Hill added her voice to those supporting Councilman Shahid Shafi, a Southlake surgeon who could lose his leadership post with the Tarrant County Republicans because he’s Muslim.

Hill, speaking Monday during a community meeting to discuss ideas for combating racism and bigotry in the city and schools, said she stands behind Shafi, who attended the meeting to hear residents’ concerns. Precinct chairs had planned to vote on Saturday on a request by Republican Dorrie O’Brien, who asked for Shafi’s appointment as vice chairman of the party, to be reconsidered. They discussed the issue behind closed doors, but ran out of time. A vote is scheduled for Jan. 10. “This city is a safe place for him,” Hill said. Hill organized the meeting, which attracted a standing-room-only crowd of moms and others who gathered to share their ideas and concerns in response to a video on social media showing students from the Carroll school district chanting a racial slur. Shafi told the audience that he wanted to attend the meeting to listen to their concerns. He described coming to the United States in the 1990s and how he was ignored when he first approached doctors and others about becoming a surgeon. But he persisted and found people who listened. He urged everyone to be optimistic and to look for open doors. “There are good people around. You have to keep knocking on doors until you find them,” he said. Shafi, who became a U.S. citizen in 2009, described how he was elected to the Southlake City Council despite the “naysayers” who said it couldn’t be done. “The path is there to follow. It is not an easy path, and it will be harder for those who don’t fit a certain mold, but don’t be disheartened,” he said.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2018

Justice Department quietly probing Harris County juvenile justice system

For more than a year, the U.S. Department of Justice has been quietly probing Harris County’s troubled juvenile justice system, according to interviews and emails reviewed by the Houston Chronicle.

The federal scrutiny coming from the Civil Rights Division appears through questions and emails to be zeroing in on long-standing problems in local justice, including racial disparities in sentencing and allegations of a “pay-to-play” system that favors certain court-appointed attorneys. It’s not clear where the probe could lead, but the prosecutors involved work with the department’s Special Litigation Section, which does not handle criminal prosecutions and instead focuses on using measures such as lawsuits and long-term monitoring to protect civil rights within the criminal justice system. Two sources told the Chronicle that federal lawyers had begun asking questions as early as 2016, near the end of the tenure of President Barack Obama, while two others revealed that they’d been questioned about local justice practices beginning sometime last year, after President Donald Trump had taken office. The sources recounted phone conversations and shared emails received as recently as last month. It’s not clear what the status of the probe is, and the Department of Justice declined to comment. “Juvenile justice still has major issues in Harris County and across the state,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who said he had no knowledge of the review. “I have no problem with the Justice Department or other agencies holding people accountable.” The Harris County Jail is under voluntary monitoring as the result of a 2008 investigation overseen by the same section of the Justice Department, which, at the time, cited the county for sub-par medical care, lack of attention to mental health treatment, and problems with the use of excessive force. Some advocates were heartened by the civil rights scrutiny. “We welcome any inquiries that would illuminate more about the system so that we can make sure that Harris County is properly treating its kids,” said Elizabeth Henneke of the Lone Star Justice Alliance.

Houston Chronicle - November 15, 2018

Federal judges point to yet another way Texas short-changes special education

Advocates are pushing lawmakers to change how Texas funds special education resources, and a recent court ruling may help their cause. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sharply criticized the way Texas calculates how much to spend on special education, saying in an opinion that there is potential for “future abuse,” and the state’s method for allocating funds creates a “perverse incentive” to minimize a student’s needs.

For example, Texas provides the same amount of money for a student in a regular classroom who needs services such a note-taking assistance as it does for a student with a significant disability who needs a full-time staff member to provide one-on-one academic and behavioral support. That’s because schools get the bulk of their funding based on where a child is receiving instruction, not on the severity of the child’s needs. School districts generate more special education funds when a student is provided instruction outside of a general-education classroom, like a resource room or self-contained special education classroom, regardless of their needs. No other state allocates the funding that way. Special education advocates have consistently argued that the Texas formula is outdated and insufficient, leaving school districts with huge budget gaps since most students with a disability are in mainstream classrooms. Educators are now hoping the extra pressure from a federal court could push the issue forward in the upcoming legislative session. “We’re back at saying, you can’t wait. We need to tackle this funding problem at the same time as all of these others,” said Kristin McGuire, the director of governmental relations at the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education. “Don’t just keep adding kids to a broken system.” Urgent education needs are piling up for the Legislature. Overall state funding for education has dropped to less than 40 percent in recent years. It’s a top priority for Gov. Greg Abbott and House and Senate leadership to reshape how schools are funded and add more state money, thus reducing the reliance on property tax revenue. Fixing the outdated special education funding method is yet another high-dollar item.

Houston Chronicle - November 15, 2018

Cuellar questions border patrol shift to California as U.S. troops move into Texas

While federal troops pour into Texas, border Congressman Henry Cuellar is raising the alarm over the deployment of 575 Texas U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to California to meet a caravan of asylum seekers from Central America who have started arriving in the border city of Tijuana.

The move comes after President Donald Trump deployed thousands of active-duty troops to Texas and other border states ahead of last week's midterm elections, a move that critics have derided as a political stunt. Cuellar said he was told that the CBP deployment will be a temporary response to a migrant caravan that appears to be headed toward ports of entry in San Diego. Amid growing deployments of federal troops in the Rio Grande Valley, Cuellar noted a week ago that the immigrant caravan was headed for California, not Texas. Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat who has been critical of Trump's proposed border wall, renewed his concerns with CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday, the same day Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met with federal troops in South Texas. "I made the Commissioner aware of my concerns regarding the potential impacts to Texas land ports," Cuellar said in a statement. "Commissioner McAleenan has assured me that CBP will do everything possible to minimize the impacts to trade, retail, tourism, and Paisano seasonal traffic at all Texas port of entries." Altogether, the Pentagon has said that approximately 5,900 troops have been deployed to the U.S. border with Mexico, and that significant increases are not expected. Trump announced before the midterms that he would deploy as many as 10,000 to 15,000 troops, a decision that critics denounced as a ploy to energize his conservative base in Texas and other states. Joining the critics was U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who called the troop deployments a "stunt" on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday. Flake, who is retiring from the Senate, noted that many of the troops are not actually deployed at the border, but 90 miles away. "So I think you can't call it anything but a stunt here," Flake said. "And it's unfortunate that they're going to be away from family during the holidays coming up, and we just don't know what really for."

Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2018

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wants in on Florida’s recount fight

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton jumped into Florida's messy recount battle Thursday, arguing a federal judge’s ruling on the nation’s most high-profile vote recount is threatening the authority of states to regulate their own elections.

At stake is the “potential to damage the integrity and perceived legitimacy of the election results and the ultimate winner,” argued Paxton and Republican attorneys general from Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana in a friend of the court brief filed Thursday with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott is separated by about 12,600 votes, spurring the recount. Federal district judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee ruled Thursday some 4,000 voters have two days sort out issues with signatures on their mail-in or provisional ballots that differed from signatures state officials had on record. The judge ruled the state improperly addressed irregular signatures by failing to tell voters “immediately” if their signatures were a mismatch. The filing from Paxton and the other attorneys general argue Florida’s election laws require mail-in ballots must be received before the polls close on election day and that mail in-ballots must match the signature on record.

Houston Chronicle - November 15, 2018

50-acre oyster reef build planned in Galveston Bay

Environmentalists announced Wednesday that a 50-acre man-made oyster reef will be constructed in Galveston Bay this winter in an attempt to bring Texas’ oyster population back from the brink.

The reef construction couldn’t come at a better time. Long-existing problems such as overfishing and damage from Hurricanes like Ike and Harvey — which flush the salty habitat with extreme amounts of freshwater and sediment — have continued unabated. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which dumped an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, also caused problems. In fact, a recent report by The Nature Conservancy, a Virginia-based environmental organization, found that oyster harvests in the bay decreased 88 percent between 1999 and 2016 — from 6.13 million pounds to 709,000 pounds, respectively. “We think of oysters as one of the essential building blocks of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Laura Huffman, the conservancy’s Texas regional director. “It’s a big industry for the Gulf and for Texas. But ecologically, they’re extremely compromised. They’re definitely in peril.” But Huffman added that the 50-acre reef build could help that. This winter, the conservancy will begin laying 50 acres of limestone boulders in the bay — half of which will be harvestable and the other half of which will be designated as a marine sanctuary. Huffman said past experience dictates that oysters will begin attaching themselves to these boulders quickly and they should be ready for harvest in 2021 or 2022. “The oyster industry needs these [reefs] to move forward,” Huffman said. “That’s what guarantees sustainability in the future.” The project will be funded with money from the 2016 settlement with BP, which leased the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in 2010. Under the settlement, BP is required to pay the trustees for Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment up to $8.8 billion over 15 years to make up for the natural resource damage along the Gulf Coast.

Dallas Morning News - November 15, 2018

Trump takes credit for Ted Cruz win, but lead over Beto O'Rourke plunged after Houston rally

By the time President Donald Trump landed in Houston for a rally on Oct. 22 with Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texan had already fought his way back from a summer slump. Public polls showed a comfortable lead in the high single digits. Nationally, Democrats were openly fretting that Rep. Beto O'Rourke had blown it.

But within hours of the rally with Trump, Cruz's support began to crumble and 15 days later, he limped to victory with a 2.6-percentage point margin, the worst in decades for a Republican senator from Texas. On Wednesday, Trump boasted that he'd put Cruz over the top. "If you look at Ted Cruz, and you look at some of the people that won, they wouldn't have won without my helping them," Trump told the Daily Caller, a conservative website founded by Tucker Carlson. Did Trump really pull Cruz across the finish line -- or was his embrace an anvil that nearly sunk the incumbent? Internal campaign polling showed that Cruz's support dropped almost immediately after the event, from roughly 12 percentage points -- even better than the most optimistic public polls -- to 7, and in short order, to 5. The causality was clear. In tracking polls after the rally, voters would mention Trump's "Lyin' Ted" epithet when asked open-ended questions about their views on the election -- something they'd never done before. It's impossible to know how much damage Trump's embrace inflicted or how Cruz would have fared if the president stayed out of Texas. Cruz's poll numbers rose shortly after the president announced Aug. 31 that he would campaign for him in Texas. And Trump's involvement may have boosted turnout on both sides. The rally was a raucous, classically Trumpian performance. He and Cruz embraced. Trump called himself a "nationalist" -- setting off days of controversy as fellow Republicans wrestled with a term associated with fascists. Cruz kept arm's length from the nationalist label, with its connotations of white supremacy that many saw as a dog whistle by Trump to the extreme right wing. The senator acknowledged on Aug. 6 that he had spoken with Trump about campaigning for him, telling the Houston Chronicle: "I would certainly welcome his support, and I hope to see him in Texas."

Dallas Morning News - November 14, 2018

Amazon’s missed opportunity: Failing to put part of HQ2 in a red state

Amazon has been an aggressive advocate for diversity. That includes providing strong support for immigrants, minorities, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, the military, women engineers and more. When the company was searching for a second headquarters, it made diversity a key issue.

To achieve long-term success, Amazon said last year, the winning city must have a diverse population and a community that supports it. Does that also mean diversity in politics, geography and even home prices? Apparently not, because Amazon chose two locales — New York City and Washington — that have a lot in common with its hometown of Seattle. All three are liberal coastal regions with sky-high apartment rents and home prices, and a strong appeal to college-educated millennials. Call it a missed opportunity, a lost chance to plant a deeper flag in a red state where Amazon might hear some very different ideas. You don’t have to be a dreamer to believe there’s more than one way to be diverse — and to be diversified. Imagine if the two winners of the so-called HQ2 competition had been Washington and Dallas, or New York and Raleigh, N.C., or Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio. A combination that included a city from the South or Midwest would draw in different kinds of workers and community partners. “Amazon missed the mark on geographic diversity,” said Brad Harris, associate professor of management at the TCU Neeley School of Business. “They could have picked up a wider range of perspectives if they’d gone beyond the East Coast. Middle America is quite a bit different.” This week, Amazon decided to split HQ2 between New York City and the Northern Virginia area near Washington. Amazon will invest about $2.5 billion in each and add 25,000 jobs that pay an average of $150,000 a year. It also announced a smaller project in Nashville, which will get about 5,000 jobs. While big, it's not near the size of HQ2. In announcing the winners, Amazon reeled off many attributes, including the “diverse community” in Long Island City. A local Virginia official said that winning Amazon validated the community’s commitment to diversity and other values. Choosing an East Coast capital wasn’t a surprise. Washington was always a favorite in the Amazon sweepstakes because founder Jeff Bezos has close personal ties — he owns The Washington Post and a big mansion in the area. But it was surprising for Amazon to pick two locations that are so similar. The primary explanation was that New York and Washington have the thousands of tech workers Amazon plans to start hiring soon. Dallas-Fort Worth ranks No. 4 in total tech talent in the U.S., but Washington and New York are far ahead. Their nearby universities also produced twice as many graduates with technology degrees. So the current supply of talent and talent in the pipeline are much greater.

San Antonio Express-News - November 15, 2018

After failing to review provisional ballots in Bexar County, Gina Ortiz Jones complains about vote count in Medina County

The political roller coaster in Congressional District 23 continued Thursday when Gina Ortiz Jones’ campaign turned its attention to election officials in Medina County.

Commissioners in Medina declined to certify the county’s results, temporarily raising the possibility of a recount in the Republican stronghold. The commissioners were given two different figures for the number of absentee voters — 1,034 and 1,010. Jones trails incumbent Republican Will Hurd by around 1,000 votes in the race, which remains too close to call. “There’s no other choice but for this department to have a recount,” Republican Commissioner Tim Neuman said after finding the variation. But a couple hours later, Medina Elections Administrator Lupe Torres said they were able to identify the discrepancy and would reschedule the canvassing for Monday, a plan Neuman said he agreed with. Counties have until Tuesday to certify their results. The Hurd-Jones race has commanded attention in South Central Texas since the Nov. 6 election, when the apparent winner of the race flipped twice — due to a reporting error in Medina County. Hurd appeared to secure a relatively comfortable victory in the perennial swing district, and the Associated Press called the race for him around 11 p.m. But in the early morning hours after that, it appeared Jones had pulled off a come-from-behind upset by 282 votes. Torres said he manually entered the wrong numbers that night. Once that error and another in Culberson County was corrected, it gave Hurd a lead of just over 1,000 votes. Hurd has declared victory in the race, and his campaign has called his lead “insurmountable.” On Thursday, 10 of the 29 counties in the district gave the Express-News updated results, showing 88 more votes for Jones.

San Antonio Express-News - November 15, 2018

Gilbert Garcia: Callanen unfairly targeted by Jones campaign

Jacque Callanen is biased. That is to say Callanen, the elections administrator for Bexar County, harbors a clear bias in favor of voting. She can barely contain her enthusiasm when local voters turn out in big numbers — or her disappointment when those turnout numbers fall below expectations.

If Callanen has any other biases, they haven’t been apparent in her 23 years serving in the county elections office, the last 13 as elections administrator. During that time, she has been a model for how to maintain fairness in a job that is a perpetual hot seat. Nonetheless, over the past week, the campaign of congressional hopeful Gina Ortiz Jones, and a group of prominent local Democrats who support her, have stained Callanen’s reputation in a quest to flip a congressional seat that is probably out of reach. The back story is that Jones currently stands a little more than 1,000 votes behind Congressional District 23 Republican incumbent Will Hurd in an election that drew more than 200,000 voters. The day after the election, the Texas Democratic Party filed an open records request with all 29 counties in the sprawling congressional district, seeking names and contact information for anyone who submitted provisional, mail-in, military or overseas ballots. The Jones campaign wanted a chance to contact provisional voters to make sure they knew about the Nov. 13 deadline to cure their ballots. Callanen declined to respond to the open records request, correctly citing the Texas Administrative Code, which states that provisional ballot lists are not public information until after a county’s early voting ballot board has fully reviewed the provisional ballots and “Provisional Ballot Affidavit Envelopes and the List of Provisional Voters have been returned to the General Custodian of Election Records.” That law emerged from a 2014 election in which Williamson County turned over its provisional voter list before completing its ballot review and provisional voters allegedly were besieged with phone calls from campaign operatives. So Callanen, under great political pressure, complied with the law. On Sunday, however, seven former and current Democratic elected officials — including Joaquin and Julián Castro, José Menéndez and Trey Martinez Fischer — signed on to a letter accusing Callanen of making “misleading and problematic statements” and stating that their only interest was in making sure every eligible voter “has the unfettered opportunity to cast their ballot.” In fact, the provisional ballot process already offers that opportunity. What these elected officials wanted to protect was not the right of people to vote, or even the right of voters to cure their ballots, but the right of politicos to call up those provisional voters and push them to get their ballots fixed. The attacks on Callanen grew stronger this week with a court filing from the Jones campaign, seeking a temporary restraining order (ultimately denied by District Court Judge Stephani Walsh) that would force Callanen to turn over contact info for provisional voters. Jones’ motion also alleged that Callanen’s handling of the situation “put in serious doubt her ability to effectively perform her duties and comply with state law.” This is shameful stuff.

Austin American-Statesman - November 15, 2018

Samsung says it will invest $291 million in Austin operations

Samsung Austin Semiconductor says it plans to invest $291 million and retain 500 jobs in Central Texas after the Austin City Council cleared the way Thursday for the tech giant to receive state tax breaks in exchange for the new investment.

The Austin City Council approved a resolution designating the company as an enterprise zone project under the Texas Enterprise Zone designation, which would allow Samsung to get a refund on its state sales and use tax. The Governor’s Office of the Economic Development and Tourism has the final say on the designation. For Samsung, the maximum possible refund from the state would be $1.25 million. The designation would not include any tax breaks from the city. Samsung previously received enterprise zone designation in 2016, when it agreed to invest $1 billion in its Austin chip manufacturing facility, adding as many as 500 engineering and manufacturing jobs. The company also received the designation in 2012. “We’re very excited to have the City Council support it again for a third time,” Samsung spokeswoman Michele Glaze said. “We believe that we’re a vital part of this community.” This time around, Samsung said it anticipates investing $291 million at its Austin facility — $108 million in tools and equipment and $183 million toward facility renovations. “The new equipment of Samsung’s Austin facility will enable Samsung to continue with its wide-ranging products,” the company’s project summary said. No new hires are part of the project, but the company said it will retain 500 employees at the facility, which currently employs 2,952 in North Austin. “We do continue to hire new people,” Glaze said. “We always continue to focus on hiring quality workforce.” The Texas Legislature authorizes 105 state designations every biennium. Austin can designate nine projects for the Enterprise Zone designation every two years.

Austin American-Statesman - November 15, 2018

Texas Democrat is a leader in the anti-Pelosi movement

U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has been basking in the election victories that will propel her party to majority status in January, but an activist group within her own caucus is plotting to prevent her elevation to House speaker — and one of the ringleaders is a Texan.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, is working with other House members and members-elect to prevent Pelosi from becoming speaker when the 116th Congress convenes in January. “I’m 100 percent confident that we have the votes to keep her from getting 218 votes on the House floor,” Vela told the American-Statesman on Thursday. In a letter to Democratic colleagues, Vela and 16 other members and members-elect say they are hard “no” votes against Pelosi as House speaker, according to a Democratic aide to one of the members who has seen the letter but is not authorized to speak about it. The dissident members, who include Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio, are part of the party’s younger generation who have complained that Pelosi, 78, and assistant minority leader Steny Hoyer, 79, have led the party for more than 15 years. Pelosi dismissed the challenge, saying she expects to return as speaker, a position she held from 2007-11, the last time Democrats held the majority of seats in the House. “I intend to win the speakership with Democratic votes. I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House,” she told reporters Thursday. The new speaker will be elected by the entire House, Democrats and Republicans, when the new Congress convenes in January. Members typically support their party’s nominee, although there are often dissident votes. Democrats will hold at least 230 of the 435 seats in the next House, with a half-dozen races yet to be determined, according to the nonpartisan RealClearPolitics.com. Pelosi will need 218 votes to be elected speaker, and she has been working to shore up her support among Democrats, making calls and getting party donors and activists to provide testimonials, ahead of leadership votes that will be taken when the caucus meets Nov. 28 and 29. Thirteen of the House Democrats will be from Texas, with the race pitting U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones still in dispute. Hurd is leading by 1,150 votes in the unofficial count and has declared victory, but his opponent has refused to concede.

The Eagle - November 16, 2018

Texas A&M System regents approve Los Alamos oversight committee

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents on Thursday created an oversight committee for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which the system assumed oversight of earlier this month.

As part of Triad National Security -- along with its partners the Battelle Memorial Institute and the University of California -- the system now manages the nuclear weapons research facility in New Mexico. The National Nuclear Security Administration awarded the management contract to the collective in June, and Triad took over operations Nov. 1. The special committee will provide oversight of the A&M system's activities at the lab. The regents approved to serve in that capacity on Thursday are Charles Schwartz, who will serve as chairman, Elaine Mendoza and Tony Buzbee. The committee won't have decision-making authority but will "facilitate the board's ability to fulfill its fiduciary duty relating to oversight of the system's activities" at the lab. It will be able to conduct activities on-site and report back to the full board. The birthplace of the atomic bomb, Los Alamos National Laboratory is a 38-square-mile facility with more than 11,000 employees. It has an annual operating budget of more than $2.5 billion. "The nation's top nuclear asset is in good hands with The Texas A&M University System," Chancellor John Sharp said in a press release. "This Special Committee for Oversight of Los Alamos National Laboratory will be this Board's eyes and ears, and I am confident each member is up to this critical task."

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 15, 2018

Parents demand increased safety at Lamar HS after three students die within a month

A group of parents stood ground on the front lawn of Lamar High School on Thursday, two days after a student was shot to death near the River Oaks campus and more than a week after two students died in a murder-suicide at a nearby apartment complex.

This was the second time Caroline Jones, whose daughter is a sophomore at the school, was on campus this week. On Wednesday, she wanted to meet with the principal and was shocked to find that the front door was unmanned. On Thursday, with other moms and dads in tow, she returned to demand changes. “You would think the day after a drive-by shooting involving two of the students, they could step up,” Jones said, surrounded by other concerned parents. “I couldn’t leave yesterday and go to my job because I felt like I needed to do HISD’s job.” Jones was successful in getting a meeting – after briefly waiting outside in the cold, she and the other parents spoke with administrators, who promised to increase security through the end of the year. After a frustrating experience the day before, Jones said she now feels encouraged. "All these parents are here because we love our kids," Jones said. "We’re going to stay on top of (HISD) and make sure that they bring officers to this school.” The district confirmed in a statement that it is increasing police presence at Lamar High School, due to recent tragic events. "District administrators are working with concerned parents to come up with effective solutions in the short and long term," the statement reads. "Our goal is to ensure that students are safe and receive counseling support as needed during this challenging time. It is also our goal to ensure that teaching and learning continue. Please know we take these situations very seriously as the safety of our students is always our top priority." While the number of parents at the protest fluctuated, Jones said at least 20 people inside and outside the school expressed their support. Several of the parents at the school on Thursday pleaded for what they said were simple changes, describing the fear their children now feel as a result of the shooting this week. Delindsey Mack, an 18-year-old at the school, died on Tuesday in what police said was a targeted attack. The gunman shot the teen on the sidewalk outside the Bethany Christian Church parking lot, which neighbors the Houston Independent School District campus. The gunman then stood over him and fired more shots.

Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2018

Dallas may have lost Amazon, but downtown was still a big winner

Toyota went to Plano. State Farm Insurance landed 10,000 jobs in Richardson. And the financial giant Charles Schwab is still building its new regional office campus in Westlake. But when Amazon shopped North Texas for its HQ2 site, it wasn't interested in the burbs. Downtown was where the digital retailing giant considered putting thousands of workers.

Sites in the southwest corner of downtown, in the Cedars neighborhood and just across the river in north Oak Cliff and West Dallas all caught Amazon's eye. Amazon eventually picked sites in northern Virginia and New York for its 50,000 workers, and Nashville got the 5,000-job consolation prize. But developers say that downtown Dallas was next in line, and that it will reap the benefits for years to come. Builders and economic development officials say that the fact that downtown Dallas was in serious contention for the country's biggest office deal ever will help attract more jobs to the center city. "We have already seen results of more people looking at the downtown area because of the exercise," said John Crawford, vice chairman of the economic development group Downtown Dallas Inc. "We will continue to add major companies to downtown because of the exposure we got. "Ten years ago, we wouldn't have been even considered." A lot has happened downtown in the last decade. Private developers and the public sector have poured billions of dollars into revitalizing the city's core. Thousands of residents have moved into new apartments and old buildings converted to lofts. Restaurants and retail are following, along with new hotels. Throw in one of the country's largest light-rail transit systems, and it's no wonder Amazon set it sights on downtown instead of the far suburbs. Real estate brokers say all of Amazon's final site considerations in Dallas were downtown or nearby. "The resurgence of our downtown and the new generation of companies that want to have walkable neighborhoods and locations that are diverse put us in a very competitive posture," said Philip Wise, a principal in Cienda Partners, which pitched its north Oak Cliff property to Amazon. "I think the city of Dallas will start to compete very well for these tech-oriented companies that want to be in the center city," Wise said. "In the core of downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods there are some unbelievable development opportunities."

Dallas Morning News - November 15, 2018

Rainy days hit State Fair of Texas in the coupon books, as sales drop by millions

After record-setting rains, the State Fair of Texas’ coupon sales this year were predictably gloomy: a drop of nearly $9 million versus last year’s totals. The complete picture of the fair’s revenues and expenses won’t be released until April, but the fair on Wednesday released the coupon-sales figures — which make up the lion’s share of the fair’s overall revenue.

Coupons — used for food, drinks and rides — accounted for $45.3 million in revenue in 2018, down from 2017’s $54.2 million and 2016’s all-time high of $56 million. Concessionaires said the rain was squarely to blame. And Willis Winters, director of the Park and Recreation Department said it would be a “safe assumption” that this year’s payment from the fair to the city will be significantly lower this year than past years because of the precipitation. Over the past three years of better weather, the State Fair has given Dallas around $15 million for improvements at the city-owned Fair Park. Those excess revenue payments -- part of the lease agreement with the city -- also came after the fair and its finances began to come under increasing scrutiny from critics, including some City Council members. But this year’s 24-day fair saw 12 days of rain and an attendance drop to 2,049,118 — down by almost 200,000 visitors from 2017. The National Weather Service declared that 2018 had the wettest September and October on record in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “No question; the rain was significant,” Winter Family Concessions’ Christi Erpillo said. “What I’ve said for years is that we can be in the contest, or have a great item, or compete against all the other vendors out there -- but the one thing we can never compete against is the rain.

National Stories

CNN - November 16, 2018

Kim Jong Un tests 'high-tech' weapon in message to the U.S.

North Korea has tested a "newly developed ultramodern" weapon in an event supervised by leader Kim Jong Un, state media said Friday, amid faltering nuclear disarmament negotiations with the United States.

Very little is known about the weapon or whether it is even new, but the test is the latest sign that Pyongyang is prepared to return to a more militaristic relationship with Washington if talks continue to go poorly. "He's tiptoeing towards a more aggressive posture in negotiations with the US and he's signaling that he's not going to give way and can simply return to his old practices if (the US) don't change their approach," Josh Pollack, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterrey, told CNN. North Korea's state news agency KCNA announced the test on Friday morning, providing no details on the location of the event and little information about the weapon itself other than it was "tactical" and had been commissioned "personally" by Kim's father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il. A South Korean government source with military knowledge told CNN the weapon was likely a piece of long-range artillery "likely to be a multiple rocket launcher." "As it is a tactical weapon test, we do not view it as a North Korean military provocation," the source said. It marks the first time Kim has publicly attended such a blatantly military-focused event since his high-profile summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump in early 2018. "Chairman Kim Jong Il had chosen personally and directed step by step with his special attention paid to it was born at last," the KCNA article said.

CNN - November 14, 2018

Experts warn US at risk of losing war with Russia or China

The Trump administration's new National Defense Strategy is insufficiently resourced and the US runs the risk of a military defeat by China or Russia, according to a report by a congressionally mandated panel of bipartisan experts that was released Wednesday.

The warning comes as the Trump administration is weighing a possible cut to the defense budget following a major boost in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. While the report applauds the administration for focusing more on Russia and China as opposed to counterterrorism missions in places like the Middle East, it slams the administration's strategy for not explaining how the goals of that strategy will be met. "The (National Defense Strategy) too often rests on questionable assumptions and weak analysis, and it leaves unanswered critical questions regarding how the United States will meet the challenges of a more dangerous world," the report says, criticizing the lack of investment and organizational changes to reinforce the new strategy. "The Commission assesses unequivocally that the NDS is not adequately resourced," the report says, while adding that "available resources are clearly insufficient to fulfill the strategy's ambitious goals, including that of ensuring that DOD can defeat a major power adversary while deterring other enemies simultaneously." As part of its efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit the Trump administration has said it is publicly weighing a cut to the Defense Department after giving the military a major funding boost. While the US is projected to spend some $716 billion on defense in fiscal year 2019, defense officials tell CNN administration is considering cutting that number to $700 billion in the following year. The 12-member commission of experts, which was led by former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and former chief of naval operations, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, was mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, which charged it with conducting an independent, nonpartisan review of the 2018 National Defense Strategy.

CNN - November 16, 2018

California search efforts intensify with more than 600 people reported missing

As the death toll from the Camp Fire rose to 63 people and the number of people missing spiked to more than 600, rescue workers searching for human remains in the wreckage hope hundreds of people who are still unaccounted for after the blaze are still alive.

"A lot of people are displaced, and a lot of people don't know we're looking for them," Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea said late Thursday. The dramatic rise in the number of unaccounted for came after authorities combed through a week of 911 calls and incident reports. Combined with relatives who have reported loved ones missing, investigators are now looking into reports of 631 people who are possibly missing. "You have to understand, this is a dynamic list," Honea said. "Some days might be less people, some days might be more people, but my hope at the end of the day, we have accounted for everybody." A week after two major wildfires sparked at both ends of the Golden State, the total death toll has increased to 66, fire officials said. The Camp Fire –– now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state –– has left 63 people dead, destroyed about 9,700 homes and scorched 141,000 acres. By Thursday night, it was 40% contained. Hundreds of deputies, National Guard troops and coroners are sifting through leveled homes and mangled cars for human remains. "They are going to be searching vehicles that have been burned. They'll be searching residences that have been burned. Checking around the residences ... our mission is to find the victims from this fire, recover them and get them identified and notify the families to give them some answers," Butte County Sheriff's Investigations Sgt. Steve Collins said. President Donald Trump is expected to visit the region Saturday as firefighters continue battling the blaze.

CNN Business - November 16, 2018

Judge postpones decision in CNN lawsuit over Jim Acosta's press pass

Lawyers for CNN and the Trump administration are awaiting an initial ruling on the network's federal lawsuit over press access to the White House. And they're going to have to wait a little while longer.

Judge Timothy J. Kelly heard nearly two hours of oral arguments about CNN's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Wednesday. Then he said court would reconvene Thursday at 3 p.m. But on Thursday afternoon, he rescheduled the next hearing for Friday at 10 a.m. If Kelly grants CNN's requests on Friday, CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta would get his press pass back for a short period of time. If it's denied, Acosta's pass will remain suspended. Either way, this is just round one. By filing for a temporary restraining order, CNN is seeking what's known as "emergency relief." CNN is arguing that Acosta's First Amendment rights are being violated every day he is banned from White House grounds. CNN is also asking for "permanent relief," meaning a declaration from the judge that President Trump's revocation of Acosta's press pass was unconstitutional. This legal conclusion could protect other reporters from retaliation by the administration. But the judge will not be ruling on that yet. Kelly is only expected to weigh in on the temporary status of Acosta's press pass. Further hearings are likely to take place in the next few weeks, according to CNN's lawyers. The White House took the unprecedented step of suspending Acosta's access after he had a combative exchange with Trump at last week's post-midterms press conference. CNN sought a resolution for several days before filing suit on Tuesday. The resulting lawsuit by both CNN and Acosta alleges violations of the First and Fifth Amendments. The defendants are Trump and several of his top aides. The case was assigned to Kelly, a Trump appointee who has been on the federal bench just more than a year now. He was very inquisitive at Wednesday's hearing, asking tough questions of both sides, drilling particularly deep into some of CNN's arguments.

Washington Post - November 14, 2018

What the narrative about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets wrong

Women of color burst through in last week’s midterm elections to diversify America’s local and national politics. Deb Haaland, Jahana Hayes, Ilhan Omar and Lauren Underwood were just a few of the candidates who added to this national achievement. In New York, this success had special resonance. The enthusiastic Queens native Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was joined by other Latinx candidates, including Julia Salazar of Brooklyn and Jessica Ramos of Queens, both first-time contenders of Colombian ancestry who succeeded in winning state Senate elections.

These women tapped into more than the progressive movement or frustration with the status quo and President Trump. They also built on the long history of Latinx political activism, and their victories provide a distinct formula for how the Democratic Party can re-energize itself. Ocasio-Cortez, Salazar and Ramos did not simply embrace the platform of the mainstream progressive left. Rather their victories show how the mainstream progressive left is shifting in the direction of policies that previous generations of Latinx activists, politicians and everyday people have struggled to achieve for decades. All three candidates form part of a longer lineage of Latinx New Yorkers and their organizations, from Aspira to UPROSE and beyond, who have worked over the past 60 years to bring the diverse issues affecting the city’s Latinx and other poor communities to the fore. Waves of Latinx families immigrated to New York during the post-World War II period. Almost 600,000 Puerto Ricans arrived in Gotham between 1940 and 1960. A decade later New York had become home to 1.2 million Latinx residents, consisting of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians, Mexicans and others. Upon arrival, these families confronted immediate hardship, including intense discrimination, a lack of affordable housing, limited access to health care, unequal schooling and an increasingly stratified job market. To make matters worse, Latinx New Yorkers became victims of a political culture that held little place for them in decisions affecting urban development, even as they increasingly constituted a major part of New York’s population. Contrary to the narrative advanced by the influential 1963 book “Beyond the Melting Pot,” these Spanish-speaking groups did not resign themselves to their new fates. Instead, they quickly began to organize politically.

Washington Post - November 15, 2018

Van Jones praised Trump on criminal justice reform. Now he’s taking heat from the left.

A popular defense of President Trump from his supporters is that his critics will never give him credit — even when he behaves as other presidents have or gets behind ideas that have broad support. We’re seeing some evidence of what they mean after Trump’s endorsement of a criminal justice reform bill.

On Wednesday, Trump officially endorsed the First Step Act, a bill that he said includes “reasonable sentencing reforms while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.” The president known more for slamming Democrats than working with them also said: “Today’s announcement shows that true bipartisanship is possible." Liberal activist Van Jones, who has worked with the Trump White House on criminal justice reform for a while, was the recipient of much chiding on Twitter after he tweeted that Trump “is on his way to becoming the uniter-in-Chief” after his support for the bill. And on CNN, where Jones is a political commentator, he told host Don Lemon: “I think you’ve got to give him some credit. . . . I say the 99 times I don’t agree with the president I’m going to give him hell. But on this one, I’ll give him a salute and applause.” Jones found that many on the left were not willing to “give him some credit,” however. If the bill is what lawmakers suggest it is, it could be one of the most significant steps in recent history to reform some areas of the criminal justice system. The House-passed bill focused on reducing prisoner recidivism, but the new Senate package includes language that lowers mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies, including reducing the “three strikes” penalty from life behind bars to 25 years. The bill would retroactively apply to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which would reduce the disparity in the sentencing guidelines between crack and cocaine offenses. The bill would also allow judges in some cases to issue sentences for lower-level crimes that are shorter than mandatory minimums. Part of the backlash to Jones probably stems from Trump’s poor track record with the left on supporting criminal justice reform and his heated rhetoric and prejudgments in the past against people he thinks are offenders. Trump has still not apologized for calling for the death penalty for five black and Latino teenagers known as the Central Park Five, who were falsely accused of physically assaulting a white woman.

Washington Examiner - November 15, 2018

Democrats and Republicans eye working together on small-ball climate legislation

Members of both parties see opportunities in a divided Congress next year for bipartisan action on clean energy development, even if comprehensive legislation meant to combat climate change remains far away.

“My goal is to have a demonstrative body of work to reduce carbon emissions, and not just do messaging bills,” Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told the Washington Examiner. “We have significant opportunities to pass legislation that would help bring down carbon emissions on a bipartisan basis.” Democrats are eyeing a potential infrastructure package, which President Trump has also emphasized, as a key vehicle to achieve progress on clean energy. Welch, along with Rep. Paul Tonko, D-NY, who is expected to lead the Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on environment, outlined provisions they would support in an infrastructure bill. In particular, they would favor: improving energy efficiency in publicly funded projects; modernizing the electricity grid to accommodate the use of more wind and solar; rebuilding transmission and distribution lines to make them more resilient to severe weather events and wildfires; accelerating the deployment of electric vehicle charging stations; and providing incentives for localities to purchase electric buses. While Welch and Tonko would support major climate legislation like a carbon tax or cap and trade, they acknowledge achieving those goals is unrealistic for now, and are pushing their colleagues to support smaller efforts packaged in a way that can attract Republicans. “We need an aggressive climate change agenda, and there are things we can do working across the aisle to move us toward our goals,” Tonko told the Washington Examiner. “You only have to look over your shoulder to recent history to see this committee has been among the leaders in achieving success stories in a bipartisan way.”

Washington Examiner - November 16, 2018

Avenatti still considering 2020 run despite domestic violence arrest

Less than a day after being arrested on domestic violence charges, attorney Michael Avenatti said he may still pursue a 2020 presidential run, according to a report published late Thursday.

"I'm still considering it," Avenatti wrote in a text message to a USA Today reporter. However, Avenatti added that the first point of business is "clearing his name." "I will not be intimidated," Avenatti wrote. "The measure of a person is how they get up when they are knocked down." Avenatti was arrested in Los Angeles Wednesday though police did not disclose the identity of his accuser. He posted a $50,000 bail hours after being taken into custody. He told reporters he has never "struck" a woman and argued he has been an advocate for women's rights. Avenatti became a household name when porn star Stormy Daniels hired him to represent her after she violated a 2016 nondisclosure agreement with President Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen related to her 2006 affair with Trump and a $130,000 hush-money payment in 2016. In August, he joined several Democratic presidential candidates at the same Democratic fundraiser in Clear Lake, Iowa, that 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama visited during their campaigns.

New York Times - November 15, 2018

'No morals': Facebook advertisers react to report showing company executives put profit ahead of security

Several top marketers were openly critical of the tech giant, a day after The New York Times published an investigation detailing how Facebook’s top executives — Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg — made the company’s growth a priority while ignoring and hiding warning signs over how its data and power were being exploited to disrupt elections and spread toxic content.

The article also spotlighted a lobbying campaign overseen by Ms. Sandberg, who also oversees advertising, that sought to shift public anger to Facebook’s critics and rival tech firms. The revelations may be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer for the Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s biggest ad companies. “Now we know Facebook will do whatever it takes to make money. They have absolutely no morals.” Marketers have grumbled about Facebook in the past, concerned that advertisements could appear next to misinformation and hate speech on the platform. They have complained about how the company handles consumer data and how it measures ads and its user base. But those issues were not enough to outweigh the lure of Facebook’s vast audience and the company’s insistence that it was trying to address its flaws. And after this article was published online, Mr. Tobaccowala called The New York Times to add to his comments. “The people there do,” he said, referring to possessing morals, “but as a business, they seem to have lost their compass.” And while ad agencies or their holding companies, like Publicis, place money on behalf of brands, it is up to the brands to decide whether to advertise on Facebook. “Agencies can make recommendations, but marketers need to decide at what point is this going to be a liability for them,” said Marla Kaplowitz, chief executive of the 4A’s, an industry trade group. So far, very few have been willing to leave the platform. “Advertisers have long taken the position that Facebook was gamed by third parties and bad actors but had always believed that Facebook was taking whatever steps it could to prevent that,” said Rob Norman, a senior adviser at GroupM, the media buying arm of the ad giant WPP, and a longtime industry watcher. Mr. Norman said Facebook should establish an ombudsman role to assess its societal risks, with reports in its regular financial filings. He compared the work to an accounting firm’s audit of a corporation’s finances. “The business should be obliged to report its risk to society versus just financial risks to the business,” Mr. Norman said.

The Guardian - November 14, 2018

A record number of Americans are seeking asylum in Canada

In 2017, some 2,550 US citizens applied for asylum in Canada – an increase of more than sixfold from 2016 and the largest such number since at least 1994, according to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Americans were the third largest contingent of asylum seekers in 2017, after Haitians and Nigerians. The vast majority are children born to Haitian parents, according to experts. “Most of the Americans applying for refugee status are the children of non-residents,” says Stéphane Handfield, a Montreal-based immigration lawyer. “They are US citizens because they were born there, but they come across the border with their parents because they don’t want to be separated.” Trump has repeatedly said he wants to find a way to end birthright citizenship, although legal scholars say this is impossible. Tiroude and Gislyne fled Haiti for Brazil in 2014, in search of work and safety after Gislyne was targeted for her advocacy. Two and a half years later, they headed north after Tiroude lost his job, entering the United States in November 2017 – just as the Trump government announced that it wanted 59,000 Haitians living legally in the US to leave the country. In May, the couple moved again – this time with a newborn baby – becoming some of the roughly 6,000 Haitian asylum seekers who fled the US for Canada last year. “We left because President Trump said he wanted to deport people,” said Tiroude, who, like his wife, didn’t want his last name used. The family flew from Florida to Plattsburgh, New York, and crossed into Canada by way of Roxham Road in Quebec, a remote section of the border which has become a well-trodden path for asylum seekers. Because they crossed the border “irregularly” they were quickly arrested. They claimed asylum and were eventually released to await their hearing in front of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.

ProPublica - November 15, 2018

Trump administration plots costly private-care expansion for veterans

Last June, President Donald Trump signed a landmark law on veterans’ health care after months of tense negotiations. At the ceremony in the Rose Garden, Trump said the bill would deliver on his campaign promise to let veterans see private doctors instead of using the Department of Veterans Affairs’ government-run health service: “I’m going to sign legislation that will make veterans’ choice permanent,” he said.

Standing behind him, the leaders of major veterans groups looked around uncomfortably. What Trump called “choice” these veterans groups called “privatization,” and they’d been warning for years that it would cost taxpayers more money and deliver worse care for veterans. The veterans groups had endorsed the bill, but Trump’s description of it was not what they thought they were there to support. The moment left no doubt that the Trump administration is determined to use the new law to expand the private sector’s role in veterans’ health care. The administration is working on a plan to shift millions more veterans to private doctors and is aiming to unveil the proposal during Trump’s State of Union address in January, according to four people briefed on the proposal. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to disclose information about the administration’s plans. The cost of expanding private care is hard to predict, but VA officials have told Congress and veterans groups that it will range from $13.9 billion to $32.1 billion over five years, the four people said. Since the administration opposes lifting overall government spending, Democrats say the increased cost of private care will come at the expense of the VA’s own health system. Some lawmakers said the administration’s plan defies the purpose of the law they passed. Trump’s first VA secretary said he was forced out by ideologues determined to privatize the department, which he called, in a New York Times op-ed, “a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.” The new secretary has repeatedly denied that privatization is the administration’s goal. But the fact is that Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do: The share of VA care delivered in the private sector has grown to 36 percent from 22 percent in 2014, and the administration is weighing policy changes that would move up to 55 percent of veterans to private providers, according to the people briefed on the deliberations. VA spokesman Curt Cashour wouldn’t comment on those figures. He said the new policies are still under development but “will ensure that VA delivers veterans the best and most timely care possible with maximum continuity — whether it’s at VA or in the community.”

Politico - November 12, 2018

Forget challenging Pelosi. Upstart Democrats need to challenge Hoyer.

It would be folly to dislodge the once and future speaker. If they want fresh blood in party leadership, Democrats should replace her deputy instead.

Enough newly elected and incumbent House Democrats have expressed opposition to returning the speaker’s gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi to make things interesting. It may be unlikely, but the possibility exists that they can persuade enough Democrats to support an alternative in next month’s party caucus vote or, if that fails, deny Pelosi a victory on the House floor. But any serious attempt to oust Pelosi would be brutal and divisive, potentially harming the ability of Democrats to maintain a unified front against the Trump administration. Moreover, Pelosi is one of the most ruthless and effective politicians of her generation. Not only should critics worry about the consequences of losing to her, they should also worry about the consequences of replacing a skilled, experienced tactical leader with an amateur. So what should restless Democrats hungering for “new leadership” in the House do instead? Skip Pelosi. Challenge Steny Hoyer. The Maryland congressman has long been the No. 2 in the House Democratic Caucus, and is positioned to be the next majority leader. At 79, he’s a year older than Pelosi. He has been rivals with her—losing a 2002 contest against her for whip and then, upon her initial ascension to speaker, defeating her preferred candidate for majority leader. But they have since maintained a working relationship. Many Democratic members of Congress have appreciated Hoyer’s tireless fundraising efforts, traveling this election cycle to 134 congressional districts, including critical battlegrounds in Republican-leaning areas. He has also irritated progressive activists , however, by advocating for fiscal restraint of Social Security and Medicare, chiding protesters for confrontational tactics and pressuring left-wing candidates to bow out of swing-district House races.Dislodging Pelosi is difficult in part because as the first woman to be speaker, she is a historic figure with loyal supporters, both inside the Capitol, among the donor class and across the country. There’s also the argument that since Democrats won back the House, she can’t have been much of a drag on the ballot after all. Unceremoniously tossing her out would stoke anger among some Democrats, both of pragmatic and progressive stripes. Not to mention that she’s a master vote-counter, and anyone seeking to unseat her would have to contend with her intimate knowledge of the needs and wants of her caucus. Dumping Hoyer does not present the same risk. More important, for whoever has the gumption to take him on, by jumping the line to become majority leader cues one up to become speaker upon Pelosi’s eventual retirement, which she has already signaled won’t be too far off.

Fox News - November 16, 2018

Broward County, Florida misses machine recount deadline –– by 2 minutes

The top election official in Florida's heavily Democratic Broward County said late Thursday that the county had uploaded the results of its recount two minutes after the state’s 3 p.m. deadline – making its machine recount tally void. Instead, the county's results from last Tuesday’s election will stand until manual recount totals in the state's closely contested Senate race come in Sunday at noon.

GOP Senate candidate Rick Scott's campaign charged that embattled Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes intentionally submitted late results so that they would be invalidated. In the recount, Scott's Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, lost more votes than Scott -- meaning Scott would have seen a net gain of 779 votes if Snipes hadn't been late. The news of the bungled ballot count comes after Snipes boasted about never missing a deadline. “We are excited to be at this point,” she said Thursday afternoon. Later, Snipes acknowledged that "the results were in progress when I came out and made" that statement. "An election like the one we just finished almost has so many moving parts and so many components," Snipes said. "I'm pleased that we were able to accomplish what we did accomplish in the period of time that was available." Other Broward County officials were more blunt. “Basically, I just worked my ass off for nothing,” said Joseph D’Alessandro, Broward County’s election planning and development director. D’Alessandro said he had a hard time uploading the results in time because he wasn’t familiar with the website used to send them to the secretary of state.

Wall Street Journal - November 16, 2018

U.S. is optimistic it will prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

The Justice Department is preparing to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and is increasingly optimistic it will be able to get him into a U.S. courtroom, according to people in Washington familiar with the matter.

Over the past year, U.S. prosecutors have discussed several types of charges they could potentially bring against Mr. Assange, the people said. Mr. Assange has lived in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since receiving political asylum from the South American country in 2012. The people familiar with the case wouldn’t describe whether discussions were under way with the U.K. or Ecuador about Mr. Assange, but said they were encouraged by recent developments. Ecuador’s relationship with Mr. Assange has deteriorated sharply since last year’s election of President Lenin Moreno, who has described him as a “stone in our shoe” and said his continued presence at the embassy is unsustainable. An indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller that portrayed WikiLeaks as a tool of Russian intelligence for releasing thousands of hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign has made it more difficult for Mr. Assange to mount a defense as a journalist. Public opinion of Mr. Assange in the U.S. has dropped since the campaign. Prosecutors have considered publicly indicting Mr. Assange to try to trigger his removal from the embassy, the people said, because a detailed explanation of the evidence against Mr. Assange could give Ecuadorean authorities a reason to turn him over. The exact charges Justice Department might pursue remain unclear, but they may involve the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of national defense-related information.

November 15, 2018

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - November 15, 2018

Texas' robust economic expansion could be slowing

A slight decline in job growth and a cooling off of the Texas housing market may be signs that the state's robust economic expansion could be starting to slow, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.

Although the Texas economy is continuing to expand, the Fed's Texas Economic Update report finds it is "showing signs of moderating." "The Texas economy is continuing to grow at a robust pace, although it's moderating somewhat from what we saw earlier in the year," Dallas Fed Assistant Economist Christopher Slijk said. "Job growth in the third quarter was 2.4 percent, which is down from the previous two quarters but still outpacing the national average." A tight labor market has emerged as unemployment in Texas hit a historical low of 3.8 percent in September (4.1 percent in Houston). In turn, employers here are having difficulties finding qualified workers to fill many key positions, particularly in skilled labor. Job gains are still climbing, with Houston, Austin and El Paso all growing at a 3.9 percent annualized rate. The Texas housing market may be experiencing some supply and demand issues that are causing it to decelerate, the report said. Home sales across the state's major metropolitan areas have been flat in recent months, particularly for those costing $250,000 to $749,000, a range that is largely credited for driving growth in the housing sector over the last few years. The report said that home inventories are at "a very low 3.7 months' supply, suggesting a very tight housing market, which could be constraining home sales," Slijk said. The U.S. Federal Reserve has been raising short-term interest rates this year and is planning to continue to increase them in coming months to help cool down the economy. Mortgage rates have consequently been rising and affecting affordability and purchasing power.

Dallas Morning News - November 14, 2018

Challenger Joanna Cattanach requests recount in race against Dallas GOP state Rep. Morgan Meyer

Joanna Cattanach is still hanging on to hopes that she can win last Tuesday's election for state representative. On Wednesday, the Dallas Democrat filed documents requesting a recount in her race against Republican incumbent Morgan Meyer for District 108, covering the Park Cities and parts of East Dallas and downtown.

When the unofficial results were posted by the Secretary of State's office on election night, Cattanach trailed by 440 votes, or less than 1 percent of the votes cast. Meyer declared victory. Cattanach said she wasn't ready to concede. She said she would wait on the more than 600 military overseas ballots and 1,400 provisional ballots to be processed. Those votes weren't included in the election night results. That count is ongoing, but her campaign consultant Jacob Limon said Wednesday the additional ballots have already narrowed the race by about 200 votes. He said the margins are close enough that they wanted to ask for a recount. Under state law, a candidate may request a recount if the difference between the number of votes received by the petitioner and the number of votes received by the person elected is less than 10 percent of the votes received by the person elected. If the recount doesn't change the results of the election, Cattanach, a journalism and communications professor who once worked for The Dallas Morning News, would have to cover the cost of the recount. Cattanach also filed suit on Tuesday against the Dallas County elections commissioner demanding disclosure of the names of voters who were required to fill out provisional ballots. Her case had not yet been assigned a judge as of Wednesday afternoon. Cattanach's lawsuit came the same day Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democrat who has not conceded against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in the 23rd Congressional District Race, filed a nearly identical petition. A Bexar County judge denied the request, which also requested that the deadline to make official provisional ballots by 48 hours. Meyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

USA Today - November 14, 2018

Michael Avenatti arrested in Los Angeles, denies domestic violence accusations

Michael Avenatti, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who rose to prominence as the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, was arrested and booked on a felony domestic violence charge on Wednesday.

Hours after being taken into custody on the same block where he lives in a skyscraper apartment, Avenatti posted $50,000 bail and strongly denied wrongdoing as he left the Los Angeles Police Department. "I have never struck a woman. I will never strike a woman," Avenatti told reporters, adding that he is and would continue to be an "advocate" for women's rights. The victim in the case had visible injuries, according to Officer Tony Im, a police spokesman. Police declined to provide any details about the victim, including the victim’s relationship to Avenatti. Shortly before he emerged from police headquarters, Avenatti called the allegation against him "completely bogus" in a statement through his law office. “I wish to thank the hard working men and women of the LAPD for their professionalism, they were only doing their jobs in light of the completely bogus allegations against me. I have never been physically abusive in my life nor was I last night," the statement reads. "Any accusations to the contrary are fabricated and meant to do harm to my reputation. I look forward to being fully exonerated.” His ex-wife, Christine Avenatti-Carlin, also issued a statement of support through his law office, labeling Avenatti as a "good man" who "has never been abusive to me or anyone else." Later, Michael Avenatti took to Twitter to thank his supporters, adding "I will not be intimidated into stopping my pursuit of justice and what is right."

CNN - November 14, 2018

Trump's mood takes a foul turn: 'He's pissed –– at damn near everyone'

A political clobbering, bickering aides and now a public grenade launched across the White House by the first lady have placed President Donald Trump in a position he loathes: backed into a corner.

A week after standing in the East Room and declaring victory in the midterm elections, the President is isolated and growing more furious by the day. He's openly speculating about replacing more members of his Cabinet, though so far has stopped short of executing the dismissals, leaving those aides in a career purgatory. At an election night party at the White House, Trump left attendees guessing when he was spotted in a huddle with a potential replacement for his chief of staff, John Kelly, who himself stood awkwardly in a corner. "Yes, he's pissed -- at damn near everyone," a White House official said, noting the mood in the Oval Office is darker than normal this week. After nearly a month straight of campaigning before adoring crowds, the applause has gone silent and the President has retreated. The tempest has led to rampant speculation inside the building about the fates of other senior staffers, some of whom are beginning to plan their exits. Friends of the President describe him as embittered by the election losses and troubled by the Mueller investigation. He met Monday with his lawyers to go over a series of written questions from the special counsel. Some of his longtime confidants are worried for his health, believing he's gained weight and looks unwell. The timing for the President's fury couldn't be worse, considering the White House is heading into uncharted territory with Democrats assuming control of the House. Trump has told some advisers he's itching for the fight, believing it can provide him a political foil. Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller is inching closer to issuing his report on the Russia investigation.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 14, 2018

DMN: We are cautiously optimistic about Texas' next speaker, Dennis Bonnen, with the emphasis on 'cautious'

We’re willing to admit it if you are. We didn’t know enough about state Rep. Dennis Bonnen before he came out of nowhere to wrap up the race for Texas House speaker before it really seemed to begin.

We’re guessing the learning curve was as steep for us as the hill Bonnen, R-Angleton, will have to climb to make sure the state Legislature stays on track for all Texans. For now, we are cautiously optimistic. Or, at the very least, willing to give Bonnen the benefit of the doubt based on some important signals that he isn’t in league with the most extreme elements of the majority party that would bring this state’s business to a grinding halt. Bonnen has already received praise from Gov. Greg Abbott and outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, who said, “I trust that, under Dennis’ leadership, the Texas House will continue to be a place where members work together and put the best interests of Texans first.” We have had differences with Bonnen in the past. He represents the 25th District, an industrial area, home to oil refineries, manufacturing and chemical plants. As such, when he chaired the Texas committee for House Environmental Regulation, we were disappointed by his efforts to slow-walk critical environmental legislation in 2007 by promising to enact those reforms — two years later. Bonnen is undoubtedly conservative, and that’s to the good. But he’s also respectful of the House’s tradition of bipartisanship on behalf of the whole state. One way that Bonnen pledged to show leadership in his new role is in the makeup of House committees. Some of the more staunch conservatives — members of the House Freedom Caucus — wanted only Republicans to chair committees while historically both Democrats and Republicans received those assignments. “I am committed to continuing that legacy of greatness that makes the Texas House stand out from other legislative bodies,” he said during a Capitol news conference. More encouraging was Bonnen’s pledge to make public school financing the top legislative priority in the next session. We’ve opined plenty on these pages how critical public education is to the success of not only Dallas but all of Texas. Our hope is Bonnen can lead in a way that threads the needle of boosting state funding for education while helping local government provide some property tax relief. But we also want to see tangible solutions and not an exercise of throwing money at a problem.

Dallas Morning News - November 14, 2018

What do elections mean for the future of school finance in Texas?

Tired of waiting for a state fix, this month voters approved the Dallas, Richardson and Frisco districts' pleas to funnel millions more a year for schools locally. But now school leaders are worried about what's next. They're out of financial maneuvers after successful elections put them at the maximum property tax rate for operations.

The increase will only sustain them for so long as costs continue to rise and the state's share shrinks. So they're counting on lawmakers to do something about it. And the shift in the Legislature after last week's elections could significantly impact the direction of school finance as Democrats flipped key seats once held by Republicans. Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa noted that many candidates were discussing public school needs during the election season. He hopes that means lawmakers will be responsive. "I'm more encouraged now after the election, especially because our delegation has shifted a lot," Hinojosa said. "A lot of races statewide were closer than many thought they would be. ... So I'm hoping that this presents more opportunity for dialogue." But the future of school finance is anyone's guess. And school leaders say they aren't getting their hopes up. The state's share will drop by about $3.5 billion over the next two years unless funding changes are made. Local property taxes has been bolstering more of the cost and expected to provide nearly 56 percent compared to the state's 35 percent. Monday was the first day to file bills for the session which starts in January, and already a handful tackle tweaks to funding. On Tuesday as part of a commission on school finance, a committee met to discuss where more money for schools might come from. Gov. Greg Abbott's office has floated a proposal that includes finding ways to decrease property tax rates while finding more state money for schools. Lawmakers have long said they want to fix school finance once and for all. But the current system is so complex that major overhauls by the Legislature have only happened after the courts force them do so. Lawmakers came close to a solution in 2017. But a major school finance bill was derailed when the more conservative Senate attached legislation to it that would have allowed families to use taxpayer money to pay for private schools. The House refused to accept such a provision. But two Dallas-area senators who supported the voucher-like effort lost their re-election bids to challengers opposed to funneling taxpayer money away from public schools for private school tuition. Their loss could mean such legislation is a non-starter this time around.

Dallas Morning News - November 14, 2018

National Guardsman deployed to border tried to rape colleague at West Texas motel, police say

A National Guardsman tried to rape a female colleague at a West Texas motel this week, authorities say. Police in Alpine, about 70 miles from the border with Mexico, arrested Luis Carlos Ontiveros, 30, on a charge of sexual assault just after 4 a.m. Monday.

According to an arrest-warrant affidavit obtained by KOSA-TV, officers were called to America's Best Value Inn on the east side of town, where a woman reported that Ontiveros sexually assaulted her. The woman told an officer that she and several other people had been drinking in a hotel room. When she threw up, Ontiveros offered to accompany her back to her room, she said. Once she got in bed, the affidavit says, Ontiveros told her that if she "did not wake up he was going to kiss her," then took off her clothes and touched her "inappropriately." The woman, still nude, ran to a neighboring hotel room and pounded on the door, telling the occupant that Ontiveros had tried to rape her, KOSA reported. The woman also is a member of the National Guard, authorities said. A spokeswoman for the Texas Military Department, which comprises the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard and Texas State Guard, said the agency would be investigating. "We are taking these allegations very seriously and will be opening up an inquiry into what happened," Laura L. Lopez told The Daily Beast. Ontiveros was released from the Brewster County jail on $20,000 bond Tuesday. About 2,100 members of the National Guard were deployed to areas near the border in Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico earlier this year to help with what President Donald Trump called a "crisis" of immigrants seeking to cross into the United States. The roughly 1,000 Guard members in Texas are unarmed and provide support to the Border Patrol, the Military Times reported.

Houston Chronicle - November 15, 2018

Houston Republican Dan Crenshaw’s next mission: ‘Make conservatism cool.’ So far, so good

For Dan Crenshaw, fame came like “a sudden, blinding spotlight,” not unlike the IED blast that cost him an eye as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan six years ago.

Joining a freshman class with at least 15 other veterans newly elected as U.S. House members, the Houston Republican is quickly emerging as one of the bright lights in a party that comes shuffling out of the midterm elections from a wave that put President Donald Trump in check and handed Democrats control of the House. For Republicans, the welcome fresh face comes bearing an eye-patch recognized by the entire nation, thanks largely to well-received Saturday Night Live appearance days after his election in Houston’s Second Congressional District. “Americans can forgive one another,” Crenshaw said in his SNL debut, accepting the apology of comedian Pete Davidson, who had mocked the wounded veteran, saying he looks like “a hitman in a porno movie." Crenshaw’s call for civility was a star turn after a campaign season laden with Trump-inspired vendetta. “It was a great moment for the country,” said Austin campaign strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who likes to talk about politics as being “downstream” from culture. “I don’t know who coined that phrase, but it’s something that stuck with me,” Steinhauser said. “Culture, and of course pop culture, has a big influence on politics.” It also has intensified interest in the role Crenshaw might play in the new Republican House minority. Crenshaw gave one of his first clues Wednesday in an essay on civility penned for the Washington Post, a rare platform for a congressman-elect from either party. “The left and the right have different ways of approaching governance,” he wrote. “But many of the ultimate goals - economic prosperity, better health care and education, etc. - are the same. We just don’t share the same vision of how to achieve them.” For many Republicans, especially those outside of Texas, Crenshaw seemed to come out of nowhere to play peacemaker in a divided Congress. Though a conservative in the tea party mold, Crenshaw was not the first pick of much of the Texas Republican Party leadership. Two top conservative stalwarts in the state, Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, both backed one of his better-funded opponents in the GOP primary, Kathaleen Wall. Crenshaw managed to edge her out of a runoff, and then won the GOP nomination against state Rep. Kevin Roberts, who had the support of Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. Trump overlooked Crenshaw at his rally in Houston last month. Instead, the president encouraged Texans to re-elect incumbent Republican Ted Poe, despite Poe’s impending retirement. Now the question is, will Crenshaw be the sort of Texas Republican who reflexively swears fealty to all things Trump, or will he follow the lead of another young Texas GOP ingénue, former CIA officer Will Hurd, and forge his own path in the House? Having defeated Democrat Todd Litton in a diverse but Republican-leaning district, Crenshaw will replace the 70-year-old Poe, a former judge in Harris County who has served in Congress since 2005. Poe praised his successor’s maverick status. “He’s not beholden to the party leadership,” Poe said. “Not that he would be if he’d had their support. But he’s going to be his own person, for a lot of reasons.”

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

Emmett not ruling out return to public service: ‘We’ll see what the future holds’

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday did not rule out returning to public service after he gives up the gavel in January, but made clear he first would return to the private sector following last week’s re-election loss.

Democrat Lina Hidalgo defeated Emmett, a Republican who has helmed Harris County government since 2007. She will assume office Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Emmett said he planned to work with Hidalgo to ensure she transitions smoothly into the role. With two Commissioners Court meetings left in his term, Emmett likely will decide on his next move in early December and told reporters he faces “numerous options.” “You know, I had a life before I became county judge,” Emmett, 69, said after his first post-election court meeting. “As I’ve told many people, you know, I didn’t die.” Emmett continued to attribute his defeat to what he characterized as an insurmountable straight-ticket vote deficit, pointing to Democrats’ countywide advantage of more than 104,000 party votes over Republicans. “The county judge position is buried way down in the middle of the ballot. I made up 87,000 of them, but that just wasn’t enough,” Emmett said. “There aren’t enough non-straight-ticket voters out there to make up that difference.” Emmett also offered praise for Hidalgo, with whom he plans to meet Wednesday. The two spoke over the phone Monday, Emmett said. “She won an election. She’s bright and engaging and she’ll have people around her,” Emmett said. “You have to remember, the county has, what, 15,000 employees. They’re professional, they do very well. So, she’ll be fine.” Hidalgo, 27, will become Harris County’s first female and Latina county judge. She was pursuing a joint degree in public policy and law, but put her education on pause to seek the county judge seat, her first campaign for office. She has not yet attended a Commissioners Court meeting and was not present Tuesday. Emmett said he would remain interested in how the revamped court handles Harris County’s growing unincorporated population, and remained willing to offer “anything I can do to help that.” However, Emmett also indicated he would not hover over Hidalgo’s shoulder upon leaving office.

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

Energy fears mount as oil plunges with biggest drop in three years

Oil prices plunged Tuesday in the sharpest single-day decline since the days of the last oil bust in 2015. Crude fell 7 percent in New York to just over $55 a barrel, extending its recent losing streak to a record 12 trading sessions and falling to its lowest level in a year.

Oil has slid 27 percent since its recent peak of about $76 a barrel in early October. The plunge is creating anxieties in the Houston energy sector, where memories of the last oil bust are still fresh. Consumers, however, will enjoy lower gasoline prices as they travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. The recent collapse in crude prices is primarily a supply-and-demand story. Just over a month ago, traders were betting on a supply crunch as U.S. sanctions took Iranian oil off the market and production dwindled in crisis-ridden Venezuela. Today, the focus has returned to potential glut as U.S. production has soared to a projected record of 11.6 million barrels a day and inventories have increased by millions of barrels in recent weeks. The world’s other top producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia, also have increased output, while Iran likely will export more oil than anticipated after the White House last week granted waivers from sanctions to some of the world’s biggest energy consumers, including China, India and Japan. President Donald Trump on Monday contributed to market’s jitters by calling on OPEC to produce more oil to keep fuel prices low. Those jitters turned to panic on Tuesday after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries revised its global oil demand projections downward for 2019 because of softening economic growth. “I’m increasingly more concerned than I was just two weeks ago,” said Jim Wicklund, an energy analyst at the financial services company Credit Suisse in Dallas. “I don’t know where the oil price bottoms. I just don’t see that much excess supply and that much evaporation of demand to warrant this.”

Houston Chronicle - November 14, 2018

Former Cruz, Paxton staffer for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nominee faces tough questions

A former advisor to Sen. Ted Cruz and chief of staff to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is at the center of the debate around President Donald Trump’s efforts to prop up struggling coal and nuclear power plants.

Bernard McNamee, who leads the U.S. Department of Energy’s policy office, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday on his nomination to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. With everyone from oil companies to environmentalists lined up against the Trump administration’s efforts to bail out coal and nuclear plants, Republicans and Democrats alike are expected to question McNamee closely on his involvement in Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s ongoing examination of whether the steady replacement of coal and nuclear power plants with gas plants and wind and solar farms poses a risk of blackouts. “There will be a lot of questions at the hearing on Thursday from people wanting to know where McNamee stands,” said John Moore, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. In January, FERC unanimously rejected Perry’s proposal to raise wholesale power rates for coal and nuclear plants, following bipartisan criticism such a move amounted to a disregard of the free-market principles the U.S. power grid has long operated on. Since then the Department of Energy has examined other maneuvers, including the use of federal emergency powers such as those used to impose price controls when blackouts swept California in 2000 after energy traders, led by Housto-based Enron manipulated the market to drive up power prices. Months after a memo outlining those options leaked to the media, no action has been taken. But Perry remains under pressure from President Donald Trump, who in June ordered the former Texas governor to take “immediate steps” to prevent the closure of any more coal and nuclear plants. “I don’t think you’ve seen the last of it,” said Dipka Bhambhani, communications director at the U.S. Energy Association, a group of energy-related companies, government agences and other public and private energy-related organizations..

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

Lupe Valdez’s gun wasn’t the only one misplaced at Dallas sheriff’s office

On top of a filing cabinet in room 100, next to a box of miscellaneous guns. That’s where the Beretta 9 mm pistol issued to former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez sat during her unsuccessful campaign for governor, as the reportedly missing firearm fueled the only attack ad against her in the race.

A recently concluded internal investigation by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department obtained by Hearst Newspapers reveals the former sheriff’s gun wasn’t the only one lost in the department’s property room. A flash drive with a password known to only one employee was the key to the department’s system for tracking the weapons assigned to more than 340 deputies. “If anything did happen to the property room Clerk, the Department would lose its entire county weapons inventory as the spreadsheet is password protected with no one else having the password,” the internal investigation found. What’s more, the hunt for Valdez’s gun turned up several misplaced county firearms, including a Desert Eagle pistol and a Colt .45 that were missing from the inventory list. Others were recorded incorrectly, with the database showing them checked out when they were really on the shelf, according to the investigation records. Usually, law enforcement agencies keep tight control over their weapons inventory to ensure guns aren’t lost or stolen, said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. “You don’t want those guns floating into the wrong hands,” said Stinson, who tracks police-involved crimes across the nation. In the past, officers have been arrested for selling their service weapons or taking them home to keep, Stinson said. No guns are currently reported missing from Dallas County Sheriff’s office, said spokesman Raul Reyna. The internal investigation ended with a mea culpa from the sheriff’s department and a reprimand and reassignment for a deputy overseeing the property room.

San Antonio Express-News - November 14, 2018

San Antonio apprenticeship first federally registered program of its kind

A local digital marketing apprenticeship is the first of its kind to be registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, officials said Wednesday. The Digital Creative Institute’s program combines training with on-the-job experience. Apprentices work in a digital marketing role full time and attend classes several evenings per week. They work with coaches, develop a portfolio and earn industry certifications.

DCI launched their first cohort in 2016 and has locations at Geekdom in San Antonio and in Austin. There’s a three-month pre-apprenticeship, where participants spend time working on their résumé and portfolio. The program itself lasts 12 months. The federal recognition means they can access more federal, state, county and city resources and help offset some of the cost, DCI CEO Brad Voeller said. Tuition is $14,000, and apprentices are responsible for $12,000, according to DCI’s website. Employers handle $2,000 and the rest is taken out of apprentices’ payroll. There are many different kinds of apprenticeships registered with the DOL, but this is the first digital marketing apprenticeship, Voeller said. Digital apprenticeships are growing, he added. College graduates often don’t have the digital hard and soft skills employers are looking for, and the program is intended to help bridge that gap, he said. But the challenge is that employers often don’t understand the program and tend to think of apprenticeships as being focused on trades, he said. Davone Hills, a current apprentice, said the program has been “transformative.” Hills, 28, had some past web experience but was looking for a path into digital marketing. He’s now about three-fourths of the way through the program and is working for Argo Group. “It really gave me an opportunity,” Hills said. “I could focus on learning.” The model is effective, said Troy Johnson, a DOL apprenticeship and training representative. There are currently about 500,000 registered apprenticeships, a number the department is looking to double by September 2019, he said.

San Antonio Express-News - November 14, 2018

Probing fatal crash, Air Force halts flights at Del Rio base

All flights at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio were grounded Wednesday as the Air Force investigated the crash of a training jet, a base spokeswoman said. The twin-seat supersonic T-38C Talon crashed about 7:40 p.m. Tuesday, killing the instructor pilot, Capt. John F. Graziano, 28, of Elkridge, Maryland, and injuring Capt. Mark S. Palyok, who was sent to a local hospital.

He was treated and released. “Knowing how everyone is affected by this tragedy, my immediate concern is making sure that every member of our Laughlin family is okay,” said Col. Lee Gentile, commander of the 47th Flying Training Wing at Laughlin. “Together, we are Laughlin and now is the time that we stand together to take care of one another.” The crash was the second at Laughlin in just less than a year involving the Talon, which is one of the oldest jets in the Air Force fleet, and prompted the base to suspend T-38 flying operations at Laughlin on Wednesday and into Thursday. The Air Education and Training Command called the decision to halt flying operations after an accident “normal procedure to pay respect to the deceased” and noted it is also “a part of the Air Force safety investigation process.” AETC, responding to questions from the San Antonio Express-News, said the command’s T-38 fleet had not been grounded. The command also said there have been four T-38 accidents across AETC over the past year. The last one occurred Nov. 20, when a hydraulic failure caused a Talon to crash near Lake Amistad outside Del Rio. An instructor pilot, Capt. Paul J. Barbour, 32, of Van Nuys, California, was killed after he could not eject. An Air Force investigation revealed that he forgot to arm his ejection seat and was trapped in the cockpit as the plane plunged to the ground. Another pilot ejected with minor injuries.

Austin American-Statesman - November 14, 2018

Army Futures Command looks to partner with Texas A&M

When the U.S. Army in July selected Austin for the headquarters of its Futures Command tech center, it did so not only because of the city’s tech talent and culture, but also because of resources it saw available throughout the state.

One of the most notable was Texas A&M University, which is now poised to join the Futures Command’s efforts in creating new technologies for the military, with the university offering access to its array of researchers, testing spaces and other tools. Gen. John Murray, commanding general for the Futures Command, and a handful of Army officials are visiting College Station on Thursday and Friday to meet with A&M officials and iron out a partnership, which is likely to include Army aerial and land vehicle testing at the university and other technology initiatives. The Futures Command’s leaders “understood we have to partner with the best of academia and research” to succeed, Futures Command spokesman Patrick Seiber said. “When you have great academic institutions ... that is a draw. There are already things that Texas A&M is doing for research.” The main opportunity for the Futures Command exists at the university’s RELLIS campus, which is home to a flight test station where aerial and ground vehicles can perform drills. (RELLIS is an acronym for the seven Aggie Core values of respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service.) The Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which has been a testing ground for autonomous vehicles and other technology, also has a research base there. In addition, Texas A&M has what it calls a “Disaster City,” a 52-acre mock community equipped with collapsible structures and other wreckage designed to train emergency respondents. There are also communication system simulators and wind tunnels at the university. Texas A&M envisions the Army testing new vehicles, drones and devices it develops at the campuses, a possibility that could include anything from gadgets the Army needs to study to combat scenarios it wants to mimic, said Steve Cambone, former U.S. Department of Defense undersecretary of defense for intelligence who now serves as A&M’s associate vice chancellor for cyber-security. “The contribution to the mission of the Futures Command is an important thing to the university,” Cambone said. “There is research that needs to be done, and that research needs to be done here. It will benefit students and faculty.” The first facility of its kind, the Futures Command has its central offices inside the University of Texas System building in Austin, and it also has a space at downtown Austin tech hub Capital Factory. Military officials have said the center will serve as a headquarters for the Army to modernize its vehicles, weapons, equipment and other tools.

Reuters - November 14, 2018

U.S. safety board holds hearing on fatal Southwest engine explosion

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigative hearing on Wednesday into the fatal engine explosion on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that killed one passenger.

Dallas-based Southwest has been under scrutiny since an engine on a flight headed from New York to Dallas blew apart in mid-air over Pennsylvania, shattering a plane window, flinging shrapnel and killing passenger Jennifer Riordan, one of 149 people aboard. The episode, which has raised concerns about the safety of similar engines, was the first fatality on a U.S. commercial passenger airline since 2009. The hearing in Washington turned to a detailed summary of the engine failure on flight 1380, including details of the fan blade design and development history of the engine type that failed, a CFM56-7B made by CFM International, a transatlantic joint-venture between General Electric and France’s Safran. The hearing also focused on engine fan blade inspection methods. A CFM representative told the NTSB panel that coating condition, lubrication and the length of operating time contributed to the fan blade separation. The NTSB also released factual findings that disclosed the flight crew had difficulty reaching flight attendants after the engine failed and did not immediately learn that a passenger had been injured. The engine on the plane’s left side spewed shrapnel when it blew apart, shattering a window and causing rapid cabin depressurization that nearly pulled a female passenger through the hole, the NTSB said. The NTSB report said two passengers were eventually able to pull the woman, who was still in her seat belt, back inside the plane.

City Stories

Rivard Report - November 14, 2018

Bond rating agency to discuss impact of propositions with San Antonio city management

San Antonio could be looking at a downgrade of its long-held, gold-star bond rating after the passage of two city charter amendments last week, according to a bond rating agency representative.

What would normally be a routine meeting between Fitch Ratings, one of the nation's three largest bond rating agencies, and the City of San Antonio next month about finances, debt plans, and the economy also will address how these propositions impact the City's management and financial flexibility, said Jose Acosta, a senior director at Fitch. Voters approved Proposition B, which sets a term limit for future city managers and caps their annual pay at 10 times the lowest-paid, full-time city employee, and Proposition C, which gave the firefighters union the ability to declare an impasse in its contract negotiations with the City and force binding arbitration on a new labor deal. "Proposition C is the most consequential in the near term," according to a Fitch news release Wednesday. "Under the revised city charter, the unilateral ability for the union to call for binding arbitration before participating in any good-faith labor negotiations is likely to reduce the city's ability to control its expenditures." Ratings are typically reviewed when an entity approaches the market to sell debt, such as a bond issue. The better the rating, the lower the interest rates. A rating decrease is associated with higher interest payments on debt. Fitch is also wary of the possible impacts of Proposition B, Acosta said. Under the proposition, a future city manager would be paid roughly $300,000, compared to current City Manager Sheryl Sculley's $475,000 salary and potential $100,000 bonus. "Any savings they accrue [from the city manager's salary] would be negligible compared to the city's overall budget [of $2.8 billion]," the Fitch release said. "We'd be more concerned about the City's ability to hire the most qualified person to run such a large city on that salary." Jeff Coyle, the City's government and public affairs director who participates in all rating agency reviews, said the City will strive to keep its gold-star, AAA rating. "I am sure Fitch will ask about overall revenue and expense picture for the city," Coyle said. "We will do everything in our power to address their concerns and maintain our AAA rating."

National Stories

New York Times - November 14, 2018

Facebook has gone on the attack as one scandal after another, which has led to a congressional and consumer backlash.

In just over a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, a global nation unto itself that reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world.

Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500. But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives. When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem. And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack. While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, persuading a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic. In Washington, allies of Facebook, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate leader, intervened on its behalf. And Ms. Sandberg wooed or cajoled hostile lawmakers, while trying to dispel Facebook’s reputation as a bastion of Bay Area liberalism. This account of how Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg navigated Facebook’s cascading crises, much of which has not been previously reported, is based on interviews with more than 50 people. They include current and former Facebook executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed confidentiality agreements, were not authorized to speak to reporters or feared retaliation. Facebook declined to make Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg available for comment. In a statement, a spokesman acknowledged that Facebook had been slow to address its challenges but had since made progress fixing the platform.

New York Times - November 15, 2018

Nate Cohn: Weak spots in Democrats’ strong midterm results point to challenges in 2020

Democrats had a great showing in the 2018 midterm elections. But even in such a strong year, they sometimes struggled to match their traditional support in electorally significant areas — with serious implications for 2020.

Their triumph was a somewhat narrow one, concentrated in well-educated, affluent communities. Over all, the distribution of Democratic and Republican support was reminiscent of the 2016 election, when Democrats won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. Yes, Democrats can muscle their way through those disadvantages with a big enough win, like their seven-point advantage in the House popular vote. But white voters without a degree are overrepresented in the most important Midwestern battleground states. The most straightforward alternative for Democrats goes through Florida, which probably gave Republicans their most promising results last week. Florida was probably the biggest disappointment for Democrats last week, and Miami-Dade County the biggest single cause for it. Hillary Clinton won Miami-Dade by 29 points; the incumbent Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, won it by only 21 points. Democratic weakness in the county may well prove to be decisive in the Senate race and the governor’s race, once the recounts are done. The county includes one in 10 of the state’s voters, and, in general, Democrats got what they needed across most of the rest of the state. They won traditionally Republican Duval County (Jacksonville) and Seminole County (northern suburbs of Orlando; Sanford). They won Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) by a comfortable margin, and ran generally even or ahead of Mrs. Clinton elsewhere in the state. Miami-Dade wasn’t the only place where Democrats were weak in predominantly nonwhite areas. In particular, they struggled to match Mrs. Clinton’s already tepid margins in rural nonwhite communities. In the Georgia governor’s race, Stacey Abrams often ran behind Mrs. Clinton and the previous Democratic candidate for governor, Jason Carter, across much of the state’s rural and sometimes mostly black areas. This could have been a result of Republican strength among white voters in the region: In Hancock County, the state’s most Democratic, predominantly black rural county, the Republican nominee Brian Kemp won more raw votes than Mr. Trump did, 870 to 843. Ms. Abrams fell short of matching Mrs. Clinton, 2,645 to 2,701. In the Texas Senate race, Beto O’Rourke also struggled to match Mrs. Clinton’s performance across largely Hispanic South Texas. His margin of victory was smaller than Mrs. Clinton’s in Hidalgo County. Democrats had a solid night in the Midwest, winning Senate races in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and flipping the governor’s mansions in Wisconsin, Michigan and Kansas. The statewide results give the impression of a Democratic resurgence in the region. But they won without surging back where Mr. Trump made big gains in 2016. Democrats struggled, to a surprising extent given the national environment, in the old mining and industrial towns where the party used to dominate. Instead, they won with big margins in the suburbs, and with a healthier performance in rural areas and agricultural communities where the Democrats weren’t so dominant in the 20th century. Although Democrats proved they could win back Midwestern states without their old strength in industrial-era Democratic bastions, this is a tougher route to victory in states where white voters without a degree represent an above average share of voters.

New York Times - November 14, 2018

Trump endorses easing some mandatory sentencing laws

President Trump threw his support behind a substantial rewrite of the nation’s prison and sentencing laws on Wednesday, opening a potential but narrow path to enacting the most significant criminal justice overhaul in a generation.

Mr. Trump’s endorsement is considered critical to the success of the bipartisan compromise, which would invest heavily in anti-recidivism programs and lower some mandatory minimum sentences. “It’s the right thing to do,” the president said at an event at the White House, flanked by Republican lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others who have lobbied for the changes. He urged Congress to promptly send him a final bill to sign. And in a reference to the tough-on-crime policies embraced by President Bill Clinton, Mr. Trump touted that the legislation would begin to roll back portions of the “Clinton crime bill” that had a “very disproportionate and very unfair” effect on black Americans. His support could give political cover to Republicans wary of reducing some hard-line sentencing rules for drug and other offenses, and enable the legislation’s sponsors to assemble a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in time to move a bill before the year’s end — and before the new, divided Congress is seated. But even with Mr. Trump on board, proponents must now compete with a rapidly narrowing window to move a complicated bill with broad implications for the United States’ criminal justice system. As of Wednesday morning, many senators had not yet even seen a draft of the bill, and many conservatives were thought to be firmly against it. “We don’t have a whole lot of time left,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, told reporters on Wednesday. Mr. McConnell had previously pledged to take up the bill if it had at least 60 senators supporting it. But he added that given the date, he would also have to “see how it stacks up against our other priorities going into the end of our session.” The tentative legislative package, called the First Step Act, builds on a prison overhaul bill passed overwhelmingly this year by the House by adding changes that would begin to unwind some of the tough-on-crime federal policies of the 1980s and 1990s — which have incarcerated African-American offenders at much higher rates than white offenders. The changes include shortening mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses and changing the “three strikes” penalty to 25 years from life in prison. They would give judges greater ability to use so-called safety valves to sidestep mandatory minimums in some cases. And the bill would clarify that the so-called stacking mechanism making it a federal crime to possess a firearm while committing another crime, like a drug offense, should apply only to individuals who have previously been convicted.

USA Today - November 15, 2018

Sen. Jeff Flake draws the line: Protect Mueller probe or no new federal judges

Sen. Jeff Flake drew a dramatic new line against President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans on Wednesday, promising to vote against new federal judges unless the Senate protects special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Flake, a lame-duck Arizona Republican, could jeopardize dozens of judicial nominations Senate GOP leaders want to push through before the current Congress ends in early January. His move comes days after Trump installed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, a position that effectively places him in charge of the Mueller investigation. Whitaker's earlier public remarks have sketched out ways to undermine Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice afterward. On Wednesday, Flake sought unanimous consent to pass a bill with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, to protect the investigation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, immediately scuttled that request. Flake, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who leaves office in January, offered a swift response of his own. "Because (the legislation) has failed today, Sen. Coons and I are prepared to raise it again and again, until there is a vote on this vital bipartisan legislation on the Senate floor," Flake said. "I have informed the majority leader that I will not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee, or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting a confirmation vote on the floor, until (the bill) is brought to the full Senate for a vote." Other Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have said they don't think any protection for Mueller's investigation is needed. Flake's move puts him in a now-familiar position of battling Trump's agenda, but throws down his most serious threat to date. Earlier this year, Flake withheld support from approving circuit judges in a dispute with the White House over tariffs. Without Flake's support, Republicans would need Democratic help to pass any nominee out of the Judiciary Committee by the usual process, which seems unlikely. For nominees who have already made it out of the committee, Flake's opposition means the GOP can't afford any other Republicans to vote against confirmation without Democratic support. "I think the senator has a lot of leverage here," said Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond. Trump and Republicans have touted their aggressive confirmation of federal judges as perhaps their most consequential action, Tobias said. "That's going to come to a crashing halt if Flake holds out," he said.

USA Today - November 14, 2018

President Trump reassigns Mira Ricardel, the deputy national security adviser the first lady wanted fired

The White House announced Tuesday that Mira Ricardel – the deputy national security adviser targeted by first lady Melania Trump – will step down from her current post and be moved to a different job in the administration.

Ricardel will "transition to a new role within the administration," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement Wednesday. "The president is grateful for Ms. Ricardel’s continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of his national security priorities." Sanders did not say what new job Ricardel would be given. A spokesman for the National Security Council declined to comment on Ricardel's ouster from her high-level position. Melania Trump publicly pushed to have Ricardel fired on Tuesday, an unusual move for a first lady. Ricardel "no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House," the first lady's spokeswoman said in a statement to reporters Tuesday. White House officials said Ricardel argued with Melania Trump's staff over airplane seating for the first lady's recent trip to Africa. They accused Ricardel, who did not go on the Africa trip, of spreading false stories about the incident. National Security Adviser John Bolton appointed Ricardel as his deputy earlier this year, citing her expertise on defense policy, arms control, and other national security matters. Officials said Ricardel has clashed with many staff members, not just the first lady.

Washington Post - November 14, 2018

Mattis calls deployment to the border ‘great training’ as he visits troops in Texas

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis described the deployment to the border as “great training” and told active-duty soldiers in Texas not to pay attention to the news coverage of the operation because they would “go nuts.”

Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited troops near the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday, a little over two weeks after President Trump dispatched thousands of active-duty forces in anticipation of a Central American migrant caravan. Critics assailed Trump for sending such a large contingent of troops to the border ahead of the midterm elections, accusing him of mounting an unnecessary stunt designed to fire up anti-immigration sentiment among his political base. But Mattis has defended the operation to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection, saying the American military “doesn’t do stunts.” His trip on Wednesday escalated that defense into a public relations foray that presented the operation as legal, necessary and run-of-the-mill. During the flight to Texas, Mattis described the operation as a “moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen” and cited previous military operations on the border, dating back to President Woodrow Wilson’s deployment of the U.S. Army there to counteract Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s forces. “We determined that the mission was absolutely legal, and this was also reviewed by Department of Justice lawyers,” Mattis said on the plane. “It’s obviously a moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen. There’s nothing new under the sun.” The National Guard deployed to the border during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama to aid the Border Patrol, but active-duty forces haven’t deployed there since counternarcotics missions decades ago. The defense secretary suggested the soldiers should disregard the controversy surrounding the mission that has surfaced in the news media. “There’s all sorts of stuff in the news, and that sort of thing,” Mattis told a group of soldiers. “You just concentrate on what your company commander, your battalion commander, tells you. Because if you read all that stuff, you know, you’ll go nuts.” Mattis also sought to present the border deployment as good training for U.S. forces, arguing that the mission would improve their readiness and counteracting criticism that Trump was wasting the time and money of the armed forces for political effect. “What a great training,” Mattis told one of the soldiers in Texas as he walked through the installation with Nielsen. “We could not have had a better training event.”

Washington Post - November 14, 2018

Does your vote count in Florida? It might depend on your signature.

It’s the hanging chad of 2018: the mismatched signature. Eighteen years ago, the last time the nation watched a recount unfold, election officials studied bits of paper dangling from punched ballots to glean voter intent — and to determine whether George W. Bush or Al Gore would be the next president.

This year, they are studying how voters loop their Hs. A federal judge in Tallahassee began hearing arguments Wednesday about whether election officials may toss 4,000 ballots with signatures that don’t match existing voter records. The suit was brought by Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, who is hoping to overtake Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a statewide recount. It is one of many lawsuits flying in state and federal court in the closely watched Senate race. Voter signatures have taken on outsize importance because they are typically required on absentee and mail-in ballots, which more and more Americans are using to vote. As Republicans and Democrats spar over which ballots should count in unresolved elections in Florida and Georgia, many of their disputes have centered on whether to accept ballots where the signature doesn’t match. The issue is acute in close races where absentee ballots could sway the outcome — and in states where voting by mail has exploded without a standardized system for checking the validity of a signature, the most common way to verify that a mail-in ballot is legal. All of it has created an uproar among voting-rights advocates, who say that untrained election workers are tossing eligible ballots, often with no chance for the voter to object or fix the ballot. “I had zero recourse here,” said Patrick Murphy, a former Democratic congressman from Palm Beach who learned after the election that his absentee ballot had been rejected because of a mismatched signature — too late for him to do anything about it. Murphy, 35, said he’s had the same signature since he got his driver’s license at 16, so he thinks it’s ridiculous that his ballot was tossed. “In elections, especially in Florida, that are within .5 percent or .25 percent, to have nonexperts be deciding this, seems a little silly to me,” he said. The issue is increasingly the subject of litigation elsewhere, too. In a Georgia case similar to the one heard Wednesday in Florida, a federal judge ordered officials to stop summarily tossing absentee ballots without giving voters a chance to fix them. Georgia election officials are still counting provisional and absentee ballots in a contentious governor’s race in which Democrat Stacey Abrams is hoping to force a runoff against Republican Brian Kemp. Opinions on the issue are divided starkly along partisan lines, with Democrats arguing for more recourse for voters and Republicans defending strict laws to guard against voter fraud.

CNN - November 14, 2018

Judge in CNN v. Trump case says he will rule on Thursday

The first hearing in CNN and Jim Acosta's federal lawsuit against President Trump and several top White House aides ended with the judge saying that he would rule on Thursday.

CNN and Acosta are alleging that the White House's suspension of his press pass violates the First and Fifth Amendments. Their lawyers are asking for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction that would restore his pass right away. They also want the administration's action deemed unconstitutional. CNN and Acosta filed suit on Tuesday. The case was assigned to Judge Timothy J. Kelly, a Trump appointee. On Wednesday afternoon Kelly heard arguments over the proposed temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction from Theodore Boutrous, an attorney representing CNN, and Justice Department attorney James Burnham. The judge began by probing CNN's arguments for the better part of an hour. Then he questioned Burnham and heard rebuttals from Boutrous. The hearing lasted for nearly two hours, with Kelly scrutinizing both sides, drilling down especially deep on some of CNN's arguments. Before dismissing court, Kelly said he would rule on the temporary restraining order Thursday at 3 p.m. Outside the courthouse, Boutrous told reporters that the "judge was very very focused on the key issues of the case." Boutrous said he is grateful the judge "gave us such a serious hearing" and said he is "very much looking forward to his ruling tomorrow." Kelly opened the hearing by quizzing Boutrous on the network's First Amendment claim and asking how the President's history of attacks on CNN should be viewed in the context of the lawsuit. Boutrous rattled off examples of Trump's missives against CNN, including his claim that the network is an "enemy of the people." Kelly expressed skepticism that this proves the Acosta ban is "content-based discrimination," as CNN is alleging. Kelly said there is some evidence that Acosta's conduct -- not his content -- led the White House to suspend his press pass.

Politico - November 14, 2018

Pelosi's campaign for speaker hits snag as potential challenger emerges

A potential challenger to Nancy Pelosi emerged on Wednesday as her critics worked behind the scenes to try to deny her the votes to be speaker. Former Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that she is considering a bid for the gavel.

Fudge, who has signed a letter vowing to oppose Pelosi on the House floor, does not believe the California Democrat can clinch the 218 votes needed to return to her old position. "People are asking me to do it, and I am thinking about it," Fudge said. "I need to give it some thought and see if I have an interest. I am at the very beginning of this process. It is just in discussion at this point." Fudge’s announcement comes as a tug of war within the House Democratic Caucus over the next speaker of the House kicked into high gear Wednesday. Pelosi leaned on incoming Democrats who've signaled a desire for new leadership — and her critics implored them to hold firm. Fudge is among 17 incoming lawmakers and incumbents who have signed onto a yet-to-be-released letter vowing to vote against Pelosi on the floor. It's a major problem for the Californian's campaign to recapture the job. The letter does not include signatures from several other incoming freshmen who have said they will not back Pelosi on the floor but are uncomfortable signing at the moment. Pelosi vowed Wednesday morning in no uncertain terms to vanquish her opponents. And her allies believe they can pick off the lawmakers on the letter with promises of committee posts or other prime positions. Asked about Rep. Seth Moulton's suggestion Tuesday night that he is “100 percent confident” that she does not have the votes, Pelosi deadpanned: “I’m a busy person, but I will be the speaker of the House no matter what he said." But Pelosi's critics argue that their numbers are growing, not shrinking. And they're trying to encourage the freshmen — many of whom vowed on the campaign trail not to support Pelosi or promised to vote for "new leadership" — not to cave to the arm-twisting tactics Pelosi has perfected over three decades in Congress. “They should not be asked to walk the plank on the first vote, to break a promise on their first vote,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, who ran against Pelosi for Democratic leader in 2016 and has framed the rebels' bid to oust Pelosi as an effort to protect the party's new majority. “When you win saying one thing, you can’t come down here and have the leadership ask you on your first vote to go back on your word."

Associated Press - November 15, 2018

Migrant caravan groups arrive by hundreds at US border

Migrants in a caravan of Central Americans arrived in Tijuana by the hundreds Wednesday, getting their first glimpse of the robust U.S. military presence that awaits them after President Donald Trump ordered thousands of troops to the border.

Several hundred people from the caravan got off buses and made their way to a shelter on the Mexican side near the border to line up for food. Doctors checked those fighting colds and other ailments while several dozen migrants, mostly single men, spent the night at a Tijuana beach that is cut by a towering border wall of metal bars. Several Border Patrol agents in San Diego watched them through the barrier separating the U.S. and Mexico. The first wave of migrants in the caravan, which became a central theme of the recent U.S. election, began arriving in Tijuana in recent days, and their numbers have grown each day. The bulk of the main caravan appeared to be about 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) from the border, but has recently been moving hundreds of miles a day by hitching rides on trucks and buses. Many of the new arrivals were waiting in Tijuana for the caravan leaders to arrive and provide guidance on their immigration options to the U.S., including seeking asylum. Some said they might cross illegally. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, meanwhile, visited U.S. troops posted at the border in Texas and said the deployment provides good training for war, despite criticism that the effort is a waste of taxpayer money and a political stunt. Most of the troops are in Texas, more than 1,500 miles from where the caravan is arriving. The first arrivals generally received a warm welcome from Tijuana, despite the fact that its shelter system to house migrants is at capacity. The city's secretary of economic development has said there are about 3,000 jobs for migrants who want to stay in the city. Some residents came down to where the men were camped on a beach and gave them tacos to eat Wednesday. The Central Americans in the caravan are the latest migrants to arrive in Tijuana with the hope of crossing into the United States. Tijuana shelters in 2016 housed Haitians who came by the thousands after making their way from Brazil with plans to get to the U.S. Since then, several thousand Haitians have remained in Tijuana, finding work. Some have married local residents and enrolled in local universities.

Wall Street Journal - November 15, 2018

California’s largest utility pummeled by wildfire risks

California’s largest utility suffered its steepest stock plunge in 16 years Wednesday as concerns grew that potential liability costs from destructive wildfires threaten the company’s financial future. Shares in PG&E fell nearly 22 percent and its bonds were also hammered, capping five straight days of losses that have dragged shares down more than 47 percent its worst such stretch on record.

The free fall began after the company reported to state regulators that one of its transmission lines had malfunctioned before the start of a massive fire in Northern California. The fire has now destroyed more than 7,600 single-family homes and killed at least 48 people. The San Francisco-based company reported in a securities filing Tuesday night that it had exhausted its revolving lines of credit and warned that its $1.4 billion of insurance coverage for wildfires occurring between Aug. 1 and July 31, 2019, may be insufficient to cover all potential liability claims against the company. Geisha Williams, PG&E’s chief executive, said in an interview that it was premature to speculate about whether the company would need to seek bankruptcy protection. She said the company tapped its credit lines to create more financial flexibility. “The cause of the fire has not been determined, so it’s not clear if we’re going to be held responsible,” Ms. Williams said, adding that it is currently focused on assisting communities and first responders. State investigators have yet to determine whether PG&E equipment caused any current wildfires, or whether the company was negligent, findings that could trigger state fines as well as fuel lawsuits from homeowners and others who lost property. But the utility, already facing billions in potential liability costs from last year’s wildfires, is confronting a sobering situation without any easy fixes, as an extended drought and population growth into fire-prone forested areas turns parts of California into a dangerous tinderbox. PG&E’s Pacific Gas & Electric Co. unit serves about 16 million people from Santa Barbara almost all the way up to the Oregon border. The company owns and operates hundreds of miles of electrical wires that crisscross an increasingly dry region at rising risk of fire, a new reality that California Gov. Jerry Brown has attributed in part to a changing climate. State investigators have already concluded PG&E equipment helped spark at least 16 fires last year, generating hundreds of lawsuits.

Weekly Standard - November 13, 2018

How the government can save $2 billion with eye droppers

There are many reasons that Americans spend so much on prescription drugs. Debates on how to reduce the cost of prescription drugs typically focus on top-line issues, but there is not a single silver bullet that can magically reduce the cost of prescription drugs. There are too many policies, market failures, and flaws in the system that conspire to push drug prices upward.

But there are lots of ways to nibble around the edges of the problem. For instance, improving the eyedropper could save government spending on drugs by over $2 billion per year. No, really. The typical eyedropper is inexpensive, easy to use, and durable. But it is also incredibly inefficient. The human eye can only absorb seven to ten microliters of liquid at a time. A person administering his or her drugs via an eyedropper typically applies five times more liquid than the human eye can absorb. What’s more, if the dropper creates tearing—which invariably occurs if a person administers too much—then virtually all of the medicine is washed out of the eye. Such an occurrence is potentially harmful to the patient--since their medicine doesn’t go where it needs to go--and also an example of the kind of hidden waste that contributes to the cost of purchasing medicine. In fact, you can put a number on that cost: U.S. drug companies alone sell about $3.4 billion in eye drops each year, mostly for glaucoma and dry eyes. Researchers estimate that patients waste at least half of all of this eye drop medications. A study by University of Michigan researchers estimate that the Veteran’s Administration alone would save over $1 billion a year from the use of a precise eye dropper—as would Medicare Part D. The idea of a precise eye dropper isn’t new. Alcoa developed such a device in the 1990s but corporate leadership quickly surmised that it would reduce sales. So they shelved it.

Tribune News Service - November 14, 2018

With election over, transportation advocates eye 2019 battles

Last week’s elections had enough good news to keep up the spirits of transportation advocates -- an effort to roll back a California gas tax hike failed, candidates promising to fix roads were elected as governors and dozens of local transportation ballot measures passed. But there are still reasons for advocates to be concerned.

Voters in Colorado and Missouri defeated efforts to increase funding for road building, despite years of debate on how to pay for transportation improvements in both states. Republicans still have the power, if they choose to use it, to block transportation legislation proposed by incoming governors in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. And Congress will be divided, with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate, as a major transportation funding law expires in 2020. The biggest transportation battle of the election took place in California, where congressional Republicans backed a measure to repeal the state’s year-old gas tax hike as a way to increase turnout of GOP voters. But Californians soundly defeated the measure, at the same time that they ousted at least three Republican members of Congress. Incoming Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, used the cry of “Fix Our Damn Roads” as a central part of her campaign. She hasn’t specified where, exactly, the state would get the money to do that. But she’ll face a Republican-led legislature that will likely be difficult to persuade of the need to raise taxes for road funding. “I will say that no one in the House Republican chamber ran on raising taxes,” the incoming House speaker told Michigan Public Radio. Similarly, Democrat Tim Walz of Minnesota campaigned on raising the state’s gas taxes by 10 cents a gallon to fund transportation improvements. He said he would “absolutely” include that proposal in his first budget. “You can’t just say you’re not going to do anything in terms of revenue or budgets and you’re magically going to get roads, bridges and transit,” he told reporters. But Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the state Senate, and the majority leader there said the gas tax “may be one of the issues we [he and the governor] disagree on.” Gov.-elect Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican, promised to set up a commission to study transportation funding in the state. But transit officials are skeptical that DeWine will deliver for them, even though they say state support for transit has fallen to its lowest levels since the 1970s. Democrats took complete control of Connecticut state government, where incoming governor Ned Lamont wants to raise truck tolls and use more federal money to improve transit and encourage transit-oriented development. It will be back to the drawing board in Colorado on transportation funding. Lawmakers had agreed this year that, if neither of the ballot measures passed in November, they would fashion their own next year. But now Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and the governorship. Incoming Gov. Jared Polis hasn’t specified how he wants lawmakers to respond to the double defeat, but he did campaign on the creation of a passenger rail line between Fort Collins in the north, through Denver, to Pueblo in the south. The same group that pushed for the repeal of California’s gas tax hike now wants to specify that gas tax revenues could only be used for road projects, instead of other modes of transportation. The group’s planned 2020 ballot measure would also cut off funding for the state’s high-speed rail project.

CNBC - November 14, 2018

Maxine Waters says easing banking regulations 'will come to an end' when she takes committee chair

Rep. Maxine Waters pledged Wednesday that Trump administration efforts to roll back banking reforms won't stand when the new Congress convenes. The California Democrat is expected to take over as chair of the House Financial Services Committee.

"Make no mistake, come January, in this committee the days of this committee weakening regulations and putting our economy once again at risk of another financial crisis will come to an end," Waters said during a hearing with Randal Quarles, the Fed's vice chair of banking supervision. Bank shares moved lower following a CNBC report on the remarks, with the SPDR S&P Bank ETF down 0.6 percent in morning trade. Waters is likely to take over as chair of the committee following the midterm elections that gave back House control to the Democrats. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican, currently presides over the committee. In addition to Wednesday's remarks, she has indicated she might use subpoena power to investigate President Donald Trump's connection to Deutsche Bank and whether it loaned Trump money that was guaranteed by the Russian government. Since Trump began his term in early 2017, the administration has sought to loosen the regulatory reins imposed by the Dodd-Frank reforms that came into being after the financial crisis that exploded in 2008. In particular, the White House and the Fed have worked to tailor capital rules to be less onerous on regional and community banks. Waters seemed to direct her comments specifically to the bigger institutions, particularly the too-big-to-fail banks that helped trigger the crisis. She made her comments shortly before Quarles said the Fed is looking to further ease up on community banks. "It is essential that the Fed keeps a watchful eye on the financial institutions it supervises and makes strong use of its existing enforcement tools to crank down on institutions that break the law," she said. "I must say that I am concerned about proposals the Fed has put forth this year to reduce capital and liquidity requirements for the largest financial institutions which would weaken strong safeguards established by Dodd-Frank to protect the U.S. economy from another costly financial crisis." There was some conciliation, though. Waters said the press and even some of her colleagues have wrongly portrayed her relationship with Republicans, and she hopes they can cooperate.

Vox - November 14, 2018

Not all 2018 midterm races are over. Multiple Senate, House, and governor races still haven’t been called.

It’s been more than a week since the 2018 midterm elections took place, and we still don’t know how all of the races shook out. Multiple seats in the House of Representatives haven’t yet been called, and a pair of Senate seats are up in the air, too. And then, of course, there’s all of the turmoil in Florida and Georgia.

Just on Tuesday evening, Democrat Josh Harder beat out four-term Republican Rep. Jeff Denham in California’s 10th Congressional District. And on Wednesday, Democrat Andy Kim defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District. In January, there will be only one Republican member of Congress representing New Jersey. Eight House races are still too close to call. Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones is trying to unseat Republican Rep. Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District on the southwest border. In California, Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros are squaring off to replace incumbent Republican Rep. Ed Royce, who’s retiring, while Republican incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters has also seen her edge over Democratic challenger Katie Porter disappear as ballots in California, which allows for mail-in voting, are counted. Georgia State University professor Carolyn Bourdeaux’s race against Republican incumbent Rep. Rob Woodall is still ongoing as provisional and absentee ballots continue to be counted. In Maine's second congressional district, Republican incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin this week filed a lawsuit in a federal court trying to block Maine from tabulating ranked-choice voting ballots in determining the winner of the district he currently represents. He faces Democrat Jared Golden. Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney is locked in a tight race against Democratic challenger and State Assembly member Anthony Brindisi. In New York, the race between Rep. Chris Collins and Nate McMurray, his Democratic challenger, is still too close to call with absentee and affidavit ballots still being tabulated. Democrat Ben McAdams has a small lead over Republican incumbent Rep. Mia Love in Utah as votes continue to be counted, and the race is still too close to call. The results of two Senate races are still up in the air. A recount in Florida is underway in the race between Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Because the margin between the pair was so close — a less than 0.5 percent lead for Scott — Florida law mandates an automatic machine recount. If the margin after that is less than 0.25 percent, then a hand recount will be next. Mississippi’s US Senate race was never going to be decided on Election Day because of the state’s “jungle primary” election system. That’s what happened this time around, and so Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith will face Democrat Mike Espy on November 27. Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Senate this year to replace retiring incumbent Thad Cochran.

Barron's - November 14, 2018

Dell tracking stock hits record high on reports of a deal

The Dell Technologies tracking stock for VMware is rallying Wednesday amid reports that the company is near a deal to sweeten its current $21.7 billion offer for the tracking stock to a range of $120 to $130 a share.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting Wednesday afternoon, citing unidentified sources, that under a new potential deal, Dell would offer about 50 percent more cash in the transaction than the $9 billion in the current agreement, which was reached in July and provoked significant shareholder resistance. The original cash and stock deal had a headline value of $109 a share, but was valued in the stock market at around $95 because investors put a lower value on Dell’s equity than the company assumed. Dell, which is now private and owned by Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners, would go public in conjunction with a buyout of the tracker investors. Dell isn’t commenting on the talk of a higher bid. At around $104, the tracker still trades at a material discount to the reported $120-$130 price range of a potential deal, reflecting uncertainty about whether an agreement can be reached and whether it will gain tracker shareholder approval. There’s speculation that Dell is seeking to line up public support from some key tracking-stock shareholders for its improved offer, given that it may be difficult to win over the largest holder, Carl Icahn, who has a 9.35 percent stake. Icahn is pushing for Dell to pay the tracker holders parity with VMware, or about $150 a share. “The press is widely reporting that Dell may be raising the price it is willing to pay to buy out our DVMT shares, which we believe is largely the result of our opposition and efforts,” Icahn said in a statement. “At a minimum, Class C shareholders must have the right to elect at least 3 independent directors, so that the Company isn’t controlled solely by Michael Dell and Silver Lake. Without this...we believe the rumored offer will be worth far less than its headline price.”

Washington Examiner - November 15, 2018

New Trump target in 2020: Minnesota

President Trump could be eyeing Minnesota as a way to expand his Midwest footprint in 2020, if the activities of his designated super PAC in the midterm elections are any indication. Minnesota was among the limited 2018 battlegrounds to see a major investment by America First Action, which gathered data that might inform Trump’s strategy and boost his re-election bid over the next two years.

America First Action tailored its activities to states and subregions considered crucial to Trump’s next campaign: Michigan; Minnesota; North Carolina; Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. “America First Action invested in places where it could acquire information — polling, digital, data — in suburban and exurban areas that will be important,” a Republican insider said, noting that the group’s “micro” mail and digital messaging was built around promoting Trump as a means to test effectiveness. The president came unexpectedly close to winning Minnesota in 2016, but lost to Hillary Clinton by just 1.5 percentage points. The state was largely uncontested in that campaign. In races contested by both parties this year, the Republicans flipped two longtime Democratic congressional seats in rural and exurban regions of the state that have gravitated toward Trump. This happened even as the GOP lost control of the House in a broad national sweep that washed away two Republican incumbents in suburban Minneapolis. After Trump became the first Republican in decades to win Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, his supporters see Minnesota as fertile ground for him to tighten his grip on the Midwest. Alex Conant, a veteran Republican strategist who hails from Minnesota, said the president’s prospects there depend largely on whom the Democrats nominate. “If Democrats turn out to vote in Minnesota, it’s a huge problem for a Republican like Trump,” Conant said. “The problem is that the Twin Cities are so big, and suburban voters there don’t like Trump.” The Republicans were shellacked in suburbs across America in the midterm elections, as affluent, educated voters that typically vote GOP for Congress rebuked Trump by punishing his party. In Minnesota, for example, Republicans lost the suburban Minneapolis 3rd Congressional District, where the GOP for years racked up big margins.

November 14, 2018

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 13, 2018

What Dallas area leaders are saying after Amazon HQ2 rejection

After a 61-week search involving 238 U.S. cities competing for a $5 billion economic development prize that comes with 50,000 new jobs, Seattle-based retail giant Amazon picked two East Coast cities for its second and third headquarters.

The big winners are Crystal City, Arlington, Va. — a Washington, D.C., suburb — and Long Island City, New York. And, Nashville got the consolation prize — 5,000 jobs and about $230 million in investment. That marks the end of the road for the Dallas-Fort Worth region, one of the 20 finalists. Here's how some of the key Dallas leaders reacted to what's widely seen as a disappointment for one of the country's fastest-growing metros areas that has developed a reputation for attracting corporate headquarters. "In my heart, I thought we really had a shot at it. But on paper, I thought we had some issues," among them a shortage of affordable housing. At least we had a bite on the hook, a nibble. But we had a seven-pound line. We should have had a 100-pound line," said Tennell Atkins, Dallas City Council member and chair of the Economic Development and Housing Committee. "I am disappointed, but I think it's a learning lesson for the city of Dallas — what we need to do to be a real city, to bring this type of business to the city. It shows us our weak points and our strong points, what we need to do to educate ourselves to go forward." Dale Petroskey, CEO and president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, which coordinated the region's effort to win over Amazon, looked forward. "This was a unique chance to reinforce with Amazon — and the world — the many reasons D-FW has been so successful in attracting companies, jobs and individuals seeking a wonderful quality of life in one of the most affordable places in the nation. Make no mistake, this has been a 'win' for our region regardless of the outcome. Our business community grows and expands by the day, and our momentum as a destination of choice has only increased as a result of being a finalist for HQ2," he said.

Star-Telegram - November 13, 2018

Cornyn to move from Senate GOP’s No. 2 to ‘counselor’

Sen. John Cornyn, viewed as the logical successor to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will first take a smaller leadership role as counselor to the Republican Senate caucus in the next Congress.

Cornyn currently serves as No. 2 in leadership, but must give up that role next year because of term limits for the office imposed by Senate Republicans. GOP senators will pick their new leaders Wednesday. All of the current leaders are term-limited in their current roles except McConnell. The Kentucky Republican is expected to continue as majority leader. Cornyn, 66, will attend weekly leadership meetings and provide guidance and input on the GOP’s policy agenda, McConnell’s communications director David Popp told the Star-Telegram Tuesday. “The leader has offered and Senator Cornyn has accepted a position at the Leadership table as a counselor in the next Congress,” said Popp. Current counselors include Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, and Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi. Cornyn twice chaired the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, and raised millions of dollars for his colleagues on the ballot this fall. He last ran for the Senate in Texas in 2014, when he defeated Democrat David Alameel with more than 61 percent of the vote. Cornyn told reporters in Texas this week that he’s already gearing up for a potentially tougher race this fall. Texas’ junior Sen. Ted Cruz was re-elected earlier this month with less than 51 percent of the vote in his race against Democrat Beto O’Rourke — the closest Texas Senate race in a generation.

Rivard Report - November 13, 2018

Rick Casey: History doesn’t favor presidential bid for Beto O’Rourke or Julián Castro

A quick Google search of “Beto for president” turned up loads of stories touting that possibility in the days since O’Rourke’s election loss. Among them: NBC, CNN, Newsweek, Politico, The Hill, USA Today, and even the British Independent and Guardian newspapers.

Gamblers on the British website Betfair moved O’Rourke’s odds for winning the presidency from 400-1 on Election Day to 10-1 Wednesday morning. That put him behind only California's U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris at 8-1. None of this was affected by O’Rourke’s categorical denial that there is any chance of his making a presidential run. If I’m Julián Castro, I don’t know what to make of the hoopla over Beto, other than to hope – unlike a number of members of the national commentariat – that O’Rourke continues to resist temptation. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that O’Rourke demonstrated that the possibility of turning Texas purple is no longer a lovely chimera. On the other hand, do I really want to be the Texan who tries to follow Beto’s act? How do I come across as that cool, that energetic, and that positive? Who among us can expect to beat a record of raising $69 million while eschewing PAC money and garnering contributions from more than 800,000 individuals? Of course, history doesn’t offer either one of them a clear path to the presidency. Neither a mayor’s office nor a cabinet position has served as a good springboard to high national office. Nor does losing your most recent race. The last former mayor to be elected president was Calvin Coolidge. But he subsequently served as governor of Massachusetts and was vice president when Warren Harding died in 1923. He won one term as the incumbent. The last cabinet member to become president was Herbert Hoover, who served as Secretary of Commerce under Coolidge and Harding. He was elected 90 years ago. Although a couple of HUD secretaries – George Romney and Jack Kemp – sought presidential nominations, neither succeeded. Only two former HUD secretaries have won higher elected office. Andrew Cuomo became governor of New York in 2011, though the larger factor may have been that his father, Mario, had dominated New York politics as a three-term governor in the 1980s and 1990s. Secretary Mel Martínez was elected senator from Florida in 2004, a year after serving as HUD secretary under George W. Bush. He resigned before the end of his term. Turning to O’Rourke, there is precedent for a congressman (actually a former congressman) becoming president after losing a very close senate race to an incumbent. Abraham Lincoln lost to U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas after their historic debates in 1858 and was elected president two years later. Richard Nixon also won after losing a governor’s race, but he had previously been vice president. A potentially better path for O’Rourke has been laid out by an expert who was quite recently a skeptic. University of Texas at Austin political science professor James Henson is director of the Texas Politics Project and runs a poll jointly sponsored by the Texas Tribune.

Politico - November 14, 2018

How Trump’s move to put a loyalist over Mueller is already backfiring

In choosing Matthew Whitaker to temporarily succeed ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump has placed a loyal ally who has been critical of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation in a position to oversee it. But Trump’s move last week to install Whitaker as Mueller’s boss may already be backfiring.

The appointment has drawn bipartisan criticism and led to questions about Whitaker’s qualifications and whether he would limit the investigation or bury its findings. The state of Maryland on Tuesday filed the first legal challenge seeking to overturn Whitaker’s appointment, while on Capitol Hill newly empowered House Democrats are already making plans to have the acting attorney general appear as one of their first witnesses when the next Congress launches in January. The uproar over the appointment, which effectively removes Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as Mueller’s primary supervisor, has put Whitaker in a difficult spot, trapped between setting off a political firestorm by clipping Mueller’s wings and angering a president intent on having him do just that. Even Trump’s Justice Department is wavering about whether Whitaker will do the deed the president wanted him for. Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec issued a statement late Tuesday signaling that Whitaker could still recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation, a shift from the department’s initial position in the immediate aftermath of Sessions’ ouster that Whitaker had no plans to step out of the way on the Russia probe. Whitaker, said Kupec, “is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal.” Whitaker, who in his public criticism of the Russia investigation has even invoked the president’s “witch hunt” moniker, may also find that he is limited in his ability to quash the investigation. Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney and National Review columnist who has been a vocal critic of the Mueller probe, told POLITICO he doesn't believe that Whitaker would do anything to disrupt the investigation. “What you find when you get in, those things are very hard to untangle,” McCarthy said. “You tend to let them work the way they’re working. With Mueller, it’s such a politically fraught field, and I don’t think there’s any reason to do anything than try to move it along.”

Wall Street Journal - November 14, 2018

Rich investors eye tax-favored development funds

Wealthy investors, fund managers and real-estate developers are racing to take advantage of a tax incentive meant to spur economic growth in neglected areas. Interest in the “opportunity zones” Congress created last year intensified when the Treasury Department issued the program’s first guidelines in October.

The program offers tax breaks to individuals and companies for investing in selected urban and rural areas that meet income or poverty thresholds. Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, former Under Armour Inc. executive Scott Plank and Utah philanthropist James Sorenson are among those eyeing the program. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has put in $70 million of its own money, while Bank of America Corp. , Wells Fargo , Bessemer Trust and other wealth managers are examining whether and how to offer investments to affluent clients. The release of Treasury guidance generated “a level of enthusiasm I would liken to Lady Gaga coming to do a concert at your town hall,” said Peter Brack, a managing partner with Hypothesis, a venture-capital firm working on an early-stage opportunity-zone fund to invest in tech startups. So far, at least 43 funds are seeking to raise a total of at least $8.9 billion, according to lists compiled by the National Council of State Housing Agencies and Novogradac & Co., a San Francisco accounting firm. Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.), says he is aware of $25 billion of potential projects. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchinexpects $100 billion. The program is intended to pump money into struggling areas without direct government funding by attracting investors seeking to delay, reduce or eliminate capital-gains taxes. To benefit, they park capital gains from existing assets into funds that make new investments in the nearly 9,000 zones the Treasury designated following state nominations. Goldman said it has funded six projects in areas such as New York City, Baltimore and northern New Jersey, and has more than $1 billion of potential projects in the pipeline. One already-funded project will upgrade a grocery store serving low-income residents of East Orange, N.J.; another involves housing and recreational facilities in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. RBH Group LLC, which specializes in housing for teachers and other public employees, acquired land in Florida through a $40 million opportunity-zone fund in September. The group hopes for similar projects in places such as Atlanta, Boston and Oakland. Some investors are looking for opportunities in areas they know. Mr. Horowitz, co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said he plans to put an undetermined amount of his personal money into projects in Oakland, Calif., near his home, or in Compton, Calif., his wife’s hometown.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 13, 2018

Hillary Clinton, honored at University of Texas, warns of Trump's ‘deliberate falseness’

Hillary Clinton cautioned an auditorium of University of Texas students on Tuesday night about the dangers of today's polarized political environment led by elected officials who she said aim to divide and mislead the American public.

Clinton was honored by the University of Texas's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and given the first "In the Arena" award in recognition of her lifetime of public service as an advocate for women and children, attorney, first lady, senator, secretary of state and the first woman to be nominated by a major party to run for president. Clinton participated in an hourlong discussion guided by LBJ Dean Angela Evans. She vacillated between hope for future generations being ushered in by a diverse wave of recently elected congressional candidates and bleak concern that the country is in a darker place than it's been in her lifetime. Without referring to him by name, Clinton made a handful of references to President Donald Trump. She said he is trying to "confuse people, disorient people, and change the environment in which we make decisions." She called his rhetoric "deliberate falseness" and cracked a joke about his Inauguration Day crowd size, referencing the president's claims that he had the largest crowd of any presidential inauguration. She said the falsehoods started "on the very first day of the current administration." "I have been to a number of inaugurations now, and the crowd was not that big, let me just tell you," she said to laughter. Clinton also discussed the challenges of a woman who runs for office and candidly warned that women are still treated more harshly than male candidates and elected officials. "Everything becomes a way of presenting yourself and protecting yourself. The clothes you have and the hairstyle you wear. All of that is a persona you present," she said. "You're well aware you're going to be judged by it."

Dallas Morning News - November 13, 2018

If Amazon had come to Dallas, it could've gotten up to $1.1 billion in incentives

Dallas and Texas elected officials were willing to offer up to $1.1 billion in economic incentives to entice e-commerce giant Amazon to bring its second headquarters and 50,000 employees to the region.

The city shared a four-page proposal of incentives for Amazon HQ2 Tuesday, a few hours after learning it had been passed over by the Seattle-based company. Amazon announced Tuesday that it will split the second headquarters between the Crystal City area of Arlington, near Washington, D.C., and Long Island City in the Queens borough of New York. It will also put a 5,000-employee operations hub in Nashville. The total incentives package offered by New York, Virginia and Tennessee totaled almost $2.5 billion. Some states had dangled incentives as high as $8.5 billion. "Amazon made it very clear to me that, while these incentives were important, they were not going to make the decision on those incentives," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. "In fact, I don't think they did." Dallas' proposal included a mix of incentives that added up to $600 million from the city, or $12,000 per job. Texas' pool for economic incentives, the Texas Enterprise Fund, offers up to $10,000 per job. Together, that would have amounted to a maximum of $1.1 billion in incentives.

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

Former deputy attorneys general call out Texas court, file brief supporting death row inmate

A group of conservatives, prominent lawyers and former deputy attorneys general have jumped into the debate over a Texas death row inmate, condemning a state appeals court and instead siding with the convicted killer whose lawyers are trying to prove he’s too intellectually disabled to execute.

In a 24-page friend of the court brief - backed by a coalition including Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel whose probe led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment - the groups calls out the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for threatening the rule of law with its "disturbing disregard" for the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Harris County killer Bobby Moore. “Applying medical standards as required by this Court’s prior decision in this very case, Bobby Moore is intellectually disabled,” the group wrote. “It is indisputable that this disability renders Moore categorically ineligible for the death penalty.” The amicus brief - one of three filed in the past week supporting Moore’s claims - is just the latest in a twist-laden case that’s now before the Supreme Court for the second time in as many years. The Houston man’s appeals attracted national attention in 2017 after a split Supreme Court ruling that upended the way Texas determine intellectual disability. The court found that Texas was using a dated, nonclinical method based to determine intellectual disability, so the justices sent the case back to Harris County. There, prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed that Moore is so mentally disabled that it would be unconstitutional to put him to death. But when the case landed in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for approval, the state justices agreed on a modern, clinical standard - then decided Moore didn’t meet it anyway. Defense attorneys condemned the ruling as an "outlier" and "inconsistent" with the higher court. Afterward, Moore’s attorneys returned to the Supreme Court this fall, and last week Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg's office filed a rare response in support. Then late last week, the coalition of former deputy attorneys general weighed in, writing that the appellate ruling “reflects a disturbing disregard for the binding authority” of the Supreme Court and pointing out that the Texas court isn’t allowed to simply ignore the Supreme Court because they don’t like its decision. The brief goes on to argue that Texas court just “repackaged” the factors used to determine Moore was fit to execute under the old standard - the one the Supreme Court struck down - and used the same logic to draw the same conclusion, using the new method as a “window dressing.”

San Antonio Express-News - November 13, 2018

Judge denies Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones’ request to release provisional voters list

Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones’ efforts to bridge the 1,000-vote gap between her and Republican incumbent Rep. Will Hurd hit a wall in a Bexar County courtroom Tuesday. County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen testified that none of the still-uncounted provisional votes in the county’s portion of Congressional District 23 could be validated by the voters who cast them.

Jones has been trying to obtain a list of voters who cast provisional ballots after they failed to produce acceptable ID at the polls or because of other problems. The campaign planned to reach out to those voters and encourage them to present proper ID at the county elections office so their ballots could be “cured” and added to the official count. Jones asked a state district judge to compel Callanen to release the list and extend by two days the deadline for curing the votes, which was 5 p.m. Tuesday. Judge Stephani Walsh rebuffed both requests, and the deadline passed later in the day. Siding with election officials, Walsh said the names of county voters who cast provisional ballots in the congressional race — about 200 — could not be made public until election officials have finished reviewing them. That work is done by early voting ballot boards — small, bipartisan panels appointed by county officials — and is still underway in Bexar County. The boards review provisional and mail ballots and determine whether they are valid. In a further blow to the Jones camp, Callanen testified that none of the 200 provisional ballots at issue in Bexar County involved problems with voters’ IDs. Therefore, she said, the ballots could not be cured through any effort by the voters. Those provisional ballots were used because of discrepancies in voters’ registrations, because voters appeared at the wrong polling places or other reasons. The ballot boards and the election administrator will decide on the validity of those ballots, Callanen said. After hearing arguments from both sides, Walsh said it was clear that “the public’s right to access those records is after the early voting ballot board has completed their review.”

San Antonio Express-News - November 13, 2018

San Antonio oil and gas company enters bankruptcy

A San Antonio oil and gas company with operations in California has filed for bankruptcy protection, blaming a dispute with its new lender. All American Oil & Gas Inc.’s Chapter 11 reorganization is the largest bankruptcy filing in San Antonio this year.

It’s the parent company of exploration and production company Kern River Holding Inc. and small power company called Western Power and Steam Inc., both of which also filed for bankruptcy. AAOG President Patrick Morris in court papers described a feud with a lender that recently acquired the companies’ secured debt. He accused lender Kern Cal Oil 7 of attempting to strip the companies of their equity as part of a “predatory loan-to-own strategy.” “Unlike many E&P cases, this bankruptcy filing is not the result of the Company’s poor operational underperformance, illiquidity, debt maturities or lack of underlying value,” Morris said in a court filing. “Rather, it was precipitated by KCO7’s efforts to exploit its rights under the Credit Agreements to obtain (the companies’) assets ‘on the cheap,’ and thereby to destroy tens of million in equity value.” The companies’ equity value ranges from $35 million to $55 million, Morris said. They have an enterprise value ranging from $175 million to $195 million based on a recent valuation. They have about $142 million in debt that doesn’t mature for at least a year, he added in the court papers filed Monday. “Our primary goal here is to protect the value of the companies,” Deborah Williamson, a bankruptcy lawyer for the three companies, said Tuesday. “We hope to be able to confirm a plan of reorganization that addresses the debt. Our goal is to file a plan that pays that debt in full … and pays all of our creditors in full over a reasonable period of time.” Williamson added, “We are just trying to keep the companies operational and stable while we figure out if there’s a resolution, consensual or otherwise, with our lenders.” An emergency hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday before Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald King. Kern River Holding has a 215-acre lease in the Kern River Oil Field in California’s San Joacquin Valley where the company has 124 producing wells, 43 steam injection wells and 15 observation wells. Western Power and Steam operates a 20-megawatt cogeneration facility adjacent to Kern River Holding. Western provides electricity and steam to aid Kern River Holdings’ oil extraction.

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

Democratic election gains may spark Harris County bail lawsuit settlement

The Democratic sweep of Harris County leadership posts in the midterm election could prompt a settlement in the protracted legal dispute over how judges handle bail for poor people arrested for petty offenses, according to statements made in federal court Tuesday.

The shift in attitudes became evident during an early morning hearing in Houston before Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, who has presided over the civil rights action since 2016 and ruled in 2017 that the county’s bail practices discriminated against poor people. Lawyers for both sides acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room: that all 14 county judges who oppose the bail lawsuit are Republicans who will be replaced in the new year by Democrats who have pushed for deeper bail reform. Rosenthal congratulated the attorneys’ willingness to “accommodate any changes that have recently occurred in a reasonable way” and set a hearing for Feb. 1 where the lawyers may begin discussing plans for a possible settlement that would avert a costly trial. In addition, Neal Manne, who represents indigent defendants who were jailed for days because they couldn’t afford bail, told Rosenthal he was prepared to put the brakes on a motion to compel information about lost correspondence that was automatically erased by county’s computers. Michael Kirk, an attorney for the 14 court-at-law judges, told the judge with a smile, “I find myself in the very unusual position of agreeing with Mr. Manne.” However, Kirk said his clients plan to press on with their appeal of Rosenthal’s revised injunction, a document that has been the flash point in the ongoing legal standoff. The county has spent nearly $8 million defending itself against the case so far, including payments to outside lawyers at Kirk’s top-tier Washington, D.C. law firm. The two other current judges, a Republican and a Democrat, have sided with the indigent defendants in the case. Manne said the county has been fighting the indigent defendants’ suit for more than two years, but the election results mean, “It’s going to be a new day.” “My sense is that once the elected officials take their places, we will be able to achieve real, meaningful bail reform in Harris County,” said Manne, referring to new judicial terms that begin in January.

Weekly Standard - November 14, 2018

If Dan Crenshaw is a rising star, then why did the party almost kill his candidacy?

Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw is getting a lot of well-deserved praise for his appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend alongside SNL cast member Pete Davidson. The previous week, Davidson mocked Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye to an IED blast in Afghanistan, for wearing an eyepatch. Crenshaw's response this weekend was a genuine display of humor, patriotism, and forgiveness.

You might be surprised to learn that Texas senator Ted Cruz and Texas governor Greg Abbott both endorsed GOP megadonor Kathaleen Wall over Crenshaw in the primary. You'll be less surprised by their endorsements if you know that Wall spent $6 million of her own money on the primary and was widely expected to win. The endorsements of Cruz and Abbott, of course, didn't stop Crenshaw from advancing to the GOP runoff. A $100,000 TV ad and the media attention Crenshaw got on Fox News and elsewhere was just enough for him to make it past Wall. Crenshaw won the GOP runoff by 40 points, and the general election by 7 points. As the Washington Post reported in an excellent profile of Crenshaw on Sunday, Crenshaw ran 12 points ahead of Ted Cruz in Harris County last Tuesday. But it's pretty obvious now that earlier this spring Cruz and Abbott were committing a form of political malpractice that isn't uncommon: valuing campaign cash over candidate quality. Another good example of this: In 2014, some in the GOP establishment preferred Mark Jacobs, a former Goldman Sachs executive, to Joni Ernst, a farm girl turned Iraq war veteran, as an Iowa Senate candidate because Jacobs could've funded his own campaign. Money is a finite resource in politics, but at some point you'd think that political power brokers would learn that charisma and compelling biographies are much harder to come by.

Dallas Morning News - November 13, 2018

Texas board reverses course, votes to keep Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller in history curriculum

The State Board of Education has voted to keep Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller and several other historical figures in the Texas social studies curriculum.

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, are baseline curriculum standards public school teachers use to create lesson plans and prepare for testing. During a nearly 12-hour meeting on Tuesday, the 15-member state board took a preliminary vote on which historical figures to remove from these standards in order to "streamline" the curriculum and provide more flexibility to teachers. The board first voted back in September to cut Clinton from high school history, where she was listed as a recommended figure representing "good citizenship." Since then, the story has gone viral, with different groups accusing the board of allowing their politics to influence what kids are taught in classrooms. On Tuesday evening, the board discussed that backlash. State board member Erika Beltran, D-Fort Worth, moved to return Clinton to history lessons. "I got a ton of calls and emails about the removal of Hillary Clinton," Beltran said. "She was the first female presidential nominee from a major U.S. political party. So regardless of our party affiliations, I think she is an important figure to keep." Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he disagreed with Clinton's politics but also said he got an earful from the public: "I have to give credit where credit is due. She is a significant political leader." The board voted 12-2 to keep Clinton with Pat Hardy of Fort Worth and Geraldine "Tincy" Miller of Dallas voting for elimination. Chair Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, abstained from the vote on Clinton as she did for most of the votes Tuesday. The board also voted to eliminate dozens of other historical figures, celebrities and business people.

The Eagle - November 14, 2018

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas announces transformative partnership with Texas A&M University Health Science Center

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas announced a $10 million commitment to the Texas A&M University Health Science Center on Tuesday morning that officials from both entities said will help to implement solutions to health care challenges and disparities facing rural communities in Texas.

Carrie L. Byington, senior vice president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine, was one of several Texas A&M officials to express gratitude to BCBSTX for its financial support and its belief in the university's ability to work alongside rural Texans to navigate their health care challenges. Byington said Tuesday that the partnership will lead, in time, to improved health care delivery, improve quality of health outcomes and work to lower costs for rural Texans. "A&M is deeply committed to our land grant mission," Byington said. "Today's announcement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas highlights our commitment. Working together, we can leverage our strengths. This partnership between an academic health sciences center and an insurer and provider brings together important stakeholders." Byington said in her remarks that 185 Texas counties have no psychiatrist, 147 Texas counties do not have an obstetrician or gynecologist, and 35 counties in the state have no physicians at all. A release from the Center added that 80 Texas counties have five physicians or fewer. The joint project will bring together the expertise of more than 20 cross-disciplinary researchers across eight colleges at Texas A&M University -- the Health Science Center's colleges of dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health, along with the colleges of agriculture, education and engineering. Focus areas of the project will include ambulatory rural care delivery systems, rural hospital function and future, community empowerment, and technology and health information.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

Houston layoffs spurred by Prop B vote avoidable, some experts say

Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration is moving forward with plans for hundreds of layoffs following last week’s voter approval of Prop B despite questions about whether jobs could be saved through renewed negotiations with the city’s firefighters union.

The pay parity referendum, which passed decisively after a bitter campaign that pitted Turner and the city’s police union against Houston firefighters, adds an estimated $100 million a year to the $500 million annual budget of the Houston Fire Department to bring firefighter salaries in line with those paid to police of corresponding rank and seniority. In the wake of the amendment’s passage, Turner announced HFD would hire no new firefighters and ordered Fire Chief Sam Peña to draft a plan to move the department from four shifts to three, perhaps eliminating more than 850 positions. The new staffing chart could be submitted to the city’s civil service commission later this month, Turner said, with an expected city council vote in early January. There are questions, however, about whether state collective bargaining laws would let the city and the firefighters union reach an agreement that would supersede the city charter — including the provisions voters approved last week — lessening the immediate fiscal impact of the vote. Councilmember Dwight Boykins, for instance, said fire union leaders have told him they would be willing to phase in the more-than-25 percent pay raise. “If we can work together and solidify a collective bargaining contract, it will address the needs we have been asking the city to address for the firefighters and their families for a very long time,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. “We’re prepared to discuss anything, but the mayor has refused to negotiate.” Lancton pointed to seven times since 2005 that the union’s collective bargaining agreements have superseded language in the city charter’s appendix, and some attorneys practicing in labor law backed the union’s view.

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

Lamar HS student, 18, shot to death in another 'targeted attack' identified

A Lamar High School senior was gunned down Tuesday afternoon about a block from the campus in a shooting that Houston police believe was a targeted attack.

At least three suspects, one of them masked, confronted the 18-year-old student and a 15-year-old girl with him around 12:15 p.m., according to officials. One assailant opened fire and shot him on the sidewalk outside the Bethany Christian Church parking lot, which neighbors the River Oaks campus. The shooting marked the third gun-related death of a Lamar student in a week. The gunman responsible for slaying the teen then stood over him and fired more shots, Houston police Executive Assistant Chief Troy Finner said during a press conference. The slain teen was identified by his grandmother as Delindsey Mack, who Houston ISD officials say transferred to Lamar from Yates High School in the Third Ward. The grandmother, Dell Tatum, told the Houston Chronicle she had 10 grandchildren and Delindsey was her only grandson. “My daughter is all in pieces right now. She’s not well,” Tatum said of Delindsey’s mother. A bullet also grazed the shoulder of another Lamar student, a girl who was with the teen. She is expected to be OK, police said. “We’re not just gonna stand by and let our streets become bloodbaths, we’re not,” Finner said. He said gang violence may have been a factor in the shooting, but he couldn’t confirm it as the cause. “I don’t care why it’s happened. You know what? I want to put an end to it. I want to get the individual, all these individuals, who are out here pulling triggers and shooting at people like they’re crazy in our city,” Finner said. The dozen or so gunshots — and the screams that followed — were overheard by a team of construction workers tasked with building a new $129.2 million wing to the 82-year-old school. One of those workers, Pedro Enriquez, 21, was on a break when he heard the shooting. He hid behind some cars and waited for the gunfire to stop. He then saw a black vehicle flee the scene.

National Stories

New York Times - November 13, 2018

Trump’s tax cut was supposed to change corporate behavior. Here’s what happened.

Nearly a year after the tax cut, economic growth has accelerated. Wage growth has not. Companies are buying back stock and business investment is a mixed bag.

The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that President Trump signed into law late last year has already given the American economy a jolt, at least temporarily. It has fattened the paychecks of most American workers, padded the profits of large corporations and sped economic growth. Those results weren’t a surprise. Economists across the ideological spectrum predicted the new law would fuel consumer spending, in classic fashion: When the government borrows money and dumps it into the economy, growth tends to accelerate. But Republicans did not sell the law as a sugar-high stimulus. They sold it as a refashioning of the incentives in the American economy — one that would unleash more investment, better efficiency and higher wages, along with enough growth to offset any revenue lost to the government from lower tax rates. Ten months after the law took effect, that promised “supply-side” bump is harder to find than the sugar-high stimulus. Proponents of the tax overhaul said it would supercharge the recent lackluster pace of business spending on long-term investments like buildings, factories, equipment and technology. Such spending is crucial to keeping economic growth strong. And strong growth is central to Republican claims that the tax cuts would ultimately pay for themselves. Capital spending did pick up steam earlier this year. For companies in the S&P 500, capital expenditures rose roughly 20 percent in the first half of 2018. Much of that was concentrated: The spending of just five companies — Google’s parent, Alphabet, and Facebook, Intel, Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs — accounted for roughly a third of the entire rise. Much of that spending went toward technology, including increased investment in data centers and computing, server and networking capacity. Cheerleaders for the tax cut argued that the heart of the law — cutting and restructuring taxes for corporations — would give the economy a positive bump, giving companies incentives to invest more, hire more workers and pay higher wages. Skeptics said that the money companies saved through tax cuts would merely increase corporate profits, rather than trickling down to workers. JPMorgan Chase analysts estimate that in the first half of 2018, about $270 billion in corporate profits previously held overseas were repatriated to the United States and spent as a result of changes to the tax code. Some 46 percent of that, JPMorgan Chase analysts said, was spent on $124 billion in stock buybacks.

New York Times - November 13, 2018

A week after the election, Democratic gains grow stronger

The 2018 midterm election looked last Tuesday like a serious but not crippling setback for Republicans, yet the picture has grown grimmer since then as a more complete tally of votes has come in across the country.

What looked at first like a modest Democratic majority in the House has grown into a stronger one: The party has gained 32 seats so far and appears on track to gain between 35 and 40 once all the counting is complete. And Democratic losses in the Senate look less serious than they did a week ago, after Kyrsten Sinema was declared the winner in Arizona on Monday. It now looks like Democrats are likely to lose a net of one or two seats, rather than three or four as they feared last Tuesday. The underlying shifts in the electorate suggest President Trump may have to walk a precarious path to re-election in 2020, as several Midwestern states he won in 2016 threaten to slip away, and once-red states in the Southwest turn a purpler hue. The president’s strategy of sowing racial division and stoking alarm about immigration failed to lift his party, and Democratic messaging about health care undercut the benefit Republicans hoped to gain from a strong economy. David Winston, a Republican pollster who advises congressional leaders, said his party should not use victories in the Senate to paper over severe losses with women, young people, independent voters and Latino voters, and Democratic gains with suburbanites and seniors. “We didn’t lose the Senate, but losing by the margins that we did with a lot of these groups is unsustainable,” Mr. Winston said. There are warning signs for Democrats, too: Mr. Trump’s party remains ascendant in rural America, giving Republicans a durable advantage in the Senate, where less-populous states have influence greatly disproportionate to their voting numbers. If Democrats cannot cut into Republicans’ strength in areas far from major cities, they may struggle mightily to take back the upper chamber in 2020. And Republicans demonstrated a tenacious hold on two of the country’s biggest swing states, Ohio and Florida, giving Mr. Trump an important foothold on the presidential map. Midterms are imperfect guideposts for presidential elections: In 2010, Democrats were defeated across Midwestern swing states and Florida and lost control of the House, only to prevail convincingly in the presidential race two years later. But for now, the big picture of the 2018 midterms is of a country in political flux, changing primarily to Mr. Trump’s disadvantage.

New York Times - November 12, 2018

Austin Frakt: US drug costs in the 1990 began rising well beyond that of other nations, and in recent years have shot up again.

There was a time when America approximated other wealthy countries in drug spending. But in the late 1990s, U.S. spending took off. It tripled between 1997 and 2007, according to a study in Health Affairs. Then a slowdown lasted until about 2013, before spending shot up again. What explains these trends?

By 2015, American annual spending on prescription drugs reached about $1,000 per person and 16.7 percent of overall personal health care spending. The Commonwealth Fund compared that level with that of nine other wealthy nations: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain. Among those, Switzerland, second to the United States, was only at $783. Sweden was lowest, at $351. (It should be noted that relative to total health spending, American spending on drugs is consistent with that of other countries, reflecting the fact that we spend a lot more on other care, too.) Several factors could be at play in America’s spending surge. One is the total amount of prescription drugs used. But Americans do not take a lot more drugs than patients in other countries, as studies document. In fact, when it comes to drugs primary care doctors typically prescribe — including medications for hypertension, high cholesterol, depression, gastrointestinal conditions and pain — a recent study in the journal Health Policy found that Americans use prescription drugs for 12 percent fewer days per year than their counterparts in other wealthy countries. Another potential explanation is that Americans take more expensive brand-name drugs than cheaper generics relative to their overseas counterparts. This doesn’t hold up either. We use a greater proportion of generic drugs here than most other countries — 84 percent of prescriptions are generic. Though Americans take a lower proportion of brand-name drugs, the prices of those drugs are a lot higher than in other countries. For many drugs, U.S. prices are twice those found in Canada, for example.

Washington Post - November 14, 2018

Democratic success in Trump districts forces a reckoning on how party governs

Democrats laid the foundation for their midterm victory in the suburban districts that Hillary Clinton won two years ago, but the true margin of their House majority came in districts that traditionally tilt right.

Almost half the 30-plus seats Democrats won came in Republican-held districts where President Trump prevailed in 2016, and with ballots still being counted in several more races, that share might grow. Moreover, combined with the seats they already held in Trump territory, Democrats are on track to start the new Congress in January holding about 30 districts where the president won. That’s a large degree of political exposure, given that the size of their House majority will be about half that when the final races are called, and it’s a dynamic that has already prompted a debate within the party about the direction Democrats should chart over the next two years. They now must decide how to govern: Go bold, brandishing an aggressive liberal agenda that tells voters what Democrats stand for and what to expect from their eventual presidential standard-bearer in 2020; or play it safe with a disciplined approach that doesn’t scare off independent voters ahead of the battle for the White House. The party’s more liberal groups have already begun lobbying the Democratic leadership to push for a more aggressive agenda. The Progressive Change Institute built a database of Democratic candidates on a wide span of issues including the single-payer proposal for a national health plan built around Medicare and candidates’ stances on corporate PAC donations. Almost 65 percent of the incoming freshman class of House Democrats supports Medicare-for-all, expanding Medicare or expanding Social Security, according to the liberal nonprofit group, which considers those three positions the “tip of the spear” for economic progressives.

Washington Post - November 13, 2018

A banner year for LGBT candidates got even stronger with Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate win

Female candidates made historic gains in the 2018 midterm elections. And another demographic group also made historic gains: LGBTQ candidates. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, was declared the winner in her Arizona Senate race on Tuesday, a victory that put an exclamation point on those gains.

“The high-profile wins in Arizona, Kansas and Wisconsin this cycle make clear that an LGBTQ candidate who listens to voters and prioritizes their issues can win elected office anywhere — blue state or red state,” Elliot Imse, of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, told The Fix. The fund is an organization focused on electing openly LGBTQ candidates. “That is a significant evolution in American politics.” Sinema, the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress, made history again nearly a week after the election when she became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Arizona. She’s only the second openly LGBT person elected to the Senate, joining Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin and a lesbian, who won her second term. Sharice Davids, a lesbian, won a seat in Kansas. She and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) are the first Native American women elected to Congress Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) became the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States. He will lead a state that was once deemed the “hate state” after a 1992 law legalizing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents sparked international backlash and boycotts. If Gina Ortiz Jones, who is in a close race in Texas against Rep. Will Hurd (R), becomes the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress from this state, that would bring the total number of openly LGBT members of Congress to 11. Regardless of the outcome of her race, this will be the first time that number has been in the double digits. The LGBTQ community also saw wins at the state level and is awaiting results from other races, but to many activists, the message was clear. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the wins were a rejection of the Trump administration. “The days of attacking LGBTQ people for political gain are over, and the American people will not stand for lawmakers who try to drum up votes by trafficking in hate,” Griffin said of Trump and Vice President Pence.

Wall Street Journal - November 13, 2018

Melania Trump calls for the ouster of John Bolton's top aide

First lady Melania Trump is openly calling for the ouster of one of the top officials on the National Security Council — a rare public rebuke that comes as the president weighs a broader shake-up of the West Wing after last week's midterm elections.

Melania Trump's office said in a blunt statement on Tuesday that Mira Ricardel, the deputy to national security adviser John Bolton, does not belong in the White House anymore. “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokesperson, said of Ricardel in the statement. While the statement didn't elaborate, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that President Donald Trump has decided to fire Ricardel at Melania's urging after clashes regarding the first lady's recent solo trip to Africa. Staff in the East Wing tussled with Ricadel “over seating on the plane and requests to use National Security Council resources” on the Africa trip, and some on the first lady’s staff have suspected Ricardel is to blame for some negative stories about Melania Trump. A rift emerged after Mrs. Trump staff’s battled with Ms. Ricardel during the first lady’s trip to Africa last month over seating on the plane and requests to use National Security Council resources, according to people familiar with the matter. The first lady’s team also told Mr. Trump that they suspect Ms. Ricardel is behind some negative stories about Mrs. Trump and her staff. Late Tuesday, one White House official pushed back against the criticism but offered no assurances about Ms. Ricardel’s job security.

Fox News - November 14, 2018

Florida's Palm Beach County voting machines overheat, forcing another recount of about 175K early votes

Florida’s Palm Beach County recount was delayed Tuesday night after its voting machines overheated, forcing officials to restart the recount of about 175,000 early votes, according to Susan Bucher, the county's supervisor of elections.

"We’re disappointed by the mechanical problems that are going to cause a further delay in the recount,” Bucher told reporters, according to the Miami Herald. “It became evident through the vigorous pace of counting that the machines used for the recount were starting to get stressed.” She said the ballots didn’t tabulate properly and that two technicians from the machine’s vendor have been flown in to fix the machines while election office workers continue the recount, the Sun Sentinel of South Florida reported. Bucher said Monday that her office would not be able to meet the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline the state has imposed, despite a 24-hour operation, the Herald reported. She said the machines already began showing signs of problems Monday when the numbers did not match up with the early voting ballots run Tuesday, according to WPTV-TV of West Palm Beach. As a result, the case for a deadline extension in Palm Beach County was moved to a federal court Tuesday, The Herald reported. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers said she would grant an extension until Nov. 20, the report said. She concluded that the county “could not possibly” meet the deadline with its eight machines, according to the paper. The developments added to the tumult in the political battleground state. More than half of Florida's 67 counties began a recount process that's unprecedented even in a state notorious for settling elections by razor-thin margins.

Fox News - November 14, 2018

With another race called, Democrats near sweep of California's conservative hotbed of Orange County

First-time candidate Josh Harder defeated four-term Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham Tuesday in California's farm belt, giving Democrats their fourth pickup of a GOP House seat in California.

Harder, 32, a venture capitalist, had anchored his campaign to Denham's vote against the Affordable Care Act, while arguing that he would push for universal health care in Congress. He also argued that Denham and other Washington Republicans ignored poverty and health care in the agricultural 10th District in California's Central Valley. As ballot-counting continued, Democrats gained ground in two undecided House races in Orange County, California, raising the possibility of a Democratic sweep of four closely contested congressional races in the one-time Republican stronghold. In the 45th District in Orange County, Democrat Katie Porter jumped into a 261-vote lead over Republican Rep. Mimi Walters, after trailing the incumbent since Election Day. And in the 39th District, anchored in Orange County, Democrat Gil Cisneros tightened the gap with Republican Young Kim. Earlier, Democrats claimed the seats of Republican Reps. Dana Rohrabacher in the county's 48th District and retiring Darrell Issa in the 49th District, which cuts through the southern end of the county. With votes continuing to be counted, Harder's edge has grown after Denham grabbed a slim lead on Election Day. After the latest update, Harder had a 4,919-vote lead out of about 185,000 votes counted, a margin too large for the congressman to overcome with remaining votes. With Harder's win, Democrats will hold at least a 43-10 edge in California U.S. House seats.

CNN - November 14, 2018

California braces for more casualties as Camp Fire death toll climbs to 48

Nearly a week after the worst wildfire in California's history broke out, firefighters are still battling its roaring flames, 48 people have been confirmed dead and evacuees are growing desperate.

The death toll from the Camp Fire rose Tuesday –– and officials fear it will keep climbing –– as search teams comb through rubble and ashes in fire-ravaged Paradise, a town of about 27,000 residents in Northern California. "I want to tell you, though, this is a very, very difficult process," Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory L. Honea told reporters. "There's certainly the unfortunate possibility that even after we search an area, once we get people back in there, it's possible that human remains can be found." Authorities have requested that 100 National Guard troops join cadaver dogs, mobile morgues and anthropology teams in the grim search and recovery of human remains in the wreckage. Thousands of firefighters are hoping to make progress in containing the Camp Fire -- now the deadliest and most destructive in California's history. In Southern California, firefighters are battling a new blaze, the Sierra Fire, in San Bernardino County. The fire started late Tuesday about 50 miles east of Los Angeles near Rialto and Fontana, growing from two to three acres to 20 acres in just 15 minutes, the San Bernardino County Fire District said. Fire officials said the Sierra Fire was growing as a result of the Santa Ana winds. Winds will be "particularly strong" Wednesday morning in Southern California but and are expected to weaken by the evening hours, the National Weather Service said. Meanwhile in Northern California, forecasters have said the swirling winds that have fueled the Camp Fire would slowly begin to decrease Wednesday, giving firefighters a reprieve.

CNN - November 13, 2018

Trump eyes replacements for Kelly, Nielsen and others

President Donald Trump has been eyeing potential replacements for several senior positions in his administration –– both inside the West Wing and across the Cabinet, multiple officials familiar with the matter said.

With the exception of his family working inside the White House, few aides feel completely secure as he considers a major shakeup, the officials said. Kirstjen Nielsen, his secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, is potentially the next to go, multiple officials with knowledge of the matter said. Her departure could portend another high-profile exit: chief of staff John Kelly, Nielsen's top advocate in the administration. Trump could ask Nielsen to resign in the coming days, multiple officials familiar with the matter predicted, describing the President's continued frustration at her handling of his signature issue: immigration and border security. Meanwhile, Kelly is also on the list of possible resignations, despite Trump saying earlier this year he is welcome to stay in the post until the end of the President's term. Trump has been discussing a handful of replacements, including Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff. The President had a long conversation with him on midterm election night last week, and has grown to like him, two officials said, but they cautioned it is far from certain whether Trump will dismiss Kelly and elevate Ayers. Ayers is not traveling with the vice president in Asia this week. In recent weeks, the President has resumed polling advisers on potential replacements, as he did several months ago before ultimately announcing that Kelly would remain on as his chief of staff through his 2020 re-election campaign. Ayers has told at least two friends he is in the running for the position, but it's unclear whether he knows his true standing in the volatile West Wing. He has grown close to the President and key members of the administration, including the President's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and is valued for his political acumen -- something Trump allies have long grumbled that Kelly lacks. One Republican close to the White House questioned how serious Ayers was under consideration. Other top aides, such as adviser Johnny DeStefano and budget director Mick Mulvaney, are also being discussed -- as well as others outside the administration. DeStefano has presided over a growing portfolio inside a White House known for its complicated internal dynamics. He started out overseeing of the Office of Presidential Personnel, and has since been placed in charge of the political shop and the Office of Public Liaison. A source close to Mulvaney said he is no longer interested in the chief of staff position. He is now far more interested in a Cabinet position as a next move, the source said. Some Trump allies are urging the President to bring someone in from the outside, but it's an open question how attractive the position would be.

Associated Press - November 14, 2018

CIA considered potential truth serum for terror suspects

Shortly after 9/11, the CIA considered using a drug it thought might work like a truth serum and force terror suspects to give up information about potential attacks.

After months of research, the agency decided that a drug called Versed, a sedative often prescribed to reduce anxiety, was "possibly worth a try." But in the end, the CIA decided not to ask government lawyers to approve its use. The existence of the drug research program — dubbed "Project Medication" — is disclosed in a once-classified report that was provided to the American Civil Liberties Union under a judge's order and was released by the organization Tuesday. The 90-page CIA report, which was provided in advance to The Associated Press, is a window into the internal struggle that medical personnel working in the agency's detention and harsh interrogation program faced in reconciling their professional ethics with the chance to save lives by preventing future attacks. "This document tells an essential part of the story of how it was that the CIA came to torture prisoners against the law and helps prevent it from happening again," said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin. Between 2002 and 2007, CIA doctors, psychologists, physician assistants and nurses were directly involved in the interrogation program, the report said. They evaluated, monitored and cared for 97 detainees in 10 secret CIA facilities abroad and accompanied detainees on more than 100 flights. The CIA ultimately decided against asking the Justice Department to approve drug-assisted interrogations, sparing CIA doctors "some significant ethical concerns," the report said. It had taken months for the Justice Department to sign off on brutal interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, confinement in small spaces and the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. The CIA's counterterrorism team "did not want to raise another issue with the Department of Justice," the report said. Before settling on Versed, the report said researchers studied records of old Soviet drug experiments as well as the CIA's discredited MK-Ultra program from the 1950s and 1960s that involved human experimentation with LSD and other mind-altering drugs on unwitting individuals as part of a long search for some form of truth serum. These experiments were widely criticized and, even today, some experts doubt an effective substance exists. "But decades later, the agency was considering experimenting on humans again to test pseudo-scientific theories of learned helplessness on its prisoners," Ladin said. Versed is a brand name for the sedative midazolam, used since the late 1970s and today sold commonly as a generic. It causes drowsiness and relieves anxiety and agitation. It also can temporarily impair memory, and often is used for minor surgery or medical procedures such as colonoscopies that require sedation but not full-blown anesthesia. It's in a class of anti-anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines that work by affecting a brain chemical that calms the activity of nerve cells.

BBC - November 14, 2018

FBI: Spike in US hate crimes for third year in a row

Hate crimes in the US rose by 17 percent in 2017, the third straight year that incidents of bias-motivated attacks have grown, according to the FBI. The rise in hate crimes is attributed to an increase of about 1,000 police departments that are now choosing to report these incidents.

Law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes last year compared with 6,121 in 2016. The report found the surge especially affected black and Jewish Americans. Of the reported attacks in 2017, 2,013 were aimed at African Americans and 938 were against Jewish Americans. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker called the report a "call to action" and condemned the offenses as "despicable violations of our core values as Americans". According to the report, 59.6 percent of incidents were motivated by bias against race, ethnicity or ancestry. Crimes motivated by a victim's religion constituted 20.6 percent of attacks, and crimes against a person's sexual orientation made up 15.8 percent. The FBI definition of a hate crime is a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity." The 2017 data notes that about 5,000 of the crimes were directed against people through intimidation or assault. Around 3,000 were targeted at property, which includes vandalism or burglary. Crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs were not counted prior to 2015.

The Guardian - November 14, 2018

Theresa May's Brexit deal: everything you need to know

Theresa May’s cabinet meets later on Wednesday to approve or reject the text of a draft withdrawal agreement drawn up this week in Brussels by EU and UK negotiators two-and-a-half years after Britain voted to leave the bloc.

What is the withdrawal agreement? Think of it as the separation agreement between the UK and the EU. Running to a rumored 400 to 600 pages, it covers three main areas: Britain’s financial settlement with the EU to meet agreed commitments; the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens on the continent; a mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. The agreement also includes a much shorter (and non-binding) political declaration, probably of about 15 pages, outlining what the two sides see as their desired future trading relationship – which remains to be negotiated. Why has it been to hard to reach? While some of the detail took longer, the UK and EU agreed reasonably quickly on the so-called divorce bill and citizens’ rights (although not to the satisfaction of many of the citizens concerned). The sticking point has been the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which after Brexit will also become the border between the UK and the EU. Because of the island’s troubled history, both sides want to avoid a hard border with customs checks that could become a source of friction. The problem has been that since the prime minister promised in her Lancaster House speech to take Britain out of both the EU’s single market (to cease being an EU “rule-taker”) and the customs union (to allow it to strike its own trade deals around the world), customs and regulatory checks at the border are difficult to dodge. Ultimately, the border is supposed to become a non-issue under the terms of the comprehensive free trade agreement the two sides are expected to sign at some stage after Britain’s departure on 29 March next year. So how has this been resolved? For months, Britain rejected the EU’s proposed backstop – in effect, keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market – because it would require customs checks in the Irish Sea and other arrangements meaning Northern Ireland was treated differently to the rest of the UK. But the EU also rejected Britain’s suggestion that the whole of the UK should stay in a de facto customs union with the EU, mainly because the government wanted to be able to withdraw from such an arrangement unilaterally and when it chose (which, for the EU, meant it could not be considered a proper backstop). The solution appears to involve concessions on both sides. On the EU side, the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has accepted the idea of a whole-UK customs union with the EU, satisfying the UK’s demands that its territorial integrity must be preserved. But in return, Britain must agree that it will not be allowed to exit the backstop unless and until the EU agrees there is no prospect of a return to a hard border. In addition, it will have to accept special “deeper” customs arrangements for Northern Ireland, and the EU’s so-called “level playing-field” conditions for the whole of the UK.

The Hill - November 14, 2018

George Conway forms group to encourage conservative lawyers to 'speak out' against Trump

George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, has organized a group with the goal of urging fellow conservative lawyers to speak out against the Trump administration's actions.

“We believe in the rule of law, the power of truth, the independence of the criminal justice system, the imperative of individual rights and the necessity of civil discourse,” the group, Check and Balances, said in a mission statement. “We believe these principles apply regardless of the party or persons in power.” The New York Times notes that the group's launch comes as The Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, prepares to gather on Thursday for its 2018 convention. The statement from the group was signed by 14 conservative lawyers, including former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) and former acting Attorney General Pete D. Keisler, who served in the George W. Bush administration. Conway, who has been a frequent critic of President Trump, told The Times that while he admires the Federalist Society's work, there is a "perception out there that conservative lawyers have essentially sold their souls for judges and regulatory reform." “We just want to be a voice speaking out, and to encourage others to speak out," he said. Keisler added to the newspaper that Checks and Balances is intended to encourage debate about the Trump administration's policies. “It’s important that people from across the political spectrum speak out about the country’s commitment to the rule of law and the core values underlying it — that the criminal justice system should be nonpartisan and independent, that a free press and public criticism should be encouraged and not attacked,” Keisler said.

November 13, 2018

Lead Stories

CNBC - November 12, 2018

Tariffs are having a negative impact for only about 9 percent of companies, earnings calls show

Tariff concerns remain a key talking point on Wall Street when dissecting the market volatility fit over the past month, but the issue seems to be carrying less heft among corporate executives.

Commentary that has accompanied third-quarter profit reports has taken less of a focus on the back-and-forth trade levies the U.S. and its trading partners, primarily China, have implemented in recent months. President Donald Trump has railed against the burgeoning U.S. trade deficit, and Wall Street strategists have been expressing concern that the tariff battles could endanger economic growth and hit profit margins. But with earnings season nearly completed, about one-third of the companies reporting so far have used the word "tariffs" during their conference calls in any context, with the number citing a negative impact only a fraction of that. Total tariff mentions came from 138 of the S&P 500 companies, down from the 157 that had used the term following second-quarter reports, according to FactSet data. Only about 9 percent of the companies in the index "noted a negative impact," said Savita Subramanian, equity and quant strategist at Bank of American Merrill Lynch. At a sector level, industrials most frequently mentioned the issue, followed by tech, consumer discretionary and materials. Seven of the index's 11 sectors saw a quarterly decline in the number of companies that used the term, while only two showed an increase. "The small decline in the number and percentage of companies discussing tariffs in the third quarter relative to the second quarter may be a sign that there is slightly less concern in corporate America about widespread impacts from the tariffs throughout the economy," wrote John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet.

Politico - November 13, 2018

Republicans used redistricting to build a wall around the House. Trump just tore it down.

For years, some Democrats said gerrymandering was an insurmountable roadblock to the House majority that couldn’t be cleared until after the 2020 census. Then along came President Donald Trump.

House Democrats steamrolled Republicans in an array of districts last week, from those drawn by independent commissions or courts, to seats crafted specifically by Republicans with the intention of keeping them in the GOP column. The overriding factor: a Republican president who political mapmakers could not have foreseen at the beginning of the decade. Trump altered the two parties’ coalitions in ways that specifically undermined conventional wisdom about the House map, bringing more rural voters into the GOP tent while driving away college-educated voters. The trade worked in some states. But it was a Republican disaster in the House, where well-off suburbs, once the backbone of many GOP districts, rebelled against Trump in 2016 and then threw out House members in 2018. “It’s worth pointing out that the map is still quite gerrymandered,” said David Shor, head of political data science at Civis Analytics, a Democratic firm. “But I think an underappreciated aspect of that is you had districts that elected incumbents that were good fits for the [Republican] coalition that existed — but no longer worked as well when the 2016 realignment happened.” Two Illinois races in particular illustrate how political evolution outpaced the boundaries drawn after the 2010 census. GOP Reps. Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren, who lost last week, had not been Democratic targets in any of the first three elections under the current map, and Mitt Romney carried their districts outside Chicago handily in the 2012 presidential election. Democrats designed the districts thinking they would elect Republicans in perpetuity, instead drawing maps aimed at flipping other districts in the state in 2012. But Roskam’s district flipped to Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016, while Trump won Hultgren’s district with just 48 percent of the vote that year. More than half of Roskam’s adult constituents and 40 percent of Hultgren’s are college-educated, according to census data. And in the midterm elections, 26 of the 36 GOP districts that Democrats have flipped so far had larger college-educated populations than the national average. “In Illinois, we had two suburban districts that everyone assumed would be Republican holds" but flipped, said Ian Russell, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee political director who coordinated with Illinois Democrats on redistricting seven years ago. He added that another district in a more rural area downstate, which was drawn for a former Democratic congressman, is still represented by a Republican. “Trump accelerated all of" those trends, Russell said. It was much the same story for GOP members representing the suburbs in red states like Georgia and Texas. Reps. Karen Handel R-GA, John Culberson, R-TX, and Pete Sessions R-TX, held seats drawn by Republicans to elect Republicans before Trump was elected. All of them lost. Handel was one of just seven Republicans in the current House whose adult constituents were majority college-educated; there may be just one such member in the next Congress.

Wall Street Journal - November 11, 2018

Mark Penn and Andrew Stein: Hillary will run again

Get ready for Hillary Clinton 4.0. More than 30 years in the making, this new version of Mrs. Clinton, when she runs for president in 2020, will come full circle—back to the universal-health-care-promoting progressive firebrand of 1994.

True to her name, Mrs. Clinton will fight this out until the last dog dies. She won’t let a little thing like two stunning defeats stand in the way of her claim to the White House. It’s been quite a journey. In July 1999, Mrs. Clinton began her independent political career on retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s farm in upstate New York. Her Senate platform included support for a balanced budget, the death penalty and incremental health-care reform. It was a decisive break from her early-1990s self. Hillary Clinton 2.0 was a moderate, building on the success of her communitarian “It Takes a Village” appeals and pledging to bring home the bacon for New York. She emphasized her religious background, voiced strong support for Israel, voted for the Iraq war, and took a hard line against Iran. This was arguably the most successful version of Hillary Clinton. She captured the hearts and minds of New York’s voters and soared to an easy re-election in 2006, leaving Bill and all his controversies behind. But Hillary 2.0 could not overcome Barack Obama, the instant press sensation. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mrs. Clinton held fast to centrist positions that would have assured her victory in the general election. But progressive leaders and donors abandoned her for the antiwar Mr. Obama. Black voters who had been strong Clinton supporters in New York and Arkansas left her column to elect the first African-American president. History was made, but not by Mrs. Clinton. Though she won more delegates from Democratic primaries, activists in caucus states gave Mr. Obama, who had called her “likable enough,” the heartbreaking win. Licking her wounds, Mrs. Clinton served as secretary of state while she planned her comeback. It was during this time that the more liberal Hillary 3.0 emerged. She believed she could never win a primary as a moderate, so she entered the 2016 primary as a progressive like Mr. Obama. Then she moved further left as Sen. Bernie Sanders came closer to derailing her nomination. This time she was able to contain her opponent’s support, crucially by bringing African-American voters into her camp. But Mrs. Clinton’s transformation during the primaries, especially on social and cultural issues, cost her an easy win against Donald Trump. As Hillary 3.0 catered to the coastal elites who had eluded her in 2008, Mr. Trump stole many of the white working-class voters who might have been amenable to the previous version. Finally she had the full support of the New York Times and the other groups that had shunned her for Mr. Obama—but only at the cost of an unforeseen collapse in support in the Midwest.

San Antonio Express-News - November 12, 2018

Health professionals in nasty fight over gun violence with NRA. Among them is a doctor who treated Sutherland Springs victims.

Emergency room physicians did not take kindly to being scolded last week by the National Rifle Association to “stay in their lane” and not get involved in the nation’s gun debate.

As of Monday morning, 26,000 doctors, nurses, paramedics, social workers and other health professionals, including at least one in San Antonio, signed an open letter to the NRA, penned Friday night and headlined “Gun Violence Is Our Lane.” In addition, the hashtag #ThisISOurLane is spreading around the globe. Dr. Ronald Stewart, a trauma surgeon at University Hospital who treated people injured in the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church mass shooting last year, was one who signed. He said he was shocked when he saw the NRA's response, adding that it “seemed insulting” to medical professionals who deal with the physical toll of gun violence daily. Stewart said he has treated hundreds, if not thousands, of patients with gunshot wounds. “It struck such a nerve because when you’re caring for the patients and when you’re helping them and you’re dealing with their grief and pain and dealing with the problems that are entailed, it’s unbelievable for somebody to say, ‘Stay out of this, this is not in your lane,’” he said. Stewart, who chaired the committee on trauma for the American College of Surgeons until earlier this year, said the organization has tried to be inclusive in its approach to reducing firearm injuries and deaths, one he said starkly contrasts with the gun lobby’s reaction. Tackling the complex public health crisis requires putting aside philosophical differences, he said. “As somebody who has called for everyone to work together, it was incredibly disappointing,” Stewart said. “It’s not about getting rid of guns at all. It’s about making firearm ownership safer for those who own guns and those who don’t.” The NRA did not respond to an emailed request for comment Monday. The dust-up began Oct. 30 after a position paper by doctors was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, an academic medical journal published by the American College of Physicians. The physician authors called for gun violence to be treated as a public health crisis and urged what they called reasonable restrictions on gun purchases as well as more governmental study. They also asked for the freedom to speak to patients about gun safety. Three days later, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action responded with its own position paper that began: “Everyone has hobbies. Some doctors’ collective hobby is opining on firearms policy.” Things really heated up last Wednesday when the NRA, in promoting its paper, tweeted: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” And with that, it was on. Doctors around the country quickly slammed the NRA, carrying #ThisISOurLane” into battle in the newly declared Twitter war.

Houston Chronicle - November 12, 2018

Investigators search office of ex-Harris County GOP chairman Jared Woodfill

Authorities on Monday raided the law office of former Harris County Republican Party chairman Jared Woodfill. Investigators with the Harris County District Attorney’s office wheeled carts of documents from Woodfill’s office at 3 Riverway at least an hour after they arrived.

Woodfill was the chairman of the county GOP for 12 years until 2014. He frequently practiced in juvenile and divorce courts in Harris County. Woodfill is the subject of two separate formal complaints — one to the State Bar of Texas and the other to the Houston Police Department. In both complaints, Woodfill is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients’ trust accounts. In the criminal complaint, filed in March 2017, Richard Rodriguez accused Woodfill’s firm of stealing more than $300,000 from a divorce trust account. Rodriguez said Monday he believed the search was related to his complaint. A Monday hearing in Rodriguez’s case was suspended shortly before the search at Woodfill’s office, according to court records and an interview. In a separate case also involving a divorce, a federal bankruptcy court judge found in 2016 that Woodfill’s firm acted in “extreme bad faith” by misrepresenting how much its attorneys were owed while in Harris County family court and in a subsequent bankruptcy case. Woodfill’s firm had “taken funds from the (trust) account that have not yet been earned and, thus, several thousands of dollars have been unaccounted for,” U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Jeff Bohm wrote in a February 2016 finding of fact document, federal court records show. “Indeed,” Bohm continued, “based on the information provided at trial, there is at least $140,449.36 in unaccounted funds and/or overpayments to (Woodfill’s firm).” Woodfill’s firm disputed and planned to appeal Bohm’s finding, court records show. In November, the State Bar of Texas publicly reprimanded Woodfill in a complaint that the Chronicle found is related to the bankruptcy matter. “Woodfill had direct supervisory authority over members of his firm who violated the disciplinary rules during the representation in a divorce,” the State Bar of Texas wrote, “and Woodfill failed to take reasonable action. …He was ordered to pay $3,490 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.”

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 12, 2018

Texas lawmakers file more than 400 bill proposals as 2019 session prep begins

Texas lawmakers filed more than 400 bills Monday, the first day legislators could submit ideas for laws they want to enact next year. The 181 members of the Texas House and Senate have until March 8 to file bills. The Legislature, which meets once every two years for 140 days, will kick off its next session on Jan. 8.

In 2017, lawmakers filed more than 13,000 bills and resolutions. Just around 10 percent became law. That year, the most heated debates took place over immigration policy and LGBTQ rights. In 2019, top GOP leaders have pledged to focus on property taxes, while both parties have expressed an interest in tackling the state's long-maligned method of funding public schools. After a contentious election, lawmakers could also focus on voting, school safety and teacher benefits. Lower bill numbers indicate legislation made a priority by the lieutenant governor and speaker, who lead the Texas Senate and House, respectively. These bills are not usually filed this early in the process and none had been submitted by Monday afternoon. On Monday, the bills expected to frame the big property tax battle ahead of the Legislature had yet to be filed. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick have vowed to combat skyrocketing property taxes by fighting for a law that would cap annual property tax revenue growth collected by local governments. Multiple efforts were rejected during the 2017 special session, as city and county leaders argued the local intrusion would tie their hands as they try to fund services like police and fire. So far, both state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed bills to create a property tax administration advisory board to provide oversight to local appraisals and local tax offices. Many Republican and Democrat leaders have been united in a belief that the state needs to increase its share of dollars funding public schools -- though they disagree about how to achieve that goal. Fort Worth Republican Rep. Charlie Geren put forth an ambitious attempt calling for a constitutional amendment that would require the state to fund half of the public school costs. Currently, the state pays about 38 percent of public school costs, while local taxes provide the rest. The state's portion has been declining -- in 2009, the state covered 46 percent of school costs. Many lawmakers have said increasing the state's funding on the front end could allow property tax rates to be reduced on the back end. "The state's reducing their share of spending every year, and locals are covering the difference," said Dax Gonzales, Texas Association of School Boards government relations spokesman.

Dallas Morning News - November 12, 2018

Beto-mania hits Iowa, where Democrats want to size up O'Rourke for a 2020 White House run

Memo to Beto O’Rourke: That buzz you’ve heard over the sobs of your admirers in Texas isn’t just in your imagination. On Monday morning, six days after the El Paso Democrat fell just short against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Polk County Democratic Party in Des Moines -- home to one third of Iowa’s Democratic voters --invited him to visit.

Rumors had circulated all weekend that the Texas congressman had popped up in Des Moines or Iowa City or other reaches of the state that hosts the first nominating contest of 2020. “People were going crazy trying to figure where he was and what I knew and where he might be going,” said Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats. “It was like Beatlemania, for God’s sake. It was like all weekend long, supposed sightings. ... There’s definitely some electricity there.” The Texan hadn't yet responded to the invitation. In the political salons of Iowa and New Hampshire, where jockeying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nod began months ago, O’Rourke’s narrow loss piqued the interest of party activists. He raised an eye-popping $70 million in a bid to turn Texas purple, falling short by just 2.6 percentage points, the closest a Texas Democrat has come to nabbing a statewide office in two decades. A Morning Consult/Politico poll released Monday afternoon showed O’Rourke running third among Democratic voters nationwide on their wish list for 2020, behind only former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden, a senator for 36 years and vice president for eight, was the choice of 26 percent of those polled. Sanders, runner-up to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 nomination, was picked by 19 percent. O’Rourke, barely known in Texas before he launched his bid for Senate, came in third with 8 percent. Take that with a grain of salt. Barack Obama came from nowhere to win the presidency in 2008, but he’d won the office O’Rourke couldn’t quite nab last week. Being third on a long list of contenders reflects the torrent of free publicity he attracted in the last month.

Dallas Morning News - November 12, 2018

Nine Texas freshmen head to orientation at transformed U.S. House

Texas is sending nine freshman to a U.S. House transformed by the midterm elections, putting Democrats in charge and in position to provide a check on the Trump administration — and to exercise oversight that could entail fierce clashes in the coming two years.

At least 85 new members arrive Tuesday for three days of orientation. They'll get ethics training and tours of the Capitol's mazelike corridors. If the weather holds, they'll pose for a class photo on the steps of the House. Four Democrats and five Republicans are in the Texas freshman class. With 36 seats in the House, that means 1 in 4 from Texas is held by a newbie. Starting in January, when they're sworn in, the party split from Texas will be 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats, a shift from the current 25-11 ratio. Two of the Democratic newcomers ousted powerful longtime incumbents. In Dallas, lawyer and former NFL football player Colin Allred beat Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee and member of the House GOP leadership. Sessions has served 11 terms. In Houston, lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher defeated nine-term Rep. John Culberson, who has chaired an Appropriations subcommittee that controls billions in spending for NASA, the Justice Department and other federal departments. Texas is sending its first two Latinas to Congress, both Democrats. Veronica Escobar, the former El Paso County judge, will replace Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who lost the U.S. Senate race to Ted Cruz by 2.6 percent of the vote. In Houston, Sylvia Garcia is moving from the state Senate to the U.S. House, replacing Democratic Rep. Gene Green, who retired. A wave of retirements among senior Republicans paved way for a crop of five new Texas Republicans, In Houston, Dan Crenshaw, a retired Navy SEAL who lost his right eye to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, succeeds Rep. Ted Poe of Humble. State Sen. Van Taylor of Plano succeeds Rep. Sam Johnson, a POW during the Vietnam War who was elected to Congress in 1991 and is leaving as the oldest member of the House, at age 88. State Rep. Lance Gooden of Terrell succeeds Dallas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Ron Wright of Arlington succeeds Rep. Joe Barton, elected in 1984. Wright had served as his chief of staff and most recently, the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector. Chip Roy, a former Cruz chief of staff, succeeds House science chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, elected in 1986.

Dallas Morning News - November 9, 2018

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings wants Texas Legislature's help to move municipal elections to November

Mayor Mike Rawlings wants more people to vote in municipal elections. To that end, he'd like to move City Council races to the November ballot in even-numbered years, so they'll coincide with presidential and midterm elections.

This week’s massive turnout in a special election for Dwaine Caraway’s vacant District 4 seat proves his point, he said. While there wasn't a winner among the 13-candidate field — forcing a December runoff — 14,297 votes were cast, the most in any City Council race since 2009. "When I see that number, I feel that District 4 is truly speaking about who they wanted and what they wanted from a candidate, as opposed to when I see 1,500 people turn out in some races across the city from time to time," Rawlings said. Not everyone, though, thinks moving nonpartisan May races is a good idea. Dallas ISD trustee Miguel Solis said that having the district's tax ratification election on the November ballot certainly helped its cause, "because the type of voters that showed up tended to be more pro-public education and therefore more pro-TRE." Four propositions from DISD, including a 13-cent increase in the tax rate, all passed comfortably. But "partisanizing" local races, like school board elections, would have unintended consequences, Solis said. "Nonpartisan, local government is our last best hope at getting stuff done without party dynamics getting in the way like it does in Austin and D.C.," he said. The mayor’s initial push for November elections came earlier this year, after a survey of Dallas voters was commissioned by The Dallas Morning News and conducted by Baselice & Associates. More than half of respondents said they’d be more likely to vote in November of an even-numbered year than May of an odd-numbered year. Over 54 percent of eligible voters — 727,371 — cast their ballots in Dallas County on Tuesday. Historically, voter turnout in elections for District 4 — which covers parts of Oak Cliff — is low, much as it is with other Dallas council races. Citywide turnout in May 2017’s council races was 7.6 percent. “I think that hurts in the long run,” Rawlings said. “I don’t think our society is better for it when we don’t have maximum political participation. And we, as political leaders, should be putting our own political issues off to the side and make it as easy for people to vote as possible.”

Dallas Morning News - November 12, 2018

After decades battling for veteran status, WWII women pilots fight for their place in Texas history

After decades fighting to be recognized as veterans, women pilots who flew during World War II are now fighting to retain their place in Texas history. On Tuesday, the Texas State Board of Education is expected to vote on sweeping changes to what is taught in history classes.

Among the dozens of people and groups the board has proposed cutting to "streamline" the curriculum are the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, the more than 1,000 Fly Girls trained in West Texas to be the first American women to fly military aircraft. It took the pilots more than three decades to win the right to call themselves veterans. And now, their descendants are gearing up for this new fight. They want their stories taught in Texas classrooms, and have amassed thousands of signatures in support. "I'd not want to have to tell the family of WASP Cornelia Fort, a woman who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, who joined the WASP, who was the first woman pilot to die in service of her country, that the State Board of Education is removing her story from the curriculum," Ann Hobing, president of the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, said Friday. "Children can be inspired by this group of women 75 years ago. What better example to show that a legacy can truly live on than to be required in textbooks?"

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

New bills filed for marijuana decriminalization in Texas

Decriminalization of marijuana in Texas is back on the table as nearly a half dozen bills related to the drug’s use were filed on Monday for the 86th legislative session.

Recreational and most medical uses of marijuana are still prohibited in the state, the exception being low-THC cannabis for qualifying intractable epilepsy patients under the Texas Compassionate Use Program. Marijuana advocates, who have been pushing for decriminalization and an expansion to the medical program, have gained greater bipartisan support in recent years, said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. Lawmakers filed hundreds of bills Monday in advance of the deadline. Cannabis advocates championed two bills in particular: House Bill 63, which proposes a civil penalty for less than an ounce of marijuana possession instead of arrests, convictions or a criminal record; and Senate Bill 90, which aims to allow more medical conditions to qualify for the state’s medical program, as well as offer greater protections to registered medical professionals prescribing the drug. Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat, who authored House Bill 63 noted the “swell of bipartisan support” for decriminalization of marijuana in the state. “I’m optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas,” Moody said in a statement. Earlier this year the Republican Party of Texas updated its official platform to support making it a civil rather than criminal offense to possess less than an ounce of marijuana. They called for a fine of up to $100, without jail time. And during a debate with Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez this year, Gov. Greg Abbott said he was open to dropping the punishment of 180 days of jail and a $2,000 fine to just a $500 fine for possession of less than 2 ounces. The public Republican shift towards more lenient marijuana laws has some advocates feeling confident in efforts to protect recreational use of the drug as well as those who rely on it for medicinal purposes. State Sen. Jose Menendez, a Democrat, who authored Senate Bill 90, said “doctors, not politicians, should determine what is best for Texas patients.”

Houston Chronicle - November 12, 2018

‘The loss is bitter,’ says Beto O’Rourke in email to supporters

Defeated U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke didn’t offer any concrete steps about what his next move will be, but told supporters in an email late Sunday that he intends to be “be part of the best way forward for this country.”

O’Rourke made clear he is certain, though, about one immediate goal: “For the time being, I am going to focus on being a better dad to our kids who have not had much of one for the last 22 months,” O’Rourke said. O’Rourke used much of his nearly 1,000-word email to thank supporters for their efforts. “I am grateful that you gave me a chance to be part of this,” O’Rourke said. “I feel responsible to you, to our country, to my kids and to my conscience to make sure that we continue to find a way to respond to the urgency that we still feel. It didn’t go away Tuesday night.” Still there is clearly a sting in the loss. “The loss is bitter, and I don’t know that I’ve been able to fully understand it,” O’Rourke wrote. “I try not to ask what I could have done differently because I don’t know that there is an end to those questions or thoughts. There are a million different decisions I could have made, paths I could have taken, things I could have said or not said, said better or differently. I did my best, everyone did. For our democracy to work, for us to be able to continue to work together, it’s important to be at peace with the outcome.” O’Rourke turned a U.S. Senate race few thought would be very competitive a year ago into one of the most closely fought contests in the nation. Using a social-media-driven campaign, O’Rourke refused political action committee money, but still set fundraising records. He made it a priority to visit all 254 counties in Texas, a time-consuming exercise that political analysts doubted would pay off. While O’Rourke lost, he succeeded in giving the Democrats their best showing in a U.S. Senate race in Texas since the 1980s. According to the most up-to-date unofficial results, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz beat O’Rourke by just 219,427 votes for a margin of 2.6 percentage points. “Grateful to you for being a part of this, for giving me a chance to be a part of this,” O’Rourke said at the close of his email. “See you down the road.”

Houston Chronicle - November 13, 2018

Texas has big stake in legal fight over citizenship question on 2020 census

The first trial challenging the Trump administration’s plan to ask people in the 2020 census if they are U.S. citizens has unearthed evidence that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross began pushing for the question even before he was confirmed last year, and that Ross took advice from anti-immigration hardliners.

In U.S. District Court in New York’s Southern District, the trial could conclude this week amid speculation that the Supreme Court likely will decide the issue. The case is on a fast track given the need to make printing arrangements soon for millions of census questionnaires. Another suit, filed by groups in Texas - where an undercount of Latinos could have profound consequences - is scheduled to be heard in federal court in January and alleges a “conspiracy” to violate civil rights. Critics of including the question in the census say that Texas, with an estimated 1.6 million undocumented immigrants, has much to lose by an undercount of Latinos. Texas stands to add three congressional districts after the next census because of population shifts. In addition, an inaccurate count threatens Texas’s share of the $600 billion in federal funds distributed by population. Trump allies contend that the government has unlimited authority to conduct the census and that it’s reasonable to collect information on the number of undocumented immigrants in the country, data that can help allocate government services. Ross has persisted with demands to ask the citizenship question despite worries by many - including his own Census Bureau — that it would jeopardize an accurate count of minorities. Earlier this month, a report commissioned by the Census Bureau concluded that asking the question could pose a “major barrier” to the willingness of some Latinos to fill out the forms. “Focus group participants expressed intense fear that information will be shared with other government agencies to help them find undocumented immigrants,” the report concluded, adding that Latinos did not believe the Census Bureau’s promise of confidentiality. The case in New York — brought by sixteen states, seven cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors — argues that asking the question violates the Constitution’s requirement to conduct an “actual enumeration” of the population. Five former Census Bureau directors from both Republican and Democratic administrations have entered the case supporting claims against the government, among them Steven Murdock, a Rice University sociologists who led the census under George W. Bush,

Houston Chronicle - November 12, 2018

Hurricane Harvey flood victims say friends, family more important than government aid, survey finds

The vast majority of Houstonians relied on friends and family rather than government aid in the year following Hurricane Harvey, according to a new survey conducted in partnership with Allstate and Atlantic57.

The survey, which will be presented to participants at a post-Harvey summit Tuesday in Houston, also revealed that minorities felt a stronger sense of community than non-minorities in the wake of the historic flooding that engulfed the region in August 2017. The findings are among an array of issues on the agenda at a three-hour conference Tuesday at Silver Street Studios at Sawyer Yards. The event features former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the presidents of the University of Houston and Rice University, a local Federal Emergency Management Agency representative as well as artists and leaders in the business and nonprofit sectors. The Renewal Summit bills itself as a robust discussion between community members and leaders about what did and didn’t work in terms of the city’s response to the disaster. Participants will also tackle how the city can do a better job getting the word out about existing resources and preparing for future emergencies. The recent survey done in preparation for the event collected information from 708 people in the Houston metropolitan area Oct. 20-28. Of those, 94 percent who suffered losses in the storm said they turned to friends, family and neighbors for help after Harvey, while just 16 percent of the group reported also looking to federal, state and local government for help. The majority, 84 percent, said they felt prepared for the next storm. A similar majority said the hurricane brought communities closer than they were before Harvey. The survey also found that millennials experienced the most disruption to their lives as a result of the storm and were less prepared for another hurricane of Harvey’s magnitude. One notable result was that most respondents were satisfied with the government’s response, according to Roberto DeLeon, Allstate spokesman for Texas.

Bloomberg - November 13, 2018

Exxon, Chevron might pursue bids for major Permian Basin acreage

Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. are among the companies considering first-round bids this month for closely held oil producer Endeavor Energy Resources LP, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The two oil majors may be joined by ConocoPhillips in the auction process, which is expected to value the company at about $15 billion including debt, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Royal Dutch Shell Plc has also been contacted and may participate in the process, the people said. The value reflects Endeavor's size, with drilling rights on 329,000 net acres, of which only 2 percent have been developed, the people said. A $15 billion sale would rank among the top 10 deals ever for a private energy company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Representatives for Endeavor, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips declined to comment. A representative for Shell didn't respond to a request for comment. Endeavor, based in Midland and owned by the family of founder Autry C. Stephens, agreed to run a sales process after its advisers got inquiries from prospective bidders, the people familiar with the matter said. Despite that interest, the family's preference remains an initial public offering in 2019 so it can retain control, and the management team is continuing to organize its accounts for that goal, the people said. After a relatively slow start in the first half of the year, deal activity has increased in the North American oil and gas market, driven by companies looking to increase their interests in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico. The deals have included Diamondback Energy Inc.'s agreement in August to buy peer Energen Corp. for $8.4 billion and BP Plc's pending $10.5 billion acquisition of BHP Billiton Ltd.'s onshore U.S. operations.

Austin American-Statesman - November 12, 2018

Insurance payouts for Llano River flooding may hit $24 million

The insurance bill to repair homes and other structures damaged during the flooding of the Llano River and Highland Lakes last month is on track to hit nearly $24 million, according to federal statistics, a figure likely to grow as more claims come in.

The price tag is only for insured structures, so it doesn’t include repairs that property owners without flood insurance are paying for themselves. Gov. Greg Abbott has asked that a number of Central Texas counties hit hard by the flooding be declared federal disaster areas -- which could provide federal money for some uninsured repairs -- but his request is still pending. Even if a disaster declaration eventually is made, however, Federal Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Robin Smith said, payouts under it wouldn’t be enough to make up for a lack of flood insurance because disaster funds aren’t intended to help a homeowner recoup all of their losses. “All the disaster funds are authorized to assist with are those items which make the home safe, secure and sanitary,” Smith said. So far, 1,015 claims on flood insurance policies backed by the National Flood Insurance Program have been filed related to property damage from the Llano River flooding, according to FEMA. The agency didn’t provide a breakdown of the claims by county, but those that experienced significant damage include Llano, Burnet, Mason and Travis counties. Of 233 insurance claims processed already, 82 have been approved and a combined $5.47 million has been paid on them -- an average of about $67,000 each. The total tab for all 1,015 claims filed would work out to about $23.8 million, if those remaining are approved and paid at the same average rates. But the total could climb, because private insurance companies that sell and service flood insurance underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program might submit more claims for federal reimbursement, Smith said. State Farm, for instance, has received about 1,640 claims involving recent flood damage from homeowners statewide, spokesman Chris Pilcic said. State Farm -- which insures more Texas homes than any other company -- declined to release the number of claims it has processed or submitted to the federal government for reimbursement.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 12, 2018

Attorney's eye-popping $460,000 in earnings to defend indigent clients in Collin County prompting changes

Collin County is adding more controls after fees to an attorney representing indigent clients this past fiscal year topped $460,000 — more than double the amount of any other court-appointed lawyer in the county.

Attorney Marc Fratter, 46, also earned significantly more than anyone on the county payroll, including the district judges who approved his pay sheets. An initial audit has been done on payments to the McKinney-based lawyer. Fratter's eye-popping earnings have also prompted an internal review of the county's processes and procedures, which is ongoing. A preliminary analysis showed the bulk of Fratter's payments were approved by just two of the county's 18 judges. Fratter said he put in long hours — billing as much as 100 hours a week at times — with his one-man firm handling the workload of as many as six attorneys. He pointed to judges' signatures on all of his pay sheets. "I'm not hiding anything," he said. But his earnings have become the latest in an ongoing clash here between the judges who approve attorneys' pay and the county commissioners who control the budget. A Texas Criminal Court of Appeals ruling is pending over the county's refusal to pay more than $205,000 in attorney fees ordered last year for special prosecutors in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's criminal case. Collin County Judge Keith Self said payments to Fratter have been on hold for about a month while a judicial review is conducted. Self declined to say what that review entails. But he did say that court appointments in general are an ongoing concern. "Can a single judge commit the county for unlimited amounts of tax dollars?" he asked. The issue will come up again at Monday's Commissioners Court meeting, where the county auditor has submitted more than $32,347 in court-appointed fees from Fratter for approval. Geoff Burkhart, executive director of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, said there needs to be a balance between a defendant's constitutional right to an attorney and the county's need to be responsible with taxpayers' money. "It's important that the outcome of a criminal case not depend on how much money you have," he said.

City Stories

Planetizen - November 12, 2018

Houston region continues to grow, and local governance is struggling to meet residents’ needs.

A new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research looks at growth in the Houston region and the struggles cities, counties, municipal utility districts (MUDs), and special districts face in providing municipal services to developing areas.

“How do we ensure that all areas of those jurisdictions get the services they need and that those jurisdictions have the revenues and powers they need to adequately serve those areas?” asks Kyle Sheldon, one of the report’s authors, in an interview on Houston Matters. Shelton says MUDs, prevalent in Harris County, are special districts in the state of Texas with property tax collection and other powers that help them build public infrastructure in areas that a city cannot or does not want to reach. However, the system has become complicated and confusing, says Shelton. “There are a lot of growing populations in those areas, and they have expectations for services and may not always understand the county is not the water provider, [that] the county does not do all the same things that the city does.” One reform proposal is regional revenue sharing, where all jurisdictions in an area pay into a shared pot that is then redistributed. “That would help address some of the disparities we have in some jurisdictions: not being able to adequately maintain water treatment facilities or adequately maintain streets. It helps all of those jurisdictions without overturning existing systems or asking people to drastically change the government structure,” says Shelton. Other options at the county level include giving fast-growing counties sales tax and limited ordinance-making powers. Shelton stresses that thinking at the regional scale and about regional vitality is important. He notes that Houston chose to grow and to be responsible for providing services to a massive area. He says that MUDs are providing many of those services effectively, and parts of the system are working well. However, the various entities need to be strengthened to prepare for the long-term regional challenges.

National Stories

New York Times - November 11, 2018

Should the press boycott Trump? Political strategists weigh in.

The CNN chief Jeff Zucker gave his troops unexpected orders the day after President Trump snatched the press credential away from Jim Acosta, one of the network’s White House correspondents.

The CNN chief Jeff Zucker gave his troops unexpected orders the day after President Trump snatched the press credential away from Jim Acosta, one of the network’s White House correspondents. The temptation to play it big was strong. Here was a CNN star in the middle of the action, and television news is nothing if not self-promotional. But at the regular morning meeting on Thursday, Mr. Zucker told his producers to stand down. It was a first step toward a revised approach in dealing with the president’s anti-media antics, which reached a new level last week when Mr. Trump went beyond mere rhetoric by taking away Mr. Acosta’s White House press pass and threatening to do the same for anyone else who failed to show “respect.” Other news organizations appeared to follow Mr. Zucker’s lead, resisting the urge, for once, to allow the president to turn them into hapless characters in his never-ending national melodrama. It isn’t my habit to ask political operatives to weigh in on journalistic matters. But in bringing a reporter’s notebook to a knife fight, the White House press corps has seemed overmatched in parrying attacks from a man who flummoxed rivals with catchy sobriquets like Low Energy Jeb, Lyin’ Ted and Crooked Hillary. The strategists have more experience with this kind of thing than newspaper editors or journalism professors. Reporters could stage a group protest. But that would make them look like they’re at war with the president, just as he always says they are. Or they could do nothing and effectively “submit to his authority to determine who gets to hold him accountable,” as the former Republican presidential strategist Steve Schmidt put it to me in an interview on Friday. “He’s Swift-Boating you guys,” said Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John Kerry. She was referring to “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” a group that undermined one of Mr. Kerry’s strong points, his stellar war record in Vietnam. The false accusations presented the Kerry campaign with a classic campaign dilemma. To address them, even to dispute them, would only call more attention to them. And letting them go unmet would let them fester. (Mr. Kerry ultimately responded, but some Democrats complained after his loss that he did so too late.) Mr. Schmidt, who helped manage John McCain’s 2008 campaign and served a stint in George W. Bush’s White House, said a boycott of the White House press briefings should “at least be on the table” until Mr. Acosta’s pass is returned — especially when Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, so often uses the sessions to spread falsehoods. “What they should say is the press briefing is conditioned and premised on the ability of a free press to hold government accountable,” said Mr. Schmidt, who has emerged as a critic of Mr. Trump on MSNBC and recently announced he was quitting the Republican Party. John Weaver, a lead strategist for the 2016 Republican presidential campaign of Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, was more bullish on a boycott, even if means giving Mr. Trump the foil he seeks. “If you’re going to catch hell anyway, do the right thing,” said Mr. Weaver. He cited not just Mr. Acosta’s revoked pass but also Mr. Trump’s personal insults against reporters last week, including three black women who cover him. At this point, though, even the White House Correspondents’ Association has not threatened a walkout. The lack of a call to action may have something do with the fact that Mr. Acosta is a somewhat polarizing figure, viewed by some of his press corps colleagues as a showboat. But there is also the risk of a backlash if the reporters were to stay away from the next briefing.

New York Times - November 12, 2018

Bipartisan sentencing overhaul moves forward but rests on Trump

A bipartisan group of senators has reached a tentative deal on the most substantial rewrite of the nation’s sentencing and prison laws in a generation, giving judges more latitude to sidestep mandatory minimum sentences and easing drug sentences that have incarcerated African-Americans at much higher rates than white offenders.

The lawmakers believe they can get the measure to President Trump during the final weeks of the year, if the president embraces it. The compromise would eliminate the so-called stacking regulation that makes it a federal crime to possess a firearm while committing another crime, like a drug offense; expand the “drug safety valve” allowing judges to sidestep mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders; and shorten mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, according to draft text of the bill obtained by The New York Times. It would also retroactively extend a reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine signed into law in 2010, potentially affecting thousands of drug offenders serving lengthy sentences. “We have the clearest path forward that we have had in years,” said Holly Harris, the executive director of the Justice Action Network, a bipartisan coalition arguing for an overhaul. “This would be the first time that these members have voted on a piece of legislation that turns away from the lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-keys policies of the 1990s. That is groundbreaking.” Lawmakers and outside advocates involved in the push expect Mr. Trump to render his judgment on the package as soon as this week. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and the leading voice within the White House for the changes, is likely to brief Mr. Trump on the bill during a broader discussion of legislative priorities with top policy officials on Tuesday, according to one senior administration official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the plans. And at least two influential Republican senators were lobbying the president in its favor. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has told the senators he will bring the package up for a vote if they can show they had the support of at least 60 senators. Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, a vocal advocate of such changes, committed to putting the compromise on the House floor in a lame-duck session that begins on Tuesday if Mr. Trump endorses it and it can clear the Senate.

Washington Post - November 12, 2018

With the exception of 38 miles in Washington, the entire continental West Coast is now blue

Only two Republicans represent any districts touching the Pacific Ocean won their elections. One is Rep. Don Young of Alaska, the longest-serving member of the House. The other is Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, who represents a stretch of only about 38 miles on the western coast of the continental United States.

Contrast that with the East Coast, where the picture is much different. Republicans probably held on to the 2nd District in Maine but control no other part of the coast until you hit Long Island. There, Republicans held on to their seats, by margins of fewer than 10 points. New York’s 11th Congressional District, Staten Island, flipped to the Democrats, meaning that no congressional districts in the country’s largest city are represented by Republicans. As you head farther south, though, Republicans fare better. Democrats might take the 3rd District in New Jersey (as of this writing, Democrat Andy Kim has a narrow lead over Rep. Tom MacArthur), but the 4th District remains Republican. Maryland’s and Virginia’s 1st districts also are still Republican — as are most of the coastal districts down to the tip of Florida. (Democrats picked up one: South Carolina’s 1st District, held by Republican Rep. Mark Sanford, who lost his primary.) Why is the West Coast so blue while the East Coast is more purple? A few reasons. First, fewer districts — and fewer states — touch the ocean on the West Coast. It’s easier to monopolize a smaller number of districts, and having only three states in the mix means districts can more easily stretch for long distances along the coast. Second, the southeastern United States is much more conservative than the West Coast. Florida, for example, backed Trump in 2016 and is poised to elect Republicans to the Senate and as governor. Most of the state’s congressional districts touch water. From Florida west, along the Gulf Coast, the territory is almost exclusively red. Democrats picked up two seats in southern Florida, but other than that, it’s mostly red until you get to southern Texas.

Washington Post - November 12, 2018

Mississippi senator refuses to apologize for joking about ‘public hanging’ in a state known for lynchings

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-MS, demanded a public apology — for all Mississippians — from congressional-hopeful Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-MS, who drew harsh criticism for a line made while campaigning in early November.

“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith is heard saying in a video posted to Twitter by journalist and blogger Lamar White Jr. Sunday morning. Thompson released a statement Monday, calling the senator’s comments on public hanging “beyond disrespectful and offensive,” adding that Mississippi’s history includes “one of the highest numbers of public lynching, that we know of, than any other state in this country.” Hyde-Smith, who in a Sunday statement called the remark an “exaggerated expression of regard,” refused to elaborate Monday when reporters asked for more context. She appeared in Jackson with Republican Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant — who appointed Hyde-Smith to Congress earlier this year — after accepting an endorsement from the National Right to Life Committee. “I put out a statement yesterday, and that’s all I’m gonna say about it,” said Hyde-Smith when asked by reporters if she was familiar with the history of hangings in Mississippi. She was also asked if the phrasing was in her every day vocabulary, and to specify why the remark should not be viewed with a negative connotation. Unable to get an answer from Hyde-Smith, reporters turned to Bryant for answers. “I can tell you all of us in public life have said things that we could’ve phrased better,” Bryant sai, adding, “I know this woman, and I know her heart, and I knew that when I appointed her and I know it now. She meant no offense by that statement.” Hyde-Smith, a Trump endorsee, became the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress in April after she was appointed to replace Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who stepped down because of health problems.

Wall Street Journal - November 13, 2018

Amazon picks New York City, Northern Virginia for its HQ2 locations

New York City and Northern Virginia will be the homes for Amazon.com Inc.’s second and third headquarters, according to people familiar with the matter, ending a more than yearlong public contest that started with 238 candidates and ended with a surprise split of its so-called HQ2.

The imminent announcement is expected as soon as Tuesday, according to the people. Other cities may also receive major sites, some of the people said. Amazon is dividing the second headquarters evenly between New York’s Long Island City and Arlington County’s Crystal City neighborhoods, which are both located directly across from the major city centers. The company plans to evenly split the offices with as many as 25,000 employees. The decision effectively gives Amazon a major presence in three coastal hubs that politically lean left, at a time when tech companies are under scrutiny for their perceived elitism and liberal social views. Amazon declined to comment. Government officials in both New York and Northern Virginia were expecting to hold events for announcements on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed the Amazon deal Monday night during his weekly television appearance, although he didn’t confirm that the city had been officially selected. He was hopeful that HQ2 would come to New York City. “We’re talking about the single biggest economic development deal in the history of New York City,” he said. Amazon’s move to New York pits it against rival Google, which is gearing up for its own expansion in the city. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Alphabet Inc. unit will add office space for more than 12,000 new workers, an amount nearly double the search giant’s current staffing in the city, people familiar with the matter said. On Monday night at the Journal’s D.Live tech conference, Google financial chief Ruth Porat confirmed the company plans to double its New York City staff of 7,000 over a decade. Amazon had recently been in late-stage negotiations with several locations including New York, Crystal City and Dallas, people familiar with the matter earlier said. Aside from its HQ2 decision, Amazon may also announce that other cities have won big projects, but it wasn’t clear what form they might take or where they would go. The District of Columbia area, which had three locations among the finalists including Crystal City, was long considered a leading candidate in part because Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has a second home there and he owns the Washington Post.

Washington Examiner - November 12, 2018

Bruno Manno: Pathways from college to employment — good news and buyer's remorse

Why attend college? Since 2010, 86 percent of entering freshmen on average say getting a better job is a “very important” reason, up from 73 percent between 2000 and 2009. Is that hope for a pathway from college to decent employment being realized? Yes and no.

That’s the lead message from the nation’s largest source of college consumer insights by students and graduates on college’s efforts to prepare them for the job market and workforce. This monumental three-year effort by Strada Education Network and Gallup includes three nationally representative surveys of more than 500,000 college consumers. One-third of current students “strongly agree” they will graduate with the skills and knowledge needed for job market and workplace success. Half “strongly agree” their major will lead to a good job, though opinions differ across majors and students. Public service majors in education and criminal justice are most confident in job market and workplace success. Nontraditional students aged 24 and older are more likely than younger students to report they will be successful in the job market (41 percent vs. 32 percent) and workplace (43 percent vs. 35 percent). They’re also less likely to have “second thoughts” about enrolling in the same institution and pursuing the same major. The use and usefulness of college career counseling varies. Fewer than four in 10 students (39 percent) use a career office or online services. Most seek resume help (60 percent, with 48 percent finding services “very helpful”) and general advice (57 percent, with 29 percent finding services “very helpful”). Students who “very often” or “often” (versus “rarely” or “never”) receive counseling from faculty and staff have greater confidence in future job market (42 percent vs. 27 percent) and workplace success (45 percent vs. 29 percent). They’re also most likely to believe their major leads to a good job (60 percent vs. 47 percent).

Washington Examiner - November 13, 2018

Robert Donachie: The success — and cost — of Trump's midterm strategy

President Trump focused his time and energy on the campaign trail stumping for Republican Senate candidates he believed would further his "America First" agenda in Congress. It worked — but it may have cost the party its control of the House and torpedoed a chance to expand the president's base.

The political strategy worked as well as it could have," said Michael Steel, a managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies and former aide to John Boehner when he was House speaker. "The real problem is how the president governs, always focused on appealing to his base rather than expanding his coalition." That verdict isn't unanimous. Some strategists point out that while the president was often campaigning in states with big Senate races, he always invited the state's House members and candidates to attend the rallies. He routinely pointed them out and invited them on stage. In the end, they argue, Republicans who lost Tuesday night have no one to blame but themselves and their voting records. "I think that is a cute line that people throw in there," David Bozell, president of the conservative group ForAmerica, told the Washington Examiner. "Every House guy is there at the rally if it is in that state. They are all there. They aren’t just forgotten about. I don’t buy the idea that he was just out there for senators," adding that many Senate GOP candidates and incumbents did well because of the "Kavanaugh effect." The president spent the final weeks leading up to Election Day holding rallies — sometimes upwards of three-a-day — in states with key Senate races, like Ohio, Montana, West Virginia, Missouri, and Florida. The party can't necessarily argue with the results of the president's strategy. Republicans were able to keep the majority in the Senate on Tuesday evening and even knocked off Democratic incumbents in Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri. Trump's presence in West Virginia three days before the election may have given a boost to Republican candidate Patrick Morrisey, closing the race from a double-digit Democratic lead weeks before the election to single-digit Democratic margin of victory Election Day. In the end, nine of the president's chosen candidates eked out victories Tuesday night. But not all of Trump's handpicked recruits fared so well. Trump-backed Senate candidates in Ohio and Pennsylvania completely bombed, despite the president visiting and campaigning in the state in the final weeks and months of the election. Of the 21 Senate candidates the president endorsed, 9 lost their respective races and two are still undecided. Arguably the biggest casualty of the president's acute focus on Senate races were vulnerable House Republicans. While there were areas of the country — the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and the West Coast — Trump could not effectively rally in because he would have done more harm than good, there are some candidates, like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-CA, who could have used a last-minute boost from the president. Rohrabacher lost his reelection bid by just over two-thousand votes.

Reuters - November 12, 2018

At least 42 fatalities tallied in California's deadliest wildfire ever

Search teams have recovered remains of 42 people killed by a fierce wildfire that largely incinerated the town of Paradise in northern California, marking the greatest loss of life from a wild land blaze in state history, authorities said on Monday.

The latest death toll, up from 29 tallied over the weekend, was announced by Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea at an evening news conference in the nearby city of Chico after authorities found the bodies of 13 more victims of the devastating blaze dubbed the Camp Fire. The fire already ranked as the most destructive on record in California in terms of property losses, having consumed more than 7,100 homes and other structures since igniting on Thursday in Butte County’s Sierra foothills, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco. Honea said 228 people were officially listed as missing in the disaster, but added that his office had received requests to check on the wellbeing of more than 1,500 people who had not been heard from by loved ones. Of those cases, 231 individuals had turned up safe, he said. Authorities made clear, however, that they are bracing for the number of fatalities to climb. In addition to 13 coroner-led recovery teams working in the fire zone, 150 search-and-recovery personnel were due to arrive on Tuesday, Honea said.

Reuters - November 13, 2018

US trial of Mexico's 'El Chapo' begins amid heavy security

The trial of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will begin with lawyers’ opening statements in a federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, amid intense public attention and extraordinary security measures.

Federal prosecutors say that as leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman, 61, directed massive shipments of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine bound for the United States. He faces 17 criminal counts and a potential life sentence if convicted. As well as smuggling drugs to the United States, the Sinaloa Cartel has played a major role in narco violence between rival gangs that has torn areas of Mexico apart and defied successive governments. More than 200,000 people have been killed — many in cartel feuds — since the Mexican government sent troops in to take on the drug gangs in 2006. Guzman’s lawyers have signaled that they intend to downplay their client’s role in the cartel and argue that the prosecutors’ witnesses are motivated by self interest and not believable. Guzman, who twice dramatically escaped from Mexican maximum security prisons, has been kept in solitary confinement in Manhattan and transported to court in Brooklyn in a heavily guarded motorcade. The security around him is so strict that U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, who is presiding over the case, last week denied a motion by Guzman asking to hug his wife before the trial. The jurors will remain anonymous and be escorted to and from by armed U.S. marshals. Prosecutors have said the security is necessary because of Guzman’s history of intimidating and even ordering murders of potential witnesses. Guzman’s lawyers have called those claims unfounded. Prosecutors have also taken extraordinary measures to protect witnesses they plan to call during the trial, which could last up to four months. According to court filings, those witnesses will include former Sinaloa Cartel members and others involved in the drug trade who are now cooperating with the U.S. government. None have been publicly named, and some may testify under aliases. Guzman was one of world’s most wanted fugitives until he was captured in January 2016 in his native Sinaloa. He was extradited to the United States a year later. In 2009, Forbes Magazine put him on its list of the world’s richest people, with an estimated $1 billion fortune but investigators say it is impossible to know exactly how much he was worth. Guzman used his wealth to buy off politicians, police chiefs, soldiers and judges, Mexican prosecutors say. His nickname, a reference to his five foot, six inch height, is often translated in English as “Shorty.”

Fox News - November 12, 2018

Federal judge rules to protect provisional ballots in Georgia gubernatorial race

A federal judge on Monday ordered Georgia take steps to protect provisional ballots and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm elections that include an unsettled race for governor.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams campaign manager, announced Judge Amy Totenberg's decision late Monday. WSBTV.com reported that the judge’s 56-page ruling could affect thousands of provisional ballots. Groh-Wargo called the ruling "good news." Brian Kemp, her Republican challenger, issued a statement a day earlier calling for Abrams to concede. Kemp has declared victory and said it is "mathematically impossible" for her campaign to force a runoff. Abrams' campaign did not immediately respond to a phone call from Fox News late Monday night. Abrams, 44, a Democrat, has maintained that she will not concede until every vote has been counted, and pointed to the 5,000 votes tallied over the weekend that favored her. Totenberg, who was appointed by President Obama, ruled in connection to Common Cause's lawsuit filed on Nov. 5. Totenberg's order doesn't change the Tuesday deadline for counties to certify their results. Common Cause, a nonpartisan group, claimed in the suit that Kemp, while secretary of state, failed to maintain "the security of voter information despite known vulnerabilities" leading up to the midterm. The suit blasted the state's "provisional ballot scheme," that could disenfranchise a registered voter at the ballot box. The suit pointed out cases where voters were turned around after computer glitches and cases where voters were not offered provisional ballots. One man voted for decades and was “disturbed” to learn his registration history was erased. The court ruled that the secretary of state’s office must establish a hotline and publicize it on its website for voters to see if their provisional ballots were counted. Totenberg also ruled that Georgia must not certify the election results before Friday at 5 p.m., which falls before the Nov. 20 deadline set by state law.

CBS News - November 12, 2018

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeats Republican Martha McSally in Arizona Senate race

Republican Rep. Martha McSally has conceded Arizona's Senate race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally made the announcement in a video posted to Twitter. She said: "I just called Kyrsten Sinema and congratulated her on becoming Arizona's first female senator after a hard-fought battle."

The race between Sinema and McSally was one of the most closely watched in the nation. Sinema was declared the winner Monday as her lead grew insurmountable during Arizona's lengthy vote-count, The Associated Press reports. "I am so honored that Arizonans chose our vision of a better Arizona. And now it's time to get to work," Sinema said in a victory speech Monday night. Sinema is a former liberal activist who became a centrist member of Congress. Her win follows years of Democratic shutouts at the statewide level in Arizona and shows that the longtime Republican bastion is becoming a swing state. McSally hammered Sinema over her former liberal stances and claimed she was pretending to be a centrist. Sinema criticized McSally's vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and kept her distance from national Democrats. Sinema succeeds Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who opted not to run.

Politico - November 12, 2018

Poll: Biden, Bernie, Beto lead 2020 Dem field

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, enter the 2020 election cycle as the leaders for the Democratic presidential nomination to take on President Donald Trump, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted in the immediate aftermath of last week’s midterms.

More than a quarter of Democratic voters, 26 percent, say Biden is their first choice to be the Democratic nominee. Another one-in-five, 19 percent, would pick Sanders, the runner-up for the nomination in 2016. The two septuagenarians — Biden will be 77 on Election Day, 2020, and Sanders will be 79 — are the only two prospective candidates to garner double-digit support. The third-place candidate is Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who built national name-recognition through his losing Senate bid last week, with 8 percent. “Beto O’Rourke is emerging to be an outside contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, outpacing other potential nominees,” said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president. Following O’Rourke are three senators, all thought to be likely candidates: Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, Kamala Harris, D-CA, and Cory Booker, D-NJ. Warren is at 5 percent, Harris at 4 percent and Booker at 3 percent. Of the 14 other possible Democratic candidates tested, no one else earned more than 2 percent support.

NBC News - November 12, 2018

Veterans haven't received GI Bill benefits for months due to ongoing IT issues at VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs is suffering from a series of information technology glitches that has caused GI Bill benefit payments covering education and housing to be delayed or — in the case of Shelley Roundtree — never be delivered.

Roundtree departed the U.S. Army in 2013 after seeing friends and fellow soldiers die in combat during his tour in Afghanistan. He was committed to transitioning to civilian life, and one of his first steps was to enroll in college with tuition and housing benefits he'd earned under the GI Bill. Roundtree, 29, began studying marketing at Berkeley College in Midtown Manhattan. "I’m about to lose everything that I own and become homeless," Roundtree said. "I don’t want to be that veteran on the street begging for change because I haven’t received what I was promised." Without the GI Bill's housing stipend, Roundtree was kicked out of his apartment and is now living on his sister's couch, miles from school, where he feels like a burden on his family. The new living situation required him to move all his belongings into a storage container, which he can no longer afford. Now all of his possessions are in danger of being auctioned off by the storage facility. Roundtree said that because of his extremely strained finances, he is forced to choose between spending money on public transportation to get to his marketing classes or buying food — not both. At the end of the day, the veteran said he often makes himself go to sleep hungry. "It’s just confusing," said Roundtree. "Who is there for us? Who is representing us? Who is helping us? Who is doing what they need to do to better the situation for veterans?" There are many veterans, like Roundtree, across the country who are still waiting for VA to catch up with a backlog created after President Donald Trump signed the Forever GI Bill in 2017. The landmark piece of legislation greatly expanded benefits for veterans and their families, but it did not upgrade the VA's technical capabilities to account for those changes. While it is unclear how many GI Bill recipients were impacted by the delays, as of Nov. 8, more than 82,000 are still waiting for their housing payments with only weeks remaining in the school semester, according to the VA. Hundreds of thousands are believed to have been affected. The cause of the difficulty lies within VA’s Office of Information Technology, which was tasked with implementing a change to how the housing allowance was calculated, the agency said. The Forever GI Bill required that housing would be based on the ZIP code of where a veteran went to school, not where he or she lived. Issues that arose when VA attempted to stress-test their antiquated system, and a contract dispute over the new changes, meant VA waited until July 16 to tell schools to begin enrolling students, according to multiple veteran advocacy groups. Many colleges and universities waited, however, because VA told them that they would need to reenter their student veterans' certifying information either way.

Business Insider - November 13, 2018

Trump plans to fire Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as soon as this week

After months of contention with President Donald Trump, Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is reportedly being forced out of her position soon. Nielsen served in her role for nearly one year, after replacing White House chief of staff John Kelly in December 2017.

The department's press secretary said in a statement to Business Insider that Nielsen was honored to serve in the Trump administration and was committed to continuing her service. "The Secretary is honored to lead the men and women of DHS and is committed to implementing the President's security-focused agenda to protect Americans from all threats and will continue to do so," the press secretary said. Nielsen's role in the Trump administration has been uncertain for some time. She reportedly drafted a resignation letter in May. Trump is believed to have berated her in front of other cabinet officials over his belief that she did a poor job securing the US-Mexico border, former officials said in a New York Times report. Nielsen, who is the leading authority in curbing illegal immigration, said she shared Trump's frustration after news of her alleged letter was made public. A Homeland Security spokesperson later denied the claims of the alleged letter to Business Insider. "Border security is the most basic and necessary responsibility of a sovereign nation," Nielsen's statement said, following the news of her letter. Nielsen's colleagues said she was unhappy in her role for several months, and Trump has expressed interest in considering candidates to replace her, The Post reported. "If I were advising the White House I'd encourage them to nominate someone with executive branch experience," one senior Homeland Security official said to The Post. "This will be our fourth secretary in two years. The last thing we want is someone who needs hand-holding."

The Hill - November 13, 2018

Record number of female veterans to serve in next Congress

The incoming 116th Congress includes a record number of female veterans, even as the overall number of former service members is on the decline. Six female veterans will hold office on Capitol Hill after a record number were on the ballot for Election Day. In total, 93 veterans are slated to serve as lawmakers when the next Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3.

The midterm elections saw more than 170 veterans on the ballot, according to the University of San Francisco and Veterans Campaign, a group that prepares veterans for careers in politics. Of the veterans running for the House, a dozen were women, marking the highest number ever, according to Veterans Campaign Executive Director Seth Lynn. Sixteen former service members — including three women — won their races and will serve their first terms starting in January, the most new veterans since 2010. In 2016, 14 new veterans were elected, and a dozen won in both 2014 and 2012, according to Lynn. “This was the year of women candidates,” Lynn told The Hill. “Women candidates, fair or unfair, are often questioned about whether they’re tough enough for the job, whereas male candidates aren’t.” With military service, he said, no one questions whether they’re tough enough. “It never even comes up,” Lynn said. The new female veteran House members are former Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill, D-NJ, former Air Force Capt. Chrissy Houlahan, D-PA, and Navy veteran Elaine Luria, D-VA, who beat out another veteran, Rep. Scott Taylor, R-VA, a former Navy SEAL. Two other female veterans, who were not up for reelection this year, are already in the Senate: Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, who served with the Army in the Iraq War; and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA, an Army National Guard veteran who was the first female combat veteran ever elected to the Senate.

Barron's - November 12, 2018

Top-performing hedge fund says dump equities now

A top-performing hedge fund has taken the bold step of almost completely dumping its equity holdings, ahead of what it fears will be a “substantial market correction — or worse”.

Managing Partners Group, a UK fund manager that runs a small but strongly performing hedge fund called Vita Nova, said it thinks a setback for stocks is “inevitable,” with the only debate “being whether it will manifest in a bear run, or an outright stock market crash.” Vita Nova, with assets of $17 million, has made 20.7 percent in the nine months to the end of September, its most recent available figures. It had a stellar 2017, returning 66 percent during the year, and has doubled investors’ money overall since launching in 2014. Those performance stats — which do not include the past month, when markets dropped sharply around the world — compare well against the best and biggest global macro funds, such as Jeffrey Talpins’ Element Capital or Said Haidar’s Haidar Jupiter fund, both up around 25 percent in the first three quarters of the year. The MSCI World, a leading global equities index, made 5.4 percent in dollar terms to the end of September. Other famed hedge funds, such as Louis Bacon’s Moore Global Investment fund, have struggled to produce positive returns in 2018, according to industry figures. Managing Partners’ fund also reported a positive number for October, the company said, returning 1.21 percent during the month, as global stock markets retreated by 7.3 percent. It has not had a big investment bet on equities for a while, with the majority of its portfolio currently held in asset-backed and insurance-linked securities. Nevertheless, it can invest up to 40% in stocks.

ProPublica - November 12, 2018

Why Jeff Sessions’ final act could have more impact than expected

Just before he left, the departing attorney-general adopted a policy to limit the Justice Department’s ability to oversee abusive police departments. That same policy could also hamper the department’s role in environmental, voting-rights, and other cases.

With a black-ink pen, he initialed, in an illegible scrawl, a document formalizing the terms of what will be one of his abiding legacies: a Justice Department disengaged from its role in investigating and reforming police departments that repeatedly violate the civil rights of the people they’re sworn to protect. Police reform had been a DOJ priority during the Obama administration, and that work played a significant role in the federal response to the deaths of black men at the hands of police in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri. Sessions, however, had long opposed the federal police oversight and the consent decrees — long-term reform plans supervised and enforced by a federal judge — that defined DOJ’s approach during the Obama years. In his view, they undermine law enforcement and amount to improper federal meddling in state and local affairs. The seven-page memorandum Sessions initialed last week caught Justice Department officials by surprise, and many of them are still puzzling through what it will mean in practice. “People aren’t happy that this came out with no notice and no discussion,” one DOJ official said. “What does this really mean day-to-day? Nobody’s really sure because they weren’t included in the conversation.” The memo places significant hurdles in the way of DOJ entering into consent decrees with state and city governments. It mandates closer control by the Justice Department’s most senior political appointees, requires sunset dates for consent decrees, and limits what the DOJ can require of state and city agencies. And there was a broader significance that passed largely unnoticed in the press coverage of Sessions’ memo: Current and former Justice Department officials note that the new policy also applies to other areas of the department’s work, such as efforts to curb pollution. They worry its effects will be most profound and far-reaching in those realms.

November 12, 2018

Lead Stories

New York Times - November 12, 2018

Trump's NAFTA plan could be upended by House Democratic takeover

President Trump’s promise to quickly pass a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement has been upended by the midterm elections, with Democrats who will soon control the House vowing to withhold their support to extract greater protections for American workers.

Administration officials remain confident they will corral the votes for the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which Mr. Trump speedily negotiated in September to claim a big win on one of his signature issues before the November elections. While White House officials considered pushing the revised deal through the coming lame-duck session, they did not want to risk a backlash from lawmakers in both parties. Democrats, emboldened by their midterm win and eager to outshine Mr. Trump as defenders of the American worker, are unlikely to sign off on any deal that does not include significant changes that labor leaders and newly elected progressives are demanding. That could involve reopening negotiations with Mexico, although American and Mexican negotiators have both publicly ruled out that possibility. “Trump made it seem like this was a done deal, but there is a long, long way to go,” said Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat who is likely to be named chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade. The House will consider the agreement first under the Constitution’s provision mandating that revenue bills originate in the lower chamber. A vote could take up to nine months or longer, according to senior administration officials. House Democrats are particularly concerned about a provision that would require at least 30 percent of the labor used to build each car in Mexico to be completed by workers earning at least $16 an hour. That amount will rise to 40 percent by 2023 but the $16 wage is not indexed to inflation, meaning the increase will be diluted over time as prices rise. The text of the agreement also requires Mexico to make it easier for workers to join unions. All of these actions were intended to make it less likely that automakers and other manufacturers would shift American jobs south for cheaper labor. But Democrats and their allies in manufacturing unions — who have remained neutral on the proposed pact — maintain that the new requirements, while an improvement on the original Nafta, do not go far enough.

Associated Press - November 11, 2018

Florida election recount continues amid tensions, litigation

Mishaps, protests and litigation dominated Florida’s first day of recounting the vote for pivotal races for governor and Senate, bringing back memories of the 2000 presidential fiasco. Much of the drama on Sunday centered on Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to large concentrations of Democratic voters.

In Broward County, the recount was delayed for several hours Sunday morning because of a problem with one of the tabulation machines. That prompted the Republican Party to slam Broward’s supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, for “incompetence and gross mismanagement.” Broward officials faced further headaches after they acknowledged the county mistakenly counted 22 absentee ballots that had been rejected. The problem seemed impossible to fix because the dismissed ballots were mixed in with 205 legal ballots and Snipes said it would be unfair to throw out all of those votes. By the end of the day, Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican candidate for Senate, filed suit against Snipes in a circuit court. He sought a judge’s order that law enforcement agents impound and secure all voting machines, tallying devices and ballots “when not in use until such time as any recounts.” The lawsuit accused Snipes of repeatedly failing to account for the number of ballots left to be counted and failing to report results regularly as required by law. Juan Penalosa, the executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, accused Scott of “using his position to consolidate power by cutting at the very core of our democracy.” Meanwhile, in Palm Beach County, the supervisor of elections said she doesn’t believe her department will be able to meet the state’s Thursday deadline to complete the recount, throwing into question what would happen to votes there. The developments added up to a tumultuous day in America’s premier political battleground state. More than half of Florida’s 67 counties began a recount process that’s unprecedented even in a state notorious for settling elections by razor-thin margins. State officials said they weren’t aware of any other time a race for governor or U.S. Senate required a recount, let alone both in the same election. The recount in other major population centers, including Miami-Dade and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the Tampa Bay area, was ongoing without incident Sunday. Smaller counties are expected to begin their reviews in coming days. Unofficial results showed Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points in the election for governor. In the Senate race, Scott’s lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson was 0.14 percentage points.

Wall Street Journal - November 12, 2018

Oil jumps as OPEC moves closer to cutting output

Oil prices climbed out of the red Monday morning after weeks of losses that had wiped out all of crude’s gains for 2018, as OPEC and its allies signaled a willingness to again cut production amid surging global supply.

“We need to do whatever it takes to balance the oil market,” Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said Monday at the start of an international gathering here of petroleum ministers and industry leaders. Mr. Falih, the de facto head of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, said if current supply and demand levels don’t shift, the oil-cartel and its partner producers, led by Russia, would need to cut production by around 1 million barrels a day at the group level. Those comments came less than a day after Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest member and the world’s largest exporter of crude, Russia and other producers met here in the United Arab Emirates capital to debate a potential output cut. While the group didn’t make a final decision on output levels Sunday, they acknowledged a need to again shift strategy just months after a decision to ramp up production. That move had come after OPEC and 10 producers outside the cartel had been holding back output for over a year in an effort to rein a global supply glut that had weighed on prices since late 2014. “There is a consensus that there will be oversupply in 2019,” Omani Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhy told The Wall Street Journal after exiting the meeting Sunday. He said the coalition of producers would likely agree to cut back on supplies when they gather next month in Vienna. “The size of any production cuts will likely depend on how much oil demand growth will slow down into 2019, how much Iranian supply falls due to U.S. sanctions, and how strongly U.S. supply increases over the coming months,” said Giovanni Staunovo, commodities analyst at UBS Wealth Management.

Washington Post - November 12, 2018

Democrats signal aggressive investigations of Trump while resisting impeachment calls

Fresh off a resounding midterm elections victory, House Democrats on Sunday began detailing plans to wield their newfound oversight power in the next Congress, setting their sights on acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker while rebuffing calls from some liberals to pursue impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, who is poised to take control of the House Judiciary Committee, said he will call Whitaker as a first witness to testify about his “expressed hostility” to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. Nadler said he is prepared to subpoena Whitaker if necessary. Another incoming chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-CA, of the House Intelligence Committee, raised the possibility of investigating whether Trump used “instruments of state power” in an effort to punish companies associated with news outlets that have reported critically on him, including CNN and The Washington Post. And Democrats on the House Oversight Committee plan to expand their efforts to investigate Trump’s involvement in payments to women who alleged affairs with him before the 2016 election, a committee aide said Sunday night, potentially opening up the president’s finances to further scrutiny. The moves signal that House Democrats, while wary of the risks of alienating voters who backed the president, are fully embracing their midterm victory last week as a mandate to dig deep into the actions of the executive branch. “The key lesson that we’ve learned from this last election is that the American people are sick and tired of the Trump administration, and they are looking for a Congress that is going to put a check on the executive branch,” said Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas, a former senior aide to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Some talk about a backlash against the Democrats, but it was a backlash that brought them into power,” he added. “So, I don’t think they will easily be able to be seen as overreaching by the American people.” Democrats have a long list of legislative items on their agenda for the next Congress. They include long-sought legislation on gun control, as well as a potential overhaul of the federal Higher Education Act and a vote on protecting health coverage for people with preexisting conditions — an issue that many Democrats successfully wielded against their Republican opponents in last week’s midterms. But investigations are likely to capture the greatest attention on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. At a news conference last Wednesday, Trump laid down a marker for congressional Democrats, warning them that any investigations into his administration would lead to a “warlike posture” that would threaten the prospects of any bipartisan cooperation. Democrats have previously said they plan to launch investigations into matters ranging from Trump’s tax returns to his administration’s policies on health care, education and immigration.

Austin American-Statesman - November 11, 2018

On SNL, Pete Davidson says sorry to wounded vet he mocked

“Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson has apologized for mocking the appearance of a veteran who lost an eye in Afghanistan.

He said Lt. Com. Dan Crenshaw, now a congressman-elect from Texas, “deserves all the respect in the world.” On SNL’s “Weekend Update” segment, Davidson was joined by Crenshaw, a Navy SEAL. Davidson had mocked Crenshaw a week earlier, saying viewers might be surprised he’s “not a hit man in a porno movie.” Crenshaw, a Republican who won a House seat Tuesday, took some joking shots at Davidson. And when his cell phone rang, the tone was “Breathin” by Ariana Grande, Davidson’s former fiancee. Crenshaw got serious at the end, encouraging civilians and veterans to connect and paying tribute to heroes like Davidson’s father, a firefighter who died on 9/11.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 11, 2018

Former Texas Border Protection inspector found guilty of defrauding immigrants by posing as lawyer

A former El Paso Border Protection official is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to wire fraud for schemes he used to take advantage of immigrants, authorities said.

Former U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspector Frederico Garcia Jr. admitted to the charge Thursday in front of a U.S. district judge, according to the Justice Department. Garcia said he falsely told people between November 2015 and this past May that he was an immigration attorney and charged fees for helping them with benefit applications. Garcia used the business names Justice International and High End Immigrant Resource Center to defraud numerous individuals, the Justice Department said. He also offered false opportunities for investment, which he promised victims would make them large sums of money. Garcia’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 17 in El Paso.

Dallas Morning News - November 11, 2018

Mitchell Schnurman: If talent trumps all for Amazon HQ2, will Dallas have enough of it?

Washington and New York have something that Dallas doesn’t, and not just sky-high home prices and apartment rents. The two major metros have much larger, deeper pools of talent — both in college-educated millennials and tech workers. They’re also much stronger magnets for college graduates.

So if news reports about Amazon choosing to put its second headquarters in Washington and New York are accurate, the reason will be clear: Talent trumps all, at least for Amazon. Dallas can go toe-to-toe with anywhere when it comes to recruiting companies, and its relatively low cost of living can be decisive. But today's job market is all about the war for talent — and on that score, Dallas can’t match the firepower of the East Coast capitals. “It’s hard to compete with the scale of New York City, and it’s hard to compete with the concentration of tech jobs around Washington, D.C.,” said Josh Wright of Emsi, a labor market research firm. For over a year, Amazon has been searching for a location for a second headquarters, described as the equal of its home base in Seattle. Amazon said it would eventually add 50,000 jobs, invest up to $5 billion and occupy 8 million square feet of office space. That would make the project several times larger than Toyota’s North America headquarters in Plano. Amazon’s additional workers would far outnumber American Airlines’ workforce in North Texas. That explains why Amazon’s so-called HQ2 represents one of the biggest economic plums ever. After Amazon invited communities to bid for the headquarters, it received 238 proposals. That group was later trimmed to 20 finalists, including Dallas. The company has not revealed its final decision, but an announcement is coming soon. In recent days, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon would split the expansion among two cities rather than select just one. According to the report, Amazon was in late-stage discussions with a handful of communities, including Crystal City in Northern Virginia, New York City and Dallas. The New York Times also reported that Amazon was finalizing plans to split HQ2. According to its report, Amazon would be heading to Long Island City in Queens, as well as to Crystal City. The story did not mention Dallas. Officials with Amazon and Dallas declined to discuss any change in strategy and news reports that the Washington and New York regions had emerged as favorites.

Dallas Morning News - November 10, 2018

Is Walmart a winner if Amazon HQ2 skips Texas?

If Amazon skips over the middle of the country and selects two East Coast cities for its second and third headquarters, one big winner could well be its arch rival. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is quietly amassing tech talent in Texas, where it already competes with Amazon for skilled workers. That competition would intensify if Amazon put a headquarters here.

In the last year, Walmart staffed up technology offices in Plano and Austin. Its wholesale club subsidiary, Sam’s Club, is opening a cashierless store in Dallas that it will use as an incubator for tech experimentation. And last week, Walmart took the wraps off a plan to hire about 30 technologists in Austin to work jointly with Microsoft in building cloud applications aimed at changing the way employees work and customers shop. Its Austin tech hub already has about 50 people working on machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain and internet-of-things technology to roll out across the company’s global operations. Walmart’s innovation in Texas and its headquarters of Bentonville, Ark., shows companies don’t need to be in coastal metropolitan areas to build a strong tech base, or to grow into the largest retailer in the world with sales of $500 billion last year. Signs point to Amazon's splitting 50,000 jobs between the power corridor cities of New York and Washington D.C. Dallas and Austin also are among Amazon’s 20 finalists for the coveted $5 billion investment. Some reports describe Dallas as a third city still in the hunt for what now appears to be 25,000 jobs in each of two cities. While most of the world watched Amazon soak up the spotlight, particularly during its 14-month search, Walmart took action. Under CEO Doug McMillon, Walmart is becoming a major technology company that decentralized years ago with tech hubs in Silicon Valley, Bentonville and Hoboken, N.J., and now Austin and Dallas. It plans to hire more than 2,000 tech workers this year, most based at its headquarters in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in quaint and sprawling Bentonville. “There’s a cultural shift under way,” said Craig Rosenblum, senior director at retail consulting firm Inmar. “Is it the new Walmart, or the old Sam Walton Walmart, vs. a cool, hip place to work?” Jason Norris, who heads Walmart’s Austin tech office, said it’s hard attracting talent everywhere in the country today. If Amazon chose Texas, he said, “sure it would make my job harder, absolutely, but we’re not afraid to compete with Amazon.” But Walmart’s Texas hiring experience has been a positive one, Norris said. Just last week, he hired an engineer in Austin who also had an offer from Amazon.

Houston Chronicle - November 10, 2018

Lizzie Fletcher looks to legislate the way she won: in moderation

Lizzie Pannill Fletcher began her run like so many other Democrats who unseated House Republicans Tuesday: as a reaction to the 2016 election. A Houston corporate attorney, Fletcher considered “running for something” after Trump’s victory, she said — and why not the seat held by her own congressman, GOP Rep. John Culberson, who Democrats deemed vulnerable after the district showed slight preference for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

When Fletcher unseated Culberson Tuesday night by a relatively comfortable five points, however, she did so behind a Houston-centric campaign that emphasized her local roots and pulled in right-leaning independents and disillusioned Republicans. Now, having flipped a seat controlled for the last 52 years by Republicans, Fletcher heads to Washington with a target on her back, but also a desire to legislate with the same moderate approach she used to build her campaign. “Whether people voted for me or not in this election, I hope they will watch what I do as their member of Congress,” Fletcher said. “I hope to earn their vote in 2020, because my job is to represent everyone. My office doors will be open to everyone.” If Republicans are searching for a roadmap to unseat Fletcher, they might turn to Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Helotes who represents a perennial swing district running from San Antonio to El Paso. In 2016 and again this year, Hurd — who appeared likely to win a third term with several hundred ballots outstanding Friday — rebuked Trump on high-profile issues and presented himself as a moderate, a strategy that also played well for Fletcher in the mostly suburban 7th Congressional District. Culberson at times referenced his work across the aisle, but did not run as a moderate or publicly oppose Trump to the same degree as Hurd. Like Hurd in his first term, Fletcher has good odds of receiving favorable committee assignments and a steady flow of fundraising dollars from her party to help protect the seat, said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. The more coveted committee spots typically do not go to freshman legislators. “She's definitely going to be a Republican target in the next election,” he said. “She will not be treated like your average first-year member of Congress.” In an interview, Fletcher indicated she would look to dodge the partisan rancor now commonplace in Congress and be “willing to work and take ideas from anywhere.” She vowed to partner with local industries that received strong support from Culberson - such as the energy and aerospace sectors - and seek major upgrades to Metro, calling transit issues “paramount.” In the wake of Culberson’s loss, NASA employees and stakeholders grew concerned about the loss of a key ally. For the last four years, Culberson led the Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, and generally served as a staunch advocate of science and human spaceflight over his nearly two decades in office, said Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a website devoted to space news. “I absolutely will support NASA,” Fletcher said, emphasizing support particularly for the Johnson Space Center. “It's critical that we support scientific research and exploration. I think that it's something that we don't see as much in this administration and this Congress. There's really a kind of antipathy for science.”

Houston Chronicle - November 11, 2018

Ike Dike concept raises more questions than it answers for environmentalists and Rice University

A proposed $31 billion project of levees and sea gates known as the “Ike Dike” is the official preferred plan to protect the Houston-Galveston region from devastating storm surge, but Rice University researchers are raising significant concerns about that plan and now offer an alternative.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office released the first phase of a coastal protection study last month. Plans for the ambitious project, a complex 70-mile system running from High Island to the San Luis Pass, are still at least a decade away from completion. The corps and the land office expect to release a final study in 2021 before sending it to Congress to consider funding the project A group of Rice professors are, however, among a handful of experts across the political, engineering and environmental spectrum who plan to raise significant questions about the proposed barrier during the project’s public comment period. Jim Blackburn, a Rice professor and co-director of the university’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center, says the Corps’ initial Ike Dike study was incomplete because it did not account for the more powerful storms that have swept through the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean in recent years. The Corps’ coastal plan, called the Ike Dike, is named for the 2008 hurricane that caused more than $30 billion in damages to the Houston-Galveston region. Hurricanes more powerful than Ike, including Harvey, Irma and Maria all in 2017, had unique characteristics rarely seen in major storms, Blackburn said. “The storms that are being analyzed by the Corps are, in my opinion, too small,” Blackburn said. “They’re just not making landfall at the worst locations, with the type of wind fields and characteristics we’re seeing. I can’t remember if it was (Hurricanes) Irma or Maria, it was an Ike-like storm with Category 5 winds. That’s not supposed to happen.” Larry Dunbar, a project manager at the SSPEED Center, added that the modeling system the Corps used to predict the effects of storms on its proposed barrier was outdated and that the study did not account for the worst possible storm tracts that could hit the Houston area. “We said we’re using the updated information because that’s what we do, and (the Army Corps of Engineers) said, ‘That’s fine, we’re gonna use the old model because that’s what the flood insurance study work was based on and we want to be consistent with that,’” Dunbar said. “I can’t argue with that, but we at least now know what’s the difference between the two models, what affect it has, its affect on larger storms, you know it, I know it.” Blackburn also believes the Corps’ proposed barrier leave parts of Harris County — most notably the Port of Houston and the sprawling industrial and petrochemical facilities along Galveston Bay — vulnerable. “We think that there is too much remaining surge exposure, and it’s a valid concern, both with regard to the ship channel, to the Bayport Industrial Complex and with regard to the Clear Lake area,” Blackburn said.

Austin American-Statesman - November 10, 2018

Lawsuit targets Texas law allowing only judges, clergy to do weddings

A federal lawsuit filed by two Texans, including an Austin resident, seeks to overturn a state law that requires weddings to be performed by a member of the clergy or by a judge.

Joined by the Center for Inquiry — a national nonprofit that seeks to foster a secular society based on “reason, science and humanist values” — the lawsuit argues that the clergy requirement violates the First Amendment by creating a government-sponsored preference for religion over nonreligion. “It turns out that there are quite a few secular folks, even in Texas, who would prefer to have their own way of celebrating this event. The fact that we’re barred by law from doing that seems unfair,” said Steve Bratteng, director of the Center for Inquiry’s Austin office. Bratteng, trained by the center to perform weddings as a “secular celebrant,” said he joined the lawsuit because he’s had to decline several requests to marry couples who wanted a secular ceremony without religious overtones. “We’re completely nonreligious, and we feel that the secular community deserves their own opportunity to have that type of thing,” said Bratteng, 73. Under Texas law, the crime of performing a wedding without authorization can be punished by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. The requirement is easily bypassed via organizations like the Universal Life Church, which offers free online ordinations into the ministry — with vestments, handbooks, certificates of ministry and other items offered for sale through the church’s website. An “honorary religious degree,” for example, sells for $13.99, while the hand-lettered “doctor of divinity degree” will set you back $19.99. It’s a common path for couples who want to be married by a close friend or family member, and the church claims Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as ordained ministers. Though popular, online ordinations show “the ridiculous nature of the Texas law,” said Nicholas Little, legal director for the Center for Inquiry. “I can go online and become ‘ordained’ from an internet church in like three minutes, and I can then perform a wedding in Texas, but our people — who are trained — are excluded from performing marriages, and that just makes no sense to me in the slightest,” Little said. In addition to asking that the Texas law be declared unconstitutional, the lawsuit seeks a federal court order allowing Center for Inquiry-trained secular celebrants to perform weddings in Texas.

San Antonio Express-News - November 11, 2018

Election workers across 29 counties work to finalize vote in race between Hurd and Ortiz Jones

Election officials in 29 Texas counties are furiously counting outstanding votes in the Congressional District 23 election, in which Republican Rep. Will Hurd holds a narrow lead with at least 859 ballots outstanding. But the contest tightened in the early morning hours Wednesday, and it appeared — for a half-hour — that Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones had pulled off an upset.

Then the lead changed hands again, and the state’s unofficial results showed Hurd winning by 689 votes. Later Wednesday, a tabulation error in Jones’ favor was discovered in Culberson County. Once the error was corrected, Hurd’s margin had increased to 1,150 votes — out of more than 200,000 cast. Since then, the Jones campaign has vowed that it “won’t stop working until every provisional ballot, absentee ballot and military or overseas ballot has been counted.” The Hurd camp doesn’t think it will change the result. “All ballots should be and will be counted in TX 23,” said Justin Hollis, Hurd’s campaign manager. “What Gina Jones fails to recognize is that there is no way she will win this race, given Will Hurd’s insurmountable lead.” Elections administrators and county ballot boards have until Nov. 20 to certify their vote tallies and provide them to the governor, who has until Dec. 6 to certify the result of the election. On Friday, Bexar County — which accounts for more than half the votes in the district — updated its tally to reflect 446 ballots counted since election night. Hurd received 183, Jones 253 and Libertarian candidate Ruben Corvalan 10. Jones gained a net 70 votes, reducing Hurd’s overall margin to 1,080. Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said there’s been a steady stream of lawyers and campaign workers at the county’s Elections Department asking questions about the uncounted ballots. “We haven’t seen so many lawyers in here since forever,” she said. At least 859 ballots are still outstanding, according to county elections officials across the district, but it’s unclear how many will ultimately be included in the final count.

San Antonio Current - November 11, 2018

Texas progressives look to seize enthusiasm among women, minority and young voters in future midterm elections

Progressives' efforts to bring more Texas women, young people and people of color to the polls helped drive Democratic victories in the state, representatives of organizing and labor groups said.

Despite a narrow miss from Texas' progressive marquee candidate, Beto O'Rourke, Democrats flipped two U.S. House seats in Texas and made substantial gains in both the state's House and Senate. That's a record groups including the Texas Organizing Project and AFL-CIO say they'll work to compound through continued voter outreach. "As the numbers grow in coming election the politics of this state will definitely change," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, adding that demographics will "take a hammer to the status quo" in Texas. In addition to gaining seats nationally and at the state level, Democrats also elected a record number of LGBTQ lawmakers and gave Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton single-digit close shaves in their reelection bids. What's more, Dems took down some of the most state's most reactionary lawmakers, including state Representatives Ron Simmons, author of the anti-transgender bathroom bill, and Matt Rinaldi, who called ICE on immigration protestors in the House house. Especially important to those victories were the votes of Texans ages 18-29, organizers said. Early voting data from Texas showed a 508 percent growth in the youth vote since 2014. The majority of millennials (59 percent) either align themselves with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center. In contrast, only 32 percent identify as Republicans or GOP-leaning. In addition to reaching out to new communities, progressive groups will need to show the voters who cast their first ballots in 2018 that Democratic wins had an impact, said Brianna Brown, deputy director for Texas Organizing Project. "We have an obligation to show voters that their votes made a difference," she said.

USA Today - November 12, 2018

Former Ohio State assistant coach: Texas coach Tom Herman cheated on wife 'several times'

Former Ohio State assistant football coach Zach Smith told USA TODAY Sports he was “done trying to keep quiet” after a tweet storm Sunday night where he alleged University of Texas head coach Tom Herman cheated on his wife “several times.”

John Bianco, a spokesperson for Texas' athletic department, told USA TODAY Sports the school would have no comment on Smith's allegations. Smith posted a screen grab of what appears to be a text exchange with Herman as Smith’s tweets began to roll. “I’m going to share EVERYTHING about you,” Smith wrote. The response purportedly from Herman: “OK cool. Hook Em.” "I’m done trying to keep quiet," Smith told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview. "It’s about being honest. I’m done with coaching and I know everything about Tom Herman. Everything. He’s the biggest (expletive) I know.” Smith has lashed out before against Herman, who coached alongside Smith under Urban Meyer at Ohio State; however, the allegations against Herman about his wife, Michelle, were the most forceful. While he mentioned on Twitter he had info on other coaches, Smith said he had "nothing against" any other coach besides Herman. Smith wrote that the “problem (with coaching) is that “(you’re) not ‘supposed’ to be real.” He alleged Herman drank to excess, often with Gatorade G2 and vodka along with various claims of extramarital affairs. The most recent alleged affair took place about three years ago, Smith said in a text message to USA TODAY Sports. Smith’s ex-wife came forward last summer with allegations Smith abused her. The fallout resulted in the firing of Smith and an investigation that led to a three-game suspension of Meyer. Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith – who also was suspended – were aware Courtney Smith called police to her home in October 2015. Zach Smith was not arrested in the incident. Courtney Smith was granted a three-year protection order last month. Her application that became public included a trespassing summons issued to Smith for an alleged violation earlier this year. Zach Smith has repeatedly denied abusing Courtney Smith.

Brownsville Herald - November 9, 2018

Jury awards $13.1 million to terminated TSC president

A federal jury has awarded former Texas Southmost College president Lily Tercero more than $13 million in damages for being fired during a sham termination hearing.

Tercero sued the college after it fired her in September 2016 for deliberately and recklessly failing to obtain windstorm insurance with board approval in compliance with state law; for allowing TSC checks to be stamped with signatures of people who were no longer trustees; for failing to timely search and fill the position of vice president for finance and administration; for failing to inform the board of the ailing nursing program and its pending suspension; for refusing a board member’s request that he personally sign and review checks in the amount of $10,000 or more and for not complying with a request for information sought by another member. Tercero accused the school of pre-determining the outcome of her termination hearing, arguing she never had a fair shot during the public meeting. The jury ruled that trustees did not have good cause to fire Tercero, that TSC breached her contract and that the trustees had already made up their minds to terminate the former president. “ They were trying to manufacture good cause where it didn’t exist,” Tercero’s attorney, Richard A. Illmer, said during closing arguments on Thursday. The jury awarded Tercero $674.878.66 for lost earnings from her contract, which trustees voted to renew for three years in May 2016. After elections that same month, the trustees changed and a new majority fired her just months later. The jury also awarded Tecero $12.5 million for diminished earning capacity and mental anguish. In a prepared statement released Friday, TSC officials said “TSC is looking at all legal options, including appeal. Our Board of Trustees are dedicated to our community and students, and that is their sole focus.” During closing arguments, Illmer had only asked the jury to award Tercero the remainder of her contract and to determine what the jury felt was just compensation for diminished earning capacity and mental anguish. The four-day trial featured testimony from numerous board members, past and present and included testimony from Tercero, who was the first witness to take the stand. TSC’s former president, who sometimes softly cried during the beginning of her time on the witness stand, said she filed the lawsuit because she wanted to share her side of the story and because she felt the board’s accusations against her were unfounded and malicious.

McAllen Monitor - November 11, 2018

Valley Congressional delegation split on future of Democratic leadership

The Rio Grande Valley’s three-man Congressional delegation is split on the future of their party’s leadership, as the U.S. House of Representatives will be under Democratic control for the first time since two of the three Valley members have been in office.

Only U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, elected in 2004, has been in Congress while Democrats have been in the majority. U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, elected in 2016, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, elected in 2012, have not experienced being in the ruling party. Nancy Pelosi, the congresswoman from San Francisco, and the Democratic leader, appears to be on her way to regaining the Speaker’s gavel once the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in 2019 after reclaiming the majority in Tuesday’s midterm elections. But the South Texas delegation has some questions, and for one member, outright disdain. “I’m not an easy yes, but I’m a likely yes,” Gonzalez said. “I have some conditions and some asks.” Cuellar does, too. “I want to see some rule changes and I want to see the blue dog Democrats part of leadership,” Cuellar said, referring to the Conservative wing of the Democratic Party, which he is a part of. Vela flatly opposed Pelosi leading the House. “I hope not,” Vela said about the prospect of Pelosi being Speaker. “I don’t have a candidate yet. My objective over next couple weeks is to affect change so the Democrats have a new speaker. She’s been there 16 years and I think it’s time for a change” Vela added: “She led 100 Democrats to vote for $1.6 billion toward border wall funding, most of which is in Hidalgo County.” Vela firmly opposes the border wall and any funding toward the construction of one. Earlier this year, Vela said he would not vote in favor of any legislation that included even $100 for a border wall. There is a coalition of Democrats, Vela said, who are signing onto a petition to ensure Pelosi does not obtain the speakership. How that will unfold is unclear.

The Hill - November 11, 2018

Beto 2020 calls multiply among Democrats

Democrats are seeing a silver lining to Rep. Beto O'Rourke’s loss in Texas to Sen. Ted Cruz. It means O’Rourke, who emerged in the midterms as a progressive star, is free to run for president. Talk of O’Rourke running for the White House would have happened if he had defeated Cruz, to be sure. But Democrats say it shouldn’t be quieted by his loss.

O’Rourke finished within 3 percentage points of Cruz, an exceptional performance compared to past Democratic standards in recent Texas Senate races. Democrats across the country say that if O’Rourke wants to run for president, he has the potential to take the primary by storm. “If he wants to run, he should do it,” said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. “He now has name recognition, a widely successful fundraising operation, a young fresh face with a sprinkling of woke, a cool persona, a new perspective, he speaks Spanish and would be an exciting and upbeat candidate,” she said. Another strategist was even more enthusiastic. “I hate to say this because it would piss off a lot of Democrats, but the fact is we have so many people and we really have nobody that's thrilling, nobody that would send a thrill up Chris Matthews’s leg except for Beto,” the strategist said, referencing the MSNBC “Hardball” host, who expressed such excitement about hearing former President Obama speak. “You know how I know? I had friends calling me to ask about him. I would overhear conversations about him. He's generating the kind of buzz we haven't seen since 'hope and change' ,” the strategist added. Even Republicans express surprise at O’Rourke’s performance. “He was able to raise an enormous act of money and that alone separates him from the crowd,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist based in Texas. “He has a bit of a star quality to him. People in Texas were mesmerized and moved by him." “The fact that he lost by 3 percent is impressive,” Mackowiak added. O'Rourke finds himself in an unusual situation. Most candidates who lose a race typically go back to the drawing board on career plans. Sometimes, with luck, they can run for the same office again. But rarely do candidates who lose on a lower scale have aspirations for a larger office — never mind the presidency.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - November 9, 2018

Wage growth accelerates in Austin, as tight labor market spurs uptick

Anecdotes illustrating Austin’s tight labor market are numerous and varied – like qualified candidates for high-tech jobs routinely getting four or more offers apiece, and restaurant owners needing months of advertising just to fill entry-level positions.

But lackluster average employee wage increases for most of 2018 have belied that fierce competition for workers. The trend might finally be changing, federal statistics show. Private-sector pay gains in Austin recently sped up to well above the state and national levels. The local average hourly wage climbed 5.4 percent in September — to $29.82 — compared with the same month a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The federal agency doesn’t adjust metro-level wage data for seasonal factors, but wage growth in the Austin area outpaced similar nonseasonally adjusted September increases of 1.8 percent statewide and 3.6 percent for the U.S. overall. Austin’s rise “is a pretty strong acceleration from earlier this year,” said Michael Sury, a University of Texas finance lecturer and an economist. However, it remains to be seen if the wage increases are the start of a trend that could counter the region’s near two-decade low unemployment rate by luring more people into the labor force, or if they’ll be significant enough for those in low-wage professions to gain ground on the metro area’s rising cost of living. Sury said the September number might not translate into big increases in local paychecks, largely because it could be a one-month anomaly. Wage gains have remained stubbornly small throughout 2018 despite the region’s sub-3 percent unemployment rate, he said, so “we would need to see several more subsequent data points that look that high to really move the needle” on wages. Through August, hourly wages in the Austin metro area came in 2.9 percent higher on average than during the same eight months last year, a bigger increase than the state’s average 1.8 percent gain over that time but about even with the U.S. wage gain of 2.7 percent. Austin’s unemployment rate currently sits at 2.9 percent, well below the state and U.S. rates of 3.8 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.

National Stories

New York Times - November 9, 2018

Stephen I. Vladeck: The president’s designation of the acting attorney general is constitutional, so long as it is temporary.

President Trump’s selection of Matthew Whitaker to serve as acting attorney general has provoked alarm across the political spectrum, and for good reason. But as troubling as Mr. Whitaker may turn out to be for the rule of law, Mr. Trump was acting within the scope of his constitutional authority. The move was legal, so long as it is temporary, which the law defines as up to 210 days.

That’s not to say that Mr. Whitaker, who until Wednesday had been chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, should take over the Justice Department even temporarily. He appears not only to be stunningly unqualified to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer but also to have radical — and deeply troubling — views about the role of the federal courts in our constitutional system. And perhaps most important, as acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker also takes over supervision of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, even though he has been an unabashed and highly partisan critic of Mr. Mueller’s investigation and almost certainly has an insurmountable professional conflict of interest that ought to force him to recuse from such a role. Perhaps animated by those concerns, a broad and growing array of commentators, lawyers and scholars have argued that Mr. Whitaker’s appointment violates the Constitution, including, in an Op-Ed this week in The Times, the bipartisan pair of lawyers Neal Katyal and George Conway. At its core, their objection is that because Mr. Whitaker was not confirmed by the Senate to his previous post as chief of staff, and because other Senate-confirmed officers within the Justice Department (such as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein) are available, Mr. Whitaker is constitutionally ineligible to serve as acting attorney general, even on a temporary basis. Although it is easy to see why this argument is so alluring, it’s ultimately unconvincing as a matter of both constitutional text and structure. Let’s unpack it. Except during Senate recesses, the Appointments Clause of Article II requires that the president nominate and the Senate confirm all “principal” federal officers. Clearly, the attorney general of the United States is a principal officer, and so the president could not permanently fill that post without the Senate’s advice and consent. The argument against Mr. Whitaker’s appointment rises and falls on the assumption that someone who temporarily exercises the duties of a principal officer must be a principal officer — or at the very least, an “inferior officer” like the deputy attorney general or solicitor general, who have already been confirmed by the Senate to those posts. But in an 1898 decision, United States v. Eaton, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that only a principal officer confirmed by the Senate can temporarily fill the shoes of another principal officer. So long as an inferior officer is exercising the duties of the principal officer “for a limited time, and under special and temporary conditions,” the court said, he “is not thereby transformed into the superior and permanent official.” The Supreme Court in Eaton did not go on to define what “a limited time” or “special and temporary conditions” entails, but it made clear that those are the key constitutional considerations. In the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, Congress elaborated on those missing pieces. When a senior executive branch officer “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office,” the statute authorizes the president to choose either that official’s “first assistant” (in this case, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein); any other currently serving government officer who was confirmed by the Senate; or any senior official, like Mr. Whitaker, who served in the same department as the vacant office for at least 90 of the previous 365 days “to perform the functions and duties of the vacant office temporarily in an acting capacity.”

New York Times - November 12, 2018

In North Korea, missile bases suggest a great deception

North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images, a network long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat.

The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads. The existence of the ballistic missile bases, which North Korea has never acknowledged, contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program that the North had warned could devastate the United States. “We are in no rush,” Mr. Trump said of talks with the North at a news conference on Wednesday, after Republicans lost control of the House. “The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home.” His statement was true in just one sense. Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to the halt of missile flight tests, which have not occurred in nearly a year. But American intelligence officials say that the North’s production of nuclear material, of new nuclear weapons and of missiles that can be placed on mobile launchers and hidden in mountains at the secret bases has continued. And the sanctions are collapsing, in part because North Korea has leveraged its new, softer-sounding relationship with Washington, and its stated commitment to eventual denuclearization, to resume trade with Russia and China. Moreover, an American program to track those mobile missiles with a new generation of small, inexpensive satellites, disclosed by The New York Times more than a year ago, is stalled. The Pentagon once hoped to have the first satellites over North Korea by now, giving it early warning if the mobile missiles are rolled out of mountain tunnels and prepared for launch. But because of a series of budget and bureaucratic disputes, the early warning system, begun by the Obama administration and handed off to the Trump administration, has yet to go into operation. Current and former officials, who said they could not publicly discuss the program because it is heavily classified, said there was still hope of launching the satellites, but they offered no timeline.

Washington Post - November 12, 2018

In Paris, a relatively understated Trump finds he’s still the center of the world’s attention — and outrage

President Trump likes to throw Twitter bombs that explode in concentric circles of offensiveness. He delivers speeches that contain insults and falsehoods. He announces policies on a whim, some constitutionally questionable. But on a trip to Europe, the president hardly said a word — and he still managed to outrage at almost every turn.

Aside from a critical tweet aimed at French President Emmanuel Macron when Trump landed in Paris late Friday — one based on an inaccurate newspaper summary of an interview Macron gave suggesting that he had called the United States a threat — Trump didn’t throw any sharp elbows at his peers here. It was still all about him. In this case, it was because of the images. He looked uncomfortable and listless in a bilateral meeting with Macron, whose sinewy energy stood in stark contrast to Trump’s downbeat expression as the French leader patted him on the thigh. He was a no-show at a scheduled tour of a military cemetery for Americans, while other world leaders publicly paid homage to those who died on the battlefield. Instead, the president holed up at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, announcing hours later that he had spent a few hours making calls and attending meetings — but not offering to whom or about what. And on Sunday, Trump arrived separately from the 60 other leaders at a World War I remembrance at the Arc de Triomphe. He had no speaking role, sitting stone-faced as Macron railed against the rise of nationalism — a rebuke of Trump’s professed worldview. The overall takeaway to many was a president turning away from the world, a man occupying the office of the leader of the free world who appeared withdrawn and unenthusiastic on the global stage. “Watching the event from France I cannot recall a time when America seemed so isolated,” David Axelrod, who was a senior political adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter late Sunday. “America First feels like America Alone.” On previous foreign trips, Trump had made his presence felt, taking pains to push other leaders around. He shoved past the prime minister of Monte­negro to get to the front of a group of fellow leaders at a dedication ceremony of a new NATO headquarters in May 2017. He engaged in a macho 29-second handshake with Macron during a visit to Paris in July 2017 for a Bastille Day parade. He abruptly revoked U.S. support for a milquetoast joint communique at the Group of Seven Summit last spring, in a fit of pique over mild criticism from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom Trump called “mild and meek” and “very dishonest & weak” in a tweet. And he disparaged British Prime Minister Theresa May in an interview with a London newspaper that was published just as he arrived in the country to meet her in July.

Associated Press - November 11, 2018

New Tesla chairwoman's biggest challenge is controlling Musk

Australian telecommunications executive Robyn Denholm brings much-needed financial and auto industry expertise to her new role as Tesla's board chairwoman, but her biggest challenge is whether she can rein in a CEO with a proclivity for misbehavior.

Denholm, who has been a Tesla board member for nearly five years, was named to the post late Wednesday, replacing Elon Musk as part of a securities fraud settlement with U.S. government regulators. Corporate governance experts say they would have preferred an outsider with manufacturing expertise be appointed to lead the board, now dominated by people with personal and financial ties to Musk, including his brother. They aren't sure if Denholm was hired just to placate the Securities and Exchange Commission to comply with the settlement or whether she'll actually be able to corral the visionary but erratic Musk, who remains CEO. "With all the crazy stuff going on, she was there," said Rohan Williamson, a finance professor who studies corporate governance at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. "She couldn't control him before. Is anything going to change?" Denholm, 55, is chief financial officer and strategy head at Telstra Corp. Ltd., Australia's largest telecommunications company. Her new role at Tesla came largely because of the board's failure to control Musk, especially when he made a surprise announcement over Twitter in August that funding was secured to take Tesla private at $420 per share. That drove up Tesla's stock price and hurt short-sellers, investors who bet against the company's success. Eventually it drew a lawsuit from the SEC alleging that Musk misled investors. Denholm will step down from Telstra after a six-month notice period. Then she'll work full-time at Tesla, where she has served on the board since 2014. Under the SEC settlement, Musk can't return as chairman for three years, and only with a shareholder vote. The move vaults Denholm from relative obscurity into a high-profile position of trying to muzzle Musk and manage a company that is struggling to produce vehicles and make money.

Wall Street Journal - November 12, 2018

Congress gears for final-stretch fight over border wall, Mueller probe

Congress returns this week for the final two-month stretch that is expected to be dominated by a fight over spending and immigration and a power struggle over the special counsel’s Russia probe.

In the wake of Tuesday’s elections, Democrats’ coming takeover of the House means each party has reasons to compromise this year and reasons to hold out. The biggest question is whether Congress will be able to reach a deal to avoid a partial government shutdown when funding for the Homeland Security Department and a handful of other agencies expires at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 8. President Trump has threatened repeatedly to shut down parts of the government if lawmakers don’t agree to fund more construction of a wall along the border with Mexico. While Democrats have insisted they oppose building a physical border wall, they also have said they want to wrap up this fight before next year, when they assume control of the House. “House Democrats support smart investments in border security, but we strongly oppose spending $5 billion on President Trump’s proposed wall,” Rep. Nita Lowey, D., N.Y., who is expected to lead the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. The relevant House spending bill would provide $5 billion for the wall, while the Senate bill authorizes $1.6 billion. A spokesman for Ms. Lowey said Democrats would like to complete the negotiations this year. “With the December 7 deadline looming, it’s important for Congress to get its work done on time and prevent a prolonged government shutdown,” he said. Republicans this year face similar incentives to cut a deal but also pressure to stick with the president. On the one hand, GOP lawmakers in the House have more leverage to fund the wall this year, while they are still in the majority. On the other hand, Congress has already passed the defense-spending bill, typically their top priority, leaving Republicans less concerned about pushing the rest of the spending fight into next year.

CNN - November 11, 2018

President Trump's tweet on California wildfires angers firefighters, celebrities

President Donald Trump's tweet blaming "gross mismanagement" for the devastating California wildfires is sparking a backlash from top firefighters' associations, politicians and celebrities. In a series of tweets Saturday, Trump said the state's deadly wildfires are a result of poor forest management and threatened to cut federal aid.

Trump's first tweet drew the ire of the leaders of firefighters' organizations, who accused the President of bringing politics into a devastating disaster. The Camp Fire in Northern California has killed 23 people and burned 108,000 acres. The Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles has killed at least two and has scorched 83,275 acres. The Hill fire in Ventura County has ravaged 4,531 acres. "His comments are reckless and insulting to the firefighters and people being affected," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The president of the California Professional Firefighters said the message is an attack on some of the people fighting the devastating fires. "The President's message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines," Brian K. Rice said. "In my view, this shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines." Rice also said Trump's assertion that California's forest management policies are to blame "is dangerously wrong." "Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography," he said.

CNN - November 10, 2018

Jury delivers $25.5 million 'statement' to Aetna to change its ways

An Oklahoma jury has awarded $25.5 million to the family of a cancer patient denied coverage by Aetna, with jurors saying that the insurer acted "recklessly" and that the verdict was meant as a message for Aetna to change its ways.

The award is believed to be the largest verdict in an individual "bad faith" insurance case in Oklahoma history, one court observer said, and could have major ramifications across the country for a form of cancer treatment called proton beam therapy. The case revolved around the 2014 denial of coverage for Orrana Cunningham, who had stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer near her brain stem. Her doctors wanted her to receive proton beam therapy, a targeted form of radiation that could pinpoint her tumor without the potential for blindness or other side effects of standard radiation. Aetna denied her coverage, calling the therapy investigational and experimental. Orrana and her husband, Ron Cunningham, a retired Oklahoma City firefighter, had been together since 1987. He was determined to do whatever it took to get the love of his life the treatment she needed. The couple mortgaged their dream home and set up a GoFundMe page to help pay the $92,082.19 to get the therapy her doctors had prescribed at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. However, Orrana died May 30, 2015, at the age of 54, in part from a viral infection that reached her brain. Ron Cunningham said this week's verdict was vindication for the suffering his wife went through. She had filed the initial paperwork to sue Aetna, saying that if her case helped save the life of one person, it would be worth it. "My wife started the case, and I'm just finishing the fight," he said. "We did her proud. My wife wanted to make sure that it got out. Her comment was 'if we could just save one person.' "As far as the money, I'd give it all back to spend just one more day with her." Aetna attorney John Shely said in closing arguments that the insurance giant was proud of the three medical directors who denied coverage, even turning to thank them as they sat in the front row of the courtroom, according to jurors and other witnesses in court. It was a message that didn't sit well with the 12 jurors, who found that Aetna "recklessly disregarded its duty to deal fairly and act in good faith with the Cunninghams." "I just felt like Orrana Cunningham was failed at every turn," forewoman Ann Schlotthauer said.

ABC News - November 11, 2018

Thousand Oaks suspect died from self-inflicted wound: Officials

The veteran suspected of opening fire at a Thousand Oaks, California, bar, killing 12, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an official from the Ventura County Sheriff's Office told ABC News.

Ian David Long, 28, an ex-Marine, fatally shot 11 people at the Borderline Bar and Grill, as well as a police officer who responded just before midnight Wednesday. Preliminary information indicates that Long walked into the bar, immediately shot a group of security guards and employees standing near the entrance to the bar and then paused to text or post to social media, according to law enforcement sources briefed on the investigation. "It's too bad I won't get to see all the illogical and pathetic reasons people will put in my mouth as to why I did it," he wrote at 11:24 p.m., according to documents obtained by ABC News. "Fact is I had no reason to do it, and I just thought... life is boring so why not?" Three minutes later, he posted, "Yeah... I'm insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is 'hopes and prayers' ... or 'keep you in my thoughts' ... every time... and wonder why these keep happening." Long's social media were taken down at the request of law enforcement. Long, a former U.S. Marine, showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, authorities said, but there's little information available yet on what prompted the attack late Wednesday night at the Borderline Bar and Grill. Long was found dead inside the bar. "He was somewhat irate. Acting a little irrationally," Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said at a press conference. "They felt he might be suffering from PTSD, the fact he was a veteran." Long lived near the bar with his mother, neighbors told police, describing the suspect as a troubled man who battled fits of rage. "I think I do recall some times when he was struggling with some issues internally," said Todd Stratton, a friend of Long's. "I didn't know [about] PTSD, but his girlfriend would kind of ask him about things going on with him, because he'd get really upset sometimes and kind of shut down and he wouldn't want to talk about it to people. He'd just kind of close himself up, and I think he had a really hard time reaching out for help because of his personality."

NBC News - November 10, 2018

Texas’ Ratcliffe joins list of potential Attorney General picks

Two members of congress, a cabinet official, a presidential confidant and a frequent guest on Fox News are among those being considered by President Donald Trump to be the next attorney general, multiple sources tell NBC News.

One of those, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, was a close adviser to the president in his 2016 presidential campaign. He has been largely sidelined by the administration since then but resurfaced at the White House on Thursday for what White House officials said was for a previously scheduled meeting on prison reform. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, and retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, have also joined the list of those in the running, the sources say. Ratcliffe, a former political appointee of President George W. Bush who was later appointed to be U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Texas, has become a top candidate. He was elected to Congress in 2014 and has been named as the most conservative Texas legislator by the Heritage Foundation. He made a name for himself when he grilled former FBI agent Peter Strzok in a House Judiciary Committee hearing about text messages he sent ahead of the 2016 election. Gowdy, who led the House investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of the attack that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, is retiring from Congress at the end of the year and was a prosecutor before coming to Congress. He and Trump have had a contentious relationship, especially since Gowdy voted “present” on a House bill to keep the House’s Russia investigation going when every other Republican voted “no.” Neither Ratcliffe nor Gowdy’s office responded to requests for comment. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who is close to Gowdy, has become an adviser to the president on the position. Frequently mentioned for the job himself, Graham has said repeatedly that he is not interested. But anticipating that Sessions would be fired or would resign, he has been working on a list of potential replacements to present to the president. And Graham, who could be the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, could have a large say on if the nominee is successful in the Senate.

The Guardian - November 10, 2018

Can Democrats ever win back white, rural America?

Democrats in Kansas were encouraged but in Iowa, a well-funded and energetic candidate lost to a Republican who openly flirts with Nazis. What should the party do next time?

As JD Scholten walked forward to concede, defeat was written across the face of every Democrat in the room. They all knew this had been their best shot at victory in a long time. The stars were apparently aligned in Scholten’s challenge against Steve King, an eight-term Republican congressman, in a district covering hundreds of square miles of rural north-western Iowa. King’s racist provocations – he once predicted that white Americans did not have to worry about being a minority because blacks and Hispanics “would be fighting each other before that happens” – and flirtations with the European far right drew national condemnation. That prompted a flood of donations for Scholten. Even King’s own party leadership disowned him. On top of that, there was the Trump factor. Some people had simply had enough of the president, or at least felt that a Democratic Congress was required to keep him in check. Scholten criss-crossed the huge district, knocking on doors. Just about everyone knew who he was and what he stood for. He talked about affordable healthcare and how to reverse the decline of rural communities. His flush campaign coffers allowed him to outspend King in television advertising and social-media campaigns. Yet on election night, it was the Democrat who lost. The words were rousing but Scholten’s demeanour resonated defeat. “I did things no other Democrat has ever done in this district,” he said. “I’m damn proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish”. He was right. It had been an accomplishment. He came within three points of defeating a candidate who won by 22 points two years ago. But Linda Santi, a Democratic activist, wasn’t taking much solace. She was close to tears as she considered the implications of the defeat for the 2020 presidential election and the challenge to Trump in a crucial swing state. “There was a lot in JD’s favor,” she said. “We were up against that neo-Nazi. King was an easy opponent to criticise. King’s own leadership denounced him. There was a lot of money to spend. This really was our best hope. I’m not sure the stars will align again.” This week’s midterms were a mixed bag for Democrats in Iowa and across parts of rural America that decide the balance of power in Washington. The party lost precious Senate seats in the Midwest, letting the Republicans expand their majority even as the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives with the help of important victories in Iowa, Kansas and other rural states. As they consider the implications of those victories, losses and groundbreaking campaigns, Democrats are also being forced to confront the legacy of neglecting millions of rural voters who may yet prove crucial to winning back power.

Baptist News - November 11, 2018

Mark Wingfield: I am a pastor in an evangelical Baptist church in Dallas. Being transgender is not a sin.

Even among Christians who appear kind or progressive, too often the existence of someone who identifies as transgender gets chalked up to “sin.”

No doubt that’s the root reason so many Christians happily pile on against transgender persons and their family members about bathrooms and schools, because in their heart of hearts, they don’t understand transgender identity and simply default to thinking it is a sinful lifestyle choice. I think we all can agree that a “sin” is something we do that we shouldn’t do, something we have a choice about. If I eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream, I am likely guilty of the sin of gluttony. I didn’t have to eat the ice cream. If I fixate on why other people are more athletic and agile than me in my mid-life body, I probably am guilty of the sin of envy. There is a way for me to redirect my thoughts to avoid envy. The same is not true of transgender identity. Emphatically and conclusively, this is not a choice. It is who a person is. Did you choose to have red hair? Did you choose to be tall or short? Did you choose to have the genetic markers you have? Of course not. Transgender persons are simply acknowledging that the gender identity assigned to them at birth because of physical anatomy does not match the brain, biochemical and genetic gender identity they know inside. Since writing a column two years ago about understanding transgender identity – an opinion article that has been read more than 1 million times and led to giving a TED Talk on the same subject – I have conversed with hundreds of transgender persons and family members of transgender persons. That’s not just ministerially speaking. It really has been hundreds. Every one of those transgender persons has told me that they knew from their earliest awareness – from the time they were 4, 5 or 6 years old – that the gender anatomy they showed on the outside did not match who they knew they were on the inside. There is an increasing body of scientific evidence to back up this assertion. For example, a 2008 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that female fetuses with increased prenatal exposure to androgens are more likely to have gender nonconforming behaviors. Researchers – including some theologically conservative ones – point to environmental factors that may be responsible for what appears to be an increase in transgender identity through endocrine disruption beginning in the 20th century. This is linked to industrialization, development of new chemicals and medicines.

USA Today - November 11, 2018

Charles Schumer says Democrats might tie spending bill to Mueller protection

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said Sunday that Democrats might tie their support for the next spending bill to legislation that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller – although he stopped short of saying he would be willing to risk a shutdown.

The New York Democrat said President Donald Trump's choice of Matthew Whitaker to head the Justice Department could threaten Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and potential ties to the Trump campaign. Trump named Whitaker as the interim attorney general after Jeff Sessions' ouster last week. "The appointment of Mr. Whitaker should concern every American – Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative – who believes in rule of law and justice," Schumer said during an interview Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "He has already prejudged the Mueller situation. If he stays there, he will create a constitutional crisis by inhibiting Mueller or firing Mueller, so Congress has to act." Schumer cited Whitaker's public comments that he does not believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election and that the funding to Mueller's inquiry should be cut as examples of why Whitaker should not be in charge of the special counsel's investigation. He said Democratic leaders in the House and Senate plan to send a letter to the chief ethics officer of the Justice Department asking for an opinion on whether Whitaker should recuse himself from the investigation. If Whitaker does not recuse, Schumer said, Democrats in both houses of Congress will "attempt to add to must-pass legislation, in this case the spending bill, legislation that would prevent Mr. Whitaker from interfering with the Mueller investigation." "State of the Union" host Jake Tapper pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated he wouldn't support legislation to protect Mueller. Tapper asked Schumer if Democrats would risk a shutdown and refuse to sign a spending bill that didn't include protection for Mueller. "Look, I believe there will be enough of our Republican colleagues who will join us. There's no reason we shouldn't add this and avoid a constitutional crisis," Schumer replied. If Republican support fails to materialize, "we'll see what happens down the road," he said. He noted that McConnell said he didn't think such legislation was necessary before Sessions was fired because there was no concern that Mueller's investigation would be interfered with when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw it.

France 24 - November 11, 2018

Ten years after the recession, Americans wake up to rising prices

After years of low, low prices, fed by near-zero interest rates in a convalescing economy, Americans are waking up to costlier consumer living. Everyday household staples like diapers, toothpaste, shampoo and dishwashing liquid -- not to mention soft drinks, cookies, chocolate, cat litter and autos -- have all started getting more expensive, a trend expected to continue early next year.

Announced by companies during the most recent earnings season, these price hikes have typically ranged from two percent to 10 percent. They also stand in stark contrast to the usually unending sales and promotions from major retailers like Walmart and Amazon. The higher prices aim to pad revenues for companies like Apple, which has just raised sticker prices for its new MacBook Air laptops and iPads by 20 percent and 25 percent. But for a growing number of businesses, they also represent a response to mounting transportation costs. A stronger US dollar is similarly cutting into foreign earnings -- while a tight labor supply is at last pushing up wages. US auto giant General Motors upped the average price of its SUVs, crossovers and pickups by $800, something the company ties to rising costs for steel and aluminum -- commodities on which President Donald Trump slapped steep new import duties this year. American manufacturers are now paying eight percent more for aluminum than they did a year ago and 38 percent more for steel as local producers increase their prices. The 10 percent duties Trump imposed in September on $200 billion in Chinese goods are also a drag for importers. Like GM, most businesses have tried to pass these costs on to consumers. Benno Dorer, chief executive at Clorox, told investors recently that "doing nothing at this point is not an option." Half of the company's products will cost more next year. For the moment, Americans are willing to pay more, with consumer confidence near record highs, businesses believe. GDP is indeed expanding above trend and wages climbed nicely in October. "You can only price where you have demand for your product and we have greater demand than ever," Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told investors on an earnings call. Faced with a $2 billion jump in fuel prices over a year, the airline raised ticket prices and expects further increases for most flights. Retailers and restaurants are also changing low-price policies to protect their margins because of rising trucking and labor costs. Goods transportation costs jumped seven percent in September, mainly due to a lack of truck drivers.

Arizona Republic - November 12, 2018

Kyrsten Sinema widens lead again over Martha McSally in pivotal day for Arizona's U.S. Senate race

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema widened her lead again over Republican Martha McSally on Sunday, a pivotal day in the U.S. Senate race as the number of uncounted ballots dwindled.

Sinema expanded her lead to 32,292 votes — a 1.5 percentage-point lead — as of 6:20 p.m. Sunday, according to updated counts posted by the Arizona Secretary of State. Her campaign manager predicted her victory was inevitable. The lengthy vote-count process, which has continued long after the polls closed Nov. 6, is mostly due to the need to verify signatures for voters who vote by mail. The Arizona Republic estimates about 215,000 ballots remain to be counted statewide. To remain competitive, McSally needs to outperform all of her previous showings in Maricopa County, the state's most populous area and one that Sinema has dominated. Sinema's campaign manager wrote in a statement that McSally would need a miracle to pull out a win. “With the latest ballot count, Kyrsten’s lead is insurmountable," Andrew Piatt's statement said. "McSally’s campaign said today’s results would be her ‘firewall’ but as we expected, no firewall emerged ... Kyrsten has now expanded her overall lead to 32,640 or 1.52 percent, meaning McSally would have to win the remainder of Maricopa County ballots by 22 percent to take the lead in this race. This is not plausible. Kyrsten will be declared the next U.S. Senator from Arizona.” McSally's campaign did not immediately weigh in on the latest update. Shortly before the results were posted, McSally asked followers of her Facebook page to report any problems they may have had when voting. "URGENT: Numerous reports of improper procedures at polling locations. Help us gather the facts," the Facebook post said. It directed followers to a phone number and a National Republican Senatorial Committee website to report "ANY voting irregularities or problems you witnessed." Shortly before 7 p.m., the post had been removed from her page. As of Sunday evening, no group had brought forward allegations of specific criminal activity, although one earlier — and now resolved — Republican lawsuit addressed an equity issue over how early-ballot signatures are verified.

Fox News - November 12, 2018

Dems to probe Trump's treatment of CNN, Amazon, Washington Post in triple-threaded abuse-of-power inquiries

The incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee this week said that when the new Congress is seated in January, Democrats plan to scrutinize whether President Trump abused his authority by taking adverse action against retail giant Amazon and two of his bitter left-leaning media rivals: CNN and The Washington Post.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in an interview with "Axios on HBO" that he and his colleagues will employ committee subpoena powers -- which are backed by the legal threat of contempt of Congress -- to conduct the triple-threaded inquiry into Trump's possible use of the "instruments of state power to punish the press." Specifically, Schiff charged that Trump "was secretly meeting with the postmaster [general] in an effort to browbeat" her into "raising postal rates on Amazon," whose founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, separately owns The Washington Post. "This appears to be an effort by the president to use the instruments of state power to punish Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post," Schiff said in the interview. The president signed an executive order earlier this year mandating a review of what he called the "unsustainable financial path" of the United States Postal Service (USPS). And he has reportedly met with Postmaster General Megan Brennan several times to push for hikes to the shipping rates paid by companies like Amazon, although there are no indications he did so to seek political payback. Trump has long derided the political coverage at the Post, which is fiercely and relentlessly criticial of the White House, as a lobbying tool for Bezos. Most recently, the White House has contradicted the Post's unequivocal reporting that it had shared a "doctored" video of CNN reporter Jim Acosta making contact with a White House intern during a press conference last week, as a Buzzfeed analysis suggested the changes in the video could have resulted inadvertently from the conversion of the footage to the lower-fidelity .gif format commonly used on Twitter. But Trump has also feuded specifically with Amazon throughout the year, saying it is taking advantage of taxpayer-subsidized shipping rates. In March, he argued in a series of tweets that the online retailer’s “scam” shipping deal with the USPS -- which affords Amazon generous discounts -- is costing the agency “billions of dollars.”

Kansas City Star - November 11, 2018

Inside Kris Kobach’s losing Kansas campaign: ‘Check logic and reason at the door’

Kris Kobach blamed money. He blamed history. He didn’t blame himself for losing a race for governor in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two to one. Kobach’s campaign was marked by his parade appearances on a jeep with a mounted replica machine gun, a rally with rocker Ted Nugent and his fiery debate performances where he derisively compared suburban public school buildings to the Taj Mahal. But behind the scenes is where the circus really took place.

Interviews with more than a dozen Republican strategists and officials paint a picture of a candidate who refused to listen to advice, was unwilling to put energy into fundraising and failed to set up a basic “get out the vote” operation. The criticism of Kobach’s management of the campaign comes amid speculation that he could be a contender for posts in President Donald Trump’s administration, including U.S. attorney general. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, struggled to pay his campaign staff on time and at one point lacked a working phone system at his Johnson County campaign office, according to GOP sources familiar with the campaign. And people who offered to volunteer were never contacted. “It was the most dysfunctional thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said a long-time GOP operative in Kansas. Kobach trusted that his regular presence on cable news, dominance in headlines and the full-throated support of Trump would carry him to victory, strategists told The Star. He also expected independent Greg Orman to siphon more votes from Democrat Laura Kelly than he actually did. Two weeks out from Election Day when polls showed Kobach in a tight race with Kelly, members of his senior staff did a walk-through of the governor’s office, according to a Republican source. “Is there nothing else you can be doing with your time right now?” the source recalled thinking. “The joke was, you’d say ‘the Kobach campaign’ and (then) you’d say, ‘what campaign?’” Kobach won his primary against Gov. Jeff Colyer by 343 votes after Trump endorsed Kobach on the day before the election. “Primary elections should not only be focused on finding the right ideological fit, but on finding a candidate who’s willing to put in the work necessary to win the general election,” said Scott Paradise, a Republican consultant who works in both Kansas and Missouri. “It didn’t appear that Kris Kobach seemed all that interested in working on the things that mattered, like fundraising, grassroots organizing, or asking voters for their support.” Kelly crushed the Kansas Republican in fundraising and won nearly 46,000 more votes in the GOP-leaning state, handing the Republicans their first loss in a statewide race in 12 years. She methodically crisscrossed the state and scored endorsements from every living former governor except for Sam Brownback.