Saturday, September 20, 2014

Gabby Giffords: Working to Keep the House Red

As you may remember, former Democratic representative Gabby Giffords and her husband started an ambiguously named PAC called Americans for Responsible Solutions to push for gun control legislation.

Well, Americans for Responsible Solutions is now working to keep the House in Republican hands:
The Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC (ARS PAC) is releasing a new ad in support of Fitzpatrick as well as a poll that shows him favored to win re-election.
… The group endorsed Fitzpatrick back in June and had previously indicated it would mobilize to support those candidates it backed.
Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick isn’t afraid to lead,” the narrator of the commercial asserts. “He’s working with Democrats and Republicans to keep us safe from gun violence.”
The thirty-second spot praises Fitzpatrick for authoring a bill to keep guns out of the hands of the mental ill (H.R. 329) as well as co-sponsoring a bill an act to prevent stalkers and domestic abusers from purchasing firearms (H.R. 1565).
“We can get it right,” the narrator concludes. “It just takes a leader. Like Mike Fitzpatrick.”
“We need more bipartisan leaders like Mike Fitzpatrick in Congress – leaders who aren’t afraid to stand up to powerful special interests and to stand up for commonsense solutions to gun violence,” said Hayley Zachary, Executive Director of Americans for Responsible Solutions. ”By reaching across the aisle to cosponsor legislation to close loopholes on gun sales, Congressman Fitzpatrick was not only showing some leadership, but reflecting the reasonable views of his constituents.”
ARS PAC also explained that this is a six-figure buy that will air in the Philadelphia TV market on broadcast and cable for at least the next two weeks.
Although it is viewed as a safe seat for Fitzpatrick this cycle, PA-08, a suburban district based in Bucks County outside of Philadelphia (where I grew up), is still considered the prototypical swing district. 

As of the last quarterly filing, Mike Fitzpatrick had raised almost 2.5 times as much money this cycle as his Democratic challenger, Kevin Strouse. He also had seven times as much cash on hand. Mike Fitzpatrick clearly does not need their help.

Moreover, he does not even deserve it. Mike Fitzpatrick can co-sponsor as many bills as he'd like, but there is really only one vote that matters for advancing gun control legislation: the vote for Speaker of the House. And on that, he fails.

A single issue group like Americans for Responsible Solutions should not be intervening in favor of a well-funded incumbent against a challenger who will, by basis of party affiliation alone, be more favorable to the group's agenda. If gun control is not a salient contrast between the candidates, then ARS should be sitting out.

This reminds me of how Big Green groups like the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund and LGBTQ advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign always endorse Republican senator Susan Collins (R-ME) over Democratic challengers who are more pro-environment and pro-LGBTQ rights. They simply want to have a token Republican so that they can tout their bipartisanship, not matter how little it actually gets them.

That Giffords's group would be backing a Republicans appears less surprising as well when you remember that Giffords was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and was one of the most conservative Democrats in the caucus.

Friday, September 19, 2014

House Republicans Combine All Their Anti-Environment Legislation into One Big Bill. 9 Dems Join Them

Yesterday, while the Senate was busy voting for war, the House took a vote on destroying the environment.

The American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act is basically a rehash of bills that already passed the House and will go nowhere in the Senate. The House Republicans basically threw together all of the anti-environment legislation they've voted for into one bill:
The bill would declare that a presidential permit is not required for TransCanada’s revised proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline — which would allow construction of the pipeline across the U.S.- Canadian border to proceed. Further, it would eliminate the current requirement that proposed oil and natural gas pipelines and electric transmission line projects that cross the U.S. border with Mexico or Canada obtain a Presidential permit and create a new approval process that requires only the cross-border segment of a project to be subject to a National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) review. It would also require the Secretary of State (for oil and gas pipelines) and the Secretary of Energy (for electric transmission lines) to approve a project unless the narrow segment that crosses the border is deemed “not in the public interest of the United States.”
Additionally, the bill would open huge new portions of our coastlines to offshore drilling, and ignore other important uses of public lands, including conservation and recreation. The bill would severely limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. It would also prohibit the EPA from finalizing regulations estimated to cost more than $1 billion if the Energy Department determines that the regulations will cause significant adverse effects to the economy.  This would effectively prevent EPA from finalizing any regulations and would give the Energy Department a veto over EPA's air and water pollution rules or any other rule interpreted to be "energy-related." The measure could also indefinitely delay EPA energy-related rules because there are no deadlines for EPA to submit its report or for the Energy Department to complete its study.

The bill would also block the Department of the Interior from issuing rules to protect streams from the impact of mountaintop removal coal mining and force states to adopt a Bush Administration rule vacated by the courts – while also prohibiting the federal government from establishing baseline standards for the safe conduct of hydraulic fracturing on public lands.
The House voted for it 226 to 191. The vote was largely on partisan lines, but with 9 Democrats voting for it and 7 Republicans voting against it. 

Here are the 9 Democrats that voted for it:

John Barrow (GA-12)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Bill Enyart (IL-12)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)

Here are the 7 Republicans that voted against it:

Rodney Frelinghysen (NJ-11)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
Walter Jones (NC-03)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02)
Jon Runyan (NJ-03)
Mark Sanford (SC-01)
Chris Smith (NJ-04)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Both of MA's Senators Voted Against Arming the Syrian Rebels

Today, the Senate voted on the Continuing Resolution that passed the House yesterday, with the funding authorization for Obama’s plan to arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels.

Last week, the New York Times had an excellent article on how defining clear-cut “moderates” in Syria is a near impossible feat, one asking for trouble:
“You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist,” said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is a very dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer.”
….

The Syrian rebels are a scattered archipelago of mostly local forces with ideologies that range from nationalist to jihadist. Their rank-and-file fighters are largely from the rural underclass, with few having clear political visions beyond a general interest in greater rights or the dream of an Islamic state.
Most have no effective links to the exile Syrian National Coalition, meaning they have no political body to represent their cause. And the coalition’s Supreme Military Council, which was intended to unite the moderate rebel forces, has all but collapsed.
The C.R. passed the Senate 78-22. Both Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey were among the 22 NO votes.

They were joined by only 8 other members of the Democratic caucus:

Mark Begich (D-AK)
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Here is the statement Elizabeth Warren issued on her vote:
I am deeply concerned by the rise of ISIS, and I support a strong, coordinated response, but I am not convinced that the current proposal to train and equip Syrian forces adequately advances our interests. After detailed briefings, I remain concerned that our weapons, our funding, and our support may end up in the hands of people who threaten the United States — and even if we could guarantee that our support goes to the right people, I remain unconvinced that training and equipping these forces will be effective in pushing back ISIS. I do not want America to be dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, and it is time for those nations in the region that are most immediately affected by the rise of ISIS to step up and play a leading role in this fight. Therefore, at this time, I cannot support funding for this specific action.
If we look at the two votes (McKeon amendment and Continuing Resolution) from the House last night as well, then we can say that if you live in MA-02 (McGovern), MA-03 (Tsongas), MA-04 (Kennedy), MA-05 (Clark), MA-06 (Tierney), or MA-07 (Capuano), then your full congressional representation voted against this latest misguided move to deepen US military involvement in the Middle East.

The Dwindling Anti-War Caucus: Only 53 House Dems Took a Firm Stand Against War Yesterday

Last night, the House voted to provide funding to arm the "moderate" rebels in Syria to fight ISIS, deepening US military involvement in the situation in Iraq and Syria.

Last week, the New York Times had an excellent article on how defining clear-cut "moderates" in Syria is a near impossible feat, one asking for trouble:
“You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist,” said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is a very dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer.”
....
The Syrian rebels are a scattered archipelago of mostly local forces with ideologies that range from nationalist to jihadist. Their rank-and-file fighters are largely from the rural underclass, with few having clear political visions beyond a general interest in greater rights or the dream of an Islamic state.
Most have no effective links to the exile Syrian National Coalition, meaning they have no political body to represent their cause. And the coalition’s Supreme Military Council, which was intended to unite the moderate rebel forces, has all but collapsed.
Nancy Pelosi did not go in full whipping mode to get Democrats on board, but she certainly pressured them to back the president's new war.

The resolution in question, offered as an amendment by Buck McKeon (CA-25), passed 273 to 156. 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats voted for it. 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats voted against it.

In other words, a majority of both parties just voted for war.

I go through the roll call votes here

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Obama Held Private Meeting with Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Other Journos Before ISIS Speech

Yesterday, Huffington Post's Michael Calderone reported on a closed door meeting Obama held with a group of 15 journalists before delivering his speech on escalating military involvement in Iraq and Syria.
NEW YORK –- President Barack Obama met with over a dozen prominent columnists and magazine writers Wednesday afternoon before calling for an escalation of the war against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in a primetime address that same night.
The group, which met in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in an off-the-record session, included New York Times columnists David Brooks, Tom Friedman and Frank Bruni and editorial writer Carol Giacomo; The Washington Post's David Ignatius, Eugene Robinson and Ruth Marcus; The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins and George Packer; The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg and Peter Beinart; The New Republic's Julia Ioffe; Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll; The Wall Street Journal's Jerry Seib; and The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky, a source familiar with the meeting told The Huffington Post.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also attended the meeting, according to the source.
Of the 15, I can identify at least 6 right away that supported the last Iraq War: Brooks, Friedman, Ignatius, Packer, Goldberg, and Beinart. I'd assume several others did as well. 

Regardless, it provides a window into how Obama thinks, and it's not pretty.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Interesting Tidbits from the Primary Results in Boston

I’ve been very curious to see the precinct-by-precinct results for Boston. And when I did, I decided to go through them and find some interesting tidbits about turnout and candidate support. (For reference, here’s a map of Boston’s wards and precincts.)

Turnout

Aside from the phantom precinct, there were four precincts with turnout below 5%: Ward 21 Precinct 2 (1.65%), Ward 21 Precinct 3 (3.20%), Ward 4 Precinct 10 (3.7%), and Ward 21 Precinct 4 (3.91%). Ward 21 is Allston-Brighton–so, basically students (BU, BC, and Harvard). Ward 4 Precinct 10 consists of the Colleges of the Fenway (Emmanuel College, MassArt, MCPHS University, Simmons College, Wentworth Institute, and Wheelock College).

DigBoston had a sad-and-funny-at-the-same-time piece on Ward 21 Precinct 2, the “saddest little polling location in Boston.”

If you wanted to round out the bottom 10, you’d get Ward 4 Precinct 9 (5.01%), Ward 21 Precinct 8 (5.34%), Ward 21 Precinct 9 (5.58%), Ward 21 Precinct 1 (6.09%), Ward 21 Precinct 15 (6.22%), and Ward 21 Precinct 5 (6.51%). Ward 4 Precinct 9 consists of the area around Northeastern University–mostly a mix of students and housing projects. There were 17 other precincts with turnout below 10%, mostly in student-heavy areas like the ones already noted or Mission Hill.

Only 9 precincts had turnout above 30%: Ward 19 Precinct 2 (35.21%), Ward 20 Precinct 6 (33.59%), Ward 20 Precinct 14 (33.58%), Ward 20 Precinct 12 (33.17%), Ward 16 Precinct 9 (32.85%), Ward 20 Precinct 11 (32.53%), Ward 20 Precinct 4 (30.66%), Ward 19 Precinct 8 (30.55%), and Ward 7 Precinct 1 (30.13%).

The precincts from Wards 19 and 20 are in Roslindale and West Roxbury, Ward 7 Precinct 1 is South Boston, and Ward 16 Precinct 9 is in Dorchester.

If you were to round out the top 10, you’d have Ward 20 Precinct 18 (29.92%).

Gubernatorial Candidates

Where did each candidate do his/her best?

Don Berwick’s best precinct was Ward 19 Precinct 8 in Jamaica Plain, where he received 54.18% of the vote. Don did  well throughout Jamaica Plain, winning Ward 10 Precinct 9, Ward 11 Precincts 6-10, and Ward 19 Precincts 1, 3-6, and 8.

Martha Coakley’s best precinct was Ward 14 Precinct 5 in Mattpan, where she won 80.00% of the vote. Martha did well throughout Ward 14, winning over 60% of the vote in each precinct.

Steve Grossman’s best precinct was Ward 7 Precinct 2 in South Boston, where he won 52.60% of the vote. Steve did well in South Boston, winning Ward 6 Precincts 5-9 and Ward 7 Precincts 1-3.

Where did each candidate do his/her worst?

Don Berwick’s worst precinct was Ward 14 Precinct 5 in Mattapan, where he received only 2.67% of the vote.

Martha Coakley’s worst precinct was Ward 20 Precinct 20 in West Roxbury (right at the border with Brookline and Newton), where she received only 25.57% of the vote.

Steve Grossman’s worst precinct was Ward 14 Precinct 9 in Mattapan, where he received only 14.04% of the vote.

One trend I found particularly noteworthy was how well Coakley did in the majority-black precincts.
Using 2011 data, I identified 55 such precincts: Ward 8 Precincts 3, 4, and 7; Ward 9 Precinct 5; Ward 11 Precincts 2 and 3; Ward 12 Precincts 1-9; Ward 14 Precincts 1-14; Ward 15 Precincts 2 and 5; Ward 17 Precincts 1-5, 7, 8, 10-12, and 14; Ward 18 Precincts 1-6, 8, 14, 15, and 21. These precincts cover area in Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Dorchester.

Martha Coakley won all of them with clear majorities, ranging from 52.68% (Ward 8 Precinct 3) to 80.00% (Ward 14 Precinct 5). Her margin of victory ranged from 23.66% in Ward 17 Precinct 4 to 64.91% in Ward 14 Precinct 9.

In 49 out of the 55, she had over 60% of the vote. In 25 of the 55, she had over 70%.

Friday, September 12, 2014

25 House Dems Join GOP in Latest Effort to Chip Away at Affordable Care Act

Wednesday, the House voted on the latest effort to chip away at the Affordable Care Act.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, would allow people to keep their insurance plans under even if the coverage doesn't meet the requirements specified under the Affordable Care Act.

Here is the response from the Democratic leadership:
This bill would give insurance companies the option to continue offering all group-market plans that were in effect as of January 1, 2013, through 2018 outside of exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This bill is not limited to current enrollees, but opens up access to non-ACA compliant plans to all groups and individuals. Employers who offer these plans would be deemed to meet the minimum coverage requirement set by the Affordable Care Act – allowing employers who are currently offering coverage that meets ACA standards to offer far less comprehensive, substandard coverage and take away the consumer protections employees currently have under the ACA.
Further, because plans sold prior to 2014 did not need to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, enrollees in those plans remain vulnerable to limited coverage policies and abusive insurance company practices. Insurance companies would be able to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, restore annual caps on the amount of care you can receive, and force women to pay more than men for the same coverage.
The bill passed 247 to 167. 25 Democrats joined 222 Republicans in supporting it.

Here are those 25 Democrats:

Ron Barber (AZ-02)
John Barrow (GA-12)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Julia Brownley (CA-26)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Bill Enyart (IL-12)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01)
Anne Kuster (NH-02)
Dave Loebsack (IA-02)
Dan Maffei (NY-24)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Gary Peters (MI-09)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Bradley Schneider (IL-10)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)
Tim Walz (MN-01)

The Affordable Care Act has many flaws, but they can be best eliminated by reforms that make the health care system more progressive and more universal, reforms which guarantee affordability without sacrificing quality or comprehensiveness of coverage. This is what Democrats should be talking about when they say they want to "fix" the law. Not bills like this.