- "The action puts Venezuela on par with Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria, the only other countries under a similar full embargo."
INSURGENT UPRISING: Over 150 years. That’s the combined amount of time Democratic Reps. Richard E. Neal, Nita M. Lowey, Jerry Nadler, Eliot L. Engel and Steny H. Hoyer have spent in Congress.
These House leaders preside over four powerful committees that respectively write the nation's tax laws, control the government's purse strings, launch investigations into presidential administrations and help set foreign policy. And the latter, Hoyer, is the second most powerful Democrat in the House.
Now, they're back in their districts for the summer — and facing primary challengers. In some cases, multiple insurgents are trying to take out these establishment Democrats from the left.
Just call it the AOC effect: This collection of progressive community organizers, activists, lawyers, veterans and educators — many in their 20s and 30s — are all extreme long shots. It is the rare exception that an incumbent loses in a primary. But they think there's at least a chance: After all, many of them told us, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez now represents New York after her shocking upset of 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley last cycle.
- Optimistic ground view: “If I was an incumbent House Democrat who depended on Wall Street money and wasn't sure about the Green New Deal, I'd be really, really worried about my prospects this year,” Karthik Ganapathy, the co-founder of MVMT Communications, a political consulting firm focused on insurgent candidates, tells Power Up. “There's such an impressive field of progressive challengers from diverse backgrounds taking on corporate-backed incumbents in leadership posts who simply aren't fighting for their constituents.”
Power Up spoke with eight of these challengers. Many are campaigning on kitchen table issues such as affordable housing and income inequality — and because they're frustrated with House leadership's cautious approach on impeachment and holding President Trump accountable.
- Big picture: The uprising underscores the tensions between leadership and progressives that have been simmering since Democrats took back the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who herself has a primary challenger in her California district, is squabbling with AOC and the rest of the Squad. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is still facing an uproar over its policy to dissuade primary campaigns by refusing to do business with consultants who work for them.
Here's what the insurgents had to say:
MEET THE CHALLENGERS:
Alex Morse vs. Richard E. Neal in Massachusetts’ 1st District. The four-term mayor of Holyoke, Mass., wants to take out the Ways and Means Committee chairman who is serving his 15th term in Congress. Morse, 30, who was the town’s youngest and first openly gay mayor, has perhaps the most traditional political record of all the candidates we spoke to. He says he's running because there are cities and towns “forgotten and left behind” throughout the district — though he has also criticized Neal for being too slow at obtaining Trump's tax returns.
- Key quote: “I would say that the tax return issue isn't the reason I'm running for Congress,” Morse told Power Up. “But I do think his pace of slowness on this issue is emblematic of his hesitancy to be a leader on a whole host of issues.”
- More: “So it's not just his votes at the end of the day, it is his unwillingness to be really lead on number one, holding this president accountable and number two, just leading on issues and values and principles that would actually make a difference in people's lives here in Western Mass and really around the country.”
- Neal camp hits back: “Congressman Neal has always fought to make sure this district gets its fair share and we aren't left behind,” spokesman Peter Panos said. Neal is “proud of his record leading the fight for fairer taxes, affordable and accessible health care and preserving Social Security and Medicare,” Panos continued, and his leadership of the committee including on middle class tax cuts and holding the first panel hearing on climate change in a dozen years.
- Neal vs. Trump: “Congressman Neal is on the front line of holding the Trump administration accountable,” Panos said, referring to Neal's lawsuit against in federal court to obtain for six years of the president's tax returns. “This is about preserving America's institutions and Congress's mandate to serve as an equal branch in government. It's a shame that Mayor Morse is choosing to play politics with such a monumental issue in American history.”
Lindsey Boylan and Amanda Frankel vs. Jerry Nadler in New York’s 10th District. Boylan, 35, former New York state official, has raised the most money of any challengers we talked to. She ended the last quarter with nearly $250,000 cash on hand. Frankel, 25, who worked on Wall Street and later in emerging tech, wanted to promote more change in her community and became a community organizer and activist.
They are both seeking to oust Nadler, who has been in Congress since 1992 and chairs the House Judiciary Committee. They both accuse Nadler, who has held off on launching an impeachment inquiry even though he's said he believes Trump “richly deserves impeachment,” of slow-walking the process.
- Boylan said Nadler has been too deferential to Pelosi on impeachment: “This faltering and dithering on impeachment is a good example of why we need a leader and instead we have a follower,” she said.
- Burn: “Chairman Nadler is focused on talking about standing up to Donald Trump in the same way that he is focused on talking about the issues that matter to people,” Boylan added.
- Frankel said it's time for a new generation of New York leaders: “While we have a great fighter, it’s time for new people to step up to take the mantel and fight and to continue to fight as opposed to maintaining the status quo.”
- Nadler’s response: “Congressman Nadler is widely known as a passionate and effective leader who is focused on producing real results for his constituents and the nation,” Nadler’s spokesman Daniel Schwarz said. “Whether it be his leadership in protecting community residents under the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, co-authoring the 2006 Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, leading the fight on marriage equality, protecting women’s right to choose, opposing war in Iraq and supporting the Iran nuclear agreement, or increasing federal funding for affordable housing, mass transit, health care, and resiliency to climate change for New York City, he stands by his long record of progressive accomplishments and will continue to lead on the issues that matter most to his constituents.”
Jamaal Bowman and Andom Ghebreghiorgis vs. Eliot L. Engel in New York’s 16th District. Bowman, 43, is a middle-school principal who spent decades in the education system before founding a school of his own. Like AOC, he was endorsed by the Justice Democrats, a group focused on building a more liberal House caucus including through primary challenges. Ghebreghiorgis, 34, who we spoke with in June, is a special-education teacher.
- Both accused Engel, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee now serving his 16th term in Congress, of supporting policies they say have hurt America both at home and abroad. Bowman lamented Engel's past support of the now-controversial 1994 crime bill. Ghebreghiorgis has criticized Engel for his vote in favor of the Iraq War, opposing the Iran nuclear deal and supporting Trump's endorsement of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
- Bowman also says Engel is absent at home: “I live in one part of the district and work in another, and I never see him. I don’t see town halls, I don’t see engagement, I don’t see leadership from the front if you will.”
- Even Engel’s recent shift to support an impeachment inquiry is not enough, Ghebreghiorgis said: “I think that initially it was just one of the other things that showed that Eliot L. Engel really wasn’t being a bold leader and taking the necessary stance that people of the district wanted and that was the moral and right thing to do.”
- Engel's camp punches back: “Jamaal may not see the congressman because he doesn't show up anywhere where the congressman is,” Engel's campaign spokesman Arnold Linhardt said. “I mean, what — does he look out his window and go . . . 'I don't see the congressman there'?"
- And defends his voting record: “Congressman Engel was elected in '88 and has been elected every two years since, so I guess the constituents like the job he is doing,” Linhardt said. “You have to look at the congressman's overall record and see where he stood on everything. Can you find something you didn't like? Of course you can. Can you find something you didn't like that he didn't like? Of course you can.”
- No saints in Congress: “You can't be in office for so many years and be perfect,” Linhardt said. “No member of Congress is up for sainthood — I can assure you of that.”
Mondaire Jones vs. Nita M. Lowey in New York’s 17th District. The 32-year-old is an attorney who served in the Justice Department during the Obama administration in the Office of Legal Policy working on judicial nominations. He characterized Lowey’s record as insufficiently liberal — as seen in her slow embrace of the Green New Deal, her past votes in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Iraq War and against the Iran nuclear deal.
- And he criticized Lowey — and simultaneously took credit — for her jumping on the impeachment bandwagon just last week: “Nita M. Lowey only changed her position on impeachment because we announced our campaign in which we criticized her for that,” Jones said. “It should not take the first primary challenge in 30 years to get someone to do the right thing.”
- Lowey’s team responds: “She considered the views of thousands of constituents who have contacted her about investigations into the Trump organization and about an impeachment inquiry as well as the ongoing court cases, facts uncovered by various committees and Special Counsel Mueller, and his testimony before Congress,” Lowey aide Elizabeth Stanley said.
- Lowey “hopes that an impeachment inquiry and other continuing investigations will reveal the full truth about wrongdoing by the Trump Administration and campaign that continues to threaten our elections,” Stanley said, adding: “Congresswoman Lowey has a long history of being a champion for progressive priorities.”
Mckayla Wilkes and Briana Urbina vs. Steny H. Hoyer in Maryland’s 5th District. Wilkes, 29, is an administrative assistant who is currently studying at Northern Virginia Community College. She says her experience of being incarcerated for two days in jail because she was unable to pay a fine for traffic tickets demonstrated the need for a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system.
Urbina, 34, is a community organizer and civil rights lawyer. Working with undocumented immigrants during the 2017 shutdown fight over immigration, she said, taught her that Congress needed to launch a more forceful opposition to the president.
- Wilkes sees Hoyer, the House majority leader currently serving his 20th term, as the face of slow change: “I see [Hoyer] on the wrong side of history at this point. The Affordable Care Act has helped us in regards to health care, but it's not the best that we can do. We need a representative that is going to support Medicare-for-all. We need a representative that is going to support the Green New Deal. We need a representative that is going to work to fix our criminal justice system.”
- Key quote: "There's just a lot that I feel that the majority leader could be doing. What is sad is that he's not. He's not using his leadership to its fullest capacity.”
- Urbina pointed to a recent Post op-ed that she says is indicative of Hoyer’s problems: “He said in there, and I'm paraphrasing right now . . . that he thought there would be a politically easier way to accomplish the same goals to enfranchising Washingtonians. And that is the problem: Steny H. Hoyer always thinks that there’s an easier way to do things.” And both are frustrated that Hoyer does not support an impeachment inquiry.
- Hoyer camp defends the record: "Every policy decision Congressman Hoyer makes is based on what is in the best interest of his constituents and our nation,” campaign spokesperson Annaliese Davis said. Hoyer works to address issues his constituents care about, Davis said, "including expanding access to affordable, quality health care; addressing the climate crisis; improving access to affordable housing; creating good paying jobs in our communities; and improving our broken criminal justice system.”
Outside the Beltway
THE LATEST ON THE INVESTIGATIONS: The death toll for the El Paso shooting rose to 22 people, as two more people succumbed to their wounds yesterday.
- Jarring: “El Paso had only 23 homicides in all of last year,” the El Paso Times's Aaron A Bedoya and Uriel J. Garcia report.
Details trickle out about Dayton gunman: Connor Betts's ex-girlfriend described a quiet kid who said he experienced hallucinations and menacing voices in his head. “He would cry to me sometimes,” Lyndsi Doll told our colleagues Emily Davies, Tim Craig and Hannah Natanson, “saying how he’s afraid of himself and afraid he was going to hurt someone one day. It’s haunting now.”
- Motive still unknown: Dayton's police chief says authorities may never know if Betts intended to kill his younger sister Megan, 22.
Trump is expected to visit both cities: Trump will visit El Paso on Wednesday, its mayor Dee Margo (R) announced, despite some opposition.
- “We need to heal,” former Texas Rep. and Democratic hopeful Beto O'Rourke tweeted. “He has no place here.”
- An FAA advisory indicates that Trump might be traveling to Dayton as well, but its mayor Nan Whaley (D) said no visit was confirmed — and subtly jabbed Trump for mistakenly saying the shooting occurred in Toledo:
THE RESPONSE: “In the aftermath of the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, President Trump on Monday proposed no fewer than a half-dozen ideas to reduce gun violence — a mishmash of proposals that varied from the legislatively possible to the ill-defined and implausible,” our colleague Seung Min Kim reports.
It remains unclear which policies Trump is seriously considering pursuing, but a handful of lawmakers expressed optimism that he might follow through on their proposals:
- On red flag laws: Trump “promoted a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of his closest congressional allies, to help confiscate firearms from those deemed unfit to possess them,” per Seung Min.
- More details: “Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are writing legislation that would offer federal grants and other incentives for states to develop laws implementing emergency risk protection orders. Those statutes would allow family members, law enforcement officials and others to petition a judge to bar firearms from someone they believe is an imminent threat to themselves or others.”
- On background checks: “Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who wrote legislation that would expand background checks to nearly all firearm sales, each spoke separately with Trump and came away believing that the president is willing to work on strengthening background checks,” Seung Min reports. (Trump tweeted a call for strengthening background checks in conjunction with another contentious issue: immigration reform.)
- Real talk from Toomey: “This isn’t going to happen tomorrow and if we force a vote tomorrow, then I think the vote probably fails,” Toomey said of the legislation. “So if you want a successful outcome, which is what I want, then I think you work toward developing the coalition and the consensus so that you actually get the right outcome.”
Counterterrorism experts call for a realignment of post 9/11 national security priorities: The U.S. has a "staggering arsenal of armed forces, unmanned drones, intelligence agencies and sweeping domestic authorities" to contain the Islamist terrorist threat, which claimed about 100 lives on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, our colleague Greg Miller notes.
- “No remotely comparable array of national power has been directed against the threat now emerging from the far right, a loose but lethal collection of ideologies whose adherents have killed roughly the same number of people in the United States, post-9/11, as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State combined.”
- The rise of far-right violence requires change, former officials and experts say, so domestic terrorism is treated "as high a priority as countering international terrorism has become since 9/11."
- But: “The main obstacle to mobilizing against the white supremacist threat, officials said, may be political."
FACT CHECKS: Trump's speech on the shootings blamed mental illness and video games. Yet experts were quick to note there's no actual evidence that connects these things to violent behavior and mass shootings.
- The research about mental illness: “Most studies of mass shooters have found that only a small fraction have mental health issues. And researchers have noted a host of other factors that are stronger predictors of someone becoming a mass shooter: a strong sense of resentment, desire for infamy, copycat study of other shooters, past domestic violence, narcissism and access to firearms,” our colleagues William Wan and Lindsey Bever report.
- The research on video games: “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities,” per a policy statement from the media psychology division of the American Psychological Association,
- Key: “The data on bananas causing suicide is about as conclusive,” Dr. Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University, told the New York Times's Kevin Draper on the alleged video game connection. “Literally. The numbers work out about the same.”
At The White House
TRUMP KICKS UP THE TRADE WAR: “The United States and China traded blows in an unrestrained economic conflict Monday that sent stock markets plunging and threatened to inflict significant damage on a weakening global economy,” our colleagues David J. Lynch, Gerry Shih, Jeff Stein and Damian Paletta report.
- What happened: China confirmed that it would ask state-owned firms to stop buying U.S. agricultural goods and the stock market had its worst day of 2019.
- And the Treasury Department labeled China a currency manipulator: It's “a largely symbolic slap at Beijing that is likely to deepen the growing animosity between the two trading partners,” per our colleagues.
- Is a recession ahead?: Larry Summers, a former top economic adviser for President Obama, said markets are now suggesting “the highest risk of recession since 2011.”
- Summers tweeted: “We may well be at the most dangerous financial moment since the 2009 financial crisis with current developments between the U.S. and China."