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2020 hopefuls get a rough welcome to the big leagues

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Now that the potentially gigantic field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 is beginning to narrow — so long, Michael Avenatti; goodbye, Deval Patrick — the scrutiny is increasing on some of the Democrats who continue to eye the upcoming presidential race.

On Thursday, for example, the New York Times reported how progressives and minority groups criticized Elizabeth Warren for the recent DNA test she took to prove her family’s Native-American origins, and then the Boston Globe’s editorial page implored her not to run for president. “Warren missed her moment in 2016, and there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020,” the editorial page said.

“While Warren is an effective and impactful senator with an important voice nationally, she has become a divisive figure. A unifying voice is what the country needs now after the polarizing politics of Donald Trump” he paper continued. (We don’t remember the Globe telling Massachusetts pols like Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney not to run for president.)

Also this week, a top aide to Kamala Harris resigned “after a report surfaced of a $400,000 harassment settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice in 2016,” per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Dartunorro Clark.

And then there was the criticism that Beto O’Rourke was getting from the progressive left:

  • Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig: “I’m not sure we need another Obama, or another of any Democrat we’ve had recently: I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don’t see that in O’Rourke.”
  • Journalist David Sirota: “Here are some Beto O’Rourke donors who work in the energy industry & who gave more than $1000.” (Reality check: When you raised LOTS of money from individuals, even in small-dollar contributions, you’re going to get donors from all industries.)
  • Jacobin: “Beto O’Rourke Should Not Run for President.”

Welcome to the big leagues, guys and gals. Running for president is the best story in American politics. But the presidential vetting process is like nothing any of these folks have ever seen, even for these senators who’ve run before in high-profile Senate contests.

The opposition research. The ideological criticism. The examination of every wart and flaw. And the totality of this process is why sitting incumbent presidents who don’t get primary challenges from their own parties have an advantage in seeking re-election. See Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2012.

Just how lethal will this vetting process be for Democrats? (In that New York Times piece on Warren, a Cherokee genealogist says she won’t vote for Warren under any circumstance, even against Trump.) Will hard feelings undermine the eventual nominee? (The lack of full party unity definitely hurt the Democrats in 2016.) Or can someone transcend the presidential meat-grinder?

As Mueller prepares to release more documents, Trump rage-tweets on the investigation

NBC’s Ken Dilanian: “Three new court documents are scheduled to emerge Friday that could shed new light on what Donald Trump’s former top aides have been telling — or not telling — federal investigators. A federal judge in New York has ordered that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel’s Office have until 5 p.m. Friday to deliver sentencing memos designed to detail former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s cooperation in their ongoing investigations.”

“And special counsel Robert Mueller is also due to file a document spelling out what his team previously referred to as the “crimes and lies” that led them to cancel a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.”

And it sure seems like President Trump is bracing for bad news. Just check out his tweets from this morning:

Somebody is clearly worried…

Experts say lame-duck curbs on power could violate Michigan constitution

“Republican lawmakers may be violating the state constitution with fast-tracked bills in the lame-luck Legislature that curb the powers of incoming Democratic officeholders or water down proposals backed by Michigan voters, legal experts say,” the Detroit Free Press writes.

“‘They’re just going crazy,’ said Robert Sedler, a Wayne State University law professor. Sedler, who has taught at Wayne State since 1977 and wrote a book on American constitutional law, cited a range of problematic bills — from a package the Senate passed Thursday to strip enforcement of campaign finance laws from the secretary of state to one that restricts the incoming governor’s choices to head the Michigan State Police, and bills that meddle with legislation and constitutional amendments backed by Michigan voters. ‘In the 40 years that I’ve been here, I have not seen any such effort to curtail the powers of the governor and the executive branch,’ Sedler told the Free Press Thursday.”

Republican concedes in CA-21, Democrats’ House gains now at 40 seats

GOP Congressman David Valadao conceded to Democrat TJ Cox in the CA-21 race, giving Democrats a net of 40 House pickups for their haul in 2018, NBC’s Jane Timm writes. As a result, NBC News declared Cox the apparent winner in the contest.

Democrat withdraws concession in NC-9 after the allegations of election fraud

NBC News also withdrew its call for Republican Mark Harris in that NC-9 contest after Democrat Dan McCready took back his concession amid allegations of election fraud in the race.

Here’s NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Rich Gardella: “State investigators are combing through election board records in several counties to discover whether there was an organized effort to unlawfully collect the absentee ballots of thousands of voters and then not turn those ballots over to election authorities. They are especially interested in Bladen County, a rural, low-income area in the southeastern part of the state where investigators are looking at several individuals who turned in requests for absentee ballots on behalf of hundreds of voters.”

“The results of the investigation could put in jeopardy Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris’ unofficial lead of 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.”



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FEMA chief Brock Long announces resignation

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By Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long announced Wednesday he is stepping down.

“While this has been the opportunity of the lifetime, it is time for me to go home to my family — my beautiful wife and two incredible boys,” Long said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “As a career emergency management professional, I could not be prouder to have worked alongside the devoted, hardworking men and women of FEMA for the past two years.”

“Upon my departure, Mr. Peter Gaynor will serve as acting FEMA administrator. I leave knowing the agency is in good hands,” he continued.

Long, who has led FEMA since 2017, has overseen the government’s emergency response to some of the most devastating natural disasters in the nation’s history, including multiple hurricanes that battered the southern United States and Puerto Rico, as well as the wildfires in California.

“Over the last two years, Administrator Long has admirably led the men and women of FEMA during very difficult, historic and complex times,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

Long’s tenure, however, has been dotted with controversy. In 2018, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security investigated his use of government resources for personal travel. Long was ultimately told to repay the government for his travel expenses.

Long also faced tough criticism for his management of the government’s response to Hurricane Maria. The devastating storm and its aftermath left parts of Puerto Rico without power for months and, experts say, contributed to more than 2,000 deaths.

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Trump says you’d have to be able to ‘climb Mt. Everest’ to scale his wall

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump promised Wednesday that a “big” and “strong” border wall is “very, very on its way,” even as Congress moved toward considering a Homeland Security spending bill that would provide for the construction of about 55 miles of new steel fencing.

“As we review the new proposal from Congress, I can promise you this: I will never waver from my sacred duty to defend this nation and its people,” Trump said in a speech to a conference of city and county sheriffs in Washington.

“It’s a wall that people aren’t going through very easy. You’d have to be in extremely good shape to get over this one. They would be able to climb Mt. Everest a lot easier, I think,” he said.

And though no new wall is currently under construction, Trump again told an audience that the barrier is being built now.

“The wall is very, very on its way,” he said. “It’s happening as we speak. We’re building as we speak in the most desperately needed areas. And it’s a big wall. It’s a strong wall.”

Trump has said that he will find a way to build the wall without new money from Congress, and his aides have considered various proposals to use existing federal authorities — including a possible declaration of a national emergency by the president — to free up cash and manpower for that effort.

But he has also said that he expects such a move would end up being challenged in the courts.

The text of the legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill still has not yet been released, but it would provide nearly $1.4 billion for 55 miles of new fencing — less than the $1.6 billion for 65 miles of new fencing that the Senate approved late last year before a 35-day government shutdown.

Trump’s most recent funding request included $5.7 billion for 234 miles of steel fences.

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Lawmakers move to end ‘barbaric’ dog experiments at the VA

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 / Updated 

By Dareh Gregorian

The Department of Veteran Affairs’ inspector general is reviewing whether the agency flouted regulations on dog experimentation, as a new bill was introduced to outlaw the often-gruesome testing.

In a letter to a bipartisan group of lawmakers, VA Inspector General Michael Missal said his office will probe whether nine ongoing dog studies were being carried out in violation of a law signed by President Donald Trump last year. That law said the VA secretary had to sign off on any such procedures, which animal advocates and members of Congress say are painful and unnecessary. The IG’s letter was first reported by Stars and Stripes.

“We welcome the oversight from the inspector general,” VA press secretary Curt Cashour said.

The VA maintains former Secretary David Shulkin verbally signed off on the experiments on the day he was fired by the president, but Shulkin has denied that claim. He told USA Today in November that he “wasn’t asked, nor did I request a review for an approval” of the dog experiments.

In a letter last year to Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., current Secretary Robert Wilkie said the experiments include “critical research to investigate how to restore the ability of Veterans with traumatic spinal cord injuries to breathe properly and avoid repeated bouts of pneumonia and early death.”

The current experiments include forced heart attack experiments at a veterans’ center in Richmond, Virginia, and tests involving damaging dogs’ spinal cords and collapsing their lungs in Cleveland in an effort to see how their cough reflexes respond to electrode treatments, according to the White Coat Waste Project, an animal advocacy group. A past VA experiment involved drilling into live dogs’ skulls.

The agency maintains the testing has led to a breakthrough on cough restoration for paralyzed vets, and has helped researchers better understand links between heart rate irregularities and heart disease. The agency also maintains it only uses dogs for the tests when necessary, and said it adheres to animal welfare guidelines.

In a letter to members of Congress on Tuesday, Wilkie said, “These canine research decisions are complex and taken with great care and solemnity, but the choice is clear that Veterans with these debilitating injuries deserve a better quality of life.”

Congress now wants to outlaw the experiments altogether. On Wednesday, Titus introduced the Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) to end what she called this “barbaric practice.”

“There are proven alternatives to this unnecessary testing that inflicts severe pain on puppies and dogs while producing no discernible medical advances,” she said.

The bipartisan bill has 60 co-sponsors, including Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan.

“While I was recovering from my injuries, I saw firsthand the important role that dogs play in helping veterans recover from war’s physical and psychological tolls,” Mast said in a statement. “For too long, the VA has gotten away with conducting these harmful — sometimes fatal — experiments on dogs. These tests are abusive, waste taxpayer dollars and must be stopped.”

The lawmakers’ push has some high-profile help with White House ties. Lara Trump, who is married to the president’s son Eric and is an adviser to his re-election campaign, told USA Today the experiments are “cruel and ineffective” and should be stopped.

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