The Stew Reporting from inside the Beltway

Masters of the House

Politics | Democrats and Republicans gear up for a fierce fight in midterm elections
by Evan Wilt
Posted 3/08/18, 12:50 pm

WASHINGTON—The 2018 midterm elections officially kicked off this week, and Republicans have their work cut out for them to retain control of the House.

Democrats proved eager to participate this year in the nation’s first primary Tuesday in Texas. More than 1 million Texas Democrats cast ballots—the highest turnout since 2002 and nearly double the number from 2014.

After winning the White House and retaining majorities in the both the House and Senate in 2016, Republicans are playing defense this year. The GOP hopes to retain enough seats in Congress to preserve power through the end of President Donald Trump’s first term. But the high number of Republican incumbents leaving office this year, coupled with Democrats’ galvanizing against Trump, poses a serious threat to GOP control.

Across the country, seats that have been safely Republican are now toss-up elections.

The clearest example of this is in the special election next week in Pennsylvania’s 18th District. Trump won that district two years ago by 20 points, and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., easily won there for the last 15 years. But Murphy unexpectedly resigned last fall after reports he had an affair and pressured his mistress to get an abortion. Next week, voters choose between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone to replace Murphy. So far Lamb has raised $3.9 million, while Saccone has garnered under $1 million. Lamb recently got a boost when former Vice President Joe Biden traveled to western Pennsylvania to stump for him.

“Put it all together, and you’ve got a tight race in a district that not only voted for Trump but also was in the top third of all districts in terms of GOP lean in 2016,” Kyle Kondik wrote in Thursday’s University of Virginia Center for Politics election report.

Kondik changed the status of the Pennsylvania special election this week from “leans Republican” to a “toss-up” race.

In total, 42 House Republicans have resigned, are retiring at the end of this term, or are seeking another office this cycle. That leaves the GOP with a dearth of incumbents running across the country and opens the door for the other party.

To gain control of the House, Democrats need to flip 24 seats. Kondik made 26 House race rating adjustments this week, all in favor of Democrats.

Two longtime California Republicans—Reps. Darrell Issa and Ed Royce—announced they would not seek reelection this year. They both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. GOP Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen and Frank LoBiondo also announced they would not seek reelection in New Jersey this year. Democrats already had an eye on their seats and are now favored to capture both races.

While Republicans organize to block a Democratic wave in the House, the GOP is in a good position to keep control in the Senate. Ten Democrats are running for reelection in states Trump won in 2016. Only eight Senate Republicans are up for reelection this year.

The GOP has a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate but should be able to retain control. Democrats would have to win 10 competitive races in red states, oust Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada, and win in Arizona, where GOP Sen. Jeff Flake is retiring.

But if Texas is any indication of how the rest of the country will vote this year, Democrats are ready to turn out in large numbers and pose a serious threat to Republican control of the House.

Associated Press/Photo by Jim Mone Associated Press/Photo by Jim Mone A protester Wednesday in St. Paul, Minn., holds a sign bearing the names of those killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

Congress prepares first response to Parkland

Nearly a month has passed since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., left 17 people dead.

Congress has yet to vote on any measures to respond to the attack, but leaders plan to change that. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Tuesday a vote next week on a bill aimed at protecting U.S. schools from gun violence.

The STOP School Violence Act of 2018 comes from Reps. John Rutherford, R-Fla., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and already has more than 30 co-sponsors. If passed, the legislation would authorize $50 million in new funding to bolster school security. The money seeks to help schools sift through reported threats and fund training and technical assistance for school staff and local law enforcement to catch signs of potentially violent behavior.

The school safety bill does not change who can buy firearms, something many advocates have called for since the Parkland shooting. President Donald Trump has signaled support for a number of gun-related policy changes, including expanding background checks, raising the age limit for rifle purchases, and arming more school personnel.

Immediately following the shooting, the Senate indicated it would move on a narrow bill to make data sharing for federal databases more efficient and accurate. The bill would not expand background checks for firearm purchases but would improve current systems.

Despite the modest approach, the Senate decided not to schedule a vote on the bill this week and has yet to announce if it will consider any other gun laws. —E.W.

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin A demonstration in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Monday in Washington, D.C.

DACA holders safe for now

The nearly 700,000 illegal immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program remain safe from deportation days after the Trump administration’s established cutoff point.

Court injunctions blocked President Donald Trump from winding down the program as planned March 5. Multiple DACA cases are pending in court, and the injunctions have sustained the program until a final ruling is issued.

Earlier this week, a federal judge in Maryland ruled in favor of ending DACA, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cleared all doubt about what that means for the participants.

DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said in a statement Wednesday that the department is still processing DACA renewal requests and is not targeting beneficiaries for deportation.

Trump announced the end of DACA in September and gave lawmakers until March 5 to find a solution for immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as minors. Congress failed to pass any immigration bill and is now aiming to take action by the next spending deadline of March 23.

Republicans and Democrats both want to protect DACA holders from deportation, but other areas of immigration policy, including border security measures and the visa lottery system, continue to create divides.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., introduced a bill to preserve DACA for the next three years in exchange for three years of border security funding, buying more time for a comprehensive reform bill. Flake spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday urging his colleagues not to forget about DACA.

Houlton echoed that statement: “We believe Congress should find a permanent solution for the DACA population and will continue to work with Congress to that end.” —E.W.

Conway watch

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act, a law prohibiting some government officials from political campaigning while working, during television interviews last year, the Office of Special Counsel said Tuesday. The federal ethics watchdog delivered a report highlighting Conway’s alleged infractions to President Donald Trump, who must now decide if and how he will discipline his former campaign manager. The report states Conway broke the law during two interviews, one in November on Fox News and another in December on CNN. Conway appeared on the shows in her official capacity as White House counselor to boost Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and discuss why voters shouldn’t support Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala. “During both interviews, she impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election,” special counsel Henry Kerner wrote. Penalties for Hatch Act infringements can range from a fine of $1,000 to removal from office. One violation under the Obama administration resulted in additional training for an aide, according to Bloomberg News. The White House denied Conway did anything wrong. —E.W.

No rest for the weary

A bloc of House Democrats wants to stop lawmakers from sleeping in their offices. It’s common practice for members to work late nights and opt to spend the night in their offices rather than dishing out money for a hotel or renting a piece of real estate in Washington, D.C. Many Republicans—including House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Andy Barr of Kentucky, and Kristi Noem of South Dakota—mention sleeping in their offices to showcase their thriftiness. Politico obtained a previously unreported letter this week delivered in December from 30 Congressional Black Caucus members requesting an ethics review on the practice. The letters writers say sleeping in government offices is an inappropriate use of taxpayer property for personal reasons. The House Ethics Committee has not responded, and the letter signers are considering crafting a follow-up, according to Politico. —E.W.

Evan Wilt

Evan is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Washington, D.C.

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