Trump to Inherit Partisan Foreign Policy Perspectives

Pew Research shows incoming President Donald Trump will inherit a sharply divided citizenry over threats posed by climate change and immigrants living in America.

Pew Research shows incoming President Donald Trump will inherit a sharply divided citizenry over threats posed by climate change and immigrants living in America.

As Donald Trump is inaugurated Friday, the new President will inherit a citizenry with polarized views on major threats to the United States. Democrats view climate change as a major threat, while Republicans believe immigrants living here represent a major threat.

According to Pew Research, there is more partisan agreement on threats posed by ISIS, North Korea and cyberattacks.

The new national survey conducted among 1,502 adults nationwide the first week of January noted an uptick from a year ago in concerns over Russian, as more than half of all Americans express concern about “Russia’s power and influence.” In the last year, Pew researchers said public concern over refugees from the Middle East has declined from 55 percent to 46 percent.

Perhaps the biggest partisan split centers on climate change, which 77 percent of Democrats see as a threat to US well-being contrasted with only 25 percent of Republicans.

On the flip side, 63 percent of Republicans believe Iraqi and Syrian refugees are a threat to the United States as opposed to 30 percent of Democrats.

Republicans and Democrats also vary on their views about Russia as a global threat. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats, but only 41 percent of Republicans call Russia a threat. However, “as recently as last April, the allegations that Russia hacked Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, Republicans were somewhat more likely than Democrats to view tensions with Russia as a major threat (46 percent to 37 percent). The flip-flop on partisan concerns over Russia extends to views of US sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama.

Another trending divide involves Israel and Palestinians. Support for Israel has been a mainstay of Democratic politics since President Harry Truman played a role inc reading the modern state of Israel. Now, Democrats are more ambivalent, according to Pew research, with 33 percent sympathizing with Israel, 31 percent siding with the Palestinians and 35 percent favoring both or expressing no opinion.

Sharp partisan divisions exist over threats to US security, including climate change and immigrants and increasingly over sympathies in the Middle East.

Sharp partisan divisions exist over threats to US security, including climate change and immigrants and increasingly over sympathies in the Middle East.

Democrats are more optimistic (60 percent) about a so-called two-state solution will bring peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Republicans are more skeptical as just 44 percent agreeing a two-state solution would work. Pew notes that the partisan gap in Mideast sympathies is the widest since 1978.

There is much closer agreement over the threat posed by cyberattacks Democrats (75 percent; Republicans 67 percent). This reflects a minor shift in relative concerns. Previously, this was a larger fear for Republicans than Democrats.

The survey also found Americans still hold a favorable view of the United Nations and an unfavorable view of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While there is little partisan disagreement over threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear program and ISIS terrorism, there are mixed feelings as to whether China is a threat. China’s power and influence is viewed by Republicans as a greater threat than by Democrats.

Pounding the Bully Pulpit into Tweet Shares

Tweets by President-elect Donald Trump have proven to be much more than just chirps.

Tweets by President-elect Donald Trump have proven to be much more than just chirps.

There is a lot to discover about the pending presidency of Donald Trump, but one thing seems certain – Trump has pounded the presidential bully pulpit into tweet shares.

Tweeting has proven to be an invaluable way for Trump to communicate directly to people. He is unlikely to surrender his smartphone when he takes over the desk in the Oval Office, especially in light of the response he gets.

His most recent tweet success was to chide House Republicans for proposing changes in ethics rules, which Trump warned would divert attention from more important political priorities. Trump’s tweet turned prophetic as controversy swirled over the proposed rules change, causing the House GOP caucus to reverse itself.

As Trump predicted, the kerfuffle over ethics overshadowed what congressional Republicans hoped would be a strong first-day impression of getting to work on making America great again.

Ford Motor Company’s decision to scrap an investment in Mexico and invest in a U.S. manufacturing facility instead prompted more Trump tweets, including one aimed directly at GM for its Mexican manufacturing facilities.

Earlier Trump tweets castigated the high cost of new Air Force One planes and prescription drugs. Boeing’s president showed up at Trump Tower to discuss ways to trim costs and the market read the tweet leaves and punished pharmaceutical stocks.

Trump also has aimed his tweet gun at China, an Indiana union leader, U.S. intelligence agencies and, in a New Year’s tweet, his political “enemies.”

For supporters, all this tweeting is Trump being Trump. For the news media, Trump’s tweeting has become a successful way to circumvent traditional news channels. For the targets of Trump’s tweets, it has become an uncomfortable moment in his rising sun.

When Trump actually takes office, his unorthodox style may frustrate his GOP colleagues in Congress who move in something slower than real-time. Congressional procedures, especially in the Senate, don’t accommodate rapid action, even if it is called for in a tweet from the most powerful man in the world.

The first test for the tweeter and the slowpokes will be repealing and replacing Obamacare. Day-one priority for both, but unlikely to happen that quickly for either. The inconvenient thing about laws is that it takes more than a tweet to repeal them and more than slogans to replace them.

What is clear, however, is that Trump can maintain his political momentum through tweeting, achieving successes here and there, while the wheels of Congress grind along on the agenda of the GOP majority. It will be interesting to see whether Trump’s tweet-inspired momentum can goad Congress into quicker action or just lead to frustration by congressional egos on Capitol Hill.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Opioid Epidemic Leaves Mark on Campaign Trail

Researchers at Penn State University found a correlation between communities hard hit by the opioid epidemic and support for Donald Trump who promised radical change.   - Illustration by Javier Maria Trigo

Researchers at Penn State University found a correlation between communities hard hit by the opioid epidemic and support for Donald Trump who promised radical change.   - Illustration by Javier Maria Trigo

Amid all the post-election analysis, one story sticks out – the correlation between areas suffering most severely from the opioid epidemic and support for Donald Trump.

Researchers from Penn State University made the connection, noting that high mortality rates from drug overdoses coincided with communities hardest hit economically and, in turn, with Trump’s over-performance on election day.

The researchers speculated Trump’s strong performance was effectively a cry for help from people suffering “diseases of despair," much like in 2008 when many of the same communities voted for candidate Barack Obama and his message of hope and change.

Shannon Monnat, an assistant professor of rural sociology and demography who oversaw the study, found the correlation held nationally, but was most prominent in the Rust Belt and New England.

“Even when using statistical models that include 14 demographic, economic, social and health care factors,” Monnat wrote, “the drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rate remains a significant and positive predictor of Trump over-performance nationally.”

The study doesn’t carry a political punch line, other than to recognize Trump’s ability to project himself as a hopeful change agent.

As James Hohmann wrote in The Washington Post, “This really ought to be one of the biggest storylines that everyone takes away from 2016. One big reason that elites were so caught off guard by Trump’s victory is that they’re so insulated from the stomach-churning scourge of addiction and cycle of brokenness.”

Hohmann culled out several communities that undercover the study’s finding. One was Mingo County in West Virginia where "the drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rate spiked from 53.6 in 1999 to 161.1 in 2014,” which was the seventh highest rate in the nation. Trump’s share of votes from this coal mining area was 19 percent higher than what Mitt Romney pulled in the 2012 presidential election.

In Scioto County in Ohio, Trump exceeded Romney’s 2012 vote total by 33 percent in a community that had transformed from a “once-thriving manufacturing base to become the pill-mill capital of America.”

Noting that life expectancy in the United States is declining, Hohmann observes, “The statistics are staggering. All told, over the past decade, 400,000 Americans died from drug overdoes, another 400,000 committed suicide and about 250,000 died from alcohol-induced diseases. While these numbers are painful to see on paper, they are even more heart wrechnzng when you consider the individual stories behind them.”

The people directly or indirectly affected by those stories may have been the tipping point in the 2016 election.

Washingtonian Only Bridesmaid for Interior Post

Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers was reportedly on track to become the Secretary of Interior for the incoming Donald Trump administration, but the president-elect chose someone else, continuing the Pacific Northwest’s dearth of Cabinet appointees.

Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers was reportedly on track to become the Secretary of Interior for the incoming Donald Trump administration, but the president-elect chose someone else, continuing the Pacific Northwest’s dearth of Cabinet appointees.

Presidents don’t typically look to the Pacific Northwest to fill Cabinet posts, which made the rumored nomination of Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers as Interior secretary a big deal. But it didn’t happen. Chances now seem slim anyone from the Pacific Northwest will be part of the Trump Cabinet.

Media reports indicate the Interior job was offered to freshman Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, who has Oregon ties, playing for the Oregon Ducks football team as a lineman from 1980-83. There was no immediate confirmation Zinke accepted the nomination.

The last Northwestern to serve as a Cabinet secretary was former Washington Governor Gary Locke who served as Commerce secretary under President Obama from 2009 to 2011. The last Oregonian to hold a Cabinet post was Neil Goldschmidt who served as Transportation secretary from late 1979 to January 1981 when President Carter left office after losing the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan.

According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, McMorris Rodgers met with President-elect Donald Trump in Trump Tower on Monday. She called her meeting with the incoming president “exciting,” but remained mum about her nomination, which was first mentioned in media reports last week.

The Trump team has spread out the announcement of Cabinet appointments to capture maximum media coverage, with the biggest announcement this week of Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, as his choice for secretary of state. Trump also announced he will nominate former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy.

McMorris Rodgers, 47, an Oregon native, has represented an Eastern Washington congressional district since 2005 and since 2013 has chaired the House Republican Conference. She is political conservative that gets high marks from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Family Research Council and American Conservative Union and low marks from the League of Conservation Voters public employee unions and Americans for Democratic Action.

Word of her possible appointment sparked sharp criticism from the environmental community. League of Conservation President Gene Karpinski called her selection the equivalent of “for sale sign on our public lands.” The Sierra Club also blasted McMorris Rodgers for voting to open public lands to drilling, mining and logging.

Industry officials were more bullish on her nomination, saying the United States needs to be proactive in achieving energy independence as OPIC has agreed to limit supply and push up gas prices. McMorris Rodgers served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will be chaired in the Congress by Oregon Congressman Greg Walden.

Politico reported that McMorris Rodgers, who is popular among congressional Republicans, was not Trump’s first choice for the Interior job. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, Politico said, was his first choice, but her hopes faltered after a bad interview. The interview didn’t appear to be a problem for McMorris Rodgers, by the Trump team instead tabbed Zinke, a former Navy Seal commander and a likely challenger to Democratic Montana Senator Jon Tester in 2018.

A new Politico report published today said “top Trump aides weren’t sold” on McMorris Rodgers and encouraged a wider search. Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador reportedly was also interviewed for the job.

McMorris Rodgers' record in Congress of voting "to limit or repeal Obama administration climate and environment regulations, expand offshore drilling and stop Interior Department from regulating hydraulic fracturing in states with their own fracking rules” would seem to be the credentials Trump’s team wanted. She endorsed Trump and, despite criticizing him for his crude live-mic comments about women, didn’t withdraw her endorsement.

Walden Becomes Northwest’s Go-To Republican

Oregon Congressman Greg Walden’s tireless work in the political trenches paid off as he leaped over more senior members to become chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and emerge as the Pacific Northwest’s go-to Republican.

Oregon Congressman Greg Walden’s tireless work in the political trenches paid off as he leaped over more senior members to become chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and emerge as the Pacific Northwest’s go-to Republican.

Greg Walden, Oregon’s lone GOP Member of Congress, has won the coveted chairmanship of House Energy and Commerce, making him one of the most important go-to Republicans in the Pacific Northwest.

Walden, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee – the campaign arm of House Republicans, defeated Illinois Congressman John Shimkus, who has more seniority than Walden and had been campaigning for the chairmanship for months while Walden was on the stump helping fellow Republicans.

Two key influencers of his victory were House Speaker Paul Ryan and Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the House GOP Conference and also sits on House Energy and Commerce. Their endorsements of Walden were in effect a reward for his campaign work that extended through the 2016 election. Ryan’s endorsement was especially noteworthy because he previously has backed colleagues with the most seniority for committee chairmanships.

When the next Congress convenes in January, Walden will wield the gavel of one of the most powerful committees in Congress outside the appropriations and tax-writing committees. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s sprawling jurisdiction, which includes health care, telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, energy delivery and interstate and foreign commerce, is the handiwork of former long-time Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich. Dingell also famously used the committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee to great political advantage, often shaming CEOs in public.

Walden, whose family business is owning radio stations, has chaired the Telecommunications and Technology Subcommittee. He now will be to expand his influence on the committee’s broader agenda. That broad agenda is likely to raise his public visibility greatly.

The Health Subcommittee is a key stop for legislation to replace Obamacare. The Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee will be in the bullseye of Trump administration efforts to alter international trade deals, block U.S. outsourcing of jobs overseas and promoting increased domestic manufacturing. The Energy and Power Subcommittee will play a role in GOP efforts to block Obama administration climate change efforts perceived as anti-coal and anti-fossils fuels.

The committee also has a select subcommittee to look at Planned Parenthood funding.

Walden was elected to represent Oregon’s sprawling 2nd District in 1998 after serving eight years in the Oregon legislature, where he also rose to leadership positions because of his affable, even-handed approach to politics.

He won a seat on House Energy and Commerce in 2001 and gradually has moved up the committee’s seniority ladder. Walden served four years as deputy chair of the NRCC before becoming its chair for four years. Walden graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism and his family home is in Hood River.

 

GOP Conference Restores Hope for Earmark Return

Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner banned congressional earmarks, which critics called political pork barreling. Now Republicans realize decisions they used to make in appropriations bills are made by federal agencies.

Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner banned congressional earmarks, which critics called political pork barreling. Now Republicans realize decisions they used to make in appropriations bills are made by federal agencies.

House Speaker Paul Ryan stifled a move by a House GOP conference last week to restore the use of direct congressional spending, known as earmarks, by promising his colleagues a vote on the matter early next year. 

Ryan’s move appears to have ended, for now, discussions around whether to roll back the five-year-old earmark moratorium. 

Support has been building for years among Republicans to restore the use of earmarks, which former Speaker John Boehner notoriously brought to in end in 2010 in an effort to curb government spending. At the time, Boehner and his colleagues argued that earmarking appropriations bills bred corruption and lead to wasteful spending for congressional pet projects. However, proponents of earmark revival argue that the ban has simply ceded the “power of the purse,” as provided to Congress in the Constitution, to the executive branch.

Although several attempts to lift the ban over the last five years have proven fruitless, last week’s conference is the most significant indication to date of widespread support for an earmark revival. 

In a closed-door meeting, the House Republican Conference met to adopt GOP rules for the new Congress. The conference was expected to  vote on two amendments concerning the use of earmarks on appropriations bills. The first amendment would have allowed Members of Congress to direct appropriations to federal, state or local government projects. The second would have modified the moratorium to allow lawmakers to direct Army Corps of Engineers funding for projects. 

Allegedly fearing a populist backlash just one week removed from Donald Trump being elected on the promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Ryan urged his colleagues not to act on either amendment. Ryan’s efforts suggests there was enough support in the room to lift the moratorium. Since the original ban was only adopted by the House GOP as its rule, not as a House rule, a simple majority vote in the conference would have been enough.

In return for pulling the amendments from consideration, Ryan promised his members a more thorough review of earmarks and a vote on the measure by the end of the first quarter of 2017.

While significant, any effort to revive earmarks will likely face a wall of powerful opposition. Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, a former Indiana congressman, have all been staunch critics of the funding strategy at one point or another. 

Nevertheless, earmarks may well be on their way back – even in a Republican-controlled Congress. 

Previous CFM Posts On Earmarks

http://www.cfm-online.com/federal-lobbying-blog/just-dont-call-it-an-earmark.html?rq=Congressional%20earmarks

http://www.cfm-online.com/federal-lobbying-blog/2016/7/12/hoyer-lays-out-congressional-reform-agenda?rq=Congressional%20earmarks

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

 

Rebuilding Nation’s Infrastructure on the Cheap

Decaying infrastructure could reduce U.S. economic output and jobs in the next decade. President-elect Donald Trump has a $1 trillion investment plan, but his plan doesn’t involve any new federal spending, which could be a big problem.

Decaying infrastructure could reduce U.S. economic output and jobs in the next decade. President-elect Donald Trump has a $1 trillion investment plan, but his plan doesn’t involve any new federal spending, which could be a big problem.

Candidate Donald Trump promised massive investment to modernize decaying American infrastructure. He reiterated that promise in his post-election acceptance speech, attracting applause from Democrats who see such investment as common ground with the new Republican president-elect. 

However, when you look at the devilish details of Trump’s infrastructure investment plan, its most startling provision is the absence of any new federal spending. That’s right, a $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan with no new federal spending.

The Trump plan rests on the belief that $140 million in federal tax credits will entice private contractors to invest the remainder through what are called Public/Private Partnerships or PPPs.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “PPPs are agreements that allow private companies to take on traditionally public roles in infrastructure projects, while keeping the public sector ultimately accountable for a project and the overall service to the public. In PPPs, a government agency typically contracts with a private company to renovate, build, operate, maintain, manage or finance a facility. Though PPPs are not optimal for many transportation projects, they have been shown to reduce upfront public costs through accelerated or more efficient project delivery. PPPs don’t create new money, but instead leverage private sector financial and other resources to develop infrastructure.”

That description probably doesn’t match what many state and local officials wanted to hear to address their long lists of infrastructure projects. Experts estimate there is a $3.32 trillion backlog of infrastructure projects inAmerica

Business leaders may not be happy either. The American Society of Civil Engineers predicts decaying roads, bridges, waterways and airports could reduce the U.S. gross domestic product by $4 trillion between now and 2025, which could equate to 2.5 million fewer American jobs.

The Pros and Cons

The private side of PPPs require a revenue source to pay off the balance of the investment. For roads and bridges, this typically means tolls. For water infrastructure, this means higher rates. While not a new idea in Washington DC, this model of financing is not typical in the United States. However, the PPP movement has gained steam, particularly with Republicans in Congress who oppose raising taxes.

PPPs have a mixed record in this country. PPPs have been given credit for expediting project delivery, lowering costs and delivering projects that never would have gotten off the ground. However, while there have been examples of success, some PPPs have gone bankrupt leaving taxpayers and local governments holding the bag.

Recent failures include Texas Route 130, the Pocahontas Parkway in Virginia and the South Bay Expressway in San Diego. Failures typically arise from faulty toll modeling or changing traffic dynamics over time. 

It’s rumored that PPP was a model originally considered for the Columbia River Crossing Project. However, the project didn’t pencil out for private contractors because they couldn’t prevent motorists from avoiding tolls by using the I-205 bridge. This is not an uncommon problem for PPP investors. 

One example from Orange County required the State of California to pay more than $200 million to get out of a non-compete clause with a PPP developer. Traffic in the area got so bad that Caltrans wanted to add capacity in the region, but the non-compete with the PPP prevented capacity expansion projects.

In addition, PPPs can’t solve most transportation problems. Transportation PPPs can only be undertaken in highly populated areas with the traffic to generate enough consistent toll revenue to finance the cost of the project. Adding tolls to new or existing roads is not a popular concept in Oregon and Washington. Also, PPPs generally don’t work well for public transit projects.

Today, 75 percent of all PPP projects are concentrated in five states – California, Colorado, Florida, Texas and Virginia. Massive transportation projects in Oregon or Washington might benefit from PPPs, such as the proposed Salem Crossing. They probably won’t work that well in rural and sparsely populated areas – the places where Republicans dominate.

You can expect Democrats, and perhaps suburban Republicans, to push for an equally robust investment, but using a mix of more traditional tools, such as matching grants.

As Vice President, Federal Affairs, Joel brings to CFM broad public policy experience as a senior Congressional aide and successful private sector lobbyist.

 

Trump Stages Stunning Upset to Win Presidency

Donald Trump pulled off a stunning upset in the 2016 presidential race as Republicans retained control of Congress, giving the political party a clear path to move an agenda that includes repeal of Obamacare and major tax cuts.

Donald Trump pulled off a stunning upset in the 2016 presidential race as Republicans retained control of Congress, giving the political party a clear path to move an agenda that includes repeal of Obamacare and major tax cuts.

America woke up to news of a stunning victory by Donald Trump, who gained the White House because of a sneaker wave of white, rural and anti-establishment voters. One commentator equated the Trump win to a primal shout from America’s heartland.

Hillary Clinton called Trump to concede well after midnight and before Trump had attained 270 electoral votes. Trump called on the country to come together and said the “forgotten people” in America wouldn’t be forgotten during his administration. He also pledged to help America reclaim its destiny, build world-class infrastructure and achieve stronger economic growth.

Tuesday's primal shout was greeted by plummeting futures in U.S. financial markets and dire predictions about Trump policies on trade, international relations and taxes. Republican congressional leaders, who managed to hold onto to control of the House and narrowly in the Senate, now must find a way to govern in partnership with their iconoclastic party leader after spending much of the campaign running from his shadow. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory message to Trump.

Despite pre-election predictions, Trump flipped the electoral firewall Hillary Clinton’s team anticipated as he won narrow victories in the battleground states of Florida and North Carolina, rolled to strong Rust Belt wins in Ohio and Iowa and captured nail-biter wins in blue states Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Exit polls indicated that undecided voters who showed up at the polls went 2 to 1 for Trump. 

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin attributed Trump’s success to his commanding TV persona that “created a direct link with American voters,” almost regardless of what he said or what policies he advanced

Other commentators noted that Trump has political doppelgängers in other countries who espouse nationalistic, nativist views and kindle political kinship through social media. A Republican commentator wryly observed that Trump is the first presidential candidate to defeat both major political parties.

Democrats, who were salivating just days ago about keeping the White House and regaining control of the Senate, now face a grim reality of being shoved to the side aisle as Republicans have a clear path to repeal Obamacare, gut Dodd-Frank financial reforms and select conservative Supreme Court judges.

Clinton came close to busting through the glass-ceiling of the presidency, but her failure to excite elements of the Obama coalition, including African-Americans and Millennials, may have denied her the edge she needed to win key states such as Michigan and North Carolina.

There was evidence that Latino voters turned out in strong numbers, giving Clinton a victory in Nevada, holding Trump’s victory over Clinton in Texas to single digits and making Arizona a late-night projection. You could see the fingerprints of Latino voting in the apparent defeat of controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The higher turnout was linked to Trump’s call to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and his unflattering characterizations of Mexicans.

Massachusetts and California voted to legalize recreational marijuana use and Arizona didn't. California  voters rejected repeal of that state’s death penalty.

Voting and Hacking on November 8

 NBC reports that U.S. security officials are bracing for Russian-backed election-day cyberattacks aimed at disrupting voting or casting a shadow over election results.

 NBC reports that U.S. security officials are bracing for Russian-backed election-day cyberattacks aimed at disrupting voting or casting a shadow over election results.

“NBC Exclusive: White House Readies to Fight Election Day Cyber Mayhem”

This is an astonishing and deeply troubling headline to appear just five days before a national election that already has had its shocking moments.

NBC’s report begins, "The U.S. government believes hackers from Russia or elsewhere may try to undermine next week's presidential election and is mounting an unprecedented effort to counter their cyber meddling.”

Russian involvement in the election has been a persistent issue in the presidential campaign, first with the seeming bromance between GOP nominee Donald Trump and then by the slow-drip release by Wikileaks of emails hacked from the Democratic Party’s servers to embarrass Hillary Clinton.

Whatever the state of U.S.-Russian relations, meddling in a U.S. presidential election by Russia would seem unprecedented and unprovoked. Russian President Vladimir Putin routinely blames the United States for interfering in Ukraine’s presidential election, apparently dislikes Microsoft and thinks Trump may be more amiable to Russian interests. It’s also possible Trump’s personal financial interests are tied in with the oligarchs surrounding Putin.

There are reports Russian interests helped to finance opposition from a pro-Russian coalition in parliamentary elections in Montenegro, where a central issue was whether the small Balkan country should seek membership in NATO. When the pro-NATO ruling party won the election, the pro-Russian forces cried foul and said the election was rigged. Russia denied any involvement, as it has with hacks into U.S. political groups.

Because elections in the United States are conducted by local and state authorities and the vast majority of elections aren’t conducted online, some experts question the viability of a major cyber attack on actual voting. But U.S. officials say the October attack of Department of Homeland Security computers had all the earmarks of a cyberattack drill. And the cyber attacks that denied service and shut down Twitter a few days ago showed there are lots of ways to meddle. 

The NBC story raised the prospect of a fake document dump that implicates a candidate in “an explosive scandal without time for the news media to fact check it.” The goal would be to “sow confusion” and cast a shadow over election results.

While American voters have divided up based on their respective views of Clinton’s trustworthiness and Trump’s temperament, the specter of foreign intervention in the election has gone largely unnoticed, which made the election eve story by NBC more startling.

Many political observers believe the results of the 2016 presidential race are destined to be challenged over issues such as purged voting lists and attempts to suppress voter turnout. They probably never thought a challenge might involve the slippery fingers of a foreign power.

Congressional Control Depends on Down Ballot Voting

A shift in control in the Senate could mean major chairmanships for Oregon and Washington but also heightened influence for junior Senators Jeff Merkley and Maria Cantwell.

A shift in control in the Senate could mean major chairmanships for Oregon and Washington but also heightened influence for junior Senators Jeff Merkley and Maria Cantwell.

James Comey’s letter to Congress on Friday is, if nothing else, a helpful reminder that anything is possible between now and November 8. While no prediction is safe at this point, one can still speculate about what the 115th Congress will look like for the Pacific Northwest, where some members of Congress may need to update their business cards come January.
 
If Democrats take control of the Senate, Oregon and Washington’s senior senators are expected to make significant moves in both party and committee ranking. However, their junior counterparts will likely earn a promotion as well.
 
Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon is the 10th Democrat on the full Senate Appropriations Committee and the Ranking Democratic Member of its Subcommittee on Agriculture. This powerful panel writes the budgets of the Department of Agriculture, Farm Credit Administration and Food and Drug Administration. If Democrats pick up a net of four Senate seats in November, Merkley will likely move up a few rungs in the full committee ranks and be first in line to chair the agriculture subcommittee.
 
Merkley is the first Oregonian on Senate Appropriations since Senator Mark O. Hatfield retired at the end of the 104th Congress in 1996. Oregon senators could hold two gavels in the Senate for the first time since Hatfield and Bob Packwood chaired the Appropriations and Finance committees, respectively. 
 
In Washington, Senator Maria Cantwell is the Ranking Democratic Member of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee and the second-ranking Democrat on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Although Cantwell has been an influential transportation advocate in Congress – perhaps most notably as the author of freight mobility grant funding in the FAST Act of 2015 – the gavel of Senate Energy & Finance would likely be hers to refuse if the Senate flips. 
 
In the House, the status quo will likely prevail as Republicans are expected to hold onto their House majority for what would be the 4th straight Congress. For House Democrats in Oregon and Washington, that means retaining current positions and a slight rise in their party and committee rankings.
 
Republicans Greg Walden (OR) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) would hang onto their coveted positions in majority leadership, while newer Republican members such as Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA) may move up a few rungs in their assigned committees. 
 
Similarly, Oregon’s senior House Democrat Peter DeFazio will remain Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Jim McDermott’s (WA) retirement will likely allow Earl Blumenauer (OR) to move up a spot or two on the Ways and Means Committee. 
 
What party controls each congressional chamber will influence the degree of gridlock in the next Congress, regardless whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins the White House. House Republicans already have already threatened a barrage of investigations if Clinton prevails and Senate Republicans have talked about blocking Clinton Supreme Court nominees. Democratic control of the Senate – or even a stronger minority – could be a major barrier to Trump initiatives.

The consequences of the election underscore the importance of voting – and voting on down ballot races.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

Wyden, Murray Could Move Up in Democratic Landslide

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Washington Senator Patty Murray are positioned to gain major committee chairmanships if Democrats succeed November 8 in regaining control of the US Senate.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Washington Senator Patty Murray are positioned to gain major committee chairmanships if Democrats succeed November 8 in regaining control of the US Senate.

Rising speculation that Democrats will take back control of the US Senate is particularly significant in the Pacific Northwest as both Washington and Oregon’s senior senators would be poised for prime promotions.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is in line to regain the gavel of Senate Finance and Washington Senator Patty Murray could chair Senate Appropriations or gain a leadership position.

It wasn’t that long ago that political pundits doubted whether Democrats could grab back control of the Senate. However, Donald Trump’s recent follies and corresponding plummet in national and swing state polls have made that a more realistic scenario. And Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton are pressing hard to make it happen.

While general consensus concedes the House will remain Republican, the Senate would flip if Democrats capture a net of four seats. Senate Republicans hold a 54 – 46 (two independents caucus with the Democrats) advantage over Democrats. A Vice President Tim Kaine would break a 50-50 tie. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, Democrats now have a 73 percent chance of taking control of the chamber – up 15 percent from last week.

Democratic candidates for Senate are likely to pick up seats in Illinois and Wisconsin, and close races in the following six states will likely decide what becomes the majority party in the Senate: Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. As of today, Democrats lead in all 6 races and have a better chance of winning in each than they did a week ago.

The Democrat’s fortune looks so good that the Cook Political Report announced today it expects Democrats to pick up between 5-7 seats in the Senate.

Since early voting is already underway in 27 states, Republicans don’t have much time to mount a comeback. Assuming current trends prevail and Democrats occupy 50 or more Senate seats (and Clinton is elected president), Wyden and Murray will be standing in high clover.

Wyden is the Ranking Democratic Member of the high-profile Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax policy, trade deals, Medicare and Medicaid and bonded debt of the United States. Wyden held the Senate Finance gavel briefly in 2014 before Republicans won control of the Senate.

While Senator Wyden’s next gig is somewhat easy to predict, the senior senator from Washington, Patty Murray, appears to have more options to consider.

The upcoming retirement of Democratic Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, leaves an open door for a new top Democrat on one of the most sought after panels. While no senator has officially thrown a hat in the ring, a Democratic majority and the chairmanship would be the cherry on the ice cream sundae.

Murray, a dealmaker respected on both sides of the aisle, is the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate. However, with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) reportedly interested in the gavel as well, some have speculated Murray could instead challenge Durbin for the No. 2 position in leadership. Albeit unlikely, if Murray were to challenge Durbin, the appropriations chairmanship could then serve as a consolation prize for the loser.

The third and final option for Murray would be to serve as chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. A post she may prefer over any other, especially under a Clinton presidency likely to undertake major health care and education initiatives through the committee. She could be a great partner for Clinton on refining the Affordable Care Act.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell also can be expected to move the political hierarchy with Democratic control of the Senate. 

If Democrats recaptured the House, too, Oregon and Washington’s congressional delegations would be in strong positions, including Congressman Peter DeFazio being positioned to champion a major transportation and infrastructure initiative.

It is too early to predict how the election will turn out, but it is never too early to speculate on what could happen the day after the election.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

Election Attention Shifts to What Happens Post-Election

Drooping poll results for Donald Trump have shifted the political conversation from the election to the post-election and what President Hillary Clinton would push for in Congress. The speculation could be surprising.

Drooping poll results for Donald Trump have shifted the political conversation from the election to the post-election and what President Hillary Clinton would push for in Congress. The speculation could be surprising.

The 2016 presidential election took a turn this week that signaled the race to watch now will be what happens next January.

Donald Trump’s hot-mic tape with lewd comments about women may have sealed his fate, but it also set in motion a cascading reaction among high-ranking Republicans worried about a possible electoral sweep that could return Democrats to control in the Senate and even the House.

Speaker Paul Ryan convened his fellow House Republicans to say it is every man for himself in local congressional elections and urged them to do what’s necessary for the GOP to retain control of the House. Ryan said losing congressional control would give Hillary Clinton a “blank slate” to pursue progressive policies.

The worry expressed by Ryan contrasts with conventional wisdom of just a few weeks ago. It was assumed whoever won the presidential election would face an obstinate Congress. If Clinton won, Republicans would stymie her campaign proposals on taxation, trade and immigration. If Trump won, Democrats would block some of his more extreme measures on taxation, trade and immigration.

With leading Republicans now in panic mode, observers are beginning to picture different scenarios in 2017 when there is a new president and Congress. Here are a few of those scenarios:

  • Clinton and Congress, with a thinner GOP majority, collaborate on tax reform, increased support for child care, reduced college student debt interest and greater federal assistance to industries and workers affected by globalization and technology change. Also expect a more aggressive approach toward terrorism at home and abroad.
  • Clinton and Democratically controlled Senate push for higher taxes on wealthy individuals, more assistance for working parents, free or reduced college tuition for students from middle-income  families and tougher trade policies.
  • Clinton and a Democratically controlled Congress will go further and seek a public option for individuals under the Affordable Care Act, pay equity, a higher federal minium wage, comprehensive immigration reform and restoration of some Glass-Steagal limitations on banks and investment firms.

While campaigns present the opportunity for political candidates to express policy priorities, election outcomes shape the world of possibilities when candidates are in office.

Consider Obamacare as an example. No one, including President Obama, argues that changes aren’t needed.  Clinton has defended Obamacare and says changes should improve it. Republicans have called for repeal of Obamacare and replacing it with something else, which hasn’t exactly been spelled out in detail. Building off Bernie Sanders’ campaigned on a Medicare for all platform, which has morphed into a Democratic platform plank to insert a public option into the Obamacare health exchanges. What changes have political legs in 2017 will depend entirely on how political power lines up in the White House and Congress.

The same could be said for tax and trade changes and for immigration legislation, which has been the signature issue of the Trump campaign. Democrats will say a Trump defeat amounts to a voter repudiation of his anti-immigrant positions and clears the path for Congress to adopt legislation that addresses issues from border security to vetting immigrants from places like Syria to treatment of the 12 million undocumented men, women and children who live work and go to school in the United States.

The Trump meltdown paradoxically may make it easier for Clinton and Congress, even one still controlled by Republicans, to collaborate on major legislation. Both political parties have been assailed for bickering more than legislating, which may be a greater long-term political liability than the festering discontent of Trump supporters who aren’t likely to disappear after the election.

Collaboration, however, may not extend to every issue. The best example is legislation to address gun violence. Clinton has called for tighter background checks to prevent people with criminal backgrounds or a history of mental illness from obtaining guns. The National Rifle Association, perhaps anticipating a Trump defeat, has directed all its political attention at Clinton, claiming she is an enemy of the Second Amendment – a claim that may have a lot to do with the voter vitriol aimed at Clinton and her candidacy.

As the first female president, Clinton will understandably press for policies of importance to women. Tougher laws against sexual assault and domestic violence would probably find receptive audiences among both Democrats and Republicans following the 2016 election. Clinton support for Planned Parenthood funding and retaining reproductive freedom might find the same resistance in the halls of Congress.

There is still nearly a month to go before the election, and anything can happen. But this week, you could feel the mood of at least the political elite shift from who will win to what will happen when Clinton wins. That question will be answered when the heads are counted in Congress next January.

The Not-Quite-Dead Trade Deal

This man who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee could have the last say on whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal passes during the congressional lame duck session after the November 8 election that will be won by a major party candidate who has vowed to oppose the TPP.

This man who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee could have the last say on whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal passes during the congressional lame duck session after the November 8 election that will be won by a major party candidate who has vowed to oppose the TPP.

The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the controversial trade deal could sneak through Congress after the November 8 election and be signed by President Obama before he leaves office next January.

 

Like most major policy issues, the TPP doesn’t have a clear path to approval. But it does have a pretty obvious gatekeeper – Texas Congressman Kevin Brady, who assumed the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee when Paul Ryan became House Speaker. The TPP has to make it out of this committee to have a chance of passage.

 

Brady, like Ryan, has been a supporter of the TPP and free trade in general. Brady has not revealed what he plans to do, perhaps intentionally to avoid becoming a presidential candidate punching bag or embarrassing GOP nominee Donald Trump.

 

Action on inaction in Congress on the trade deal will likely have more to do with politics than policy. 

 

Organized labor, which has trash-talked the TPP, leaned on many Democrats to come out in opposition, despite President Obama’s strong endorsement of the deal. That means the TPP will need very strong support from Republicans in the House and Senate to pass.

 

If Trump wins the presidency, a GOP-led Congress may want to get the trade pact inked before he takes office. If Hillary Clinton wins and the GOP retains control over both houses of Congress, the calculation might change. Congressional Republicans may want her to face the political backlash of going back on her campaign promise to oppose TPP or repudiate the Democratic president she will succeed.

 

While opponents and proponents can disagree over the relative merits of labor and environmental provisions in the TPP, it does seem clear that failure to pass the trade deal would doom any chance to renegotiate it in the near future. That would raise fears, which Obama has stoked, that the future of trade in the Asia Pacific region, which represents 40 percent of the worlds Gross Domestic Product, could be shaped by China and may not favor U.S. interests.

 

Much has been made about industry lobbyists guiding U.S. strategy in the negotiations over the TPP, but that isn’t a major deviation from past practice. Issues involving intellectual property, for example, are enormously complex and require expertise from companies and individuals that have been on the frontline of battling to preserve their property rights.

 

Any trade deal produces winners and losers, and that is a fair way for a Member of Congress to judge whether or not the deal is in the best interest of his or her constituency. The best trade deals are ones that attempt to address future problems, not remediate past problems. But all trade deals fall short in some way or another. Critics, for example, say the TPP does little to address currency manipulation by trading partners that compete unfairly with U.S. products and services.

 

Advocates for trade deals such as TPP argue protectionist provisions can boomerang and industries impacted and workers dislocated by globalization should be addressed by better conceived and funded domestic policies. Passage of TPP by Congress in its looming lame duck session may focus the policy debate and political firestorm on what a well-conceived and well-funded domestic policy would look like.

New African American Smithsonian Showcases Horror and Beauty

The three-tiered National Museum of African American History and Culture opens this weekend in the shadow of the Washington Monument and with a festival of Free Sounds. (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

The three-tiered National Museum of African American History and Culture opens this weekend in the shadow of the Washington Monument and with a festival of Free Sounds. (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens Saturday, just before the first presidential debate in a contest in which charges of racial bigotry have been regularly tried.

President Barack Obama, America’s first black president, has openly encouraged GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump to visit the new Smithsonian museum before the November 8 election.

This pair of shackles is one of many relics of slavery, America's darkest chapter, on display inside the museum.

This pair of shackles is one of many relics of slavery, America's darkest chapter, on display inside the museum.

Situated perhaps symbolically on the last available museum site on the National Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument, the new museum traces the journey of a slice of America’s people who arrived in chains, suffered through segregation and still experience discrimination in the workplace and on the streets.

As the Museum celebrates its opening with a three-day Freedom Sounds Festival, protests continue in Charlotte and Tulsa over controversial police shootings of black men. Congress is hung up on a spending bill to keep the federal government running, in part because of a refusal to provide aid to Flint, Michigan, water users and Louisiana flood victims.

Backers were forced to raise private funds to build the museum because of congressional opposition. Senator Jesse Helms said if Congress funded a museum recognizing African Americans, other groups would demand equal treatment. Congress finally authorized the museum 13 years ago.

The building makes its own statement with a black-brown metal façade that contrasts sharply with the white marble sister Smithsonian museums surrounding it. The museum’s tiered design draws inspiration from African architecture, and the façade pays homage to the skill of black freemen metalsmiths in the Deep South. Architect David Adjaye, who designed the museum, said the architecture intentionally “speaks another language.

Chuck Berry's shiny red Cadillac is one of many thousands of African American artifacts on display in the new museum. 

Chuck Berry's shiny red Cadillac is one of many thousands of African American artifacts on display in the new museum. 

The exhibits and 36,000 displayed artifacts center on the life of black Americans from tiny plantation cabins and punishing neck chains to pioneering jazz musicians and Chuck Berry’s cherry red Cadillac. However, exhibit designers sought to make the museum appeal to a wider audience by showing how African American culture has become embedded in all American culture.

“It explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture,” the museum’s website declares. Designers also attempted to place the arrival of Africans in America as part of an ongoing global migration that at once has increased diversity and underscored human unity.

Restricting Free Trade to Save Free Trade

Globalization has come under sharp scrutiny in the 2016 presidential election, exposing deepening political fault lines. Harvard professor and author Dani Rodrik offers ideas for how to save international trade by giving individual nations a license to restrict trade to protect domestic economic and political institutions. (Illustration by Andrew Holder/New York Times)

Globalization has come under sharp scrutiny in the 2016 presidential election, exposing deepening political fault lines. Harvard professor and author Dani Rodrik offers ideas for how to save international trade by giving individual nations a license to restrict trade to protect domestic economic and political institutions. (Illustration by Andrew Holder/New York Times)

Globalization has gotten a black eye in the 2016 presidential election and in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, but populist opponents have offered few tangible alternatives other than a trade war, rejecting the Trans Pacific Partnership or trying to renegotiate existing trade deals.

Dani Rodrik, a Harvard professor and author, offers suggestions in a New York Times op-ed that will annoy populists, labor unions and globalization cheerleaders. He says to preserve free-flowing trade – and the democracies the engage in it – will require giving individual nations the autonomy to protect their own interests. 

“Globalization has deepened the economic and cultural divisions between those who can take advantage of the global economy and those who don’t have the resources and skills to do so” Rodrik wrote. “Nativist politicians like Donald J. Trump have channeled the resulting discontent as hostility to outsiders: Mexican or Polish immigrants, Chinese exporters, minorities.” 

Rodrik’s solution is to cap “hyper-globalization” and replace it with a form of globalization with increased national autonomy. For example, he says nations should be able to place restrictions on cross-border transactions that involve worker or environmental rights violations.

That sounds eerily similar to the kind of trade restrictions that globalization and free-trade agreements have sought to eliminate. Rodrik claims some trade trimming will be necessary to salvage the basic idea of free trade, which he notes has “pulled 700 million people out of poverty." “Globalization,within limitations,” he says, “has been good economics. Globalization, within limits, can be good for our democracies, too.”

In his op-ed, Rodrik offers four specific suggestions:

  • Give individual nations the autonomy to choose trade-related institutions that best represent their interests and reflect their risk-tolerance.
  • Countries should be able to prevent “regulatory arbitrage” whereby corporations circumvent national labor or environmental laws by moving operations to offshore locations.
  • International economic negotiations should pivot on domestic policy autonomy combined with increased trade transparency to ensure both sides keep their commitments.
  • Global governance should focus on enhancing democracy, not globalization.

“Global governance cannot overcome major problems like inequality, social exclusion or low growth,” Rodrik says. “But it can help by devising norms that improve domestic policy transparency, public deliberations, broad representation, accountability and use of economic evidence in domestic proceedings.”

Interesting by its omission is mention of reforms to trade adjustment assistance, which has drawn criticism for being inadequate and training dislocated workers for jobs that don’t exist in their community – or at all.

The fundamental question raised by Rodrik’s call for a “little-less-free trade” is whether a little would turn into a lot. Nations already file actions alleging unfair trade practices that range from “dumping” products at low costs to self-serving tariffs that make imported products noncompetitive. The license to protect domestic economic interests could embolden industry, labor and environmental advocates to push for greater protections, which could trigger what amounts to trade wars between nations or international regions.

Rodrik also doesn’t address the issue of globalization of financial markets, which dwarf the movement of goods and services across national boundaries. Restricting the flow of money is considerably more complex and can be tied up with another international bugaboo – concessionary tax policies and tax havens.

None of this discounts the value of the conversation Rodrik’s op-ed started, which highlights the many moving pieces that must be addressed to find a balance that benefits consumers without unduly exposing workers to economic discoloration and ultimately posing a challenge to democratic governance.

Parallel Press Conferences Posing as Debates

What if the debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump was an actual debate where the candidates confronted each other rather than conducting parallel press conferences? Wouldn't that be nice. 

What if the debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump was an actual debate where the candidates confronted each other rather than conducting parallel press conferences? Wouldn't that be nice. 

Presidential debates command attention even if they are just parallel press conferences, not real debates.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held a real debate 150 years ago. They posited, rebutted and pontificated. Modern-day debates just skip to the pontification. They don’t answer questions. Instead, they speak over questions to appease their political base.

When contemporary debates were introduced in the 1960 presidential race, the news media urged candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy to question each other, like Lincoln and Douglas. They balked, insisting the questions come from the news media. And thus the softball question was born.

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised presidential debate in 1960 after insisting reporters ask the questions so they could avoid confronting each other in true debate style.

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised presidential debate in 1960 after insisting reporters ask the questions so they could avoid confronting each other in true debate style.

Debate moderators can’t win. Their questions are questioned. When they challenge candidate deflections and dissembling, they are blasted as aggressive. When they throw darts at one candidate and marshmallows at the other, they are lambasted as unfair – or inept. Ask Matt Lauer – he just moderated a candidate forum that was supposed to be a parallel press conference.

Few people think presidential debates determine the outcome of the race. At best, a candidate can make a clever comment that defuses a potential issue. Like Ronald Reagan promising not to hold Walter Mondale’s youthfulness against him. Bingo. The Reagan age issue disappeared as fast as Mondale’s chances to win. Lloyd Bentsen cut Dan Quayle down to size by telling him he was “no John Kennedy.”

At worst, a candidate can make a fatal gaffe, like Gerald Ford insisting there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Luckily, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson wasn’t debating when he responded to a question on MSNBC's Morning Joe about how he would handle the conflict in Syria. His clueless answer: “What is Aleppo?"

Debates can underscore candidate tendencies, such as Chris Christie sounding like a prosecutor in a televised courtroom. Or Marco Rubio drinking water and sweating, Bernie Sanders waving his arms and Richard Nixon scowling. Nixon wanted the debate cameras to stay locked on whoever was speaking, not the other candidate’s reaction. He lost that debate and his scowling image became his campaign likeness.

The 2016 presidential candidates broke new ground. The 17-candidate GOP primary required a much larger stage and a lesser-card warm-up debate. The Democratic debate often crept into the policy weeds, requiring viewers to consult a political thesaurus to understand what in the world the candidates were talking about.

The tone of the debates this year has been decidedly uncivil. There was little love lost between Lincoln and Douglas, but they didn’t interrupt each other or hurl insults. That was reserved for the presidential primary debates. Policy discussions were a dreaded distraction. Viewership has never been higher as you pictured people leaning forward in their recliners waiting eagerly for another zinger. 

The bellicose theatrics of debates are egged on by social media. Millions of tweets are posted during debates that excoriate the candidates, the moderators and the crowd. The debates have become more like prize fights or celebrity survival races.

The first presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump is less than two weeks away and anticipation is building, while expectations continue to drop. Clinton reportedly has been boning up for weeks. Trump is expected to wing it. Many assume the debate will feature Trump dodging substance and Clinton wallowing in it.

Harvard history professor Jill Lepore laments the fallen state of modern debates. In a recent article, Lepore quotes Walter Cronkite, “The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud our political campaigns have become” as candidates dictate terms that “defy meaningful discourse” and “sabotage the electoral process.”

Like presidential candidates before them, Clinton and Trump have circled each other to ensure the most favorable settings and least objectionable moderators. But Lepore has a plot with a historical precedent.

She suggests channeling Phil Donahue, who in the 1992 Democratic primary in New York introduced Bill Clinton and Jerry brown, then “sat back in his chair and never uttered another word. Under bright lights with no reputation-salvaging escape, Clinton and Brown were forced to address each other for an “unmoderated, uninterrupted” 90 minutes.

Can you imagine Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump asking each other questions and civilly talking about issues for 90 minutes? Interestingly enough, now Trump is also calling for a debate with no moderator. Maybe that's the format we should follow after all.

Another Government Shutdown Deadline Approaches

Another federal government shutdown looms unless Congress can pass a spending bill before September 30 over the opposition of the 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which wants to make budget cuts before the November 8 general election.

Another federal government shutdown looms unless Congress can pass a spending bill before September 30 over the opposition of the 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which wants to make budget cuts before the November 8 general election.

If you think the presidential race seems repetitious, think about the prospect of another federal government shutdown. That might just happen on September 30 if Congress can’t pass legislation to fund continuing operations.

This potential shutdown has all the hallmarks of earlier ones – the right-wing faction of the House GOP caucus is balking at a short continuing resolution to push major budget decisions past the November 8 general election when a new president will be elected and Senate control could flip from Republicans to Democrats.

The 42-member Freedom Caucus wants to avoid an omnibus spending package in a lame-duck session of Congress. GOP House leaders, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have expressed support for approving a continuing resolution this month that would maintain existing spending levels until around Christmas.

If Freedom Caucus members hold firm, House Speaker Paul Ryan will be staring at the same dilemma that bedeviled and ultimately unseated his predecessor, John Boehner – turning to Democrats for the needed votes to approve a spending bill. Democrats have their own priorities and have stymied Republican proposals of late.

House Republicans are huddling to find a work-around after Congress returned earlier this week after a seven-week recess. Preventing a government shutdown is just one of many spending issues up in the air at this point.

Congress left town in July without approving a spending measure to combat the Zika virus, which has emerged as more of a threat in Miami and potentially other parts of the South than previously anticipated.

The presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is tightening up as the candidates seek to distinguish themselves on a range of issues, including national security, which will be the subject of an NBC-sponsored commander-in-chief forum tonight. Before the event, Trump said he favors releasing the Pentagon budget from the spending constraints that apply across the board to all federal agencies.

Some conservatives in Congress have echoed Trump's view, but they face the problem of what to cut to compensate for higher defense spending. Democrats, including President Obama, oppose selectively excusing defense spending from overall spending constraints.

Congressional Democrats and Obama appear in policy lock-step in support of a short-term spending bill that will push bigger budget questions beyond election day. That position is buttressed by the serious prospect that Democrats could regain control of the Senate though the GOP majority in the Senate hasn’t warmed up to the idea of closing down the federal government.

There is little question the budget priorities of a President Clinton and a President Trump would differ substantially, which makes the looming stalemate over a stopgap continuing resolution even stickier. It also raises the question of whether an actual government shutdown would help or hurt Trump or Clinton.

Trump has positioned himself as a political outsider with the personal experience of knowing how the system works and what needs to change. Clinton has a hard time escaping the “insider” label, but can be expected to argue that now is not the time to threaten or shutter the federal government, given the precarious momentum of the economic recovery and a flurry of foreign threats.

The Freedom Caucus may be wary of Trump in the White House, but they worry more about a Clinton victory in November, combined with a Democratic takeover in the Senate. They may argue now is potentially the last time they have the leverage for major cuts in federal spending and a budget boost for the military. What will be interesting to watch in the next three weeks is whether the Freedom Caucus actually has the leverage it imagines.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

The Arm of Congress That Doesn’t Sleep

Behind every successful Member of Congress is a hardworking, usually out of-camera-range district staff that advises on local projects, helps people get lost Social Security checks and makes sure their boss arrives at his appointments. Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio was a congressional staffer before he was elected.

Behind every successful Member of Congress is a hardworking, usually out of-camera-range district staff that advises on local projects, helps people get lost Social Security checks and makes sure their boss arrives at his appointments. Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio was a congressional staffer before he was elected.

While Congress is on frequent recess and routinely at odds, congressional district staffers operate in a starkly different reality. Unencumbered by the dysfunction and partisanship in Washington, they play a critical role in the communities they serve.

While those inside the beltway may think they’re at the center of the universe, sometimes the most meaningful congressional action happens at the hands of a local staffer. Every day, far away from the news cameras lining the Capitol Rotunda, district staff members solve important problems for hometown constituents. In fact, a congressman representing his district often takes the shape of a field representative unraveling Social Security tie-ups or helping a constituent navigate bureaucratic red tape.

CFM represents clients in Washington, D.C., many of which are municipalities in the Pacific Northwest. As federal lobbyists for municipal clients, congressional district staff are our valued partners. After we identify local projects and priorities, we coordinate to make the case for federal funding in Washington. They help us nudge along federal agencies when they’re moving slow, weigh in with support for a client’s grant project and advise their boss to shed light on a local issue when appropriate.

They are also the full-time eyes, ears and mouth of a member in the communities they represent. They attend community events, local government meetings and meet face-to-face with constituents and local stakeholders on a daily basis. As such, we often rely on their local knowledge as a barometer.

Members of Congress are often required to be two places at once. In order to be effective, they must spend significant time in D.C. to build relationships and increasingly, raise money for their next campaign. However, the more time they spend in D.C., the harder it is to stay in touch with constituents and keep abreast of their concerns. District staff help alleviate this inherent dichotomy, providing the political linkage lawmakers themselves have a hard time sustaining. 

Paralyzing partisanship has plagued Congress in recent years, and the public has taken notice. Approval ratings for the institution as a whole are at record lows. However, it’s reasonable to assume that district staff play a role when many of those same voters – despite feeling fed up with Congress – think their local representative is still doing a good job. 

While the district office may not be as prestigious as the Capitol building, it’s fertile ground for political victories. District staff aren’t hamstrung by D.C. dysfunction, and can routinely achieve results, like helping a city mitigate congestion by securing a federal transportation grant, or issuing press releases to bring national attention to local issues.

So, as Congress members return to Washington after extended visits to their districts over this historically long recess, it seems apt to salute the men and women who spend each day working in those district offices – they're some of the hardest working, most productive people in Congress.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

The Dog Days of Trustworthiness

Of all people, the Clintons know there are no mulligans in the game of politics. So why didn’t they act sooner to address what appears like conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation and their government roles and ambitions?

Of all people, the Clintons know there are no mulligans in the game of politics. So why didn’t they act sooner to address what appears like conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation and their government roles and ambitions?

Questions of trustworthiness dog the Clintons, and they shouldn’t be surprised.

As the fall presidential election approaches with Hillary Clinton in the lead, the Clintons have begun to position themselves for returning to the White House. They have put someone in charge of the transition and begun to discuss separation from the Clinton Foundation.

The only problem is they are late to the party.

After questions arose about pay-for-play influence-peddling, the Clintons are talking about drastically shrinking the size of the Clinton Foundation if Clinton wins the election. Hillary, Bill and Chelsea would leave the foundation's board, and Bill Clinton says he will stop fundraising for the foundation.

Fine, but why didn’t these declarations come much earlier? Why didn’t they exist when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state? Instead, they came after big-headline stories about possible favors and special access for Clinton Foundation donors. There may very well be an explanation for the favors and access, but there is hardly an excuse for not anticipating this would be an issue in the 2016 presidential election. Worse, the allegations fit to a larger narrative of the Clintons as political insiders who play loose with the rules.

The Foundation flap overlaps Hillary’s Clinton's painfully chronic email fiasco. The latest twist involves former Secretary of State Colin Powell denying that he encouraged Clinton to use a private email server. He says he gave advice on managing private email after she already had set up hers. It’s not an indictment, just another off-center, not-quite-true explanation that inflames Hillary haters and creates a media feeding frenzy.

If Clinton was facing anyone but the unpredictable and inexplicable Donald Trump, she may find herself in a political free-fall. Trump has picked up the issue and could make it his comeback cause. Even if Clinton wins the presidency, these apparent ethical lapses and tone-deaf media responses could deny her a solid mandate and weaken her ability to govern.

James Carville, the hominy grits political guru who guided Bill Clinton, tried to explain the Clinton predicament in an interview on the Today show with little success. You have the feeling that in private, Carville scolded the Clintons for failing to vet their vulnerabilities a long time ago as opposed to allowing these stories to become the equivalent of slow-drip campaign chemotherapy.

The Clinton Foundation has indisputably done much good. As a former president, Bill Clinton has used his status and clout to good effect and worthy ends. Yet, Hillary Clinton’s ambition to become president, strongly supported by her husband and daughter, should have aroused the usually keen political instincts of this very political family. They should have looked forward to contemplate Hillary’s historical presidential quest and proactively recognized and removed obstacles and provided clear, accurate explanations for behavior that raises eyebrows, even among supporters.

Yes, right-wing critics have dished out disinformation – or at least information without any supporting data – about Hillary Clinton, most recently about her health. But all the more reason to have your guard up, not in hibernation. In the game of politics, the Clintons, of all people, know you can’t declare a mulligan.

Now Hillary Clinton is left with pulling a heavy ball and chain of suspicion through the final 75 days of what seems like an indeterminable presidential campaign. It didn’t have to be like this. And it would be a shame if the Clinton Foundation wound up paying the price.

The Dids and Didn’ts of Congress

Congress is currently in the midst of one of its longest summer breaks in U.S. history. Before leaving, Congress managed to make several big accomplishments, but a number of other key spending issues were left unresolved. 

Congress is currently in the midst of one of its longest summer breaks in U.S. history. Before leaving, Congress managed to make several big accomplishments, but a number of other key spending issues were left unresolved. 

Due to earlier than usual presidential nominating conventions, federal lawmakers are in the middle of a seven-week recess – one of the longest summer breaks in the legislative branch’s history. With Congress out of town for another month, here is a look at some of the things it did and didn’t accomplish, and what to expect when it returns in September.

Congress Did:

Get Out of the Gates Early

The House typically kicks off the appropriations process, but that was held up by a GOP intraparty dispute over top-line spending levels. So the Senate took the wheel and got off to the fastest start in the modern budget era when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its first spending bill in mid-April. The full Senate made more history when it passed the first appropriations bill on May 12, the earliest official start to the appropriations process in the chamber’s history.

Find Success in Committee

Each chamber moved all 12 (24 total) annual spending measures out of committee for the second straight year and onto the full Senate and House floors for consideration. Things were looking good early on, however, much of their committee success is attributed to unofficial agreements to hold off on controversial policy riders until the spending bills reach the floor. Unsurprisingly, just eight of the 24 bills approved by appropriations committees have made it past a floor vote to date.

Address the Opioid Epidemic

Both the House and Senate, with overwhelming bipartisan support, cleared the final version of legislation aimed at combating opioid prescription and heroin abuse, which President Barack Obama quickly signed into law. In addition to a few policy provisions, the bill creates a number of new grant programs to be administered by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services. However, it may take some time for this new money to find its way to local health departments and law enforcement agencies. Funding for the bill’s grant programs is dependent on appropriators designating money for them. Although some spending bills include money to address opioid addiction as a whole, only the House measure to fund the Justice Department includes specific money for those programs.

Reauthorize the FAA

After months of negotiation and just two days before expiration, both chambers eventually came together on a package to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs at current funding levels through September 2017. This measure is the result of both chambers abandoning their original, more wide-ranging and controversial FAA bills in favor of a short-term continuation. In addition to continuing current FAA programs, the bill contains a variety of policy measures that aim to increase airport security while easing security lines and further regulating drone use. 

Congress Didn’t:

Return to ‘Regular Order’

With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, party leadership vowed to restore “regular order” to the appropriations process and expected to spend this summer touting their successes to constituents. Unfortunately, there were too many partisan and intraparty hurdles to clear in fiscal year 2017 and “regular order” was nowhere to be seen.

One of the biggest obstacles from the start was the refusal of certain House Republicans to embrace the bipartisan budget agreement reached last December that set the top-line spending level at $1.07 trillion for FY 17 defense and domestic discretionary programs. Conservatives voted against the compromise measure in December, but the agreement passed because former Speaker John Boehner relied on Democratic votes to win passage. Conservatives still oppose the plan and spent recent months pressing the Republican Caucus to present a plan that reduces mandatory spending by at least $30 billion.

Without a budget agreement in place, House appropriators were procedurally allowed to move forward in May and began marking up spending bills at the $1.07 trillion level. Unfortunately, that turned out to be just the first obstacle. Repeated attempts by members of both parties to attach controversial policy riders to spending packages after they cleared committee proved to be the demise of the fiscal year 2017 appropriations process. Lawmakers spent days and weeks engaged in contentious debate over spending levels and policy issues, all while the White House issued veto threats on multiple measures should they eventually pass.

With time running out before the new fiscal year begins on October 1, “regular order” is now a fond memory. When lawmakers return in September, they’re expected to abandon the normal appropriations process and seek a continuing resolution to avoid another government shutdown.

Address the Zika Virus

Months ago, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion from Congress in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus domestically. Congress did not promptly comply. After weeks of partisan bickering and disagreement, negotiations finally fell apart in June and Congress left town without approving any funding for the mosquito-borne virus. Now, both Democrats and Republicans have spent most of the summer blaming each other for the failure and remain no closer to an agreement.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has since shifted $589 million, most of which came from Ebola resources within the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of State/USAID, for Zika-related prevention and treatment.

Pass Gun Control Legislation

Following the Orlando massacre, House and Senate Democrats persistently demanded action to address the recent spate of gun violence. Their frustration culminated in an extraordinary sit-in on the House floor, refusing to yield until House Speaker Paul Ryan promised floor votes on a myriad of gun control measures.

Keeping in line with the theme of the 114th Congress, there was ultimately no legislative action taken. However, it may not be the end as some Democrats have promised to keep introducing gun-related amendments to future legislation until a version is passed.

Fill Supreme Court Vacancy

Republican leadership decided not to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the American people should  “appoint” a nominee by voting for a new president this fall. If Democrat Hillary Clinton wins the White House, McConnell may be tempted to allow confirmation of Garland to proceed in a lame-duck session.

What to Expect:

A Continuing Resolution

Congress is slowly coming to terms with the reality that the fiscal 2017 appropriations process is a goner and a continuing resolution (CR) will be needed to avoid a government shutdown on October 1. This will be lawmakers’ number one priority when they return in September, but there are a few things that could get in the way of a timely agreement.

A CR is a stopgap funding measure meant to fund the government temporarily in the absence of appropriated funding levels. Thus, the primary battle will likely take place over how long the CR will last. For the last two years, lawmakers have agreed on CRs extending to December 11, giving them enough time to put together a final omnibus appropriations package. That may not be an option this year as conservatives would rather push a CR push spending decision into March 2017 to bypass the lame-duck session and avoid a trillion-dollar omnibus.

Further, intraparty disputes over the top-line spending limit and partisan scuffles over Zika and gun control are also expected to complicate the CR discussions come September.

Criminal Justice Overhaul

Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will take up legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system this September. The Speaker has identified a number of bills being marked up by the Judiciary Committee as part of the package that will see the floor next month. These individual measures will come together in a package to change everything from sentencing requirements to federal criminal procedures.  

Zika Funding

Despite their failure before recess, recent Zika cases in the United States will surely highlight congressional inaction and may force some kind of political agreement. House and Senate Republicans agreed on a $1.1 billion conference report, but Senate Democrats ultimately blocked the measure citing controversial “poison-pill” amendments. Among them are provisions that would ease EPA regulations and prevent Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving any Zika money.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com