Congress flails after Trump’s deportation ultimatum

Lawmakers are stumbling in their efforts to address the border crisis before bolting for the holiday recess, dimming long-shot hopes that Congress can meet President Donald Trump’s two-week deadline to stave off his threatened mass deportations.

House Democratic leaders spent Monday night fighting off a last-minute liberal rebellion to tank their $4.5 billion emergency spending package. Across the Capitol, Senate leaders were moving forward on a funding bill but largely dismissing Trump’s aggressive timeline on changing asylum laws.

Senior lawmakers say the idea that Congress could come together to overhaul thorny immigration laws in two weeks — as Trump demanded over the weekend — is a pipe dream, especially with members out of town next week for July 4th.

“It’s unrealistic and right now we’re focused on the border supplemental. That should be our priority,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). “The president can tweet or say whatever he wants.”

“It’s going to take weeks,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the lead Democratic negotiator on asylum laws. “He did the same thing on DACA, we came up with a bill. He didn’t like it. You know, I’ve seen this movie. I know how it ends.”

Durbin is working with Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on an asylum package, but they hadn’t spoken about it since Wednesday of last week, as of Monday night.

The congressional stalemate puts Trump in a precarious position if Congress fails, leaving him again with the choice of following through with raids to deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants or backing down.

Trump has issued hard-line threats before only to pull back after winning some concessions. He recently avoided imposing broad tariffs on Mexico by claiming victory after Mexico announced it would send thousands of troops to the border to try to stem the surge of Central American migrants.

Some Republicans applauded Trump’s latest move, saying the lingering threat of widespread immigration raids and deportations could finally convince Democrats to negotiate on long-stalled immigration talks.

“If it brings Democrats to the table I think that’s a pretty shrewd move,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “They seem to be totally impervious to any sort of persuasion or pressure, but I think it’s worth a try. At least he will have demonstrated his good faith.”

Democrats were quick to dismiss Trump’s red line, saying it’s just the latest in a string of immigration-related provocations that the president has floated only to retreat from at the last moment.

“Look at the things he’s gone through: Tariffs, close the border, issue after issue. He makes threats and then backs off because none of them make any sense, none of them have been thought through,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday.

And if he were serious about wanting to change asylum laws, Trump would have brought it up before a weekend tweet, Democrats say.

Trump did not raise the issue during a 12-minute call with Speaker Nancy Pelosi Friday night in which she asked him to call off the ICE raids, according to a source familiar with the call. Furthermore, Trump made his two-week deadline just days before a scheduled break, with no one predicting the recess will be cancelled to deal with an immigration debate.

Meanwhile Democratic leaders were struggling to contain an 11th hour revolt by some progressives and Hispanic members to derail the supplemental spending measure.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-Cortez (D-N.Y.) voiced her opposition to the bill on a weekend call with other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

She and other progressive freshmen, including Democratic Reps. Ayanna Presley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, were whipping in opposition to the legislation on Monday, according to multiple sources.

But supporters of the bill pushed back hard behind the scenes, arguing that if Democrats sink their own legislation, they’ll end up with the Senate plan which doesn’t contain language to block Trump from using the funds for his border wall or to increase deportations.

Pelosi was set to huddle with members of the CHC and Congressional Progressive Caucus and top appropriators on Monday night to work out differences before the scheduled floor vote on Tuesday.

Among the key differences between each version of the legislation is a provision in the House bill that requires the Trump administration to restore hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The House bill also leaves out $65 million included in the Senate legislation to cover Immigration and Customs Enforcement pay shortfalls and overtime costs, according to a House Democratic summary.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who leads the DHS spending panel in the Senate, said she was working closely with House Democratic leaders to produce something that can become law.

“We’re working well together and I’m hoping we can iron out those differences,” she said. The House has “a different thought, particularly in the ICE area, and I think we’re going to have to dig down on those.”

Capito said she hoped a compromise between Senate Republicans and House Democrats could be struck this week. But reconciling two competing bills by Thursday or Friday may prove too tough a task.

In addition, the House legislation stipulates that care for unaccompanied minors by the Health and Human Services department must include additional safeguards for children, including guaranteed access to legal representation, as well as food, clothing and appropriate activities.

Shocking reports of unsanitary conditions for detained children are trickling out, with HHS Secretary Alex Azar conceding they are “not good conditions for kids to be in.”

And though Trump has made the border spending bill a priority, he’s been more focused publicly on the more difficult task of overhauling asylum law.

Graham, who was in touch with Trump over the weekend, shelved his partisan asylum bill last week as it became clear it had no path to becoming law.

But he and Durbin have big challenges ahead of them as they try to add new immigration judges and encourage asylum seekers to make their requests in Mexico or their home country to avoid putting added stresses on the border.

As point man for congressional Democrats, Durbin is resisting reforms to the definition of asylum and weakening protections for unaccompanied minors. Any bipartisan deal is likely to tick off restrictionist Republicans and outside groups pushing for tougher border policies.

It also could be exceedingly difficult for liberals like Durbin to find common ground with a president who has already thwarted bipartisan immigration action in the Senate.

“I think people finally convinced him what a disaster this would be,” Durbin said of Trump’s proposed mass deportations. “How about kids coming home to an empty house? Cruelty. Open cruelty involving families across this country instead of prioritizing those who may be a danger to us.”

Ted Hesson and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

‘If you don’t get this right, nothing else may matter’

Pete Buttigieg is facing the first serious test of his underdog presidential campaign, with a crisis at home overtaking his mayorship and putting into sharp relief his struggle to gain traction with voters of color.

The South Bend, Ind., mayor has jumped on and off the campaign trail over the last week, trying to balance the needs of a hurting city — where a police officer shot and killed a black man last week — with a fast-paced 2020 schedule building up to the first Democratic primary debates and a critical fundraising deadline.

It may be a make-or-break moment for Buttigieg, his supporters say. What “this crisis does is it gives us a window into the kind of president he would be, for better or worse,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who endorsed Buttigieg this spring and said he thinks the mayor has done well so far. “How does he react in a crisis, [that’s] when the real personality comes up.”

Buttigieg’s schedule over the past week illustrates his delicate balancing act: The mayor canceled a policy roll-out and a fundraising trip to California to stay in South Bend last Sunday, meeting throughout the week with community leaders and attending a vigil for Eric Logan, who was killed. But on Friday and Saturday, he pulled double duty.

He spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Miami before returning to South Bend that night to speak to protesters marching from the South Bend Police Department. Again, on Saturday, Buttigieg flew to South Carolina to speak to the state Democratic Party’s convention — before returning home, again, for a fiery, emotional Sunday town hall in South Bend.

“Candidly, if a senator or a congressman is out campaigning, they’re not as readily missed than a chief executive of a city,” said David Axelrod, who served as President Barack Obama’s chief strategist. “That’s a pressure he feels more acutely than others, but that’s the nature of the race.”

On Monday afternoon, Buttigieg left for Miami, where he’ll appear in a Democratic National Committee presidential debate on Thursday.

Strategists warned that to emerge unscathed from the debates, Buttigieg must “manage the concerns of the residents in his city” who have “real questions” about Buttigieg's handling of police accountability in the past, said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist who has worked on several presidential campaigns.

“If I were him, I would focus on getting this right because if you don’t get this right, nothing else may matter,” Simmons said.

Buttigieg has already faced criticism for his outreach and record with black voters, including his decision to remove the city’s first black police chief in 2011 and the impact his signature housing initiative had on minority neighborhoods. The police shooting of Logan has put new focus on a series of troubling racial incidents involving South Bend officers in recent years, as well as a difficult history of race relations in the city that some residents say Buttigieg has not done enough to address.

Buttigieg has also triggered pushback in the other direction: On Monday, South Bend's Fraternal Order of Police released a statement saying Buttigieg "has in no way unified the community" and charging that his "focus on this incident is solely for his political gain and not the health of the city he serves."

Over the weekend, Buttigieg said he supported an independent federal investigation into Logan’s death. Buttigieg’s campaign also pointed to several initiatives the mayor implemented during his tenure to address concerns around the city’s policy department, including the introduction of body cameras (though the officer who shot Logan was not using his at the time), the adoption of a new duty manual governing police conduct, and increased efforts to diversify officer recruitment. Buttigieg also selected a majority-minority Board of Public Safety, which is charged with disciplinary action for police officers.

“The many well-intentioned steps we have taken, locally and across the country, have not succeeded. We have not done enough,” Buttigieg said to supporters in an email on Monday morning. “It is clear we need to implement bolder and more aggressive actions moving forward.”

The moment also demands Buttigieg, a solutions-oriented former McKinsey consultant, showcase a different side of the whiz-kid persona he brandished this spring while rising up the Democratic presidential polls.

But that’s not something that comes easily for Buttigieg, who is “not a guy who puts his emotions on display,” Axelrod said. “His strength is that he’s cool, calm and collected, but the flip side is, he’s not terribly emotive.”

During Sunday’s town hall, Buttigieg solemnly listened and responded to shouted questions. But when he spoke to the press later that evening, Buttigieg appeared visibly shaken, said that it was “my job to face it” and that he was “sick of these things being talked about in political terms, in theoretical terms” because “it is people’s lives.”

“I know Pete as a compassionate man, so he’s going to have to make sure to work extra hard to show that side of him,” said Steve Benjamin, the African-American mayor of Columbia, S.C., who hasn’t endorsed in the 2020 primary. “Crisis creates opportunities.”

Buttigieg’s weakness with Democratic voters of color “has been an emerging narrative for him,” said Karen Finney, who served as a spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“It highlights something people were already starting to question about him,” Finney said. “All of that raises the stakes for Pete Buttigeg, and how he ultimately handles this.”

The latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found Buttigieg at 7 percent support among Democratic primary voters — but only 1 percent among African Americans.

Buttigieg’s allies and supporters believe that he is doing exactly what he should be doing: listening to constituents in South Bend.

“He is leaving the campaign trail often to make sure that he is doing what he was elected to do in South Bend. He has taken major steps to promote transparency in this process,” said Jennifer Holdsworth, a Democratic strategist who ran Buttigieg’s 2017 campaign for DNC chairman. “His number one goal is to listen and to work to bring everyone in the community together to achieve transparency, fairness, and justice in this investigative process.”

Multiple Democratic strategists and Buttigieg supporters expect the mayor to be confronted about the shooting and his relations with African Americans during the upcoming presidential debate on Thursday, probably by one of his competitors in the primary.

"He’s listening. That’s good. He’s admitted that that is a problem. That’s good," said Rev. Joe Darby, a prominent South Carolina pastor, who noted that Buttigieg could "do a better job of empathizing" with the African-American community in South Bend. "He needs to be proactive about handling this thing," he said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Julián Castro can’t catch a break

When Julián Castro released his plan to eliminate lead exposure recently, he met with a familiar fate: He was first in the field of two dozen Democrats to weigh in on the issue, and then his proposal vanished from the news cycle with barely a ripple.

It’s a problem his campaign has been struggling with since he launched his bid in January. Castro has been first to comment on several politically sensitive matters and first to release substantive plans on any number of issues, but he hasn’t often received the credit — or attention — for taking the political risks and getting out ahead of his rivals.

“Whether it is the situation in Puerto Rico or the crisis in Flint, Castro is bringing attention to overlooked issues and he is doing so with a moral clarity that is forcing the rest of the field to take notice,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. “He may not be seeing a payoff yet in the polls, but he is definitely tugging at the party’s conscience in a way that is shaping the conversation.”

Yet shaping the conversation isn’t the same as being in the conversation. The former HUD secretary remains mired near the bottom of national polls, hovering around 1 percent.

That’s despite being first out of the gate with a comprehensive immigration proposal. His plan, released in April, quickly drew praise from Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and organizations like Latino Victory and the progressive group Indivisible, which urged other campaigns to read Castro’s plan “and take note.”

Castro was also the first 2020 candidate to endorse launching impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. In that instance, the bulk of the attention for being ahead of the pack on impeachment went to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who tweeted a four-part thread concluding with an explicit call for the House to “initiate impeachment proceedings” several hours after Castro did the same.

Her post was retweeted nearly 31,000 times and received 107,000 likes; Castro’s tweet of the CNN segment with his remarks topped out at under 600 retweets and 1,800 likes.

“Secretary Castro says on two major cable shows that he supports Congress opening impeachment proceedings, and another front-runner gets credit for being first two hours later,” Sawyer Hackett, Castro’s national press secretary, tweeted at the time.

Even when he’s made history, Castro has failed to reap the rewards. His team was first to say in January that it would pay a $15 minimum wage in its campaign and support the unionization of its staffers. But Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign was able to claim credit for actually ratifying “the first union contract for a presidential campaign in U.S. history” last month.

The Castro campaign was left to announce the following day that its staffers had formed a union. At least two more campaigns have since followed suit.

Part of the problem is that Castro’s campaign is relatively lean compared to other operations. His communications and digital shop is just a two-person team, which limits the campaign’s ability to get its message out more broadly. And his following on social media is dwarfed by many of his competitors: Castro’s 220,000 Twitter followers is dramatically smaller than his better known rivals, some of whom have at least a million followers.

Colin Strother, a Texas Democratic strategist who once advised Castro, expressed optimism that Castro’s fortunes can only trend upward.

“He’s got a long way to go, absolutely,” Strother said. “But there are a lot of other candidates following his lead. He’s doing things they wish they had done first.”

In recent weeks, Castro has gotten some notice — he won coverage from CNN after Hackett tweeted a video of his boss touring flood tunnels in Las Vegas that provide shelter to hundreds of homeless people. Naturally, Castro was the first candidate to direct attention to the situation.

And he later became the first candidate to propose an expansive police reform plan, which he unveiled at MoveOn’s Big Ideas forum earlier this month.

This time, he got some credit — the liberal group Demand Justice began running ads the following week in Nevada and South Carolina thanking him for proposing to reform and restrict “qualified immunity,” a doctrine that typically shields officers from civil lawsuits for police brutality or misusing lethal force, and calling on other candidates to follow his lead.

“Our campaign continues to build momentum as more and more voters hear from Secretary Castro and see he’s leading the field on major issues,” Hackett said. “We’re heading into the debates in the top ten because Secretary Castro is doing the work and leading with his values — and that progress will only accelerate as more voters learn about his candidacy.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump’s trade wars thrust farmers into desperation loans

President Donald Trump’s trade wars are pushing America’s rural economy toward a full-blown meltdown after years of financial hardship, causing more farmers to default on loans while putting the squeeze on agricultural lenders.

Farmers have seen their net income plummet by half since 2013 and are now expected to hold nearly $427 billion in debt this year — the most since the farm crisis in the 1980s. The default rate for farm loans held by banks hit its highest level in seven years in the first three months of 2019.

In Iowa earlier this month, Trump blamed his predecessors who “did nothing” about falling farm income, while crediting his own administration for “turning it all around.”

Except he hasn't. Instead, his trade battles have accelerated the deterioration of financial conditions. Retaliatory tariffs from major trading partners like China and Mexico have slammed U.S. farm exports and taken a chunk out of commodity prices. And soaring debt levels are pushing more and more farmers and ranchers — already suffering from epic floods — toward insolvency.

Grant Kimberley, a corn and soybean grower in Iowa, sees rising risk as many farmers burn through their equity, sink further into debt or opt to leave the business entirely. Many producers are staying afloat by putting off fixing their tractors and sacrificing other investments in their farm operations, he said.

“How many black swans have we had in the past couple years?” he said. “We’ve had weather, we’ve had African swine fever, we’ve had trade wars. I’d say this is pretty unprecedented. We haven’t seen anything like this since the ’80s.”

The troubles in farm country are a stark contrast to the overall economy, which reached 3 percent growth last year and where banks have been making record profits. Yet if the economy slows this year, as many economists predict, farmers could again be among the hardest hit.

Trump, who won the majority of agricultural states in 2016 and retains wide support there, has given farmers some temporary relief by offering billions of dollars in emergency aid to “make it up” to those battered by the trade wars.

Still, farmers are already falling behind on their loans at a higher rate this year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported last month, straining community banks concentrated in the central U.S. One-fifth of farm borrowers increased the amount of debt they carried over from the year before in the first quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

“Thousands of banks are in what you’d call rural areas,” said Mark Scanlan, senior vice president of agriculture and rural policy at the Independent Community Bankers of America. “When the ag economy starts taking a downturn, it affects them because it’s not only farm loans, it’s also those businesses that sell to farmers” that get hurt.

“We can’t project what the way out of this is going to be,” he added. “We just have to buckle down.”

Lenders that specialize in agriculture have been tightening credit standards as the situation for farmers becomes more dire and relying more on USDA-backed loan guarantees. But bank regulators like the FDIC are still keeping a watchful eye as risks build for institutions with large exposure to agriculture.

“We are monitoring farm banks’ concentration risk, which continues to rise, particularly in counties where economic risk associated with agriculture is high,” said FDIC General Counsel Nick Podsiadly in a June 13 speech. “These institutions include a number of farm banks whose agricultural loans exceed 300 percent of total capital.”

The default rate for ag operating loans held by banks was 1.26 percent during the first quarter of the year, but that’s still well below the rates in the 1980s, which stayed above 3 percent for much of the decade, reaching as high as 8.64 percent during the first quarter of 1986.

Gus Barker, CEO of Iowa-based First Community Bank, said his own institution is addressing the risks from the increasingly precarious financial conditions for his ag clients. He said the FDIC’s list of “problem banks,” which are at risk of failure, “is very, very low right now.”

“That is something to watch going forward,” he added. “If this continues, you’re probably going to start seeing some of those enforcement actions put in place for certain banks. It’s inevitable.”

While trade tensions with Canada and Mexico have eased, Trump’s feud with China — a crucial customer for soybean farmers and other agricultural producers — has escalated. The president hiked tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods in May, and soybean prices promptly sank to their lowest level in a decade.

“We definitely have observed a pretty significant pullback in terms of exports of ag products” to China, said Nathan Kauffman, vice president and Omaha Branch executive at the Kansas City Federal Reserve. He said the numbers of farm bankruptcies seemed to have increased, “albeit modestly,” in the dairy, corn and soybean sectors.

But he also stressed that many ag banks have taken a more conservative approach to lending, keeping in mind the lessons of the 1980s, and so far have continued to perform well. Still, “there are certainly some risks to be mindful of,” he said.

Massive stockpiles of crops that farmers are struggling to sell, due to the trade war and low prices, are partly to blame for the growing number of producers unable to pay their debt on time, said John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“This year being the fifth year in a row of lower commodity prices, a lot of people have eroded their financial positions just to get to this point,” Newton said. “We’ve heard reports of people taking their short-term debt and rolling it into their long-term debt, and that’s certainly not a recipe for success either.”

To counteract the financial fallout from his trade war, Trump has directed USDA to design government aid packages for farmers struck hardest by retaliatory tariffs. A new $16 billion program announced in May comes on top of roughly $11 billion in trade relief that USDA has been doling out to farmers since September.

That has helped farmers offset their financial losses, allowing more producers to break even or eke out a profit. But most in the industry say the ad hoc aid is just a temporary bandage to stem the bleeding.

Trade policy is “another variable you can’t control, just like the weather,” said Jeff Gruetzmacher, executive vice president at Wisconsin-based Royal Bank.

Farmers, ranchers and rural communities battered by extreme weather over the last year are also counting on new emergency funding that Trump signed into law this month. USDA is in the process of implementing the aid programs, including more than $3 billion to offset crop and livestock losses.

Agricultural forecasters are warily monitoring farmland values, which have remained relatively steady as other economic conditions have worsened. Industry and government analysts have warned that values are likely to trend lower in 2019, as growing financial stress could lead more farmers to sell their land and thus drive down prices.

Newton said he has heard reports that many more farms are on the market in the Midwest than at this point last year. “If those land values start to decrease, the farmer’s equity position weakens in a hurry: Your debt levels are still record-high, and your asset values are going down,” he said.

Equally worrisome for some farm economists is the prospect of a slowdown in the broader U.S. economy. As commodity prices have fallen and farming has become less profitable, many producers are dependent on non-farm income to stay afloat and continue to service their debt.

Kimberley, the Iowa farmer, said the financial headwinds converging on agriculture have created the “most unpredictable, uncertain period of time” for farmers since the 1980s crisis.

“Farming always has ups and downs,” he said. “But I think this one’s off the charts."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

House's pay raise in doubt as GOP wavers

The bipartisan attempt to raise salaries for members of the House of Representatives is in doubt as GOP leaders are finding little support for what would be a difficult political vote, according to Republican sources.

House Democratic leaders have been preparing to move ahead with the move this week, but only if they received GOP support.

“This ought to be done in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told POLITICO on Monday night about the prospects of the proposal. “We’re working on it.”

House GOP leaders have begun counting votes in their caucus, but appeared short of the necessary support as of Monday night. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said last Thursday that he would back the pay raise, but he has not yet formally signed onto the idea — which Senate GOP leaders have already ruled out.

Top Democrats, led by Hoyer, were still attempting to pass legislation with the pay bump before leaving town this Thursday for a weeklong recess, despite backlash from some in their own caucus. Their own whip count among members this weekend showed largely positive support, according to multiple sources.

The 11th hour attempt to clear the bill this week comes after Democratic leaders abruptly pulled it from the floor earlier this month amid a protest from some of their own rank-and-file.

The bill — which funds the entire legislative branch — would pave the way for Congress’ first cost-of-living increase in a decade.

But Democrats, including more than a dozen of the House’s most vulnerable freshmen, have sought to halt the move, which they say is tone-deaf. Several have pointed out that the House might vote to raise its own pay before approving a bill to raise the federal minimum wage for the nation’s lowest-income workers.

Two weeks ago, Democrats retreated from a planned vote on the bill, which is generally the least controversial of all government funding bills. Since then, Hoyer has continued to lead the push to reinstate the members’ pay increase, which GOP leaders have blocked since 2009.

The Maryland Democrat has argued for decades that keeping lawmakers’ pay in line with inflation helps recruit and retain diverse candidates.

The provision would also allow a pay increase for the House’s top staffers, whose pay cannot, under law, exceed lawmakers’ salaries.

Approving the funding measure would require quick work on the floor — Democrats are already attempting to pass two separate appropriations bills on the floor this week, including a contentious emergency spending package for the border.

And the House cannot hold late votes on Wednesday because members plan to attend the annual congressional baseball game.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Could This Man Save Turkey?

After a decade of repressive rule, Turks are beginning to believe President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is vulnerable. The Turkish economy is in bad shape, his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) candidates recently lost in elections to lead major metropolitan areas, including a blowout in Istanbul’s mayoral race on Sunday. Meanwhile, a rival has emerged: Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan’s former foreign minister and prime minister—and once his hand-picked successor—caused a stir this spring by assailing his former patron’s consolidation of power and announcing that he is planning to launch a new party of his own.

Could Davutoglu finally loosen the AKP’s grip and return Turkey to a path of democratic reform? Turkish media outlets are raising the question. Davutoglu certainly seems to positioning himself as a reformist alternative to Erdogan, or he would not have recently attacked the AKP as “a narrow and self-seeking group who are slaves to their ambitions.” But when it comes to him reforming the country, we are here to say: Don’t count on it. Even if Davutoglu could garner a mass following, he is hardly the reformer he makes himself out to be.

While Davutoglu was leading the foreign ministry, from 2009-2014, the West grew fascinated with Turkey as a “model” for the surrounding region and a potential leader in the Muslim world. But Davutoglu used his power to sideline career diplomats and to politicize the ministry. As prime minister, serving from 2014-2016, Davutoglu willingly carried out a crackdown on dissenters that Erdogan directed.

More recently, we have experienced Davutoglu’s brand of punitive politics first-hand.

The two of us are, respectively, the executive director and a board member of the Institute for Turkish Studies. The institute is little-known to the wider public, but it has seeded the study of Turkish history, politics, economics and culture in the United States for almost four decades. Once limited to the rarefied campuses of Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, Turkish studies is now offered at colleges and universities in 45 states and Washington, D.C., thanks largely to funding from the institute. From its base at Georgetown University, ITS since the 1980s has supported graduate students writing dissertations, professors researching books and articles, and libraries working to expand their holdings.

The financial resources for ITS came from a trust the Turkish government established in 1982. For many years, the authorities in Ankara did not directly interfere with the institute’s board of governors—made up of almost solely of American academics—its programs or its grant-making. On the few occasions that a Turkish ambassador offered suggestions that aligned with Ankara’s policies, the board guarded its independence.

That changed in 2015. According to sources at the Turkish embassy in Washington and the foreign ministry in Ankara who spoke to one of us, Davutoglu as prime minister terminated the trust, setting the organization on an excruciating five-year downward spiral. (We have chosen not to name these sources to protect them from potential retaliation.) Lacking enough donors to make up for the lost funding, the institute will close its doors in fall 2020.

According to these sources, Davutoglu saw it as unacceptable that ITS was acting independently of Ankara. His decision, which was conveyed to the Institute’s leadership in the fall of 2015, also came after the board had rejected a request from the Turkish ambassador to consider an underqualified AKP supporter for the ITS board. (The Turkish embassy in Washington did not respond to our request for comment about Davutoglu’s role in the institute’s closure.) Meanwhile, over the past decade, Ankara has sought to exert more influence on Turkey-related organizations in Washington, including setting up think tanks and NGOs that faithfully offer the AKP’s view of the world under the guise of non-partisan scholarship and cultural programming.

If it sounds like we have an axe to grind, we do. One of us has lost our job, and Turkish studies—a subject to which we have devoted much of our professional lives—has suffered a terrible blow in the United States. Without the institute’s even modest resources—over 37 years, it spent $3.5 million—it will be difficult to train future generations of Turkey experts. But setting aside our personal feelings, the closure of the Institute is just one in way in which Davutoglu is not the big-thinking, reformist statesman he projects himself to be.

The legend of Ahmet Davutoglu was built on his 2001 book, Strategic Depth. In its 584 pages, Davutoglu argued that Turkey’s location primed it to be a regional and global power. Other Turkish Islamists had argued that Turkey should be a leader of other Muslim countries; Davutoglu believed Turkey should lead Islamist groups across the Middle East, including Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. The emphasis on Islamism was off-putting to many of Turkey’s established diplomats, who supported the Western orientation that made Turkey a NATO partner and (they hoped) would win the country a place in the European Union. But as Davutoglu rose from obscure academic to foreign policy mandarin, journalists and analysts from both Turkey and the West often cited Strategic Depth.

Once in government, Davutoglu advanced his Islamist agenda by hiring like-minded individuals to fill the foreign ministry’s ranks. In most cases, the newly appointed diplomats lacked the knowledge and expertise of the career diplomats, who were increasingly marginalized, according to our conversations with Turkish diplomats. This ideological cronyism crippled Turkey’s diplomatic corps. At the foreign ministry and Turkey’s missions abroad, Davutoglu loyalists sold a grand strategy placing Ankara at the center of the Muslim world that few, if any, in the Middle East were buying. A number of his followers departed the ministry with Davutoglu in 2014, but a once-professional cadre of respected diplomats nonetheless has been thoroughly politicized, undermining the ministry’s prestige and capacity.

After five years as Turkey’s top diplomat, Davutoglu became prime minister in 2014, when Erdogan became president. His primary accomplishment in two years was overseeing a crackdown in response to revelations of high-level government corruption. It is true that Erdogan usurped much of the executive powers that were vested in the prime ministry, but Davutoglu willingly went along with jailing journalists, appropriating private businesses, shutting down academics and dismissing bureaucrats from their positions. His government also empowered “criminal courts of peace”—packed with sympathetic judges—to prosecute the police officers and prosecutors responsible for investigations into the alleged corruption, by four government ministers. Davutoglu justified these actions by claiming that the revelations of malfeasance amounted to a “coup attempt” by followers of the Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Davutoglu and Erdogan fell out in 2016—not over ideas or principles, but over power. Davutoglu grew disenchanted with being Erdogan’s errand boy; as the New York Times reported, Erdogan in turn could not tolerate the upstart prime minister, who sought his own audience with President Barack Obama and took credit for a deal with the EU in which Turkey would be paid billions of dollars to keep Syrian refugees. In May of that year, Davutoglu resigned. When he had become prime minister, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Turkey the world’s 10th-leading jailer of journalists. When Davutoglu left office, it was ranked first. Much of this authoritarian slide is rightly attributed to Erdogan, but Davutoglu willingly participated in and publicly justified this repression.

Until this spring, Davutoglu has mostly refrained from directly criticizing the government. But after the AKP’s candidate lost Istanbul’s mayoral election in March, Erdogan clumsily forced Turkey’s Supreme Election Council to void the votes of millions of Istanbulis on spurious claims of electoral irregularity, forcing Sunday’s rerun. In response, Davutoglu accused Erdogan’s advisers in the AKP of trying to “rule like a parallel structure.”

Even before the controversy over Istanbul mayoralty, there were rumors in Turkey that Davutoglu would form a new party to challenge Erdogan and the AKP. He has been courting support across the country, especially among the AKP’s base of pious Turks and Kurds, carrying the message that democracy is based on free and fair elections. Apparently this was such a breath of fresh air in Turkey’s repressive and tawdry political arena that, in an article about divisions within the AKP, the New York Times described the dour and bookish Davutoglu as “charismatic.”

The way in which Erdogan and the AKP have conducted themselves over the past decade tends to make the other options look good by comparison. In his tweets and statements about the Istanbul elections, Davutoglu sounds positively enlightened compared with the nastiness and thuggery of Turkish officials and their supporters. But no one should fall for this snake oil. The last thing Turkey needs is for Davutoglu to be its next great political strongman.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Democrats demand answers from USDA on lack of climate science promotion

Several Democrats criticized Monday the Trump administration after POLITICO reported the Agriculture Department has largely stopped promoting its own climate science.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who's also running for president, sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressing "deep concern and alarm" over the report. The Minnesota Democrat asked the department to explain its justification for not publicizing certain studies and to immediately release "any [Agricultural Research Service] study related to climate science that was ignored, downplayed, or its findings held back."

"When federally-funded scientific research is curtailed or withheld because of its attention to the consequences of climate change, farmers are cut out of participating in climate solutions and, at worst, unable to effectively mitigate and adapt their operations and infrastructure to its effects," she wrote.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) tweeted the story, calling it "outrageous."

"Climate change is an urgent threat to our farmers," she said. "The Administration should not be burying vital research that will help us understand and combat the effects of climate change."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also took to Twitter to criticize the department. The Vermont Democrat said USDA scientists lead the world in studying the effects of climate change.

"While our farmers fight against #ClimateChange, #USDA is shamefully fighting against #science," he wrote.

In addition to Klobuchar, two other 2020 contenders logged their disapproval. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) tweeted about the story twice today and issued a statement.

"Our farmers and ranchers know as well as anyone the devastating effects of climate change, because they're living with the realities of droughts in places like Colorado and floods in places like Iowa," he said.

Andrew Yang, a tech entrepreneur, tweeted the story soon after it posted Sunday evening: "Suppressing scientific research and findings is the opposite of what we should be doing."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

U.S. considers requiring that telecom firms build equipment outside China

The Trump administration is debating whether to require telecommunications equipment makers to move their design and assembly operations out of China, according to two people familiar with the talks.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May authorizing new measures to protect the security of the U.S. telecom supply chain, and the potential relocation requirement has surfaced as one way to implement his directive, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning.

The discussions between DHS, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration primarily concern forthcoming 5G infrastructure and have focused on hardware such as routers and network switches rather than software, which is harder to track.

Trump’s directive is a response to growing concerns about Chinese telecom firms such as Huawei. U.S. officials worry that Beijing could use the company as a vehicle to steal or sabotage data flowing across its American customers’ networks. That concern has grown as the world moves toward 5G, which will link sensitive government and corporate systems and power a new era of internet-connected equipment such as medical devices and self-driving cars.

The Commerce Department has until Oct. 12 to issue rules that will specify which telecom equipment is banned from the U.S., and Huawei is likely to make that list. But the new discussions suggest that the rules could also restrict firms typically seen as safe alternatives, which have manufacturing operations in China.

The two largest firms after Huawei are Ericsson and Nokia. According to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the discussions, Chinese facilities account for 45 percent of Ericsson’s manufacturing space and 10 percent of Nokia’s manufacturing space.

An Ericsson spokesperson declined to comment on talks with the administration. “We actively mitigate different types of potential risks related to our supply chain, both in our own manufacturing and in sourcing, to avoid being dependent on one supply site or vendor,” the spokesperson said. Nokia did not respond to a request for comment.

The White House declined to comment on interagency planning.

“The fourth industrial revolution will be built on the telecommunications networks being constructed today,” a senior administration official said. “It is critical that those networks be high-trust, and the President is committed to ensuring that they are safe and reliable.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

How Bernie Sanders would cancel all student loan debt

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday released a sweeping higher education plan that includes canceling all of the nearly $1.6 trillion of existing student loan debt that’s owed by roughly 45 million Americans.

Sanders announced his legislation alongside progressive lawmakers, including Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who are filing a companion bill to Sanders’ proposal in the House. The legislation was pitched as a “bailout” for millennials and the working class, funded by Wall Street.

Who would qualify?

Everyone who owes a student loan would be eligible, regardless of their income or the type of loan they have. That includes parents who took out loans to pay for their children’s education.

How would it work?

Sanders’ bill would automatically cancel student loans that were made, insured or guaranteed by the federal government. The process is fairly straightforward: the secretary of education would have six months to forgive the outstanding balances on all federal student loans as of the day the bill is signed into law.

Private student loans are more complicated. The legislation gives the secretary of education temporary authority to purchase student loans that are held by banks or other private lenders. The government would pay the unpaid principal, accrued unpaid interest and any late charges owed to a private student lender—and then it would forgive the loan. Borrowers would have to request the loan forgiveness through an application to the Education Department within six months of the bill becoming law.

In both cases, borrowers would not have to pay federal income taxes on the amount of loan forgiveness they receive.

How much would it cost?

The overall higher education plan, including the debt cancellation, would cost $2.2 trillion. Sanders would pay for it by imposing a new tax on Wall Street transactions. His campaign said the tax would generate more than $2.4 trillion over the next decade.

“If we could bail out Wall Street, we sure as hell can reduce student debt in this country,” Sanders said on Sunday during a campaign event at Clinton College in Rock Hill, S.C.

What happens after the one-time debt cancellation?

Sanders’ legislation pairs the sweeping loan forgiveness proposal with tuition-free public college, which the Vermont independent first made popular during the 2016 presidential campaign. The legislation aims to eliminate tuition at public colleges for all students — and it provides new funding for low-income students to help pay living expenses and tuition at some private institutions that serve large numbers of minority students.

But many students—such as those attending graduate school or private undergraduate colleges—will still need to borrow money to finance their education. Those students, or their parents, would borrow money from the federal government at a much lower cost under Sanders’ plan. His legislation caps the interest rate on all types of new federal student loans at 1.88 percent. The current rate on new federal student loans ranges from about 4.5 percent to about 7 percent, depending on the type of loan.

What have other Democrats proposed?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the first out of the gate with a sweeping student loan forgiveness plan. But unlike Sanders’ plan, Warren’s proposal seeks to limit loan forgiveness for wealthier student loan borrowers. It would forgive $50,000 of debt for borrowers earning less than $100,000, with proportionally less debt relief for those earning up to $250,000 and no benefit for borrowers beyond that income level.

Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and housing secretary under President Barack Obama, has a smaller student loan forgiveness plan that seeks to target loan forgiveness for lower-income borrowers.

Who opposes student loan debt cancellation?

Republicans have sharply criticized the loan forgiveness plans as too expensive and unfair to former students who already repaid their debts. But some more moderate Democratic candidates, such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have also said that sweeping loan forgiveness goes too far because it doesn’t properly target benefits toward high-need groups, such as low-income families or those working in public service.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

The most comprehensive policy guide you’ll find on the 2020 presidential race

The Democratic candidates running to take on President Trump in 2020 are creating one of the most robust policy discussions seen in a modern presidential race.

With that in mind, we built the most comprehensive policy guide you’ll find on the 2020 presidential race. Dozens of our journalists are tracking 50 policy issues that are important to primary voters.

Here’s a look at where the candidates stand on three key issues:


Health care is the No. 1 priority for Democratic voters, according to a recent poll we did with Morning Consult. Let’s look at abortion as an example.

• Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren have the most detailed positions on women's health so far. They want to expand federal funds for abortion and prevent states from restricting access to them.

• Tim Ryan says it’s up to the woman, but he was anti-abortion until 2015.

• Amy Klobuchar said some limits during the third trimester are important (except when it might be harmful to the woman’s health).

Income inequality

22% of Democratic voters told us the economy is their top priority. Let's look, for example, at some of the different proposals to tackle income inequality:

• Andrew Yang is for a Universal Basic Income. Every citizen would get regular payments from the government, no strings attached.

• Cory Booker proposed “opportunity accounts.” That’s $1,000 for every American child, and the government would pay into the accounts throughout the kid’s life.

• Kamala Harris wants to give a refundable tax credit of up to $6,000 a year to families that earn less than $100,000 annually.

Gun control

9% of Democratic voters we talked to told us their top priorities are social issues like gun control and race relations.

While guns have been a part of the political debate for decades, gun control advocates are in position to make their greatest gains yet if a Democrat takes the White House in 2020.

• Bernie Sanders is one of 10 candidates calling for universal background checks, which most Americans support.

• John Delaney supports banning assault weapons. Specifically, he wants to ban “semiautomatic weapons that have military-style features, including the AR-15,” as well as a ban on “high-capacity magazines” and “all accessories designed to increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic weapon, including bump stocks and trigger cranks.”

• Eric Swalwell is the only candidate who says he wants to create a national firearm registry. Only a handful of states require that gun owners register some or all of their firearms, and no federal weapons registry exists.

Head to politico.com/2020issues to explore where the candidates stand on dozens of other key issues shaping the 2020 presidential race.

Drug Prices | Climate Change | Marijuana | The Wall | Gun Control | Minimum Wage | Death Penalty | Social Media | Trade | Free College | Wealth Taxes | DACA | ... and More

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Senate set to shelve Iran debate

Senate Democrats will not be granted a vote on an amendment that would require congressional approval for any military intervention in Iran, according to Sen. John Cornyn.

Cornyn’s remarks come amid a push from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to attach the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass Pentagon policy bill that the Senate will take up this week. Democrats argue that the amendment is necessary to prevent the United States from getting into another costly war in the Middle East without congressional approval.

“I don’t think they’re going to get that vote, so they’re going to have to decide whether to block NDAA or let the bill go forward,” the Texas Republican said Monday.

Senate Democrats hinted last week that they’d consider using a vote on the amendment as leverage, amid escalating tensions with Tehran. Democrats could theoretically block the NDAA from moving forward given the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end debate.

The amendment, from Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Tim Kaine of Virginia, has support from Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah. It's the latest attempt to restrict President Donald Trump's executive authority when it comes to U.S. foreign policy.

Schumer reiterated his calls for a vote on the Iran amendment on the floor Monday. He added there was "no rush" to completing the NDAA given that several Democratic senators would be missing votes because of the presidential debates later this week.

"We have passed it very frequently later in the year with no harmful consequences to our military," he said. "We should have the vote on the Udall amendment which is an urgency before we bumble into war. And it should occur when every senator is able to cast their vote."

Setting up an amendment vote typically requires consent from all 100 senators — an objection from a single senator could derail the process and there's pent-up demand from individual senators to have their amendments considered.

The Senate will vote on beginning debate on the defense bill Monday evening.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Democrats mimic 2018 House takeover strategy in bid to capture Senate

Senate Democrats want you to forget about Stacey Abrams, Steve Bullock and Beto O’Rourke.

Instead, they’re hoping voters can get pumped about Theresa Greenfield, Cal Cunningham and Sara Gideon.

After their highest-profile recruits passed on Senate campaigns, Democrats are relying on a collection of relatively unknown and untested candidates to retake the Senate in 2020 — a challenging task given a map tilted toward Republican territory. But what the recruits lack in name ID, party leaders say, they compensate for with their profiles: Several are women and military veterans, boasting the type of resumes that Democrats rode to the House majority last year.

“These are sort of on the 2018 House model,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said in an interview of recently announced candidates. “Most of them are not traditional, old-time politicians. They are new, fresh-faced.”

Democrats need to net three Senate seats to win control of the chamber — four if they fail to win back the White House. But they’re competing in only two states that President Donald Trump lost in 2016, while also defending a seat in deep-red Alabama that will be difficult to win back unless controversial Republican Roy Moore wins the nomination again.

“They’re struggling for direction and a message,” said Sen. Todd Young, the NRSC chairman.

But Democrats argue that with Trump’s approval underwater in battleground states like Colorado, Arizona and Iowa, and a GOP primary brewing in North Carolina, they’re in position to take advantage of a potentially favorable environment.

Democrats are touting this as a fresh approach for 2020. For years they’ve relied on high-profile candidates with previous statewide victories and built-in fundraising networks — only to watch many of them blow winnable races.

Yet their latest recruiting strategy is as much out of necessity as by design. The party has been spurned by a number of coveted, would-be candidates, as it seeks to dislodge a Republican Senate that’s stymied House Democrats’ legislative agenda and installed a raft of Trump’s judicial picks.

“We're at the beginning stages of these races,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “We have until the end of this year to get folks into these Senate races and be formidable and take on these Republican incumbents who are unfavorable in their states. I've never had a concern about it.”

Republicans scoff at the Democratic optimism. They argue Democrats’ early recruiting misses forced them to back little-known candidates who will face competitive primaries that drain resources and damage their eventual nominees.

“Democrats have really struggled to find first-tier challengers in virtually all of these Senate races. The lone exception is Arizona," said Senate Leadership Fund president Steven Law, referring to former astronaut Mark Kelly, who is challenging appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally. SLF is aligned with GOP leaders.

Democrats did miss on several high-profile recruits, including Abrams in Georgia and a trio of presidential candidates in Texas (O’Rourke), Colorado (John Hickenlooper) and Montana (Bullock). But they largely moved on from those potential candidates early in the cycle.

Democrats are most excited about Greenfield, who launched her campaign in Iowa this month and quickly earned endorsements from the DSCC and EMILY’s List, along with a host of Iowa Democrats. Greenfield ran for the House in 2018 but failed to make the ballot after her campaign manager, who hadn’t worked for Greenfield before, admitted to forging signatures. But Democrats are impressed by her retail political skills and say her background as a businesswoman who grew up on a family farm positions her well in the state.

In North Carolina, national Democrats are also closely watching Cunningham, an Army veteran and former state senator who recently switched to the Senate race after previously launching a bid for lieutenant governor. Party leaders haven’t backed him, but he did earn the endorsement of former Sen. Kay Hagan and the advocacy group VoteVets.

In Maine, state House Speaker Sara Gideon officially launched her campaign against Collins on Monday, several days after finishing her state legislative session. Gideon is likely to receive support from national Democrats — and in her launch video, she criticized Collins for voting for the 2017 tax reform bill and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Collins dismissed Gideon in an interview, saying she doesn’t “really know much about her” but said she assumes her opponent will be well-financed.

But in all three cases, Democrats face primaries: Three other candidates are running in North Carolina; two others are running in Iowa; and another candidate entered the race in Maine earlier this month ahead of Gideon’s official launch.

Democrats face other potential primaries in states where they’ve landed recruits. In Texas, veteran MJ Hegar is running against Sen. John Cornyn — but two other potential candidates are still weighing bids: Amanda Edwards, a Houston city council member, and state Sen. Royce West, who has met with Schumer and the DSCC. In Colorado, a large and still-growing field of candidates has left the party without a clear frontrunner. They could also face a primary in Georgia, where Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, is running but has not yet won over national Democrats. Sarah Riggs Amico, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, is considering a bid and has begun lining up potential strategists for a campaign.

“There are times when primaries can be destructive,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I). “But there are also times when the primary gives a candidate, particularly a less well-known candidate, a chance to really get out there and show their stuff. And it can be an accelerator."

Democrats have traditionally aimed to avoid messy Senate primaries but are taking their chances this time around. Cortez Masto said there was no template for endorsements, and in some cases they would step in and in others they would wait for candidates to emerge.

“The most important part of a good candidate is fire in the belly,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a former DSCC chairman, who said he recently spoke with Greenfield and Jaime Harrison, who is running in South Carolina. “They appear to me to be highly motivated to run hard races.”

Democrats smell blood broadly across the map, arguing that Trump’s poor poll numbers in several Senate battlegrounds gives them an opportunity to keep states in play where they’re not necessarily expected to be competitive.

“The Trump numbers suggest two things to us: his vulnerability and a massive historic turnout,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic whip.

Iowa exemplifies that confidence. Trump won it easily in 2016, but the state split last year, with Democrats flipping two battleground House seats while Republicans narrowly retained the governorship. Democrats think Trump’s standing has eroded in the state — Morning Consult’s latest tracking poll in the state shows Trump with a 42 percent approval rating, compared to 54 percent disapproval.

“The atmospherics in Iowa have really shifted against the Republican Party,” state Democratic state chairman Troy Price. “The president's fortunes in the state are not in a good spot.”

Still, Sen. Joni Ernst consistently polls ahead of Trump in the state, and Republicans are confident she will be well-positioned regardless of the political environment. She kicked off her campaign last weekend with her annual “Roast and Ride” event, with former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley helping to draw a strong turnout.

In Texas, where Democrats hope to compete at all levels after O’Rourke’s narrow loss last year, Sen. John Cornyn is running as if he’s expecting his toughest race yet. He said he expects between 10 and 11 million votes in the state, which would represent massive increases from both 2016 and 2018.

“It’s going to be house-to-house, hand-to-hand combat,” Cornyn said. “My goal is to earn every vote the president gets, but to add to that.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Alex Azar both defends and pans conditions for migrant children at detention centers

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar both defended the administration's treatment of migrant children at detention centers and lamented the state of the facilities, saying in a Fox News interview on Monday that the centers were "not good conditions for kids to be in."

President Donald Trump and his aides have been on the defensive after numerous reports detailed unsanitary and overcrowded conditions at the detention facilities. Over the weekend, administration officials mostly blamed Democrats, accusing them of holding up a $4.6 billion emergency spending bill that would include $2.88 billion for unaccompanied minors.

On Monday, Azar swung between calling the conditions unacceptable to claiming the children are in a “safe, secure environment.”

“It was built for single adults coming across back in the '80s, '90s, and 2000s,” Azar said, asserting the immigration detention system was not designed for modern patterns. "It is overwhelmed — these are not good conditions for kids to be in.”

Azar then called for a funding bill to be passed soon, and said that otherwise, the detention centers along the southern border will run out of money in July.

Fox News's Harris Faulkner then asked Azar to comment on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s viral comments from last week in which she compared migrant detention centers to "concentration camps," which led to Azar promoting the merits of the centers.

“They have three square meals a day. They get two snacks. They are getting education services. They get recreation. We get funding from Congress. We are paying $220 to $1,200 a day per kid. They are in a good state, and a healthy environment,” the secretary responded.

Azar then told Faulkner that the most productive development would be getting “funding so that they can actually enhance the facility that we have.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

A voter’s guide to health care: Here’s where the 2020 Democrats stand

Welcome to the policy primary. The 23 Democratic candidates running to take on President Donald Trump in 2020 are creating the most robust policy discussion of any modern presidential race.

Because of that, we built our Issues Tracker: A searchable database of what the candidates think about 50 key issues (and counting) shaping the presidential race.

Of all the issues, Democratic voters think health care is the most important, according to a June POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. Here’s where the candidates stand on key health care issues we’re tracking:

Issue No. 1: Should the government provide everyone with free health insurance?

The idea of shifting Americans into a single government-run health insurance plan with generous benefits has rocketed from the leftist fringes to the political mainstream in just a few years. It now has the support of nearly half the Democratic presidential field and has become a litmus test for many progressive voters.

Some candidates who have embraced ‘Medicare for All’ have also floated alternative, more limited plans. Candidates who oppose the program, as well as some who support it in theory, are uncomfortable with its large price tag or the idea of forcing hundreds of millions of people off their private insurance.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who popularized Medicare for All during his 2016 campaign, has taken an “all-or-nothing” stance — arguing that incremental proposals that would preserve a large role for private insurance are unacceptable. Sanders and other Medicare for All hard-liners say it’s the only way to address deeper problems in the health care system, from medical bankruptcies to high maternal mortality rates, especially among poor and minority women.

While other candidates have proposed plans requiring patients to shoulder some of the cost of their care, Sanders’ legislation would fully cover every service and procedure, including dental, vision, long-term care and abortion, at no charge to patients.

About half of the candidates in the large Democratic field have come out against Medicare for All. Their criticisms have focused on its potential cost (pegged at more than $30 trillion over a decade by outside groups) and the disruption to patients and the health care system resulting from forcing everyone into a single government-run plan.

Many of these candidates say they favor an alternative approach that lets people keep their private insurance while making a government plan available to anyone who prefers it. The competition from the cheaper public plan, they argue, would drive down insurance costs in the private market as well. Others argue for taking things slower and prioritizing solutions for those currently facing the highest health costs, including older Americans not yet eligible for Medicare and middle-income people just over the threshold for receiving Obamacare subsidies in the individual market.

Issue No. 2: Should the government limit access to abortion at all?

Abortion has been one of the most contentious issues in the U.S. since the Supreme Court upheld abortion rights in Roe v. Wade in 1973. Whoever wins the White House could significantly shape when and under what circumstances women can get the procedure.

Recognizing that abortion rights could be vulnerable because of the Supreme Court's ideological shift to the right under Trump, states are moving quickly. Some are passing laws aimed at provoking a legal challenge to Roe. Others are codifying protections so that abortion remains legal in these states even if Roe is overturned. As a result, Democrats are eager to show voters, particularly women voters, that they support Roe.

But while the Democrats are united on that principle, some candidates differ on how involved the government should be in setting limits.

Several Democrats — including multiple candidates who identify as Catholic — have not offered clear stances about whether the government should be allowed to set limits for when women can obtain an abortion, even as they say they support Roe.

For example, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper would only say: "I think that the Supreme Court has already drawn that line," when asked by NBC's Chuck Todd whether the government should set limits. John Delaney, who is Catholic, has also dodged when pressed about his views on abortions late in pregnancy.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren have so far offered the most detailed platforms on women's health, saying they would push Congress to repeal restrictions on when federal funds can pay for abortion, and prevent states from passing laws that restrict access.

However, some Democrats haven't always held this position. For example, Rep. Tim Ryan was anti-abortion until 2015.

Democrats in this category want certain limits regarding abortions later in pregnancy. That's in line with the Roe v. Wade decision, which says states can regulate abortions after viability but should allow them if the life or health of the woman is at risk.

During a Fox News town hall, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said "there are limits there in the third trimester that are very important — about — except for the health of the woman.” Marianne Williamson also suggested in a Washington Post story that a woman obtaining a later abortion for her health might be too expansive a definition. "Mental health can be so broadly defined," she said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's position on abortion has essentially spanned the entire spectrum. In the 1980s, Biden, a Catholic, supported a constitutional amendment that would have let states reverse Roe, and he was previously quoted saying the decision "went too far" (although he's since changed his position). While in the Senate, he voted to ban a certain late-term abortion procedure as recently as 2003. And a video from 2006 recently emerged in which he said: "I'm a little bit of an odd man out in my party." He has not directly disavowed casting those votes.

Head to our Issues Tracker to explore where the candidates stand on more than 50 other key issues shaping the 2020 presidential race.

Drug Prices | Climate Change | Marijuana | The Wall | Gun Control | Minimum Wage | Death Penalty | Social Media | Trade | Free College | Wealth Taxes | DACA | ... and More

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Pelosi: Trump's delayed ICE raids run counter to 'civilized human behavior'

NEW YORK — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Monday blasted President Donald Trump’s plan to conduct sweeping deportation raids against thousands of undocumented immigrants over the weekend after he postponed the operation in an attempt to squeeze congressional Democrats into changing asylum laws.

“When I saw that the president was going to have these raids — I mean, it was so appalling,” Pelosi said at an event at the Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, with Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.). “It’s outside the circle of civilized human behavior to just be kicking down doors, splitting up families.”

After having touted the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, which were expected to hit several major cities across the country, including New York City, Trump announced Saturday that he would delay them for two weeks.

Pelosi said she appealed to Trump as a mother.

“You’re scaring the children of America, not just in those families but their neighbors and their communities. You’re scaring the children,” she said she told him.

If the raids do go forward, Pelosi encouraged immigrants to know their rights to refuse entry to ICE officers without a search warrant from a judge, which is different from a deportation warrant.

“Unless they have a warrant, they have no business coming into your house to search,” she said. “This is not America. This is not what we do here. We do not break up families because of a status violation.”

She also appealed to religious groups that have supported Trump to convince him to change his mind.

“This sent a tremor of fear across the country. And on a Sunday — I mean they said to me, on a Sunday when people of faith are going to church, they don’t know what they are going to be going home to,” she told reporters after the forum.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Flynn attorney seeks three-month delay before sentencing

Michael Flynn’s new attorney said Monday she needs at least another 90 days to get up to speed on the former Trump national security adviser’s case before moving to set a sentencing date.

The lawyer, Sidney Powell, said she needed the extra time to work her way through three hard drives delivered from Flynn’s former lawyers. “And there’s still more to come,” she told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan.

Sullivan initially made the suggestion to further delay sentencing in the case, which stems from Flynn’s guilty plea for lying to the FBI about contacts with a top Russian official.

The exchange came during a Monday morning hearing where Sullivan was considering The Washington Post’s request to remove several redactions from public documents tied to the Flynn case.

Powell, an outspoken critic of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, took over earlier this month as Flynn’s lead lawyer. The move prompted speculation Flynn is making a play for a pardon from President Donald Trump, who hailed Powell on Twitter as a “GREAT LAWYER” after the hire. Flynn has not given any reason for firing his previous attorneys.

Flynn is set to appear in Sullivan’s Washington, D.C., courtroom later Monday for his first appearance since a contentious December hearing, when the judge repeatedly criticized the former Trump aide for his role in the Russia saga, telling him at one point, “Arguably, you sold your country out.”

Sullivan during that hearing was expected to hand down Flynn’s sentence, but at the last minute he instead suggested the defendant take more time to fulfill his cooperation obligations to the government.

Since then, attorneys for Flynn and the federal government have three times requested delays in sentencing, including one made earlier this month for an additional 60 days.

Flynn is expected to testify in the government’s upcoming trial against his former business partner, Bijan Rafiekian, which is set to start on July 15. Rafiekian was indicted last December for acting as an unregistered agent for Turkey in the U.S. and a related conspiracy charge.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine