By Janell Ross
It’s an early contender for the most repeated political factoid of 2019: The 116th Congress is the most diverse in U.S. history. But the physical presence of people of color in Congress, which is one form of representation, does not automatically equal robust political advocacy. That could wind up disappointing some of the voters who sent these new members to Washington.
The kind of progressive, some might even say radical, changes that have been promised by some of this year’s new representatives — universal health care, the repeal of a tax system that largely benefits the wealthy, and the demolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — are far from guaranteed. So, beyond the remarkable images of young women of color joining a chamber that remains largely white and male, and the affirmational stories of American possibility, hard questions remain about whether a more diverse Congress will deliver something new.
“Sure, it is something that the country should applaud itself for,” said Leonard Moore, a professor of American history at the University of Texas at Austin, who wrote a book about Carl Stokes of Cleveland, who in 1967 became the first black man elected mayor of a major U.S. city.
“But, we are around the 50-year mark of black political representation,” Moore continued. “So I would have to ask: Should we still simply be celebrating the number of black people and Latinos who get into Congress? The issue, or the No. 1 issue, to me, is: Are our issues being addressed?”
Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., is determined to try. She grew up in a violent housing project, had a baby as a teenager, dropped out of high school and experienced homelessness. In 2018, Hayes owed more than $100,000 in student loans, the borrowing that helped her become an educator once named National Teacher of the Year.
Hayes spent the election season telling voters that her own experiences informed her politics, including her support of expanding gun control and universal health insurance for all Americans.
Hayes was one of the many black Democrats seeking office who identified as a progressive. A November analysis from the nonprofit Progressive Change Institute found that 42.9 percent of the incoming freshmen in Congress also supported Medicare for all and 60.3 percent supported boosting the minimum wage. A whopping 77.8 percent expressed support for ending tax cuts for the wealthy or building a tax code that aims to more deeply benefit working families.
Hayes defeated her Republican opponent by more than 10 points last fall in an overwhelmingly white district, and this month she became the first black female Democrat to represent Connecticut in Congress. She’s one of more than 50 black members of Congress, an all-time high, and one of nine black freshmen joining the House this year. While the overwhelming majority of the black members were sent to Congress by districts where black voters make up the majority, eight of the nine new members, like Hayes, come from majority-white districts.
“There’s a strong appetite right now for change,” Hayes told The Guardian just before the election.
The question of what black politicians feel they owe those they represent isn’t unique to them, but it’s long been a harder one for black politicians to answer. In March 1972, members of the fledgling Congressional Black Caucus and activists tried to answer it at a gathering in Gary, Indiana, which is sometimes called the National Black Political Convention.
African-Americans were experiencing unprecedented electoral success, winning mayor’s races and taking more than a dozen seats in Congress. But concern was growing over President Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” which aimed at appealing to white voters who opposed civil rights reforms and other social change.
At the Indiana convention, the black leaders drafted a 40-page document that identified policies black voters could use to evaluate politicians, including several related to black economic empowerment, Moore said.
The intervening years have included a number of legislative victories and failures, as measured by that document. But, nearly 50 years later, the racial wealth gap has expanded to yawning proportions, of which most white Americans remain unaware. Racial disparities in income, health, education and almost every other measure of social well-being remain.
“Today we find ourselves in a situation where some of these black elected officials have been in office two, three decades,” Moore said. “I am hoping the new people who have been elected — they have a lot of energy, a lot of fire now — will go to Congress and stay true.”
The energy of this Congress may recall, for some, the election night of 2008. Barack Obama, the first black man elected president, won with about 43 percent of white voters and majorities of everyone else. He had run on what his campaign aides boiled down to three words: “hope and change.”
As a candidate, Obama demonstrated both the ability to speak about race, injustice and inequality and the skill to evade it. Obama and his team learned early that the overwhelmingly white White House press corps and conservative critics seemed to expect Obama to serve as the nation’s racial counselor while also remaining ready to harp on any mention of race.
As president, Obama often chose race-neutral language while pressing for health care, criminal justice and immigration reform. He faced criticism both from those who said he was doing more for black Americans than for anyone else and those who said he was not doing enough.
“I think [black voter] expectations for Obama were somewhat tempered,” Moore said, “until he came out in favor of the gay marriage issue.”
In supporting gay marriage, Obama had taken on a then-controversial topic, and he’d used some of his political capital to do so, Moore said. The decision made some black Americans wonder why the president was not willing to take similar action on other issues.
“I think the black base was like, ‘Well now, hold on a minute. This is a polarizing issue too. Hold on, brother,’” Moore said. “So while I think a lot of respect and admiration remains, there [are] a lot of people who felt that he did not do all that he could to advance black interests, a black agenda, a radical set of reforms.”
There is some reason to believe that the new and diverse Congress will attend to a wider array of issues facing the country, said Christian Grose, an associate professor of political science and public policy at the University of Southern California.
In a 2011 book, Grose analyzed the impact of growing Congressional diversity between the 1990s and early 2000s. He found that black Congress members were far more likely than their white colleagues to earmark funding for projects in counties with large black populations. Black members of Congress sent on average $37.9 million to counties with large or majority black populations, compared to $10 million or less among white members of Congress, adjusted for the differing populations of their districts. The most frequent beneficiaries: historically black colleges and universities.
Earmarks are now verboten. But members of Congress still hear from their constituents, and those who are held up as symbols of achievement within a particular racial or ethnic group may feel additional pressure to address that group’s concerns. For members of Congress who are also people of color, that can mean advocating for people and issues both within their district and outside of it.
“I think there are at least two members of the new Congress, the Native American women elected in Kansas and New Mexico, who are likely to get a lot of calls,” Grose said. “People are understandably excited and enthusiastic about the election and will want help. But that extra workload is a pretty real thing.”
Black members face something similar, though the Congressional Black Caucus, about 12 percent of Congress, has almost reached parity with the nation’s black population.
While their number has grown, each of the new diverse members of Congress will still need to convince their colleagues of the need for the changes they are pushing.
This month, Shalanda Young became the first black woman to hold the most senior staff role on the House Appropriations Committee since it was formed in 1865. The committee oversees $1.3 trillion in spending, nearly a third of the federal budget.
“What I have here is the opportunity to… make this committee and its work look different for a generation,” Young said.
She also had some tempering insight.
Referring to the number of votes needed to pass a bill in the House, she said, “Nothing, no bill, can ever get more radical than what is necessary to get to 218.”
What are the Iowa caucuses?
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By Audrey Holmes and Farnoush Amiri
What is a caucus?
A caucus is a meeting of voters held to pick the state’s delegates to the party’s national presidential convention. Currently, 13 states and two U.S. territories use some form of the caucus system.
What are the Iowa caucuses?
The Iowa caucuses, which are set to take place in February 2020, kick off the presidential primary season, and are therefore often the most notable. Caucuses will be held in each of Iowa’s 1,681 precincts.
Leading up to the caucuses, aspiring candidates typically spend months in the state, making dozens of visits — if not more — to win over voters with up-close-and-personal campaigning.
In 1972, the Democratic Party held its first Iowa caucus as a way to make the election process more inclusive for voters. The first Republican Iowa caucus followed in 1976.
Caucuses take place at any easily accessible public location, including schools, fire stations, city halls and churches. Some have occurred in places as unique as nature centers, bars and even a gun shop.
How do caucuses work for Democrats?
Supporters make an argument for their candidate. After listening to each case, caucus attendees go to different parts of the room depending on which candidate they are supporting — for example, Bernie Sanders voters go to one corner and Hillary Clinton supporters go to another.
After the groups are formed, the caucus chair adds up how many supporters are in each candidate’s group. To be viable, a candidate typically needs to earn the support of at least 15 percent of all the followers in the room (although some viability levels are higher in more rural precincts.) If a candidate is not viable, their supporters must “re-caucus” and fall in with another candidate.
Once all the remaining candidates are deemed to be viable, the number of supporters of each candidate is tallied. Delegates and alternates are selected to attend the county convention, during which the delegates for the district convention are chosen, and then finally, the state convention. The number of delegates given to each viable candidate is proportional to the support that the candidate received, and the number of delegates each precinct receives depends on how many votes were cast in that precinct in the previous caucus.
This is how Democratic caucuses have worked in the past, but new rules are being put in place that could change the process somewhat.
How do caucuses work for Republicans?
Representatives for each presidential candidate state their cases. After this point, the GOP caucuses are distinct from the Democratic ones. Caucusgoers vote for their candidate on a paper ballot, or by a show of hands if the caucus is small enough. Republican caucuses do not have a 15 percent minimum threshold, unlike Democratic caucuses. The votes are tallied and recorded, and delegates are awarded based on the results.
Why are the Iowa caucuses so important?
The main reason Iowa is vital to the national election process is because it is the first test of presidential hopefuls’ strength and viability. Those who don’t perform well in Iowa are unlikely to make it to the White House.
“Everybody wants to be the one who gets all the attention first,” said Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa and author of “Riding the Caucus Rollercoaster: The Ups and Downs in the Republican Race to Win the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.”
Only one person has lost the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in the last 40 years and went on to become president — Bill Clinton, in 1992.
Have the Iowa caucuses faced criticism?
Yes. Critics tend to point toward the largely white demographics of the state, arguing that voters in Iowa are not representative of the rest of the country.
“Basically, we’re too rural, too white, too old,” Hagle said.
Notable Iowa caucus results
One of the most renowned candidates in Iowa caucus history is Jimmy Carter. During the 1976 Democratic caucuses, Carter was a relatively unknown Georgia governor running for president. The night ended in a surprise with Carter receiving more votes than any other candidate. He used that energy to solidify an unlikely victory in New Hampshire shortly after that, ultimately paving his road to the White House. Carter’s win created the perception that a win in Iowa is a big step toward the Oval Office.
Steffen Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, saw Carter as the key factor that elevated the Iowa caucuses’ national importance. “It didn’t really become important until an unknown governor by the name of Jimmy Carter from Georgia saw what was happening,” he said. “Then, the Iowa caucuses began to really take off.”
1988 and 1996
Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., is the only candidate other than an incumbent president to win the Iowa caucuses twice, in 1988 and 1996. Dole went on to win the GOP presidential nomination in 1996 but lost the general election to then-incumbent Clinton.
The caucuses that ultimately led to the election of the first African-American president in U.S. history, Barack Obama, also saw a record-breaking turnout for the Democrats, with almost 240,000 Iowans showing up to vote. This included younger voters as well as independents, which led to crowd control issues in schools and firehouses across the state. Obama’s victory also helped solidify the narrative that it pays to win in Iowa.
Preliminary results showed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the winner of the Iowa Republican caucuses as of Jan. 3, 2012. But more than two weeks later, the tally was changed to show former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was actually the victor, edging Romney by 34 votes. The win didn’t help Santorum secure the GOP nomination, but the hiccup showed that the important process had a history of problems with tabulating results.
Trump’s shutdown proposal would drastically toughen asylum, DACA, TPS rules
By Suzanne Gamboa
AUSTIN, Texas — Central American children who crossed the border illegally could not ask for asylum. Application fees for protection for deportation would increase. More than $5.7 billion for available for the border wall.
President Donald Trump has described his proposal for ending the government shutdown as a trade of a three-year extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, for the $5.7 billion he’s been demanding for the border wall he wants to build.
But details in the bill that the Senate will vote on Thursday have immigration advocates and Democrats calling the offer partisan, malevolent and “feigned” attempt at compromise.
“It’s a sham,” Ur Jaddou, director of America’s Voice DHS Watch program, told NBC News Wednesday. “It’s shocking to see they would call this a serious compromise. They didn’t even try.”
The proposal got the White House’s endorsement Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the proposal is was not intended to end the shutdown.
“The president’s proposal is one-sided, harshly partisan and was made in bad faith,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Drastic changes to asylum, DACA and TPS
In a statement, the administration touted the millions the bill provides for immigration enforcement and border security, including medical support and housing, anti-drug canines, 2,750 more border agents and money for new immigration judges.
But it did not address other parts of the legislation that are drawing loud criticism, including provisions that could drastically change the U.S. asylum system.
Children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who arrive at the border and request asylum would be sent back home without exception.
U.S. law and international treaties require border officials to grant interviews with asylum officers when people who arrive at the border request asylum or claim a credible fear of being returned to their home country. If they pass the interview, they are allowed to remain while their claim goes through the asylum process.
According to Department of Homeland Security data, 38,189 children ages 17 and under from those countries arrived at the border or were apprehended in fiscal year 2018, up from 31,754 in fiscal year 2017.
But just as troublesome to advocates and Democrats are the wholesale changes the administration wants to make to DACA and TPS, under the guise of extending those programs that shield immigrants from deportation and allow them to work.
An analysis by the Cato Institute found that the proposed legislation would require immigrants who have DACA and are in good standing to reapply rather than simply renew their status. The DACA program allows young immigrant adults and teens who were brought to the U.S. as children to study and work without fear of deportation; currently recipients renew their status every two years.
Under the plan, when they reapply, they would have to meet a higher burden to prove their eligibility.
The proposal would exclude from eligibility for DACA anyone not in the program now and require those who are not students to have an income that is at least 125 percent of poverty level.
Although DACA recipients are ineligible for almost all federal benefits, the legislation would ban anyone at least 5 percent dependent on state or local aid from eligibility for DACA. This could affect immigrants in states like California and New York that offer benefits such as medical services and in-state college tuition, Cato found.
In addition to paying the $495 application fee, DACA recipients would also have to pay an additional “security fee” of $500, an assessment that the Cato Institute pegged as a fine. Application fees for TPS would go from $50 to $500 in addition to the $495 for a work permit.
TPS recipients would have similar requirements to DACA about reapplying, which could jeopardize their employment as they wait for renewals of work permits. People with TPS who are from Nepal, Sierre Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Sudan — all African countries — could not reapply.
TPS recipients also would have to meet an income test.
Immigrants in both groups also would have to pay back the government for any legally obtained tax credits they’ve received.
The proposal would ban all people without legal permission to be in the country from obtaining TPS in the future. TPS is provided to immigrants, many who enter legally, who can’t return to their home country because of a natural disaster, political upheaval or other catastrophe.
In an interview on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes,” Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, called the administration’s proposal a “wish list” that brings entirely new issues into the negotiations that were not previously mentioned by Trump in his speech to the American public Saturday.
“I don’t think there’s enough lipstick that you can put on this pig,” Jadwat said.
Democratic mayor Pete Buttigieg running for president; would be first openly gay nominee
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By Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential bid, according to a video and email announcement.
“The reality is there’s no going back, and there’s no such thing as ‘again’ in the real world. We can’t look for greatness in the past,” Buttigieg says in a video that includes before-and-after footage of South Bend, a Rust Belt city once described as “dying.”
“Right now our country needs a fresh start,” he says.
If he were to win the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party.
Buttigieg has touted his work to improve his city of 100,000 residents as he’s prepared for an improbable jump from local politics to a presidential campaign. He’s also said Democrats could benefit from a new generation of leaders as they try to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.
He’s expected to travel to Iowa next week to meet with voters in the nation’s first caucus state, followed by stops in New Hampshire.
Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar who was first elected mayor of his hometown in 2011 at age 29 — making him the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents. A lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, he served a tour in Afghanistan in 2014.
Buttigieg raised his national profile with an unsuccessful 2017 run for Democratic National Committee chairman, saying the party needed a new start. He withdrew from the race before a vote when it became clear he didn’t have the support to win.
Buttigieg has spent time in Iowa and other battleground states in recent years as he tried to build financial support and name recognition. He cracks that those who do know his name still aren’t sure how to pronounce it. Most of the time he goes by “Mayor Pete.”
Amid his campaign for a second term, Buttigieg came out as gay in a column in the local newspaper. He went on to win re-election with 80 percent of the vote. In 2018 — three years to the day after the column ran — he married his husband, middle school teacher Chasten Glezman.
Buttigieg announced in December that he wouldn’t seek a third term as mayor, stoking speculation he would join a field of roughly two dozen candidates who may seek the Democratic nomination for president — most of them better-known and with experience in higher office, and all of them older.
“I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now,” he says in the video released Wednesday. “We’re the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in the wars after 9/11, and we’re the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents unless we do something different. We can’t just polish off a system so broken. It is a season for boldness and a focus on the future.”
Buttigieg is releasing a book in February about his life and his tenure leading South Bend.
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