7-year-old immigrant girl dies after Border Patrol arrest

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A 7-year-old girl who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with her father last week died after being taken into the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol, federal immigration authorities confirmed Thursday.

The Washington Post reports the girl died of dehydration and shock more than eight hours after she was arrested by agents near Lordsburg, New Mexico. The girl was from Guatemala and was traveling with a group of 163 people who approached agents to turn themselves in on Dec. 6.

It’s unknown what happened to the girl during the eight hours before she started having seizures and was flown to an El Paso hospital.

In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said the girl had not eaten or consumed water in several days.

The agency did not provide The Associated Press with the statement it gave to the Post, despite repeated requests.

Processing 163 immigrants in one night could have posed challenges for the agency, whose detention facilities are meant to be temporary and don’t usually fit that many people.

When a Border Patrol agent arrests someone, that person gets processed at a facility but usually spends no more than 72 hours in custody before they are either transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or, if they’re Mexican, quickly deported home.

The girl’s death raises questions about whether border agents knew she was ill and whether she was fed anything or given anything to drink during the eight-plus hours she was in custody.

Immigrants, attorneys and activists have long raised issues with the conditions of Border Patrol holding cells. In Tucson, an ongoing lawsuit claims holding cells are filthy, extremely cold and lacking basic necessities such as blankets. A judge overseeing that lawsuit has ordered the agency’s Tucson Sector, which patrols much of the Arizona-Mexico border, to provide blankets and mats to sleep on and to continually turn over surveillance footage from inside the cells.

The Border Patrol has seen an increasing trend of large groups of immigrants, many with young children, walking up to agents and turning themselves in. Most are Central American and say they are fleeing violence. They turn themselves in instead of trying to circumvent authorities, many with plans to apply for asylum.

Agents in Arizona see groups of over 100 people on a regular basis, sometimes including infants and toddlers.

Arresting such groups poses logistical problems for agents who have to wait on transport vans that are equipped with baby seats to take them to processing facilities, some which are at least half hour north of the border.

The death of the 7-year-old comes after a toddler died just after being released from an ICE family detention facility in Texas, and as the administration of Donald Trump attempts to ban people from asking for asylum if they crossed the border illegally. A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked that ban, but the administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate it Tuesday.

Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said migrant deaths increased last year even as the number of border crossing dropped.

“This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions. Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths,” Pompa said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/13/border-patrol-7-year-old-death-1063495

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How Pelosi beat the rebels and got her gavel back

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While the late President George H.W. Bush was lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Dec. 4, Nancy Pelosi was several hundred feet away cobbling together a deal that would return her to the speaker’s chair.

Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a leader of a group of Democratic rebels trying to push Pelosi out of House leadership, had flown back to Washington to negotiate with her face-to-face. Pelosi had already flipped several critics and shown momentum in her bid to reclaim the gavel. Perlmutter’s group was under siege from Pelosi allies both in and outside the Capitol.

But Pelosi still didn’t have the votes to become speaker. And she was ready to make a dramatic overture to lock down support. During the meeting in her office on the second floor of the Capitol, Pelosi told Perlmutter she was open to term limits on her leadership.

It was the first time Pelosi had expressed a willingness to accept an end-date on her power after 16 years atop the Democratic Caucus. It proved to be the decisive moment in Pelosi’s weeks-long slog to ensure she would be the first lawmaker since the legendary Sam Rayburn in the 1950s to win the speaker’s gavel a second time.

“The deal recognizes a limit to her speakership,” Perlmutter told reporters Thursday. “This really starts the change I’ve wanted to see.”

“We were shocked as shit,” added an aide to another rebel Democrat.

The gambit worked. After a week of intense negotiations, Pelosi picked up the support of Perlmutter and six other lawmakers who swore they’d vote against her on the House floor — delivering her at least the 218 votes she needs to be elected speaker on Jan. 3.

The six-week battle over the speaker’s chair was vintage Pelosi. Relying on a mix of pressure tactics she’d sharpened during three decades in Congress, Pelosi waited out her critics, wore them down and then threw them a bone as they looked for a way out.

The group of anti-Pelosi rebels faced an uphill battle from the start. Pelosi maintained immense support within the caucus, and she had powerful allies outside Congress whipping for her. And opposition to Pelosi from the massive incoming class of freshman wasn’t as strong as many had thought.

The rebels, meanwhile, wanted Pelosi gone — but that’s where their agreement ended. Her critics had different motivations for opposing her and different strategies for dethroning her. That discord ultimately weakened their hand during negotiations.

“People started to get cold feet and decided they didn’t want to do it. They were under a lot of pressure,” said a regretful Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a Pelosi critic who still plans to oppose her on the House floor. “The goal all along — until a week or two — was to get a new, younger generation speaker of the House that represented the country and the future of our party. That did not happen.”

The rebels did win a victory — just not the one they sought. Pelosi will be in the speaker’s chair in January, to the chagrin of most of Perlmutter’s group. She remains the face of the party and the new House Democratic majority and will become the most important Democrat in the nation, at least until the party anoints a presidential nominee.

Still, the significance of Pelosi’s concession to exit by 2022 can’t be overstated. Pelosi for years has resisted calls from a large bloc of her caucus to step down as leader. And Pelosi repeatedly rebuffed and dismissed rebel demands that she provide a date certain to retire, until this week.

“I’m satisfied with this result — that we have somebody with knowledge, experience, skill, tenacity, leading us,” Perlmutter said. “But at the same time, this thing’s beginning to move. And the opportunities for other people to rise are apparent and are going to happen.”

Freshmen upend the rebels’ plans

From the outset, the rebels set expectations too high.

Perlmutter and a band of a dozen incumbents hoped to combine forces with roughly 10 incoming freshmen who had promised to vote against Pelosi on the campaign trail. They planned to gather the signatures of 25 opponents on a letter and publicize it as a show of force against Pelosi. It would have been more than enough votes to block her from the gavel — Pelosi can only afford to lose 17 votes on the floor.

But the incumbents ran into an unexpected problem. Most of the Democratic candidates who knocked Pelosi during the midterm campaign wouldn’t sign their document.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. One of the most high-profile rebels in the group, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), had told his colleagues that he’d win over the incoming freshmen, even referring to these individuals as “my candidates,” according to multiple Democratic sources.

As a former Marine Corps officer, Moulton had a personal connection to the anti-Pelosi candidates who had military backgrounds. He campaigned with them, raised money for them and worked alongside VoteVets, a progressive political organization supporting veterans running for office, to try to get them elected.

Moulton told these members-elect that Pelosi was going to be ousted and that it’d be good for them politically to join the movement.

But Moulton oversold his sway, rebel sources complained. Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot running in New Jersey, had released an ad against Pelosi and campaigned with Moulton. But she wouldn’t go anywhere near the letter. Several other freshmen who received help from Moulton also avoided the letter.

Pelosi had neutered Moulton right under his nose. Just days after the election, she phoned VoteVets’ Chairman Jon Soltz and asked for his help wooing the incoming freshmen class.

Soltz had been working with Moulton but also had a close relationship with Pelosi. Soltz decided his group would remain neutral. But he gave the candidates advice that proved critical to helping Pelosi, sources said: Think about the long game. To be an effective legislator, you will have to work with the next speaker — which more likely than not would be Pelosi.

The advice worked. The candidates refused to sign the rebels’ document. And when Moulton lobbied harder for their signatures, he merely repelled them further. In fact, some of the female veterans told other Democrats that they were annoyed with Moulton, these lawmakers said, concluding that they were being used for Moulton’s own political gain.

Rebel defections mount

The anti-Pelosi forces also ran into some strategic roadblocks. It quickly became clear each rebel had a different motivation for signing onto the letter of opposition — and different limits for the pressure that came with opposing Pelosi.

“From the beginning, I think there was an understanding that some members really wanted to see change immediately. Others would have been satisfied with a less fixed and definite commitment,” said Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.). “That was the tension.”

Pelosi also dramatically ramped up her pressure tactics, launching an assault against the group from all sides.

Democratic governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania weighed in with their state delegations on Pelosi’s behalf. Labor union leaders including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and United Brotherhood of Carpenters President Doug McCarron pressed the critics to back her. Soon, former Vice President Al Gore, ex-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and former Barack Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough were lobbying lawmakers to get behind Pelosi.

“When you know something is right and needs to happen, even though it might be unpopular, you have to give voice to it. And accept the consequences of that,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), one of the rebels.

Just before Congress left town for Thanksgiving, the anti-Pelosi faction saw a ray of hope. Rebel member Marcia Fudge (Ohio), a well-respected former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, floated her name as a potential challenger to Pelosi. Pelosi’s backers had rapped her opponents for failing to offer an alternative to the California Democrat. Fudge’s potential bid electrified the rebels and much of the media.

And then it was over. On Nov. 19, the same morning the rebels planned to publicly release their letter opposing Pelosi, Fudge suddenly pulled her name off the document — a sign that she was getting cold feet.

In fact, she was. Almost immediately after Fudge floated her name for speaker, outside groups attacked her as being anti-LGBT. And Congressional Black Caucus members she was close with — including black female lawmakers who’d spent years hoping to see one of their own in the speaker’s chair — said they couldn’t support her.

That’s when Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the highest ranking black lawmaker, stepped in to mediate between Fudge, his close friend, and Pelosi. Behind-the-scenes, Clyburn had organized a meeting between the two before the Thanksgiving recess. At the end of their discussion, Fudge left the room having doubts about challenging Pelosi.

Fudge returned home, consulted with her pastor and family, and then decided she wouldn’t run. It also helped that Pelosi dangled before Fudge a position she had long desired: a subcommittee chairmanship overseeing election issues.

“We just came to the decision that this was not the time, but more importantly, ultimately decided that as we go into this majority that I would rather try to at least make it seem like we’re on the same page and there’s some unity in the caucus,” Fudge told POLITICO in an interview.

Before Fudge conceded, however, news broke that a former colleague and political ally Fudge had defended years ago was suspected of murdering his wife. Years earlier, Fudge lobbied a judge for a lighter sentence for the man following his conviction on spousal abuse. Fudge’s letter asking for leniency went viral, a huge embarrassment for the Ohio Democrat.

Fudge bailed on any run for speaker that very night and backed Pelosi — even though she said “of course” Pelosi was behind the attacks on her, something Pelosi’s offices denies.

The brutal offensive against Fudge rattled the rebels, and Fudge’s speedy surrender triggered a “moment of panic” among some other members in the group, according to Democratic sources.

Other dominoes began falling quickly. Rep. Brian Higgins, who also signed the letter, broke from the group to endorse Pelosi the very next day. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a fellow New Yorker, had lobbied Higgins to change his mind. So too did incoming Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), a close Pelosi ally.

After a simple promise from Pelosi to try to get his Medicare bill to the House floor, Higgins caved — and expressed remorse.

“I shouldn’t have signed the letter,” Higgins said. “I had my reasons for breaking from the leader, I expressed those reasons very clearly, but I didn’t need a group to represent that… I could have gotten that [deal with Pelosi] regardless.”

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), another letter-signer, threw his support in return for some more legislative promises from Pelosi, including on infrastructure.

The three desertions came as other rebels were also being pummeled back home.

During a townhall in his Massachusetts’s district, Moulton was grilled over his anti-Pelosi stance. Local press lit him up for orchestrating a coup against her. Days later, without so much as warning his fellow rebels, Moulton’s office told The Washington Post that the group was open to negotiating with Pelosi to find a way to resolve the standoff — a possibility they hadn’t raised yet.

Moulton’s move infuriated many group members, who accused him of turning on them to save his own skin. Indeed, most had no idea Moulton was planning to float the suggestion, which almost certainly undercut their own bargaining position.

Moulton only made the situation worse for himself a few days later. He asked for a meeting with Pelosi to start talks between the two sides — then misled his fellow rebels about who initiated the discussion, according to three sources familiar with the incident.

Moulton told Rice and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) — perhaps Pelosi’s staunchest critics in the group — that Pelosi requested the meeting. In reality, he had gone to Pelosi’s staff and said he wanted to sit down.

It created an awkward dynamic before a terrible meeting. Rice walked into Pelosi’s office and said, “Thank you for calling this meeting.”

“I didn’t ask for this meeting,” Pelosi scoffed.

An awkward silence ensued, and the meeting unraveled from there with both sides digging in.

Perlmutter steps in

It was then that Perlmutter decided to take a different, more personal tack with Pelosi.

The Colorado Democrat has a close relationship with Pelosi, far better than any of the other rebels. But while he liked Pelosi, Perlmutter thought she should step aside after 16 years as Democratic leader.

Still, the bond between the two was clear. During a recent meeting between moderate Democrats and Pelosi, the two surprised everyone when they hugged. Perlmutter at the time was advocating for rules changes to make it harder for Pelosi to be speaker.

Yet Pelosi reached out privately to Perlmutter over the Thanksgiving break to kickstart talks, and the two decided to see if they could work out an agreement. A series of Perlmutter-Pelosi phone calls led to the Dec. 4 meeting that Democratic members and aides said “broke the dam.”

On Dec. 5 — the morning after Pelosi offered to consider term limits on her speakership — Perlmutter told the rebels the news during a conference call.

Some in the group were already looking for an exit ramp. Pelosi’s offer “opened up a whole new world of possibilities that they didn’t think would be real,” a source close to the group said.

Others resisted. Schrader warned the group not to take the deal and tried to remind them of their original goal: taking out Pelosi.

Perlmutter reached out to Sanchez to bring her deeper into the talks with Pelosi. As vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, Sanchez knew the ins-and-outs of the caucus rules, a necessary skill if the group was going to negotiate such a monumental change. Without Sanchez’s savvy, some rebels feared they’d be outmaneuvered by Pelosi.

Foster also became a key member of the faction negotiating with Pelosi. Pelosi had reached out to the Illinois Democrat earlier in the process to ask what he wanted, but Foster made clear he wasn’t interested in a one-off deal.

“At the very outset of my individual discussions with her, I said my focus was on the institutional change that I thought was overdue,” Foster said in an interview.

It was Foster who first came up with up with the term-limits formula that became the basis of the rebels’ deal with Pelosi.

With the support from most of the rebels, the trio — Perlmutter, Foster and Sanchez — got to work.

“When [Pelosi] started floating specific concepts involving term limits for top leadership positions, that was the first time we saw a path to success on the negotiations,” Foster said.

Perlmutter, Sanchez and Foster drafted different versions of term limits for party leaders, as well as options for limits on committee chairmen.

The various proposals were circulated among the rebels on Dec. 6. For the group, there were two outstanding issues: Would the term limits be retroactive, going back to when Democrats were in the majority nearly a decade ago? And which members of Democratic leadership would the limits apply to?

After intensive discussions, including Democrats outside the rebel group, the anti-Pelosi faction decided to focus on term limits covering just Pelosi, Clyburn and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

At this point it was clear some of the rebels, like Schrader, would never sign onto any deal with Pelosi. But the lead negotiators were confident they could secure enough support to deliver Pelosi the speakership if she would agree to their terms.

Perlmutter worked the phones over the weekend, speaking to Pelosi several times. On Monday, Dec. 10, the rebel group reconvened. The contours of a deal were coming together, but several rebels who worried they would lose their leverage over Pelosi were still insisting that the term limits be voted on by the full caucus before the speaker roll-call vote on Jan. 3.

Sanchez, Foster and Perlmutter huddled with other senior Democrats that night to see if there was any time on the schedule that would allow the full caucus — including incoming freshmen who weren’t due back in town until January — to vote on the plan.

They determined there was no time before the speaker vote to try to force through a rules change. At that point, according to several sources, Pelosi’s decision to make a public statement supporting the change — and agreeing to abide by the terms even if the caucus didn’t — became a necessary ingredient to securing the rebels’ support.

The rebel group held another call on Tuesday morning where they finalized the terms of their potential deal.

In the afternoon, after Pelosi returned from a tense televised meeting with President Donald Trump over the border wall, Perlmutter, Foster and Sanchez huddled in Pelosi’s office. They presented the terms of the accord and promised six — possibly even seven — rebel votes in return.

That was enough to clinch the deal. Pelosi would have the votes to win the speakership — and avoid a nasty floor fight in the process — and the rebels had ensured that Pelosi’s tenure would have a clear end date.

“We won a lot of seats on Nov. 6 and folks want to enjoy the majority,” Perlmutter said Thursday. “Today is the first day I’ve really gotten to think about being in the majority and enjoying it.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/13/nancy-pelosi-speakership-1063494

DeVos cancels $150M in student loan debt after losing court battle

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The Trump administration said Thursday it will cancel thousands of borrowers’ federal student loans, carrying out an Obama-era policy that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had fought to kill.

The move comes as DeVos is being forced to implement a package of regulations that created more protections for student loan borrowers who were affected by a school closure or defrauded by their college.

A federal judge in September ruled that DeVos’ efforts to stop the 2016 “borrower defense” regulations from taking effect was illegal. And in October the same judge rejected a bid by for-profit colleges to immediately stop the regulations, clearing the way for them to take effect.

Education Department officials said Thursday that they will cancel the loans of about 15,000 borrowers who qualified for “closed school” loan discharges but who haven’t yet applied for that benefit. Those student loans total approximately $150 million.

Department officials said they would begin notifying borrowers Friday by email that they will receive the loan discharges. Borrowers will not have to take any action, but the process could take as long as 90 days to complete.

About half of the borrowers who will now receive loan discharges attended campuses owned by Corinthian Colleges, the chain of for-profit colleges that went bankrupt in 2015. The remaining students attended other schools that closed at some point between Nov. 1, 2013, and Dec. 4, 2018.

The department said some of the loans that will be canceled are PLUS loans owed by parents whose student attended the closed school.

The loan cancellations also come after a California consumer advocacy group sued DeVos in November for failing to automatically cancel the federal loans of students under the 2016 “borrower defense” rules.

Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, said she was “pleased” the department moved to discharge the loans but called on the Trump administration to go further.

“This is a good first step, but it’s not good enough,” Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement, adding that DeVos should “abandon her attempts to rewrite the borrower defense rule to let for-profit colleges off the hook and instead fully implement the current rule and provide relief to more than 100,000 borrowers who were cheated out of their education and savings.”

DeVos has said the Obama-era rules are unfair to colleges and taxpayers because they make it too easy for students to have their debt wiped out. She has proposed, but not finalized, a more restrictive policy that would rein in the amount of loan forgiveness that borrowers receive.

Federal law allows borrowers who attended — or recently withdrew from — a school that closes to cancel their debt, as long as they don’t transfer their credits elsewhere.

Prior to the 2016 regulations, borrowers had to submit an application to obtain the loan discharge. In changing the policy, the Obama administration said it wanted to make the process automatic because of the low rate at which borrowers eligible for the loan discharges applied for the benefit.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/13/betsy-devos-student-loans-1063442

GOP could ditch Harris in North Carolina special

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North Carolina Republicans are readying an escape plan from Republican Mark Harris’ scandal-plagued campaign.

Days before North Carolina’s board of elections could vote to call a new race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready in the state’s disputed 9th Congressional District, Republican lawmakers passed a bill requiring a new primary when the board rules a campaign must be run over again. That would give Republican voters the ability to sideline Harris in a special election, after accusations of illegal collection and manipulation of absentee ballots by McCrae Dowless, an operative hired by Harris campaign consultants.

The legislation is an admission that many state Republicans are eager to cut ties with Harris, who defeated GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger in a primary earlier this year, amid mounting revelations countering Harris’ account that he didn’t know anything about Dowless’ work during the election. It’s unclear who else might run on the Republican side, though Pittenger’s name has been floated. But Republicans fear that Harris’ candidacy has been tainted badly enough that he would lose to McCready, and more unflattering information could come out when the board of elections holds its hearing on the fraud allegations.

“They’re getting their ducks in a row for what could be a really terrible situation,” said Patrick Sebastian, a Republican strategist in North Carolina and nephew of former GOP Gov. Pat McCory. "I think it’s smart. It’s smart to go ahead and prepare for the worst.”

Things may already be getting worse for Harris. On Tuesday, Republicans had pulled the measure to hold a new primary from a larger elections bill, citing a lack of support. But that night, the ABC affiliate in Charlotte surfaced a photo of Harris and Dowless together, and by Wednesday morning, the language mandating a new primary had been added back into the lame-duck legislation later passed by GOP legislators.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has yet to sign the bill, but Republicans have the votes to override Cooper if he were to veto it.

Meanwhile, a new affidavit filed Tuesday alleged that Dowless had more than 800 absentee ballots in his possession before the Republican primary earlier this year, when Harris narrowly defeated Pittenger for the nomination to face McCready. That followed other affidavits alleging fraud that had convinced the board of elections not to certify the results of the November race, which had Harris narrowly ahead in the vote count.

Preparations to field a Republican other than Harris are still in the early stages. Pittenger and McCrory are considered the top potential challengers to Harris in a new election — but McCory isn’t interested, according to those close to him, and Pittenger’s camp has been tight-lipped during the investigation into Dowless’ activities during the general election. (There were also absentee ballot irregularities in Harris’ narrow primary win over Pittenger.) Pittenger spent down nearly all the money he had in his campaign account after his primary loss, meaning he would have to raise money from scratch for a new campaign.

If neither Pittenger nor McCory runs in a new election, there’s no obvious choice for Republicans who want to block Harris. Some GOP prospects in the district just lost Charlotte-area seats in state and county government in the midterms, casualties of the suburban revolt against the Republican Party. State Rep. Andy Dulin has run for Congress before, while he and state Rep. Scott Stone were both candidates for Charlotte mayor in the past. Both lost their legislative seats in November.

It’s also not clear that Harris would necessarily lose a Republican primary if he faced a challenge: The former pastor has never relied on support from party insiders in his bids for office, and he has had a devoted following across multiple prior congressional runs.

McCready’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. But North Carolina Democrats characterized the GOP’s legislation as a betrayal of their nominee.

“It’s vital that North Carolinians have confidence in our elections,” said Robert Howard, spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party. “One thing is clear with this bill: Republicans stabbed Mark Harris in the back, opening the door for a new primary in order to dump their toxic candidate.”

North Carolina needs to root out fraud and after an investigation “hold a new election,” said Howard.

But strategists in both parties are confident at this point that McCready would win if he faces Harris in a special election.

Earlier this month, Harris said he “wholeheartedly supports” a new election if evidence emerges that fraud swayed the election results but he’s remained quiet in the weeks since and his campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the primary change.

“Although I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing, that will not prevent me from cooperating with the investigation,” Harris added in video released by his campaign.

Republicans admit they’ve been backed into a corner, and some have privately voiced frustration that party officials have not effectively countered the state Democratic Party, which has filed affidavit after affidavit from voters and poll workers uncovering evidence of fraud. Some have also said the late-in-the-game change to election rules is bad optics for Republicans.

“They jumped the gun a little bit,” said Carter Wrenn, a North Carolina GOP consultant. “We don’t know exactly what went on in the primary yet and the general election.”

“It does look like they’re thinking, ‘well if Harris did something wrong we need a primary,’” Wrenn added. “Everyone needs a little patience.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/13/gop-mark-harris-north-carolina-1063435

Washington Post to run full-page ad on Khashoggi killing

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The Washington Post plans to run a full-page ad Friday drawing attention to the death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi, part of a broader push that publisher Fred Ryan told POLITICO would continue "until meaningful action is taken" over Saudi Arabia’s role in the killing.

The ad, which a Post spokesperson said is a precursor to a larger advertising campaign planned for early 2019, features an image of the Saudi journalist with his face illuminated by a candle and reads, “A life is gone. The principles of free expression endure.”

In a year-end memo to staff Wednesday, Ryan blistered the U.S. administration over its efforts to brush past Khashoggi’s killing, which U.S. intelligence believes was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Many people are frustrated and feel betrayed by the Trump administration’s apparent effort to sweep Jamal’s killing under the rug and its failure to stand up for America’s values," Ryan wrote in the memo. "They can be assured that The Washington Post will not rest until justice is served on those who ordered Jamal’s killing, those who carried it out, and those who continue to try to cover it up.”

President Donald Trump said earlier this week that Saudi Arabia had been "a very good ally" and that standing by the kingdom "certainly" equates to standing by the crown prince.

In response to Trump’s position, Ryan said in a statement to POLITICO that the Post would continue to highlight the killing. “We’re going to continue to use our platforms and encourage others to use theirs until meaningful action is taken,” he said.

Ryan does not control the Post’s opinion or news coverage — which operate independently — so the main levers at his disposal are public statements and advertising campaigns. Since Khashoggi’s October death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Ryan has condemned the Trump administration’s response multiple times in stark language. The newspaper has also run a handful of previous ads.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Trump issued a statement saying that “we may never know all of the facts” about Khashoggi’s murder, including whether bin Salman had knowledge of the murder, saying “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”

Following a Senate briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel last week, however, senators said they were confident the crown prince was involved. Referencing Khashoggi’s reported dismemberment by bone saw inside the consulate, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared, “There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw.”

On Monday, Time named Khashoggi one of its people of the year, placing his image on one of four covers and dubbing him a “guardian” of truth.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/13/washington-post-ad-friday-jamal-khashoggi-1063440

Trump’s anti-Iran push boosts a royal outcast

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Soon after President Donald Trump was elected, his National Security Council aides considered trying an unusual new approach to Iran.

Officials wondered whether Trump should record a dramatic video message congratulating the Iranian people on their new year. The twist? Trump would appear alongside an Iranian royal who lives quietly in the Washington area: Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the country’s late shah, the U.S.-allied leader toppled during Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

The NSC officials decided against the idea, which was described by two people familiar with the episode, and Trump instead issued a traditional statement of goodwill for the Iranian holiday, known as Now-Ruz.

At the time, pairing Trump with Pahlavi might have struck many Iran-watchers in the U.S. as an absurd idea. Pahlavi’s father was a deeply unpopular figure in Iran when he was overthrown, and his close ties to Washington was a particular source of anger at the time.

Two years later, however, Iran analysts say Pahlavi’s credibility within the country has grown as Trump has imposed harsh sanctions which some believe are meant to bring down its clerical government — begging the question of who would lead Iran if that happens. And in a sign that he welcomes higher visibility, Pahlavi will give a rare speech at a Washington think tank on Friday.

Back in Iran, Pahlavi’s family is enjoying something of a comeback. Iranian protesters are chanting apologies to the royal clan, who ruled for 54 years. Satellite TV stations that manage to evade Iran’s censors are celebrating the monarchy’s pre-revolutionary heyday, which many Iranians are too young to remember. Some Iranians are even treating the possible discovery of Pahlavi’s grandfather’s body earlier this year as an omen of his family’s return to power.

Pahlavi’s remarks Friday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy will focus on Iran’s future; he also will engage in a question-and-answer session. It’s an unusually high-profile event for Pahlavi, who, according to an institute official, sought out the opportunity. And it could mark an important moment for the notoriously fragmented Iranian opposition 40 years after the country’s revolution.

“There’s a nostalgia for the monarchy because people view it as a better time,” said Alireza Nader, founder of the New Iran Foundation, a research group. “There are signs of genuine support for Pahlavi, and he can capitalize on it.”

The Iranian regime and its supporters essentially dismiss him as a corrupt wannabe with little support in Iran, while spreading allegations that he is funded by Saudi and Israeli money. (Pahlavi’s office would not answer questions about these allegations.)

Pahlavi, who is 58, is not openly calling for the restoration of the Peacock Throne to Iran. His official biography describes him instead as “a leader and advocate of the principles of freedom, democracy and human rights for his countrymen.” He casts himself more as a symbol than a politician, although he did say in an interview last year that he is “ready to serve my country.”

He appears to have become a rallying point for a still-emerging movement within the Iranian opposition that is trying to go beyond the traditional divides.

This movement dismisses both the hardline and reformist factions in Iran as part of the same oppressive theocratic machinery. It also appears distinct from monarchist, communist and other groups that have sought the mantle of the opposition’s leadership over the years – including the once-militant Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK.

One newly established network representing this movement is Farashgard, or Iran Revival. In an open letter, the group says its goal is “to overthrow the Islamic Republic and to establish in its place a secular democracy that safeguards each Iranian’s human rights.”

The group recognizes “the key role that Prince Reza Pahlavi plays in connecting all segments of the Iranian society.” It adds: “In replacing the current regime with a democratic and secular state, his leadership and influence can facilitate a smooth transition and ensure peace, order, national unity, and the territorial integrity of Iran.”

Pahlavi’s office did not respond to a question about the exact nature of his ties, if any, to Farashgard. The group did not reply to a request for comment sent to its main email account, but a member said Pahlavi is supportive of their effort.

While a number of Trump’s advisers have well-paid links to the MEK — whose complicated history includes having been previously designated by the United States as a terrorist group — it’s not clear whether administration members are in touch with Pahlavi.

A State Department official would not directly answer a question about this, saying only that top U.S. officials have “met with many members of the Iranian diaspora.”

Pahlavi was not available for an interview. But in past remarks and online, Pahlavi says he has reached out to Trump. In one letter, which he posted on his Twitter feed, Pahlavi urged Trump to “bear in mind the aspiration of the Iranian people.”

Luckily for Pahlavi and his popularity, Trump appears intent on isolating, if not outright overthrowing, the regime in Iran.

The Republican administration has pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, imposed sanctions on Tehran and is pushing an information campaign against the country, calling out its clerical rulers for corruption and incompetence. It has made 12 demands of Iran that are so far-reaching that some experts say they are a disguised call for regime change.

At the same time, unrest inside Iran has galvanized people in both the Trump administration and the pro-Pahlavi crowd. The dissension has taken several forms, including labor protests that some opposition activists hope can morph into something more coherent over time.

Many of the protests took place in December 2017 and January 2018, but there are still reports of occasional demonstrations.

Some protesters have approvingly shouted the one-time crown prince’s name, while some have invoked the defunct monarchy while yelling, “We are sorry.” In one video, demonstrators shouted: “Iran without a shah has no accountability!”

Some protestors also praised Pahlavi’s grandfather, Reza Shah, who remains a respected figure in Iran for many of the modernizing reforms he introduced.

Earlier this year, a well-preserved body possibly belonging to Reza Shah was discovered near the mausoleum where he had been buried. The tomb was destroyed after the revolution as Islamists tried to erase Iran’s monarchical history.

The body’s discovery had some Iranians thinking it was a sign. “We Iranians are superstitious, and I personally believe his return is a message,” an Iranian merchant told The New York Times.

Some of the royal nostalgia in Iran is driven by satellite channels beamed into the country and popular among many of its 80 million people. One in particular, named Manoto (“me and you”) has a distinctive pro-Pahlavi bent.

The London-based channel, launched in 2010, produces programming that often casts the era of the shah as a glorious, freer time. Thanks to its use of archival Iranian footage, the programs show an Iran where women went unveiled and the country was more accepted by the international community.

The pro-Pahlavi crowd often avoids discussion of the unsavory aspects of the monarchy: the terror perpetuated by the shah’s secret police, the frustration of the poor as they watched the royals flaunt their wealth, the anger of devout Muslims at a leader they deemed intoxicated by the West.

“If Reza Pahlavi wants to be a leader on the basis of his family ties, he first needs to address the dark sides and the repression of his father and grandfather’s era,” said Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and political commentator.

Other Iran observers note that the Middle East has not always been well-served by its exiles, with Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi who pressed the U.S. to invade Iraq, often cited as the prime example. (Pahlavi is not advocating for such an approach.)

Still, “if you’re an Iranian who believes that meaningful reform of the Islamic Republic has proven an exercise in futility over the last 40 years, then you naturally begin to look for leaders outside the system,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Anecdotes aside, it’s impossible to gauge how widespread support for the royals truly is inside Iran, where the government stifles freedom of speech and opinion polls are not reliable.

Much of the pro-Pahlavi conversation is driven by Iranians who left the country in recent years utterly disillusioned with the reformist versus hardliner dichotomy that has long characterized the framing of Iranian politics. The timing for Pahlavi is also fortuitous given Trump’s hostility toward Iran’s government.

“He is just kind of the man of the moment, and the moment suits for an ambiguous figure who might have appeal across various political strata,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran analyst with the Brookings Institution.

Pahlavi was in the United States for jet-fighter training in the late 1970s when a popular movement of many strains threatened the rule of his father, Mohammad Reza Shah.

The shah was dying of cancer when President Jimmy Carter admitted him into the U.S. for medical treatment, further inflaming anti-U.S. sentiment among Iranian revolutionaries. The shah died in 1980 in Egypt, where he is buried, and the young prince declared himself Iran’s new ruler: Reza Shah II. It was not to be.

In the 40 years since, Reza Pahlavi has lived mainly in the United States, his profile waxing and waning depending on a variety of factors, including his own willingness to speak out and the position of the U.S. government toward Iran.

In a 1989 profile, The Washington Post cast Pahlavi as a young man with vague notions about the role he should play, an ambiguity that still hasn’t fully receded. He has “lived in a suspended animation of the kind that pretenders to thrones must feel even while much of the world considers their pretensions laughable,” the Post wrote.

"I’m not in this for monarchy. I’m in this for the freedom of my countrymen and for popular sovereignty," he told the Post.

Pahlavi, who earned a degree in political science from the University of Southern California, has studied and supports non-violent civil disobedience movements, viewing leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as role models.

He is thought to live mainly on what’s left of his family wealth, his only full-time job being speaking out about Iran.

Pahlavi’s wife, Yasmine, recently went public about her battle with breast cancer, drawing many messages of support but also questions about whether she was trying to aid her husband politically. The couple has three daughters.

Over the past four decades, Pahlavi has never fully faded from the public eye, writing books and keeping in touch with foreign officials across the world. He kept a relatively low profile during President Barack Obama’s nuclear talks with Iran, and offered guarded support for the deal Obama struck with Tehran lifting sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

Shortly after Trump was inaugurated, Pahlavi gave an interview to Breitbart News, a conservative news outlet linked to one of Trump’s advisers. It signaled that Pahlavi would be more outspoken.

Pahlavi stressed to Breitbart that the fate of Iran must rest in the hands of its people.

“The day that we have free elections will be the day I will consider my political mission in life accomplished,” he said. “From that day on, I cannot tell you now what the circumstances will be. I’ve always said that I’m ready to serve my country, in whatever capacity that my constituents choose.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/13/trumps-anti-iran-push-boosts-a-royal-outcast-1063441

Washington lobbying firm targeted in wave of bomb threats

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Washington lobbying firm Federal Advocates was among the schools and businesses around the country targeted in a wave of bomb threats on Thursday.

Michael Esposito, the president of the firm, received an email Thursday afternoon threatening to detonate a bomb in the firm’s building on K Street unless he paid $20,000 in bitcoin by the close of the day, according to a copy seen by POLITICO.

The firm said in a statement that it notified the authorities and evacuated its office.

Police in Washington said Thursday the threats aren’t considered credible.

“Each of the threats were received via email requesting bitcoin ransom and to our knowledge, no one has complied with the transaction demands,” the Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement posted to Twitter.

The email received by Federal Advocates appeared similar to one sent to businesses in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and posted on Facebook by police there.

“I want to propose a deal,” the email received by Esposito stated, warning that an explosive device had been hidden in the building. “You pay me 20.000 $ in Bitcoin and the device will not detonate, but do not try to fool me -I warrant you that I have to withdraw my mercenary only after 3 confirmations in blockchain network.”

Federal Advocates represents a variety of clients, including PetSmart and the city of Richmond, California.

Nick Tobenkin, a Federal Advocates lobbyist, said in a statement that the firm would not “be intimidated by threats and will continue to serve our clients.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/13/washington-lobbying-firm-targeted-bomb-threats-1063436