Reporting on Politics and Policy.

July 15 2014 12:57 PM

Meet the Undocumented Journalist Who Was Detained at the Border

It's been more than three years since the former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas wrote the story that ended that career and started a new one. He was an undocumented immigrant. He'd known as much since he was 16 and the DMV told him that his "green card" was a fake. The revelation, presented in a New York Times Magazine story, was coupled with the launch of Jose's new campaign for immigration reform. 

I didn't know Jose particulary well before the bombshell. We'd covered some of the same events; I'd recognized him in the welcome video that WaPo showed to new hires. (In 2010, at least.) But we became friends, and Jose put up with me even when I asked the same question everyone had for him. Why haven't they deported you yet? Not that we wanted it to happen, but how could he be this public—he even got himself tossed from a Mitt Romney event, after a protest—and be safe?

Every time I asked, Jose surmised that the feds wanted to avoid a backlash. He was too famous; he'd be a cause célèbre if he was detained or deported.

Well, we're testing the theory now. On July 11 Jose wrote a feature for Politico, from the Mexican border with Texas, where he appeared to be stuck. "I am not sure if my passport will be enough to let me fly out of McAllen-Miller International Airport," he wrote, "and I am not sure if my visibility will continue to protect me—not here, not at the border."

This morning, Jose tried to fly out of McAllen, warning followers that he didn't know how the gambit would end. The result is the lead story at the Huffington Post:

A person who accompanied Vargas to the airport told HuffPost that Vargas handed his Philippines passport to a TSA agent, who asked if he was traveling with a visa. Vargas said he was not. According to the source, Vargas was then directed toward one of the 21,000 border patrol agents who have the border region on lockdown.
The agent asked Vargas two or three questions, placed him in handcuffs and escorted him to the McAllen border patrol station for more questioning, according to the source. The station is not a detention center.

Jose had been leading an extremely public life. Every day he wasn't detained—more than a thousand days since his article ran—was a statement. And so is today.

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July 15 2014 11:44 AM

Marion Barry Says Rob Ford Is “Making a Fool of Himself”

The latest edition of my interview podcast was taped at D.C.'s Carolina Kitchen, with a guest who can eat wherever he likes in this city: Marion Barry. The four-term mayor and third-term councilman (he has been easily re-elected since he made a 2004 comeback to represent the city's poorest ward) has just published a memoir, and we used that as the starting point for a discussion of gentrification, drugs, crime, and politics.

We also talked about Rob Ford. Sorry, but I couldn't resist. Ford is still running for re-election in Toronto, and he's become a kind of laughingstock, but it struck me that the coverage of Barry after his 1990 arrest (during an FBI sting operation) was so much less forgiving, more outraged—darker—then what greeted Ford. 

"He’s not connected to me," Barry said. "He doesn't have my historical record of achievement. My record is so far better. As far as his use of drugs and alchohol, he's making a fool of himself and"—Barry shook his head*—"he's making a fool of himself. He shouldn't use the fact of him using drugs as an excuse for being a fool. I sympathize with him. I know what he's going through. But I don't agree with what he's doing."

Barry's latest comments about Ford have been picked up by Canada's Globe and Mail. He's hard to dispute, as Ford looks set to be a one-term mayor with a legacy limited to some labor contract negotiations, transport funds diverted from a rail extension, and ... well, the crack. But Barry ruled D.C. for 18 years, and you can't talk about either the diverse public workforce (and black middle class) or about the damage of the crack wars without considering Barry. I was struck by how the mayor actually brought up his 1990 arrest before I did.

*It's hard to hear that on the tape.

July 15 2014 10:14 AM

Partisans Haven’t Figured Out How to Hate Elizabeth Warren Yet

Yesterday was fairly busy and historic at Slate, so I didn't get to join the caravan of reporters covering Elizabeth Warren's drop-in to West Virginia. The senator from Massachusetts was stumping for Natalie Tennant, the well-regarded secretary of state who's been given the thankless task of holding a seat in a state that voted against the Obama-Biden 2012 ticket in every single county. (No previous Democratic campaign had done so poorly.) "Dozens" of reporters were there to watch Warren, according to Robert Costa, some making their first jaunt to cover a race that has never been competitive this year.

Warren gave the speech she usually gives—us (nice people who work hard) vs. them (Wall Street). "Citibank and Goldman Sachs and all those other guys on Wall Street, they’ve got plenty of folks in the U.S. Senate willing to work on their side," she said in West Virginia. She said something similar in Kentucky

And in Kentucky, the smart take was that Mitch McConnell could benefit because "the visit by Warren— onsidered one of the most liberal lawmakers in the Senate—represents an opportunity to align Grimes once again with unpopular Democratic figures." In West Virginia, Costa put it like this: 

Tennant’s decision to invite Warren signals where she stands on the tension within the Democratic Party over whether to move more to the left as it tries to hold on to a slim Senate majority — and that she needs progressives to turn out in droves. Warren, who has frequently railed against the coziness of both parties with corporate titans and hedge-fund managers, is not beloved by some centrist Democratic financiers.

Some financiers? Sure, probably. Worth mentioning here that Warren raised close to $45 million for her 2012 Senate race, having never run for office before. There are make-work Democratic organizations that criticize "populism" in the party, and criticize a focus on "inequality" taking the place of a focus on "opportunity," and there are banking groups that went to battle with Warren during the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But centrist Democrats? Most liberal senator? I see a lot of attempts to put Warren in a box that she doesn't even need to get near unless she runs for president. Ripping shreds out of "the banks" is not just populist, but popular. If it weren't, you'd be able to name a candidate who proudly declared that he stood with Citigroup or Goldman Sachs. If it weren't, you'd see the charter of the Export-Import Bank being extended, because libertarians would have no constituency for a campaign to stop sales guarantees for large companies. If it weren't, the CFPB itself would poll terribly. It doesn't—as Warren knew in 2010, it was a popular idea opposed by bank lobbyists out of fear that it would become a popular reality. And if it wasn't, the aforementioned lobbyists would be weakening Dodd-Frank in Congress instead of through the regulatory system and rule approval process.

There's more evidence that the GOP has struggled to define Warren than evidence that she's unpopular. The local GOP put no real energy into "bracketing" Warren, opting to troll Tennant for breathing the same air as someone who favored (dramatic music) the new EPA regulations. Warren's in the position that Barack Obama was when, in the 2006 cycle, he raised money for West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd.

So what does it mean, in 2014, that Warren can hit West Virginia and Obama can't? Well, Obama has been president for five-odd years and become incredibly unpopular in a state that never liked him once he started running for president. (Obama lost the 2008 West Virginia primary by a landslide, with voters who called race "a factor" in their vote breaking huge for Hillary Clinton.) Warren isn't as culturally alien to West Virginia as Obama is, but she's also not the same sort of partisan figure. She would be if she ran for president. For now, she simply reminds the people at campaign rallies that running against the fathers of the financial crisis is a good idea.

July 15 2014 8:57 AM

New GOP Idea That Can Close the Gender Gap: Bring Policy “Down to a Woman’s Level”

Ashe Schow is out with an intriguing story from a panel that no other reporter scored a ticket for. It was a Friday panel put on by the Republican Study Committee, the House's conservative caucus; it was low-key enough to avoid mention on the RSC's website, or be turned into an RSC video. So the only report from the RSC's first event since Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall (July 9) took over is Schow's.

She doesn't sound impressed. The RSC, like the larger GOP, is on a messaging-to-women binge. North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers, a leadership favorite who's often put forward when the party wants a female messenger on health care or jobs, explained that men failed to bring policy "down to a woman's level" and thus lost votes.

Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that ... we need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman's level and what everything that she is balancing in her life — that’s the way to go.

Reading that, I thought of this week's Republican message, read by Senate candidate Joni Ernst (linked above), and how she focused on the promise of the Balanced Budget Amendment (a dead idea that polls well) because government should run its affairs like "you" run the household. No pesky charts there! And I remembered the RNC's messaging push of late June, when RNC vice chair Sharon Day argued that women were "not single issue voters" but human beings whose "priorities are the economy, government spending, education, and healthcare." There's a little bit of fantasy here, similar to what Democrats engage in when they ask why poor working class whites don't vote en masse for them. They're allowed to consider other factors when they vote.

July 14 2014 6:11 PM

Rick Santelli Was Wrong About Everything, Colleague Impolitely Points Out

Steve Liesman is to Rick Santelli what Moriarty was to Holmes, what Patton was to Rommel, what Angstrom Levy was/is to Invincible—a worthy opponent. The Liesman/Santelli tussles happen regularly on the shoutcentric financial channel CNBC, but today's went more viral than most. You can see why, as Santelli grows increasingly agitated and the traders behind him increasingly confused by this Liesman bill of particulars.

It's impossible for you to have been more wrong, Rick. Your call for inflation, the destruction of the dollar, the failure of the US economy to rebound. Rick, it’s impossible for you to have been more wrong. Every single bit of advice you gave would have lost people money, Rick. Lost people money, Rick. Every single bit of advice. There is no piece of advice that you've given that's worked, Rick. There is no piece of advice that you've given that's worked, Rick. Not a single one. Not a single one, Rick. The higher interest rates never came, the inability of the U.S. to sell bonds never happened, the dollar never crashed, Rick. There isn’t a single one that’s worked for you.

Santelli's response was basically that the current slow recovery was no recovery at all—a Chicago Cubs strategy. But it's true, the accidental Prometheus of neo-libertarianism has been wrong all kinds of ways on the inflation threat. If you took Santelli's panicky advice and traded your bonds for gold, you can hardly afford a bunk in Galt's Gulch anymore. 

In years past, I would have relied on my colleague Matthew Yglesias to explain why Santelli has been so consistently wrong. But doing so now requires a link to Vox—which, like Slate, lacks an army of brightly shirted hype men yelling and clapping whenever we argue over something.

July 14 2014 4:56 PM

Scenes From the Great Ex-Im Bank War of 2014

The Export-Import Bank, whatever else its sins, is at least a little transparent. Anyone can log onto its website and find out which companies have had foreign purchases guaranteed recently by Ex-Im. In Georgia, for example, Georgia Pacific has benefited from $257,379 in Ex-Im disbursements. You can find, rather easily, that Oklahoma's John Zink got nearly twice as much.

And you can find people talking about these disbursements because of the thread connecting these companies. Both are part of Koch Industries. Ever since Americans for Prosperity started looking like a legitimate threat to Ex-Im renewal, supporters of the bank have scoured for evidence of hypocrisy, anything to complicate the "libertarian populist" versus "business Republican" storyline.

The disbursements to these companies certainly does that, but isn't the search itself as interesting as what it turned up? The Ex-Im push, which follows on years of libertarian organization and messaging, is taking the form of oppo, personal lobbying of members of Congress, and thinkfluencing in op-ed pages. "The proposal to eliminate the Export-Import Bank is a form of unilateral disarmament that completely ignores the competitive realities of today’s global economy," writes a scholar from the Woodrow Wilson International Center, in Politico. (The piece is given the clicky headline "Expand the Ex-Im Bank, Don’t Eliminate It." In local papers, businessmen pour their hearts out about what the bank can do for them—for all of us, really.

July 14 2014 3:50 PM

Meet Joe Carr, the Last Tea Party Senate Challenger of 2014

A few thousand votes in Mississippi have, for now, prevented this from being the third consecutive year of Tea Party upsets. The hardy activists of Virginia's 7th District took down Rep. Eric Cantor; the swollen movement that declares this or that race a "target," then does not win it, did not even play in VA-07.

No surprise, then, that this year's last remaining challengers have called themselves the true heirs of Bratmentum. Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr is the most optimistic of the remainders, and he's been all Brat all the time in discussing his race against Sen. Lamar Alexander. The day after the Brat win, Carr appeared on CNBC as "the next Dave Brat" (question mark essential). "No race should be taken for granted," he crowed in a statement, "and all the money and position in the world doesn't resonate with an electorate that is fed up with a Washington establishment that has abandoned conservative principles." A day later, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, whose ability to get quoted has only slightly faded in the four years since he organized the only National Tea Party Convention, pronounced Carr the "next Dave Brat." And the Bratification has hardly stopped:

One thing Carr learned from the Brat race: The GOP base is more irritable about immigration reform than anyone admits. And unlike Cantor, Alexander actually voted for the Senate's immigration bill. Off to the ad-maker's shop he went:

Another Brat lesson: Laura Ingraham, who made that race about immigration, is a powerful influencer. Just today, the Carr campaign sent out a compilation of Ingraham quotes, leading with her insistence that she was "all in" for Carr.*

"He's no nonsense," said Ingraham, "a citizen legislator he'll be and he'll be someone who will actually listen to the people, politicians at some point do have to listen to the concerns of the people, not just the concerns of one or two, big, fat, interest groups like either LaRaza or the Chamber of Commerce. The people still count. Don't they, Lamar?"

Who knows? The primary is on Aug. 7, and there's been almost no polling in the race. If there were polling, Carr could point to the farcical mistakes made by the hacks who told Cantor he was going to win. The presence of a Tea Party challenge, even if it's swatted away easily, keeps the party nervous enough to run out the immigration reform clock.

*Correction, July 14, 2014: This post originally misstated that Laura Ingraham recently endorsed David Brat. She recently endorsed Joe Carr.

July 14 2014 1:58 PM

A Republican Attacks His Republican Opponent for Being Rich

The nation's attention has strayed from Georgia, where the inconclusive results of a May primary produced a two-month runoff campaign between businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston. The only clear takeaway was that Democrats would have a hard fall—they had hoped the runoff system would elevate one of the less electable members of Congress in the race. The campaign between a long-tenured congressman and a rich guy with a famous name produced no great narrative.

It has, via Politico, produced some solid class warfare. From the candidates' only debate, Kingston to Perdue:

David, now you have done well for yourself, but you live in a gated community, inside a gated community and have a gate at your house. How are you going to work with John Q. Public when they come up to you and have questions?

This is not how GOP politics is supposed to work in the Tea Party epoch. Perdue, who has run as pragmatic and conservative, has been strongly backed by Herman Cain.

And now, Kingston (who's been backed by the Chamber of Commerce) is appeaing to conservatives who think that resembling Mitt Romney is a bigger election-loser than being far-right.

July 14 2014 11:57 AM

Anti-Clinton Fan Fiction and Why People Read It

Last week I reviewed Edward Klein's "reporting" about the Clintons and Obamas in the form of a faux Klein story. CNN's Brian Stelter was nice enough to bring me on Reliable Sources to give non-faux (real, I guess the word is) opinions and reporting nuggets about the Klein book's audience and sales.

My most basic point: It's really not bad for the Clintons to watch Klein dominate the conservative literosphere. Humiliating, sure—there's a reason Correct the Record, the "fact checking" third-party group, keeps updating reporters with numbers to show that Hard Choices is selling OK. But the Clintons thrive when their opposition is barking at the moon and digging into conspiracy theories. They thrive, in part, because the left climbs aboard, and the mainstream press (which is giving off stink lines already about the turgidness of a Clinton restoration) gives the couple sympathetic coverage by proxy. (One example: this Guardian story by Jon Swaine, which points out that the very first anecdote in Klein's book, allegedly a quote-rich accounting of a lunch between Clinton and friends, gets the restaurant owner's name wrong.)

July 14 2014 9:35 AM

Why Rahm Emanuel’s Donors Are Getting Frisky

When a politico's first on-the-record response to a poll number is "wow," you know it's good for them. "Wow" is what Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, told the Chicago Sun-Times after being informed that she would easily lead Rahm Emanuel in a mayoral election. In an automated poll of more than 1,000 voters, Lewis led Emanuel by a 45–36 margin, cutting into every group that backed him four years ago. She trailed by only 3 points with white voters, led by 4 points with Hispanics, and led by 18 points with black voters—a margin that might increase if Lewis ran and black voters discovered that she, too, was black. And Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (a black woman, like Lewis) led Emanuel by 24 points.

Emanuel's weakness has been known for months—he lost the left ages ago, and has lost Chicagoans more generally over basic competence issues. In the Sun-Times, his response to the poll is an anonymous insult, "laughable." But this same pollster nailed the 2011 race, which Emanuel entered late and won. Not a single about that year showed him trailing, and the final poll correctly estimated that he'd win with around 55 percent of the vote in a crowded field. If "the left" is looking for a heel to take down, Emanuel's infinitely more vulnerable than New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Cuomo still polls favorably among Democrats.)

Here's the twist, which doubles as the reason we know Emanuel's camp believes the polling. At the end of June, Emanuel supporters launched a super PAC (yes, super PACs for mayoral races) to vacuum up hedge fund money. It worked, and in 10 days Chicago Forward announced $1 million in funds—from just eight people. Hedge funder Ken Griffin, who had just given $2.5 million to a PAC for the (independently wealthy) GOP gubernatorial candidate, gave $150,000 to Emanuel.

Preckwinkle raised a little more than $150,000 in three months this year.

It's a heartbreak for Emanuel's opponents, which for the moment include most voters in Chicago politics. On an even playing field, the mayor could be defeated easily. But he is building a megastadium, and his opponents maybe have enough money to throw together a batting cage.** Neither Lewis (who's never won an election) or Preckwinkle (who's in her 60s) is an ideal Democratic candidate, but no "ideal" candidate wants to rise up only to be buried under millions of dollars in super PAC money.

**I'm really not the one to make sports metaphors. Tell me how I'm doing.

Correction, July 14, 2014: This post originally misspelled Toni Preckwinkle's first name.

Correction, July 15, 2014: The headline for this post originaly misstated that Rahm Emanuel trailed his "primary challenger" by 22 points. The post also misstated that Emanuel "lost Democratic primary votes." Emanuel is facing a general election challenger. The headline has been changed.