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Grimm Felony Plea Poses Challenge For John Boehner

Michael McAuliff   |   December 23, 2014    2:44 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was hoping to start 2015 on a positive note, but the felony plea deal copped Tuesday by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) is posing an immediate challenge.

January will mark the first time since 2006 that the GOP has control of both houses of Congress, and Boehner will be at the helm of the House's largest GOP majority since the 1930s. He and his Senate counterpart, soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are hoping to show that Republicans can be trusted to govern.

But Grimm made clear soon after his conviction that Boehner would first have to deal with him, saying he did not intend to resign despite the felony charge.

"Everything we're talking about here happened before I was in Congress, and for the past four years I've been a very effective, strong member of Congress that has served the people of Staten Island very well," Grimm said Tuesday. "I think the proof of that is the will of the people. Ultimately the will of the people will speak."

Even before Grimm pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn federal courthouse, Democrats were using his case as a cudgel to pound away at Boehner's leadership.

“Speaker Boehner has let this go on long enough. It's past time for Michael Grimm to go and it's John Boehner’s responsibility to make it happen," said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement released hours before Grimm's plea.

"Speaker Boehner and Republican leaders' continued complicity in letting Michael Grimm stay in Congress despite his guilt of felony tax evasion is a disservice to the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn and a stain on the institution of the United States House of Representatives," Schwerin added. "After Speaker Boehner abetted Grimm's lies to voters about his guilt in this past election, he owes it to the constituents and the Congress to make sure Michael Grimm doesn't serve in this next Congress."

But forcing Grimm out is not a simple matter. Congressional legal experts say Boehner cannot deny Grimm the opportunity to be seated at the start of the 114th Congress. All he can really do is pressure Grimm to quit.

"That’s just political suasion that’s not legally enforceable," said Stan Brand, who was the House's top lawyer when Rep. Charlie Diggs (D-Mich.) was convicted in a kickback scheme in 1978. Diggs was re-elected shortly after he was found guilty, and stayed in Congress until he had to leave to serve jail time.

Michael Steel, Boehner's spokesman, said via email that the speaker was not prepared to say what he planned to do about Grimm.

"We won't have any announcements until the Speaker discusses the matter with Mr. Grimm," Steel said.

Grimm's advisers had signaled to local press outlets that the congressman might not go quietly into political retirement. As a result, Republicans were at least prepared in advance to push back against Democrats' inevitable attack that the GOP was keeping a convicted felon among its ranks.

One senior GOP aide, speaking anonymously because Boehner had not yet announced a course of action, made sure to point out that there was precedent -- even within the Democratic caucus led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- for not pushing out a member in legal trouble.

"After standing behind Reps. Bill Jefferson, Charlie Rangel, Jack Murtha, and many others, Rep. Pelosi has zero credibility of these issues," the aide said in an email.

Still, it's an issue that Democrats are certain not to drop. When the party won the House in the 2006 election, it did so in part by running against the GOP's "culture of corruption." This line of attack was a response to a number of high-profile political convictions among Republicans, including that of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.).

Grimm's sentencing was set for June 8, guaranteeing that he will be free and able to serve in Congress at least until then.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

A Felony Plea Can't Keep Michael Grimm Out Of Congress

Michael McAuliff   |   December 22, 2014    7:18 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) may be about to plead guilty to a felony, but there's nothing Congress can do to stop him from taking his seat in the House early next month.

"The only time there would be a clash between his ability to serve and his conviction, if he gets one, would be if he has to leave and enter a federal facility," said Stan Brand, a former top lawyer for the House. "If he’s not sentenced to incarceration, that issue never comes up."

Grimm was hit with a 20-count federal indictment before he easily won re-election in November, and he will reportedly plead guilty to one count of federal tax evasion at a 1 p.m. court hearing on Tuesday.

Grimm, a former Marine and FBI agent, said during the campaign that he would resign if unable to serve, presumably a reference to the possibility of his being imprisoned. The charge to which he is expected to plead guilty carries significant potential jail time, but the sentence would be up to the judge.

The New York Daily News reported Monday that if Grimm is not sentenced to jail time, he will argue that he should serve in Congress.

Brand said Grimm would have that right.

"The framers felt the ultimate choice of the people in the district is what prevails, and if they want a convicted felon, that’s their right," Brand said. "We can all say 'Oh, isn't it terrible,' but if that’s what the people of Staten Island want, then they’re entitled to have that."

"It's great grist for the comedy shows, but legally and constitutionally, hey, welcome to America," Brand added.

Of course, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) can make life difficult for Grimm, and can try to convince him to quit. House leaders have called on members to resign for lesser offenses. Boehner's office was not immediately prepared to comment Monday.

The House Committee on Ethics could also start its own action against Grimm, with the possible outcome of recommending his expulsion, which would require a vote of the House.

"Even after that," said Brand, "if they decided not to impose the extreme sanction of expulsion, he would be free to serve."

And that's the way the founders of the nation wanted it, he added.

"Grimm was re-elected by his constituents with full knowledge that he had been charged," said Brand.

So when the House starts work on Jan. 6, Grimm can be there if he wants to be, and if he hasn't shuffled off to a federal penitentiary.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

Feds Accuse McDonald's Of Violating Workers' Rights

Dave Jamieson   |   December 19, 2014    2:00 PM ET

In a major blow to big franchisers, the National Labor Relations Board issued several complaints against McDonald's on Friday, naming the fast food giant a "joint employer" alongside its franchisees accused of violating labor law.

The fast food industry has been fearing just such a move by the board, since it shows federal regulators are willing to hold large corporations responsible for the labor violations inside franchised stores. Until now, it's generally been the franchisees operating the restaurants who've been held responsible.

"The complaints allege that McDonald’s USA, LLC and certain franchisees violated the rights of employees working at McDonald’s restaurants at various locations around the country," the board said in a statement.

The alleged violations by McDonald's and its franchisees included "making statements and taking actions against [workers] for engaging in activities aimed at improving their wages and working conditions."

The franchise industry has been blasting the board for months for considering issuing such complaints. In a statement issued Friday, McDonald's said the board's actions "improperly and dramatically strike at the heart of the franchise system."

The complaints issued Friday grew out of the Fight for $15 movement that's sprouted in the past two years, with fast food workers staging periodic strikes in cities throughout the country to fight for higher wages. The board's move marks a major victory for the union-backed campaign, as workers have tried to hold major franchisers like McDonald's responsible for the actions of their franchisees.

McDonald's took a shot at the campaign on Friday, saying unions were carrying out an attack.

"These allegations are driven in large part by a two-year, union-financed campaign that has targeted the McDonald’s brand and impacted McDonald’s restaurants," the company said. "McDonald’s has taken the appropriate measures, working properly with its independent franchisees, to defend itself against that attack on its business."

Of 291 charges filed against McDonald's by workers since 2012, the board said it found merit in 86 of them. As is custom, the board's general counsel tried to hash out a settlement between McDonald's and the complainants over the last few months, but only achieved that in a small number of the cases. The remaining charges have been grouped into 13 different complaints that will now be heard before the labor board's regional offices.

Michael Wasser, policy analyst at the worker group Jobs with Justice, said in an email that the complaints provide McDonald's workers with an opportunity to hold their "real boss" accountable.

"We know that McDonald’s sets rigorous operating standards for its franchisees, from menus, to uniforms to employment practices," Wasser said. "And we know that they monitor and enforce those standards at the corporate level. So when these practices appear to break the law, accountability should start at the top."

Americans Are Less Comfortable Than Dick Cheney With The CIA's Wrongful Detentions

Ariel Edwards-Levy   |   December 19, 2014   12:25 PM ET

Most Americans agree with former Vice President Dick Cheney's sentiments on the CIA's post-9/11 detention program: "Bad guys who got out and released" and returned to the battlefield are more of a concern than "a few that, in fact, were innocent" and detained, Cheney said on "Meet the Press" Sunday after the Senate released a summary of a report detailing serious errors and abuses in the program.

But the high percentage of wrongfully detained prisoners -- at least 22 percent, according to the report -- gives many people pause, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.

Fifty-five percent of Americans say it's worse to release from detention terrorists who could harm the U.S., while just 35 percent say it's worse to wrongly detain innocent people. Another 9 percent are unsure.

Intensity is on the side of those who agree with Cheney, with 37 percent saying it would be much worse to release terrorists, and just 19 percent that it's much worse to detain innocent people.

But after being told about the Senate report's estimate of how many people were wrongly detained -- and that some of those people were tortured -- just 27 percent thought the wrongful detentions were acceptable, while 66 percent said they were unacceptable.

Those in the latter camp were split, with 33 percent saying some mistakes are unavoidable but that the number was too high, and 30 percent that the U.S. should never subject an innocent person to torture.

As in other recent polling on torture, Americans were divided by party. Republicans were 30 points more likely than Democrats to say the level of wrongful detentions was acceptable, while Democrats were 30 points more likely than Republicans to say torturing an innocent person is never acceptable.

The survey also finds a serious disconnect between Americans' support for civil liberties in general and their reluctance to see terrorists go free. Despite the majority preference to err on the side of overreach when detaining suspected terrorists, fewer were willing to to take that stance when the question was framed in terms of the Constitution.

Americans said by a 14-point margin that it's more important to ensure people’s constitutional rights even if it means that some suspected terrorists are never found than it is to find every potential terrorist even if some innocent people are seriously hurt. That represents a significant shift from a 2002 NPR/Kaiser/Kennedy School poll taken less than a year after 9/11, in which catching terrorists was more important by a 3-point margin.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Dec. 16-18 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the poll's methodology are available here.

Washington Gives Wall Street Another Holiday Gift

Zach Carter   |   December 18, 2014    6:37 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Christmas came early for Wall Street this year. The Federal Reserve on Thursday granted banks an extra year to comply with a key provision of the Volcker Rule, a move that gives financial lobbyists more time to kill the new regulation before it goes into effect.

The Volcker Rule is a key element of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law that bans banks from engaging in proprietary trading -- speculative deals that are designed only to benefit the bank itself, rather than its clients. Thursday's move by the Fed gives banks an additional year to unwind investments in private equity firms, hedge funds and specialty securities projects. The central bank also said it plans to extend the deadline by another 12 months next year, which would give Wall Street a two-year reprieve through the 2016 presidential election.

The Fed's delay comes less than a week after Congress granted Wall Street a reprieve from another reform that had been mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The measure, known as the swaps push-out rule had eliminated federal subsidies for trading in risky derivatives -- the complex contracts at the heart of the 2008 banking meltdown. Bank watchdogs say the Volcker Rule delay adds insult to injury.

"Swaps pushout was a club," said Marcus Stanley, policy director for Americans for Financial Reform. "This is a stiletto."

Big banks including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have billions of dollars invested in private equity firms that they would have to sell at a loss based on current prices, according to a Bloomberg report from early December. Dodd-Frank gave banks four years to unwind their investments in speculative enterprises, setting a deadline of July 21, 2014. The Fed had previously extended that deadline by one year, and now plans to push it out to July 2017.

"The Street has had years of notice to unwind these investments, and it appears that their self-serving complaints have been accepted fairly uncritically without a real analysis for the basis of the claim," said Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets, a financial reform advocacy group. "If you can't get out of a trade in seven years, it's probably not the kind of trade you should be doing."

Dodd-Frank included an exemption for particularly illiquid investments that banks could not reasonably sell off in a timely manner. But banks were required to document their troubles in detail to prove that they would, in fact, have trouble exiting their contracts. The Fed's move Thursday provides a blanket exemption to all bank investments in speculative enterprises.

Progressive Democrats were outraged by the decision.

"Every day -– every single day –- we are at risk of a market meltdown that would wreck our economy even worse than the 2008 crash did, or even than the 1929 crash did," Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) told HuffPost. "Six years after the fact, we have taken no significant action to reduce the Wall Street gambling or 'too big to fail' concentration that caused the 2008 crash. If we can’t even implement the Volcker Rule, an extremely modest effort to stave off total disaster, then total disaster is exactly what we can expect."

"The financial system will be in better hands once Dodd/Frank is fully implemented," said Eric Harris, a spokesman for Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.). Moore had previously backed various efforts to chip away at Dodd-Frank's derivatives rules, but strongly opposed last week's swaps push-out repeal.

"The Wall Street Casino is alive and well," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who co-authored the Volcker Rule statute with Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). "Last week it was Congress granting the big banks the right to keep trading on banned risky derivatives with government backing. Today it is the Fed granting big banks two more years to make big bets through direct ownership of private equity and hedge funds. It all amounts to the same thing – spineless accommodation of the big banks’ desire to run taxpayer-subsidized hedge funds. This is wrong for taxpayers and it is wrong for the stability of our banking system. We expect more of the Federal Reserve."

The delay is an embarrassment for President Barack Obama, who championed the Volcker Rule in 2010, as well as for Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo, a major proponent of tougher regulation at the central bank. It is a victory for the Fed's top lawyer, Scott Alvarez, a holdover from the years when Alan Greenspan served as chairman. Alvarez suggested watering down the Volcker Rule at a conference for bank lawyers in November.

"This is clearly the doing of Federal Reserve general counsel Scott Alvarez," one Democratic aide told HuffPost.

Six years after Dodd-Frank passed, proprietary trading persists on Wall Street. In 2012, JPMorgan Chase lost over $6 billion on an infamous proprietary trade known as "The London Whale."

This article has been updated to include Merkley's comment.

Tom Coburn: We Don't Need Another Bush

Michael McAuliff   |   December 16, 2014    2:53 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Reaction among Republican senators to the news former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is exploring a presidential run was mixed on Tuesday, but retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was unequivocal, living up to his nickname of "Dr. No."

"Anybody wants to run for president, they can. That doesn’t mean they’ll have my vote," Coburn told a handful of reporters just off the Senate floor.

"I don't think we need another Bush. Period. And I like them all. But I don’t think we need another Bush," Coburn said.

He was far more adamant than some of his colleagues, including those who are considering running for the White House in 2016 themselves.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), strolling through the halls with former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), didn't say much.

"You know, I think the more the merrier," Paul said, begging off to continue his conversation with the famously liberal but independent-minded Kucinich, himself a former presidential candidate.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), asked about Bush, preferred to stick to his talking points. He bashed President Barack Obama over his executive actions on immigration, calling them a "constitutional crisis."

"I'm speaking about President Obama. I know you want to speak about Jeb Bush, but I'm speaking about President Obama," Cruz told reporters. Coincidentally or not, Bush was a supporter of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that Cruz opposed.

The last Republican senator to win the presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), took more of a wry approach to questions about Bush.

"I’m the loser, why should anyone take my advice for God’s sake? Maybe they should do the opposite of what I did," McCain said.

He did allow that Bush has a head start on his would-be opponents, and would do well in scaring up the early campaign contributions.

"Obviously Jeb Bush has a very good base of contributors for his family name, for his long record, and also for being a very successful governor of Florida, so he has a real advantage there," McCain said.

But McCain had another suggestion for who should run for president: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

"Obviously, Lindsey Graham, if he decides to run, he’s my closest friend," McCain said.

UPDATE: 4:00 p.m. -- Asked later about the prospect of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton running for president, and whether the country similarly didn't need another Clinton, Coburn was less emphatic. "That’s for the Democrats to decide who they nominate," Coburn said.

"I think it would be wonderful if we had somebody that actually knew what the heck they were doing and had lots of experience, and none of it was in government," added Coburn, who was a doctor before he got into politics.

But asked about another doctor who is generating buzz in the GOP field, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Coburn found his certainty again.

"I wouldn’t vote for Ben Carson," he said.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

Amanda Terkel   |   December 10, 2014    9:36 AM ET

Despite a significant rise in income inequality in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R) is arguing that it's not something the state ought to be worried about.

We don’t grapple with that here," Perry told The Washington Post in a recent interview, while acknowledging that the state's richest residents have seen the greatest spike in earnings.

“Biblically, the poor are always going to be with us in some form or fashion,” he added, an apparent reference to Mark 14:7. While Perry takes the message from the Bible to mean poverty is hopeless and therefore not worth grappling with, Jesus Christ was actually delivering a different lesson: "For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good," the Son of God advises in the King James version of the Bible.

Yet the Biblical shoulder-shrugging is consistent with what Perry said while briefly running for president in 2011, when he proposed a tax plan that would have helped wealthy Americans while potentially raising the taxes of lower- and middle-income people.

"I don't care about that," Perry said when asked by The New York Times about the effect on income inequality. "If that's what comes, I'll take that criticism."

Texas was among 15 states that saw a significant rise in income inequality, meaning "people who are on the higher end of the income spectrum saw an increase in earnings and those on the lower end grew very little or saw no change," the Houston Chronicle recently reported, citing new Census Bureau data.

Mark Frank, an economics professor at Sam Houston State University, has put Texas fifth in the nation in income inequality, and a study from Standard and Poors has found that the gap could hurt state tax revenues and economic growth.

The Post reported that Perry has recently been huddling with conservative economists who argue against the mainstream economic analysis of the causes and consequences of income inequality.

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Igor Bobic   |   December 4, 2014   10:49 AM ET

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is sticking by his assertion that, had Eric Garner been healthier, he would not have died after a police officer placed him in a chokehold.

"There was no damage to the wind pipe, and no damage to the neck. If he had not been obese, if he had not had diabetes, if he had not asthma, this probably would not have have happened. Nobody intended this to have happened," King said Thursday on Fox News.

Garner's death was ruled a homicide caused by compression to his neck and chest, as well as the way he was positioned on the ground by police officers. His asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease were also contributing factors to his death. A grand jury on Wednesday decided not to indict the officer who placed him in a chokehold, prompting protests across the nation.

"Eleven times he said, 'I can't breathe,'" King acknowledged. "The fact is, if you can't breathe, you can't talk. If you've ever seen somebody arrested, they are always saying you're breaking my arm, you're killing me, I'm dying. If the police officer let him go at that time, the whole thing would have started all over again."

The outspoken New York congressman also denied the notion that race was a factor in the incident, arguing that authorities had ample cause to arrest Garner because he "had become a problem in the neighborhood."

"From my knowledge of the case, there is absolutely no elements of racism here, and there was no intent by the police officer to cause deadly or physical harm to the deceased, Mr. Garner. The senior officer at the scene was an African-American female sergeant. She was there the entire time. Certainly during the time we see in the video," he said.

"Secondly, the reason the police officers came in to make this arrest is because the local business people in the minority community went to police headquarters and said that [Garner] was causing disturbances over the previous several weeks and was driving customers away," King added. "He had become a problem in the neighborhood and the police went in to stop him and he resisted arrest."

Watch King's comments above.

Donte' Stallworth   |   December 2, 2014    2:19 PM ET

The Ferguson protests came to the House floor Monday night, when a group of black lawmakers raised their hands in the gesture that has come to symbolize the movement.

"'Hands up, don't shoot' is a rallying cry of people all across America who are fed up with police violence," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), one of the Congressional Black Caucus members who participated in the demonstration.

"If we are to learn anything from the tragic death of Michael Brown, we must first acknowledge that we have a race issue we are not addressing," added CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), according to The Washington Post.

On Nov. 24, a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.

Since that announcement, there have been protests around the country -- and even abroad -- that have blocked traffic in major cities and raised awareness about the racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

The St. Louis Rams recently joined in by raising their hands during pre-game introductions at Sunday's home game. This show of solidarity with the protesters drew the ire of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which called on the NFL and the team to discipline the players and issue an apology. The players, however, will not be punished.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) praised those players Monday night.

"Let me say that I also admire the young St. Louis Rams players who raised their hands," she said. "To be able to share in the dignity of those young peaceful protesters. If we don't affirm non-violence, then who will?"

New GOP Congressman Says Government Bribes Single Parents To Be Lazy, Stay Unmarried

Amanda Terkel   |   December 1, 2014    4:33 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- When Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) joins the House of Representatives in January, he'll bring with him his longtime enthusiasm for the issue of welfare reform. He has said in the past that the current welfare system is "destroying families" and railed against single parenthood.

On Sunday, Grothman continued his crusade to reform welfare, saying the government is currently bribing single parents to have children out of wedlock and stay unemployed.

"So your viewers are aware, a single parent with a couple kids can easily get $35,000 a year in total benefits between the health care and the earned income credit and the FoodShare and the low-income housing and what have you," Grothman said during an interview on "UpFront with Mike Gousha," a statewide television program. "And that's after taxes. How many people make $35,000 a year after taxes? Most people don't."

"When you look at that amount of money -- which is in essence a bribe not to work that hard or a bribe not to marry someone with a full-time job -- people immediately realize you have a problem," he added. "Then as soon as you realize you have a problem and something has to be done, then you look at the generosity of the benefits and see what you can do to pare them back."

Gousha questioned Grothman's choice of words, pointing out that saying the government is bribing people is "pretty strong." Grothman, however, stood firm.

"Well, if you tell somebody you're going to get $35,000 if you don't get married and you're not going to get anything if you marry somebody making 50 grand a year, it's certainly a strong incentive not to raise children in wedlock," he replied.

Grothman appears to be referring to an analysis by the libertarian Cato Institute, which did a state-by-state calculation for a hypothetical mother of two getting benefits from seven public assistance programs, such as welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and housing aid.

The liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, however, has said that Cato's analysis is flawed. First, very few families receive all the benefits that Cato uses in its calculation. Second, Cato presents welfare and work as an either/or option. In other words, these programs don't encourage people to stay unemployed just so they can receive more benefits.

"Cato wrongly assumes that a non-working family can count on TANF [welfare] and housing assistance," CBPP wrote. "Cato also wrongly assumes that a family that leaves welfare for work does not receive Medicaid and SNAP [food stamps] and would lose housing assistance if the family had received it previously."

Grothman, a member of state Senate leadership, has long been known as one of Wisconsin's most controversial conservative state lawmakers. He introduced a bill calling single parenthood a risk factor for child abuse, argued in favor of a seven-day work week, gone to battle against Kwanzaa and accused some teachers of having an "agenda" to turn students gay.

Grothman beat his Democratic opponent last month to replace outgoing Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.).

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Samantha Lachman   |   November 14, 2014   11:20 AM ET

Only 9 percent of Americans approved of Congress in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections, which may explain why the election drew the lowest turnout since 1942.

That's just one revealing insight from the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll, which surveyed a national sample of Americans between Oct. 22-26 about their attitudes towards President Barack Obama and the two major political parties in anticipation of the president being forced to work with a Republican-controlled Congress in his final two years in office.

In 2012, Democrats held onto the Senate perhaps in part because Americans at that time had relatively more positive feelings towards the institution: At the same point in the last election cycle, 21 percent of those surveyed by Allstate/National Journal approved of Congress.

But now that the GOP has a solid majority in the Senate -- it will have at least 53 seats come January -- and has increased its governing majority in the House, Congress is poised to disappoint Americans as much as they expect it to. Only 13 percent of Americans thought that the election would result in more cooperation than before. Twenty-one percent said there would now be less cooperation, while 60 percent thought the level of gridlock would be about the same.

That disconnect was illustrated on Thursday by continued animosity between Obama and Congress, with incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying he was "very disturbed" by the president's vow to act independently to prevent deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Even as Americans believe that cooperation between the two parties is improbable, they were still significantly more likely to say their lives would benefit from "Democrats and Republicans compromising" to solve problems than from either party controlling both the White House and Congress. That finding held in equivalent numbers for Republican and Democrats.

The mood towards the Obama administration is best characterized as ambivalent: Thirty-two percent of Americans surveyed thought the president's actions would have no impact on their "opportunity to get ahead," which was the highest rating captured since the poll began asking that question in July 2009. After Obama first assumed the presidency, 47 percent of Americans thought the country was heading in the right direction, but in this latest poll, that number had been halved.

The poll, which is the 21st in a series looking at how Americans are affected by the changing economy, surveyed 1,000 adults by landline and cell phones, and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Jon Tester Will Lead Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee For 2016

Amanda Terkel   |   November 13, 2014    1:07 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) was named the next chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Thursday, placing a red-state Democrat with a populist streak in charge of recruiting 2016 candidates for the party.

Tester's new role was announced after Democrats in the Capitol held their leadership elections.

"One of my concerns moving forward is being able to win in every state across this country -- red state, purple state and blue," Tester told reporters shortly after the new leadership team held a press conference.

The appointment of the Montana Democrat comes as the DSCC has reached a crossroads. After four straight relatively successful election cycles -- with some unexpected victories in the latter two -- the committee suffered terrible setbacks in 2014. Eight Senate seats were lost to Republicans, with a ninth expected to be go following the runoff election in the Louisiana race.

But the next DSCC chair is also looking at an enviable political map in two years. Only 10 Senate Democrats are up for re-election in 2016, the residual benefit of the shellacking they took in 2010 when tea party Republicans swept into office. Republicans, meanwhile, will have 24 seats to defend, including five in states that President Barack Obama won twice.

With races being run in states like Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa, Democratic recruitment could be easy. But fundraising might be tougher: The incoming chairman will have to compete with the Democratic presidential candidate for donor dollars.

Tester declined Thursday to weigh in on where the best chances will be for Democrats to pick up Senate seats in 2016.

"We'll look at the map. Every seat that there's a race, I think we've got a chance at picking it up," he told reporters.

Though he comes from a state with a comparatively small population, Tester has proved to be a strong fundraiser. He pulled in $20 million from 2005 through 2014. With one more election cycle, he is likely to pass former Sen. Max Baucus (D) as the most prolific fundraiser in Montana's federal political history.

Lawyers and law firms have been Tester's biggest donors, giving $1.39 million from 2007 through 2012. After them have come retired professionals ($850,000) and the securities and investment industry ($646,000), according to campaign finance records.

Tester's political reputation is that of someone who has been able to sell a reliably Democratic record in a conservative state. He was first elected to the Senate in 2006, when he unseated the Republican incumbent in a tight race, and won in 2012 against then-Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.). During the latter race, Tester defended his vote for the Affordable Care Act.

He also supported expanded background checks for gun purchases, despite hailing from a state where such a position could be toxic. He co-sponsored a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform and joined with other progressives last year in opposing the idea of naming Larry Summers to chair the Federal Reserve.

But Tester is a backer of building the Keystone XL pipeline, putting him at odds with more progressive members of his party. His support of coal has similarly irritated the environmental wing of the party.

A progressive activist involved in Montana politics, however, was optimistic about Tester's ability to recruit.

"Jon's got a progressive heart and a political mind," said the activist, who requested anonymity to speak openly. "His job will be to find principled Democrats who can win in red states. There's no one in that caucus better able to do it."

Perhaps one of the reasons Tester ended up with the DSCC job is that few others actually wanted it. According to several Democratic sources, Tester went to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and said he was interested in the gig after other lawmakers took their names out of consideration.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who was approached about the job and reported to be a finalist, was one of those who bowed out. He did so, his office said, due to family considerations.

"Senator Coons genuinely wants to do whatever he can to help Democrats take back the Senate in 2016, so he gave the DSCC job real consideration," said Coons spokesman Ian Koski. "He ultimately decided it wasn't the right time for him to do it. Senator Coons has three teenagers at home and the travel commitments of the DSCC chair are brutal. He's also inherently a pretty bipartisan guy and was concerned it would be harder to make real progress on some of his legislative priorities while running the DSCC."

"Senator Coons has offered to help Senator Tester however he can and looks forward to winning back the majority," Koski added.

Tester isn't the only change coming to the DSCC. Like the outgoing chair, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), the committee's executive director, Guy Cecil, won't be back. Cecil is rumored to be in consideration to run Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

But Tester does have strong ties within the larger Democratic infrastructure. Stephanie Schriock, his former chief of staff -- and another oft-mentioned possible Clinton campaign manager -- has turned the group EMILY's List into a Democratic juggernaut.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said it was encouraging to see a fellow Democrat from a Republican-heavy state land a spot in leadership.

"Jon is one of my best friends in the caucus, and he does come from a state like mine, in terms of politics," McCaskill said. "I think having him out there as one face of the leadership is important for states that aren't bright blue."

Ultimately, McCaskill said, Tester is a great pick because he understands what hard work is about. "This is a guy who goes home and repairs his own tractor," she said.

Below are the Senate seats up for election in 2016:

Map created by Aaron Bycoffe.

Paul Blumenthal and Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

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Samantha Lachman   |   November 12, 2014    5:10 PM ET

Nevada Republicans have full control of the state's government for the first time since 1929, and their first order of business is passing a bill requiring photo identification to vote.

MSNBC interviewed Nevada's Republican Secretary of State-Elect Barbara Cegavske, who said her party's state legislators are preparing voter ID bills for early next year.

“They’re writing them now,” Cegavske told MSNBC. “It just depends on how soon they get them in.”

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has previously said that he supports voter ID laws, so the bill likely would be signed were it to reach his desk. The new direction of the legislature illustrates the way in which Nevada Democrats suffered without a competitive candidate at the top of the ticket challenging Sandoval.

Cegavske defeated Nevada's Democratic Treasurer Kate Marshall on Nov. 4. in a race that contrasted the two candidates' opposing stances on voter ID. Tea party favorite Sharron Angle, who challenged Sen. Harry Reid in 2010, also led an unsuccessful effort to put a measure on the ballot imposing a voter ID requirement, though she failed to gather enough signatures.

Though Cegavske told MSNBC “we want to make sure nobody’s disenfranchised," she justified voter ID laws as "a way to ensure the integrity of elections."

Nevada Democrats disagreed Wednesday, arguing that there is no foundation for the voter ID laws Republican legislators are writing.

"It's unfortunate that after spending her two decades in the legislature trying anything and everything to disenfranchise voters, Barbara Cegavske is planning to continue her war on voting when she becomes Secretary of State by pushing a discriminatory voter id bill," spokesman Zach Hudson said in a statement sent to The Huffington Post. "It says something about how upside down Barbara Cegavkse's priorities are that she voted to keep it as easy as possible for criminals to obtain guns but wants to make it as hard as possible for people to vote. This is a solution in search of a problem that Nevada doesn't need and can't afford. Does Barbara Cegavske plan to take money out of Nevada schools to pay for her plan to disenfranchise voters? Nevada Democrats will do everything we can to protect working families' right to vote."

The new Nevada state legislature's decision to prioritize voter ID resembles what happened in North Carolina when the state GOP consolidated control with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's win in 2012. The next year, Republican state legislators sent a bill to his desk mandating that voters show photo identification at the polls in 2016, along with a host of other new restrictions on voting access. The package of restrictions is being challenged by civil rights groups, who argue that the new laws violate Section 2 of the the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race.

On Oct. 9, the Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin’s voter ID law for the 2014 midterm election, but allowed a law in Texas to go forwarded. Reports demonstrated that the Texas law disenfranchised women, students, low-income, minority and disabled voters.

Democrats Argue Their 2014 Ground Game Worked

Michael McAuliff   |   November 7, 2014    2:55 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Don't laugh. Don't snarf your coffee. Democrats say their 2014 Senate race ground game worked.

Sure, they're on the losing side of an election that is likely to see a nine-seat swing in the U.S. Senate once the counting is all done, handing majority control to the Republicans.

But the results would have been even worse if the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hadn't invested some $60 million in an unprecedented midterm get-out-the-vote effort, according to a memo Democrats are circulating about the debacle. The effort was dubbed the Bannock Street Project, after the street where DSCC boss Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.) had his campaign headquarters when he won in the 2010 midterms.

It's actually a pretty simple argument that says in all the places the DSCC invested, it did boost turnout in 2014 compared with 2010. But the problem was Republicans also did better in some places and independents turned heavily against Democrats, swamping whatever ground game Democrats mustered.

DSCC Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter, citing the memo, pointed to several states as examples, including Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia and North Carolina.

In New Hampshire, unlike in most of the country, overall voting surged compared to the last midterm election. In 2010, some 441,000 voters cast ballots. This year, that jumped by more than 10 percent to 486,000. According to Democrats' breakdown of the contest, more of those new voters were Democrats, with their share of the electorate rising from 27 percent in 2010 to 28 percent this year, while the GOP share fell from 30 percent to 27 percent. The result was that Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen held off the challenge from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. She prevailed by fewer than 16,000 votes.

"If the electorate was like 2010, Jeanne Shaheen would have lost," Canter said.

In two other states where Democrats invested heavily, but lost, they can also point to a spike in Democratic turnout -- Colorado and North Carolina.

In Colorado, Bennet won in 2010 with 852,000 votes, even though Republicans had a 7-point voter turnout edge. He dominated with independent voters. In 2014, according to the Democratic memo, their get-out-the-vote surge whittled the GOP advantage to just 5 points, and Sen. Mark Udall (D) got many more votes than Bennet -- 916,000. But the big difference was that independent voters soured on President Barack Obama, and flocked to Rep. Cory Gardner (R), who got his own Republican surge and tallied 966,000 votes. The increased Democratic showing did seem to save their governor, John Hickenlooper.

"Gov. Hickenlooper wouldn't have won without Mark Udall's ground game," Canter said.

It was a similar tale in North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan narrowly lost to Republican Thom Tillis. Democrats got out their voters, but Republicans also boosted turnout, and again, independents favored the GOP.

"African-American turnout in North Carolina looked more like 2012 than 2010," Canter said, referring to the large outpouring of voters for Obama's re-election compared with meager turnout two years before.

To put an exclamation point on the impact of the ground game, Democrats pointed to Virginia, where the Senate committee did not invest, and where Sen. Mark Warner (D) eked out a narrow win over Republican lobbyist Ed Gillespie. Turnout fell overall, but especially among key groups for Democrats, compared with last year's governor's contest. (There was not a 2010 Senate contest in Virginia.) Voting in African-American precincts fell by more than 10 percent. With less focus on the base, the GOP nearly pulled a huge upset.

The bottom line, Democrats argue, is that even if they get their voters out in greater numbers than normal, that is not enough if a true wave is washing over the country.

"The ground game can work and we can still lose. The two aren't mutually exclusive," Canter said.

Canter and others at the DSCC are talking about the raw numbers because they feel the strategy did what it was intended to do, even if it didn't affect the broader electoral environment. And they believe the party shouldn't give up on a tool that made the difference for Hickenlooper and Shaheen, and that could be a bigger key in a more normal election year.

"I don't want the wrong lessons to be learned by Democrats," said Matt Dover, the director of campaigns at Civis Analytics, a firm created from the Obama campaign analytics operation and that did the targeting for the DSCC. "The goal all along was to make the electorate measurably better than it was in 2010. The evidence is there that that's in fact what happened."

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.