Trump Finally Has Hispanic Cabinet Member


By Ginger Adams Otis, NY Daily News

President Trump’s pick for labor secretary was confirmed Thursday — squeaking in just under the wire to complete the POTUS’ cabinet before his 100th day in office.

Alex Acosta, the son of Cuban immigrants, will be the nation’s 27th labor secretary after his swearing-in. The Senate voted a 60-38 to confirm his nomination.

He will preside over an agency that covers more than 10 million employers and 125 million workers.

Acosta was the first Hispanic nominee to Trump’s cabinet — and his road forward was far less bumpy than that of Trump’s first choice, fast-food CEO and billionaire Andrew Puzder.

Puzder was criticized for his fast-food companies’ history of labor and wage violations and for hiring an undocumented woman as a housekeeper.

But it may have been the allegations of domestic abuse in his first marriage — claims his ex-wife later disavowed — that did the most damage to his chances.

Puzder was about to go before the initial Senate committee when a number of Republicans indicated he no longer had their support — prompting Puzder’s withdrawal in February.

Organized labor, which had been loudly opposed to Puzder, was far more measured in its reaction to Acosta.

His confirmation Thursday drew little response.

Acosta has a track record of working with some unions from his time on the National Labor Relations Board.

He’s also been a federal prosecutor and a civil rights chief at the Justice Department.

Acosta will arrive at the top post with a relatively clear record on some of the top issues facing the administration, such as whether to expand the pool of American workers eligible for overtime pay.

The labor secretary was the last spot filled in the Trump cabinet — and for the President, approaching his 100th day in office, Acosta’s confirmation couldn’t have come at a better time.

Trump’s choice for U.S. trade representative, a job considered Cabinet-level, is awaiting a Senate vote.

At his Senate confirmation hearings, Acosta refused to answer any policy questions but vowed to be an independent and fair voice for workers.

Latino Political Group Turning Attention From Washington to State Capitals


By Ed O’Keefe, Post Politics

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) participates in a reenacted swearing-in with then-Vice President Joe Biden at the Capitol on Jan. 3. She’ll be in Georgia on Thursday for the launch of a new political action committee. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

An organization that helped elect seven Latinos to Congress last year is now looking to make similar gains in several state capitals.

The Latino Victory Project, a group that has raised millions of dollars to train and recruit Latino candidates, on Thursday is formally launching its first state-based PAC in Georgia. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) — the nation’s first female Hispanic U.S. senator — is traveling to the Atlanta area on Thursday for the kickoff and will appear alongside state Rep. Brenda Lopez (D), elected last year as Georgia’s first female Hispanic state legislator.

LVP is working on launching similar state-based PACs in Arizona, Florida and New York, where the group would recruit or endorse candidates in city or state legislative races.

“Our goal is to help build a bench for Latino candidates from school board to Senate. We have not seen another organization undertake this before,” Cristobal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Fund, said in an interview.

A spokesman for Cortez Masto confirmed she would be attending the breakfast-time kickoff event to help an organization that endorsed her campaign last year.

Georgia might seem like an odd place for a Latino political group to start, but the Peach State caught the attention of national Democrats last year. The reason? Fast Latino voter growth. They comprised just 2.3 percent of the state’s 5.4 million voters as of last November — but that’s a threefold increase since 2004, according to the Pew Research Center. Latino voter registration climbed from 34,000 during the 2004 elections to 127,000 last year, Pew said.

Last summer, as Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign appeared to be pulling away from Donald Trump in several key swing states, her campaign began deploying staffers to Georgia — a state Democrats hadn’t won in a presidential race since 1992 — in hopes of turning out Latino voters in the Atlanta area and towns like Gainesville, a poultry industry mecca that is home to thousands of working-class Hispanic families. A similar strategy was used in Arizona, North Carolina and to a lesser extent in Wisconsin and Iowa — but it did little to close Clinton’s margins against Trump.

[From August: As she gains in polls, Clinton seeks Latino support in unusual places]

Lopez, an attorney, won an uncontested race last year for a tiny state legislative district encompassing Norcross, a town in the northwestern part of metro Atlanta, where much of the region’s Latino population resides.

“We see Georgia as representative of the future of the country. Rapid demographic shifts, increasing Latino voter turnout and participation,” Alex said.

LVP is aiming to raise “into the six figures” for the Georgia PAC, he said, with the goal of recruiting and endorsing Latino candidates to win various local and state races in the coming years, mostly in the Atlanta area.

In 2016, LVP raised more than $4.2 million, distributed among 12 congressional and state legislative races. Of those, nine prevailed, including seven congressional candidates like Cortez Masto and Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

LVP’s shift in gaze away from Washington comes as national Democrats and other progressive organizations are turning their attention to rebuilding at the state and local level, where thousands of Democratic incumbents lost races over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency. Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) announced this week that he’s funneling millions of dollars he’s raised for what appears to be an easy reelection campaign to help boost his state’s Democratic Party. At the Democratic National Committee, newly installed Chairman Tom Perez is in the midst of revamping the organization to focus on rebuilding state parties that felt neglected during the Obama years.

LVP plans to compete at the federal level again next year, with its eye on more races in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas especially. Founded originally as a nonpartisan group seeking to endorse Latinos in either party for the sake of Latino political advancement, it’s now focused on endorsing progressives.

The shift to the state level is also a tacit acknowledgment that with just one Latino set to join Trump’s Cabinet — Alexander Acosta, to be labor secretary — and few other senior Latinos serving in the White House, Latino groups have far fewer chances of advancing their agenda or accruing more power in Trump’s Washington.

For their state-based work, Alex cited as his model the League of Conservation Voters, which maintains a national super PAC that endorses political candidates, but also has state chapters that do political or advocacy work.

Plans for similar state-based PACs in Arizona, Florida and New York are in “advanced stages,” he said. In New York, the group plans would focus on citywide races in New York City and Syracuse this year and state legislative races next year. Given the growth of Puerto Rican, Dominican and Central American communities in New York City and Long Island, the group could seek out candidates to challenge incumbents who are not Latino, or endorse Latino candidates who enter crowded primaries as incumbents retire. That strategy helped elect Soto in an Orlando-based district and Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) in a Los Angeles-area seat last year.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter who has covered congressional and presidential politics since 2008.

McCain to Trump: Retract Wiretapping Claim or Prove It


By Kelsey Snell, The Washington Post

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Sunday for President Trump to either prove his claim that President Barack Obama tapped the phones in Trump Tower during last year’s election campaign or drop the accusation.

“The president has one of two choices, either retract or provide the information that the American people deserve,” McCain said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I have no reason to believe that the charge is true, but I also believe that the president of the United States could clear this up in a minute.”

McCain is one of several top lawmakers in Congress to call on Trump to provide evidence of his unsubstantiated claim that Obama ordered Trump’s communications monitored. The senator’s call for more information follows a request from two leading members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for “copies of any warrant applications and court orders — redacted as necessary … related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.”

Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) formally requested the information last week in a letter to FBI Director James B. Comey and acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente. Trump administration officials have not provided any evidence to back up the president’s claim from earlier this month.

McCain avoided directly criticizing Trump for using Twitter to spread unverified information, but the senator said a serious charge, such as accusing a former president of illegal wiretapping, should not be handled lightly.

“If the allegation is left out there, it undermines the confidence the American people have in the entire way that the government does business,” McCain said.

Several lawmakers, including McCain and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), have pointed out that Trump could directly ask intelligence officials to corroborate his claim but instead has asked Congress to investigate.

“The president actually could himself ask that question,” Blunt said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Not all Republicans have been so quick to put the burden of proof on Trump. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) agreed with Trump that Congress should take control of the investigation to safeguard sensitive intelligence.

“Through a deliberate and careful process of examining all the intelligence at issue here, and then determining th he executive branch what we can declassify, I think the intelligence committees are in the best position to make those decisions,” the senator added

Thomas Perez Elected the First Latino Leader of Democratic Party. So What?


By David Weigel. Washington Post

Former labor secretary Thomas Perez was elected the first Latino chair of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, narrowly defeating Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) at the end of a contentious battle over the fate of the beleaguered party in the age of President Trump.

Perez’s victory concluded the first contested race for the DNC leadership since 1985, a contest the party had extended by a month to allow more debate. It put in place the Democratic leadership that will navigate thousands of state and local elections — where the party hopes to reverse the losses of the past six years — and a 2020 presidential race that could divide the party again.

Ellison’s defeat was a blow to the party’s liberal wing, personified by activists, labor leaders and organizers, many of whom had supported the presidential bid of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and had come to Atlanta to cheer Ellison on. Many of them warned that by picking Perez, the party was alienating the growing “resistance” that has organized against Trump.

The race was close enough that it required a second round of balloting, with Perez winning 235 of 435 votes cast. With tensions still high as the result was announced, nine Ellison supporters chanted “Party for the people, not big money!” and stormed out of the room.

“Someday, they’re going to study this era of American history,” Perez said after his win. “They’re going to ask the question of all of us: Where were you in 2017 when we had the worst president in the history of the United States? We will be able to say that the Democratic Party led the resistance and made sure this was a one-term president.”

Onstage, Perez gave Ellison the symbolic role of deputy party chair, and the Minnesota congressman gave a short speech asking his supporters to stay with the party and avoid recriminations.

“We don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided,” Ellison said.

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, tweeted her support for both ­Perez and Ellison as representatives of a “unified party,” while former president Barack Obama congratulated “my friend” Perez in a statement.

“I know that Tom Perez will unite us under that banner of opportunity, and lay the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leadership for this big, bold, inclusive, dynamic America we love so much,” Obama said.

Sanders, who had supported Ellison, said in a statement that it was “imperative that Tom understands that the same-old, same-old is not working and that we must open the doors of the party to working people and young people in a way that has never been done before.”

Trump, in classic fashion, responded to the election by simultaneously congratulating and belittling Perez in a tweet: “I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!”

The vote itself was tense. On Friday night, Democrats gathered at a downtown hotel here in Atlanta to meet, drink and lobby for votes, and the Ellison campaign — along with allies of South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a third candidate — battled rumors that Perez might already have locked up the votes he needed.

But by Saturday morning, it was clear that the race was up for grabs. Buttigieg used his nomination speech to quit the race, endorsing no candidate. As most of the 439 DNC members present cast their votes — eight eligible members did not attend — several DNC members got a text from the Ellison camp saying the congressman was “grateful to have the support of Mayor Buttigieg,” an endorsement that the mayor denied.

In the first round of balloting, Perez won 213.5 votes to 200 for Ellison, 12 for Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown, 0.5 for Democratic strategist Jehmu Greene and one for Buttigieg in the first round of balloting. Greene endorsed Perez, while two fringe candidates who had won no votes backed Ellison. Members who are abroad get half a vote.

Perez’s victory did not represent a Democratic shift to the right. On key issues, Perez’s platform mostly resembled Ellison’s. Perez promised to refocus on small donors and online fundraising; Ellison set a goal for “low-dollar contributions from everyday Americans [to] account for 33 percent of revenue.” Ellison called for an “Innovation Hub” in Silicon Valley; Perez promoted DNC fellowships to “encourage developers, programmers, data scientists, [and] engineers.”

While Perez and Ellison praised each other personally, the race was defined for outsiders by Sanders’s support of the Minnesota lawmaker. Ellison was one of the few members of Congress who had backed Sanders for president. He billed himself as the “unity candidate” who would keep Sanders’s restive supporters in the party while embracing those who had backed Clinton.

In the first weeks after Ellison declared his candidacy, the strategy seemed to be working, despite some hiccups. Labor unions that had endorsed Clinton, such as the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, got behind Ellison.

Howard Dean, the most successful DNC chair in modern party history, dropped his plans to run again when Ellison said he would resign from Congress if elected to the full-time job. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had frequently clashed with Dean over strategy and investments, endorsed Ellison and defended the first Muslim member of Congress against charges of anti-Semitism.

But veterans of the Obama administration, where Perez had been a popular liberal force, encouraged the former labor secretary to run — and starting Dec. 15, he did. In progressive media, the race was frequently covered as a clash between “the establishment” and the “revolution” that had been proved right by the 2016 election.

That was not how most DNC members chose to see it. In public forums, including the final one broadcast on CNN, Ellison and Perez declined to criticize each other. While progressive media outlets accused Perez of protecting the party’s consultant class, DNC members who broke for Perez said that he had convinced them that he knew what state parties needed.

“Tom seemed to have a better handle on the job,” said Kathy Sullivan, a former chair of New Hampshire’s Democratic Party, who endorsed Perez after current New Hampshire state chair Ray Buckley quit the race.

Perez was also helped by a string of endorsements from Obama administration veterans — although, as Ellison backers noticed, he did not win any high-profile supporters of Sanders’s to compete with Ellison’s endorsements from Clintonites. The Feb. 1 endorsement of Perez by former vice president Joe Biden, one of the party’s most beloved figures, prompted Sanders to criticize Perez for the first time.

“Do we stay with a failed status-quo approach or do we go forward with a fundamental restructuring of the Democratic Party?” Sanders asked in a statement after Biden’s endorsement. “I say we go forward and create a grassroots party which speaks for working people and is prepared to stand up to the top one percent.”

Most of the DNC’s membership — just 39 of whom had backed Sanders for president in 2016 — did not view the contest as a stark ideological clash. Sanders supporters, including Ellison, had largely succeeded in moving the party’s platform to the left. In interviews, some acknowledged that there would be walkouts by Sanders die-hards in their states, but they argued that the daily outrages around Trump might bring them back into the process.

That confidence was on display Saturday before the vote for chairman. DNC members debated whether to strike language from California’s Christine Pelosi, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, that would have restored a ban on corporate donations to the DNC. The prohibition was quietly rolled back during the controversial tenure of the previous elected DNC chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

“This resolution has nothing to do with nonprofit organizations,” said Larry Cohen, a former president of the Communications Workers of America who backed Sanders in 2016. “This is to send a message, loud and clear, that the DNC itself — not candidates, not state parties — will restore the ban that President Obama put into effect.”

When the language was struck, a few of the activists who had come to cheer Ellison — including members of National Nurses United, Progressive Democrats of America and Democratic Socialists of America — started a brief chant.

Your Editor Repeats: So what?

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