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California Dems on Jerusalem synagogue attack

California Democrats are condemning the killing of four rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinians wielding a gun, an ax and a meat cleaver. (UPDATE @ 3:10 P.M.: A fifth victim – a police officer – has now died.)

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“I am horrified by the barbaric murder of innocents in a sacred house of worship. This heinous and brutal act of terror has no place in a civilized world and only sets back the cause of peace and humanity. All my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and I am praying for the recovery of those injured.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“The murder of worshippers at morning prayer is an unconscionable and inhuman act of terror. This attack is beyond the circle of civilized behavior, and Congress and the American people stand united in condemning its brutality.

“Our hearts ache for the family, friends, and loved ones of those killed and wounded in today’s savage attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem. We join the mourning of American-born Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Kalman Levine, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, and British-born Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg. Our thoughts and prayers, and the thoughts and prayers of all Americans, are with them and all the citizens of Israel at this time of mourning.”

From Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose:

“Today’s cowardly and brutal killing of three American and one British rabbi in Jerusalem is an affront to every civilized person and nation. Attacks such as these damage the ability for both sides to come to the table and work out a long-term solution to the underlying conflicts in the region.

“President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are right to condemn this attack. I agree with Secretary Kerry that the Palestinian leadership must also condemn this attack in the strongest way possible, and to take concrete steps to prevent such attacks in the future. No nation’s or people’s cause is aided by brutal acts of terrorism against innocent worshippers.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, the injured, the larger Jewish community, and all who stand for peace during this time of grief.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Israel, Mike Honda, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 5 Comments »

Dems urge Obama to act on immigration

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer added her voice Monday to the chorus of Democrats urging President Obama to move forward with immigration reform by executive action.

Barbara Boxer“For 17 months, you have been very patient with House Republican leaders, encouraging them to either take up and pass the bipartisan Senate bill or work with you to craft a different bill,” Boxer, D-Calif., wrote in her letter to the president.

“Mr. President, I don’t remember hearing one Republican in Congress complain when Republican presidents took executive action on immigration,” she continued. “I urge you to ignore the angry voices of the do-nothing crowd in Congress who have repeatedly blocked progress on immigration reform. If they really cared about fixing our broken immigration system, they would not be threatening to shut down the government or file wasteful lawsuits – they would just do their job and pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Last week, 117 House Democrats – including all Bay Area members except House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco – sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take executive action.

“As you have said, it is ultimately the job of Congress to reform our broken immigration system by enacting legislation,” the lawmakers wrote. “But by failing to do their job – and repeatedly interfering with your efforts to do your job – congressional Republicans threaten to take our immigration system hostage and preserve a status quo that everyone agrees is unacceptable. Their failure to act must not inhibit your commitment to governing.”

“We will stand with you as you take bold and meaningful action, consistent with existing law and historical precedent, to protect American families, strengthen local communities and grow the economy,” they wrote.

At House Democrats news conference Thursday, Pelosi urged the president to act as well. “I don’t think there’s any question that the President can act administratively, take executive action.”

That same day, Rep. Jeff Denham – one of only three House Republicans to co-sponsor the House version of a bipartisan immigration bill that the Senate approved June 2013 – told Al Jazeera America that executive action is the wrong answer.

“It is hard to pass legislation of any kind without being able to trust the Commander in Chief on whether he’s going to implement the will of Congress and ultimately the will of the American people,” said Denham, R-Turlock, adding immigration is a complex issue that will require a package of bills brought forth at the same time. “This is a long term-problem that we’ve got to fix in Congress.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, are mulling how best to stymie any executive action Obama might take, but without giving in to calls from their party’s conservative wing to return to the kind of brinksmanship that led to last year’s government shutdown.

Posted on Monday, November 17th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, Immigration, Jeff Denham, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 14 Comments »

Eric Swalwell elected as regional Democratic whip

Rep. Eric Swalwell was elected by his House Democratic peers Friday to serve as regional whip for Northern California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

Eric SwalwellEach region’s members elect a regional whip to work with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in keeping Democratic members informed and in line on important votes. Swalwell, D-Dublin, in his first term had been appointed an assistant whip to do a similar job among Democratic freshmen.

Swalwell said he’s “honored to continue being part of the Democratic leadership” and thanks his colleagues for electing him. “I look forward to continuing to advance Democratic priorities that will support middle class families and lead to economic growth.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who chairs the California Democratic Delegation, said Swalwell has proven to be an effective lawmaker “who has earned the confidence of his California colleagues. As Region II Whip he will continue to be an important part of our California delegation as he works to advance the Democratic agenda and serve our state.”

Posted on Friday, November 14th, 2014
Under: Eric Swalwell, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

CA17: Thoughts on whether Khanna will run again

Someone just asked me – in a Facebook comment beneath my Monday-morning quarterbacking of the 17th Congressional District race – whether I think Ro Khanna will run again in 2016. I wrote a lengthy reply, and then thought, “Hey, this looks like a blog item!”

My slightly modified answer: I honestly don’t know – a lot depends on whether Mike Honda keeps his victory-speech “promise” that this won’t be his last term.

If he runs against Honda again, it’s hard to see how anything will have changed in his favor in 2016.

    1.) He’ll be starting with $0 instead of the $1.2 million he’d raised when people thought he would succeed Stark.
    2.) Honda will be at least the same candidate as he is today – he’s not scandal-prone, so I doubt there’d be many new negatives – and might be better, after having the next two years in which to step up his legislative game.
    3.) The bigger turnout of a presidential year – when Californians will be flocking to the polls to elect a Democratic president – may or may not help him. Yes, I know Khanna believes bigger youth, independent and Republican turnout this year would’ve put him over the top. But 2016 will see many more older Democrats turning out as well, and given their registration margin in the district, the overall increase could still break in Honda’s favor.

And it would be hard for Khanna to run in any other incumbent. Given his 2004 primary challenge vs. Tom Lantos, his hope to succeed Pete Stark in 2012, and this year’s run against Honda, trying again in a fourth district would give credence to those who call him a carpetbagger, and would deprive him of the grassroots support and Silicon Valley identity he has already built.

But an open seat might be a different story. Consider the ages of many of the local members: Honda, 73; Anna Eshoo, 71; Zoe Lofgren, 66. Even presidential coattails won’t help Democrats re-take the House in 2016, and if any of these were to tire of being in the minority and decide to retire, I think Khanna could make a credible play for the seat assuming he’s not up against a party-endorsed, better-funded foe. That means Khanna will have some fence-mending to do with the party, though…

Posted on Tuesday, November 11th, 2014
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 15 Comments »

CA17: A little more Khanna-Honda post-mortem

My story in today’s editions explores why Ro Khanna’s campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda didn’t succeed, but there was more to my interview with Khanna than we had room for in this article.

I sat down with Khanna minutes after he delivered his concession speech Friday night. At that time, Honda led in unofficial returns by 3,658 votes, or 3.66 percentage points. Another 27,853 votes have been tallied in Santa Clara and Alameda counties since then, and as of Monday morning, Honda leads by 4,637 votes, or 3.62 percentage points.

CONGRESSMAN CANDIDATE RO KHANNAFirst, some more math. Khanna had said Friday that he and his consultants had hoped 150,000 to 160,000 votes would be cast in this race; in a district of about 296,000 voters, that would’ve meant turnout of about 51 to 54 percent. As of Monday morning, only about 128,000 ballots have been tallied – a turnout of only about 43 percent – and as Khanna notes in the story, his key constituencies of young voters, independents and Republicans were among the least likely to vote.

In Election Day’s earliest returns – absentee ballots that came in early enough that they’d already been processed by 8 p.m. Tuesday – Honda led by about 7 percentage points, a lead that narrowed later that night and in the following days. Khanna said that indicates Honda did better among earlier voters, while he was far more competitive among those who did their vote-by-mail ballots at the last minute or who voted at the polls on Election Day.

“We’d always said this was a race against time,” he said Friday. “If we’d had a couple more weeks, maybe we would’ve pulled ahead.”

Also, Khanna was more effusive in his praise of his deepest-pocketed supporter than I could fully explain in the story.

I had pressed Khanna about the $857,000 spent by Californians for Innovation, the super PAC formed by his supporters to do independent spending on his behalf; much of that spending came in the campaign’s final month, and about half that money was contributed late enough that the donors’ identities won’t be revealed until December.

I asked whether this had been a double-edged sword for him – the radio ads and mailers kept his name out there after his own campaign had run out of money, but the independent and somewhat shadowy spending might’ve discomfited some supporters who had been proud to back a candidate who shunned PAC and lobbyist donations to his own campaign. Khanna said he was OK with it.

“I was very open to say that if there were supporters who wanted to come to our defense, they should” – and he’s thankful that they did, he said. “I’m glad that there was someone there to set the record straight, I didn’t discourage it… but I think it’s unfortunate that we had to go there.”

The biggest super PAC donors – at $250,000 – were Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife. Honda’s late ads noted Arnold had worked at Enron, a company which before its collapse in 2002 had gamed California’s electricity grid to cost the state’s residents billions of dollars in surcharges.

“I do know John Arnold, we had a long conversation about pension reform and his desire for new leadership in the Democratic Party,” Khanna said, noting Arnold has also supported Democrats like outgoing San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. “The idea that he’s a right-wing kind of person is just false… He and his wife are an incredibly decent couple and I’m very proud of their support. I regret that they were attacked in the campaign, I think they’re good people.”

Posted on Monday, November 10th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House | 8 Comments »

Barbara Lee goes toe to toe with Stephen Colbert

In all of last week’s election excitement, I missed Stephen Colbert’s sublimely enjoyable interview with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, as part of his “Better Know a District” series. Here’s a teaser for the episode, wherein Colbert makes Lee a proposal she can definitely refuse:

But wait, it gets soooo much better. Click here to watch the segment in its entirety.

Posted on Sunday, November 9th, 2014
Under: Barbara Lee, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

John Garamendi seeks T&I ranking member post

A Northern California congressman is making a play to become the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s ranking member.

Current ranking member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., was defeated Tuesday in his bid for an 18th term. The panel’s next-most-senior Democrat is Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., already is the Natural Resources Committee’s ranking member but reportedly now more interested in this slot.

After DeFazio come 15 more Democrats (two of whom won’t be back next year) – and then comes Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.

John Garamendi“A demonstrated ability to preserve Democratic ideals while working across the aisle to get things done will be crucial in the next Congress, and particularly in this Committee,” Garamendi wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the Democratic Caucus.

“With major legislative initiatives on the horizon that include surface transportation, FAA, and Amtrak reauthorization, the Democratic transportation agenda calls for a strong, inclusive, proactive leader who looks beyond divisive dualities to facilitate opportunity, momentum, and results,” he wrote. “This is the leadership I aim to bring.”

Garamendi’s letter cites his work in Congress on water infrastructure, domestic shipyards and the U.S. Merchant Marine, but also harkens back to his California work.

“Most notably, in 1990, I authored SCA 1, which became California Proposition 111,” wrote Garamendi, who at that time was a state senator. “Among the most important transportation propositions in California history, this measure ensured government expenditure limits would not unnecessarily restrict the infrastructure improvements needed to keep pace with California’s population and economic growth.”

“The initiative led to voter approval of an $18.5 billion transportation package that helped improve roads and transit corridors throughout the state,” he wrote. “For this work, I was named Legislator of the Year by the League of California Cities, and to this day, Prop 111 provides funding for cash-strapped highways and public transit systems in California.”

The other California Democrats on the Transportation Committee are Grace Napolitano, D-El Monte, who has more seniority than Garamendi, and Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, who has less.

The Democratic Caucus is expected to vote on ranking-member appointments in December.

Posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Under: John Garamendi, Transportation, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Fun with numbers: Bay Area House races

As we await a final result in the 17th District’s Mike Honda/Ro Khanna showdown, here’s how the rest of the Bay Area House races look at this hour, in order from widest margin of victory to narrowest:

    13th District: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, 87.3% vs. Dakin Sundeen (R), 12.7% (74.6 points)
    12th District: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, 82.4%, vs. John Dennis (R), 17.6% (64.8 points)
    14th District: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, 75.9% vs. Robin Chew (R), 24.1% (51.8 points)
    5th District: Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, 75.4% vs. James Hinton (i), 24.6% (50.8 points)
    20th District: Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, 74.4% vs. Ronald Kabat (i), 25.6% (48.8 points)
    2nd District: Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, 73.6% vs. Dale Mensing (R), 26.4% (47.2 points)
    15th District: Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, 69% vs. Hugh Bussell (R), 31% (38 points)
    19th District: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, 66.8% vs. Robert Murray (D), 33.2% (33.6 points)
    18th District: Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, 66.3% vs. Richard Fox (R), 33.7% (32.6 points)
    11th District: State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, 66.2% vs. Tue Phan (R), 33.8% (32.4 points)
    9th District: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, 51.5% vs. Tony Amador (R), 48.5% (3 points)

Yes, that 9th District race was awfully close – especially since this was the first year since McNerney took office that he wasn’t on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s hit list.

For comparison, McNerney beat Republican Ricky Gill by 11.2 points in 2012 in this district; in his old 11th District, he had beat Republican David Harmer by 1.1 point in 2010, Republican Dean Andal by 10.6 points in 2008; and incumbent Republican Richard Pombo by 6.6 points in 2006. Gill and Harmer both were NRCC “Young Guns,” garnering national support and advice, while the NRCC also worked on Andal’s behalf and GOP luminaries like John Boehner and John McCain shared stages with him.

In other words, most of the times when the NRCC targeted McNerney as vulnerable, it turned out that he really wasn’t; this year, as the NRCC paid the district little mind, Amador came within striking distance. Oops! But that doesn’t mean McNerney will be similarly vulnerable in 2016, when a bigger presidential-year turnout will favor Democrats; for Republicans, this looks like an opportunity missed.

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mark DeSaulnier, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Musings on the state GOP, Congress, pot & Kansas

A few observations on Tuesday’s elections, with a hat tip to my colleagues Paul Rogers and Ken McLaughlin for their thoughts:

CALIFORNIA GOP: Tuesday’s results seem to be a vindication and victory for the “Brulte Doctrine,” spelled out by the state GOP chairman at his party’s convention in March: Don’t waste much effort trying to win unwinnable statewide races, but instead rebuild the party by “grinding it out on the ground” in local races – a strategy that will take several election cycles to bear larger fruit.

Despite their buzz, Ashley Swearengin and Pete Peterson couldn’t make it happen statewide: as it stands now, it looks like a 5.6-point loss for Swearengin in the controller’s race and a 5-point loss for Peterson in the secretary of state’s race. Those are respectable losses but losses nonetheless, and I submit that the GOP putting more money and party resources behind them might actually have resulted in wider margins of loss – I think they did this well in part by distancing themselves from partisanship.

Instead, Brulte’s GOP concentrated on denying Democrats their legislative supermajorities – and now it’s “mission accomplished” in the state Senate while the Assembly still hangs by a thread as vote-by-mail ballots are counted.

In doing so, the GOP is hatching a new generation of up-and-comers. Exhibit A: Catharine Baker, who at this hour is up 3.8 points over Democrat Tim Sbranti in the East Bay’s 16th Assembly District race. Baker, an attorney hailed as a cream-of-the-crop “California Trailblazer” at her party’s convention in March, was far outspent by Sbranti, who already had some name recognition among the electorate as Dublin’s mayor. But GOP officials and activists came from around the state to pound the pavement for her, and it looks like it could pay off with the first Bay Area Republican sent to Sacramento since Guy Houston was term-limited out (in the same part of the East Bay) in 2008.

CONGRESS: Anyone who’s surprised that Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and gained seats in the House isn’t very well-versed in history. A two-term president’s party almost always loses ground in his sixth-year midterm.

Sure, President Barack Obama’s job-approval rating stood at 42 percent (per Gallup) on Tuesday. And President George W. Bush’s job approval was at 38 percent in November 2006 as Democrats picked up five Senate seats and 31 House seats, making Harry Reid the new Senate Majority Leader and Nancy Pelosi the new House Speaker. And President Ronald Reagan was riding high with a 63 percent job-approval rating in November 1986 (although he was about to take a precipitous dive as details of the Iran-Contra scandal came to light) as Democrats picked up eight Senate seats, putting Robert Byrd in the driver’s seat, and five House seats to cement the majority they already had.

The exception was President Bill Clinton, who saw his party pick up five House seats in 1998 – a stinging defeat that left Republicans in control but forced Newt Gingrich to resign as Speaker – while the Senate was a zero-sum game. Clinton, under fire for the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, still was at a 66 percent job-approval rating at the time.

But Bubba always had a way of defying the odds.

MARIJUANA: If Oregon and Alaska got enough younger voters out to the polls in this midterm election to approve marijuana legalization, just imagine what California can do in 2016’s presidential election with an initiative forged in the trial-and-error of four other states’ experiences.

KANSAS: Kansas has had private-sector job growth that lags the rest of the country, and adopted tax cuts big enough to blow a still-widening hole in the state budget requiring school closings, teacher layoffs and increased class sizes – but doubled down with its Republican governor and Republican U.S. Senator. I guess you can lead a Jayhawk to water, but you can’t make it drink…

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Assembly, California State Senate, marijuana, Republican Party, Republican politics, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

Bay Area House Democrats declare victory

As Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, battled for his career against Democratic challenger Ro Khanna in the South Bay, the rest of the Bay Area’s House Democrats were cruising to easy victories Tuesday night.

From Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, who defeated Republican Hugh Bussell to win his second term:

“For the past two years, I’ve shown up, stood up, and worked across party lines for the issues that matter to working families. It is an honor to be re-elected to continue standing up for the people of the East Bay.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who defeated Republican Dakin Sundeen to win her eighth full term:

“Thank you to all those that voted and supported my re-election.

“It is an honor and a privilege to represent the diverse, dynamic and forward-thinking people who live in the 13th Congressional district.

“I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve you in Congress while working to advance our shared progressive values.

“I thank my constituents for once again allowing me to be their voice in Congress. I remain committed to working to securing federal resources for our community while working to create jobs, address income inequality, tackle poverty head on, pass comprehensive immigration reform, focus on stopping climate change, promote international peace and security, end the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and renew unemployment insurance for those still struggling to find work.

“This is quite an exhaustive agenda but the East Bay has long led the nation on important issues and we will continue to lead on these important matters.”

From Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, who defeated independent James Hinton to win his ninth term:

“I am honored and humbled by our district’s overwhelming show of support. Now that the elections are over, it’s time to move forward – not divided as Republicans and Democrats, but united as Americans – with the common purpose of making sure our country remains a place where everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has the opportunity to get ahead and succeed.

“That is the work in front of us. It cannot wait and it won’t be achieved through divisiveness. It will be achieved by working together. As our district’s representative I am committed to working with anyone from any party to better our country and strengthen the communities I am so privileged to serve.”

From state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who easily defeated Republican Tue Phan in order to succeed Rep. George Miller:

“I am deeply honored and thankful to have earned the confidence and support of the residents of California’s 11th Congressional District: from Concord, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Clayton, El Cerrito and Richmond, to Orinda, Brentwood, Antioch, Pittsburg,San Pablo, Danville, and folks from nearly every corner of Contra Costa County.

“As I acknowledged from the inception of my campaign, I have very big shoes to fill, following our widely respected Congressman George Miller’s many decades of public service. I look forward to this challenge and to tackling our nation’s most pressing issues head-on in the years ahead.

“Voters across the 11th district have sent a resounding message tonight that they want common sense solutions to our nation’s biggest issues—not more gridlock. That’s precisely what I’ll bring to Washington.

“Residents in California and across America are fed up with partisan bickering. They want government to work for them. In Congress, I will work to bridge the partisan divide by advancing pragmatic policies that help disadvantaged and average American families.

“I am optimistic about the future and excited to move forward on issues of critical importance, like creating more good paying jobs, growing our middle class, investing in our infrastructure, increasing access to healthcare, enhancing the use of renewable and homegrown energy, improving our education systems, and making the United States a leader in innovation and economic opportunity around the globe.

“Thank you to the voters of the 11th district. I will work hard every day to make you proud and to get things done for our community.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Mark DeSaulnier, Mike Thompson, U.S. House | 1 Comment »