Evangelicals, Looking to 2020, Face the Limits of Their Base

WASHINGTON — After Democrats delivered a resounding counterpunch to President Trump at the polls, one of his most reliable voting blocs — social conservatives — now faces the repercussions of its uncompromising support for Mr. Trump’s agenda.

That result is mixed: Social conservatives are celebrating a slightly expanded Republican majority in the Senate, which advances their top priority, confirming conservative judges, as well as their anti-abortion rights agenda. But steep Republican losses in the House, particularly in suburban areas, have some strategists reflecting on how to proceed as they pivot their efforts to re-electing Mr. Trump in 2020.

“Social conservatives need to maximize turnout from the base and expand the map by stressing the softer side of the faith agenda: education reform, immigration and criminal justice reform, and anti-poverty measures,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which has extensive outreach to conservative evangelicals in battlegrounds across the country.

“This will help with suburban women, millennials and minorities,” he said.

That approach, if followed, would be a stark departure from the issues social conservatives have championed since they wed themselves to Mr. Trump as a candidate. The Republicans’ white, religiously conservative base has motivated its troops for Mr. Trump around opposition to abortion rights, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court and support for Israel.

This cycle, that strategy largely worked on the Senate level, but was not enough to stem Republican losses in congressional districts, particularly in suburban areas.

[Read about how gains in the Senate heartened social conservatives]

Any meaningful shift is purely conceptual at this point. White evangelicals, more than almost any other constituency, have repeatedly chosen to support Mr. Trump wholeheartedly to advance their cultural priorities, despite occasionally bristling at his character and approach to race, immigration and women.

When the administration separated immigrant children from their families at the border, for example, some white evangelical leaders voiced concern but did not fault Mr. Trump, even as some women in their ranks expressed more discontent.

In this month’s election, three-quarters of white evangelical voters again supported House Republican candidates, on par with the percentage that did so in the previous two midterm cycles, according to national exit polls.

In a divided Congress, social conservatives have little hope of advancing their legislative priorities, like ending Planned Parenthood funding or banning abortion after 20 weeks. But many are instead emphasizing their success at the judicial level and seem only minimally interested in adjusting their focus.

“If you ask social conservative voters, would you be willing to accept Nancy Pelosi as speaker for two more Supreme Court justices, I suspect they would make that trade,” said Dan Schnur, a former longtime Republican strategist who is now an Independent. “A short-term congressional loss for social conservatives is almost certainly offset by a long-term judicial gain.”

In today’s polarized political environment, reaching out to the middle is also not as effective as playing to one’s base, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian activist group.

“Very few people anymore are in the middle,” he said. “Barack Obama brought us to this point more quickly because of the extreme policies that he pushed. Trump, with the support of evangelicals, has worked to move the pendulum back.”

Asked about dissatisfaction among some women, young people and nonwhite voters who could continue to erode the edges of the evangelical base, Mr. Perkins said he was not worried. “I’m not saying there’s not a need to pay attention to that, but it’s not like that is going to be the deciding factor,” he said.

Even though some of the places where Republicans lost, including in Arizona, Nevada and areas of the Midwest, are not traditional social conservative strongholds, some on the religious right do not see Democratic pickups as long term.

For Mr. Perkins, Martha McSally lost her Senate race in Arizona, for example, because she was not conservative enough and the base did not see her as a champion for its causes.

In Florida, where a dramatic recount is playing out in the Senate race, white evangelicals increased their share of the electorate, from 21 percent in 2016 to 29 percent this year, according to exit polls, and their share also increased in Missouri and Indiana, though by smaller amounts.

In Iowa, where Democrats unseated two Republican representatives, Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, a conservative evangelical group based in the state, praised evangelicals for showing up “in force” for the races that mattered most. Republicans kept control of the governorship and the statehouse, he pointed out, enabling them to advance anti-abortion policies locally.

“We wanted to ensure that the sanctity of life was positioned to win,” he said, noting that his group focuses on state-level races.

But Mr. Vander Plaats also said it might be important to learn from the signals voters sent to Washington of dissatisfaction over Mr. Trump’s tone and the country’s divisiveness, even as they want to continue his policies.

“If we are going to be successful in 2020, we are going to have to thread that needle,” he said.

In Mississippi, where Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican, faces a runoff, the social conservative voter mobilization effort is largely absent, a sign they are confident the G.O.P. will hold the seat.

Though sizable, social conservatives are just one part of the Republican base; for others, this election is a reminder that their party’s future, and its internal fractures, remains in question as Mr. Trump and his base continue to redefine the G.O.P.

Social conservatives need to prioritize legislation that appeals to the entirety of the party, not just to special segments, said Sarah Chamberlain, president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of congressional members who stand for conservative economic and national security policy. Several of the group’s members, including Representatives Jeff Denham, Carlos Curbelo and Steve Knight, lost competitive races last week.

“We hope they would join us in realizing this is how we get back into the majority in the House,” she said of social conservatives. “We cannot afford to lose suburban areas.”

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Pence quashes Trump rift reports

PORT MORESBY (AFP) – US Vice-President Mike Pence on Saturday (Nov 17) dismissed reports of a rift with his boss President Donald Trump, saying the pair laughed about the suggestion in a phone call.

Following a New York Times report that suggested Mr Trump was privately questioning the loyalty of his deputy, Mr Pence told reporters in Port Moresby that they had still had a good rapport.

“I’m just tempted not to dignify it with a comment,” he said after a pause, adding that the pair had spoken by phone and “it came up”.

“We had a good laugh,” said Mr Pence. “We’ve got a very strong relationship.”

“I’ve been honoured to serve as his vice-president, I was honoured when he asked me to run with him.”

The New York Times said Mr Trump has taken to asking several advisers whether the vice-president is loyal – which they say is usually a sign he has “grown irritated” with someone, according to the paper.

Mr Trump has not openly suggested dropping Mr Pence from the ticket with the 2020 presidential election rapidly approaching, the New York Times stressed.

But according to the paper, some advisers have suggested Mr Trump could benefit from a running mate who would help him win support from women.

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McConnell Tells Trump a Criminal Justice Bill Is Not Likely This Year

WASHINGTON — Senator Mitch McConnell told President Trump in a private meeting on Thursday that there is not likely to be enough time to bring a bipartisan criminal justice bill up for a vote this year, regardless of the support it has in the Senate and the White House, according to people familiar with the meeting.

Mr. McConnell, who as majority leader controls the Senate floor, delivered the news in a previously scheduled meeting at the White House convened to discuss the chamber’s legislative agenda for the remaining weeks of the term.

Lawmakers from both parties have been working furiously to build support for the compromise legislation that would begin to reverse some of the tough-on-crime federal policies of the 1980s and 1990s that incarcerated African-American offenders at much higher rates than white offenders.

Mr. Trump enthusiastically endorsed the proposal this week, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, pledged to move it across the finish line in the House “this term.” But Mr. McConnell’s conclusion could all but foreclose the possibility that Congress will vote on the bill this year.

Publicly, Mr. McConnell has avoided putting his thumb on the scale for or against the legislation. He told reporters on Wednesday that if proponents secured the support of at least 60 senators, he would be willing to push the bill forward, but cautioned that he would have to “see how it stacks up against our other priorities going into the end of our session.”

Congress must also come to an agreement on how to fund a handful of federal departments, including Homeland Security, and resolve an impasse over a major farm bill, among other smaller issues.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, reiterated those points in a statement on Friday, adding, “The support for, and length of time needed to move the new bill is not knowable at this moment.”

But Mr. McConnell told the president that the bill would most likely eat up about 10 days on the Senate floor — time that he did not have between now and the scheduled end of the legislative session on Dec. 14, according to the people familiar with the remarks, who were granted anonymity to describe the private meeting. They were not connected to Mr. McConnell.

If the bill had enough support, Mr. McConnell said, he would be willing to bring it up next year, after the new Congress is seated.

Supporters of the legislation, which includes anti-recidivism programs, and the expansion of early release credits and sentencing changes, worry that Mr. McConnell is being a less-than-neutral arbiter. They believe that if consideration slips into January, when Democrats who favor more expansive sentencing changes take control of the House, the current compromise could collapse.

Like earlier efforts, the bill counts an unorthodox array of backers, including liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union; FreedomWorks, an influential conservative advocacy group; and the Fraternal Order of Police. But pockets of conservative opposition run deep, dividing Republicans in the Senate — a dynamic Mr. McConnell typically prefers to avoid.

The divisions were on display on Thursday.

At the Senate Republicans’ weekly caucus luncheon at the Capitol, Mr. McConnell acknowledged that the changes had influential supporters who had worked hard on the issue, but also invited two of its chief critics, Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana, to deliver remarks, two Republican congressional officials said.

Mr. Cotton, who has been perhaps the loudest critic of the bill’s sentencing changes in the Senate, urged colleagues to slow down the process, saying that the bill’s impact and implications were too expensive to push through without hearings, according to another official familiar with his remarks. He stressed opposition by some law enforcement groups and warned that a draft version of the bill he had seen would lead to the immediate release of thousands of felons onto the streets.

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who helped write the legislation, pushed back against Mr. Cotton’s characterization. So did Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and led the compromise effort. Mr. Grassley said that Mr. Cotton’s remarks made him sound like “some sort of pinko commie.”

Mr. Cotton’s office also circulated a letter from groups representing elected sheriffs raising objections to the bill. Without changes, it said, the “legislation creates a high-risk path for dangerous criminals with gun crime histories to early release from prison.” Mr. Cotton also wrote an op-ed in USA Today in which he called the legislation “a misguided effort to let serious felons out of prison.”

The legislation’s advocates caught a break last week when Mr. Trump fired his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who had been one of the bill’s most vocal opponents within the administration and before that as a senator from Alabama.

Mr. Sessions’s temporary replacement, Matthew G. Whitaker, appears unlikely to exercise similar influence on the issue. In a recent phone call, Mr. Whitaker told Mr. Grassley that he would support the legislation backed by the president, according to George Hartmann, a spokesman for Mr. Grassley.

The legislation, the First Step Act, builds on a prison overhaul bill passed overwhelmingly by the House this year, adding four additional changes to federal sentencing laws. It combines new funding for anti-recidivism programs meant to better prepare inmates to re-enter society and the expansion of early-release credits for prisoners, and reduces some mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, among other changes.

Though its impact would be limited to federal prisons and offenses — not state ones — experts believe the legislation could shape the experiences of tens of thousands of current inmates and future offenders.

It would also prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates and the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in almost all cases.

Mr. Trump offered his support on Wednesday flanked by Republican lawmakers, law enforcement officials and outside advocates. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Senators formally introduced the bill on Thursday and at the same time announced the support of five Democrats and five Republicans in addition to Mr. Grassley and Mr. Durbin. They said there would be many more in the coming days, and the vocal support voiced by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, a liberal Democrat who favored a more expansive bill, signaled that the proponents could likely count on most Democrats for support.

Senate supporters were also coordinating closely with proponents from both parties in the House.

The delay in bringing up the legislation described to Mr. Trump is not the first time that proponents of changes in the sentencing and prison systems have bumped up against Mr. McConnell. A similar coalition of lawmakers and outside groups made a higher-profile and more expansive attempt to overhaul the criminal justice system during the final years of the Obama administration, and had support from Mr. Ryan and other Republicans.

But Mr. McConnell did not allow a vote on the bill before the 2016 elections, worried about sowing divisions among Republicans.

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They Battled Over the Supreme Court, but Stuck Together on Criminal Justice Reform

WASHINGTON — After a popular bill to improve prison education and training programs breezed through the House last May, criminal justice reformers in the Senate faced a crucial choice: run with it or hold out for more far-reaching changes to sentencing laws.

The two main proponents of a sentencing overhaul — Senator Charles E. Grassley, the conservative Iowa Republican who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the liberal No. 2 Senate Democrat — agreed between themselves to sit tight. They insisted that any final legislation must include proposals in a Senate bill to cut the mandatory minimum sentences imposed in an antidrug crackdown decades ago or there would be no legislation at all.

“We had worked so darned hard and got such an overwhelming vote to get the bill out of committee, why should we settle for less than the whole package we had been working on for two years?” Mr. Grassley said in an interview.

It paid off. President Trump on Wednesday endorsed a measure that included the sentencing provisions written by the two senators and a handful of others, including Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah. It was a major step forward for legislation that has united forces on the left and right but has still struggled to overcome resistance from Republicans who believe it goes against the party’s tough-on-crime image.

“We have the Fraternal Order of Police and the A.C.L.U.,” Mr. Durbin said, ticking off some of the bill’s diverse backers. “How often do you see this alliance?”

Yet the success of the bill, which was put into final form on Thursday, is not guaranteed. Opponents, both in the Senate and the law enforcement community, were stepping up their criticism, and more important, Senator Mitch McConnell’s willingness to bring the measure to the floor remained in question. Despite strong bipartisan support, Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, refused to allow a vote on the bill before the 2016 elections, worried about sowing divisions among Republicans. And he may do the same thing now.

Mr. Grassley said he had received strong assurances from Mr. McConnell in recent meetings that if the bill’s backers could show that they had, at a minimum, the 60 votes needed for passage, he would put it on the floor despite his own reservations. Mr. Grassley now wants his leader to follow through.

“I think it deserves a floor vote and McConnell should honor his indication that he gave us that he would bring it up if we could show the votes,” Mr. Grassley said.

Both he and Mr. Durbin see Mr. McConnell as their main obstacle. They said they had already received assurances from Republican officials in the House that the measure would get quick approval there. And if that happens, it could mark a bipartisan exclamation point for Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a supporter of the Senate bill who is leaving at the end of the session, as well as Mr. Grassley, who may give up his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee at the same time.

Mr. Grassley said the criminal justice overhaul would give the president a chance to claim a bipartisan victory, noting that Mr. Trump is a “president who needs a lot of help” when it comes to bipartisanship. And he pulled out another argument intended to draw Republican backing.

“I hope they would understand that we have a chance to do something that President Obama couldn’t get done,” he said.

Leaders of advocacy groups behind the criminal justice legislation agree that the pact between Mr. Grassley and Mr. Durbin was essential to the final agreement’s coming together.

“Grassley and Durbin holding firm was pivotal,” said Holly Harris, executive director of Justice Action Network, a main proponent of the sentencing overhaul.

They were helped by one of the conservative groups behind the measure, FreedomWorks, which backed the view of the senators that any measure should contain both improvements in prison programs and changes to sentencing laws.

Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at the group, said he had pressed for sentencing changes as part of a package during an April meeting at the White House with top administration officials, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who is a proponent of sentencing changes.

“I made it very clear that I thought they weren’t going to get this done without sentencing added,” Mr. Pye said.

The two senators stuck together despite being fierce combatants over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh, with the two sparring over everything from document disclosure to Judge Kavanaugh’s character.

“Carrying yesterday’s battle into today’s battle is a mistake,” Mr. Durbin said. “When we reached agreement on this, it was solid. I may disagree with him vehemently, but his word is his bond.”

Mr. Grassley acknowledged that the confirmation fight pitted them against each other, but that Mr. Durbin “was a tremendous person to keep his word and work with me” despite the court confrontation.

Their job now is to corral the necessary votes. They spent Thursday meeting with lawmakers to produce the support needed to try to force Mr. McConnell’s hand.

Some Democrats might not be inclined to help Mr. Trump claim a significant bipartisan achievement or could argue that the legislation has been too diluted through negotiations with Republicans and the White House. But Mr. Durbin said he was increasingly confident that the legislation would get a strong Democratic vote of support, and Senator Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, was among those who came on board Thursday.

“This bill is not perfect,” he said. “Clearly, I want so much more, but I am not going to let perfect be the enemy of the good when the lives of thousands of people are in the balance.”

Mr. Grassley is lining up Republicans, highlighting the backing of leading law enforcement groups and negotiations that tightened safeguards against letting dangerous offenders qualify for early release.

Still, Republican resistance remains and could influence Mr. McConnell. The office of Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican and leading opponent of the legislation, on Thursday circulated a letter from organizations representing elected sheriffs that raised objections to the bill.

Without changes, the letter said, the “legislation creates a high-risk path for dangerous criminals with gun crime histories to early release from prison. This amounts to a social experiment with the safety of our communities and the lives of sheriffs, deputies and police officers in the balance.”

Some Republicans rejected the criticism. “I would say it is a dangerous experiment to basically incarcerate people for 30 and 40 years for nonviolent offenses at a time when we need workers,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

Mr. Grassley said that such consequential legislation would always have its detractors, and that he hoped to ultimately produce 65 to 70 votes in the Senate for the legislation.

“Something like this is done once in a generation,” Mr. Grassley said. “If we get this done, it is the biggest reform of sentencing in criminal justice in at least 30 years.”

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting

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A Chat With J.B. Pritzker, Illinois’s Next Governor

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

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The election is over (at least in most places), and that means all the winners now turn to an even bigger challenge: governing.

Few will have it tougher than J.B. Pritzker, the incoming Democratic governor of Illinois.

Mr. Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, spent an eye-popping $171.5 million of his own money on his campaign — more than any candidate in U.S. history. That money bankrolled Democrats up and down the ticket, who now hold not only the governorship but a supermajority in the State Legislature, both Senate seats and 13 of the state’s 18 House seats.

It also gave Mr. Pritzker a veto-proof majority. But the state’s fiscal problems are severe: Illinois is deeply in debt, with no clear path to financial solvency. Tens of thousands of residents leave each year. The current governor described the state as a “banana republic,” and others fear it may be simply ungovernable.

We caught up with the next Illinois governor at his campaign offices in downtown Chicago to chat about his record spending, lessons for the Democratic Party, and why he wanted what some have called “the worst job in American politics.” Here’s a condensed version of our conversation.

Lisa: When I told people I’d be talking to you, they almost all had one question: “Why would he ever want this job?”

Mr. Pritzker: Well, you don’t live in Illinois. If you lived in Illinois, you would see that governing the state of Illinois is a real opportunity. Yeah, we have challenges for sure, but we have a great state.

This is fundamentally a state full of working families that’s basically a Democratic state, and people want solutions and they don’t want ideological fervor.

As you said, these are really hard problems your state is facing, and the fiscal problems are the hardest of all. What are the first steps to righting the state’s budget?

I’ve been very clear since the beginning of the campaign that I believe that we need to fix the taxation system in our state. We have a very unfair, regressive tax system. That’s just unfair. So from the very beginning I campaigned on it. People understood what I stood for.

I’ve talked about legalizing marijuana, I’m in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. So that’s another source of revenue. As you know, the Supreme Court ruled that sports betting can be allowed. So that’s something, we could look at expanding gaming in the state.

So those are all revenue, but I don’t want you to focus all on revenue, because balancing the budget is going to require us to bring efficiencies to state government and to grow jobs in the state.

You spent a literal fortune on your race, including $7 million bankrolling Democratic Statehouse races. You won by double digits. Could you have done it for less?

Where were you earlier on? Maybe we could have saved money!

Not really. Remember, what we were trying to do, it wasn’t just about my race. It really was about winning for Democrats across the state.

And so one of the things — if you look at how we ran this race, I spent a lot of time in southern Illinois and central Illinois. It was really important to me to travel around the state, to listen to people across the state, and as a result we did better in downstate Illinois than Democrats have done in an awfully long time. And so did the rest of the Democratic ticket.

Do you think there’s a lesson here for the national Democratic Party?

We did do very well, and I think we did well for two reasons. We recruited hundreds of candidates to run for county board races in places where Democrats haven’t run for a long time. This is a lesson, I must say, that I learned from the Ralph Northam race in Virginia and Terry McAuliffe and his efforts. They made sure that Democrats had candidates in every state representative race.

We tried to fill as many of the races as we could. In many counties, where there were all Republicans on the county board, now they’ve got a couple of Democrats because we ran people. So that’s one lesson. It’s all about the ground game.

But here’s the other reason, and I think this is really important. Our campaign was really a campaign about what I call the kitchen table issues. It’s jobs and wages.

Those kitchen table issues, those are the things that I think made my parents Democrats. That’s what made people Democrats for decades. And I think in some ways, you know, we got away from that as a party. And I really think we need to be focused on that.

Is focusing on economic issues the way the Democrats can expand their support in 2020?

Yes, I think that’s what makes us Democrats. The Republicans try to run the culture war. Listen, I’m pro-choice, and I’m pro-L.G.B.T.Q. rights, and I’ve been a civil rights advocate my whole life, but if we’re not addressing the problems at the kitchen table that most families have, we’re not really addressing the problems of America.

The complicating factor with that is President Trump, right? There’s this real hunger in the Democratic base for this very strong anti-Trump message, and that can block out everything else. How do you manage that?

Everywhere I went, people knew what I felt about Donald Trump.

So if you’re asking me, can Democrats run with an anti-Trump message? Sure. But I think that you’ve got to back it up with issues. It can’t just be you don’t like the guy.

You’ll be in a powerful position to influence the conversation in the party during the presidential primary. Do you have a preference so far?

Lisa, I like them all. They’re all Democrats. I have not gotten involved, and I don’t have a preferred candidate at the moment. But, as you know, I worked hard for the first woman ever to be nominated by a major party.

And I think it would be important for us as Democrats to make sure that we’re on message and that we’re putting forward a ticket that’s representative of who we are as Democrats.

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What is ranked-choice voting?

Bruce Poliquin, the last remaining Republican House member in New England, lost his seat today when it was announced that the Democrat Jared Golden had defeated him in the race for Maine’s Second District.

And while quite a few House districts have taken more than a week to declare a winner, Maine’s Second stands out because of the reason for the delay: The state was the first to use a new style of voting, called “ranked choice,” in a general election for a federal office.

What is ranked-choice voting? The Times’s Kate Taylor and Liam Stack broke it down:

1. Voters rank their choices, instead of just picking one candidate.

2. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, they win. If not, the election moves to an elimination round.

3. The candidate in last place is removed from contention. For each ballot they won, the candidate ranked as the second choice now gets that vote.

4. This process repeats, round by round, until one candidate has received over 50 percent of the ballots.

(If you want to see it explained using sticky notes, check out this video from Minnesota Public Radio.)

Advocates for ranked-choice voting say the system allows voters more freedom, since they can rank a third-party candidate as their first choice without worrying about throwing away their vote. It also helps increase civility, they say, because candidates need to appeal to more than just their base to win second-place votes.

But not everyone loves the system. Because it is more complex, critics say it could depress turnout and lead to more errors by voters who don’t understand the ballot. And in a rural state like Maine, where half of the communities count votes by hand, they argue it could also lead to more errors by the people doing the counting.

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What to read tonight

Climate change is altering Yellowstone National Park so quickly that plants and animals may not be able to adapt.

You haven’t heard of T-Series? Oh, it’s only the most watched YouTube channel in the world.

The best news we’ve heard all week: “Batkid,” who drew national attention a few years ago when he lived out his wish to be Batman for a day, is now cancer free.

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… Seriously

It’s hard not to worry when incidents like this — a man screamed “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!” in a crowded theater — just seem like the new normal.

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President Trump to Visit California in Wake of Fires

LOS ANGELES — President Trump plans to travel to California on Saturday to tour the damage and meet with those affected by the wildfires that have ravaged the state. He is expected to land at Beale Air Force Base and travel to Paradise, the town in Northern California that has been decimated by fire.

The visit will come a week after he blamed state officials for the destructive blazes, erroneously attributing the cause of the fires to poor forest management and threatening to withhold financial payments to the state. But he has since praised the state’s efforts, praising the firefighters’ “incredible courage” and promising federal assistance.

The president has visited the state just once since he was elected, preferring instead to attack its leaders and policies from a distance.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” he wrote on Twitter last weekend, as firefighters were still battling back flames on both ends of the state. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

The statement drew a backlash from firefighters, experts and residents who were watching their homes being devoured by the infernos. Gov. Jerry Brown of California, who has frequently clashed with the president over climate change and other issues, forcefully responded to the attack by calling the fires the “new abnormal.” He added that those who deny human contribution to climate change are “definitely contributing to the tragedies that we are now witnessing and will continue to witness in the coming years.”

Mr. Brown has called for a “major disaster declaration” from the White House. Mr. Trump responded on Tuesday, saying that the federal government was prepared to help and praised firefighters for doing an “incredible job” at fighting the wildfires.

It is unclear just how the president will be received in the state where he is widely derided by public officials, including some from his own party. He is heading to a fairly remote part of the state, and away from heavily Democratic areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles where he is particularly unpopular.

Throughout his presidency, the Trump administration has been in a kind of existential fight with California, battling over issues like the environment, recreational marijuana and immigration.

In rallies before the midterm elections, the president and other Republicans used California as a rallying cry to point to liberal policies gone wrong.

The Trump administration has also tried to withhold federal money over other issues, including California’s so-called sanctuary state status, which strictly limits how much local law enforcement works with immigration authorities.

California has forcefully pushed back in part by filing dozens of lawsuits against the administration over land use, climate and immigration. And Gavin Newsom, the governor-elect, has been a vocal critic of the president and the administration’s policies.

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Opinion | Should the House Move to Impeach Trump?

To the Editor:

Re “Democrats Must Impeach Trump,” by Tom Steyer (Op-Ed, Nov. 10):

Mr. Steyer is right that the newly elected House must vote articles of impeachment against President Trump. It is not a question of choice but of duty.

Business conflicts of interest that violate the Emoluments Clause, obstructions of justice and illegal hush-money payments comprise three “high crimes and misdemeanors” mandating impeachment.

Some counsel a pragmatic approach, hoping to work with the president. Some say Republican control of the Senate dooms impeachment with the probability of an acquittal.

We must remember, however, that these are not normal times. Congress should not condone the president’s crimes. The House is honor-bound to impeach. If the Senate decides to acquit, then the people will have the final word in the elections of 2020.

Eric W. Orts
Philadelphia
The writer is a professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

To the Editor:

That there is little appetite among many Democrats for impeachment is a positive and remarkably mature sign. A protracted impeachment effort will fail with a hard-line Republican Senate majority, and it will send the wrong message to Republicans and independents who helped elect so many Democrats.

Tom Steyer’s campaign ignores the desire of Americans to instead focus on solving problems related to health care, education, infrastructure and an entrenched leadership. We don’t need campaigns that will send frustrated voters back to the Republican Party.

It’s time for Democratic leaders to listen to their constituents and lead us toward real progress with well-considered proposals, and messengers who can captivate the imagination and know how to connect with people. Mr. Steyer’s money and energy would be better spent supporting energetic and thoughtful candidates.

Irv Rothbart
New York

To the Editor:

Rather than jumping directly to impeaching Donald Trump, Democrats should use their new House majority to focus on creating rules that will help prevent every president, including President Trump, from governing badly. For example, instead of subpoenaing Mr. Trump’s tax returns, Democrats should push for a law requiring the president to disclose his or her finances and place them in a truly blind trust within 90 days of taking office. Presidents who do not comply would be subject to automatic removal, and Mr. Trump would be given 90 days to comply.

The goal of this type of legislation should be pushing for ethical governance, regardless of who is in office, and not just to right the perceived wrongs of the 2016 presidential campaign. America will be stronger for having endured the Trump presidency, but only if we use it as an opportunity to make our institutions more robust against potential abuse.

Jacob C. Fisher
Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Jeff Sessions Limited Consent Decrees. What About the Police Departments Already Under Reform?

If the United States attorney general sharply limits the power of the Justice Department to oversee police reforms in state and local jurisdictions, what becomes of Ferguson, Mo.?

The city, a suburb of St. Louis, is undergoing reforms under a so-called consent decree — an agreement between the Justice Department and a local jurisdiction, enforced by a federal judge, to overhaul a law enforcement agency that has been accused of abuses and civil rights violations.

Ferguson’s consent decree was enacted in 2016, two years after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer there.

The agreement is one of 14 currently being overseen by the Justice Department. But last week, just before he was forced out of office, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions signed a memorandum strictly limiting their use.

Now, top political appointees must sign off on the deals, there are new limits on their scope and duration, and department lawyers must lay out evidence of additional violations beyond unconstitutional behavior.

Civil rights groups were quick to condemn the move, and the United States Commission on Civil Rights, a bipartisan federal agency, on Thursday urged the Justice Department to reverse course.

“Americans deserve police departments fully committed to constitutional policing,” Catherine E. Lhamon, the chairwoman of the commission, said. The Justice Department, she added, needed “to end dangerous backsliding on police reform.”

The memo signed by Mr. Sessions, a vocal critic of consent decrees for years, applies mostly to the enactment of new agreements. The existing consent decrees — in cities including Baltimore, Cleveland, New Orleans and Seattle — are still in place.

But critics worry that the memo sends a strong signal about the administration’s opposition to these agreements, leaving it up to federal judges and community groups to keep the reforms on track.

Felicia Pulliam, a civil rights activist who has been fighting for police reform in Ferguson for years, said she was not happy when she learned of the last-minute memo, but was not surprised, either.

“What Jeff Sessions did, people have been anticipating,” she said. “It makes you wonder how much of this abuse will be exacted against black folk and other communities of color before we, as a nation, make a decision that we are better than this.”

‘Judges are going to be very important’

The Justice Department says existing decrees like the one in Ferguson remain under the purview of federal judges, and the memo will not affect the resources being devoted to those efforts.

The department is “committed to holding any officer or department responsible for violating the law without restraining the ability of good cops trying to do their part in reducing violent crimes,” a spokeswoman, Kelly Laco, said in an emailed statement this week.

But Christy E. Lopez, a former Justice Department lawyer under the Obama administration who is now a professor at Georgetown Law, said the memo could weaken existing consent decrees by making it even more clear that Justice Department officials are taking a hands-off approach.

And she pointed out that according to the memo, high-level approval is needed not only to establish a new consent decree, but also to make “any significant modifications” to the material terms of existing agreements.

“I think judges are going to be very important to how much this memo undermines the effectiveness of consent decrees,” she said. “Judges are going be very important, and public pressure at the local level is going to be very important.”

Four administrations, four approaches

The federal government’s use of consent decrees has long depended on who is in charge of the executive branch.

The decrees were made possible by a crime bill signed into law during the Clinton administration in 1994. One provision, Section 14141, allowed the attorney general to sue to eliminate unconstitutional conduct by law enforcement officers.

At the time, the police in Pittsburgh had been accused of targeting black people for arrest and abuse. A galvanizing moment came in 1995, when Jonny Gammage, a black businessman, died of asphyxiation during a struggle with white police officers in the suburbs. The Justice Department intervened by giving Pittsburgh the chance to avoid a federal lawsuit if it agreed to certain reforms.

That agreement — the country’s first federal consent decree for police reform — was reached in 1997.

The Justice Department backed away from the use of consent decrees under President George W. Bush. Under President Barack Obama, it made the agreements a vital part of its aggressive approach to addressing allegations of police misconduct.

Several major cities negotiated their consent decrees during President Obama’s second term, a period of widespread protests over police killings of unarmed black people. The agreements call on officers to form partnerships with community groups in Ferguson, receive training on de-escalation tactics in Baltimore and work to develop unbiased policing policies in Cleveland.

Do consent decrees work?

Consent decrees can last for years and cost cities millions of dollars. Their ultimate impact can be hard to discern because crime rates can go up and down for various reasons, and because it can be hard to measure and explain fluctuations in things like racial discrimination or feelings of safety.

Merrick Bobb, an independent monitor for the consent decree in Seattle and the executive director of the Police Assessment Resource Center, a law enforcement reform consulting organization, said the agreements were not perfect but had consistently yielded progress.

“All have been successful, at least for a time,” he said. “What the consent decrees intended to accomplish have, by and large, been fulfilled.”

Critics of the agreements say they are restrictive. The Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police organization, applauded last week’s memo, saying it would “ensure that consent decrees will not be lengthy, open-ended arrangements with burdensome requirements or long-term negative impacts.”

James O. Pasco Jr., the police organization’s executive director, said the decrees could vilify rank-and-file officers and impede real collaboration.

“It’s a blame game,” he said. “Our officers on the street, the ones who have to interact with the community, are seen as the boogeymen. It is frustrating, and as a result of that, oftentimes consent decrees, however well-meaning, end up exacerbating problems between the police and the community rather than improving them.”

But Ms. Lopez said that police reforms helped law enforcement officers work more efficiently, created better environments for communities to thrive and prevented costly lawsuits, ultimately saving cities money.

She added that public perceptions of the police regularly and significantly improved after consent decrees were put into place. She pointed to Los Angeles, where crime fell and residents’ attitudes toward the police improved markedly after a consent decree was imposed in 2001, according to a 2009 study from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Mr. Pasco argued consent decrees were not necessary, pointing to Cincinnati, where police reforms took place without that level of oversight from the Justice Department. Violent crimes as well as citizen complaints about the police decreased there after an agreement was reached in 2002, and the city was considered a trailblazer.

‘We are not dissuaded’

Ms. Pulliam said that progress under the decree in Ferguson had been a mixed bag.

She has seen more police officers mingling at community events. City leaders are more diverse. Officials are slogging through, and often dismissing, municipal court cases that have been severely backlogged for years. But she said the process still needed to be more inclusive and transparent, and she pointed to turnover problems: The police chief, who was himself preceded by two interim chiefs, is now stepping down after less than three years in office.

Ms. Pulliam added that she and other activists would keep pushing for the reforms they have sought for years. And she will keep working with Justice Department lawyers who are still on the case in Ferguson.

“We knew that it was going to be a challenge, and we are not dissuaded,” she said. “Everybody’s exhausted. It’s exhausting. It’s difficult. But we’re still in it.”

Mr. Bobb said he was optimistic about the future of consent decrees — even new ones — in part because memorandums like the one signed by Mr. Sessions can be rescinded.

“I have been doing this police reform work for nearly 30 years, and I’ve seen the ups and downs,” he said. “When those currently in power move on, the good that consent decrees have accomplished — the lives that have been saved and the beatings that have been avoided — those things will revive the program. It’s not going to go away.”

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Opinion | White House Wall Weirdness

Hey, do you think the government will run out of money before Christmas? I know, this seems to come up every year. But until the Trump era, it was generally something vague about Congress passing continuing resolutions. Certainly nothing you could start a fight over during Thanksgiving dinner.

But now we’ve got The Wall! Good old Wall. Really, even in your seriously crazy countries, you don’t have the government teetering over the question of whether the border should be decorated with a 30-foot-high mound of concrete. Our president did suggest that Spain might want to wall off the Sahara. But everybody sort of coughed nervously and changed the subject.

President Trump seems to once again be threatening to veto any spending package that doesn’t include his Wall. It’s hardly the only scary thing bouncing around the White House these days. We’ve got the Big Guy going into a snit over the weather in France, while his wife is making announcements about which members of the national security team aren’t worthy of remaining on the job.

Well, O.K., just one. So far. Melania Trump’s office issued a sudden, out-of-nowhere statement that it was the opinion of, um, Melania Trump’s office that deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel “no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”

Ricardel is a scary right-wing hawk who’s a protégé of the deeply scary national security adviser, John Bolton. It’s hard to say what’s more upsetting — the idea that a team like Bolton-Ricardel is supposed to be keeping the nation safe, or the suggestion that Melania is starting to dictate national security hiring decisions. But if you happen to run into the first lady on an international trip, just remember to let her have the best seats.

Also, are we supposed to be worried about Donald Trump’s health? He looked a little bedraggled in France, where he was apparently subject to wild mood swings, unwilling to go for a drive in the rain to honor veterans of World War I, and then taking a limo to another ceremony while other world leaders marched together in a downpour.

Not sure this is a sign of new slippage. Perhaps you remember that during his first year in office our president attended a Group of 7 summit in Sicily in which the other six leaders walked 700 yards to the site of a group photo. Trump opted to wait until he could get a golf cart.

Not criticizing. Just saying.

But we were talking about the House Appropriations Committee trying to get all of its spending bills passed so the government wouldn’t run out of money. “There’s broad bipartisan support,” said Representative Nita Lowey of New York, the top-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “Unless they want to stick some junk in there.”

“Sticking some junk in there” is, in this case, probably synonymous with The Wall. “Shall we say we’re negotiating?” said Lowey in a phone interview.

Negotiations would presumably involve putting up some more money for other security along the border that doesn’t involve a 30-foot concrete wall. Maybe not your top priority, but if you want to make the system keep staggering along, you’ve got to have a little bit of give.

Hey, did you know that next year the House Appropriations Committee will have its first female chairman in history? I know we have a lot of first women things going on these days, but this is one to be noted.

“Not yet!” cried Lowey. “I have to be elected first.” Lowey has been the ranking Democrat on the committee for ages, and truly the chances that she won’t naturally succeed to the top job when the Democrats take control are … well, I think you really can count on it.

The Republicans will then have to pick someone to be their ranking member — the equivalent of the party’s top dog on the committee. Lowey had some warm words for Representative Kay Granger of Texas, which would give Appropriations a rather historic twofer. It would also eliminate the possibility that she’d have to work with a heavy-duty partisan like Tom Graves of Georgia, who’s been competing like crazy for the job.

Graves is famous — well, famous is probably not the right word — for sponsoring a bill to create a “Fund for America’s Kids and Grandkids” that would appropriate $585 million that could not be spent on anything until the federal deficit was eliminated. Which would take a while, given the fact that it rose 17 percent, to $779 billion, in the latest Republican-controlled fiscal year.

But you have to figure the Kids and Grandkids would appreciate the thought.

Meanwhile, best bet for keeping everything running is a super-compromise in which Congress tosses in a little more money for … something along the border. Repairing the existing fences, or flying a few more drones, or just broadcasting football games to the bored border guards.

Then the president could pretend it was for The Wall. He’s been doing that for ages, actually. “We started building our Wall. I’m so proud of it. We started. We started. We have $1.6 billion and we’ve already started,” he tells the folks at his rallies.

Actually, the $1.6 billion was explicitly not for a Wall. Nothing’s started. But what the hey. Maybe Mexico will pay for it.

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Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist, a former member of the editorial board and was the first woman to serve as Times editorial page editor, from 2001 to 2007. @GailCollins Facebook

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Opinion | Trump Tribalism Re-elected My Congressman

GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. — In August, Representative Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president, was indicted on federal insider trading charges. Yet last week, voters appeared to have re-elected him by a narrow margin: As of Monday, he was leading by fewer than 3,000 votes, with nearly 18,000 ballots, including absentee and affidavit ballots, left to count.

But Mr. Collins’s likely re-election while under criminal indictment is possibly not the most unusual thing about his political career. Equally remarkable was his swift transformation from a mainstream, fiscally conservative Republican into a cheerleader for Mr. Trump and his hard-right brand of nationalism.

A decade ago, Mr. Collins was the executive of Erie County, where I live. He was a typical Republican. The county’s finances were in disarray, and Mr. Collins, a successful entrepreneur and engineer, campaigned as a technocrat, pledging to “run government like a business.” He hired consultants devoted to Six Sigma, the management fad popularized by Jack Welch at General Electric, and promised to give the bureaucracy a business school shakedown and maybe lower taxes to boot.

Chris Collins was not a populist radical. He was a boring Mitt Romney Republican with a dash of Tea Party.

His efforts at reform in the midst of the financial crisis failed, and Mr. Collins lost his re-election bid in 2011. But in 2012, he narrowly defeated the Democratic representative in the 27th Congressional District, who had won in a special election after the Republican incumbent had resigned in a sexting scandal.

At the time, people wondered why the guy who said he was a “chief executive, not a chief politician,” even wanted the job.

During his first term, Mr. Collins was a little-known backbencher. The 27th District, which encircles the Democratic stronghold of Buffalo, consists of upscale exurbs, lakeshore communities and farmland with more cows than people. His constituents were happy for him to be a reliable Republican vote and little more — he won re-election with over two-thirds of the vote in both 2014 and 2016 — and his legislative accomplishments were largely limited to naming post offices.

Until Donald Trump. Whatever motivated his endorsement, Mr. Collins traded in his reserved character for a MAGA cap and went all in, becoming a fixture on Fox News during the campaign, and then championing Mr. Trump’s nominees and policies after the election. The chief executive had become the chief apologist.

We now know that Mr. Collins used his assignments on the House Energy and Commerce Committees to give stock tips to fellow congressmen and promote legislation beneficial to his health care industry investments. According to the federal indictment, Mr. Collins made a phone call urging family members to dump shares of a pharmaceutical company before news of a failed drug test was made public during a June 2017 picnic at the White House.

In the midterms, Mr. Collins’s Democratic opponent was Nate McMurray, the supervisor of my small town, Grand Island. I know Nate, but then everyone here knows Nate. Buffalo is the kind of place where we expect to bump into our politicians and professional athletes in the grocery store, and we see nothing rude in stopping them to talk about the game last Sunday. This is especially true on Grand Island.

Despite this, Chris Collins said I should fear Nate — because he speaks Korean. A Collins campaign ad that ran just days before the election shows a video of Mr. McMurray bowing and speaking in Korean in slow motion. Beneath him runs a subtitle warning that Mr. McMurray “worked to send jobs to China and Korea.” In the background an image of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, flashes by. “You can take Nate McMurray at his word,” warns the ad. His Korean word.

Yet Mr. McMurray, who is married to a Korean woman, never said anything in the video about jobs, and there is no evidence he ever “worked to send” American jobs overseas. He posted the video himself on YouTube in June as a gesture of international good will before President Trump’s nuclear summit with Mr. Kim.

Mr. Collins was implicitly attacking Mr. McMurray’s Korean wife and his Korean-speaking children. That’s not how things normally work on Grand Island. “Big island, small town” goes the saying. It’s Republican in a keep-my-taxes-low sort of way. Mr. McMurray won his supervisor position by only 14 votes, but in a race where the worst high jinks involved stealing opponent’s lawn signs. (Disclosure: my wife, Jessica Castner, while not a paid member of his staff, has been Mr. McMurray’s science adviser for environmental issues.)

A charismatic campaigner, Mr. McMurray crisscrossed the district and likely met many of the people who voted for him. Mr. Collins dropped out of the race after being indicted, then got back in, did almost no campaigning, spoke to only one or two friendly members of the news media, has never held a town hall and has sworn he never will. He’s not around to stop at the grocery store.

Yet he appears to have won in this district that cast 59 percent of its votes for Donald Trump in 2016.

Our country’s tribalism was on full display in the 27th, with party loyalty, or Trump loyalty, apparently overcoming consideration of the quality and character of the individual candidates. Some of his critics say that Mr. Collins was always a corrupt, casual racist, that Donald Trump merely unleashed what was always inside. I don’t know. All I do know is that I don’t recognize the former country executive, or his party at all.

Brian Castner is the author of, most recently, “Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage.”

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