Democrats made headway in their quest to retake the House of Representatives this week by claiming ballot spots in nearly all of California’s 53 congressional districts. Although Democrats dominate the state, party leaders feared that this year’s crowded primaries would backfire. In California’s unconventional “jungle primary” system, the top two vote getters advance to the general election regardless of their party. Some speculated that the high number of Democratic candidates would split the vote against less numerous Republicans, shutting Democrats out of key House races. But Democrats managed to snag general-election ballot slots in all seven GOP-held districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016—seats they are targeting in this year’s midterms. Democrats need to pick up 23 seats nationwide to win control of the House. Republicans likewise avoided being shut out of the governor’s race, with John Cox advancing to face Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Video of immigration officials denying a U.S. senator entry to a Brownsville facility where migrant children are being held went viral on social media this week. Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon was blocked from entering a former Walmart with blacked-out windows now serving as a shelter for children who have been separated at the border from their parents. “The attorney general’s team and the Office of Refugee Resettlement don’t want anyone to know about what’s going on behind these doors,” Merkley told a responding police officer. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the shelters, accused Merkley of grandstanding. The number of illegal border crossings was higher than usual in May, despite the Justice Department’s new “zero tolerance” policy.
Another EPA scandal
Scott Pruitt, the embattled EPA administrator, faced a new ethical firestorm this week amid reports that he directed a staff member to help his wife try to secure a Chick-fil-A franchise. Emails show that Pruitt directed an aide to reach out to Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy to set up a meeting with his wife, Marlyn Pruitt, about becoming a franchisee. The meeting never happened, but the administrator ultimately spoke with members of Chick-fil-A’s legal department, and a Chick-fil-A spokesperson confirmed that Marlyn had started, but never finished, a franchise application. Securing a Chick-fil-A franchise is a highly competitive process; the company receives about 40,000 “expressions of interest” every year, with only about 100 people selected. Pruitt also reportedly asked an aide to call the Trump International Hotel in Washington about securing a used mattress for him.
Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature voted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act last week. Roughly 400,000 low-income Virginians will gain access to the federal public health insurance program next year. The Affordable Care Act gave states the option to expand Medicaid starting in 2014, but GOP lawmakers in Virginia successfully blocked it for years. The Republican resistance began to crumble after Democrats made sweeping gains in last year’s state elections, with now–Gov. Ralph Northam campaigning heavily on health-care issues. To win Republican votes, Democrats in the statehouse agreed to require adults without disabilities to work or volunteer in order to receive benefits. Ultimately, enough Republicans voted for the expansion that it could have passed without any of the new Democrats who won seats in the state legislature last year. Virginia is the 33rd state to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller accused former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort this week of witness tampering in his federal tax and money-laundering case. Manafort allegedly tried to contact two witnesses by phone, through an intermediary, and through encrypted messages on WhatsApp, violating the terms of his release. Manafort is under house arrest on a $10 million bond. Prosecutors have now asked a federal judge to send him to jail while he awaits trial, which could increase pressure on him to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation. The witnesses worked for a public relations firm involved in Manafort’s lobbying efforts on behalf of a pro-Russia party in Ukraine. They provided texts to the FBI showing that Manafort urged them to tell investigators that their lobbying work was limited to the European Union, even though they worked with Manafort in the U.S. Manafort has been charged with failing to disclose his foreign lobbying in the U.S., as well as bank fraud and other financial crimes.
Parkland survivor targeted
A police SWAT team descended on the home of Parkland survivor and prominent gun-control activist David Hogg this week after a hoax 911 call reported that someone was in the house with a weapon. Neither Hogg nor any of his family was home at the time; the 18-year-old was in Washington, D.C., with his mother accepting a human rights award. The call was an example of “swatting,” in which prank callers attempt to get armed officers to raid a target’s home, with potentially fatal results. Police shot and killed an unarmed 28-year-old man in Wichita in December after they were called to his home during a swatting incident. Hogg is anathema in certain gun rights circles for his pugnacious activism in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he graduated this week. Hogg and other student activists with the March for Our Lives movement are planning a 20-state summer bus tour to campaign for gun control laws and to register young people to vote. ■