Nation

Beto O’Rourke enters 2020 race attempting bipartisan appeal

KEOKUK, Iowa — Beto O’Rourke, the 46-year-old former Texas congressman whose surprisingly strong Senate run last year propelled him to Democratic stardom, announced Thursday he was running for president, betting that a broad message of national unity and generational change will lift him above a slate of committed progressives offering big-ticket policy ideas.

His decision jolts an early election season already stuffed with contenders, adding to the mix a relentless campaigner with a small-dollar fund-raising army, the performative instincts of a former punk rocker, and a pro-immigrant vision to counteract President Trump’s.

Yet O’Rourke also comes to the 2020 race with few notable legislative accomplishments after three terms in the House representing El Paso. And in a primary so far defined by bedrock policy positions, such as the economic agendas of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, O’Rourke enters without a signature proposal that might serve as the ideological anchor of his bid.

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“This moment of peril produces perhaps the greatest moment of promise for this country and for everyone inside it,” O’Rourke said in a video announcing his candidacy, released hours before a three-day tour of Iowa began Thursday morning.

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Shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday, O’Rourke stepped into a coffee shop on Main Street in Keokuk and began introducing himself to a state he had never visited before.

“Hey, nice to meet you. Beto O’Rourke,” he said, squeezing between news cameras and caffeine-seekers. “Good morning, good morning to you,” he said to people in this southeastern Iowa town — a county where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 16 percentage points in 2016 but where then-President Obama won four years earlier.

Soon, he was standing on a chair taking questions, perched between paintings of flowers and musical instruments. “This is democracy,” he said.

O’Rourke was planning to spend much of the next three days in similar communities across eastern Iowa, the historically Democratic part of the state where so many voters swung to Trump three years ago.

New York Times

Meeting of Biden, Abrams sparks speculation

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ATLANTA — Former vice president Joe Biden and Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams met privately Thursday in Washington, bringing together two starkly different faces of their party as they both weigh their political futures.

Biden, 76, who served as President Obama’s close adviser, is on the cusp of deciding whether he’ll make his third run for the presidency. Abrams, 45, narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race in November. She is being heavily recruited to run for the Senate in 2020, but she’s not ruled out making a presidential bid herself. She also could be considered as a vice presidential running mate.

A person close to Abrams confirmed the meeting, saying it was set at Biden’s request.

Biden and Abrams represent starkly different identities for a Democratic Party in flux, with one an aging white man who is the consummate Washington politician and the other an up-and-coming black woman from Generation X who has become a national political celebrity even in defeat. She delivered the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address last month.

If Abrams doesn’t run or doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, she could be a vice presidential pick.

Associated Press

Southern Poverty Law Center fires cofounder Dees

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NEW YORK — The Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s largest legal advocacy groups, said Wednesday its co-founder and chief trial lawyer, Morris Dees, was fired after nearly a half-century, during which he helped grow the organization into a legal powerhouse with an endowment of nearly half a billion dollars focused on hate crimes.

The president, Richard Cohen, did not give a specific reason for the dismissal of Dees, 82, but in a statement released Thursday, Cohen said, “as a civil rights organization, the SPLC is committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world.”

He added that an independent assessment of the center, which is based in Montgomery, Ala., will soon examine the workplace to ensure that it would be “one in which all voices are heard and all staff members are respected.”

“When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action,” Cohen said.

In recent years, the center has come under scrutiny for its classifications of “hate groups,” and whether the organization has abused that label in pursuit of a political agenda or increased donations.

The center’s most recent tax documents showed an endowment of $471 million. In response to criticism about its wealth, the center has pointed to the high cost of engaging in long, complicated legal battles.

In the early 70s, Dees, the son of an Alabama farmer, sold his book publishing business to begin the civil rights law practice that would eventually become the Southern Poverty Law Center. His co-founders were civil rights leader Julian Bond and another young Montgomery lawyer, Joe Levin.

In 1981, Dees won $7 million in damages against the United Klans of America on behalf of a family of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old black man whose body was left hanging in a tree in Mobile, Ala.

The verdict was awarded by an all-white jury after Dees compared Donald to martyrs of the civil rights movement, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “They sacrificed a human being to get some publicity for the Klan,” Dees said. “He’ll go down in civil rights history in the fight for black rights. I hope your verdict goes down in history right beside him.”

In a 2017 profile published by Politico, Dees was described as a “marketing genius,” who was known informally as “the Mother Teresa of Montgomery.”

New York Times

Lawmakers lambaste Ross over citizenship question

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday of secretly orchestrating the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, citing an e-mail they say shows he misled Congress about the decision.

Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the chairman of the House oversight panel, said documents show Ross engaged in a campaign to add the question from the first days he joined the department.

“He was choreographing these efforts behind the scenes, he became impatient when his demands were not being met, and he was working directly with officials at the highest levels of the Trump administration to force this issue through,’’ Cummings said.

Ross testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in an often contentious hearing. He stuck with his explanation from previous hearings that Justice Department officials made a formal request to include the citizenship question to help it enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Some 18 states and immigrant groups have sued the Commerce Department, claiming it failed to properly analyze the effect of the question on households with immigrants.

Associated Press