Associated Press – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Associated Press

Parkland shooting hero blames Scott Israel, superintendent

A student gravely wounded while saving his classmates’ lives by blocking a door during the Florida school massacre said Friday that the county sheriff and school superintendent failed the victims by not arresting the shooter before the attack and by allowing him to attend the school.

An attorney for 15-year-old Anthony Borges read a statement from him during a news conference criticizing Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and Superintendent Robert Runcie for the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 14 students and three staff members.

Borges was shot five times, suffering wounds to the lungs, abdomen and legs. He was released from a Fort Lauderdale hospital Wednesday morning, the last of the 17 wounded to go home.

Borges, too weak to talk, sat silently in a wheelchair with his right leg propped up. His statement specifically attacked the Promise program, a school district and sheriff office initiative that allows students who commit minor crimes on campus to avoid arrest if they complete rehabilitation. Runcie has said shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student, was never in the program, but Borges and his attorney, Alex Arreaza, said school and sheriff’s officials knew Cruz was dangerous.

Deputies received at least a dozen calls about Cruz, 19, over the years and he spent two years in a school for children with emotional and disciplinary problems before being allowed to transfer to Stoneman Douglas. Last year, records show, he was forced to leave after incidents – other students said he abused an ex-girlfriend and fought her new boyfriend. Weeks before the shooting, both the FBI and the sheriff’s office received calls saying Cruz could become a school shooter but took no action.

Runcie and Israel “failed us students, teachers and parents alike on so many levels,” Arreaza read for Borges, who sat next to his father, Roger. “I want all of us to move forward to end the environment that allowed people like Nikolas Cruz to fall through the cracks. You knew he was a problem years ago and you did nothing. He should have never been in school with us.”

Arreaza said the family supports the efforts by Stoneman Douglas students David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and others to end gun violence but may not always agree with their methods. Borges is a U.S. citizen born to Venezuelan immigrants.

Arreaza said that although Borges’ father, a maintenance worker, appreciates that people consider his son a hero for protecting classmates, he believes such talk detracts from the serious message that action must be taken to stop school shootings.

“He doesn’t want there to be anymore bubblegum hero stuff,” Arreaza said.

Anthony Borges visited Stoneman Douglas for the first time since the shooting Thursday but said in his statement that he is scared to return, fearing there could be more violence.

More than $830,000 has been raised for him in online donations, but Arreaza said his medical bills will likely exceed $1.5 million. The family plans to file a lawsuit soon against Cruz, the estate of his late mother and a family that housed him before the shooting. Under state law, the family can’t sue the school district and sheriff’s office until a six-month waiting period expires in August.

The sheriff’s office and school district did not return after-hours calls and emails Friday seeking comment.

‘Hope and dignity:’ Pope calls for peace in Easter message

On Christianity’s most joyful day, Pope Francis called for peace in a world marked by war and conflict, “beginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria” and extending to Israel, where 15 Palestinians were killed on the Israeli-Gaza border two days before Easter Sunday.

Francis reflected on the power of Christianity’s core belief — that Jesus rose from the dead following crucifixion — in his formal “Urbi et Orbi” Easter message delivered from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to a packed square of some 80,000 faithful below.

The pontiff said the message of the resurrection offers hope in a world “marked by so many acts of injustice and violence,” including parts of Africa affected by “hunger, endemic conflicts and terrorism.”

“It bears fruits of hope and dignity where there are deprivation and exclusion, hunger and unemployment; where there are migrants and refugees, so often rejected by today’s culture of waste, and victims of the drug trade, human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery,” the pope said.

Francis called for a “swift end” to the seven years of carnage in Syria, demanding that aid be delivered to the war-torn country’s needy and calling for “fitting conditions for the returned and the displaced.”

The pope also urged reconciliation in Israel, a place “experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenseless.” His remarks followed the Friday deaths of Palestinian protesters who charged toward Gaza’s border with Israel, the area’s deadliest violence in four years.

Turning to Asia, Francis expressed hope that talks underway could bring peace to the Korean peninsula, urging “those who are directly responsible act with wisdom and discernment to promote the good of the Korean people.”

The pope also urged more steps to bring harmony to divided Ukraine, called for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and appealed for the world not to forget victims of conflict, especially children.

“May there be no lack of solidarity with all those forced to leave their native lands and lacking the bare essentials for living,” said Francis, who has often championed the cause of migrants and refugees.

The church’s first pontiff from Latin America cited in particular the problems in Venezuela. He said he hoped the country would “find a just, peaceful and humane way to surmount quickly the political and humanitarian crises that grip it.”

Earlier, tens of thousands of faithful underwent heavy security checks to enter St. Peter’s Square to participate in Easter Sunday Mass celebrated by the pope, followed by his “Urbi et Orbi” message (“to the city and the world.“)

Security precautions included bag checks and metal detector wands for everyone entering the square, while the main avenue leading to the Vatican, as well as smaller adjoining streets, were closed to traffic.

Francis opened Easter festivities with a tweet to his global flock: “Our faith is born on Easter morning: Jesus is alive! The experience is at the heart of the Christian message.”

Elsewhere, hundreds of Christians marked Easter by flocking to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where they believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

20,000 march by Stoneman Douglas High to support gun laws

The march approaching Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, snaked for two miles Saturday, with thousands of students, teachers, parents and supporters chanting in favor of tighter gun laws they believe would have prevented last month’s massacre there.

“Enough is enough,” they shouted. “No more AR-15s,” referring to semi-automatic rifle the killer used.

But when they reached the school, the March for Our Lives participants went stone silent to honor the 17 students and staff members who died, martyrs for a movement that brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of Washington, D.C., and cities nationwide Saturday. Protesters are demanding new laws and programs that they believe will curtail mass shootings at schools and elsewhere. Elsewhere in Florida, local media reported that 25,000 people gathered in Orlando, and another 13,000 in Tampa.

More than 20,000 attended the rally and march in Parkland, a well-to-do Fort Lauderdale suburb of 31,000 that would have been an unlikely spot for a massive street protest before the Feb. 14 shooting put it in the middle of the national gun debate.

“It is ridiculous that we have to do this, that it is even up for conversation,” said Sarah Hingoo, a 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas student. “We shouldn’t have to do this to change lawmakers’ minds. They should just have common sense.”

A morning rally filled much of a park two miles from the school, taking on the air of a campaign event. Voter registration booths dotted the sidewalks, friends welcomed friends and music such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and David Guetta’s “Titanium” blared from loudspeakers.

Adam Buckwald, a 16-year-old Stoneman Douglas student, told the crowd it’s “incomprehensible” that with the previous mass shootings in Las Vegas, Orlando and elsewhere in recent years, no significant changes have been made to federal gun laws.

“How was it possible that when so many innocent lives, many of them children, were murdered that there was no meaningful change to protect us? Our society, our system, our laws, our politicians have failed us,” he said.

Samantha Mayor, who was shot in the knee as she studied in her psychology class, hobbled to the podium, her leg in a brace from ankle to hip, to call for funding to retrofit classrooms with bulletproof doors and windows and tighter security. She also pushed for stricter gun laws.

She told of lying on the floor, “hearing and feeling rapid gunfire” as suspect Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student who had been kicked out because of emotional problems and outbursts, stalked the hallways and classrooms for six minutes.

“My class was struck with the greatest sense of fear when we saw the glass of the door broken; that all the killer had to do was reach his hand in…and turn the doorknob. At that point, it didn’t matter that the door was locked,” Mayor said. “It didn’t matter that we were hiding. It didn’t matter that we were silent. He could have entered if he wanted to….He should never have passed a background check. He should have never been able to kill us.”

Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina died in the shooting, stood next to his son, who held up a sign reading “My sister could not make it today.” The senior Montalto told the crowd the country needs to enact gun laws most would agree with.

“Compromise, it is not a dirty word,” he said. “It is how the world works. It is the only way the world works.”

After the rally, the demonstrators moved to the streets. Students wore burgundy T-shirts saying “MSD Strong,” listing the names of their classmates. Parents and community members walked with them. They carried signs reading “Protect kids, not guns,” ”Ban the NRA,” and “Our ballots will stop bullets.” No counterprotesters were seen.

Isabella Pfeifer, a 16-year-old Stoneman Douglas student and Parkland resident, said after the march it’s unimaginable that her town is now the center of a movement.

“Nothing happens here,” Pfeiffer said. “It is the type of town where we have fundraisers for Relay for Life and Breast Cancer Awareness Week. It is not a very controversial town.”

Rick Scott says yes to daylight saving time year-round

Gov. Rick Scott is signing off on a measure that would let Florida stay on daylight saving time all year long.

Scott on Friday signed 74 bills into law, including the “Sunshine Protection Act.” The measure won’t take effect unless Congress also changes federal law.

But if Congress were to go along, Floridians would no longer set back their clock an hour each November. That would translate into later sunrises and sunsets from November to March.

Scott in a statement said he supported the move because it would help the state’s tourism industry. He said it would allow residents and visitors to “enjoy everything our beautiful state has to offer later in the day.”

The Florida PTA had asked for a veto because more children would go to school in the morning in the dark.

Parkland teens keep gun-control grown-ups at arm’s length

Before the shooting had even stopped, teenagers hiding at their Florida high school were talking about gun control. Within days, they had launched a crusade against gun violence – one that will result in a nationwide series of protests Saturday.

In taking up the fight, the students have joined forces with liberal organizations that have been pushing for years for tighter gun laws. That’s led to criticism that the youngsters’ cause is less spontaneous than it seems and that they are being used as pawns.

Such suspicions infuriate the teenagers who have worked furiously since last month’s massacre at their Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people died.

They say they welcome financial help and assistance with certain basic, organizational tasks – after all, said Parkland junior Cameron Kasky, “I’m 17. I can’t rent a hotel room” – but that the ideas behind the movement remain all theirs.

“You can help us, but you’re not going to run us,” Kasky said. “There are some things we’re going to inevitably need help with. But our message, our organization, our platform – that’s us.”

He said as proof of his group’s independence, it has turned down requests by some adult supporters to address Saturday’s main march in Washington, preferring to reserve all speaking slots for youth.

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, contended the movement has been misrepresented as the spontaneous product of traumatized students.

“This isn’t just a few kids from a Parkland high school who started a national movement – they’ve been swept up in it,” he said. “The gun-prohibition movement in this country is pretty organized, and any time there’s a tragedy, they jump on it and try to get the victims to work with them.”

Longer-established gun control groups supporting the march chortle at the notion that they are the ones really in charge.

“Everybody wonders who’s the adult pulling the strings, and there really isn’t one,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of the organization created by former Rep. Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head in 2010. “This is an authentically student-led movement, from the message to the formation of the program, up and down.”

Kasky recalled how in the days after the attack people kept asking him if George Soros was funding them. He said he didn’t even recognize the name and had to look it up to find that they were referring to a liberal billionaire whose funding of several progressive groups is a favorite of conservative conspiracy theorists.

Likewise, Kasky laughed off attacks connecting the students to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has been accused of anti-Semitism. The criticism came because the teens accepted help from the Women’s March movement to organize student walkouts last week, and the co-president of the Women’s March had met with Farrakhan. Kasky noted that most the students in his group are Jewish.

Yet the Parkland students are in no way going it alone.

The raw emotion and outrage they expressed over social media and at rallies after the Valentine’s Day attack electrified supporters of gun control and opened wallets. They have raised more than $4 million to support the more than 800 scheduled marches, including donations from celebrities such as George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey, as well as support from groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group founded and funded by former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

In groups like Everytown, the Parkland teens are getting support from a well-financed gun control movement that sprouted up after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, when 20 Connecticut first-graders and six adults were killed. After gun control legislation failed in the U.S. Senate, activists decided they needed to create a counterpart to the National Rifle Association’s combination of financial heft and grassroots support.

Everytown raised more than $70 million in 2016, the last year for which tax records are available, and has pushed gun control measures in several states with limited success. It helped get a background check ballot measure passed in Nevada in 2016 as well as laws in 25 states to prevent domestic abusers from owning firearms.

“The turf has changed significantly before Parkland,” said John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president, noting last year’s Virginia governor’s race, won handily by Democrat Ralph Northam, a supporter of gun control in the NRA’s home state.

The Parkland students have been quick to seize their moment. First, they went to Tallahassee to lobby for gun control legislation at Florida’s Capitol, where they were joined by Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. They traveled to Washington, met with senators and parents of children killed at Sandy Hook and got advice on activism from Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who was a stalwart of the civil rights movement. A pro bono attorney helped them set up a nonprofit to handle donations. They even have their own app.

What happens after Saturday? Kasky said the students plan to launch a get-out-the-vote campaign targeting young voters.

The students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the energy they’ve injected into the gun control movement. Feinblatt said Everytown has received nearly 100,000 small donations since Parkland. Everytown and Giffords’ organization are helping fund some of the “sibling” demonstrations around the country Saturday. The main march’s web page directs supporters who want to make a tax deductible donation to an Everytown fund.

Gottlieb, of the pro-gun group, said that the Parkland teens represent only one side of the debate among their generation and that they’re being lionized by the media at the expense of peers who disagree. In fact, that’s helped some pro-gun teens start to mobilize, he said: Youth memberships in his relatively small group have increased twelvefold since Parkland.

“There’s movement on both sides of the equation,” Gottlieb said.

Gun control activist booted from Paul Ryan fundraiser in Miami

An activist and teacher who wants gun control laws was removed from a Miami-area GOP fundraiser after confronting House Speaker Paul Ryan about this week’s mass shooting at a Florida school.

The Miami Herald reports that Maria Thorne, a Key Biscayne fifth grade teacher, said she and a friend dropped in on the fundraiser Friday at the Ritz Hotel after she noticed motorcade traffic clogging up her commute home.

Thorne said she shook Ryan’s hand and introduced herself but added, “You’re here celebrating the death of 17 children.”

She said Ryan told her he “didn’t want to talk politics” or argue. When Thorne tried to continue, security escorted her out as she chanted “No more guns!”

The National Republican Congressional Committee lists a 2018 Winter Meeting in Key Biscayne this weekend.

Ryan’s spokesperson confirmed to the Herald that he attended it.

Material from the Associated Press and the Miami Herald was used in this post.

AP poll: Sexual misconduct allegations voted top news story of 2017

The wave of sexual misconduct allegations that toppled Hollywood power brokers, politicians, media icons and many others was the top news story of 2017, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The No. 2 story was Donald Trump’s tumultuous first year as president. A year ago, Trump’s unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election was a near-unanimous pick for the top news story of 2016.

The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII as the top story.

Here are 2017’s top 10 stories, in order:

1. Sexual misconduct: Scandals involving sexual misdeeds by prominent men are nothing new in America, but there’s never been anything remotely like the deluge of allegations unleashed this year by women who were emboldened to speak out by the accusers who preceded them. Luminaries toppled from their perches included movie magnate Harvey Weinstein, media stars Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, and several celebrity chefs and members of Congress.

2. Trump-First Year: The controversies started on Inauguration Day, with the new president challenged over his claims on the size of the crowd, and persisted throughout the year. Trump’s approval ratings hovered around record-low territory, his base remained fiercely loyal, and his relentless tweeting — often in the early morning hours — provoked a striking mix of outrage, mockery and grateful enthusiasm.

3. Las Vegas mass shooting: A 64-year-old high-stakes video poker player, after amassing an arsenal of weapons, unleashed a barrage of gunfire from a high-rise casino-hotel that killed 58 people and injured hundreds among a crowd attending an open-air concert along the Las Vegas Strip. Weeks after the massacre, questions about the gunman’s motives remained unanswered.

4. Hurricane onslaught: In a four-week span, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria ravaged Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. Harvey killed more than 80 people in Texas and caused an estimated $150 billion in damage. Irma killed scores of people in the Caribbean and U.S., including 12 residents of a Florida nursing home that lost its air conditioning. Maria damaged more than 200,000 homes in Puerto Rico, caused lengthy power outages, and prompted an investigation into whether the official death toll of 64 was vastly undercounted.

5. North Korea: At times the taunts had a schoolyard flavor to them — a “dotard” versus “Little Rocket Man.” But they came from two world leaders with nuclear arms at their disposal — Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Fueling the tensions were North Korea’s latest tests of a hydrogen bomb and of ballistic missiles that potentially could reach the U.S. mainland.

6. Trump-Russia probe: Trump fired FBI director James Comey, but a former FBI chief, Robert Mueller, was soon appointed to investigate potential coordination between Russia and Trump’s election campaign. By mid-December, Mueller’s team had brought federal charges against four people, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

7. Obamacare: Despite repeated efforts, majority Republicans in Congress failed to repeal Barack Obama’s health care law and replace it with new plan. At one point, a deciding vote against a GOP replacement bill was cast by Republican Sen. John McCain. But questions remained as to how Obama’s plan would fare going forward without substantive help from the Trump administration.

8. Tax overhaul: Without a single Democratic vote, Republicans in Congress pushed through a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that would cut corporate taxes while producing mixed results for individuals. GOP lawmakers, backed by Trump, said the bill would have broad benefits by accelerating economic growth. Critics said consequences would include higher budget deficits and the potential loss of health care coverage for millions of Americans.

9. Worldwide terror attacks: The first big terror attack of 2017 came on New Year’s Day — a gunman killing 39 at a nightclub in Istanbul. Subsequent targets of global terror included an Ariana Grande concert in England, a bike path in New York City and the historic La Rambla promenade in Barcelona. In October, a truck bombing in Somalia killed more than 500 people; in November, an attack on a crowded mosque in Egypt killed more than 300.

10. Islamic State: After lengthy assaults, an array of forces drove the Islamic State from its two main strongholds — the city of Mosul in Iraq, and its self-styled capital, Raqqa, in Syria. The defeats left the Islamic State without significant territory in either country, but affiliates elsewhere in the region, particularly in Egypt and Afghanistan, continued to operate.

Senate passes $36.5B disaster aid bill; Donald Trump signature next

The Senate passed a $36.5 billion emergency aid measure Tuesday to refill disaster accounts, provide a much-needed cash infusion to Puerto Rico, and bail out the federal flood insurance program.

The 82-17 vote sends the measure to the White House, where President Donald Trump is sure to sign it.

The measure provides $18.7 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rapidly dwindling accounts, and $16 billion so the flood insurance program can keep paying claims.

It brings the total approved by Congress during this fall’s hurricane season to more than $50 billion — and that’s before requests expected soon to cover damage to water and navigation projects, crops, public buildings and infrastructure, and to help homeowners without flood insurance rebuild.

“We’re still waiting for all the data to come in from Texas to determine what the need is,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, whose Gulf Coast district was slammed by Hurricane Harvey. “We’ve already done the supplementals to keep the agencies going, but the long-term stuff — public assistance, FEMA and housing — are the big questions. We still haven’t gotten all the numbers in from the state.”

The measure fails to address demands from the Florida and Texas delegations for more funding now, but lawmakers representing those states have won assurances from GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and Trump himself that more help is in the works.

“I want to stress that much, much more will be needed in my state,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas. “It’s not over and done with, and it’s not time to just move on.”

The current measure would permit FEMA to allocate up to $5 billion to assist Puerto Rico’s central government and various municipalities through a cash crisis. Maria has largely shut down the island’s economy and choked off tax revenues. The island’s electric grid has been mostly destroyed and more than one-fourth of Puerto Rico’s residents don’t have potable running water.

Some conservatives, however, are becoming uneasy with the steadily growing cost of this year’s spate of hurricanes.

“People here will say they have great compassion and want to help the people of Puerto Rico and the people of Texas and the people of Florida,” said Sen. Rand Paul, a Texas Republican. “It is compassion with money that doesn’t exist, money that’s borrowed.”

But Republicans controlling Washington are proving more willing to send aid to Texas and Florida this year than they were with New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy hit those states — which are strongly Democratic — five years ago. And just last year, Republicans held up funding sought by President Barack Obama to combat the threat of the Zika virus and to help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system.

Now the challenge is whether Puerto Rico, which sustained enormous damage after Hurricane Maria’s landfall more than a month ago, will get enough aid to rebuild.

Trump tweeted earlier this month that the federal government can’t keep sending help to Puerto Rico “forever” and suggested that the U.S. territory was to blame for its financial struggles.

“You’ve got over 1,000 communities that haven’t had any assistance,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican. He said Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory whose people are American citizens, can “absolutely” count on Washington to treat the island as an equal to Texas and Florida.

There’s also unrest among opponents of the heavily subsidized federal flood insurance program, which many lawmakers say is in need of reform.

The federal flood insurance program, said Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, “encourages thousands of Americans to live in some of the most dangerous real estate in the country.”

How to counter Donald Trump? Democrats still searching

Nine months into the Donald Trump era, Democrats are still searching for a standard-bearer and a crisp message to corral widespread opposition to an unpopular president and a Republican-led Congress.

The minority party has put that struggle on vivid display this week in Nevada, site of Democrats’ first national party gathering since a contentious chairman’s election in February. The party’s congressional leaders and potential presidential candidates mostly stayed away, with the exception of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose name has surfaced among possible 2020 hopefuls.

The activists and party leaders who did attend expressed optimism over their rebuilding efforts, but also lingering resentments from the 2016 presidential primary, confirming that the battle between liberals and establishment Democrats continues long after Hillary Clinton dispatched Bernie Sanders but lost to Trump.

The months since the election have brought plenty of frank public assessments about how far the Democratic National Committee has to go to catch up to Republicans on fundraising and technology — twin pillars of how a national party helps its candidates win elections across the country.

The lingering debate was enough for party Chairman Tom Perez, still putting his stamp on the party, to warn that the discord distracts from laying the groundwork for the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential contest.

“This is a Rome-is-burning moment,” he said Friday, his summation of Trump’s presidency so far. “We may be playing different instruments, but we are all in the same orchestra. We need more people in that orchestra.”

Democrats need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats next November to reclaim the House. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate advantage, but Democrats must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won. In statehouses, Democrats have just 15 governors, and Republicans control about two-thirds of legislatures.

Democrats hope to hold the Virginia governorship and pick up New Jersey’s next month. The party is tantalized by an Alabama Senate race pitting the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, against former jurist Roy Moore, a controversial figure who wasn’t the GOP establishment’s first choice.

Perez is selling confidence. “We’ve got game,” he roared to an exuberant audience at one reception.

Behind that hope, there are plenty of reasons for caution, mostly rooted in an uncomfortable reality: No Democrat has emerged as a leader and top rival to Trump in 2020, with a line-up of previous candidates like Joe Biden and Sanders and little-known House and Senate lawmakers.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez’s deputy who hails from the party’s left flank, pushed back against any notion that the Democrats don’t have a clear leader.

“We are not a leaderless party. We are a leader-full party. We have Tom Perez. We have Keith Ellison. We have Leader Pelosi. We have Leader Schumer,” he said.

Still, that reliance on Capitol Hill means the party is touting a leadership core much older than the electorate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. Sanders is 76. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 66. Other national figures, Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are in the same generation.

“You will see a new generation out there — good messengers with the right message,” said Henry Munoz, the party’s finance chairman, though he declined to speculate about individual names.

A prominent DNC member who backed Clinton in 2016 tried to convince Democrats on Friday to call on Sanders to join the party. “The first word in DNC is ’Democratic,’” quipped Bob Mulholland. But the party’s Resolution Committee, led by Sanders backer James Zobgy, jettisoned the idea. Zogby said taking a shot at Sanders would “feed a Twitter debate that will not be helpful in bringing together” voters on the left.

Trump’s approval ratings are mired in the 30s, levels that history says should spell scores of lost Republican House seats next year. Yet Trump has never had consistent majority public support. Democrats also face an uphill path because Republican state lawmakers drew a majority of congressional districts to the GOP’s advantage.

Trump’s election has sparked an outpouring of volunteer energy and cash on the political left, but the money hasn’t flowed to the national party. Munoz, who helped former President Barack Obama haul in record-setting sums, says the DNC has taken in $51.5 million this year, compared with $93.3 million for Republicans.

Party treasurer Bill Derrough acknowledged that he’s found frustrated Democratic boosters asking about “a damaged brand, what are we doing, what do we stand for.”

The party’s “Better Deal” rollout earlier this year — a package of proposals intended to serve as the economic message to counter Trump’s populist nationalism — hasn’t been an obvious feature at Democrats’ national meeting at all.

Perez is seeking to inject younger blood into the party leadership structure with his 75 at-large appointments to the DNC. But his appointments meant ousting some older DNC members, including Babs Siperstein. The New York at-large member whom Perez did not reappoint warned her fellow Democrats not to underestimate the fellow New Yorker in the White House — Trump.

“He may be weird. He may be narcissistic. But he’s not stupid,” Siperstein said. “He’s smart enough to get elected. He’s smart enough to get away with everything. … So we have to stay united.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Democratic chairman: Donald Trump ‘most dangerous’ president ever

Trying to quell accusations that he is ousting activists from the party’s left flank, Democratic Chairman Tom Perez told fellow Democrats on Saturday that unity is crucial in the fight against President Donald Trump, whom he lambasted as an “existential threat” to the nation.

“We have the most dangerous president in American history and one of the most reactionary Congresses in American history,” Perez said as he addressed the first Democratic National Committee gathering since his February election.

The former Obama Cabinet official blistered “a culture of corruption” that he said extends to Trump’s Cabinet, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he warned that internal ruckuses over party priorities and leadership would distract from the goal of winning more elections to upend Republicans’ domination in Washington.

The chairman’s plea comes amid a rift over his appointments to little-known but influential party committees and the 75 at-large members of the national party committee. Perez and his aides plug his choices as a way to make the DNC younger and more diverse, but the moves also mean demotions for several prominent Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries and then supported Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison over Perez in the postelection race for party chairman.

Perez spent time during this week’s proceedings meeting privately with frustrated DNC members, including some he did not reappoint. He apologized publicly Saturday for not reaching all of those members before he announced his appointments, but he defended his overall aim.

“If someone ever asks you which wing of the party you belong to, tell ’em you belong to the accomplishment wing of the Democratic Party,” he said, “because you’re trying to get s— done. That’s what we’re trying to do here, folks. We’re trying to move the ball forward.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have exalted in the internal wrangle, painting the DNC as incompetently discordant.

“The Democratic Party’s message of doom and gloom has left them leaderless and nearly extinct in most of the country,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said. “If Tom Perez wants his party to stick with that same failed strategy, Republicans will gladly keep working to help the middle class by cutting their taxes and fixing our broken health care system.”

To some extent, the Democrats’ developments reflect routine party politics after an unusually contentious chairman’s race, but they also fit into the ongoing philosophical tussle on the left.

Sanders’ backers accused the DNC in 2016 of stacking the nominating process in Clinton’s favor and shutting out the Vermont independent who still seeks to pull the party toward his ideology. Those frustrations carried over into the DNC chair race between Perez, the former labor secretary, and Ellison.

Now, Perez’s appointees will hold sway over setting the primary calendar in 2020 and, perhaps most importantly, whether the party’s superdelegates, including the 75 at-large members, will continue to cast presidential nominating votes at Democratic conventions without being bound to any state primary or caucus results.

Democrats are looking next month to hold the Virginia governor’s seat and wrest the New Jersey governor’s seat from Republican control. Next year, Democrats need to flip at least 24 Republican congressional seats to regain control of the House. They face an uphill battle in gaining control of the Senate, because they must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won last November. Democrats also want to increase their gubernatorial roster from the current 15 state executives.

Separately, former Attorney General Eric Holder urged the party to play the long game necessary to overcome Republican advantages scored when GOP-run legislatures drew congressional and legislative districts around the country after the 2010 census.

Holder leads a political action group, with fundraising support for former President Barack Obama, to back candidates in states where gerrymandering gives Democrats an uphill path to majorities. He singled out Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, among other states, where Republicans “picked their voters” with districts that “are impressive in their geographic creativity but they are destructive to representative democracy.”

The Supreme Court earlier this month heard oral arguments in a case challenging the Wisconsin districts. Legal analysts expect Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, will decide whether the court for the first time declares partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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