12 examples of President Barack Obama being weak during his first term


Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign is pushing a new line of attack against Senator Bernie Sanders: in 2011, Sanders said President Barack Obama was "weak" and perhaps should face a challenger in the 2012 Democratic primary. O’Malley’s communications staff have also pushed out reports suggesting Sanders himself was considering a primary challenge to Obama and failed to campaign vigorously for the president’s re-election later in 2012 (not that Vermont was ever in play for Mitt Romney).

Those talking points may fire up Democrats who already resent the fact that the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sanders has always campaigned as an independent. But I doubt they are a promising line of attack for moving caucus-goers and primary voters away from Sanders and toward O’Malley. The inconvenient truth is that Obama’s record hasn’t always lined up with progressive principles or with his own campaign promises. I suspect those who "feel the Bern" are more likely to agree with than be offended by Sanders’ critique of the president.

I don’t know yet for whom I will caucus, the first time I’ve ever been undecided so late in the election cycle. But I count myself among those "millions of Americans" Sanders described as "deeply disappointed in the president" during the interview O’Malley’s campaign portrays as harmful. I caucused uncommitted in 2012 to send the message that the president "hasn’t stood up for core principles of the Democratic Party." Moreover, O’Malley’s own stump speech hints at some valid reasons for Democrats to be disaffected by Obama’s rightward drift.

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Iowa reaction to Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline

President Barack Obama announced yesterday that he is rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Earlier in the week, TransCanada had asked the Obama administration to suspend its review of the pipeline project, presumably hoping to "delay the review process in hopes that a more sympathetic Republican administration will move into the White House in 2017."

I enclose below the full text of the president’s statement on Keystone and reaction from members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation. U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst sharply criticized the decision, as did Republican Representative David Young (IA-03). I have not seen any comment from GOP Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) or Steve King (IA-04) but will update this post as needed. King is currently visiting the Middle East. Both he and Blum have consistently backed the Keystone XL project.

Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) refrained from criticizing the president’s decision, instead calling on politicians to "focus on the issues that are important to the American people." Loebsack’s voting record on Keystone XL is mixed, but earlier this year he twice supported a bill that would have authorized the pipeline. (Obama vetoed that legislation.)

All three Democratic presidential candidates welcomed the news about Keystone’s demise, while most of the GOP field denounced Obama’s decision.

The USA Today reported that Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, "The critical factor in my determination was this: moving forward with this project would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combating climate change." Kerry’s outstanding lifelong voting record on environmental issues was a major reason I became a precinct captain for him before the 2004 Iowa caucuses and continued to volunteer during that year’s general election campaign. I wish he had acted much sooner on Keystone XL, but better late than never. He doesn’t seem to have entirely convinced the president, though; speaking yesterday, Obama asserted that the pipeline would not have been "the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed" by climate hawks.

I enclose at the end of this post a joint statement from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, which called on "all the other pipelines proposed from the Tar Sands of Canada and the Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota" to be rejected on the same grounds as Keystone XL. Energy analyst Aurelien Windenberger published an interesting commentary this week questioning whether the Dakota Access (Bakken) Pipeline even makes "economic sense" anymore for parent company Energy Transfer Partners. Click here for more background on the Bakken proposal.

UPDATE: Added below a statement from Pat Murphy, one of the Democratic candidates in Iowa’s first Congressional district.

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Claire Celsi challenging Peter Cownie in Iowa House district 42

Claire Celsi photo 12193318_10153708767548767_1620323103440660694_n_zpsajsu95cd.jpg

Claire Celsi announced on Monday that she is running against Republican State Representative Peter Cownie in Iowa House district 42, which covers most of West Des Moines in Polk County. A detailed district map is below, along with background on both candidates. Celsi’s campaign is on the web at Claire4Iowa.com and on Facebook here. Celsi is also on Twitter. Her key campaign promises are to "fight for strong public education, protecting our environment and for sensible economic development that includes the district’s small business owners in the mix."

House district 42 is relatively balanced politically, with 6,242 active registered Democrats, 7,097 Republicans, and 6,676 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The HD-42 precincts voted slightly more Republican than Iowa did as a whole in the 2012 presidential election, giving Barack Obama 49.85 percent of the vote while Mitt Romney won 48.83 percent. On the other hand, Joni Ernst outpolled Bruce Braley here in the 2014 U.S. Senate race by a little less than her winning margin statewide: 51.55 percent to 45.51 percent.

Cownie outperformed the top of the Republican ticket in the last two general elections, winning 56.61 percent of the vote in 2012 and 60.17 percent of the vote last year. He comes from a well-connected family in Polk County, which helped him raise far more money than a typical Iowa House incumbent for his 2012 and 2014 re-election campaigns. Cownie spent very little of those funds on his own race, kicking most of the cash over to the Republican Party of Iowa and its Eisenhower Club for use in other statehouse contests.

First elected in 2008 to replace retiring Republican lawmaker Libby Jacobs, Cownie has chaired the House Commerce Committee since 2013 and led the State Government Committee for two years before that. He is not what you’d call a workhorse at the Capitol. He has co-sponsored various bills and resolutions, but I’m not aware of any particular legislative achievements or causes he has tried to advance. Although many moderate Republicans live in West Des Moines, I can’t think of a time Cownie voted independently from his caucus or stuck his neck out to advocate a less conservative stance on a high-profile issue. For instance, even though he represents an LGBT-friendly district and is of a generation that mostly supports marriage equality, Cownie voted just like everyone else in the GOP caucus for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2011. (He opted not to co-sponsor the marriage amendment in subsequent legislatures, but to my knowledge he has never spoken out for equal marriage rights.) Nor did Cownie criticize, let alone try to over-ride, Governor Terry Branstad’s education funding vetoes this summer, which blew a $1 million hole in the West Des Moines school district’s budget after the start of the current fiscal year.

Cownie was rumored to be interested in the House speaker’s chair in 2013, but when the position became available this summer, he did not put his name in as an alternative to Linda Upmeyer.

Iowa House Democratic leaders have not made this district a top target in the past. However, Celsi has been involved with enough Democratic campaigns to understand what successful candidates need to do. If she can raise enough money to run a credible effort, HD-42 could become a targeted race. At the very least, Cownie will need to spend more of his energy and money on his own turf. I consider Celsi a friend and will make time to volunteer for her campaign next year, when I’m not knocking doors for the Democratic nominee in my own House district. (Jennifer Konfrst and Jon Neiderbach are competing for the chance to take on House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow in HD-43.)

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Group highlights Iowa DNR's failure to enforce manure management plans

Numerous large-scale hog confinements in five Iowa counties are not following recommended practices for applying manure to farmland, according to findings the advocacy group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement released today. Under Iowa law, livestock farms "with 500 Animal Units or more (equivalent to 1,250 hogs)" must have a Manure Management Plan. Iowa CCI members studied 234 of those plans in Adair, Boone, Dallas, Guthrie, and Sac counties (central and western Iowa). They found "missing documents, double-dumping, over-application, potential P-index violations, incorrect application rates, and potential hazards of manure application based on the geography and farming practices of the land." Iowa CCI filed a complaint with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources today, requesting a thorough investigation of manure management plan violations as well as reforms "to improve oversight and to hold factory farm polluters accountable," including stronger enforcement of plans and permits, "increased public access to manure application records," more thorough inspections of livestock farms, and "better training across field offices for DNR staff."

I enclose below the executive summary of Iowa CCI’s findings. The full complaint to the DNR is available here (pdf). Pages 4 through 6 offer detailed recommendations for "next steps" to address the problems. Appendix A lists 91 farms in the five counties that are large enough to need Manure Management Plans, but for which such plans are missing. Appendix B lists five farms for which Manure Management Plans were not in the DNR’s animal feeding operations database. Appendix C shows which documents were missing from dozens of farms’ Manure Management Plans across the counties. The file also includes county maps of watersheds and roads to show where the farms in question are located.

Since Iowa CCI members examined Manure Management Plans in only five of Iowa’s 99 counties, today’s case study reveals only a small fraction of statewide problems related to manure application. Kudos to those who researched and exposed the DNR’s failure to do its job.

Calls for tougher enforcement may be a dead letter, given the Branstad administration’s hostility to regulations that inconvenience business owners and the Iowa legislature’s resistance to approve even small measures to improve water quality (and I’m not just talking about Republican lawmakers).

Iowa CCI’s mission and methods have made it unpopular in powerful circles. But those who criticize the group’s controversial acts (like heckling politicians) should also acknowledge important work like today’s case study. While some Democratic elected officials are deeply committed to addressing our water pollution problem, as a group Iowa Democratic officialdom has said little and done less about agricultural runoff. Iowa CCI speaks for many people who are angry about pollution impairing hundreds of waterways, and who know that electing more Democrats alone will not solve the problem. That’s why it has long been among the largest non-profits working on environmental and social justice issues in this state.

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Poll testing pro-Sanders, anti-Clinton messages with Iowa Democrats

Bernie Buttons

A new poll is in the field testing numerous statements designed to convince Iowa Democrats to caucus for Bernie Sanders rather than for Hillary Clinton. I received the call last night and enclose my notes below. If you were a respondent for the same survey and can provide additional details, please post a comment in this thread or contact me via e-mail (the address is near the lower right corner of this page).

My best guess is that an outside group wanting to boost Sanders commissioned the poll. The questionnaire did not include any negative statements about the senator from Vermont. If the Sanders campaign were designing a poll like this, I think they would have tested a few arguments against supporting the candidate, to identify his possible weak points. An outside group planning to produce direct mail or paid advertising to influence Iowa Democrats wouldn’t need that information. They would only be interested in the best way to discourage people from caucusing for Clinton and/or encourage them to caucus for Sanders.

Although Sanders doesn’t have a super-PAC promoting his campaign, progressive advocacy groups that want him to become president may make independent expenditures supporting him. Note that the survey asked respondents whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the environmental group Friends of the Earth; no other non-profit organizations were mentioned in the questionnaire. Friends of the Earth endorsed Sanders this summer and would presumably be interested in knowing how well they are known/liked among early state Democrats.

It’s also possible that a conservative organization would commission a poll like this, hoping to hurt Clinton in the early nominating states.

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Rest in peace, Jack Drake

State Representative Jack Drake passed away this weekend at the age of 81. He had been the longest-serving Iowa House Republican, representing parts of southwest Iowa since his first election in 1992. His current district (House district 21) covers all of Union and Adams Counties and parts of Cass and Pottawattamie Counties. Since the Republicans regained the Iowa House majority in the 2010 elections, Drake had chaired the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. Iowa House Speaker-Select Linda Upmeyer said in a statement today, "Iowa lost a dedicated public servant with the passing of Rep. Jack Drake. […] During his time in the Iowa House, Jack was a leader and trusted resource on agricultural issues which are so important to the State of Iowa. As the most senior member of the House Republican Caucus, his expertise and guidance will be sorely missed."

I have never met Drake, but by all accounts he was a wonderful person to work with. The word “kind” came up again and again today in my conversations with people who interacted with him, either as fellow lawmakers or as advocates.

Former State Representative Frank Wood, who was the ranking Democrat on Drake’s appropriations subcommittee in 2013 and 2014, told me he was “shocked” by the news and said Drake would be “sorely missed.” Wood “thought very highly of him when I worked with him. He always kept me in the know of what was going on and what his limitations were” in terms of the budget targets. Democrats often requested additional funding for various programs, and according to Wood, Drake “understood and flat-out told me, if I had more money, I would definitely put it in those areas.” During the 2014 legislative session, when environmental advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers fought for extra funds for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program, Drake was generally supportive. (The legislature approved record funding for REAP that year, but Governor Terry Branstad vetoed part of the money.) Wood also described Drake as “a gentle giant” and “a very non-partisan individual.” He toted the Republican line, but was “very pleasant to work with. I don’t think he had a mean bone in his body.”

State Representative Scott Ourth, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee during this year’s legislative session, told me, “What a sad day it is. Jack and I struck up a fast friendship right from the get go. He was very fair, an honest guy to work with, willing to compromise where his leadership would allow him to.” He “never stood in the way” of Ourth advocating for REAP funding or other Democratic priorities. Echoing Wood’s sentiments, Ourth described Drake as “a loving, kind, and generous man” and an elected official out of “the old school” with “no partisan divisiveness.” He was willing to work “with anyone and everyone” at the statehouse. Ourth summed up that he had “nothing but good things to say about that man” and would “miss him terribly.”  

Ourth also mentioned that since June, he has been working long hours in Drake’s district for a subcontractor on a large MidAmerican Energy wind farm project. (64 wind turbines are going up between Corning and Lennox in Adams County.) During these months, Ourth has talked with many of Drake’s constituents, who invariably said “what a great guy they thought he was” and how well he represented their district.

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, who also served on Drake’s subcommittee and is the ranking Democrat on the House Environmental Protection Committee, told me today, “Jack Drake was a kind and soft-spoken man.” He added that Drake “offered crucial, public bipartisan leadership to the establishment of Iowa’s local farms and food initiative in 2010, and has been a reliable supporter of the program ever since.”

With Drake’s passing, the most senior members of the Iowa House Republican caucus are Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Dave Heaton and Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Dan Huseman, both of whom were first elected in 1994.

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