TIME 2016 Election

Steyer Won’t Run for California Senate Seat

Tom Steyer is on the TIME 100
Steyer is one of several TIME 100 honorees fighting for the planet Harry E. Walker/MCT via Getty Images

The Democrats' top donor takes a pass on the race to succeed Barbara Boxer

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer announced Thursday that he won’t run for the California Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Barbara Boxer.

“Given the imperative of electing a Democratic president — along with my passion for our state — I believe my work right now should not be in our nation’s capitol but here at home in California, and in states around the country where we can make a difference,” Steyer wrote in an op-ed published in the Huffington Post.

The decision will cheer Democrats. The former hedge-fund manager emerged as the party’s counterweight to the billionaire Koch Brothers in the 2014 midterms, spending some $75 million through his political-action committee, NextGen Climate. His flirtation with a Senate bid spooked party operatives, who feared Steyer could plow his fortune into self-funding his own campaign rather than those of other Democrats.

Privately, many Democrats have been urging Steyer not to run, arguing his efforts and money would be better spent outside a deep-blue state where the party has several strong candidates capable of holding the seat.

“This was a very hard decision,” Steyer said. “The U.S. Senate offers a unique opportunity to serve, but I also know that we will have excellent candidates. I applaud and respect those running, and am confident that Californians will choose a representative who will serve them well.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris declared her candidacy last week after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would not seek the seat as he prepares to run for governor in 2018. Harris has already secured endorsements from progressive Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has expressed interest in the seat, but has not made a decision yet.

Republicans, meanwhile, are struggling to identify a candidate willing to mount a longshot campaign in such an expensive state. California’s jungle primary system pits the top two finishers against each other in the general election regardless of party.

Steyer said he would “redouble my efforts working with partners and fellow citizens to push for change. The road we take may be less traveled and less well-marked, but I am very determined. The journey is far from over — in fact, it has just begun.”

TIME 2016 Election

Democrats Scramble for California Senate Seat

Tom Steyer Kamala Harris
Left: Tom Steyer; Right: Kamala Harris AP/Getty Images

One rising star is in, another is out, and a billionaire donor is weighing a bid of his own

The retirement of California Senator Barbara Boxer has touched off a furious scramble among Democrats jostling to replace her, with one rising star jumping into the race and several other veteran candidates publicly weighing whether to run.

Kamala Harris, California’s attorney general, laid down an early marker in the pricey, high-stakes contest by announcing Tuesday that she will run for the seat being vacated by Boxer, who said last week that she won’t run for a fifth term in the Senate in 2016.

“I will be a fighter for middle-class families who are feeling the pinch of stagnant wages and diminishing opportunity,” Harris said in a message launching her campaign. “I will be a fighter for our children who deserve a world-class education, and for students burdened by predatory lenders and skyrocketing tuition. And I will fight relentlessly to protect our coast, our immigrant communities and our seniors.”

The top law-enforcement official in the nation’s most populous state, Harris, 50, is considered among the Democratic Party’s rising stars. In normal contests, the entry of a glittering recruit into the race might prompt party kingpins to coalesce around her candidacy. But this is California, the country’s leading liberal redoubt, a state whose sluggish political turnover has yielded a long list of seasoned politicians patiently waiting for their shot. Harris may be the front-runner, but she won’t coast to the Senate without a challenge.

It won’t come from Gavin Newsom, however. The state’s lieutenant governor said this week that he will pass on a campaign to succeed Boxer; instead he may mount a bid to succeed Golden State Governor Jerry Brown in 2018. Newsom’s decision spared California Democrats a collision between two of the state’s top politicians, whose bases of support and spheres of influence overlap.

Several other Democratic veterans are publicly mulling a campaign. One is former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose ties in the Hispanic community and links to party donors — forged partly through a stint at the helm of the Democratic National Committee — would make him a contender for the seat. California Representative Loretta Sanchez, who has served in Congress since 1997, has also said that she is seriously considering a run.

“With strong candidates like Kamala Harris, Democrats remain confident that we’ll hold this seat and continue Barbara Boxer’s long history of fighting for California,” says Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The DSCC will continue to monitor the California Senate race closely.”

The billion-dollar question hanging over the contest is whether one of the nation’s leading donors decides to mount a campaign himself. Tom Steyer, the retired hedge-fund magnate, has emerged in recent years as the Democratic Party’s most generous donor. In 2014, he shelled out some $74 million to candidates, mostly through a political-action committee dedicated to bringing the issue of climate change to the political forefront. Now Steyer is thinking about whether the next campaign he backs should be his own.

“Holding office is a sacred trust in our society, and I am honored that so many colleagues and friends have encouraged me to consider entering this race,” Steyer wrote in an essay for the Huffington Post. “Washington needs to be shaken up, and we need climate champions who will fight for the next generation. California Democrats are blessed to have a deep bench of talent, and I will decide soon based on what I think is the best way to continue the hard work we’ve already started together to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.”

The post can be read as a sign that Steyer is preparing to jump in. In recent days, he has met with advisers, polled voters and snatched up campaign website domains, according to reports. But it is also a vigorous defense of his political-action committee, NextGen Climate, which lost the majority of the races it contested last fall and which Steyer told TIME in November he would continue to build.

Steyer’s money and influence would make him an instant force in the race, but it would offer no guarantee of success. A series of California business tycoons, from Meg Whitman to Michael Huffington, have self-funded lavish campaigns only to learn their largesse has limits at the polls. And despite the appreciation his generosity his bought, many Democrats are surely hoping he won’t run. In 2014, Steyer was the largest individual donor in the U.S. If he writes those checks to himself instead, it would be a blow to candidates across the country. An ally of Steyer declined to comment on his decision-making process.

The contest, expected to be the year’s most expensive, also feature a local wrinkle. In 2012, California jettisoned the traditional party primary system in favor of an open contest in which the top two vote getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. If two strong Democratic candidates opt to run in the primary, they could face each other once again in the general election — during which the state’s Republicans and independents would play a major role in picking the winner.

TIME 2016 Election

Why Democrats Are Losing the Working Class

Voting booths in polling place
Getty Images

Hint: they don't vote.

It’s true that wealthier Americans tend to vote for Republicans and that the less well-off tend to vote for Democrats. And it’s true that, in theory, such a demographic breakdown would be good for Dems. After all, in raw numbers, there are more—many, many times more—working-class Americans than there are folks at the top of the income pyramid.

The problem, as Democrats well know, is that it doesn’t much matter who the working class supports if they don’t show up to vote. And there’s the rub.

According to a Pew Research Center study released today, the “least financially secure Americans,” despite being significantly more likely to back Democrats, tend to “opt out of the political system altogether.”

While 94% of the the most financially secure Americans were registered to vote, only 54% of the least financially secure were, according to the study. Even fewer actually make it to their polling booths. While 2014 voting records are not yet available, in 2010, 69% of the most financially secure cast ballots, while just 30% of the least financially secure did, according to Pew.

The least financially secure Americans also tended to avoid other aspects of the political system as well, the study found. Working class Americans called and wrote to their representatives at much lower rates than their richer neighbors, and paid much less attention to basic facts in national politics. Roughly 60% of the most financially secure Americans could correctly identify the parties in control of the House and Senate when the study was conducted before the 2014 midterm; just 26% of the least financially secure could do the same.

These findings will not come as much of a surprise to Democrats, who were trounced in last year’s mid-term election in part because so few people—and particularly those at the lower end of the income spectrum—actually turned up to vote. In November, less than half of eligible voters showed up at the polls in 43 states, marking the lowest voter turnout on record in 72 years.

While voter turnout generally increases during presidential election years, and is therefore likely to tick up again in 2016, low voter turnout remains a huge problem for Democrats’ efforts not only to win over but also collect votes from the American working class.

That’s one reason they have been committed to making it easier for all Americans to vote. Working-class folks, who tend to have less flexible hours at work, vote disproportionately more in states that allow early voting and mail-in ballots—measures that are overwhelmingly supported by Democrats. In Colorado, for example, which began allowing mail-in ballots saw much, much higher turnout in 2014 than it’d had in 2010. Oregon and Washington, which also allow for mail-in ballots, had turnout rates that were higher than average in 2014, too. In North Carolina, where early voting measures allowed people to go to the polls over the course of seven days also helped increase voter turnout in that state by 35% from where it was in 2010.

The Pew study was based on data collected from a nationally representative panel of 3,154 adults, who were surveyed online and by mail between Sept. 9 and Oct. 3, 2014. The survey determined respondents’ financial security by asking about their difficult paying bills, whether they receive government aid, and whether they had access to financial assets and tools, like bank accounts and retirement savings.

TIME People

Watch a Mom Call C-SPAN and Embarrass Her Fighting Sons

"Oh god, it's Mom"

A mother of two political operatives–one Democrat, the other Republican–called into a live debate between the brothers on C-SPAN on Tuesday to tell her sons to lay off the partisan bickering come Christmas.

Joy Woodhouse called into the show using the regular phone line. Within seconds, her right-leaning son, Dallas Woodhouse, recognized the voice.

“Oh god, it’s Mom,” he says, as the left-leaning brother, Brad Woodhouse, drops his head into his hands.

“I don’t know many families that are fighting at Thanksgiving,” the elder Woodhouse said over the air. “I was hoping you’ll have some of this out of your system when you come here for Christmas. I would really like a peaceful Christmas.”

The two brothers work for rival political advocacy groups, at one point broadcasting rival campaign ads in North Carolina, the News & Observer reports.

“Thanks mom,” one of the brothers can be heard saying at the close of the call, though neither one committed to holding a quiet, bipartisan Christmas celebration.

TIME democrats

The Last Southern Democratic Senator Gave Her Farewell Speech

Democratic Senator Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans on Dec. 6, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

The loss of her Senate seat completes a political realignment that began decades ago

Departing Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu promised to spend her retirement from politics working to repair the environmentally degraded Gulf Coast Thursday in an emotional farewell speech delivered from the Senate floor.

“It is something worth fighting for,” she said. “We would not be a country without the Mississippi Delta.”

In a runoff election December 6, Landrieu lost decisively to Republican Bill Cassidy, making the last statewide elected Democrat in the Deep South. The loss of Landrieu’s seat completes a political realignment in the once solidly Democratic South that began decades ago.

Landrieu, who is from New Orleans, said she will focus her work out of office on issues impacting children and the environment, including coastal restoration, a hot button issue in Louisiana, where wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate.

“The city is going to stay there and the region is going to stay there,” she said.

Landrieu thanked a litany of staffers and lawmakers but had less charitable parting words for one elected official.

“President Bush was not that forward-leaning,” she said of Bush’s response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. “I’ll just leave it at that. There will be a lot more in my book.

During her 18 years in the Senate, Landrieu was a dependable ally of the oil and gas industry and an unabashed pork-barrel dealmaker who touted her success at diverting federal funds to her state—she famously traded her key vote in favor of Obamacare in exchange for millions of dollars in extra federal support for Medicaid in Louisiana.

Landrieu told Politico it is “highly, highly unlikely” she will run for office again.

TIME Congress

House Democrats Upset Over Proposed Rollback of Wall Street Regulation

Five Years After Start Of Financial Crisis, Wall Street Continues To Hum
A street sign for Wall Street hangs outside the New York Stock Exchange on September 16, 2013 in New York City. John Moore—Getty Images

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday night that she was “hopeful” the House would pass a bill to avert a government shutdown once lawmakers read the final language. But now it appears that top House Democrats have read the bill, and they’re furious with provisions that roll back the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law passed in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

“Buried in the more than 1,600 pages of the omnibus package Republicans posted in the dead of night are provisions to put hard-working taxpayers back on the hook for Wall Street’s riskiest behavior,” said Pelosi in a statement. “This provision, allowing big banks to gamble with money insured by the FDIC, opens the door to another taxpayer-funded bailout of big banks—forcing middle class families to bear the burden of Wall Street’s mistakes.”

The Dodd-Frank provision in question forces huge commercial banks to “push out” some derivatives trading—like risky credit default swaps—into units that aren’t backed by the federal government’s deposit insurance fund, the FDIC. The top Democrats on the House Budget and the Ways and Means committees, respectively Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Michigan Rep. Sandy Levin, staunchly oppose the provision’s repeal.

“They should be responsible for their actions,” said Levin of the banks involved in such derivatives trading. “This is a terrible mistake to put it in this bill…It should be taken out.”

“This jumps off the page as something that is inexcusable,” he added.

Pelosi’s office blasted out statements by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, FDIC Vice Chairman Thomas Hoenig and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka calling on Congress to drum up support and media attention to preserve the Dodd-Frank provision. Pelosi’s office also sent out an email from campaign finance groups urging members to vote against the bill, as it triples the caps donors are allowed to give to national parties for presidential nominating conventions, building expenses and election recounts. As the Washington Post noted, that would allow a donor to give the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee a maximum amount of $324,000, which is ten times the current limit. Pelosi’s sentiment that Democrats should get both provisions out of the bill were echoed by Van Hollen and others.

“The combination again speaks to everything that’s wrong with this process—special interest giveaways and more openings for special interest funding [for] the congressional political committees,” said Van Hollen, who would vote no against the bill in its current form. “As to these two provisions, these are news to me.”

“It’s a bad deal for the public,” he added. “You got a 1,600 page bill and they thought they would be able to tuck these provisions in maybe with nobody noticing. But people notice.”

It’s unclear if the Democratic and conservative opposition is so strong that the trillion-dollar appropriations bill won’t pass as is. Van Hollen said that Democratic resistance is “deep and getting deeper.” House conservatives, meanwhile, have stated that the bill doesn’t go far enough in protesting President Obama’s executive action on immigration temporarily deferring deportations for up to five million immigrants who came to the country illegally. Congress could pass a short-term bill funding the government for a matter of days to avert a shutdown on December 11.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, the top Democratic negotiator for the trillion-dollar legislation, said that the bill was a “monumental achievement” both for Congress and their constituents. Knowing that Democrats’ negotiating position would be weaker next year with Republicans taking over the Senate after the midterm elections, Mikulski told her colleagues to “stay steady.”

TIME

Morning Must Reads: December 8

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

California Protests Turn Violent

A second night of protest against police killings in Missouri and New York City turned violent again in Berkeley, Calif., as some demonstrators threw explosives at officers, assaulted each other and shut down a freeway, police said

Why Dealing With Uncertainty is Easier for Some People

A study identifies personality traits that may distinguish those who are better or worse at waiting — some of which, thankfully, may be adaptable

Behind the Rescue Op in Yemen

Navy SEALs flew into southern Yemen early on Saturday to rescue American captive Luke Somers, but they only succeeded in rescuing his body

U.S. Gas Prices Hit 4-Year Low

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped 12¢ over the past two weeks, reaching a four-year low, a new survey finds. The falloff is attributed to a spike in crude-oil production in North America, a slowdown in demand and a strong dollar

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Tops Box-Office for Third Week

Mockingjay benefits from star power, family friendliness and established popularity. But even so, its box-office power is less attributable to esteem for the franchise than to the fact that it doesn’t have much competition right now

Ebola Patient Reveals Identity

A doctor who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Sierra Leone and was evacuated to the U.S. for care in September has revealed his identity. The viral load in his blood was 100 times that of the facility’s other patients

Prince William and Kate Arrive in New York City

Prince William and Kate arrived in New York City on Sunday night for a three-day trip, the most anticipated royal visit since the glory days of Diana. “The level of excitement in New York has been absolutely phenomenal,” said the British consul general

U.S. Transfers 6 Guantanamo Detainees

The men were moved from Guantanamo Bay to Uruguay, marking the largest group to depart the prison since 2009 and first resettle in South America. The detainees include four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian

Democrats Sink in the South

The fall of Sen. Mary Landrieu means Louisiana won’t have a Democratic statewide elected official for the first time since 1876. The Republican Party will control every Senate seat, governor’s mansion and legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas

Boyhood Wins Another Top Prize

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association has awarded Boyhood four prizes, including Best Picture, in the latest coup for the coming-of-age movie. Just a day earlier, the Boston Society of Film Critics honored the film with five awards, also including Best Picture

New Delhi Bans Uber Following Rape Accusation

The city of New Delhi banned popular ride-sharing service Uber on Monday afternoon, a few days after a 27-year-old female passenger accused one of its drivers of sexually assaulting her. However the ban is not in connection with the alleged attack but rather transport laws

Inventor of First Gaming Console Dies

Ralph Baer, the man known for creating the first-ever video-game console, which still serves as a blueprint for the Xboxes and PlayStations of today, has passed away aged 92. Over the course of his career, he accumulated over 150 patents and won many awards and honors

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TIME Immigration

Latinos, Young Voters Applaud Obama Action On Immigration, Polls Show

Immigrants Rally To Thank Obama
Nov. 21, 2014 - Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. - Hundreds of Latino activists and families gather outside of the White House the day after Obama's immigration executive order in Washington on Nov. 21, 2014. Oliver Contreras—Zuma Press

Latino voters of both parties blame Congressional Republicans for failing to pass an immigration reform bill

The vast majority of Latinos and voters under the age of 35 support President Barack Obama’s executive action last Thursday shielding between 4 and 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, according to new national polls.

The overwhelming support from these two growing demographics may have major implications for voter turnout and party affiliation in 2016.

Almost 90% of Latino voters say they “support” or “strongly support” Obama’s executive action, according to a national poll by Latino Decisions and commissioned by two pro-immigration reform groups, Presente.org and Mi Familia Vota.

Nearly three-fourths (72%) of voters under the age of 35 supported the president’s action, according to a national poll by Hart Research Associates [PDF].

While both Latinos and young voters showed particularly strong support, 67% of all voters—both men and women from states that supported both Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012—felt favorably toward the executive action, according to the Hart Research poll. More than two-thirds of all voters were in favor of allowing the undocumented parents of children or young adults to stay in the U.S., and of providing temporary work permits to eligible immigrants.

Both polls found that voters believe Obama’s executive action is lawful. Respondents strongly disagreed with strategies, suggested by some Republicans, to fight the action: 72% of voters opposed the idea of Republicans shutting down the government until the president agrees to end the executive action, according to the Hart Research poll. (62% of Tea Party Republicans were in favor of that strategy.) Four out of five Latino voters opposed the idea of Republicans passing a bill to defund a federal program issuing work permits to undocumented workers, according to the Latino Decisions poll.

Latino support for the executive action appears to be largely bipartisan, according to Latino Decisions. While 95% of Democratic Latino voters were in favor of the executive action, 76% of Republican Latinos were as well. The issue of immigration reform remains deeply personal for many Latino voters, 64% of whom have friends, family members, coworkers, or acquaintances who are undocumented.

Sixty-four percent of Latino voters blamed Congressional Republicans for failing to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill; 24% blame Obama and Democrats, according to the Latino Decisions poll.

Insofar as Latino voters were disappointed by Obama’s executive action, the reason seems to be that it didn’t go far enough. Two-thirds (66%) of Latinos said that Obama should use additional executive orders to shield from deportation those undocumented immigrations who were not covered by last Thursday’s action, which covers only those who have not committed a crime, lived here five or more years, and are either parents of a U.S. citizen or legal resident child here in the U.S. The action does not grant them citizenship, but it does allow them to get legal work permits.

The Latino Decisions poll included 405 Latinos randomly selected from a nationwide database of registered voters. Its margin of error is +/- 4.9%. The Hart Research Associates poll surveyed 800 likely 2016 voters and had a margin of error of +/-3.5%.

TIME Congress

Nancy Pelosi Backs New Mexico Rep. For DCCC Chairman Role

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, 42, would be first Latino to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Nancy Pelosi said Monday she wants Rep. Ben Ray Luján to be the next chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). The House Minority Leader called the New Mexico Democrat a “dynamic and forward-thinking leader” who would be ideal for the role of recruiting and supporting candidates going into the 2016 election.

If voted in on Tuesday, Luján will be the first Latino to serve as the head of the DCCC. He currently serves as the first vice-chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Appointing a Latino leader to the prominent role could be seen as a boon for Democrats hoping to attract more Hispanic voters to head to the polls in two years. Luján said Monday that Americans can set their expectations high going into the next election cycle.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more Democrats elected in 2016,” he said.

The news of Pelosi’s support for Lujan ahead of Tuesday’s vote the position comes in the wake of mounting pressure from progressives to reject Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, who was also in the running for the top spot at the DCCC. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee blasted Himes as a “Wall Street Democrat” who would “hurt Democratic chances in 2016.”

Pelosi also threw her support Monday behind DCCC chairman Rep. Steve Israel, who has been eyed to head up policy and communications, and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.), both tapped to co-chair the steering and policy committee.

Pelosi is expected to easily assume her role as House Minority Leader following tomorrow’s morning vote.

TIME Senate

Elizabeth Warren Joins Senate Democratic Leadership

Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. listens as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, after Senate Democrats voted on leadership positions for the 114th Congress. Susan Walsh—AP

The progressive leader joins the Democratic leadership in a newly created role

The Senate Democrats voted in new leadership on Thursday, including progressive standard-bearer Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who will take on a newly created role.

Following an hours-long leadership vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he expects “Elizabeth Warren to be Elizabeth Warren” in her new role as the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee’s strategic policy adviser. The role, several outlets are reporting, was created specifically for Warren.

The addition of Warren brings some star power to the Democrat’s senior ranks, though it’s not clear how much clout will come with the new position.

Reid was chosen to continue leading Democrats in the Senate, though at least two of his peers, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin, told reporters they did not cast votes for anyone, according to the Washington Post.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Jon Tester of Montana will also take on leadership roles for the Democrats. Klobuchar will chair the Senate Democratic Steering Committee, and Tester will now chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Reid praised Tester’s victories in two tough elections in announcing the Montanan’s selection to lead the DSCC ahead of the 2016 election. In a statement released by the DSCC Thursday, Tester said he’s accepting the position to “recruit and support candidates who understand the issues facing regular, working Americans.”

The new Democratic leadership team includes four women and three men. When asked about the number of women who now serve beside him in the leadership, Reid said Thursday, “I have seen this institution change for a lot of reasons, but one reason it has changed for the good is because of women.”

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