Julián Castro draws contrast to Trump on 'respect' for Puerto Rico in first 2020 campaign trip

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'I can guarantee you that a lot of people in Washington are underestimating my campaign," Castro told NBC News.

Presidential hopeful Julián Castro spent Monday touring Puerto Rican communities still needing help from Hurricane Maria and berating President Donald Trump for working "less than part-time" and failing the island.

Meant to showcase his stark differences from Trump as well as his understanding of housing issues, Castro's walk and drive through San Juan neighborhoods was his first stop since officially entering the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Speaking at a political summit held by Latino Victory Fund, a political action committee, Castro blasted Trump for considering using money designated for Puerto Rico's recovery to build a wall on the southern border, calling it "completely objectionable" and "immoral" and that it "should never happen."

He hit back at the president's tweet mocking Democratic legislatorsfor coming to Puerto Rico to attend several conferences, suggesting they were celebrating the shutdown.

"I wish the president would spend more time doing the job of being president instead of fighting with people on Twitter and spending so much time golfing and not going to his first meeting until 11 a.m. in the morning," Castro said. "It's amazing to me that we have a president that is not even doing a part-time job, that is putting in less time than the average part-time worker."


After his speech and tour, Castro spoke to NBC News about his prospects in what is certain to be a crowded field, challenging those in Washington who think his campaign is a long shot.

"I can guarantee you that a lot of people in D.C. are underestimating my campaign," Castro said.

"Some people call me charismatic and some people call me boring. Some people say it's not my time yet, and some people say it's past my time, that should have been 2016. Some folks say I'm going to excite the Latino base and some say I'm not Latino enough, but they are missing the point," he said. "The point is that my brother and I have always been able to connect with everyday people of different backgrounds, and they are going to see that in full during this campaign."

Castro’s identical twin is Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, who also serves as his campaign chairman.

Castro jumped into the presidential race on Saturday, announcing his bid from his hometown, San Antonio. He said he would not accept any PAC money; the campaign paid for his Puerto Rico trip.

Puerto Ricans on the island can vote in presidential primaries but not in the general election, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, not a state. But the millions of Puerto Ricans who reside in the 50 states can vote in U.S. elections.

Castro toured hurricane recovery efforts in the capital, with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as his guides.

Castro, who was secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, toured an emergency center that had solar power, medical supplies and a water filtration system and was created by residents from the low-income neighborhood of Comunidad Playita, using nonprofit and city funds.

A few homes were still using tarps and a 90-year-old man was trying to repaint his home that had been damaged in the September 2017 hurricane. Massive debris was still clogging a waterway.

Cruz told Castro that many residents have been unable to get FEMA aid because they can't produce titles of homes that have been passed down for generations. In addition, residents said they were only given funds to rebuild homes from the same building materials that did not withstand the hurricane.

Castro said the issue of proving home ownership without a deed or title is one he saw in Native American reservations, too. Sometimes the government lives up to its reputation of being too bureaucratic, but that shouldn't be true in this case, he said.

The RNC criticized Castro's visit. "It is disgusting that Julián Castro is trying to further his own political aspirations off of a natural disaster the administration has spent over a year addressing," stated RNC spokesman Steve Guest.

But during his visit, Castro said that while challenges with disaster recovery didn't happen overnight, strides were made under Obama that were not followed through.

"It looks like we've had a setback here in this administration," he said.


Democratic members of Congress were attending a weekend conference held by Bold PAC, the political action committee that is the fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

In addition, some members of the Latino Victory Fund, a PAC that financially backs Latino candidates, held its political "summit" on Monday, with an agenda that included speeches from Castro and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Lin-Manuel Miranda is in Puerto Rico for a series of "Hamilton" performances to benefit island art programs. His father, Luis, is board chair of the fund.

When asked about the criticism over the timing of the visit, several attendees said that while there were receptions and "Hamilton" performances — which they paid for with their own money — they spent most of Saturday in briefings with Puerto Rican officials, including Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, learning about where things stand for Puerto Rico's recovery.

"To portray this as like, oh, a party and a holiday, is a very cynical attempt to deflect from a president who wanted to divert disaster relief funds from Puerto Rico into building a wall, which comes from also a very racist, nativist place that's hostile to Latinos," said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who serves as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Takano said he learned on the trip that veterans on the island have been unable to get a form of veterans' health insurance coverage because of the loss of health care professionals from the island.

Castro said he was headed Monday afternoon to Austin, Texas, where state legislators planned to organize a strategy around his campaign.

Then he heads to New Hampshire to participate in Politics and Eggs,a traditional, almost mandatory stop for presidential candidates at which they speak to business leaders and autograph wooden eggs.



MSNBC beats Fox News in key ratings for first time in 17 years

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MSNBC has surpassed Fox News ― President Donald Trump’s favorite cable news network ― in a key TV ratings battle for the first time since 2000.

MSNBC, described by some media commentators as the antithesis to conservative-leaning Fox News, averaged nearly 1.56 million total viewers during the week of Dec. 17-21, NBCUniversal announced Wednesday.

Fox News drew in about 1.54 million viewers and CNN averaged 975,000 viewers during the same time period, NBCUniversal said, citing data compiled by Nielsen Media Research.

MSNBC also reportedly scored the most viewers ages 25 to 54, a highly coveted demographic to advertisers, for the first time since 2001. Fox News came in third, trailing significantly behind CNN.

Fox News has been a tour de force in the cable news industry for nearly two decades, regularly dominating total viewers and key demographic ratings. Last month, the network marked its 29th consecutive month as the most-watched channel on basic cable.

Democrats Plan Separate Fix For Voting Rights Act To Make Chief Justice Roberts Happy

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The move is a recognition of the need to show the Supreme Court evidence of present-day discrimination.

The big reform package on voting rights, campaign finance and ethics that House Democrats plan to pass in January will not include a reauthorization and fix to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, along with outside voting rights litigators, will support moving the Voting Rights Act measure separately to ensure they build a legislative record that will show why the law is still necessary when it faces court challenges.

“Everybody wants to make sure that they do this right and in a way that will not only be a stronger fix for the Voting Rights Act but also will be able to withstand any constitutional challenges,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program for the Brennan Center for Justice.

Democrats’ reform package, their first bill of the new Congress, will still include major voting rights reforms alongside its other pieces of campaign finance and ethics reforms. The bill will still include legislative language mandating automatic voter registration, preventing overly broad voter purges and promoting early and online voting. It will also include an affirmation in support of reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act along with a statement of facts inserting present-day examples of voter suppression into the congressional record.

None of those measures needs a record of evidence in the same way that a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act does. The federal government used to have the authority under the Voting Rights Act to shoot down election laws from certain jurisdictions if they were found to be discriminatory. In 2013, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court overturned that authority in Shelby County v. Holder.

In his majority opinion for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the formula used by the Department of Justice to determine discrimination relied on outdated data and evidence that did not reflect the changed nature of race relations in the United States. And Congress used that same outdated data, according to Roberts, when it reauthorized the act in 2006 instead of crafting a new formula based on more recent data and evidence of discrimination.

“Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions,” Roberts wrote. “It instead reenacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”

Voting rights activists and Democratic Party politicians vehemently disagreed with Roberts’ ruling in the Shelby County case. But they recognize that any future reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act needs to have a developed record of evidence built alongside it to withstand scrutiny from the conservative Supreme Court.

“Obviously, we felt that before Shelby there was plenty of evidence of necessitating the Voting Rights Act to be kept as it was, but the Supreme Court felt otherwise,” said Todd Cox, policy director for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “And I think, quite frankly, there’s been ample evidence subsequent to Shelby pointing to the need to restore the Voting Rights Act. We have at least 10 cases where courts, federal courts have found intentional discrimination against voters.”

Those cases include the passage of voter identification laws in Texas and North Carolina, and North Carolina’s roll-back of early voting, same-day registration and registration drives, changes that targeted African-Americans with “surgical precision,” according to a federal court. They could also include the kind of voter purges deployed in Georgia’s gubernatorial race between Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the incoming oversight committee chairman, has already stated he wants to call Kemp in to testify.

Democrats will hold votes on both their big democracy reform package and the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, which will be introduced by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), next year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the biggest opponent of campaign finance reform, already stated that he would not allow a vote on the larger democracy reform bill. Republicans refused to move any fix for the Voting Rights Act after the Shelby decision in the past three Congresses.

Whether Senate Republicans support these bills or not, Democrats see passing them in the House as a necessary statement of what their party stands for and what it would do if it controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.





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