Democratic Voters Overwhelmingly Support Hosting A Climate Debate, Poll Finds

Democratic voters overwhelmingly support devoting one of the Democratic National Committee’s four televised presidential primary debates to climate change, according to a new poll.

An online YouGov survey, commissioned by the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress, polled 1,030 registered voters over two days last week to ask if they’d “support or oppose setting side” one of the debates “to focus specifically on the issue of climate change.” Democrats and independents who lean blue supported the idea by 64%, with 42% strongly in support and 22% somewhat in favor. That compares to just 11% of Democrats opposed, 6% not sure and 20% neutral.

Nearly half of Republicans opposed the debate, with just over 37% strongly opposed and nearly 18% in favor. Among U.S. voters overall, support hit 41%, with 26% strongly in support and 15% somewhat in favor. That compares to 27% opposed, 7% not sure and 26% neutral.

Among registered Democrats, support for a climate debate is overwhelming. 

Among registered Democrats, support for a climate debate is overwhelming. 

“Presidential candidates are releasing climate platforms at a faster pace than the New York Yankees are winning baseball games,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, the Green New Deal strategy chief at Data for Progress. “The Democratic Party must live up to the spirit of its name and host a damn debate.”

The DNC rejected calls for a climate-only debate earlier this month, setting off a firestorm between the Democrats’ main party organ and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who hitched his 2020 presidential campaign to the crisis of climate change alone.

“Democrats need to be the party of solutions on the climate crisis; the first step is holding a full-fledged debate on this existential threat,” Inslee told HuffPost. “Grassroots Democrats want a climate debate. It’s time for the DNC to listen to them.”

Among U.S. voters overall, support for a climate debate is stronger than opposition. 

Among U.S. voters overall, support for a climate debate is stronger than opposition. 

Inslee, whose donors and polling already qualify him for the scheduled debates, called global warming a uniquely “existential crisis” that merits an event focused on the disparate plans to curb emissions. DNC Chair Tom Perez lamented in a Medium post titled “On Debates” that, “If we change our guidelines at the request of one candidate who has made climate change their campaign’s signature issue, how do we say no to the numerous other requests we’ve had?”

More than a dozen of Inslee’s 2020 rivals, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), backed his demand for a climate debate. As of Monday, a petition for a climate debate sponsored by 18 progressive and environmental groups had more than 216,000 signatures.

The climate debate fight is in many ways penance for the fact that candidates spent what Grist calculated to be just five minutes and 22 seconds debating climate change during the 2016 presidential debates. (The issue got only slightly more play during the Democratic primary debates.)

Since then, climate change has become a top issue for Democrats. A March Gallup poll found 81% of self-described liberals, 77% of Democrats and 53% of independents reported feeling “highly worried” about climate change. An April CNN survey pegged climate change as a top issue for 82% of registered Democrats planning to vote in the 2020 presidential primary.

“All the data indicates that voters are alarmed about global warming,” said NoiseCat, an occasional HuffPost contributor. “It should come as no surprise that they want a debate.”

Masked Gunman Shot Dead By Police Outside Federal Courthouse In Dallas

DALLAS (AP) — A masked 22-year-old man was killed in an exchange of gunfire with federal officers outside a federal courthouse in downtown Dallas Monday morning, an FBI official said.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said late Monday morning that Brian Isaack Clyde was pronounced dead at a hospital following the shooting outside the Earle Cabell Federal Building. A large law enforcement presence was visible downtown late Monday morning, with police closing off several blocks around the federal building.

“At this time we have no information indicating that there are other shooters, other threats to the community. We are working on one vehicle, we will have that cleared shortly,” DeSarno said.

Law enforcement officers attend to an injured shooter in a parking lot after he fired shots at the Earle Cabell Federal Build

Law enforcement officers attend to an injured shooter in a parking lot after he fired shots at the Earle Cabell Federal Building in downtown Dallas, Monday, June 17, 2019.

Following the shooting, a bomb squad examined a vehicle associated with the man as a precaution and performed controlled explosions. Two loud blasts from that could be heard downtown Monday morning.

The Dallas Morning News reports that one of its photographers, Tom Fox, was outside the building and witnessed a gunman opening fire. A photograph shows authorities tending to a shirtless man lying on the ground in a parking lot outside the building.

Fox said he was outside the building when a man in a mask parked at the corner of two downtown streets. He said the man ran and began shooting at the courthouse, cracking the glass of the door.

Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle and Diana Heidgerd contributed to this report.

Democratic Voters Shrug Off Joe Biden’s Role In 1994 Crime Bill

CHARLESTON, S.C. ― Joe Biden has gotten a lot of flack for his support of the 1994 crime bill, his signature legislative achievement in the Senate that has been blamed for an increase in the U.S. prison population.

But evidence suggests the decades-old law will be less of an issue for him as he continues to lead the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2020 election.

Experts say the sprawling legislation, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, contributed to both a decline in crime and an increase in mass incarceration. It expanded the federal death penalty and created dramatically harsher sentencing laws, including a three-strikes provision that mandated life terms for people with at least three federal violent crime or drug convictions. It also gave states incentives to lock criminals up for longer periods of time and provided billions in funding for new prisons.

“Good people signed on to that bill. People make mistakes. But let’s hold them to that,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a 2020 rival, said in an interview with HuffPost last month. “That crime bill was shameful, what it did to black and brown communities like mine [and] low-income communities from Appalachia to rural Iowa. It was a bad bill.”

Biden has continued to defend the law, telling voters last month there were “a lot of the good things in the bill” (it also contained a ban on assault weapons and the initial version of the Violence Against Women Act). He said it “did not generate mass incarceration.”

Biden’s defense of the law doesn’t appear to be costing him support among African Americans, though. In South Carolina, where over 60% of Democrats are black, Biden holds a commanding 20-point lead over the rest of the crowded primary field, according to a recent poll.

Asked if he faulted Biden for his role in getting the 1994 crime bill through the Senate, Lee Moultrie, a black civil rights activist from Charleston, South Carolina, said, “Hell, no.”

“People made decisions based on the time,” Moultrie said. “You can’t come back 20 years later and say, ‘OK, you shouldn’t have done this.’ The information they had led them to make some decisions that they made. Now, we might see it might not be effective as we wanted it to be, and that it created some problems that we didn’t want to have, but we have to give that a pass.”

Standing in line to see several candidates address black economic issues at a presidential forum in Charleston over the weekend, Moultrie, who remains undecided in the election, argued that African American leaders and community members share some responsibility for not working harder to stop the law at the time.

“The black elected officials could have stood up. Everyone who had some concern, where were they at? The black fraternities, the black sororities, they could have stood up,” Moultrie said. “You can’t blame one person or the Congress, because you could be advocating against something if you don’t like it.”

The law was backed at the time by the Congressional Black Caucus as well as several big-city black mayors and clergy leaders who were alarmed at soaring crime rates across the country.

Sonya Fordham, a schoolteacher from Charleston who also attended the forum, said that Biden’s time in the White House as Barack Obama’s vice president outweighed his involvement with the 1994 crime law.

“I think people do change. Politics does make you change. This country is about change,” Fordham said, after stating her 2020 preference for Biden first and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) second. “I think that he did a lot for me when he was No. 2 for Obama.”

She added: “It takes a lot for a white man to be second, OK? And that says a lot to me, right there.”

Joe Biden embraces Barack Obama at the 2017 presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.

Joe Biden embraces Barack Obama at the 2017 presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.

Another undecided voter, an African African man at the forum who identified himself only as Robert, also said Biden’s role in passing the ’94 crime bill shouldn’t bar him from the 2020 presidential nomination. But he did suggest that Biden ought to make clear where he stands now.

“I can’t fault the man for what he believes in,” Robert said.

While black voters in South Carolina were generally willing to give Biden a pass, some in Iowa said they would take the crime bill into consideration with other factors when making their choice for the Democratic nominee.

“He’s an interesting guy. He’s got a long history,” said Anthony Arrington, a 50-year-old black man who runs a professional and executive search and consulting firm in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Question is, is he somebody that people who look like me can trust? I think it comes down to trust. I’m not sure yet. But I think he’s very knowledgeable.”

Standing outside the Iowa Democratic Hall of Fame celebration on June 9, Arrington said he’s considering voting for Biden, but he’s also interested in Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker.

“As much as I appreciated his [Biden’s] work under Obama, if I look at his body of work, and I go back to the crime bill, I go back to his sudden reversal on Hyde, you question: Is it politics or not? But that’s with everybody. That’s with everybody, but that’s a fair thing to think about.”

The specifics of the crime bill, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey suggests, aren’t on many Democrats’ radar. Although 55% of Democratic voters say they’re at least somewhat familiar with the 1994 bill, just 1 in 10 are very familiar. Although their views about it are roughly split ― 28% approve, and 31% disapprove ― the largest bloc is the 41% who aren’t sure either way. Even among those who do hold an opinion on the bill, slightly less than one-fifth say it’s an issue that will be very important to their vote next year.

Many voters aren’t aware of which candidates were backers of the bill in 1994. (Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) voted for the bill when they served in the House). Given a list of some of the top-polling Democratic candidates to choose from, just 30% of Democratic voters picked Biden as being among those who initially supported the crime bill, and only 12% named Sanders.

But the polling also gives a sense of just how much Americans’ way of thinking about crime may have shifted since the bill was passed more than two decades ago, and how unpopular a law-and-order approach is within the Democratic Party today. 

Although the polling methodology is too different to allow for direct apples-to-apples comparison (among other things, the HuffPost/YouGov survey is conducted online, and gives respondents an explicit option to say that they’re unsure about questions), the results do suggest a fairly significant shift away from punitive measures. In a 1994 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Americans said, 58% to 29%, that better law enforcement and stricter punishment would be more effective in reducing crime, rather than more education and training to create better economic opportunities. In the HuffPost/YouGov poll, Americans favor education and training, 49% to 31%. Within the potential primary electorate, three-quarters of Democratic voters say they consider education and training a more effective approach than ramping up law enforcement and cracking down on offenders.

Democratic voters weigh against three-strikes laws by a considerably more modest margin, saying 42% to 31% that they oppose laws requiring life imprisonment for anyone convicted of three serious crimes, although more than a quarter are unsure.

Maxwell Strachan contributed reporting from Iowa.

Harvard Rescinds Parkland Survivor Kyle Kashuvs Admission After Racist Messages

Kashuv, an 18-year-old high school senior who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School early last year, posted a photo of a purported letter from Harvard withdrawing his admission.

“After careful consideration the [Admissions] Committee voted to rescind your admission to Harvard College,” the letter reads. “We are sorry about the circumstances that have led us to withdraw your admission, and we wish you success in your future academic endeavors and beyond.”

The letter follows HuffPost’s report of Kashuv’s text messages, shared in a Google document for a class study guide, in which he made racist remarks. In the document, seen by classmates and obtained by HuffPost, he repeatedly uses a racist slur:

Kyle Kashuv repeatedly used a racist slur in a document seen by multiple students. 

Kyle Kashuv repeatedly used a racist slur in a document seen by multiple students. 

Kashuv, who apologized last month for making the slurs, posted a series of tweets on Monday calling Harvard’s decision “deeply disturbing.”

“Throughout its history, Harvard’s faculty has included slave owners, segregationists, bigots and antisemites,” he said. “If Harvard is suggesting that growth isn’t possible and that our past defines our future, then Harvard is an inherently racist institution. But I don’t believe that. I believe that institutions and people can grow.” 

Asked to confirm the letter’s authenticity, a Harvard spokesperson said the college doesn’t comment on individual cases, but provided a list of reasons the school might rescind admission, including “behavior that brings into question their honesty, maturity or moral character.”

Conservative pundits decried Harvard’s decision on Twitter.

“Harvard’s auto-da-fe sets up an insane, cruel standard no one can possibly meet,” wrote commentator Ben Shapiro. NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch tweeted: “NEW RULE: Everyone will be retroactively adjudicated for their past childhood sins and made to pay the price now.”

Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito tweeted: “Shameful of Harvard. Kyle Kashuv’s better off not going there and instead getting a meaningful and quality education elsewhere.”

New York State Reaches Landmark Deal On Green New Deal-Style Climate Bill

New York lawmakers reached a deal late Sunday night to pass one of the most ambitious climate bills in the nation, setting the Empire State on a course to shape what the Green New Deal could look like at a state level.

The agreement to pass the so-called Climate & Communities Protection Act calls for New York to eliminate 85% of its overall planet-warming emissions by 2050, while offsetting or capturing the other 15%. The deal mandates 35% of state energy funding go to low-income, polluted communities, but sets a goal of investing 40%. The final legislation requires all state-financed energy projects to pay union wages.

“I believe we have an agreement on the climate change bill,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who initially opposed the bill, said on WAMC radio on Monday morning.

The breakthrough came just minutes before midnight on Sunday, stopping the bill from becoming ensnared in the procedural web of end-of-session negotiations, where activists said the legislation, widely touted as the country’s sharpest state-level climate proposal, risked being dulled.

Now lawmakers are expected to pass the bill, known by its acronym CCPA, in a vote Wednesday, when the three-day aging period between when legislators in Albany complete a deal and hold a formal vote ends. Once passed, the legislation would make New York the sixth state to adopt a 100% clean electricity target after Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington. Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., set similar targets.

“By and large, this is a very big victory,” said Arielle Swernoff, a spokeswoman for New York Renews, the nonprofit coalition of environmentalists, labor unions and community groups that formed to pass the bill.

Protests urging the passage of the CCPA three years ago. 

Protests urging the passage of the CCPA three years ago. 

The CCPA’s passage will mark the most transformative vote yet in a legislative sessions where Democrats, in control of the entire Legislature for the first time in years, cleared a lengthy backlog of progressive goals. Lawmakers swiftly enacted new protections for abortion, undocumented immigrants and voting rights. Last week, legislators agreed to rules offering historic new safeguards to renters, bucking the powerful real estate lobby that dominates New York politics.

But the CCPA, like the crisis it aims to address, uniquely touches on every aspect of the New York economy. In that sense, the bill’s scope is more ambitious than the 100% clean energy bill California passed last year. The Golden State’s legislation set a 100% zero-emissions electricity goal by 2045, and an executive order from the governor broadened the vision to include climate pollution from transportation, the biggest source by sector.

The CCPA goes further, requiring New York to generate 70% of its electricity from renewables by 2030, and completely eliminate utility emissions by 2040.

The bill, first introduced in 2016, passed repeatedly in the Democratically controlled Assembly, but the Republican majority in the Senate refused to hold a vote and Cuomo, who governed as a conservative Democrat for his first two terms, refused to back it.

But, this year, the stars seemed to align.

Democrats, including a new cadre of democratic socialists, secured a solid majority in both houses in the 2018 election. Cuomo won a third term and recast himself as a liberal reformer following a vicious left-wing primary challenge from activist and actor Cynthia Nixon. And climate change, long a backburner issue for voters, finally surged into the national consciousness as mounting natural disasters added exclamation points to a series of grave scientific projections.  

A power struggle ensued at the start of this year. In February, Cuomo unveiled his own climate plan, which he dubbed a “Green New Deal for New York.” The proposal aimed to shift New York to zero-emissions electricity by 2040 ― five years earlier than California, and 10 years ahead of the power-sector target the CCPA originally set. But the plan circumvented the transportation sector, the nation’s largest source of climate pollution, and skirted the CCPA’s most progressive provisions.

Big green groups, including the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Natural Resource Defense Council, and the New York chapters of the Audubon Society, the League of Conservation Voters and the Nature Conservancy, sought to rectify the governor’s proposal with the CCPA, picking the provisions from each. But activists worried some changes would weaken the bill.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has recast himself as a liberal reformer, vowing to sign as progressive of bills as legislator

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has recast himself as a liberal reformer, vowing to sign as progressive of bills as legislators can pass on rent laws and climate change.

Those changes include setting a target for “carbon neutrality” instead of eliminating emissions, a semantic tweak that could open the door to offsetting, rather than ending, the state’s greenhouse gas output. But the final version sets strict rules on offsets and carbon capture technology, excluding emissions from power plants and requiring reviews every four years

“Essentially it’s built to be phased out,” Swernoff said.

The CCPA drew strong national support from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), New York’s two U.S. senators; New York Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), Nydia Velazquez (D) and nine others; and even Democratic 2020 presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an unmistakably accented Brooklyn native.

But, with the legislative session ending on Wednesday, the CCPA faced a logjam if lawmakers failed to agree on a final bill before Monday morning. If negotiations lasted into the final three days of the session, the bill would have required Cuomo to issue a special “message of necessity,” which would allow legislators to circumvent the waiting period but also grant a skeptical governor new leverage to shape the final bill. A second option would have forced lawmakers to include the CCPA in the massive, end-of-session omnibus bill New York politicos call the “Big Ugly.”

That could be the fate of at least three other policies on Democrats’ wishlist this session. The legislative majority failed to agree on a bill to raise prevailing wages, give undocumented immigrant drivers licenses, and legalize adult use of recreational marijuana. Another bill to decriminalize prostitution looked likely to be delayed until the next session, Cuomo said.

The CCPA deal comes just two months after the New York City Council voted to pass legislation, billed as a Green New Deal, mandating sweeping emissions cuts from large buildings, the city’s largest energy users. The council is now considering a trio of bills that would set the stage to turn the infamous jail complex on Rikers Island into a wastewater plant and solar farm, making it easier to shutter the two dozen gas- and oil-burning power plants in the five boroughs. 

Chinese President Xi To Visit North Korea, State Media Says

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping will make a state visit to North Korea this week, state media announced Monday, as U.S. talks with North Korea on its nuclear program are at an apparent standstill.

Xi will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the visit on Thursday and Friday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said. It said the trip will be the first by a Chinese leader in 14 years.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency also announced the visit, but provided no further details.

The visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea, CCTV said. The broadcaster added the leaders will exchange views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands as they pose for a photo before talks at

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands as they pose for a photo before talks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in January.

The visit comes as negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea appear to have reached an impasse.

A summit in Vietnam in February between Kim and President Donald Trump failed after the U.S. rejected North Korea’s request for extensive relief from U.N. sanctions in exchange for dismantling its main nuclear complex, a partial disarmament step. Since the summit’s breakdown, no major contacts between the U.S. and North Korea have been announced.

Kim traveled to the Russian Far East in April for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move was viewed as aimed at strengthening his leverage over Washington and persuading Moscow to loosen its implementation of the international sanctions against North Korea.

Last month, North Korea fired short-range missiles and other weapons into the sea in an apparent effort to apply pressure on the U.S.

KCNA reported in April that Kim said he will give the U.S. “till the end of the year” to reach out with further proposals.

Since taking office in 2012, Xi has met with Kim four times in China. The meetings were timed in proximity to Kim’s meetings with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, highlighting Beijing’s role as a player in the nuclear standoff.

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Life And Debt: A Paralyzed Child And The GoFundMe Campaign That Launched A Charity

The last time Will Allen played baseball was Feb. 3. His father and coach, Tim Allen, pitched so Will, 7, and his Little League teammates could have some batting practice. What happened on the drive home may prevent Will from ever playing again.

Another car collided head-on with Tim’s truck. Tim pulled himself from the wreckage, but he immediately collapsed on the roadway. When he saw Will still trapped inside, Tim believed he’d lost his youngest child.

“The look on his face and eyes is something that I will never forget,” said Tim, 42, a banker who lives in Dripping Springs, Texas. “Then I heard him crying, so I knew he was alive.”

The worst didn’t happen, but Will sustained major spinal injuries and is now paralyzed below his chest. Will was hospitalized for two months and has been attending therapy since a week after the crash. His brain injuries appear to have completely healed, but his doctors give him only a slight chance of ever walking again. While Tim suffered less serious injuries, he still needed surgery and spent eight days in the hospital.

Paralysis has been an especially heartbreaking diagnosis for a little boy who loves baseball, gym class and riding dirt bikes with his big sister, Kyla, who is 8.

“There have been some moments ― very difficult moments ― where we’ve had real conversations with him. Life doesn’t prepare you to have real, adult-like conversations with your 7-year-old,” Tim said. “He’s had some moments where he will tell us that, ‘I want to walk again. I want to be upright. I miss playing baseball.’”

This is how the Allen family joined the thousands of Americans raising money via GoFundMe campaigns in order to alleviate the financial burden of lifesaving medical care. Will’s and Tim’s ambulance rescues, surgeries and hospital stays came at a high cost, the extent of which Tim doesn’t even know yet.

They will also need to pay for Will’s ongoing physical therapy, wheelchair and the other medical equipment he will need unless, against the odds, he regains the ability to walk.

But unlike other families in this situation, Tim and his wife Shara, 38, aren’t worried that the costs will overwhelm them. “I have a good job. I have what I feel like is decent insurance, so far,” he said. “We have an amazing network of family and friends and a community that has just been amazing.”

The GoFundMe campaign a family friend started for them has brought in more than $130,000 in donations, and fundraising events like a baseball tournament and a movie night at a local distillery have generated even more money.

“The GoFundMe just kind of blew up,” Tim said. He has strong personal connections in Austin and Houston, a city founded by his ancestors John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen, and both he and his father work in banking. They know a lot of people who can afford to contribute.

Shara had left her career as an accountant several months before the car crash, giving Will a full-time caregiver and eliminating the need to hire costly in-home assistance.

Thinking about his family’s comparative blessings gave Tim an idea: Use the leftover GoFundMe money to seed a charity to help children with spinal cord injuries whose families don’t have the same advantages. It’s a new endeavor that’s just getting started, but Tim has big plans for the future.

“We’re going to be able to provide financial assistance, whether it’s help paying medical bills, helping pay for therapy that they can’t afford, helping families that may not have insurance, helping families that have insurance but it’s not good insurance,” Tim said.

Tim hopes eventually to devote himself full time to the WillPower Community Foundation, which he says is now his calling. “God was not ready to take us. There’s things to done here on Earth,” Tim said.

“I truly feel like things happen for a reason,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense all the time why they happen, but I’ve been called to go help others through this horrible situation.”

Tim tries to emphasize the positive ― for himself, and for his son, as he learns how to adapt to his new situation. “We don’t stay in those negative spots very long,” he said. “We quickly redirect our focus to the positives in our lives.”

Will has become something of a local hero and even got to throw out the first pitch at a Round Rock Express baseball game, the Houston Astros farm club, on WillPower Night on May 31.

Will has been working to strengthen his arms, neck and core muscles to help compensate for his paralysis and learn new skills

Will has been working to strengthen his arms, neck and core muscles to help compensate for his paralysis and learn new skills like transferring from his wheelchair into bed and back again.

“His spirit, strength and determination is unmatched by anyone I’ve ever known in my life,” Tim said. “He’s inspiring so many through what he’s doing. It’s been tough at times but we’re very blessed to have him here, to have the functionality of his brain, his arms.”

The Facebook and Instagram pages for the WillPower Community Foundation are filled with photos and videos of the family, with Will smiling in almost all of them. Photos and clips of Will at physical therapy show how hard he’s working to strengthen his arms, neck and core muscles to help compensate for his paralysis and learn new skills like transferring from his wheelchair into bed and back again.

“The doctors say that Will is going to be self-sufficient. Walking or not walking, he’s going to go on to live a very self-sufficient life,” Tim said. “We are moving forward with the belief and hope that he will be upright some day, and that’s what we work toward daily.”

Democrats Have Bold Ideas For New Social Programs. What About The Old Ones?

The Democratic Party is as ambitious on policy as it’s ever been. Democratic 2020 presidential candidates have put forward proposals to expand Medicare, establish universal child care and transform the economy to combat climate change. In Congress, Democrats have declared their intention to pass sweeping reforms and transformative social policies regardless of the political barriers.

But there is still one area of U.S. policy this ambition hasn’t reached: Expanding America’s existing social safety net. Neither congressional Democrats nor 2020 hopefuls have shown much interest in expanding the monthly benefits low-income Americans receive, even though they have a proven track record of helping families escape poverty.

“We know that these programs reduce poverty and reduce the chances that children will end up destitute over the course of their lives,” said Sanford F. Schram, a political scientist at City University of New York and the author of numerous books about America’s welfare state. “But they’ve become so demonized that nobody wants to stand up and defend them.”

Dozens of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of America’s welfare programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a monthly food benefit that single-handedly pulled 3.4 million people out of poverty in 2017. The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, or TANF, is a cash grant to single mothers that reduced the number of children living in extreme poverty by 14 percent in 2015. Rental assistance vouchers, which ensure that low-income families don’t spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, have been shown to reduce homelessness, improve health and prevent evictions.

And these programs have remained effective despite the relentless cuts that have reduced their scale and impact. Thanks to the Republican welfare reform agenda of the 1990s (and Bill Clinton’s signature), only one-quarter of single mothers eligible for TANF ever receive the benefit. Relentless cuts to Housing and Urban Development funding have restricted rental vouchers to one-quarter of eligible families. Childless adults in some states lost their SNAP benefits after just three months.

But rather than restore and strengthen these programs, Democrats have focused on social policies that benefit a broader swath of the electorate and deliver less assistance to families in extreme poverty.

“I’m not opposed to the existing programs, but we need so much more,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told HuffPost this week. “I don’t want to see us fight for incremental changes when we have a chance to make big changes.”

Warren pointed to the example of expanding housing vouchers, arguing that doing so would not do much good when there just aren’t enough houses to go around.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he plans to announce a comprehensive policy on housing vouchers at some point, pledging to “use all of the tools that we can” to address the housing crisis. Sanders proposed more affordable housing construction and a host of lending changes as part of his 2016 presidential platform, but didn’t propose an expansion of voucher programs.

Warren’s proposals so far favor plowing billions into affordable housing, child care and education — all of which could fundamentally improve life for the middle class ― and many of her 2020 competitors are on the same page.

Sens. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris have published plans to give tax credits to rent-burdened families, but have not pro

Sens. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris have published plans to give tax credits to rent-burdened families, but have not proposed increasing rental assistance vouchers.

When it comes to simply helping the poorest Americans, the presidential contenders seem constrained by the conventional wisdom among Democrats on Capitol Hill — that “welfare” programs can only be defended from Republican attacks, and the best way to expand the existing safety net is through tax credits.

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have pitched refunds for households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet proposed significantly expanding America’s existing Child Tax Credit. House Democrats are currently pushing an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit as part of a broader tax deal.

But while tax credits have well-established positive impacts on poverty, they also have severe limitations. Because they’re structured as yearly refunds, workers have to make ends meet all year with no assistance and then wait for a one-time refund check whose value they may not know in advance.

The structure of tax-based welfare policy also means that benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are unavailable to Americans who aren’t working — exactly the people who need cash support the most. The EITC subsidizes employers who pay low wages and penalizes workers who leave the job market to take care of children or elderly parents. For housing assistance, a yearly refund rather than a monthly supplement leaves workers vulnerable to evictions.

According to a study published last month, half of African American and Hispanic children live in families that don’t receive the full potential value of the tax credit. A 2016 study found that families earning less than $12,550 per year received almost no relief from the EITC at all.

“Tax credits have a middle-class bias,” Schram said. “Welfare helps people overcome a sudden dip in their income. Tax credits don’t have the same effect.”

Schram said Democrats favor tax credits over welfare expansion because they are still making policy to appease Republican criticisms rather than to assist the poorest Americans. Lawmakers hoped that restricting the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit to workers would shield them from the “welfare queen” smears of the 1980s. Even when they propose paying out tax credits in advance or other changes to make them more similar to welfare programs, Democrats insist that they’re not expanding the size of government.

Democrats have proposed things like universal childcare and making college free. The idea that those would be less controversial than expanding food stamps doesn’t strike me as obvious.
Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Center for Law and Social Policy

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who flirted with a presidential run but ultimately decided against one, said he still hopes to work with Republicans to pass more generous tax credits. Republicans accepted larger tax credits during the Obama years, so Brown thinks they could go along again.  

“That path is very much there,” Brown said this week.

These arguments, though, sound strikingly similar to the Democratic strategies of the Clinton and Obama presidencies. Nearly all of the signature policies of the 2020 campaign so far — The Green New Deal, Medicare for All, Warren’s entire campaign — show none of the same political expediency.

“Democrats have proposed things like universal child care and making college free,” said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a researcher at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a think tank in Washington, D.C. “The idea that those would be less controversial than expanding food stamps doesn’t strike me as obvious.”

It’s also not obvious that Republicans will go along with Democrats’ efforts to expand tax credits. Though former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made overtures toward expanding the Child Tax Credit in 2014, he ultimately omitted the proposal from his 2017 tax plan. During the Obama Administration, Republicans proposed subjecting all EITC recipients to an IRS “mini audit” to confirm they weren’t lying about their income.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House tax committee, confirmed this stance in an interview this week, telling HuffPost that it seemed “especially fiscally irresponsible to enlarge fraudulent tax breaks.” (The EITC has a relatively high error rate, though many overpayments to EITC recipients may result from the complexity of the credit, which phases in and out according to income and varies depending on the number of dependent children in a household.)

Republicans have also, of course, attacked the rest of the social safety net for years, proposing severe cuts to food assistance and advocating for “work requirements” ― essentially time limits on benefits ― to be imposed on the beneficiaries of programs.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, denied that Democrats have been playing defense all this time.  

“We’ve protected food assistance, we added additional opportunities for healthy foods in the farm bill, and certainly that is something,” Stabenow said.

There have been a few proposals to expand food benefits endorsed by a handful of House Democrats. But those have never garnered enough support to become a priority for party leadership. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a co-sponsor of several such bills, said that Democrats will continue playing defense on this issue for the foreseeable future as the Trump administration attempts to cut welfare programs through regulation.

“We’re the richest country in history, where we have 40 million people who are food insecure or hungry,” McGovern said. “We all should be ashamed of that and we can do a hell of a lot better.” 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified Sen. Debbie Stabenow as being from Massachusetts. She is from Michigan.