South Carolina Democrat Slams GOP Opponent’s Support For Social Security Cuts

The Democratic candidate for an open House seat in South Carolina criticized his Republican rival for supporting Social Security benefit cuts, highlighting a potential vulnerability for the GOP in a district it?s favored to win.

Republican Ralph Norman, 63, a real estate developer and former state representative seeking to fill the seat that White House budget director Mick Mulvaney vacated, has called for raising Social Security?s retirement age and reducing benefits for the top 10 percent of earners. In 2006, while running unsuccessfully for the same seat in South Carolina?s 5th district, Norman even supported privatizing the social insurance program.

Norman?s Democratic opponent, Archie Parnell, a 66-year-old tax attorney, is against any Social Security benefit cuts, including through an increase in the retirement age. He sees Norman?s stances ? past and present ? as an opportunity to draw a contrast ahead of the special election on June 20.

?I?m the only candidate who will fight every day to protect Social Security and Medicare in Congress,? Parnell told HuffPost in a statement late Friday. ?That?s not rhetoric: Ralph Norman?s proposal to cut Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age would cost South Carolinians and is flat out wrong.?

?Voters have worked and earned their healthcare and retirement security,? he continued. ?Social Security is on the ballot on June 20th and we will not allow Norman to take it away.?

Norman?s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Social Security has a funding gap that will require it to cut benefits across the board by some 20 percent in 2034 if Congress fails to shore up its finances before then. The program, which pays out benefits to over 61 million retirees, workers with disabilities, widows and their dependents, has faced more imminent shortfalls in the past and Congress has always acted to address them in time.

Progressives favor closing the program?s funding gap by increasing revenue, such as lifting the cap on ordinary income subject to Social Security taxes, which is currently at $127,200. Conservative prefer solutions that rely on reducing benefits.

Although polls consistently show that Social Security is popular among Republican and independent voters, it is not clear if Parnell?s tactic will resonate in the solid red district. Mulvaney, a dedicated budget cutter, ran up large margins in the rural swath of South Carolina without disguising his antipathy for Social Security, let alone his support for benefit cuts. Mulvaney unseated longtime Democratic incumbent John Spratt in 2010 despite a 2009 vote in South Carolina?s state senate designating Social Security and Medicare unconstitutional. And he won reelection handily in 2012 after claiming Social Security is a Ponzi scheme a year earlier.

Prior to Mulvaney?s win in 2010, a Democrat had represented South Carolina?s 5th district, which currently stretches from Sumter in the South to Rock Hill in the North, going back to the era of Reconstruction in the 19th century. But since the tea party wave, it has trended increasingly Republican, allowing President Donald Trump to top Hillary Clinton there by some 17 percentage points in November, according to official data collected by Daily Kos and shared with HuffPost.

Parnell?s best hope is that Democrats angry about the Trump presidency will turn out in greater numbers, and enough Republicans and independents will join them. Earlier this week, his campaign released a poll it commissioned showing that Parnell had narrowed Norman?s lead from 16 percentage points to 10.

The Democrat got a head start on Norman after a decisive win in the primary on May 2. Norman was only certified as the Republican nominee on May 19, after a primary runoff that resulted in a recount. Tommy Pope, the more moderate state lawmaker he defeated, has yet to endorse Norman.

The national Democratic Party has thus far been reluctant to pour money into Parnell?s bid, but they are not ignoring it either.

Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, associate chair and former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten kicked off the DNC?s ?Resistance Summer? party-building initiative on Saturday by campaigning with Parnell in the Rock Hill area. The ?Resistance Summer? is Perez?s attempt to revive the Democratic Party?s presence and potency in all 50 states, hiring organizers and training volunteers to mobilize voters around the Democratic agenda ahead of the 2018 midterms.

?Archie is the voice South Carolinians need in Congress and his strong grassroots campaign is representative of our movement to rebuild the party from the ground up,? Perez and Harrison said in a joint statement. ?Congress needs a loud wake-up call, and we believe that electing Archie would put President Trump, Speaker Ryan, and their ilk on notice.?

Perez will be fundraising for Parnell as well while in South Carolina, and spoke at the South Carolina Democratic Party state dinner in May to raise money for him as well, according to the DNC.

The party has elicited criticism from progressive activists for not financing every Democratic candidate in a congressional special election earlier and more aggressively. Fueling these complaints were races in Kansas and Montana where Democrats lost by single digits in districts where Trump recorded landslide wins.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee argues that it invests most heavily in races where Democrats have the best chance of winning, and notes that it ultimately injected cash into the Montana race notwithstanding Democrat Rob Quist?s steep chances.

Democrats are hoping to flip Georgia?s 6th congressional on the same day as Parnell?s election in South Carolina. The DCCC and other party organs continue to flood that race with funds, believing that the affluent, suburban Atlanta district with a growing minority population is ripe for a Democratic takeover. A new poll shows Democrat Jon Ossoff with a narrow lead over Republican Karen Handel, with the contest on track to be the most expensive in House history.

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Someone Is Using These Leaked Emails To Embarrass Washington’s Most Powerful Ambassador

WASHINGTON ? A mysterious source contacted multiple news outlets this week to share emails between the influential ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Yousef Al Otaiba, and top figures in the American foreign policy community, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Behind the scenes, Otaiba ? an extremely powerful figure in Washington, D.C., who is reportedly in ?in almost constant phone and email contact,? with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump?s adviser and son-in-law ? is seen pushing for the U.S. to close down its military base in Qatar and otherwise poking at issues that could drive a wedge between the U.S. and that Arab nation. He also says that his country?s de facto ruler is supportive of a wave of anti-Qatar criticism in the U.S. that Qatar recently called a smear campaign.

The anonymous leakers told HuffPost they sought to expose the UAE?s efforts to manipulate the U.S. government, and denied any allegiance to Qatar or any other government.

Regardless of the leakers? intent, the revelations promise to heighten tensions between the two U.S. allies. If the UAE succeeds in damaging America?s decades-old partnership with Qatar, the result could dramatically undermine U.S. goals in the Middle East. The two American allies? escalating rivalry could worsen conflict in war zones where they support different proxy forces ? notably Libya, which has become a haven for smugglers, warlords, and terrorists ? while distracting attention from bigger international priorities, like restoring stability in Syria and Iraq after the expected battlefield defeat of the Islamic State.

The UAE and Qatar have taken their rivalry public in recent days following a controversial report in Qatari media. Qatari authorities soon claimed that the May 23 story ? which suggested that Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim gave a speech describing his respect for Iran, his support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas and his ties with Israel ? was the result of a hack. But news sources based in the UAE and Saudi Arabia still suggest that it exposed his true feelings.

Though Qatar and the Emirates are putative allies, they have drifted apart since 2011 because of their differing reactions to the Arab Spring protests that year. As the largely non-violent Muslim Brotherhood movement gained power across the region, Qatar supported it, seeing it as a vehicle for the Middle East?s democratic aspirations. The UAE calls the group a terror front. With a new U.S. administration in power, the time is ripe for one or the other to push for American action in its own interests.

Otaiba, who has been the UAE?s ambassador to the United States since 2008, is known as one of Washington?s best-connected diplomats. He makes frequent high-profile appearances around Washington and the U.S. speaking circuit, and he?s ensured that the Trump administration has already cozied up to the Emirates, which hosts a recently opened Trump golf course.

The leakers provided HuffPost with three batches of emails from Otaiba, some as recent as May and others from as far back as 2014, the last time the UAE supported a major effort to spread skepticism about Qatar in the United States. HuffPost contacted eight of the individuals who?d exchanged messages with the ambassador and shared the contents of those emails; none denied that the exchanges took place. Though Otaiba did not respond to repeated HuffPost requests for comment, a UAE Embassy spokeswoman confirmed to the Daily Beast that the Hotmail address used for the messages belongs to him.

Otaiba?s emails show an effort to build alliances and a focus on Qatar.

The night before former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was scheduled to speak at a high-profile Washington conference on Qatar, for instance, Otaiba wrote him an artfully worded note. ?The subject of the conference has been a neglected issue in U.S. foreign policy despite all the trouble it?s causing,? the diplomat wrote. ?Coming from you, folks will listen carefully.?

Gates emailed back that he thought he had ?the chance to put some folks on notice.?

Otaiba offered to buy the former Cabinet official lunch and passed along a message from his boss back home. ?MBZ sends his best from Abu Dhabi,? the ambassador wrote. ?He says ?give them hell tomorrow.??

The next day, Gates offered a scathing assault on Qatar, excoriating its support for Islamists, at an event hosted by the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies. ?The United States military doesn?t have any irreplaceable facility,? he said. ?Tell Qatar to choose sides or we will change the nature of the relationship, to include downscaling the base.?

The powerful Washington-based foundation features heavily in the Otaiba emails. While many of those messages show the ambassador helping its analysts plan trips to the UAE, they also contain two of the most striking revelations about Otaiba: He explicitly advocated for moving the U.S. base out of Qatar ? something he hasn?t done publicly ? and he discussed the idea of pressuring companies in U.S.-friendly countries in order to hurt Iran.

An Arab?s Favorite Pro-Israel Group

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies spends much of its time trying to strengthen ties between Washington and right-wing political forces in Israel. But despite the UAE?s refusal to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, the think tank and others in the pro-Israel lobby have found common ground with the Emirates on two major issues: Both want to contain Iran and political Islam. Both suffered a high-profile defeat when the U.S. and other nations reached a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015. And for the past year or so, both have been pushing to make the future of U.S. relations with Qatar a debate in Washington.

Emirati critiques of Qatar often raise the same points the foundation?s scholars bring up in their frequent appearances before Congress and in the media: The Qatari government provides, in the words of the U.S. Treasury Department, a ?permissive jurisdiction? for fundraisers and donors hoping to aid violent Muslim extremists. In supporting the rights of protesters and democracy activists (at least compared to its neighbors), Qatar is accused of promoting Islamists who claim to be peaceful but really seek to impose brutal Shariah law. And it frequently offers a platform to hatemongers targeting Israel, Jews, the minority Shiite community within Islam, LGBTQ individuals and others ? generally on its marquee media property, Al Jazeera.

But experts on the region note that Qatar?s flaws as an American partner are not unique: Kuwait has also been called a ?permissive jurisdiction,? and Saudi Arabia and the UAE also host terror financiers and clerics who spread hate speech. The vendetta against Qatar, they say, is driven by more defensive concerns, namely the pro-Israel side?s focus on Hamas and anyone who supports that group, and the UAE?s worry that the Muslim Brotherhood could threaten its own ruling regime.

Otaiba made his views about the U.S. base in Qatar clear in an April 28 message this year to John Hannah, a senior counselor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Hannah had emailed the ambassador a Forbes article noting that an Emirati-owned hotel would actually be hosting a Hamas conference in ?Muslim Brotherhood-loving? Qatar. Otaiba appeared taken aback by the hotel?s involvement.

?Shouldn?t we be trying to move the base?? he wrote. ?I don?t think it?s fair to point the finger at an Emirati company on this one.?

Hannah responded by saying he agreed about the military base. But he said criticism of the decision to host Hamas was fair no matter who owned the hotel. Otaiba snapped back that the UAE would move its hotel when the U.S. moved its base.

?Hah. Bu don?t move the hotel,? Hannah answered. (?Bu? or ?Bu Omar,? which translates in Arabic to ?father of Omar,? appears to be a nickname for Otaiba, who has a young son called Omar.) ?Just force Hamas to reschedule at a different venue not owned by Emiratis.?

On Friday, Hannah told HuffPost that the communications were business as usual.

?As a leading Washington think tank, [the foundation] is engaged in policy discussions with a range of actors across the Middle East and elsewhere. My own relationship with Ambassador Otaiba goes back years, including both my time in government and out,? he wrote in an email.

Mark Dubowitz, the foundation?s CEO, lobbied Otaiba on a different issue in a March 10, 2017, email. Dubowitz provided Otaiba with a list of mainly Western companies that operate in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and are looking to do business in Iran, following the lifting of some sanctions as a result of the nuclear deal.

?This is a target list for putting these companies to a choice, as we have discussed,? Dubowitz wrote the ambassador. The group includes businesses based in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, South Korea and the U.K.

In response to HuffPost?s inquiries, Dubowitz noted that he has openly called for U.S. Gulf partners to target such companies.
?I have discussed this policy idea many times in public including in published pieces and reports,? Dubowitz wrote in a Friday email. ?I sent these public pieces, reports and the list of companies as an example to a number of people in Washington and abroad to get feedback on the idea.?

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