Weekly Recap: Two-Year Anniversary of Unite the Right Rally in Cville, Gun Reform is Front and Center, Vast Majority of Virginians Approve of Medicaid Expansion

DPVA Chairwoman Susan Swecker Statement on Two-Year Anniversary of Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville

RICHMOND, VA. — Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker released the following statement on the two-year anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville:

“White nationalists and neo-Nazis from across the country descended on our Commonwealth two years ago attempting to spread their messages of hate and divide us. Today, we honor those who stood up to them: Heather Heyer, who lost her life showing the racists gathered in Charlottesville that Virginia rejects their hate; VA State Police Lt. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates, who lost their lives responding to the demonstrations; and the dozens of others who stood up to bigotry and were injured that day.

The best way to do right by those who sacrificed two years ago is to build a more just and inclusive Commonwealth. White nationalism is on the rise, and communities across our country are experiencing an increase in hate crimes, antisemitism, racism, and extremism every day. We must come together to reject this rise in hate and stand up to those — especially those in positions of power — who stoke racism and bigotry to divide us. As Virginians showed then and have shown since, this great Commonwealth has no place for the vile acts displayed that day.”

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Va. Dems to Mitch McConnell: Pass languishing gun control bill (Virginia Mercury)

WASHINGTON — In the wake of two devastating mass shootings over the weekend, Virginia Democrats are imploring the U.S. Senate to vote on sweeping gun control legislation the U.S. House passed in February.

After the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, which killed at least 29 people and injured many more, Virginia members of the U.S. Congress joined Democratic leadership in assailing the GOP-led Senate for refusing to take up a bill to strengthen background checks that passed the House but has gone nowhere in the upper chamber. The House legislation would require federal criminal background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions.

The guns used in the Dayton and El Paso killings appear to have been purchased legally, but Democrats have long pushed to close loopholes that allow firearm transactions to occur — such as private sales and at gun shows — without background checks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a statement Monday urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring lawmakers back from recess to immediately pass the House legislation. The Senate isn’t scheduled to reconvene until Sept. 9. Several Virginia Democrats also prodded the Senate to act swiftly on the bill.

But there appears to be no chance McConnell will grant their request. He called the weekend’s shootings “senseless” and “sickening” on Twitter, but did not mention any possible legislation.

In a radio interview Monday, U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, said “it is time to reevaluate our law enforcement structure and what we’re doing with data,” also calling for better enforcement of existing laws around “terroristic threats.”

President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Monday that “strong background checks” could perhaps be tied to immigration reform, but that combination is a nonstarter with his Democratic opponents. Speaking later on Monday, Trump didn’t offer specifics about what kind of legislation he’d be willing to support.

Click here to read the full article.

“Common sense” gun control laws: Trump and Dems agree, but Virginia GOP is not yet on board (Washington Post)

RICHMOND — President Trump’s call this week for “common sense” gun-control laws in the wake of the most recent mass shootings echoed the language of another chief executive who recently confronted the same issue: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

But Northam, a Democrat, was unable to get state Republican lawmakers to take up any of his gun bills in the special legislative session he convened last month following a mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building. Now that Trump and other national Republicans — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — have signaled a willingness to act in the face of growing outrage as violence continues around the country, the Virginia GOP is left in an uncomfortable spot in a crucial election year.

Virginia is one of only four states with legislative elections this November and the only state where those votes will determine the balance of power in the legislature. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot, with Republicans protecting thin majorities in both chambers. The swing districts are suburban areas where increasingly urgent concern about gun violence could make the difference for voters this fall.

And national gun-control groups are making Virginia a referendum on the issue. Most prominently, Everytown for Gun Safety — the group founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg — has hired four Richmond lobbyists and last month launched a five-figure digital ad campaign aimed at Virginia elections. The group has given Virginia Democrats almost $5 million in the past four years.

This week, after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead and dozens wounded, the national Democratic super PAC American Bridge posted a video in which an interviewer tries to get four Virginia GOP senators to take a position on particular gun-control measures.

Three of the incumbents are in suburban Richmond districts, and the fourth is in Virginia Beach, where a gunman killed 12 people at a municipal building on May 31. All four either said they opposed the measuresor declined to answer. The measures were the same two that Trump and McConnell expressed interest in later in the week: expanded background checks and a “red flag” law allowing authorities to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed a risk.

After tweeting earlier this week that “common sense things can be done that are good for everyone!” Trump said Friday that he was confident he could rally Republicans around legislation to strengthen background checks. McConnell said the Senate could take up the measure when it returns from its August recess, and also mentioned considering “red flag” laws, which the Trump administration has endorsed and which have been enacted in 17 states.

“We are closely monitoring what actions Congress may take,” Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said Friday via text message. “Congress signaling their willingness to act on these issues reaffirms the need to proceed in a deliberative manner.”

Cox and other Republican leaders adjourned last month’s special General Assembly session after only 90 minutes, referring some 60 bills to the state Crime Commission for further study. The legislature is scheduled to reconvene to take the matter back up on Nov. 18 — nearly two weeks after this fall’s elections.

“The governor is glad to see national Republicans signal long-overdue action on gun violence, and he remains extremely disappointed that Virginia Republicans refused to take this action when he called them into special session in July,” Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, said Friday via text message. “The governor hopes they will follow the example of national party leaders and come together to save lives.”

Virginia’s GOP leaders have said they favor increasing criminal penalties for gun violations and addressing mental health issues. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) has proposed creating two state grant programs aimed at increasing law enforcement in violent urban neighborhoods and helping young people extract themselves from street gangs, with education and job training to start better lives.

Republicans also say they believe state laws enacted after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech are stronger than the proposed red flag laws, enabling law enforcement or medical authorities to lock up someone who poses a threat instead of confiscating their weapons.

Earlier in the week, Northam deemed the Republican response “totally unacceptable” and urged lawmakers to return to Richmond now to debate gun-control bills.

“They’re going to sit there and talk about study — we’ve studied this long enough,” Northam said in remarks to reporters at an event in Hampton on Tuesday. “This is an emergency in Virginia.”

Republicans who don’t get that message will pay a political price, Northam said. “I want to tell the people of Virginia, if we can’t change minds, we need to change seats, and that’s why we have elections. And I would ask all Virginians to pay special attention to this election on November the fifth.”

One Republican official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said “the chances of the special session resuming earlier [than scheduled] . . . would be slim to none.”

The official added that anytime national rhetoric heats up around a volatile issue, Virginia tends to wait to see what happens in Washington before jumping in. “The enthusiasm for taking action before the federal situation settles is traditionally low,” the Republican said.

Instead, Republicans have tried to steer attention back toward the scandals that have plagued top Virginia Democrats since the beginning of the year.

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent an email to reporters on Friday saying, “If you’re looking for something to write about during recess: remember, it’s been SIX MONTHS since Virginia Democrats lit themselves on fire with scandals.”

The email referred to controversies that have consumed the party’s leadership since February, when Northam disavowed a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page but admitted wearing blackface at a dance contest that year; Attorney General Mark Herring (D) admitted darkening his face at a college party in 1980; and two women leveled sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who denies both charges.

Republicans argue that Northam and other Democrats are exploiting gun violence to distract from those embarrassments.

Democrats say they’re simply responding to public concern.

“Whether it’s office hours or knocking on doors in our districts or meeting constituents at the supermarket, we hear from people that doing nothing on gun violence is not an option,” House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) said. “I think it’s quite telling that Trump and McConnell are talking about things like this.”

The Next Front in the Fight Over Gun Control? Virginia (NY Times)

The state’s elections in November will test the potency of gun rights as a voting issue. Democrats are looking to take power and enact gun control legislation next year.

CENTREVILLE, Va. — At door after door, house after house, Dan Helmer, a Democrat running for the Virginia House of Delegates, found voters of both parties telling him one thing as he canvassed for support Tuesday night: Do something about the mass shootings.

“I have it on the TV right now,” Reza Darvishian, a State Department security engineer, told Mr. Helmer on the porch of his home. “I’m sick of listening to all of this stuff.”

That’s not what the Republican incumbent in the race, Tim Hugo, says he is hearing from his constituents. Gun violence is of comparatively little concern to voters, Mr. Hugo said. Instead they want to talk about the same issues that have animated suburban voters for the generation he’s been in office.

“I ask people, ‘How can I help?’” Mr. Hugo said. “The answers that come back are transportation, schools, taxes and even illegal immigration.”

A spotlight on the people reshaping our politics. A conversation with voters across the country. And a guiding hand through the endless news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.

The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend have rebooted the national discussion over gun violence and ignited a bitter fight between Democrats and President Trump over whether his divisive rhetoric encouraged the violence. Now Virginia’s off-year elections in November loom as the first political battlefield on the issue. Republicans hold only one-vote majorities in both the House and Senate. Democrats are aiming to capture both chambers and pass new gun control legislation next year.

The Virginia elections will help measure the potency of the issue with voters after a series of mass shootings that has outraged many Americans. And it will match the resources of the movement’s biggest supporter, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, against the National Rifle Association, the long-dominant Virginia-based gun rights organization that faces internal turmoil and a steady loss of influence.

The 2018 midterms marked the first time the N.R.A. was outspent by gun control groups in a national campaign.

Tim Hugo, second from right, won a ninth term as a delegate in 2017, but only by 106 votes.CreditSteve Helber/Associated Press

The issue is already highly charged in Virginia, which had its own mass shooting in May, when 12 people were killed in a Virginia Beach municipal building. The massacre prompted the Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, to call a special session in July and ask lawmakers to consider a package of eight gun control proposals, including banning assault-style weapons and implementing universal background checks.

Using their razor-thin majority, Republicans ended the session after 90 minutes and referred the gun control questions to a state crime commission, which it asked to present a report on the issue a week after Election Day.

“We’re much better off in a less political atmosphere to come back after the election and consider a comprehensive solution,” said Kirk Cox, the speaker of the state House of Delegates.

Now Mr. Cox and Mr. Hugo are the top targets for Democrats and gun control proponents. Both represent suburban districts long in Republican control where voters have rejected the party in the Trump era.

“This will be the first thing on the docket,” said former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “People are fired up. People are sick and tired of saying, ‘My thoughts and prayers are with you,’ and they want action.”

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The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the political arm of Mr. Bloomberg’s gun control organization, said this week that it would invest at least $2.5 million in Virginia before Election Day — more than it spent in either of the last two legislative elections there. The group polled 14 legislative districts this week to determine how it will allocate its funds.

“Virginia is a bellwether state and we are going to be there,” said John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president. “There is no doubt this is a test. This is the next theater for what’s going to happen everywhere in 2020.”

With its odd-year elections, Virginia has a long record of serving as a leading indicator for national contests the following year. The state’s voters in 2009 were the first to reject Democrats in the Obama era, foreshadowing the rise of the Tea Party, and did the same to Republicans in 2017 following President Trump’s election. That year, Democrats swept out a generation of long-tenured suburban Republican lawmakers while coming within a coin flip in a tied race of winning control of the state’s House of Delegates for the first time since 1999.

Virginia remains a complex state demographically and culturally, with wide swaths of rural areas where Confederate flags are common and belief in gun rights sacrosanct. But the current gun control debate comes as the state has nearly completed a Republican-to-Democratic transition in statewide elections, as urban and suburban voters have swung hard away from Republicans over the last decade.

The stakes in Virginia extend beyond gun politics. Mr. Northam is eager to write a legacy beyond his connection to disputed blackface photos in his medical school yearbook that emerged in February; some Virginia Democrats believe he would jump at the chance to sign a slate of progressive legislation in a state long been known for its permissive gun laws.

A vigil for victims of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton was held outside the National Rifle Association’s headquarters in Fairfax, Va., on Monday.CreditAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Poll finds most Virginians approve of Medicaid expansion (Virginia Mercury)

With more than 300,000 people now enrolled, a new poll shows that a large majority of Virginians approve of Medicaid expansion.

The poll — commissioned by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association and conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy — found that 71 percent of the 800 Virginians polled approved of expanding the program.

According to VHHA, the poll was commissioned “to help identify health care issues of concern to Virginians and to inform the association’s approach to development corresponding public policy solutions,” a news release states.

Three-fourths of responders were not aware that hospitals “are the only health care sector partner making financial contributions to the state (totaling roughly $300 million each year) to cover the state’s share of Medicaid expansion costs.”

Hospitals pay a provider tax that funds Virginia’s share of Medicaid expansion, while the federal government picks up the bulk of the tab. Virginia’s hospitals agreed to the tax last year during the budget battle over expansion.

The poll also delved into the fraught Certificate of Public Need, or COPN, debate, which is meant to control the number of medical facilities and services available in different regions of the state. Opponents say it stifles competition that could lower prices for patients.

Hospitals have traditionally supported the program, and 55 percent of those polled say it should remain in place while 13 percent say it should be eliminated and 32 percent responded “Not sure.”

The poll also queried respondents about a more recent debate in Virginia health care: balance billing, otherwise known as surprise medical bills, which can happen when a patient at an in-network facility gets a doctor or other provider who isn’t, then gets hit with a hefty bill. An attempt by lawmakers to end the practice for emergency room visits collapsed under the weight of the two arguing sides: hospitals and doctors on one end, and insurers on the other.

According to the poll, 51 percent believe insurance companies should be held financially responsible for paying the balance that would otherwise be sent to the patients. Another 19 percent said the hospital should be responsible, 14 percent said the patient and 6 percent said the doctor should be responsible.

In addition to the 51 percent who think insurers should be responsible for the balance (in a balance billing scenario), 14 percent think the patient should be responsible, 6 percent think the doctor, and 19 percent think the hospital should be responsible.

While 55 percent think the COPN program should be kept, 13 percent think it should be eliminated and 32 percent say they’re not sure.

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