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Senate Democrats Plan Attack on Koch Brothers Ahead of 2016 Race

Politics

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and "a coalition of deep-pocketed liberal groups, including a pair of super PACs backing Hillary Clinton" have been holding strategic meetings for months "examining the 2016 map and plotting attacks against the powerful Koch brothers' network," according to Politico.

A key organizer of the effortDavid Brock will present his findings tomorrow, using polling and research, to the Senate Democratic Caucus. The Koch brothers network of conservative mega-donors plans to spend a staggering $889 million for the 2016 presidential race.

Brock believes that highlighting the "massive political spending" of the Koch brothers network is a "critical component" of boosting Democratic candidates, including Clinton, in 2016.

In August, the billionaire brothers held a donor conference in California, in which several of the top presidential candidates—former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (who has now withdrawn from the race) and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina—flocked to the event to seek donations. This led Donald Trump to call these candidates "puppets" of the Koch brothers.

"We've proven in the long run that they're interested in one thing: Their bottom line. They're trying to buy the country, they want to become America's oligarchs," Reid told Politico. Reid has repeatedly called out the Koch brothers for "buying elections" and being one of the "main causes" of climate change.

The Koch brothers have launched a so-called "war on renewables," using their advocacy groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), to try and pass bills in states that repeal renewable energy standards. They’ve had some success in West VirginiaOhio and Kansas.

In August, President Obama slammed critics of his energy policies at a renewable energy summit in Nevada, specifically calling out the Koch brothers, for “wanting to protect an outdated status quo” based on fossil fuels and warned them away from “standing in the way of the future” and his efforts to combat climate change.

“When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards, or to prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that’s a problem,” Obama said, marking the first time a president has singled out the Koch brothers in a climate speech.

The explosive growth of solar in the U.S. “has some big fossil fuel interests pretty nervous,” Obama noted. This comment launched a mini-feud between the Koch brothers and the White House with Charles Koch calling the comments "beneath the president, the dignity of the president." And the White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest responding in kind.

However, some Democrats don't think it's in the party's best interest to focus on the Koch brothers. "I think the American public wants a discussion on solutions," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) told Politico. "When you start making [the Kochs] front and center, you are losing sight of what you absolutely need to do," said Heitkamp. "We need to be more mindful of what the message is, not who the messengers are and who's paying for them."

While others such as Cristóbal J. Alex, president of the liberal advocacy group Latino Victory Project, disagree. "We don't want to be caught flatfooted like we were in 2014. We won't let our candidates be attacked without response," he said.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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