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    Virginia voters — including African-Americans — get Northam's back

    Virginia voters — including African-Americans — get Northam's back


    Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appears to have quelled any widespread public clamor for his resignation in the wake of his blackface scandal.Two new polls out Wednesday show pluralities say the Democrat should not quit or be forced out over a racist photo...


    Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appears to have quelled any widespread public clamor for his resignation in the wake of his blackface scandal.

    Two new polls out Wednesday show pluralities say the Democrat should not quit or be forced out over a racist photo that appeared on his medical-school yearbook page 35 years ago. Most African-American voters agree that he shouldn't go, according to one of the surveys.

    In a Quinnipiac University poll, 42 percent of voters say Northam should resign — but more, 48 percent, say he shouldn’t. White voters are split evenly — 46 percent say he should resign, and the same percentage say he shouldn’t — but a majority of black voters, 56 percent, say Northam should not quit.

    Even fewer Virginians say Northam should resign in a second poll out Wednesday, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. In that poll, which surveyed adults in the commonwealth, only 31 percent say Northam should resign, compared to 43 percent who say he shouldn’t.

    Both polls show scant support for impeaching Northam. In the Quinnipiac poll, only 26 percent say Northam should be impeached, while nearly two-in-three voters, 65 percent, say he shouldn't. In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, just 21 percent say the General Assembly should remove Northam, while 56 percent say state legislators shouldn't impeach the governor.


    Both new surveys suggest Northam’s political standing has stabilized since a Washington Post/George Mason University Schar School poll a week into the scandal showed Virginians equally split on whether the governor should resign.

    Northam, elected in 2017, has spent nearly three weeks in damage-control mode, ever since the photo first emerged on Feb. 1. Initially, the governor apologized for his appearance in the photo, which shows a person in blackface standing next to another individual dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe. But within 24 hours of his first apology, Northam said he did not believe he was one of the two disguised people in the photo, and he did not know how it came to appear on his page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School class yearbook.

    Despite his denial, most Democrats in and outside of the commonwealth called for Northam’s resignation. But he has remained defiant — bolstered in part by Virginia’s one-term limit for governors, which prevents him from seeking reelection, anyway, and scandals surrounding two other statewide Democratic officials: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and state Attorney General Mark Herring.

    “Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass,” Northam said in an interview with CBS News last week. “And that's why I'm not going anywhere.”

    More Republicans than Democrats say Northam should resign, according to both new polls. In the Quinnipiac poll, 33 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents say Northam should quit — even though Democrats (80 percent) are more likely than Republicans (62 percent) to say they consider blackface to be racist.

    In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, 20 percent of Democrats say Northam should quit, compared with 43 percent of Republicans.

    The scandal has taken a toll on Northam’s approval ratings, the new polls show, though they have not cratered. In the Quinnipiac poll, 39 percent of voters approve of the job Northam is doing, while slightly more, 43 percent, disapprove. In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, a plurality, 44 percent, say they neither approve nor disapprove of Northam’s job performance, compared to 17 percent who approve and 34 percent who disapprove.


    One factor boosting Northam’s chances of surviving is the continued support of black voters, who made up roughly 20 percent of the electorate in his 2017, off-year victory over Republican Ed Gillespie. In the Quinnipiac poll, twice as many black voters approve of the job he is doing versus disapprove, 49 percent to 24 percent. About a quarter of black voters in Virginia, 24 percent, say Northam is racist, but a 63 percent majority say he isn’t.

    Northam’s position has also been reinforced by the controversies around Fairfax and Herring — the two men next up in Virginia’s line of succession for governor. Two women have accused Fairfax of past sexual assaults, including Meredith Watson, who outlined in a Washington Post op-ed this week her call for a public hearing into her allegation that Fairfax raped her when they were students at Duke University in 2000.

    Herring, meanwhile, admitted he, too, wore blackface at a party in 1980 while attending the University of Virginia — even though he had, days earlier, called for Northam’s resignation.

    Of the three top Democrats, the new polls out Wednesday show Fairfax may be in the most peril. While a plurality in the Quinnipiac poll say Northam shouldn’t resign, and a 54 percent majority say Herring should remain in office — voters are split on Fairfax: 36 percent say the lieutenant governor should resign, and 36 percent say he shouldn’t.

    In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, more voters say Fairfax should resign, 35 percent, than say he shouldn’t, 25 percent. But roughly a third, 34 percent, say they aren’t sure.

    The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted Feb. 14-18, surveying 1,150 registered voters in Virginia by landline and cell phone. The margin of error, including design effect, is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

    The Ipsos/U-Va. poll was conducted online from Feb. 15-19. In that survey, 636 adults in Virginia were interviewed, and those results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Trump cheers on high school student from viral video over Washington Post lawsuit

    Trump cheers on high school student from viral video over Washington Post lawsuit


    President Donald Trump offered words of encouragement Wednesday for the Catholic high school student who is suing The Washington Post over its coverage of last month’s viral and hotly debated confrontation between the boy and a Native American...


    President Donald Trump offered words of encouragement Wednesday for the Catholic high school student who is suing The Washington Post over its coverage of last month’s viral and hotly debated confrontation between the boy and a Native American elder.

    Lawyers for Nick Sandmann, the teen who was front and center in the viral video, announced Tuesday night they are seeking $250 million in damages from The Post for what they say was defamatory coverage of the incident.

    “The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (“the President”) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President,” the suit alleges.

    Trump weighed in on Twitter Wednesday morning to cheer Sandmann on, referencing the above section of the suit and adding “go get them Nick. Fake News!”


    Trump has voiced support for students of the all-male Kentucky school before, ripping the media for “smearing” the boys, who were in Washington to attend an anti-abortion march.

    White House officials have appeared on television to defend the students, and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reportedly did not rule out a White House visit by the students at a later date. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about a potential visit by the students.

    The suit alleges that the Post, along with other media outlets, “targeted” Sandmann and his classmates because they were wearing clothing with the president’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, and declined to seek context outside of the short video that caught fire on social media before portraying Sandmann and his classmates as the aggressors in the clip.

    The widely seen clip shows a smirking Sandmann surrounded by laughing classmates looking down at Nathan Phillips, a tribal elder and veteran, as Phillips beats a drum on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Video surfaced later showed a fuller picture of the encounter, including that a group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites hurled invective at both the students and the group of Native Americans alike.


    The additional video caused handwringing among many who had shared the initial clip, some of whom apologized for jumping to conclusions — and accused the media of doing the same — about the students depicted in the incident.

    After intitially condemning the students' behavior, a team of private investigators retained by the Covington Diocese concluded last week that the students did not instigate the confrontation and found no evidence that they made “racist or offensive statements” to Phillips.

    Sandmann’s attorneys say in the suit they have put together a 15-minute long video that they say vindicates their client, but accuse The Post of engaging in “a modern-day form of McCarthyism” and causing “permanent damage to his life and reputation.”

    A Post spokeswoman said Tuesday the paper is “reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defense."

    In a statement accompanying the text of the complaint at the top of Sandmann's lawyers' website, the attorneys hint at more legal action to come stemming from coverage of the incident. The statement says the attorneys "will continue to bring wrongdoers before the court to seek damages in compensation for the harm so many have done to the Sandmann family. This is only the beginning."


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Putin says he's open to arms control talks, warns U.S. against hostility

    Putin says he's open to arms control talks, warns U.S. against hostility


    Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he wants his nation to mend its fractured relationship with the U.S. but also warned that Moscow is prepared to respond to what he described as hostile military moves from Washington.“We don’t want...


    Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he wants his nation to mend its fractured relationship with the U.S. but also warned that Moscow is prepared to respond to what he described as hostile military moves from Washington.

    “We don’t want confrontation, particularly with such a global power as the U.S.,” Putin said in his state of the nation address, according to The Associated Press. The Russian president also said his nation “remains open” to nuclear arms control talks, though he said those would need to be initiated by the U.S.


    He called Washington’s targeting of Moscow with sanctions “destructive” policy, and fired a warning shot, cautioning U.S. officials to consider the “range and speed of our prospective weapons” when considering policies that could negatively affect Russia.

    Putin on Wednesday also addressed the crumbling of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, contending that U.S. officials used the Kremlin as a scapegoat to justify withdrawing from the pact.

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced earlier this month that the U.S. would suspend its participation in the pact with the goal of pulling out completely within the next six months, sparking fears of a renewed arms race with Moscow.

    While the Trump administration has argued that Russia has repeatedly violated its obligations under the treaty, which bars signatories from possessing intermediate range missiles, Putin rejected those accusations on Wednesday.

    He also said that while Russia will not make the the first move to place intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will take retaliatory measures if the U.S. moves to do so, according to the AP. He added that retaliation by Russia could include targeting European countries playing host to the U.S. missiles as well as using new weapons to target U.S. decision-making centers.

    In addition to detailing a new military landscape for a Russia and United States unbound by the INF treaty, Putin announced a new hypersonic missile that the Russian navy will affix to surface ships and submarines to work toward its goals of modernization and countering U.S. moves. He said that nuclear-powered weapons he announced last year had been undergoing successful testing.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    ‘Sustained and ongoing’ disinformation assault targets Dem presidential candidates

    ‘Sustained and ongoing’ disinformation assault targets Dem presidential candidates


    A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already under way on social media, with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity. The main targets appear to be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.),...


    A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already under way on social media, with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity.

    The main targets appear to be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), four of the most prominent announced or prospective candidates for president.

    A POLITICO review of recent data extracted from Twitter and from other platforms, as well as interviews with data scientists and digital campaign strategists, suggests that the goal of the coordinated barrage appears to be undermining the nascent candidacies through the dissemination of memes, hashtags, misinformation, and distortions of their positions. But the divisive nature of many of the posts also hint at a broader effort to sow discord and chaos within the Democratic presidential primary.

    The cyber propaganda — which frequently picks at the rawest, most sensitive issues in public discourse — is being pushed across a variety of platforms and with a more insidious approach than in the 2016 presidential election, when online attacks designed to polarize and mislead voters first surfaced on a massive scale.

    Recent posts that have received widespread dissemination include racially inflammatory memes and messaging involving Harris, O’Rourke and Warren. In Warren’s case, a false narrative surfaced alleging that a blackface doll appeared on a kitchen cabinet in the background of the senator’s New Year’s Eve Instagram livestream.

    Not all of the activity is organized. Much of it appears to be organic, a reflection of the politically polarizing nature of some of the candidates. But there are clear signs of a coordinated effort of undetermined size that shares similar characteristics with the computational propaganda attacks launched by online trolls at Russia’s Internet Research Agency in the 2016 presidential election, which special counsel Robert Mueller accused of aiming to undermine the political process and elevate Donald Trump.


    “It looks like the 2020 presidential primary is going to be the next battleground to divide and confuse Americans,” said Brett Horvath, one of the founders of Guardians.ai, a tech company that works with a consortium of data scientists, academics and technologists to disrupt cyberattacks and protect pro-democracy groups from information warfare. “As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we’re not on the verge of it — we’re already in the third inning.”

    An analysis conducted for POLITICO by Guardians.ai found evidence that a relatively small cluster of accounts — and a broader group of accounts that amplify them — drove a disproportionate amount of the Twitter conversation about the four candidates over a recent 30-day period.

    Using proprietary tools that measured the discussion surrounding the candidates in the Democratic field, Guardians.ai identified a cohort of roughly 200 accounts — which includes both unwitting real accounts and other ‘suspicious’ and automated accounts that coordinate to spread their messages — pumped out negative or extreme themes designed to damage the candidates.

    This is the same core group of accounts the company first identified last year in a study as anchoring a wide scale influence campaign in the 2018 elections.

    Since the turn of the year, those accounts began specifically directing their output at Harris, O’Rourke, Sanders and Warren, and were amplified by an even wider grouping of accounts. Over a recent 30-day period, between 2 and 15 percent of all Twitter mentions of the four candidates emanated in some way from within that cluster of accounts, according to the Guardians.ai findings. In that timeframe, all four candidates collectively had 6.8 million mentions on Twitter.

    “We can conclusively state that a large group of suspicious accounts that were active in one of the largest influence operations of the 2018 cycle is now engaged in sustained and ongoing activity for the 2020 cycle,” Horvath said.

    Amarnath Gupta, a research scientist at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California at San Diego who monitors social media activity, said he’s also seen a recent surge in Twitter activity negatively targeting three candidates — O’Rourke, Harris and Warren.

    That increased activity includes a rise in the sheer volume of tweets, the rate at which they are being posted and the appearance of “cluster behavior” tied to the three candidates.

    “I can say that from a very, very cursory look, a lot of the information is negatively biased with respect to sentiment analysis,” said Gupta, who partnered with Guardians.ai on a 2018 study.

    According to the Guardians.ai analysis, Harris attracted the most overall Twitter activity among the 2020 candidates it looked at, with more than 2.5 million mentions over the 30-day period.

    She was also among the most targeted. One widely seen tweet employed racist and sexist stereotypes in an attempt to sensationalize Harris’ relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. That tweet — and subsequent retweets and mentions tied to it — made 8.6 million “potential impressions” online, according to Guardians.ai, an upper limit calculation of the number of people who might have seen it based on the accounts the cluster follows, who follows accounts within the cluster and who has engaged with the tweet.

    Another racially-charged tweet was directed at O’Rourke. The Twitter profile of the user where it originated indicates the account was created in May 2018, but it had authored just one tweet since then — in January, when the account announced it had breaking news about the former Texas congressman leaving a message using racist language on an answering machine in the 1990s. That tweet garnered 1.3 million potential impressions on the platform, according to Guardians.ai.


    A separate Guardians.ai study that looked at the 200-account group’s focus on voter fraud and false and/or misleading narratives about election integrity — published just before the midterm elections and co-authored by Horvath, Zach Verdin and Alicia Serrani — reported that the accounts generated or were mentioned in more than 140 million tweets over the prior year.

    That cluster of accounts was the driving force behind an effort to aggressively advance conspiracy theories in the 2018 midterms, ranging from misinformation about voter fraud to narratives involving a caravan coming to the United States, and even advocacy of violence.

    Horvath asserts that the activity surrounding the cluster represents an evolution in misinformation and amplification tactics that began in mid-to-late 2018. The initial phase that began in 2016 was marked by the creation of thousands of accounts that were more easily detected as bots or as coordinated activity.

    The new activity, however, centers on a refined group of core accounts — the very same accounts that surfaced in the group’s 2018 voter fraud study. Some of the accounts are believed to be highly sophisticated synthetic accounts operated by people attempting to influence conversations, while others are coordinated in some way by actors who have identified real individuals already tweeting out a desired message.

    Tens of thousands of other accounts then work in concert to amplify the core group through mentions and retweets to drive what appears, on the surface, to be organic virality.

    Operatives with digital firms, political campaigns and other social media monitoring groups also report seeing a recent surge in false narratives or negative memes against 2020 candidates.

    A recent analysis from the social media intelligence firm Storyful detected spikes in misinformation activity over social media platforms and online comment boards in the days after each of the 2020 candidates launched their presidential bids, beginning with Warren’s announcement on Dec. 31.

    Fringe news websites and fringe social media platforms, Storyful found, played a significant role in spreading anti-Warren sentiment in the days after she announced her candidacy on December 31. Using a variety of keyword searches for mentions of Warren, the firm reported evidence of “spam or bot-like” activity on Facebook and Twitter from some of the top posters.

    Kelly Jones, a researcher with Storyful who tracked suspicious activity in the three days following the campaign announcements of Harris, Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), said she’s seen a concerted push over separate online message boards to build false or derogatory narratives.

    Among the fringe platforms Storyful identified were 4Chan and 8Chan, where messages appeared calling on commenters to quietly wreak havoc against Warren on social media or in the comments section under news stories.


    “Point out that she used to be Republican but switched sides and is a spy for them now. Use this quote out of context: ‘I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets,’” wrote one poster on the 4Chan message board.

    “We’re seeing a lot of that rhetoric for nearly each candidate that comes out,” Jones said. “There is a call to action on these fringe sites. The field is going to be so crowded that they say ‘OK: ‘Operation Divide the Left.’”

    An official with the Harris campaign said they suspect bad actors pushing misinformation and false narratives about the California Democrat are trying to divide African Americans, or to get the media to pay outsized attention to criticism designed to foster divisions among the Democratic primary electorate.

    Researchers and others interviewed for this story say they cannot conclusively point to the actors behind the coordinated activity. It’s unclear if they are rogue hackers, political activists or, as some contend, foreign state actors such as Russia, since it bears the hallmarks of past foreign attacks. One of the objectives of the activity, they say, is to divide the left by making the Democratic presidential primary as chaotic and toxic as possible.

    Teddy Goff, who served as Obama for America’s digital director, broadly described the ongoing organized efforts as the work of “a hodgepodge. It’s a bit of an unholy alliance.”

    “There are state supporters and funders of this stuff. Russia. North Korea is believed to be one, Iran is another,” he said. “In certain cases it appears coordinated, but whether coordinated or not, there are clearly actors attempting to influence the primary by exacerbating divisions within the party, painting more moderate candidates as unpalatable to progressives and more progressive candidates as unpalatable to more mainstream Dems.”

    A high-ranking official in the Sanders campaign expressed “serious concerns” about the impact of misinformation on social media, calling it “a type of political cyber warfare that’s clearly having an impact on the democratic process.” The official said the Sanders campaign views the activity it’s already seeing as involving actors that are both foreign and domestic.

    Both Twitter and Facebook, which owns Instagram, have reported taking substantial measures since 2016 to identify and block foreign actors and others who violate platform rules.

    While Twitter would not specifically respond to questions about the Guardians.ai findings, last year the company reported challenging millions of suspect accounts every month, including those exhibiting “spammy and automated behavior.” After attempts to authenticate the accounts through email or by phone, Twitter suspended 75 percent of the accounts it challenged from January to June 2018.

    In January 2019, Twitter published an accounting of efforts to combat foreign interference over political conversations happening on the platform. Earlier efforts included releasing datasets of potential foreign information operations that have appeared on Twitter, which were comprised of 3,841 accounts affiliated with the IRA, that originated in Russia, and 770 other accounts that potentially originated in Iran.


    "Our investigations are global and ongoing, but the datasets we recently released are ones we're able to reliably attribute and are disclosing now,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to POLITICO. “We'll share more information if and when it's available."

    Facebook says it has 30,000 people working on safety and security and that its increasingly blocking and removing fake accounts. The company also says it has brought an unprecedented level of transparency to political advertising on its platform.

    At this early stage, the campaigns themselves appear ill-equipped to handle the online onslaught. Their digital operations are directed toward fundraising and organizing while their social media arms are designed to communicate positive messages and information. While some have employed monitoring practices, defensive measures typically take a backseat — especially since so much remains unknown about the sources and scale of the attacks.

    One high-level operative for a top-tier 2020 candidate noted the monumental challenges facing individual campaigns — even the ones with the most sophisticated digital teams. The problem already appears much larger than the resources available to any candidate at the moment, the official said.

    Alex Kellner, managing director with Bully Pulpit Interactive, the top digital firm for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, warns that campaigns that don’t have a serious infrastructure set up to combat misinformation and dictate their own online messaging will be the most vulnerable to attack in 2020.

    “I think this is going to be a serious part of any successful campaign: monitoring this and working with the platforms to shut down bad behavior,” Kellner said.

    Kellner said that even though platforms like Twitter and Facebook have ramped up internal efforts to mete out bad actors, the flow of fake news and misinformation attacks against 2020 candidates is already strong.

    “All the infrastructure we’ve seen in 2016 and 2018 is already in full-force. And in 2020 it’s only going to get worse,” Kellner said, pointing to negative memes attacking Warren on her Native American heritage claims and memes surrounding Harris’ relationship with Brown.

    The proliferation of fake news, rapidly changing techniques by malicious actors and an underprepared field of Democratic candidates could make for a highly volatile primary election season.

    “Moderates and centrists and Democratic candidates still don’t understand what happened in 2016 and they didn’t realize, like Hillary Clinton, that she wasn’t just running a presidential campaign, she was involved in a global information war,” Horvath said. “Democratic candidates and presidential candidates in the center and on the right who don’t understand that aren’t just going to have a difficult campaign, they’re going to allow their campaign to be an unwitting amplifier of someone else’s attempts to further divide Americans.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    ‘Sustained and ongoing’ disinformation assault targets Dem presidential candidates

    ‘Sustained and ongoing’ disinformation assault targets Dem presidential candidates


    A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already under way on social media, with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity. The main targets appear to be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.),...


    A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already under way on social media, with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity.

    The main targets appear to be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), four of the most prominent announced or prospective candidates for president.

    A POLITICO review of recent data extracted from Twitter and from other platforms, as well as interviews with data scientists and digital campaign strategists, suggests that the goal of the coordinated barrage appears to be undermining the nascent candidacies through the dissemination of memes, hashtags, misinformation, and distortions of their positions. But the divisive nature of many of the posts also hint at a broader effort to sow discord and chaos within the Democratic presidential primary.

    The cyber propaganda — which frequently picks at the rawest, most sensitive issues in public discourse — is being pushed across a variety of platforms and with a more insidious approach than in the 2016 presidential election, when online attacks designed to polarize and mislead voters first surfaced on a massive scale.

    Recent posts that have received widespread dissemination include racially inflammatory memes and messaging involving Harris, O’Rourke and Warren. In Warren’s case, a false narrative surfaced alleging that a blackface doll appeared on a kitchen cabinet in the background of the senator’s New Year’s Eve Instagram livestream.

    Not all of the activity is organized. Much of it appears to be organic, a reflection of the politically polarizing nature of some of the candidates. But there are clear signs of a coordinated effort of undetermined size that shares similar characteristics with the computational propaganda attacks launched by online trolls at Russia’s Internet Research Agency in the 2016 presidential election, which special counsel Robert Mueller accused of aiming to undermine the political process and elevate Donald Trump.


    “It looks like the 2020 presidential primary is going to be the next battleground to divide and confuse Americans,” said Brett Horvath, one of the founders of Guardians.ai, a tech company that works with a consortium of data scientists, academics and technologists to disrupt cyberattacks and protect pro-democracy groups from information warfare. “As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we’re not on the verge of it — we’re already in the third inning.”

    An analysis conducted for POLITICO by Guardians.ai found evidence that a relatively small cluster of accounts — and a broader group of accounts that amplify them — drove a disproportionate amount of the Twitter conversation about the four candidates over a recent 30-day period.

    Using proprietary tools that measured the discussion surrounding the candidates in the Democratic field, Guardians.ai identified a cohort of roughly 200 accounts — which includes both unwitting real accounts and other ‘suspicious’ and automated accounts that coordinate to spread their messages — pumped out negative or extreme themes designed to damage the candidates.

    This is the same core group of accounts the company first identified last year in a study as anchoring a wide scale influence campaign in the 2018 elections.

    Since the turn of the year, those accounts began specifically directing their output at Harris, O’Rourke, Sanders and Warren, and were amplified by an even wider grouping of accounts. Over a recent 30-day period, between 2 and 15 percent of all Twitter mentions of the four candidates emanated in some way from within that cluster of accounts, according to the Guardians.ai findings. In that timeframe, all four candidates collectively had 6.8 million mentions on Twitter.

    “We can conclusively state that a large group of suspicious accounts that were active in one of the largest influence operations of the 2018 cycle is now engaged in sustained and ongoing activity for the 2020 cycle,” Horvath said.

    Amarnath Gupta, a research scientist at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California at San Diego who monitors social media activity, said he’s also seen a recent surge in Twitter activity negatively targeting three candidates — O’Rourke, Harris and Warren.

    That increased activity includes a rise in the sheer volume of tweets, the rate at which they are being posted and the appearance of “cluster behavior” tied to the three candidates.

    “I can say that from a very, very cursory look, a lot of the information is negatively biased with respect to sentiment analysis,” said Gupta, who partnered with Guardians.ai on a 2018 study.

    According to the Guardians.ai analysis, Harris attracted the most overall Twitter activity among the 2020 candidates it looked at, with more than 2.5 million mentions over the 30-day period.

    She was also among the most targeted. One widely seen tweet employed racist and sexist stereotypes in an attempt to sensationalize Harris’ relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. That tweet — and subsequent retweets and mentions tied to it — made 8.6 million “potential impressions” online, according to Guardians.ai, an upper limit calculation of the number of people who might have seen it based on the accounts the cluster follows, who follows accounts within the cluster and who has engaged with the tweet.

    Another racially-charged tweet was directed at O’Rourke. The Twitter profile of the user where it originated indicates the account was created in May 2018, but it had authored just one tweet since then — in January, when the account announced it had breaking news about the former Texas congressman leaving a message using racist language on an answering machine in the 1990s. That tweet garnered 1.3 million potential impressions on the platform, according to Guardians.ai.


    A separate Guardians.ai study that looked at the 200-account group’s focus on voter fraud and false and/or misleading narratives about election integrity — published just before the midterm elections and co-authored by Horvath, Zach Verdin and Alicia Serrani — reported that the accounts generated or were mentioned in more than 140 million tweets over the prior year.

    That cluster of accounts was the driving force behind an effort to aggressively advance conspiracy theories in the 2018 midterms, ranging from misinformation about voter fraud to narratives involving a caravan coming to the United States, and even advocacy of violence.

    Horvath asserts that the activity surrounding the cluster represents an evolution in misinformation and amplification tactics that began in mid-to-late 2018. The initial phase that began in 2016 was marked by the creation of thousands of accounts that were more easily detected as bots or as coordinated activity.

    The new activity, however, centers on a refined group of core accounts — the very same accounts that surfaced in the group’s 2018 voter fraud study. Some of the accounts are believed to be highly sophisticated synthetic accounts operated by people attempting to influence conversations, while others are coordinated in some way by actors who have identified real individuals already tweeting out a desired message.

    Tens of thousands of other accounts then work in concert to amplify the core group through mentions and retweets to drive what appears, on the surface, to be organic virality.

    Operatives with digital firms, political campaigns and other social media monitoring groups also report seeing a recent surge in false narratives or negative memes against 2020 candidates.

    A recent analysis from the social media intelligence firm Storyful detected spikes in misinformation activity over social media platforms and online comment boards in the days after each of the 2020 candidates launched their presidential bids, beginning with Warren’s announcement on Dec. 31.

    Fringe news websites and fringe social media platforms, Storyful found, played a significant role in spreading anti-Warren sentiment in the days after she announced her candidacy on December 31. Using a variety of keyword searches for mentions of Warren, the firm reported evidence of “spam or bot-like” activity on Facebook and Twitter from some of the top posters.

    Kelly Jones, a researcher with Storyful who tracked suspicious activity in the three days following the campaign announcements of Harris, Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), said she’s seen a concerted push over separate online message boards to build false or derogatory narratives.

    Among the fringe platforms Storyful identified were 4Chan and 8Chan, where messages appeared calling on commenters to quietly wreak havoc against Warren on social media or in the comments section under news stories.


    “Point out that she used to be Republican but switched sides and is a spy for them now. Use this quote out of context: ‘I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets,’” wrote one poster on the 4Chan message board.

    “We’re seeing a lot of that rhetoric for nearly each candidate that comes out,” Jones said. “There is a call to action on these fringe sites. The field is going to be so crowded that they say ‘OK: ‘Operation Divide the Left.’”

    An official with the Harris campaign said they suspect bad actors pushing misinformation and false narratives about the California Democrat are trying to divide African Americans, or to get the media to pay outsized attention to criticism designed to foster divisions among the Democratic primary electorate.

    Researchers and others interviewed for this story say they cannot conclusively point to the actors behind the coordinated activity. It’s unclear if they are rogue hackers, political activists or, as some contend, foreign state actors such as Russia, since it bears the hallmarks of past foreign attacks. One of the objectives of the activity, they say, is to divide the left by making the Democratic presidential primary as chaotic and toxic as possible.

    Teddy Goff, who served as Obama for America’s digital director, broadly described the ongoing organized efforts as the work of “a hodgepodge. It’s a bit of an unholy alliance.”

    “There are state supporters and funders of this stuff. Russia. North Korea is believed to be one, Iran is another,” he said. “In certain cases it appears coordinated, but whether coordinated or not, there are clearly actors attempting to influence the primary by exacerbating divisions within the party, painting more moderate candidates as unpalatable to progressives and more progressive candidates as unpalatable to more mainstream Dems.”

    A high-ranking official in the Sanders campaign expressed “serious concerns” about the impact of misinformation on social media, calling it “a type of political cyber warfare that’s clearly having an impact on the democratic process.” The official said the Sanders campaign views the activity it’s already seeing as involving actors that are both foreign and domestic.

    Both Twitter and Facebook, which owns Instagram, have reported taking substantial measures since 2016 to identify and block foreign actors and others who violate platform rules.

    While Twitter would not specifically respond to questions about the Guardians.ai findings, last year the company reported challenging millions of suspect accounts every month, including those exhibiting “spammy and automated behavior.” After attempts to authenticate the accounts through email or by phone, Twitter suspended 75 percent of the accounts it challenged from January to June 2018.

    In January 2019, Twitter published an accounting of efforts to combat foreign interference over political conversations happening on the platform. Earlier efforts included releasing datasets of potential foreign information operations that have appeared on Twitter, which were comprised of 3,841 accounts affiliated with the IRA, that originated in Russia, and 770 other accounts that potentially originated in Iran.


    "Our investigations are global and ongoing, but the datasets we recently released are ones we're able to reliably attribute and are disclosing now,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to POLITICO. “We'll share more information if and when it's available."

    Facebook says it has 30,000 people working on safety and security and that its increasingly blocking and removing fake accounts. The company also says it has brought an unprecedented level of transparency to political advertising on its platform.

    At this early stage, the campaigns themselves appear ill-equipped to handle the online onslaught. Their digital operations are directed toward fundraising and organizing while their social media arms are designed to communicate positive messages and information. While some have employed monitoring practices, defensive measures typically take a backseat — especially since so much remains unknown about the sources and scale of the attacks.

    One high-level operative for a top-tier 2020 candidate noted the monumental challenges facing individual campaigns — even the ones with the most sophisticated digital teams. The problem already appears much larger than the resources available to any candidate at the moment, the official said.

    Alex Kellner, managing director with Bully Pulpit Interactive, the top digital firm for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, warns that campaigns that don’t have a serious infrastructure set up to combat misinformation and dictate their own online messaging will be the most vulnerable to attack in 2020.

    “I think this is going to be a serious part of any successful campaign: monitoring this and working with the platforms to shut down bad behavior,” Kellner said.

    Kellner said that even though platforms like Twitter and Facebook have ramped up internal efforts to mete out bad actors, the flow of fake news and misinformation attacks against 2020 candidates is already strong.

    “All the infrastructure we’ve seen in 2016 and 2018 is already in full-force. And in 2020 it’s only going to get worse,” Kellner said, pointing to negative memes attacking Warren on her Native American heritage claims and memes surrounding Harris’ relationship with Brown.

    The proliferation of fake news, rapidly changing techniques by malicious actors and an underprepared field of Democratic candidates could make for a highly volatile primary election season.

    “Moderates and centrists and Democratic candidates still don’t understand what happened in 2016 and they didn’t realize, like Hillary Clinton, that she wasn’t just running a presidential campaign, she was involved in a global information war,” Horvath said. “Democratic candidates and presidential candidates in the center and on the right who don’t understand that aren’t just going to have a difficult campaign, they’re going to allow their campaign to be an unwitting amplifier of someone else’s attempts to further divide Americans.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Poll: Majority opposes Trump emergency declaration for building border wall

    Poll: Majority opposes Trump emergency declaration for building border wall


    A majority of voters oppose President Donald Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border for the purpose of letting his administration shift money to build the wall Congress refused to fund, according to a new...


    A majority of voters oppose President Donald Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border for the purpose of letting his administration shift money to build the wall Congress refused to fund, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

    Fewer than four in 10 voters, 39 percent, support Trump’s declaration, the poll shows — fewer than the 51 percent who oppose it. In fact, the percentage of poll respondents who “strongly oppose” Trump’s decision, 41 percent, is greater than the combined share of those who “strongly support” (26 percent) or “somewhat support” (13 percent) the national emergency declaration.

    Most Republicans back Trump’s decision, however: 77 percent support the emergency declaration, compared with 18 percent who oppose it. But majorities of Democrats (81 percent) and independents (52 percent) oppose the president’s invoking the emergency provision.

    Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president, said the poll numbers showed that GOP voters were strongly “in the president’s corner” on the issue.

    “Over three-fourths of Republicans back President Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, and 75 percent say it wasn’t an abuse of power,” Sinclair said.


    The poll was conducted Feb. 15-19, beginning after Trump announced last Friday that he would use the emergency declaration and other executive actions to build a wall along the nation’s southern border, even after signing a government funding bill passed by Congress earlier in the week that largely spurned the administration’s calls for more than $5 billion for the border wall.

    Despite opposition to the emergency declaration, voters continue to be split over the border wall itself: 45 percent support it and 47 percent oppose it. But half, 50 percent, say Trump’s emergency declaration to build the wall is “an abuse of power,” the poll shows, while only 37 percent say it isn’t.

    The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll is the second national survey to be released since Trump announced his decision to invoke his national emergency powers to build the wall. The other, conducted by Marist College for NPR and “PBS Newshour,” found support for Trump on the issue at a similar level: 37 percent among registered voters. But more voters, 60 percent, disapprove of Trump’s decision. And 58 percent say he is “misusing his presidential power,” according to the poll.

    Trump’s overall approval rating in the new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll ticked down 3 points lower than last week. Now, 42 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53 percent disapprove.

    The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll surveyed 1,914 registered voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

    Morning Consult is a nonpartisan media and technology company that provides data-driven research and insights on politics, policy and business strategy.

    More details on the poll and its methodology can be found in these two documents — Toplines: https://politi.co/2TW1YSJ | Crosstabs: https://politi.co/2SfCa2q


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    If Dems Don’t Buck This Historical Trend, Trump Could Win in 2020

    If Dems Don’t Buck This Historical Trend, Trump Could Win in 2020


    For the past three-and-a-half decades, a glaring paradox has infected the quest for the American presidency. In an age when citizens on both left and right have soured on politics and treated incumbents with thinly veiled contempt, sitting presidents...


    For the past three-and-a-half decades, a glaring paradox has infected the quest for the American presidency. In an age when citizens on both left and right have soured on politics and treated incumbents with thinly veiled contempt, sitting presidents have rarely been booted out of office before their eight years were up. They have survived, despite the raging animus toward incumbents. The only president since 1984 who failed to win a second term has been George H.W. Bush, in 1992.

    Why? One significant reason is that opposition parties have generally nominated bad candidates to challenge presidents running for second terms. Of course, incumbents have built-in advantages, including their claims to a growing economy, their use of the Bully Pulpit to pulverize their opponents, and their skill at blaming Congress for stymieing the people’s will. But it’s also true that opposition parties have nominated a string of enfeebled candidates who have greased the re-election path for prior presidents. If Democrats want to have a shot at unseating President Donald Trump in 2020, they should avoid making the same mistakes again.

    Consider the failed presidential challengers since 1984: Walter Mondale, Bob Dole, John Kerry and Mitt Romney. This list shows that, in the modern era, both Republicans and Democrats have tended to prioritize decades of government experience or deep party ties ahead of far more salient characteristics and considerations like youthful energy and fresh ideas. Rather than selecting future-oriented/anti-establishment candidates to carry their party’s banner, opposition parties have tended to nominate politicians next in the cue—leaders who have paid their dues, by raising gobs of money for other partisans, building chits among activists and elected officials and incubating relationships with Iowa and New Hampshire political operatives.

    This has been a mistake. Maybe these candidates would have made good, or perhaps even great presidents—and we’ll never know whether better nominees could have ousted the incumbents these candidates challenged—but these candidates were weak. They have all lacked appeal to an electorate that loathes longtime politicians and they were brought down at least in part by defects associated with a stale politics rooted in their parties’ respective pasts. (The electorate might dislike longtime pols, but given a choice between two establishment candidates, one incumbent and one challenger, incumbent advantage wins.) They show us how parties can become ossified, reliant on their longtime leaders, and how primary voters and partisan leaders can blind themselves to the demands of the political moment.

    In general elections, voters have tended to punish experienced candidates with records of legislative achievement inside the Beltway. Somewhat perversely, the most deserving, qualified nominees have had a harder time winning than their far less qualified competitors. And in those elections since 1984 when incumbency has been out of the question, and two new candidates have run against another, the forward looking/anti-establishment candidate has won every time with one exception—George H.W. Bush, who in 1988 tore apart Gov. Michael Dukakis as an unpatriotic, soft-on-crime, pro-big-government Massachusetts liberal. (Although Dukakis was ostensibly the anti-establishment candidate in the race, Bush tarred Dukakis with the brush of ‘60s liberalism and pegged him as an establishment throwback to an earlier era.) In 2008, Barack Obama, then a first-term senator, defeated the far more experienced John McCain (in fairness, almost any reasonable Democratic candidate would have prevailed given Bush’s two unpopular wars and the great recession), and in 2016 Donald Trump assailed “stupid” politicians and the infinitely more qualified and knowledgeable nominee Hillary Clinton as emblematic of a “corrupt establishment.”

    The converse has also held true when in 1976 and 1980 opposition parties did pick forward looking/anti-establishment nominees who were able to defeat incumbents. In 1976, Jimmy Carter—his slogan was “a leader, for a change”—vowed to “clean up the mess in Washington” and ousted President Gerald Ford, who had taken power after Richard Nixon’s resignation and saved Nixon from possible criminal convictions by pardoning his disgraced predecessor. Four years later, the shoe was on the other foot. Although he had served as California governor for eight years, Ronald Reagan claimed the outsider mantle by pitching himself to voters as “a boy growing up in several small towns in Illinois” who had “seen America from the stadium press box as a sportscaster, as an actor, officer of my labor union, soldier, office-holder, and as both Democrat and Republican.” “I am what I always have been and I intend to remain that way,” he insisted when a reporter asked Reagan if he was repositioning himself in the political center in anticipation of his White House run.

    Ultimately, though, the candidates who failed to unseat incumbents since 1984—the bipartisan Mondale-Dole-Kerry-Romney quartet—underscore this anti-establishment dynamic and hold special relevance heading into the Democratic 2020 primary contest. Romney is arguably the most glaring example of how a weak challenger can hobble the opposition party as it seeks to unseat an incumbent. Although Trump has tweaked Romney for having failed to work hard enough in that campaign (a “choke artist,” he called him), Romney’s far deeper problem was that he became the personification of the age of economic inequality—the greedy, win-at-all-costs corporate raider who grew super-rich on the backs of struggling families. The problem was as much his longtime affiliation with the most elitist elements in the Republican Party as it was with Wall Street. Romney had had only limited government experience, serving four years as Massachusetts governor. Still, as the son of former Michigan governor and GOP presidential candidate George Romney, Romney had deep party roots. As the country struggled to rebuild after the Great Recession, Romney seemed someone out of the GOP of yore’s central casting—a 1930s-era titan of capital who helped define the party as pro-industry, anti-worker and dismissive of middle-class Americans. His nomination made it easier for Obama to win re-election by opposing what he said was Romney’s elitist, backward-looking economic approach.

    In 1996, Senate Majority leader Dole failed to capture the hearts of the anti-Clinton right, came off as temperamentally cranky, and ran on a noble record of war service in a time after the Cold War had ended when voters prioritized other qualities in their presidents. Above all, Dole was quintessentially a wheeler-dealer, a career legislator and a party man to his core who had scant rationale for what his presidency would mean for most Americans. Lambasting Clinton as morally deficient (“Bozo’s on his way out!,” Dole assured one supporter after an October campaign rally in New Jersey), Dole communicated a bitter sense that Clinton’s moral defects had disqualified him for a second term—the antithesis of hope and change.

    Reagan would have been tough to defeat in 1984 no matter whom Democrats had nominated. The economy was beginning to expand after a recession and tensions with the Soviet Union had diminished from the height of Reagan’s bombast and the war scares with the Soviet Union in 1983. Still, Mondale was easily caricatured as an unapologetic liberal with a static vision born of 1960s-big-government activism that voters had at least in part rejected in Reagan’s 1980 victory. Having served as Carter’s vice president and as a senator from Minnesota, Mondale ran on what he described as his government “experience” and his record as “the most active and influential vice president in history.” On Election Day, he carried only his home state and Washington, D.C., in the Electoral College.

    Perhaps the strongest of the four challengers in question was Kerry, and he prosecuted the argument that Bush’s occupation of Iraq had failed with ardor. Yet his political experience and legislative record also became an albatross for him. He had served as a senator for decades, had voted for war in Iraq, and Republicans used his antiwar Vietnam activism and his patrician mien and background, a ‘wise man’ knowledgeable on foreign affairs and a symbol of his party’s establishment, to depict Kerry as vaguely anti-American. His career and class played into Bush’s structural advantage in the election as the incumbent commander-in-chief during wartime and made it easier for the Bush campaign to cast Kerry as unprincipled and a candidate of yesterday.


    What does any of this recent history reveal about the Democratic Party’s prospects going into 2020? Trump plans to run for re-election by attacking “certain Democrats” and “politicians” who refuse to aid “women and girls…tied up in the back seat of a car or a truck or a van” in what he falsely labeled a immigrant-fueled crime wave, as he argued in his Friday remarks from the Rose Garden declaring a national emergency. Running against Washington may not be as easy for Trump as he wishes it to be. His norm-shattering presidency has squandered one of the advantages incumbents traditionally have enjoyed, as he has failed in his first term to persuade a majority of the public that the president is actually presidential. So it is thus conceivable that a nominee with deep experience—think former Vice President Joe Biden—may well be a safe harbor in a Trump-induced Category 5 storm. It’s not crazy to envision at least some significant slice of the electorate seeking a candidate with policy knowledge, Washington experience and a stable character, bucking the trends of the past four decades.

    At the same time, the opposition party’s ignominious record since 1984 should factor in to any assessment of what is shaping up to be the deepest, most diverse crop of Democratic presidential candidates ever. The quartet of failed challengers reminds us that an electorate deeply hostile to Washington politicians will likely look askance at any Democrat whose legislative and political achievements define their quest for the American presidency. Democrats will need someone skilled at tapping people’s frustration with politics, someone credible on the central question of income inequality, someone who can speak to the party’s future rather than someone beholden to its past. Sadly, nominating the most qualified person to be president may squander a chance—perhaps the biggest since 1992—to oust an incumbent president.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Sherrod Brown’s opening: Less liberal than the liberals

    Sherrod Brown’s opening: Less liberal than the liberals


    In the Senate, Sherrod Brown is known as a scourge of Wall Street. But in a Democratic presidential primary with fellow Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren thundering away at bankers, Brown is viewed by many in the industry as a reasonable...



    In the Senate, Sherrod Brown is known as a scourge of Wall Street. But in a Democratic presidential primary with fellow Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren thundering away at bankers, Brown is viewed by many in the industry as a reasonable alternative.

    The Ohio senator has called for breaking up the big banks and has even fought against Democratic colleagues who supported financial deregulation. But according to bank representatives, Wall Street watchdogs and others who have worked closely with him in Congress, Brown has also earned a reputation as someone open to dialogue with the industry in his role as the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee. He has taken corporate PAC money and shown a practical streak focused on protecting workers in his home state, where finance is a major employer.

    Brown’s nuanced relationship with the banking industry illustrates the leftward shift in the Democratic Party and the rationale of his possible presidential campaign, as he travels the country arguing that he is a consistent progressive who doesn’t go too far and has proven how to win in the red-trending Midwest. Warren and Sanders have taken more belligerent approaches to finance, while Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have all been criticized at times as too close to big banks.

    And then, in the middle, there’s Brown, who has built a reputation as a fighter on finance but could yet be outflanked on the issue in a Democratic primary.

    "The financial services industry knows where it stands with Senator Brown, which isn’t something that can be said for the entire Democratic presidential field," said Isaac Boltansky, the director of policy research for Compass Point, an investment bank. "Senator Brown has strong views on the regulatory regime, which often places him in diametric opposition to the banking industry during key policy debates. But he has an appreciation for the industry’s role in Ohio and the national economy.”


    Brown told POLITICO he will take a step to further distance himself from big business if he runs for president: refusing corporate PAC money, which he has long accepted for his Senate campaigns.

    “My head is not turned by that,” Brown said in an interview. “And I can prove it."

    “It’s personal to me what Wall Street overreach and Wall Street greed can do,” Brown said, recalling the damage the foreclosure crisis wrought on Ohio. “It’s not personal that I aim at their executives or aim at them as a company as much as it is, how do we make good things happen? And we’ve had some success doing that.”

    After the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, Brown led a bipartisan push to break up "too-big-to-fail" banks. It fell short after fellow Democrats refused to join the cause. He opposed appointees picked by former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump whom he saw as too cozy with corporate America. He prodded executives like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to pay bank tellers and other workers higher wages.

    And last year, Brown led the charge against a landmark deregulation bill backed by 16 of his fellow Senate Democrats — a tense fight that played out for two weeks on the Senate floor. Brown was unable to stop the legislation, which became law in May.

    But Brown isn't following potential rivals in the 2020 primary's progressive lane on some big financial issues. He does not plan to endorse a push by Warren and others on the left that would revive the Glass-Steagall law, a set of Depression-era banking restrictions that were undone during the Clinton administration. He said it was a good law but that reimposing it isn't the panacea some make it out to be.


    “I do hear about Glass-Steagall oftentimes at town halls or whatever, but nobody’s convinced me it would make an appreciable difference,” Brown said. "Breaking up the banks is important. Consumer protections are important. Higher capital standards are important. Fighting deregulation is important. Glass-Steagall is well below that in importance."

    In an interview, Warren said she's never tried to convince Brown to sign on to her proposal to revive Glass-Steagall but said the two "share the same values."

    Brown has been willing to listen to the finance industry's concerns and sometimes take action, especially when it comes to smaller financial institutions that call Ohio home.

    “If you look at the Democrats’ side of the ledger, he’s more attractive than many others out there,” said Michael Adelman, the president and CEO of the Ohio Bankers League.

    One lobbyist for a large bank who declined to be named said Brown is "always willing to have the discussion."

    Brown championed one of the first changes to Democrats' signature financial reform law, Dodd-Frank, leading to a revision in 2014 that benefited insurers facing stiff capital requirements. When Senate Republicans later sought to water down the law in significant ways, he fought back and rallied Democrats, including Warren, to back a counter-proposal targeted at helping the smallest banks.

    And before Brown tried to tank last year's bank deregulation bill, which had big benefits for regional lenders with headquarters in Ohio, he was at the negotiating table trying to forge a potential compromise with the GOP chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

    “Even when I disagree with him, what I find is we can both get into the weeds pretty quick, which is a more productive conversation than just slinging slogans," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who co-authored the deregulation bill that Brown opposed.

    Brown is often on the opposite side of the "biggest, most dangerous banks on Wall Street," but most U.S. banks and financial institutions would agree with his view of the world, said Better Markets President and CEO Dennis Kelleher, who advocates for tougher finance industry oversight.

    "There's nobody who says they could not get a fair hearing from Sherrod Brown," Kelleher said.


    Brown already has ideas for how the finance industry would fit into a possible presidential platform, which is likely to revolve around the "dignity of work" theme that he's hitting on in a tour of early primary states.

    The list includes breaking up big banks, strengthening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, scrutinizing the payday lending industry and reinforcing bank capital standards.

    Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said there was "a helluva lot of distance" between Brown and other Democrats when it comes to Wall Street.

    "Sherrod seems to be able to keep an appropriate distance in terms of dependency on the banking interests in a way that some of the others do not," he said.

    But Brown is unsurprised that, to some bankers, he may be more palatable than others on the far left of the 2020 race.

    Brown said he works "all the time to understand what they're doing" as he tries to change bank behavior that may hurt consumers. Brown said he knows many Ohio bankers personally but that he's spent no more than three hours in aggregate with any Wall Street CEO.

    "I don't surprise people," Brown said. "My politics are what they are. If you deal with people honestly, they're more likely to understand what you're doing."


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    DOT’s Rosen tapped as deputy attorney general

    DOT’s Rosen tapped as deputy attorney general


    Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeff Rosen will be nominated as the next deputy attorney general, ending his stint as the second-in-command at the Transportation Department.The White House announced his nomination, which has been rumored for weeks, on...


    Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeff Rosen will be nominated as the next deputy attorney general, ending his stint as the second-in-command at the Transportation Department.

    The White House announced his nomination, which has been rumored for weeks, on Tuesday evening. Rosen will replace Rod Rosenstein, who is stepping down next month amid continuing turmoil over ongoing Justice Department probes into allegations involving President Donald Trump and his aides' involvement with Russia.

    Rosen is an experienced attorney with a deep resume, including prior stints in previous administrations as well as time in the private sector. He was easily confirmed to the post at DOT, though his confirmation hearing was not without some headaches from Democrats who mostly were concerned about his past stances on climate change and environmental issues.

    As DOT deputy secretary, he was in charge of day-to-day operations, a role in which he led deregulatory efforts, including the push to roll back the Obama administration’s fuel efficiency rules. He also was involved with grant decisions.


    He also criticized Senate Democrats (most of whom had opposed his confirmation) for holding up the nomination of Federal Railroad Administration chief Ronald Batory. New York and New Jersey lawmakers had delayed Batory’s confirmation because of the administration’s opposition to the contentious "Gateway" project to construct a new rail tunnel under New York's Hudson River.

    He has been in the number two role at DOT since he was confirmed by the Senate in May 2017. Before that, he had been general counsel at DOT and at the Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration. He’s also worked at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, where he briefly overlapped with new attorney general William Barr.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Teen in video face-off with Native American sues Washington Post for $250 million

    Teen in video face-off with Native American sues Washington Post for $250 million


    The Kentucky teenager at the center of a confrontation last month with a Native American man at the Lincoln Memorial has sued The Washington Post, alleging that the newspaper made “false and defamatory accusations” against him in its coverage of the...


    The Kentucky teenager at the center of a confrontation last month with a Native American man at the Lincoln Memorial has sued The Washington Post, alleging that the newspaper made “false and defamatory accusations” against him in its coverage of the episode.

    Nicholas Sandmann, 16, a student at Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky., is seeking $250 million in damages from The Post — the same amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid for ownership of the paper in 2013, according to a copy of the suit Sandmann’s attorneys posted on their website.

    Among various complaints, the suit alleges that The Post “engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism” to target Sandmann “because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against” President Donald Trump.

    In video accounts of the Jan. 18 encounter, a grinning Sandmann is depicted wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap as he stares down Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder and Vietnam veteran who sings and beats a drum as Covington students laugh and jeer around him.

    “The Post’s campaign to target Nicholas in furtherance of its political agenda,” the suit alleges, “was carried out by using its vast financial resources to enter the bully pulpit by publishing a series of false and defamatory print and online articles which effectively provided a worldwide megaphone to Phillips and other anti-Trump individuals and entities to smear a young boy who was in its view an acceptable casualty in their war against the President.”


    Sandmann’s attorneys, Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Covington, and suggested in a statement that additional litigation would be forthcoming.

    “Lin and Todd will continue to bring wrongdoers before the court to seek damages in compensation for the harm so many have done to the Sandmann family,” they said. “This is only the beginning.”

    The Post did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    A team of private investigators retained by the Covington Diocese concluded last week that the students did not instigate the confrontation and found no evidence that they made “racist or offensive statements” to Phillips.

    Widespread backlash against the Covington students abated after reports surfaced of a third group, known as the Black Hebrew Israelites, antagonizing both Native Americans demonstrating as part of the Indigenous Peoples March as well as the Covington students and other participants in the anti-abortion March for Life protest.


    Trump throughout his presidency has attacked The Post for its White House coverage, and singled out Bezos, the world’s richest man, for ridicule on Twitter in January by calling him “Jeff Bozo.”

    Tensions between the two billionaires ratcheted up earlier this month after Bezos accused the National Enquirer of “extortion and blackmail.” The tabloid’s owner, American Media, threatened that it would publish compromising photos of Bezos and his mistress if he did not publicly affirm that the Enquirer’s coverage was not “politically motivated or influenced by political forces,” according to an email from an AMI lawyer that Bezos published in a blog post.

    AMI's CEO, David Pecker, is a longtime friend of the president‘s who helped facilitate “catch and kill” deals to buy the rights to damaging stories about Trump and then make sure they were not published.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Beto's call to remove part of the wall provokes Trump's ire

    Beto's call to remove part of the wall provokes Trump's ire


    EL PASO, Texas — The feud between President Donald Trump and Beto O’Rourke over immigration resumed at a distance Tuesday, driving the politics of a border wall further into the 2020 presidential campaign.After O’Rourke said on MSNBC last week that...


    EL PASO, Texas — The feud between President Donald Trump and Beto O’Rourke over immigration resumed at a distance Tuesday, driving the politics of a border wall further into the 2020 presidential campaign.

    After O’Rourke said on MSNBC last week that he would “absolutely” remove an existing stretch of border wall from his hometown of El Paso, Trump told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that the statement marked “probably the end of his political career.”

    The opposite of that assessment appeared to be true nearly 2,000 miles away in the border town of El Paso, where O’Rourke did not announce his run for president on Tuesday — but might as well have.

    Tying his political identity to this heavily Hispanic, heavily Democratic region of the Southwest, the former Texas congressman has seized on Trump’s border politics to create an opening for himself in the Democratic primary. In a speech accepting El Paso Inc.’s “El Pasoan of the Year” award, he said that on issues ranging from climate change to immigration, “El Paso is the answer.”

    The call and response laid bare the durability of an issue that defined the 2016 presidential race — and is shaping the earliest stages of the 2020 campaign.

    Trump’s and O’Rourke’s jabs came a week after the president appeared in El Paso to redouble his call for building a border wall, hosting a campaign-style rally that O’Rourke met with a massive march and protest. O’Rourke said Tuesday that while Trump “turned the focus of this country to the United States-Mexico border, … we stood up, not against him necessarily, but we stood up for ourselves.”


    After the dueling rallies, O’Rourke traveled to the Midwest to meet with students in Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., before speaking at a gathering of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute in Chicago on Saturday. He has placed Trump’s call for border wall funding at the center of his likely campaign, arguing that walls are not only ineffective at reducing crime — a point supported by statistics in El Paso — but also that they endanger immigrants by encouraging them to cross the border in more remote locations.

    “We don’t need another wall. We don’t need another fence,” O’Rourke said in Chicago. “Walls do not, as the president has claimed, save lives. Walls end lives.”

    In recent weeks, O’Rourke has outlined proposals for extending citizenship to undocumented people known as Dreamers — who were brought the country illegally as children — and offering a path to citizenship for other undocumented immigrants. And his remark on MSNBC that he would remove existing barriers in El Paso forced other Democrats to respond.

    Asked about O'Rourke’s statement on Friday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told Fox News, “I’d have to ask folks in that part of the country to see whether the fencing that exists today is helpful or unhelpful.” But, she added, “I could look at it and see which part he means and why, and if it makes sense, I could support it.”

    On Tuesday, O’Rourke expanded on his remarks to MSNBC, telling reporters that “there is a role for physical barriers in some places” and that he would not necessarily remove border fencing in areas outside El Paso.

    “I would work with local stakeholders, the property owners, the communities, those who actually live there to determine the best security solution,” O’Rourke said. “We saw in El Paso a solution in search of a problem imposed on us by people who did not live here.”

    For Democrats confronting a looming general election campaign against Trump, the politics of immigration are fraught. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll last week suggested that the American electorate is split on the construction of a border wall, while earlier polls indicated that the subject resonates more strongly with Republicans than Democrats. Even in El Paso, some supporters fret about O’Rourke focusing so heavily on a subject that Trump used to win election in 2016.


    “I worry about the general election politics,” Hector Gutierrez Jr., an El Paso-based public affairs consultant, said. “But I admire the fact he’s willing to take a stand.”

    Celinda Lake, a leading Democratic pollster and strategist, said immigration “fits Beto’s brand” and “he’s kind of in a unique position on this, having been a congressman from that area.”

    “I think the major reason that so many people are engaging on immigration is because it is a seminal contrast with Donald Trump,” Lake said. “And right now, Democrats want to go beat Donald Trump.”

    Frank Luntz, a veteran Republican consultant and pollster, wrote in an email that “it makes perfect sense for the Democratic candidates to focus on immigration, not because they are anti-wall but because it allows them to be anti-Trump.”

    He added, “I’m surprised none of them have come up with a chant like ‘scrap the wall’ for their supporters.”

    O’Rourke’s attention to immigration comes even as other Democratic contenders refocus on health care, childcare and taxes — and as O’Rourke asserts more centrist elements of his profile. While lauding Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday for adding “so much to the national conversation,” O’Rourke said, “I’m a capitalist.”

    Asked about the role of democratic socialism in the Democratic Party, he said, “I don’t see how we’re able to meet any of the fundamental challenges that we have as a country without in part harnessing the power of the market.”

    O’Rourke called climate change, one of the issues on which Sanders’ focuses, “the most immediate example of that.”

    “If you’re going to bring the total innovation and ingenuity of this country to bear,” O’Rourke said, “our system as a country, our economy is going to have to be part of that.”

    O’Rourke’s remarks came after Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, announced that he would run again for president in 2020. O’Rourke was a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton atthe 2016 Democratic National Convention and said he voted for her in the primary.

    “I think it’s great that he’s getting in," O'Rourke said of Sanders. "I think he’s added so much to the national conversation, whether it is health care, whether it’s access to higher education, whether it’s the power of small-dollar donors vs. the concentration of power that you see in PACs and the very wealthiest in this country.”

    O’Rourke, who has been in talks with potential campaign strategists about a 2020 run, said he plans to decide within two weeks whether he'll enter the race. But he said he “won’t be limited” by that timetable.


    O’Rourke did not rule out running for Senate or some other office.

    “I’m trying to figure out how I can best serve this country,” he said.

    Speaking to about 600 people at El Paso’s Fort Bliss for the “El Pasoan of the Year” ceremony, O’Rourke called the award “the honor of a lifetime, and the pinnacle of what has made me who I am.”

    O’Rourke talks about El Paso relentlessly, casting the West Texas city as an example of a diverse community reveling in its multiculturalism. Situated across the border from Juárez, Mexico, El Paso County has a population that is more than 80 percent Hispanic, and the region stands as a Democratic oasis in a heavily Republican state.

    In a video played in the city Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) praised O’Rourke for the award he was receiving. Kennedy said that for as long as he had known O’Rourke, the Texan had always sought to “elevate” his hometown.

    When O’Rourke took the stage, he joked that he wasn’t sure until he saw the video that Pelosi knew he existed.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Ross’ financial disclosure rejected by government ethics watchdog

    Ross’ financial disclosure rejected by government ethics watchdog


    The head of the Office of Government Ethics has refused to approve Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s 2018 financial disclosure report, citing an inaccuracy concerning the former investing mogul's holdings of BankUnited stock. The action is the latest...


    The head of the Office of Government Ethics has refused to approve Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s 2018 financial disclosure report, citing an inaccuracy concerning the former investing mogul's holdings of BankUnited stock.

    The action is the latest blow for Ross, who has repeatedly drawn scrutiny over his personal finances since he was nominated for the Commerce job. He is scheduled to testify next month before a House committee.

    “OGE is declining to certify Secretary Ross’s 2018 financial disclosure report because that report was not accurate and he was not in compliance with his ethics agreement at the time of the report,” Emory Rounds, the OGE director, said in a Feb. 15 letter.

    In an Oct. 31, 2018, report, Ross said he had “a mistaken belief” that an order to sell BankUnited holdings had been executed in 2017. That error was featured in a Campaign Legal Center complaint sent earlier this month to the Commerce Department’s inspector general that said if the false filing was knowingly made then that would be a violation of law.


    In a statement on Tuesday, Ross said he held 100 BankUnited shares totaling about $3,700, “an amount that federal regulations deem de minimis and below the threshold of a possible conflict of interest.”

    “While I am disappointed that my report was not certified, I remain committed to complying with my ethics agreement and adhering to the guidance of Commerce ethics officials,” Ross said.

    The Campaign Legal Center on Tuesday applauded OGE’s action.

    “It confirmed what we have been saying for a while now and it shows that OGE is also concerned about Secretary Ross’s commitment to upholding the public’s trust in government,” said Delaney Marsco, a legal counsel at CLC.

    Last year, congressional Democrats asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate potential insider trading by the Cabinet secretary. He is set to appear before the House Oversight Committee on March 14.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Trump rolls out massive corporate-style campaign structure for 2020

    Trump rolls out massive corporate-style campaign structure for 2020


    President Donald Trump is assembling a sprawling, corporate-style reelection campaign with 10 divisions reporting to a single senior adviser, campaign manager Brad Parscale — a top-down structure that represents everything Trump’s improvisational...



    President Donald Trump is assembling a sprawling, corporate-style reelection campaign with 10 divisions reporting to a single senior adviser, campaign manager Brad Parscale — a top-down structure that represents everything Trump’s improvisational 2016 effort was not.

    The organization, described in interviews by a half-dozen Trump top political aides, prioritizes the campaign’s digital- and data-focused strategy, in keeping with Parscale’s expertise. The campaign has hired more than 30 full-time staffers so far and has begun building out a surrogate network devoted exclusively to putting pro-Trump talking heads on TV and radio and in newspaper op-eds — a move that reflects Trump’s fixation with how he’s portrayed in the media.

    Nearly a dozen top advisers briefed Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on the emerging structure Tuesday evening at the White House.

    The setup has the hallmarks of a more traditional campaign associated with a president running for reelection. But coming from this ad-lib president — whose 2016 effort was wracked by constant infighting that spilled into the press, no apparent organizational structure, and unclear lines of authority — it marks a major departure from business as usual.

    No organization by itself can inoculate the campaign from the omnipresent drama that’s surrounded Trump since he announced for president four years ago. But the campaign sees the structure as an attempt to run as functional an operation as possible.

    “I was one of the few members of the original 2016 team with prior presidential campaign experience. While ultimately successful, the campaign was primarily staffed with inexperienced and untested political operatives and often lacked a cohesive organizational structure,” said Michael Glassner, a presidential campaign veteran who serves as chief operating officer on the reelect.


    “For the 2020 reelection,” he added, “we have a vastly different operation.”

    The plan isn’t without potential downsides. With such a large payroll at such an early stage of the campaign, the campaign runs the risk of over-spending before Democrats have even picked their nominee.

    Even before the hiring spree, the campaign’s spending had drawn scrutiny. The reelect spent $2 million more than it raised between the beginning of October and the end of December.

    But the Trump team had long planned for the early spending. In 2017, Republican National Committee and Trump campaign officials quietly decided to invest over $10 million — which would have otherwise been spent on midterm races — on a two-year program to identify small donors. The initiative was used to expand the campaign’s list of contributors, whose donations are being used to finance the Trump 2020 infrastructure.

    To some extent, Trump is simply exploiting the natural advantages of incumbency. Sitting presidents have long used their perch to prepare for reelection by hiring staff, building a fundraising war chest, and developing a national campaign infrastructure.

    Yet at a time when Trump’s poll numbers have ebbed, the intense early planning also reflects the political peril the president is confronting.

    “He’s a different kind of president and you have to build a structure that supports him in a tough race,” said John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who advised the Trump 2016 campaign and is expected to work on the reelect. “You have to be more flexible and you have to be more ready for things that are unexpected.”


    The Trump political world remains deeply unstable and prone to changes in leadership. Many current and former Trump White House officials are convinced there will be turnover at the top as the 2020 campaign intensifies. There's also widespread concern tensions will flare between the campaign and the administration if either side is perceived as making a mistake.

    Yet the new organization is intended to clarify the decision-making structure. And squarely at the top of that chain is Parscale. Each of the 10 department heads will report to the 43-year-old campaign manager, and he will serve as the main point person for Trump and his family.

    The Trump campaign named three new department chiefs on Tuesday. White House aide Cole Blocker will serve as finance director, Agriculture Department official Tim Murtaugh as communications director, and Marc Lotter, a former Pence adviser, as director of surrogates.

    Ten senior staffers are expected to take up residence in the campaign’s 21,000 square-foot Rosslyn, Virginia, headquarters by the end of the month. In total, the campaign expects to have nearly 100 people on payroll by the end of the year.

    Parscale has quietly been conducting interviews since late last year and has reached out to an array of senior Republicans.

    While the organization’s tight structure is reminiscent of past presidential reelection bids, Trump aides say the campaign will be non-traditional in some ways. They point out that two digital strategists, Parscale and Gary Coby, have been tapped for senior roles – an indication that digital and data will form the nucleus of the campaign.


    Two other top campaign aides, meanwhile, have launched an unprecedented effort to stave off mayhem at the GOP convention and to ensure that its a smooth running pro-Trump infomercial. Another top official, Chris Carr, is overseeing a field deployment plan that, for the first time, is being run in conjunction with the RNC.

    And in another break from precedent, the campaign, with the RNC, is planning an early and aggressive effort to brand the Democratic field as being out-of-the mainstream and socialist. The offensive is expected to be spearheaded by a handful of communications staffers working out of the Rosslyn headquarters, with assistance from others stationed in swing states.

    At the campaign’s request, the RNC has begun funding video tracking efforts of Democrats while they campaign in early primary states.

    “Now we’re an incumbent,” said McLaughlin. “But he’s really still a nontraditional president.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    ‘He’s on edge’: Roger Stone silencing expected after barbed comments

    ‘He’s on edge’: Roger Stone silencing expected after barbed comments


    Roger Stone scored a small legal victory last Friday, but it took him only four days to blow it.Now, even Stone’s friends expect the longtime Donald Trump associate to get hit with a sweeping gag order preventing him from commenting about his case on...



    Roger Stone scored a small legal victory last Friday, but it took him only four days to blow it.

    Now, even Stone’s friends expect the longtime Donald Trump associate to get hit with a sweeping gag order preventing him from commenting about his case on Thursday at an emergency hearing in Washington that the judge called after him posting a threatening message about her on Instagram.

    There’s even a worst case scenario in which District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson sends the self-proclaimed GOP dirty trickster to jail.

    That’s the reality the 66-year-old Stone faces despite his attempts to walk back a Monday afternoon social media post that complained about “Deep State hitman Robert Mueller” and the “Obama appointed Judge” — and featured an image of Jackson with what looked like crosshairs in the corner — by deleting the message and then issuing Jackson a formal apology.

    His post came less than 100 hours after Jackson decided to limit Stone’s commentary only while he was at the courthouse — widely perceived as a win for Stone at the time.

    “He’s on edge. Roger probably needs to be slapped on the wrist,” said Tyler Nixon, a longtime friend and counsel to Stone.


    Stone, whose barbed commentary has been tied to fundraising pleas, is “learning the contours of what he can get away with saying and legitimately raise money for his defense and frankly protest what he legitimately believes to be a miscarriage of justice in his prosecution,” Nixon said.

    “It’s a fine line and I’d hope the judge will enable him to make the couple mistakes and take it seriously,” he added.

    But it’s not clear Jackson will give Stone any more chances.

    Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has earned a no-nonsense reputation in the Mueller probe cases she has overseen, including charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, Manafort’s campaign deputy. In that case, she slapped a gag order on Manafort and Gates, as well as their attorneys, just days after Mueller’s initial indictments were filled. She later sent Manafort to jail after the special counsel accused him of witness tampering — that’s where the 69-year old longtime GOP operative has remained ever since.

    The judge has a wide latitude in terms of how to deal with Stone. Jackson can give him a stern warning or impose the same kind of restrictive gag order that she issued Friday for Mueller's and Stone’s lawyers — but not for Stone himself — and potential case witnesses. She also could impose restrictions on Stone like requiring him to wear a GPS monitoring device or limiting his travel — Jackson already has set parameters that require him to get the court’s permission to venture beyond South Florida, New York or the D.C. region. A fine or jail aren’t out of the question either.

    “The gag order may be the lesser of his eventual problems if it turns out that when they investigate his conduct the prosecutors could decide that that constitutes an effort to intimidate or threaten the judge,” said Shanlon Wu, a defense attorney who previously represented Gates.

    A spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service said the department responsible for protecting federal judges is aware of the threat Stone allegedly made against Jackson. But it declined to discuss any specific threats or how it protects judges.

    Even before his Instagram post, Stone was shaping up to be anything but a conventional defendant. He’s spent the weeks since his indictment last month going on national television and doing interviews from his South Florida driveway. In court, his lawyers have filed motions objecting to Jackson’s assignment to their case and accusing Mueller of releasing Stone’s indictment before it had secured court approval.


    Stone’s legal strategy, his friends and allies say, was born after observing Manafort’s legal strategy.

    “Roger watched other people defend themselves quietly and lose,” said Michael Caputo, a former Trump 2016 campaign adviser and longtime Stone friend who has been questioned in the Mueller investigation. “He’s made the conscious decision to speak loudly and clearly about his innocence throughout the entire process.”

    Mueller’s team indicted Stone late last month on charges of lying, obstruction of justice and witness tampering — crimes that could get him more than four years in prison if he is convicted. Preparing for trial, the special counsel’s prosecutors had sought a gag order on Stone out of fear his comments would affect the fairness of a trial.

    Stone’s latest predicament is of his own making. The image of Jackson posted on Instagram on Monday seemed to feature crosshairs in the corner. Others noted that the picture came from a conspiracy theory website that has an anti-Jewish perspective.

    He later deleted the photo and posted a version without crosshairs. By the end of the evening, though, Stone had deleted that photo, as well, and his lawyers submitted an apology to the court.

    “Please inform the Court that the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted,” Stone wrote in Monday night’s court filing. “I had no intention of disrespecting the Court and humbly apologize to the court for the transgression.”

    In an email to POLITICO, Stone said he would attend Thursday’s hearing as ordered.

    “I have no further comment at this time,” he wrote.


    One of Stone’s lawyers, Bruce Rogow, said he’d also be in attendance Thursday but did not answer a question about a potential shakeup on Stone’s legal team in the wake of Monday’s incident. Two other Stone attorneys didn’t respond to requests for comment, though both are restricted from speaking about the case under the gag order.

    In interviews on Tuesday, Stone’s friends chalked up the Instagram post to a mistake that’s been widely misinterpreted by the media as an attack on the judge. They say Stone was trying to get across that Jackson was appointed by Obama.

    “That’s what he wanted to get across. But it can certainly be interpreted differently,” said Annemarie McAvoy, another attorney who was on Gates' defense team. “That’s why as an attorney you want the client to only speak through you or with close supervision.”

    Stone needs to come to terms with the fact his every move is being scrutinized and could be used against him, Nixon said.

    “I’m not going to defend what was put up. My advice is not to have done that,” he said. “There’s an adjustment period Roger is having to get used to.”

    Wu, a former federal prosecutor, predicted Stone would eventually recognize the legal peril he faces by excessively commenting on his own case. “He might kick and fuss a little bit in the beginning but once he gets a whiff of reality he’s going to cave,” Wu said. “I don’t think he’s going to show himself to be some sort of warrior for a First Amendment cause.”

    Others doubt whether Stone would ever take his lawyers’ advice and stop discussing the case. McAvoy said Jackson’s initial ruling Friday set up Stone for the legal morass he’s now in.

    “She gave him just enough rope to get himself into trouble,” she said. “I don’t know if he’s capable of keeping his mouth shut. It’s just not in his personality and it’s very hard to force someone to change his personality.”

    Jackson on Friday signaled she’d be keeping close tabs on Stone, noting that while her initial order allowed him to keep talking about the case, she retained the power to amend her order “if necessary.” She also warned Stone that any excessive public comments could come back to bite him if he complained later on about excessive pretrial publicity that he himself caused.

    In the longer term, McAvoy said Stone should be mindful that has publicly targeted the judge who would be sentencing him if he ends up pleading guilty or a jury convicts him on Mueller’s charges.

    “She’s not going to forget that,” McAvoy said. “There’s a fine line between an aggressive defense and upsetting the judge to the extent that you then have payback from the judge during sentencing.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    California Republicans look into the abyss

    California Republicans look into the abyss


    SACRAMENTO — California’s establishment Republicans are making their final stand. After decades of decline and a devastating 2018 election cycle that gutted an already decimated state party, the GOP’s more moderate wing is gearing up for a state...



    SACRAMENTO — California’s establishment Republicans are making their final stand.

    After decades of decline and a devastating 2018 election cycle that gutted an already decimated state party, the GOP’s more moderate wing is gearing up for a state convention this weekend that some argue is its last opportunity to avert collapse.

    A battle over the state party chairmanship offers two competing visions for the future. One embraces President Donald Trump; the other focuses on the nuts and bolts of party building and organizing.

    The two approaches aren’t complementary. Trump, who lost California by 30 percentage points in 2016, is highly unpopular there: Nearly two-thirds of California's voters disapprove of his performance as president.

    “What it really comes down to is whether a party’s first obligation is to motivate its base — or to reach out beyond that base,’’ said Dan Schnur, a former GOP strategist and adviser to Sen. John McCain who is a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and is now an independent. “We’ll see what they decide.”

    As it stands, the Republican Party in the nation’s most populous state is barely breathing. The midterm elections saw the landslide victory of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, Democrats win supermajorities in both state legislative chambers and the flipping of seven GOP House seats.


    Whomever California Republicans elect to succeed Jim Brulte, the former state senator who has led the party for six years, won’t be able to reverse the party’s fortunes anytime soon. But he or she might be able to halt the downward spiral. For weeks, candidates have been lobbying, mailing, phoning and campaigning up and down the state to offer their prescriptions.

    Jessica Patterson, the CEO of the California Trailblazers — a candidate-recruitment program blessed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — has racked up the lion’s share of endorsements from the state's GOP elected officials.

    A Latina from a Southern California working-class family, Patterson voted for Trump. But she argues that her leadership of Trailblazers has armed her with the experience and the strategic knowledge necessary to build the state party back to its former strength — and reassure key donors regarding its rebound.

    In her view, Republicans must “stay on message” — jobs, economy, education, pro-business policies — and concentrate on the damage the ruling party has done in Sacramento.

    “Some people have already given up on my party, and they say it’s not salvageable,’’ Patterson told POLITICO. “I don’t accept that. I love my party too much.’’

    But the two conservative grassroots activists who are challenging her lay the blame for the 2018 battering at her feet.

    Former gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen, a former state assemblyman and a fire-breathing favorite of tea party activists, derides Patterson as part of a status quo that has "produced a record of abysmal failure in GOP politics in California."

    "The GOP establishment has told Republicans for years that they need to look and sound more like Democrats — to be Republican-lite," he said.

    Allen argued that neither Brulte nor Patterson has shown the robust support for Trump that the president deserves — and that he contends would fire up and energize the GOP base.

    “Clearly, the Republican Party must stand for Republican values — and the Republican president,’’ he said. “This is truly a Republican president who has delivered — and among the 4.5 million Republicans in California, I have yet to find a room that is not overwhelmingly in support of him.’’

    Allen, who backs Trump's anti-illegal immigration rhetoric and his call for a border wall, is reprising the populist rhetoric that marked his failed campaign for the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nomination — and helped him amass an unprecedented mailing list of 25,000 activist GOP donors and supporters.

    The nominee, the more moderate multimillionaire businessman John Cox, admitted he didn’t vote for Trump and lost in a landslide to Newsom.


    “I’m the candidate who has the energy to take back the entire state,’’ he said. “We need excitement in today’s California Republican Party ... a bold new vision that is built by Republicans, for Republicans — and who believe in Republican values.”

    But Allen may end up splitting the conservative grassroots vote with another anti-establishment Republican, Stephen Frank, the publisher of the conservative newsletter California Political Review.

    A former party official whose roots in state GOP activism go back decades, Frank lambastes the current state party leadership, saying it “has unilaterally disarmed,’’ failed to mount competitive candidates and voter registration campaigns, and was outplayed by the Democratic Party in the 2018 elections, in which Democrats flipped House seats with aggressive practices like ballot harvesting.



    Worse, he said, the state GOP lacked a cohesive message on key issues like education and job opportunities — even while it ran away from President Trump.

    “We were being told Trump is so poorly liked in this state that we shouldn’t talk about him,’’ said Frank, who’s a regular on conservative radio stations. “We should have been talking about the miracle of the economic recovery under Trump, his willingness to stand up in trade negotiations, his ability to stop ISIS, and his creation of 400,000 manufacturing jobs. …We were so afraid of saying 'Donald Trump' that they forgot the great stuff that Trump did."

    The political demolition derby underscores divisions that have dragged at the party for years.

    “It’s a nightmare election,’’ said Hoover Institution fellow Lanhee Chen, a former adviser to the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio. The establishment vs. grassroots contest is “the same fight we’ve been having since [former Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger left office," he said.

    Those divisions mirror the battles waged within the national Republican Party, he said, in which Trump’s base defends the president’s positions and sees his leadership as the key to future electoral successes even as some mainstream Republicans in elected office wince at his rhetoric and effects on the GOP brand.

    GOP consultant Robert Molnar, advising Frank, said 2018's results put the problem in stark relief. "We have lost seats every cycle. ... How are you touting that a success?’’ he said. “It’s been a total failure. They’re not even an opposition party at this point. Right now, the California Republican Party is as dead as you can imagine. … It’s ashes.”

    Leading Republicans say the situation will deteriorate even more if either Allen or Frank claims the chairmanship. Former Assembly Minority leader Chad Mayes pushed back against Allen's jabs at the GOP establishment and elected officials. He tweeted a prediction that if Allen wins the chairmanship, “more sitting legislators will leave” the California Republican Party.


    “Winning in politics requires addition,” Mayes said. “Demagoguery and division proves to be a losing strategy.”

    Brulte, the current chairman, shrugs off the criticism from grassroots candidates, saying that despite inheriting a party in disarray six years ago, he has rescued it from financial ruin and will leave the state GOP able to “pay all of its bills.”

    “Campaigns for party office can be just as rough and tumble as a campaign for public office,’’ he said, estimating that the three candidates for chairman will collectively spend over $400,0000 reaching out to the 1,383 delegates at this convention.

    Brulte rejects the notion that the party hasn’t supported voter registration efforts or reached out to its voters, calling that idea “factually incorrect.’’ He said in 2016, independent groups backing GOP causes spent more than $2 million registering GOP voters in California.

    The next chairman will have to address those criticisms — and some more immediate matters of party operations. After years of unpaid fundraising and oversight in the job, Brulte began getting paid — $21,000 a month — after new party bylaws were adopted in October 2017. After Sunday’s election, the party’s board will decide if the new chairperson would be paid — and what the level of compensation would be.

    “It’s incumbent on the delegates to decide which campaign and which candidate they believe and trust will do the job,” Brulte, who’s not endorsing any candidate, said. “They are all part of the establishment. Don’t let anybody fool you.”

    Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    ‘Tom who?’: Dems brush off Steyer’s impeachment push

    ‘Tom who?’: Dems brush off Steyer’s impeachment push


    House Democrats are rallying behind Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler as he faces growing pressure from the left flank to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.Driving the campaign is billionaire Democratic donor Tom...


    House Democrats are rallying behind Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler as he faces growing pressure from the left flank to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

    Driving the campaign is billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer, who is spearheading a $40 million campaign to push key House Democratic chairs investigating Trump and his administration to begin holding impeachment hearings.

    Steyer’s Need to Impeach PAC held a town hall in Nadler’s Manhattan district Tuesday evening, and the group is running a 30-second television ad powered by a six-figure digital buy encouraging Nadler’s constituents to press him to back immediate impeachment.

    Nadler is also facing rumblings of a primary challenge after skating to reelection last year in one of the most liberal congressional districts in the country; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley last year was a wake-up call for Democrats, and Steyer himself has left the door open to wading into Democratic primaries.

    When asked about Steyer’s efforts targeting Nadler, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a fellow New York Democrat and Judiciary Committee member who also has found himself under scrutiny from the left, quipped: “Tom who?”


    It’s a sign that even as Steyer’s involvement is causing some headaches for Democrats, lawmakers are rallying behind Nadler and dismissing demands among the Democratic base to go after Trump sooner rather than later.

    Democrats are particularly frustrated that Steyer refuses to rule out backing challengers in next year’s House primaries less than two months after Democrats took the majority in the first place. In addition to Nadler, Steyer’s initial targets include Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — and the billionaire has vowed to take his campaign to rank-and-file Democrats’ districts, too.

    “We should not be spending money now defending incumbents in primaries. It’s stupid,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member who has backed impeaching Trump and frequently skewers the president on Twitter. “I fully support the chairman, and to do a primary challenge against him is stupid.”

    Nadler’s office declined to comment on the record for this story, but his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee — who uniformly backed the chairman’s reluctance to hold impeachment hearings until more evidence against the president emerges — remain in lockstep behind him as they dismiss the growing pressure campaign as irrelevant and counterproductive.

    “His district, mostly the West Side of New York — there’s not hardly a more liberal place in New York,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a member of the Judiciary panel. “Tom Steyer can run some ads, but it doesn’t compare to what people in the delis would say to Jerry in the West Side of New York.”

    Privately, Democrats — and their Republican counterparts — on Capitol Hill believe the committee eventually will hold impeachment proceedings against Trump. Those hearings would begin only when Democrats feel that they are on solid ground, based on facts and evidence that emerges, to do so.


    But that’s not enough for Steyer. In an interview before his town hall on Tuesday night, Steyer said his effort is simply giving voice to the tens of thousands of Nadler’s constituents who signed his petition indicating their support for impeaching the president.

    “He needs to know where they stand. This isn’t about me for one second,” Steyer said. “There is a split here between the elected officials inside the Beltway, and American citizens. We need these hearings to bring the truth to the American people.”

    “They voted for Congressman Nadler because they want some action,” he added. “That’s why they turned out.”

    When pressed about using his PAC’s resources to back challengers to Nadler or other House Democrats, Steyer wouldn’t rule it out.

    “I’m assuming all of these Democrats are going to listen to their constituents and go, 'Oh my gosh, we really need to get this show on the road,'” he said.

    In multiple interviews, however, the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members pushed back on Steyer and revealed a united front in favor of Nadler’s strategy on impeachment.

    “It’s a lot easier to govern from the outside than it is from the inside,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a former police detective who praised Nadler’s “strategic and methodical” approach.

    “Everybody’s frustrated,” Demings said of Steyer’s efforts. “But frustration alone is never enough to lead any type of hearing or investigation.”

    Still, Nadler is taking concrete steps to placate his left flank, lawmakers say.

    He’s vowed to continue pressing now-former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about his brief supervision of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, even threatening to subpoena him for a deposition. Earlier this month, Nadler hired Norm Eisen, a former White House attorney in the Obama administration, and Barry Berke, a criminal defense lawyer specializing in white-collar crimes, as legal consultants for the committee. Both have openly mused about Trump’s alleged crimes, including obstruction of justice. And later this month, Nadler is expected to spearhead a legislative effort to reverse the president’s use of a national emergency declaration to build a border wall.

    “They know abuse of power, they know obstruction of justice,” Cohen said of Eisen and Berke. “You can’t say that Chairman Nadler is not proceeding in the right direction and doing it in any way but a scholarly, diligent method — and that’s what we need to be successful.”


    Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who counts Steyer as a constituent of her San Francisco district, said the billionaire’s efforts are a “waste of time and money” and suggested that Steyer should focus his efforts on defeating Republicans rather than undermining Democrats.

    “The fact is, you are by definition as an advocate dissatisfied, relentless and persistent. Whatever the electeds are doing is a compromise, it’s not the purity of what we want,” Pelosi said in an interview recently. “I understand that, but they have to also understand that if you're going to succeed on the path that you’re on, you have to do it right.”

    Republicans, meanwhile, are giddy at the prospect that Democrats are grappling with an insurgency within their own party. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Nadler is already bowing to the pressure from donors like Steyer, citing the Eisen and Berke hirings as evidence.

    “Tom Steyer was trying to impeach the president in November 2016 — I mean, let’s get a break here,” Collins said in an interview. “It’s sad that you’re taking a chairman who has just taken over the committee for the first time in eight years, and you’re forcing him to do stuff that he knows is not practical at this point. I think it’s affecting a lot of our committee. It’s just sad.”

    Yet those close to Nadler on the committee say he’s not worried about the pressure campaign and doesn’t believe a credible primary challenger could emerge. But Democrats who have been down this road before warned that Steyer’s efforts could backfire.

    Julian Epstein, who served as chief counsel for the House Judiciary Committee’s Democrats during the fight to impeach President Bill linton, said if Nadler bends to pressure from Steyer, he risks mirroring Republicans’ unsuccessful playbook when they tried — and failed — to oust Clinton from office 20 years ago.

    “You don’t get to impeachment by politicizing it and trying to strong-arm potential allies,” Epstein said. “That will only misserve the goal of impeachment by branding it as liberal billionaires’ pet project rather than a constitutional undertaking driven by facts and law.”

    Heather Caygle contributed to this report.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Judge OKs suit aimed at halting Obama library in Chicago

    Judge OKs suit aimed at halting Obama library in Chicago


    CHICAGO — A judge on Tuesday gave the green light to a lawsuit filed by a parks-advocacy group that aims to stop for good the delayed construction of former President Barack Obama’s $500 million presidential center in a Chicago park beside Lake...


    CHICAGO — A judge on Tuesday gave the green light to a lawsuit filed by a parks-advocacy group that aims to stop for good the delayed construction of former President Barack Obama’s $500 million presidential center in a Chicago park beside Lake Michigan.

    Some supporters of the project fear the lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks could force Obama — who launched his political career in Chicago — to build the Obama Presidential Center elsewhere. A 2016 lawsuit brought by another group helped to scuttle a $400 million plan by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas to build a museum on public land on Chicago’s lakefront. That museum is now under construction in Los Angeles.

    U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey heard arguments last week on the city’s motion to dismiss the suit and was largely focused on the question of whether the group had standing to sue. His ruling doesn’t mean the group will necessarily prevail, but confirms that the suit poses a formidable threat to the project.

    Plans call for the center to be built in Jackson Park, which was named after President Andrew Jackson and was a site for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The site 7 miles south of downtown Chicago is near low-income neighborhoods where Obama once worked as a community organizer and is just blocks from the University of Chicago, where Obama was a law professor. It is also close to the home where the Obamas lived until he won the presidency in 2008.

    The center was originally slated to open in 2021, though ground hasn’t yet broken because of the lingering litigation.


    In its 2018 suit , Protect Our Parks accused the city of illegally transferring park land to a private entity, The Obama Foundation. The group said city officials manipulated the approval process and tinkered with legislation to skirt long-standing laws designed to ensure residents had unobstructed access to lakeside parks.

    “Defendants have chosen to deal with it in a classic Chicago political way ... to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab,” the lawsuit says. It also described the city as “gifting” prized land to a Chicago favorite son.

    To make the park available for the project, the Chicago Park District first sold the land to the city for $1. Illinois legislators amended the state’s Illinois Aquarium and Museum Act to include presidential libraries as an exception to the no-development rules if there’s a compelling public interest. The Chicago City Council approved the project by a 47-to-1 vote last May.

    The Obama Foundation, a private nonprofit, would pay $10 to the city for use of the park land for 99 years, cover the costs of building the complex and be responsible for covering operating costs for 99 years. Once built, the Obama Presidential Center’s physical structures would be transferred to the city for free, meaning the city would formally own the center but not control what happens there.

    “They are essentially giving (property) to Obama ... for 10 cents a year for 99 years,” parks advocacy lawyer Mark Roth said Thursday.


    City lawyers said Thursday that the city would also pay an estimated $175 million to reconfigure roads to manage traffic around the center.

    In a friend-of-the-court brief, legal scholar Richard Epstein said public-trust doctrine places an extra burden on authorities to prove overwhelming public benefit when they offer the use of public parks to such well-connected figures as Obama, who remains hugely popular in the heavily Democratic city. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel once served as Obama’s White House chief of staff.

    Among other assertions in the lawsuit is that the center would interfere with migrating butterflies and birds.

    City lawyers said Protect Our Parks misread the law, misrepresented how the approval process played out and exaggerated potential environmental disruptions.

    The center would comprise 20 acres of the 500-acre park. Its centerpiece building would be a 225-foot museum tower, with a cluster of lower buildings around it, including a 300-seat auditorium. The center’s website says the complex would be “a world-class museum and public gathering space that celebrates our nation’s first African American President and First Lady (Michelle Obama).”

    City lawyers said the center would provide significant benefits, including bringing a major economic boost to poor local minority communities. Backers estimate it will create 5,000 jobs during construction and over 2,500 permanent jobs. An estimated 760,000 people could visit each year.

    Obama selected Chicago over other locations vying to host his presidential center, including Hawaii, where he was born.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Trump: 'I like Bernie' but he may have missed his shot

    Trump: 'I like Bernie' but he may have missed his shot


    President Donald Trump welcomed Sen. Bernie Sanders into the 2020 fray Tuesday, telling reporters the Vermont independent may have “missed his time” after losing to Hillary Clinton in 2016. “I wish Bernie well. It will be interesting to see how he...


    President Donald Trump welcomed Sen. Bernie Sanders into the 2020 fray Tuesday, telling reporters the Vermont independent may have “missed his time” after losing to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

    “I wish Bernie well. It will be interesting to see how he does,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

    Sanders announced his candidacy Tuesday morning. Trump argued that despite claiming a democratic socialist ideology, which the GOP has vilified, Sanders would two would agree with him on trade.

    Like Trump, the Vermont senator espouses a protectionist trade platform. And in 2016, he was seen as pushing Clinton leftward on trade, which resulted in Clinton withdrawing her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.


    But Trump posited Tuesday that Sanders wouldn’t have been able to translate his protectionism into policy like Trump has, presumably referring to his trade war with China and renegotiation of NAFTA.

    “Personally, I think he missed his time,” Trump told reporters. “But I like Bernie because he is one person that you know on trade, he sort of would agree on trade. I'm being very tough on trade. He was tough on trade. The problem is, he doesn't know what to do about it.”

    “We're doing something very spectacular on trade,” he added.

    The White House has sought to tie Sanders’ progressive ideology to the rest of the Democrats running for president in 2020, painting proposals championed by Sanders — like "Medicare for All" and raising taxes on the wealthy — that have become more mainstream as radical and impractical, though they have somewhat divided 2020 Democrats.

    Trump also returned to a familiar refrain against Clinton, claiming that Sanders was unfairly treated by the Democratic Party and Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 primary.


    “I think what happened to Bernie maybe was not so nice. I think he was taken advantage of. He ran great four years ago,” he said. “And he was not treated with respect by Clinton, and that was too bad.”

    The president — and Sanders — has complained that the Democratic National Committee unfairly had its thumb on the scales in Clinton’s favor, a claim that was borne out with the release of damaging DNC emails in 2016. Trump revived the accusations Tuesday.

    “I thought what happened to Bernie Sanders four years ago was quite sad as it pertains to our country,” he said.

    Sanders has not had such kind words for the president.

    “I think it is absolutely imperative that Donald Trump be defeated because I think it is unacceptable and un-American, to be frank with you, that we have a president who is a pathological liar, and it gives me no pleasure to say that, but it's true,” Sanders said Tuesday morning after announcing his candidacy. “We have a president who is a racist, who is a sexist, who is a xenophobe, who is doing what no president in our lifetimes have come close to doing, and that's trying to divide us up.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Trump denies asking Whitaker to put ally in charge of hush money investigation

    Trump denies asking Whitaker to put ally in charge of hush money investigation


    President Donald Trump denied asking then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about putting a sympathetic U.S. attorney in charge of an investigation into pre-election hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with him.Trump responded...


    President Donald Trump denied asking then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about putting a sympathetic U.S. attorney in charge of an investigation into pre-election hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with him.

    Trump responded to a New York Times report that the president asked Whitaker if Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, could oversee the investigation into the payments made during the 2016 campaign. Whitaker knew he could not put Berman in charge of the investigation, from which Berman had already recused himself, the Times reported.

    Taking questions from reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump flatly denied making any such inquiry.

    “No, not at all, I don’t know who gave you that," Trump told reporters Tuesday, after taking a noticeable pause. "That’s more fake news. There's a lot of fake news out there.”


    Trump went on to praise Whitaker, who was replaced by William Barr last Thursday.

    "He's a very fine man and he should be given a lot of thanks by our nation," Trump said Tuesday.

    Federal prosecutors at the time of Trump's reported request were investigating hush money paid by Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to women who claimed to have had sex with the president. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison last year for multiple counts of lying and tax fraud.

    The Times' Tuesday report went on to say Trump grew irritated with Whitaker that he could not use connections at the Justice Department to put the investigation into more sympathetic hands. Whitaker denied to the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 8 that the White House ever asked him to tamper with an investigation.

    "At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation," Whitaker said during the committee hearing.

    The Justice Department further denied to the Times that Trump had asked Whitaker to interfere in the investigation, citing his remarks to the House committee.

    "Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony," Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told the Times.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Has the Supreme Court Already Decided the Wall Case?

    Has the Supreme Court Already Decided the Wall Case?


    We’ll “see you in court.” So said California Governor Gavin Newsom hours after President Donald Trump signed a proclamation of emergency to redirect funds to a southern border wall without the consent of Congress. California, along with 15 other...


    We’ll “see you in court.” So said California Governor Gavin Newsom hours after President Donald Trump signed a proclamation of emergency to redirect funds to a southern border wall without the consent of Congress. California, along with 15 other states, filed that suit on Monday. The advocacy group Public Citizen didn’t even wait until close-of-business on Friday to sue. The ACLU lags not far behind.

    But what if the script and the endings for these lawsuits have already been written? What if following that script means these suits challenging the emergency as beyond the president’s fiscal powers will do nothing to enlarge Congress’ control over the federal purse? What if instead it has the main effect of giving Trump an electoral boost in 2020?

    For there is another recent case that tracks, issue-for-issue and beat-for-beat, the filed and impending litigation challenges to the wall—and Trump won it.

    That earlier case is the challenge to Trump’s travel ban. Like the wall, the travel ban fulfilled a 2016 campaign promise. Like the wall, the ban on entry by citizens from Muslim-majority nations was challenged within days. If the legal challenges to the wall anticipated in Trump’s Friday Rose Garden speech arrived quicker, it simply shows that all concerned have settled comfortably into a predictable dance of provocation and resistance. The travel ban litigation ended in a 5-4 decision in the U.S. Supreme Court, upholding the policy mere months before Americans returned to the polls in 2018.

    The parallels between the travel ban and the wall cases are too precise and too plural to be ignored. Even if you think the court’s endorsement of the travel ban wrong—as I have argued—it would be a grave error to ignore its predictive quality.

    To begin with, both the travel ban and emergency funding for the wall rest on Trump’s reliance upon a very broad delegation in a federal statute. In both cases, that is, an earlier Congress voluntarily handed over wide-ranging power for presidents to respond to novel circumstances. In both cases, the president has used this power to double down on hardening the border in light with his campaign rhetoric.

    Not only is the president’s legal theory in the two cases alike, the arguments against the president’s two policies also run along parallel tracks. Those arguments have two parts.

    First, in both cases there also are powerful arguments that Congress did not anticipate the kind of policy Trump has pursued—a blunderbuss border control bearing down hardest on non-white migrants. The statutory delegations given by Congress in the two cases, to be sure, may have been broadly written. But neither the immigration provision at issue in the travel ban case nor the military construction provision in the wall case is a blank check: In both cases, there were conditions that the president likely failed to satisfy. When the president reallocates spending to the wall, for instance, he is supposed to show under the statute that the wall is “necessary” to support the armed forces. It is not easy to see how he shows this.

    Second, in both cases the president’s own words about his reasons for declaring an emergency—his admission that the declaration was a strategic political decision and thus not necessarily brought on by a real emergency—and the data released by his own administration fatally undermine the factual justifications for emergency, unilateral action. In February 2017, the Department of Homeland Security—hardly the heartland of a bureaucratic “resistance”—concluded that citizenship in banned nations was “likely an unreliable indicator” of terrorism risk. Data from the same department today shows an 80 percent decline in Border Patrol apprehensions on the southern border since 2000. The number of families presenting at the border has also declined since last year.

    So what will the Supreme Court do when confronted by (1) the president’s invocation of a broadly worded statute, (2) to enact a scattershot, arguably racialized form of border control, (3) where there are colorable arguments that president has not satisfied the statute’s triggers for extraordinary action, and (4) in any case, the executive’s own words and data show that the policy is unwarranted?

    Here’s an answer using only a few choice quotes from the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the revised and slightly narrowed travel ban: It would start by observing that the statutory basis for the wall “exudes deference to the president in every clause.” It would build on this by asserting that “the admission and exclusion of foreign nationals” is a “fundamental sovereign attribute exercised by the Government’s political departments largely immune from judicial control.”

    Then the kicker: If the policy’s challengers point to the president’s own statements on Friday, or his own past conduct in the context of budget negotiations to show that there is no border emergency, or that the real motive at work is to fulfill a campaign promise with 2020 in mind, the court would then remind them, again quoting the travel ban decision, that it is not “the statements of a particular president,” but rather “the authority of the presidency itself” that is at issue. In effect, the court here said that it would refuse to take Trump at his word, and instead ignore evidence of either flawed motive or insufficient justifications. English law had a Latin maxim that nicely captures the court’s thought here: “rex non potest peccare,” or the king can do no wrong.

    Under this doctrine, the fact that the president’s aim of circumventing Congress’s control of appropriations is arguably unconstitutional matters no more than the president’s expressions of animus mattered in the travel ban case.

    In this manner, the Supreme Court’s opinion from last year can be applied point for point to the statutory and constitutional arguments against the wall emergency proclamation. The expected result is that the president prevails. The Kavanaugh confirmation only makes this more likely given the new justice’s record of voting in favor of expansive presidential powers.

    Don’t get me wrong: I am no fan of the wall. My point is not here that the Supreme Court’s travel ban decision is correct. Rather, it is probative of the justices’ likely action: A court that aggressively evades real opportunities to parry presidential lawlessness will once again look away. Racial and ethnic minorities, never winners in the Roberts Court, will again lose out.


    The real winner from the litigation, I think, will not be Congress. Nor will it be “the presidency itself.” If Democrats hope to pursue their own immigration priorities through the same means when a Democrat takes the White House, they may well not have the same luck. The Roberts Court showed itself capable of intense skepticism of a Democratic president’s immigration initiative when it almost invalidated President Barack Obama’s “DAPA” program, which granted work permits and deportation stays to thousands of noncitizen parents. Lawyers can carve an explanation for its different treatment of Obama’s and Trump’s policies. Results, though, speak louder than casuistry. I have little doubt that the Roberts court, and future courts, will continue to find in the case reports enough material to uphold policies perceived as desirable, while invalidating policies perceived to be undesirable.

    Rather, the winner from this litigation will be the “particular president” who sits in the Oval Office now: The Supreme Court, if it follows the script set by the Travel Ban case, may well let him pursue his immigration policies unhindered.

    There’s another potential upside for him: The timing of the judicial review will likely ensure that the wall case, like the travel ban case, immediately precedes the 2020 election. (The present solicitor general has been very aggressive about fast-tracking cases to the Supreme Court. Just last Friday, he succeeded in getting the court to fast-track a challenge to the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.) The travel ban was supported by a “clear majority” of Americans. And though the wall lacks similar support, a decision validating it may well be a boon to candidate Trump in the crucial months before the 2020 poll. Of course, it may also have the opposite effect, energizing liberals and sending them to the polls in droves.

    So with both sides digging in, the fighting seems more a matter of political theater than legal principle. Given the strong signals of which way the Supreme Court is likely to rule, moreover, it’s a play that should generate little or nothing by way of suspense. Just a dismaying sense that season two is pretty much the same tale told in season one.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Marc Short to return to White House as Pence's chief of staff

    Marc Short to return to White House as Pence's chief of staff


    Former White House legislative affairs director Marc Short will return to the Trump administration as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.Short left the White House last summer after serving as the president’s top aide on Capitol Hill for most...


    Former White House legislative affairs director Marc Short will return to the Trump administration as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.

    Short left the White House last summer after serving as the president’s top aide on Capitol Hill for most of his first two years in office. Short has a history with the vice president predating the Trump administration — he was chief of staff to Pence when he served in the House, and he was a part of the vice president’s 2016 campaign staff.

    "I am pleased to announce that Marc Short will be returning to the White House to serve as my chief of staff," Pence tweeted on Tuesday. "Marc will be joining the Office of the Vice President in March and we look forward to welcoming him to our great @VP Team!"

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also issued a statement praising the move. “I am thrilled to have Marc back in the administration. Marc was an integral partner as Republicans racked up win after win to help our nation and our economy grow and flourish," McConnell said. "I’m confident he will help us achieve much more for the American people in this new and important role.”

    Upon leaving the administration, Short took a position at Guidepost Strategies consulting firm and was lecturing at the University of Virginia. He will fill a role left empty by Nick Ayers, who was expected to become the president’s chief of staff after the departure of John Kelly but decided not to accept the job.

    Short took a different approach to serving as legislative director than many of his predecessors by making frequent media appearances to defend the president and his policies on air. He rejoins the administration as it begins to gear up for the 2020 campaign.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Trump: I never called McCabe's wife a 'loser'

    Trump: I never called McCabe's wife a 'loser'


    President Donald Trump claimed Tuesday that he never called Andrew McCabe's wife a "loser," attempting to rebut the account of the former FBI deputy director, who said the president used the term to describe his wife over her failed campaign for...


    President Donald Trump claimed Tuesday that he never called Andrew McCabe's wife a "loser," attempting to rebut the account of the former FBI deputy director, who said the president used the term to describe his wife over her failed campaign for Virginia's state Legislature.

    "I never said anything bad about Andrew McCabe’s wife other than she (they) should not have taken large amounts of campaign money from a Crooked Hillary source when Clinton was under investigation by the FBI," Trump tweeted. "I never called his wife a loser to him (another McCabe made up lie)!"

    McCabe, who worked for the FBI for 21 years, was fired last March for allegedly lying to investigators about his interactions with reporters.


    The former FBI deputy director, who is on a press tour to promote his new tell-all book about his time serving in Trump's administration, said in an interview that aired Sunday that Trump asked the then-acting FBI director about what it was like for his wife losing her state Senate race.

    "'It must have been really tough to lose,'” McCabe said the president had told him. McCabe said the president then asked him: “'What was it like when your wife lost her race for state Senate?'"

    Trump went on to say, "‘Ask her what it was like to lose. It must be tough to be a loser,’” McCabe told CBS' “60 Minutes."

    Jill McCabe in 2015 ran for but did not win a state Senate seat in Virginia, accepting nearly $675,000 from the Virginia Democratic Party and groups connected to then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of Hillary Clinton.

    Trump has since bashed Andrew McCabe and the FBI's handling of the investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server, pointing to the money McCabe's wife received during her campaign. McCabe did not have any connection to the Clinton probe during the time of his wife's state Senate race.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    House report lays bare White House feud over Saudi nuclear push

    House report lays bare White House feud over Saudi nuclear push


    A consulting firm once linked to former national security adviser Michael Flynn is continuing to push President Donald Trump to endorse a plan to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, despite warnings from whistleblowers that their earlier efforts...


    A consulting firm once linked to former national security adviser Michael Flynn is continuing to push President Donald Trump to endorse a plan to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, despite warnings from whistleblowers that their earlier efforts appeared to violate U.S. law, House Democrats said in a report Tuesday.

    The consultants from the firm IP3 International, which organized a White House meeting between the president and nuclear industry executives last week, were involved in pushing a "Middle East Marshall Plan" in the early days of the Trump administration that sparked concerns about Flynn's conflicts of interest. That plan would have involved building dozens of nuclear reactors across the region, in a way that would have circumvented U.S. laws designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

    Flynn, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to unrelated charges of lying to the FBI, has acknowledged he advised a subsidiary of IP3 about its nuclear plan.

    "The whistleblowers who came forward have expressed significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connected with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia," the report prepared for Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said.

    In addition, the panel said, "They have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes."

    The report does not indicate IP3 did anything illegal, but it is the most thorough accounting to date of how the firm used its connections to advance its concept through potentially conflicted Trump administration officials.


    The report's release comes amid the Trump administration's efforts to beat out competitors from Russia and China to develop multibillion-dollar nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia — and after Trump drew sharp criticism for downplaying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's role in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year.

    And it comes ahead of a trip by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, to the Middle East later this month to discuss economic development.

    IP3 organized a meeting with Trump last week where executives from companies such as Westinghouse, General Electric, Exelon, Centrus Energy, NuScale, TerraPower and LightBridge pitched the president to help them win contracts in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Trump administration is already on board with that effort, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry traveled to Saudi Arabia as recently as December to discuss a nuclear power deal, including developing a so-called 123 agreement that would limit the Saudi nuclear program to civilian uses.

    That 123 agreement, named for a section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, is designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, an increasing source of tensions in the Middle East following Trump's decision to pull out of the Iranian nuclear pact. Salman has said the kingdom would quickly move to develop nuclear weaponsif Tehran succeeded in obtaining them.

    But IP3 executives were preparing to move ahead with a deal to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia without an agreement to limit the country's program to a civilian energy production, according to the House report.

    Based on accounts and documents provided by whistleblowers, the report said one of IP3’s top officials delivered the firm's nuclear plan to Flynn on Jan. 28, 2017 to pass along to Trump, and another document at the same time for Trump to recommend to the National Security Council. The firm kept pushing its idea through various channels even though political and career officials warned it circumvented national security protocol.

    In another letter to Salman, IP3's co-founders boasted of the inroads the firm had made with the Trump administration, even after the president forced Flynn out in February 2017 for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia. Three of the officials who signed the letter — retired Gen. Jack Keane, retired Rear Adm. Michael Hewitt and former Reagan administration national security adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane — attended last week’s meeting with Trump.

    “The agreements by President Trump and Mohammed bin Salman have established the framework for our unique opportunity to take the next steps with IP3 and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Keane, Hewitt, McFarlane and retired Gen. Keith Alexander wrote in a March 17, 2017, letter to the crown prince.


    Also pressing the case for the Saudi plan at the White House were former NSC official Derek Harvey, as well as Trump confidant Tom Barrack — who has major business ties in the Middle East — and ex-Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, a former Paul Manafort associate who has since pleaded guilty to conspiring against the United States and making false statements.

    But whistleblowers warned the White House against the nuclear plan. One unidentified official in the Democrats' report told NSC staff they “absolutely should not include the issue” in Trump’s briefing materials and called IP3’s plan “a scheme for these generals to make some money.”

    Now, with a civilian nuclear program push gaining steam at the White House, security experts have raised concerns about the process, and the re-emergence of IP3 similarly troubled them.

    “I see a problem that the Trump administration is giving time to IP3 and their ideas,” said Chen Kane, director of the Middle East nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, in an interview with POLITICO.

    “The fact that the people previously pushing this scheme got the meeting with the president after all their attempts to get meetings elsewhere throughout the administration is suspicious,” said a former senior congressional staffer who worked on nuclear matters.

    The White House and IP3 did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

    IP3 has repeatedly denied that it ever employed or paid Flynn in any capacity despite the fact Flynn listed that he served as an adviser to its subsidiary, IronBridge Group Inc., on his financial disclosure.

    “Mike Flynn was never in IP3, he was never paid by IP3, he never advised IP3, he never had a stake in IP3,” Hewitt told POLITICO after last week’s meeting with Trump.

    IP3 officials, however, acknowledge they have a relationship with Flynn and that they continue to support efforts to build reactors in the Middle East. McFarlane said they were all connected through ACU Strategic Partners, a company that for years had pushed a similar idea of building nuclear reactors in the Middle East through a consortium of companies. McFarlane said he, Hewitt and others left ACU when its managing partner, Andrew Copson, suggested they partner with Russia for the project.

    “Mike [Flynn] then was chosen, appointed to the job in the Trump administration and it’s fair to say we had — IP3 as individuals — had said, 'Mike, we’re not up for working with Russia,'” McFarlane, who described his role at ACU as “participating in meetings,” told POLITICO last week.

    The report released Tuesday covers a period through March 2017, which the committee acknowledged was a narrow time frame. But its contents underscore experts’ worries that Flynn and his administration allies are continuing to push for a rushed and politically compromised nuclear cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia.


    Those security and ethical quandaries compelled NSC legal adviser John Eisenberg to issue a directive stopping all work on the IP3 nuclear plant proposal and the Middle East Marshall Plan concept, the report said. Another source familiar with IP3’s activities during this period separately told POLITICO that NSC staff were forbidden from meeting with IP3 officials.

    “According to the whistleblowers, on March 24, 2017, multiple employees raised to the NSC Legal Advisor their concerns, including a detailed description of reported unethical and potentially illegal actions by General Flynn and Mr. Harvey,” the report said. “In response to these concerns, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster reportedly informed NSC staff that they should cease working on the IP3 proposal. However, NSC staff remained concerned because the same individuals continued their work on IP3’s proposal.”

    McFarlane told POLITICO that around that time, it became "impossible" to get meetings with NSC officials.

    McFarlane sent the firm's nuclear expansion plan to Flynn and deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland on Jan. 28, 2017, eight days after Trump's inauguration. It was a ghost-written memo from Flynn to Trump and another draft memo “for the president to sign” directing other agencies to give Barrack the lead on implementing IP3’s plan.

    “Tom Barrack has been thoroughly briefed on this strategy and wants to run it for you. He’s perfect for the job. Rex and Jim are supportive of Tom’s focus on this also,” the draft memorandum with Flynn’s name on it said. “Rex” and “Jim” apparently referred to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

    “In the enclosed memo you would call upon the relevant cabinet officers to lend their support to this historic program. I recommend that you sign it,” the memo continued.

    IP3 has its eyes on Saudi Arabia’s plans to build two nuclear reactors, as it hopes the companies it collaborates with could provide security training, workforce development and other services should a U.S. firm land the contract, McFarlane said. He said IP3 has “no formal relationships” with companies. Westinghouse Electric Co., considered the only U.S. firm that could readily build reactors, is in the running for a Saudi contract.

    But Saudi Arabia has stymied the efforts by refusing to sign an International Atomic Energy Agency protocol to permit expanded inspections beyond verifying the location of nuclear material. The U.S. has never signed a 123 agreement with a nation that hasn’t committed to that step.

    Saudi Arabia also has said it won’t forswear uranium enrichment and reprocessing, the steps necessary to make nuclear weapons. The United Arab Emirates inked a 123 agreement with such a provision. But Saudi Arabia noted that the Iran nuclear deal that Trump walked away from did not forever ban that country from those steps, as the terms were due to sunset after 2031. That’s put U.S. negotiators in a tight spot.

    “The U.S. has an interest in not seeing the expansion of enrichment and reprocessing technology in the region. It would be a mistake to compromise these principles too far,” said Thomas Countryman, who was President Barack Obama’s top arms control and nuclear proliferation official at the State Department. He nonetheless called the interest from U.S. nuclear companies in building Saudi reactors “a natural partnership” given the nations’ long-standing economic relationship.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    The Real National Emergencies Trump Is Ignoring

    The Real National Emergencies Trump Is Ignoring


    In its landmark report condemning the U.S. government’s failure to prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission noted that the “most important failure was one of imagination.” President Donald Trump’s national emergency...


    In its landmark report condemning the U.S. government’s failure to prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission noted that the “most important failure was one of imagination.” President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration to fund a border wall may go down as the opposite: the triumph of one man’s imagination over reality.

    Trump’s vision of the southern border as a lawless region teeming with immigrants, gangs, drug dealers, gun runners, human traffickers and terrorists trying to burst through and harm the U.S. and its citizens underlies his insistence on a wall as the sine qua non of homeland security. This approach amounts to a willful misreading of the true threat landscape facing the U.S. nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks.

    Here are the facts about the 1,933-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico: illegal crossings are the lowest they’ve been in decades. Technologies like sensors and drones are being deployed to enhance the capabilities of the Border Patrol and are receiving increased funding in the recently signed appropriations bill. And all but around 50 miles of border barriers identified by experts as necessary have already been constructed. The small remainder crosses either private land or lands held by sovereign Indian nations, making their suitability for barrier construction doubtful.

    The supposed national emergency at the southern border also makes little sense in the post-9/11 era, in which our adversaries can infiltrate our society and our institutions through digital networks, armed Americans kill more Americans through acts of mass violence than ISIS does, and the emergent ravages of climate change threaten every community in the U.S.

    By declaring a national emergency to fund a border wall, Trump is diverting financial and military resources and the attention of policymakers to prepare for threats that are far more real, pervasive and deadly. He also is impeding the public’s ability to understand the likelihood of threats against which they need to protect themselves.

    The Department of Homeland Security was created after the 9/11 attacks and assigned a mammoth portfolio of national security, law enforcement and public safety responsibilities. DHS is responsible for immigration and border security, including not only our border with Mexico, but also with Canada, as well as all land, sea and airports of entry, 328 in all. It’s worth noting that 2018 statistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that the majority of illegal drugs enter through one of these legal ports of entry.

    DHS manages nearly two dozen major government agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services and a workforce of 240,000 employees. It leads the federal response for all natural and human-caused disasters, oversees the cybersecurity of the government’s nonmilitary data networks, and protects of critical infrastructure—the energy, financial and communications networks that underpin the U.S. economy and the voting systems that are supposed to secure our democracy.

    Homeland security is a matter of assessing risks and assigning resources to mitigate them in proportion to the likelihood they would occur. Every hour spent on photo ops related to the border wall is an hour not spent on other mission-critical tasks that matter far more to making America safe. News of the resignation of the acting FEMA director Brock Long last Wednesday was overtaken by border wall coverage within hours, yet his job touches many more Americans made vulnerable by increasingly severe natural disasters. And the president said nothing about the nearly three dozen school shootings since 17 were killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida, just over a year ago.

    As the third secretary of Homeland Security, I thought deeply about my tenure and focused on one question in particular: How safe are we today? The threats we face have evolved significantly since Sept. 11, 2001, when the smartphone had not been invented and social media was the arcane province of geeks. Today’s terrorists, both foreign and domestic, recruit adherents online, inspiring them to radicalize and commit acts of violence, but Trump’s claim before last November’s midterm elections that they were infiltrating migrant caravans from Central America and Mexico and heading to the U.S. border is widely understood to be inaccurate. It is undercut by government data showing that of the 3,755 actual or attempted entries by known or suspected terrorists into the U.S. in fiscal year 2017, few attempted entry via Mexico.


    More Americans have died or been displaced by extreme weather events related to climate change since 2001 than by terrorists, foreign or domestic. If Trump wants to build a wall to make America safe, he should start with a seawall.

    The public understands these realities far better than Trump does. A poll released this month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that climate change is the top security concern of people in 13 of 26 countries surveyed, including the U.S. More than 60 percent of respondents across all countries viewed cyber-attacks as a serious concern, up from 54 percent in 2017. And the number of countries that saw the Islamic State as a primary threat fell by double-digit percentage points in the U.S., Israel, Spain and Japan.

    The 9/11 Commission urged the creation of the DHS to prevent another catastrophe on American soil. To do that, we must face today’s facts, apply our will, and spend our resources to create a future that truly makes Americans safe.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Trump slams California for lawsuit against border emergency declaration

    Trump slams California for lawsuit against border emergency declaration


    President Donald Trump took a swing at California on Tuesday morning with tweets criticizing the state for leading the legal charge against his efforts to fund a southern border wall by declaring a national emergency.“As I predicted, 16 states, led...


    President Donald Trump took a swing at California on Tuesday morning with tweets criticizing the state for leading the legal charge against his efforts to fund a southern border wall by declaring a national emergency.

    “As I predicted, 16 states, led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left, have filed a lawsuit in, of course, the 9th Circuit,” Trump tweeted.

    The president forecast legal challenges Friday when he announced his use of emergency powers during a White House news conference, in which he called the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit “disgraceful.” The West Coast court is home to some of the country’s most left-leaning jurists and a strategic spot for cases against the Trump administration.


    The lawsuit, which was filed Monday, calls the emergency declaration a “manufactured crisis” structured to redirect federal dollars toward the construction of a border wall Trump has promised to build since his campaign.

    In his tweets, Trump also slammed California for its plans to build a high-speed rail train, a project that’s drawn national attention in recent weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom said in his State of the State address that construction of the full route — which would have connected San Francisco to Los Angeles — would not be feasible due to climbing costs and logistical challenges.

    “The failed Fast Train project in California, where the cost overruns are becoming world record setting, is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!” Trump tweeted.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    McCabe: Congressional leaders didn’t object to counterintelligence investigation of Trump

    McCabe: Congressional leaders didn’t object to counterintelligence investigation of Trump


    Fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said on Tuesday that no members of the "Gang of Eight" congressional leaders objected when he informed them in May 2017 that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into President Donald Trump over...


    Fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said on Tuesday that no members of the "Gang of Eight" congressional leaders objected when he informed them in May 2017 that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into President Donald Trump over his ties to Russia.

    McCabe, who was serving then as acting FBI director after Trump fired Director James Comey, said on NBC’s “Today" show that no one in the briefing objected to the bureau’s inquiry of whether Trump was being used as a Russian asset — “not on legal grounds, constitutional grounds or based on the facts.”

    The purpose of the briefing with the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees “was to let our congressional leadership know exactly what we’d been doing” after Comey’s firing, McCabe said.

    David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in a statement Tuesday, “We do not comment on or discuss the Leader’s work as it relates to the Gang of 8 and other classified issues.”

    The former deputy director's comments come as he’s embarked on a press tour to promote a new tell-all book that touches on his time serving under Trump — before he was fired from the FBI for allegedly lying to investigators about his interactions with reporters.

    Allies of the president have seized on McCabe’s public confirmation that he opened counterintelligence and criminal obstruction of justice investigations into Trump to point to a conspiracy against the president. They’ve argued that McCabe's revelations, if true, underscore Trump’s accusations of bias within the agencies investigating his campaign.


    On Tuesday, McCabe disputed the insinuation made by some of his critics that he had decided to investigate Trump on his own, arguing that the decision was not a spurious one.

    “Opening a case of this nature, not something an FBI director — not something that an acting FBI director — would do by yourself, right? This is a recommendation that came to me from my team,” he said. “I reviewed it with our lawyers. I discussed it at length with the deputy attorney general … and I told Congress what we’d done.”

    In an interview with The Atlantic published Tuesday, McCabe said that while Comey’s firing may have been the catalyst for launching the investigations, “we were building to this point for months before Jim was fired.”

    He said he could understand criticism if the investigations had been initiated solely as result of Comey’s ouster, but insisted that was not the case.

    “We had several cases already open under the umbrella investigation of the Russia case … and the concern about the president and whether or not he posed a national security threat that we should be investigating had been building for some time," he said. "But it was the events around the firing that kind of sealed the deal for me and the folks on the team."

    The former FBI deputy director said that investigations being opened does not mean the agency had drawn any conclusions.


    Still, he said, “you have to ask yourself; if you believe the president might have obstructed justice for the purpose of ending our investigation into Russia, you have to ask yourself why. Why would any president of the United States not want the FBI to get to the bottom of Russian interference in our election?”

    He referred to some of Trump's behaviors toward Russia, like welcoming the Russian foreign minister and state media into the Oval Office and reportedly taking the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over that of the U.S. intelligence agencies, as “inexplicable” and “head-scratching.”

    He said they “certainly could be” the mark of someone who’s compromised.

    And in an appearance on “The View” later Tuesday, McCabe didn’t dismiss the possibility that Trump had fired Comey at the direction of Russia, telling co-host Meghan McCain that “we don't know” if Trump had done so.

    In an excerpt of the book published last week, McCabe described the Gang of Eight briefing, which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also attended, as the moment when the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation was first announced.

    The office of Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on McCabe’s characterization of the briefing, and spokespeople for other lawmakers who were present in the briefing did not immediately return requests for comment.


    McCabe on Tuesday defended his dismissal from the FBI, which came last year just hours before he was set to retire. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a DOJ inspector general’s report that found McCabe had been dishonest multiple times with investigators about leaking information about an investigation to a reporter, which many have argued undermines McCabe’s credibility.

    The former deputy director said he plans to sue over his dismissal and claimed the report was pretextual and served to justify political motives. He said that before the watchdog report, he had enjoyed a long and blemish-free tenure at the FBI, and he told The Atlantic that it was “very hard” to be “branded a liar.”

    “I've been writing and reading investigative reports for over 20 years. That report was not like anything I have ever read before,” he said on “Today.” “An investigative report includes all of the evidence. It includes all the information, not just those facts that support the conclusion that you'd like to draw.”

    He declined to go into further detail, citing his pending lawsuit.

    McCabe also sought to tamp down on one of the more salacious headlines emanating from his press junket, which have included a different take than Rosenstein's on how serious Rosenstein was about the idea of wearing a wire to record the president and discussions at the Justice Department about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Trump suggested such moves would be treasonous.

    Rosenstein has pushed back on McCabe’s claims.

    “The important part about that comment that Rod made and the comment about the 25th Amendment: There was no effort underway, nobody wore a wire into the White House, nobody was plotting to stage a coup or remove the president,” McCabe said on the “Today" Show, arguing that the situation was indicative of the extraordinary circumstances the Justice Department was in. “The point is the stress and complexity of the issues we were discussing at the time.”

    He called the attention paid to his allegations a distraction and cited the uproar as a reason he didn’t include them in his book, saying in his appearance on “The View” that

    He told The Atlantic: “I think it’s illustrative of the conditions we were trying to navigate at the time. It was absolutely crazy. The world was upside down.”

    Appearing on CNN Tuesday evening, McCabe told host Anderson Cooper that when Rosenstein raised the subject of wearing a wire, McCabe did not think it was a good idea.

    "Absolutely not. Absolutely not," he said. "You know, I felt like it was an incredibly invasive and potentially precedent-setting thing to do. I didn't think it was necessary at that point."

    Asked by Cooper whether he still believes the president could be a Russian asset, McCabe replied: "I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation. And I'm really anxious to see where director Mueller concludes that."

    Quint Forgey contributed to this report.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    New Hampshire gives Harris a hard time for rarely showing up

    New Hampshire gives Harris a hard time for rarely showing up


    MANCHESTER, N.H. — Kamala Harris herself referred to it as the “elephant in the room.”The question of whether the California Democrat will compete in the first-in-the-nation primary hung over her Presidents Day town hall in Portsmouth — even...


    MANCHESTER, N.H. — Kamala Harris herself referred to it as the “elephant in the room.”

    The question of whether the California Democrat will compete in the first-in-the-nation primary hung over her Presidents Day town hall in Portsmouth — even after 1,000 people packed the church to see her and 500 more were turned away because the space was too full.

    Harris, at the event, went out of her way in pledging to be active in the state, “to shake every hand that I possibly can.”

    But history is not on her side. And her chances of capturing New Hampshire were viewed with such a jaundiced eye by local media that one of Harris’ first exchanges during a two-day swing — with an in-state reporter — included a not-so-subtle reminder that she waited weeks after announcing her White House bid to travel to the Granite State.

    “We’re glad you’re here,” the reporter told Harris. Then he asked whether her absence helped feed the perception that New Hampshire isn’t a high priority.

    Another interviewer — this one on ABC affiliate WMUR — was more direct: “We haven’t seen much of you in the previous two years. Why was that?” he asked. “The narrative is out there, I guess, that ‘Sen. Harris is focusing elsewhere.’”


    New Hampshire has been the province of New Englanders back to John F. Kennedy — with the notable exception of Ted Kennedy in 1980. Ahead of the 2020 primary, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont have spent months courting support from the state.

    “It’s going to be tough for her,” Stefan Mattlage, of the progressive grassroots group Kent Street Coalition in Concord, said of Harris. “I think there’s a home-area advantage here.”

    Sen. Cory Booker has tried to make inroads, pitching in on the ground ahead of the midterm elections and returning for a December victory lap in which the state Democratic chairman praised the New Jersey senator as “the best friend New Hampshire Democrats had in 2018.”

    Booker held six events in New Hampshire over the Presidents Day weekend, including a packed house party Monday morning in Nashua, in which he channeled former President Barack Obama while mopping sweat from his head. “All of us have to decide to be agents of hope,” Booker told a rapt room.

    Others have been dashing in and out. Sen. Amy Klobuchar sat for a CNN town hall in New Hampshire on Monday night. “I am someone that comes from the heartland, a north country state a little similar to New Hampshire,” she said at one point.

    Harris didn’t campaign in New Hampshire in the midterms — and her team has sketched out paths to the Democratic nomination that run through the other early states and to Super Tuesday. Harris traveled to South Carolina before and after her presidential announcement and was in Iowa for her recent CNN town hall. She launched her campaign in Oakland, Calif., and has returned to her home state to raise money and lock down endorsements.

    Some of it may be structural. New Hampshire’s open primary, which allows independents to participate, can favor mavericks and ideologues. Harris doesn’t fit in either camp.


    Asked by a reporter Monday whether she considers herself a democratic socialist, Harris said she doesn’t, putting some distance between herself and Sanders, who maintains a following in New Hampshire.

    “The people of New Hampshire will tell me what’s required to compete in New Hampshire, but I will tell you I am not a democratic socialist,” Harris said before posing for selfies at a bookstore.

    “I believe that what voters do want is they want to know that whoever is going to lead, understands that in America today, not everyone has an equal opportunity and access to a path to success, and that has been building up over decades and we’ve got to correct course,” she added.

    A Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll released last week found former Vice President Joe Biden had the highest favorability rating among Democratic candidates, at 80 percent. Sanders and Harris, at 65 percent and 63 percent, respectively, were ahead of Booker and Warren, who were at 61 percent and 60 percent.

    Democratic state Rep. Kris Schultz, who leads a group of progressives, said she and her neighbors relish the opportunity to size up Harris and others from outside the region.

    “If you’re going to vet more than one woman for president, what better place than New Hampshire?” she said, noting her state had two former female governors serve in the Senate, a female speaker of the state House and female state Senate leader, and an entire congressional delegation made up of women. “I’ve been impressed with her, but I like several others, too.”

    Harris ate lunch at the Common Man in Concord with Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, who has been guiding 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Speaking at Gibson’s Bookstore, Kuster introduced Harris as being from California. “She’s excited about the weather,” the congresswoman joked as snow fell outside.


    Harris appeared to appreciate her host. “Those of us who are not from New Hampshire know that if we want to enter New Hampshire and have any information about how one should enter the state, you call Annie,” she said.

    While New Hampshire has favored New Englanders, it hasn’t always picked the winner: Bill Clinton earned his “comeback kid” nickname after finishing second to Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts in 1992. Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in the Granite State in 2008. And Sanders won big in the state over Clinton in 2016.

    Harris, as she told reporters and reminded at her town hall Monday evening, isn’t close to giving up.

    “I intend to compete for the votes here, and I’m going to put a lot of effort into doing that,” she said. “It’s an important state. It is a state of people who have a lot of needs and need to be seen and heard.”

    At the town hall in Portsmouth, she drew cheers after committing to issues taken up by liberal activists in the party. Harris touted her support for "Medicare for All" and the "Green New Deal" and pledged to push for automatic voter registration, making Election Day a federal holiday and replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

    “I want to talk with you. I want to listen to you. I want to be challenged by you," Harris told the crowd. "I want to ensure that at the end of this process we are relevant. And the only way that will be achieved is by spending time with leaders such as those in this church.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Bernie’s pollster dishes on the path to beat Trump

    Bernie’s pollster dishes on the path to beat Trump


    When Bernie Sanders was mulling a 2020 campaign last year, he said he would likely pull the trigger if he thought he was the “best candidate” to defeat President Donald Trump.Now that he’s officially in the race for the White House, a key element...


    When Bernie Sanders was mulling a 2020 campaign last year, he said he would likely pull the trigger if he thought he was the “best candidate” to defeat President Donald Trump.

    Now that he’s officially in the race for the White House, a key element of his argument is that he is — in a way that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. His campaign is gearing up to take direct aim at one of the central cases made against him: That the 77-year-old democratic socialist, far from being unable to win a general election, could blaze a nontraditional path to victory on the electoral map unlike any other Democratic candidate.

    This month, Ben Tulchin, Sanders’ pollster, circulated a memo about an online survey he conducted in late 2017 for progressives who were hoping to flip state legislative seats in West Virginia. The poll found that Sanders would beat Trump by 2 percentage points in the state — despite the fact that Trump won West Virginia, 69-27, and that no Democratic presidential candidate has carried the state since 1996.

    To operatives in both parties, the notion that Sanders could defeat Trump in one of the president’s strongholds strains credulity. But the Sanders team is convinced the Vermont senator’s appeal to independent voters, the white working class and people of color is underestimated — and could pay dividends in unexpected places in a general election. They argue that his anti-establishment and populist economic message, as well as his many years of representing rural voters, makes him competitive in not only the Rust Belt states where Hillary Clinton faltered but also potentially in deep-red states, too.

    They’re not just talking about West Virginia. Some in the Sanders camp envision possibly making a play for Iowa, Ohio, and Indiana, as well as states such as Kansas, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Montana — six states that, together, have voted for the Democratic nominee just twice in the past half-century.


    “It could just radically change the map,” Tulchin told POLITICO. “As Bernie has showed, as Trump has showed, I don’t think we are in a binary, two-dimensional, left-right paradigm anymore.”

    Convincing the primary electorate that he can defeat Trump in a general election looms as one of Sanders’ biggest challenges in 2020: His rivals, as well as pundits from both parties, will likely paint him as an extremist who could never win over the moderate voters who helped Democrats take back the House in the 2018 midterms.

    With Democrats desperate to oust Trump, “electability” is a major concern for voters at this stage of the race, particularly among some groups that Sanders struggled to win over in 2016.

    A recent Monmouth University poll showed a majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters of all ages prioritize the ability to win the general election over ideology in a 2020 nominee. However, larger percentages of older voters, women and people of color want a candidate who can conquer Trump, even if they disagree with most of their platform.

    Most older voters, especially those of color, favored Clinton over Sanders in 2016 — and Sanders’ top allies and aides have acknowledged that he has much to do to change that.



    “His peer group is harder on him across the board,” said Nina Turner, president of the Sanders-founded Our Revolution, referring to older voters. “He’s definitely going to have to work on bringing his peers into the fold.”

    One adviser to the Vermont senator said those efforts will likely need to include a persuasive argument that he can oust Trump.

    His aides argue that he is well-liked in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — the three Rust Belt states that helped hand Trump the keys to the White House — so Sanders begins with a foothold.

    “I don’t think anybody can dispute with a straight face that Bernie Sanders is very popular in those places,” said Jeff Weaver, an adviser to Sanders. “That’s because he’s popular with the progressive base, he’s increasingly popular with the emerging electorate in the Democratic Party, and he is popular with traditional, working-class, industrial workers in those places.”

    Sanders’ aides also point out that he has years of experience speaking to rural voters, and has enjoyed crossover appeal in his home state of Vermont. They hold up his 2016 primary victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as his rallies with candidates in the 2018 midterms in those states, including with now-Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

    “It’s no secret that many candidates throughout the Midwest wanted him to campaign for them in 2018,” Weaver said.

    Among the soft spots in the campaign’s case: In the Pennsylvania primary, Sanders lost to Clinton by 12 points. And Sanders has had past troubles connecting with key components of the Democratic coalition, whose turnout will help determine the nominee’s fate.

    According to an analysis of exit polling in 25 primaries, Sanders narrowly won black voters under 30 in 2016, but lost older African-Americans by large margins, who turned out at higher rates than their younger counterparts. To beat Trump, the Democratic nominee will need robust support from black voters, the most loyal part of the party’s base.

    Sanders’ team believes he’s in a much stronger position with black voters now than in 2016: They argue he has high favorability ratings among African-Americans, and unlike in his first presidential bid, starts with strong name ID.

    Sanders’ aides also note his current position among Latinos: In several recent 2020 surveys, he is in first place among Latinos, placing better than even former Vice President Joe Biden.

    It’s unlikely that Sanders, who eschews talking publicly about political strategy, will argue much if at all about “electability” himself.


    "I think he needs to stay on his message," said Turner, "and that message is going to make people aware that he is electable."

    But his advisers may make the case for him, directly and indirectly. Surrogates can address the “electability” issue in their messaging, and staff could strategically place primary rallies in red states and throughout the Rust Belt.

    Other candidates have taken that route: When Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar kicked off her 2020 bid earlier this month, she said her first two stops would be in Iowa and Wisconsin, adding that “we’re starting in Wisconsin because, as you remember, there wasn’t a lot of campaigning in Wisconsin in 2016.”

    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has highlighted her time representing a rural New York district. And Biden’s allies have argued that he can win back white working-class voters who have strayed from the Democratic Party, touting the positive reception he received while campaigning for 2018 candidates in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Florida.

    Even Sanders, if not talking about electability outright, is hinting at it.

    “Together,” he wrote in one of the final paragraphs of his email announcing his 2020 campaign, “we can defeat Donald Trump and repair the damage he has done to our country.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Sanders launches second bid for presidency


    Bernie Sanders launched his second campaign for president on Tuesday — this time as a heavyweight candidate against a crowded field of liberals, instead of the passionate underdog taking on the anointed nominee.The independent Vermont senator, running...

    Bernie Sanders launched his second campaign for president on Tuesday — this time as a heavyweight candidate against a crowded field of liberals, instead of the passionate underdog taking on the anointed nominee.


    The independent Vermont senator, running in the Democratic primary as a self-described democratic socialist, announced his campaign in an email to supporters.

    But nearly four years after he kicked off his 2016 campaign at a 10-minute press conference outside the Capitol, this time will be a lot different. He starts as a front-runner in the polls, armed with near-universal name ID, a massive email donor list and a digital media empire that is unparalleled among other 2020 candidates. His left-wing policies, dismissed as fringe in 2016, have been embraced by much of the Democratic Party.

    Sanders said he is seeking 1 million signatures for a petition backing his bid, a device that provides him with an opportunity to demonstrate the extent of his grass-roots support. He’s said repeatedly that he needs that help before taking on Wall Street, “the drug companies” and “the insurance companies” again in a second run.

    "Together, you and I and our 2016 campaign began the political revolution," Sanders wrote in his announcement email. "Now, it is time to complete that revolution and implement the vision that we fought for."

    Sanders’ core message will remain unchanged: He will continue his decadeslong drumbeat against income inequality and a “corrupt” campaign finance system. Racial justice and a progressive foreign policy will also be at the forefront of his bid, Sanders’ advisers told POLITICO.


    As he has done in the past, Sanders also called President Donald Trump a "racist" on Tuesday — and "a sexist, a xenophobe and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction."

    Following humiliating defeats in 2016 in South Carolina and other states where African-Americans make up the majority of the Democratic primary electorate, Sanders is expected to attempt to do more, and earlier, outreach to black voters in 2020, and to draw a more explicit nexis between fighting economic inequality and racial inequality.

    It wasn’t a mistake that Sanders’ first visit this year to an early primary state was to South Carolina on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His speech there provided a preview of his revamped message.

    "Racism … exists in this country today, and it exists when the median white family owns 10 times more wealth than the median African-American family," he said. "Racial equality must be central to combating economic inequality, if we are to going to create a government that works for all of us, and not just the 1 percent.”


    Another related focus for the campaign is winning over older voters. Sanders was estimated to have received more votes from young people in the primary than Trump and Hillary Clinton combined, and narrowly won black voters under 30. But older Americans, particularly those of color, heavily favored Clinton.

    Jeff Weaver, an adviser to Sanders, said "the challenge of the campaign is to reach out to older voters of all races, and how do you effectively do that — that's an important challenge for us.”

    “There's got to be more of a focus on talking about issues that are immediately important to older voters ... issues like health care and Social Security and retirement security,” he continued. “But I also think we have to draw a better connection between older and younger voters in terms of intergenerational appeal, so I think young people have to reach out to older people in their families and social circles as part of a campaign to win the support of older voters.”

    Sanders cited other reasons he's running again: to fight climate change, implement fair trade policies, take on the National Rifle Association and "end the demonization of undocumented immigrants in this country and move to comprehensive immigration reform."

    The video announcing Sanders' bid portrays him as being at the forefront of several progressive policies. The ad also spotlights Sanders’ efforts to cut off U.S. military aid for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, a hint that foreign policy will play a bigger role in his second campaign. Critics assailed him in 2016 as being light on international affairs.

    Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, on Tuesday called Sanders a "self-avowed socialist who wants to double your taxes so the government can take over your health care."

    An average of several recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics shows Sanders in second place in a Democratic primary with 17 percent, behind former Vice President Joe Biden by about 10 points. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is in third with about 11 percent, and no other candidate breaks 10 percent.


    A December email from Sanders demonstrates the small-dollar fundraising muscle that he enters the race with: A message about a potential run raised about $300,000 from nearly 11,000 donations, according to a Sanders aide. The average donation was $27. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) raised about the same amount online the day she launched her exploratory committee.

    David Duhalde, political director of the Sanders-founded Our Revolution, said the senator also benefits from the rise of left-wing groups such as his since 2016, as well as from the general move leftward of the Democratic electorate. Progressive activists, Duhalde said, are “ready to hit the door and phones for him.”

    “The country has dramatically transformed since 2008 and 2016 in ways that I think many people in the Beltway don’t recognize, or don’t want to admit,” he said.

    Duhalde said Our Revolution counts more than 250,000 members across the country.

    Melissa Byrne, a 2016 Sanders veteran, said many of the first team’s young staffers are also now armed with more expertise, after having worked on other campaigns and other political operations: “You have this whole crew of people who are a whole lot more experienced and confident.”


    But there will also be difficulties for Sanders in 2020. A few weeks before he launched his second bid, POLITICO and The New York Times reported on alleged sexual misconduct and harassment in his 2016 campaign. Sanders has apologized to the women who said they were sexually harassed by other employees on his campaign.

    Sanders, who is 77, will also undoubtedly face questions about his age. And the left-wing lane that he had virtually all to himself in 2016 will be more crowded. He won’t have the benefit of absorbing any anti-Clinton votes in 2020, either. And many of his opponents have said they support the policies that served as the foundation of his 2016 campaign, including “Medicare-for-All,” free college tuition and the $15 minimum wage.

    Sanders’ team is making the bet that his long-held beliefs on progressive issues will set him apart.

    "People in many ways are rightfully cynical about politics,” Weaver said. “And the fact that somebody has been consistent, including when it was not easy and including when it was perceived by many in the establishment to be politically disadvantageous to have stood for those issues, I think signals to voters that one is truly committed to those issues and that the person will aggressively pursue those policies and not trade them away when it’s hard.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    ‘Are you with us?’:  Bloomberg calls in his chits

    ‘Are you with us?’: Bloomberg calls in his chits


    From shuttering coal-fired power plants to fighting the gun lobby, obesity and Big Tobacco, Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropy has given away $6.4 billion and earned the love and respect of progressive-minded activists across the country.The question is...



    From shuttering coal-fired power plants to fighting the gun lobby, obesity and Big Tobacco, Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropy has given away $6.4 billion and earned the love and respect of progressive-minded activists across the country.

    The question is whether that goodwill is enough to fuel a Democratic presidential primary campaign.

    The network of Bloomberg Philanthropies recipients is vast, and it includes mayors throughout the country as well as grassroots climate-change, gun-control and education advocates and others who could form a ready-made army of campaign supporters, volunteers and paid staffers.

    Bloomberg’s political team is beginning to press the issue. As the former New York mayor nears a decision on whether to run, his advisers — led by right-hand man Kevin Sheekey — are asking beneficiaries of his largesse if they’d be on board for his presidential bid.

    “Kevin Sheekey asked me, ‘are you with us?’ And I unequivocally said yes,” said Rocco Landesman, a former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, referring to a top Bloomberg adviser.


    “If you’re passionate about climate change, gun control or education or public health or the arts, he’s leading the charge. He’s the guy out there,” Landesman, a Broadway producer best known for “The Producers,” said. “How would that not translate into political support?”

    Landesman, though, acknowledged that the moderate Bloomberg could face trouble in a leftward-shifting Democratic primary, even though he has been a leader on climate change and guns, two issues dear to progressive activists that would be a centerpiece of Bloomberg’s campaign.

    Like others who have been involved in causes that received support directly or indirectly from Bloomberg, Landesman said that he never felt Sheekey “put the screws to me” to support Bloomberg, and that Bloomberg’s longtime charitable work was “authentic” and parallel to his political motives.

    Bloomberg’s efforts to stop childhood drowning in Bangladesh, for instance, “doesn’t get him any votes in New Hampshire,” Landesman said.

    The former New York mayor says he plans to make a decision about whether to run for president by the end of the month, capping a months-long, data-intensive exercise of poll-testing and organizing Democratic focus groups as part of a campaign to deny President Trump a second term that could exceed $500 million.

    A Bloomberg consultant contends that the billionaire’s organizations have fielded calls from “thousands” of supporters eager to repay the favor of the philanthropist’s support over the decades.


    Still, the conversations between Bloomberg’s team and others have created some awkward situations for those accustomed to operating in issue-based arenas.

    When asked by POLITICO if he had spoken with Bloomberg or his team concerning a presidential bid, John Feinblatt, president of the Bloomberg-funded Everytown for Gun Safety, avoided the question by saying Bloomberg hadn’t announced and so he would “not get ahead of the facts. Let’s see where we are.”

    Asked again about conversations he had concerning the topic, Feinblatt spoke about Bloomberg’s “gold standard” record on gun safety.

    So is that a no? he was asked. “I’m trying to answer the question as frankly as I possibly can,” he replied.

    One reason for the discomfort in discussing the blurred lines between Bloomberg’s philanthropic contributions and his political ambitions is that Everytown and other groups Bloomberg has supported don’t want to appear to undercut their mission by taking sides. They have a strong affinity for the billionaire but fear appearing to be a campaign tool.

    Bloomberg’s advisers say the mayor himself recognizes the unique challenges presented by a presidential campaign — he’s reluctant to step back from his charitable work. That’s not the only issue that has surfaced: he’d have to step away from the Bloomberg media empire while its reporters cover their boss’s race.

    Sheekey said Bloomberg’s efforts to avoid conflicts of interest would be akin to erecting a virtual Great Wall of China.

    “There’s never been a Bloomberg campaign that didn’t start with a very good lawyer and a very good accountant,” Sheekey said.

    Sheekey said there are people in at least half the states in the country who are ready to take a leave of absence to help out Bloomberg if he runs for president.


    “Is there a network of people like that? Yes. Have we spoken to many members of that network? Yes. And may they take a leave of absence to work on the campaign? Yes,” he said. “Mike Bloomberg has hundreds of people around him who when, Mike Bloomberg says, ‘this is what we’re doing next’, I don’t have to call them. They call me.”

    Even if a Bloomberg campaign could tap that network of supporters, his team is aware there are other hurdles that the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat would face in a primary and from progressive activists who reject his centrist politics or think he hasn’t done enough.

    For instance, Bloomberg has contributed $218 million for clean-energy efforts that, among other results, have led to the closure of 282 coal-fired power plants. But he does not oppose, at least in the short term, other fossil fuel use — and that’s not good enough for activists like Mitch Jones, who directs climate and energy programs for Food & Water Action, an environmental group that fights corporate influences in the movement.

    “Bloomberg’s reputation as a climate warrior is a bit overblown,” Jones told the Associated Press, calling him “a pro-fracking, pro-pipeline, pro-nuclear billionaire who favors half measures and false solutions because he’s more interested in protecting his friends in the C Suite than he is in stopping climate change.”

    Bloomberg’s giving covers five major areas — environment, public health, government innovation, the arts and education — and last year totaled $787 million, making him the nation’s second-most generous philanthropist behind Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

    Through one of his biggest programs, the American Cities Initiative, Bloomberg has helped municipalities and activists grapple with everything from climate change to guns to obesity. The initiative is an outgrowth of Bloomberg’s time as New York City mayor and has helped sow goodwill with mayors and former mayors throughout the country, giving him possible entrée to a layer of local political support that conventional candidates lack.

    Michael Nutter, who served as Philadelphia’s mayor when Bloomberg was New York City mayor, said Bloomberg is a master of “G.S.D. In private, that means getting shit done. In public, that means getting stuff done.”


    Nutter, who endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, said he’s enthusiastically behind Bloomberg for president, whom he calls “mayor of the world.”

    In the signature city of yet another swing state — Miami — former Mayor Manny Diaz sits on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies and last week introduced Bloomberg at a fundraiser for immigrant rights where he said the country needs Bloomberg for president. Diaz, a top surrogate for President Obama’s campaigns in Florida, said he’s been encouraging Bloomberg to run as well.

    “For him, I would pull out all the stops,” Diaz said.

    Bloomberg’s advisers contend sentiments like that are the norm, not the exception, among those who have worked with his philanthropy and causes.

    “There are literally hundreds of people. The truth is we’ve already heard from thousands,” Sheekey said. “They’re already phoning in.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Emails reveal coordination between Chao, McConnell offices

    Emails reveal coordination between Chao, McConnell offices


    A trove of more than 800 pages of emails sheds new light on the working relationship between Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the most potent power couples in Washington — including their dealings...


    A trove of more than 800 pages of emails sheds new light on the working relationship between Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the most potent power couples in Washington — including their dealings with McConnell supporters from their home state of Kentucky.

    Chao has met at least 10 times with politicians and business leaders from the state in response to requests from McConnell’s office, according to documents provided to Politico by the watchdog group American Oversight. In some cases, those people later received what they were hoping for from Chao’s department, including infrastructure grants, the designation of an interstate highway and assistance in getting state funds for a highway project — although the documents don’t indicate that the meetings led to those outcomes.

    The records also do not show how frequently Chao has met with people from outside Kentucky, a state her husband has represented in the Senate since 1985, or how readily she has responded to similar requests from other lawmakers. But at least a dozen of the emails show McConnell’s staff acting as a conduit between Chao and Kentucky political figures or business leaders, some of whom previously have had relationships with the couple.

    In one email from Feb. 2, 2017, just days after Chao was sworn in, McConnell’s state director emailed a Chao lieutenant asking the secretary to meet with maritime industry lobbyist Jim Adams about proposed changes to “Buy American, Hire American” requirements for offshore drilling equipment. The lobbyist and his wife, a Kentucky state senator who used to work for McConnell, donated $1,500 to McConnell’s 2014 reelection campaign, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

    “The Secretary knows them both well,” McConnell state director Terry Carmack wrote to Todd Inman, who at the time was director of operations at the Department of Transportation. Chao met with the lobbyist the next month, according to her calendar.



    Carmack also requested a meeting in April 2017 for Greg DeLancey, general manager of Taylor Motors in Murray, Ky., a government contractor that provides bus services, primarily to the Defense Department. Carmack wrote that DeLancey was “the Calloway county GOP chairman and about to be the first district GOP chair.” Chao met with someone from Taylor Motors in July 2017. When the McConnell staffer asked Inman to arrange a meeting for executive director Jason Vincent and other people from Pennyrile Area Development District during a March 2017 fly-in, he noted that some of the representatives were “friends.”

    American Oversight obtained the emails under the Freedom of Information Act. The group’s founder and executive director , Austin Evers, said they show an unusually close relationship between a Senate leader and a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet — and that “Secretary Chao built a political operation in her office to favor Kentucky.”

    “We launched this investigation because we were intrigued by the president’s selection of Elaine Chao as Transportation secretary,” Evers said. “The media and political class identified it as a savvy move to hire the spouse of the majority leader of the Senate. We wanted to see what that relationship looked like.”

    DOT said no such favoritism exists, and that any agency “would be responsive to the requests of the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate.”

    Chao’s office treats “requests from Congress with serious consideration and is responsive to all members and their staff,” a spokesperson said. “She understands the needs of Kentucky, which is her home, and naturally has enjoyed a long friendship with many of the people who are also in contact with Sen. McConnell’s office.”

    When asked about the propriety of setting up meetings for constituents, a spokesperson for McConnell told Politico that “the leader regularly advocates for Kentuckians with members of the Cabinet and agencies of the federal government.”

    “He has advocated on behalf of Kentuckians his entire career — and that includes both Republican and Democrat administrations,” the spokesperson added.

    At the very least, the emails offer a rare glimpse at the working relationship between Chao and McConnell, who aside from a few confrontations with protesters, typically maintain a low public profile about their mutual interactions. But other people familiar with the workings of DOT and Congress said they didn’t see anything unusual in a Cabinet secretary responding to requests from lawmakers.

    A Democratic Senate aide said it’s common for members of Congress to contact DOT or other agencies on behalf of their constituents and that the department is responsive and accommodating to all.

    “DOT will talk to anyone,” said the aide, who requested anonymity because of his ongoing dealings with the department. He said he doesn’t often ask Chao to take meetings because “people know they can pick up the phone and call DOT themselves,” but that on occasion he will “make an introduction.”



    “DOT will talk to anyone,” said the aide, who requested anonymity because of his ongoing dealings with the department. He said he doesn’t often ask Chao to take meetings because “people know they can pick up the phone and call DOT themselves,” but that on occasion he will “make an introduction.”

    Former Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, a Democrat who served under President George W. Bush, told Politico it “happened a lot” that lawmakers asked him to meet with constituents traveling to Washington, “and then you would meet with them.” Mineta said a request from a member of Congress would carry additional weight, regardless of what state that member was from.

    “Of course you’re going to meet with people from your home state,” added a former DOT official from the Obama administration who asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly about the department she once worked for.

    But Evers from American Oversight contended that in these emails, Chao’s staff appear to go out of their way to make McConnell’s Kentucky contacts “feel special.” In one March 2017 email to Inman, requesting a meeting between Chao and the group Kentuckians for Better Transportation, Carmack suggested that if Chao couldn’t make it, perhaps “an assistant secretary or 2” could. “That way it is not taking up the Secretary’s time but they feel special,” Carmack continued.

    Inman had previously told Carmack that Chao’s office was planning to decline the meeting. But the meeting later appeared on Chao’s calendar for the following May 17.


    A Politico review of two months of Chao’s calendar over her first 14 months in office doesn’t reveal a particular preference for Kentucky visitors — in more than 100 meetings and phone calls with people outside the executive branch, none had an apparent Kentucky connection.

    Still, Evers highlighted two instances when DOT’s Inman instructed McConnell staffers to flag requests from Kentuckians for him in addition to sending them to Chao’s schedulers, “to make sure we take an extra look at” them.

    “The Secretary has indicated if you have a [Kentucky-]specific issue that we should flag for her attention to please continue to go through your normal channels but feel free to contact me directly as well so we can monitor or follow up as necessary,” Inman wrote to McConnell’s then-chief of staff, Brian McGuire, in an email from Feb. 28, 2017.

    “There’s a normal channel and a Kentucky channel,” Evers said. “It would be surprising if there was also an Arizona channel and a California channel.”

    And, on a tentative list of staff duties Inman shared with McConnell’s office soon after he started, “Kentucky” is listed as one of Inman’s responsibilities. No other state is included in any of the other 26 staffers’ list of duties.

    Inman, who became Chao’s chief of staff last month, was a Republican political operative in Kentucky before joining DOT. He communicated frequently with McConnell staff for most of his first year in the job, until an assistant secretary for government affairs was confirmed.

    The email cache is also sprinkled with instances of McConnell staffers referring to meeting seekers’ personal ties to the couple and their status as GOP supporters.


    In one email thread from March 2017, McConnell’s staff describes Hart County, Ky., Judge/Executive Terry Martin — the county’s top elected official — as a “loyal supporter” and “friend.”

    Chao met with Martin two weeks later and again a year later.

    She met on March 20, 2017, with representatives from the Pennyrile Area Development District, who had gotten similar praise and were interested in discussing their long-running priority of redesignating the Breathitt Pennyrile Parkway as Interstate 169. President Donald Trump signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), designating the highway I-169 in May 2017.

    In another February 2017 email exchange, Carmack asked Inman to set up a meeting with two Kentucky county judge/executives who wanted to talk about bridge and highway problems in their counties. “Always value your input,” Inman responded.

    Harlan County Judge/Executive Dan Mosley, who met with Chao in April 2017 about widening and improving a flood-prone stretch of U.S. 421, said in an interview with Politico that Chao was “one of the smartest people I’ve ever met” and that “her commitment to transportation issues” was evident in their meeting. After they met, a Federal Highway Administration official came to evaluate the project, and eventually the state allocated $800,000 to start the project, Mosley told Politico.

    Boone County Judge/Executive Gary Moore, who asked for and, in June 2018, received a $68 million DOT grant for two interstate interchanges,said he met with Chao and asked for her support for the grant at his December 2017 meeting with her. Boone County had been seeking a federal grant for this since at least 2017.

    Cooperation between the two offices goes in both directions, the emails indicate. In May 2017, a group of real estate company representatives and public officials from China enjoyed a Capitol tour organized jointly by Chao’s and McConnell’s offices. The group “was thrilled to get the VIP treatment by [McConnell’s] office and were particularly excited to hear that the leader’s office was normally off limits to normal guests,” Melissa Fwu of Chao’s office wrote in an email to a McConnell aide.

    Oversight groups aren’t just worried about the meetings Chao is granting, however. A previously unreleased report from the watchdog group Restore Public Trust questions the 2018 choice of a town of about 25,000 residents situated near the Tennessee, Ohio, Cumberland and Mississippi rivers, as the site of a new DOT maritime gateway office intended to help coordinate between port operators and government bodies to help improve freight movement on inland waterways.

    Paducah is the smallest city to host one of DOT’s 10 maritime gateway offices. The nine other such offices are in major cities such as New York, Chicago and Miami.


    “This is the kind of stuff the American public hates,” said Caroline Ciccone, executive director of Restore Public Trust, adding that a “prudent elected official” will avoid favoritism “not just because it looks bad, it’s because it is bad.”

    But a DOT spokesperson who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the department chose Paducah because it’s “always been a natural hub for regional inland waterway traffic,” given its proximity to four major rivers and the presence of “more U.S.-flag inland waterway operators than anywhere else in the nation.” The low cost of living also made it attractive, the spokesperson said.

    The spokesperson said a strategic analysis, undertaken by the Maritime Administration in 2015, resulted in a decision to close one of two gateway offices in California in favor of one on the inland waterways to support the St. Louis office. Paducah was chosen out of five inland waterway locations that were evaluated.

    Deb Calhoun, senior vice president of the Waterways Council, called Paducah “the epicenter of the inland marine industry.”

    “Many of the major inland operators have offices in Paducah,” she told Politico. “There is a maritime training center. And each year, hundreds of inland marine related companies gather for an annual river industry awards event.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Trump to approve lean Space Force

    Trump to approve lean Space Force


    President Donald Trump will sign a directive on Tuesday to establish a new branch of the military dedicated to space but instead of being a fully independent department it will remain part of the Air Force to assuage concerns in Congress, a senior...


    President Donald Trump will sign a directive on Tuesday to establish a new branch of the military dedicated to space but instead of being a fully independent department it will remain part of the Air Force to assuage concerns in Congress, a senior administration official told POLITICO.

    The presidential directive, formally called Space Policy Directive 4, will set the groundwork for a subsequent legislative proposal for Congress, which will have the final say over what has been a signature military objective since Trump announced his intentions nearly a year ago.

    The U.S. Space Force would be the first new military branch since the U.S. Air Force was established out of the Army Air Corps in 1947 — and it will be structured similarly to how the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy.

    The initial startup cost for the Space Force is expected to be less than $100 million, the official said. It will include a four-star general as its chief of staff, who will also serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and its top civilian will be a new undersecretary for space.

    The approach falls short of Trump's earlier claims that the Space Force would be co-equal with the Army, Navy and Air Force.


    The official stressed, however, that the White House still hopes to achieve that goal.

    "We didn’t see a way to go there in one step,” the official said. “The thought was to leverage the facilities and functions already within the Air Force since that’s where the bulk of space capabilities really are."

    "We’re trying to moderate things and respond to some congressional concerns," added the official, who agreed to preview the directive on condition he not be identified.

    The official predicted that a full-fledged Space Force won't become reality until at least sometime in a Trump second term — after lawmakers have seen the current model function for a couple years.

    The administration maintains a Space Force will help counter threats in space from adversaries like Russia and China, which according to a recent report from the Defense Intelligence Agency is pursuing anti-satellite weapons.

    “As their actions make clear, our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already. And the United States will not shrink from this challenge,” Vice President Mike Pence said at the Pentagon in August. “Under President Trump’s leadership, we will meet it head on to defend our nation and build a peaceful future here on Earth and in space.”

    Trump last June called for the Pentagon to stand up a military branch focused on space and has since made it a major applause line at his raucous rallies and other public events.

    "We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force: separate but equal, it is going to be something so important," Trump said in June.


    But the forthcoming directive only orders the secretary of defense to periodically review whether a fully separate department is needed.

    In the meantime, the president is calling for all military and civilian personnel now working on space operations to be folded into the new Space Force.

    Excluded will be the National Reconnaissance Office, a joint agency run by the Pentagon and intelligence agencies that builds spy satellites, as well as civilian space agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NASA.

    What the Space Force's uniforms will look like is also still up for debate. "It’s probably not wings and squadrons or battalions and brigades,” the official said. “Uniforms reflect ranks and ranks reflect structure. … It might look more like ship departments in the Navy.”

    Yet it will ultimately be up to Congress to decide whether a new space service becomes reality and what it looks like.

    Leading lawmakers like House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) have expressed concern about creating an expensive new bureaucracy without making military space operations more effective.

    “We’ve heard them very clearly about what their concerns are,” said the official, describing recent informal conversations with congressional leaders about the proposed structure. “They’re pleased we’re taking it seriously and that we’re flexible on this.”

    But even if it is not everything Trump wanted initially, he added, he would still be achieving his biggest goal: "The president’s top priority was a separate armed service."


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    California leads 16 states in lawsuit against Trump emergency declaration

    California leads 16 states in lawsuit against Trump emergency declaration


    A coalition of 16 states filed suit on Monday to block President Donald Trump’s effort to fund his border wall by declaring a national emergency, calling it a “flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles.”The complaint, filed...


    A coalition of 16 states filed suit on Monday to block President Donald Trump’s effort to fund his border wall by declaring a national emergency, calling it a “flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles.”

    The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, is the third in a string of legal challenges already launched against Trump’s use of emergency powers since he announced the move during a meandering White House news conference on Friday. Public Citizen, a liberal advocacy group, filed a suit late Friday in the District of Columbia on behalf of three Texas landowners who would be impacted by the construction of a wall along the border. And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has filed a motion against the Department of Justice demanding that the agency provide documents pertaining to the legal justification of the president’s emergency declaration.

    The states behind Monday’s lawsuit argued that Trump engaged in an “unlawful scheme” when he “used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction, and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” according to a copy of the complaint obtained by POLITICO.

    A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

    One Republican close to the White House said the latest lawsuit satisfied the president’s prediction last week that opponents of his declaration would bring a case in the Ninth Circuit, which boasts some of the country’s most liberal jurists and has become a hot spot for cases against the Trump administration. Trump slammed the San Francisco-based court as “disgraceful” in his remarks on Friday, claiming that he would probably get a “bad ruling” there before the case reached the Supreme Court.


    “It’s kind of awkward to say that on Presidents’ Day we’re going to be suing the president of the United States, but sometimes that’s what you have to do,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said during a Monday appearance on CNN, after telegraphing for weeks that he was prepared to take swift legal action if Trump followed through on his repeated vows to invoke an immigration emergency to justify diverting wall funding.

    Becerra, who is leading the states coalition, alleges that Trump “has veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making” despite a refusal by Congress refusing to allocate the funds needed to start construction. It cites his remarks in the Friday news conference that he “didn’t need to do this” as evidence his emergency declaration was without merit.

    Just as Trump’s emergency declaration seemed designed to invigorate supporters to whom he promised a physical southern barrier, it seemed guaranteed to unify Democrats in opposition. Except for Maryland, all of the states that joined the lawsuit have Democratic governors.

    The complaint repeatedly underscores the larger political context, arguing that the president is indulging in a “vanity project“ — a favorite formulation of the wall’s opponents — and citing years of Trump’s tweets and public statements to highlight how he has been intent on the project dating back to at least August 2014, long before he was elected.

    It also seeks to refute Trump’s oft-stated justification based on migrant caravans, noting that their members make up a “small fraction” of monthly apprehensions, and says that the director of national intelligence’s latest worldwide threat assessment does not describe a border crisis.

    In addition to arguing that “there is no objective basis” for a national emergency given that unlawful entries to the U.S. have tumbled to a 45-year low, the lawsuit argues that states would suffer from losing millions of dollars to fund drug enforcement and forfeiting money tabbed for military construction projects to the detriment of state economies.

    The border states of California and New Mexico would also incur “irreparable environmental damage,” the suit argues. Becerra has already challenged the Trump administration’s move to expedite construction by waiving environmental laws, though courts have so far sided with the administration.


    The lawsuit builds on California’s record of defying the administration with dozens of lawsuits over the past few years. In addition to California, the other states that joined the lawsuit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.

    “Declaring a National Emergency when one does not exist is immoral and illegal,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Diverting necessary funds from real emergencies, crime-fighting activities, and military construction projects usurps Congressional power and will hurt Americans across the country. We will not stand for this abuse of power and will fight using every tool at our disposal.”

    New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal echoed his fellow attorneys general in saying that Trump’s action was ill-considered and unconstitutional.

    “The real national emergency is a President who refuses to adhere to the rule of law,” Grewal said in a statement. “In its effort to cater to a select few on the right, this Administration is trampling on our Constitution and circumventing the will of Congress.

    “As the chief law enforcement officer for New Jersey, I have a duty to stand up for New Jersey’s residents — including our immigrant community — and so I’m joining states across the country in challenging this emergency declaration in court.”

    Beyond the wave of legal challenges that Trump is already facing, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has vowed to challenge the president’s declaration when it returns from recess next week. Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) announced last week that they planned to “introduce a resolution to terminate the President’s emergency declaration,” Castro’s office said in a statement.

    The White House has previously said Trump will veto any joint resolution to undo his declared emergency, creating an uphill battle for his opponents on Capitol Hill. Overcoming a presidential veto requires a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of Congress.

    Laura Nahmias in New York contributed to this report.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Biden’s polling lead shaky ahead of 2020 decision

    Biden’s polling lead shaky ahead of 2020 decision


    Joe Biden’s big lead in early Democratic 2020 polling might be a bunch of malarkey. While most polls show the former vice president hovering around 30 percent of the Democratic primary vote, well ahead of second-place Sen. Bernie Sanders, two recent...


    Joe Biden’s big lead in early Democratic 2020 polling might be a bunch of malarkey.

    While most polls show the former vice president hovering around 30 percent of the Democratic primary vote, well ahead of second-place Sen. Bernie Sanders, two recent surveys paint a starkly different picture — raising the question of whether Biden is a real front-runner or just has big name-recognition. Those polls show far more Democratic voters undecided about which candidate to support, and they pegged Biden’s backing at a much less intimidating 9 to 12 percent.

    The results are so varied partly thanks to different methodological choices by the pollsters. But parsing the results is more than an academic exercise: While Biden weighs a third campaign for the presidency, he and his allies must consider whether polls a year before primary season really reflect Biden’s true strength — and his potential rivals have to calculate whether the former vice president could overwhelm lesser-known challengers in 2020.

    “These polls are today’s reality,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone. “And sometimes, today’s reality holds until tomorrow and all the way until next year. And other times, today’s reality changes. Primaries are like that.”

    Today, the polling signs are that “it’s a very open field,” said Steen Kirby, a campaigns and data specialist with Bold Blue Campaigns, a Democratic firm. “People are weighing their options. I think the reason that so many people are getting in is because this is a 1-to-15 percent spread, not a 1-to-30 percent spread. It’s very different from 2016, when Hillary Clinton was at 40 or 50 percent.”



    Most polls of the 2020 Democratic contest work like this: A telephone interviewer reads a lengthy list of declared and undeclared candidates, or online poll-takers see the whole list on their device. Respondents select from the choices — though some go a different route and volunteer another candidate or say they are undecided.

    But critics say that setup forces voters to make a choice they’ve barely considered this early. That makes Biden — and, to a lesser extent, Sanders — an appealing option: Democrats know and almost universally like Biden, even if they haven’t thought a lot about whom they want to take on Trump 21 months from now.

    “In a race like this, the methodology stuff really does matter because it’s such an open question,” said Kirby, whose firm recently conducted a national poll of the 2020 Democratic presidential race. Bold Blue’s poll gave respondents an explicit option to say they were undecided — and nearly half, 48 percent, took it.

    Biden still led the field, but with only 12 percent support. Sanders was third, with 9 percent, behind Sen. Kamala Harris of California at 11 percent.

    Kirby thinks that is a more accurate reflection of the “hard-core” Biden and Sanders support than the 30 or 20 percent, respectively, the two men draw in other polls.


    The Bold Blue Campaigns survey isn’t the only poll to show Biden a lot closer to the other Democrats, with a larger share of undecideds. Last month, an ABC News/Washington Post poll asked respondents to volunteer the name of the person for whom they would vote in their state's Democratic primary or caucus.

    Biden stilled topped the field, but only at 9 percent. Harris was second at 8 percent, but no other candidate earned 5 percent. A majority of voters didn’t name a candidate or said they were undecided.

    Compare those results to other polls that used lists of named candidates: The latest Morning Consult poll shows Biden at 29 percent, Sanders at 22 percent and Harris at 13 percent. A Monmouth University poll last month also had Biden at 29 percent, with Sanders at 16 percent and Harris at 11 percent.

    In releasing the poll, Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, sounded a note of caution. “As with any presidential nominating contest at this point in time, voter preferences are driven largely by name recognition,” he said. “It would be very unusual if these results don’t change substantially when we get closer to next year’s primary contests. These early polls are most useful for looking at each candidate’s profile among the party faithful to assess potential viability.”


    Whether or not Biden is a strong front-runner or just the nominal leader of a wide-open race, he would bring significant goodwill among Democratic voters if he decides to run. He’s easily the best-known and best-liked candidate: Nearly 4-in-5 Democrats, 78 percent, have a favorable opinion of Biden, greater than any other candidate. Only 2 percent say they’ve never heard of the former vice president.

    In addition to vote preference and candidate favorability, some of the early polls also ask Democratic voters what values and attributes are most important to them. In the Monmouth poll, a 56 percent majority said they would rather vote for a Democrat they don’t agree with on most issues who would be stronger against Trump, compared with 33 percent who would choose a candidate they agree with more but would be weaker against Trump in November 2020.

    Biden allies cite electability as a reason why the early polls that show him leading don’t paint a distorted picture of the race.

    “Their top reason to vote for someone is going to be who can [beat] Trump. In that paradigm, Biden has the broadest level of support,” said Anzalone, who has been linked to a potential Biden campaign. “And that’s why I think that he will retain more of his current support than we’ve seen in previous years, when early poll[-leading] candidates slide.”

    That’s all speculation, and horse-race polls this far from an election — let alone a progressive series of 57 elections in different states and territories — aren’t intended to be predictive. But they do matter. Campaigns and prospective campaigns are examining private and public polling for hints about viability and strategy. The Democratic National Committee is using public poll results to determine eligibility for the party’s first primary debates this spring.

    The various 2020 Democratic polls “still all tell the same story: that it’s a wide-open race,” said Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster. But, Omero cautioned, “We should not be looking at these early polls as signs of what’s going to happen a year from now.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    ‘Evidence in plain sight’ of Trump collusion with Russia, Schiff says

    ‘Evidence in plain sight’ of Trump collusion with Russia, Schiff says


    House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that there is ample evidence Donald Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia.In an interview on CNN, Schiff rejected Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr’s statements from earlier...


    House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that there is ample evidence Donald Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia.

    In an interview on CNN, Schiff rejected Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr’s statements from earlier this month, in which Burr said evidence shows no collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.

    “Chairman Burr must have a different word for it,” Schiff told host Dana Bash on “State of the Union,” pointing to communications between Russia and Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump aides George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn.

    “You can see evidence in plain sight on the issue of collusion, pretty compelling evidence,” Schiff said, adding, “There is a difference between seeing evidence of collusion and being able to prove a criminal conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Schiff said special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on potential Russian government meddling in the 2016 election might not be the final word on the matter.


    “We may also need to see the evidence behind that report,” he said.

    And Schiff said that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should be held accountable if he lied to investigators — something he also said should be true of any former Trump staffers who did so.

    Last year, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog found that McCabe inappropriately authorized the disclosure of sensitive information about the Clinton investigation to a reporter and repeatedly lied to investigators about it . The Justice Department on Thursday referenced McCabe’s dismissal from the bureau, which followed that report, in its statement disputing his claims.

    “He should be held to the same standard anyone else that the Justice Department has looked at in this investigation or any other,” Schiff said.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Miller goes to bat for Trump over emergency declaration

    Miller goes to bat for Trump over emergency declaration


    White House senior adviser Stephen Miller on Sunday defended President Donald Trump from accusations of executive overreach, arguing Trump's is national emergency declaration was sanctioned by the “plain statute” of a law passed by Congress more than...


    White House senior adviser Stephen Miller on Sunday defended President Donald Trump from accusations of executive overreach, arguing Trump's is national emergency declaration was sanctioned by the “plain statute” of a law passed by Congress more than four decades ago.

    “They passed a law specifically saying the president could have this authority,” Miller told host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to the 1976 National Emergencies Act.

    Former commanders in chief have invoked emergency powers 59 times. But Trump’s chief immigration adviser could not cite for Wallace a single example of a past president employing the act to secure taxpayer dollars that had been denied by Congress.

    “It’s in the plain statute. That’s a decision that Congress made. And if people don’t like that, they can address it,” Miller said.

    “But to my point that I made, this would not be even an issue if the president was invoking that statute to support some foreign adventure overseas,” he said. “You and I both know that presidents for years have engaged in one military venture after another, not to mention the fact that we do operations to destroy drug fields in foreign lands, in Afghanistan or in Colombia, and we can’t even deal with the criminal cartels operating on our border.”


    Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border on Friday after signing a bipartisan government funding bill allocating $1.375 billion for border security — far less than the $5.7 billion he had sought from congressional negotiators for a wall separating the United States and Mexico.

    The emergency declaration will allow the White House to redirect $3.6 billion earmarked for military construction to Trump’s campaign trail promise. The administration is also seeking to tap $2.5 billion from a Pentagon drug prevention program and $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund to construct or repair up to 234 miles of border barrier.

    Miller said “hundreds of miles, collectively” of Trump’s border wall would be completed by September 2020.

    “If you look at what we’ve already outlaid, we have 120-odd miles that are already under construction and are already obligated, plus the additional funds we have and that we are going to outlay. You're going to look at a few hundred miles,” he said.


    The Democratic-controlled House is expected within weeks to pass a resolution rebuking Trump’s invocation of emergency powers, and several Republican senators have already expressed unease with the president’s decision to circumvent Congress.

    Miller suggested Trump would issue the first veto of his administration to quash the measure of disapproval if it clears Congress and is sent to the president’s desk.

    “He’s going to protect his national emergency declaration. Guaranteed.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    How Does a Straight White Male Democrat Run for President?

    How Does a Straight White Male Democrat Run for President?


    Of the nine candidates officially running in the Democratic presidential primary, only one is a heterosexual white man. And that guy, former Rep. John Delaney, generally polls somewhere between zero and 1 percent.But of the 17 Democrats reportedly still...


    Of the nine candidates officially running in the Democratic presidential primary, only one is a heterosexual white man. And that guy, former Rep. John Delaney, generally polls somewhere between zero and 1 percent.

    But of the 17 Democrats reportedly still pondering a presidential bid, all but one is a straight white man. It’s hard to chalk that up to coincidence. Clearly, the women and minority candidates sensed that the water is warm for them, and the straight white men appear to be worried that this is just not their year.

    CNN’s demographic number cruncher Ron Brownstein noted recently that the percentage of the Democratic primary electorate who are women, nonwhite voters and—“the most liberal component” of the party—college-educated white voters are all on the rise. The 2016 Democratic primary electorate was 58 percent women, 38 percent nonwhite voters and 37 percent college-educated white voters, all numbers that could be bigger in 2020, and strongly suggest a hospitable environment for candidates who embody a diverse America.

    Does this mean that Democratic Party voters are so obsessed with identity politics that they are shutting straight white men out of the party? No. Who have been the top two candidates in nearly every primary poll? Not just two straight white males, but geriatric ones: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the two oldest straight white men in the lot. In the most recent POLITICO/Morning Consult Democratic presidential primary tracking poll, the straight white male candidates, largely driven by Biden and Sanders, combined to garner 64 percent of the vote. Biden and Sanders are holding the top slots with the help of double-digit support among African-Americans, Latinos and women, showing that it remains possible for a white male Democratic candidate to knit together a diverse coalition.

    Still, the straight white men—including Biden and Sanders—are not being irrational by hesitating. Yes, they are risking a loss of media buzz, A-list staff and access to donor networks by allowing others get a head start. But they have good reason to tread carefully. Issues pertaining to race and gender are bound to be prominent in the campaign, and white men do not exactly have the best track record of dealing with them.

    Possible independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz sparked a thousand cringes when, after being asked about racist incidents at Starbucks cafes, he unconvincingly insisted, sounding like Stephen Colbert’s old Comedy Central parody of a right-wing TV host, “I honestly don't see color.” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, struggling to restore his reputation in the wake of the blackface scandal, stumbled again when he referenced the “first indentured servants from Africa” and received this sharp retort from CBS’ Gayle King: “also known as slavery.” Whatever defense you might want to make for these responses, the fact remains that precise language matters when discussing discrimination and bigotry, and a candidate who comes across as clueless, even if well-intentioned, on such topics is going to fail the test of who can best bring the nation together.

    Both Biden and Sanders will have their top-tier status severely put to the test on race and gender issues if they enter the primary. Biden is still dogged by his handling of the Anita Hill hearings. The conservative Washington Examiner has been digging up Biden’s comments from the mid-1970s criticizing the use of busing to desegregate schools. His more recent nostalgia for bipartisanship and compromise, even with “old-fashioned Democratic segregationists,” makes today’s young leftists apoplectic.

    Sanders, meanwhile, has periodically betrayed a tin ear on race and gender. He defended his endorsement of an anti-abortion mayoral candidate by admonishing the left, “You just can't exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.” And he charitably characterized white Floridians who were uncomfortable voting for an African-American gubernatorial candidate as “not necessarily racist.” His answer for why he missed sexual misconduct by his 2016 campaign staffers—“I was a little busy running around the country”—did not position him to win the #MeToo vote.

    If you think these statements automatically doom Biden and Sanders, you may be underestimating how forgiving the Democratic electorate can be. Consider that 58 percent of African-Americans in Virginia do not think Northam should resign. Even so, Biden and Sanders have not dealt with these issues as presidential candidates in the 2020 race, when scrutiny will exponentially intensify. They may want to spend a little extra time making sure they know exactly what they want to say on these subjects before they announce.

    Most of the straight while male fence-sitters come from the pragmatic corners of the Democratic Party, and they may want to position themselves as less susceptible than the early declared candidates to knee-jerk pandering to the left. Polls show that most Democrats are not inclined to put primary candidates through an obstacle course of purity tests, so there is likely room for such a candidate. But trying to seize the pragmatic mantle comes with a risk, especially for the straight white men. Hectoring others about what’s politically realistic could easily get a candidate tagged as a “mansplainer.” Moreover, any attack by a white man against a woman or a minority—be it from the candidate or from his supporters—would be extremely dangerous to wage, especially if those attacks come from the relative right of the party.

    One question that will be particularly tough for any male candidate: Why shouldn’t the next president be a woman? After all, just among the five female members of Congress already in the field, Democratic voters can choose among different ideologies, geographic and demographic backgrounds, and types of experience. With so many qualified choices, shouldn’t the male candidates just get out of the way?


    The hard truth is, there is no good answer to this question. The most obvious response, that the candidate feels he is best person for the job, runs the risk of sounding condescending. Magnanimity toward female candidates is fraught as well. Sen. Cory Booker recently fielded a softer yet still tricky question from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: whether he would commit to a female vice presidential nominee. While trying to delicately say he wouldn’t make an iron-clad commitment, he felt the need to insist that he isn’t trying to thwart women from becoming president. “I believe there should be a woman president right now, and I worked very hard to get one,” Booker said. He was referring to Hillary Clinton, of course, but the answer leaves dangling why isn’t he working to elect a woman president “right now.”

    Certainly no candidate is going to say on the record what one almost-candidate, Michael Avenatti, said last year—that to have the best chance of beating President Donald Trump, the Democratic nominee “better be a white male.” Even implicitly suggesting such a thing would be dangerous, as the straight white man and Southerner John Edwards did in 2008. He defined himself as the “most electable candidate” because he could “go to every corner of America,” implying that the African-American candidate, Barack Obama, and the female candidate, Hillary Clinton, could not.

    Not only did Edwards’ argument fail to sway voters in the primary, it was proven wrong by Obama in the general election. Ten years later, a slew of women in swing districts defeated Republican men in several House races to help Democrats take control of the House. There may still be skittish and cynical Democratic voters who worry about Trump defeating another woman, but it’s going to be hard to convince most of them that it’s impossible for a woman to beat Trump.

    We don’t need to feel sorry for the straight white male Democrats. Yes, they have challenges to overcome in a Democratic primary. But female and minority candidates still have to face bigotry every day, and they will be pressed to prove how they will overcome such barriers in a campaign against a president who lacks all restraint on the political battlefield. If some of the dozen or so white guys still thinking about running really do feel they are the best person for the job, part of making their case is by showing us how they can unite the party. If they can’t figure out how to do that, then they should stay on the sidelines.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Graham: I 'support' Trump emergency declaration

    Graham: I 'support' Trump emergency declaration


    Sen. Lindsey Graham on Saturday expressed support for President Donald Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency, saying Trump’s admission that he “didn’t need to” invoke his emergency powers did not weaken the White House’s claim that...


    Sen. Lindsey Graham on Saturday expressed support for President Donald Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency, saying Trump’s admission that he “didn’t need to” invoke his emergency powers did not weaken the White House’s claim that there is a crisis at the southern border.

    “I really don't think so,” Graham (R-S.C.) told host Margaret Brennan in an interview set to air Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

    “I think the president's been making a persuasive case that the border is broken, you know,” he said. “Drugs are flowing across the border killing Americans, human trafficking. We've got a dangerous situation along the border.”

    Trump on Friday announced his emergency declaration to fund construction of a wall along the southern border. During a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, the president said: “I want to do it faster. I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this.”

    Congressional Democrats have seized upon those remarks as evidence that the rate of illegal immigration from Mexico does not constitute an emergency. The liberal advocacy group Public Citizen on Friday filed the first of what is likely to be many lawsuits challenging the White House’s maneuver, arguing that Trump used the declaration to circumvent lawmakers in violation of the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution.

    But Graham on Saturday said the president’s actions were legal and justified.

    “I think the president has the authority to deploy troops to the border. Obama did. Bush did. Trump has,” he said. “And I think he has the authority while they're there to build barriers, and we'll see. I support his desire to get it done sooner rather than later."

    The Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass a resolution rebuking the president’s national emergency declaration within weeks. The measure would then head to the Senate, where several of the chamber’s 53 Republicans have expressed unease with the precedent Trump’s decision sets.

    “Congress is locked down and will not give him what we've given past presidents,” Graham said. “So unfortunately, he's got to do it on his own, and I support his decision to go that route."


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Senate Homeland chief weighs Trump rebuke on emergency declaration

    Senate Homeland chief weighs Trump rebuke on emergency declaration


    The Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said he is undecided on whether he will vote to rebuke President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration, adding that he is concerned the maneuver establishes a dangerous precedent...


    The Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said he is undecided on whether he will vote to rebuke President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration, adding that he is concerned the maneuver establishes a dangerous precedent for the executive branch.

    “I'm going to take a look at the case the president makes,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told host Chuck Todd in an interview set to air Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

    The Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass a resolution opposing Trump’s invocation of emergency powers within weeks. The measure would then head to the Senate, where several of the chamber’s 53 Republicans have expressed unease with the president’s decision to circumvent Congress.

    The bipartisan spending deal Trump signed on Friday allocated $1.375 billion for border security — far less than the $5.7 billion he had sought for a wall along the southern border. But the emergency declaration lets the White House redirect $3.6 billion earmarked for military construction to his campaign trail promise.


    The administration is also seeking to tap $2.5 billion from a Pentagon drug prevention program and $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund to construct or repair up to 234 miles of barrier separating the U.S. from Mexico.

    “I'm also going to take a look at how quickly this money is actually going to be spent, versus what he's going to use,” Johnson said. “If he's not going to be spending it this fiscal year or very early in the next fiscal year, I would have my doubts. So again, I'm going to take a look at it and I’ll, you know, I'll decide when I actually have to vote on it.”

    Asked about reservations among conservatives who fear Trump’s declaration would empower future Democratic administrations to unilaterally advance their agendas, Johnson said: “Absolutely, I share those concerns, which is why we're going to take a very careful look at what he's doing here in this instance.”

    Johnson has broken with the president over the White House's more controversial policy proposals.

    Earlier this month, he torched the Trump administration’s plans for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, saying the exodus of American soldiers from the region would be “tragic” and “unconscionable.” Johnson was also one of 43 Senate Republicans to back a measure by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that rebuked the president’s Syria policy in a bipartisan vote.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Week 91: Mueller’s Case for Collusion Comes Into View

    Week 91: Mueller’s Case for Collusion Comes Into View


    With a light hand, barely pressing his pencil on paper, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III began sketching his case for Trump campaign collusion with the Russians in a Friday court filing related to Roger Stone’s prosecution for lying to Congress....


    With a light hand, barely pressing his pencil on paper, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III began sketching his case for Trump campaign collusion with the Russians in a Friday court filing related to Roger Stone’s prosecution for lying to Congress.

    Until Friday, Mueller’s team had been coy about directly connecting any Trump campaign associate to a 12-member Russian GRU military intelligence team it indicted in July 2018 for hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. It had secured guilty pleas from such scandal participants as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump campaign executive Rick Gates, campaign backbencher George Papadopoulos, and others, and convicted campaign director Paul Manafort on an array of financial fraud charges connected to his politicking and lobbying for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

    But the two seemingly parallel investigations never really intersected. Self-described dirty trickster Stone, who worked on the early Trump campaign and remained close to Trump and his aides after departing, wanted the court to say the investigations were separate. He requested a new judge, saying the charges against him had nothing to do with the Russian hackers case, also being prosecuted before Judge Amy Berman Jackson. But the judge tossed Stone’s request, accepting Mueller’s line of argument that Stone directly interacted with the Russians and Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, the middleman for the hacked emails.

    Now that the two investigations are one, what remains to be gleaned is how wide and deep the Trump campaign’s connections to the Russians and WikiLeaks were.

    Previous Mueller filings had noted Stone’s attempts to contact Assange through intermediaries, hoping to learn what sort of politically potent documents he might have. But Stone had steadfastly denied any contact with Russia or WikiLeaks. That’s a lie, Mueller’s new filing says. Citing evidence obtained in “dozens of search warrants on various accounts used to facilitate the transfer of stolen documents for release,” it claims Stone communicated with WikiLeaks — referred to as “Organization 1” in the filing — and Guccifer 2.0, a Russian intelligence alias used to spread the data stolen in the hacks.

    Who else did Stone talk to about the WikiLeaks dump? Last month’s Stone indictment had him informing “senior Trump campaign officials” between June and July 2016 that WikiLeaks possessed stolen emails that could damage the Clinton candidacy. Then came WikiLeaks’ first release of Democratic emails on July 22, 2016, followed by the Trump campaign’s request for more.

    This artfully constructed sentence in the Stone indictment has birthed a million speculations that Donald Trump was among the requesters: “A senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton campaign,” the indictment reads. Would anybody be in a position to direct a senior Trump campaign official but Trump himself? Lightly traced but still visible, Mueller has drawn a possible line from Trump to a campaign aide to Stone to WikiLeaks and to the Russians. Inside the White House, Trump must be screaming for an eraser.

    In the Manafort case, Mueller roughed up the convict with explicit language in a sentencing memorandum filed Friday. “Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” Mueller wrote. “Given the breadth of Manafort’s criminal activity, the government has not located a comparable case with the unique array of crimes and aggravating factors.” Under federal sentencing guidelines, Manafort could get 19 to 24½ years in prison—essentially a life sentence for the 69-year-old.

    Mueller looked like a merciful, New Testament-toting Christian in comparison to Judge Jackson in the Manafort matter. Her Feb. 13 hearing, in which she examined the special counsel’s charge that Manafort had lied after promising cooperation, was released in redacted form Friday. The judge rejected Manafort’s attorneys’ assertion that confusion and not lies were behind the stream of bogus information Manafort had fed Mueller. “My concern isn’t with nonanswers or simply denials, but the times he affirmatively advanced a detailed alternative story that was inconsistent with the facts.” The lies followed a pattern, too, the judge said. “Concessions comes [sic] in dribs and drabs, only after it’s clear that the office of the special counsel already knew the answer. Again, it’s part of a pattern of requiring the office of the special counsel to pull teeth; withholding facts if he can get away with it.”

    The judge singled out the way Manafort had lied about his interactions with Konstantin V. Kilimnik, Manafort’s former employee and believed by Mueller to be a Russian intelligence asset, calling it a “problematic attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability and it gives rise to legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.”

    Manafort originally claimed to have spoken only once with Kilimnik about the Ukrainian “peace plan”—at the Grand Havana Room cigar joint in New York on Aug. 2, 2016, just before he was fired from the Trump campaign. But Manafort eventually conceded that he discussed the “peace plan” three additional times after prosecutors showed him evidence of the other meetings. Why these lies? What was he hiding?

    The Kilimnik question engaged and enraged Jackson. “We’ve now spent considerable time talking about multiple clusters of false or misleading or incomplete or needed-to-be-prodded-by-counsel statements, all of which center around the defendant’s relationship or communications with Mr. Kilimnik,” she said. “This topic is at the undisputed core of the office of special counsel’s investigation.”


    With Democrats now calling the investigative shots in the House of Representatives, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings made news on Friday by sending a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone claiming evidence that two Trump attorneys had lied to government ethics officials about Cohen’s hush-money payments to women alleging affairs with Trump before the 2016 election.

    “This raises significant questions about why some of the president’s closest advisers made these false claims and the extent to which they too were acting at the direction of, or in coordination with, the president,” Cummings wrote. Trump’s attorneys had denied that Trump owed money to Cohen in 2016 and 2017, but the story evolved after Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a TV interview that Trump had paid Cohen as part of a “retainer.”

    After we sort out the whole Russian mess, the task will be assigned to someone to tally up the saga’s greatest lies. One contender for the crown might be White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who told CNN on Friday that she was interviewed by Mueller’s team late last year. Because Sanders has been loquacious on the investigation topic since taking the press secretary job in July 2017, Mueller would want to know what sort of input Trump provided. Did he feed her the sort of lies that could be read as obstruction to justice?

    I hope for Sanders’ sake she told the truth. Jackson and Mueller don’t cotton to liars.

    ******

    Is Judge Jackson a hanging judge? Send predictions via email to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts urge forgiveness for all the sinners. My Twitter feed is on the same page. My RSS feed suggests shallow, unmarked graves in the Sonoran Desert for the transgressors.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    The One Trait That Predicts Trump Fever

    The One Trait That Predicts Trump Fever


    “Sadly, the American dream is dead.”After rambling, off script, for most of his 50-minute speech to announce his presidential candidacy in June 2015, Donald Trump returned to his written remarks for the final section. He delivered these somber words...


    “Sadly, the American dream is dead.”

    After rambling, off script, for most of his 50-minute speech to announce his presidential candidacy in June 2015, Donald Trump returned to his written remarks for the final section. He delivered these somber words slowly, pausing for emphasis.

    “Sadly ... the American dream is dead,” he said.

    In the cavernous lobby of Trump Tower, an eager supporter filled that pregnant silence. “Bring it back!”

    Sure enough, that was Trump’s promise and the final line, the bottom line, of his candidacy: “But if I get elected president, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again!”

    This became his mantra. "Make America Great Again." The premise of that motto—the American dream is dead—carried the day in state after state, and it drew boisterous crowds at rallies in places like Lowell, Mass.; Beaumont, Texas; Mobile, Ala.—“We’re running on fumes. There’s nothing here."—and Springfield, Ill.

    “These rally towns,” the Washington Post reported in an early effort to decode Trump’s meaning, “lag behind the country and their home states on a number of measures. Their median household incomes are lower, and they often have lower rates of homeownership or residents with college degrees.”

    On April 26, 2016, my own state of Maryland, along with four other states, voted for Trump in the primary election, putting him on the doorstep of the Republican nomination. “Every single place I go is a disaster,” Trump said in his victory remarks that night.

    Trump obviously didn’t go where I had gone on a reporting trip that morning: to Chevy Chase Village Hall, off of Connecticut Avenue, just outside Washington, D.C. Chevy Chase, Md., is a Democratic stronghold, but a place that liked Trump in the general election in 2016 far less than it did Mitt Romney in 2012. Trump also got only 16 percent of Republican primary votes in Chevy Chase; 64 percent of primary Republican voters preferred then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

    Chevy Chase’s rejection of Trump in the primary election could be chalked up as liberal Beltway Republicans rejecting Trump. But if we look deeper, we see parallels to Trump’s performance in some very conservative places in Middle America, and the conditions that might have led to both of those places’ rejections of him.

    In the case of Chevy Chase, the key to understanding Trump opposition in the primary has a lot to do with understanding the strength of the community, just as it does in a Wisconsin town called Oostburg. Oostburg is different from Chevy Chase in almost every way except for one crucial similarity: Both of these villages are knit together by the kind of community institutions and civil society that have disintegrated in most of the United States in the past several decades. These places illustrate a kind of social cohesion that undermines what Trump says about the direction of the American dream. And so the stories of Chevy Chase and Oostburg, two places that rejected Trump, help us to understand why so many other places in the United States embraced him and why they might do so again in 2020.

    When I arrived at Chevy Chase’s Village Hall, which is the polling place for the village, I found a parking spot between a BMW and a Porsche SUV. That was unsurprising. Chevy Chase Village is the wealthiest municipality in the D.C. region, which is probably the highest-income region in the country. The mean household income in the Village of Chevy Chase is $420,000. Only about 2 percent of America makes that much. Chris Matthews and George F. Will are just two of the well-known residents of the village. Ambassadors, lawyers, bankers and lobbyists populate the beautiful massive homes off Connecticut Avenue, almost all of which are worth more than $1 million. The median home costs $1.52 million.

    Chevy Chase Village isn’t merely wealthy in material things. To the extent we can measure the good life, Chevy Chase has it. About 95 percent of Chevy Chase’s families had two parents at home in 2015. The Village Hall hosts a monthly speaker series, which kicked off in April 2017 with a talk by documentary filmmaker Tamara Gold. CIA veteran David Duberman was slated for the next month. A committee of volunteers throws regular parties for the whole village. Saint Patrick’s Day included a “Father/Daughter Pipe/Harpist Team and True Scottish Piper,” according to the Crier, the village’s own newsletter. Children and toddlers can take ballet and musical theater classes at Village Hall. Adults can take tai chi.

    The community is engaged. At a village meeting I observed, there were presentations by the volunteer members or chairmen and chairwomen of the Community Relations Committee, the Ethics Commission, the Financial Review Committee, the Public Safety Committee, the Traffic Committee, the Local Advisory Panel to the Historic Preservation Commission, the Western Grove Park Friends Group, the Environment and Energy Committee and the Parks and Greenspaces Committee.

    Chevy Chase is “the village” Hillary Clinton said it took to raise a family. And Clinton took the village. The day I was there for the 2016 primary, Clinton raked in 85 percent of the vote. She would a few months later also dominate the general election at this polling place, beating Trump by 56 points. This tells us something rather obvious to anyone who knows the area: that wealthy, white Chevy Chase is very liberal.

    But a closer look tells us something more specific. Compare Clinton’s 56-point margin with 2012, when President Barack Obama defeated Romney by 31 points. There is something about Chevy Chase that makes it like Trump so much less than it liked Romney. Chevy Chase’s aversion to Trump appears much more clearly when we set aside the general election, which is a choice between a Republican and a Democrat. We need to focus instead on the Republican primary, where Trump got a fraction of Kasich’s vote share.

    Chevy Chase’s wealth is extreme, but the phenomenon in play here—wealthy, highly educated people in affluent communities eschewing Trump and his proclamation that the American dream is dead—is common. Chevy Chase is in Montgomery County, Md., which is the third-most-educated county in the nation, measured by advanced degrees—31.6 percent of adults older than 25 have a graduate or professional degree. Nationally, the rate is less than 12 percent. The rest of the top four—Arlington and Alexandria counties in Virginia, and the District of Columbia (functionally a county for our purposes)—are among Trump’s 35 worst counties in America. You can spot the suburbs, chock-full of advanced degrees and six-figure salaries, by looking at a primary election map for counties that voted for Kasich or Marco Rubio.

    The best explanation of why these pockets of elites rejected Trump is found in Trump’s own words. He was selling a sense of decline and a desperate need to turn things around. In Kasich Country, though—in college towns and prosperous suburbs—people believed the American dream was alive. These people also believed America was great already, while much of the electorate didn’t.

    This isn’t a universal rule, and it doesn’t apply as well to the general election, in which voters picked between Trump and Clinton. But, as a general rule, you can use Trump’s electoral strength in the early Republican primaries as a proxy for pessimism. Trump Country, by this definition, is the place where hope is low and where the good life appears out of reach. So the flip side is this: Where Trump bombed—especially in the GOP primaries, but also compared with Romney in 2012—are the places where you can sniff out confidence, optimism, hope and, if you’ll pardon the treacle, the American dream.

    If we start our search for the American dream in Clinton’s Village, the Village of Chevy Chase, it’s tempting to come to a materialistic conclusion: People with money have hope, and the American dream is alive and well in wealthy neighborhoods.

    But a closer look at the primary map reveals other pockets of Trump opposition in the early days—another model of the good life. There’s a different sort of village out there.

    There’s Oostburg.

    Oostburg couldn’t be more different from Chevy Chase. While Chevy Chase borders the District of Columbia, the village of Oostburg sprouted up in the farm fields of Wisconsin. It’s an outlying suburb of Sheboygan, Wis.—which is not a booming metropolis.

    The median home in Oostburg is worth $148,000, meaning you could buy 10 homes in Oostburg for the price of one in Chevy Chase. Oostburg is not poor: The average household earns $58,000, which is slightly above the national average. Even that slight advantage in household income has a clear—and salient—demographic explanation: Oostburg is a family town.

    Different types of households nationwide have very different median incomes. Married-family households on average have higher incomes than nonmarried or nonfamily households. Oostburg is much denser with married-family households than the rest of the country—two-thirds of households in Oostburg; less than 50 percent nationwide—and that difference explains Oostburg’s advantage over the national median. In other words, Oostburg’s wealth is literally its family strength.

    And if you ask Oostburgers, they’ll say their family strength is community strength. A few weeks before that Maryland primary, I spent a couple of days in Oostburg to cover the Wisconsin primaries. Just as I would visit Chevy Chase because of what made it stand out—its wealth—I picked Oostburg because of what made it stand out: its Dutchness and the strong community that the Dutch are known for, even centuries after they immigrated to the United States.

    Forty-five percent of Oostburg claims Dutch heritage according to the census. Another 42 percent are German. “Oostburg” is Dutch for East town. Dutch settlers arrived there in the 1840s, and the signs of the Netherlands, like tulips and miniature windmills, are everywhere. “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much,” was a phrase I first heard at the lunch counter of Judi’s Place, a family-owned diner.

    On Sunday morning at Judi’s, I saw the truest manifestation of the town’s Dutch heritage, and it wasn’t the diner cuisine: Dozens of families streamed in to eat with their neighbors after service at one of the four Reformed churches in the village. While there’s no speaker series highlighting famous residents, the community’s strength is unquestionable. Neighbors all greet each other at Judi’s. Customers prepared and delivered frozen meals to the waitress, who was scheduled to have surgery the next day.

    One man—a mechanic named Dan—complained to me about a recent Christmas concert at the public school. He couldn’t get a seat in the gym for the concert because all of his neighbors, even those with no school-age children, were there. One neighbor shrugged at Dan’s plight. “We gotta come see our kids,” the neighbor said. The neighbor had no children singing that day, but Oostburgers consider the kids of Oostburg “our kids.” It takes a village, and Oostburg fits the bill of that village.

    But this isn’t Clinton’s type of village politically. Trump won it 80 percentage points to her 13 points in the general election. In 2014, one blogger suggested Oostburg was the most conservative town in Wisconsin. But just as in Chevy Chase, Oostburg’s Republicans had no use for Trump in the primary election. Trump, who dominated most of Wisconsin’s rural areas, scored only 15 percentage points in the Republican primary in this village. That’s a familiar number—it’s only one point off from his total in Chevy Chase.

    What made Oostburg so immune to Trump’s appeal? It’s inadequate to say Christian conservatives rejected this twice-divorced New York playboy who had supported abortion rights until recently. In South Carolina, a few weeks earlier, Trump won the evangelical vote with the same amount, 33 percent, that he won the rest of the state, according to exit polls.

    Oostburg wasn’t an outlier, either. If you wanted to predict which rural, Christian counties would buck the Trump train when they had a choice among Republicans like Ted Cruz, Rubio and Kasich, you could have done a lot worse than looking at a county’s Dutch population.

    Here’s the common thread between the Oostburgs and the Chevy Chases and among analogues around the country: Both villages have strong institutions of civil society—local governments, churches, country clubs, garden clubs, good public schools and, in Oostburg’s case, Judi’s Place.

    Those community institutions constitute the infrastructure that is necessary to support families.

    And the institutions in turn are supported by families. Strong families are the precondition for the good life and mobility—the dream, grounded in realistic hope, that no matter your starting point, you can succeed and your children can do even better.

    ***



    When data show that the white working class was Trump’s base, it’s easy to see the phrase “white working class” as a statement of race and income. It’s more important, though, as a description of a social class—even a way of life. “White working-class Americans of all ages,” writes Emma Green in the Atlantic, citing research by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic, “were much less likely than their college-educated peers to participate in sports teams, book clubs, or neighborhood associations—55 percent vs. 31 percent said they seldom or never participated in those kinds of activities.”

    This had political salience. That poll, taken in midprimaries, when Cruz was the last viable challenger, found Trump leading among GOP voters 37 to 31. But among GOP voters who were “civically disengaged,” Trump led 50 to 24. Oostburg voted Cruz and Chevy Chase voted Kasich. Within the context of Republicans, churchgoing white Christians are conservative while the wealthy, highly educated white suburbanites are moderates.

    You could see these two things as opposites, but the stories of Kasich Country and Cruz Country are the same story: People enmeshed in strong communities rejected Trump in the early primaries while people alienated, abandoned, lacking social ties and community rushed to him.

    Trump’s best large county in the Iowa caucuses, Pottawattamie, had the weakest civil society—churches, neighborhood groups, volunteering, voting—of any large county in Iowa and is known for its neon-lighted casinos erected to bring in out-of-state gamblers. His best small county is notable mostly for church closures and the shuttering of its largest employer in early 2016. It also ranks at the bottom of the state in widely used measures of civil society.

    His other best places in those early primaries—places like Buchanan County, Va.; and Fayette County, Pa.—looked similarly vacant.

    Why do so many people believe the American dream is dead? I think the answer is this: Because strong communities have crumbled and much of America has been abandoned without the web of human connections and institutions that make the good life possible. More of America is a wasteland of alienation. Less of America is the “village.”

    Can this change?

    America has more Chevy Chases today than it did a generation ago, but that’s because wealthy people are clustering more. Making more Chevy Chases is a zero-sum game: It means drawing the skilled, the active, the educated, the leaders out of other communities and concentrating them in places where normal folk can’t afford a house. There is also a clear limit on how many pockets of elites America can have, because, by definition, the elites are few.

    But remember the second village, Oostburg. The raw material is more renewable there, and arguably it used to be more plentiful and could be again. It’s a sense of duty to one’s neighbors—a duty that includes a sense of duty to one’s family. It’s a sense of both being looked after and being needed. It’s a sense of a common, higher purpose. It’s shared, resilient mediating institutions. And frankly, in America at least, that common purpose is a common faith, and those mediating institutions are really the church. There could be more Oostburgs, too.

    From the forthcoming book ALIENATED AMERICA: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse by Timothy P. Carney. Copyright © 2019 by Timothy P. Carney. To be published on Feb. 19, 2019 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Excerpted by permission.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Why Trump’s Going to Win on the National Emergency

    Why Trump’s Going to Win on the National Emergency


    All through the 2016 campaign Donald Trump warned about the menace of immigration by reciting the lyrics of a song called “The Snake,” about a kind woman who takes a snake into her home, only to die when he bites her. The snake tells the woman,...


    All through the 2016 campaign Donald Trump warned about the menace of immigration by reciting the lyrics of a song called “The Snake,” about a kind woman who takes a snake into her home, only to die when he bites her. The snake tells the woman, “You knew I was a snake before you took me in.”

    It is now clear that, consciously or not, Trump was delivering a warning to the Republican Party about what he was going to do to it. Two years into his administration, Trump has recognized that the institutional power of the Republican Party has all the effectiveness of the Maginot Line. He can ignore its leaders, scorn them, or just smash through them with no lasting political damage.


    Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border is a high point, or low point, of a familiar pattern that is right out of Groundhog Day—or the Netflix series Russian Doll. Again and again, Trump embraces a policy, or reveals a character trait, that hits at the heart of what the Republican Party claims to stands for. In response, there is unhappiness, even anger, but never action. If you think the Republicans in Congress are going to stand up to Trump’s fake national emergency in order to defend the party’s long-held principles, or to assert the constitutional authority of the legislative branch, you haven’t been paying attention for the past three years. Trump said he would win so much that you’d get tired of winning—the lone arena in which this is objectively true is how he has imposed his will on his fellow Republicans, who have surrendered abjectly to him.

    That’s why, on the national emergency, Trump is about to win again. Republican officeholders like Maine’s Susan Collins will surely reach for the thesaurus to find appropriate adjectives (“troubling,” “disturbing,” “unsettling”). The naysayers will look over their shoulders at a party base that stands solidly behind the president. And when the rubble clears, Trump will still be standing, and another key element of the catechism—this time, limited constitutional government with a separation of powers that was outlined by James Madison and other framers—will be in ruins.

    At times, it’s possible to imagine the president almost willfully testing his party, musing about whether there is any part of its belief system that he cannot compel Republicans to abandon. Is character key to a good leader? White evangelicals, who once overwhelmingly supported that proposition, now reject it by landslide margins. Are deficits a mortal danger to the national economic health? Are international alliances crucial to national security?


    It is absolutely consistent with what has happened all through the Trump years that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who has often posed as if he were picking up the mantle of the late Robert Byrd as the champion and protector of the Senate’s powers—announced that he would support a national emergency declaration that treats Congress like it has all the lawmaking powers of the New York Times editorial board. Yes, McConnell’s endorsement of the emergency had the feel of a hostage tape, but what matters is that once again Trump has taken the measure of his party. Faced with the prospect of another government shutdown, with heavy costs to the country and to the GOP—the latter being far more influential than the former— McConnell signed off on an assertion of executive power that would have had him apoplectic had any other president tried it. And as of now, there appear to be more than enough Republicans in the House and Senate to sustain a veto should Congress seek to override the president’s emergency declaration.

    Where we are is where we have been since Trump descended the escalator in mid-2015: He has a fervently loyal base within the Republican Party that will forgive him any conduct; he has powerful media voices who will provide him aid and comfort under almost any circumstance, and has helped to convince his supporters that anything critical of the president is by definition fake; and he has enough allies in Congress—allied either by conviction or by fear of retaliation or by a willingness to tolerate his behavior in return for tax cuts and a conservative judiciary —to stand with him.


    Those of us—the majority of Americans—who are outside of this circle have watched these past few years with a mix of incredulity and anticipation. Any moment now, the CNN megapanels hint every day, Robert Mueller or federal prosecutors in Manhattan will be issuing indictments or a devastating report that will drive the president from office. Soon, a credible Republican—John Kasich? Bill Weld? Larry Hogan? Charlie Baker? Nikki Haley?—will emerge to challenge Trump in the 2020 Republican primaries. Any moment now, Trump himself, driven into panic and despair by a rising tide of condemnation, will resign his office.

    What we’ve actually seen, as opposed to what we might hope for, offers a different likelihood. There will be no Republican revolt. Enough of the party will dismiss out of hand any evidence of criminal or impeachable behavior. A loyal attorney general and Supreme Court offer further sources of protection. And while surveys say a solid majority of voters now would refuse to reelect Trump, the combination of the Electoral College and a Democratic Party fully capable of blowing this opportunity makes a Trump second term a reasonable possibility.

    About one thing, at least, Trump is correct. This is a national emergency. It is a sign of what he has achieved that his party cannot or will not hear the alarms.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Dems Won This Fight On the Border. What About the Next One?

    Dems Won This Fight On the Border. What About the Next One?


    After a 35-day government shutdown, weeks of congressional negotiations to avoid a second shutdown and a widespread consensus among voters that the White House was to blame for it all, President Donald Trump ended up with $1.375 billion for border...


    After a 35-day government shutdown, weeks of congressional negotiations to avoid a second shutdown and a widespread consensus among voters that the White House was to blame for it all, President Donald Trump ended up with $1.375 billion for border fencing—less money than he would’ve received had he avoided it all by signing the bipartisan spending bill in December.

    It is clear to almost every political observer who has watched the events of the past few days unfold that on this fight, Democrats won and Trump lost.

    And equally clear was that the president would try to spin this as a victory, even as he was left to declare a national emergency—circumventing Congress to build his border wall. “We have so much money, we don’t know what to do with it,” Trump said in a speech Friday in the Rose Garden. “I don’t know what to do with all the money they’re giving us. It’s crazy.”

    Democrats consciously decided to hold off on gloating until the funding bill was signed, worried that Trump could renege on the deal. Privately, though, they hadn’t yet tired of all the winning.

    But as a matter of both policy and strategy, is just saying “no”—as Democrats did in these negotiations—a sustainable long-term approach to dealing with Trump? Is it enough to simply block his immigration objectives, or do Democrats need to come up with an alternative policy of their own? And just what should that policy be?

    We asked some of the brightest strategists and policy minds in the Democratic Party. Here’s what they had to say.


    ‘There’s a risk of Trump being able to define the alternative’
    Celinda Lake is a pollster and Democratic political strategist, and the president of the polling firm Lake Research Partners.

    For a long time, Democrats have offered proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. It’s essential that they continue to, both as a matter of policy and politics: Two-thirds of voters believe we need comprehensive reform and support a road map to citizenship, and the proposal is very popular with Latino voters and whites, each of which are important groups for Democrats to win over in 2020.

    Having such a proposal also protects against many of President Trump’s attacks. In the absence of a clearly defined alternative to the president, there’s a risk of Trump being able to define the alternative to his own benefit.
      
      
    ‘Stopping ill-advised policy is only the down payment’ for what Dems must do next
    Cecilia Muñoz is vice president of New America, and served as director of the domestic policy council for President Barack Obama.

    It’s tremendously important for the sake of the country that Democrats demonstrate the capacity to block the president’s misguided policy agenda, including his insistence on wasting billions on a wall which most of the country understands is more of a symbol than an actual border strategy. But stopping ill-advised policy is only the down payment; the bigger opportunity for Democrats is to demonstrate that what they offer the country is the capacity to govern, to bring order out of the chaos created by this president, and restore our faith that our policymakers can address our challenges effectively.

    There are indeed challenges that become visible at the U.S.-Mexico border. One of these is the fact that we have a refugee crisis in our hemisphere: Instability and violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala is leading people to flee, either by sending their children north in the hands of smugglers, or by bringing their children north themselves. This is vastly more than a border management problem; it requires a strategy with international and domestic components, including procedures to protect the integrity of our borders while also living up to our moral and legal obligation to protect those whose lives are in danger. Democrats are right to stand in the way of the president’s worst instincts. Then they must show the country that they can lead by offering policies that are both more effective and more true to our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
      
      
    ‘Trump’s real concern is base politics, not border security’
    Stephanie Cutter is the co-founder of Precision Strategies and was the deputy manager of President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.

    No one disputes that Democrats are the champions of comprehensive immigration reform, and I expect that we’ll see more on reforms for Dreamers and other issues in the near future. But thanks to the leadership and negotiating power of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswomen Nita Lowey and Lucille Roybal Allard, Democrats now have the chance to make a proactive case on border security.

    Why is it important for Democrats to do that? It’s not just about saying no to an ineffective, costly wall that’s more about President Trump’s politics than actual immigration policy or border security; it’s about offering a better alternative that makes record investments in smart technology, manpower, and other solutions that actually do the job of preventing illegal immigration—and because it does that, exposes that Trump’s real concern is base politics, not border security. Juxtapose that type of proposal with Trump, who shut down the government and bankrupted federal workers because he couldn’t fulfill his promise that Mexico will pay for his wall, and who, in the end, got less for that wall than what was offered before he shut down the government in the first place.
      
      
    Voters sent a Democratic majority to Congress for moments like this
    Symone D. Sanders is a Democratic strategist, CNN political commentator and former national press secretary of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

    Donald Trump’s immigration objectives are based on fear-mongering, partisanship and empty rhetoric, as opposed to facts, data and reality. The American people understand this, which is why they voted in 2018 to put a check on the president. That’s what voters expect, and Democrats cannot waver on that commitment. When put in this context, one can then understand Democrats’ opposition to Trump’s immigration objectives as more than just a function of a divided Congress. Rather, it is why the American people sent them Washington: to hold the president accountable.

    Does Congress need to work toward comprehensive immigration reform? Yes. Should Democrats lay out what that looks like from their perspective? Absolutely. But that will take months of dedicated time, as well as a real commitment from Republicans to do what’s needed (as opposed to what is popular with Trump’s base)—and it would require a partner in President Trump, which is unlikely. It will take longer than three weeks to fix, and comprehensive immigration reform should not be conflated with Trump’s campaign fantasy of a border wall. The real question is this: How are Democrats expected to negotiate one of the most complex and pressing policy issues of our time with a man whose word can’t be trusted? Frankly, I think the answer is they cannot. Perhaps, comprehensive immigration reform will just have to wait for a real negotiator-in-chief.
      
      
    On immigration, Dems must offer a more comprehensive vision than Hillary Clinton did in 2016
    Stanley Greenberg is the co-founder of Democracy Corps, and a former pollster for President Bill Clinton, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and South African President Nelson Mandela.

    As long as President Trump is focused on building the highest wall possible as a symbol of America repelling the dark hordes he imagines coming in caravans and hiding Muslim terrorists, opposition to Trump’s policy will be front and center. That’s smart politics: Our real-time dial testing on Trump’s recent State of the Union speech found that voters view Trump’s claims about the wall with great skepticism. His threatening talk about “caravans” and a border “crisis” backfired, even among white, working-class women. Literally every mention he made of the wall turned voters off, and it would be a strategic mistake for Democrats not to oppose him on this.

    By and large, Democrats think the current immigration system is broken and favor comprehensive immigration reform—which is a big policy that manages immigration, including elevated enforcement, expanded family and work immigration, and a path to citizenship for those who have not committed other crimes and will pay back taxes. In 2016, the problem was that Hillary Clinton and others only remembered the path for citizenship for the undocumented and the Dreamers. But as we move closer to 2020, I’m sure Democratic candidates will become more articulate about how we champion our multiculturalism and manage immigration.
      
      
    ‘In the weeks ahead,’ House Dems should lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform
    Neera Tanden is president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

    It’s clear that congressional Democrats emerged from this fight as the victorious party. But while Democrats in Congress were able to successfully crush the president’s demands for a $5.7 billion border wall, the Trump administration’s detention policies are still a disaster—with officials rounding up immigrants who have lived in and contributed to our country for decades.

    Moving forward, Democrats in Congress should begin to lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform and build a truly effective system which is consistent with our nation’s values. At the core, the principal underpinning of this approach should be the rule of law. The central tenets of comprehensive reform are supported by an overwhelming majority of voters from across the political spectrum: offering an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who already serve as an integral part of our society; making smarter and more effective investments to strengthen our borders (instead of fixating upon an absurd border wall); designing a legal immigration system that matches the needs of families, workers, and American businesses; and ensuring that people seeking asylum have a fair opportunity to receive humanitarian protection.

    In the weeks ahead, this work should begin with the introduction and passage of legislation in the House that provides permanent protections for Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status holders whose lives have been thrown into chaos by this administration. Congressional Democrats should own the widespread consensus around the issue of immigration—the American people stand with them, not Donald Trump.
      
      
    Border security shouldn’t mean ‘a medieval wall from the Pacific to the Gulf’
    Bob Shrum is a longtime Democratic strategist, and the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics at the University of Southern California.

    In effect, there is a Democratic alternative to Trump’s immigration policies, along the lines of the 2013 “Gang of Eight” bill from Senators McCain, Schumer, Rubio, Durbin and others: a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including the Dreamers; liberalized rules for skilled immigrants; and E-Verify to be combined with border security. (And that border security is not a medieval wall from the Pacific to the Gulf.)

    This can pass the House, but not a Senate cowed by Trump, who would veto it in any event. For now, Democrats can block Trump, and that’s popular. And after 2020, they can probably push through comprehensive reform, which contra-Trump, is very popular.
      
      
    Dems must advance immigration reform ‘that protects immigrant communities and assures their safety and dignity’
    K. Sabeel Rahman is president of Demos, a progressive think tank.

    Trump’s wall and approach to immigration are a direct threat to the safety and well-being of immigrant communities. Let’s be clear: It’s another way for this administration to attack communities of color. This is a deep fight for our values and fundamentally it is about who counts as a full member of our society. By taking a moral stance on immigration and leading with our values, progressives are winning the larger fight for an America we can be proud of. In fact, a growing number of Americans support citizenship for people who are undocumented.

    Democrats should back up this fight by advancing immigration reform that protects immigrant communities and assures their safety and dignity. This includes a direct, fair, and inclusive road to citizenship for immigrants without papers and provisions to ensure that undocumented immigrants are treated with respect and dignity by their employers and by law enforcement. Reforms must also be enacted to assure ICE and CBP accountability for atrocities like the family separation crisis, and which end the practice of arbitrary raids, prosecution, and harassment of communities of color under the guise of immigration enforcement. When all immigrants have full and equal rights, we will finally have an immigration system based on fairness and that upholds true American values.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Can Trump Spin a Wall From Nothing?

    Can Trump Spin a Wall From Nothing?


    President Donald Trump on Friday signed a deal for far less money than he wanted to start to put up a tiny fraction of a slat-fence variety of the long-promised border wall he says he’s been building but hasn’t. It was clearly a loss. He still called...


    President Donald Trump on Friday signed a deal for far less money than he wanted to start to put up a tiny fraction of a slat-fence variety of the long-promised border wall he says he’s been building but hasn’t. It was clearly a loss. He still called it a win.

    “Nobody’s done the job that we’ve done on the border,” Trump said in the midst of his meandering Rose Garden remarks. “No matter the money, we’re getting it done. Whether it’s $8 billion or $2 billion or $1 1/2 billion, it’s going to build a lot of wall. We’re getting it done.”


    Trump declaring a national emergency on the Mexican border: a first. Trump painting over inconvenient facts: not at all a first. His whole life, from courtrooms and boardrooms in New York to the suites and the jangling halls of his casinos in New Jersey to his unlikely political ascent and now his two-plus haywire years in the White House, Trump unceasingly has suffered setbacks but nonetheless dubbed them successes. There are people, of course, who see him as little more than a scattershot incompetent, but to settle for that characterization is to miss this vital part of his M.O. It’s one of his most uncommon and undeniable talents—a stubborn and often effective refusal to allow others to define his victories and defeats.


    The current situation, though, could be his most challenging rebranding effort yet. The wall, after all, was the evocative underpinning of his candidacy, chant-ready chum, an unsubtle cross between a policy position and a race-laced call to arms. As a piece of pure imagery, it’s been surpassed perhaps only by the red MAGA hat. But his “great, great,” “big, beautiful wall” remains Trump’s political lifeblood. It either will or won’t exist, and that could determine his political future.

    “I think he’s in big trouble if he can’t build it,” former campaign aide Sam Nunberg, who says he’s the one who had the idea of the wall as a winning issue for Trump, told me. “If he’s not getting anything done, I think it’s terrible for his re-elect.”

    And with the 2020 presidential campaign ramping up with a growing register of Democrats vying for the right to attempt to take down Trump, all while special counsel Robert Mueller and emboldened foes in Congress intensity their investigations into him, his family, his associates, his businesses and his administration, he’s staring at an unprecedented challenge. Even with his Twitter-torqued bully pulpit, Trump has never had less capacity to singlehandedly control a storyline. There simply are too many people with too much power of their own who stand ready and eager to hold him to account for any perceived failure. Polls and pundits—most painfully fellow Republicans—provide feedback openly complicating his self-serving narrative.

    This swirling battlefront underscores the chasm between a deal cut in the business world, in which Trump could steamroll the post-handshake fanfare, and a compromise struck at the highest-profile, highest-stakes, uppermost echelon of politics. Whether Trump in this case, too, can convince a consequential percentage of the electorate he’s the one who won here remains to be seen. But people who know him well are certain he will try.

    “He’ll take it and say that he engineered it and that he saved the country,” former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res said.

    “He’s going to find a way to save face,” former Trump casino executive Jack O’Donnell said. “He’s not going to quit on this one, I don’t think, because the embarrassment is just too great for him right now.”

    “I have no doubt that he will find ways of casting this as a partial victory to be completed,” said Steve Robinson, an architect who was one of the many residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side who worked for years in the 1980s and ‘90s to prevent Trump from building the gargantuan, skyline-altering Trump City project that was to be the developer’s career-defining accomplishment. Robinson has written a forthcoming book about it titled Turf War.


    The tale of Trump City actually might be the chapter in Trump’s past that’s most useful to mull while watching the unfolding wall fight. Because his antagonists were materially successful, limiting him to smaller, shorter buildings, no phallic centerpiece and a park on the bank of the Hudson River. So, too, though, in the end, in his own inimitable fashion, was Trump, who ultimately emerged hundreds of millions of dollars richer than he would have been without the transaction as a whole. “He’s very skilled,” Robinson granted, “at taking a loss, taking a hit, and using his public relations and branding skill to call it a win. And I think that is pervasive in terms of his behavior.”

    The track record reaches back almost half a century.

    In the ‘70s, after settling a federal lawsuit that alleged racist rental practices in the outer-borough apartments he and his father owned and ran, the Department of Justice described the agreement as “one of the most far-reaching ever negotiated.” The headline in the New York Amsterdam News, the city’s black newspaper: “Minorities win housing suit.” Trump said it was a win, too—for him. “This,” he told the Daily News, “is a landmark settlement, in that it upholds the right of real estate owners who abide by the provisions of the Fair Housing Act from being harassed for alleged discrimination without supporting facts or documentation.” With aid and encouragement from Roy Cohn, he then dawdled on compliance with such temerity and for so many years he was able to sidestep the more punitive effects of the decree. “It just kind of petered out,” a DOJ attorney who worked on the case told me.

    In the ‘80s, as the owner of the New Jersey Generals of the second-rate United States Football League, he spearheaded a brazen antitrust effort against the National Football League. It failed. It was immediately clear the defeat in court was a kill shot for the entire league—and a colossal loss for Trump. “We won a great moral victory,” he insisted. “We expect to win a total victory.” A judge in an appeals court not only upheld the ruling but mostly blamed Trump. “Suicide,” he said. Trump blamed the league. “That wasn’t a Trump thing,” he would say decades later.

    The list goes on. His Trump Shuttle lasted for less than three years and ended up almost a quarter of a billion dollars in debt. “I ran it really well,” he said. His first marriage exploded because of his adultery, and he simultaneously teetered on the precipice of financial ruin, and yet he turned the tawdry tabloid headlines of early 1990 into oxygen to stoke his celebrity. He marveled and reveled. “Some story,” he said. A litany of his ventures (Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, Trump Mortgage, Trump University …) have been failures in every respect but the spreading of his name. His casinos filed for bankruptcy five times. “I don’t think it’s a failure,” he said. “It’s a success.”

    And on the Upper West Side, on 76 acres of old rail yards, the most important, illustrative plot of land in his life this side of 725 Fifth and 1600 Pennsylvania avenues, Trump unveiled a series of dramatic models, drawings and renderings of his objectives—staggering banks of towers, all flanking the cynosure of the world’s tallest building. Robinson and legions of others said no. Trump stood pat. He’d wait them out, he assured. Ultimately, though, weakened by his adversaries’ organized, well-funded resistance as well as his own outbursts, missteps and economic distress, Trump dropped his long-held stance of intransigence, essentially rolled over in negotiations and then enlisted significant help from investors in Hong Kong to build finally a shrunken version of what he initially had envisioned. But what was there was enough for him to point at and crow. A “triumph,” he called it in his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback.

    “He’s been able to create his own reality,” late Trump biographer Wayne Barrett told me three years ago.

    “He knows of no other way, and that is to spin until he’s woven some gossamer fabric out of garbage,” gossip columnist George Rush told me two years ago.

    A onetime congregant and lifetime devotee of the seminal self-help pastor Norman Vincent Peale, Trump has spent decades, according to biographer Gwenda Blair, working to “weaponize” Peale’s “power of positive thinking.”

    “I win, I win, I always win,” he said in 2005.

    And when he doesn’t? “I do whine, because I want to win,” he said on CNN in August 2015, “and I’m not happy about not winning, and I am a whiner, and I keep whining and whining until I win.”

    As a candidate, he promised “so much winning” the country would “get bored with winning.” As president, no matter what, he repeatedly has given himself A-plus grades. Last fall, when he called his administration historically effective in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the world’s most powerful people laughed. Ever unshamed and undaunted, at rally after rally after rally heading into the midterms, he declared success and guaranteed more. “We’re winning,” he said in Indiana. “We’re winning so much,” he said in Montana. “We are going to win, win, win,” he said in Missouri. These confident proclamations, of course, were followed by considerable losses. The results of the elections on November 6 changed plenty about how Washington worked. They changed little about how Trump talked.

    This week, as another shutdown loomed, Trump vented to reporters about the developing deal. “I’m adding things to it, and when you add the things I have to add,” he said, “it’s all going to happen where we’ll build a beautiful, big, strong wall that’s not going to let criminals and traffickers and drug dealers and drugs into our country. It’s very simple. It’s very simple.” It hasn’t been. He stewed on Twitter: “will be hooked up with lots of money from other sources,” “almost $23 BILLION for Border Security,” “the Wall is being built.”

    In his speech in El Paso, Texas, on Monday, he emphasized a change in his signature pledge, a telling tweak he’d been floating for months. Old: “Build that wall.” New: “Finish that wall.” It’s a forward-looking slogan in which nebulous progress can be cast as a promise kept. “The wall is very, very on its way,” he said Wednesday.

    A complete wall is not a requisite for success, in Nunberg’s estimation. “If he moves around, he gets this money, he makes the effort, and they start actually building … he’s going to have a real visual,” he said.

    For now, though, there’s no visual—only the president’s version of reality.

    “He’ll just continue this theme through 2020,” O’Donnell said, “and if he gets re-elected, he’ll keep pounding this for the next six years.”

    Lots of things he says are manifestly untrue,” Res said. “Why can’t he just keep going on saying he’s building the wall with other money?”

    Robinson from the Upper West Side has seen it all before.

    “He will undoubtedly continue to lie about it and claim some sort of victory,” he said. “He can build 200 yards of wall and say he built the wall. And the press, which has been so diligent in fact-checking, will say, ‘No, no, no, wait a second, Mr. President. You didn’t build the wall that you said you were going to build. You only built 200 yards of it.’ And it won’t matter.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Frustrated Trump lashes out after border defeat


    President Donald Trump met his day of defeat with a list of grievances. He lashed out at Congress for denying him the money to build a border wall. He called his Democratic rivals liars. He blasted former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for inaction...

    President Donald Trump met his day of defeat with a list of grievances.

    He lashed out at Congress for denying him the money to build a border wall. He called his Democratic rivals liars. He blasted former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for inaction when the GOP controlled Congress. And, of course, he criticized the media for alleged bias and indifference to a “crisis” on the U.S.-Mexico border.


    In short, Trump blamed almost everyone but himself as he formally announced he was going around Congress to direct more than $6 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier.

    “People that should have stepped up did not step up,” an ornery Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden. “They didn’t step up and they should have. ... We are stepping up now.”


    Trump’s state of emergency declaration — which is certain to trigger vigorous legal challenges — comes after he came up far short on the $5.7 billion demand that has defined his presidency for months and led to a 35-day government shutdown that even many annoyed Republicans blamed on the president.

    Instead, Trump reluctantly agreed to sign a massive spending deal that included just $1.375 billion for border security Friday, averting another government shutdown.

    “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it faster,” he added. “I want to get it done faster, that’s all.”

    The messy outcome left the president in an agitated state. “It’s all a big lie,” he railed. “It’s a big con game.”

    Though he often uses prepared remarks and a teleprompter for formal remarks at the White House, on Friday he ad-libbed for 45 minutes, veering from such topics as trade talks with China to an upcoming meeting with North Korea’s leader to the length of talk radio host Rush Limbaugh’s monologues. Even before officially announcing the declaration, he took a winding path through several other topics for about 15 minutes.

    Trump even vented frustration that his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, was given the Nobel Peace Prize — “He was there for about 15 seconds and got the Nobel prize” — while he will likely never get one for the current administration’s work with North Korea.

    “With me, I probably will never get it,” he said wistfully.

    To try and erect the border barrier, the White House will seek to redirect $3.6 billion from a military construction fund, $600 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund and $2.5 billion from a Pentagon drug prevention program. The national emergency declaration is being used to tap the largest pot of money — the $3.6 billion earmarked for military construction.

    “It’s an all-of-the-above approach,” said a person close to the White House. “He always knew Congress was never going to give him the money he needed.”

    Trump, who said he was forced to make the move because there was “an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, all types of criminals and gangs.” He invited families of Americans killed by undocumented immigrants to join him in the Rose Garden and hold up photos of their slain loved ones.



    He insisted he wasn’t building a border wall because it was his signature campaign promise in 2016 or because he is running for reelection in 2020. But a moment later, he said he was doing just that.

    “I don’t have to do it for the election. I have already done a lot of wall for the election 2020.” he said. “And the only reason we are up here talking about this is because of the election, because they want to try to win an election, which it looks like they will not be able to do.”

    After his remarks, Trump invited questions from the media. But, as often happens during one of his news conferences, the back-and-forth turned into a sparring match, with Trump interrupting reporters and instructing at least one of them to sit down.

    He called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, who temporarily had his credentials yanked by the White House last year, but then told him the question was politically motivated.

    “You are CNN. You are fake news,” Trump said. “You have an agenda.”

    He told another reporter he was “very disappointed at certain people, a particular one, for not having pushed this faster.” When NBC’s Kelly O'Donnell quickly asked whether Trump was referring to former Speaker Ryan, who left Congress last month. He replied: “Let’s not talk about it.”

    Trump’s border wall strategy is sure to appease his conservative base, which has been clamoring from Trump to win the border security funding he has vowed to obtain, though the reaction on Friday was somewhat muted.

    When he was asked what role outside conservative voices had played in his decision, Trump complimented Fox News personality Sean Hannity — “terrific supporter of what I do” — and Limbaugh — “he has one of the biggest audiences in the history of the world.”

    As expected, Democrats were swift to denounce the move. Immediately after Trump spoke, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said the state plans to sue over the emergency declaration.


    “Our message back to the White House is simple and clear: California will see you in court,” the governor, a vocal Trump critic, said in an emailed statement.

    Democrats on Capitol Hill also announced they would challenge the move on an array of fronts.

    “The president’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

    The Democratic House is likely to pass a resolution of disapproval to block Trump’s move, which can be brought to the Senate floor and passed by a simple majority under procedural rules. If four Senate Republicans join all Democrats, the measure would be sent to Trump, who would be forced to issue a veto.

    Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia swiftly sent a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan asking for a list of all the projects that would be affected by Trump’s national emergency declaration, as well as “an assessment of the risk to servicemembers if these projects are terminated.”

    Trump said Friday he was aware his emergency declaration will face numerous challenges, including a court fight. He predicted the matter would go all the way to the Supreme Court but forecast ultimate victory, citing the legal battle his administration waged over a travel ban for people from certain Muslim-majority countries. The administration was eventually able to get a third version through the courts after two previous attempts were blocked.

    “We will then be sued," Trump said in a sing-song tone. “And we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we will get another bad ruling, and then we will end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we will get a fair shake and win in the Supreme Court, just like the ban.”


    While Trump’s conservative base is largely supportive of Trump’s emergency declaration, numerous Republicans on Capitol Hill have been privately and publicly urging Trump to avoid such a step, fearful that use of such powers could propel a future Democratic president to take the same step on climate change or gun violence.

    “I don’t believe a national emergency declaration is the solution,” said Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. “It would likely get tied up in litigation, and most concerning is that it would create a new precedent.”

    Inside the White House, aides had been worried that an emergency declaration would set a dangerous precedent — but acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney pushed back against that notion.

    “It actually creates zero precedent,” Mulvaney insisted on Friday in a call with reporters. “This is authority given to the president under law already.”

    Since 1976, presidents have declared 58 national emergencies, including two that deal with money. One was declared during the the Iraq war in 1990, and another was invoked after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

    The funds Trump will get from Congress are part of a $328 billion spending bill that lawmakers swiftly passed Thursday to avoid a federal government shutdown before a midnight Friday deadline. The package's $1.375 billion for border security will go toward 55 miles of physical barrier along the southern border in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

    White House staffers held a conference call with supporters earlier Friday, telling them construction will begin in Texas and not California, where Trump will face a lawsuit from Democratic state leaders, according to someone familiar with the call.

    A senior administration official told reporters that its ultimate goal is to repair or build barriers along at least 234 miles of the border.

    “We are in the process to make sure that we can make those dollars go as far as they possibly can,” the official said. “And we expect that they will be able to go farther than 234 miles.”

    After 45 minutes of remarks, Trump announced he would not answer more questions. Just before he left the Rose Garden, he turned to his new attorney general, William Barr, who was seated in the front row on his first full day on the job.

    “Enjoy your life, Bill,” he said.

    Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Liberal Activists Didn’t Kill the Amazon Deal. Robert Moses Did.

    Liberal Activists Didn’t Kill the Amazon Deal. Robert Moses Did.


    Just like with Amazon’s recent proposal to build a new corporate campus in Queens, local residents opposed Robert Moses’ plans to construct the Cross-Bronx Expressway through the working-class neighborhood of East Tremont in the early 1950s....


    Just like with Amazon’s recent proposal to build a new corporate campus in Queens, local residents opposed Robert Moses’ plans to construct the Cross-Bronx Expressway through the working-class neighborhood of East Tremont in the early 1950s. Determined to save scores of residential buildings by forcing Moses, then New York’s most powerful public figure, to alter the route, members of the East Tremont Neighborhood Association lined up a raft of political support.

    As Robert Caro tells the story, led by a local “housewife” named Lillian Edelstein, activists extracted a promise from the soon-to-be-mayor, Robert F. Wagner, that he would “vote against any resolution” allowing Moses to acquire private property for the roadway. As Caro explains in The Power Broker, up until the night Moses rolled them, Edelstein and her neighbors believed they were going to win. Not long thereafter, Moses’ wrecking crew plowed through.

    More than a half-century later, that narrative has been turned on its head. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.”

    But as uplifting as that fantasy may be, it ignores a more mundane reality. In all likelihood, Amazon could have worked with the deal’s biggest champions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, to push past the limited public hostility—most New Yorkers supported Amazon’s plan to bring thousands of new jobs to the region. The difference today is that no amount of leverage is capable of overcoming resistance from a small star chamber in Albany known as the Public Authorities Control Board. Without unanimous support from the three voting members of the PACB, Amazon’s plan was dead in the water.

    It wasn’t always like this. Before Gov. Hugh Carey agreed to give the state assembly and senate the power to veto any major public project through the PACB—a deal he made in 1976 in a desperate but successful attempt to keep the New York from dissolving into bankruptcy—generations of men like Moses regularly dictated the terms of every public development. But today, even the combined power of the governor and mayor was unable to face down obstruction from Michael Gianaris, the state senate’s PACB appointment, a man who happened to represent the area where Amazon wanted to locate its new campus. Like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2005 proposal to build an Olympic Stadium on Manhattan’s West Side, this little-known public functionary proved an unbreachable barrier.

    After roughly 40 years as New York’s master builder, Moses was shown the door by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960s. By then, the public was seething and New York seemed to be on the decline. The PACB is one of a raft of new tools established in the wake of Moses’ reign to check the power of government to build new public works and other redevelopment projects.

    Among them: After the enormous, beaux-arts Pennsylvania Station was demolished in 1963 to make way for the sad oversized drum of Madison Square Garden, a movement of preservationists persuaded Mayor Wagner to sign a bill establishing a landmarks commission. To protect the public from wanton abuse of the nation’s natural resources, President Richard Nixon established the environmental review process in 1970. In New York, zoning laws have been modified to provide local residents with a more powerful voice in protecting the character of their neighborhoods. Taken together, the effect has been to give a range of characters throughout the system opportunities to throw sand in the gears whenever anyone tries to build anything.

    At a Moses retrospective organized more than a decade ago, Caro recalled that, all too frequently, people “of the real estate persuasion,” frustrated that red tape prevents too many developments from getting off the ground, would approach him at cocktail parties and ask: “Don't you think it's time for a new Robert Moses?” And Caro, thinking of Lillian Edelstein and the other residents of East Tremont, would say, “No.”


    But even Moses could not work his will on New York City today. As forceful, persuasive, wily and prodigious as he was, Moses would still not have been able to overcome the resistance to the Amazon deal. That’s not because local residents are more forceful today. Like Cuomo, de Blasio and Jeff Bezos, Moses would have lost because he would not have had any leverage on the state senator who sat on the PACB. And that lone state senator had the single-handed power to kill the deal altogether. On this one issue, Gianaris’ “no” was more powerful than every “yes” standing behind the deal.

    For those who see themselves as champions for ordinary people like Edelstein, that shift may be welcome. Moses’ mark often left a scar. But for policymakers—and particularly for progressives whose aim it is to use public power for the public good—the hurdles erected in his wake make the process of doing great things next to impossible. The scar tissue built over the past 50 years to prevent the second coming of Moses stops good projects as well as bad.

    With few exceptions—a slow-moving water tunnel buried deep beneath the city, three extra subway stops on Manhattan’s East Side, an extension of the 7 line, a bevy of new parks—New York has done little more than maintain the public infrastructure it boasted when the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was opened in 1964. That’s not because the Big Apple has lost its imagination—developers, politicians, associations and other throw big ideas around all the time. It’s because power has been pushed down and out, spread so thin that even projects championed by the governor, mayor and the city’s business elite face impossible opposition.

    Amazon’s detractors had a range of legitimate concerns, and experts can argue about the merit of this particular deal. But Amazon isn’t packing up because of public resistance to too many tax breaks or a helipad. It’s leaving because, like in much of the country, the architecture of political power has changed. In ways Robert Moses could never have imagined, those with big dreams now suffer interminably from the absence of leverage. Moses’ final legacy is that he made it impossible to get things done.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    The Most Important New Woman in Congress Is Not Who You Think

    The Most Important New Woman in Congress Is Not Who You Think


    Mikie Sherrill had made a promise to the people in New Jersey who had made her a member of Congress. She would try to fire her boss on her first day at work. Now here she was. Would she? Could she? At 1:36 in the afternoon, in her opening salvo on the...


    Mikie Sherrill had made a promise to the people in New Jersey who had made her a member of Congress. She would try to fire her boss on her first day at work. Now here she was. Would she? Could she? At 1:36 in the afternoon, in her opening salvo on the floor of the House of Representatives, she did—casting her vote for speaker not for Nancy Pelosi, arguably the most powerful woman in the history of American politics, but for … Cheri Bustos, the fourth-term congresswoman from Illinois. “It’s important to keep your promises,” she told reporters on her way out of the chamber.

    Still, a few hours later, as the sun started to set on Washington, after Sherrill dashed across a traffic-clogged Constitution Avenue from a cab to the Capitol in bright red high heels, I asked her if she was afraid of having crossed Pelosi. Of retribution in the form of committee snubs. Of being rendered somehow less effective before she’d even gotten started.

    “No,” she said.

    Sherrill, a 47-year-old Navy veteran, is fit, with an easy, ready smile and sandy blond hair that she usually wears down. She had on a gray dress with flecks of color that more or less matched those non-shy shoes. And here, one half of one day into her time in Congress, she elaborated with a brief, bold assertion of the source of her power.

    “She just got the majority, OK?” Sherrill said, referring to Pelosi. “And we did it with districts like mine. And we’re going to hold it through districts like mine.”

    No—she was not afraid.

    And she was right. Even as Pelosi punished some others who had spurned her, she would put Sherrill on the House Armed Services Committee—Sherrill’s top choice—and make her a chair of the science, space and technology subcommittee. In the wake of her unaccommodating, unruffled vote, Sherrill had emerged unscathed.

    The best-known new member of Congress is obviously the ubiquitous and magnetic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the unreserved used-to-be bartender and millennial social media savant who has parlayed her outer-borough seat into a vanguard position at the head of a surging left. But she is not the reason Democrats are wielding a reclaimed wedge of power in the nation’s capital. Sherrill is. If there’s a Venn diagram of how Democrats wrested control of the House from Republicans —women, veterans, flipped districts in more affluent, more educated suburban terrain—smack at the center is Rebecca Michelle Sherrill: former Navy helicopter pilot, former federal prosecutor, mother of four (13, 11, 9 and 6). And even as Ocasio-Cortez and other younger, lefty, louder freshmen garner the limelight, “Mikie,” not “AOC,” is actually more materially the face of the Democrats’ fresh capacity to push legislation and check the agenda of a newly vexed President Donald Trump.



    Ever since November’s tectonic midterms, in my conversations with party strategists as well as nonpartisan operatives involved in the variety of efforts to get more veterans elected, Sherrill’s name not only kept coming up but typically was the first one mentioned. “So impressive,” Rye Barcott of With Honor told me. “No ceiling,” said Emily Cherniack of New Politics. “A rising star,” added Carrie Rankin, the former chief of staff to Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton. Dan Sena, the former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told me Sherrill could be a governor, or a senator, and soon. “She’s a future fill-in-the-blank for the party,” Sena said. Republicans I’ve talked to concur.

    The root of this big talk is the nature of her victory. She won as a first-time candidate in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, which stretches from commuter enclaves just west of New York City toward the more bucolic northwestern portion of the state—and hadn’t voted for a Democrat in 34 years. She raised record money, chased into retirement a powerful local political scion, trounced a host of opponents in the primary and drubbed a conservative state assemblyman in the general. Sherrill did this by campaigning not as a left-leaning incendiary but as a less partisan alternative. And one of the most conspicuous ways she assuaged redder voters was by promising she wouldn’t vote for Pelosi for speaker. It was by no means the foundation of her race; neither, though, was it a pledge those who disdain the longtime Democrat leader would be likely to forget.


    And so in D.C. her first act was her first test. There was not, she told me, “a completely safe way to keep the promise.” In picking Bustos, she explained, Sherrill recognized her as a woman who has found a way to win in a district that backed Trump—an ascendant member of the caucus who could be the speaker. When I asked Pelosi about Sherrill, the speaker responded with a gracious if flowery statement that amounted to no hard feelings: “This election proved that nothing is more wholesome to our democracy than the increased participation and leadership of women. As a Navy veteran, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and a mother, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill reflects the beauty, diversity and dynamism of her district and our country.”

    New Jersey’s 11th is a mostly staid tangle of subdivisions, interstates and office parks, so Pelosi’s reference to the “dynamism” of Sherrill’s district is a nod not to some edgy vibe but rather its electoral volatility. Everywhere, and every cycle, is different, with myriad factors tipping the scales, of course, but one axiom is that a member of Congress is especially vulnerable in his or her first reelection campaign, before a combination of familiarity, incumbency and inertia set in. Ocasio-Cortez elicits conservative ridicule for her colossally ambitious Green New Deal; assuming, though, she doesn’t get sideswiped by redistricting, the reality is she’s in a much safer spot than Sherrill. And it’s Pelosi who will have the most say about whose respective agenda will get the green light—progressive or centrist—and when. Factored in those decisions: the fact that Sherrill is the one who needs greater shelter and leeway. Which of these women, then, will exert more influence over the shape of the party over these next crucial couple of years and beyond? Because while AOC’s New York City district isn’t going Republican in the foreseeable future, Pelosi knows Sherrill’s in North Jersey is a different matter. It’s worth keeping her happy, and Sherrill in turn needs to keep her red-tinged electorate happy, all while defending against potential attacks from within her own caucus.



    When Sherrill was in the Navy, she had to pass a test underwater in which she was blindfolded, turned upside down in a replica helicopter and forced to find her way out. She had to endure prisoner of war training that involved being waterboarded and punched. “After you’re a Navy helicopter pilot,” the DCCC’s Sena posited, “everything else is easy.” Perhaps. A month-plus into the 116th Congress, though, the task for Sherrill—and the several dozen other Democratic members like her—inevitably gets harder from here. It’s one thing to tout a résumé—it’s another to defend a record. Votes are choices, and choices have consequences, and she will have to toggle between serving the interests of those to her left who fueled her bid and those to her right who are equally if not even more responsible for her win. How will she vote on issues like defense spending and the use of force? Security on the Mexican border? What about “Medicare for All”? The prospect of impeachment? AOC’s Green New Deal?

    But back in the Capitol, on the evening of that first day, Sherrill along with her husband approached Pelosi for her ceremonial swearing-in. “Congratulations to you,” said a smiling Sherrill, shaking her hand. Pelosi asked after the kids. Sherrill said they had gone back to swim in the pool at their apartment. “Say no more,” Pelosi said. Pleasantries completed, Sherrill put her hand on a copy of the Constitution. She raised her hand. Pelosi raised hers. They smiled for the cameras, rolling, clicking, flashing. “Thank you so much,” Sherrill said to Pelosi with another quick pump of a handshake. “Thank you. Thanks again.”

    ***

    Trump was the trigger. Sherrill was alarmed by his election and the outset of his administration, “appalled,” she said. She was irritated, too, by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s refusal to hold town halls, which she considered a baseline of responsible representation. A friend suggested to Sherrill—who had left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark in October 2016 and was looking to work in criminal justice reform—that she should run for his seat. Crazy, she thought at first. But the more she considered it, “the more I felt this real responsibility to do it,” she told me. She announced her candidacy in May of 2017.

    Even then, a year and a half away from Election Day, before the driving themes of the 2018 cycle—of women, of veterans, of the primacy of smarter, richer suburbs—had come into full, vivid focus, Sherrill seemed tailor-made. She was not only a woman but a mother who helped coach her kids’ soccer and lacrosse teams in the suburbs, not only a veteran but a veteran who had been a pilot of an H-3 Sea King in Europe and the Middle East before becoming a Russia policy officer. A degree from the Naval Academy. A degree from the London School of Economics. A degree from Georgetown Law. “Her life before this,” Mollie Binotto, her campaign manager, told me recently, “really got her ready.” It produced a résumé, thought Saily Avelenda, executive director of the grassroots group NJ 11th for Change, that checked every conceivable box. “You couldn’t make one up that was better for this district,” she said.

    Feeding off frustration with Frelinghuysen and the women-led antipathy for the self-styled alpha male in the Oval Office, Sherrill relentlessly rapped the president and worked to yoke Frelinghuysen with Trump’s “chaotic and reckless” administration.


    When I talked to her in March 2018 for a story about New York candidate Max Rose and other veterans running for Congress, Sherrill made clear that Trump was her main motivation for running. “After a lifetime of serving the country,” she said, “to see all of the values that I had spent so much time supporting and protecting, values that I had really sworn to give my life to protect—things like attacks on women and minorities and Gold Star families and POWs and freedom of the press and the Constitution and the list really goes on—I knew I had to act.”

    As for Frelinghuysen? “He has definitely been rubber-stamping Trump’s agenda,” she said. “In lockstep,” she said. “Complicit,” she said.

    She tempered this prosecutorial rhetoric with a stream of disciplined nods to the area’s many moderates. She talked about infrastructure (in particular the importance of funding the Gateway tunnel), taxes (getting back the state and local deductions the Trump tax overhaul had diminished), health care (stressing availability and affordability over an outright scrapping of the Affordable Care Act) and sensible gun control (universal background checks), and she played up her credibility as a veteran who would “put the people of the country first,” rather than hew slavishly to the party line.

    Helpfully for Sherrill, the 11th has been trending to the left for a decade. The last round of redistricting pulled in a piece of Montclair, where she lives, a blue bastion from whose hilltops one can gaze across the Hudson at the skyline of Manhattan. In 2008, GOP presidential candidate John McCain won the district by 9 percentage points. In 2012, Romney took it by 5.8. Trump won by less than 1. But he still won. “This district was not going to go for a liberal socialist,” said Patrick Murray, the top pollster at nearby Monmouth University. “It’s still conservative in its fiscal values, and she was able to play it right down the middle.”



    It worked. At the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, she started racking up endorsements (the Democratic Party chairs from the four counties in the district, clusters of local and regional groups, EMILY’s List, NARAL, Moulton’s Serve America PAC, VoteVets, Joe Biden). Contributions rolled in. So did headlines. “Democrats gather to back Mikie Sherrill,” said one, which wasn’t so surprising. “Longtime donor to Frelinghuysen backing Democrat,” said another, which was. “PINK WAVE,” predicted ABC News. All of which contributed to the path-clearing late January jolt: “Frelinghuysen won’t seek reelection.”

    As winter turned toward spring, projections had shifted from “likely Republican” to “leaning Republican” to “toss-up.” The Sherrill campaign was developing “this sense of inevitability,” as she would put it to me. Still, she needed moderate Republicans to side with her and would have to break with Pelosi to achieve that aim, and she was sufficiently astute to know the head of her party was going to need to be in the loop. Sherrill contacted Pelosi. The first time they talked was April, according to Sherrill, and she told Pelosi, she said, “about the district and what it looks like.” In May, Sherrill announced publicly she wouldn’t be supporting her for speaker if and when she got elected.

    It had the desired effect.

    “When she said that, I was, like, ‘That’s surprising and refreshing,’” said Nicholas Kumburis, a centrist from Parsippany who is the state chair of the fledgling, centrist Alliance Party. “She wasn’t going to just be a puppet.”

    In the estimation of Michael Soriano, the Democratic mayor of Parsippany, this was “the smarter way to counter what we saw in 2016”—to not run as, in his words, “the as-loud and as-bombastic” candidate. She broke from Democratic orthodoxy, too, in areas like defense spending and taxes for large government programs—worried as she was that the brunt could fall disproportionately to her would-be constituents.

    Finn Wentworth, a major donor who had contributed to Frelinghuysen in the past, credited this more middle-of-the-road approach for his ground-shifting switch to Sherrill. “Frankly, 20 years ago, she would have been a Kean Republican,” referring to Tom Kean, the former New Jersey governor. “She was not an extremist for left-wing causes or right-wing causes. … Put cable news aside. The vast majority of us live in the middle. And that’s where her voice comes from.”



    In August, on MSNBC, Moulton pointed to Sherrill as somebody with a winning formula for her district who also could be part of an answer to the intractable partisanship of D.C. “It’s important that we are a party that embraces a diversity of ideas and is willing to embrace people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez … and also amazing veterans like Mikie Sherrill … who is a much more centrist Democrat who can actually win a tough seat and take it back from a Republican, a seat that Alexandria would not be able to win.”

    Given that her opponent was considered one of the most conservative in the State Assembly and had been endorsed in a tweet by Trump, it was perhaps not a surprise that, on November 6, Sherrill won. The surprise was that she won by as much as she did—by nearly 15 percentage points, an eye-popping swing in a district that only two years before had opted for Trump and given Frelinghuysen 58 percent of the vote. Gushed one headline: “Why Mikie Sherrill might be the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party in years.”

    ***

    On a frigid night last month in Montclair, inside a warm diner on the main drag, a man working behind the counter started telling what sounded like an inappropriate joke.

    “You know what helicopter pilots are good for?” he said.

    Sherrill cringed.

    “Uhhh …”

    “They put themselves in the most dangerous places,” the man said, “for other people’s lives.”

    Sitting across from me in a booth, Sherrill emitted a practically audible sigh of relief.

    “Oh,” she said, “that’s nice. I have been called an Uber driver—that’s better, thank you—by Marines.”

    For politicians, town halls are dangerous places, too, or can be. They’re unpredictable. Who’s going to stand up and ask what? But they make for illustrative snapshots of districts. And a few days after we talked at the diner, Sherrill held her first town hall, which was a priority given her criticism of Frelinghuysen. Outside the Parsippany Police Athletic League, officers directed cars into overflow lots. Inside, in a big gym with walls covered with banners for championship boxing, wrestling and basketball teams, and ads for insurance companies, labor unions and military recruiters, almost 500 people found seats in plastic folding chairs. Local Girl Scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance. A row of veterans of Korea and Vietnam stood by the rear wall.

    Sherrill, wearing a blue dress and a black blazer, delivered a bit of a preamble, outlining her committee assignments, telling them about bills she had co-sponsored and explaining why she had joined two centrist groups within her caucus—the New Democrat Coalition and (“more controversially,” she granted) the Blue Dog Coalition.



    “People have come to me and said they’re concerned because they felt like the Blue Dogs Coalition was a white, Southern coalition that undermined the Affordable Care Act,” Sherrill said. “And their fears—I understood where they came from—they weren’t unfounded—but I will tell you what the Blue Dogs coalition is right now.” One of the chairs, she said, is a Vietnamese immigrant from Florida “who believes in choice, LGBT rights and minority rights.” More than a quarter of the coalition, she continued, consists of Democrats from New York and New Jersey. “And it was important to me to join because of their focus on infrastructure, and I will tell you: We have got to get our infrastructure, especially the Gateway tunnel, funded.” People clapped.

    The first question, from a former federal employee, was about the just-ended shutdown and how to prevent any more. The second was about the environment. The third was about taxes. It wasn’t until the last half-hour of a two-hour convening that Sherrill was hit with a question about impeachment. The first question about Medicare for All came even after that. It can be risky to read too much into the order of these questions, but there was a notable lack of anti-Trump bloodlust. There was, however, a detectable concern about Democratic politics writ large.

    She was asked about the “rift” in the party.

    “It’s by no means clear that a rift won’t be coming,” Sherrill said. “I think the fear is what we saw in the Republican Party—people on the Tea Party movement breaking with the party, creating a rift and having some 30-odd members of the Tea Party pretty much control the entire House of Representatives.”

    Floating in the air, at least to me, was AOC. Sherrill, it turned out, was thinking it too, so she went there—carefully.

    “What I have seen in the party is a group of people who come from very different districts,” she said. “So, you know, there are districts—like Queens, for example, is very different from Morristown.”

    Knowing snickers rippled through the crowd.

    “There are people who have different ideas, different agendas,” Sherrill said. “But what can happen with that is people kind of breaking paradigms and raising ideas that maybe we just hadn’t thought about …”

    Then she named the name.

    Reporters, she said, “they come to me and they’re always, like, ‘How do you feel about”—and here she kind of crouched down and whisper-hissed in her most snakish, conspiratorial voice—“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?”

    Now people laughed and hooted and clapped.

    “And I say,” Sherrill said, “‘I think this young woman has gotten a whole generation of people engaged in our democratic process in a way that we haven’t seen—” Cheers drowned out what she even said next—years? “And I think that’s exciting. I don’t agree with everything she says. I’m not going to vote on a lot of things she says that she might put before the floor. But I’m more than happy to talk to her about what shaping the future of this country might need to look like and then to look at it and say, ‘Gosh, we really need to move forward on environmental legislation. Where can we move forward together?’”

    She was asked about cutting defense spending.

    “I am not committed to cutting our military expenditures because there are areas where I feel we’re underfunding them, such as satellite technology and cybersecurity,” she said.

    The impeachment question came from the president of a club of Democrats at a local retirement community. “Would you support an effort to impeach President Trump?”

    Murmurs. Shifting in seats.

    Sherrill said she wanted to wait to see the final findings of special counsel Robert Mueller. “People know that impeaching our president is going against the democratic will of the people. … So going against the will of the people like that is a huge step to take. I think it undermines our executive branch. It undermines institutions of our democracy. I’m not saying it’s not a step that I would take. It’s simply a step that I would take very carefully.”

    The Medicare for All question came from a young man who asked what he asked with ferocity. “Will you support a Medicare for All bill?” he said, before making the case himself for that system. It elicited what might have been the loudest and most sustained cheering of the afternoon.

    Sherrill let it die down.

    “So,” she said, “with respect to Medicare for All …” It’s not easy, she said. “There will be winners and losers,” she said. She wants to be sure the high-taxed taxpayers of New Jersey’s 11th aren’t going to be the losers, she said. “What we’re talking about here is moving a third of our economy into a different plan,” she said. She advocated a more cautious, more incremental approach.



    It was, I thought, an appropriate end to the event. To my eye and ear, every time the crowd started to get riled up, typically by a question from somebody clearly to her left, Sherrill listened, waited for a beat … and then used her answer to turn down the volume in the room. Mic'd up, she was this bipartisan defuser. It made me have two thoughts. One: It’s a heck of a skill. Two: Is that what people want right now?

    “There are going to be people on the far, far end of the left,” Heather Darling, a Republican Morris County Freeholder, told me, “that are going to expect to see things, like really big things, that she can’t deliver.”

    At the Parsippany PAL, though, I offered Sherrill my admittedly somewhat cheeky post-town hall assessment. No gotchas or shout-downs. No fireworks or fisticuffs.

    “It was,” I told her, “a little boring.”

    She laughed.

    “That’s … OK?”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Trump’s National Emergency Is Great News for Future President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

    Trump’s National Emergency Is Great News for Future President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


    I hope President Donald Trump and his short-sighted supporters have been enjoying the fun they’ve had at the Green New Deal’s expense. Unfortunately for them, the president’s plan to declare a national emergency, which the White House announced...


    I hope President Donald Trump and his short-sighted supporters have been enjoying the fun they’ve had at the Green New Deal’s expense. Unfortunately for them, the president’s plan to declare a national emergency, which the White House announced Thursday and which could allow Trump to build his wall without congressional approval, may have just made a Green New Deal inevitable in 2021—or whenever he’s out of the White House.

    By now, we’ve all become numb, alarmingly so, to the nutty ideas the president of the United States has floated or in some cases enacted to undermine the basic norms of our democratic institutions: firing FBI personnel on various pretexts, discounting election results he doesn’t like, befriending vicious dictators, claiming judges are biased based on their ethnicity, alleging massive voter fraud without evidence, ignoring intelligence findings he doesn’t agree with, and on and on and on. But as bizarre and dangerous as these have been, his plan to declare a national emergency is by far the absolute worst.

    Shame on any “conservatives” who roll their eyes, shrug their shoulders and let him take this path because they are sick of arguing with him. (You know who you are.) This is going to backfire on them in a major way—and the tragedy is that every one of them knows this. The core of conservatism has always been a distrust of a powerful national government and the necessity of imposing restraints on it. That’s out the window now, like nearly every other tenet that held the movement together.

    I used to laugh when my more progressive friends warned me that Trump wanted to turn America into a third-world banana republic. He’d never pull that off, I’d tell them. The Constitution will stop him. Members of Congress will stop him. The GOP will stop him. Now, I’m the one who is the fool. I’ve tried very hard to restrain myself from frantic pronouncements, but this national emergency declaration is the closest my friends have ever come to seeing their worst fears realized. Is there any other way to see it?

    The notion that a president of the United States can simply circumvent the national legislature out of pique, declare something that has been going on for years as an “emergency,” and then implement policies our elected representatives did not vote for, allocate money for or in any other way authorize is totally antithetical to representative democracy and the checks and balances system. If Trump is correct constitutionally, which he isn’t, then what did the Founders create a Congress for in the first place? I’d like to think that the Supreme Court will call a stop to this nonsense in a 9-0 decision, as they did in 1974 when they forced the executive branch to turn over to Congress tapes of President Richard Nixon’s private conversations. Unfortunately, I’ve lost so much faith in conservatives’ ability to draw any red line against Trump that I find it easy to believe that the conservative majority of the court will go along with this, anyway. As a result, Congress will no longer matter. As a result, the Supreme Court will no longer matter, either.

    You would think that a president of the United States would care about the long-term threats his actions might have on our democracy. But obviously Trump—a man who reportedly said that amassing more crippling debt doesn’t matter because he’ll be out of office when we have to deal with it—doesn’t care about any of this. Obviously, the Republican Congress is too scared of their own voters to care about that. But here’s what they should care about: They are making their most vivid, frenzied nightmare come true.

    For a decade now, the right has warned about a progressive “dictator” like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton forcing the United States to pursue policies that the majority does not want. Now they are making it so much easier for the next Democratic president to do exactly that. Shortly after learning of Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to build his beloved border wall, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said a left-wing president might just as well declare an emergency to impose any policies they want, too. As Elizabeth Warren tweeted: “Gun violence is an emergency. Climate change is an emergency. Our country's opioid epidemic is an emergency.” You see where this is headed.

    But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe Trump has a plan to stop all of this, too. Maybe we are only a couple of months away from Trump donning a scary robe, declaring another “emergency” and postponing the 2020 elections. If Emperor Palpatine can do something like that, why can’t he? Is there anyone with the courage to stop him? We will find that out very shortly. And I’m not sure we are going to like the answer.


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

    Gavin Newsom’s High-Speed Gift to Republicans

    Gavin Newsom’s High-Speed Gift to Republicans


    California’s $77 billion bullet-train project from San Francisco to Los Angeles was supposed to be a proof of concept at a national level—proof that high-speed rail could actually work, providing an eco-friendly alternative to cars and planes here...


    California’s $77 billion bullet-train project from San Francisco to Los Angeles was supposed to be a proof of concept at a national level—proof that high-speed rail could actually work, providing an eco-friendly alternative to cars and planes here the way it does in Europe and Asia, and also proof that America could still build big things. And the project’s initial phase, a 119-mile stretch now being built through the state’s sparsely populated Central Valley, was supposed to be a proof of concept for the project itself.

    But on Tuesday, the project became proof of something else: That it’s hard to build big complicated infrastructure projects in America’s fast-turnover political culture, even a green project in America’s greenest state.

    In his State of the State address, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom suspended the decade-long effort to connect San Francisco in Northern California to L.A. in the south, saying the megaproject “would cost too much and take too long.” At the same time, he vowed to complete the Central Valley segment linking the struggling farm communities of Bakersfield and Merced—California’s ninth-largest and 100th-largest cities, respectively—as a standalone project, even though he admitted critics will call it a “train to nowhere.”

    It’s hard to imagine a worse advertisement for high-speed rail: an orphaned line in a depressed area that will still cost billions of dollars, but won’t connect anyone to the vibrant population centers they need to reach. It’s also hard to imagine a worse advertisement for the Green New Deal for the climate that’s all the rage in Washington. Just days after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office floated a now-withdrawn document suggesting the Green New Deal should include a high-speed network vast enough to render airplanes obsolete, a progressive Democrat in a progressive state just rolled back America’s first big effort to replicate the bullet trains flourishing around the world.

    Washington Republicans have been fighting high-speed rail in California and around the country as a Big Government boondoggle, and yesterday they gleefully declared victory. “The train to nowhere is finally stopped,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who actually lives in Bakersfield. The next time Democrats push high-speed rail—or for that matter a Green New Deal—their Republican critics will get to remind them what Newsom had to say about California’s national model in his own State of the State: “Let’s get real.”

    Part of Newsom’s decision was state-level politics. After serving as lieutenant governor to Jerry Brown, who repeatedly protected high-speed rail from bipartisan efforts to scuttle it in the state Legislature, the ambitious Newsom was eager to demonstrate his independence from his predecessors. The project was originally launched by yet another governor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, so Newsom was signaling a new day in Sacramento.

    At the same time, Newsom may have written the final chapter in a painful national story for Democrats, providing one last disappointment for the star-crossed high-speed rail program launched by President Barack Obama and his train-loving vice president, Joe Biden. Obama’s 2009 stimulus included $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, and in 2011, Biden announced a $53 billion followup plan to start building out a national network. But the Republican-controlled Congress never provided another dime, and GOP governors like Rick Scott in Florida and Scott Walker in Wisconsin sent their high-speed rail stimulus money back to Washington.

    Some of that money was rerouted to dull but largely successful “higher-speed rail” projects to increase speeds between Chicago and St. Louis, Portland and Seattle, and other routes around the country; it also helped relieve some choke points on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., where Acela trains hit top speeds of 150 mph. But much of the cash was redirected to California, which at the time had the nation’s only true “high-speed” project after Florida withdrew, with real bullet trains and plans to hit 220 m.p.h. in the flat and empty Central Valley.

    It always seemed odd to start a project designed to connect some of California’s most populated places by building tracks in the emptiness of the agricultural Central Valley; the fastest distance between two points doesn’t usually start in the middle. But eight years ago, the project’s then-director, Roelof van Ark, assured me that as long as the state was truly committed to completing the entire 500-mile route, starting in the middle would be less expensive and disruptive than carving up dense urban areas, and would build support for the tougher work ahead. “It makes no sense to start in the Central Valley if we’re not serious about finishing; it’s like designing a moon mission to go a quarter of the way there,” van Ark said. “But if we’re serious, that’s the place to start.”

    But it quickly became clear that the quick progress the state had expected in the Central Valley was not going to happen. I went to a raucous town meeting in 2011 in the small farm town of Hanford, where an angry Q-and-A session revealed that residents saw the train as a liberal assault on rural culture, a cosmopolitan Obama plot to help minorities in blighted cities like Fresno and Bakersfield at their expense. John Tos, a fourth-generation fruit-and-nut farmer with six properties in the project’s path, warned that the state would have to kill him to take his land. “You know what it’s called when you take something without permission?” he asked at the meeting. “RAPE!”

    From the beginning, the project has been hamstrung by a slew of political, legal, financial and logistical challenges, creating repeated overruns and delays. The federal stimulus provided $3.6 billion to start the project, and California voters approved nearly $10 billion in bonds, but private firms were unwilling to invest without assurances that the entire line would be built. The project’s critics have tied it up in lawsuits, hearings, investigations, administrative challenges and other red tape; Republicans in Washington have passed budget riders preventing it from accessing federal funds; state officials have repeatedly revised the route, and have struggled to negotiate with affected landowners.

    The constant headlines over missed deadlines, sketchy ridership studies, and ballooning costs have obscured the original goal of the project, which was to zip passengers between the state’s two most economically important cities in under three hours, with eventual extensions to Sacramento and Anaheim. It was supposed to provide a more convenient and greener alternative to long drives and short flights that would ease congestion on California’s freeways and runways. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has already moved much of State Road 99 to make room for the line, while completing dozens of overpasses, viaducts, grade separations and other construction projects that have put 2,500 Californians to work.

    CEO Brian Kelly noted yesterday that Newsom merely prioritized the Central Valley without officially cancelling the plans to the north and south, which he spun as a step forward. “We welcome this direction and look forward to continuing the important work on this transformative project,” Kelly said in a statement.

    Newsom attempted a political dance around the whole issue, taking credit for cutting bait on the project while attempting a victory lap for the part that remained, noting that the work could revitalize an economically downtrodden region with some of the nation’s worst air quality. “This is so much more than a train project,” he tweeted. “It’s a transformation project.” He also framed his move as an act of defiance toward President Donald Trump, noting that if he had fully pulled the plug on the larger project, he would have been forced to return the stimulus money to Washington: “Abandoning high-speed rail means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.” Even Republican state Representative and former Fresno ayor Jim Patterson, a longtime opponent who celebrated Newsom’s move as “the final nail in the coffin of high-speed rail,” said skeptics must now work together with supporters “to make sure we are left with a functional track.”

    While Newsom didn’t rule out a revised L.A.-to-San Francisco route, this was an unmistakable derailment for a project that has never enjoyed a smooth ride. “The project can still be achieved,” he said after his speech. “But let’s be honest about the trade-offs and let’s be honest about the cost.”

    History suggests this automobile-dependent nation has never been willing to make those trade-offs or pay those costs for high-speed passenger rail. Americans enjoy riding bullet trains in France and Germany and China and Japan, but they seem to consider it an unaffordable luxury at home. It’s exorbitantly expensive to upgrade urban lines like the Northeast Corridor, but it’s hard to justify lines in less densely populated areas—and as the California experience shows, the costs there can escalate, too.

    Van Ark, a former European rail executive, warned me back when he was in charge of California’s high-speed rail program in 2011 that its inability to produce quick results could be a fatal flaw. “The big challenge is convincing people this is a long-term project,” he said during an interview in his office in Sacramento. “This can’t be built in one election cycle. We need long-term vision.” Van Ark was supposed to be a booster for the project, but he didn’t sound confident that the U.S. had that kind of vision—or that kind of patience. “Asia has a long-term mentality; Europeans have a medium-term mentality,” he said. “Americans are now, now, now.”


    Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine