At Sharpton event, Gillibrand pledges to 'amplify your voices'

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, speaking Monday at the National Action Network's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, tested some of the themes of her 2020 presidential campaign, pledging solidarity with her predominately African-American audience.

“White women like me must ... commit to amplify your voices,” Gillibrand said. “We have to join you on the battlefield for justice for all.”

Gillibrand focused on the need to address institutional racism and highlighted her Catholic faith and her experience as a mother.

“As a person of deep faith who has been called to public service, I look at Dr. King for inspiration, because his call to action was personal,” she said, adding that “as a person of faith and as a mother, I cannot sit idly by. I will fight for your children as hard as I will fight for my own.”

Gillibrand has been a regular at the event since she became the presumptive replacement for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat a decade ago. It always attracts a star-studded political crowd, which this year included former Mayor David Dinkins, current Mayor Bill de Blasio and five members of Congress.

“One thing I’ve learned is don’t underestimate her,” said the event's host, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who referred to Gillibrand as “the junior senator and senior candidate for president.”

Her remarks were light on policy specifics, but she referenced universal health care, criminal justice reform and voting reform and the need to push back against the influence of special interests on lawmakers who “write legislation in the dead of night.”

Gillibrand assailed her fellow New Yorker, President Donald Trump. She said he "has chosen to tear this country apart."

“He has added fuel to a very ugly fire,” she said.

She quoted from a letter from St. Paul to the Ephesians, imploring those assembled to put on “the full armor of God” and “the belt of truth” before preparing for a struggle.

“I feel very called to do what is right, and to fight,” she said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Booker and Sanders part ways in MLK addresses

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sens. Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders took two starkly different approaches Monday as they spoke to hundreds of mostly black rally-goers in the first Southern state to vote in 2020.

At Columbia’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally at the state capitol, Sanders talked explicitly about the racial wealth gap, black infant mortality rates and voter suppression among people of color. He also called President Donald Trump a “racist.”

“We have a president of the United States who has done something that no other president in modern history has done,” Sanders said. “What a president is supposed to do is to bring us together. And we have a president [who] intentionally, purposely, is trying to divide us up by the color of our skin, by our gender, by the country we came from, by our religion.”

Booker acknowledged that the country has a justice system that works better for the “rich and guilty” than the “poor and innocent.” But he largely echoed King’s message, speaking in more general terms about the importance of unity and having what he called “courageous empathy” and acting on dissatisfaction, a term King stressed in his 1967 “Where Do We Go From Here?” address.

“We live in a society that’s getting seduced by celebrity and forgets that significance is more important than celebrity, that purpose is more important than popularity, that we cannot be a nation that loves power more than it loves people,” Booker said. “We are dissatisfied. This is not a time for us to rest in our country. The work is not done.”

Their different appeals reflected how far along their potential campaigns are in this state, where 60 percent of Democratic primary voters are African-American. "Booker, who was billed as the main attraction of the rally, seemed to be trying to address a broader swath of the electorate than was represented in the crowd, speaking in more aspirational terms. Sanders was more blunt, declaring at one point: “It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist.”

Democratic state Rep. Jerry Govan said Monday’s appearance was easier for Booker but more important for Sanders, who held more public events and is staying in the state longer than his Senate colleague.

“I think both of their messages struck a chord with the audience,” said Govan, chairman of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. “I think both of them were well received. I think it’s too early on to say whether there was a winner or a loser because I think both of them were winners based on the simple fact that they showed up. I know that I appreciated hearing from them both.”

If he runs for president for a second time, Sanders will need to do a better job winning over black voters in the state after his dismal performance here in 2016. He won only 26 percent of the vote in the South Carolina primary, a weakness that went on to be repeated across the South.

Neither Sanders nor Booker have said whether they are running for president. But Sanders addressed the question head on during a roundtable discussion. He recognized that some current candidates are friends of his, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“This is not easy stuff. Is there a willingness to do this?” Sanders asked, sharing his mindset as he questions whether to mount another campaign for president. The crowd answered with a resounding “yes!”

Still, a presidential campaign is “tough stuff,” he said. “I’m gonna be going around the country and I’m gonna be talking to people and see whether there is that willingness because if we go forward … we’re gonna take on every powerful special interest in this country.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Giuliani walks back statements on Trump Tower Moscow talks

Rudy Giuliani on Monday walked back statements he made this weekend concerning potential conversations between then-candidate Donald Trump and Michael Cohen about plans to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Giuliani, the former New York mayor and current attorney for the president, said during an interview Sunday on NBC that discussions between Trump and his ex-fixer regarding the project may have lasted up until Election Day.

“It's our understanding that they went on throughout 2016,” Giuliani said, adding that “there weren't a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can't be sure of the exact dates, but the president can remember having conversations with him about it."

Giuliani sought to retract those remarks in a statement to reporters Monday.

“My recent statements about discussions during the 2016 campaign between Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump about a potential Trump Moscow ‘project’ were hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the President,” Giuliani said.

“My comments did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any such discussions. The point is that the proposal was in the earliest stage and did not advance beyond a free non-binding letter of intent.”

The discussion of the timeline of Trump's proposed project feeds into the concerns of political opponents who fear that the president was, and might still be, too close to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

On Sunday, Giuliani extensively discussed the Trump Tower situation on “Meet the Press.” When host Chuck Todd asked him to confirm that the conversations had gone on “throughout 2016,” Giuliani replied: “Yeah. Probably up to, could be up to as far as October, November. Our answers cover until the election. So anytime during that period they could have talked about it, but the president's recollection of it is the thing had petered out quite a bit.“

Longtime Trump lawyer Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison for tax and fraud charges, and for a pair of campaign finance violations stemming from hush money that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York allege Trump directed his former fixer to pay to a porn star and the National Enquirer tabloid.

Cohen was also sentenced, in part, for lying to Congress about communications related to the potential Russian real estate deal. He told lawmakers in closed-door testimony that negotiations relative to the deal ended in January 2016, but later stated in his guilty plea that discussions continued into June of that year.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Trump marks MLK day with two-minute memorial visit

President Donald Trump made a brief appearance Monday at Washington’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, honoring the civil rights icon with a wreath on the federal holiday bearing his name.

The president, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence and acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, spent roughly two minutes at the memorial.

Trump left the White House late Monday morning for an unannounced trip to the King memorial, traveling there via motorcade, according to the White House press pool. The president had faced some criticism for his previously released schedule, which did not include any public events marking Martin Luther King Jr. day.

At the memorial, Trump and Pence laid a wreath at the base of a sculpture of King. The president made only brief remarks to reporters, thanking them for being there. The temperature Monday was 19 degrees with a wind chill of two degrees.

He did not respond to shouted questions on the ongoing government shutdown, now in its 31st day, which has shuttered the non-open-air portions of Washington’s monuments and memorials on and around the National Mall, including the King memorial.

The White House issued a lid — a signal that the day’s public events had concluded — shortly after the president’s arrival back at the White House.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Manchin undecided on Trump immigration deal

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is undecided on whether he’ll support President Donald Trump’s new proposal to reach an immigration deal in exchange for $5.7 billion for his southern border wall.

“He needs to see the final proposal before he decides,” said Jonathan Kott, a spokesperson for Manchin, in an e-mail.

Manchin’s indecision comes as Democrats have opposed Trump’s proposal Saturday for legislation that would provide temporary protection for some undocumented immigrants in exchange for billions for a border wall. The bill is expected to come up for a vote in the next week. to: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will bring the bill up this week.

Democrats have said the proposal is a non-starter and say they won’t negotiate until the government reopens.

Following Trump’s announcement Saturday, Manchin tweeted that he was “hopeful” Trump’s proposal would allow Congress to “immediately reopen gov.”

“I look forward to working w/ my GOP & Dem colleagues to make this happen so that we can end this shameful shutdown,” Manchin said on Twitter.

In a statement Saturday, Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware said “there is no reason to have large parts of the federal government shut down while we debate appropriate border security and immigration policies.” He urged the Senate to pass, and for Trump to sign, House legislation to re-open the government "allows for robust negotiations on border security and immigration policies.”

The partial government shutdown, now in its 31st day, is the longest government shutdown in history.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Trump jabs at Dems amid shutdown, pushes GOP to take back the House in 2020

President Donald Trump's name may be at the top of the Republican ticket in next year's election, but Trump signaled Monday that he is already looking down-ballot in the hopes of putting the GOP back in control of the House of Representatives.

"Democrats campaigned on working within Washington and 'getting things done!' How is that working out? #2020TAKEBACKTHEHOUSE," he wrote on Twitter Monday morning.

Trump's tweet came on day 31 of the ongoing government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history. The president's demand for $5.7 billion in funding to build his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has put him at odds with House Democrats, who assumed control of that chamber's majority earlier this month after picking up 40 seats in last November's midterm elections.

Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have thus far refused to appropriate any funds for Trump's border wall. Democrats have also insisted that they will not negotiate on border security until the government reopens, while Trump has insisted that he will not end the shutdown until his wall demands are met.

The president's jab at Congressional Democrats also came after a day of prolific activity on the president's Twitter account. Trump tweeted 40 times on Sunday, of which four tweets took specific aim at Pelosi. “Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democrats turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak,” he tweeted in response to the rejection of his latest immigration proposal.

The president sent Monday morning's tweet two minutes after promoting his presidential proclamation on the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday. Shortly after sending both tweets, Trump left the White House to attend a wreath laying at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Senate GOP could change rules to speed Trump nominees' confirmation

Senate Republicans may use the "nuclear option" as soon as next week to speed confirmation of President Donald Trump's nominees, according to Sen. Todd Young.

Senate Republicans have been discussing cutting the debate time on lower-level nominees for months now, frustrated by Democrats' ability to demand as many as 30 hours of debate on each one. The Indiana Republican told Hugh Hewitt on Monday that the GOP conference may make a move soon.

"It’s very difficult for a president to advance his or her agenda if you don’t have the right people in place," Young said. "We want to make sure that the right people, whether they’re judges or mid-level appointees to different agencies are expeditiously processed if they are of a non-controversial nature."

Young said the Senate could move on it shortly after voting on President Donald Trump's immigration proposal, which is expected to be blocked by Senate Democrats on Thursday.

With a newly strengthened 53-seat majority, the Senate GOP is in a stronger position now to pass a rules change than it was in the previous Congress. And after losing the House to Democrats, the Senate is likely to focus more on nominations, given the chamber's unilateral sway over confirmations and its ideological disagreements on legislation with the House.

Large numbers of nominees can be confirmed if all 100 senators agree to speedy votes, but any one senator can hold up nominees and force floor votes and delays, a source of frustration for Republicans now and for Democrats during Barack Obama's presidency.

Senate Republicans can change these rules via the "nuclear option," a step that would allow them to cut the debate time on nominees as long as they have at least 50 votes. A similar procedural move was used by former Democratic Leader Harry Reid to scuttle the supermajority requirement on executive branch nominees and most judges, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the maneuver in 2017 to do the same for Supreme Court judges.

Such rules changes can also be done in bipartisan fashion: Republicans and Democrats teamed to ease temporarily cut debate time on some of Obama's nominees in 2013.

McConnell's top priority as majority leader has been confirming judges to lifetime appointments. His office said that while members are discussing the move, there's no official scheduling announcement.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


The Humiliating Handshake and the Near-Fistfight that Broke the Democratic Party

The six double-wide trailers were set up off of the main hall in Madison Square Garden, like a series of covered wagons on the western frontier. The arrangement said everything: The people inside this makeshift camp were hunkered down and under duress.

It was the 1980 Democratic Convention, and inside the trailers, top staff to President Jimmy Carter were nervously tracking their support among convention delegates, minute by minute. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts was trying to take the nomination from Carter in an open convention.

It was the peak of a brutal fight inside the Democratic Party, one so bruising that the party has been careful to avoid a similar experience ever since. And it is a cautionary tale for Democrats as they head into the 2020 election cycle. Their bench of candidates is deep. Their grassroots energy is strong. But if they tear themselves to pieces like they did in 1980, they could squander their shot at defeating President Donald Trump.

The argument facing Democrats now has echoes of 1980. Kennedy wanted to move the party left. Carter occupied more moderate territory. Much of the 2020 debate boils down to a similar split in the party, between bold progressives like Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren and swing-state centrists like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Democrats must figure out whether the country is more open to a liberal president than it was in 1980.

The story of the 1980 convention—told here with new details about a near-fistfight on the floor and relying on long forgotten TV footage—is a reminder of what happens when intraparty rivalry becomes so personal that the combatants lose sight of the greater cause of winning the general election.

The Carter forces were able to hold their coalition of delegates together on the convention’s first night to beat back a movement to vote in favor of an open convention. That win ensured Carter the nomination, and Kennedy conceded.

Yet Kennedy’s team was intent on embarrassing Carter on the convention’s second night, when the delegates would vote for a party platform. Kennedy’s camp was pushing to include planks that were a rebuke to the president: a call for a $12 billion stimulus spending program, a measure to fight unemployment and an endorsement of wage and price controls—proposals far to the left of Carter’s.

The vote on the platform would come right after Kennedy was slotted to speak at the convention. The Carter forces knew that the senator’s speech would create an atmosphere highly favorable for Kennedy's platform proposals to pass and that many of their delegates were already leaning toward voting for them. The delegates had had to say no over and over to Kennedy whips asking them to vote to open the convention the day before, and they were exhausted. They wanted to say yes to something.

Robert Strauss, Carter’s campaign chairman, could not understand why Kennedy insisted on continuing to fight. “If you have any wisdom and judgment at all, you know you don’t get carried away by personalities and pettiness in a political fight,” he told The New Yorker.. “Politics is tough enough . . . that you don’t cut each other’s throats.” But Jody Powell, Carter’s press secretary, thought he knew. “We neglected to take into account one of the most obvious facets of Kennedy’s character, an almost childlike self-centeredness,” he wrote with great bitterness after the election in his score-settling book, The Other Side of the Story.

Before the platform speech, tensions were so high that high-ranking members of the dueling factions almost got into a fistfight. Harold Ickes, who was running the floor operation for Kennedy, used an obscure procedural rule to call a halt to the afternoon floor proceedings. It was nonprime-time programming, but Ickes’ delay would muck up that evening’s televised schedule. It was a gesture done purely out of spite. “We just said, ‘F--- ’em.’ This had turned into a real grudge match,” Ickes said in an interview. “I mean, we weren’t thinking about the country. We weren’t even thinking about the general election. It was, ‘F--- ’em.’ You know? To be blunt about it.”

Tom Donilon was livid. The Carter aide was responsible for seeing that the 1980 Democratic Convention went off without any major hitches, and he had just been blindsided. The convention had been stopped, for no apparent reason, on the second day, by Kennedy forces. Donilon threw down his headset and stormed toward the stage, where he found a Carter lawyer named Tim Smith grappling with Ickes as they came down the stairs from the stage. “What the f--- are you doing? You can’t do this!” Donilon yelled at Ickes. His outrage caused his already ruddy complexion to glow red.

Ickes, then 40, sneered at the younger political operative. “Go f--- yourself. I’m shutting this convention down, Tom,” he said. For a few moments, the two men were on the verge of blows. Several minutes went by. The phone on the podium rang. It was Kennedy, calling for Ickes from his room at the Waldorf Astoria. Several Kennedy advisers were also on the phone.

“Harold, I’m watching the convention. What’s going on down there?’“ Kennedy asked Ickes.

“Well, senator, you know they didn’t comply with this rule,” Ickes responded, explaining the technicality he had used to stop the proceedings.

“How long do you expect this convention to be shut down?” Kennedy asked.

“For two hours,” Ickes said.

There was a long pause. Then Kennedy spoke.

“Harold, I think it’s time we got on with the convention.".

When Kennedy reached the platform later that evening, the mood inside Madison Square Garden was electric. He began with a joke: “Well, things worked out a little different from the way I thought, but let me tell you, I still love New York.” Those in the hall laughed, with a tinge of sadness. In his next breath, he said, “I have come here tonight not to argue as a candidate but to affirm a cause.” It was a subtle but unmistakable distancing of himself from Carter. The cause, he said, was to fight for what Andrew Jackson referred to as “the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics and laborers.” He went on to attack Republican nominee Ronald Reagan as “no friend of labor . . . no friend of this city and our great urban centers across this nation . . . no friend of the senior citizens of this nation . . . no friend of the environment.”

Kennedy acknowledged and rebuffed the critique that the left’s ideas were stale. “The great adventures which our opponents offer is a voyage into the past. Progress is our heritage, not theirs,” Kennedy said. “The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures.”

Outside of Madison Square Garden, Kennedy’s words were an awkward fit for the political moment. The New York Times editorial page wrote in response to Kennedy’s speech that “a big reason Senator Kennedy did not win is that many people feared his answers to social problems are too liberal, by which they mean, obsolete or too expensive or both.” The editorial argued, “One can regret the turn to conservatism in America; one can rail against it; one can work to reverse it. But through much of his campaign, the Senator pressed on as though it didn’t exist.”

However, the final minutes of Kennedy’s remarks made it one of the most memorable political speeches in modern political history. “There were hard hours on our journey, and often we sailed against the wind,” he said. When he had first used that phrase, almost two years earlier in Memphis, it was a defiant signal that he intended to fight Carter for the nomination. He had been a sailor in a racing vessel, gaining speed, looking at the headwinds and feeling himself ready to take them on.

Even the Carter trailer compound was quiet, in uneasy awe. Carter chief of staff Hamilton Jordan could feel the power of the Kennedy magic working its will on him. “For a long year, Ted Kennedy had been the enemy . . . but it was difficult for me to see him in the convention setting without thinking of his family and its tragedies, of Bobby Kennedy’s emotional appearance at the 1964 convention, when he stood looking sad while Democrats cheered and cried for half an hour,” Jordan wrote in his account of the election.

Now, 16 years later in 1980, another Kennedy stood before a Democratic convention, not the same as his brothers, not their equal, but having shown himself to be unique in a way that many found admirable. “Ted Kennedy’s words triggered open the floodgates of memories: Camelot, magic rhetoric, and the shock of the assassinations,” Jordan wrote.

Kennedy briefly acknowledged Carter’s victory and congratulated him. But there was a caveat in his promise of party unity. It was not an unqualified support of Carter. He said the unification would happen “on the basis of Democratic principles.”

Kennedy’s last words were a eulogy for his campaign. He sought to capture its essence as having upheld something bigger and greater even than politics. He cast himself in defeat as a prophetic figure whose intransigence and bullheadedness were effort to call his brothers and sisters in the party back to their faith, an attempt to redeem and redirect his wayward party and a wayward president.

“And someday, long after this convention, long after the signs come down and the crowds stop cheering, and the bands stop playing, may it be said of our campaign that we kept the faith. May it be said of our party in 1980 that we found our faith again,” he said.

Kennedy’s final words transcended politics and connected with his family’s past. “May it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of [Alfred, Lord] Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now,” he said, his voice breaking. “‘I am a part of all that I have met. Too much is taken, much abides. That which we are, we are: one equal temper of heroic hearts, strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’”

As he quoted from pieces of Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses,” Kennedy evoked the memory and grief of all the losses and tragedies in the Kennedy family and his own life. “Too much is taken” spoke to the death of Joe Jr. in World War II, JFK’s assassination, Bobby’s assassination, his sister Kathleen’s fatal plane crash, his sister Rosemary’s lobotomy, the cancer that cost his son Teddy Jr. his right leg and the plane crash that nearly killed Ted Kennedy himself. “Much abides” spoke to his sense of gratefulness for what he still had left. “That which we are, we are” was a poetic way of stating what was true: He was a blemished human being, and could not change that. And the closing words of the poem spoke to what had been the driving theme of his candidacy—a determination “not to yield.”

Kennedy’s voice peaked as he paid tribute to his family name and the dream of Camelot: something that was too good to be true, a fairy-tale period that lasted only a short time and had its truest essence more in the minds of JFK’s admirers than in reality.

“For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die,” Kennedy said.

With one more nod to the audience—a wooden, almost formal nod—and a barely audible “Thank you very much,” he turned from the podium. The hall exploded and the delegates’ applause and cheering lasted almost thirty minutes. It was “one of the great emotional outpourings of convention history,” the New York Times editorial page noted.

The vote on the party platform was to come immediately after Kennedy’s speech, and now the Carter forces were disheartened. All the emotion in the hall was now with Kennedy, and he had made clear in his speech that he believed the party needed to come his way on policy. Jordan and Strauss entreated the whips to fight for their version of the platform, but they knew it was a lost cause. And so they accepted two out of Kennedy’s three proposals: the $12 billion stimulus program and a call for a jobs bill.

The deal that the Carter camp had reached with Kennedy’s people ensured that there would be no official protest or complaint. Still, a sitting president had accepted a platform at his own convention that included measures he opposed.

Carter now had to unite the party in his speech on the convention’s final night. He got off to a rough start. As he began, a loud series of firecrackers went off in the crowd less than a hundred feet to his left, set off by a woman named Signe Waller from the Communist Workers Party. The explosions caused the president to flinch and pause his delivery and rattled everyone in the hall. Secret Service agents removed her and another CWP demonstrator.

Carter reinforced his image as a bumbler by making a verbal gaffe when thanking people at the beginning of his speech. “We’re the party . . . of a great man who should have been president, who would have been one of the greatest presidents in history, Hubert Horatio Hornblower!” he shouted. The crowd reacted with confused applause, and Carter reached for the words to pull them back in with a shouted correction: “Humphrey!” He had mistakenly referred to the former vice president, senator and Democratic nominee for president, who had died of cancer in 1978, as the fictional protagonist of C.S. Forester’s popular series of novels.

The rest of the evening foreshadowed the trouble on the horizon for Carter and the Democrats.

Carter finished his speech at 10:19 p.m., and the band struck up “Happy Days Are Here Again” as his wife Rosalynn, and then Vice President Walter Mondale and his wife, Joan, joined the president onstage. But comedic disaster struck almost immediately. The balloons heldon the ceiling became stuck when the mechanism to release them wouldn’t work. Only a trickle of balloons fell to the floor.

“Whoever’s in charge of balloons at this convention had better find themselves a new job,” cracked ABC’s Ted Koppel. Even Carter came in for abuse from some in the crowd. “Forget the hostages, he can’t get the balloons down,” said one person on the floor, according to Dan Rather.

And all of this was nothing to compare to the disastrous handshake that would come to symbolize the split within the Democratic Party, and the question of whether the wrong nominee had been chosen.

As Kennedy made his way to the convention in a motorcade from the Waldorf Astoria, the cheering inside the hall died down. It was quite a contrast to the response for Kennedy’s speech two nights earlier. The delegates had cheered and danced and sung for 30 minutes then. But for Carter, it took less than 10 minutes for things to quiet down.

Carter’s aides scrambled to keep the party going, to avoid the embarrassment of several minutes of quiet prior to Kennedy’s arrival. Strauss began calling political figures up onto the stage to keep the crowd cheering and the TV audience watching. It was ridiculous. He was calling people no one had heard of or cared about. “This convention right now needs" Kennedy Koppel said on ABC News. “This demonstration here has kind of fizzled out.”

Finally, at 10:36 p.m.—nearly twenty minutes after Carter’s speech had ended—Kennedy reached the doorway to the hall and waited for Strauss to call him up. The buzz of his arrival emanated out into the hall. Loud chants of “We want Ted” rose up.

Strauss announced Kennedy’s name, and the hall drowned out all else with its roar. Kennedy walked into the hall “like an engine coming up the ramp,” ABC anchor Sam Donaldson said. He made his way through the crush of bodies around the stage, and up the three or four stairs onto the podium. Carter awaited him at the top. It was almost like he was a state official standing at the bottom of the stairs outside Air Force One, waiting for the president to come down and shake his hand. Kennedy’s mouth was taut, his eyes were dead, and his brow was slightly furrowed.

After Kennedy shook hands with others on the stage—Rosalynn, Amy and Vice President Walter Mondale—Carter made his move. He took a few steps toward center stage in front of the microphone. It was a clear attempt to bring Kennedy with him and to pose for the cameras, the two of them, hands together and aloft: a long-awaited, badly needed moment of victory for Carter.

Kennedy could not, would not do it. He realized what Carter was doing, and stayed where he was, a few paces away from the podium. He waved to the crowd, nodding his head in a rhythmic way in acknowledgment of them. Carter reached the microphone, apparently thinking or hoping that Kennedy was right behind him. He realized that Kennedy had not come with him, and looked over his left shoulder. He turned back, took a step back and to his left, and extended a hand to Kennedy for a handshake, but he did so with his hand almost at shoulder level. It was a clear invitation to take his hand and raise it high.

The announcers expected Kennedy to give the president what he wanted. “There it is, there’s the moment,” Reynolds said. “Let’s see if we—there it is.” Kennedy stepped forward and shook Carter’s hand, but he did not raise it, and his expression remained an almost somber one. His mouth remained closed, he let go of Carter’s hand, and then he raised his hand again to the crowd. “What we are still lacking,” Koppel said, “is that classical political photograph of the two men arm in arm, holding their hands up together.”

Kennedy shook Carter’s hand again, then he moved past him like he was at a rally and the president was just another nobody on the rope line waiting to shake his hand. He shook hands with Joan Mondale and a few other people behind Carter. The president continued applauding, and then turned back to the microphone, standing at the podium alone. He mouthed the words to the song being sung in the hall. He was by himself.
A few minutes later, Carter spotted his wife and Kennedy shaking hands on the stage and sidled over to shake Kennedy’s hand for a fourth time. And then Kennedy walked down the steps, flashing a raised fist to the crowd before descending. The cameras caught him shaking hands with Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton as he made his way away from the stage.

Moments later, Kennedy emerged back on the stage for a curtain call. He shook hands with Carter again, a fifth time, then slipped behind him on the stage while the president clapped with his hands held high. Carter faced forward but kept looking over his shoulder in both directions to see what Kennedy was doing. Kennedy smirked as he nodded toward the crowd. Finally, he made his way off the stage for good. He walked behind the first lady and first daughter, raised his left hand to the crowd, and then saw Carter walking over to stand next to him, still hoping for a moment of unity. The president of the United States was groveling on live TV, in front of the nation, for a photo with the man he had defeated for his own party’s nomination. Roughly 20 million people were watching on live TV. “Well, this is slightly awkward,” NBC’s David Brinkley said.

But Kennedy just chuckled in amusement, patted the still-applauding president on the back, and turned to walk down the stairs. Carter was left pumping his right fist in the air to the crowd as Kennedy exited. It was, reporter Teddy White wrote, “as if he had appeared at the wedding of his chauffeur.”

It was all awkward enough to make the country wonder if Democrats had made the right choice—if the candidate with more centrist cred, but less rock-star appeal, really could take on Reagan. A few months later, they had their answer. It’s possible that Kennedy would have lost to Reagan in the general election, as Carter did. But the Democratic National Convention debacle raised fresh questions for Democrats about whether they had the right alternative to a charismatic former entertainer and Republican candidate like Reagan in 1980.

It’s a question that looks a lot like the one Democrats will try to answer in 2020.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Inside Kamala Harris’ 2020 campaign plan

Kamala Harris’ Democratic opponents are already telegraphing that they plan to make her law-and-order background an enormous vulnerability with voters on the left.

But the California senator, who announced her bid for the White House on Monday amid an early wave of scrutiny of her career as a prosecutor, thinks she can turn the criticism on its head.

According to interviews with a half-dozen of her confidants and strategists, Harris will court voters wary of law enforcement by presenting herself as a kinder and gentler prosecutor — a “progressive” attorney who advocated for the vulnerable and served the public interest. At the same time, they believe leaning into her background will allow her to project toughness against Donald Trump, and contrast what they call her evidence-based approach to law and politics with the president’s carelessness with facts and legal troubles with the special prosecutor.

“In the face of a lawless president and a lawless administration, Americans are going to be looking for somebody who represents and stands for the rule of law,” one Harris adviser said.

But it will be a tough balancing act, and it’s an open question whether Harris has the political dexterity to pull it off. A scathing New York Times op-ed by a California law professor last week gave a taste of what the Californian is in for: It argued that Harris was overzealous against defendants in a slew of cases she or her office handled. Her critics and opponents quickly circulated the article.

The former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general will focus on her earlier work protecting woman and children who suffered from sexual violence, students who were taken advantage of by for-profit colleges, homeowners hurt by the foreclosure crisis and families choked by serial polluters, as well as her office’s role in advancing the marriage equality movement.

The something-for-everyone approach is designed to position her as a potential voice for progressives and moderates, from millennial women who supported Bernie Sanders to Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

She also will try to claim the mantle as an avatar of honesty at a time when many Democrats want reconciliation and healing. She addresses society’s biggest challenges with an opening watchword derived from her legal training: To tackle the issues, Harris argues, people need to first hear the truth —about everything from racism and sexism to the fact that the vast majority of Americans descend from people who weren’t born here.

But embracing her prosecutorial brand and ethos is not without risk in the modern Democratic Party. Some criminal justice advocates, based on early dissections of her record, view her as overly cautious amid calls to reform the system. They argue that she aligned herself too closely with law enforcement during her political ascent – when they wanted her to be more of an activist while holding the powerful positions.

The author of the Times op-ed, law professor Lara Bazelon, argued that Harris “stayed silent” over much of her early career.

“Most troubling,” she wrote, “Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.”

Other pointed to Harris’ decision as California attorney general to not bring state foreclosure law actions against Steve Mnuchin when he was head of the California-based OneWest Bank. Harris aides maintain there wasn’t enough evidence to support a conviction against Mnuchin, now Trump’s treasury secretary.

Opponents seized on the attack and suggested it will be central to their effort to discredit Harris among primary voters.

On the broader critique, which comes against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, Harris has long maintained that it’s a “false choice” to side with either law enforcement or those demanding more oversight of police and prosecutors. Harris, who developed anti-recidivism programs and introduced a bail reform bill in the Senate to tackle high rates of incarceration and discrimination in the justice system, addresses the issue in her new book, “The Truths We Hold.”

“You can want the police to stop crime in your neighborhood and also want them to stop using excessive force,” she writes. “You can want them to hunt down a killer on your streets and also want them to stop using racial profiling. You can believe in the need for consequence and accountability, especially for serious criminals, and also oppose unjust incarceration. I believed it was essential to weave all these varied strands together.”

Still, she’s long had to explain her decision not to go into another line of work — or at least another part of the law. The daughter of an Indian-born mother and Jamaican-born father who were active in the Civil Rights movement, Harris had to defend her career choice to family and friends like one would a thesis.

She describes some of them as incredulous. And in the book, she dives into the nation’s “deep and dark history of people using the power of the prosecutor as an instrument of injustice.”

But history told another story, too, she added.

“I knew the history of brave prosecutors who went after the Ku Klux Klan in the South. I knew the stories of prosecutors who went after corrupt politicians and corporate polluters. I knew the legacy of Robert Kennedy, who, as U.S. attorney general, sent Department of Justice officials to protect the Freedom Riders in 1961, and sent the U.S. Marshals to protect James Meredith when he enrolled at Ole Miss the next year.”

Long before the presidential race, Harris has pitched herself as a different kind of prosecutor. In her first race for San Francisco district attorney, the 38-year-old trudged around town with a makeshift standing desk made from an ironing board that bore the sign “Kamala Harris, a voice for justice.”

Lateefah Simon, who worked with Harris for five years in San Francisco, met when Simon advocated for girls on the streets who were being trafficked or engaging in sex work. She said it’s impossible to separate Harris’ early career from the candidate she is today: “I think that she brings that grit.”

“I think she’s going to use that skill, but also that [prosecutorial approach] to go hard” on her opponents, Simon said.

In 2010, when Harris ran for attorney general, she urged voters to be not hard or soft on crime, but “smart on crime.” It became the title of her first book on the subject. Six years later, the TV ads for her Senate campaign placed Harris in a courtroom, adding a keyword to the line she would tell judges before a case could get started: “Kamala Harris, fearless for the people.”

The video Harris’ campaign released Monday announcing her presidential run and teasing her first big speech Sunday in Oakland introduced a new variation on the theme: “For The People.”

Politically, Harris’ past legal work has helped her far more than it has hurt.

Mary Hughes, a Democratic strategist who has worked with female candidates for more than three decades, said those running for executive offices must persuade people that they have the mettle and resolve to make hard decisions. One of the ways women are meeting those demands is by featuring backgrounds that have been historically held by men, such as prosecutorial and military roles.

“We have had women who are excellent lawyers for a long time, but that lacked the quality of fierceness that we expect in our ultimate leader,” Hughes said. “In a frightening world, we know we need people of great strength.”

Hughes cautioned that this is not the only way women ascend to executive positions – others in recent years, primarily gubernatorial candidates, have shown that they have stared down powerful people and interests.

Harris is planning to combine both — pointing to her pulling out of talks to settle charges that banks wrongfully foreclosed on homeowners because the proposed settlement, $2 billion to $4 billion, represented “crumbs on the table.” Harris soon settled for $18 billion, which grew to $20 billion.

In the Senate, her high-profile turns in the media have been prosecutorial in nature: She grilled Trump cabinet members and appointees on the Judiciary Committee, creating a viral moment when she was interrupted by her male Republican colleagues, one of whom admonished her for not being more courteous. And in her early tussling so far with the Trump administration, when a White House twitter account called out Harris for “supporting the animals of MS-13,” she swung the debate back to her time as a top cop.

“As a career prosecutor, I actually went after gangs and transnational criminal organizations,” Harris responded in a tweet of her own. “That’s being a leader on public safety. What is not, is ripping babies from their mothers.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Why 2019 Could Be Marijuana’s Biggest Year Yet

On November 7, the day after Democrats seized control of the House with what would become a 40-seat swing, President Trump fired his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. That day, at his home in California, Smoke Wallin’s phone blew up with congratulatory calls from friends and associates celebrating the political demise of the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Sessions had spent good parts of the preceding two years looming menacingly over a booming industry that is caught between a tidal wave of popularity at the state level and an implacable wall of illegality in Washington. Wallin, the president of Vertical, a cannabis company with a 1,500-acre ranch outside of Santa Barbara and operations in four states, was not unmoved by Sessions’ departure, but he saw an even more welcome development in the election results.

“People kept saying that with Sessions no longer attorney general, a major obstacle was removed from the cannabis movement’s progress,” Wallin told POLITICO Magazine. “I had to remind them that Jeff Sessions was not really the major problem. He had been all bluster and no action.” Instead, Wallin was focused on the departure of another Sessions — the all-powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Republicans had taken such heavy losses on Election Night, it would have been easy to overlook Texas Congressman Pete Sessions’ defeat to Colin Allred, a former professional football player and Obama administration HUD attorney, but Wallin understood that it had been Rep. Sessions, not Attorney General Sessions, who had almost-singlehandedly blocked marijuana reform in Congress by denying votes on marijuana-related amendments. With Pete Sessions gone, and Democrats in charge, the backlog of small-bore changes that marijuana advocates have been clamoring for since 2016 — clarification of banking rules; permission for veterans to talk to their VA doctors about medicinal marijuana; protections against federal interference for state-legal programs (medical and recreational) — are all due to appear in upcoming appropriations bills. Two hundred and ninety-six members of Congress (68 percent) represent the 33 states with at least medical marijuana, which means the votes are there to pass these amendments. In the words of Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Oregon Democrat who is the dean of the Cannabis Caucus: “Cannabis reform is inevitable.”

Reform certainly didn’t seem inevitable two years ago.

Even though legal marijuana had continued its advance across the country, many observers, at the dawn of 2017, feared Jeff Sessions’ rise to the top of the Department of Justice would mean much stricter enforcement of federal drug law than had existed under President Obama. True to form, Sessions repealed the Obama-era Cole Memo, which had provided a buffer to keep the feds at bay while state-legal marijuana programs got their legs. But it had been Pete Sessions’ blockade of key legislation in Congress to protect state-legal marijuana programs that had a far greater stifling effect on the nascent industry that is expected to grow into a $25 billion market by 2025. As Wallin told me: “Everybody talks about Jeff Sessions, but honestly the big Sessions was really Pete.”

But even while Pete Sessions stood fast in the Rules Committee, the pressure at the state level kept mounting as deep-red states such as West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Utah passed medical marijuana laws. Then in November, a slew of gubernatorial candidates campaigned on pro-marijuana platforms, and a dozen of them won: 11 Democrats (Gavin Newsom in California, Jared Polis in Colorado, J.B. Pritzker in Illinois, Andrew Cuomo in New York, Tim Walz in Minnesota, Ned Lamont in Connecticut, Janet Mills in Maine, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Steve Sisolak in Nevada, Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, and Kate Brown in Oregon) and one Republican (Phil Scott in Vermont).

In November, Michigan became the tenth state to legalize recreational marijuana, but the number of legal states could potentially double by year’s end. States like Illinois, whose new governor has made it known that he wants Illinois to beat Michigan to claim the title of the first midwest state to sell legal marijuana, are looking to legalize pot through their legislatures rather than at the ballot box. A legal marijuana map that included all regions of the country, rather than weighted to the mountain west, would place a new level of pressure on a Democratic-controlled Congress to get something done. And for the first time in several years, Congress seems ready for the challenge.

“This is the first Congress in history where, going into it, it seems that broad marijuana reforms are actually achievable,” said Tom Angell, an advocate-journalist who runs Marijuana Moment.

Members of Congress are lining up to introduce bills that never saw the light of day when Republicans ran the show. Two bills have already been filed: a re-introduction of the CARERS Act by Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Don Young (R-Alaska), which would expand marijuana research, allow VA doctors to discuss it with veteran patients; and prevent the federal government from meddling with state-legal programs without removing marijuana from the schedules created by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970; and H.R. 420, the “Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act” by Blumenauer, which would remove marijuana from the list of most dangerous drugs, “de-scheduling it” in Congress-speak, and shift regulatory authority to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

“For the past several Congresses, there have been dozens of pieces of marijuana legislation filed, but this is the first time where advocates can legitimately say that some of these bills can actually pass,” Angell told me.

And, sure, the Senate remains in control of Republicans, so it seems unlikely that such bills would have much luck there. But the current Senate is practically the same body that just a month ago passed a criminal justice reform bill 87 to 12, and under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell legalized hemp (the non-psychoactive sister plant of marijuana) through the Farm Bill.

This level of disconnection between state and federal law cannot hold for much longer, and it might not have to. In the wake of the Farm Bill, the idea that Congress could remove marijuana entirely from the list of scheduled drugs is now entirely conceivable; after all the plant is now legal, only the potency is in question. Maybe this year, for the first time, Blumenauer’s bill doesn’t seem so crazy. Nothing would solidify 2019 as marijuana’s biggest year yet more than a rollback of that half-century-old designation.

“It would not be shocking to see the end of federal marijuana prohibition signed into law this year,” Angell told me. “This is the first time that actually seems achievable.”


Even before the election, Blumenauer proposed a blueprint for this Congress to legalize marijuana by the end of 2019.

“The House should pass a full de-scheduling bill,” the bow-tied, bike-pin-wearing Blumenauer said in October. With a 36-seat majority, passing a de-scheduling bill out of the House seems all but inevitable with Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) chairing the Judiciary Committee and Nancy Pelosi becoming the first pro-cannabis Speaker of the House since Henry Clay, who actually grew hemp on his Kentucky plantation.

“Nancy Pelosi is out there as a champion on this issue,” Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance told POLITICO Magazine.

Further emphasizing the rise of women in leadership on this issue, Blumenauer passed the torch of Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus to Barbara Lee (D-California), the first woman and first person of color to join a group that leaned heavily white and male.

“For far too long, communities of color and women have been left out of the conversation on cannabis. I am committed to ensuring that marijuana reform goes hand-in-hand with criminal justice reform so we can repair some of the harm of the failed War on Drugs,” Lee said in the press release. In the last Congress, she took a leadership role on this issue as the House sponsor of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, which garnered 43 co-sponsors.

Her Republican co-chair, David Joyce, is newer to the issue. He’s the first member of the Cannabis Caucus to not represent a fully legal state; Ohio is a medical marijuana state, whose dispensaries have only just opened. “Joyce has come really far, really fast on marijuana policy,” Justin Strekal of NORML told me.

Elected in 2012, Joyce had quietly used his role as a member of the majority in the Appropriations Committee to protect pro-marijuana amendments. Then last summer, he co-sponsored the House version of the STATES Act, a bare-bones legislative fix to Pete Sessions’ blockade of appropriations amendments and Jeff Sessions’ repeal of the Cole Memo. It was introduced in the Senate by Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

These are the players to watch as marijuana legislation winds its way through the House this year. Although Republicans remain split on this issue, the Democrats have all pretty much fallen in line. Unlike other policies, such as Medicare for All, that seem to divide the Democrats’ liberal and moderate wings, “This isn’t one of those issues,” Collins told me. “Marijuana legalization is one of these issues that I feel Democrats are pretty united on these days.”


Before the 2016 election, the only fully legal states were in the Rocky Mountains or west. That’s about to change dramatically. In the Northeast, marijuana will soon be totally legal from Madawaska, Maine, south to Cape May, New Jersey, and from Buffalo, New York, east to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Much of this momentum can be traced back to 2018 gubernatorial primary in New York, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo was forced to deal with this issue because of a primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Now, with Cuomo ready to legalize New York, its smaller neighbors are jumping on the bandwagon with a fear of missing out. In the Midwest, Illinois and Michigan are vying to be the first state in the region to implement legal sales, with Minnesota poised to be third.

“There’s such tremendous momentum, state-by-state,” Wallin, the president of Vertical Cannabis, told me. “How can you be for states’ rights without acknowledging that the states are making a statement?”

Among the statements being made by the states in the past year: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has begun pardoning citizens of his state with past convictions as part of his “Marijuana Justice Initiative.” In California, former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last May that would allow hundreds of thousands of Californians to reduce or eliminate the marijuana crimes on their records. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, also a Democrat, pledged to expunge records and free inmates convicted of marijuana crimes that were legalized on the same day she was elected.

And it’s not just Democrats. In Republican-controlled Florida, marijuana legalization is moving forward, even if by fits and starts. Last week, newly elected Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he had asked the state legislature to repeal its ban on smokable marijuana, which it had imposed even after a 2106 constitutional amendment in favor of medical marijuana. “I don’t want to continue fighting some of these old battles.” Former Gov. Rick Scott, who fought against smokable marijuana until his last day in office, is now Sen. Scott, who is likely a no vote if a marijuana bill ever makes it to the floor of the Senate.


In the end, the success of major legislation in Congress is all about the Senate, where marijuana advocates “still face an uphill battle,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) told POLITICO Magazine.

Republicans gained two seats in November, but they lost Dean Heller, a reliable marijuana opponent, to Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.), a fierce marijuana advocate. Although the Republicans control the Senate with 53 seats, the more relevant number is 33. That’s the number of states that now have medical marijuana, which means 66 senators represent states where federal law has been repudiated in the state legislature or at the ballot box.

In 2020, 33 Senate seats will be up for grabs, 12 held by Democrats and 21 by Republicans. Of these, Republicans will defend nine seats in states with legal medical marijuana: Dan Sullivan in Alaska, Steve Daines in Montana, Susan Collins in Maine, Jim Inhofe in Oklahoma, Bill Cassidy in Louisiana, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, Martha McSally in Arizona, and Cory Gardner in Colorado.

“It’s likely that Gardner will be re-introducing the STATES Act with Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren,” Strekal told me.

Tom Angell is also watching Gardner: “Even if Mitch McConnell isn’t personally on board with the changes that would be achieved by the STATES Act, it’s easy to envision a scenario where he, for electoral reasons, goes along with letting Cory Gardner bring that victory home to Colorado,” he told me. Gardner did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

If the STATES Act passed the House, it would land in the Senate Judiciary Committee, now chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham, where, admittedly, hope for it dims.

“I’m just being realistic,” Michael Collins told me. “The challenge that you have with Lindsey Graham is that he got onto the CARERS Act, then he got off the CARERS Act. He didn’t get on it last year because I think he heard from people back in his state — law enforcement, et cetera… I think he regretted getting on the bill.” In 2016, I wrote about Graham’s flirtation with marijuana reform for POLITICO Magazine. “I think that story had a lot to do with it,” Collins told me. Graham did not respond to a request for comment.

If the Judiciary Committee is doubtful, there’s always the Appropriations Committee, where advocates have found success in the past. “The question is now, can we cobble enough votes together on the Senate Appropriations Committee to get a sort of McClintock vote,” Collins told me, referring to McClintock-Polis, a narrowly defeated amendment that would have protected recreational marijuana from federal interference. How would Susan Collins or Lindsey Graham vote on an amendment like that? That’s what Michael Collins is looking for.

Above it all sits McConnell, who has completely mystified advocates and observers with his recent advocacy for hemp and calling the vote for the First Step Act, the historic criminal justice reform bill, but only after a long and seemingly needless delay. “He’s an enigma, to be honest. He’s hard to read,” Collins said.

Blumenauer was equally clear on this point: “Senate leadership remains a question.”

McConnell’s staff declined to comment for this story by referring me to McConnell’s answer to this question last May, when he said: “I do not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana,” which is hardly a no, but not a yes either.

“I mean, we could debate this, but I don’t think anybody really knows the mind of Mitch McConnell,” Collins told me, saying the House presents a much clearer path for progress. “I think we see a path through Appropriations, in terms of getting things done. Then, I think we need to see how things shake out in the Senate. Let’s see how Lindsey Graham is. Let’s see what Cory Gardner tries to get done. Let’s see what pull he has.”

Far away from D.C., from his view in Santa Barbara, Smoke Wallin seemed more optimistic than Collins: “[McConnell] gets a lot of credit for the Farm Bill, and he’s in a pretty strong position, and he can choose if he wants to do this. But it’s guys like Cory Gardner, who [McConnell] wants to get re-elected, that’s going to be the thing that drives it. You’ve got a risk of losing the Senate, and that’s the only thing that matters to Mitch at the end of the day.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


House GOP revives long-shot FBI probe

House Republicans were sent into the purgatory of the minority after their midterm drubbing. But they are still pressing ahead with longstanding probes into the FBI and DOJ — even though they lack much power to do anything about it.

Barely three weeks into the minority, a band of Trump loyalists says they want to revive the remnants of an investigation that formally concluded last year, which they believe shows that federal law enforcement officials weaponized their biases against President Donald Trump in 2016 while he was a candidate for president.

Yet the group, led by Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), won’t have a single tool at their disposal to compel testimony or demand documents, and not nearly enough manpower to keep up with the work.

“We’ve got to keep digging for the truth no matter what,” Jordan said, confirming that he is working with a handful of Republicans to continue the work of a joint effort with the Judiciary Committee that former chairmen Trey Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte pursued last year.

The Republican probes are pressing ahead as newly-empowered Democrats are beginning a wave of investigations into multiple aspects of the president and his administration.

Collins said he has already directed several of the Judiciary Committee’s GOP staff lawyers to keep their focus on what he believes to be illegal surveillance tactics by the FBI. Such an order will create a dual role for staffers: Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are also expected to be the president’s first line of defense as the panel’s Democrats possibly pursue impeachment and other issues related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation.

Jordan, who will be the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said he, too, has tasked staff to stay the course on the GOP’s investigations into the FBI.

Despite those directives, the minority party on an investigative committee has painfully limited authority. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, they will not have the authority to set up hearings, compel the attendance of witnesses, or use subpoenas to get their hands on relevant documents.

Instead, Republicans will only be able to write letters, ask for briefings, and request documents—with exactly half the staff as their Democratic counterparts.

Still, Collins, Jordan and Nunes remain loyal to the cause and say they’ll work to dig up further evidence to support their case.

“There’s always been a group of us focused on this, because it’s so egregious what took place,” Jordan said, despite a determination by last year’s joint GOP effort that Mueller’s final report “must be trusted."

Jordan has centered his efforts on top DOJ official Bruce Ohr and his wife, Nellie, who worked for the firm that compiled a controversial dossier of allegations about Trump’s connections to Russia. When Republicans controlled the Judiciary and Oversight committees, they were able to force testimony from Ohr and others, including former FBI Director James Comey. They won’t have that authority with Democrats in control, severely hobbling their ability to investigate.

“Nellie and Bruce Ohr are not coming in again,” said one Democratic aide who works closely with the Oversight Committee. “It’s going to be virtually impossible to get any active agency personnel to talk to them.”

The Republican staff on the committees will also be a fraction of the size of the majority’s staff — a restriction that comes with a much smaller budget, too. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, for instance, once tapped the personal budget of then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to pay to transcribe hours of testimony from one of their hearings, the aide said.

“You’re effectively in the position where you’re fighting something with nothing,” said Kurt Bardella, who helped direct countless probes at the House Oversight Committee as a GOP aide. “It’s not like the FBI is going to be inclined to talk to them voluntarily.”

Collins rebuffed concerns about a lack of resources.

“This is not something you can just drop, especially with what we’re seeing come out,” he said, citing a recent New York Times report that the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe to find out whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of the Russians.

Democrats, of course, see the situation differently. They have suggested Congress should issue a subpoena for documents relating to Trump’s private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing the FBI’s alleged concerns about whether Trump was a Russian agent.

For example, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in conjunction with the Intelligence Committee, has been deliberating over whether to issue a subpoena for notes and other documents that State Department interpreter Marina Gross kept while she was present for the private meeting between Trump and Putin in Helsinki last year. In fact, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the foreign affairs chairman, plans to revive a subcommittee for oversight and investigations.

House Republicans pursuing their own investigations do have one major asset: the president.

Democrats say they are preparing for the possibility that Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), two of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, could leverage their relationship with the president to secure documents and other information, particularly from the Justice Department. Such actions would be out of bounds, Democrats say, because the Justice Department should be independent of the president.

“Typically in the minority, the administration is somewhat collaborative,” a senior Democratic aide said. But, the aide cautioned, “that wasn’t the case with us. Every request we made was basically ignored.”

Minority investigations aren’t unprecedented, though.

Last March, the Intelligence Committee, under GOP leadership, formally closed its Russia investigation and concluded that there was no collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives. But Democrats, then in the minority, dismissed those findings and argued that the investigation was incomplete because the committee did not interview key witnesses. They vowed to continue investigating the matter using their limited procedural tools in the minority, but were unable to gain significant ground.

Democrats have indicated they don’t plan on helping Republicans with their own investigations.

“We are out of the business of investigating the investigators,” said a Democratic aide. “If we uncover indications that something is amiss during the course of our work, we will not ignore it. But so far, we have seen only unfounded accusations and character assassination directed at patriotic, dedicated public servants.”

Rachael Bade contributed reporting.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Booker and Bernie plunge into South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C.— When Sens. Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders make their first early primary state appearances of 2019 on Monday, the location won’t be by chance.

As the first Southern state to vote in 2020 — and, more important, the first state where African-Americans will cast a majority of the primary vote — South Carolina looms as a crucible for both potential presidential candidates. Each has something to prove here, though for entirely different reasons.

For Booker, the state presents an opportunity for an early show of strength next year with the Democratic Party’s most loyal bloc of voters. As one of the few African-American candidates likely to run, he’ll have a moment to break out of the crowded field after voting takes place in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire.

For Sanders, it’s an opening to move beyond his dismal 2016 performance with black voters here, when he won only 26 percent of the total vote in the primary against Hillary Clinton and exposed a weakness that was repeated across the South.

“Why is South Carolina important?” said Jaime Harrison, a former chair of the state Democratic Party. “It’s important because it’s the first state that these candidates will get an opportunity to vet their message with a population that reflects the heart of the Democratic Party, which is African-Americans and specifically African-American women.”

Booker and Sanders are scheduled to be back-to-back speakers at the state capital’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally. But Booker has been branded as the main attraction at the event, an indication of his popularity in the state — local Democratic leaders say the grassroots is excited to hear him speak. Both senators will also attend a prayer service and march to the statehouse.

A 60-second promotional radio ad features sound bites of Booker delivering a fiery address. The narrator mentions him by name three times, and the spot says Booker will bring “his message of hope” to Columbia.

Representatives from the South Carolina NAACP said they invited Booker to attend the rally because of his education advocacy. He has a long record of supporting charter schools, which has put him at odds with some in the party — Sanders himself has criticized “privately controlled” charters. The theme of this year’s event is “Education First: Illuminating the Path to Change.”

The nonpartisan group also extended invitations to South Carolina Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott. Graham’s office didn’t respond, according to the state NAACP, and Scott was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.

Sanders‘ appearance is a sign of his determination to make his second run different than his first and a recognition of the challenges ahead. When Sanders visited South Carolina in October of last year, some local Democrats said he’d be better off staying home: His progressive brand, they argued, would hurt the party in a general election in a state dominated by Republicans. His rally ended up drawing about 1,000 attendees.

"At that point in time, we were in the midst of a very consequential gubernatorial race in the state, and Sen. Sanders coming to the state was not seen as a helping hand," said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist. Seawright added that he is "not here to bash Bernie Sanders ... nobody wins when the family feuds," but "I think the pathway is very difficult for him this time around."

Booker and Sanders may be off to a head start in the state this year, but not by much. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is expected to compete with Booker for the support of the state’s black primary voters, is visiting the state Friday. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has an organizing event scheduled for Wednesday.

South Carolina-based Democratic insiders said Booker, Harris, and former Vice President Joe Biden are likely early front-runners. A key factor, they said, is how successful candidates are in talking about issues that matter to black women — according to 2016 exit polls, they cast 37 percent of the primary vote here.

“In this state, black women are the ones who decide winners, for the most part, in the Democratic primary,” said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a Democratic National Committee member.

The state NAACP will moderate an afternoon roundtable with Sanders. Organizers said the forum’s topics will include the ongoing partial government shutdown, education and housing reform. Sanders, who has not yet said whether he will run for president, will also speak at Mount Zion AME Church in Florence on Monday and to Benedict College and Allen University students Tuesday.

Ed Rendell, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and ex-governor of Pennsylvania, said it’s important for Sanders to go to South Carolina as early and often as he can to be successful in 2020. In the state’s primary, he said, the Vermont senator needs to place in the top three or four.

“If he comes in fifth and doesn’t do well with African-Americans, the storyline will be that Sanders can’t bond with African-American voters, who are the most reliable base of Democratic voters,” he said. “So it’s more important for him to do well in South Carolina than, say, Booker, or Beto O’Rourke.”

Lawrence Moore, co-chair of the state chapter of the Sanders-founded Our Revolution, said that Sanders lost here in 2016 partly because “voters didn’t actually know him.” If he runs for president in 2020, he’ll be on much different terrain: Only 9 percent of Americans have no opinion or have never heard of him, according to a recent Gallup poll, compared to 76 percent a month before he launched his 2016 presidential campaign.

Since the 2016 primary, Sanders’ allies have also attempted to build up left-wing infrastructure in the state. Moore said the state’s Our Revolution chapter, which he founded in 2016, has more than 1,000 members who donate money or volunteer with the organization.

Several South Carolina Democrats said they’ve taken calls from Booker and Harris in recent weeks, and some have met with the potential candidates during recent stops to the state. Booker will hold private meetings with local activists and leaders again on Monday.

“This is the advice I would give to all of the candidates: Don’t just try to appeal to people who look like you or have your shared background,” said Jaime Harrison, former chair of the state Democratic Party. “Yes, you want to make sure you talk to those communities. But when you’re elected president of the United States, you’re being elected not president of black people, not president of Latinos, not president of white folks, but president of everybody.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


How Bloomberg plans to create his own lane in 2020

White. Male. Old. A Wall Street billionaire.

At first glance, Michael Bloomberg would seem to have zero appeal in a Democratic Party where progressive populism is on the rise and activists and elites say it’s time for a woman or a person of color to win the White House.

But unlike any of the other presidential hopefuls, Bloomberg plays a dominant leadership role on two of the top issues on the minds of progressives heading into the 2020 cycle: climate change and gun control. He’s spent a decade as the nation’s preeminent financier on those issues, buying considerable goodwill in progressive circles. If he runs, those familiar with his thinking say, they’ll be the pillars of his campaign.

No successful presidential campaign has ever been anchored to those issues. But the politics surrounding climate change and gun control have changed dramatically in recent years, and nowhere more than in the Democratic Party. In a splintered field where the former New York mayor’s message would be reinforced by a theme of governing competence and private sector success, those close to him believe Bloomberg could find traction despite his seemingly awkward fit.

“He’s not going to be running to the far left like the other candidates are. He describes himself as fiscally moderate, fiscally conservative, but he’s clearly socially liberal and he’s a key driver of social policies,” said a top Bloomberg insider. “For Mike, it’s not ideologically driven, It’s pragmatic. People die from an excess of guns in America. People are dying and suffering and will continue to from the effects of climate change.”

Bloomberg is polling and collecting “data,” the source said, and climate change and guns are “going to drive Democrats to the polls.” The politics of climate change have been front and center with the opening of the new Congress as Democrats discuss making a “Green New Deal.”

Bloomberg’s top boosters insist he hasn’t made up his mind yet about running. He’ll make an official announcement within a month.

If he decides to run, Bloomberg told reporters in Iowa last month, he would make climate change “the issue.”

Guns won’t be far behind.

“I've devoted a lot of my life now to fighting gun violence,” Bloomberg said Thursday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at an event for Everytown for Gun Safety, a group he formed five years ago after he was New York Mayor. “When I left office, I knew that I couldn't walk away from that responsibility ... I'm going to devote my life to a job that has not been finished.”

As the philanthropist and founder of an eponymous news and information company publicly mulls a presidential bid, Bloomberg is already acting like a major candidate, except he has a net worth estimated at $51 billion, a vast network of activists who have depended on him for years and a private plane that can take him wherever he wants to hold events with them and soak up free media coverage.

In the past four months, Bloomberg has visited 27 cities, dropping off checks with grateful activists and mayors who want to fight global warming or the gun lobby or both. Bloomberg has contributed so much to gun control and climate change groups that aides can’t give a precise figure of the total donated to all over the years, estimating it at “hundreds of millions” — $110 million of which was given to the Sierra Club alone for its “Beyond Coal” effort.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, has privately met with political players about a potential 2020 bid, as he did in Iowa where he ostensibly traveled in December to screen a new documentary he financed about climate change, “Paris to Pittsburgh,” and spoke to Moms Demand Action, a gun control group affiliated with Everytown. He’s also hired an aide just to handle press inquiries about a potential bid and this month re-released his book, “Bloomberg by Bloomberg.”

On Jan. 29, Bloomberg returns to New Hampshire for his second visit, after making scheduled appearances in Northern Virginia, Annapolis and Washington D.C., where he’s scheduled to speak Monday at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Breakfast with Rev. Al Sharpton.

It’s there, at a memorial for the civil rights icon with Sharpton, that the limits of Bloomberg’s progressive bonafides come into sharper focus. Sharpton, other black leaders and even federal courts have criticized the racially biased “stop-and-frisk” New York policing policies that Bloomberg embraced as mayor and that he recently stood behind as a necessary crime-fighting tool, despite evidence to the contrary. On his Iowa trip, protesters harangued him about stop and frisk and other issues.

Bloomberg insiders privately acknowledge stop and frisk is a liability in a Democratic primary. It’s not the only one.

At 76 years old, Bloomberg probably has one last chance to have a reasonable shot at the White House. And insiders are keenly aware that a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat will struggle in a party that’s drifted leftward. Also, the billionaire financial tycoon who saw Occupy Wall Street erupt in his city in 2011 when he was mayor will have some explaining to do to a party that’s concerned about wealth disparity.

But in a crowded Democratic primary where everyone moves left, the centrist, self-funding billionaire could have enough money and voters to sustain a long campaign that could last until the 2020 convention.

There’s also hope that, if Bloomberg runs, his activism on guns and climate will mute some of the incoming he would otherwise get from the left. So might the fact that he contributed an estimated $110 million to help 21 Democratic congressional candidates win in November.

“Bloomberg’s kind of money buys a lot of loyalty — or at least silence,” said one top Florida Democrat. “Anyone else would be toast.”

It’s not that Bloomberg has merely purchased or rented support. Instead, Bloomberg has earned credibility by picking big fights long ago that weren’t so popular.

Climate change barely registered as an issue as recently as 2008 when Barack Obama he first ran for president. As an Illinois senator, Obama still had a measure of loyalty to the coal industry, and the jobs that came with it, in the south of the state. Since then, climate change has steadily risen in importance amid increased warnings from scientists, concerns about the intensity of killer storms and, especially for Democrats, President Trump’s labeling global warming a “hoax” and his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords.

In reaction, Bloomberg help found a group called America’s Pledge to get cities, states, business and universities to meet climate change goals under the accords. He’s also the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action, and chairs a financial task force and board concerning Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and Sustainability Accounting Standards for private enterprise.

The Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, said Bloomberg has been “a leader on climate for 20 years.” And Heather Hargreaves, executive director of the NextGen America group funded by billionaire Tom Steyer, said Bloomberg has “obviously put his money where his mouth is.”

Hargreaves said that in 2008 even activists weren’t talking about climate change much. Now the major Democratic presidential hopefuls all have platforms.

The same is true of guns. When Bloomberg a decade started his first gun control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, taking on the National Rifle Association was considered political suicide. On the 2008 campaign trail, Obama would only go so far as to say he supported “some common-sense gun safety laws.”

“I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms,” Obama said. “I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.”

But today, all the major Democratic candidates and likely candidates for president advocate for issues like an assault weapons ban or universal background checks, said Peter Ambler, executive director with the gun control group Giffords, which works in tandem with Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety.

Exit polls after last year’s elections showed that Democrats ranked gun control as the second-most important issue behind healthcare. Ambler said Bloomberg’s advocacy has been so deep and long that he’s earned an air of “authenticity” among activists.

“I don’t think when he started focusing on this 10 years ago that the issue would have been as politically powerful as it is today,” Ambler said. “I’m certainly old enough to remember John Kerry dressing up in a duck hunting outfit because he felt he needed to appeal to the NRA in some way shape or form. The politics have changed.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Kamala Harris launches campaign for president

Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney who was elected to the Senate two years ago, officially launched her campaign for president on Monday.

Harris, the first African-American to enter the 2020 presidential race and the first black senator from California, made the announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She simultaneously released a video teasing the formal start of her campaign at a rally this Sunday in Oakland, California, Harris’ birthplace and the city that cultivated her political rise.

"The American public wants a fighter, and they want someone that's going to fight like heck for them and not fight based on self-interest, and I'm prepared to do that,” Harris said Monday morning.

Harris will base her campaign in Baltimore, with a second office in Oakland, according to her aides. The bi-coastal arrangement gives them a foothold in two diverse cities and will allow the campaign to be close to Washington where it can be on the Eastern time zone.

Among her first decisions will be to reject corporate PAC money and super PAC activity, the aides said. The question has become an early litmus test for what’s expected to be a sprawling field with a record number of women. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have opened exploratory committees, while Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is readying her run. Other women, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, could also jump in.

Harris maintains a tight inner circle of advisers who will guide the campaign, including Averell “Ace” Smith, Sean Clegg, Laphonza Butler, and Juan Rodriguez, partners at San Francisco-based SCRB, which also works for California Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Gov. Jerry Brown. Rodriguez was tapped to serve as Harris’ campaign manager and Clegg, Smith and Butler are senior advisers. Harris’ pollster is David Binder, who served on Barack Obama’s campaigns, and her digital firm is Authentic Campaigns, spearheaded by Mike Nellis, who worked on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run.

Other members of the campaign team include: Marc Elias, general counsel; Angelique Cannon, national finance director; David Huynh, senior advisor; and Lily Adams, communications director.

Harris also counts a trio of family members among her closest confidants: Her husband, Doug Emhoff, an attorney whom she married in 2014; her sister, Maya Harris, a senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton in 2016; and the senator’s brother in law, Tony West, the third highest-ranking official in the Justice Department during the Obama administration. Maya Harris will serve as her sister’s 2020 campaign chair.

Harris’ announcement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was steeped in symbolism: Her aides said the red-and-yellow color scheme for Harris’ campaign logo was inspired by former Rep. Shirley Chisholm, whose 1972 run for president was the first by a black woman from a major political party. Harris’ video outlines the theme of the career prosecutor’s candidacy: “For the People.”

“Truth. Justice. Decency. Equality. Freedom. Democracy. These aren’t just words. They’re the values we as Americans cherish. And they’re all on the line now,” Harris, a 54-year-old Democrat, says in the direct-to-camera video. “The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values.

“That’s why I’m running for President of the United States. I’m running to lift those voices. To bring our voices together.”

The daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India who served as district attorney of San Francisco before ascending to statewide office in 2011, Harris spent the last two years as a leading critic of President Donald Trump, opposing most of his nominees and grilling them in the Judiciary Committee.

Harris is expected to base her campaign around her law enforcement background, highlighting elements of her record fighting for various key voting constituencies without dipping into purely ideological waters. At the same time, she will contrast her fact-based approach to politics and the law with the investigations and controversy that’s dominated Trump’s presidency.

Yet her background has met early criticism. She’s taken heat from some who say her past work advanced an unjust criminal justice system, and for decisions she made while in lower offices. Critics have long sought to portray her as too tepid, pointing to her refusal to endorse statewide ballot measures, including sentencing reform initiatives.

Harris aides have been pushing back against the critiques while positioning her as among the nation’s earliest law enforcement leaders on many of the issues that became flashpoints in the Black Lives Matter movement. The senator will travel to South Carolina on Friday, where she is making a concerted play for support of black voters. She will speak at the Pink Ice Gala, hosted by the Gamma Nu Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which Harris became a member while at Howard University.

She also will appear Thursday for a previously scheduled interview with Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show.” Aides see the Sunday speech in Oakland as a chance for Harris to lay out her rationale for running and her vision for the county.

Harris had been laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign since arriving in the Senate, bolstering her foreign policy portfolio with trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, and meeting troops and their families at California military basis. She spent heavily to build out her digital campaign infrastructure and cultivate financial supporters online. She visited 17 states including Georgia, South Carolina and Florida to campaign for Democratic candidates ahead of the midterms, sending $25,000 to Democratic parties in the early nominating states of Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire.

In recent weeks, she’s been testing potential campaign slogans, including “If it’s worth fighting for, it’s a fight worth having.”

Harris enters the race relatively unknown on a national scale. Yet she’s exceeded expectations in races for her first two offices. She was a long-shot in her 2003 race for San Francisco district attorney and, though close with former President Barack Obama — they appeared at each other’s early fundraisers — she was also an underdog in the primary and general election for attorney general in 2010.

As one prominent California strategist put it at the time, she was “a woman running for attorney general, a woman who is a minority, a woman who is a minority who is anti–death penalty, a woman who is a minority who is anti–death penalty who is DA of wacky San Francisco.”

But by the time she sought reelection in 2014, Harris was such a juggernaut that she coasted to victory. She drew only nominal opposition in her 2016 run.

Once Harris arrived in the Senate, she felt freer to shed the cautious image she often projected in her law enforcement roles. Harris had a breakout moment speaking at the inaugural Women’s March in Washington, then again during Senate hearings in which she questioned Trump officials and appointees, including then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. During a hearing with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Republicans tried to cut off her mic, a moment that went viral and helped endear her to progressives.

Harris has authored legislation to provide a $6,000 tax credit for families to address the rising cost of living, encourage states to reform or replace cash bail, reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality and guarantee access to legal counsel for immigrants held or detained while trying to enter the U.S.

Earlier this month, she embarked on a soft campaign launch with book tour stops and media appearances that allowed her to speak in depth about her biography and compare her worldview with Trump’s. But people close to her said it was her appearances in key states during the midterms — and the reaction she generated on the ground — that helped seal the deal.

Several days after joining then-Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to speak at four black churches in Miami, Harris pulled aside some aides and asked detailed questions about how the vote broke down in those areas, drilling down to specific demographics.

“The staff question was whether she can generate a crowd,” one person familiar with the discussion recalled. “She was looking for whether she could feel like her presence could move people to action.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


China’s economy slows further, matching its lowest-ever quarterly growth

This story is being published for Pros as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on Jan. 21, 2019.

The Chinese economy slowed further in the fourth quarter, matching its lowest recorded reading, last reached during the global financial crisis in 2009.

The fourth quarter growth rate of 6.4 percent, year on year, matched that of the first quarter of 2009, according to data released Monday by the National Bureau of Statistics.

That was the lowest growth rate since the Chinese government began publishing quarterly growth rates at the beginning of 1992. The 2009 reading occurred at the beginning of the global crash in markets, which sparked recessions throughout the West.

The fourth quarter rate was down from 6.5 percent in the third quarter and matched the median forecast of 6.4 percent from a Bloomberg survey of analysts.

For all of 2018, the Chinese economy grew 6.5 percent, in line with the government’s target for growth of “about 6.5 percent” for the year. Last year’s growth rate was down from 6.8 percent in 2017 and was the lowest growth rate since 3.9 percent, recorded in 1990.

Given the continued headwinds created by the government campaign to reduce debt and risky lending in the economy, as well as the trade war with the United States, the government reportedly will set a growth target range of between 6 and 6.5 percent for this year. The growth target range will be released publicly at the National People’s Congress in early March.

Other data released Monday were downbeat.

Retail sales grew 8.2 percent December compared to a year earlier, up from 8.1 percent in November, which was the lowest growth rate in 15 years, since 4.3 percent in May 2003. The retail sales growth rate was higher than expected, with analysts predicting a gain of 8.1 percent, according to a Bloomberg survey.

Industrial product grew 5.7 percent in December compared to a year earlier, up from 5.4 per cent in November, which was the lowest reading since November 2008.

The industrial production growth rate, which edged up 0.54 percent month on month, was higher than expected, with analysts forecasting a gain of 5.3 percent, according to a Bloomberg survey.

The National Bureau of Statistics release did not include a reading for year on year fixed asset investment in its data release. On a monthly basis it grew slightly at 0.42 per cent on November’s reading, while it grew 5.9 percent annually.

This was down from 7.2 per cent in 2017 and lower than Bloomberg’s survey expectations of 6.0 percent.

Within fixed-asset investment, property investment grew 9.5 per cent over the course of 2018. However, the government did not announce a monthly reading for December 2018.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Trump tweets 40 times on Day 30 of shutdown

President Donald Trump rung in Day 30 of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, as well as the two-year anniversary of his tenure in the Oval Office, with a mammoth 40 posts to his Twitter feed over the course of Sunday.

The president’s day on his favored social media platform began as most do — with some boasting about the state of the American economy, accompanied by lamentations over its perceived lack of coverage by members of the news media. Through the dizzying day, he would cover a variety of topics with his tweets and assorted retweets, even landing in the world of sports late in the evening.

“Always heard that as President, ‘it’s all about the economy!’ Well, we have one of the best economies in the history of our Country,” Trump wrote online at 7:40 a.m. “Big GDP, lowest unemployment, companies coming back to the U.S. in BIG numbers, great new trade deals happening, & more. But LITTLE media mention!”

Nineteen minutes later appeared a warning from the commander in chief concerning wintry conditions, along with some morning fodder for skeptics of climate change. The day’s weather included snow in the Midwest, and icy conditions across the Northeast.

“Be careful and try staying in your house,” tweeted the president, who remained in the White House throughout Sunday. “Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is. Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”

Next up came the main focus of the day: the reaction on Capitol Hill to Trump’s Saturday address from the White House, during which he laid out a potential compromise plan to end the government shutdown.

The president pitched a bill to provide certain border security measures and temporary protection for some undocumented immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. Democratic leaders in Congress promptly declared the proposal dead-on-arrival, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dubbing Trump’s overture a "nonstarter.”

“Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democrats turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak,” Trump complained on Twitter Sunday, in what would be the first of four posts to take aim at the California Democrat.

The president went on to reject negative characterizations of his proposal by immigration hard-liners in the media, including conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who tweeted Saturday: “Trump proposes amnesty. We voted for Trump and got Jeb!”

“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer,” Trump wrote Sunday, claiming that “Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal.”

He added: “Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!”

The president continued to criticize the House speaker online, scolding Pelosi at 8:35 a.m. for behaving “so irrationally” during negotiations to re-open the government and accusing her of giving in to demands from more liberal lawmakers in her caucus.

“She is so petrified of the 'lefties' in her party that she has lost control,” Trump tweeted. “And by the way, clean up the streets in San Francisco, they are disgusting!”

Trump also told Pelosi via tweet that he was “still thinking about the State of the Union speech,” teasing that “there are so many options” to deliver the address she requested he postpone as long as the federal government is closed.

At 9:03 a.m., the president claimed that his “poll numbers with Hispanics” had increased to 50 percent, and asserted at 9:20 a.m. that despite the shutdown, the government was still “building and renovating big sections” of his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Building, after all, is what I do best, even when money is not readily available!” he explained.

The next post to appear on the president’s timeline was a message of thanks to the father of right-wing conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl, followed by a jab at the media for “not giving us credit for the tremendous progress we have made with North Korea.” The White House announced Friday that Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February.

Trump at 1:16 p.m. posted a high-sheen, roughly one-and-a-half minute video pre-produced by the White House and meant to commemorate his two years in office, before launching into a series of retweets of prominent conservatives praising the president’s Saturday address on border security.

In total, Trump re-posted 14 messages of support from GOP lawmakers, as well as tweets by Vice President Mike Pence and conservative radio personality Mark Levin.

At 7:48 p.m., the president thanked James Woods for a congratulatory tweet from the conservative actor, and two minutes later retweeted a message from his wife, Melania Trump, writing: “A truly great First Lady who doesn’t get the credit she deserves!”

At 8:25 p.m., the president tweeted a message to the federal workers still furloughed as a result of the shutdown.

“To all of the great people who are working so hard for your Country and not getting paid I say, THANK YOU - YOU ARE GREAT PATRIOTS!” Trump wrote online. “We must now work together, after decades of abuse, to finally fix the Humanitarian, Criminal & Drug Crisis at our Border. WE WILL WIN BIG!”

After a break of more than two hours, he kicked back in to salute the NFL’s New England Patriots upon returning to the Super Bowl: “Congratulations to Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the entire New England Patriots team on a great game and season. Will be a fantastic Super Bowl!“ After defeating the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, they will face the Los Angeles Rams in two weeks.

He followed that with a retweet of his son, Donald Jr., then one more where he made a pitch for the case of former baseball pitching ace Curt Schilling for baseball’s Hall of Fame. The results of that election are due Tuesday.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Former CIA officer portrayed in ‘Argo’ film dead at 78

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — A former CIA technical operations officer who helped rescue six U.S. diplomats from Iran in 1980 and was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the film “Argo,” has died. He was 78.

A family statement and his literary agent confirmed that Antonio “Tony” Mendez died Saturday at an assisted-living center in Frederick, Maryland. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease, according to the statement.

Specializing in covert operations, Mendez helped devise the plan under which six diplomats who were in hiding were disguised as a Canadian film crew so they could board a flight and escape the country amid the Iran hostage crisis. The daring plot — for years a side note to the 52 people held hostage for 444 days — captured the public’s attention in “Argo,” which won the 2013 Oscar for best picture.

Mendez, who joined the CIA after getting recruited in 1965, spent his 25-year career working undercover in Cold War battlegrounds, including the Soviet Union. Working as a “chief of disguise,” Mendez and his workers helped secret agents remain secret through creating false documents and disguises, according to a biography for his first book, “The Master of Disguise; My Secret Life in the CIA.”

“Tony Mendez was a true American hero. He was a man of extraordinary grace, decency, humility and kindness,” Affleck tweeted Saturday. “He never sought the spotlight for his actions, he merely sought to serve his country. I’m so proud to have worked for him and to have told one of his stories.”

The “Argo” screenplay, based on another Mendez memoir and also an Oscar winner, was liberally embellished for the big screen. The six Americans’ passage through the Tehran airport and onto a plane was uneventful, Mendez wrote. But the movie portrayed a white-knuckle takeoff at the Tehran airport, with Iranian assault teams racing behind the jet down the runway.

Born in Nevada, Mendez moved to Colorado at age 14, attended the University of Colorado and worked for Martin Marietta on the Titan intercontinental missile, according to the online biography . He was recruited for the CIA in Denver through a blind ad. In less than two years, the biography says, he and his family had moved overseas while Mendez worked in South and Southeast Asia.

His wife, Jonna, is also a former chief of disguise in the CIA’s Office of Technical Service. The two wrote a book about their agency work in Moscow in the final days of the Cold War and their romance, which led to their marriage after he retired in 1990. Mendez was also an accomplished painter.

His family says he will be buried in a private ceremony at the family graveyard in Nevada.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Women’s rights throughout U.S. history

At the tail end of the 18th century, the United States' Founding Fathers crafted and ratified the first iteration of the U.S. Constitution, which outlined the new nation's core principle of American citizens working together to run the government. But it took a series of campaigns over the span of two centuries for those rights to be equally extended to all Americans.

Here's a look back at the history of the women's liberation movement, which started at a modest meeting for voting rights and has since trekked toward equality in all areas of society.

Seneca Falls Convention

The Seneca Falls Convention is recognized as the first significant gathering for women’s rights in the United States.

The New York-based convention — held July 19 and July 20, 1848 — planted the seeds of voting ambition that came to fruition after decades of labor from prominent suffragists and abolitionists such as Susan B. Anthony, Ida H. Harper, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt and others.

The convention, with many of the attendees pushing for equal rights for people of all races and sexes, resulted in 100 men and women signing the Declaration of Sentiments. The document was structured to resemble the Declaration of Independence, and it asserted the equality of men and women while reiterating that all people are endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The right to vote

The first women's suffrage law in the U.S. was passed in Wyoming in 1869. The state became the first to grant women the right to vote in all elections in 1890.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote in elections throughout the country. The Reconstruction amendments — 13th, 14th and 15th — neither included nor excluded women, but the 19th intentionally left no room for interpretation within anti-women’s suffrage states.

Abortion and contraception

As for women’s autonomy on family planning, Margaret Sanger challenged New York’s anti-contraception laws at the beginning of the 20th century by forming one of the first birth-control organizations. In 1918, Sanger and her allies won a court case that allowed doctors to advise married patients about contraception.

More than 50 years later, Norma McCorvey, an anonymous plaintiff using the alias “Jane Roe,” saw her case against Texas’ abortion laws — criminalizing the act of ending a pregnancy apart from saving the woman’s life — move from the Dallas District Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. And in January 1973, the high court ruled 7-2 in Roe v. Wade that criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional.

The case, alongside its companion case Doe v. Bolton, marked a critical moment in U.S. history for the grassroots women’s liberation movement that has since expanded beyond health care and into equal employment, representation in elected offices and fair treatment in education and housing.

Employment and equal pay

In the labor and economic sector, the first minimum-wage law was enacted in Massachusetts in 1912. The legislation was written to help 15,000 women facing severe poverty who were earning low pay for long hours. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act later established a federal minimum wage without regard to sex.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the first Civil Rights Act passed the following year went further, mandating equitable wages for the same work. The second Civil Rights Act in 1968 attempted to fill a number of loopholes — obligating fair housing to people regardless of race or national origin — and Title IX in 1972 mandated equality in education. Congress added sex as a protected class in 1974.

Leadership and government

The campaign that started in the 19th century with women wanting to vote for leaders has turned into them becoming leaders themselves.

In the legislative branch, Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House in 2007, a role she returned to in 2019. Pelosi’s feat came nearly a century after Jeannette Pickering Rankin — the first woman to serve in Congress — was elected in 1917. Both the House and Senate seen more and more female members, with 126 women elected to the 116th Congress.

In the judicial branch, Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Ronald Reagan nominee was followed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg — nominated by President Bill Clinton — and Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, both nominated by President Barack Obama.

As for the executive branch, Madeleine Albright became the first female U.S. secretary of State in 1997; the first female Cabinet member was Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, who served underPresident Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated by a major party for a president in 2016;, the first woman to run was Victoria Woodhull in 1872.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine