DHS draft proposal would speed deportations

The Homeland Security Department is weighing a plan to bypass immigration courts and remove undocumented immigrants who cannot prove they’ve been present continuously in the U.S. for two years or more.

The proposal is described in a draft regulatory notice, according to two DHS officials and a third person familiar with the planning. If finalized, it would represent the latest escalation of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.

The administration has considered since 2017 expanding a fast-track deportation procedure known as “expedited removal,” but thus far has refrained from moving ahead.

The draft notice — which remains under review — would increase significantly the number of recently arrived undocumented immigrants subject to rapid deportation. Under the current standard, expedited removal is applicable only to immigrants picked up within 14 days of arrival. The two-week cutoff stems from a 2004 regulatory change, not from the 1996 statute that created the process.

The change could speed up the deportation of recent arrivals at the border and reduce the load on federal immigration courts, which have grappled with a soaring case backlog. But such a move likely would draw legal challenges — and a number of Trump polices have been sidelined by federal courts.

The planned regulation also would remove a current requirement to apply expedited removal only to undocumented immigrants arrested within 100 miles of a land border, according to the two DHS officials.

Instead, expedited removal would be applied nationwide, the officials said — giving it the potential to sweep up undocumented immigrants in communities across the country.

The constitutionality of expedited removal has been challenged in federal courts. In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that asylum seekers have the right to seek federal judicial review of an expedited removal order. That ruling conflicted with a 2016 decision by a separate federal appeals court.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump disputes McGahn account of attempted Mueller firing

President Donald Trump asserted Thursday he never instructed former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in 2017, slamming Mueller as a conflicted investigator despite praising him just a month ago.

“As has been incorrectly reported by the Fake News Media, I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so,” he wrote in a tweet. “If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn’t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself.”

He continued: “Nevertheless, Mueller was NOT fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work on what I, and many others, say was an illegal investigation (there was no crime), headed by a Trump hater who was highly conflicted, and a group of 18 VERY ANGRY Democrats. DRAIN THE SWAMP!”

According to Mueller, McGahn told the special counsel’s team that in June 2017, days after it was reported that Trump was the target of an obstruction investigation by Mueller, the president directed McGahn to inform Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Mueller was too conflicted and must be removed. McGahn disobeyed Trump, deciding to resign instead.

McGahn, who spent upwards of 30 hours with the special counsel’s team, has become a favorite scapegoat of the president in the wake of Mueller’s report being made public. Trump’s defenders have seized on this instance, and have argued Trump never explicitly told McGahn to have Mueller removed and pointed to the turnover rates in Trump’s administration as evidence that if the president wanted Mueller gone, he would have been.

But McGahn has pushed back against these accusations, telling NBC News over the weekend his reading of the situation had been accurately portrayed in Mueller’s report.

While Trump initially hailed Mueller’s findings as a vindication after the special counsel did not find collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia and said he would not be charging Trump with obstruction, the president has increasingly returned to hammering the investigation.

Trump told reporters after Attorney General William Barr announced his top-line conclusions in the investigation that Mueller had acted honorably, but on Thursday he again derided the report and Mueller's investigators.

“Despite the fact that the Mueller Report was 'composed' by Trump Haters and Angry Democrats, who had unlimited funds and human resources, the end result was No Collusion, No Obstruction. Amazing!” he tweeted.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump: 'Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe'

President Donald Trump on Thursday welcomed former Vice President Joe Biden to the 2020 field, dubbing him “Sleepy Joe” and questioning his intelligence.

“Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign,” Trump wrote. “It will be nasty - you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate!”

Earlier on Thursday, Biden released a video announcing his candidacy that focused heavily on Trump. He accused the president of using a “moral equivalence” when he said there were “fine people” on both sides of the white supremacist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville in 2017.

“In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime,” Biden said in the video. “I wrote at the time that we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation. Well, that’s even more true to today.”

Trump’s latest attack on Biden comes after he predicted last week that Bernie Sanders and Biden will be the last two Democrats standing in their party's crowded 2020 primary field.

“I believe it will be Crazy Bernie Sanders vs. Sleepy Joe Biden as the two finalists to run against maybe the best Economy in the history of our Country (and MANY other great things)!” Trump wrote in a tweet. “I look forward to facing whoever it may be. May God Rest Their Soul!”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Obama breaks primary silence to praise Biden but stops short of endorsement

Former President Barack Obama offered some warm words for Joe Biden on Thursday after his vice president officially jumped into the 2020 race, but notably did not endorse him.

“President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made,” Obama spokeswoman Katie Hill said. “He relied on the Vice President’s knowledge, insight and judgment, throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency. The two forged a special bond over the last 10 years and remain close today.”

The cryptic message signals that Obama is likely to follow the precedent set in 2016, when he did not endorse any candidates during the primary despite his former secretary of State’s presence in the race. But the former president has largely stayed out of the 2020 primary as the sprawling field of candidates continues to grow, with Biden becoming the 20th Democrat to throw his hat in the ring.

Biden, like Clinton in 2016, is placing his marker in the campaign as an heir of sorts to Obama and the relative stability of his time in the White House, hitching his fortunes to the beloved former president as one way to break through the most diverse primary field ever as a septuagenarian white man.

Obama has met with several 2020 candidates, even offering his advice, but no endorsement.

David Axelrod, a top adviser to Obama, argued against reading too much into the former president’s lack of endorsement prior to Biden officially jumping in.

“The custom for former presidents is not to endorse presidents. The expectation that he would, I find kind of baffling,” he said, adding that Obama generally believes a competitive primary will weed out the strongest candidate.

Whether Biden is able to leverage his close relationship with Obama to win a primary crowded with Democrats racing to the left remains to be seen, but the former vice president has led the pack in nearly every national and early state poll for months without having officially jumped into the race.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Joe Biden dives into 2020 race

Joe Biden officially announced his bid for president Thursday, marking the third White House campaign of his lengthy political career but the first in which he enters as a frontrunner.

The former vice president and longtime Delaware senator joins a historically diverse field of first-time presidential candidates who reflect the party’s yearning for fresh faces and women and candidates of color — a paradox that the 76-year-old white Washington insider is hoping to reconcile through his association with a Democratic president beloved by the party base: Barack Obama.

Biden announced his intentions in a video posted at 6 a.m. on social media in which he accused President Trump of using a “moral equivalence” by failing to distinguish between white supremacists who protested at Charlottesville in 2017 and the demonstrators who opposed them in what became a violent clash that claimed a woman’s life.

“In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime,” Biden said. “I wrote at the time that we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation. Well, that’s even more true to today.”

Biden said that “history will look back, on four years of this president and all he embraces, as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are — and I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”

For months, Biden anguished about whether to mount another White House run. He privately worried about whether his time had passed, whether he could raise the big money for a long campaign, whether the Democratic Party had shifted too far left beyond his brand of center-left politics and even if the party wanted a septuagenarian white male as a nominee.

Biden ran headlong into the dynamic before he even announced when a former Nevada Democratic assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, accused him of inappropriately touching her in an overly friendly manner. Three other Democratic women also came forward, plunging Biden’s not-yet-a-campaign into crisis mode and highlighting a generational divide in which Biden was criticized as being out of touch with the changing times.

But Biden’s belief that he’s uniquely situated to defeat President Donald Trump, as well as the encouragement from party elders and rank-and-file voters, made it impossible for him to sit out the election, even after more than 20 candidates jumped in and new progressive groups vowed to launch a Never Biden campaign.

“The primary isn’t anchored but now it becomes more centered around Biden,” said Joe Trippi, a veteran advisor of Democratic presidential campaigns. “Today, the rest of the field will position itself against Biden. Beto O’Rourke could position himself against Biden as old vs. new, others will position themselves as progressive vs. centrist, or outsider vs. establishment.”

The race, however, won’t be a clear referendum on Biden because the unstable politics of the times and the growing number — and dynamic quality — of other candidates makes it difficult to get a clear picture of the field, Trippi and others say.

One of Biden’s paths to defending his lead is to make the case that his age — he’ll be 78 in 2020 — is not a liability, but an asset that brings deep experience on the national and world stage at a time when Democrats are hungry for a win. And as top Democratic contenders drift leftward, Biden’s team hopes his record it will give him an advantage with moderate voters, who might be more of a silent plurality than social media — fueled by the loud voices progressive activists — suggests.

“In 2008, who could win wasn’t as much on people’s minds. This time, who can win and who can beat Donald Trump is Democrats’ number one criteria,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who worked on Biden’s 2008 campaign. “I really do think it’s different because of Donald Trump. Democrats have never felt the intensity that they feel right now about getting rid of someone they believe ruined the country and violates every value they have.”

But Lake says while the media might comb through Biden’s record, fellow Democratic contenders are unlikely to aim their fire at him, instead focusing resources on their own name ID and searching for a breakout moment.

“I don’t know that he starts out with a target on his back,” she said. “In a multi-candidate, crowded field, if you go after your opponents, you just send votes to somebody else.”

Biden’s entry into the race caps months of private deliberation over whether to run, shifting announcement dates that kept getting pushed off as his future opponents hired staff and leaks that claimed he was planning to pick an early running mate — Stacey Abrams, the failed Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia — to help him win. But the accounts only fed speculation that Biden felt a desperate need to shore up support in the changing party.

Biden has a slight lead or is neck-and-neck with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in most national and early state polls. And with the support of about a third or less of Democrats in those surveys, the former vice president’s support could be shaky.

However, Biden’s support is strong among older, white voters who typically make up more than half of the electorate that most often votes in Democratic primaries. And while Sanders was within just two percentage points of Biden in a recent Iowa poll, 70 percent of those queried said they saw Biden’s views on the issues “about right” while 48 percent said Sanders’ views were “too liberal.”

Biden lost his two prior races for president in 1988, after a plagiarism scandal, and in 2008 when Barack Obama captured the Democratic Party’s heart and pulled an upset win in early state Iowa, putting to rest any doubts that he was electable.

The theory of Biden’s case this time: he connects to middle class voters, is respected world wide by foreign leaders, has deep government experience and would bring a sense of normalcy and stability that voters crave in the Trump era.

“Biden’s argument is that he would offer a ballast in the storm, a seasoned leader of palpable character who would provide a clear contrast with Trump,” said David Axelrod, a former top adviser for Obama. “The political case is that Biden is particularly strong in the industrial Midwest, and states Trump won in 2016 and must win again to be reelected.”

Biden’s Rust Belt appeal was part of the reason that Obama chose him as his running mate in 2008. Back then, Biden served as an ambassador to white swing and working-class voters, and the veteran senator added a touch of gravitas to the ticket for the exciting but relatively inexperienced hope-and-change candidate.

This time, though, Obama will not be by his side: The former president has said he’ll stay neutral in the 2020 primary. However, as the former right-hand man and running mate of the popular former president, Biden has a natural constituency of supporters in the party, including African-Americans for whom the first black president is history made flesh.

That’s of particular importance in the early presidential primary state of South Carolina, where courting the African American electorate is critical to success in the first Southern primary test. Biden trounced the field in a recent poll, with 43 percent of African Americans polled saying they supported the former vice president. The next closest was Bernie Sanders at 15 percent.

Biden’s support among black voters, however, is likely to be tested in the new progressive era as his past opposition to forced busing in 1972 and his authorship of the 1994 crime bill that helped lead to a wave of mass incarceration of African-Americans are revisited.

Another potential problem for Biden as he tries to court black voters as well as women: his role as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman handling the 1991 hearings into Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas during his successful Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

In the runup to his presidential announcement, Biden began to express more public regret about his support of the crime bill and his handling of Hill’s hearings.

Speaking at the National Action Network's Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Washington in January, Biden acknowledged that “I haven't always been right. I know we haven't always gotten things right, but I've always tried” regarding criminal justice.

Biden didn’t mention, however, that he actually authored the crime bill, which set different penalties for crack vs. powder cocaine possession, triggering racial disparities in sentencing.

"It was a big mistake when it was made," Biden said, using the passive voice and blaming unnamed “experts” who told politicians like him that crack was worse and somehow fundamentally different.

Two months later, Biden spoke out about the Hill hearings he chaired in the Senate and lamented that “she paid a terrible price. She was abused through the hearing ... To this day, I regret I couldn’t get her the kind of hearing she deserved.”

One of the progressive groups arrayed against Biden, the Working Families Party, said Biden “utterly failed Anita Hill when she bravely came forward to testify against” Thomas and also pointed to the crime bill.

The group’s national director, Maurice Mitchell, said the countless votes Biden cast in his 36 years in the Senate are all fair game.

"Any 2020 candidate is going to have to explain their record, and Biden's is longer and spottier than most. He favored credit card companies over hardworking families in his bankruptcy bill,” Mitchell said. “In too many places and too many cases he has sided with those who have power over those who don't.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Vulnerable Dems escape Mueller-obsessed Beltway

MINERAL, Va. — The Mueller report may be consuming Washington — but it barely registers for vulnerable Democrats meeting voters outside the Beltway.

In a half-dozen town halls from California to Connecticut this week, swing district Democrats fielded few — if any — questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year probe, even as it threatens to dominate the party’s summer agenda.

No one, for example, asked Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) about Mueller’s report during a town hall here this week at a high school auditorium in her central Virginia district. The former CIA spy acknowledged in an interview that some people are still digesting the 448-page report, but added that it’s proof that “what’s in the news constantly” shouldn’t drive Democrats’ focus.

“In the big spectrum of everything, people are still deeply concerned about prescription drug prices,” Spanberger said. “People are still deeply concerned about the opportunity to get their kids education. They’re wanting to see Washington focused on immigration reform.”

The release of the long-awaited Mueller report has propelled House Democrats into an intense new phase of their investigation of President Donald Trump. But in battleground districts like Spanberger’s, many freshman Democrats say Mueller’s explosive findings haven’t really connected with people who’ve attended events in their district.

It’s a reality that underscores how reluctant these lawmakers will be to focus all their energy on oversight — not to mention impeachment — of Trump at the cost of the agenda they campaigned on in 2018.

And in another challenge for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her deputies, vulnerable members couldn’t escape questions on some of the key issues that have divided the new majority, such as “Medicare for All,” the “Green New Deal” and the party's response to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s criticism of Israel.

“I’m concerned that the country might start feeling like all we’re doing is talking about Mueller, and that’s not the case,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) said in an interview after he spent about two weeks in his Twin Cities suburbs district. “I’ve been very surprised by how few people brought it up since I’ve been back.”

Phillips said he sees Mueller mentioned much more on Twitter than in his district events. For him, immigration has been a far more dominant issue: “If you wake up thinking you’re being deported every day, the Mueller report doesn’t really matter to you.”

In separate town halls hosted by Reps. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) and Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) on Tuesday — both of which were livestreamed online — the Mueller report came up only a handful of times, about as often as the rising federal deficit or the legalization of marijuana. The rest of the questions were far-ranging, from fossil fuels to gun control to Trump’s diminished Cabinet.

Even in town halls where lawmakers began with a briefing on Mueller’s findings — like events on Tuesday hosted by Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) and Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) that were also livestreamed — the conversation quickly steered to issues like education funding and local pollution and mostly stayed there.

Hayes, whose district only narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, described the evidence of obstruction of justice against Trump as “more significant than Watergate” and said “to do nothing is a dereliction of duty.”

But the rest of Hayes’ roughly 90-minute event at a Farmington, Conn., high school focused more on the Green New Deal, education spending, and a Rolling Stone cover with Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

At Delgado’s event in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., a woman angrily complained about transgender rights while a man raised concerns about the anti-vax movement fueling a measles outbreak in the state. The only time the phrase “2020” came up was in response from a constituent, talking about an upcoming deadline to tackle contaminants in the local water supply.

Rep. Josh Harder of California, who held a town hall for college students Tuesday night, said he’s gotten “10 times the amount of interest” on issues like health care, immigration and student debt than on impeachment or investigations into Trump.

“If you only watch cable news, you get a pretty distorted view of what is actually occurring,” Harder said in an interview. “The true metric of success is whether or not we’re able to push infrastructure and health care.”

Democratic leaders have pledged to remain focused on both those policy issues, which many believe won them the House last fall, even as Democrats open new investigative fronts in their war with the administration.

Pelosi announced this week that she will sit down with Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the coming days, part of an attempt to jump-start action on infrastructure. The House also plans to vote on a dozen bills related to health care and prescription drug costs shortly after returning from the two-week recess.

Failing to make progress on either issue, Democrats fear, could cost them their majority in 2020 — with Republicans seizing on the Democratic Party’s investigative efforts as they attempt to recapture dozens of seats lost in the 2018 election.

Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.) — a freshman whose district Trump won in 2016 — said voters “virtually never” brought up the Mueller report to him as he crisscrossed South Jersey.

“Literally, they’ll talk to me about the Green New Deal or climate change,” Van Drew said in an interview. “But it’s the issues that are coming up, not necessarily all this other stuff, with impeachment, and the hearings.”

Most of these swing district Democrats are reluctant to embrace impeachment. Van Drew flatly rejects it and said removing the president isn’t the answer because “many people who voted for the president are going to feel there really is a ‘deep state.’ It’s going to rip the country apart, and we’re going to get even less work done.”

When asked about the potential impact of impeachment on the Democrats’ broader agenda, he replied, “It does distract. It can’t help but distract.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

How Trump Took the Shine Off Washington’s Glitziest Night

With the White House Correspondents’ Dinner fast arriving on the Washington social calendar, the standard pose in the capital is one of detachment and disavowal: Sure, I’ll be going because, you know, you kinda have to, right? But it’s become such a drag, and it’s probably time, really, just to blow the whole thing up and start over.

This critique of the dinner has been building steadily for 30 years or more, as it grew from a straight celebration of the press to the frothy mix of power, fame and frivolity televised each spring from the massive 1960s-era ballroom of the Washington Hilton. It is too cozy with the influential people reporters are responsible for covering, the critique goes. It is too soaked in celebrity. The whole spectacle is too swollen and extravagant and irreverent, too far removed from the celebration of serious journalism and support for scholarships that is the dinner’s ostensible purpose.

Or at least it was. Come 2019, the image of the dinner as a celebrity-soaked extravagance suddenly feels like it comes from a different era. President Donald Trump announced that he will be skipping the dinner for the third year in a row, and then upped the ante by ordering his whole staff to boycott it. His newfound disdain for the dinner—an event he was only too happy to attend before becoming president—combined with the disdain many celebrities who once flocked to the event feel toward Trump have had an undeniable effect.

After a decade or more in which it built into a kind of fantasy weekend for political journalists—allowing a group drawn disproportionately from geeks and smart-alecks and clumsy kids picked last for dodgeball at last to sit at the cool kids’ table—the WHCD today is, at best, in a semi-flaccid state. People in the local economy of hotels, salons, limo companies, caterers and professional handlers report a marked drop in interest and spending among entertainment and business leaders in attending the dinner and the corresponding four-day marathon of parties that still surround it.

Veteran Washington social observers describe an unmistakable drop in the energy and allure of the dinner. “It certainly is not the glamour place to be in Washington anymore,” says writer and long-time Washington observer Sally Quinn. “What ignites something like this is to have celebrities from Hollywood and New York and the political celebrities from Washington, and when you don’t have either one, you’ve got 3,000 journalists staring at each other.”

This year, for the first time in its modern history, the dinner will not feature a professional entertainer. The White House Correspondents’ Association was besieged with criticism, including from some of its own members, after comedian Michelle Wolf’s sulphurous performance at the dinner last year. Her number included several raunchy bits and personal insults of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, seated at the head table just a few feet away. This year, instead, the dinner will feature comments from historian Ron Chernow, whose biography of Alexander Hamilton was the basis for the hit musical.

Surely Chernow’s commentary will be intelligent and illuminating. But glitzy seems like a stretch. It’s possible the White House Correspondents’ Dinner won’t even be the most glamorous thing on C-SPAN this weekend.

This week, as reporters and producers drag out their once-a-year tuxedos and gowns, journalists in the capital are facing a paradox, painful or amusing depending on one’s point of view: The dinner actually is transforming into the more subdued and earnest event that journalists have long claimed to desire. And as the evening becomes a dry professional awards ceremony, it’s Donald Trump, the most celebrity-oriented and raucously irreverent president in history, who can take much of the credit.

“It clearly is the toughest time in the history of the dinner,” says George Condon, a National Journal correspondent who led the White House Correspondents’ Association from 1993 to 1994 and is currently writing a history of the press organization. “You’ve never had a president of the United States openly hostile to the dinner,” he adds. “That affects everything else.”


Stan Rosenfield, a Hollywood publicist who represents several bold-faced names who have gone to the dinner in the past, such as George Clooney, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman, says the dinner “is not the hot ticket it used to be.”

In years past, he says, “It would not be unusual for a client, not only ours but any of the major PR companies, to get five or six offers [from media organizations] to be their guest for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.” Invitations have dried up, but so has interest: “I don’t know if any of them would want to go if they were invited.”

At one level, the change can be explained by the 2016 election, in which Trump replaced a president whom celebrities genuinely wanted to be near. “It was fun to go when Obama was in the White House,” said the Emmy-winning actress Julianna Margulies, who went to the dinner twice during his term. Now, she says, even if the president did attend, she’d skip it. “Trump just takes the wind out of everyone’s sails. He sucks up oxygen in a room. He doesn’t know how to make fun of himself, and there’s no way I would go and sit through a night of that.” For Hollywood celebrities, there’s also a downside risk to being at a Washington-associated event with the potential for a viral moment gone bad, says D.C. media consultant and connector Tammy Haddad, whose annual brunch is still a signature weekend event: “Non-Washington celebrities aren’t going to put themselves in a situation where they can get hit by social media, by national media or by politicians.”

Trump, after last year’s performance by Wolf, took to Twitter to lambast her “filthy” routine and called the dinner “an embarrassment to everyone associated with it.” He implored, “Put Dinner to rest, or start over!”

What’s notable about the 2019 event is that the White House Correspondents’ Association has largely taken Trump’s advice. Olivier Knox, the current president of the association, says he has been talking about the need for the dinner to “reset” since 2016, when he took his place in line for this year’s presidency. He had grown increasingly disturbed by the celebrity gawking upstaging the organization’s commitment to journalism. “I thought we lost our way,” says Knox, chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXM.

Trump, with his regular attacks on journalists and even the legitimacy of independent media, put longstanding tensions into even sharper relief, Knox says. “Would more people watch this on C-SPAN if Donald Trump was going to speak? Yeah, I bet they would.” On the other hand: “Let’s be clear that the administration curtailing White House press briefings, Pentagon briefings, State Department briefings, is considerably more serious than if the president’s attending the correspondents’ dinner.”

As for the choice of Chernow, Knox says the scholar sits “at an intersection of history and popular culture” and would be “someone who brought some heft to this conversation, while at the same time a lively speaker.”

However laudable, Knox’s effort to recalibrate the tenor of the dinner will likely prove transient, if the history of the past couple decades is any guide. The event has long swung pendulum-like between attempts to be edgy enough to be interesting and a more risk-averse approach, protecting the sensibilities of a crowd that typically enjoys irreverence toward the president and other politicians but is put off by anything suggesting contempt.

In 1999, Aretha Franklin sang at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and it was television anchor Brian Williams who delivered the repartée. After a year of sex scandal in Bill Clinton’s White House, and just weeks after he survived an impeachment trial, the idea of a professional comedian traversing this field of land mines seemed too exhausting.

In 2006, Stephen Colbert scorched President George W. Bush with a routine many thought went too far, his liberal-friendly irony striking a nasty note for the conservatives who occupied the role of punchline. That led the next year to a dud, as comedian Rich Little was exhumed from the 1970s to deliver a Grampa Simpson-like performance of impersonations that would have been passably funny three decades earlier.

The pendulum will surely swing back again. One likely scenario is that it will be swung by the same person who is shadowing this year’s event by his absence. Trump’s self-dramatizing instincts will surely encourage his eventual acceptance—an occasion that will draw even more interest because of his truancy in recent years.

For now, says former White House press secretary Sean Spicer: “I don’t think the president has ever found it worth his time. … He would have liked to have gone because it would have gotten a lot of attention, [but] it’s not really a productive use of time if you’re going and pretending everything is great. And I don’t think it furthers the cause of journalism by any stretch of the imagination.”


Spicer’s view is in convergence with that of one of the most acid sketch artists of capital culture in recent years. Mark Leibovich’s 2013 book, This Town, excoriated precisely the sort of scene-making, status-conscious self-regard that skeptics say is the essence of the correspondents’ dinner. Scaling back the “over-the-top-ness” of the event, says Leibovich, a New York Times Magazine writer, was a belated reaction to a trend that has left people feeling bloated and gassy for years. “It’s one of those things where I think everyone intuitively knew that it was a terrible look for the press, given the disconnect between the contempt that so much of the country seems to have for Washington and the media here compared to the level of self-love and self-celebration that that weekend just represents.”

But Leibovich himself epitomizes the ambivalence of many Washington players toward the weekend. About a decade ago, Dean Baquet—then the Times’ bureau chief in Washington and now its executive editor—pulled the paper out of the dinner for reasons similar to the Leibovich critique. But Leibovich would often attend an even more exclusive event—the Vanity Fair-Bloomberg party held after the dinner, which for the last few years was held at the French ambassador’s home. What’s more, he sometimes showed up in casual garb, not black tie, signaling subtly he was so cool that he hadn’t bothered to go to the stodgy dinner, only the more elite and glamorous after-parties. “If you’re a Washington reporter,” Leibovich says, “there’s no question you can get some work done at these events, and that would include the dinner.”

Vanity Fair and Bloomberg have stopped hosting their famous after-party during the Trump years. (“When Trump came into office, we figured we had it in the good years and decided to leave it at that,” says former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter.) But its sister events have not, by any means, evaporated. Even a subdued White House Correspondents’ Dinner is the epicenter of a weekend of furious social activity for a city in which simply being seen at the right brunch is a pastime in itself. This year, it’s guaranteed that the decline (or moral renewal) of the dinner will be the buzzy topic of conversation at the roughly two dozen events held in a frenetic 72-hour period. One lesson of this year's event might be that it barely even requires a central dinner to prop up a whole social ecosystem.

There are whole sections of Washington’s economy that normally experience a surge around the weekend—like party planning, limos and high-end restaurants—and no one there is exactly sucking wind. But the dropoff in out-of-town power and glitz means some businesses also aren’t pumping in dollars as in years past. A source at one of Washington’s top luxury hotels said the hotel used to charge a two-night minimum during the surge of celebrities and CEOs flying in for the dinner; this year, that’s not necessary, and high-level suites aren’t getting booked as much for the weekend. A source at David Rios Salon and Spa in Georgetown said it is getting fewer customers in for last-minute primping before the dinner.

Condon, the historian of the correspondents’ association, called the subdued event of 2019 a necessary reaction to circumstances—and also, he hopes, a temporary one.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the history of the dinner,” he says. “But it’s what you get when you have a president of the United States who has zero sense of humor and a president of the United States who spends his time attacking who we are and what we do for a living. Of course, you have to defend that, and of course you have to respond to the times.”

On the other hand, he added: “I would like the dinner to go back to being fun.”

Michael Calderone contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Joe Biden is running as Obama’s heir. The problem: He’s not Obama.

Joe Biden and Barack Obama got off to a rocky start in 2007, but they found their way to a mutual respect and good working relationship for the next eight years.

Obama showed his appreciation at the end of their second term by rewarding Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award possible. When Biden tells friendly crowds inside stories about their relationship, the former vice president goes out of his way to refer to the ex-president as “Barack,” to better personalize their connection and accentuate the warm familiarity.

“I'm an Obama-Biden Democrat, man. And I'm proud of it,” Biden told reporters earlier this month.

Yet despite a legitimate claim to be the standard-bearer of President Obama’s legacy, Biden faces a fundamental challenge as he seeks his party’s nomination for the White House: Convincing the diverse and youthful coalition that elected Obama to two terms that a 76-year-old white man is the right person to carry the mantle.

To Biden and his advisers, age and race are inferior to the political realities of his special relationship with Obama. The question is whether primary voters will see it the same way, especially when the former president has indicated he’ll remain neutral in a crowded Democratic field filled with diverse and dynamic candidates.

David Axelrod, a top Obama adviser, said the former president’s failure to endorse his former vice president shouldn’t come as a surprise -- nor should it be taken as a slight of some kind.

“The custom for former presidents is not to endorse presidents. The expectation that he would, I find kind of baffling,” Axelrod said, adding that Obama’s held a general belief that “people should compete, the strongest candidate will emerge.”

Axelrod described the two as “genuinely friends. That’s not folklore. Unlike almost every other vice president and president, these guys got closer and closer over eight years.”

One thing is certain: Obama’s political apparatus is not united behind Biden, whose campaign announcement comes after more than 20 other candidates launched their bids.

None of Obama’s inner circle of advisers have signed on with any campaign. But other Democratic contenders have snagged top-level Obama campaign talent and tapped its fundraising prowess.

While Biden’s campaign manager, Greg Schultz, led Obama’s campaign efforts in swing-state Ohio, Beto O’Rourke hired Obama’s 2012 deputy campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and has enjoyed the support of Paul Tewes, the 2008 Obama campaign’s director in first-in-the-nation Iowa. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren signed Joe Rospars, Obama’s chief digital strategist in 2008 and 2012, and Emily Parcell, political director for Obama’s 2008 Iowa caucus team. Several top former Obama administration officials contributed to Pete Buttigieg.

In the key swing state of Florida, it’s a similar story. Steve Schale, who helped lead Obama to two victories there as state director in 2008 and senior adviser in 2012, is serving as a senior advisor to Biden’s campaign. But California Sen. Kamala Harris scored the support of Obama’s top fundraiser in the state, Kirk Wagar, who was appointed ambassador to Singapore by Obama. Obama campaign’s deputy Florida director in 2008 and state director in 2012, Ashley Walker, is staying neutral.

“I don’t think there’s any one standard bearer for the Obama legacy in this primary. There are multiple candidates who could carry that mantle,” said Ben LaBolt, former spokesman for Obama’s reelection campaign.

“A big question looming over the primary is: is this a moment for the longest record of experience or is this a moment for generational change within the party and a new vision within the party,” LaBolt said, noting that “even President Obama has talked about letting this be a moment for generational change and for others to lead and rise through the party and step up. So I don’t think it will be a completely clean shot if he tries to claim he’s the sole purveyor of his legacy.”

The generational split is clear in a February POLITICO/Morning Consult poll showing Biden is weakest with voters under the age of 30. But, the poll showed, Biden’s age — he will be 78 on the next Inauguration Day — isn’t a fatal problem for him among Democrats, with 30 percent agreeing that he’s “too old to run for president” while 58 percent disagreed.

An Obama campaign veteran who had discussed working with Biden’s campaign said there’s a divide among former Obama staffers.

“A lot of us don’t want Joe to run. His time has passed and it’s not his moment,” the operative said. “The real Obama legacy is about the future, not the past. And if he runs, it’s going to put that legacy on trial in a Democratic primary where guys like Bernie [Sanders] are going to take shots at it and tarnish that legacy ... We want Joe to ride off into the sunset.”

Still, nostalgia for the Obama White House in the Trump Era is palpable among Democrats. Not only do white progressives and centrists miss the days of “no drama Obama,” African-Americans revere the first black president and have transferred some of that loyalty to his loyal wingman.

Looking at the early state calendar, that support from black voters could be a big boost to Biden in South Carolina, where 60 percent of the primary electorate is black. South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in Congress, has not endorsed any 2020 candidate but is a Biden ally who speaks favorably of him.

“You can’t go into some black people’s houses here without seeing a picture of Obama on the wall and in some of them Biden is in the background. It makes a difference,” said Kendall Corley, Obama’s former South Carolina director in 2008 and 2012 who was in talks to work for Biden in the state again.

“There’s some love for Joe Biden,” he said, “and it’s because of Barack Obama and how he stood by him. People remember.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

'Racism and sexism': Women of color slam white male tilt of Dem primary

HOUSTON — The women of color who packed into a university auditorium here Wednesday for a first-of-its-kind presidential forum delighted in the rhetoric of candidates who vowed to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

But their frustration was just as palpable — over the heavy media attention being paid to white male candidates in the early days of the Democratic primary, and over polling they contended is feeding a misleading narrative that only a white man can defeat Trump.

“With all due respect to the vice president, he hasn’t even announced yet but he’s the frontrunner?” Leah Daughtry, a political operative and former Democratic National Committee official who helped organize the “She the People” event, said of Joe Biden. “Racism and sexism are part of the fabric and the fiber and the founding of our country," she added, “and the way that the [Democratic] candidates are being treated, it just reminds you of that. We're not past it.”

A procession of Democratic hopefuls took the stage, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker, and were all asked why women of color should vote for them. Warren won the crowd with her detailed ideas, garnering cheers whenever she dropped the line, “I have a plan.” Sanders got a less enthusiastic reception, though he was praised for showing up. And Harris revved up the crowd when she mocked politicians who've “evolved” on the opioid crisis: “Where were they when they had what was called the crack epidemic?”

The four-hour forum provided a snapshot of bubbling tensions among many Democratic women who are annoyed that the race looks like it could just as easily be unfolding in 1979 as 2019 — despite an historically diverse field.

Much of the discontent focused on Biden. He, along with another white man, Sanders, has dominated early polling even though he's not even officially been a candidate. After weeks of deliberation and delay, Biden is set to announce on Thursday.

Aimee Allison, who co-founded She the People, said she thinks the polling is premature and has distorted the public’s perceptions about which candidates are viable or not. She said it’s an “open question” whether the former vice president can win over women of color in large numbers.

“He's going to enter a really different world,” said Allison. “It's a world in which we've woken up as women of color and we're not just going along to get along for a Democratic Party insider.”

Others like LaTosha Brown said the media is “complicit” in boosting white male candidates.

“When you got a media that's constantly saying Biden and Beto and Bernie and literally elevating the male candidates, I think that's going to be reflected in the polls,” said Brown, who co-founded Black Voters Matter, a group that works on mobilizing the black community.

A’shanti Gholar, political director of Emerge America, which recruits and trains women to run for office, lamented that when Warren rolled out an ambitious public lands policy earlier this month, "the media was focusing on Pete Buttigeig expressing his sadness about Notre Dame in French."

Then there’s the “electability” question that candidates like Harris and Warren are required to answer, said several of the women in attendance, but others like Buttigeig are not.

“Electable is code word for the type of leader [people are] used to seeing, the type of leader [they're] comfortable with,” said Sayu Bhojwani, president of New American Leaders Action Fund, which helps immigrant candidates run for office. “And that is absent any understanding of the systemic issues that prop up white men.”

Wednesday's forum — packed with vendors, operatives, voters, organizers and longtime Democratic Party leaders — told a different story than the one reflected in early polls. Warren and Harris received the warmest responses from the crowd of roughly 1,500 black, Latino, Asian, Native American, and Arab women — not Sanders or O’Rourke.

Sanders received notable groans and grumbles from the audience when he gave a roundabout answer to a question on what he would do to curtail white supremacist terrorism. When pressed on what he would do for black women or why women of color should vote for him, Sanders repeatedly pointed to his history of joining the 1963 March on Washington, being “one of the few white elected officials” to support Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign and his civil rights record.

Afterward, Allison said that Warren "stole the show.” She plans to organize "She the People" town halls across the country to educate and mobilize women of color ahead of the election next year.

“You have to really point out Elizabeth Warren’s performance here today,” added Maria Urbina, political director for the progressive group Indivisible. “She was specific, she didn’t just rely on her record.”

At one point on stage, Warren, who has made inroads with black voters lately, was asked how she'll address people who after 2016 feel they may need to “flee to the safety of a white male candidate.”

“Are we gonna show up for people we [don't] actually believe in but because we are too afraid to do anything else? That's not who we are," she said to booming applause. “We got a room full of people here who weren’t given anything. We got a room full of people in here who had to fight for what they believe in.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump could stiff-arm Democrats until after 2020

President Donald Trump may successfully drag out many of his legal battles with Congress beyond 2020, denying Democratic investigators much, if any, political bounty before the next election.

With Democrats pressing on multiple fronts, from demanding Trump’s tax returns to seeking the testimony of current and former administration officials, some Trump allies see a White House working to buy time.

Administration lawyers have rejected a variety of Democratic requests and subpoenas, taking steps that seem to ensure protracted legal battles, which past presidents have used to run out the clock on their congressional adversaries.

Asked whether Trump could keep his legal blockade up through November of next year, one former senior White House official said: “One and a half to two years is a safe bet.”

Eric Columbus, a Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security attorney during the Obama administration, said: “The pace tends to be very slow. It might end up going all the way to the Supreme Court.”

That creates the prospect that Trump won’t be forced to turn over explosive documents or provide witnesses for hearings until after his reelection bid is complete.

And while Trump’s defiant posture — including his declaration on Wednesday that he will fight “all the subpoenas” Congress has issued — could look like stonewalling, the president has shown little concern for appearances.

“One of the goals [for Trump] is to delay things as much as possible — and you can do that when fighting a subpoena, if you’re not worried about being perceived to be blocking information from reaching the public,” Columbus said.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, told POLITICO on Wednesday that a stalling effort was wise given what he called the partisan motives of congressional Democrats.

“I think it’s exactly the right legal strategy. … I doubt there’s anybody in America that thinks this has some legitimate governmental purpose,” Giuliani said, noting that he is not shaping the White House’s legal strategy for handling official requests. “It’s a joke. I mean, they really have to be very naive.”

“This is like a judge saying I’m going to hang you, but I’ll give you a trial first,” he added. “We generally don’t go for that in America, and you’d have to be a fool to cooperate with it. It’s obviously a political effort. Congress shouldn’t be used for it. Let’s see if a court wouldn’t agree.”

Trump is hardly the first president to vigorously contest congressional oversight, even if Democrats insist he is stonewalling to an unprecedented degree. Similar showdowns between Congress and the White House under prior presidents have lingered for years as the two sides haggled in court.

A standoff between the House Judiciary Committee and President George W. Bush’s administration over the November 2006 firing of several U.S. attorneys dragged into 2009, for instance, resulting in a deal for the testimony of former White House officials that President Barack Obama’s White House negotiated after Bush left office.

And an Obama-era fight in which a Republican House demanded information on the gun-trafficking probe known as Operation Fast and Furious was joined in 2011, with the House voting in 2012 to hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. The fight lingers in court to this day, with information emerging in dribs and drabs over the past seven years.

All too aware that Trump can invoke constitutional arguments like executive privilege to fend off inquiries that touch on his presidency, House Democrats are also going after Trump where he has fewer legal defenses.

Both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are seeking information not only from government agencies and members of Trump’s inner circle, but also from businesses, banks and private individuals who were involved in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation or in business dealings with the Trump Organization.

While White House officials and federal agencies may defy a congressional subpoena at the White House’s direction, businesses and others outside the government are unlikely to do so. That puts the onus on Trump’s attorneys to challenge such subpoenas, rather than waiting for the House to act to enforce them.

“It’s the right strategy,” one former White House official said of the House effort. “Private companies don’t want bad publicity. They may have ongoing relationships with the government or congressional committees and don’t want to affect that.”

The White House and government agencies sometimes decide not to comply with a subpoena, but “banks are not generally inclined to do that,” the former official added.

The House strategy of seeking information from alternative sources led to a new battle this week as Trump’s lawyers went to court to try to block one of his accounting firms from handing over records in response to a House subpoena. The suit, filed against Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), accuses the panel of acting with no legislative purpose and as partof a political vendetta against Trump.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta, an appointee of President Barack Obama. Mehta has set a hearing for May 14 on Trump’s demand for an injunction.

The suit seems like an uphill battle for Trump. Last year, House Republicans tried a similar tactic to the one that House Democrats are pursuing now. After Fusion GPS — the research firm that helped prepare the widely disputed dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia — refused to comply with a subpoena for records about payments it made, the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed similar information from the firm’s bank. Fusion GPS sued to block the bank from disclosing the info, but a judge turned the company down.

“This court will not — and indeed, may not — engage in a line-by-line review of the committee’s requests,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, a George W. Bush appointee. Leon also cited a Supreme Court ruling saying he had no authority to consider the “motives” behind Congress’ action.

However, despite that decision, one House Republican committee source suggested that courts might find limits on Congress’ ability to enforce subpoenas, especially if a judge deemed it to have “the intent of abusing or embarrassing the person being investigated.” The source also suggested that courts, which have historically granted Congress enormous latitude to demand information from the executive branch and private sector, might view the personal records of the president differently.

“I’m not sure there’s a lot of precedent for a scenario just like this one,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s probably a pretty novel question.”

Another battle seems to be looming over the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn. The White House appears set to fight any House subpoena for McGahn, which could trigger a court fight over executive privilege.

However, Trump may have undercut his privilege claim by allowing McGahn to be interviewed by Mueller for 30 hours about all kinds of internal deliberations, including direct conversations with the president. Some lawyers say the claim was further undermined when the White House signed off on the release of Mueller’s report without any redactions on executive privilege grounds.

“It may be that executive privilege would have applied, but I think the waiver argument is very compelling,” said Ron Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law, who served as head of the Justice Department’s legislative affairs shop during the Obama administration.

Other lawyers say court rulings suggest that the waiver could be more narrow, limiting what Congress could ask McGahn. And some also say that legal precedents suggest the House could bolster its claim to testimony from McGahn and others by formally opening an impeachment inquiry, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been reluctant to do.

The Bush White House’s attempt to resist subpoenas for former White House counsel Harriet Miers and other officials about the U.S. attorney firings resulted in an initial ruling that went against the president. U.S. District Court Judge John Bates rejected the administration’s position that the officials were completely immune from testifying and did not even have to show up.

Bates ordered them to appear for depositions, although he left open the possibility that they could refuse to answer certain questions. His ruling was on appeal to the D.C. Circuit when Bush left office. The Obama administration, in consultation with Bush representatives, cut a deal to have Miers and former Bush aide Karl Rove submit to interviews behind closed doors. But the battle took almost two years.

The appeal was withdrawn, and the D.C. Circuit never ruled on whether Bates was right.

Lawyers said one wild card in the forthcoming fight was how willing McGahn would be to appear and tell his story. As White House counsel, he was notoriously taciturn in public, speaking publicly only once or twice a year but displaying a wry sense of humor when he did.

If Congress tries to force McGahn to testify, that process could be complicated.

“Many years ago, Congress ceased trying to enforce its own subpoenas and instead generally seeks to outsource enforcement to the other branches,” said Ross Garber, a legal expert in government investigations and impeachment. “Here, the executive branch will not come to its aid, and the judicial branch … will generally show great reluctance to intervene in a dispute between the executive and legislative branches. Civil litigation, which the path the House is now contemplating, can be long and uncertain, both of which favor the president.”

While McGahn has praised Trump and seems ideologically aligned with the White House, it’s unclear whether Trump’s recent public attacks on McGahn might push the conservative lawyer into a more adversarial stance toward the president.

If McGahn wants to testify, it might be difficult for the White House to stop him by racing to court.

“It would be a drastic step. I can’t think of any prior example,” said Mark Zaid, an attorney who advises government employees on their confidentiality obligations.

Zaid noted that because executive privilege covers all presidential advisers, not just White House lawyers, any legal move to stop McGahn from speaking publicly about his tenure at the White House would seem to open the door to silencing White House aides more generally.

In theory, McGahn could be risking some bar sanction if he revealed confidences he learned while in the White House. In 2017, acting Attorney General Sally Yates raised a similar concern about a congressional demand for her testimony about discussions that led to her resignation over Trump’s travel ban policy. The White House eventually agreed to let her testify.

“There are tons of people who have written books about being lawyers in the government, they have possibly crossed that line and nothing happened to them,” Zaid noted.

McGahn’s attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment, but his team seems to be seeking some protection on that front, either in terms of White House permission or a court ruling blessing his testimony.

It’s also unclear how Trump’s public intransigence will play with judges. In past fights in other administrations, judges have traditionally urged both sides to try to negotiate some resolution. If Trump rejects any such effort, it’s possible he could unwittingly prompt faster action by the courts.

“The executive branch usually does not want to be seen fighting transparency,” said Columbus, the former government attorney. “If the president is OK with that, he may feel no harm to just fighting everything.” But, he said, the pressures for some negotiation could lead Trump to waver on his vow to defy Congress.

“He says that now, but he may — or may not — continue to take that position.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Biden sounds fundraising alarm in conference call

On the eve of announcing his presidential bid, former Vice President Joe Biden raised the alarm about fundraising in a Wednesday conference call with top donors and supporters.

“The money’s important. We’re going to be judged by what we can do in the first 24 hours, the first week,” Biden told the group, according to one participant, whose recollections of the quotes were confirmed by two others on the call.

“People think Iowa and New Hampshire are the first test,” Biden said. “It’s not. The first 24 hours. That’s the first test. Those [early states] are way down the road. We’ve got to get through this first.”

Biden — noting that “I hate to do this” in discussing the fundraising — said he would be flying around the country for fundraisers with the participants but urged them to do what they can as soon as possible.

“Do what you can right now,” Biden said.

The former vice president is expected to announce his presidential run in a video to be released Thursday.

On the call, an upbeat Biden said his candidacy was a calling, a duty — and that it’s not just Democrats or Americans who want him to run to stop President Donald Trump.

“I get calls from people all over the world — world leaders are calling me — and they’re almost begging me to do this, to save the country, save the world,” Biden said. One of the participants on the call stressed that Biden wasn’t making it sound as though he has a messiah complex, but rather that world leaders are looking toward the Democratic Party to defeat Trump, whether it’s Biden or another Democrat.

Biden on Thursday has his first large fundraiser at Comcast executive David Cohen’s home in Philadelphia along with former Gov. Ed Rendell, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former state Sen. Connie Williams, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Brendan Boyle, Matt Cartwright, Madeleine Dean, Dwight Evans, Chrissy Houlahan and Mary Gay Scanlon.

Biden also made a round of fundraising calls on Tuesday, including to top Florida Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge, who told him he was staying neutral in the race for now. But, Korge said, he thinks Biden could win the expectations game when it came to raising small-dollar donations, which are not his forte.

“Joe is going to do a lot better than a lot of people think,” said Korge, Hillary Clinton’s top bundler in 2016. “There’s broad support from him in our party, just look at the polling.”

In addition, he said, Biden can count on some residual goodwill from President Barack Obama's former donors who feel a sense of loyalty to his former vice president.

“I think it’s fertile ground,” said Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator and onetime chair of the state Democratic Party, who will be playing an on-the-ground role in Biden’s campaign. “I did some calling yesterday, I found some $30,000 to $40,000 low-hanging fruit that wasn’t all that hard to find.”

Longtime Democratic fundraiser and trial attorney Joe Cotchett predicted Biden’s fundraising would ramp up quickly once he’s actually in the race.

“I think that might change really quick,” says Cotchett, who says he’ll be active in Biden’s campaign and fundraising in the Bay Area, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona. “I think he’s going to get on the street and you’re going to see a lot of people moving towards him when you finally convince them that he can beat Donald Trump.”

Prominent Florida Democratic donor John Morgan, who also spoke Tuesday with Biden and was on the Wednesday conference call, said the former vice president sounded “positive” on the call. He said Biden is realistic about the challenges ahead, but he’s not “worried” about fundraising.

“He sounds ready to go. We know him and love him and he’s the candidate of sanity with the best chance to win,” Morgan said. “He wanted my help and I said, ‘Tell me when to have a fundraiser.‘”

Holly Otterbein contributed to this report

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Unions crank it up for Biden launch

His political operation is still taking shape. There are concerns about whether he’ll be able to raise enough money to compete. He hasn’t run his own campaign in over a decade.

What Joe Biden does have, however, are strong ties to organized labor. And on the eve of his expected entry into a primary where 19 other Democrats have a head start, the former vice president is counting on his longtime union allies for a show of force.

It’s a powerful reminder that whatever hurdles lie ahead for Biden on the campaign trail, he enters the race with a reservoir of goodwill from a key Democratic constituency. But it also emphasizes the traditional nature of his candidacy in a diverse and crowded primary where that might not be an asset.

After announcing his 2020 bid in a video to be released Thursday, Biden is expected to formally kick off his campaign with a Monday rally at a Pittsburgh union hall. United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said Biden can count on steelworkers to turn out on Monday, including many “wearing their USW gear.” The same holds true for the International Association of Fire Fighters, according to an IAFF spokesman.

For Biden, labor’s heavy presence would serve to underscore an argument central to his case for the Democratic nomination: that he continues to be serve as the party’s best-known emissary to working-class whites, the precise demographic that Donald Trump picked off in key industrial states like Pennsylvania in 2016.

“Clearly many of us in the labor movement and in our union are friends with Vice President Biden. He’s been a true supporter of working people and their agenda. He’s someone who we’ve worked with a lot and we all admire tremendously,” Gerard told POLITICO, though he cautioned that a formal primary endorsement hasn’t yet occurred and must go through internal processes. “I can say that it would be an understatement to say that our members admire and look forward to working with Vice President Biden. He’s been strong in particular on infrastructure and jobs.”

In the run-up to his announcement, Biden has put in his time in front of labor groups, including recent speeches before the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the IAFF. Last week, Biden appeared at the Stop & Shop supermarket strike in Dorchester, Mass., with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, himself a strong labor supporter and Biden ally.

“I think there is one thing that is inarguable: The Democrats as a party and the presidential candidates, have had problems with union members defecting to Republicans since the Reagan era,” said Larry Rasky, a Boston-based consultant who worked on both of Biden’s previous presidential campaigns. “Everybody knows that the candidate with the best chance of bringing union members — not necessarily the leadership but the rank and file — back into the Democratic fold is Biden.”

Hosting a kick-off in a Western Pennsylvania union hall, places Biden in his element. Last year, Biden joined Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey at the IBEW Local 5 in Pittsburgh and made a deep impression on a Pennsylvania Democratic operative who noted that Biden “was electric. He has a real connection. There was a cross-section: old-school union guys, young biker folks covered in tattoos and moms with babies. And Biden didn’t have any staff. He just showed up and worked the room, and people loved him.”

Labor’s prominent role isn’t merely limited to the campaign launch. Earlier this week, International Association of Fire Fighters president Harold Schaitberger told POLITICO a Biden endorsement was all but certain, and part of that support would translate into foot soldiers in early presidential states.

“We’ll be focused on the early caucus in Iowa. In South Carolina, we have a fairly sophisticated political operation, a pretty large cadre of very experienced, capable, skilled leaders that really know how to operate within a political environment,” Schaitberger said. “We have a very good footprint in New Hampshire and understand the primary process there. We’ll be able to do our part. It’s not just a paper endorsements.”

An early state organizer with knowledge of Biden’s strategy, said the campaign-in-waiting has for weeks began laying the groundwork to lure rank-and-file union members to his camp — even if their own union doesn’t formally endorse Biden in the primary.

“When you look at Secretary Clinton, the union leadership in the primary got behind her but at the average member level, there was not much excitement,” the organizer said. “In this case, I think the average member of the labor union is interested in supporting Joe Biden … looking at both for the primary and general, there’s going to be a lot of focus on getting support from both labor leadership and average labor members.”

Though Biden’s event is planned at the Teamsters Local 249 in Pittsburgh, according to the national group, though a local union representative said the venue “isn’t confirmed” and the chapter’s president didn’t return calls for comment. A spokesman for the national Teamsters said Biden is not being endorsed — at least not yet — by the union.

“The campaign reached out to the local chapter to host the union hall and, as with any pro-labor candidate, they were afforded that courtesy. Just because you have an event at the hall, it doesn’t mean there’s an endorsement,” said a national spokesman, who wanted to speak anonymously to avoid giving an official position.

The Teamsters, along with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, say they’re going through the process now of vetting candidates and preparing to poll members to issue endorsements.

“There were three reasons Barack Obama chose Biden as a running mate: his foreign policy chops, his debating skills and the third was his appeal to working class voters, particularly in the Midwest,” Rasky said. “He delivered on all three of those accounts. Those ethnic, blue collar voters, what we refer to as ‘Reagan Democrats,’ they are the people we need to turn the Electoral College on Trump. I think it’s apparent to the leadership for a lot of unions that Joe is the guy who can deliver.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Booker’s tax returns: Speaking fees and royalties drive income

Sen. Cory Booker brought in nearly $3 million in public speaking fees and royalties over the past decade, according to tax documents his presidential campaign released Wednesday.

The New Jersey Democrat’s reported income in 2018 was $152,715. He paid $29,446 in taxes and donated $24,000 to charity that year.

Public speaking fees and royalties, however, account for the bulk of Booker’s income in eight of the past 10 years. Booker reported $2 million in public speaking fees from 2009 to 2014 and $987,077 in royalties from 2015 to 2017.

Booker’s campaign released 10 years of tax returns on Wednesday, making him the latest Democratic White House contender to do so. A couple of candidates got attention for their filings: Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tax returns show that he became a millionaire in 2016, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s tax returns drew scrutiny for a dearth of charitable giving.

Booker, for his part, donated 15 percent of his income to charity in 2018. He has given at least $20,000 a year to charity since 2012, including $82,500 that year and $241,917 the following year.

The document release followed Booker’s appearance at a She the People forum in Houston on Wednesday. The former mayor of Newark, N.J., is also scheduled to address the African American Mayors Association’s annual conference later Wednesday. He will resume his two-week Justice for All tour Thursday with a trip to South Carolina.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Smiling Kim arrives by train in Russia for his Putin summit

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — A smiling and upbeat Kim Jong Un arrived Wednesday in far-eastern Russia aboard an armored train for a much-anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin that comes amid deadlocked global diplomacy over the North Korean leader’s nuclear program.

Both leaders have high hopes for their first one-on-one meeting: Kim for a win after his failed second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump and Putin for a chance to raise Moscow’s clout in the region and gain more leverage with Washington.

Speaking to Russia’s state-owned Rossiya-24, Kim said he was hoping for a “successful and useful” visit and would like to discuss with Putin the “settlement of the situation in the Korean Peninsula” as well as bilateral ties with Russia.

It was Kim’s first visit to Russia as North Korean leader; his late father, Kim Jong Il, visited Russia in 2011. The North Korean leader evoked his father’s “great love for Russia” and said that he intends to strengthen ties between the two countries.

“I have heard a lot about your country and have long dreamt of visiting it,” Kim was quoted as saying at his first stop, Russia’s Khasan train station, near the border with North Korea. “It’s been seven years since I took the helm, and I’ve only just managed to visit.”

He then traveled on to the Russian Pacific port city of Vladivostok, the site of Thursday’s summit, where he was greeted by a military orchestra as he stepped out of his khaki-green armored train. Dressed in a black coat and clutching a black fedora, he then got into his personal limousine, which travels with him, and drove away.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told Russian media the Putin-Kim summit would focus on North Korea’s nuclear program, noting that Russia will seek to “consolidate the positive trends” stemming from Trump’s meetings with Kim.

In February, Kim’s second summit with Trump in Hanoi ended without any agreement because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions. There have since been no publicly known high-level contacts between the U.S. and North Korea, although both sides say they are still open to a third summit.

Kim wants the U.S. to ease the sanctions to reciprocate for some partial disarmament steps he took last year. But the U.S. maintains the sanctions will stay in place until North Korea makes more significant denuclearization moves.

Some experts say Kim could try to bolster his country’s ties with Russia and China. Others say it’s not clear how big of a role Russia can play in efforts to restart the nuclear negotiations. Still, the summit could allow Putin to try to increase his influence in regional politics and the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.

“Kim wants to show that he’s cooperating with Russia too, rather than looking to only the U.S. and China. But I think it’s not easy for Russia and China to provide North Korea with practical assistance that leads to the inflow of dollars,” said Chon Hyun-joon, a former senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

North Korea has increasingly expressed frustration at the deadlocked negotiations. Last week, North Korea tested a new weapon and demanded that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from the nuclear talks.

Ushakov said the Kremlin would try to help “create preconditions and a favorable atmosphere for reaching solid agreements on the problem of the Korean Peninsula.”

He pointed at a Russia-China roadmap that offered a step-by-step approach to solving the nuclear standoff and called for sanctions relief and security guarantees for Pyongyang. He noted that the North’s moratorium on nuclear tests and the scaling down of U.S.-South Korean military drills have helped reduce tensions and created conditions for further progress.

Ushakov said the summit’s agenda will also include bilateral cooperation. Russia’s trade with North Korea is minuscule at just $34 million last year, mostly because of the international sanctions against Pyongyang.

Russia would like to gain broader access to North Korea’s mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang, for its part, covets Russia’s electricity supplies and investment to modernize its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.

Vladivostok, a city of more than half a million on the Sea of Japan, faced gridlock on its roads Wednesday as traffic was blocked in the city center due to Kim’s visit.

Local media reported that some platforms at Vladivostok’s main train station would be closed for several days, and that buses were rerouted from the train station Wednesday.

Maritime authorities said the waters around Russky Island, across from Vladivosok, would be temporarily closed to all maritime traffic. The island has a university with a conference hall and is seen as a likely summit venue.

After his summit with Putin, Kim was to meet with “ordinary people” in Russia, who favor closer ties with the North, Primorye Gov. Oleg Kozhemyako told Rossiye-24. He said Kim will also be given a chance to sample such traditional Russian dishes as borscht, pelmeni meat dumplings and caviar — although he brought his own cooks with him.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Impeachment? This Is the Fight Trump Wants

No one enjoys getting impeached, and if it happens to him, Donald J. Trump will be no exception.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine any potential target of impeachment in Anglo-American history relishing the fight more than Trump. He’d rather be done with the Mueller investigation in all its permutations, but there’s no one better suited to being at the center of a harshly partisan, deeply personal political and legal donnybrook that will ultimately be just for show.

Trump famously told his top aides at the beginning of his administration that he wanted them to view each day as a TV episode. Impeachment would be a helluva season, matching a momentous process of American government with low political melodrama.

This may feel like a devolution from the buttoned-up Mueller probe, but the House actually should have been the locus of the Trump investigation in the first place.

Because Justice Department policy says a president can’t be indicted, the Mueller report was never going to reach a legal conclusion about alleged obstruction. The question was whether the president’s conduct constituted an abuse of power that Congress would deem impeachable; in other words, it was a political question.

Congress, then, was always the most appropriate venue for the investigation and disposition of this matter, not the office of the special counsel.

But our habit of transmuting broad political questions into narrow legal ones and Rod Rosenstein’s panicked appointment of Robert Mueller—after the firing of FBI Director James Comey that he participated in—ensconced the probe within the Department of Justice.

Instead of being out in the open, it was behind closed doors. Instead of being nakedly political, it was clothed in thick legal analysis. Instead of being a struggle between the branches, it was a struggle within the executive branch.

Trump was deeply conflicted. He hated the investigation and came up with various schemes to crimp it, all of which came to nothing. At the same time, the White House fulsomely cooperated with Mueller. It was a twilight struggle between the president and the special counsel, with Trump not able to fully fight what was, in effect, an impeachment inquiry because any wrong move would be interpreted as yet another alleged act of obstruction.

Now, the battle is truly joined. The body that is going to make the ultimate decision of what to do about Trump’s conduct, if anything, is on the hook. It is politically accountable. It has to decide what goes too far and what doesn't go far enough. Should it subpoena Trump’s children? How much energy should it devote to investigations as opposed to its policy agenda? And, of course, should it impeach?

For his part, Trump is liberated to fight like a caged animal, asserting executive prerogatives vis-a-vis the legislature and engaging in flat-out Republican vs. Democrat combat.

Trump would prefer a world in which he’s universally praised, but short of that, this is his element. Despite the perpetual vein of press coverage over the past two years about how he’s on the verge of some sort of breakdown, he’s handled every controversy or fight—no matter how personal or treacherous—with the same straight-ahead aggression, for better or worse.

Weirdly, Trump is almost certainly better prepared and temperamentally suited for thermonuclear war with a Democratic House than he was to get substantive achievements out of a Republican House. He obviously hadn’t thought through an actionable populist-conservative policy synthesis, but he has a lifetime’s experience resisting and belittling enemies and extemporizing his way from one crisis to the next.

There may be no way for him to stop impeachment, certainly not if Nancy Pelosi supports it. But he’ll be at the focus of a historic drama that will rate—or at least be remembered and analyzed—for a very long time. He will have succeeded in making the Democratic House majority all about him, and if not getting convicted by the Senate counts as a victory, it's a win in the end.

The post-trial tweetstorm would surely be something to behold.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Democrats Should Leave McGahn Alone. At Least for Now.

The report by special counsel Robert Mueller set forth a compelling case that President Donald Trump obstructed justice. And Democrats appear to believe the star witness in their obstruction investigation will be former White House counsel Don McGahn, who memorably told his colleagues the president was trying to get him to do “crazy s--t.” The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed McGahn to testify next month, no doubt hoping that he will deliver more damning anecdotes about his former boss on live television.

But McGahn’s testimony, assuming the White House doesn’t succeed in blocking it, may not end up helping Democrats. In fact, if they don’t prepare as if they were going to trial—in short, treat McGahn like an adverse witness—it could actually weaken any case for impeachment they might decide to bring later.

That’s why my first goal if I were advising Congress would be to hold off on the subpoena until Attorney General William Barr is forced to supply the entire, unredacted report from the special counsel and all of the underlying investigative materials, including the FBI reports of McGahn’s interviews.

It’s understandable why House Democrats want to call McGahn to testify as soon as possible. Mueller cites him throughout his report, and the strongest counts of obstruction are based upon McGahn’s testimony. McGahn told Mueller that Trump ordered him to get Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller on multiple occasions. According to McGahn, Trump pushed him to get Rosenstein to raise false “conflicts of interest” to get Mueller removed even after McGahn told Trump doing so would create legal liability for him.

To McGahn’s credit, he told Trump that his actions could create serious legal liability and were wrongful. Unwilling to follow Trump’s orders, McGahn decided to resign, later recalling that he “wanted to be more like Judge Robert Bork and not ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ Bork.” After McGahn’s internal resistance became public in early 2018, Trump pushed McGahn to publicly deny the story and McGahn refused to do so, insisting in the Times’ account was accurate. Despite intense pressure from Trump on multiple occasions, McGahn acted ethically.

This has led some to compare McGahn’s potential testimony to the testimony of John Dean, which played a role in the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency. But there are important differences between McGahn and Dean. Dean was convicted of a crime and testified pursuant to a cooperation deal. But McGahn never committed a crime and remained Trump’s White House counsel for months after Trump pressured him to obstruct justice.

Democrats look at the picture of McGahn painted by Mueller in his report and see an ethical lawyer who resisted his boss’ worst impulses. That picture is accurate—McGahn is a serious lawyer, and to his credit he realized that history would judge his actions and he acted accordingly. But McGahn is also a leader in the conservative legal movement and was responsible for Trump’s right-wing judicial nominees. He praised Trump at a Federalist Society event months after he left the administration. His refusal to carry out Trump’s order may have been motivated in part by a desire to protect Trump from even graver legal jeopardy.

If McGahn testifies before Congress, he won’t lie under oath. But he won’t do Democrats any favors, either. Given that McGahn made his career as a conservative foot soldier, he will do what he can to avoid appearing like he is advancing the Democrats’ agenda. If McGahn fails to do so, Giuliani and other Trump allies will renew their attacks on him, which could hurt his standing within the conservative movement.

Throughout my legal career, I have questioned many witnesses who were adverse to me but did not want to lie under oath. I could count on those witnesses not to contradict their prior testimony or anything in writing, but they often put their own spin or characterization on the facts in order to soften damaging facts or highlight facts that helped their side.

The key to questioning adverse witnesses is to have them locked into their testimony as much as possible. If I were prosecuting Trump in a criminal trial, I would use McGahn’s prior statements to the FBI and his notes of his conversations with Trump as a starting point for questioning McGahn. I wouldn’t ask McGahn a question I didn’t already know the answer to unless I was certain that any answer to the question would help me.

Unfortunately for Democrats, they don’t have all the material they need to properly question McGahn. The only way to ensure that they can ask good questions, ones that are designed to strengthen their case and not the president’s, is to obtain the documents that Barr and the White House are keeping from them. Despite a congressional subpoena, Barr has continued to stonewall House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), refusing to provide the full, unredacted 448-page Mueller report or any of the underlying materials. Barr has no legal basis to refuse to produce the results of a criminal investigation of the president to the House, which has the constitutional authority to impeach the president. But until Barr coughs up the materials, it is dangerous for Democrats to question McGahn.

To Nadler’s credit, he has also subpoenaed McGahn for documents, which presumably include McGahn’s notes of his conversations with Trump. (McGahn, in another of his memorable lines, had to remind Trump that a “real lawyer” takes notes, unlike the legal hatchet men like Roy Cohn whom Trump relied on throughout his career.) But the White House plans to fight the subpoena of McGahn, even though it has waived any executive privilege and likely could not successfully assert it in this context even if it had not been waived.

The administration’s fight to keep the complete results of the Mueller investigation from the House will ultimately fail because it is inconsistent with our constitutional system, but in the meantime, the Democrats’ efforts are stalled and the momentum to impeach Trump could dissipate.

For that reason, Democrats could be tempted to call witnesses before receiving the full report and underlying materials. That would likely be a mistake. Although some lawmakers have noted that public testimony by witnesses like McGahn could move public opinion—crucial in an impeachment battle—it would be difficult to question McGahn using only the redacted Mueller report.

After all, the report merely contains Mueller’s characterizations of small portions of lengthy interview reports prepared by FBI agents that summarized 30 hours of testimony by McGahn. If questioned, McGahn could argue that the statements Mueller attributes to him lack important context that he told Mueller during the interviews. Without the full reports, members of Congress could not challenge McGahn.

If I led the House Democrats’ investigation, I would not call McGahn to testify at all. Even with all of the underlying materials, it would take an experienced questioner to ensure that McGahn did not undercut or at least soften the testimony cited in the Mueller report, which on its face presents devastating evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice. And as even the most casual observer knows, the questions asked by members of Congress often are not carefully crafted, and are sometimes even embarrassing.

Instead of risking a self-inflicted wound by mishandling a key witness, Democrats can call Mueller to testify as soon as he leaves the Justice Department. Unlike McGahn, Mueller does not have an incentive to minimize Trump’s misconduct.

Democrats can ask Mueller questions about McGahn’s interviews and gain Mueller’s insight about how to put together their obstruction of justice case. He may also provide them with information that could aid their legal fight to obtain the results of his investigation.

Given the reluctance of Senate Republicans to oppose Trump and the Trump administration’s commitment to delay and deny Democrats the evidence obtained by Mueller, Democrats already face an uphill battle if they impeach Trump. But if they remain focused on McGahn, their investigation could face a setback before it even gets off the ground.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Bernie Sanders Is Right. We Should Let Prisoners Vote.

Bernie Sanders spritzed an ocean of contrarian stink into the air on Monday night’s CNN town hall when he said imprisoned felons should be allowed to vote.

Most states already deny 6.1 million ex-cons the vote, so Sanders’ proposal—which he also laid out in a Fox News town hall a week earlier—to enfranchise the 1.5 million or so currently incarcerated felons (muggers, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and users, car thieves, bank robbers, burglars, et al.) struck most as just another of the senator’s wacky progressive proposals. Republicans have accepted Sanders’ comments as a political gift in-kind. The Republican National Committee issued a statement denouncing him for wanting “convicted terrorists, sex offenders, and murderers to vote from prison.” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted his umbrage and ripped Sanders for wanting to give the vote to the Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), tweeted that Democrats wanted to give the vote to inmates of the Supermax prison in his state.

Even Pete Buttigieg dinged Sanders and advocated the re-enfranchisement of felons who have served their time, but not active prisoners. “Part of the punishment when you are convicted of a crime and you’re incarcerated is you lose certain rights; you lose your freedom,” Buttigieg said during his CNN town hall, a couple hours after Sanders went on air. “And I think during that period, it does not make sense to have an exception for the right to vote.” In between the slow-motion Sanders-Buttigieg debate on CNN, Kamala Harris dodged the controversy, saying only that we should have a “conversation” about prisoner voting.

But for all their outrage, Sanders’ critics seemed clueless about the history and practice of barring prisoners from voting. As Sanders pointed out in the town hall, the Constitution of his state, Vermont, has enfranchised prisoners from the beginning without any deleterious political or social effects. Maine, too, lets prisoners cast a ballot from their cells no matter what offense they committed. And since 2016, California has allowed convicted felons serving time in county jail to vote.

When and why did we start taking voter rights from prisoners and ex-cons? Law scholars tell us that forfeiture of the vote was just one of the punishments exacted upon English convicts under the concept of “civil death.” Voting was considered a sacred right that could go only to the law-abiding (and only to the property-owning law abiders, for that matter). In England, convicts could lose their property to the king, their rights to inherit property and their rights to bring suit. Their marriages could be dissolved. In the eyes of English law, convicts were dead, and seeing as dead men can’t vote, they were banned from the ballot booth.

The colonists brought civil death to the United States but steadily abandoned many of the graver penalties associated with the tradition. Still, in many states, besides losing his right to vote, a convicted felon cannot run for elected office after leaving prison. He cannot serve on a jury. He cannot become a police officer or join the military. He cannot obtain a government license to work in some professions. He is the walking civic dead.

The idea that voting should be a privilege limited to white, landowning males has given way over the decades to a rights-based notion, one that eventually brought suffrage to renters, women, and African Americans. Many states have re-enfranchised ex-cons, most recently Florida, but prisoners have been largely excluded from this movement. State after state continues to punish convicts with civil death. It’s not that the courts and legislatures ever said prisoners had no rights under the law. To the contrary, the government concedes that prisoners have a right of access to the courts and protection from cruel and unusual punishment, as well as standard First Amendment rights. (Also, under the Constitution, a prisoner can legally run for Congress, although the Senate or House can decide not to seat him.)

While it would be impossible to run a prison in which prisoners had the usual rights against unreasonable search and seizure, is there any practical advantage to seizing the inmate vote? One scholar points out the inherent injustice in the practice, noting that it’s an automatic punishment meted out to convicts that cannot be tempered or suspended by a judge. It’s a draconian, one-size-fits-all penalty that gives judges no wiggle room to accommodate justice. To those who argue that the threat of disenfranchisement is a solid deterrent against crime, we can only laugh. How many aspiring crooks thought, or even knew, that they’d lose their right to vote before committing their last crime? Damn few, I’ll bet.

Somebody somewhere might harbor the comic-book fear that we shouldn’t give prisoners the vote because they’ll vote as a bloc and dominate politics in the rural towns where most prisons stand. But that critique doesn’t endure scrutiny. In Vermont, inmates must register to vote using their last legal address and then cast absentee ballots, thereby dispersing their votes around the state.

What good would come of passing the laws or constitutional amendments that would enfranchise all inmates—at least the ones who are American citizens over the age of 18? If you believe that incarceration exists to rehabilitate the wayward and reintegrate them into society, you’ll probably warm to the idea of giving them the vote. Anything within reason to socialize the anti-social and encourage civic participation! Sanders, however, did not reach for utilitarian arguments in making his stand. Waving the banner of idealism, he defended the rights of prisoners to vote as an “inherent American right to participate in our democracy.”

You don’t have to be a socialist to throw in with Sanders and the Vermont Constitution on this go-round. The civic death sentence we impose on prisoners is ripe for repeal.


Civic Death would be a good band name. Send others via email to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alert votes both in its home district and its vacation district. My Twitter feed sells its vote to the highest bidder. My RSS feed says, “A pox on democracy.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Partisan enemies find a common cause: Whacking tech companies

Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren have bonded over ripping Facebook. Massachusetts liberal Ed Markey has teamed up with Missouri conservative Josh Hawley to sponsor an online privacy bill. Even Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump have found a common target in tech, each jabbing the industry over a series of perceived misdeeds.

From the most conservative free market Republicans to staunchly progressive Democrats, the desire to rein in the tech sector has created surprising new partnerships among political enemies.

Democrats have long counted Silicon Valley as part of their political base, while Republicans have pushed for a hands-off approach to tech innovation. But in Washington, the distrust from both parties regarding how the tech industry has handled itself on everything from privacy to political discourse makes it clear that Congress is hungry to bring about a tougher era of government regulation.

“I think we’ve reached a tipping point. I think it’s a sign there’s really no going back from here," said Michelle Richardson, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Privacy and Data Project. "The interest here is deep and will be long-term and there’s no way we’re going to get out of having some federal regulation on some of these issues.”

Specific issues that have already drawn cross-party buy-in run the gamut from antitrust enforcement to bolstering publishers' power against tech platforms to the protection of children's data. Nearly all, however boil down to a central concern over tech giants' market power as well as the outside command that power gives them over both the terms of online conversation and the handling of Americans' most private information.

That shared concern could seriously boost the prospects of not just the targeted bills that odd couples have produced so far, but also more sweeping legislation aimed at reining in tech titans like Facebook, Google and Amazon, particularly with respect to their vast scale and power and their data practices. And it lends heft to 2020 presidential aspirants' pledges to crack down on Silicon Valley, as Democratic candidates like Sens. Warren (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) already find themselves developing common cause across the aisle on tech issues.

“I think all of these issues relate to getting the economy to work for the American people, respond to these tremendous concentrations of economic power and the enormous dominance of certain technology platforms,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who's sought to work on tech policy with conservative Republicans including Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Doug Collins (Ga.), told POLITICO. “It’s not just one group, Republican or Democrat or independent; it’s being felt by the American people.”

The point of unity between Warren and Cruz (R-Texas) was more a one-off than a concerted legislative effort. But it still proved striking given the participants, as a leading figure of the Democratic left and a famously prickly, firmly conservative Republican found major rhetorical overlap in their views of social media. Warren last month took issue with a POLITICO report that Facebook briefly took down a few of her campaign ads calling for the breakup of the company, saying it showed the social network “has too much power.” Cruz found himself leaping to her defense.

“First time I’ve ever retweeted @ewarren But she’s right—Big Tech has way too much power to silence Free Speech,” Cruz tweeted in response to the post, adding that the company posed “a serious threat to our democracy.” Weeks later the Texas Republican quoted Warren's tweet at a Senate Judiciary hearing on allegations of an anti-conservative bias in tech — another first for the pair of lawmakers.

The trend encompasses both houses of Congress, and the Senate in particular has seen a number of unexpected partnerships form as part of a push to craft new rules for how companies handle consumer data.

One such odd pairing: Markey (D-Mass.), a liberal privacy hawk who has embraced the Democratic Party's rising progressive flank, and Hawley (R-Mo.), a prominent GOP tech critic who fashions himself a libertarian-leaning conservative.

Despite their other policy differences, the lawmakers recently joined to unveil a broad-reaching bipartisan measure to expand children’s privacy protections. In rolling out their bill, Markey framed the topic as a rare area of consensus for lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “If we can agree on anything, it should be that children deserve strong and effective protections online,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a number of other cross-party Senate pairings — including Sens. Klobuchar and John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) and Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). — have teamed up to unveil their own bipartisan data privacy bills, as lawmakers in both houses talk up plans to address the issue.

The privacy concerns are emblematic of broader shared scrutiny over tech's unchecked power. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Klobuchar recently sent a joint letter to the Federal Trade Commission voicing concern about "potential privacy, data security, and antitrust violations" by tech titans.

In the House, Cicilline has been one of the more vocal lawmakers in highlighting the opportunity for meaningful bipartisan cooperation on tech. He recently teamed up with Collins, the House Judiciary Committee's top Republican, to reintroduce a bill that would give news publishers greater leverage to negotiate how online platforms distribute their content. The measure would amend existing antitrust statutes to grant publishers safe harbor to negotiate collectively with large platforms like Facebook and Google.

And Cicilline has even found common ground with Gaetz, a Trump surrogate who's made his name on winding up liberals, despite the two lawmakers trading blows on Twitter over other issues on which they're diametrically opposed. Cicilline is primarily concerned about anti-competitive practices by Google and Facebook, while Gaetz has spearheaded allegations that the internet giants suppress conservative views. But they've quietly discussed working together on tech issues, including, Gaetz says, in a series of one-on-one huddles on the House floor.

“Mr. Cicilline and I disagree on some issues. We agree on others. This is one where I think we will find agreement,” Gaetz told POLITICO.

A Cicilline spokesperson confirmed the lawmaker has "discussed tech-related issues with Gaetz directly," and Cicilline said he and his staff are in “constant communication” with House Judiciary Republicans and their teams, including Gaetz's, on tech issues.

The charge of anti-conservative bias in tech championed by Gaetz in recent years has risen from a fringe right-wing talking point to the highest levels of the Republican Party, with Trump emerging as a consistent critic.

The president on Tuesday again raised allegations that his favorite social media platform, Twitter, suppresses conservative viewpoints, accusing them of playing “political games” with their content moderation decisions.

“They don’t treat me well as a Republican. Very discriminatory, hard for people to sign on. Constantly taking people off list,” Trump said in a pair of tweets, adding: “No wonder Congress wants to get involved — and they should. Must be more, and fairer, companies to get out the WORD!”

To be sure, given the broader partisan division that's gripped Washington, some are cautious in considering whether the curious alliances will actually succeed in delivering meaningful regulation for the tech industry.

"They’re bedfellows, maybe, but it’s like a king-sized bed. I think there’s still a fair of room between them on a fair amount of issues," said Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and technology policy Consumer Reports. "Certainly you’re seeing the rhetoric align a little more, and that’s important. But whether we’ll see action? We’ll see."

But Brookman added that "common rhetoric and acknowledgment of the problem is a really important first step" toward concrete legislation. "The first step is a common understanding that there’s a problem, and we’re definitely seeing a lot more of that," he said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine