Schiff on Barr: He's Rudy Giuliani without 'all the good looks and general likability'

Attorney General Bill Barr should resign over his conduct before Congress, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Wednesday, calling the attorney general a "personal attorney" for President Donald Trump.

The California Democrat said he hesitates to "call Bill Barr the Attorney General."

"I think Bill Barr has all the duplicity of Rudy Giuliani without all the good looks and general likability of Rudy Guliani," Schiff said during the Center for American Progress 2019 Ideas Conference Wednesday. "The most dangerous thing, I think, that Bill Barr has done is basically say that a president under investigation can make the investigation go away if he thinks its unfair which, by the way, means the other 14 investigations firmed up through other offices he can also make go away."

Earlier Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee postponed a vote to potentially hold Barr in contempt of Congress, following his refusal to testify before the committee last week. Schiff, who chairs that committee, said in a statement explaining the postponement that the "Department of Justice has accepted our offer of a first step towards compliance with our subpoena, and this week will begin turning over to the Committee twelve categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials as part of an initial rolling production."

He added the "initial production" would be finished "by the end of next week."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump blows up White House meeting over nasty feud with Pelosi

President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi engaged in a public and bitter feud on Wednesday, with the president breaking off bipartisan negotiations over Pelosi’s accusations of a cover-up and Pelosi bluntly responding: “I pray for the president of the United States.”

The breakdown came as Trump declared he will not work with Democrats as long as they are investigating him. The explosive encounter at the White House shattered a feeling of good bipartisan vibes stemming for positive budget talks on Tuesday and startled attendees, who said Trump made them wait, complained about their probes, canceled the meeting and left in a span of just a few minutes.

“It wasn’t really respectful of the Congress and the White House working together. He just took a pass,” Pelosi said at a news conference after she returned to the Capitol. “I pray for the president of the United States, and I pray for the United States of America.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who attended the White House meeting, said it was “high drama in the Cabinet room.”

“I don’t know where this leaves us as a nation. We have so many things that have to be done for this country and they can’t be done unless we work together,” Durbin said. “If the president walks out of the meeting, it’s a setback for the country’s priorities.”

Durbin said that Democrats couldn’t get a word in, and Pelosi told the House and Senate Democrats afterward about the importance of doing an infrastructure package.

The president was especially incensed by Pelosi’s comment earlier in the day in which she said she believes Trump “is engaged in a cover-up.”

Pelosi delivered the remark behind closed doors as she appealed to House Democrats to hold off on beginning impeachment proceedings, which she has argued would damage their party in 2020.

Trump was ready to battle back, gathering reporters in the Rose Garden after the aborted infrastructure meeting to vent about the House investigations generally and Pelosi specifically.

“I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump declared.

The president said he told Democrats that he simply would not work with Democrats while they investigate him. And somewhat surprisingly, the president seemed to agree with Democrats on how the meeting went -- a near replay of when Trump and Democrats met during the 35-day shutdown and then stormed out and refused to negotiate.

“I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I'd be really good at that. That is what I do,” Trump said. “But you know what, you can't do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”

Three sources familiar with the meeting said the president arrived late and vented about Pelosi’s criticisms of him. Trump was "clearly furious" when he came in the room, according to Democratic sources and ranted at them for several minutes. He complained that Pelosi had accused him of all these "horrible, horrible things,” and he said Democrats were "disrespectful."

Then Trump stormed out of the room without Democrats even getting a chance to speak. Pelosi was also angry and said she “knew he was never serious about infrastructure" as administration staff were in the room.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it was a “planned” stunt.

“He is looking for every excuse,” Schumer said at the news conference in the Capitol. “The investigation was going on three weeks ago when we [first] met” on infrastructure.

Ahead of the meeting, Trump told Pelosi and Schumer he would not seriously consider an infrastructure bill until the Democrats passed his new North American trade deal. That suggested that Wednesday’s meeting would be fruitless anyway.

“I’m not sure I would use the same tactics,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) of Trump’s hardball approach on trade.

But few could have foreseen it would have played out in such acrimonious and public fashion, with dueling press conferences and no actual negotiation or dialogue between the president and the opposition party.

"To watch what happened at the White House would make your jaw drop," Schumer concluded.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Democratic congresswoman: Immigrant child deaths are ‘intentional’ Trump administration policy

The House Homeland Security Committee broke out in a skirmish today after Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) accused the Trump administration of intentionally killing immigrant children at the border.

Underwood's comments — in which she said a recent string of child deaths were "intentional" and a "policy change" — came during the testimony of acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.

"The evidence is really clear that this is intentional," Underwood said. "It's intentional. It's a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration, and it's cruel and inhumane."

"That's an appalling accusation," McAleenan responded. "Our men and women fight hard to protect people in our custody every single day."

Republicans quickly jumped on Underwood's comments, arguing that she violated House rules that prevent members from impugning a witness. After repeating her comments a second time, Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) briefly gaveled out the committee amid protests.

When the committee returned, it voted 9-7 to strike Underwood's comments from the record.

The controversy came two days after a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died in custody near Hidalgo, Texas — the fifth migrant child to due in U.S. custody since December.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Investigators can't determine whether Northam was in blackface yearbook photo

Investigators hired by Eastern Virginia Medical School were not able to identify the two individuals depicted in an offensive photograph on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page, the school announced Wednesday.

The picture, which shows one person in blackface makeup and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan costume, provoked near-universal condemnation by state and national Democrats when it first surfaced in February, almost upending Northam’s political career.

But Northam survived the episode and remained in the governor’s mansion as another blackface scandal enveloped Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and as sexual assault allegations were leveled against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax just days later.

“With respect to the Photograph on Governor Northam’s personal page, we could not conclusively determine the identity of either individual depicted in the Photograph," the McGuireWoods law firm, which conducted the medical school’s inquiry, wrote in its report.

“No individual that we interviewed has told us from personal knowledge that the Governor is in the Photograph, and no individual with knowledge has come forward to us to report that the Governor is in the Photograph,” the report says.

Northam at first admitted to being one of the two people in the photo. But at a news conference the following day, he reversed his position — saying he was not in the picture — and then admitted to wearing blackface makeup in 1984 to impersonate Michael Jackson at a San Antonio dance competition.

Five days after Northam’s yearbook photo shocked Richmond, Herring admitted to wearing blackface makeup to portray a rapper at a college costume party in 1980. Herring had previously called on Northam to resign.

Within that same week, college professor Vanessa Tyson accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Another woman, Meredith Watson, also accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her when the two attended Duke University in 2000. Fairfax has denied the allegations.

Northam, Herring and Fairfax all remain in office.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Michael Avenatti says he 'flew too close to the sun' in rise and fall

Michael Avenatti, the attorney and cable news star who once harbored presidential ambitions, conceded in an interview with Vanity Fair that he "flew too close to the sun" as he ascended to celebrity before crashing back to earth under the weight of federal criminal charges.

Avenatti first rose to prominence on the national political stage as the attorney for Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who claimed to have had a one-night sexual affair with President Donald Trump. The Southern California-based attorney quickly became one of the president's chief antagonists, legally pursuing him and longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen and criticizing both regularly on television.

Avenatti's popularity grew to the point where he openly flirted with joining the 2020 Democratic primary for president, making trips to Iowa and New Hampshire. But his star soon fell after he was accused last November of domestic abuse — prosecutors decided not to pursue felony charges — and arrested by the FBI and charged with embezzlement, wire, bank and bankruptcy fraud as well as tax-related charges.

Avenatti has denied all of the allegations against him.

“I have said many, many times over the last year, this is either going to end really, really well, or really, really badly. I am most fearful of the fact that the rate of descent is greater than the rate of ascent," Avenatti told Vanity Fair. "Some would argue at this point that I flew too close to the sun. As I sit here today, yes, absolutely, I know I did. No question. Icarus.”

The Vanity Fair piece goes on to detail Avenatti's personal life — a messy divorce, a failing coffee business — that was spiraling as his public persona gained traction. Avenatti called the article a "complete hit piece" and a "new low for VF," accusing the magazine of being deceptive in its reporting on him.

A spokesperson for Vanity Fair did not immediately return a request for comment.

As his political ambitions fizzled, Avenatti remained in the spotlight by representing clients tied to high-profile cases, including allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and R&B singer R. Kelly. But his national profile has diminished — along with his appearances on cable news — as the criminal charges against him have piled up.

“I couldn’t believe how unbelievably great everything was,” Avenatti told Vanity Fair. “Now, there are days when I can’t believe what a nightmare this is.”

Avenatti's arrest in March came after he allegedly threatened sportswear giant Nike with the release of evidence it had paid high school basketball players unless it paid him to conduct an independent investigation, or a larger sum to drop the matter entirely. Federal prosecutors in New York called Avenatti's threats “an old-fashioned shakedown.”

On Tuesday, Avenatti tweeted he expects to be indicted for his March Nike arrest, but said he intends on "fighting these bogus/legally baseless allegations, and will plead not guilty to ALL CHARGES," and that he looks "forward to the trial where I can begin to clear my name."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Stacey Abrams takes a gentle dig at the number of Dems running for president

Stacey Abrams is still playing coy about her plans for the 2020 election, but she took a gentle dig at the size of the Democratic field on Wednesday.

In an address to liberal think tank Center for American Progress, Abrams asserted that in addition to addressing issues like climate change and access to health care, legislation aimed at restricting access to abortion is “not the will of the people.”

Abrams said that the reason “we still grapple with” those issues was “because leaders are being elected who not only reject science but reject the will of the people they were elected to represent.”

“But I’m here to tell you there’s a solution,” she went on. “It is not, however, having everyone in America running for president — but that is also not an announcement.”

Though Abrams has turned down overtures from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to run for Senate next year, the former Democratic gubernatorial nominee from Georgia has kept the door open for a run for president, which would make her the 24th major Democratic candidate in the race.

She’s also expressed interest in a rematch against GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022, but if she’s made up her mind, she’s not letting on either way.

Abrams has recently said that she could still become one of the many Democrats running for president as late as this fall, but she has also been grouped in with a handful of presidential hopefuls who disappointed some by foregoing a Senate run.

Since her loss in the Georgia gubernatorial race by a razor thin margin last fall, which she blames on voter suppression by Kemp, who ran the state’s elections, Abrams has made the issue the focus of her political advocacy. On Wednesday she issued a call to action action for every 2020 Democrat, taking yet another swipe at the bloated primary field.

“Whether we have 23, 24, 25 or 150 candidates for president, we should demand from every single person an adherence to the values we hold to be true: They must speak about voter suppression every day until every person who is legally entitled to vote has the right to vote in the United States of America,” she said.

“But they must also be willing to look every voter in the eye and say, ‘I see you. I understand your challenges. I see the barriers you face and I am willing to tackle those obstacles, not through vague language and not through opprobrium. But through action. Through policy. And through determination.’ Because when we see our voters and we give them their voices we will see the change we need in America and we will survive for another generation.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Pelosi says Trump 'engaged in a cover-up' as she urges against impeachment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi appealed to House Democrats Wednesday to hold off on beginning impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump even as she said the president “is engaged in a cover-up.”

Yet the call to take strong action against the president persisted in the caucus. While her Democratic chairmen largely stood with her, she received a direct plea from a committee chairwoman who said Democrats have a "responsibility to impeach" him.

Democrats in the room said Pelosi sat stoically while House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) — a longtime impeachment advocate — broached the subject in front of the 235-member caucus, during an emergency closed door meeting in the basement of the Capitol.

Waters told colleagues the House has a "responsibility to impeach" Trump now, and the California Democrats mentioned her own efforts to access Trump's financial records from Deutsche Bank, according to lawmakers.

As she exited the meeting, Waters declared, “All I can tell you is I'm for impeachment, I’ve always been, I’ve never changed my mind.

Wednesday's session was called by Pelosi and her top lieutenants to try to calm the mood inside the caucus, where impeachment fever is growing. Democrats were furious when Trump blocked former White House Counsel Don McGahn from testifying before the Judiciary Committee. McGahn was a major figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's report. McGahn told Mueller of repeated attempts by Trump to shut down the special counsel's probe.

Pelosi told reporters after the meeting that House Democrats should continue with their step-by-step investigative approach even though Trump is engaged in a "cover up," a line she had used privately with her leadership team early this week. Pelosi's public statement infuriated Trump, who later stormed out of a meeting with Pelosi and other top Democrats at the White House and said he won't work with them until their investigations wrap up.

Inside the room with Democrats, Pelosi responded to the impeachment calls by pointing to various House committees' efforts to win court battles against Trump and hold administration figures accountable without taking more dramatic steps. This has been Pelosi's position for months - that impeaching Trump without GOP support is a futile gesture.

Yet that didn't stop impeachment advocates from making their pitch. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) spoke up twice during the meeting, making the same argument he made to Democratic leaders Monday. So far, roughly two dozen Democrats have publicly backed him, and Cicilline predicted there would soon be more.

“I think this number is growing. I think it’s going to depend a lot on the president’s behavior,” Cicilline asserted, acknowledging that Democratic leaders will likely hold off until a majority of the caucus agrees.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the freshmen superstar, argued that Democrats shouldn't just be worried about firing up the GOP base if the House impeaches Trump. Ocasio-Cortez noted that the issue would motivate the Democratic base as well.

“Betting everything on the election is a historic mistake,” declared Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a proponent of impeachment.

“Please don’t raise money off your impeachment stance,” Pelosi responded after Huffman spoke.

Afterward the meeting ended, Pelosi described it to reporters as “a respectful sharing of ideas” but didn’t mention the word impeachment once.

“We do believe it’s important to follow the facts, we believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States,” Pelosi said. “And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up – in a cover-up. And that was the nature of the meeting.”

Pelosi also deployed some of her most important allies to speak about their efforts to hold Trump accountable.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he wants to schedule a full House vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress the first week of June, when Congress returns from a week-long Memorial Day recess.

According to a source familiar with caucus planning, House leaders asked Nadler to highlight the importance of contempt -- not just as a means to punish Barr but to begin a legal process to enforce the House's subpoena for special counsel Robert Mueller's report and underlying evidence. The goal, per the source, is to ensure the House takes a position on upholding its subpoenas and that refusing to enforce them is "not tenable."

Nadler pleaded his case to his Democratic colleagues and grew animated when discussing the aggressive action to force the Trump administration to cooperate.

Nadler told his colleagues he'll do whatever it takes to bring Mueller before Congress, but he didn't lay out any substantive updates, according to a source in the room.

Laura Barron-Lopez and Sarah Ferris contributed reporting.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Mnuchin dismisses IRS memo saying Congress must be given Trump's tax returns

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday dismissed an internal IRS memo concluding it is "mandatory" for the IRS to turn over President Donald Trump's tax returns to Congress unless the president invokes executive privilege.

“I actually don’t believe that’s the case,” he told the House Financial Services Committee at an unrelated hearing where he was repeatedly questioned about his refusal to turn over Trump's returns. “That memo, I understand, is addressing a different issue, and is not addressing the issue that we and the Department of Justice looked at.”

In rejecting House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal’s (D-Mass.) request for six years’ worth of Trump’s returns, Mnuchin has said that Treasury and Justice have concluded there must be a “legitimate” legislative reason for the request, and that Neal doesn’t have one.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the draft IRS memo concluded that the Treasury secretary’s “obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee” to give a reason for the request. The "only basis [for] the agency’s refusal to comply with a committee’s subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”

Neal requested Trump’s returns in April, saying the committee needs them to vet how the IRS conducts its routine audits of presidential tax returns. He cited a law that says the Treasury secretary “shall” turn over tax returns if requested by the heads of Congress' tax committees.

Mnuchin said he and IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig were “not aware” of the IRS memo until the Post inquired about it on Tuesday.

“We’re trying to find out who wrote the memo, where it came from, when it was and why it wasn’t distributed,” he said.

Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said she would ask the House general counsel whether Mnuchin should be held in contempt of Congress for failing to give lawmakers documents they have requested.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) raised the possibility, saying Mnuchin was acting “unlawfully” in refusing to hand over the tax returns and other documents Lynch didn’t specify.

"We will take your question to general counsel and we will put it in writing," Waters told Lynch, "and we will seek an answer from him or her about what our next step could or should be given the way that you have described what you think may be contempt based on what the law says."

Mnuchin said Treasury has "tried to be responsive to Congress on hundreds if not thousands of requests for information."

"On this one request [for Trump's returns] we’ve been advised that there are different legal views and this is why it will most likely go to the" courts, he said. "And if the third branch of government opines on Congress’ right, then we would obviously supply the documents.”

Mnuchin last week rejected a subpoena by Neal for the returns, and Democrats are expected to ask a court to order Treasury to turn them over.

“So months ago, I said that I believe that the tax case would end up in court," Neal told reporters Wednesday. "I knew that from day one. And that's why we have been so careful in terms of following the instruction of the Office of General Counsel.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the issue also came up during a meeting Wednesday where some House Democrats pushed for starting impeachment proceedings against Trump.

"We had another presentation from Richie Neal about what’s happening on the taxes," Pelosi told reporters. "It’s very clear — it is the law of the land."

Aaron Lorenzo contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump concedes border wall construction is replacement and 'pure renovation'

President Donald Trump pushed back Wednesday against “haters” who say he is making little headway on his signature campaign promise of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, though he admitted that much of the work currently being done was “pure renovation.”

“Much of the Wall being built at the Southern Border is a complete demolition and rebuilding of old and worthless barriers with a brand new Wall and footings. Problem is, the Haters say that is not a new Wall, but rather a renovation. Wrong, and we must build where most needed,” he wrote on Twitter. “Also, tremendous work is being done on pure renovation - fixing existing Walls that are in bad condition and ineffective, and bringing them to a very high standard!”

Trump oversaw the longest government shutdown in history earlier this year, an impasse created by his insistence on wall funding. His administration also remains mired in a legal battle over his attempt to skirt Congress to secure funding for his proposed border wall by declaring a national emergency.

The president has frequently touted the progress on his wall — much of which he’s portrayed as new construction, even though it is not. Trump has also occasionally acknowledged that current wall construction is mostly replacement work.

Earlier this year, under pressure to show progress on his marquee campaign promise, Trump traveled to California to unveil the first new segment of replacement border wall completed during his administration, though even that project had been in the works since the Obama administration.

The president’s defensive tweets appear to have been prompted by a segment on his favorite morning show, Fox News's “Fox & Friends,” with the missive coming little over an hour after the issue was briefly discussed.

“Big story in Drudge today, we’ve only built a mile and a half — a mile and a half of wall but yet, we’ve been allocated to build at least 100 miles of wall,” co-host Brian Kilmeade exclaimed at the top of Wednesday’s show, referring a story posted by conservative news aggregator Drudge Report. “But for some reason they just can't seem to get it done. Unbelievable.”

“A lot of conservatives say it needs to be done,” co-host Ainsley Earhardt chimed in.

Drudge linked to a Bloomberg story on the ongoing lawsuit over Trump’s emergency declaration to unlock Pentagon funding for the wall. The story cites a Tuesday court filing in which a lawyer for the House of Representatives revealed that as of April 30, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had reported only 1.7 miles of “fencing” with the $1.57 billion in funding Congress approved last fiscal year.

At a rally in Pennsylvania on Monday, the president vowed to supporters that his administration would have 500 miles of wall completed by the 2020 election — an increase from his previous promises to have at least 400 miles of wall finished by the end of next year. According to the Associated Press, the Trump administration has only awarded contracts for 244 miles of wall construction, more than half of which is tied up in legal challenges and the majority of which would go toward replacement projects.

The Trump administration has asked Congress to fund an additional 200 miles of border wall in its latest budget request, an ask that has a slim chance of making it through the Democrat-controlled House.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also rebuffed the criticism during an appearance on Fox News, saying in an interview with the network that its earlier report cited “an incorrect figure,” even though the number came from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

“There is far more than two miles that have been built,” she said, insisting the administration is “still on track to get close to 500 miles built by the end of the year.”

“The Army Corps of Engineers, working with DHS and DOD, are putting a tremendous amount of effort into not just building new wall, taking down some of the barriers that have existed that are completely ineffective, and putting in the very effective border wall they have been putting in the last couple months,” she told "Fox & Friends." “That’s gonna continue and we're making great progress on that front.”

Kilmeade then asked how much of the wall had been erected.

“I know there have been — there’s over 100 miles, I think it is close to 115 miles have been finished,” Sanders responded, though she didn’t specify how much of that amount was new construction. “Again we feel comfortable and confident we're on track to get right around 500 finished by the end of the year."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

House Intel postpones possible contempt vote against Barr

The House Intelligence Committee has postponed a potential vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, citing efforts by the Justice Department to comply with their demand for access to special counsel Robert Mueller’s files.

“The Department of Justice has accepted our offer of a first step towards compliance with our subpoena, and this week will begin turning over to the Committee twelve categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials as part of an initial rolling production,” committee chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement Wednesday. “That initial production should be completed by the end of next week.”

The cooperation puts on hold what could have been a second contempt vote against Barr. The House Judiciary Committee took the rare step earlier this month when Barr refused to turn over Mueller’s unredacted report and underlying evidence.

Schiff has sought several categories of information contained in Mueller’s evidence that pertain to the Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction over counterintelligence and national security matters. He emphasized that the subpoena he issued for the documents could be enforced at any time if he feels the Justice Department falls short of its cooperation.

The rare breakthrough cuts against an increasingly confrontational relationship between the Democratic House and the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has worked to block witnesses and documents from reaching the Judiciary Committee, which is investigating potential obstruction of justice and abuses of power by Trump.

Schiff's statement was silent on the DOJ's offer to allow all committee members access to a less redacted version of Mueller’s report. So far, only 12 lawmakers in the House and Senate have been granted access and all six Democrats have refused to view it, demanding greater access for their colleagues.

It's unclear whether the Intelligence Committee will accept that portion of the offer, which would triple the number of lawmakers allowed to view the “minimally redacted” version of the report to 34.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump complains of 'harassment' ahead of House Dem huddle on impeachment

President Donald Trump complained Wednesday that the fresh push from some Congressional Democrats for impeachment proceedings amounts to "presidential harassment," bemoaning ahead of a Democratic caucus meeting on Wednesday that lawmakers "are getting zero work done."

"Everything the Democrats are asking me for is based on an illegally started investigation that failed for them, especially when the Mueller Report came back with a NO COLLUSION finding,” dismissing their efforts as a fishing attempt in order to bolster an impeachment inquiry," the president wrote on Twitter. “Now they say Impeach President Trump, even though he did nothin [sic] wrong, while they ‘fish!’”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has worked this week to deflect renewed enthusiasm within her caucus to begin impeachment proceedings in the wake of the White House's refusal to comply with Congressional subpoenas. Pelosi, who urged caution on the question of impeaching the president, will hold a meeting with Democratic House members on Wednesday.

Hours before that meeting, Trump derided Democrats’ investigative efforts as an extension of what he considers to be a witch hunt, despite special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation yielding multiple indictments and a tranche of evidence showing his probe was justified.

“After two years of an expensive and comprehensive Witch Hunt, the Democrats don’t like the result and they want a DO OVER. In other words, the Witch Hunt continues!” Trump wrote. “The Democrats are getting ZERO work done in Congress. All they are focused on is trying to prove the Mueller Report wrong, the Witch Hunt!”

The president also complained that the Mueller investigation has dragged down his poll numbers, which he suggested should be much higher given the strength of the U.S. economy to date under his administration. Trump predicted on Twitter that without the Russia probe, his poll numbers would be at 65 percent.

Trump’s tweets come as the question of impeachment reaches an inflection point on the Hill, following former White House counsel Don McGahn’s refusal, at the Trump administration's request, to comply with a subpoena for his testimony. McGahn’s no-show, coupled with GOP Rep. Justin Amash’s calls over the weekend to begin impeachment proceedings, appeared to be a breaking point for rank-and-file Democrats to call for the same.

Some have argued that impeaching the president is one way to force the White House to turn over documents — though Democrats scored a legal victory Monday when a judge upheld a subpoena for Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm.

Pelosi on Wednesday is expected to reiterate to her members that an impeachment inquiry without broad bipartisan support would likely backfire on Democrats, and to urge them to stay the course with their investigations into Trump. Her firm opposition thus far led to a closed-door clash earlier this week between the speaker and progressive members who have called for impeachment proceedings to move forward. For now, the speaker's leadership team and the relevant committee chairmen have remained in line with Pelosi's stance.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

How Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would address maternal and child health

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has built her presidential campaign around protecting women and families, and she's filling out specifics with a new "Family Bill of Rights" policy, a set of proposals to improve maternal and children’s health care and broaden access to child care.

Some of the programs included in Gillibrand's new policy rollout are ones she has already supported in the past, like a national paid family leave program. But Gillibrand is adding new elements as well, saying she’d require health insurance companies to cover in vitro fertilization, an expensive procedure that’s not often covered.

What would the plan do?

The New York Democrat called for a slew of policy proposals that address the struggles faced by young families, from expanding health care access for mothers in rural communities to a universal pre-kindergarten program. The proposal also reiterates her support for a national paid family leave program.

One of the most expensive proposals would require health insurance companies to cover IVF treatments — a procedure that’s not often included in insurance plans because of its price tag of $17,000 or more.

Gillibrand's pledge to improve rural women's maternal heath care access is modeled after a plan put forward by former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to collect data, to develop training programs and to expand grants for rural facilities. She also highlighted the disproportionately high maternal mortality rate faced by African-American women, but did not detail specific policy proposals to address it beyond calling for “new resources to develop and implement standardized best practices” in hospitals. (Gillibrand has already introduced legislation focused specifically on maternal mortality.)

Gillibrand also pledged to establish the “Equal Adoption Rights,” which would require taxpayer-funded adoption and child welfare agencies to not discriminate against foster or adoptive parents on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. She would also create tax credits for adoption, as well as expanding the Child and Dependent Care tax credit.

For infants, Gillibrand said she would automatically enroll all children into the state-federal Children's Health Insurance Program, with an option for parents to opt their kids out of the universal program. She would also implement a national “Baby Bundle” program to provide new families with diapers, swaddle blankets, baby clothes and a safe infant mattress. Similar programs already exist in Ohio, Alabama, New Jersey and Texas.

How would it work?

Gillibrand has yet to detail exactly how she would accomplish some of her plans, through either through legislation or executive action. For example, Gillibrand pledged to address the shortage of OB-GYNs in rural areas, but didn’t specify how she’d increase their numbers, nor did she specify how much money she’d funnel to this effort.

On tax credits, Gillibrand gave more specifics, saying she would expand the Child and Dependent Care tax credit to cover up to 50 percent of $12,000 in qualifying care. She would also offer adoption tax credits, but did not specify the amount.

On universal pre-K and a paid family leave, Gillibrand called for establishing national paid leave programs, but did not detail specifics. Both ideas are popular — but expensive.

How much would it cost?

Gillibrand’s plan does not put exact pricing details on her various programs. But she suggested that she’d pay for her proposal by passing a “financial transaction tax,” which would “provide $777 billion over the next decade,” according to the plan. It’s not clear, however, whether that would actually cover all the costs associated with such an expansive policy proposal.

What have other Democrats proposed?

Elements of Gillibrand’s plan overlaps with proposals from other 2020 presidential contenders. Much of the Democratic field supports a national paid family leave program, as well as universal pre-kindergarten. Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a universal childcare program, paid for by a new tax on multimillionaires. Julian Castro also called for universal pre-kindergarten in his education plan, after he championed universal pre-K in San Antonio when he was mayor.

Who would it help?

Gillibrand’s plan focuses on women, children and families. She emphasizes in her proposal that it aims to put all children on the same footing, regardless of their socio-economic status.

Who opposes it?

So far, no Democrats have expressed opposition to this kind of a plan.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Booker proposes 'Office of Reproductive Freedom'

Sen. Cory Booker says he would create a “White House Office of Reproductive Freedom” if he were elected president and promised a series of executive actions he’d take to protect abortion rights.

Under an outline of a proposal made public by the 2020 aspirant on Wednesday, the office would be based in the White House and would focus on coordinating reproductive health issues across all federal agencies, including access to abortion, paid leave, maternal health care and education for employees in his administration. That office’s duties could range from identifying opportunities for executive orders addressing different agencies to finding discretionary funding for targeted purposes, according to the campaign.

Booker also promised to reverse Trump-era actions that cut off funding to the United Nations Population Fund and restrictions placed on some health care providers. And he said he would pursue legislation to protect abortion rights, including to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law. He vowed to restore federal funding under the Affordable Care Act for family planning and contraceptive coverage.

The promises from the New Jersey Democrat come in the wake of a rash of laws restricting abortions, including an Alabama law signed last week that would ban almost all abortions, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Booker’s elevated the issue of abortion rights in his presidential campaign in recent days, including rallying on the steps of the Supreme Court and writing an open letter calling on men to engage on the issue. He also plans to make women’s health care central to the issues he discusses in an upcoming swing through Iowa this week.

“Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country are mounting a coordinated attack on abortion access and reproductive rights,” Booker said in a prepared statement. “A coordinated attack requires a coordinated response.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

How Kamala Harris would address the maternal mortality crisis

Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday unveiled her proposal to tackle the worsening maternal mortality crisis in the U.S. and address deep racial disparities in care across the country. Harris' proposal highlights the fact that African American women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications compared to their white counterparts — and not just among poor women, according to the CDC.

What would the plan do?

The California Democrat attempts to address gaps and racial bias in maternal care and identify women at risk of pregnancy-related complications. It would invest new money for training at medical and nursing schools and provide new moms with resources and increase access to care. The plan updates her legislation that stalled last year in Congress and was released by her Senate office, not her presidential campaign.

How would it work?

Harris proposes to create a new $25 million program aimed at fighting racial bias in maternal care by directing grants to medical schools, nursing schools and other training programs intended to improve care for African American women. The proposal also calls for $125 million to create demonstration projects that will create incentives for providers to deliver integrated health services to pregnant women and new mothers and reduce maternal deaths, pregnancy-related complications and racial health disparities in care. Harris’s plan would also ask the National Academy of Medicine to study and make recommendations on how to incorporate bias recognition into clinical skills testing.

What are the flaws in the proposal?

The proposal focuses specifically on health disparities among black women and doesn’t address disparities among other minority populations like American Indians who are also at a significantly higher risk of pregnancy-related deaths than white women.

What does it cost?

$150 million

What have other Democrats proposed?

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sponsored a bill that extends Medicaid coverage to new mothers for up to a year postpartum. Currently, Medicaid covers new moms up to 60 days. Booker’s plan also encourages Medicaid to cover community-based doula services for underserved communities.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) along with Booker and Harris also have a bill that would direct funding to states and hospitals to develop standardized best practices to prevent and respond to pregnancy-related complications.

Who would it help?

Maternal mortality rates are on the rise in the United States. Harris's plan specifically benefits African American women who have significantly higher maternal mortality rates than white women. The CDC recently estimated about 700 women die every year in the U.S. from pregnancy-related complications — and about 60 percent of them were preventable.

Who opposes it?

No Democrat has opposed this proposal so far.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Pelosi preaches caution on impeachment as pressure builds

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to hold the line — no impeachment. At least not yet.

It’s a familiar message for Pelosi, who will deliver it once again at a closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Wednesday morning. But the gathering, which is members-only with no aides allowed, comes at a critical moment as a growing number of Democrats are ready to consider impeaching President Donald Trump.

Pelosi has long sought to dissuade her colleagues from trying to remove the president without winning bipartisan support. And as she repeatedly reminds Democrats, that isn’t happening. Only one GOP lawmaker — the libertarian gadfly Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) — has called for Trump’s impeachment following special counsel Robert Mueller’s evidence of obstruction of justice.

So Pelosi will implore Democrats to stick with her plan of continuing to investigate Trump on multiple fronts, with legal action as the backup when necessary. Pelosi will argue, as she has repeatedly in public and private, that Democrats should gather information that could be used for impeaching Trump, if the threshold for Republican support can be reached, according to Democratic aides and lawmakers.

Of course, it seems unlikely that will ever happen; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said that the Mueller probe is over and Democrats should move on.

The six committee leaders investigating Trump, his administration and personal finances — including Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — will give updates at Wednesday’s meeting, according to a source familiar with Pelosi’s plans.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) will also speak.

The senior lawmakers will discuss Monday’s victory for Democrats upholding a subpoena for Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm — which Pelosi will point to as proof that her plan is working — and a court hearing on Wednesday focused on the president’s effort to stop the Democratic investigation into his dealings with Deutsche Bank.

The court hearing comes one day after Senate Democrats berated a top Treasury Department official over reports that Deutsche Bank blocked employees from reporting suspicious activity tied to accounts linked to Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Democrats will also receive updates on their effort to sue Trump over violations of the emoluments clause and the House Judiciary Committee decision to subpoena two former top administration aides on Tuesday: Trump confidante Hope Hicks and White House deputy counsel Annie Donaldson.

Pelosi remains firm that trying to remove Trump from office without any GOP backing is pointless and could backfire on Democrats. They’re mindful of what happened to former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) when he impeached President Bill Clinton in 1998 — Clinton was acquitted by the Senate, Republicans lost seats in the midterm election, and Gingrich lost his job. (Though others note the GOP did win the presidency two years later.)

“In reality, I don’t think you ought to start something if you’re not prepared to finish it,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a key Pelosi ally. “I don’t think we’re at the point now that we can finish the way we want to finish it, so we ought not start it until we get to that point.”

And while more than 20 Democrats are now calling for Trump’s impeachment or at least the start of an impeachment inquiry to help bolster their legal case against the president, Pelosi’s hold on her caucus remains rock solid. Even impeachment advocates say they aren’t going to go against her decision.

“I don’t think anything happens without the speaker,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee and co-chief of the progressive caucus, who came out in favor of opening an impeachment inquiry this week.

“We really want to keep people united. We’re not going to take action if the speaker is not there. I think the speaker is very strategic, very smart. We’ve got to show her where the caucus is,” added Jayapal. Asked about Pelosi's belief that the caucus doesn't support impeachment, Jayapal said, “I think that’s what she thinks. We want to see if that’s true, so we’re working on that.”

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), one of the first Judiciary Committee Democrats to support an impeachment inquiry, said her conviction has only grown on that front, but said she doesn't anticipate trying to work around Pelosi's opposition to impeachment.

“I think a lot of times with leadership, it’s not what you do, it’s when you do it,” Demings said. “In the last two weeks, the president has continued to obstruct justice by not respecting subpoenas for people in his administration and people outside his administration. So we’re running out of options."

Some Democrats — including members of Pelosi’s leadership team — reached a breaking point Monday after Trump officially blocked former White House counsel Don McGahn, a central figure in the Mueller probe, from testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

The White House move roiled the Democratic Caucus and sparked a closed-door clash between Pelosi and other top Democrats, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who argued it’s time to open an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Pelosi and her top deputies, including Clyburn, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) pushed back forcefully. The leadership group later held an emergency meeting with Nadler on Monday night to shut down the brewing revolt within the panel. Nadler followed Pelosi's order on Tuesday — the topic of impeachment was never raised during a quick committee hearing bashing McGahn and the White House.

Several other Democrats said Tuesday while they were angered over McGahn's no-show but were not ready to join calls for impeachment. However, these lawmakers said the final straw for them would be if Mueller is blocked from testifying about his two-year probe.

House Democrats are still struggling to secure a public appearance by Mueller after weeks of negotiations. Mueller and his staff are concerned about what public insight he can share, according to several sources.

And even some of Pelosi’s most loyal chairmen, antsy about the ceaseless stonewalling from Trump, are starting to talk more openly about impeachment. Schiff said the case for impeachment is getting “stronger," while Cummings said he is “getting there” on Tuesday.

"I think what the president has done has put us in a position where we cannot get any information to do the oversight that we need to do. And that basically ties our hands and makes us, with regard to oversight, powerless,” Cummings said on CNN.

“The question now becomes: Do we allow this to continue? And where do we end up if we do that? That is the question,” Cummings added. “And I'm still mulling it over and talking to my colleagues when I get on the floor in a few minutes. But I'm getting there.”

But for Pelosi and other top Democrats, the upcoming Memorial Day recess can’t come soon enough. If Democratic leaders can successfully navigate Wednesday’s meeting and get members out the door on Thursday for a 10-day break, they hope that could help break the impeachment fever spreading within the caucus.

Once lawmakers return from recess, they’re only in the Capitol for three days before dozens of members depart for a trip to Normandy, France, in honor of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II.

And the longer Democratic leaders can delay impeachment, the less likely it may become as Washington shifts its focus to the 2020 election, according to multiple members and aides.

“I think if [impeachment] happens this summer, that’s fine,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), a supporter of impeachment. “I think if it goes into the fall or next year, I think that’s probably too late.”

Sarah Ferris and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Fox News town halls divide 2020 field, but Dem voters say OK

Fox News’ presidential town halls have the Democratic primary field at odds over whether it’s permissible to appear on conservatives’ preferred network, but most voters say they’re fine with it.

More than 60 percent of Democrats said they think it’s acceptable for candidates from their party to appear at the town halls, a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found. Just 17 percent of Democrats said it’s inappropriate for the White House hopefuls to agree to the primetime events.

The results could reassure 2020 Democratic hopefuls who want to use Fox News appearances to reach out to conservative-leaning voters — particularly after South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg received days of media attention and stirred up tension at the network with his on-air critique of Fox’s opinion hosts during Sunday’s town hall.

“Democratic presidential hopefuls who hold Fox News town halls can expect their primary voters to approve of the forums on the hot-button network,” said Morning Consult vice president Tyler Sinclair. “Notably, 64 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of self-identified liberals say it’s appropriate for 2020 candidates to appear on Fox News town hall programs, compared with 17 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of liberals who say it’s inappropriate.”

The town halls have caused some sniping among the Democratic ranks. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called the network a “hate-for-profit racket” last week, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has also said she would decline an invitation to appear. New data isn't going to make Warren budge on the issue.

"Elizabeth doesn't base her positions or values on polling," a spokesperson told POLITICO. "And we're not giving Fox News an hour town hall so they can raise money and raise their credibility off of it."

But four 2020 contenders have taken Fox News up on its offers of air time so far, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand, who appears on June 2. And others have made clear they’d go on if asked, regardless of the drama.

“A lot of people in my party were critical of me doing this, and I get where that’s coming from, especially when you see what goes on with some of the opinion hosts on this network,” Buttigieg said, citing Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham by name. “There is a reason why anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem.”

The events have also caused some strain with President Donald Trump, who told supporters at a rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, Monday that “something strange is going on at Fox. Something very strange.” Trump described Buttigieg as “knocking the hell out of Fox” on air.

People close to the network said the town halls are generally good for Fox News, both in terms of ratings and giving the network access to top presidential candidates. But the events have also highlighted the tension between the news and opinion sides of the network in uncomfortable ways.

One Fox News employee said Buttigieg should have gone on Carlson’s and Ingraham’s shows if he wanted to criticize them for, respectively, implying that immigration makes America “dirtier” and comparing detention facilities for immigrant children to “summer camps.” The employee also noted that Chris Wallace, who was moderating the session, didn’t push back.

“If Buttigieg has a problem with primetime hosts,” the employee said, “he should be willing to say it on their shows.”

A person close to Fox News also noted that hosts like Carlson "have people all the time that disagree with him, and he debates them and challenges them, and they say things to his face that are less than positive."

Eric Bolling, a former Fox News host, said he “would have expected at least some pushback from Wallace.”

“It’s not what Mayor Buttigieg may have said about me if I were still a host there. And it’s not what President Trump tweeted afterwards about giving airtime to Democrats,” Bolling, who left the network following harassment allegations and now hosts Sinclair’s “America This Week,” told POLITICO in an email. “It’s what moderator Chris Wallace didn’t say that would piss me off if it were me.”

“Fox News’ extraordinary success is due to dedicated news journalists, dynamic opinion hosts, diverse contributors and our tremendous staff behind the scenes on every platform," a network spokesperson said in a statement. "We support and are proud of this great team who has kept us No. 1 in cable for many years.”

Fox News’ opinion hosts didn’t take kindly to Buttigieg’s appearance. Carlson called Buttigieg a “slippery demagogue” on Monday night’s show when discussing the candidate’s views on abortion. Ingraham, alongside an on-screen graphic reading “Reboot-I-Gieg,” accused the candidate of passing off “political pablum as some type of high-minded oratory” in his appearance on the network.

Buttigieg’s comments didn’t go over well on the president’s favorite morning show, either. “If you feel that negative about it, don’t come,” said “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade. “Because for him to go out there and take shots at our primetime lineup without going on our primetime lineup shows, to me, absolutely no courage.”

Another person who works on one of Fox’s opinion shows brushed off Buttigieg’s appearance. “To be honest, I don’t care what the candidates do. We invite them on our show, and they don’t want to come,” this person said, later adding: "Is there a rub between opinion and news at Fox? Yeah, of course there is."

"I don’t really give a shit about what everyone else [at Fox] is doing," this person also said when asked about the relationship between Fox News opinion hosts and the news anchors.

Senior political analyst Brit Hume, who argued in response to Trump that the news network has to cover both political parties, said Monday on Fox News that Buttigieg not only stood out from the current Democratic field but is the “most impressive candidate I’ve seen since the emergence of Barack Obama.”

“I’m quite confident that an awful lot of Democrats tuned in,” Hume said.

“It doesn’t ever make sense for a politician to shun a whole segment of an audience, a potential audience,” he added. “Politics is about addition, not subtraction.”

A former Fox News commentator agreed, pointing out that Buttigieg got a huge platform to bash the network: "For Democratic candidates, it’s their clickbait to attack Fox hosts.”

The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll surveyed 1,995 registered voters from May 17-19 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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

More details on the poll and its methodology can be found in these two documents: Toplines: https://politi.co/2VTyhqJ | Crosstabs: https://politi.co/2VHMKB4

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Small-dollar Bernie sidles up to big money

Bernie Sanders — who swore off big-money fundraisers and criticized Hillary Clinton’s fundraising as “obscene” during the 2016 campaign — is changing his approach as the scramble for Democratic campaign cash heats up.

The Vermont senator has decided to hold in-person fundraising events where donors of all means will be invited and the media will be allowed. He has also hired a fundraiser to oversee the effort, a position he did not have in his 2016 bid.

The moves, described by campaign sources to POLITICO, amount to an acknowledgment by Sanders that his online-only approach to raising money was leaving significant amounts of money on the table. That cash could be decisive in a primary with nearly two dozen candidates competing fiercely for money: Sanders’ top rival, Democratic front-runner Joe Biden, is raking in huge sums from major Democratic donors in the early weeks of the race with a slew of fundraisers.

The altered strategy is a sign that Sanders is running a different kind of campaign in 2020, shedding some of his resistance to a side of politics he’s instinctively repelled by.

Still, this is far from a full embrace of big money by the candidate who loved to boast that his average donation in 2016 was $27. His campaign has dubbed the events he plans to hold “grass-roots fundraisers.” They’re expected to have a relatively low ticket price, but larger donors will be able to attend and could potentially get face time with the candidate.

The Sanders campaign did not answer further questions about the events, such as how much tickets would typically cost.

“These open-press events are opportunities for engaging with our supporters on the ground and grass-roots organizing,” said Arianna Jones, Sanders’ communications director. “Anything supporters decide to give beyond the ticket price, while appreciated, is up to them.”

Running the campaign’s new fundraising arm will be Malea Stenzel Gilligan, the former senior director of governance for the National Wildlife Federation and past executive director of the progressive political organization VoteVets. Her title on the campaign is director of development. The campaign did not say how many additional finance hires, if any, it plans to make.

Gilligan will be charged with growing Sanders’ presence among donors from an online-only operation that powered his 2016 bid into a somewhat more traditional fundraising apparatus that includes face-to-face events. Sanders raised $238 million in 2016, while organizing few fundraisers — a feat that set him apart from Clinton, whose long ties to the Democratic establishment raised her millions of dollars but became a political liability.

Sanders raked in $18 million during the first three months of this year, more than any other declared candidate at the time. But the massive size of the 2020 field is breeding intense competition for campaign dollars big and small, making it necessary for all the candidates, even a fundraising star like Sanders, to try everything, said Taryn Rosenkranz, founder and CEO of the digital firm New Blue Interactive.

“Fundraising and in-person events are how people get to know you better,” said Rosenkranz. “With a crowded field like this, candidates are going to have to do both digital and in-person fundraising: People want to know you, they want to meet you. It’s an additional thrill for them.”

The Sanders campaign appears to be trying to both collect money in new ways, and push its online donors for more cash as it tries to keep up in the escalating 2020 money war. Sanders' campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said in a recent email to small-dollar donors that the average contribution so far this month was only $16 — not the typical $27 — and pushed them to give more.

"Our average contribution has been steadily in decline," he wrote, encouraging supporters to chip in an extra $10. "Here's why this is a hurdle for our campaign: For each $2,800 max-out check one of our opponents receives from a wealthy campaign contributor, we must receive 175 donations to keep up."

As they vie to engage voters thirsty for campaign finance reform — while still raising large sums of money — candidates are providing more transparency around their fundraisers. They're experimenting with everything from live-streaming otherwise private parties to holding “grass-roots” events, which the Sanders campaign is now embracing.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced in February she was swearing off closed-door fundraisers, but left open the possibility of in-person events with fees. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttegieg also holds such fundraisers with a lower ticket price in addition to big-donor events. It’s an approach that Barack Obama used at the start of his 2008 run, as he tried to convert the energy at his in-person events into fundraising success by asking crowds to donate money.

“It’s a smart way to have some face time with people and feel like you’re getting something out of it,” said Ami Copeland, deputy national finance director for Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Sanders will continue his pledge to reject money from corporations, pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street. But there are other unanswered questions about how Sanders is structuring his new fundraising approach, like whether bigger donors might get extra attention from Sanders or his staff, or other added perks. Earlier this year, Warren also vowed to not give wealthy donors any special access to her during the primary.

Copeland said there's no reason to think Sanders will start selling access to Wall Street types, "but does someone who gives $250 or $2,000 — do they get anything different from someone who gets $25?” Copeland said. “Who knows, maybe they’ll get a free pint of Ben & Jerry’s or something.”

While most candidates have a dedicated finance team to help them court donors and throw fundraisers, Sanders rejected having such a staff in 2016. He held a small number of fundraising events, including a concert headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a meet-and-greet at a Chicago theater.

At the time, a handful of wealthy progressive donors eager to support Sanders complained he was stiff-arming them, and some in the Sanders campaign pushed him to hire a finance director. He never did.

“We left millions on the table,” said one 2016 Sanders aide.

Sanders had relatively few well-heeled backers compared with Clinton, but a handful of Hollywood and business donors did give him money. He collected $5,400 from television host Bill Maher; $5,000 from actor Shia LaBeouf; $5,000 from Jake Burton Carpenter, founder of Burton snowboard company; $2,700 from studio executive David Geffen; $2,700 from actress Susan Sarandon; and $2,700 from Bay Area attorney and Democratic donor Guy Saperstein.

“I would be happy to do something for Bernie,” Saperstein said in a recent interview. “I‘m going to support both [Sanders and Warren] as much as I can and we’ll see which one does better in the initial primaries.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine