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Who's in Charge? Sure Doesn't Look Like Biden

Real Clear Politics -

"Which way am I going?" asked President Biden when he ended Thursday's press conference at the NATO summit in Madrid. He began to exit stage right, before someone redirected him toward stage left. This combination of ignorance and indecision was not new. Throughout his 18 months as president, Biden has been confused, uncertain, sluggish. He behaves as if he is guided by unseen forces. He moves on a course set by hidden captains.

WH Helps Minors Skirt Parental Notification on Abortion

Real Clear Politics -

The memo came from Health and Human Services, and the White House passed it along on official letterhead. "Know Your Rights: Reproductive Health Care," read the title of the document that represents the latest effort by the Biden administration to make good on the president's post-Roe promise to "do all in my power to protect a woman's right" to an abortion.

The Michigan Democrat Who Could Solve Her Party’s Identity Crisis

Politico -


INDIANAPOLIS — Three hours into the rubber chicken dinner, the waitstaff had cleared the dessert plates and the wine bottles on the tables had long been emptied. The audience was growing restless, having sat through an endless procession of speakers — the mayor of Indianapolis, the candidate for U.S. Senate, the candidate for 1st Congressional District, the candidate for state auditor, the candidate for state treasurer, the representative of a Democratic group called Hoosier Women Forward and the son of the former Marion County sheriff who received a posthumous lifetime achievement award.

Then, a little before 10 p.m., the last speaker of the night rose from a table near the front of the room and headed for the dais. Before she had spoken a word into the microphone, the crowd came alive, a roar of hooting and hollering that lasted a full 18 seconds.

“So, hi, I’m Michigan State Sen. Mallory McMorrow,” she said, as the applause began to subside, “and before we get going, I have to lay down some of my Indiana credits, because why else would I be here in the Hoosier state? I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. My dad is a Hoosier.

“But perhaps most notably,” she said, smiling, “I came in second in the Indiana Toll Road logo design competition. That’s right, Indiana. You came this close from seeing my handiwork every single time you have to pay a toll. Which looking back is probably good that I came in second place because you probably wouldn’t like me as much right now.”

And they don’t like her, they love her. Like James Carville, the evening’s keynote speaker who told me he was “smitten” by the 35-year-old McMorrow, they have adored her ever since she delivered “the speech,” the one in which she defended herself from a Republican state senator's unfounded accusations that McMorrow had groomed and sexualized children. The one that has racked up 15 million views and counting on Twitter and ricocheted across Facebook. The one that earned her a congratulatory voicemail from President Joe Biden. The one that Hillary Clinton retweeted and Bette Midler, too. The one in which, as Carville admiringly said, “She just went to the well of the Senate and said, ‘Let me tell you who I am.’”


This crowd of faithful Democrats gathered for the annual Hoosier Hospitality Dinner love McMorrow not because she has driven five hours from her suburban Detroit district to sling red meat about evil Republicans, but because she has come on a Friday night to talk about them. She has come to talk about what it means to be a Democrat, on the receiving end of a seemingly relentless barrage in a never-ending culture war.

“If I know one thing, it’s that we are not defined by the lies that people say about us,” McMorrow said to more cheers. “I took my own identity back and defined myself specifically as a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom who knows that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.”


McMorrow has emerged as an unlikely voice for a party in desperate need of one. In this speech, which was the first of what likely will be many she’ll give at state party dinners that draw politicians with national ambitions, McMorrow wasn’t fighting the culture wars but rather teaching others how to fight them.

She told the audience to talk to everyone. (“You might be the first Democrat people ever meet.”) She gave them tips on knocking on doors. (“Find something on peoples’ porches that you like and compliment it.” For her, it’s “ceramic ducks that people in Michigan put on their porches and they dress them up in different outfits depending on the season. I’m obsessed with them. We talk about that for 20 minutes. And then they ask for a yard sign.”) And she told them to avoid partisan scripts and talking points. (“Be you. Be authentic. Be real.”)



After her 18-minute speech, the audience stood and clapped. She returned to her table where her husband, Ray Wert, and the Democratic operative Lis Smith, her new volunteer communications adviser, were waiting for her. Ray placed his hand on the small of her back. “You crushed that,” Smith told her. Dozens and dozens of audience members made a beeline to her table near the front of the room to thank her and pose for photos. The reception line lasted well over half an hour.

Mallory McMorrow in Design Mode

McMorrow wrote parts of her viral speech in her head, on her MacBook and in a bedside notebook made by Shinola, the classic Detroit-headquartered designer and manufacturer. It was after 9 p.m. on a weeknight in April. She had put her one-and-a-half-year daughter, Noa, to bed a couple of hours before.

Design is important to McMorrow. At Notre Dame, she started as an advertising major but eventually found her way into the industrial design program. She won a national contest to design the 2018 version of the Mazda3 compact car. She took a course at Notre Dame called “The Meaning of Things,” where she learned about the emotional resonance physical products have on people and how to “tell a story around the things that you were doing.”

She wrote a paper about the history of the Tupperware party. “That is the first company to really tap into women organizing, and having gatherings in your home and creating community,” she told me.

As a politician, she is both the product and its designer, which explains a key choice she made about how to frame her speech. At first, she wrote with righteous anger. “A lot of it was just notes about the hypocrisy of the Republican party,” she told me. But then her design thinking — the engineer’s daughter part of her — took over. “After I got all of that out, I crossed a lot of it out because I wanted to get it out of Republican vs. Democrat.”

Still, she couldn’t restrain a certain YOLO-inspired boldness.

“I’ll be honest: Once this kind of attack was leveraged against me, part of me thought, ‘If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down swinging.’ And I didn’t expect the reaction that we got, but I think there’s something to be said for that. I didn’t start my career in politics. I just wanted to do the right thing.”

Mallory McMorrow on the March

McMorrow was 30 by the time she entered politics, after a decadelong career in branding and advertising that included stints at the toymaker Mattel and as a creative director of Gawker, the slash-and-burn website. In January 2017, she attended the Women’s March in Detroit following the election of Donald Trump.

After the march, she and other women she met started writing postcards to Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s new education secretary from Michigan, expressing their dismay with the administration. Eventually, a friend asked her if she had ever considered running for office. She applied to the Michigan chapter of a group called Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office.

In May, she and her husband moved into a new house and got married the same month. In August, she announced her run for office in a Republican-controlled district. She flipped the district blue a year later in 2018 on her first attempt. As a state senator, she has introduced 40 bills. Not one has enjoyed a hearing.



Nevertheless, five years later, she is a nationally known quantity, which automatically invites questions about higher office. Would she want to replace the 72-year-old Sen. Debbie Stabenow if she retires? “That is a conversation I haven’t even thought about yet,” she told me. “I haven’t slept in a month and a half.”

For her next act, McMorrow wants to flip the Michigan Senate — a body controlled by Republicans since 1984, “which is longer than I’ve been alive,” she told me. That requires winning back at least four seats (or three with the reelection of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist). For that, McMorrow has been fundraising since her April speech. Her husband Ray, who is also her campaign treasurer, told me the figure is already well over a half a million dollars.

“If I get reelected and flip the Senate,” she said, “that’s my next five years.”

Mallory McMorrow on Lane Two

A little after 3 p.m. on the Friday she would speak to the Indiana Democrats, McMorrow and her still-minuscule entourage — Ray, and Smith, who famously helped raise the national profile of former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg — stopped by a bowling alley and bougie restaurant called Punch Bowl Social in Indianapolis.

McMorrow hasn’t had much normalcy in the last few months, and bowling was the closest thing she could think of doing that felt normal. The place reminded her of the Bowlero Lanes & Lounge back in Royal Oak, where she would bowl with her husband before the pandemic and their daughter arrived. She did a lot of bowling in college, and she joined a bowling league at her first job in Southern California. “I got a turkey once” — three strikes in a row. “It was very exciting.”

McMorrow ordered a blood orange beer from Four Day Ray, a local brewery, and water. We sat down on a couch at the end of the lane. In front of us were what looked like two small tree stumps designed to be tables. She was not impressed; too small and too far away from the couches to be useful, she said.



On this day, a few weeks before Roe would fall, McMorrow had abortion rights on her mind. Not long after her April speech McMorrow received a letter explaining to her that an anonymous donor had made a donation to Notre Dame Law School in her name to counter fellow alum, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

“It’s so disconnected from where a majority of people are,” McMorrow said of the ruling, then still in draft form. “Overnight, Michigan is going to be kind of the most extreme state.”

Why did it take a Michigan state senator to teach Democrats how to message the culture war? I asked her. “It is so wild, because look, I’m not a Democratic strategist,” she said.

Could it be her time at Gawker, I prompted her, or her design chops combined with having grown up in the social media age?

“I think just learning how to write and how to talk online really came from that background,” she said. “And if there’s a huge generational advantage, it’s because Facebook came out when I was in college. We’ve always existed online. A lot of my career is because I had a personality online. And there’s no separation between who I am as a person and my work life, and I think that’s attractive.”

Mallory McMorrow at the After-Party

“Let’s get you a beer,” Wert said.

It was after 11 p.m. and the reception line for photos with McMorrow had finally petered out. They walked a few blocks from the Indiana Convention Center to a nearby bar called Loughmiller’s. Indiana Young Democrats were hosting an after-party, and McMorrow was surrounded again the moment she walked in. As Wert ordered her a Blue Moon, the closest thing on the menu to her Michigan-preferred Bell’s Oberon, she posed for more photos.

Wert told me he is still learning how to be the spouse of a political superstar. He has joked with Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of the transportation secretary, about starting a political spouse support group. (When visiting New York City for the DNC’s LGBTQ gala, McMorrow had drinks with the Buttigiegses and Smith).

At my request, Wert whipped out his cellphone and played the voicemail Biden had left McMorrow. “Hello, Senator, this is Joe Biden—uh, President Biden. I called to tell you how proud I was of your speech,” the president said, before giving her his phone number, which Wert edited out.



For another hour, McMorrow greeted more young Democrats. She posed for more pictures.

Finally, at 12:47 a.m., McMorrow shook a few final hands. And then she and Ray disappeared into the night, headed back to their hotel.

Back in her district later that day, she had doors to knock, ceramic ducks to admire, lawn signs to give out — a whole new Democratic identity to design.



'We don’t have to pretend anymore': Greens ready to bail on D.C.

Politico -


The climate advocates who cheered President Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House last year are preparing to give up on Washington.

Instead, environmentalists and many of their Democratic allies are starting to shift their focus to state capitals as the places to press for action on climate change — going back to a strategy that they employed with some success during the Trump era.

The flight from D.C. is in large part a response to 18 months of frustration with major setbacks to Biden’s climate agenda, capped by Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that hobbled the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Even before that decision, Democrats’ ambitious plans for hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of climate action wilted in the Senate. And November’s midterms are giving off vibes of a Republican sweep — similar to the rout that Democrats suffered in 2010, the last time they tried and failed to pass major climate legislation.

While greens hope Thursday’s ruling could bring new urgency to a Capitol Hill push for sizable clean energy incentives, the doors to major federal action are either shut or closing rapidly in both Congress and the executive branch. That’s left them looking for alternatives — no matter that Democrats nominally remain in charge in the capital.



On the other hand, relying on the states that led the U.S. climate fight during Donald Trump’s presidency won’t get the nation to Biden’s target of aggressively cutting greenhouse gases by 2030.

“That’s not going to be enough,” Goldfuss said. “We knew that under Trump, too.”

At least when Goldfuss was in the White House, climate campaigners had the high court on its side: Rulings in 2007 and 2014 gave EPA wide latitude to wield the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. But Thursday’s 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority curtailed the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants while indicating it would restrict future broad greenhouse gas rules.

To climate advocates, who had anticipated the ruling for months, the decision was the latest in a series of factors making it clear they would need to look beyond Washington for ways to reach their goals.


“We don’t have to pretend anymore that this is a country that’s united,” Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Brooklyn-based environmental justice organization UPROSE, said in a recent interview.

As for the broader goal of solving climate change and addressing environmental justice, she said, “Thinking about it nationally is a little unwieldy.”

At the state and local levels, battles on environmental justice often center on individual power plants, factories and other facilities that produce pollution such as mercury, soot and ozone. The EPA still has the authority to regulate those pollutants despite Thursday’s decision, though the court raised uncertainties about how much leeway the agency has for future rules.




The justices have “created an entirely new avenue of challenge for polluters to go at regulators,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in an interview Thursday. Still, he implored the Biden administration to plow ahead with ambitious environmental rules, saying the court decision “leaves plenty of well-traveled roads for the EPA to follow.”

A more pervasive shift in the environmental movement is also at work: Much of the momentum for climate organizing has shifted to fights against pollution that disproportionately burdens low-income areas and people of color.

Environmental justice groups fighting these kinds of battles have seen a surge of funding in recent years, including funders who met a $100 million pledge this spring from the Donors of Color Network.

That change, in turn, has brought a civil rights organizing energy that many in the environmental movement see as necessary to making greater climate inroads in red or purple states such as Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan and Arizona. It offers less of a leading role, both in activism and fundraising, to the national environmental groups that have long called the shots for green advocacy in Washington.

“Most of the foundations realize the Big Greens are part of the solution but that they have been funding them at a ridiculous scale,” said Jess Montejano, chief operating officer with Riff City Strategies, a communications firm that works with philanthropies such the Kresge Foundation and Mosaic Fund. “If just funding those guys was the solution we would have had a lot more progress on climate to date.”

Green activists also plan to lean on their own coalitions as they swing back to the states, such as the U.S. Climate Alliance, which formed as a response to the Trump administration’s backslide on climate.

With governors from 23 states and Puerto Rico as members, the alliance recently hired former EPA official Casey Katims to lead it through a refresh as the federal outlook dims. It plans to work as a policy and legislative clearinghouse, developing model bills and regulations to advance through member states.

Tough climate rules in states like California and New York can bring entire markets along through their sheer size and economic heft, noted Whitehouse and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

“Congress is not exactly a productive place these days,” Huffman said, though he cautioned: “Climate activists cannot ignore D.C. They just have to recalibrate.”

That’s in part because many of the states where climate action is needed face recalcitrant legislatures and even governors, said John Podesta, the board chairman of the Center for American Progress, in an interview after the Supreme Court ruling. He said states in the upper Midwest, Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona will “determine the fate of the country,” and that the court’s decision will lead to “accelerated” organizing in those battlegrounds.

“What this court term has demonstrated and made real for people is what that move to the hard right really looks like,” Podesta said.


That is why the advocacy model is shifting to embrace more partnerships with environmental justice organizations with a history of engagement and connections in local battles in states often opposed to sweeping climate policies. Hive Fund, a philanthropy that received $43 million from the Bezos Earth Fund, specifically focuses on funding groups in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina — states whose emissions are key to addressing climate change.

“There is no path to the U.S. meeting its climate goals if we don’t work in these places that have always been thought of as too hard or too difficult,” Hive Fund co-Director Melanie Allen said.

The shift to states and local communities is an acceleration of an overall trend in the past several years as more big green organizations sought to strengthen coalitions with environmental justice groups, said John Walke, director of the clean air, climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The environmental legal group Earthjustice recently added staff to coordinate with environmental justice groups. Jeremy Orr, who leads that effort as director of litigation and advocacy partnerships, said the effort tracks with developments across the environmental movement, with national groups “trying to move resources to the actual environmental justice groups to get this work done.”

Many organizations are also staffing up in states to coordinate spending from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law to ensure that governors don’t bungle what may amount to the Biden administration’s largest legislative accomplishment on climate.

Evergreen Action, an offshoot of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s short-lived climate-focused 2020 presidential run, hired staff to work on policies in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and to help them maximize clean energy investments from that law.

The Environmental Defense Fund has leaned into a states affairs program that works in Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina and nine other states, said Elizabeth Gore, the group’s senior vice president of political affairs. One of EDF’s major initiatives is shepherding infrastructure dollars.

“Work at the state level and the subnational level is going to continue and probably expand — and that’s going to happen regardless of the election and the makeup in Washington,” she said.

At the federal level, most advocates are hitching their hopes to EPA, saying the court’s ruling doesn’t take the agency totally out of the climate push.

However, the ruling does mean the agency may face better legal odds attacking greenhouse gases through other pathways, by fighting on the side of environmental justice groups trying to shut down pollution sources that pose health risks. It can do that by issuing regulations to tamp down on pollutants such as acid-rain-causing nitrogen oxides, control wastewater discharges from power plants and improve disposal of coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal for electricity.

“Power plant by power plant, the agency is going to have to go after these polluters, which is a really inefficient and challenging way to do it,” Huffman said.

Taken together, these kinds of rules could push power companies to replace their coal- and gas-burning plants with cleaner sources of energy.



“If some of these facilities decide that is not worth investing in and you get an expedited retirement, that's the best tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters in March, hinting at the new strategy. The agency is expected to issue its separate proposals for regulating greenhouse gas emissions at existing and new power plants in March 2023. It plans to reconsider national standards for soot in March 2023 and for ozone in April 2023.

While Regan has hinted at deploying more health-based standards to achieve carbon reductions, his agency has been slow to issue major rules. It has not issued final rules on coal-fired power plants, natural gas-fired power plants, heavy duty vehicles or methane emissions from oil and gas production. And environmentalists broadly criticized the one rule it has issued, on light-duty vehicles, as weaker than California’s standards.

People close to the White House see EPA playing a major role with “full backing from the White House,” said Podesta, whom Obama brought into the White House to revive a moribund climate strategy. Still, the implications of the court’s decision leave “very little confidence” in future federal greenhouse gas regulations surviving the court, he said.

That doesn’t mean they should stop from acting. But there’s no way I think to bulletproof regulations from a very activist extremist court,” Podesta said. 

Alex Guillen contributed to this report.

The Democratic primary that could determine the future of abortion rights

Politico -


The only way Democrats can codify Roe v. Wade into law is with a world-beating bank shot that requires two new votes to weaken the filibuster. Enter Battleground Wisconsin.

Senate races in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania represent Democrats’ best chance to net two extra Senate seats — enough, presumably, to chip away at chamber rules that empower the minority party to block legislation. President Joe Biden boosted their effort Thursday by endorsing an exemption to the 60-vote threshold to preserve nationwide abortion rights.

But Democrats need to beat historical odds and hold the House to make that happen. And even if they do, they still need to pick someone to challenge Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a human controversy-seeking missile who opposes abortion rights and has given confusing accounts of his actions on Jan. 6, 2021 — but has confounded Democrats for two straight Senate races.

Ahead of the state’s August 9 primary, the Supreme Court’s Roe decision supercharged competition among the leading Democratic contenders to take on Johnson. Their jostling illustrates the party’s intense focus on picking the best candidate to capitalize on progressive energy over the high court ruling, which halted Planned Parenthood’s abortion procedures in the state.



“We need people who are willing to step up to get rid of the filibuster and to pass the laws in this country that we so desperately need,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “We need pro-choice fighters.”

Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) are backing Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin’s 35-year-old lieutenant governor who’s led the polls for months. However, 34-year-old Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry is catching up down the stretch after spending millions of his own dollars.

That’s not all: Sarah Godlewski, the 40-year-old state treasurer, and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, 46, fill out the top tier of candidates in a state with a history of surprising Democratic primaries.

All four candidates offer a generational contrast from the tempestuous Johnson, who at 67 is running for his third term after twice beating former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). Each Democratic candidate wants to eliminate the filibuster to preserve Roe, and none believe in any abortion restrictions.

The biggest difference among them is on adding seats to the Supreme Court, a liberal goal that Nelson supports, Barnes is open to and Godlewski and Lasry oppose.

Progressive Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) agreed that little separates the quartet on abortion. But with the stakes so high for Democrats, all four are going full-tilt to present themselves as the primary field's biggest abortion rights advocates.



Barnes, who'd be the state's first Black senator if elected, says his record in Wisconsin politics is as “a very dear friend to Planned Parenthood.” Lasry says his wife's work for Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin allows him to see “firsthand every day” the fight for abortion rights. Godlewski says she can more effectively prosecute the case against Johnson as the Democratic primary's only woman, while Nelson touts his ratings with abortion rights groups.

The race has a decidedly Midwest-nice vibe, with the candidates generally staying publicly trained on Johnson rather than each other — though there’s plenty of trash-talking behind the scenes. And since Democrats need to beat Johnson to have any hope of executing their agenda next year, party leaders are trying to keep it that way.

“If anyone does anything unfair, I call them first, personally. And if they don't stop doing it, I'll call them out publicly. I haven't had to do that yet, the second part. I've had to do the first part a couple of times,” said Pocan, who is neutral in the Senate primary and described his role as “just trying to keep peace.”

That may become more difficult as national attention turns to the four-way swing-state skirmish. In an interview, Barnes sharply questioned nominating a wealthy candidate like Lasry or Godlewski to take on Johnson, himself a wealthy conservative businessman.

“If our case to voters is that our multimillionaire is better than Republicans’ multimillionaire? I don't see that as a winning message. People are tired of the millionaire's club. They want people in Washington to understand exactly what they're going through,” Barnes said.

Asked to respond, Lasry said he doesn’t want to engage in a “sideshow” but took a subtle shot himself.

“What voters are tired of is these career politicians with no record of accomplishment ... just always looking for the next thing to run for,” Lasry said.



Godlewski said she launched her campaign with abortion-access messaging, adding a jab that when “you look at other people in this race, they just decided to talk about it recently.”

But if there’s anyone truly testing Pocan’s peacemaker skills in the Senate primary, it’s Nelson, who’s running as the purest progressive.

“It's one thing to be a defender of women's reproductive rights in a blue part of the state, quite different in a red or purple part of the state,” Nelson said of his time in the state legislature. “Mandela was there for two terms, but he represented one of the most Democratic and pro-choice districts in the state. You know, whoop-dee-doo.”

Barnes led the latest Marquette University poll with 25 percent of 369 Democratic primary voters, while Lasry had 21 percent, Godlewski 9 percent and Nelson 7 percent. Several Democrats recalled Feingold coming out of nowhere in 1992 to win the party's Senate nomination with iconic ads claiming an endorsement from Elvis and declaring he wouldn’t “stoop” to his opponents’ mudslinging.

In other words, people in the state warn that a whole lot can change in six weeks, and all four candidates look competitive with Johnson. Moreover, more than a third of the primary electorate is undecided, a sign that Wisconsin's primary is under-the-radar just five weeks before Election Day.

“That race has been competitive all along. And not a lot of people have been talking about it,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who said the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm is smart to remain neutral.

According to the candidates, however, the Roe reversal — as well as Johnson’s anti-abortion position and confusing answers about his staff forwarding a false-electors note on Jan. 6 — has brought the messy primary to the forefront of voters’ minds. Barnes said he had his best fundraising day ever the day of the Supreme Court decision, and Lasry said it “crystallized the stakes of this election” against Johnson.

“It really shook up the race,” Nelson said. “The pro-choice side has been on defense for the last 50 years, and now they’re on offense.”

Johnson praised the Supreme Court decision on abortion but said it will be up to the states to figure out specific abortion policies. That’s proven difficult in Wisconsin, which has a Democratic governor, a GOP-controlled legislature and an 1849 law restricting abortion. As Godlewski put it: “We're not going to be able to get this done at the state level. So our only hope is to get this done at the federal level.”

That’s going to require a straight flush from Democrats: keep the House, protect all of their Senate incumbents and pick up two seats, probably including Wisconsin. With anti-filibuster John Fetterman winning Pennsylvania's Democrat Senate nomination already, that makes the primary in America’s Dairyland among the most vital political dates left on the calendar this year for Democrats.

“Unless we take out Ron Johnson, we're never gonna have the majority in the Senate,” Pocan said. “We're trying to keep everyone focused on the prize.”

Dems unite Jan. 6 and Roe for new battleground target: 'MAGA' Republicans

Politico -


Democrats are readying a new strategy to help save their House majority that unites two topics currently riveting Washington: the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The heart of the approach: calling out GOP candidates’ most hard-line positions on multiple issues. Take, for example, the Republican hopeful who recently suggested rape victims were less likely to get pregnant. Or the Republican who’s defended the far-right militia, the Oath Keepers, alongside several more who have shared QAnon conspiracy theories with their supporters.

All of those candidates will be on the ballot in some of the toughest House battleground districts this fall. And the House Democrats’ campaign arm will spend the next several months campaigning against what its chief calls the “MAGA Republican” brand — on everything from abortion to Donald Trump-backed election subversion.

“There’s all these dangerous people running under the new MAGA Republican brand. They’re going to pay a price for it,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who leads the House Democrats’ campaign arm. Using the term “MAGA” nine times in a roughly 9-minute interview, he said: “We’re going to beat them over the head with that.”



With less than five months until the election, it’s going to be tough for Democrats to pivot voters away from a teetering economy and dissatisfaction with the Biden presidency. But majorities are saved on the margins, they say, and Democrats are betting they can play offense against the GOP fringe to protect critical turf in states like New Jersey, Virginia and Ohio.

As Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) may find in her own primary battle across the aisle next month, it’s not clear how much Jan. 6 is resonating with voters. The addition of women voters’ fury over abortion rights to the mix, however, has Democrats hopeful they can block the GOP’s path to power in the suburbs.

“Swing voters are, by definition, reasonable people,” Maloney said. “MAGA Republicans’ obsession with ending abortion, ignoring Jan. 6 and ignoring violence in our schools is not going to sit well with the suburban swing voters they need to win the election.”

Privately, few Democrats believe the strategy is enough to hold the House against this year’s brutal headwinds, even with the nation’s focus briefly turned from inflation to abortion, guns and the GOP’s role in the Capitol riot. And using “MAGA” as a label, as President Joe Biden himself has found, runs the risk of emboldening Trump’s base to turn out.

The biggest theme in November will likely still be Biden’s handling of the economy. Democrats will be counterprogramming those inflation worries with hits against the roughly half-dozen GOP candidates who've created headaches for their party on issues like rape or anti-government conspiracy theories — all of whom have either won their primaries or are set to do so this summer.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said she was stunned when she heard the leaked audiotape of her Republican opponent, Yesli Vega, questioning whether a women was less likely to become pregnant as a result of rape.

Spanberger called the comments “devoid from reality.” And she pointed out that it wasn’t the first time Vega, a local sheriff's deputy, has made headlines with her remarks. Earlier this spring, Vega defended rioters on Jan. 6 as a “group of Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.”

“Can you rely on a person like that to fix real problems?” Spanberger said. A spokesperson for the GOP campaign arm declined to comment, and a Vega campaign contact did not respond to a request for comment.



Despite Democratic eagerness to go after far-right candidates, House Republicans have had some luck as several of those candidates have fallen in primaries during the first half of primary season. That includes a Republican famously jailed for “chugging wine” at the Jan. 6 riot, a one-time GOP gubernatorial candidate who refused to concede his race and a candidate who consulted with a white nationalist on his social media strategy.

Still, Democrats are eyeing several other GOP candidates with obvious weaknesses in tough turf in Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina. According to a 34-page internal document obtained by POLITICO, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is tracking at least six GOP candidates who attended D.C. events on Jan. 6, in addition to “over a dozen” more who have challenged the legitimacy of elections in other ways, such as claiming their own losses were fraudulent.

That includes Derrick Van Orden, who’s favored to flip a battleground seat in Wisconsin. A prized recruit in 2020, the former Navy SEAL now faces criticism for using old campaign funds to travel to D.C. on Jan. 6, where he entered a restricted area of the Capitol during the riot by Donald Trump supporters.

In another Midwest swing seat, Democrats are going after Air Force veteran JR Majewski, who raised $25,000 to send people to the Capitol on Jan. 6. He has said his group “packed up and left” before that day's violence. But his opponent, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), recently ran an ad that accused him of breaching the police barricades outside the building.

Kaptur isn’t the only battleground Democrat using that approach.

Days after the start of public Jan. 6 investigative hearings, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) launched an ad slamming his opponent for defending the Oath Keepers.

“That is not what people want from their leaders, they don’t want extremists. They want people who are actually going to work with both sides,” Gottheimer said. The hearings, he said, are “a reminder of what we don’t want to go back to.”

In some ways, the party's more assertive style of attacks parallels what Republicans have done for years — slamming their opponents as “far-left liberals” or “radical socialists.” Battleground Democrats haven’t always been so willing to take direct shots at the GOP, noting that many of their voters as well as their allies in Congress are conservative.

Things have changed. Deal-making Republicans are something of an endangered species, and their relationships with Democratic counterparts frayed in the Trump years. Maloney’s campaign arm has been much more willing to tie GOP candidates to the former president, eager to stir up its same base of suburban, anti-Trump voters who catapulted them into the majority in 2018.


“I think the point is that the MAGA Republicans are different than other Republicans,” Maloney said, when asked to explain why Democrats were leaning into the label even as some in the party disagree with the tactic of borrowing Trump's preferred acronym. “MAGA is an important distinction between the extreme elements of the Republicans and the old-fashioned version of the Republican party that used to be less crazy.”

Top Republicans are mostly shrugging off the play. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who leads the National Republican Congressional Committee, has been clear that his party will keep hammering inflation as its top issue.

One early sign that the GOP might not need to fret: A poll by Republican state operatives conducted hours after the Supreme Court’s decision found that 56 percent of people chose the economy as their most important issue, while 8 percent said abortion.

“Prices are extremely high because of Democrats’ extremely reckless spending. That’s the policy voters care about most and what November will be decided on,” NRCC communications director Michael McAdams said in a statement.

In recent years, the NRCC has remained neutral on its most contentious candidates — including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Now, Democrats have no problem using her and her firebrand colleagues as a warning to their base.

As retiring Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) put it: “If we win, it’s because we scared the crap out of people about the maniacs who will be in charge.”

W.H. takes aim at DeSantis — even as Florida slips away from Dems

Politico -


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida has the White House and national Democrats stumped.

President Joe Biden’s policies loosening sanctions on Venezuela and easing restrictions on Cuba could be politically toxic in Latino-heavy South Florida. The administration was seen as making moves without considering political outcomes or improving Biden’s standing with a demographic key to winning the state.

And funds from national donor groups have dried up after Florida Democrats suffered stinging losses in recent years.

But Florida is also home to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely 2024 hopeful who takes shots at the president whenever the opportunity arises. So despite their dim prospects in the state, Democrats have an enormous incentive to engage there this year — if only to try to blunt the governor’s rise ahead of a presidential bid.

“If you were to ask me, does Florida give you as good a return on investment as other places? Clearly right now it does not,” Democratic National Committee Finance Director Chris Korge said in an interview. “We got our butts kicked in Florida recently. Our butts kicked.”

But, Korge added, his job is to build infrastructure — and national groups would be foolish not to try to make inroads in the state.

“I think the White House absolutely thinks we need to be engaged there now rather than waiting until 2024 when it becomes more expensive to stop [DeSantis],” he said. “We are going to be engaged in the midterm and, you can quote me on this, the DNC is absolutely not giving up on Florida.”

There has been a creeping sense among state-level Democrats that national groups, including the White House and Democratic Governors Association, are writing off a state where Republicans have scored big wins and recently overtook Democrat’s voter registration advantage for the first time in modern Florida political history. When President Barack Obama won Florida in 2008, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the state by nearly 700,000. They outnumbered Republicans by more than 550,000 in 2012. But Biden lost the state to Donald Trump and Republicans now outnumber Democrats by more than 175,000.

But Biden in recent weeks has taken a more confrontational approach with DeSantis. Biden and his administration recently hammered the governor for making his state the only one in the country to not pre-order pediatric Covid-19 vaccines. White House Covid response coordinator Ashish Jha even held a briefing with Florida reporters, where he called DeSantis’ move “unconscionable.”


Biden also issued an executive order banning programs that receive federal money from offering conversion therapy, a direct response to the DeSantis administration pushing to end state-funded gender-affirming care for transgender minors. DeSantis’ health department also crafted a rationale to justify banning Medicaid from paying for puberty blockers for transgender people.

Florida has also seen recent visits from first lady Jill Biden, who traveled last week to Palm Beach County to discuss cancer research and shared a stage with DeSantis during a memorial for victims of the Surfside condo tragedy. On Tuesday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge made several stops in Florida to talk about affordable housing, an issue that is in line with Florida Democrat’s 2022 messaging. And Department of Health and Humans Services Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine on Tuesday met with parents and kids under 5 years old about the Covid-19 vaccine.

Florida’s Department of Health on the same day criticized Levine, who said: “Opponents of LGBTQ equality have targeted trans and queer youth to score political points.” Levine, a four-star admiral, is the first openly transgender person to hold an office requiring Senate confirmation.

“The administration has been very, very present in the state,” Mayra Macias, chief strategy officer for Biden-affiliated group Building Back Together, said in an interview. “Be it the first lady in Palm Beach or Cabinet secretaries in other places, so I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to say the administration has written off Florida. You are seeing visibility at the highest levels.”

John Morgan, an Orlando attorney and major Democratic donor, said in a text message that there is one simple reason the White House will continue to focus on Florida: “More electoral votes,” he said. “It’s not off the radar.”

Morgan points to the large number of Democratic donors, including him, who reside in the state as another reason Democrats nationally can’t totally turn their back on the state. The DNC, for instance, just came knocking on his door, as it has in the past.

“Still lots of money,” Morgan said. “I was just asked to do an event with POTUS at my house for the DNC.”

Democratic congressional candidate Jared Moskowitz, whose campaign on Tuesday was endorsed by Hillary Clinton, said the state can help fuel important Democratic wins across the country, even if the party struggles within its borders.

“Even if you can’t win Florida, there is a lot of money to raise here that can be used in critical races across the country,” he said. “Republicans have out-registered Democrats here, so statistically you can make the observation that it's moving to the right, but let’s not pretend Barack Obama winning the state is ancient history. It’s the third-largest state in the country, and there are a lot of active Democrats here.”

Moskowitz, a former state lawmaker who also served in DeSantis’ administration, said the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade could give Democrats a boost of political energy — maybe flipping the narrative that Republicans will dominate November's midterm elections.

“It definitely should make Democrats understand how much is on the line if Republicans come back into power,” he said.


Macias said DeSantis’ penchant for picking culture war fights over things like pandemic vaccines, transgender kids or education will keep Florida on the radar of both the White House and the nation.

“Unfortunately, Governor DeSantis keeps signing into law very regressive policies that will keep Florida in the national spotlight for the wrong reasons,” she said. “Now, with Roe being overturned, we are thinking about states with abortion bans, and even when I was in Florida, bills like that kept coming up in the Legislature.”

Still, others see Florida’s role nationally for Democrats as the battlefield to try and stop DeSantis’ ascent rather than a state that remains a key cog in the party’s broader strategy. In 2020, for instance, Biden became the first candidate to win the White House without winning Florida since Bill Clinton in 1992, a feat some believe can be repeated.

“On the political spending and campaign stuff, I don’t think the play has changed at all in recent weeks, even as the president has talked about DeSantis,” said a former administration official familiar with the White House’s thinking who was granted anonymity to speak freely. “Florida has trended further to the right, and there is not a world right now where Democratic organizations intend to spend a ton of money there.”

The Democratic Governors Association has already signaled it will not focus on Florida to the degree it has in past years. But that didn’t start with the 2022 midterms. In 2020, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon steered additional resources to Arizona, a state Biden won, over Florida, even as some were lobbying to boost spending in the state.

“It was not like she hated Florida,” the former administration official said of O’Malley Dillon, whose ties to Florida extend back to when she helped manage the failed 2006 gubernatorial run of Jim Davis. “She just did not believe there was real opportunity there. It’s why she invested in places like Arizona, not Florida like many wanted. She was right.”

“I don’t think you will see a lot of things change moving into reelection mode on that front,” the person added.

O’Malley Dillon could not be reached for comment.


There remains skepticism that Florida’s gubernatorial candidates, Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), who as a Republican in 2006 beat the O’Malley Dillon-led Davis campaign, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, can beat DeSantis. The Florida governor has raised more than $100 million and is seen as an overwhelming favorite to win reelection as he builds national momentum. Both Fried and Crist told POLITICO last week that they would welcome Biden campaigning with them in the general election, even as some Democrats across the country dodge that question amid the president's low approval ratings.

Hopes, however, remain high for Rep. Val Demings’ bid for the Senate against Sen. Marco Rubio. Demings (D-Fla.), who is Black, is the former chief of the Orlando Police Department and was on the shortlist to serve as Biden’s VP. She’s a candidate Democrats hope can overcome what have been effective Republican attempts to brand Democrats as anti-law enforcement, which has been a key messaging point for Rubio in the early stage of the campaign.

The Florida Democratic Party, regardless of specific race, also continues to be the focus of persistent skepticism.

“I honestly at this point could not tell you who the leading Democrat is there,” said the former Biden administration official. “That’s the challenge for the DNC and reelection folks at this point. I don’t know if you see them laying some massive groundwork there. And to the extent Florida will be needed [in 2024], they won’t be depending on the state people. They can’t.”

Others see the state Democratic Party — whose chair, Manny Diaz, did not return a request seeking comment — as taking too much heat for the party’s extended dry spell.

“I think Manny Diaz is a very capable Democratic leader. From my experience, state parties are limited overall in what they can do,” Korge said.

“I am not naive to the fact that we are the underdog, but I kind of like being the underdog.”

Push to rein in social media sweeps the states

Politico -


Efforts to police speech on social media are spreading across the country, with lawmakers in 34 states pushing bills that are already setting up court battles with tech giants over the First Amendment.

State legislators have introduced more than 100 bills in the past year aiming to regulate how social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter handle their users’ posts, according to POLITICO’s analysis of data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, only three bills have become law, including statutes in Texas and Florida aimed at punishing platforms that Republicans accuse of censoring conservatives — and federal courts have blocked those two states’ measures from taking effect.

Blue states are joining the trend as well, though Democrats’ emphasis is pressing social media companies to establish policies for reporting hate speech, violent content and misinformation.

The states’ efforts — in the absence of federal action — could test governments’ ability to regulate speech, while forcing some of the nation’s wealthiest tech companies to fight an array of legal battles against laws that could upend their business models. These fights will also present courts with a fundamental debate about how the First Amendment plays out in the online age, including the companies’ own rights to decide what content they host on their platforms.

Many legal scholars see glaring flaws in some states’ approaches. “The government cannot tell a private company what speech it can or cannot carry, provided that speech is constitutionally protected,” said Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who has written two books about online speech.

Industry groups have warned that some of the laws — especially the ones in Texas and Florida — could wreak havoc on how they handle content worldwide.

“You cannot have a state-by-state internet,” Kosseff said. “When you step back and look at the possibility of having 50 different state laws on content moderation — some of which might differ or might conflict — that becomes a complete disaster.”


The bills fall into four major categories: More than two dozen, pushed by Republicans, seek to prevent companies from censoring content or blocking users. Others, pushed by Democrats, aim to require companies to provide mechanisms for reporting hate speech or misinformation. Lawmakers of both parties support proposals to protect children from addiction to social media. A fourth, also with bipartisan support, would impose transparency requirements.

Here is POLITICO’S look at the state of play:

Banning censorship

Conservatives’ efforts to ban social media from restricting users’ content ramped up last year, after the major social media platforms booted then-President Donald Trump following his supporters’ Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Since then, legislatures in more than two dozen states — the vast majority Republican-led — have introduced bills aimed at preventing social media companies from censoring users’ viewpoints or kicking off political candidates.

Two of those have become law: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (SB 7072","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://legislation.politicopro.com/bill/FL_21R_SB_7072","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">SB 7072) into law in March 2021, later updated this past April","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://legislation.politicopro.com/bill/FL_221_SB_6","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90002","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90003","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">updated this past April, prohibiting tech platforms from ousting political candidates. Texas followed suit last September with a law (HB 20","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://legislation.politicopro.com/bill/TX_212_HB_20","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">HB 20) banning social media companies from restricting online viewpoints.

Now those laws are going through the courts, where tech companies have succeeded so far with arguments that the measures infringe on their First Amendment right to decide what to content to host. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://subscriber.politicopro.com/article/article/2022/05/appeals-court-rules-floridas-social-media-law-is-largely-unconstitutional-00034436","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90006","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90007","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that Florida’s law was largely unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court blocked the Texas law","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/31/texas-social-media-censorship-scotus-00036146","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90008","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90009","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">blocked the Texas law while an appellate court considers an industry challenge against the statute.

Proponents of the laws say they protect individuals' free speech rights to share their views on the platforms. But Scott Wilkens, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said the Texas and Florida laws are “pretty clear violations of the platforms’ First Amendment rights to speak themselves by actually deciding what they will and won’t publish.”

Social media companies have argued that if the Texas law goes back into effect, it may make it harder to remove hate speech, such as a racist manifesto","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/18/censorship-buffalo-manifesto-texas-law-00033228","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f9000a","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f9000b","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">racist manifesto allegedly posted online by the perpetrator of a mid-May mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. The major platforms eventually removed that posting after the shooting.

Additionally, the Texas and Florida laws — had they been in effect — could have left Facebook open to lawsuits for their decision in June to remove an ad","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://subscriber.politicopro.com/newsletter/2022/06/tiktok-faces-renewed-anger-from-gop-lawmakers-00040819","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f9000c","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f9000d","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">remove an ad from Missouri Republican Senate candidate Eric Greitens calling for the “hunting” of so-called “Republicans In Name Only.” Facebook took down the ad because the company said it violated policies prohibiting the incitement of violence. Twitter labeled the ad as violating its policy against abusive behavior, but left it visible to users due to the “public’s interest.”

Other Republican-led legislatures have introduced similar bills in Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee and Michigan that would prohibit social media companies from censoring religious or political speech, or would ban platforms from removing political candidates.

Reporting 'hateful' content

Democrats have long pushed social media companies to do more to take down misinformation and disinformation, as well posts attacking people along lines of race, gender or sexual orientation. Legislatures in primarily Democratic-run states — including New York and California — have introduced bills requiring social media companies to establish mechanisms for users to report hate speech to the platforms.

New York is the only state where such a proposal has successfully been enacted. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed S. 4511","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://legislation.politicopro.com/bill/NY_21R_S_4511","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f9000e","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f9000f","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">S. 4511 in early June as part of a package of 10 bills","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/anna-m-kaplan/kaplan-bill-combating-hate-social-media-signed-law-landmark","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90010","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90011","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">part of a package of 10 bills aimed at curbing gun violence after the Buffalo shooting. The new law requires social media networks to make it possible for individuals to report hate speech on the platforms in a publicly accessible way and says the companies must directly respond to anyone who reports such speech. Companies could face fines of up to $1,000 a day if they don’t comply.

The law takes effect in December.



Democratic New York state Sen. Anna Kaplan introduced the bill last year in hopes of curbing the radicalizing effects of social media. “We are not in any way telling social media what policy to put in,” she said in an interview. “It's not about violating the First Amendment. It's about just empowering the users to be able to report hateful content.”

But NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, lobbying groups representing tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, are analyzing whether the new Texas law could lead to First Amendment infringements. Both groups filed lawsuits against the Florida and Texas laws.

“We’re concerned about the law’s constitutionality, and are raising those concerns with state lawmakers,” said Chris Marchese, NetChoice’s counsel, said in an interview after the New York law was signed.

He said the New York law could violate the First Amendment because its definition of “hateful conduct” is too broad, and covers speech that’s protected by the Constitution. He added that even though New York is different from Texas and Florida, “the temptation for the government to step in is incredibly high no matter where you live.”

In California, Democratic Assemblyman James Gallagher of Yuba City introduced a bill (AB 1114","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://legislation.politicopro.com/bill/CA_21R_AB_1114","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90012","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90013","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">AB 1114) that would require social media companies to explain how they handle content that involves obscenity, threats and incitements of violence that are not constitutionally protected. The bill failed to advance this session.

New York also has several pending bills that would require social media companies to provide ways to report election- and vaccine-related misinformation.

Regulating addictive algorithms

Legislation addressing children’s safety on social media platforms has some bipartisan support. Several bills have been introduced following last year’s revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2021/10/25/facebook-market-dominance-whistleblower-516918","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90014","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90015","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that Instagram’s algorithms were pushing unhealthy body images on young girls","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-knows-instagram-is-toxic-for-teen-girls-company-documents-show-11631620739","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90016","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24f90017","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">pushing unhealthy body images on young girls.

Legislators from both parties in California and Minnesota have introduced bills to address the addictive nature of social media.

The California Assembly passed a bipartisan bill","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://subscriber.politicopro.com/article/2022/05/california-bill-to-hold-tech-liable-for-child-addiction-clears-assembly-00034563","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">a bipartisan bill (AB 2408","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://legislation.politicopro.com/bill/CA_21R_AB_2408?activeTabs=bill-text","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0002","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0003","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">AB 2408) in late May aiming to protect kids from addictive social media features by making the platforms liable to lawsuits and fines if their products knowingly harm children under the age of 18. A child user or their parent or guardian would be able to sue a platform if the child becomes addicted to a platform. Penalties in a successful class action brought under the bill would be at least $1,000 per individual, potentially adding up to very large sums given the number of children using social media in California.

The bill advanced through","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://subscriber.politicopro.com/article/2022/06/bipartisan-childrens-digital-safeguard-proposals-claw-through-key-california-committee-00043037?source=email","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">bill advanced through a California Senate committee in June and is expected to go to the floor in August.

Tech advocates are raising free-speech objections about the measure.

“This has really serious First Amendment problems,” said David Greene, the civil liberties director of the digital rights nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Dylan Hoffman, a California lobbyist for tech trade group TechNet, said the bill goes directly after platforms’ algorithms — which are used to moderate user content — and therefore infringes on their First Amendment speech rights.

“It's clearly about the content and seeking to regulate any feature that you claim as addictive — well, what’s more addictive than showing good content?” he said. “That’s the inherent problem with this bill because you can’t divorce those two ideas.”

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jordan Cunningham, disputed that argument. “It doesn’t touch or regulate content at all,” he said in an interview. “Nothing in the bill tells any social media company what they can or cannot allow users to post on their platform.”

Kosseff said ultimately he doesn’t believe “that going after algorithms gets rid of the free speech issue.” He added, “If you’re restricting the ability for speech to be distributed, then you’re restricting speech.”

However, Wilkens, of the Knight First Amendment Institute, said that while the bill may “implicate the First Amendment, it doesn’t mean that it violates the First Amendment.” He said that while it’s still up for interpretation, the legislation – if it became law – may “be held constitutional because the state's interest here in protecting young girls seems to be a very strong interest.”

A bill (HF 3724","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://legislation.politicopro.com/bill/MN_21R_HF_3724","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0006","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0007","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">HF 3724) in Minnesota’s Democratically controlled House also would bar social media companies from using algorithms directed at children, but it failed to advance this session. It would ban social media platforms with more than 1 million users from using algorithms directed at individuals under the age of 18. Companies could face fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

Mandating transparency

Legislators in Mississippi, Tennessee, New York and California have introduced bills this year requiring platforms to provide transparency reports on their content moderation decisions. Both the Florida and Texas social media laws have provisions requiring such reports. The 11th Circuit upheld disclosure and transparency disclosure requirements in Florida’s social media law in its May decision striking down other parts of the law.

“We have made the argument that there is room for government regulation in disclosure requirements,” Wilkens said. He said he thinks those bills “may very well be constitutional under the First Amendment.”

This bipartisan approach on the state level is one federal legislators are contemplating emulating. Sens. Chris Coons","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://directory.politicopro.com/congress/member/C001088","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0008","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa0009","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rob Portman","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://directory.politicopro.com/congress/member/P000449","_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa000a","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000181-b9c7-da7b-ad93-bfff24fa000b","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have drafted a bill to mandate that companies disclose some of their data and explain how algorithms amplify certain content.

“It won’t solve the problem, but it will help us identify what the problem might actually be, and increase the chances that Congress might responsibly legislate,” Coons said in an interview.

'We don’t have to pretend anymore': Greens ready to bail on D.C.

Politico -


The climate advocates who cheered President Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House last year are preparing to give up on Washington.

Instead, environmentalists and many of their Democratic allies are starting to shift their focus to state capitals as the places to press for action on climate change — going back to a strategy that they employed with some success during the Trump era.

The flight from D.C. is in large part a response to 18 months of frustration with major setbacks to Biden’s climate agenda, capped by Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that hobbled the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Even before that decision, Democrats’ ambitious plans for hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of climate action wilted in the Senate. And November’s midterms are giving off vibes of a Republican sweep — similar to the rout that Democrats suffered in 2010, the last time they tried and failed to pass major climate legislation.

While greens hope Thursday’s ruling could bring new urgency to a Capitol Hill push for sizable clean energy incentives, the doors to major federal action are either shut or closing rapidly in both Congress and the executive branch. That’s left them looking for alternatives — no matter that Democrats nominally remain in charge in the capital.



On the other hand, relying on the states that led the U.S. climate fight during Donald Trump’s presidency won’t get the nation to Biden’s target of aggressively cutting greenhouse gases by 2030.

“That’s not going to be enough,” Goldfuss said. “We knew that under Trump, too.”

At least when Goldfuss was in the White House, climate campaigners had the high court on its side: Rulings in 2007 and 2014 gave EPA wide latitude to wield the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. But Thursday’s 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority curtailed the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants while indicating it would restrict future broad greenhouse gas rules.

To climate advocates, who had anticipated the ruling for months, the decision was the latest in a series of factors making it clear they would need to look beyond Washington for ways to reach their goals.


“We don’t have to pretend anymore that this is a country that’s united,” Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Brooklyn-based environmental justice organization UPROSE, said in a recent interview.

As for the broader goal of solving climate change and addressing environmental justice, she said, “Thinking about it nationally is a little unwieldy.”

At the state and local levels, battles on environmental justice often center on individual power plants, factories and other facilities that produce pollution such as mercury, soot and ozone. The EPA still has the authority to regulate those pollutants despite Thursday’s decision, though the court raised uncertainties about how much leeway the agency has for future rules.




The justices have “created an entirely new avenue of challenge for polluters to go at regulators,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in an interview Thursday. Still, he implored the Biden administration to plow ahead with ambitious environmental rules, saying the court decision “leaves plenty of well-traveled roads for the EPA to follow.”

A more pervasive shift in the environmental movement is also at work: Much of the momentum for climate organizing has shifted to fights against pollution that disproportionately burdens low-income areas and people of color.

Environmental justice groups fighting these kinds of battles have seen a surge of funding in recent years, including a $100 million commitment this spring from the Donors of Color Network.

That change, in turn, has brought a civil rights organizing energy that many in the environmental movement see as necessary to making greater climate inroads in red or purple states such as Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan and Arizona. It offers less of a leading role, both in activism and fundraising, to the national environmental groups that have long called the shots for green advocacy in Washington.

“Most of the foundations realize the Big Greens are part of the solution but that they have been funding them at a ridiculous scale,” said Jess Montejano, chief operating officer with Riff City Strategies, a communications firm that works with philanthropies such the Kresge Foundation and Mosaic Fund. “If just funding those guys was the solution we would have had a lot more progress on climate to date.”

Green activists also plan to lean on their own coalitions as they swing back to the states, such as the U.S. Climate Alliance, which formed as a response to the Trump administration’s backslide on climate.

With governors from 23 states and Puerto Rico as members, the alliance recently hired former EPA official Casey Katims to lead it through a refresh as the federal outlook dims. It plans to work as a policy and legislative clearinghouse, developing model bills and regulations to advance through member states.

Tough climate rules in states like California and New York can bring entire markets along through their sheer size and economic heft, noted Whitehouse and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

“Congress is not exactly a productive place these days,” Huffman said, though he cautioned: “Climate activists cannot ignore D.C. They just have to recalibrate.”

That’s in part because many of the states where climate action is needed face recalcitrant legislatures and even governors, said John Podesta, the board chairman of the Center for American Progress, in an interview after the Supreme Court ruling. He said states in the upper Midwest, Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona will “determine the fate of the country,” and that the court’s decision will lead to “accelerated” organizing in those battlegrounds.

“What this court term has demonstrated and made real for people is what that move to the hard right really looks like,” Podesta said.


That is why the advocacy model is shifting to embrace more partnerships with environmental justice organizations with a history of engagement and connections in local battles in states often opposed to sweeping climate policies. Hive Fund, a philanthropy that received $43 million from the Bezos Earth Fund, specifically focuses on funding groups in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina — states whose emissions are key to addressing climate change.

“There is no path to the U.S. meeting its climate goals if we don’t work in these places that have always been thought of as too hard or too difficult,” Hive Fund co-Director Melanie Allen said.

The shift to states and local communities is an acceleration of an overall trend in the past several years as more big green organizations sought to strengthen coalitions with environmental justice groups, said John Walke, director of the clean air, climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The environmental legal group Earthjustice recently added staff to coordinate with environmental justice groups. Jeremy Orr, who leads that effort as director of litigation and advocacy partnerships, said the effort tracks with developments across the environmental movement, with national groups “trying to move resources to the actual environmental justice groups to get this work done.”

Many organizations are also staffing up in states to coordinate spending from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law to ensure that governors don’t bungle what may amount to the Biden administration’s largest legislative accomplishment on climate.

Evergreen Action, an offshoot of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s short-lived climate-focused 2020 presidential run, hired staff in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to help them maximize clean energy investments from that law.

The Environmental Defense Fund has leaned into a states affairs program that works in Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina and nine other states, said Elizabeth Gore, the group’s senior vice president of political affairs. One of EDF’s major initiatives is shepherding infrastructure dollars.

“Work at the state level and the subnational level is going to continue and probably expand — and that’s going to happen regardless of the election and the makeup in Washington,” she said.

At the federal level, most advocates are hitching their hopes to EPA, saying the court’s ruling doesn’t take the agency totally out of the climate push.

However, the ruling does mean the agency may face better legal odds attacking greenhouse gases through other pathways, by fighting on the side of environmental justice groups trying to shut down pollution sources that pose health risks. It can do that by issuing regulations to tamp down on pollutants such as acid-rain-causing nitrogen oxides, control wastewater discharges from power plants and improve disposal of coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal for electricity.

“Power plant by power plant, the agency is going to have to go after these polluters, which is a really inefficient and challenging way to do it,” Huffman said.

Taken together, these kinds of rules could push power companies to replace their coal- and gas-burning plants with cleaner sources of energy.



“If some of these facilities decide that is not worth investing in and you get an expedited retirement, that's the best tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters in March, hinting at the new strategy. The agency is expected to issue its separate proposals for regulating greenhouse gas emissions at existing and new power plants in March 2023. It plans to reconsider national standards for soot in March 2023 and for ozone in April 2023.

While Regan has hinted at deploying more health-based standards to achieve carbon reductions, his agency has been slow to issue major rules. It has not issued final rules on coal-fired power plants, natural gas-fired power plants, heavy duty vehicles or methane emissions from oil and gas production. And environmentalists broadly criticized the one rule it has issued, on light-duty vehicles, as weaker than California’s standards.

People close to the White House see EPA playing a major role with “full backing from the White House,” said Podesta, whom Obama brought into the White House to revive a moribund climate strategy. Still, the implications of the court’s decision leave “very little confidence” in future federal greenhouse gas regulations surviving the court, he said.

That doesn’t mean they should stop from acting. But there’s no way I think to bulletproof regulations from a very activist extremist court,” Podesta said. 

Alex Guillen contributed to this report.

The Real Reason Washington Ignored Kavanaugh’s Would-Be Killer

Politico -


On June 8, at about 1:05 in the morning, a taxicab pulled up outside the Chevy Chase home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A young man dressed in black got out, carrying a backpack and a suitcase. According to an FBI affidavit, he eyed the Deputy U.S. Marshals standing guard outside the house, then turned and walked down the block.

A few minutes later, the man called 911, allegedly saying he was having suicidal thoughts, had a firearm in his suitcase and had come from California to kill a Supreme Court Justice. Local police were dispatched and arrived to take Nicholas John Roske into custody while he was still on the phone to emergency services. In his bags, they found an unloaded Glock 17 pistol with two magazines of ammunition as well as pepper spray, zip ties, a nail gun, a crowbar, duct tape, a knife and a tactical chest rig.

At a nearby police station, he agreed to speak with federal agents, allegedly telling them he was upset about the leaked Supreme Court decision undoing the right to abortion and worried that gun control would be further rolled back. He said he’d found Kavanaugh’s address on the internet. In a second interview, he told the FBI that he had planned to kill himself after murdering the justice. He’s now facing federal charges. He has pled not guilty.

I know about Roske’s case — as you probably do, too — thanks to coverage in The Washington Post, CNN, POLITICO and my local TV news station, among others.

But on the right, it’s become an article of faith that the story is being ignored by biased media. A Fox News report totted up the small-ball treatment afforded in dead-tree newspapers (relegated to page 20 of The New York Times!), broadcast TV (unmentioned on any of the subsequent weekend’s Sunday programs!) and cable yakkers (nada that evening on MSNBC’s prime-time shows!). “OUTRAGEOUS OMISSION,” Sean Hannity declared on Twitter a few days later, inviting viewers to watch Mike Huckabee and Kayleigh McEnany discuss it that night.


In fact, the incident was swiftly condemned by any public figure with a megaphone. In short order, legislators passed a bill to offer new protection to judges. Notwithstanding Hannity’s urge to portray a feckless liberal establishment countenancing mob rule, you won’t likely find anyone in official Washington saying anything positive about the gunman.

Still, just because it was neither outrageous nor omitted doesn’t mean Hannity’s totally wrong.

Reported in detail, the arrest still didn’t become a sort of news moment in Washington, the kind of thing that dominates both media assignment desks and back-fence conversations with neighbors, the kind of story that would turn Roske into a household name.

And that is, at least in part, a function of something that really doesn’t get enough attention: Potential violence and intimidation in Washington’s political world has stopped seeming quite so newsy. Man-threatens-man has become the new dog-bites-man. Among the lesser effects of this cultural change is that, in newsrooms and greenrooms, the hurdle for attention has been raised.

Why didn’t Washington get obsessed with the would-be Kavanaugh assassin? I’d bet the answer is more prosaic than the media-bias critics would believe. For one thing, in a city that has long drawn disturbed people with crazy schemes, Roske’s story was not especially hair-raising: His gun was unloaded, he called the cops on himself, he took a cab to the justice’s house (had he not heard of Uber?). There’s nothing less compelling to us media types, in all of our faux world-weariness than an insufficiently freaky freak of the week.

More importantly, the Roske story would have to elbow for space in our mental lists of near-misses. Shooters nearly killed Reps. Gabby Giffords and Steve Scalise. A couple of miles down Connecticut Avenue from Kavanaugh’s place, a gunman motivated by an anti-Clinton conspiracy theory took a shot inside Comet Pizza. Threats against federal judges were up 400 percent, according to a report last year. Threats against members of Congress are up 107 percent, according to Capitol Police. Google for examples and you’ll find a collection of news accounts that span the continent as well as the ideological spectrum, from Andy Harris, the right-winger from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to Norma Torres, a Southern California Democrat. The Capitol Police are opening offices in California and Florida to monitor threats.

There was also the small matter of an actual attack on the U.S. Capitol last year, one that led to seven fatalities and featured rioters chanting about hanging the sitting Vice President.

But even a tally of threats doesn’t quite capture how a looming sense of potential menace has seeped into the Village’s consciousness. Public officials fear doxing and the lunatics it might bring to their doors. The inboxes of reporters, particularly women and members of minority groups, fill with menacing messages. People no longer assume it’s all online cosplay. Why should they?

A more sophisticated conservative critique of the Roske coverage holds that the story didn’t resonate because a pro-choice Californian doesn’t fit liberal Washington’s image of what a crazed, Glock-toting madman is supposed to be — making it easier to ignore as a one-off. But even that bit of psychological evasion wouldn’t be as possible if the environment weren’t providing so many examples of what a “real” threat looks like.

On the right, the outrage over the supposedly ignored alleged assassination attempt has lately bled into agita about the recent spate of protests at the homes of justices, including Kavanaugh. It’s easy to wave off the complaints, and not just because some of them come from people who have pooh-poohed the insurrection: These justices took away a Constitutional right, and they have the nerve to complain about a few people banging pots and pans outside of their houses? It reeks of bad-faith efforts to change the subject. Yet against the backdrop of 2022, if you’re in your home while the protesters are outside, you’re likely to feel intimidated. And a city full of anxious, intimidated people is likely to behave differently on all sorts of things.

It’s also easy to miss how much of a change this represents. Until quite recently, the norm in Washington was that everybody got to be a civilian sometimes, going out to dinner or walking the dog in peace. This had its downsides (it surely abetted the bubble-thinking of the establishment) but it also meant that moments of intimidation or threat were truly shocking.

This change is dangerous, whether or not the Kavanaugh gunman was.

“We talk a lot, especially on the left, about attacks on democracy, about worrisome real limits on voting rights and access to the ballot and gerrymandering, and all those things are important. But there’s no faster way to lose democracy than through violence,” says Amanda Ripley, a longtime Washington journalist who spent much of the last few years researching a book about intractable conflicts and how to move past them. “In my opinion we should be talking about that.”

Like discredited elections, violence — or even the prospect of violence — delegitimizes institutions and social norms and the various guardrails of society. “Threats on judges’ lives are a real thing, a part of the playbook all over the world” for chipping away at democracy, says Ripley, whose book takes lessons from acrimonious divorces, gang feuds and developing-world insurgencies to analyze the conflict-addled state of American government.

It’s not clear that there’s much Washington’s powerful can do about it. In the 19th century, when actual elected officials were fighting duels and clobbering each other to near-death with canes, elites might have had the ability to rein in the hooligans, who could presumably be coerced with committee assignments or patronage or disinvitations from fancy dinner parties or whatever other tools can shape the behavior of insiders. The sense of menace in contemporary politics comes largely from internet-fueled nobodies, acting in what they see as their side’s interest. How do you buy them off?

I was struck by one particular thing Ripley told me about research into de-escalation: Don’t trust your gut. “In any high conflict like this, your intuition is going to make things worse.” She was referring to, say, the urge to go protest at a judge’s house to show how righteously furious you are. “That’s going to have an effect on other people and it might not help the cause.” As a journalist, of course, my gut says to expose just who is responsible for this new climate of jeopardy, the asymmetric era of political wretchedness that has brought Washington to this point. But in the spirit of peace, I’ll ignore that intuition.

Instead, I’ll stick with this: A troubled man with a gun came to town with thoughts about killing. It is a shocking thing to have happen. The fact that it seems to be happening so often shouldn’t make it any less shocking.


The 11 Types of Republicans Who Enabled Donald Trump

Politico -


This week, Cassidy Hutchinson demonstrated in front of the whole world how a political staffer can break free from the rationalizations that lead dwellers of the swamp to enable behaviors we know are evil.

I might be a Cassidy sympathizing Enemy of the People. But as a gay man who contorted himself into defending homophobes and a Trump abhorrer who didn’t hesitate when asked to spin for Trump’s EPA toady Scott Pruitt, I still know a thing or two about being an enabler.

I have had more drinks where reluctant-MAGA and MAGA-adjacent professional Republicans spilled their guts than I would care to count. I’ve heard the lengthy laments from members of the 2 percent about how they’ve got bills to pay, a college fund to fill. Regiments of the “privately concerned” have shared their worries, as have the professionally depressed.

I’ve listened to men bemoan the fact that they can no longer talk politics with their wives; they feel judged by their friends. Been shaken down by the guilt-ridden who wanted to see how they could help our efforts to take down Trump behind the scenes — but were never quite willing to put their name on anything. Been filled with assurances by insiders about how they are needed to keep things on the rails because of all the horrible things I wouldn’t believe they’d prevented, but that they weren’t at liberty to detail.



When you are a prominent Never Trumper and not a total prick, you attract these types of conversations. They weren’t all that dissimilar from the coming-out-of-the-closet convos I’d had over the years. People dealing with their internalized shame. However, in these instances there was one important difference: the realization that they brought it upon themselves.

These conversations became formalized late in the Trump term, once I began writing for Rolling Stone as a sort-of anthropologist to the Trumpists for the Boomer Piketty set. My task was somewhat akin to a National Geographic adventure journalist who embedded themselves in a remote Amazonian rain forest to report back to the mainland about the culture of previously uncontacted tribes. Except the tribesmen were my former colleagues, and the readers shouldn’t have required a middleman’s lingua franca to understand their perspective, because they were unknowingly standing next to them in the Whole Foods checkout line the entire time.

Throughout these informal and professional exchanges, over time, I began to build a reservoir of understanding as to what was going on in the interior lives of the men and women who succumbed to the MAGA wiles. Their hopes and fears and loathings and animal desires.


They all had internalized what they thought were the lessons of the previous decade.  The “political reality” meant that the base of voters in the Breitbart comment section must be appeased and managed. A groupthink emerged whereby this “reality” came to be treated as if it were delivered from on high. And the Truth mustn’t be reflected upon without the whole game being jeopardized.

When I dug deeper beneath this cozy conventional wisdom, what I found were real choices made by individuals who all fell back on a few phyla of rationalization that reveal why they did what they did.

They fit into different categories, some of which reflect universal, human failings replicated across industries and societies and ideologies. Others are unique to the creatures of Washington or the contaminated right-wing political ecosystem that sustained the Mango Monstrosity.

They all turned out to be much more powerful than I had anticipated.

I divide them into these buckets:

• Messiahs and Junior Messiahs
• Demonizers
• LOL Nothing Matters Republicans
• Tribalist Trolls
• Strivers
• Little Mixes
• Peter Principle Disprovers
• Nerd Revengers
• The Inert Team Players
• The Compartmentalizers
• Cartel Cashers

Here’s a field guide, my taxonomy of enablers, so you can identify them in the wild.


First among equals were those with the Messiah Complex. The Jesuses walking among us in their crowns of Apprentice thorns. The messiahs’ self-regard was such that somehow the most grandiloquent leak during the presidency of the world’s most bombastic individual did not actually flatter the narcissist-in-chief himself, but rather the self-appointed messiahs who went to work for a man whose manifest unfitness made them afraid and whose grotesque personality they detested.

In August of Trump’s first year, Axios’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen announced the “Committee to Save America,” a “loose alliance” of generals, cabinet officials and high-level staff who took it upon themselves to protect the country from disaster. Among them were National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, economic advisers Gary Cohn and Dina Powell and John Kelly, the man who oversaw the implementation of the Muslim Ban from his perch running the Department of Homeland Security before being promoted to White House chief of staff. These self-appointed supermen and wonder women saw themselves mostly in terms of “bad decisions prevented” rather than successes, according to Axios.



You don’t say.

The committee members felt that taking on this oh-so-altruistic act on behalf of America meant that they didn’t have to publicly reckon with the moral compromise of working for someone like Trump. Somehow this justification persisted even after they no longer worked for him and were using their access to make it rain in the private sector. Convenient!

Not a single one of the brave warriors on the Committee to Save America endorsed the only person who could actually save America from Trump — his opponent in the 2020 election.

Despite this logical incongruence, it was the self-flattering messiahs who won the argument among Republicans in D.C. Their demand that “good people” do everything in their power to protect the country from the horrific realities of the president eventually extended not just to those in the national security apparatus but to mid-level political offices throughout town.

From their wake emerged their messianic junior partners who worked as Trump aides and Hill staffers and campaign flacks. They may not have convinced themselves they were saving the world exactly but were justified in the knowledge that if they did not take a glamorous White House job or continue working for a white-bread rational senator, the country would be saddled with someone far worse. Maybe even a white nationalist! Who’s to say? (The fact that a white nationalist might be their replacement did not seem to strike many of the juniors as something that required reflection on the nature of their employment.)



These Junior Messiahs told themselves they were patriots, sacrificing on behalf of the American people, who deserved dedicated public servants like them. This belief was buttressed by the fact that they often had a point: The staffer who would replace them or the politician who would upend their boss in a primary was almost assuredly more terrible. In Trump’s GOP, entropy was taking hold. From the cabinet to the Senate to the school board, the stodgy erudite men of yesteryear were being replaced by ambitious MAGA-fakers who were in turn being replaced by psychotic true believers, giving credence to the conceit that they used to comfort themselves anytime doubt crept in.

The Demonizers were the quickest to drink the Trumpian orangeade as a chaser to liberal tears. For some this was a dogmatic response to any signs of Democratic hostility to people of faith or the free market (or both, for those with the in-home Milton Friedman shrine).

For others, it was cultural, a rejection of the liberal pieties that ground their gears, a discomfort with how fast the script around gender and race was changing. For still others it seemed more personal, emanating from a bitterness over the snooty know-it-allism of the liberals in their life. They clung to anger over the way the left and the media had treated decent Republicans over the years, concluding that, if Mitt Romney and John McCain were going to be tarred as sexist, racist warmongers, then they had no choice but to throw in with the real sexists and racists.

This notion of anger driving support for Trump echoes what a lot of elite conservatives have admitted on the record. Rich Lowry, the nebbish National Review editor (and frequent POLITICO contributor), wrote on the eve of Trump’s losing reelection bid that supporting Trump was a “middle finger” to the cultural left. This seemed to me to be an unbelievably asinine, if understandable, mindset coming from a fussy, middle-aged, Manhattan-dwelling white conservative who resents his more culturally ascendant neighbors. But what caught me off guard was how many of my peers felt the same. Over drinks in Santa Monica, a friend who I had gradually lost touch with over her rabid Trump fandom, stopped me cold when explaining her rationalizations. Despite being a socially liberal, urban-dwelling Millennial, she still had absorbed a deep well of hatred for “woke” culture.

“I just don’t feel the need to drive around my Prius drinking a coffee coolata with a coexist bumper sticker and checking the box like I’ve solved climate change,” she said. “Me moving from plastic to paper straws is not actually moving this needle. The liberal culture of judgment, of do as I say, not as I do. John Kerry flying places in private jets. That’s why I was so drawn to Trump. I was at a breaking point.”

I was genuinely dumbstruck by this. As someone who loves a chocolate shake, I also find forcible paper straw usage to be an utterly moronic inconvenience of modern urban life. But connecting that to support for Donald Trump? Being upset with Joe Biden about private companies switching to deteriorating straws? This anger didn’t click with me at all.

Whatever the underlying reason, these Demonizers have decided that the left, the media, the Lincoln Project, the big-tech oligarchs, the social justice warriors, the people who put they/them pronouns in their email signature, the parents who take their kids to drag queen story hour, the Black Lives Matter protesters and the wokes who want to make stolen land acknowledgments at the start of meetings are all so evil that there is no need to even grapple with the log in their own eye. Trump was a human eff you to the bastards they thought were out to get them. Once you’ve decided that the other side are the baddies, everything else falls into place rather quickly.

Then you had the LOL Nothing Matters Republicans. This cadre gained steam over the years, especially among my former peers in the campaign set. It is a comforting ethos if you are professionally obligated to defend the indefensible day in and day out. Their arguments no longer needed to have merit or be consistent because, LOL, nothing matters. Right? The founder of the Trumpy right-wing website The Federalist, Ben Domenech is, I believe, the one who coined it. He said the LOLNMRs were “inherently fatalist,” believing that the most “apocalyptic predictions about right and left are happening no matter what and that the lights will go down in the West.” Now, from my vantage point, that’s a rather ostentatious way of describing the standard-issue prep school man-child of privilege contrarian cynicism that has been memorialized in teen cinema for ages . . . but you get the point. The LOLNMRs had decided that if someone like Trump could win, then everything that everyone does in politics is meaningless. So they became nihilists. Some eventually took jobs working for Trump; others flipped from center-right normie game players to MAGAfied populist warriors in a flash; still others gave themselves a cocoon of protection working for the Mitch McConnells of the world, staying Trump adjacent so as to not have to challenge their newly developing worldview. But all of them avoided any of the hard questions of the era, wrapping themselves in the comfortably smug sense of self-satisfaction that comes with a lack of concern for consequences.

The professional Tribalist Trolls overlap in their tactics with the Nothing Matters crowd but are different in that they at least have an ethos. Whatever is good for their side is good. And whatever is bad for the other side is good. Simple as that. In the early social media era, I was attracted to this mindset, and for a time when the stakes seemed lower, I was even a member of their ranks. But during the Trump years, I became aghast as it spread like a virus to people’s parents and friends and well . . . some days it feels like pretty much everyone? Or at least everyone who is part of the online political discourse.

If you want to know if you are a Tribalist Troll, ask yourself this — when something horrible happens in the news, does your mind impulsively hope someone from the other tribe is responsible? Nobody wants to admit that they do this. But social media has laid bare our darker angels, and we can now see in real time that a large swath of the participants in our civic dialogue have reduced themselves to the most base type of Tribalist. Veterans of the very online Washington wars have warped themselves to such a degree that every news item, every action, is not something that requires a real-world solution that mitigates the suffering, but is just the latest data point in our online forever war. Many people believe the bullshit they are being sold about their opponents to such a degree that there is an internet culture adage — Poe’s law, which indicates that no matter how over-the-top your parody may be of your political opponent, some of your followers will believe it to be real because they’ve been so conditioned to hear the other side’s awfulness. This insidious Weltanschauung has infected everything from sports message boards to recipe websites to online gaming, which are all now consumed by politicized power users who want to turn every corner of our society into their battlefield. This has created a reinforcing feedback loop up to the politicians and media personalities who are rewarded for constantly embiggening their troll game and expanding the remit outside the bounds of campaign politics. I’ve seen decent people become so warped by this imaginary battle that they began to appreciate Trump’s skill at trolling it even if they were personally repulsed by him. Of all the categories of enablement, this might be the most pernicious and inexpiable.

Naturally, in Washington there are those who don’t need complex ideological justifications for their actions because they are pure old-fashioned Strivers. Some, especially the politicians, are motivated by a blind ambition that is just frankly not that interesting. The fact that pols want to attain higher office so they contort themselves to the whims of the crowd is not a new or unique phenomenon, nor does it merit much deep examination. It’s the first subcategory to the world’s oldest profession. But there’s a uniquely Washington class of Striver that was drawn to Trump like moths to an orange flame. This species doesn’t necessarily want to move up the career ladder for ambition’s sake, but instead, they crave merely the possibility of being “in the mix.”

Every Striver city has a drug that best suits its residents. In New York it’s money . . . and coke. In Los Angeles it’s fame . . . and coke. In Silicon Valley it’s the chance to be a revered disruptor, changer of worlds . . . and microdosing. In D.C. the drug of choice is a little more down-market. All political staffers really want is to be in the mix. It’s not even the power itself that they crave. That would be less pathetic, frankly. It’s the proximity to power. For these Little Mixes, it’s the ability to tell your friends back home that you were “in the room where it happened.” (If it’s possible for an entire body to cringe while typing, that’s what mine did when I wrote “in the room where it happened.”)



Lindsey Graham is the prototypical example of this animal. More than anything, he just wanted to be on the golf cart next to Trump. To be able to pass along a message. To be on the right hand of the father. Whether or not Trump did as Graham asked was merely icing on the cake. He could be denied for months on end to no effect, but if once, just once, he was able to say to his dinner mate that he talked the president into or out of doing something, his heart was made full. He was officially in the mix and no one could take that from him. Washington is full of Little Mixes who don’t get anywhere near the president’s golf cart but are nonetheless omnipresent, sitting in a conference room with Sarah Sanders or being in the back row of a meeting with a cabinet official or staffing a principal in a television greenroom that also contained “the Mooch” or Gloria Borger or some other minor celebrity. Through this access, they get the thrill up their leg that comes with having a story they can share when they go back home over Thanksgiving, about the private moment they saw or heard that makes them feel important. It turns out that’s all they need in life, and it doesn’t matter who the source of power is.

Another Striver subcategory was unique to the Trump orbit: the Peter Principle Disprover. For the uninitiated, the Peter Principle is the business management concept that people in a hierarchy rise to their maximum level of incompetence. In practice, it means a person will be promoted up and until the point where a new skill is required that they do not have. An example is the engineer who becomes a suit and fails because they have to manage relationships and payroll when all they are actually good at is maximizing widget output. Trump’s administration was filled with ambitious Strivers who were punching way, way, way above their weight. People who were promoted three or nine or eleventy million rungs higher than their maximum level of incompetence.

These hacks and maroons would have been nowhere near the Oval Office in any other administration, so they were not going to miss their opportunity to experience the heights of American power and governance just because a bigoted buffoon was behind the Resolute Desk. To understand just how far beyond the Peter Principle the Trump White House had gotten: a man whose previous job was working as a golf caddy was empowered to create international incidents without any management oversight. The White House’s “external relations” director was a 20-year-old Instagram influencer named Camryn Kinsey, who said in an interview, “Only in Trump’s America could I go from working in a gym to working in the White House.” Hard to argue with that, Camryn! Camryn and the caddy mirrored the quality of staff throughout much of the federal bureaucracy, with scores of other enterprising back-row kids taking jobs just because they were not throwin’ away their shot.

The view into the mind of these dolts was captured by Stephanie Grisham, who “served” as Trump’s third press secretary, if you can call her that, given that she never actually held a press briefing. In a jarringly candid interview with New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi, during which she acknowledged being part of something “unusually evil,” Grisham said, “My lack of confidence in myself as a single mother and someone who has made mistakes in my past, I thought, well, this is my only shot. Nobody’s gonna ever want me, really, but these people did.” Grisham’s sense of inadequacy was compounded by bitterness toward those who were saying all the things she knew were true about herself and her boss. “You have this sick sense of pride,” she says. “All the people who told you how terrible he was? You’re like, Oh? He’s the [president], buddy!”



The White House was littered with other disprovers who shared Grisham’s combination of ineptitude, imposter syndrome, self-loathing, and bitterness toward their critics but who haven’t acquired the distance from the exhilarating madness to see it as clearly as she does.

The PP Disprover had a marginally more capable counterpart: the Nerd Revenger. You can’t really understand Washington without familiarizing yourself with this prototype. The entire city is made up of sociable wannabes who aspired to sit at the cool kids’ table in high school but were too awkward or unlikable to get the invite. When they got to D.C., things changed. All the time spent obsessing over political redistricting as a teen because their lack of social aptitude left few options for getting laid was finally rewarded. They landed jobs that seemed more interesting than those held by the classmates they had been jealous of and now their younger selves’ dorky little dream was becoming reality.

Take Sean Spicer. Back in college he was a cringey try hard. His roomate recalled that when he walked into a room people would kind of go, “Ugh, Spicer.” The school paper once accidentally printed the staff’s sobriquet for him: “Sean Sphincter,” betraying their true feelings. By the time he got to D.C. things weren’t much different. But in 2011, on the cusp of his fortieth birthday, he earned the title that finally made him bona fide: RNC Communications Director. It was in this spot that Spicer finally got to become the man he always thought he should be. At long last he would be the one whom other aspiring party functionaries needed to befriend if they wanted a seat at his table, rather than the other way around. So when the White House came calling, it didn’t matter that Spicer had hailed from the party’s establishment wing. He was happy to put up with Trump’s lunacy as long as he became a star. After all, when you’re a star, they let you get away with anything.

As he told Jimmy Kimmel, “I’ve never had a boss I represented where 100 percent I agree with what they believe. That’s not the job you sign up for. You’re not saying, ‘I’m going to agree with you.’ You’re saying, ‘I’ll do the best job I can communicating the thoughts and ideas and beliefs that you have.’” He didn’t see anything wrong with shining a poison apple. He got nearly everything he ever wanted. And you’d better believe he’d do it all over again.

Of course, not everyone in the Trump universe had some revenge fantasy to play out. Some just lacked the imagination to conjure what else they could do with their lives. These Inert Team Players couldn’t fathom another option besides taking the next step up the political ladder. Many are so wrapped up in their identity as a Republican that the idea of being anything besides that is inconceivable. They had been college Republicans and they go to Republican bars, they have Republican LinkedIn handles, and, hell, some even have Republican tattoos. I know multiple people in GOP politics who named their daughters Reagan. For many people in Washington, their party is more a part of their identity than their ethnicity, religion, or personal history. It’s how they see themselves and how everyone in their social network defines them. Shedding an ingrained identity that others use to define you takes courage, even if that identity is toxic and self-destructive. All of this makes the bar for removing “Republican operative” from a person’s identity pretty hard.

Throw on top of that the fact that Republican politics is how they made a living and they still opposed tax hikes and abortion and you can see why people were reluctant to cut bait.

If they were going to envision a new identity for themselves, they needed the wake-up call that I got as a closeted Republican when I realized it was a future tapping my foot in an airport bathroom I needed to fear, not what my friends and family would think when I told them I was gay. Most were in too deep and their thinking was too rigid to recognize that their escape hatch was through Trump’s wide stance.

Instead, these Team Players kept their day jobs, but unlike the Strivers, their distaste for the president resulted in receding a bit from the social scene. Scaling back their ambitions. Over time, the sharpness of the moral sacrifice dulls. They consider themselves one of the “good Republicans.” And as the years go by, they become increasingly less and less likely to make a dramatic identity-altering gesture. Then, one day, they are editing a press release that expresses concerns about the electoral count in Pennsylvania and wondering what the hell they are doing with their life.

But they still had kids and mortgages and would end up reverting to what they know, like a midlevel oilman who trudges back into the office the day after a spill. What else am I supposed to do? they would ask me. (I would proceed to make a series of suggestions that were rebuffed.)

The Compartmentalizers were the Inerts’ more anxiety-riddled peers. As the onetime Compartmentalizer-in-Chief, I can grok these folks’ motives the most clearly. Many of them agonized over sticking around. They would tuck bad Trump thoughts in a box in the corner of their brain somewhere and go on with their duties, clocking in and clocking out as required. Work that had once enlivened them had become a miserable chore, with sporadic bouts of gratification. They cut back on news consumption, trying to mentally check out as much as possible. Some picked up new passions away from work; for others the new passion was an alarming increase in their intake of wine, an old passion. Anything to keep the moral quandary of providing aid, however indirectly, to Trump from emerging from their hippocampus. Every other month or so the bad thoughts would spring from the dark recesses of their brain. “Very fine people on both sides.” Bang. “Helsinki.” Bang. “Send them back.” Bang. And each time their self-loathing would eke out for a day or a week before it got sent back to the lockbox, and they reverted to their old habits.

Finally, I would be remiss to ignore the most common and obvious motivator for this or any ethically dubious endeavor: money. One big misconception about Washington is that money is the straw that stirs the drink. Activist types always demand we look to the money! Sometimes they are right, but the driving motivator for most during the Trump era was not a desire for riches. This town is not filled with Gordon Gekkos. More often, it’s the other, more egocentric motivators that drive nefarious actions in D.C. Raising money remains important, but fundraising is really about status and power. Yet there were a handful of entrepreneurial Republicans whom most people have never heard of who did enrich themselves beyond their wildest imaginations during the Trump years. These Cartel Cashers now spend time designing their beach compounds, the spoils of their sacrifice.

Just look at the cartel-cashing couple, Mike Shields and Katie Walsh. Shields advocated for pushing the Republican Party toward the center after Romney’s defeat in 2012, and friends of mine tell me Walsh cried when Trump won on election night in 2016. But that didn’t stop them from riding the Trump train to fortune. With Shields running a super PAC focused on electing Republican House candidates and Walsh serving as Reince Priebus’ chief-of-staffthey managed to thrive in Trumpworld, walking the MAGA/establishment tight-rope, utilizing leverage and relationships and powered by pride in the work that had gotten them there.

As I called around to their friends and former friends trying to understand why they did it, the answer kept coming back to the quid. A fellow consultant who knows the game explained the motivation rather simply.

“Shields had never been in a job that made more than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year in his life,” he told me without irony. “This was his opportunity.”

Only a quarter-million bones? Where is Friar Tuck when you need him, this might require alms for the poor!


Most people don’t fit neatly into a single category. Some had a little from column A and a little from column C. There was a jumble of rationalization blended in with their best intentions and their shadow wants. But you know a type when you see it.

Consider Chris Christie: a Little Mix and Team Player and Junior Messiah all wrapped up in Costco Club packaging. Christie is a Churchill in his own mind but was turned by Trump into a sniveling church mouse.

For years Trump demeaned and diminished Christie at every turn. He threw away the transition plan he wrote after the election, passed him over for jobs, and made him into the family’s personal gimp, to be summoned from his shackles on command.

You might think that someone with Christie’s ego would eventually have walked away from this type of torment. But no. Ever the glutton for being in the mix, he kept coming back for more.



Toward the end of the 2020 campaign, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump unshackled him one more time, demanding he play the role of Biden in the president’s debate prep. Months later it was revealed that the president had tested positive for COVID before these sessions began, but kept it a secret, holding Christie captive in close quarters for days, brazenly spittling diseased airborne droplets all over him.

Soon after, the sub contracted his dom’s virus and spent a few harrowing days in the intensive care unit, where he genuinely feared he might die. When Trump called Christie in the hospital, as he lay on death’s door, Trump’s only concern was whether the little mouse would have the courage to publicly blame the sickness on him before election day or would keep running cover for his master.

The depraved indifference! The collaring! How does a man accept such despicable treatment and maintain even a modicum of self-respect?

Unlike the millions of others who were not so lucky, Christie managed to come out the other side. But that doesn’t change the fact that Donald Trump nearly killed him with the same abject, megalomaniacal recklessness he had subjected upon the entire country with his management of the pandemic. The president was so hell-bent on minimizing the threat of COVID-19 — and demonstrating his imagined ubermensch virility — that he put Christie and the hundreds of others he encountered while contagious at risk.

And yet when Christie returned from the hospital, rather than stand up for himself, rather than get angry, he waddled right back into the clutches of his patient zero, supporting his reelection campaign.

At the time of this writing he continues to maintain that he has not ruled out going back into the breach for Trump one more time should the latter be the Republican nominee for president again in 2024.

That shows you how powerful the complexes that afflict these enablers are. They persist even in the face of a near-miss visit to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

Christie’s particular motivations, and those of my other former colleagues who knew better, might be somewhat different, but all roads led to the same Trumpian hell.




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