It is probably too late for any Democrat to mount a credible primary challenge to Hillary Clinton, who appears to have sewn up much of the sort of the hidden elite support and backing from party actors that tends to influence voters’ choice of a nominee. Yet on some issues, at least, Clinton is acting as if she has a lot of work to do in terms of securing support from liberal Democrats who might be tempted to give someone else a second look.

This is not lost on former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who has now taken a subtle shot at Clinton for shifting on issues important to rank and file Dems. At an event late yesterday, The Guardian asked O’Malley for a response to the fact that in recent days, Clinton has updated her positions on gay marriage and drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants:

“I’m glad Secretary Clinton’s come around to the right positions on these issues,” O’Malley told the Guardian during the forum at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “I believe that we are best as a party when we lead with our principles and not according to the polls.
“Leadership is about making the right decision, and the best decision before sometimes it becomes entirely popular.”

That’s not a direct shot, but the obvious suggestion is that Clinton came around to these positions belatedly, after it became easier to do. This week, the Clinton campaign came out in support of state policies that grant drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants, despite having opposed giving them drivers’ licenses as a candidate in 2008. And the Clinton campaign also urged the Supreme Court to find a Constitutional right to gay marriage, whereas her previous position was that it should be left to the states, which attracted criticism from gay rights advocates. O’Malley got to those positions well before Clinton did.

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It is very hard to say how much pressure from the left will matter as a factor as Clinton slowly fills in her positions. But it’s clear that looming questions on a number of issues will likely prove considerably more difficult to navigate than, say, her position on gay marriage, which has seen a dramatic cultural shift in recent years.

There’s the question of whether Clinton will support proposals to expand Social Security, as many liberal Democrats do. As Bill Scher documents, liberals are also likely to continue to demand details on what sort of posture Clinton will adopt towards Wall Street on matters such as a financial transaction tax and the proper extent of Wall Street oversight. While Clinton will likely support some sort of tax hike on capital gains and inherited wealth — along the lines of what Obama has proposed — it remains to be seen how far Clinton will be willing to go in terms of embracing redistributive policy. Camp Hillary is reported to be wary of being seen playing the “politics of envy” towards the wealthy, though it’s unclear how real that is.

And now trade is flaring up as a major issue. While Clinton has voiced support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership as Secretary of State, there are searing differences among Democrats not only over the trade deal itself, but over the “fast track” process that Congress is likely to grant to the president, which would allow him to negotiate the deal on the understanding that it will only face a straight up-or-down vote later. Clinton will be expected to say something about “fast track” soon enough.

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Even if Clinton does anger the left with her positions on some of these issues, it won’t likely pose a serious obstacle to her march towards the nomination. But the Clinton camp itself says it won’t take any Democratic votes for granted. That would seem to entail speaking frankly to Democrats about her views on these divides, rather than trying to fudge her positions on them.

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* HOW SOME DEMS HOPE TO DEFEAT TRADE BILL: Politico reports on the deep split among Dems over the big Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which is intensifying now that Congress is likely to grant Obama “fast track” authority. Note this from one Dem opponent:

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“We don’t know how many tea party Republicans will not want to give the president this authority. You see on some of the negotiations with Iran, they want a heavy amount of oversight they want to watch every move that he makes…if that same group applies that same standard to this trade agreement there may be some backlash with us in the House not having the ability to amend it.”

In other words, tea partiers may be loath to grant Obama authority even to negotiate a free trade deal, because #Obummer. The question would then be whether enough liberal House Dems will oppose granting this authority to keep it from passing the House.

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Coming around to expansion would be a pretty significant shift for Clinton. In 2008, she supported setting up a commission to address Social Security’s solvency and opposed a proposal from then-Sen. Barack Obama to lift the cap on the payroll tax that pays for the program, which in 2015 earnings over about $118,500 are not subjected to.
But if Clinton isn’t going to go all the way to expanding Social Security, there has been a pretty big hint that she might at least consider bending on the latter issue and support taxing wealthier Americans to make the program more solvent, which would likely find support in the Warren wing of the party.

That might be one way to thread this particular needle.

* WHAT TO WATCH TODAY ON DEPORTATIONS: Today the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear the Obama administration’s request that it lift a Texas judge’s injunction blocking his executive deportation relief for millions from moving forward.  Unfortunately, the panel that will hear the request is stacked with conservative judges, so millions may still be kept in legal limbo for the time being.

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However, even if the panel declines to lift the injunction, the 5th Circuit will still hear the administration’s appeal on the underlying legal dispute in June, meaning the program may well still move forward eventually, though it might take awhile.

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* QUOTE OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE-DERANGEMENT-SYNDROME EDITION: Florida Governor Rick Scott is suing the Obama administration because it may discontinue funds for a program funding hospitals that treat uninsured people, even as it is offering him billions to expand Medicaid (which he is refusing). Now Scott reaches deep into his literary repertoire to offer this:

“This is the Sopranos,” Scott said, referring to the hit HBO show about a New Jersey-based mafia family. “They are using bullying tactics to attack our state. It’s wrong. It’s outrageous they are doing this.”

Scott wants federal money for health care, as long as he doesn’t have to call it “Obamacare.” If the feds don’t give him that money exclusively on his own terms, it’s “bullying.”

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* WHAT’S JEB BUSH’S POSITION ON FLORIDA MEDICAID STANDOFF? Via Marc Caputo, Jeb Bush was asked whether he thought Florida legislators should resolve its budget standoff with a compromise that includes accepting the Medicaid expansion, as some Florida Republicans want Governor Scott to do. His reply:

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“I don’t know,” Bush said. “That’s their job, frankly. Expanding Medicaid without reforming it is not going to solve our problems over the long run.”

I don’t know? Yes, Bush says Medicaid needs to be reformed, but does that mean Jeb Bush is at least open to expanding Obummercare in Florida on certain terms? Paging the other 2016 GOP primary candidates…

* AND CAN HILLARY SOLVE DEMOCRATS’ ‘WHITE VOTER’ PROBLEM? Dave Weigel has an interesting look at the rising optimism among Democrats that Hillary Clinton can reverse the losses the Democratic Party suffered among blue collar whites during the Obama era. Key point: Individual Dem incumbents and candidates who face challenges among these voters themselves believe they will fare better among those voters with Clinton at the top of the ticket.

Clinton is probably eying a coalition that includes the Obama voter groups — millennials, minorities, college-educated whites — and also better-than-Obama-levels among blue collar white women to offset any failure to turn out the Obama voters at his levels.

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