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Power Up: Some Democrats think Schultz trial balloon is wake-up call for Biden

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Good morning Power Squad and welcome back. Unfortunately, we have to postpone this morning's conversation with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) because of the current weather conditions. We'll let you know as soon as we reschedule — but still plan on seeing you Thursday evening for Bob Costa's interview with Chris Christie. Stay warm and toasty. Thanks for waking up with us. 

The People

THE FIRST SHOT: Howard Schultz's announcement that he's seriously weighing an independent presidential bid in 2020 has provoked a razor-sharp backlash among Democrats who insist the former Starbucks CEO would aid and abet President Trump's reelection if he runs as an independent.

But Schultz's interest in a centrist, throw-all-the-bums out candidacy has also been instructive for some Democrats across the spectrum: They believe it helps make the case for or against Joe Biden to step into the arena — a decision the former senator and vice president just said he's still weighing. And Biden was the candidate that topped the wide-open Democratic field, closely followed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week.

“I'm making a decision now whether or not I'm the right person because it's important, It's critically important that we change the atmosphere,” Biden said Monday night in Florida, saying he's “closer” to a call than he was over Christmas. 

Schultz's semi-launch is seen by some grass-roots organizers as a precursor to the problems that candidates in similarly moderate lanes like Biden and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg might face if they sought the 2020 nomination in today's Democratic Party.

These activists contend those representing the “corporate-friendly centrist wing of American politics in both parties [are] just out of touch with where voters are at today,” Waleed Shahid, the communications director of Justice Democrats, told Power Up. “And I don't think the electorate is excited about the Bill Clinton-style economic philosophy Biden brings. He has way more baggage than Schultz, from Anita Hill to basically overseeing everything Black Lives Matters is protesting.”

 “The record is really deep. He’s a moderate in every era. So it’s hard to see what his convictions are.” 

Of course, there's a good argument to be made there are too many Democrats already running in the progressive lane and that a centrist candidate could take advantage of that dynamic. Biden is seen as the most direct competition for the blue-collar, working-class vote that Trump won in 2016.

But Democratic strategists from various pockets of the party articulate a deeper, structural deficit swiftly exposed by the guest of this week's Goop! podcast."It's no longer a fight between the right and the left but rather the bottom and the top,” Shahid told us.  

  • “It's something that hasn't even really entered the way that the media covers campaigns but the left and right divide is no longer sufficient. The candidates that can convincingly show people that on top of having the right policies, they're also more oriented toward the bottom, have a structural advantage in politics today,” a former Obama staffer told Power Up. Biden, the former staffer added, is “someone that people feel is ultimately kind of part of the elite.” 

Bloomberg issued a sharply worded statement outlining why an independent candidate would enable a Trump victory in 2020. But a source from the Bloomberg camp disputed the notion there's no lane for a moderate Democratic candidate: 

  • “Look at the Democrats that just won in the midterms: largely moderate suburban Democrats. The Ocasio-Cortez types tend to be the exception.” the strategist said. “There is enough anti -Trump backlash [around[ 2020 that moderates will come out and they will be energized.”

The New York Times's Alexander Burns scooped last week that Biden had accepted $200,000 to address a Republican-leaning audience in Michigan, praising his friend Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). If the bipartisan strategy is any indication of Biden's future primary maneuverings, it was not well received by even some of his supporters. 

  • “Tone deaf”: A source close to Biden's team dubbed overtures to Republicans in the Trump-era as “tone deaf.” “The reality is that this is the moment in American history that you could go further left and win if you wanted to,” the source said.
  • “I think it's a smart, novel way to go,” Mark Salter, a longtime adviser to the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said of Biden's bipartisan embrace. “As for Schultz, I want Donald Trump to lose. He makes it harder for a progressive to be nominated. I would very much like to see Democrats fight for centrists, for my own druthers, obviously. I don’t want Democrats to head down the same road that the Republican Party did and price themselves outside of Main Street.”



On The Hill

WHILE TRUMP SELLS BOOKS . . . Wednesday is Trump's fifth consecutive day with no public events and reporters have not received an official readout on his activities. While Trump laid low, his intelligence chiefs appeared on Capitol Hill to deliver what amounted to a public contradiction of a lot of what POTUS has said about the national security challenges facing the country.

Echoing the findings of a 42-page "Worldwide Threat Assessment" released on Tuesday, CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Chris Wray and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee and rebuked several of the president's assertions regarding Russia, Syria, China, Iran, the U.S.-Mexico border, and North Korea. 

  • North Korea: Per The Post's Shane Harris, Coats said that North Korean was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” which the country’s leaders consider “critical to the regime’s survival.” 
  • “That assessment threw cold water on the White House’s more optimistic view that the United States and North Korea will achieve a lasting peace and that the regime will ultimately give up its nuclear weapons. It was not the first time that U.S. intelligence has determined North Korea is not on the path to surrendering its weapons. And throughout the hearing, officials found themselves repeating earlier assessments on subjects that also were at odds with the president’s public statements,” Harris writes. 
  • U.S.-Mexico Border: “None of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall. Coats noted that high crime rates and a weak job market are likely to spur migrants from Central America to cross into the United States. But he also sounded optimistic that Mexico will cooperate with the Trump administration to address violence and the flow of illegal drugs, problems that Trump has said Mexico isn’t addressing sufficiently,” per Harris. 
  • ISIS: Coats told lawmakers that “the Islamic State would continue 'to stoke violence' in Syria. He was backed up by the written review, which said there were thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria and a dozen Islamic State networks around the world. Just last month, Mr. Trump said that 'we have won against ISIS; we’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly' in announcing the withdrawal of American troops from Syria,” the New York Times's David Sanger and Julian Barnes report. 
  • Iran: “The officials assessed that the government of Iran was not trying to build a nuclear weapon, despite the Trump administration’s persistent claims that the country has been violating the terms of an international agreement forged during the Obama administration. Officials told lawmakers that Iran was in compliance with the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as some officials had previously said privately,” according to Harris. 
  • China and Russia: Coats did not mince words in describing the strategic risk posed by China and Russia, which Coats said “are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s,” according to Harris and are working together to "undermine democratic governments and gain military and technological superiority over the United States.” 

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NBC News's Chris Hayes first broke the news that Democrats had tapped Stacey Abrams to deliver the response to Trump's State of the Union speech on Feb. 5. Abrams is being heavily courted, according to Politico's James Arkin, to run in Georgia's Senate race in 2020, "a move that would put in play a state that hasn’t gone blue in two decades and could reshape the party’s path to retaking the Senate majority." 

Outside the Beltway

"GONE IN A GENERATION”: “The continental United States is 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was a century ago. Seas at the coasts are nine inches higher. The damage is mounting from these fundamental changes, and Americans are living it. These are their stories.” Spend some time with The Post's latest multimedia reporting series exploring the existing impacts of climate change in America and how it has already altered the planet from one generation to the next.

Video Journalist Zoeann Murphy and environmental reporter Chris Mooney reveal the intense climate processes at work behind natural disasters and other phenomena occurring across the United States. Mooney shared with Power Up the process of reporting out these stories and the environmental damage that's been done ranging from forests to floods to fires to fisheries. He writes: 

  • “This project — “Gone in a Generation” — was a long time coming together. Over a year, I think, if you go back to when conversations first started. And it went through a lot of phases, too. We certainly did not know, when we took our first trip to Rhode Island and Maine in June to write about changing lobster fisheries, what that individual narrative or the broader narrative of all four stories would ultimately look like. We didn’t even know what the next trip would be.
  • Basically, I played the role of the climate science wonk and explainer of what is happening in various parts of U.S., which included helping to locate spots where real changes tied to climate change were already afoot.
  • And Zoeann found the stories, the people, who would help us demonstrate how those changes mattered in people’s lives. And in two cases she was able to move from covering actual climate-linked disasters in real time — Hurricane Florence, the Carr Fire in California — to finding the kind of stories that would fit the narrative of this project.
  • The theme of families — parents and children — and generational loss is something that emerged naturally out of the reporting. It was present in our first trip — to Maine — and then it just recurred. Soon we realized that that was what this whole project was about. How livelihoods, pastimes, homes, or places that were important to one generation just might not be there for the next.”

Global Power

RUSSIA CONTINUES (TO ATTEMPT) TO REASSERT ITSELF: My colleagues John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima broke a fascinating story that marks yet another attempt by Russia to reassert itself beyond its borders by offering the North Koreans a nuclear power plant in exchange for the dismantling of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Hudson and Nakashima report the “secret proposal” was offered to North Korea last fall, “aimed at resolving deadlocked negotiations with the Trump administration over the North’s nuclear weapons program, said U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.” 

  • The key quote: “The Russians are very opportunistic when it comes to North Korea, and this is not the first time they’ve pursued an energy stake in Korea,” said Victor Cha, a former White House staff member who the Trump administration considered nominating last year to serve as U.S. ambassador to South Korea. “Previous administrations have not welcomed these Russian overtures, but with Trump, you never know because he doesn’t adhere to traditional thinking,” Cha said.
  • Why?: “Diplomats and analysts familiar with Russia’s actions said Moscow has a longtime interest in creating an energy link between Siberia and East Asia, as well as being viewed as a problem-solver for geopolitical crises.”
  • Fun fact: “Experts said the idea borrows from the original blueprint of the failed 1994 accord between North Korea and the Clinton administration known as the Agreed Framework, which sought to accommodate North Korea’s energy needs.” But the proposal failed during the transition to the George W. Bush administration because the administration, “including John Bolton, was adamantly opposed to light water reactors,” Duyeon Kim, a Korea expert at the Center for a New American Security, told The Post. 

Separately, but related: Politico's Nahal Toosi and Eliana Johnson report the top U.S. diplomat to North Korea plans to see his counterparts in Panmunjom next week to “hammer out details of a late-February second nuclear summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.”

  • “Ahead of that meeting, [Stephen] Biegun is due to give a speech on Thursday about the ongoing U.S. effort to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear program. Biegun will deliver the remarks at Stanford University's Walter Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, according to the State Department,” per Politico. 
  • His speech might be a bit awkward considering DNI Director Coats's assessment on Tuesday that North Korea has shown little movement toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program. 

In the Media