The People

STARTING LINE: If you didn't see that CNN/ Des Moines Register poll that has Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden leading the field among Iowa voters 11 months out from the Iowa caucuses, what did you do with your Sunday?

That two septuagenarian white guys (one of whom has yet to officially announce a 2020 bid) who have spent most of their careers in politics are leading the field this far out from the first-in-the-nation caucus should not come as a total surprise. The senator and former veep are well-known to voters and have both run for president before, with the fundraising and organizing apparatus that comes with such an undertaking.

Something that polls aren't able to capture, however, is the amount of excitement a candidate generates because of their ideas. And right now, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is winning the ideas battle by injecting ambitious policies into the race for who will challenge President Trump.

  • “Elizabeth Warren is trying to position herself as the ideas candidate of the field, and thus far, in the early going, she’s winning that,” Faiz Shakir, the former political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times at the end of January, before being tapped as Sanders's campaign manager. “Others should start thinking about competing in the arena for new ideas.”

  • “Elizabeth Warren is really driving the policy debate among the 2020 candidates,” Pod Save America's Jon Favreau tweeted. “It's impressive.” 

Breaking up: Warren rattled Silicon Valley by introducing a plan Friday to break up America's biggest tech companies by requiring a "structural separation" between their online network and their products. It's one of a handful of new policy proposals Warren has rolled out in the span of six months, setting an impressive pace of robust agenda-setting unmatched by her Democratic rivals. 

  • Tech: “Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation,” Warren wrote in a Medium post first reported by the New York Times's Astead Herndon
  • Child care: Warren has also introduced a $70 billion dollar a year universal childcare plan — to be paid for with a tax on the ultrawealthy — that “would ensure that every American would be able to enroll children up to 5 years old in a child-care program while paying no more than 7 percent of their income in fees,” my colleague Jeff Stein reported last month. 
  • Wealth tax: Warren floated imposing an annual tax of 2 percent on Americans with more than $50 million and a 3 percent tax on those worth over $1 billion to address income inequality. The tax would raise $2.75 trillion over ten years from roughly 75,000 families, economists who worked on the plan told my colleagues Jeff and Christopher Ingraham. 
  • “Wealth inequality in our nation is a national scandal,” Gene Sperling, an economic adviser to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, tweeted “This type of wealth tax that @SenWarren is proposing is essential. It frees up dramatic amounts of resources that make it more likely the vast number Americans can have economic security & a shot at their own small nest egg.”
  • Draining the swamp: Warren rolled out an anti-corruption and government reform bill during a speech at the National Press Club in August. The bill includes proposals for lifetime lobbying bans on former lawmakers, federal judges and Cabinet secretaries, a requirement that federal officeholders make their tax returns public, and the creation of a new agency to enforce and oversee existing government ethics rules.
  • Housing crisis: Warren also rolled out the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act that would use federal funds to "help bridge the wealth gap between black and white families," per City Lab's Kriston Capps. " . . . Title II of Warren’s proposed bill establishes a new fund within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This to-be-determined purse would provide down-payment assistance to first-time home buyers in communities that were once subject to redlining.” 
  • “It sounds very close to reparations,” says Jenny Schuetz, the David M. Rubenstein fellow at the Brookings Institution told Capps. “It sounds as close as you can go to reparations without making this explicitly funding contingent on the race of the applicant.”
  • Reparations: Warren dodged questions Friday about whether "she would support monetary compensation as a form of reparations for African Americans whose ancestors were slaves," CNN's MJ Lee reports, after initially telling the Times she supported such payments. 
  • “I think it's time for us to have the conversation. We need to address the fact that in this country, we built great fortunes and wealth on the backs of slaves and we need to address that head-on — we need to have that national conversation,” the Massachusetts Democrat told CNN. “There are scholars, there are activists who've talked about a lot of different ways we might structure reparations.”

Warren has reason to believe that going bold or going home will work. Per the CNN/DMR poll:

  • 84 percent of voters prefer a candidate who supports in full/steps towards Medicare for all. 
  • 91 percent of voters prefer a candidate who supports in full/ steps towards the Green New Deal. 
  • 89 percent of voters prefer a candidate who supports in full/ steps towards taxes that target people with over $50 million in assets.  

In terms of the horserace, Warren falls behind Sanders and Biden in the survey at 9 percent, followed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at 7 percent. And we don't know whether Warren's laser focus on policy will ultimately help her. But for campaign watchers, operatives, and Democrats determined to avoid some of the last presidential election's missteps, focusing on policy doesn't seem like worst idea.

Something to think about: There was a significant “imbalance” in the coverage of candidates' “traits or characteristics” versus the nation's economy in the 2016 election, according to University of California political science professor Lynn Vavreck. Don't blame it entirely on the media, though, Vavreck wrote post-2016.

  • Vavreck looked at the ads run by both Hillary Clinton and Trump in 2016.

  • “The content of the ads is revealing. Both candidates spent most of their television advertising time attacking the other person’s character. In fact, the losing candidate’s ads did little else. More than three-quarters of the appeals in Mrs. Clinton’s advertisements (and nearly half of Mr. Trump’s) were about traits, characteristics or dispositions. Only 9 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s appeals in her ads were about jobs or the economy. By contrast, 34 percent of Mr. Trump’s appeals focused on the economy, jobs, taxes and trade.” 

A candidate who barely registered in the poll made a dent with his CNN town hall performance on Sunday evening:

 

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At the White House

BRACING FOR YET ANOTHER WALL BATTLE: With the debate over Trump's national emergency declaration still in full swing (the Senate is expected to vote on whether to reject it this week), the president will request at least $8.6 billion more in funding to build sections of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, first reported by Reuters's Roberta Rampton.  

  • “In Trump’s annual budget request to Congress, he will request $5 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security to continue building sections of a wall, three people briefed on the request said. He will request an additional $3.6 billion for the Defense Department’s military construction budget to erect more sections of a wall,” according to my colleagues Damian Paletta and Erica Werner. 

Cuts, cuts, cuts: Like many budget proposals that have come before it, this one received a dead-on-arrival kind of reception from lawmakers who issued swift reactions panning the request for more wall funding and a "broader proposal to cut $2.7 trillion in spending over 10 years for programs including welfare assistance, environmental protection and foreign aid.” 

  • “The proposal would, among other things, cut more than $1.1 trillion from Medicaid and other health-care programs over the next decade by turning over more control to states, according to a summary reviewed by The Washington Post.” 
  • “The White House’s new budget plan would also cut $327 billion from other welfare programs, including those that provide food and housing assistance, in part by imposing mandatory work requirements for certain recipients. It would cut an additional $207 billion by making changes to student loan programs over 10 years and $200 billion more by changing federal retirement programs and making major changes to the U.S. Postal Service,” Paletta and Werner report. 
  • Wait there's more: “The budget would call for severe reductions at a number of federal agencies. It will propose a 12% cut at the Education Department, a 12% cut at the Department of Health and Human Services, an 11% cut at the Interior Department, a 23% cut at the State Department, a 32% cut at the Environmental Protection Agency and a 22% cut at the Transportation Department, according to the summary.”
  • “Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the request was 'not even worth the paper it’s written on.”

Despite the massive domestic cuts Trump is advocating, Ivanka Trump is proposing a “one-time investment of $1 billion to increase the supply of child care to underserved populations,” NPR's Tamara Keith reported yesterday.  

  • How it would work: "States would apply for funding and could use it to encourage employers large and small to invest in child care or to support child care providers that operate during nontraditional work hours or that cater to parents who are enrolled in school," according to Keith.
  • “A White House official, who declined to speak on the record because the budget is not yet public, said the president's 2020 budget proposal calls for spending $5.3 billion on the program, the same level that Congress set aside in 2019 and a big increase over what past Trump administration budgets asked for. The $1 billion one-time fund would come on top of that."

Kicker: “I'm excited that more people are aware of the barrier that child care is to working families in order to achieve their economic dreams and take care of their families,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told Keith of potentially working with Ivanka on the issue. “So we welcome all ideas, but they have to be real ideas.”

The Investigations

WHAT'S NEXT?: Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort are all set to appear back in court this week, potentially providing a window on the status of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort received a widely decried 47-month prison sentence last week from Judge T.S. Ellis in Arlington for his conviction on charges of tax and financial fraud. He'll appear before Judge Amy Berman Jackson in D.C. on Wednesday where she can "give Manafort a maximum of 10 years" for conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice for attempted witness tampering, according to CNN's Katelyn Polantz. 

  • What to expect: "Jackson is only sentencing him for two charges that together have a 10 year maximum sentence. Legal experts believe she will not be able to go higher than 10 years, even with his additional admissions and bad actions,” Polantz reports. 
  • Will collusion with Russia be raised?: “Mueller surely investigated that allegation, according to a memo from the Deputy Attorney General to Mueller in 2017 and more recently when prosecutors discussed Manafort'scontact with his Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik. The Mueller team has even revealed some of the still-secret details of their investigation to the judge in Washington. Kilimnik may come up at Manafort's sentencing Wednesday because he is a co-defendant in the witness tampering crime. (Kilimnik lives in Russia and has not entered a plea in US court.)”
  • “Other than that, Jackson has kept details about Manafort and Kilimnik under seal because the prosecutors say it is part of an ongoing investigation — separate from the case she'll sentence Manafort in. The crimes before Jackson aside from witness tampering largely focus on Manafort's lobbying business for Ukrainian politicians and in the US prior to 2016,” per Polantz. 

On the Hill, Thursday is the day to watch when two Cabinet officials will testify: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross before the House Oversight and Reform Committee and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin before the House Ways and Means Committee. 

  • Oversight is expected to question Ross over the Commerce Department's announcement last March that a citizenship question was going to be added to the 2020 census. 
  • Mnuchin will be questioned on Trump's 2020 budget proposal.

Outside the Beltway

TRUST-BUT-VERIFY: Footage obtained by the New York Times’s Nicholas Casey, Christoph Koettl and Deborah Acosta contradicts the Trump administration’s claims that President Nicolás Maduro had torched a convoy of humanitarian aid at the end of February. The White House, the State Department and Venezuela’s opposition seized on the images to bolster “evidence of Maduro’s cruelty.” But a reconstruction of the series of events shows that the opposition — and not Maduro’s forces — accidentally set fire to the cargo of food and medicine. 

  • “Unpublished footage obtained by the New York Times and previously released tapes — including footage released by the Colombian government, which has blamed Mr. Maduro for the fire — allowed for a reconstruction of the incident. It suggests that a Molotov cocktail thrown by an antigovernment protester was the most likely trigger for the blaze,” they report. “The burning of the aid last month has led to broad condemnation of the Venezuelan government.”
  • The Times also revealed that contradictions regarding the claim from opposition leader Juan Guaidó “that the aid contained medicine and that it was burned by Mr. Maduro as well.”
  • Asked about perpetuating the unsubstantiated claims, spokespeople for National Security Adviser John Bolton and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) both released statements that did not address who burned the trucks but blamed Maduro for the destruction of the aid. 

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