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The Campaign

COURSE CORRECTION: Former senator Joe Biden, whose support for the controversial 1994 crime bill he co-authored as Senate Judiciary Committee chair may be one of his biggest liabilities, is today rolling out what experts say amounts to a partial reversal of that landmark legislation. 

It's a timely announcement for the former vice president, who is leading in most polls of Democrats ready to challenge President Trump in 2020. Biden's civil rights record has been under a microscope since he seemed to praise segregationist senators, and he was slammed in the last debate for opposing busing. The '94 crime bill is charged with incentivizing states to build more prisons and raise mandatory minimum sentencing — overly harsh crime policy that disproportionately impacted African Americans and communities of color.

Biden's proposal calls for a “new $20 billion competitive grant program” to prompt states to shift from incarceration to crime prevention and the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences — a complete reversal of the “truth-in-sentencing” provision of the '94 crime bill that caused states to increase their prison rolls. Experts say it was the most harmful part of the '94 bill

  • “Basically, this is a reverse crime bill,” Inimai M. Chettiar, the former director of the Brennan Center, told Power Up of Biden's plan, which works off a Brennan Center proposal. The '94 bill “gave states billions of dollars to increase imprisonment so this proposal, which is the first bullet in their program, is one of the biggest reversals of the draconian crime bill,” he said, referring to a $20 billion grant program.
  • “It's great to see the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act reflected here because it's a significant way of reversing decades of harm,” the Brennan Center's Lauren-Brooke Eisen told Power Up.
  • Eisen added that Biden's plan is a recognition the federal government has played a significant role in mass incarceration.
  • From my colleague Sean Sullivan: "Biden’s plan also would decriminalize marijuana and expunge past cannabis-related convictions; end the disparity between sentences for powder and crack cocaine; and do away with all incarceration for drug use alone."

Timing: Key figures like former president Bill Clinton have taken responsibility for implementing a flawed bill — “I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it,” Clinton said at an NAACP event in 2015. But Biden has been slow to reckon with his support for the law.

  • "The proposal comes before Mr. Biden is set to address two events this week focused on racial justice: a gathering of the N.A.A.C.P. in Detroit on Wednesday, and a conference of the National Urban League in Indianapolis on Thursday," writes the New York Times's Katie Glueck.
  • “You can expect [Biden] to talk about all of the policies that he's rolled out this month at the debate next week — this criminal justice reform policy, health care is something we have really been talking about out there,” a senior Biden campaign official told reporters Monday. “There are real differences in this race between [Biden] and a number of people on that stage and you can expect him to draw a real contrast next Wednesday.” 
  • “I know some people in this race would like to believe that he never served as the vice president to President Obama but he's proud of his record and as he noted, he didn't always get everything right and this plan is a true reflection of what he believes,” the campaign official added. 

ANOTHER NOTABLE SHIFT: Biden, who has long supported capital punishment, also is calling to pass federal legislation to abolish the death penalty along with added incentives for states to follow suit, per his proposal. 

  • Previously: “The former senator from Delaware gave a 1992 speech boasting that a crime bill he helped draft would provide 53 death penalty offenses,'" Sean reports. 
  • “Weak as can be, you know?” he said, sarcastically responding to critics who argued the legislation was too soft. “We do everything but hang people for jaywalking in this bill.”

The JUVENILE JUSTICE COMPONENT: Biden's campaign is highlighting his call to invest $1 billion annually in juvenile justice reform. This proposal incentivizes states to stop incarcerating kids, the expansion of federal funding for “safe, nurturing spaces for children to spend time when not in school,” and an end to the use of detention as punishment for offenses that would be legal if they weren't minors

Biden also joins the chorus of Democratic candidates advocating for the elimination of private prisons. And he lays out an ambitious plan to ensure that “100 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals have housing upon reentry” into society.

  • “This is a really good criminal justice platform and I would love to see how they square this with his doubling down on support of the ’94 crime bill,” Chettiar told Power Up.
  • “It’s great to see so many candidates agreeing that we need to significantly shrink our prison populations,” Eisen told us, noting how rapidly the politics of criminal justice reform have progressed.
  • The why of it: "In his more than three decades as a senator, Mr. Biden was a tough-on-crime Democrat who could at times be impatient with concerns about the societal dynamics that contribute to crime, and he championed the 1994 crime bill that many experts now associate with mass incarceration," writes Glueck.

A new New York Times profile of Biden, "The Man Who Wants to Take America Back to a Time Before Trump," is out this morning.

  • On race, "Biden noted that a number of African-American leaders had endorsed him in the wake of his comments about the busing controversy. The implication was that they understood the context in which he had to operate in the 1970s and recognized that his actions were not motivated by bigotry. To blunt attacks on his record, Biden also falls back on his most powerful defense: his connection with Obama. During our conversation in Virginia, he invoked Obama to rebut suggestions of racial insensitivity. 'Do you think he would have picked me,' Biden said, 'if he thought I had even a scintilla of a problem along that line?'"
  • Background:  "In the 1990s, Bill Clinton aggressively moved the Democratic Party to the center, and Biden was a reliable foot soldier in that effort ... During George W. Bush’s presidency, he cast two other votes that some progressives now view as disqualifying: In 2002, he voted to give Bush the authority to use force against Iraq, and three years later, he helped shepherd through the Senate a bill making it tougher for individuals to file for bankruptcy."
On The Hill

WE'VE GOT A DEAL: “The White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reached a tentative two-year budget deal on Monday that would raise spending caps by $320 billion and suspend the debt ceiling until after the next presidential election,” our colleagues Damian Paletta and Erica Werner report.

  • “The agreement, which still must be passed through Congress, would likely clear a debt ceiling crisis later this year but it would also continue Washington’s borrowing binge for at least the next two years.” 

Trump tweeted his stamp of approval: 

  • “I am pleased to announce that a deal has been struck with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — on a two-year Budget and Debt Ceiling, with no poison pills,” President Trump tweeted Monday. “This was a real compromise to give another big victory to our Great Military and Vets!”

THE CONCESSIONS: But the definition of “poison pills” seemed open to interpretation as lawmakers reacted to the terms of the deal -- and concessions made to the opposing party -- ahead of 2020. 

  • "The agreement marks a significant retreat for the White House, which insisted just a few months ago that it would force Congress to cut spending on a variety of programs to enact fiscal discipline. Instead, the White House agreed to raise spending for most agencies, particularly at the Pentagon. In exchange, White House officials received verbal assurances from Democrats that they would not seek to attach controversial policy changes to future spending bills, although it’s unclear how that commitment would be enforced," per Damian and Erica. 

FROM THE DEPT. OF FISCAL HAWKS: A group of House conservatives expressed the loudest chorus of displeasure with the deal that Pelosi hashed out with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to Politico's Melanie Zanona

  • “Fiscal conservatives, furious that the agreement provides over $300 billion in new federal spending without being fully paid for, are urging Trump to oppose the deal unless he secures additional funding for Immigration Customs and Enforcement, a top priority on the right,” Zanona reports. 
  • “As the greatest nation in the history of the world, the least we can do is cut a deal that does not sabotage the fiscal future of our nation while endangering millions of American and migrants because of our porous border,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Trump obtained by Zanona. “We can do better.”
  • Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told Damian and Erica: “ . . . as we understand it, this agreement is a total abdication of fiscal responsibility by Congress and the President. It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history.”
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) released a milquetoast statement of support: “While this deal is not perfect, compromise is necessary in divided government,” McCarthy said in a statement.

And this photo of Pelosi in prime deal-making mode was making the rounds:

WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY: “The Justice Department instructed former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in a letter Monday not to answer a wide variety of questions about his investigation of the president and Russian interference in the 2016 election — a fresh indication of how difficult it may be to extract any new information or insights about the high-profile investigation when he testifies to Congress on Wednesday,” our colleagues Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report. Mueller also plans to introduce his 448-page report as a statement for the record.

  • “Decline to discuss potentially privileged matters”: The Justice Department sent a letter to Mueller with guidelines for his testimony. “The final portion of the letter makes a broader, vaguer admonition not to discuss matters that could be covered by executive privilege — a legally and factually complicated assertion that could, in theory, cover many topics, given that Mueller’s task was to investigate President Trump while working in the executive branch,” Devlin and Matt write.

The letter: Written by Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer also tells Mueller not to violate DOJ policy when discussing uncharged individuals, refuse to discuss tabout the redacted portions of his report and to be mindful of ongoing cases (i.e., Roger Stone): 

Outside the Beltway

DAY OF PROTEST IN PUERTO RICO: “­Puerto Ricans draped in their territory’s colors marched into the streets Monday to demand the resignation of their embattled governor, shuttering businesses and paralyzing a major highway in one of the largest demonstration in the Caribbean island’s history,”  Arelis R. Hernández and Kayla Epstein report from San Juan

  • Rosselló refuses to resign, again: “Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Monday reasserted his commitment to stay on the job and carry out plans to battle corruption and “drain the swamp,” even as criticism of his participation in crude text conversations about political opponents, female politicians and victims of Hurricane Maria intensified,” Arelis and Kayla write.
  • The protest was truly unique:
The Policies

🚨EXPANDED DEPORTATION POWERS: “The Trump administration on Tuesday will significantly expand its power to quickly deport undocumented immigrants who have illegally entered the United States within the past two years, using a fast-track deportation process that bypasses immigration judges,” our colleague Maria Sacchetti reports.

  • Who it affects: “The new rule would apply to immigrants anywhere in the United States who have been in the country for less than two years — adhering to a time limit included in the 1996 federal law that authorized the expedited process,” Maria writes. “Nearly 300,000 of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States could be subject to expedited removal, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.”
  • The ACLU is threatening a lawsuit: “‘Under this unlawful plan, immigrants who have lived here for years would be deported with less due process than people get in traffic court,’ Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told Maria.
  • Meanwhile: “An 18-year-old Dallas-born U.S. citizen has been in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for more than three weeks, his attorney says,” Obed Manuel reports for the Dallas Morning News. “Now his family fears he may be deported.”

Just another Monday morning Oval Office spray at the White House alongside Prime Minister Imram Khan of Pakistan: