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Outside the Beltway

THE OTHER AREA OF ANTITRUST BURNING UP THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY: When it comes to breaking up companies, Democratic presidential candidates are increasingly looking beyond Silicon Valley. In fact, everyone from former vice president Joe Biden to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has pledged to unleash their trustbusting powers as president on another sector of the economy: Agriculture.

The issue resonates particularly in places like Iowa. A number of presidential contenders have unveiled their plans, which include antitrust language, for rural America in the home to the first-in-the-nation caucuses. J.D. Scholten, a former professional baseball player who nearly ousted Republican Rep. Steve King last November, made agricultural monopolies a key message during his challenge.

In total, at least nine candidates have released plans calling for tougher enforcement of existing laws such as the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts. They say, similar to many of their positions on large tech companies, that increasing consolidation in the agriculture industry is unfairly rigging the system against small and family farms, decreasing their profits.

Here's what the candidates are saying:

“This is a hopeful moment,” said Austin Frerick, a former Treasury Department staffer and ex-Democratic congressional candidate who helped Warren’s team write her plan. “We are seeing all of these candidates talk about the need to restore the balance of power in the American food system.”

The cattle call that help spark the conversation: Frerick attributes the push for antitrust and the renewed attention on rural policy to the Heartland Forum, the first presidential cattle call that brought five candidates to western Iowa in April. 

At the forum, Storm Lake Times editor and Pulitzer-prize winner Art Cullen pressed Warren, former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Former Rep. John Delaney (Md.) and Rep. Tim Ryan to expand on their plans.

  • Cullen's take: “Warren came out guns a blaring at that rural forum and at a rally ahead of time in March touting antitrust. She’s got the most aggressive antitrust platform of any of the candidates that I’ve seen.” He added that “Biden isn’t nearly as strident as Warren in terms of antitrust.” 

Cullen praised the field for releasing detailed plans for rural America and for visiting a place like Storm Lake, a small college town of 10,000 to 15,000 people dominated by the meatpacking industry, which he dinged Hillary Clinton for not paying attention to. 

  • “No cattleman ever thought that the meatpacker paid him enough for that steer, so on the surface the antitrust, populist screed has been very familiar out here since the Omaha [Populist Party] convention in 1892,” Cullen said. “It has a broad appeal even among non-farmers as we all grew up even with that populist thematics going on in the background. In certain quarters of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota that populist message has very broad appeal.”

Why now: Antitrust enforcement decreased under the Reagan administration and the trend has only accelerated in recent decades. PolitiFact reports that experts estimate that just four firms dominate the seed and agrichemical business. The situation is virtually identical in the meatpacking industry where just a handful of firms dominate a corner of the either chicken, pork and beef industries.

But not everyone is rooting for breakups. Former Agriculture secretary and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has railed against the focus on monopolies, telling Iowa Starting Line the antitrust sentiment is being pushed by “folks in think tanks in urban centers who have had very little experience, if any, with rural places.”

 “The problem is that a lot of this technology that these companies have is patented,” Vilsack told Power Up, who is now president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. If you take that seed company and divide it into a thousand small seed companies one or more of those seed companies is going to control the patent.”

Among the potential concerns about antitrust action is the future impact on Big Ag.

“Nobody really knows what’s on the other side of that,” Cullen said about what might happen if a company like meatpacking giant Tysons was forced to break up. “First of all, how does it rearrange markets? And what does it mean for the 3,000 families who work in meatpacking in Storm Lake, Iowa?”

At The White House

THE METEOROLOGIST-IN-CHIEF: "Over the long weekend, President Trump monitored Hurricane Dorian from a golf cart at his club in Virginia, calling for regular updates from an aide trailing him around the course,” the New York Times's Katie Rogers reports. “By 8 p.m. Monday, as Dorian churned toward Florida and Mr. Trump’s boarded-up Mar-a-Lago resort, the president had golfed twice and since Saturday morning pelted the American public with 122 tweets.”

  • But Trump isn't replacing your local weatherman anytime soon: “The National Weather Service quickly walked back one of his assertions: 'We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama,' officials said on Twitter,” Rogers writes.
  • Trump refused to let it go: He slammed ABC News's Jonathan Karl for reporting on Trump's inaccurate storm projection for Alabama, a barb that was initially misdirected as the president tagged a man in Kentucky in his tweet and not Karl, the head of the White House Correspondents' Association.
  • And that wasn't his only inaccurate statement: “Trump seemed baffled by how a hurricane could reach Category 5 intensity, the highest category on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which has been widely used since 1974,” our colleague Andrew Freedman writes of Trump's statement that Dorian is the first storm in that category he's ever heard about. “Four Category 5s have occurred on his watch,” Andrew writes, “Irma, Maria, Michael and Dorian — though not all of these storms were Category 5 at landfall.”

The latest: Dorian battered the Bahamas, but the question is what happens next. "In its 2 a.m. bulletin Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center wrote that Dorian will 'move dangerously close to the Florida east coast' late Tuesday through Wednesday evening, then up the coast to North Carolina by late Thursday," our colleagues Jason Samenow and Andrew write

The Campaign

GUN VIOLENCE DOMINATES LABOR DAY TALK: "Former vice president Joe Biden said he wanted to spend Monday celebrating the role organized labor has played in improving the lives of Americans," our colleagues Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Chelsea Janes report. "But moments into his first Labor Day appearance, the presidential candidate turned instead to the nation’s latest mass shooting, which left seven dead in the west Texas town of Odessa on Saturday."

  • Biden also said he would not expect Republicans to work him on gun control: “I think there’s no compromise,” he said in Iowa. “This is one where we are going to just have to push and push and push and push and push. And the fact of the matter is, I think it’s going to result in somebody being defeated.”
  • Buttigieg said this is the GOP's last chance for action: “If Republicans don’t make that right choice this time, I think they will be punished with the loss of power," he said at a separate event in Iowa. "And maybe that’s what it will take to motivate them to come a little more in line with the American people."
  • Warren also pivoted to gun violence in Hampton Falls, N.H., which she said should be treated “as the public health emergency that it is.”

How other candidates spent their Labor Day weekends: 

  • Sanders focused on organizing events: “Like several others vying for the presidency, Sanders used the holiday weekend to portray himself as a champion of union workers,” Cleve and Chelsea write. “On Saturday, the campaign announced that volunteers would hold 60 events across the country to drive turnout, organize workers and show solidarity with union members.”
  • Kamala Harris addressed a rally of health care workers: The California senator joined Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.) in Los Angeles at a protest "on Labor Day against what they're calling unfair working conditions and the chain of hospitals being too focused on profits rather than health care,” ABC 7 News reports.
  • Buttigieg announced he is making a major play for Iowa: He “will open 20 offices in Iowa in 20 days, campaign officials told the Des Moines Register,” the Register's Barbara Rodriguez reports. “He’ll also have 98 paid staffers on the ground by the end of the first week of September, with additional hires expected.”
  • And, of course, there was ice cream:

On The Hill

ALL EYES ON REPUBLICANS IN WAKE OF ODESSA: Even as Democrats this weekend pleaded with Trump and congressional Republicans to tighten gun restrictions, the true test will take place when Congress returns next week on September 9. The mass shooting in West Texas "pushed the number of people killed in such incidents to more than 50 in August alone," our colleagues Felicia Sonmez and Paige Winfield Cunningham write.

Trump dismissed tougher background checks, saying “they would not have stopped any of it," per Felicia and Paige. Trump also "suggested that Saturday’s shooting, which left seven dead and 19 wounded, had done little to change his calculus on gun control as talks continue between administration officials and some in Congress." 

  • Key quote: “This really hasn’t changed anything,” Trump told reporters Sunday. “We’re doing a package, and we’ll see what it all — how it comes about. . . . A lot of people are talking about it, and that’s irrespective of what happened [Saturday] in Texas.”
  • Pressure on McConnell: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this weekend renewed her calls for the Senate to take up House-passed gun-control legislation including an expansion of background checks on gun sales. "Enough is enough,” she said.
  • Reality check: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed an openness to some kind of gun-safety legislation in the wake of the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, but has not committed to anything specific and insists any legislation must have strong support from Trump," per Felicia and Paige. A McConnell spokesman declined to comment Sunday.

Impeachment efforts may be stalling, too: "Much of the Democratic Party base, most of the 2020 presidential candidates and more than half the House Democratic Caucus endorse impeachment against Trump, casting the president as unfit for office," our colleagues Emily Davies, Rachael Bade and Laura Hughes report. "But a month-long effort by liberal groups to rally support for forcing out the president has fallen flat with perhaps the most critical group of Democrats: those representing Trump districts."

  • Key stat: "Of the 31 lawmakers from districts Trump won in 2016, only two — freshman Reps. Lauren Underwood of Illinois and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire — have backed impeachment during the six-week-long congressional recess, according to an analysis by The Washington Post," Emily, Rachael and Laura write.

Meanwhile, Dems plan to probe Trump's alleged hush money payments: "House Democrats plan to make [Trump’s] alleged involvement in a 2016 scheme to silence two women who claimed they had affairs with him a major investigative focus this fall, picking up where federal prosecutors left off in a case legal experts say could have led to additional indictments," our colleagues Rachael Bade and Tom Hamburger scoop

  • Hearings come could come as soon as next month: "The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold hearings and call witnesses involved in hush-money payments to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels as soon as October, according to people familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions," Rachael and Tom write.