🚨IN AFGHANISTAN: "A blast targeting a campaign rally held by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday killed 24 but left the country’s leader unharmed, according to a local health official," The Post's Pamela Constable and Susannah George report.
"The blast occurred just moments after Ghani arrived at the venue, and even though the explosion was audible, the campaign event continued undeterred. Ghani delivered a boilerplate stump speech praising local leadership to the crowd."
BATTLE OF THE PROGRESSIVE STARS: In the fight to be the left's standard-bearer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) just scored a big win over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The Working Families Party, an influential progressive group with deep ties to labor unions that backed Sanders for president in 2016, is now throwing its chips all in for the Massachusetts Democrat as the best hope to defeat former vice president Joe Biden in the primary — and President Trump in the general election.
- “We ultimately believe that Sen. Warren will be the nominee,” Maurice Mitchell, the group's national director, told Power Up.
The endorsement, first reported by the New York Times, is yet another sign of Warren's ascendancy over Sanders. And it happened on a particularly strong day for Warren: She rallied a huge crowd of 20,000 people in Washington Square Park in New York City and unveiled her plan to address corruption in Washington by limiting “the influence of federal lawmakers and lobbyists while also expanding protections for workers,” per my colleague Amy Wang.
- Mitchell, who also introduced Warren at her rally last night, said the early endorsement was meant to give her a boost to surpass Biden, whom he denounced as beholden to corporate interests: “Warren's steady rise is an example of a really disciplined operation that she's built around her, and the fact that she's running her campaign in a way where she is putting real meaningful policy substance ahead that speaks to the fundamental structures of our economy and democracy.”
- Mitchell argued that she has broad appeal with Democrats, beyond the left flank: “She is able to articulate that in common sense ways. It's working and it's working with a lot of different audiences — her campaign is attracting a lot of folks who are part of the progressive wing, a lot of folks who have not been political observers but are now fighting for something they believe in.”
During her speech last night, Warren compared herself to a crusader for worker's rights: Frances Perkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's labor secretary and the first female member of the U.S. Cabinet. Her focus on female-led organizing seemed designed to quell skepticism from some Democrats over her electability due to her gender and criticism that her liberal message is too polarizing for a general election.
- “The speech also highlighted Warren’s theory of change,” according to Time Magazine's Charlotte Alter: “While the women of the trade unions kept pushing from the outside, Frances pushed from the inside,” Warren said. “So, what did one woman — one very persistent woman — backed up by millions of people across this country get done?” she said. “Social Security. Unemployment insurance. Abolition of child labor. Minimum wage. The right to join a union. Even the very existence of the weekend. Big, structural change. One woman, and millions of people to back her up.”
.@ewarren camp says at least 20,000 people attended her rally in Washington Square Park tonight.— Ruby Cramer (@rubycramer) September 17, 2019
(They got 23K rsvps, an aide says, and stopped counting attendees at 20K once Warren began speaking.)
This is her biggest event yet, following a Seattle rally that drew 15,000. pic.twitter.com/Exj6CsxKlA
Why it matters: The backing of the Working Families Party, whose influence has expanded since 2016, could drive other progressives to make a choice between the two ideologically similar candidates as the historically crowded field winnows. With organizing chapters in over 15 states, candidates WFP has supported have gone on to win races across the country at the congressional, state and local level. Considering Sanders in 2016 called the group “the closest thing there is to a political party that believes in my vision of democratic socialism,” the switch-over could make a big impact on the base.
- Moving on: “We were tremendously proud to endorse Sanders in 2016 and a critical section of our base voted for him, and we have nothing but positive things to say about him and his activists,” Mitchell told us, declining to criticize Sanders several times. But now, Mitchell says the group's "North Star” is "making sure that Warren's the nominee and beats Trump.”
Incoming from Sanders camp: Some of his backers reacted to Warren's win poorly — even going so far as to accuse WFP leadership of putting its fingers on the scales of the group's ranked-choice voting system. Mitchell denied these charges. "We understand that we have many friends and partners that are disappointed but we're going to continue to struggle with them on many of the issues we all believe in,” he said.
- Sanders's campaign manager tamped down the drama: “We look forward to working with the Working Families Party and other allies to defeat Donald Trump. Together, we’ll build a movement across the country to transform our economy to finally work for the working class of this country,” his campaign manager Faiz Shakir said, per the Wall Street Journal.
But there's this from Sanders's Iowa state director:
WFP endorsement is also a reflection of the left's strategic maneuvering against Biden: The former Obama veep often touts his record as a “Union man.” But Mitchell, who was previously an organizing leader for Black Lives Matter, said that the group's endorsement of Warren “is a bit of a myth buster” that Biden is the labor union candidate.
- Mitchell, who slammed Biden as a centrist and product of “corporate politics,” described Biden's performance on the debate stage last week as a crystallizing contrast to Warren: “What I heard was marginal solutions. What I heard was a lack of clarity. What I heard was hearkening to a mythologized caste during the Obama administration — and I think what people are hungry for is a bold progressive future and crystal clarity around policy. And that details matter,” according to Mitchell.
- Biden also drew criticism recently from a labor union in his own backyard: “He always calls himself a Pennsylvanian at heart. His headquarters are here in Philadelphia. But his folks haven't found the importance of coming together and talking to our workers. And so that's very disappointing,” AFL-CIO Philadelphia Council President Pat Eiding told NPR's Scott Detrow last month. “There's got to be some respect for the working people, if they want their vote.”
- Biden allies, however, are challenging the notion that Warren's agenda is better for working class families. They cited Warren's plan to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for her Medicare-for-all proposal. During the debates last week, Warren repeatedly dodged questions about whether she will raise taxes on middle class families to pay for the program.
The end of Warren's selfie line after last night's huge NYC rally:
11:38pm - @ewarren is done and the last picture has been taken. Huge cheer goes up from staff and volunteers. It has been almost four hours since the end of Warren’s speech. “Grab some trash and let’s GO!” shouts a Warren staffer. “Park’s closing, let’s go!” pic.twitter.com/S5N8zkxsHs— Ben Pu (@BenPu_nbc) September 17, 2019
UNCERTAINTY ON IRAN: Trump said that it appears Iran is responsible for the weekend attack on Saudi oil facilities that Kingdom officials say forced them to cut production by 50 percent, but stopped short of making a final conclusion. “It’s looking that way," Trump said of Tehran's involvement, but added: “That’s being checked out right now.”
- Allies also holding off: Trump’s reticence to publicly blame Iran was shared by America’s British and German allies on Monday. China and Russia also cautioned against naming a culprit. “For their part, Saudi officials affirmed that Iranian weapons were used in the attack but also stopped short of singling out Iran in statements that appeared to reflect fears across the Persian Gulf of a wider and more violent conflagration,” our colleagues Shane Harris, Erin Cunningham and Kareem Fahim report.
The big question is: What happens next? “Trump told reporters ‘we don’t want war with anybody’ and then less than an hour later said he thinks a U.S. military strike on an Iranian oil facility would be a proportional response,” our colleague Anne Gearan reports.
- The politics: “Trump is caught between a political imperative to confront Iran — pleasing hawkish Republican supporters and allies Israel and Saudi Arabia — and his own political instincts against foreign intervention and toward cutting a deal,” Anne writes.
- This is part of a pattern: “Uncertainty over where Trump stands has complicated every other foreign policy challenge the United States faces in the Middle East, unnerved Israel and helped push out the administration’s leading Iran hawk, former national security adviser John Bolton,” Anne writes.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is urging restraint: “Military officials are also privately urging caution, seeking to defuse tensions they believe could push the United States into a possibly bloody conflict with Iran at a time when the Pentagon is seeking to wind down insurgent wars in the Middle East and reorient toward competition with China,” our colleagues Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe report.
- More: “The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe their views, sought to emphasize the fact that no American personnel or facilities had been targeted in the weekend attacks, suggesting that a direct U.S. military response might not be merited. They also said that, if such a move was deemed necessary, the administration would need to find a valid legal basis to take action.”
Forecast for next week:
BREAKING: Ahead of UN meeting, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says 'there will be no talks with the US at any level.'— The Associated Press (@AP) September 17, 2019
LEWANDOWSKI HEADS TO THE HILL, BUT WHITE HOUSE BLOCKS OTHERS: “The White House is claiming immunity over two former aides subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee, blocking them from answering questions in a Tuesday hearing about what they told former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” our colleagues Rachael Bade and Josh Dawsey report.
- The latest aides to be told not to testify: “White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone directed Rick Dearborn, the former Trump campaign adviser and ex-White House deputy chief of staff, and Rob Porter, the former White House secretary, not to answer questions by the panel,” Rachael and Josh write.
- Lewandowski’s testimony is also going to be restricted: “The White House, in a letter to the committee, told [committee chairman Jerrold Nadler] that Lewandowski is not allowed to answer any questions about his communications with the president beyond what was in the Mueller report.”
- But as legal experts pointed out there’s a big potential problem: Lewandowski has never worked in the West Wing, which left some shaking their heads as to how his discussions could be covered by executive privilege.
The last line of @mkraju's tweet is the key. @CLewandowski_ _never_ worked in the White House. There's no such thing as executive privilege in conversations the President has with ... someone who isn't, and never has been, employed in the Executive Branch.— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) September 17, 2019
But 2019, I guess?? https://t.co/XTIy9Bwpnp
CHAO IN THE HOT SEAT: The House Government and Oversight Reform Committee is investigating whether any actions taken by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao regarding her family’s shipping company amount to a conflict of interest, the Times’s Eric Lipton and Michael Forsythe report.
- "The House Oversight and Reform Committee asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Monday to turn over documents related to communication with her family’s shipping company as the panel stepped up an investigation into whether any actions taken by Ms. Chao amount to a conflict of interest," per Lipton and Forsythe.
SO ARE TRUMP'S TAXES, AGAIN: "State prosecutors in Manhattan have subpoenaed President Trump’s accounting firm to demand eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns, according to several people with knowledge of the matter," the Times's William K. Rashbaum and Ben Protess scoop.
TOP DEMS CAUTION AGAINST IMPEACHING KAVANAUGH: “Senior Democrats are moving quickly to snuff out calls to impeach Brett Kavanaugh, arguing those tactics are unrealistic and politically harmful,” Politico's Burgess Everett and Heather Caygle report.
This all comes a day after multiple Democratic presidential candidates called for Kavanaugh's impeachment after a previously unreported allegation against the now-Justice was reported by the Times.
- Dick Durbin goes off: “Get real,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Politico. “We’ve got to get beyond this ‘impeachment is the answer to every problem.’ It’s not realistic. If that’s how we are identified in Congress, as the impeachment Congress, we run the risk that people will feel we’re ignoring the issues that mean a lot to them as families.”
- Nadler also pushed back on such action: “Nadler similarly dismissed the idea of an impeachment inquiry, arguing in a radio interview Monday that the committee is 'concentrating our resources on determining whether to impeach the president,'" Everett and Caygle write. “The New York Democrat said it’s one thing for progressives to call for impeachment but for him 'it’s a consequential action, which we have to be able to justify.'”
- Schumer refused to even speak about it at this time: “That’s all I’m saying,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters. “Which is nothing. I’m saying nothing on Kavanaugh.”