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Power Up: Women took center stage at Democratic debate. And that was a good thing.

with Brent D. Griffiths

I now recognize myself: What's up, amigos. I just typed Happy Friday but alas, it's Thursday 🎉Please send caffeine and memes. I yield the remainder of this newsletter to you. 

The Campaign

A WOMAN'S PLACE IS ON THE DEBATE STAGE: Women took center stage in last night's Democratic debate. Not just because of the record number of women running for president who graced the big stage but also in terms of the issues discussed that affect women and families. 

The women outnumbered the men: There were four female presidential candidates who faced off with each other. And for the first time in this year's debates, all four moderators were also women — our Ashley Parker, MSNBC and NBC News's Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker and Rachel Maddow. They asked questions about issues that have so far seen little airtime — from parental leave policies, childcare costs, reproductive rights, to sexism and double standards. 

Furthermore, the first two questions posed by the moderators went to female candidates — that's the first debate in which that's happened — and it took less than 10 minutes for Democrats candidates to be asked about childcare and paid family leave. 

  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who pointed out the U.S. is the only developed country in the world that doesn't guarantee paid family leave, said that passing a family-leave bill would be a priority if he won. 
  • Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) were quieried by Ashley Parker about their differing proposals: Harris wants legislation to guarantee up to six months of paid family leave versus Klobuchar, who has a proposal offering up to three months. 
  • “Many women are having to make a very difficult choice about whether they’re going to leave a profession for which they have a passion to care for their family, or whether they’re going to give up a paycheck, which is part of what that family relies on,” Harris answered. “So six months paid family leave is meant to adjust to the reality of women’s lives today.”

“When women are setting the agenda, the set of priorities are different,” Liz Plank, a correspondent at and author of the newly released book, “For the Love of Men,” told Power Up.

  • “We got a specific question about paid leave for the very first time on the debate stage this cycle. We got not just one, but several (and a follow-up question!) about abortion,” said Plank. “But make no mistake, these are not women's issues. They're issues that affect and involve all of us.” 
  • The bottom line, according to Zerlina Maxwell, the director of progressive programming for SiriusXM​​​​​: “It was by far the best debate and it’s because women moderated it!” 
Andrew Yang, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) were the three Democratic candidates that explained their family leave plans. (Video: The Washington Post)

During a campaign where female candidates face some skepticism from voters because of their gender, NBC News's Mitchell asked Klobuchar whether female candidates are held to a higher standard, riffing off a comment Klobuchar previously made about South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, “Of the women on the stage, do I think we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience he had? No, I don’t.” 

  • “Pete is qualified to be up on this stage, and I am honored to be standing next to him,” Klobuchar responded. “But what I said is true. Women are held to a higher standard. Otherwise we could play a game called name your favorite female president, which we can’t do because it has all been men.”

  • Klobuchar also had a message to voters who might be reticent about voting for a woman: “If you think a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.”

It is true the record number of female candidates running for the White House in 2020 has inevitably allowed for a sharper focus on issues historically  under covered or ignored. Harris, for example, turned her attack on Buttigieg's lack of support from black voters into a larger statement about the unequal treatment of black women in America. 

  • “The larger issue is that for too long, I think, candidates have taken for granted the constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party and have overlooked those constituencies,” Harris said. “There are plenty of people who applauded black women for the success of the 2018 election, applauded black women for the election of a senator from Alabama. But, you know, at some point, folks get tired of just saying, 'Oh, thank me for showing up' and say, 'Well, show up for me.'"
  • “Because when black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth in America, when the sons of black women will die because of gun violence more than any other cause of death, when black women make 61 cents on the dollar as compared to all women, who tragically make 80 cents on the dollar, the question has to be: 'Where you been and what are you going to do? And do you understand what the people want?'" Harris said to much applause from the audience. 

On Roe vs. Wade: It was not lost on the moderators that the fifth Democratic debate was held in Georgia — the fourth state in the country to sign a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Asked about whether there's room in the party for someone like Louisiana Gov.John Bel Edwards, who just won reelection as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) used her time to make the case that reproductive rights are not just a “women's issue.” 

  • “Look, I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights. And protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party,” Warren 

The import of the moment was not lost on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): He seized on the increasingly prevalent notion among Democrats that male candidates need to be more vocal about reproductive rights. 

  • “Amy [Klobuchar] mentioned that women feel strongly on it,” Sanders told the audience. “Well, let me just tell you that if there's ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment.”


Joe Biden tries to tout his support from African-American voters: It did not go well.

  • Slam of the night: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) began the exchange by wondering incredulously if Biden “might have been high when you said it,” referencing the former vice president’s opposition to legalizing recreational pot. He then questioned how such a stance would help Biden with the party's black voters, disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
  • The former VP pointed out his support among black voters: “... I'm part of that Obama coalition. I come out of a black community, in terms of my support. If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community that have announced for me because they know me, they know who I am,” Biden responded.
  • Then things really went off the rails:
Former vice president Joe Biden falsely claimed he had the support of "the only African American woman that had ever been elected to the United States Senate." (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Gabbard and Buttigieg tangle over national security: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has built a reputation for going after her fellow candidates with blistering attacks. One of her main attacks last night was with the mayor, a fellow veteran, over a recent comment he made about dealing with Mexican drug cartels. (We should note our colleagues found Buttigieg has “decent grounds” to say his statement was taken out of context.)

  • “Let's also talk about judgment”: The mayor struck back by reminding the audience that Gabbard met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said there was a quid pro quo “with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting." (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The Investigations

'EVERYONE WAS IN THE LOOP': The senior most members of the Trump administration came out swinging after E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland directly implicated President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Vice President Pence and others in the push for Ukraine to announce investigations into Trump's political opponents. 

  • About the quid pro quo: “I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo’?” Sondland said. “. . . With regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
  • “They knew what they were doing and why,” Sondland said in his opening statement of the aforementioned senior administration officials. "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the presidential call," Sondland testified, while also recalling specific anecdotes throughout his testimony about his interactions with Pompeo, Perry, Pence, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Mulvaney's senior adviser Robert Blair, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, etc. 

But Perry, Pence, and Pompeo's offices quickly released statements that cast doubt on Sondland's testimony they all had knowledge of a quid pro quo — and even flat out denied his recollection of events.

  • Sondland testified he told Pence of his concerns before Pence's meetings with the Ukrainians in Warsaw: “I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations,” Sondland said, later adding that Pence “nodded, he heard what I said, and that was pretty much it."  
  • Pence's response: “This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened,” Pence's Chief of Staff Marc Short said in response. 
  • Sondland testified Perry was one of the key actors involved in the administration's pursuit of investigations: Per Sondland's testimony, Perry was included and replied to a July 19 email where Sondland tells Perry, along with others, he had just spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and secured a commitment for a “fully transparent investigation.”
  • Sondland also said that Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, "conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election.”
  • Perry's response: “Ambassador Sondland’s testimony today misrepresented both Secretary Perry’s interaction with [Giuliani] and direction the secretary received from President Trump,” an Energy Department statement said. “As previously stated, Secretary Perry spoke to Rudy Giuliani only once at the president’s request. No one else was on that call. At no point before, during or after that phone call did the words ‘Biden’ or ‘Burisma’ ever come up in the presence of Secretary Perry.”
  • Sondland testified Pompeo was involved with the efforts to force Ukraine to open investigations at several points, per our colleagues Aaron Davis and Rachael Bade: “The secretary of state 'was aware that a commitment to investigations was among the issues we were pursuing' and the State Department was 'fully supportive,' the ambassador testified."
  • “That coordination with Pompeo extended to navigating what Sondland said he believed was another bargaining chip the White House had put in play in July to pressure Ukraine: $400 million in security assistance to fend off Russian aggression,” Aaron and Rachael report. 
  • “You’re doing great work; keep banging away,” Pompeo told Sondland in early September, per emails cited in Sondland’s testimony. 
  • Pompeo's response: “Pompeo did not deny the main substance of Sondland’s remarks, but his spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, issued a statement later in the day saying that Sondland never told Pompeo that Trump was 'linking aid to investigations of political opponents,'" our colleague John Hudson reports.

Despite the denials, Sondland, has receipts — or at least some of them: he produced his email correspondences with senior administration officials: 

The receipts Sondland doesn't have?: Well, that's because Sondland says the Trump administration has blocked him from accessing emails, records and documents, "new ammunition to Democrats’ charge that the White House is trying to cover up its activities in Ukraine and potentially paving the way for an article of impeachment on obstruction," our colleague Karoun Demirjian reports.

  • "The revelation that the State Department and White House have been keeping materials away from not just Congress but current government employees is the latest example of what Democrats argue is a concerted campaign to block their impeachment investigation."

Crisis management: Trump's allies and the White House scrambled to manage the fallout from Sondland's bombshell testimony, according to our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey, and Kayla Epstein.

  • The key defense: "Administration officials immediately sought to emphasize that Sondland was relying in part on his own presumptions based on conversations with [Giuliani] — an argument echoed by GOP lawmakers later Wednesday — and that Trump himself never personally told Sondland about preconditioning $400 million in military aid to Ukraine or a coveted White House visit on the probes." 
  • "As he traveled on Air Force One to Texas, Trump called members of the House to argue that the testimony was good for him, according to an aide familiar with the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks. Trump also professed to reporters that he had little familiarity with Sondland, a major donor to his inauguration who testified that he had spoken with the president about 20 times," our colleagues write. 
State Department official David Hale and Defense Department official Laura Cooper testified at a public impeachment hearing on Nov. 20. (Video: The Washington Post)

Did Ukrainians know the aid was held up?: Republicans have alleged all along there could be no quid pro quo because Ukrainian officials were not even aware they would not be receiving the $400 million in military aid until Trump lifted the hold. But, like Sondland, an additional witness undermined another GOP talking point.

Laura Cooper, a Russia and Ukraine expert at the Defense Department, testified that after her closed-door deposition "she has since learned the Ukrainians reached out on July 25, asking members of her staff what was going on with the military aid," our colleague  Amber Phillips reports.

  • Why the date is also key: "July 25 is the same day Trump talked with [Zelensky] on the phone and asked for 'a favor,' to investigate a debunked notion about the 2016 election and the Bidens," our colleague writes. "It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Ukrainians reach out to the Pentagon, to Cooper and her staff, to get more information about why they hadn’t received the aid that same day. "
  • This also advances the timeline quite a bit: "It is the earliest date we’ve heard so far that Ukrainians may have known their military assistance had been withheld. Previously, U.S. diplomats testified Ukrainians became aware they weren’t getting their military aid in August, after a Politico article reported on it."

Possible trouble for Nunes?: "Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018, Parnas’  lawyer Ed MacMahon told The Daily Beast," Betsy Swan reports.

  • Wait, what?: "Nunes aide Derek Harvey participated in the meetings, the lawyer said, which were arranged to help Nunes’ investigative work. MacMahon didn’t specify what those investigations entailed," the Daily Beast reports. "Congressional records show Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018. Three of his aides—Harvey, Scott Glabe, and George Pappas—traveled with him, per the records. U.S. government funds paid for the group’s four-day trip, which cost just over $63,000."


WHEN YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BAGGAGE: Sondland was worried about missing his flight back to Brussels after a grueling day on Capitol Hill. The good news, he made it. The bad news, it just planely was a rough day for the ambassador.