Good morning, Power friends and welcome back. Tips, comments, proper guidance for how to say Nevada? Thanks for waking up with us.
🚨 President Trump's former chief of staff John Kelly ripped into his old boss at Drew University last night. A few highlights from The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas:
- On Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: “He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” Kelly told the audience of the former National Security Council aide and impeachment witness who he said rightly raised red flags over Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”
- On negotiating with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un: “He will never give his nuclear weapons up,” Kelly said. “Again, President Trump tried — that’s one way to put it. But it didn’t work. I’m an optimist most of the time, but I’m also a realist and I never did think Kim would do anything other than play us for a while, and he did that fairly effectively.”
- On undocumented immigrants: “In fact, they’re overwhelmingly good people. … They’re not all rapists and they’re not all murderers. And it’s wrong to characterize them that way. I disagreed with the president a number of times. ”
THE NEXT BIG THING: The Democratic race for president is as muddled as ever following the New Hampshire primary. And that prompted a new scramble for one of is most valuable prizes: the critical African American vote, which will be at stake in delegate-rich, more diverse states starting in South Carolina.
Former vice president Joe Biden is relying on the black vote — which accounts for as much as 60 percent of the electorate in the Palmetto State's Feb. 29 primary — to rejuvenate a badly flagging candidacy after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. And the winners of those contests — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg — are trying to make inroads with it. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has some Klobucharge following a third-place finish in New Hampshire.
They're not the only Democrats in the hunt for the best candidate to take on President Trump, however. Tom Steyer has been spending heavily in South Carolina, and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who isn't competing until Super Tuesday, is rising with black voters, according to public and internal polls.
“South Carolina is a canary in the coal mine. If you can’t do well here, it’ll be hard to do well in general — and have black voters in America excited and engaged and ready to vote for you,” Anton Gunn, the political director for Barack Obama's 2008 primary campaign in South Carolina and who is neutral in the 2020 contest, told Power Up.
Biden surrogates argued the state would make its own choices following contests in very white New Hampshire and Iowa.
- “If [Biden] finishes in fourth in a demographic that doesn't reflect the electorate, then it is not that important,” Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), one of Biden's most powerful supporters in the state, told reporters of his confidence in the state serving as the candidate's “firewall.”
But it was difficult to miss the flurry of endorsements in South Carolina and beyond rolled out by Biden's foes featuring lawmakers and activists of color.
- On Wednesday morning, three members of the Congressional Black Caucus — Reps. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) — endorsed Bloomberg. The support comes as Bloomberg faces renewed scrutiny over his past support for stop-and-frisk policing practices.
- " … a senior adviser to Mr. Bloomberg told campaign staff that internal polling showed the former mayor now tied with Mr. Biden among African Americans in March primary states,” reports the New York Times's Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin.
- Buttigieg touted some fresh support on Wednesday morning as well, albeit lower profile: South Carolina state Rep. JA Moore became the first black lawmaker in the state to endorse him. “Electability is top of mind for every South Carolina voter,” Moore said in a statement. “If anyone had doubts, Pete Buttigieg has proven he's the only viable candidate to build a cross racial, rural, urban and suburban coalition to win in November.”
- Jalen Elrod, the vice chair of Greenville County's Democratic Party, jumped on the Buttigieg bandwagon as well, tweeting: “I'm going to say words I never thought I would say. Given the candidates remaining that are viable and electable, the choice is clear.”
- And Steyer, who is polling at around 15 percent in South Carolina and has spent more than $18.7 million to advertise in the state, announced yesterday that he “hired one of South Carolina's most influential black lawmakers as an adviser to his campaign … Steyer’s campaign told The Associated Press on Wednesday that state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter has signed on as a senior national adviser.”
The Biden campaign, along with activists and operatives who know the state well, insist that all of the jockeying among Biden's opponents won't add up.
- “The question is the margin,” Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state legislator who previously supported Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), told Power Up.
Sellers cast doubt on the ability of candidates who haven't previously made inroads with African Americans but are now descending on the state in hopes of picking up new support. “That's a fundamental misunderstanding of black voters,” Sellers told us. “Ain't nobody parachuting into the black community thinking that you can hang out and say ‘I won Iowa,' and go to Lizard's Thicket and say, ‘I’m the one,” he added, referring to a renown barbecue restaurant in South Carolina.
- “If Joe does well in Nevada, he's going to dog walk the rest of the candidates and if he doesn't, it'll be closer,” said Sellers, writing off the rest of the field. “Bernie has a cap. His supporters — I love them and know them — they've worked hard but he hasn't done any work with the African American community from when he ran the first time.”
- As for whether momentum from Iowa or New Hampshire can help Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) or Buttigieg: “The difference between Pete and Amy is that one tries and the other doesn't. Pete at least listens and tries … I wouldn't bet on either one of them to do well.”
- “We cannot afford to take a chance with a self-defined socialist, a mayor of a very small city, a billionaire who all the sudden is a Democrat,” Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) said of Sanders, Buttigieg, and Bloomberg.
- “You want to have a good Frederick Douglass plan but what you been doing on your Frederick Douglass plan in South Bend?” Gunn said of the skepticism of Buttigieg in the state. “Amy Klobuchar, God bless her, she ain't got a shot in hell in South Carolina.”
There are questions from black officials and activists about Biden's electability following poor showings in the early contests — and about the ex-veep's turnout operation.
- “Black voters in South Carolina really like Joe Biden, trust Joe Biden and respect Joe Biden,” said Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia and a Bloomberg supporter, told our colleague Josh Dawsey. “But they are pragmatic and want to win and beat Trump. If your number one argument is electability, and you can’t crack the top four in two or three states in a row, that’s a tough argument to make.”
- “Some party officials, lawmakers and strategists in Columbia say they have received little contact from Biden’s campaign,” per Dawsey.
- “Can you show me at any point in time that Biden has run for president that he has been ever able to run a good campaign 1988 or 2008? Nope. It was all but over for him until Obama put him on the ticket. So he enjoyed a good base of support because he was number two to Obama. But he’s never run a successful presidential race,” Gunn told us.
- Elrod told Power Up that he supports Buttigieg partially because of his team's commitment to the state: “They know the state, and are accomplished young politicos, and they’ve been working hard,” he said.
- “Their work really inspired me. How hard they are working to address the myriad of concerns people have about Mayor Pete.”
Bloomberg is not on the ballot in South Carolina, but that doesn't mean he's out of mind.
- “If Mike Bloomberg was on the ballot, I think he might challenge for a top one or two spot,” Gunn said. “The people that I've talked to, the commercials are working. They didn’t know him either. He thinks he can beat Trump, which is of course is a narrative. ”
Outside the Beltway
IS NEVADA READY?: “Concerns have been growing that next week's Nevada caucuses could offer a repeat of the chaos that ensnared the Iowa vote, with Nevada facing many of the same organizational and technical challenges that crippled Iowa’s process,” the Associated Press's Christina A. Cassidy and Michelle L. Price report.
So far, it's not looking good: “Volunteers who will be leading the Feb. 22 caucuses said key information had yet to be shared. There has been no hands-on training with iPads being deployed to caucus sites on Election Day nor opportunities to try out a new ‘tool’ that will be loaded onto the iPads and used during the caucus process," the AP reports.
- The campaigns say they are not in the loop: “Staffers with three Democratic presidential campaigns in Nevada who were not authorized to speak publicly said the campaigns had received little information from the party, leaving them concerned about the rollout of a new process. The party has held phone calls with the campaigns but didn’t provide much information, keeping the communication limited and scripted, the staffers said.”
A powerful union there is also fighting with Sanders: “The politically powerful Culinary Union is punching back at supporters of [Sanders], who have lashed out at the union after it began distributing a one-pager to members warning that the Democratic presidential hopeful would ‘end Culinary Healthcare’ if elected president,” the Nevada Independent's Megan Messerly reports.
- It's unclear if the union will endorse, but it's not staying silent: “The 60,000-member hotel workers’ union, an organizing powerhouse in the state known for turning the tides in close races, has yet to announce whether it will endorse ahead of the Democratic presidential caucus … However, the flyer appears to be part of a coordinated campaign by the union to insert itself into the race — with or without an endorsement,” the Independent reports.
At The White House
HOW THE PRESIDENT IS SPENDING HIS TIME POST-IMPEACHMENT: “Trump is testing the rule of law one week after his acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial, seeking to bend the executive branch into an instrument for his personal and political vendetta against perceived enemies,” our colleagues Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey report.
In the span of just 48 hours, Trump has:
- Complained about the Justice Department's proposed sentence for his longtime friend Roger Stone, after which DOJ officials then overruled and lessened the suggested sentence. The initial prosecutors resigned.
- Thanked Attorney General William P. Barr for “taking charge" in the case, though the DOJ said its actions were in the works before Trump's tweet
- Attacked the federal judge overseeing Stone's case and floated the possibility of a pardon for Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Key quotes: “[Trump] knows exactly what he’s doing,” one official explained to our colleagues. “He knows that he has more power than anyone else in the government — and when he tweets, everyone has to listen to him.” Former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon adds: “He is mad and he should be mad. The Democrats and the media wasted three years of the nation’s time on a witch hunt. Now he understands how to use the full powers of the presidency. The pearl-clutchers better get used to it.”
- All of this came after the end of last week:
- In case you forgot, Trump fired E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland and ousted Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council, both key witnesses in the impeachment investigation.
- Vindman's twin brother, Yevgeny, who was not an impeachment witness but also worked on the NSC, was also removed.
- The New York Times's Peter Baker reported that Trump was offered the cover story of a broader NSC overhaul as a way to soften the Vindman ouster. But the president, the Times reports, “did not want cover. He wanted to send a message — a message that Washington has received.” (Trump suggested this week that Alexander Vindman should face discipline from the Pentagon, where he is returning).
More resignations could be coming from DOJ: “People familiar with the situation at the DC U.S. attorney's office said other prosecutors have discussed resigning in the coming days,” CNN's David Shortell, Evan Perez and Katelyn Polantz report.
After his impeachment, some GOP lawmakers — ahem, Susan Collins — hoped that Trump had learned his lesson and would be more chastened: Asked what he gleaned from the ordeal, Trump told reporters, “That the Democrats are crooked — they’ve got a lot of crooked things going — that they’re vicious, that they shouldn’t have brought impeachment.”
- What Democrats think Trump learned: “The president clearly feels he’s unleashed. And [Republicans] all said he learned his lesson — the lesson he learned is he can get away with whatever he wants,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, per our colleagues.
On The Hill
DEMOCRATS CALLED FOR AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE STONE SENCTENCING: But Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) quashed calls for Attorney General William P. Barr to testify about the handling of Stone's case while scolding Trump for tweeting about the matter, Politico's Andrew Desiderio reports.
- What Graham said: “I don’t think he should be commenting on cases in the system. I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Graham, an ally of the president.
- He added: “If I thought he had done something that had changed the outcome inappropriately, I would be the first to say.”
Other Republican senators offered harsher critiques:
- Collins (R-Maine) said Trump must "‘play no role whatsoever when it comes to sentencing recommendations’ — and said she planned to call the White House to discuss the Stone matter,” our colleagues write.
- Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the lone Republican to vote to convict Trump, added: “I hope the Justice Department is independent of politics, and any indication that that’s not the case would obviously be a real problem.”
- In short, hopes of a post-impeachment epiphany appear dashed: “He seems the same as he did two weeks ago,” quipped Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), per Politico.
House Democrats did secure a commitment from Barr to testify: The attorney general agreed to appear in front of the House Judiciary Committee on March 31.
IOWA DEMS CHAIR RESIGNS AFTER CAUCUS MESS: Troy Price resigned as chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party “as the organization grapples with the fallout of a botched caucus process that has left the party and state reeling,” the Des Moines Registers's Brianne Pfannenstiel reports.
- His parting words: “'I believed that we were in a good spot,' he said when asked whether there were warning signs that should have been heeded. ‘(I believed that) we were prepared,’” the Register reports. "‘And we had worked closely with our partners — not just us, but with the DNC and with our tech partners — to make sure we were in a good spot. And I felt that we were.’”
- Price oversaw a process that became a punchline: “This year’s event, which Price once promised would be ‘the most successful caucuses in our party’s history,’ instead became a punchline, ridiculed by comedian Steve Martin at the Oscars as well as by [Trump’s] campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who described the process as the ‘sloppiest train wreck in history,’ our colleague Isaac Stanley-Becker reports. “Now, it’s not even clear if Iowa can hold on to its first-in-the-nation status.”
Meanwhile, there will be a recanvass: “The state party acceded to requests by Sanders and Buttigieg to conduct a partial recanvass of the caucus results, checking data on math worksheets completed at individual sites against publicly released numbers,” our colleague writes. “If the campaigns give the go-ahead, the process is expected to last two days and could ultimately lead to a recount, which would involve an individual check of each of the ‘presidential preference cards’ completed by caucus-goers. Even though the campaigns requested the recanvass, they must agree to fund it before it can proceed.”