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Outside the Beltway

MR. MANCHIN GOES TO NEW YORK: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. V.) visited Michael Bloomberg's 2020 campaign headquarters in New York City over the holiday weekend, a source familiar with the visit told Power Up. 

The visit — on which the Bloomberg campaign and Manchin's office did not respond to requests for comment — highlights the tricky political position for some centrist Democrats as liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plows ahead as the top-polling candidate in a crowded race for the party's nomination. 

Endorsement watch: The red-state Democrat raised eyebrows last week after telling Politico that he would not rule out endorsing President Trump in 2020 — even after voting to convict Trump on both charges of impeachment. Manchin's swing by Bloomberg's campaign HQ indicates that the moderate former New York mayor, who is surging in national polls of Democratic voters, may be emerging as a viable alternative. 

“West Virginia right now has leverage that it won't have after the 2020 election,” said Carl Pope, an adviser to Bloomberg on environmental issues. 

  • The dynamics: Manchin has previously said that he would not back Sanders if he becomes the nominee. He told Fox News that he “absolutely will not” support Sanders’s agenda, which he called “not practical where I come from.” Trump beat Hillary Clinton in West Virginia by 42 percentage points in 2016.
  • Manchin votes with Trump more than any other Democratic senator, according to FiveThirtyEight. But Trump’s recent Twitter tirade against “Senator Joe Munchkin” — whom he called “weak and pathetic” for his impeachment vote — suggests that the relationship is more fraught than Manchin’s conciliatory tone might indicate.
  • “Munchkin means that you’re small, right?” Manchin responded last week to the New York Times. “I’m bigger than him — of course he has me by weight, now, he has more volume than I have by about 30 or 40 pounds. I’m far from being weak and pathetic, and I’m far from being a munchkin, and I still want him to succeed as president of the United States.”

Manchin and Bloomberg have a history: Aside from the shared experience of being taunted by Trump for their size, Manchin and Bloomberg, a staunch gun control advocate, have previously worked together on expanding background checks. Bloomberg, then the co-chairman of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns campaign, commended Manchin back in 2013 for spearheading bipartisan legislation that required background checks for commercial gun sales. Bloomberg even hosted a fundraiser for Manchin in return for his work on the issue. Bloomberg in recent weeks has collected a spate of endorsements from lawmakers he's previously donated to and fundraised for. 

But even a hint of a potential Bloomberg endorsement could be tricky terrain for Manchin in Trump country, where the former mayor is known for his liberal policies on climate change and gun control two issues inextricably linked to West Virginia’s political culture. This illustrates the challenges Bloomberg is facing challenges not only with the party's liberal wing, but in red states. 

  • What West Virginians are watching: Bloomberg poured over $100 million into efforts to eliminate coal at a state and local level through the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. He followed up with an additional $500 million dollar campaign called Beyond Carbon, also designed to eliminate coal plants.
  • Manchin denounced the Beyond Carbon Initiative last summer: “This pledge to shut down U.S. coal plants by 2030 will only serve to hurt coal miners and their families, as well as further devastate West Virginia communities that are suffering from the downturn in coal production and does nothing to address the global nature of the climate crisis.”
  • On the other hand: Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, West Virginia, endorsed Bloomberg in December — his city won a $1 million grant through Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors challenge in 2018 for its response to the opioid crisis. 

Pope said it’s a long shot that Manchin will ultimately endorse Bloomberg. Still, he argued that West Virginian coal miners, aware of the decline of coal production, might turn out to be receptive to Bloomberg’s push to move away from the coal industry as an economic staple in the state. 

  • From Pope: “I’ve had conversations with people in the labor movement who are very close to the mine workers — their view is that relative to where we were four years ago, issues about what is next and how do we get there loom much larger in the coal miners' minds than how much longer can the present keep going.”
  • Bloomberg’s plan to slash carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030, released in December, calls to replace the “remaining 251 coal plants in the United States with clean power and immediately stops the rush to build all proposed gas plants.”
  • Pope added that Manchin and Bloomberg have a positive relationship: “Sometimes relationships are fraught even though the underlying politics are simple. In this case, I don’t think the relationship is fraught even though the underlying politics is complex."

In the Agencies

BARR CONSIDERS RESIGNING: "Attorney General William P. Barr has told people close to [Trump] — both inside and outside the White House — that he is considering quitting over Trump’s tweets about Justice Department investigations, three administration officials said,” our colleagues Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, John Wagner and Rachel Weiner report.

So far, Trump has ignored Barr's plea to keep quiet about federal law enforcement matters: “He has his limits,” one person familiar with Barr’s thinking told our colleagues. 

It was just last week when Barr complained about the president in prime time: The attorney general issued a stinging rebuke for a sitting cabinet official, telling ABC News that Trump's tweets about cases “make it impossible for me to do my job.” Barr's comments came after Trump attacked prosecutors' sentencing recommendation for his longtime confidant Roger Stone and then turned his ire on the judge for the case. Trump has also “raged privately,” our colleagues write, “about the department not charging his political foes," especially former FBI acting director Andrew McCabe.

  • Barr previously asked Trump privately to cut it out: “But his comments have apparently fallen on deaf ears,” our colleagues write. “The day after Barr’s ABC interview, Trump tweeted that he had the ‘legal right’ to ask Barr to intervene in a criminal case.”

The situation right now: “Barr had a previously scheduled lunch with the White House counsel Tuesday and was still the attorney general by day’s end — indicating that the president’s moves that day were not enough to push him to resign,” our colleagues write. “But he and his Justice Department seemed to remain mired in a political crisis, with an uncertain future.”

  • A Justice spokeswoman initially decline to comment to our colleagues: After their story appeared last night, Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for Barr, said on Twitter, “Addressing Beltway rumors: The Attorney General has no plans to resign.” She did not address what Barr had told others.

The Campaign

BERNIE OPENS UP YUGE LEAD: “[Sanders], on the strength of his performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, has surged nationally and now holds a sizable lead over all of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll," our colleagues Dan Balz and Scott Clement report.

There's a virtual three-way tie for second: “Former vice president Joe Biden, who led Sanders in a Post-ABC national poll in January, has seen a sharp drop in his support after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary,” our colleagues write. Biden is now in a battle for second place with [Bloomberg] and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)."

Why Bernie is in the best position: “On the basis of the new national poll, Sanders appears well-positioned to accumulate delegates in those states and, possibly, emerge by the end of March with a delegate advantage over his rivals,” our colleagues write.

Biden is in trouble: The former vice president “has lost support among three key constituency groups: African Americans, older voters and whites without college degrees, previously the bulwarks of his campaign,” our colleagues write.

His poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire have also undermined the core argument for his candidacy:

OTHER NEWS FROM THE TRAIL:

Bloomberg joins the debate: The former mayor “will be forced to leave his comfort zone and test his chops as a charismatic politician,” our colleague Michael Scherer reports. 

  • “When he steps onto the debate stage in Las Vegas for his first hostile and uncontrolled campaign test, there will be no management decisions to make, teleprompters to lean on or endless ad budgets to filter his image with focus-grouped messaging,” our colleague writes.
  • Also on stage: Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Sanders, Warren, and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Sanders requests a partial Iowa recount: “Sanders's presidential campaign intends to request a partial recount of the Iowa caucuses, a top adviser said, more than two weeks after the chaotic contest produced no decisive victor,” our colleague Isaac Stanley-Becker reports

  • The race is literally down to razor-thin margins: The request came after state party's initial recanvass shrank Buttigieg's lead from just over two state delegate equivalents to 0.08. Sanders's lead in the popular vote has never been in questions, but SDEs are used to help determine who gets delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The recanvass did not change the current allocation of those delegates.

Warren gets a super PAC?: “A group of women progressives who back Sen. Elizabeth Warren has formed Persist PAC, a super PAC airing pro-Warren ads starting Wednesday in an effort to boost her performance ahead of Saturday's crucial Nevada caucuses, a spokesman told Axios,” Margaret Talev and Alexi McCammond report.

  • Are people feeling super now?: As HuffPost's Kevin Robillard pointed out on Twitter, Warren team's decision to apparently allow the super PAC indicates that the norm that existed against them at the beginning of the race might be ending. Klobuchar also has a super PAC tacitly supporting her and campaign finance watchdog group filed a complaint earlier this week alleging that Buttigieg's campaign improperly coordinated with his campaign.

At The White House

TRUMP FLEXES PARDON POWER FOR HIS ALLIES: “Trump used his sweeping presidential pardon powers to forgive the crimes of a list of boldface names, including disgraced politician Rod R. Blagojevich, convicted junk bond king Michael Milken and former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik,” our colleagues Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey, Beth Reinhard and Colby Itkowitz report.

  • The details: “Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of seven convicted white-collar criminals at the center of federal anti-corruption and tax fraud cases spanning decades, alongside four women whose cases were not as well known,” our colleagues write.
  • More: Our colleagues wrote all about Milken, the “junk bond king" and Kerik, the once heralded police commissioner.

Blago is now free: “The action frees Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois, from the federal correctional facility in Colorado where he was serving out his 14-year sentence," our colleagues write. "He was convicted on corruption charges in 2011 for trying in 2008 to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.”

  • The view from the Windy City: The move disregarded the political concerns of top elected Republicans in Illinois in a critical election year …,” the Chicago Tribune's Jason Meisner, Rick Pearson and Erin Hooley report. “Chicago now will need to prepare itself for the return of one of its most notorious sons, a politician known for his dense hair and loquaciousness.”

What it means: “Since his acquittal two weeks ago, analysts say, the president has taken a series of steps aimed at showing that, essentially, he is the law,” our colleagues Toluse Olorunnipa and Beth Reinhard report.

  • Summing up the day: Calling himself ‘the chief law enforcement officer of the country,’ Trump demanded a new trial for Stone, urged federal judges to address the ‘tremendous’ abuse of the special counsel investigation of his campaign and bypassed the traditional pardon process to grant clemency to celebrity convicts recommended by his friends, allies and political donors,” the New York Times's Peter Baker, Katie Benner and Sharon LaFraniere report.