In this edition, Kamala Harris's book tour, Bernie Sanders's apology tour, and Tom Steyer's impeachment tour.
The most readable 2020 campaign book is Mitch Landrieu's, and this is The Trailer.
For the next few days or weeks, every public appearance by Kamala Harris is a cue to ask about her presidential plans. The senator from California dodged the question Tuesday on “The View,” though she joked that the morning talk show would have been the “perfect venue” to announce. She dodged again during a Wednesday night appearance at George Washington University, prodded by The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart to talk about whether her resistance to President Trump would lead to a run for president.
“Can we talk about the children's book?” Harris said, picking up a copy of “Superheroes Are Everywhere,” which she published alongside her memoir this week. “Mama didn't raise no fool.”
But seriously: Barring some wild, unexpected development, Harris is expected to enter the 2020 presidential primary, with most speculation putting her in the race by the end of January. If and when she does, it would fulfill a promise that many politicians and operatives saw in Harris years ago.
Unlike Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who had to be drafted into her 2012 run for Senate, and unlike John Delaney, who jump-started a presidential campaign with no speculation or buzz, Harris has been seen as a potential president for most of her time in public life. As early as 2010, when she was a slight underdog in the race for California attorney general, Harris was described as a “female Obama.”
Harris is not the only candidate expected to announce soon after years of White House speculation. Julián Castro is likely to make it official Saturday, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is heading back to South Carolina this month. Both have been talked up as potential presidents since they were moving up the ladder in municipal politics at the start of this century.
Each of those candidates comes with different strengths and weaknesses; each, like Harris, has been looked at as the future leader of a new Democratic coalition, as opposed to a candidate such as Joe Biden, who allies say could win back voters the party has lost. One way to read Harris’s memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” is as a pitch to a Democratic base that has shifted since she wrote her first book, on her criminal justice record and agenda.
Harris's book and its accompanying tour present a politician who was counted out in every election until 2016, when she won her Senate race in a rout. There is no setback that she doesn't overcome, from a failed attempt to pass the bar (she passed it the second time) to an apparent defeat in her 2010 attorney general run (late-counted ballots gave her the win). Like Barack Obama, and like a younger cohort of first-generation American politicians, she describes a family of smart strivers who struggled so that she could succeed — and learn valuable lessons.
“I have too many memories of my brilliant mother being treated as though she were dumb because of her accent,” Harris writes of her India-born mother, Shyamala, who died of cancer in 2009. “Memories of her being followed around a department store with suspicion, because surely a brown-skinned woman like her couldn’t afford the dress or blouse she had chosen.”
In 2003, Harris defeated an incumbent to become San Francisco district attorney. She spent seven years in that role, making her first national headlines for refusing to pursue the death penalty. In 2004, that led to a clash with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who spoke at the funeral of a police officer and called it “the special circumstance called for by the death penalty law” — adding that had she known of Harris's position, she never would have endorsed her.
But while this was a defining political moment for Harris, Feinstein appears in “The Truths We Hold” only once, in a fond memory Harris has of “driving across the bridge from my home in Oakland to celebrate” when Feinstein and Barbara Boxer became California's first female senators. The debates over the death penalty, which nearly cost her the 2010 race, come up only when Harris recalls how one strategist (never named) said “a woman who is a minority who is anti-death penalty who is DA of wacky San Francisco” could not win statewide office.
To be fair, Harris has written a book ("Smart on Crime") about her criminal justice record and agenda. The part of that she focuses the most on in "The Truths We Hold" is her Back on Track program, an innovation of the San Francisco's DA office that allowed first-time nonviolent drug offenders to get job training in lieu of jail time. The book's focus when addressing her six years as attorney general is a showdown with banks over what would become a $25 billion foreclosure settlement. The story of her phone call to Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, is destined to be retold in Iowa and New Hampshire: “I took off my earrings (the Oakland in me) and picked up the receiver.”
But fully half of “The Truths We Hold” covers Harris's time in the Senate, just two years in which Democrats won one epochal battle over health care (at GWU, Harris thanked “the late, great John McCain"), and sloughed through many more defeats. Harris stands foursquare behind Christine Blasey Ford and the protesters who filled the Senate during the hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh: “Their voices, like Dr. Ford's, will have lasting reach.”
She reprints transcripts of hearings at which she grilled John Kelly, initially a nominee to run the Department of Homeland Security, positioning the Trump administration's immigration policy as its defining debacle. She pitches ideas such as mental-health career training "similar to Teach for America or the Peace Corps," and calls for the DEA to "go after pharmaceutical manufacturers" while the "war on drugs" is wound down.
The effect of all that is to present Harris as a perfect fit for the Democrats of 2020, one who was early and right about much of what the party's base cares about, and who was in the mix opposing Trump on everything that mattered. The book and the tour, which has been dominated by friendly, encouraging interviews, offer less clarity about how Harris can navigate two incredibly different electoral constituencies.
Harris started her political career as a newsmaking opponent of capital punishment and is now accused by the left, pejoratively, of being a “cop.” That was never an issue in her California races; it will be an issue for plenty of Democratic voters in 2019. A senator whose smart-on-crime brand enabled her rise out of Bay Area politics is angling for the nomination to challenge President Trump, a politician who comes alive when attacking her community's support for undocumented immigrants, gun control and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Her party's left, which has accused her of being cautious and resisting criminal justice reform ever since she moved out of the DA's office, does not get much detail about why she picked some fights and avoided others. The president's party, which is itching to run a 2010-style campaign against Harris as an embodiment of “sanctuary cities” and #MeToo politics, comes away with more material.
Bernie Agonistes. For two weeks, as he considers whether to run for president again, Bernie Sanders has gotten questions about female former staffers who say they were harassed during his 2016 campaign. Sanders, who put out a statement reflecting previous stories about the staff issues, went further today. In between the rollout of a prescription drug bill and an appearance with furloughed federal workers, Sanders walked up to Senate microphones and delivered a three-minute response to the news of a $30,000 settlement between his former Iowa campaign manager and two staffers.
“When we talk about ending sexism, and ending all forms of discrimination, those beliefs cannot just be words,” Sanders said. “They must be based in day-to-day reality and the work that we do. And that was clearly not the case in the 2016 campaign. The allegations that I have heard speak to unacceptable behavior that must not be tolerated in any campaign or in any workplace.”
Sanders, who said he hadn't known about the settlement, had previously said he was unaware of the other harassment allegations. Today's statement was informed by the response Sanders gave at the end of a recent CNN interview, in which he reiterated that he condemned harassment and added that he was “a little bit busy running around the country” and never heard of the allegations at the time.
Sanders, who resents what he sees as the “tabloid” approach of much political coverage, was pilloried for the “busy” quote; the senator, who tends to ignore shouted questions in the halls of the Senate, decided to handle the new story on its own, with a mea culpa, no spin and a small aside about how he had instituted strong anti-harassment policies during his 2018 Senate campaign.
There is no good time to handle problems like these, but this is a particularly important month for Sanders. On Saturday, hundreds of house parties will be organized by supporters who want him to run for president again. By the end of January, at least three co-sponsors of Sanders's major legislation — Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — are expected to be running. Sanders's supporters, in general, have praised his commitment to running a more diverse and sensitive campaign, if he runs again.
“He should run, and he should make sure he has a diverse campaign staff that has one of the strongest harassment policies of any campaign,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who has repeatedly encouraged Sanders to seek the White House. “He should run because every 50 years or so, someone has the opportunity to fundamentally reimagine the possibilities of our political conversation.”
But the way this unfolded revealed that “Bernieworld,” which consists of everything from the senator's staff to outside groups such as Our Revolution, is not being careful enough to protect the senator from controversy. The fuse of the harassment story was lit when Arturo Carmona, a former Sanders staffer and congressional candidate, posted photos of his trip to the Sanders Institute Gathering in Vermont last month. Masha Mendieta, who in 2017 had torpedoed Carmona's own campaign by alleging that he'd sexually harassed female staffers, posted an essay on Medium asking how Carmona could have possibly remained in the senator's orbit.
“Many of you asked me what Bernie had to say, assuming him or someone from his team obviously would have reached out to me after the story broke,” Mendieta wrote. “No, he did not and they did not. It was crickets.”
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Who wants to be a billionaire? Tom Steyer is not running for president, focusing his time and money — at least $40 million of it — on the ongoing effort to impeach the president.
Steyer, who got wealthy (and remains wealthy) running a hedge fund, was not the only billionaire looking at a 2020 run. But the Democratic Party, which has elected some independently wealthy candidates to governor's mansions (Illinois's J.B. Pritzker) and Congress (California's Gil Cisneros) very recently, is increasingly cold to the idea of a wealthy candidate barreling into 2020 and spending his own money to elbow aside any challengers.
After her first stop in Iowa last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said every Democratic candidate “ought to link arms and say, 'We’re going to do this with grass-roots funding.' ” To Warren, that also meant that independently wealthy candidates should not write their own campaign checks.
“We ought to be building a movement, and the way we do that is with lots of involvement from lots of people,” Warren said. “Not having billionaires buy these campaigns, whether we’re talking about super PACs, or self-funding.”
Rep. John Delaney (Md.), the first Democrat to enter the presidential race, has an estimated net worth over $200 million, and spent millions to win a seat in Congress in 2012. But he has run his campaign so far with mixture of personal funds and donations.
“I have a budget for the campaign we’re going to run between Iowa and New Hampshire, and my personal funds will make up for any shortfalls,” Delaney said in an interview as he headed to weekend events in Michigan and Iowa. “It may end up being about 50-50. Raising money creates a connection to the campaign; what gets you out of bed is the fact that people have invested in you.”
Other candidates have been bolder about dipping into their own finances. Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg has hinted that he could spend up to $100 million on a campaign, similar to the spending in his mayoral elections. Howard Schultz, the former chief executive of Starbucks, is worth an estimated $2.7 billion and has not ruled out spending his own money; Richard Vague, an obscure businessman who recently visited with South Carolina Democrats, has not commented on the topic.
Many Democrats bristle at the idea of wealthy candidates buying their way into politics, at any level. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who defeated wealthy Total Wine founder David Trone to win his seat in Congress, said he found voters receptive to the idea that candidates should earn their way into politics.
“What I used to say when I was running, my very first line at all the debates, was: Public office is something you earn, not something you buy,” Raskin said.
Trone went on to win the 2018 election to replace Delaney in another Maryland district; he and all House Democrats will vote soon on the For the People Act, a package of campaign finance and ethics changes that would, among other things, create a robust public campaign finance system. Republicans have said they'd block the legislation in the Senate.
“I think this bill will change the dialogue in 2020,” said Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.). “We’ll see candidates, much more quickly after declaring, release their tax returns. I think they’ll take a lot more questions about this on the campaign trail, and I think a lot more voters will be asking, 'What’s your position on this?' ”
In the last edition of The Trailer, you learned that the special election to replace Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), a former state senator from Virginia, could say something about how votes were moving in the suburbs. On Tuesday night, Democrat Jennifer Boysko won Wexton's old 33rd Senate District by the biggest landslide since it was created — a 39.7-point landslide over moderate Republican Joe May.
It'd be easy to overdetermine a meaning from this. Just 21,142 ballots were cast, not counting write-in votes, which meant turnout dipped slightly from the 2014 election that first put Wexton in the Senate. But until Tuesday, the record Democratic margin in the district was Wexton's 13.4-point win in 2015, a mediocre year for her party in the state. The collapse of Virginia's Republican Party has sped up since then.
The good news for Republicans is that few parts of the country are as inhospitable to a Trump-era GOP during a shutdown as Northern Virginia. The bad news for them: It's hard to take the party seriously when it says Sen. Mark Warner will face a serious challenge in 2020.
Defending Democracy, a group of Republicans working to recruit a challenger to the president, is going on the air in New Hampshire to urge the GOP against altering rules that would stop that effort.
Jay Inslee. The governor of Washington will make his first visit to New Hampshire since suggesting that he might seek the presidency, making climate change speeches at Saint Anselm College and Dartmouth on Jan. 22.
Elizabeth Warren. She will be the keynote speaker at the Feb. 22 McIntyre-Shaheen dinner in New Hampshire.
Beto O'Rourke. He is still talking about a "road trip” where he will personally get Americans' views on their country's politics; he also published an Instagram story of himself at the dentist.
Kirsten Gillibrand. Per the AP, she is considering basing a presidential campaign in Upstate New York, where her political career began.
Tulsi Gabbard. The House member got on the wrong side of Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Mazie Hirono from her state of Hawaii for agreeing with a conservative attack on them — that they engaged in "religious bigotry” by questioning a judicial nominee about membership in the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus.
Richard Ojeda. He said he's resigning from the West Virginia state Senate to focus on a presidential run. Ojeda’s resignation will allow Democrat-turned-Republican Gov. Jim Justice to appoint a replacement, though the seat will be on the ballot again in 2020.
"2020 contenders use shutdown fight to raise cash, talk to base,” by Maggie Severns
While the Trump reelection campaign is on air and online with ads, multiple Democratic candidates are buying digital spots, blasting out fundraising letters and Periscoping some takes about the shutdown that are building their lists and brands.
“Joe Biden is the Hillary Clinton of 2020,” by Matthew Yglesias
The takes on why the former vice president would be a disastrous candidate are coming fast and furious, especially from writers who saw Clinton as a strong candidate in the early stages of last cycle.
“Mission not quite accomplished,” by Brendan James
The Oscar buzz for “Vice” is waxing and waning, but this explains why there's an audience for it — frustration with the rehabilitation of the Bush administration's reputation.
. . . nine days until the next Women's March
. . . 11 days until Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations