In this edition: The small effects of a very big shutdown, the Democratic free-for-all in New York, and the latest on Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Between the Oscar love for “Black Panther” and the Kamala Harris launch, I'm glad to see Oakland thriving even with the Raiders leaving, and this is The Trailer.
The longest government shutdown in history was a disaster for federal workers, with short-term pain dealt to their finances and some long-term damage done to their job security and credit ratings. Politically, the story was simpler — it loosened the president’s grip on the political scene, creating space for a (still somewhat fanciful) challenge inside his own party, and emboldening Democrats, who have routed him twice in three months.
No one can predict how long the effects will last. Every recent shutdown — in 1995, in 2013, in 2016 — was politically forgotten by the next election, and this shutdown ended with a maximal amount of time before America votes again. If the shutdown mattered politically, it was by weakening the president and boosting Democrats. Here's what happened:
The president got less popular. The fatal conceit behind the White House’s shutdown strategy was that at some point, the combination of presidential focus and public pressure would bring the country over to his point of view. And that didn’t happen.
On Dec. 22, when the shutdown began, the president’s approval rating was in the red at -10.5. According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracker, disapproval spiked over the course of the shutdown, and he’s at -16.7, his lowest level of support in a year. The Washington Post- ABC News poll puts him at 37 percent approval, a low for a first-term president at this point. Support for a wall on the border tracked closely to the president’s own support. In November 2018, and again this month, Trump made a major gamble on immigration and lost political capital.
Losing like this emboldened the Republicans who want Trump off the ballot in 2020. Ten days before the shutdown began, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan spoke to frustrated Republicans in Washington about how he has proved a different kind of governance could work, but he brushed off the suggestion that he could challenge Trump. “He’s not in the mix,” conservative commentator Bill Kristol said at the time. But during the shutdown, Hogan joined the mix, taking meetings with the small but well-connected crew of conservatives who warn that Trump can’t win reelection.
Nancy Pelosi found her role. One sensible-sounding piece of conventional wisdom last year, when Republicans contemplated the loss of the House, was that the president would thrive if Nancy Pelosi became his Javert.
That didn't happen; Pelosi’s approval ratings are still negative, and the latest NBC-WSJ poll showed her negatives spiking. (Several other polls have shown her holding steady.) But all she needs is to win reelection in one safe seat and prevent the party from losing 17 seats or more in 2020; her incentives were always different from Trump's, in a way that protected her conference.
In the short run, the shutdown solved most of the problems Pelosi (D-Calif.) had inside that conference. The White House never seemed to understand this, from the moment in late December that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said she refused to deal because she was afraid she would lose the votes she needed to become speaker. That was never the case — Pelosi gained support by refusing to deal and kept it as polls showed Democrats winning the immigration issue.
The effects from all this were apparent Friday night, when Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) held his second town hall meeting of the year. Delgado, who narrowly flipped a district that Trump had carried in 2016, told a constituent that the president was simply intransigent on a bad policy.
“Twenty years we've been talking about the stupid wall,” said a frustrated constituent, suggesting that he wanted it built.
“I've been pretty clear on this: I don't think a wall is the right solution,” Delgado said. “There's not a single member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who represents the border and says we need a wall.”
More candidates entered the 2020 elections. The shutdown didn't seem to discourage Republicans from being convinced to run. Before it ended, New York Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis launched a bid for Congress against Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), who in November had flipped the Staten Island-based 11th Congressional District. Malliotakis, who ran against Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017, soundly won Staten Island, albeit with turnout less than half of the levels it would hit in 2018.
What mattered was that she had been recruited at all, in one of the first coups for Rep. Elise Stefanik's (R-N.Y.)'s effort to reverse Republican losses with women. There is no evidence that candidate plans slowed during the shutdown; the only scheduling effect was that some Democratic priorities, such as the effort to stop support for military intervention in Yemen, were held back until the shutdown was over. Just one presidential campaign event — a Friday gathering in Nevada, for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — was canceled because of the shutdown and voting schedule.
Democrats also got some clarity on their targets for 2020. They watched with delight as Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) voted against the funding bill that, in the end, led to the deal on a three-week government funding package; they exploited the vote by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) for that funding bill to attack other Republicans and step up recruitment against him.
NEW YORK — The wildest election in America right now has nothing to do with the presidency. The next public advocate of New York City will be chosen in 30 days and will preside over a $3.5 million budget and an office the city council frequently talks about abolishing.
All of the front-runners in the 23-person field are liberal, on board with everything from free tuition to universal health care to wealth taxes to New York's status as a sanctuary city. The result of all that agreement has been a contest less about ideology than about purity and credibility, about which donors are toxic, and about what sets apart candidates with extremely similar politics.
“We could be in a situation where three white men are leading New York,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former city council speaker, who was first to get her name on the ballot. “We have seen our representation, as women, dwindle in this city.”
“There's a difference between people who are talking and people who are leaders,” said Michael Blake, a state legislator from the Bronx.
“I am the only state assemblyman in this decade who's appeared on the front page of the New York Times without handcuffs,” joked Daniel O'Donnell, a state legislator from Manhattan's Upper West Side.
At least five of the candidates for this job — a kind of metropolitan ombudsman, with the power to introduce legislation but not much else — are seen as future mayors or members of Congress. To hear the front-runners talk, the election could give the city a beachhead in the fight against the Trump administration.
“If you're not in New York, and you're asking why you should care, just look at the job,” Blake said. “You're second in line to the mayor. You sit on the pension board. You introduce legislation.” Blake, in fact, had spent the final day of the shutdown talking to TSA agents and rolling out a plan to give federal workers benefits if the government in Washington played with their paychecks again.
The election is happening because Eric Schneiderman resigned as attorney general last May, hours after the New Yorker published a damning investigation into his treatment of women. Democratic leaders urged then-public advocate Letitia “Tish” James to run for Schneiderman's job, and when she was sworn in this month, an election was called for Feb. 26.
There is no primary; the $23 million cost of one wintry special election was enough. Instead, the candidates had to petition themselves onto the ballot, with just days to pull it off. Instead of running as Democrats and Republicans — Republicans have never held the office in its 26 years of existence — each candidate chose a “line” to run on. There is a People Over Profit line and also a The People's Voice line and Blake's For the People line. Mark-Viverito will appear as the Fix the M.T.A. candidate, not to be confused with the longtime third-party gadfly running on the “Fix M.T.A. and Nycha Now” line.
Most of the 23 candidates are considered long shots. or worse. (The longer any ballot is in 2019, the more likely that someone runs as a “bitcoin entrepreneur.") But Mark-Viverito and Blake are two of the New York Democrats most often discussed as future candidates for higher office, and Jumaane Williams, the People's Voice candidate, nearly unseated the state's lieutenant governor last year on a ticket with actress Cynthia Nixon. Eric Ulrich, a 33-year-old city councilor from Queens, is explicitly running to rebuild the city's empty Republican bench and to hold Mayor Bill de Blasio accountable.
“If I win the special, I'll be running for mayor in 2021. I make no bones about it,” Ulrich said in an interview.
De Blasio himself is big reason the job has become so tantalizing. He won it in 2009 and used its limited powers to pressure Mayor Michael Bloomberg on housing, policing and economic inequality. That propelled him into the mayor's office in 2013. He is not yet intervening in the race for his old job.
“If I felt that someone was presenting a vision that was truly distinctive compared to everyone else, that I felt strongly about, that would be attractive,” de Blasio said in an interview. “Clearly, if I felt there was someone who would take the city backwards, then I would say something about it.”
Like the Democrats' own race for president, there is no anointed candidate, and any impression of being backed by the establishment (especially real estate interests) is toxic. Ulrich is the only candidate who has said outright that he wants to run for higher office; the most ambitious Democrats are working around the question.
The challenge for those candidates is that every leading candidate is running as the race's one true candidate for the left. O'Donnell, in an interview at his campaign office, needled Blake and Mark-Viverito for claiming credit when major legislation passed and for courting Amazon to come to New York City, then opposing the state's proposed subsidies for it. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Blake, a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, said at his Bronx campaign office that he had both a liberal record and a sense of how, with limited power, New York legislators could hold the Trump administration accountable; for example, he wanted the state to cut off business with any corporations if they cooperated with the construction of a border wall.
At a Saturday afternoon conference, Mark-Viverito told an audience of young female activists that she had fought de Blasio and shut down the prison at Riker's Island only to see others take credit for it; part of a pattern, she suggested, of “progressive” men being unable to spot systemic problems.
“It is no coincidence that when the mayor and the police commissioner have a press conference to talk about the drop in crime in New York, they make absolutely no reference to the increase in rapes in New York,” she said. “That is the perspective we as women, as women of color, can bring to the table.”
Williams is a renters' rights activist turned politician whose near miss 2018 campaign earned him the loyalty of activists who might have otherwise been on the market for other candidates. The Working Families Party, which endorsed Williams in both races, has advertised Williams as the only true liberal who would use the job to highlight inequality.
“It's vital that the right person is elected,” said Maurice Mitchell, the WFP's president. “This job can be transformative, or it can be another notch in someone's career.”
In 2018, though, Williams had the relatively unchallenged support of liberal activists. This year, a former ally who worked with Williams to flip the state senate and put liberal Democrats in charge is running, too. Nomiki Konst, a longtime Democratic activist who helped shape the party's 2016 platform and its new delegate rules, plunged into the race despite holding no elected office.
“The city council of New York says it's progressive, but if that's true on 90 percent of issues, it's that 10 percent that we need to focus on,” Konst said in an interview before touring a public housing development where residents were suing the city over years of lead poisoning. “It's the real estate developers who set the policies, and so-called 'progressive' city council members have gone along with that.”
Konst, a longtime Democratic activist who helped shape the party's 2016 platform and its new delegate rules, worked with Williams in 2018 to flip the state Senate and put liberal Democrats in charge. They won, but they're in different foxholes now.
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Should Congress begin impeachment proceedings? (Washington Post/ABC News, 1,001 adults)
Yes — 40%
No — 55%
House Democrats, who have had the power to impeach the president since Jan. 3, have taken no serious action toward doing so. The newest poll on this suggests a reason: 49 percent said Congress should begin impeachment proceedings that could lead to Trump being removed from office, while 46 percent said Congress should not. In the new survey, a smaller 40 percent support impeachment proceedings, while a 55 percent majority oppose them. Worth considering here: whether for many voters, the often-misunderstood act of “impeachment” was just a way of saying they wanted the president held accountable, not removed from office.
What makes Bernie run? On Friday night, Yahoo News reported that a second presidential bid from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was “imminent." The senator's staff took to Twitter to say nothing was happening soon. Meanwhile, for the second weekend this month, groups of pro-Sanders activists held meetings on how they could get him to run again.
In an interview Wednesday, we asked Sanders a question about how the 2020 field was different, and closer to his own beliefs, than the one he entered four years ago. He has been telling audiences that he is looking into whether a new kind of campaign was even possible, so what did that mean?
“I’m determining whether or not I should run, and if I do run, it will have to be an unprecedented grass-roots effort, never before seen in American history. I’m proud of what we accomplished last time, in attracting hundreds of thousands of volunteers. But we’d have to do even better this time. And the reason for that is that we will take on the entire establishment. That means, in a very bold way, taking on Wall Street, because the kind of concentration of major banks is extraordinary, and something we don’t talk about. It means taking on the fossil fuel industry, because they cannot continue to profit as they release carbon into the atmosphere and continue to destroy the planet. It makes taking on the insurance companies and the drug companies as we fight for Medicare for All. It means taking on, obviously, the Republican establishment, it means taking on the Democratic establishment, and it means taking on the president. That's a lot of people."
We followed up, asking what space he saw for his agenda when three announced candidates (Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand) have already endorsed his key legislation, including Medicare-for-all.
“I don’t want to go forward unless there is the kind of support out there that will not just send $27 — though that’s great, we need that — but are prepared to really roll up their sleeves and work. Because the opposition from the economic establishment and political establishment will be extraordinary. Look, Elizabeth Warren is a friend of mine. Cory Booker is a friend of mine. Kamala Harris is someone I’ve gotten to know. Kirsten Gillibrand, and many other good people are running. But I think it's fair to say that what we'd be doing would be different. When I talk about taking on Wall Street, I mean breaking up, not just regulating, the major financial institutions, because I feel that we are headed down the path to financial collapse. When I talk about taking on the health-care industry, man, they're already putting zillions of dollars together to defeat our agenda. I have to know that we can run a kind of unprecedented, anti-establishment campaign."
This is a tougher case than the one Sanders had to make in 2016, and he knows that. And that's why the decision is taking longer than many of his supporters would like.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who has been ill and missing votes for the past few months, has been moved to hospice care. The iconoclastic congressman had always planned to retire in 2020, after the sort of career that was possible only during the South's slow-motion shift from the Democratic Party to the GOP.
Jones, a former Democrat who backed the Iraq War, became notorious for urging that french fries be renamed “freedom fries” as a protest of France's refusal to join the invading coalition. He quickly turned on the war and spent the past decade of his career attempting to make up for it. Three times — in 2008, 2014 and 2018 — he put down serious, credible challenges from Republicans who said he had abandoned his party, citing his votes against defense spending and, eventually, President Trump's agenda.
Any race to replace Jones will reveal how much of an outsider he really was. At least two of his recent opponents, Scott Dacey and Phil Law, have kept the door open to running in 2020. If the seat opens up, there will be a sense, very quickly, of whether any Republican would continue Jones's focus — opposition to debt and to foreign military intervention that had him voting against most spending bills.
The current version of the district might not be competitive for Democrats. In 2016, it backed the president by 23.6 points; in 2018, even as they recruited across the state, Democrats did not field a candidate. But a special election could give some Republican a political base to run from if, as expected, state courts require the 2020 elections to be held on a less gerrymandered map.
Howard Schultz. He's appearing on "60 Minutes,” which has run segments about his corporate career, to explain why he might run for president as an independent. The first clip finds him speaking generically about how “both parties are consistently not doing what's necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged, every single day, in revenge politics.”
Kamala Harris. She gave the first major speech of her presidential campaign in Oakland, Calif.
Michael Bennet. His Senate floor speech, excoriating Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), became the most-seen C-Span congressional clip in the network's history.
Marianne Williamson. The spiritual self-help writer is expected to launch her campaign in Los Angeles on Monday and head to Iowa on Thursday.
Every few weeks, we are doomed to repeat it: the speculation that Hillary Clinton, at age 71, will make a third run for president. She has publicly ruled it out and made none of the moves or hires that would presage a race. But she has one of the largest circles of friends in politics, and they talk, and they still want to install her in the White House, as CNN's Jeff Zeleny said Sunday.
“We have to at least leave our mind open to the possibility that she is still talking about it,” Zeleny said. “She wants to take on Trump. Could she win a Democratic primary to do it? I don't know the answer to that.”
Here is the answer: She almost certainly could not. In last month's Des Moines Register-CNN poll of Iowa, 49 percent of likely caucusgoers said they now viewed Clinton unfavorably, making her by far the least-popular figure in Democratic politics. Famously, or infamously, both she and her husband virtually vanished from the 2018 campaign trail, holding fundraisers but receiving few requests for campaign stops. Democrats do not want Clinton to run for president. She will not run for president.
But it's not enough that Clinton lost her 2016 bid, becoming the fourth person in American history to lose the presidency while carrying the popular vote. She is condemned, at least for a few years, to spark up the synapses of both people who want to gossip about politics and conservatives who have cast about ineffectively for a good post-Clinton villain. She still looms over the party's left, too, as evidenced by the way a September 2017 video of Clinton criticizing Sanders's supporters circulated again this weekend, with many people reacting to it as if she had emerged, with no book or speaking tour, to attack her opponents.
The underappreciated part of this is just how little Democrats care. When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he could use his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee to probe the FBI's handling of 2016 campaign controversies, Democrats did not defend Clinton. They laughed. “Lindsey Graham wants to go back and answer important questions about the Bermuda Triangle and Hillary Clinton,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill).
"‘I hope we get some common sense’: Republicans reeling from political damage caused by shutdown,” by Seung Min Kim and Sean Sullivan
After standing with the president for weeks, some more vulnerable Republicans are asking how much the brinkmanship is going to cost.
Democrats who've seen countless Iowa campaigns fail (and a few succeed) argue that Warren's launch set the standard for 2020 so far and that she has potential supporters who have not been tapped yet.
... three days until Sherrod Brown's "dignity of work" tour begins
... 19 days until government funding runs out again
... two months until Larry Hogan visits Iowa