As of this morning, the Green New Deal has the backing of three Democrats running for president — Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) — as well as of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). It's faring a bit less well with Democratic congressional leaders after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the package as “the green dream, or whatever they call it,” shortly before its actual release. Pelosi prefers passing big legislation to message bills.
“Quite frankly, I haven't seen it,” Pelosi said at her Thursday news conference. “But I do know that it's enthusiastic, and we welcome all the enthusiasms that are out there.”
The Green New Deal is and is not like the ordinary environmental bills that can make it through the House. A friendly profile of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in the New Yorker last month noted that the deal “was written over a single December weekend” by the new congresswoman's staff. For weeks, presidential candidates including Mike Bloomberg and Julián Castro, people who do not have to vote on any piece of legislation, said they backed the concept of a “Green New Deal,” and all of them defined it differently.
This is not how presidential campaigns typically sketch out policy. The traditional method of doing this is to release white papers, endorsed (or written) by confidence-inspiring experts, and refer to them when asked what the candidate will do on a particularly vast or tricky policy. All of this happens later in the cycle. The object: Do no harm. In 2016, Hillary Clinton's climate policy was a combination of grants, standards and goals designed to “put the country on a path to cut emissions more than 80 percent by 2050.” There was no real political backlash to Clinton's policy — aside from one devastating moment where she talked up job training for miners after they were “put out of business” — because it suggested a slightly tougher version of the status quo.
The Green New Deal is different; it's so aspirational that it invites attacks. In an accompanying FAQ, the authors write that they can't get to zero emissions in 10 years (the horizon of all legislation) because “we aren't sure that we'll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” That was meant to be wry; within minutes it was being attacked as proof that the deal's endorsers literally wanted to ban planes, and perhaps cows. But that language grew out of a movement that calls for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in the next 12 years, with a World War II-level mobilization of resources.
“Climate change and our environmental challenges are our biggest existential threats to our way of life,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a news conference after the resolution's release. “We must be as ambitious and as innovative in our solution as possible. … Small, incremental policy solutions are not enough.”
Why would Democrats who want to be president sign on to legislation that could easily be described as a plan to make most cars obsolete and to update every building in the country to meet new climate standards? It's a risk, but it grows out of the political experience that informs most Democratic activists — the Obama years. Before then, for a few years, the action on climate seemed to be bipartisan, with plenty of buy-in from the private sector.
The best example was the Alliance for Climate Protection, founded by Al Gore from his viral climate talks (and subsequent, Oscar-winning documentary), which set a goal of getting every American home running on renewable energy within 10 years. The best-remembered product of the campaign was “We Can Solve It,” a TV ad campaign that showed Nancy Pelosi and former House speaker Newt Gingrich sitting together in front of the Capitol.
“We do agree: Our country must take action to address climate change,” Gingrich said.
In 2008, Barack Obama swept into office with an endorsement of that climate plan, and more. And then Republicans turned against it. The American Clean Energy and Security Act passed the House narrowly but was toxic on the campaign trail, branded an “energy tax” (which was part of the bill) by Republicans. Gingrich himself would say that he appeared in the ad only “to make a point that we shouldn't be afraid to debate the left, even on the environment.”
What the “Green New Deal” Democrats took from that was that there could be no real compromise on climate or that at least the conversation could not start with a compromise. It needed to be forced into the political discussion as an existential crisis — filling the space usually reserved for talk of the “existential” debt crisis, or the “existential” threat of terrorism. Even Democrats who are not talking up the deal itself say that they need to take advantage of shifting attitudes on climate change, and what, to some, looks like disengagement by the funders of climate-skeptic think tanks.
“If you step back and look at the resources used to support deniers, they're not there anymore,” said former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who is visiting early states and considering a run for president. “Exxon is no longer funding denial, or it's less than 2 percent of what they used to spend. Charles Koch said last June that he will no longer fund denial and that climate change is real. Those are real changes that will have real consequences.”
The actual text of the deal is so aspirational, and unspecific, that no 2020 Democrat has backed away from it. For the umpteenth time in this primary, they are embracing the litmus test.
“We put a stake in the ground and say, ‘If you’re running for Democratic nomination for president of the United States, we want to see where you stand,’ " Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) told the Orange County Register. “Are you with us or not?”
On Thursday morning, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its 2020 “frontline” program, designating which incumbent members of the House will get special guidance and fundraising assistance. Forty-four Democrats made the list. Just three of them — Arizona's Tom O'Halleran, New Jersey's Josh Gottheimer and Pennsylvania's Matt Cartwright — were elected before 2018.
“I want to own these districts, not rent them,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the DCCC's new chair, in an interview at the committee's offices.
Bustos sat down with us to talk through the 2020 map, from the offensive targets announced last month, to the places where Democrats are playing defense, to the places that, for now, have dropped off the committee's radar. Bustos confidently predicted that the party would build on its 2018 gains; that the president has grown less popular in key states and districts, a claim in line with RNC polling; and that the rural voters who abandoned Democrats in the past few years really could be won over, with constant persuasion.
A lightly edited transcript is below.
Washington Post: Tell me how you came up with these lists, the targets and the defense.
Cheri Bustos: We’ve looked at Democrats who won by five points or fewer — freshmen, mostly, on that list. We looked at Democrats in Trump districts, because that makes it tougher. We looked at the demographics of their districts. We looked at all of that and want to make sure that these folks are going to come back in two years.
When I made my pitch to my fellow members of Congress that I wanted this job, part of my pitch was that I want to own these districts, not rent them. That is what I know best. I defeated a Republican to get here. I was on the frontline program, so I know this. I come from a Trump district; I won by the biggest margin of any Democrat in a Trump district. So we will use what I bring to the table.
Our three co-chairs for the frontline program have all been frontline themselves, so they have lived this. We want to look at this frontline list as a badge of honor. If there’s anybody on that list who thinks, “I don’t want to be on that list because I’m vulnerable,” or people feeling sheepish about it, I want them to wear this as a badge of honor, because everything going on in this building is going to be about having their back.
WP: Republicans point out that there are 31 Democrats whose districts voted for the president. Why, in 2020, is the president not just going to be able to hit the trail and convince these voters to throw out the Democrats?
CB: Well, he won my district. This is a president whose popularity numbers keep going down and down and down. Let’s use last night [in the State of the Union address] as an example. He got off to a decent start, talking about the economy, and then he just could not help himself for the rest of the 70 minutes. That negative, bleak view of our nation, of our future, calling out the investigation.
I call the folks in these districts Trump Tryers. They were willing to try this guy because, in districts like mine, these other Trump districts, the message that was being delivered from the campaign was “we're going to deliver what Obama got started.” You had people in these districts who didn’t feel that recovery. Come to Morrison, Illinois, and walk the supermarket aisles with me. Talk to people working multiple jobs. Talk to people who were making half of what they were 12 years ago. We’ll have had four years of seeing what he can do.
WP: There are a few districts on neither list that were in play last year — I'm thinking in particular of Minnesota's 8th District and Illinois's 13th District. Are they just off the map, rural districts like that?
CB: It doesn’t mean they won’t be on there. If there are great Democratic candidates who get in, we’ll take a look at those. I always say I’m a lonely Democrat, because there are no other downstate Democrats in Congress. But if we get the right candidate, and raise the kind of resources that we need, and do everything right, we’re not saying that the district is out of reach. Just on this first round, that these are the battleground districts.
This is part of the defensive strategy. You don’t win if you only play offense. You have to play defense. This is our way of telling every Republican in Congress right now, all the would-be Democratic voters out there, that we are playing very aggressively this cycle. We will have no battleground districts that are uncontested or unprotected. It’s going to be [an] all-out, very aggressive ground game. We’ll do everything we can to be successful in an honorable way.
WP: Can you talk more about those rural districts? Even a place like Iowa's 1st District, where Abby Finkenauer won, there were these rural counties that backed Obama twice and did not back her.
CB: They didn’t like me at first, either. I didn’t get hardly any of those votes. But I won by six, then I won by 10, then I won by 20, and then I won by 24. This is in an area that’s not getting more Democratic. Abby Finkenauer’s going to go back and win by more in two years. She was new and she’s going to deliver for her district.
WP: What lesson did you take away from the final stretch of 2018 that really informs you now? I'm thinking about these races that closed on the migrant caravan; we've spent the first few weeks of this year fighting about immigration, again.
CB: The public saw that this caravan was a phony argument, that immediately after the election, there was no mention of it. The president was trying to stir people up again. Even on the periphery, people see that there’s a great deal of phoniness in his claims.
WP: What about abortion? In the end, there weren't really any pro-life Democrats elected in the 2018 class. But Republicans believe they have an issue in the “born alive” abortion bill, in forcing Democrats to take a stand on that.
CB: Do you know why? It’s an issue that divides people. It’s a very emotional issue. Immigration is an emotional issue. Calling people rapists who come to our country not legally divides people. If we stay focused on the issues people care about — student loan debt, the things people dream about for their kids — then we win. We were very successful at that from August all the way through November.
WP: Should some of these Democrats in tough districts support this abortion legislation?
CB: Nobody brings that up. They also don’t bring up Russia. They don’t bring up impeachment. There’s trends you can see if you check in with people. It used to be that everything in my district was about jobs and the economy. Then in the summer of 2017, it switched to, can you guys just get something done? All the news was bad news. That has been steady; the government shutdown just added to that. We promised we'd lower the cost of prescription drugs; we promised we'd pass an infrastructure bill. We promised we would clean up the self-dealing and secret money here. Now, we will pass all those bills. If the Senate proves it doesn’t want results, we'll move from there.
WP: A lot of Republicans in 2018 said something similar, that they passed great bills and they were held up by the Senate, and it didn't work for them; they didn't get much credit.
CB: You can only control what you’re in control of. Then it’s Chuck Schumer’s job to show the public that all these good bills are coming over to the Senate and, in some cases, getting blocked. We will pass the legislation we told the public we’d get passed.
WP: Will the DCCC intervene to help incumbents in safe seats when they have primary challenges? I'm thinking here of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), who several groups are already trying to recruit against.
CB: If Henry needs our help, we’ll be there to help him. This is a member-driven organization. The whole focus is hanging onto the majority, and we want to do what we can to grow our majority. What happened in 2008? We grew the majority. This is going to be another 2008. I want to make sure we spend our time and resources on winning general elections and we don’t waste any of it on winning a primary. I hope we don’t have to.
WP: You've got incumbents who raised $4 million or $5 million for House races, which was unthinkable before, and Republicans don't think it can happen again in a presidential year. Can it?
CB: I do think that was an unusual cycle; that’s why we called it the green wave. There was a lot of money that was coming in all over the country. It was a belief that we could win back the majority; it was a belief in outstanding candidates. We were the only game in town. The Senate seemed out of reach, and there was no presidential. But how are we doing right now? We raised more online than the entire NRCC raised with all of its money. People believe in these new members and they want to help us. We’re off to a great start this cycle already.
WP: Is the “no corporate PAC” pledge these members took sustainable now that they're incumbents, now that there are other races grabbing attention?
CB: Well, they made the pledge, so it’s going to have to be sustainable. They’ll show people why they’re worth investing in. The way I look at fundraising is, people just want to believe you’re doing the right thing.
WP: Is Nancy Pelosi still a problem for Democrats? We saw some mixed signals from Republicans on this; the NRCC said, initially, that there was too much of a focus on Pelosi in 2018, but their messaging since then has often hit Democrats for backing Pelosi.
CB: She's running circles around Donald Trump every single day, and she’s doing it with heels on. I think she’s off to a great start; I feel like Republicans are even abandoning the shtick that she’s the bad guy. She’s well thought of in our caucus even by people who had question marks. Look, they’ll find someone to make the enemy, that’s their MO, but people are tired of that.
WP: What's one tactic that you picked up in 2018 that you want to apply in 2020?
CB: I have learned so much from the new members. Look at Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.). She started her field program earlier than almost anybody running. She started in early 2017. By the time cold weather hit, and in Michigan it hits early, she had people knocking doors, not to hand out literature about how great she was, but to ask people what issues they were concerned with. She called that “snow boots on the ground.” She could go precinct by precinct and know what was on peoples' minds. And that is how you win.
And here's the DCCC's “frontline” list, with the names of “Trump seat” Democrats in bold. The one such Democrat not on the list: Minnesota's Collin Peterson.
Tom O'Halleran (D-Ariz.)
Josh Harder (D-Calif.)
TJ Cox (D-Calif.)
Katie Hill (D-Calif.)
Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.)
Katie Porter (D-Calif.)
Harley Rouda (D-Calif.)
Mike Levin (D-Calif.)
Jason Crow (D-Colo.)
Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.)
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.)
Lucy McBath (D-Ga.)
Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa)
Cindy Axne (D-Iowa)
Sean Casten (D-IL)
Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.)
Sharice Davids (D-Kan.)
Jared Golden (D-Maine)
Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.)
Haley Stevens (D-Mich.)
Angie Craig (D-Minn.)
Chris Pappas (D-N.H.)
Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.)
Andy Kim (D-N.J.)
Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.)
Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.)
Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.)
Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.)
Susie Lee (D-Nev.)
Steven Horsford (D-Nev.)
Max Rose (D-N.Y.)
Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.)
Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.)
Kendra Horn (D-Okla.)
Susan Wild (D-Penn.)
Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.)
Conor Lamb (D-Penn.)
Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.)
Lizzie Fletcher (D-Tex.)
Colin Allred (D-Tex.)
Ben McAdams (D-Utah)
Elaine Luria (D-Va.)
Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.)
Kim Schreier (D-Wash.)
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Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party had about as good a 2018 as possible, sweeping every statewide office. That victory led directly to the party's first setback of 2019: a narrow but decisive defeat in a state Senate district that had never seemed vulnerable until the rise of Donald Trump.
On Tuesday night, Republican legislator Jason Rarick won Minnesota's 11th state Senate district, replacing Tony Lourey, a longtime Democratic senator who Gov. Tim Walz (D) had pulled into his Cabinet. Walz's move worried Democrats from the start — the 11th, which starts in the Duluth area and cuts south across rural Minnesota, had been safely blue until 2016, when Trump romped outside the state's urban areas and nearly scored an upset.
In November 2018, Democrats lost the open 8th Congressional District, which overlaps with the one Rarick just won. It was a 5.5-point GOP win, but the trend line was obvious; the DCCC didn't even put the 8th on its first list of 2020 targets.
Knowing all of that, Walz put the seat on the market, and Democrats nominated Lourey's son Stu to hold on. He didn't. Turnout was minuscule, with just 15,623 total votes cast — down from 37,598 votes in 2016. The Democratic decline was sharper, with the younger Lourey holding onto just 34.9 percent of his father's vote and Rarick winning 47.6 percent of that year's Republican vote. Rarick's margin was about half of Trump's 2016 victory in the district, but like last year's congressional race, it suggested that the withering of rural Minnesota Democrats was not a fluke.
All of this happened while Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she'd make a weekend announcement that's universally expected to kick off her bid for president. “Klobuchar will make her announcement in Minnesota, where she built a strong grass-roots organization and garnered over 60 percent of the vote — winning all eight congressional districts and 42 counties that voted for Trump in 2016 — in her reelection bid in 2018,” her office said in a statement.
Mississippi governor (Mason-Dixon, 625 registered voters)
Jim Hood (D) — 44%
Tate Reeves (R) — 42%
Hood, a Democrat who has served as the state's attorney general since 2004, has held a lead over Lt. Gov. Reeves in every single public poll of this race. As you'll be reading all year in this newsletter, the three red states electing governors this year
— Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi — are all set to be competitive. The unique Democratic problem in Mississippi is a local version of the electoral college, a rule that requires candidates to secure majorities of the vote in most of the state's 122 state legislative districts. That rule has never been used to deny the governor's mansion to a candidate who won more votes statewide, but if it happens in 2019, it would be the first time under Republican dominance of the legislature.
Fox News, meet henhouse. Last week, when asked which networks might be hosting some of the Democrats' 12 scheduled presidential primary debates, DNC Chairman Tom Perez uttered eight words that no one in his job had said for years: “Absolutely, we’re having discussions with Fox and others.”
That angered a lot of Democratic activists. In March 2007, a Fox News debate scheduled for that summer was scrapped, after a lobbying campaign persuaded most of the Democratic hopefuls to skip it. (Activists were angered by a Fox News segment about Barack Obama's education and false rumors that he attended a madrassa.)
Pushing Fox out of the Democratic family was a major triumph for the “Net roots” of that period, and the victory lasted into 2016, with Fox hosting zero debates between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. On Daily Kos, one of the blogs that led the 2007 charge, the mood was bleak. Was the new DNC actually going to march Democrats into a Fox studio? Fox, the network of Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity?
“There may have been a time many years ago when Fox News' audience was made up of moderates and a sizable contingent of Democrats,” wrote former Media Matters fellow Eric Boehlert on Daily Kos. “But those days are now long gone, as the channel has unapologetically positioned itself as a MAGA outlet, and little else.”
So far, neither the DNC nor Fox is backing down. “We're talking to all cable and broadcast networks and a whole host of outlets, including digital outlets,” DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said. “A number of outlets have submitted proposals, and we're looking at all of those proposals.”
Fomer congressman Dennis Kucinich, who in 2007 was one of the few Democratic candidates to defend the Fox debate, said he was happy to see Democrats considering a return to Fox.
“Democrats need to understand that Fox News is not a monolith, that there's diversity within its audience, and that the viewers are listening and weighing things carefully,” Kucinich said. “How can you change someone’s thinking if you refuse to talk to them?”
And in an interview, Fox News's Washington managing editor, Bill Sammon, said the network was among the first to talk to Democrats about how to manage their debates.
“We submitted a very persuasive proposal, laying out our arguments for why Fox would be an ideal host,” Sammon said. “One thing we offer is recent experience with a large field of candidates. We've been through all of the logistical challenges that come with unwieldy group of diverse candidates, because we did it in 2016. We put ideas in there that we saw when the DNC released its public framework, like when they said they would not do an 'undercard' and a main event and would instead do two nights in a row.”
Democrats say Fox, which hosted the first Republican primary debate last cycle, is unlikely to host the first primary debate of this one. But it remains in the mix, and Sammon emphasized that the Fox-hosted 2016 debates enjoyed just not good reviews for the moderators but record-breaking ratings, with the first GOP debate in Cleveland (remembered for Trump's post-debate musing about “blood coming out” of moderator Megyn Kelly) still the highest-rated non-sporting event in cable news history.
“There's a school of thought that, the last time around, Democrats might not have paid close enough attention to the heartland,” Sammon said. “I've talked to a lot of Democrats who are mindful that they need to connect to more Americans, and frankly, Fox Country is part of that.”
Howard Dean, who chaired the DNC during the 2007 fight with Fox, tweeted that it would be worthwhile for Democrats to go back on the network: “Not so terrible to have our candidates seen by Fox viewers for who they really are as opposed to the Laura [Ingraham], Sean Hannity version of who they are.”
Howard Schultz. The former Starbucks CEO delivered a speech at Purdue on Thursday afternoon, billed as a policy speech. In it, he alternated between criticism of “the far left” and “the far right” with a mix of ideas that sound like Democratic proposals. A representative quote: “Health-care costs are the biggest driver of unaffordable care."
Elizabeth Warren. She held yet another reporter scrum yesterday on her past claims of Native American heritage, responding to The Post's story on how she filled out “American Indian” on an old Texas bar license. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who is up for reelection in 2020, has urged supporters to sign on to an RNC “grievance” that asks Warren to be punished by Texas for lying; at the time, of course, Warren said she believed she had some Native heritage.
Sherrod Brown. Ahead of his second “Dignity of Work” tour, he sat down with the Atlantic to talk about the dignity of work.
Kirsten Gillibrand. The senator from New York sat down with Jon Lovett at a taping of his podcast in Washington, where they talked about single-payer health care and how the party deals with sexual assault accusations.
"Beto O’Rourke Was Once Adrift in New York City. Now He’s Searching Again,” by Matt Flegenheimer
A profile of the potential presidential candidate as a young man, all ennui and self-actualization.
“Who Is Matt Duss, and Can He Take On Washington’s ‘Blob’?" by David Klion
The story of Bernie Sanders's chief foreign policy adviser, a realist and opponent of “Islamophobia” who cut his teeth in the “wrong” sort of D.C. magazines and think tanks — the ones that have foreign policy shops that usually come under fire by the establishment.
“Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall will not seek reelection in 2020,” by Felicia Sonmez
A Republican who nearly lost reelection in the growing Atlanta suburbs is leaving, and the Democrat who nearly beat him is open to a rematch.
. . . three days until Amy Klobuchar makes a special announcement in Minneapolis
. . . five days until Howard Schultz's CNN town hall