In this edition: Tulsi Gabbard on the trail, Bill de Blasio on why he might run for president, and the Green New Deal in the Senate.
I have amassed the world's biggest collection of flight delays out of Iowa, and this is The Trailer.
FAIRFIELD, Iowa — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii walked through the snow, opened the door of this small city's events center and gave her favorite greeting to the 200-odd voters who'd braved the freezing rain.
“Aloha!” she said.
“Aloha!” most of the crowd said. As Gabbard took off her winter coat, one Iowan quickly handed her a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy book; one presented a bouquet of flowers. A Democratic presidential contender who has barely registered in state polls and whose campaign was pronounced dead two weeks ago got as warm a welcome as any candidate could ask for.
Fairfield was the right place to go for that. The southeast Iowa city of around 9,500 people is home to the Maharishi University of Management, a school founded by the Beatles' famous yogi 45 years ago, and a beacon for left-leaning outsiders. Gabbard followed her visit here with a stop in Iowa City, which even locals jokingly call a “people's republic” to characterize its proud left-wing politics.
In her first weeks as a candidate, Gabbard, perhaps the most ideologically inventive Democrat in the race, has been most compelling to a wing of the Democratic Party that often shapes the debate but rarely picks nominees. Many Democrats know her for quitting the Democratic National Committee and saying it was slanting the 2016 primary away from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whom she endorsed. Some, especially some who came to see Gabbard in Fairfield, said they had grown used to backing an ideal candidate in the caucuses, then walking away when the party picked someone else.
“The powers that be have dragged us into war after war,” said Roger Leahy, 67, a sheepskin and leather salesman who got his start in politics by protesting the Vietnam War. “I supported Ron Paul. I supported Dennis Kucinich. I support anyone who will stand up to the war machine. Ultimately, I've never been able to vote for a Democrat or a Republican in the general election, because the good people get weeded out.”
Gabbard, 37, has a lot in common with Paul and Kucinich, who angered party leaders by staking out iconoclastic positions and refusing to budge. Just months into her first term — she was elected in 2012 — she was angering Democrats by criticizing the Obama administration's plans to bomb Syria. By 2015 she was collecting praise from neoconservatives who called her “pragmatically strong on defense.” At the end of 2016, after her DNC rebellion won her a passionate following on the left, she took a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, explaining that she would never “play politics with American and Syrian lives.”
All of that earned Gabbard, one of just two military veterans running for president, a more eclectic set of allies and enemies than any declared Democratic candidate. For some voters, that just meant she had more credibility. As they waited to meet Gabbard, several Iowans dated their admiration for Gabbard to a particular TV interview where they felt she was mistreated or to a break with the party where they believed she had been morally correct.
“She never publicly endorsed Clinton,” said Ryan Mostone, 35, at the Fairfield event. “She seemed to pretty much hate her, which was awesome. That's when she earned my respect.”
Gabbard's agenda, as laid out in Iowa, is a combination of Sanders-style democratic socialism and antiwar, antinuclear pragmatism. She's the only declared Democratic candidate who'd criticized any American attempt to overthrow Nicolás Maduro's government in Venezuela, without reservations, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has endorsed the idea. (Other candidates have criticized Maduro or avoided the topic.)
“The United States should not be intervening in this regime change,” Gabbard said in an interview. “The fact that many people in Washington don't seem to either know or even look back at the history to see how these interventions play out is worrying. And that's why it's critical that I have a place on this debate stage.”
In her 20-minute stump speech, Gabbard fully endorses “Medicare-for-all," calls for a ban on all lobbying and invokes a slogan from the Standing Rock protests — mni wiconi, or "water is life" — to argue for leaving carbon in the ground. In an interview here, she said that even the "Green New Deal" rolled out by left-wing Democrats last week may be too small in scope, as it does not call for a ban on nuclear power.
“The waste that is produced by nuclear power is waste that we’re going to have to deal with forever,” she said. In her speech, she also criticized the Trump administration for withdrawing from a nuclear arms limitation treaty: “There are far too many leaders in this country who are furthering this new Cold War, this new arms race.”
Some voters had been waiting to hear rhetoric like this for years. In his 2004 run for president, Kucinich — a friend of Gabbard who she endorsed in his 2018 comeback campaign in Ohio — nearly won Fairfield's Jefferson County and earned more than 30 percent of the vote in the Hawaii caucuses. One of Gabbard's fans in Fairfield, Daniel Clark, got her to sign a T-shirt that he and fellow “Bernie or Bust” delegates wore at the 2016 Democratic convention; he would go on to organize for the Green Party's 2016 campaign and to mount his own independent run for Congress in 2018.
“To see an independent-minded candidate like Tulsi, someone who had the courage to stand up for Bernie as early as she did, is something I admire,” Clark said. “I honestly hope that if Bernie gets into the race, they form a combo ticket. Tulsi has a lot of appeal to people on the right who might not like Bernie.” (The Fairfield event tested that theory; one Trump supporter in the audience let out a lusty “boo” when Gabbard talked about Medicare-for-all.)
Gabbard told her Iowa City audience that she gave Sanders a heads-up before announcing and that she was running her own campaign, not seeking a place on a unity ticket. But Sanders, whom other candidates expect to make a decision on the race by the end of the month, would seek to reclaim many of the voters now looking at Gabbard.
No matter what Sanders does, there's more competition in the far-left lane of the primary than Kucinich ever faced. Marianne Williamson, a self-help guru with a serious national following, jumped into the race at the end of January, telling audiences in Iowa City and Des Moines that America needed a “revolution of consciousness” to overturn a “sociopathic economic system.” In 2016, voters interested in that message had just one candidate — Sanders.
But Williamson, who lost a long-shot 2014 bid for Congress, does not come to Iowa with Gabbard's political experience — something that cuts both ways. In Iowa City, Gabbard's talk at a craft brewery grew tense when Mazahir Salih, a Sudanese immigrant serving on the city council, asked her to respond to charges of “Islamophobia” that she'd seen in a Medium post.
“Are you Islamophobic?” Salih asked.
“The answer is no,” Gabbard said. “I almost don't want to dignify the question. My whole basis, my motivation for running for president, is based on protecting and respecting the rights of all people.”
Salih was not the only Gabbard skeptic who'd shown up; a few others in the crowd said they wanted to take in every candidate but were skeptical of what they, too, had heard. Salih, though, was satisfied with the answer. She posed for a photo with Gabbard and gave her a hug.
If Mueller's report concludes that Trump tried to interfere with the Russia investigation in a way that amounts to obstruction of justice, would you support or oppose Congress impeaching Trump and trying to remove him from office? (Washington Post/Schar School, 841 adults)
Support — 65%
Oppose — 29%
Questions about whether the president should be impeached are some of the hardest to ask correctly; many Americans simply don't know that “impeachment” does not, by itself, remove a president from office. But this is the strongest, clearest majority yet seen in a poll for a specific question about whether the results of Robert Mueller's investigation could be enough to convince people that the president must go. This also does not track with the partisan alignment on the issue; removing the president would require the Senate votes of every Democrat and independent plus 20 Republicans, and Republican credulousness about the investigation has never been that high.
Do you have a favorable opinion of this candidate? (CNN/SSRS, 477 Democrats)
Elizabeth Warren — 52%
Kamala Harris — 49%
Julian Castro — 25%
Kirsten Gillibrand — 24%
Pete Buttigieg -10%
Tulsi Gabbard -9%
National polling says very little about the candidates' strength in early states, but it's useful as a gut check on name ID. After a month of campaigning, Warren and Harris have begun to break through, close behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in both recognition and favorability. Everyone else in the field is mostly unknown by Democratic voters. When campaigns argue that Biden and Sanders's current support is overstated, that's why.
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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio traveled to Iowa in December 2017, one month after securing his second term, and then made exactly no moves toward a run for president. This weekend he'll travel to New Hampshire, and he's sounding slightly more open to a presidential run, even as polling has not found much support for it.
De Blasio recently sat down with The Trailer, after a speech to fellow mayors, and a lightly edited transcript is below.
Washington Post: What's the actual focus you come with when you're seeking out a national audience?
Bill de Blasio: It's something that gets very little attention, which is this movement on the ground for real change on the local level. Every time one city acts, it helps move others. We did, for example, a municipal ID card to create a positive environment for everyone, including undocumented folks. That's an idea that I believe was originated in Oakland and sort of perfected in New Haven. And then we picked it up.
WP: That's been a political football in national politics.
BDB: But it's been incredibly productive and helpful to people because it's helped people to be able to sign leases, to have an ID, to go visit someone at a hospital or visit their kid in school, or get a bank account. I mean, it's very, very practical and it's also been something very powerful for people to feel that they had a document that meant something. That idea generated elsewhere. We learned from it. We're going to be the first city to do two weeks of paid personal leave. Because we're doing it, other places are going to feel they can do it; that, and universal pre-K which I'm very very proud of. When we do it, others see it's not a pie-in-the-sky thing.
It's almost like another level of national government, because the national government hasn't been functioning for people. It hasn't been functioning for a long time. You don't see the national government coming up with policies to address people's needs. There's no national effort to create early-childhood education. There's no national effort to provide paid family leave.
WP: Well, there's some bill in Congress that doesn't get voted on.
BDB: Correct. And that's been that way for a long time. We had that little golden moment for a couple of years when Obama had a very thin working Senate majority, obviously. But the fact is for a long time the world has been upside down. In the world that a lot of us grew up in, the federal government was like the big, bold innovator. It was the place where social justice was addressed. It would sort of pull along other levels of government and create sort of a goal for everyone. We're now literally in the opposite environment, where the local level is where progress is happening.
WP: Logistically, how much how much are you helped by Democrats in having total control in Albany?
BDB: I mean, for the things I just mentioned, we do not require the intervention of our state government. But I want to do much more progressive taxation. I can only do that with the state government. I want to toughen our rent laws and protect affordable housing. I can only do that with the state government. So you know there are a lot of examples like that, but I think most American cities don't have the luxury of being able to depend on a state government that's going to have their back, and they have to create their own progressive policies.
WP: Have you had these conversations with anyone who's running for president?
BDB: Yeah, and I think they should be paying attention.
WP: That's striking because on the trail, you more often hear people say, “Hey, this works for Canada,” or “Hey, this works for Switzerland,” and not about New York.
BDB: As a political culture we look to models around the world and miss the ones under our own nose. And a lot of the best progressive policies are being generated in cities all over the country. And they're being proven; it's not just theory. We have a society that is entirely overstressed in every sense, economically depressed, stressed in terms of time and energy. People feel like they're working harder than ever, and they are. I think national candidates should look at these models.
WP: Two years ago, there was a lot nervousness about what the Trump administration might do to crack down on cities' immigration experiments, like sanctuary cities. What happened with that?
BDB: Most notably they tried to stop our funding because we wouldn't ask people their documentation status. That was rejected by the courts. There was all sorts of sabre-rattling that never came to fruition. I can honestly say that we have felt very little impact from the presence of Donald Trump, as a city government. But the human impact has been horrendous. We've got about half a million undocumented folks and I have heard incessantly the stories of people who now are scared to leave their home. They don't want to go to a doctor's appointment because they feel like it might expose them. They don't want to go to a hospital because they feel like their name might get written down somewhere. That's been probably the single most painful part of living in Trump's America in terms of New York City. But on a policy level almost nothing has changed.
WP: What do you make of Elizabeth Warren's proposal to tax wealth over $50 million at 2 percent? What's your read on ideas like that, coming from a city when Republicans warn that the wealthy are going to flee if they get taxed more?
BDB: I have never bought into that. What we've seen in New York City is that some wealthy people leave and other wealthy people come in. The bottom line is the wealthy are wildly undertaxed in America. We no longer can really claim to have a progressive tax system. It's hurting the entire country. Of course we need to intensely increase taxes on the wealthy. I think it's a very healthy debate starting now. And you know, the time when we prospered most as a country, we had a very high tax on the wealthy and that allowed us to invest in infrastructure and the kinds of things that create an economy that worked for everyone at least better.
I think there's tremendous energy around this. And I think what's happening now is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is asserting itself, and I'm proud to be a part of it. It's saying: If you're not willing to say we need to tax the wealthy more you're not a part of the Democratic Party anymore. The party now has a different identity that I think goes back to our roots in the New Deal, and we have to be unapologetic about it.
WP: What role do you actually want to play in the Democratic primary at this point? If it's an endorsement, the last time your endorsement came fairly late in the process.
BDB: The first thing I'm trying to focus on is getting out a set of ideas and pushing those ideas, because we all understandably get caught up in the personalities and the horse race, and that's not what this should be about. Certainly, when you look at the results of 20 16 within the Democratic primary, the strength of Bernie Sanders's ideas, and also a lot of the other ideas have been bubbling up from around the country, fundamentally changed the party. When the smoke clears our party must nominate an unapologetic progressive with a platform that working people can actually relate to. We didn't have that last time. The platform was pretty damn good. But the platform wasn't central to Hillary's campaign.
WP: And are you able to do all this without running for president? Look, attention gravitates to a person when they're speculating they're going to run for president, and it fades it they don't. We haven't heard from Deval Patrick in a month because he said he's not running.
BDB: There's always space for new ideas and vision. Whether it's coming from candidates or coming from other leaders in other places, I would be careful not to assume that there's not room for a really healthy debate. Look, we have a very wide open, unpredictable environment. I think it's important that anyone who wants to be heard comes forward, whether as a candidate or someone who's trying to affect the shape of the country and our party. And I'm very explicit that I had that sense of mission. I'm going to be doing that.
WP: So, are you running?
BDB: I've been very clear in saying that I don't rule it out. I am focused on being mayor of New York City. I've got three more years. I've got a very ambitious agenda I'm working on in New York City. We're also in an environment that is extraordinary dynamic. And I don't rule this out because I've got something to say, I'm making the point to go and say it, and I don't know what tomorrow brings.
Kamala Harris. She heads to South Carolina on Friday for the first real campaign events since she declared her candidacy — a town hall in North Charleston and another in Columbia.
Bill de Blasio. He's spending Friday in New Hampshire as he takes questions on whether he'll run for president.
Seth Moulton. He told BuzzFeed that he's still considering a run for the White House, days after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) launched her presidential bid with two endorsements from Massachusetts' House delegation. One looming issue: Moulton rankled many New Hampshire Democrats by campaigning against now-Rep. Chris Pappas. (Moulton endorsed a veteran with few roots in the state, whom locals considered a weaker candidate.)
Howard Schultz. He's appearing in a CNN town hall tonight, surrounded by some controversy over whether a potential independent candidate deserves this platform more than one of the Democrats already running. (Harris is the only other Democrat to get a CNN town hall so far.)
Cory Booker. He's heading to New Hampshire for his first organizing trip there, Saturday through Monday.
Beto O'Rourke. He is the first Democrat to actually spark a fight over crowd size with Trump, after a Monday counterprogramming rally during the president's trip to El Paso.
The first special congressional election of 2019 is May 21, and Democrats have picked their candidate: Marc Friedenberg, a Penn State professor, will run to represent Pennsylvania’s 12th District.
There wasn’t too much drama about this pick, which gives Friedenberg, the 2018 nominee against retired congressman Tom Marino (R-Pa.), a second bite at the apple. The new 12th District, as redrawn by Pennsylvania judges last year, is one of the state’s least- friendly Democratic habitats. In 2008, Barack Obama won just 41.7 percent of the vote across the mostly rural district; in 2016, just 29.7 percent of its residents backed Hillary Clinton for president. Democrats routed Republicans statewide last year, but all of them lost the 12th District.
Friedenberg lost it, too, running well ahead of Clinton’s numbers but still losing to Marino by 32 points. He raised just $155,963, in a year where Democrats in some long-shot races were putting up $1 million.
Republicans don’t pick their own nominee until March 2, which gives Friedenberg something he didn’t have before: a head start. But any Republican is favored to hold the seat. Possible nominees include State Farm Bureau vice president Chris Hoffman, state Rep. Fred Keller, County Commissioner Doug McLinko, nursing executive Joseph Moralez, and state Rep. Jeff Wheeland.
Whoever wins will fill one of the three vacancies in the House. Two of those vacancies are in North Carolina, where the contested results in the 9th Congressional District may lead to a competitive special election, and the death this week of Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) will set up a race for one of the state's reddest seats.
It's one of the simplest legislative tricks there is: making your opponent vote for a bill that he or she isn't ready to defend.
In 2017, Senate Republicans forced Democrats to vote on a version of the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.” Most of them voted present. In 2018, House Republicans forced Democrats to vote on a resolution praising Immigration and Customs Enforcement as the “Abolish ICE” movement was taking off; most Democrats voted “present.”
This year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is planning to hold a vote on the Green New Deal resolution introduced last week in the House and immediately endorsed by four of the party's presidential candidates.* It's being covered as a master political stroke, but as Republicans proved with the last few stunt votes, it's hard to make this stuff stick. If supporters of the bill decide to vote “present,” their base has never punished them for it.
But this vote might break the pattern. While Republicans failed to get much traction from tying Democrats to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) during the midterms, they see an opportunity to make Democrats who support the big principles take a stand on the way Ocasio-Cortez describes the deal — in bolder and more specific terms. And Ocasio-Cortez has not given the go-ahead to oppose a stunt vote.
“So, is the threat that they'd be putting people on the record for one of the best solutions to save life as we know it?” asked Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez's spokesman. “I think we should take a stand on that, solidly. I think the political theater on this is overblown.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), an avowed Green New Deal supporter, said that if the resolution does come up, Democrats should seize the opportunity to debate it. For one, it could explain what's in the resolution, as opposed to Republican characterizations of a Democratic plan to ban cows and planes.
“I’d encourage everyone to look at what's actually in the resolution,” Merkley said. “Absolutely, I'd vote for it. What I’d recommend is that we have a real debate on the floor of the Senate. If Republicans want to put it on the floor, they should carry out a conversation about the damage being done by carbon pollution. We can have a conversation about the influence of the Koch brothers.”
*Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren
"This is how you get AOC,” by Christian Vanderbrouk
A Bush administration veteran looks at how the president's successes, and even his setbacks, have made Democrats bolder about what they say and what they propose.
The senator's veganism is pretty well known, but he's not talked at much length about it before.
“Kirsten Gillibrand’s Unabashedly Feminist Campaign,” by Lisa Lerer and Shane Goldmacher
Her launch may have been the least buzzy of the senators who announced, but Gillibrand's embrace of identity and gender is laid out well here.
. . . 7 days until a special election for Virginia's 86th seat in the House of Delegates
. . . 98 days until the special election in Pennsylvania's 12th District
. . . 356 days until the Iowa caucuses