In this edition: The left’s Biden problem, the rebirth of a health-care wedge issue, and not much room for #NeverTrump in New Hampshire.
I’m impressed that whoever writes inspiring music for 2020 candidate launch videos hasn’t run out of tunes yet, and this is The Trailer.
Joe Biden spent Monday night in New Hampshire, but his shadow stretched far down to Washington. At a rally for the Green New Deal, held on the campus of Howard University, an audience of about 1,500 activists repeatedly booed at mentions of the former vice president.
“Who here liked it when Joe Biden said he was middle of the road on climate policy?” asked Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of the left-wing campaign group Justice Democrats.
The crowd jeered, and kept jeering, every time someone mentioned a report from Reuters that claimed that Biden would seek a “middle ground” on climate. (The quote came from an unnamed adviser, not the candidate.) When one audience member yelled “no middle ground,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that she agreed with him and that Washington elites had known about the threat of climate change since the year she was born.
“I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then come back today and say we need a 'middle of the road' approach to save our lives,” she said.
Biden's status as the leader in every recent poll of primary voters, combined with a slight decline in support for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has sparked a kind of crisis on the left. What looked inevitable to them a few months earlier — the Democratic Party's shift to the left, the nomination of a populist presidential candidate — could be canceled by the affection most Democratic voters have for their last vice president.
“Before Joe Biden got into the race, the Overton window was moving on a lot of issues,” said Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist who has worked with a series of left-wing candidates. (The Overton window is a term for the range of ideas considered mainstream in political debate.) “He's trying to push it back. I believe it's been pushed far enough that he can't get it all the way back to where it was. But we have to keep pushing, too.”
On climate, on immigration, and on health care, the left spent more than three years rewriting the Democratic Party’s agenda. Biden, who participated in none of that, has embraced some of the left’s agenda — he is for a $15 federal minimum wage, which Hillary Clinton was not. But he’s the first leading candidate in this primary whom the left doesn’t seem able to influence.
The Sunrise Movement, the young grass-roots organization that turned the Green New Deal into a priority for the American left, is one of many organizations working to change the debate and sign up as many politicians as possible to their agenda. On Monday, Sunrise Executive Director Varshini Prakash announced that the movement would step up its work in the primary, setting up a “people's stage” near the second Democratic presidential debate in July and inviting only the candidates who passed three tests. (The DNC’s rules don’t prevent separate forums.) They had to forswear money from top fossil fuel industry employees; they had to call for one of the primary debates to be focused entirely on climate change; and they had to endorse the Green New Deal.
One month ago, those conditions would have meant that every top Democratic candidate could appear in solidarity with young climate activists. At the moment, the conditions would deny a place onstage to Biden, whose “green revolution” falls short of the Green New Deal. Some on the left are more optimistic about beating Biden than getting him to change.
“It's early,” Prakash said in a short interview. “Most of the support he's received is coming because he just announced his campaign and because he has such close ties to Barack Obama. As people get used to the idea of 'President Joe' instead of 'Uncle Joe,' and they take a look at different candidates' policies, I think you'll see some different polls.”
Biden is hardly hostile to the goals of the climate movement, and he bristles at the idea that his agenda isn't good enough. At his first stop in New Hampshire, the former vice president called for a “rational” approach to continue “the green revolution.” He talked up the clean energy priorities that he and President Barack Obama advanced for eight years and gave himself some credit for proposing climate legislation in 1986, three years before Ocasio-Cortez was born.
“I said we have an existential threat; we are in a situation where, if we don’t act quickly, we’re going to basically lose almost everything we have,” Biden said.
Biden's description of the threat, and his promise to talk more about climate as the campaign progressed, reflected one of the goals of the Sunrise Movement: to move the conversation their way and make climate a priority for every candidate.
But Biden's solutions are far less comprehensive than the Green New Deal, which combines ambitious 10-year goals for renewable energy with Medicare-for-all and a massive jobs program. The gulf between Biden's plan to pick up where Obama left off, and the full-on Green New Deal pitch Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivered at the Sunrise rally, was vast. The left comfortably calls Biden a “climate denier,” but the median Democratic primary voter misses Obama.
Climate is one among many issues where the left has changed the Democratic conversation, then hit resistance on its actual policy goals. A viewer of the new documentary “Knock Down the House” can see Ocasio-Cortez browbeat Joe Crowley, the congressman she defeated in a June 2018 primary, for not wanting to “abolish ICE.” But Ocasio-Cortez has not tweeted about “abolishing” Immigrations and Customs Enforcement since August; even Democratic candidates popular on the left, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have said they would simply restructure immigration enforcement.
The push for Medicare-for-all, a more unifying issue among Democrats, has been more successful in moving debate. Biden, like every Democratic candidate, supports a public option that would allow anyone to buy into Medicare, something that advocates see as a step toward making that program universal.
At the same time there has been a small decline in support for the actual Medicare-for-all bill, which would replace most private insurance with Medicare over a two-year phase-in. By the end of the past Congress, the legislative vehicle for Medicare-for-all, H.R. 676, had 124 co-sponsors in the House. The new Congress has 40 more Democrats in the House, but the new version of Medicare-for-all, H. R. 1384, has just 108 co-sponsors. House Democrats had held the first-ever hearing on the bill, with plans for more of them, but the argument for universal health care was moving faster than the chances of actually passing it.
“A lot of people, I think, co-sponsored Pramila's bill for the same reason they co-sponsored H.R. 676; it was the metaphor for Medicare-for-all," said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, referring to the legislation from progressive caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). “Now, people have seen some of the details and said, 'Okay, we need to look at this.' There doesn't seem to be much of a sense of urgency because it's not going anywhere.”
There is a greater sense of urgency around climate change; the activists focused on it, citing reports from government and private-sector scientists, argue that the planet will become uninhabitable by mid-century unless leaders act quickly. At Monday's rally, Prakash defined what it would take to reverse that: "a movement of literally millions in the streets, a House and the Senate on the side of climate action, and a president who is ready to fight to get it done." And not every candidate could do that.
“Because of the momentum that we built, a lot of these presidential candidates are racing to back the Green New Deal,” Prakash said. “But other candidates have doubled down with the same corporate policies that have failed us for decades.” She didn’t need to say who, but by Tuesday morning, the critique had sunk in.
“You’ve never heard me say ‘middle of the road,' " Biden said at another New Hampshire stop. “I’ve never been middle of the road on the environment.”
The backlash to Biden’s handling of the Clarence Thomas hearings has not dented his status in the race, but it has had a very long tail.
“We can do way better than these guys,” by Luke Savage
There’s plenty of frustration on the left about Biden’s strong position.
“What Joe Biden Is Teaching Democrats About Democrats,” by Jonathan Chait
Is the party’s base less interested in swinging for the fences with a populist candidate than Twitter would have us believe?
No one is having more fun on the trail than the senator who has struggled the hardest for donors.
Some of the newsiest events of the cycle are actually ratings poison.
Republicans expected Joe Biden to be pushed left by his primary and have been surprised when he hasn't. Even more surprising: Over the weekend, Biden seemed to embrace a position that had been toxic for Democrats. Asked at a gaggle in Los Angeles whether he would allow noncitizens to access Medicare and Medicaid, Biden seemed to say yes.
“Look, I think that anyone who is in a situation where they're in need of health care, regardless of whether they're documented or undocumented, we have an obligation to see that they're cared for,” Biden said. “That's why we need more clinics around the country. And this idea that undocumented — by the way, a significant portion of undocumented folks in this country are there because they've overstayed their visas. It's not people breaking down gates, coming across the border. The biggest thing we've got to do in this is turn down the rhetoric.”
The idea of letting noncitizens access federal health-care benefits has been a wedge issue for years. It broke into view 10 years ago, when then-President Barack Obama said in a health-care speech to Congress that “the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” This was the moment when Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled, “You lie!” but the Affordable Care Act really did include Obama’s terms.
Medicare-for-all abandoned those terms. The current version of the legislation says that “every individual who’s a resident of the United States” is entitled to universal coverage. Right now, U.S. residents with green cards or other legal protections are eligible for benefits; residents who lack that documentation are not.
“The Democratic Party has abandoned any pretense that America exists to benefit Americans,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Monday night. “Once the rest of the world knows that we're passing out free health care, it will soon be many, many more. How much will all of that cost this country? Who will pay for it?”
The Trump administration’s unpopular hard-line approach to immigration, from the border wall to family separation, has taken much of the pressure off Biden’s party. But the difference between Obama’s 2009 speech and the language of Medicare-for-all is just one aspect of a leftward shift that Republicans in downballot races have exploited.
In Georgia, Republicans effectively attacked Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, for saying that noncitizens should be able to vote in local elections. Earlier this year, a Siena poll found 61 percent of New Yorkers opposed to letting undocumented immigrants obtain driver’s licenses. Abrams is one of the most talented wonks in her party, New York is one of that party’s strongholds, and the politics of allowing noncitizens any benefits were too much to overcome.
But any Democrat who endorses Medicare-for-all is going to get the question, and Republicans see opportunity in it. In a Sunday interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) said she supported the legislation’s benefits for noncitizens living in America.
“Let me just be very clear about this: I'm opposed to any policy that would deny in our country any human being from access to public safety, public education, or public health, period,” Harris said.
Traditionally, Democrats pivot from these sorts of questions by calling for comprehensive immigration reform. Biden actually did so in Los Angeles, using the question to attack the president's divisiveness. And when the questioning continued, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti jumped in to help.
“In this city, 90 percent of those folks, their kids are citizens,” Garcetti said. “Cutting their benefits off, it's the kids that suffer.”
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New Hampshire Republican primary (Monmouth, 427 voters)
Donald Trump — 72%
William Weld — 12%
Weld, whose campaign has focused mostly on New Hampshire, still has the anti-Trump Republican lane to himself. The problem is that the lane runs out miles before it gets to the president. A majority of New Hampshire Republicans (and independents intending to vote in the GOP primary) want to renominate the president; the number of potential anti-Trump votes is limited by the existence of a busy Democratic primary, giving Trump-o-phobes plenty of options if they want to oppose him.
North Carolina. It's Election Day, at last, in the place where 2018's biggest voting scandal unfolded. Republicans are voting in a 10-way primary to pick their nominee in the state's 9th Congressional District; Democrats and minor parties have no contests.
Unlike the nearby 3rd District, where a 17-way GOP primary ended with a runoff, Republicans see a clear front-runner. Dan Bishop, a conservative state senator, has led in the only public polling of the race. Stony Rushing, a county commissioner supported by 2018 GOP nominee Mark Harris, has polled behind him; Leigh Brown, a Realtor with big financial backing from her industry, has made enough of a splash on the airwaves to tempt the Club for Growth into the race on Bishop's behalf.
Since 2017, North Carolina has required runoffs only if no candidate wins more than 30 percent of the vote. (The threshold used to be higher.) The vote leader tonight might have an extra advantage: Rushing has said that he will not seek a runoff if he places second. Canceling that runoff would mean that the district votes again Sept. 10, instead of in November, when the city of Charlotte (partially contained in the district) holds an election that would be expected to grow Democratic turnout.
Montana. The day before Gov. Steve Bullock (D) announced his presidential bid, Helena, Mont., Mayor Wilmot Collins announced his bid for U.S. Senate, bringing some level of star power; he has been featured in a “Daily Show” segment, about how an immigrant from Liberia became a mayor of a capital city.
Iowa. Republican legislator and former TV anchor Ashley Hinson jumped into the race for the 1st Congressional District against first-term Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D), the second-youngest member of the Democrats' freshman class. It's the latest recruiting coup for Hinson's party, which has upped its focus on recruiting women. It's another story in the state's other competitive districts; former Illinois congressman Bobby Schilling is moving toward a run in the open 2nd District, and former 3rd District congressman David Young is running again to defeat Rep. Cindy Axne (D), who narrowly beat him in 2018. Democrats, meanwhile, tapped state Sen. Rita Hart to run for the 2nd District, coming off her near miss campaign for lieutenant governor, when her ticket carried the district.
Steve Bullock. The governor of Montana made it official Tuesday, becoming either the 22nd or 23rd Democratic candidate for president. (It depends on whether Mike Gravel makes the count.) In a launch video, he heavily emphasized his successful battle to save the state’s “clean” campaign finance laws from lawsuits.
“If we can kick the Koch brothers out of Montana, we sure as hell can kick them out of every place in the country,” he said.
The more horse-race part of Bullock’s pitch is that in a wide field, he’s the only candidate who won a “Trump state.” In 2016, he narrowly won a second term while Trump easily carried Montana; 20 percent of Trump voters, he has estimated, stuck with their Democratic governor.
Julián Castro. He put out the second comprehensive plan of his campaign, on education — national pre-K and tuition-free public college, paid for with higher taxes on corporations and the very wealthy.
Cory Booker. While in New Hampshire, he released a new plan to combat gun-related suicides. The key aspects: a federal gun licensing program, requiring gun owners to safely store their weapons, and a new White House role to “deliver a coordinated and effective response” to suicide.
Beto O’Rourke. After a dry spell without many TV appearances, he stopped by Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show Monday and ABC's “The View” on Tuesday.
Jay Inslee. He signed a version of a public health-care option into law in Washington, the latest in a busy run of liberal bills introduced since Democrats captured the state legislature in 2017.
Andrew Yang. He’s rallying in New York on Tuesday, the latest in a series of big-city events that have drawn at least 1,000 people, and sometimes more than that.
Elizabeth Warren. She announced that she had been offered a Fox News town hall and turned it down. “Fox News is a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists — it’s designed to turn us against each other, risking life and death consequences, to provide cover for the corruption that’s rotting our government and hollowing out our middle class,” she said on Twitter.
John Delaney. After Warren passed on the Fox News debate, Delaney offered to take her spot, chastising her.
Bernie Sanders supporters who worry that the media is undercounting his support found an ally this weekend: Bernie Sanders himself. In an interview with Al Sharpton, the independent senator from Vermont pushed back on the suggestion that new polls showed him badly lagging behind Joe Biden in New Hampshire.
“If you look at that particular poll, they had two-thirds of the people that they reached out to were over the age of 50, and that's not the way the people of New Hampshire vote. I think it was a selection of older people, which is not accurate,” Sanders said.
Sanders was referring to Monmouth’s poll of the first primary state; previously, Sanders supporters had gone after CNN for a national poll with a sample of young voters that was too small to break into cross tabs. Some thought, incorrectly, that the network did not poll anyone under 50; some merely said that the network undersampled Sanders’s base. After all, in the 2016 primary, only half of New Hampshire primary voters told exit pollsters that they were over 50.
“The results are going to be a good bit biased because what you are really polling is not people, it is the oldest age groups in America,” said John Iadarola, a host on the liberal network the Young Turks.
Is it true? Not quite, but it’s not ludicrous, either. Sanders, who won voters under 45 in the 2016 Democratic primary, has carried much of that strength into this primary. In every credible national and state poll, Sanders leads with young voters. Growing turnout with those voters is essential to his 2020 strategy, with Sanders telling audiences that “the most progressive generation in American history” could transform the country, if only it voted.
“Voter turnout for young people in this country, for people under 30, is far lower than it is for older Americans,” Sanders said Monday night at a Green New Deal rally in Washington.
“We would have voted if you were there!” shouted a supporter in the crowd.
But pollsters say Sanders has been overestimating the power of young voters in the last primary. Asked about the Sanders critique, Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray pointed to a thread of tweets he’d written about the difference between exit polling and the voter file that pollsters use to model an electorate. The exit polls that critics were looking at, he said, overestimated the number of younger voters.
“The NH voter rolls, which granted are imperfect themselves, show that about 28 percent of the 2016 primary electorate was 18-49 at the time (compared to 45 percent combined R D in the exit polls) and 32 percent was 65 (compared to 19 percent in exit polls).”
If Sanders is right, and if he radically grows the number of young voters in 2020, he can defy those models and perform better than expected. But at the moment, he’s further behind in the early primary states than a youth voter surge would fix.
. . . six days until the president campaigns in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District
. . . seven days until the special election in that district
. . . 119 days until the special elections in North Carolina's 3rd and 9th Congressional Districts