In this edition: Democrats follow labor's lead in Iowa, the debate-rules grumbling gets louder, and trans rights come to a Southern race for governor.
Enough of the false rumors: This is the Trailer.
ALTOONA, Iowa — Bernie Sanders had just delivered remarks to the Iowa AFL-CIO, describing how universal health care would take away employers’ power to trade away insurance in negotiations, when he got a practical question. What would the workers get from their bosses? If they saved money on insurance, why would they ever give the savings to employees?
“What we will insist on is that if you are a large corporation, and you’re saving money on your health care, the differences are going to go to the workers,” the senator from Vermont said. “It's not going to go to your pockets.”
In so many words, Sanders’s plan was to browbeat big business. He would change companies' behavior, because they had never dealt with a president demanding that they change it. As Democratic presidential candidates compete for labor’s support — with fresh memories of rank-and-file members rejecting their leaders’ 2016 endorsements of Hillary Clinton — Sanders and others are emphasizing not just their priorities but how they, personally, would use presidential power to shame business.
“My campaign staff is unionized,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) said in her address to state AFL-CIO members. “I helped other places unionize, including the grad students in Boston, the casino workers and airport workers in multiple cities. I've walked picket lines and I've called CEOs to try to get them to settle disputes and recognize unions. If you're looking for a partner in the White House, someone you can call on, then that's what I will be.”
Union members have heard some of this before, more than enough of it to grow skeptical. The day-long candidate forum was polite, with standing ovations for each candidate, even if they didn’t otherwise get much applause. A video from a socked-in Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, was run first at the wrong speed, giving him a lamentable “chipmunk” vocal timbre; when it was over, the organizers played the 10-minute video again, corrected and in full.
But there were some raw feelings about Democrats and their last run in power. One organizer recounted, by name, the Democratic senators who had balked at "card check," the major labor priority of Barack Obama's first term, which would have given any union recognition as soon as a simple majority of a shop's workers signed up. Others, with nothing good to say about the Trump administration, pointed to incidents where they had seen the populist, anti-trade Republican find his political openings.
“Our plant sold out to Siemens under the Obama era,” said Robert Morrison, a 64-year old machinist who lost his job when the plant closed. “And I feel that that the SEC should have stepped in and stopped that, because Siemens has a history of closing plants in the United States and shipping jobs overseas.”
Onstage, the Obama administration was remembered mostly for some pro-labor decisions — a late, lamented rule that expanded eligibility for overtime pay — rolled back by the Trump administration.
“When there's the National Labor Relations Board in my administration they'll be back wearing striped shirts, and there will be unions recognized there," said Joe Biden. The former vice president, who had campaigned for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016, made no mention of it: "There will be no trade agreement in my administration without organized labor sitting at the table." (At other events, Biden has said he would "renegotiate" the trade deal, but not pass it as is.) There was no talk about the USMCA, or "new NAFTA." There was much more about what candidates had done, individually, to stand with labor.
Sanders offered the most, using the event to discuss a labor agenda that built on "card check" and went miles beyond it — a right to strike for all federal workers, a federal end to "right to work" laws, and presidential intervention to stop anti-labor laws in the states. He was in sync on some of that with Warren, who introduced legislation to ban right-to-work in 2017. Both of those candidates, in attitude and agenda, are more in step with the major AFL-CIO affiliates than Biden; the choice offered in public Wednesday was between restoring what had worked from 2009 to 2017 and of going far beyond it.
When the Democrats gathered in Altoona, just two Democrats had any official labor support: Biden from the International Association of Fire Fighters, and de Blasio from the much smaller New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council. A number of unions, responding to the crowded field, have said that endorsements will come much later than they did in the 2016 — if they even come before the primary is over. At the same time, unions have expressed less caution, and less of a desire to rally behind the most electable-looking Democrat, than they were in 2015.
But over the next month, more unions and locals will be meeting to hash out endorsements. The United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, which supports Medicare-for-all and is friendly to Sanders, is gathering in Pittsburgh next week; the Machinists, who have also endorsed Medicare-for-all, is holding a rank-and-file vote soon. The candidates running the strongest so far are the ones with the biggest ideas of what they could do presidential power — much more than the last Democratic president dared.
"Trump critics eye GOP primary race, even if defeating him seems ‘preposterous,’ " by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker
Joe Walsh and Mark Sanford, Trump critics who admit that they probably can't win the nomination, talk about entering a primary against President Trump.
"The summer of Warren," by Julia Ioffe
A detailed look inside the senator's slow ascent.
Other candidates have bigger crowds; Biden prefers to focus on the polls.
The Twitter fight that will never end.
The Texan has started to run the campaign that screenwriters dream of, but it hasn't been winning votes.
The president's Israel stances have been more popular with evangelical conservatives than Jews themselves.
DES MOINES — On Wednesday evening, a few hours before Washington Gov. Jay Inslee dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary race, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was decrying the Democratic National Committee's debate rules. The party was requiring 130,000 individual donations and poll numbers at 2 percent or above in order for candidates to make the September event. Bullock was nowhere close.
"I think the DNC rules were really well-intentioned," Bullock said at a house party hosted by Polk County's Democratic chairman. "But what it has made is a premium to get one dollar donors, to spend all your money on that. You literally spend $60 to get one donation. That's not good for campaigns. It's not good for democracy."
There were frustrated murmurs from the crowd when Bullock described the cost of reaching donors. The DNC's debate rules, intended to stave off accusations of unfairness — the party has never fully recovered from its botched handling of the 2016 primary — have started to achieve one goal. They are shrinking the historically large field.
Those rules happen to have elimated two credible candidates, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and current Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. And Inslee, who launched his campaign to raise the profile of climate change, got an unusually sorrowful send-off from fellow candidates. By preventing two problems that angered voters in 2016 — "undercard" debates for low-polling candidates and a late debate schedule — the party ended up closing paths to candidates who tried, and failed, to build slowly.
This weekend, the rules will lead to a curious happening in San Francisco, where the DNC is meeting to hammer out delegate rules and other aspects of the primary. Thirteen candidates will appear there, and six of them — Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, author Marianne Williamson, Adm. Joe Sestak (ret.), and businessman-turned-activist Tom Steyer — have not qualified for the debates.
"You know, I'd never want to think that the Democratic Party would be less inclusive than the Republicans," Bullock said in Des Moines. "But go back to 2016. They were holding debates in January, February of 2016, with a 1 percent [polling] threshold."
Asked if he would lobby Democrats to change the debate rules this weekend, Bullock was pessimistic. "I don't know that the DNC is going to change its rules to try to get literally the only one in the field of one in a Trump state that's been able to govern outside of Washington D.C.," he said. He's not alone in asking whether the rules ended up being unfair to less-known, less-flashy candidates. Candidates like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren got past financial rough patches by transferring money from their Senate funds; state officials cannot do that because they raise money under different donation limits.
"I do think the DNC needs to reckon with the fact that the combination of debate qualifications and FEC laws (Senate campaign transfers) put governors at a serious disadvantage in the presidential process. Not a good sign for a party already too federally focused," said Inslee's campaign spokesman Jared Goldberg-Leopold, in a text message. "That’s not something the DNC controls, but the restrictive debate participation rules made it impossible for any non-federal candidates who did not catch fire early. We caught momentum after debate 2, but it was too late."
Pete Buttigieg, "Fabric" and "The Trail." The South Bend, Ind., mayor's first spots in Iowa are appearing on radio, not TV — a cheaper format that can reach voters who aren't watching much coverage of the race on television. "The Trail" promotes his plan to "expand opportunities for veterans," while "Fabric" argues that the president's "reckless trade war is tearing apart the very fabric of rural America." Neither ad is particularly partisan, and neither issue has been dominating the Democratic primary. Like Joe Biden's ad buy this week, it's stuff that could be applied as-is in a general election.
Ralph Abraham, "The Truth." Both of the Republicans in Louisiana's gubernatorial race have wedded themselves to the president, betting that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards can't win if voters see the race as a conservative/liberal referendum. Edwards has run stronger than other Democrats, in part, because of his opposition to abortion; this spot brings in an issue where Edwards has aligned more with social liberals. "Facts matter more than feelings," Abraham says. "As a doctor, I can assure you there are only two genders." It's a nod at a 2016 executive order Edwards signed to expand rights for transgender employees.
Tate Reeves, "Mississippi decides now." Bill Waller, the former judge who unexpectedly forced a runoff in the GOP's race for governor, has joined a number of Republicans in favoring Medicaid expansion. Reeves, the state's lieutenant governor, has consistently framed that as "expanding Obamacare," an accurate description that proved fatal to would-be expanders in many states. (The effectiveness wore off as the law became more popular.) As the ad shows Democrats in the first Democratic debate raising their hands, a narrator warns that "America must decide: Slide towards socialism or keep our nation strong." (The raised hands were answering a question about health insurance for undocumented immigrants.)
Do you approve of the way President Trump is handling this issue? (CNN/SSRS, 1,001 voters)
The economy - 50%
Foreign affairs - 40%
Immigration - 37%
Gun policy - 36%
Race relations - 32%
Speculation about a possible recession ahead of the next election is fairly new, and politically fraught; presidential candidate and former Maryland congressman John Delaney, who has been taking some wilder swings at his competition, even suggested that some Democrats were rooting for economic pain. But CNN’s latest poll found economic optimism slipping to the lowest levels in six months. That’s not good for the president, but it’s far from a collapse. The problem: Take out economic confidence and the president is on the wrong side of every (broadly defined) voting issue.
How would your member of Congress's vote on impeachment affect your vote? (Monmouth, 800 adults)
More likely if they vote for it - 24%
Less likely if they vote for it - 26%
More likely if they vote against it - 16%
Less likely if they vote against it - 28%
Democrats in swing districts are, by and large, nervous about the prospect of impeaching the president. Republicans are goading them to do it; the few swing district Democrats who've signed on, like New Jersey's Tom Malinowski, have been pummeled for bowing to "the far left." But support for impeachment remains more polarized and slightly more popular than it was 21 years ago, when Republicans actually pulled the trigger and impeached Bill Clinton. Here, there's a little grist for an argument impeachment campaigners have struggled to make: That bringing impeachment to a vote would do some damage to swing district Republicans, put on the spot to defend Trump.
Colorado. John Hickenlooper, who repeatedly dimissed the idea of a Senate bid during his run for president, entered the race with a video explaining how his mind changed. "I've always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who wants to get things done," Hickenlooper says in the clip. "But this is no time to walk away from the table. I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot." The state already had a crowded, expensive primary, but polling had found Hickenlooper, well-known and popular (despite some critics on the left), beating rival Democrats by a landslide. None of them have said on the record that they are not "cut out" to be in the Senate; Hicklenlooper has.
Minnesota. Former congressman Jason Lewis, narrowly elected in 2016 and narrowly defeated in 2018, officially entered the race for U.S. Senate as a proudly pro-Trump Republican. "I refuse to sit back on the sidelines and watch our state, country and way of life continue to come under blistering attack from radical politicians like Ilhan Omar and her footsoldier Tina Smith," Lewis said, referring to the congresswoman and the state's junior senator, who won a 2018 race to fill former senator Al Franken's term.
Republicans struggled in Minnesota last year, losing every statewide office and handing Democrats a majority in the state House. (The state Senate is not up for election until next year.) But the Trump reelection campaign, enticed by the state's narrow 2016 margin, is trying to reshape the map; the GOP's 2018 losses in the suburbs of the Twin Cities were mitigated by gains in "outer" Minnesota. The problem: Trump has never been particularly popular in the state. The closeness of 2016 was due largely to third-party voting and a weak Hillary Clinton campaign; Clinton ran nearly 200,000 votes behind the 2012 Obama-Biden ticket, while Trump improved on Mitt Romney's total by less than 3,000 votes.
Mississippi. The only debate before next week's Republican gubernatorial runoff focused on two policies championed by Bill Waller: a gas tax and the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves attacked the expansion as "government health care," and the gas tax as unneccessary; Waller warned of failing infrastructure and failing hospitals if money didn't start flowing into the state.
Washington. Less than 24 hours after dropping his presidential bid, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he would seek a third term. "I want to continue to stand with you in opposing Donald Trump and rejecting his hurtful and divisive agenda, while strengthening and enhancing Washington state's role as a progressive beacon for the nation," he wrote in an email to supporters. Democrats in the state had been holding their powder amid rumors that Inslee might return and run. As of now, he has no opponent in the primary, one year away. Republicans, who have not won the governor's mansion since 1980, have yet to find a strong candidate.
Bernie Sanders. He rolled out his own Green New Deal, more narrowly focused on climate policy than the aspirational resolution introduced in the House this year. The major goal: Ending all use of fossil fuels by 2050, a year by which some other climate plans merely assume net-zero emissions. He's holding weekend rallies in Louisville and Morgantown, W.V., two liberal bastions in states where he performed strongly in 2016; he narrowly lost the first and won a rout in the second.
Elizabeth Warren. On Sunday, she will be the first Democrat to campaign in Washington state since Jay Inslee quit the Democratic primary. Asked about Inslee today, she said she had not yet talked to him about any support or endorsement: "I don't think we'd be having the kind of climate debate that we're having if it weren't for Jay Inslee, so I really appreciate what he added to this campaign and hope that he's going to stay in the fight."
Joe Biden. He's missing the Democratic National Committee's meeting in San Francisco for campaign stops in New Hampshire, starting with a Friday town hall on health care.
Mark Sanford. After a visit to New Hampshire moved him closer to a decision on a 2020 bid, he'll spend the middle of next week in Iowa.
Amy Klobuchar. She was back in Minnesota on Thursday for a visit to the state fair, the source of a heated "which is better" debate with Iowans.
Cory Booker. After the DNC's meeting, he'll make a trip to the late-voting primary state of Oregon, with a Sunday reception in Portland.
Michigan. In 2018, the state's voters passed a ballot measure taking power to draw legislative districts away from the legislators and giving it to an independent commission. It passed in a 22-point landslide, was set to go into effect for the 2022 elections. But Republicans have filed their second lawsuit to stop the commission from going into effect, arguing that its set-up (prohibiting party officials and their family members from joining the commission) violates their right to free association.
"The entire point of Proposal 2 is taking the politics out of our democracy and putting power back in the hands of the people," said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes
Squad polls. A month after a leaked, anonymous poll found Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) with toxic poll numbers among white voters, YouGov Blue and Data for Progress conducted a survey finding every "squad" member somewhat unpopular in swing districts — but usually more popular than Democratic leaders. Their numbers ranged from a 6-point net negative rating for Ocasio-Cortez to a 13-point net negative rating for Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.); House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) came in, respectively, at 17- and 18-point negative ratings.
... six days until the cutoff for the September Democratic debates
... 13 days until CNN's climate change town hall