In this edition: The coming homelessness primary, what polls are showing on impeachment and a warning from Tulsi Gabbard.
If you'll excuse me, I have to take a call from the Turkish defense minister, and this is The Trailer.
LOS ANGELES — Last Friday, Beto O'Rourke traveled to one of this city's homeless resource centers for the sort of low-key conversation that has come to define his campaign. Two dozen people crowded into the Jovenes Youth Shelter to meet the candidate, who told them that this was not his first time with the homeless. He'd visited “skid row,” too, and he'd just met with the homeless in Las Vegas.
“One of the things that has really struck me about people, families, kids, who are homeless right now is their courage, their strength and their resiliency,” O'Rourke said. “We need a lot more housing, a lot more rental units, a lot more single-family homes in this country. And they've got to be affordable to the people who are on the streets.”
O’Rourke is one of many Democratic candidates for president preparing for a debate about homelessness — one that could be forced, at any time, by President Trump. But the president and his would-be opponents are approaching it from very different angles. While Democrats have been competing to propose the most new housing builds, the president has described homelessness as a blight, to be handled by putting the homeless elsewhere. Last month, before the impeachment inquiry began, the White House and the Department of Housing and Urban Development previewed a coming crackdown on homelessness, with the president decrying how “our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings” were losing “prestige.”
Now, advocates for the homeless are bracing for forced relocation, while the EPA is warning California about “potential water quality impacts from pathogens and other contaminants from untreated human waste.” That approach has already trickled down to states such as Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to “ensure that people are protected from health and safety concerns caused by the Austin homeless policies.”
It's a mounting battle between Republican executives and the leaders of liberal cities, who frequently talk past each other. Where Republicans see a public health risk, Democrats see a housing crisis. Those Democrats are increasingly frustrated at how the issue is being framed by Trump, something that former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro blamed on the media. After an appearance at last week's SEIU “Unions for All” forum, Castro asked why, in three Democratic presidential debates, the moderators focused so much on liberal litmus tests and so little on housing.
“They continue to ask the same questions, but they never delve deeper into something like housing,” Castro said. “When we have a rental affordability crisis, and when people are seeing more people every day sleeping on the streets, I think that's journalistic malpractice.”
Castro, who rolled out his own housing plan in June, proposed a system of vouchers and a surge in affordable housing construction with the goal of ending “chronic homelessness” by 2028. Every Democratic housing plan largely shares that premise, something Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) calls “housing for all,” committing the federal government to billions of dollars in housing starts. It’s all fairly new to Democratic primary politics, which in recent years has focused more on the “middle class” than the poor. In the candidates’ telling, states and cities with growing homeless populations simply didn’t act fast enough to put more people in homes, and the federal government should help.
“We see more people in California, in other places, that are sleeping on the streets,” Castro said. “Los Angeles is maybe the most unfortunate example of how American communities are grappling with more homelessness. They're doing a lot here to address the situation, but they need a strong federal partner.”
Last weekend, as many of the Democratic candidates campaigned in California, they confronted new polling and new questions about the homeless. The Public Policy Institute of California's polling found for the first time that likely voters considered “homelessness” to be the state's top problem, with 16 percent of them citing it to 11 percent who cited the lack of affordable housing.
“I’ve got a plan for that,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), when asked after a rally in San Diego about how she'd deal with the homeless. “It would help provide housing for middle-class families, for working-class families, for the working poor, for the homeless, for people with disabilities, for people returning from incarceration. We need a bigger housing supply in America, and we can do that by making a big federal investment in 3 million units of housing.”
Warren, Sanders and other Democrats were talking about homelessness months ago. The new movement on the topic is coming mostly from the president, whose crusade against the visibility of the homeless came after numerous Fox News segments about it, segments that often blamed the tolerant policies of liberal cities.
“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” Trump told reporters last month as he headed to California. “In many cases, they came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents.”
There is no looming White House housing policy, apart from an 18 percent cut to federal housing spending. Instead, there has been discussion of whether the homeless could be relocated from the streets to government-owned sites. California's Democratic-run legislature has passed a law that would cap rent increases, but as he signed it, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said it wouldn't be enough: “We need to build more damn housing.” And the Democrats running for president see the same problem, worrying that more delays in housing starts will encourage voters to throw up their hands and endorse whatever makes the homeless disappear.
The canary in the coal mine was Fox News, which has frequently covered homelessness as a problem caused by liberal policies. According to Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group, the network ran 53 segments about homelessness in California between May and the start of the Trump administration’s push. Hosts have called for tent cities to be “bulldozed” and for the homeless to be “institutionalized” — anything to get rid of the blight.
“If we talk about immigration reform for 30 years and then don't do anything about it, it leaves open the path for someone like Donald Trump, who will exploit people's frustration,” O'Rourke said. “Folks might say, you know, I may not always agree with him, but at least this guy is doing something about it. And what he's proposing to do in L.A. and in California when it comes to homelessness is just as cruel as what he's done on immigration. He's talking about police sweeps that would round up homeless Americans and then take them to warehouses out of sight and, he probably hopes, out of mind. That can't be the answer to this, but we as Democrats have to propose an alternative.”
By and large, Democrats have. The plans run from Sanders's $1.48 trillion investment to “build, rehabilitate, and preserve” 7.4 million affordable housing units to the plan by Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado to create 4 million housing units and “create incentives for communities to build and preserve millions more.” In conversations last weekend, formerly homeless Angelenos said they hadn't heard much about the Democrats' plans. They had heard enough to worry about Trump's.
“I'll give it to you point blank: He's not very smart,” said Spencer Bovener, 78, who had found work at Jovenes after 12 years on the streets. “He has no compassion for the human race.”
Albert Struill, 52, was encouraged to hear that the president was talking about homelessness at all. But he wasn't optimistic.
“Trump has never been poor,” Struill said, “so he doesn't know what it's like to be homeless.”
“Joe Biden says President Trump should be impeached to preserve ‘our democracy,’ ” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Felicia Sonmez
The third and most aggressive attempt by Biden to turn the administration's own attacks against it.
The good feelings that followed terrible campaign news.
A perennial Republican campaign that has changed a bit to promote a candidate who wasn't always religious.
“The plot against Medicare-for-all,” by Libby Watson
How two political establishments are trying to grind down support for a left-wing cause.
They wanted the ads, and they got the ads.
“Political campaigns know where you’ve been. They’re tracking your phone,” by Sam Schechner, Emily Glazer and Patience Haggin
The hunt for passionate partisans who don't always vote.
“Women know how to do this now,” by Christina Cauterucci
How supporters of Elizabeth Warren fought back against charges that she inflated a job loss story.
The latest news on the impeachment inquiry:
- Two business associates of Trump’s personal attorney Giuliani have been arrested on campaign finance charges
- Ousted Ukraine envoy expected to testify in impeachment probe despite White House vow not to cooperate, congressional aides say
- While White House is mum, Ukraine’s president gives reporters an all-day session
- Mike Pence’s extremely evasive answers on Ukraine
- The revealing splits in GOP senators’ reactions to impeachment
Andy Beshear for Kentucky, “Laura." The Democratic nominee to be Kentucky's next governor has repeatedly centered his campaign on Gov. Matt Bevin's education policy, which has mobilized the state's teachers (and teachers unions), and made some of his mockery of educators infamous. Beshear's ads keep the candidate in the background and lets a teacher explain why he should replace Bevin: “He fought for us and he kept his word, and he won."
Matt Bevin for Kentucky, “Andy Beshear: Perdue's Pharma Partner." Bevin's campaign has hit Beshear in two ways: warning that he would undo the state's job growth and portraying him as a shady attorney. Before getting elected attorney general in 2015, Beshear worked for Stites and Harbison, which represented Perdue in a case that led to a $24 million settlement. Bevin has repeatedly linked Beshear to the settlement, accusing him of profiting off pain, but never as directly as he does in this ad.
Jim Hood for Governor, “Pressure." For an uncomfortably long time, Attorney General Hood (D) investigated whether Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, his Republican opponent next month, was getting a taxpayer-funded road built from his neighborhood to a shopping center. The road construction has been stopped, but Hood was always expected to attack Reeves with it. "I built this road on my farm with horsepower and my sweat," Hood says in a shot from his own property. "Tate Reeves tried to build a road with your tax dollars to his own gated community and got caught."
Rispone for Governor, “Stepping Up." The wealthy self-funder trails his GOP competitor, Ralph Abraham, in Republican endorsements. That didn't stop him from reappropriating a clip from Mike Pence's rally in the state, where the vice president praised both candidates, to highlight his praise for Rispone. “Would you join me in thanking a successful businessman, a job creator, a strong advocate for limited government who stepped up to lead Louisiana?" Pence says, before the video cuts off. (Pence went on to say that Republicans had “two great choices.")
Should the president be impeached and removed from office? (Fox News, 1,003 registered voters)
Yes — 51% ( 9)
No — 43% (-7)
This is the highest support for impeachment that Fox has ever found, and the internals are somewhat worse: A proportion of voters who don't favor “impeachment and removal” favor at least impeaching the president. Impeachment, here and in other polls, is doing what Trump's job ratings haven't — it's shifting markedly from week to week.
The president's values, 2019 and 1998 (NPR/PBS/Marist, 1,123 adults)
Do you think Donald Trump shares the moral values most Americans try to live by or doesn't he?
Does — 37%
Doesn't — 61%
Do you think Bill Clinton shares the moral values most Americans try to live by or doesn't he?
Does — 32%
Doesn't — 62%
The only impeachment any Americans were alive to witness, 21 years ago, has weighed heavily on both parties. Democrats were hesitant to even utter the “I-word” because of how they recalled 1998: Voters growing increasingly angry at the time wasted on presidential scandal and deciding not to punish that president. Marist's poll points to a factor that is always left out of analysis: Bill Clinton was term-limited, and President Trump is running for reelection.
Clinton turned out to be fairly nimble in separating the work of government from the impeachment inquiry, turning even voters who were disgusted by his behavior into critics of the Republicans' approach. This president has taken the exact opposite tack, warning that he can't get big things done so long as he's being impeached and counting on voters to punish Democrats.
IN THE STATES
Louisiana. The three leading candidates in Saturday's race for governor met for the final time Wednesday in a debate that revealed how heated the competition has gotten between two Republicans fighting to make a runoff against Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Eddie Rispone, a wealthy Republican donor who's making his first run for office, has wildly outspent Rep. Ralph Abraham and frustrated his opponent by echoing some Democratic attacks. Abraham, a medical doctor who sometimes flies his own plane to appointments, had been attacked by Democrats over promising to donate his congressional salary to charity, then ceasing that when told he could not be paid for medical work under ethics rules. Rispone picked up that line and threw it right at Abraham.
“Why do you have a press release saying you couldn't do that, you needed the money, and then you bought a plane?” he asked.
But more of the debate let the Republicans go after Edwards, on the state's management of Medicaid expansion and on the hiring then firing of an aide accused of sexual harassment, a story that has dominated the final TV ads. Polling has been sparse, and early voting encouraged Republicans, who saw their own voters turning out at record levels and remain optimistic that Edwards can be held to under 50 percent on Saturday.
New York. Rep. Nita Lowey, the first female chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is retiring in 2020 after 32 years in office. Her Westchester County-based 17th District is safely blue, and getting safer: Mitt Romney lost it by 15 points, but New York-born Donald Trump lost it by 20 points. Until her announcement, Lowey's stiffest competition seemed to come from Mondaire Jones, a highly credentialed veteran of the Obama administration who raised more than $200,000 in his first quarter as a candidate. But New Yorkers have speculated for years that Chelsea Clinton could run to replace Lowey; the youngest Clinton, on tour for a book co-written with her mother, did not comment on the race.
The impeachment inquiry continued to shape the Democrats' primary this week, as Joe Biden made his third major speech about the origins of that inquiry — the president urging Ukraine's president to investigate Biden's son and his business in the country. (There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Bidens.) Biden's first speech, delivered two weeks ago in Wilmington, Del., was brief; his second, delivered last week in Reno, Nev., furthered a new refrain that the president feared Biden would “beat him like a drum.”
Wednesday's speech, in Rochester, N.H., made news for the candidate's own evolution: For the first time, he called on the House to impeach the president. “He has no sense of decency,” Biden said. “He doesn’t care about the law. He believes that people — and nations — that follow the rules are suckers, fools, losers. We have to prove him wrong.” Biden also won the official endorsement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had been speaking positively about his candidacy all year.
On Thursday afternoon, Biden will join most of the rest of the Democratic field for LGBT-focused town halls in Los Angeles, hosted and moderated by CNN.
Julián Castro. He crossed over from Texas to Mexico to draw attention to the “remain in Mexico” policy toward asylum seekers and called on the Trump administration to scrap it. He worked personally to get 12 refugees a hearing. According to the campaign, all 12 were quickly returned to Mexico.
Pete Buttigieg. He rolled out a lengthy LGBT agenda, “Becoming Whole,” ahead of CNN's town hall. It would end the post-AIDS ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men, prioritize anti-discrimination legislation such as the Equality Act, and rescind Trump-era policies on transgender military service and asylum-seeking.
Elizabeth Warren. She introduced her own LGBT agenda, similar to Buttigieg's, while also calling for religious freedom legislation to be amended to protect LGBT people.
Bernie Sanders. He remained off the trail Thursday but told supporters in a video that his heart attack strengthened his resolve to campaign for universal Medicare. “Even as I sat and lied down in that hospital bed in Las Vegas, this issue of the struggle that we are engaged in just, you know, permeated my mind.”
Amy Klobuchar. She’ll campaign in Ohio on Saturday and Sunday before arriving in Columbus, making stops in Cleveland, Toledo and Dayton.
Michael Bennet. He’s spending a long weekend in eastern and central Iowa, bookending a speech to the United Food and Commercial Workers with stops in Clinton, Muscatine, West Des Moines and Mason City.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was the final Democrat to qualify for the fourth Democratic debate, on Tuesday. She's the first candidate to suggest that she might boycott it, telling supporters today that the process has been “rigged” against voters, with “the DNC and corporate media” using “arbitrary” methods to set the stage and limiting the scope of debate.
“There are so many of you who I've met in Iowa and New Hampshire who have expressed to me how frustrated you are that the DNC and corporate media are essentially trying to usurp your role as voters in choosing who our Democratic nominee will be,” Gabbard said in a video message. “They're holding so-called debates, which really are not debates at all, but rather commercialized reality television meant to entertain rather than to inform or enlighten.”
Gabbard's argument adopted some of what Democratic activists agree with and some of what they don't. There has been widespread frustration at the topics and framing of questions at debates, particularly the amount of time spent pushing candidates to critique Medicare-for-all.
But there has been little grass-roots anger at the DNC's rules, which set a low bar of donations and polling for the first two debates, raised it for the next two, and raised it again ahead of November. Four months ago, the Des Moines Register's Iowa poll found that 79 percent of Democratic voters wanted some candidates to quit the race, a reversal from 2016 and the grumbling about whether the party was coronating Hillary Clinton. Anger at the DNC's process has come mostly from the candidates who fell below the debate threshold.
“I have great respect for Tulsi for saying such inconvenient truth,” tweeted Marianne Williamson, who did not qualify for the third or fourth debate and is not expected to make the fifth. “She is absolutely correct.”
Still, Gabbard has made Democrats nervous for two reasons: She has methodically attacked her rivals in the debates, and she has some fans urging her to run as a third-party candidate. Jill Stein, the 2012 and 2016 Green Party nominee for president, said in a YouTube interview six months ago that Gabbard “should become a Green,” since her comments were “very on point” and “very similar to our message in 2016 and 2012.”
“I’m not aware of Greens having reached out to Tulsi Gabbard, and I myself have not done so at this point,” Stein told The Washington Post when asked about that comment. “That said, as she and countless other Americans become frustrated with the DNC’s refusal to debate the existential threats we face — climate change, nuclear weapons and endless war — they will have growing reason to consider a campaign independent of the DNC.”
Still, Gabbard has been asked many times whether she would bolt the Democratic Party if she believed it was running the primary unfairly. Up to now, she has utterly refused.
Michael Scherer contributed reporting.
... two days until Louisiana's gubernatorial primary
... five days until the fourth Democratic debate
... 26 days until gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Louisiana
... 34 days until the cutoff to make the fifth Democratic debate