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We Are Live-Blogging the Democratic Debate in New Hampshire

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 8:53 PM EST

As debates go, this one was pretty good. The moderators generally did a good job, allowing the candidates to argue when it made sense, but ending things when it looked like there was nothing useful left to say. This is a lot easier with two people than ten, of course, and also easier when both candidates are relatively civil.

Hillary was more aggressive than I've seen her before. Her complaint early on that Bernie was slandering her with innuendo and insinuation (and "artful smears") was tough but, I think, also fair. And I have a feeling Bernie felt a little embarrassed by it. He was certainly careful to pull things back to a civil tone after that. Hillary is not a natural campaigner, but she's a good debater, and this was Hillary at her pugnacious best.

Obviously foreign affairs are not Bernie's strong point, but I was still a little surprised at just how poorly prepared he was to say much of anything or to draw much of a contrast with Hillary's views. Either he really doesn't know much, or else he thinks his dovish views are losers even among the Democratic base. I won't pretend that Hillary was a genius on this stuff—almost nobody is on a debate stage—but at least she sounded well briefed and confident.

On financial issues, Bernie was surprisingly weak. This really is his strong point, but he continues to have a hard time getting much beyond platitudes. I get that it's a debate and 90 seconds isn't much, but it's still enough time for a little more detail than "the system is rigged." Hillary didn't do much better, but she held her own and gave a strong response to the two (!) questions about her Goldman Sachs speeches.

Overall, I doubt this debate changed many minds. Bernie insisted that we can dream. Hillary insisted that we figure out what's doable. I'd score it a clear win for Hillary based on her aggressiveness and generally solid answers compared to Bernie's platitudes and obvious reluctance to attack hard. But I admit this might just be my own biases talking, since Hillary's approach to politics is closer to mine than Bernie's.

Debate transcript here.


11:06 - And that's a wrap.

11:04 - Hillary: We need to "come up with the best answers." That's her campaign in a nutshell.

11:02 - No, neither Hillary nor Bernie will pick the other as VP. Come on, Chuck.

10:58 - But Bernie will happily get suckered! It's campaign finance reform for him.

10:55 - Hillary isn't going to be suckered into setting a top priority, thus throwing all the others under the bus. Come on, Chuck.

10:47 - I thought this was a 90-minute debate. What's the deal?

10:44 - Regarding Flint, I will not be happy until either Hillary or Bernie mentions that we now know lead poisoning leads to higher crime rates, "as brilliantly set out in an article by Kevin Drum a couple of years ago." I will vote for whoever says this first.

10:42 - Bernie on the death penalty: In a violent world, "government should not be part of the killing." I have to admit I've never really understood this particular bit of reasoning.

10:31 - Ah. Hillary now gets to use Colin Powell as backup for her email problems.

10:29 - Hillary is thrilled about all the young people supporting Bernie. OK then.

10:25 - Bernie loves the caucus process? Seriously?

10:17 - Bernie: "Pathetic" that Republicans refused to support VA reform.

10:12 - I hate to say this, but Bernie on North Korea sounds about as well briefed as Donald Trump. Very strange situation. Handful of dictators—or, um, maybe just one. Gotta put pressure on China. "I worry very much about an isolated, paranoid country with atomic bombs."

10:10 - Bernie does himself no favors on national security. I'm closer to his position than Hillary's, but Bernie honestly sounds like he's never given this stuff a moment's thought. At least Hillary has some views and sounds confident in her abilities.

10:08 - Bernie wagging his finger again. I'm pretty sure the hosts will call on him regardless.

10:06 - Bernie really needs to have a foreign policy other than "I voted against the Iraq War."

10:05 - Why is there bipartisan loathing of being "the policeman of the world"? What does this even mean?

10:03 - Hillary: we have a very cooperative government in Afghanistan. You bet. Wildly incompetent and corrupt, but pliable.

10:01 - Everyone agrees that a Muslim civil war is the right way to handle the Middle East.

9:59 - Hillary frequently insists on responding even when Bernie hasn't really left a mark. Leave well enough alone!

9:58 - Hillary provides Shermanesque answer about not sending ground troops to Iraq or Syria.

9:46 - Oh FFS. Is "Release the transcripts!" going to be the next big Hillary "scandal"?

9:44 - Unfortunately, Hillary doesn't really explain her more complicated financial regulation plan very well. There's probably no help for that, especially in 90 seconds.

9:42 - I'm with Hillary on reinstating Glass-Steagall. To me, it's the Democratic equivalent of raising the retirement age to save Social Security: easy to understand, but not the best answer by a long way.

9:41 - Hillary defends her Goldman Sachs speeches competently, but Bernie doesn't really fight back. He just provides a generic answer about the pernicious power of Wall Street.

9:31 - Hillary is attacking very hard tonight. Bernie voted to deregulate derivatives! Not that there's anything wrong with that. You think she's played this game before? Bernie responds by telling people to look up a YouTube.

9:29 - Bernie answers with generic criticism of special interests and money in politics. Not a strong response.

9:27 - Hillary criticizes Bernie for claiming to run a positive campaign, but constantly attacking her "by innuendo, by insinuation." Then she asks him to stop the "artful smear" he's been carrying out against her. This is a tough hit on Bernie.

9:26 - Hillary: "I won't make big promises." Not sure that came out as well as it should have.

9:23 - I think Hillary missed a chance to say that of course Bernie is a Democrat and he shouldn't have to defend himself on that score. It would have been a nice moment for her with no downside.

9:19 - Hillary refers to Bernie as "self-appointed gatekeeper" of who's a progressive. Ouch.

9:17 - Bernie: Obama was a progressive by 2008 standards.

9:15 - Bernie: none of his ideas are radical. True enough, by non-American standards.

9:14 - Good answer from Hillary on whether she's progressive enough: Under Bernie's standards, no one in the party is truly progressive.

9:07 - Hillary: "The numbers just don't add up" for all of Bernie's proposals.

9:01 - I see that Rachel Maddow is as excited as I am that Martin O'Malley has dropped out.

9:00 - And with that, on with the debate!

8:58 - This is the second election cycle in which I've liked both of the Democratic frontrunners. In 2008 I ended up leaning for Obama, which I don't regret. This year I'm leaning toward Hillary. Both times, however, I've been surprised at how fast things turned ugly. But ugly they've turned.

8:53 - Last night on Twitter I said that Hillary Clinton had given a terrible answer to the Goldman Sachs speech question. I was immediately besieged with outraged comments about how I was just another Beltway shill who's always hated Hillary. This morning I wrote that Bernie Sanders was disingenuously pretending not to criticize Clinton over her Wall Street contributions even though he obviously was. I was immediately besieged with outraged comments about how I was just another Beltway shill who's always been in the bag for Hillary. Welcome to the Democratic primaries.

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Rubio Feasts on the Leftovers in New Hampshire

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 8:25 PM EST

Apologies for two polls in one day, but the latest CNN poll shows something interesting in the Republican race. Donald Trump is still in the lead in New Hampshire, but in the wake of the Iowa caucuses Marco Rubio has picked up a lot of support. Basically, several other folks have either left the race or lost their fan base, and nearly all of it has gone to Rubio.

It's only one poll, and the absolute margin of error is large, but it probably shows the trend fairly well. And what it suggests is that as the also-rans steadily drop out of the race, Rubio is picking up the bulk of their support. If this happens in other states as well, Rubio could be well on his way to building a commanding lead.

Ted Cruz Attacks Sean Penn—and Here's Penn's Response

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 5:33 PM EST

At an addiction policy forum in Hooksett, New Hampshire, on Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, the winner of the Republican Iowa caucuses, turned his talk about the awful consequences of addiction into a rant against…illegal immigration. And, of course, the media and Hollywood. After describing how addiction has affected his family—his half sister died of a drug overdose in 2011—Cruz quickly pivoted to discuss the flood of "undocumented Democrats" (Freudian slip?) coming across the border from Mexico and the need to build a wall to keep them out. He suggested the wall was also needed to protect the United States from drug cartels. Then he turned to the entertainment industry and one member in particular:

El Chapo. You know, Sean Penn seems to think he is a sexy and attractive character. I so appreciate Hollywood for glorifying vicious homicidal killers. What a cute and chic thing to celebrate. Someone who murders and destroys lives for a living. El Chapo's organization brings vast quantities of drugs into this country, vast quantities of heroin.

Of course, this was a reference to Sean Penn's recent Rolling Stone article, in which Penn conducted an interview with the fugitive drug cartel chieftain in a secret jungle location. The piece did not celebrate El Chapo—but Cruz was looking to blame all the usual suspects for the drug epidemic in New England: the media, Democrats, and a big-name actor.

Asked to respond to Cruz's effort to link him to the addiction plague in the Granite State, Penn, in an email, told Mother Jones:

Ted Cruz is a generically funny and dangerously adept thought-smith. Clearly, he watches too much television and neglected to read my article before criticizing. It's understood. He's busy trading genius and raising aspirations with Mr. Trump. Blame Canada.

Penn's last sentence is a reference to this.

We've asked the Cruz campaign if it would like to respond—and whether the senator is a fan of South Park.

More Classified Emails Found on Private Server

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 2:42 PM EST

The indefatigable Ken Dilanian reports the latest news on classified information being sent to private email accounts:

The State Department’s Inspector General has found classified information sent to the personal email accounts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the senior staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NBC News has learned.

In a letter to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy dated Feb. 3, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said that the State Department has determined that 12 emails examined from State’s archives contained national security information now classified “Secret” or “Confidential.” The letter was read to NBC News.

....Colin Powell told NBC News he strongly disputed that the information in the messages was classified, and characterized the contents as innocuous. Said Powell, “I wish they would release them so that a normal, air-breathing mammal would look at them and say, ‘What’s the issue?’”

Sorry, Colin! It's an election year, and no normal mammals are to be found. Just the usual horde of hacks and bottom-feeders.

FWIW, I agree with him. Just release everything. Aside from a few zealots at the CIA playing stupid interagency games, nobody who's actually seen any of these emails seems to think there's anything even slightly confidential about any of them. It's long past time to cut the crap and put this whole thing to bed one way or the other.

Debate Live-Blogging Tonight!

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 2:01 PM EST

I don't find the Democratic debates nearly as interesting as the Republican slugfests, but I'll be liveblogging tonight's showdown regardless. It's on MSNBC at 9 pm Eastern, and for the first time we don't have to waste a third of our questions on Martin O'Malley. That alone makes it worth tuning in.

Donald Trump Losing Steam After Iowa Loss

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 1:54 PM EST

It's only one poll, and a national poll at that, but PPP says Donald Trump is suffering badly from his loss in Iowa:

"Donald Trump's really seen some cratering in his support this week," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. "A key part of his message has always been that he's a winner and now that he's lost something Republicans—and especially conservatives—aren't finding him as compelling as they did a few weeks ago." [Marco] Rubio is the candidate with the real momentum in the race. He's up 8 points from his 13% standing in our poll right before Christmas."

Trump is still a few points ahead in the main polling, but PPP also polled a three-man race between Trump, Rubio, and Ted Cruz. The winner was Rubio. Trump can huff and puff and threaten to sue the entire state of Iowa—in other words, his usual MO—but it's not going to change things. Live by the polls, die by the polls.

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This Is How Much the Koch Brothers Hate Donald Trump

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 1:02 PM EST

There is one man standing in the way of the Koch brothers' plans to elect a free-market conservative to the White House in November. His name is Donald J. Trump.

The Kochs, whose fascinating political evolution I detail in my book Sons of Wichita, are not fans of the bombastic real estate mogul whose positions on everything from taxes to foreign policy are at odds with theirs. Charles Koch has said Trump's plan to create a Muslim registry would "destroy our free society"—and for months Trump has been a source of debate and discussion within their donor network, which is raising nearly $900 million for the 2016 elections. Early on in the race, some members of the network believed, as did almost everyone else, that Trump would implode on his own. Some still do. And a very small handful of Koch network donors are Trump supporters. But in recent months, the Kochs and their allies—who now are largely leaning toward Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz—have considered a campaign targeting Trump, whose candidacy they believe poses a threat to the Republican Party, if not the country at large.

The Kochs' Trump problem is the topic of my new piece, just out at Vanity Fair. I report:

But Trump's second-place Iowa finish was more a blow to his ego, in some respect, than the viability of his campaign. If he prevails in New Hampshire, where he's maintaining a huge lead in the polls, pressure is likely to mount within the Koch network to launch an offensive before a march to the nomination gains formidable momentum. When the Kochs and several hundred of their allies gathered last weekend for another summit, halting Trump was a major topic of discussion.

What form might this attack take? According to The Hill, the Kochs' operatives have carefully assessed Trump's vulnerabilities—and those of the other candidates—and determined that highlighting his track record of bankruptcies and predatory business deals harms his standing with likely voters. (The Democrats deployed a similar strategy, to great effect, against Romney's "vulture capitalism.")

"As to whether we would mount something like that, everything is on the table,” one senior Koch official told me. "But there's no real plan. In all of our meetings we've discussed it."

One thing that has held the Koch network back so far, in addition to the Trump backers within their ranks, is the concern that taking on Trump would inevitably draw the thin-skinned tycoon's legendary invective, which it almost certainly would. If the Kochs go after Trump, rest assured that he will take every opportunity to highlight how he's being attacked by a cabal of billionaires seeking to control the outcome of the election. And this more or less explains their caution to this point. By taking on Trump, the Kochs risk lending credence to his claims of being an outsider who is battling against a corrupt political system rigged by the elites.

If Trump performs poorly in New Hampshire, the Koch network may be able to avoid a damaging showdown. But if he wins, it may already be too late to halt the runaway Trump train, especially if there's no Trump-targeting campaign in the can. So what happens if Trump seizes the nomination? Here's where things get very interesting.

If Trump becomes the nominee and he faces self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders in November, the senior Koch official explains, members of the donor network are likely to hold their noses and back Trump's candidacy. But there's another scenario that could prove far more controversial and possibly damaging for the network: a Trump-versus-Clinton matchup. There is absolutely no love between the Clintons and the Kochs, whose company experienced one of the most traumatic periods in its history as it fought off regulators during Bill Clinton's presidency. But, so strong is the dislike for Trump within Koch network, that a Clinton-Trump race is a tough call. "I could see the network not participating in the presidential election at all," says the senior Koch official.

This doesn't mean the Koch network would stand down in 2016 entirely. Under this scenario, donors would instead channel their resources into other races. If this were to occur—and it's a very big if—that would be a stunning development for a network of donors that has been amassing such a huge warchest for the presidential race.

Read the full story here.

Watch a Very Smug Martin Shkreli Invoke the Fifth Amendment

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 12:53 PM EST

Martin Shkreli, the former pharmaceuticals executive who sparked national outrage after it was discovered he price-gouged a drug by more than 5,000 percent, appeared before the House Oversight committee on Thursday for a hearing on pharmaceutical pricing. When members of the committee asked him about the price-fixing that led to a federal investigation of his company, Shkreli repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege "against self-incrimination" and refused to answer.

He instead let his smug smile speak for itself, while Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md) described the struggles of his constituents to pay for their medicine.

At one point, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Shkreli how to pronounce his name, to which he received a rare response. Gowdy then said, "See, there you can answer some questions—that one didn't incriminate you!"

Gowdy continued, "I just want to make sure you understand you are welcome to answer questions and not all of your answers are going to subject you to incrimination. You understand that, don't you?"

"I intend to follow the advice of my counsel," Shkreli replied. "Not yours."

Shkreli, who was once labeled the "most hated man in America," repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment, even when he was asked what he would say if given the chance to speak to people with HIV/AIDS who were unable to purchase the drug Darapim after his dramatic price hike. He also refused to discuss his $2 million purchase of a Wu-Tang clan album.

Shkreli's choice to remain silent comes after weeks of defiant Twitter rants and a bizarre diss video aimed at Ghostface Killah, after the rapper publicly mocked him:

After he left the hearing on Thursday, however, Shkreli started communicating and posted this on Twitter:

Flint Probably Has Bigger Problems Than Lead Pipes

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 12:38 PM EST

The latest from Flint:

Mayor Karen Weaver is calling for immediate removal of lead pipes from Flint's water distribution system, and is expected to detail her request at a news conference later Tuesday, Feb. 2....Replacing all of Flint's lead service lines has been estimated to cost more than $60 million.

The latest from New Jersey:

Eleven cities in New Jersey, and two counties, have a higher proportion of young children with dangerous lead levels than Flint, Mich., does, according to New Jersey and Michigan statistics cited by a community advocacy group....In New Jersey, children 6 years of age and younger have continued to ingest lead from paint in windows, doors and other woodwork found in older homes, particularly in older, poorer cities, said Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles, Inc., a community development organization based in Trenton.

"In light of the Flint debacle, we wanted people to understand that water is not the only thing that's poisoning children," she said. "Most people think the lead problem was solved when we took lead out of gasoline and new homes in the 1970s, but that's not true."

I suppose it's inevitable that residents of Flint want to replace their lead pipes. But it's probably unfortunate. At this point, Flint's water pipes are almost certainly pretty safe, and will become even safer over the next few months as properly treated waters rebuilds the scale inside the pipes. A multi-year program to replace them will most likely have no effect at all on childhood lead levels.

So what would I spend $60 million on if I had the choice? Two things:

  • Lead paint abatement in older homes. The biggest danger points are window casings in old homes, because the friction from opening and closing windows eats through newer layers of paint and exposes old lead paint, which is then ground into lead dust.
  • Soil testing and cleanup. This is decidedly unsexy, but in modern cities this is where most of the lead is. Lead from gasoline spent decades settling into urban soil after we burned it in our cars, and every summer, when the weather dries up, it gets "resuspended" and becomes a source of lead poisoning all over again.

In both cases, the lead poisoning mechanism is the same: small children get lead dust on their fingers and then lick it off. This is one of the reasons that lead poisoning is a much smaller problem for adults than for children. Lead in small doses doesn't affect mature brains strongly, and even if it did, adults mostly don't play in the dirt and then lick their hands. Kids do.

The first step in soil abatement is mapping: figuring out which spots have the highest levels of lead contamination. The next step is cleaning it up. There are multiple ways of doing this, some cheap and some expensive, and only a professional evaluation can determine the best method in specific areas.

Anyway, that's that. The problem, of course, is that there's no chance at all that anyone is going to give Flint $60 million to clean up its soil and its old windows. But someone might give them $60 million to replace their lead pipes. It won't do nearly as much good, but at least it's something.

Chris Christie: I May Be Old and Smelly, but at Least I'm Not Ted Cruz

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 12:32 PM EST

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likes to think of himself as a guy who tells voters what he believes, and as he makes a last-gasp attempt to climb out of sixth place in the New Hampshire Republican primary, what he's telling people is this: He really can't believe he's losing to these idiots.

Speaking at a retirement community in Bow, New Hampshire, on Wednesday afternoon, Christie used an anecdote about the late actor James Gandolfini to rip into front-runner Donald Trump as a highly skilled magician deceiving the electorate with smoke and mirrors.

As he told the seniors, when he was a US attorney from New Jersey, Christie had gone with his daughter to a Broadway performance of Beauty and the Beast. Gandolfini, whose daughter on the show, Jamie-Lynn Discala, played the role of Belle, saw Christie in the line for refreshments and tapped him on the shoulder. "He said, 'Um, I'm Jimmy Gandolfini,' Christie recalled. "I said, 'I know.' And he said to me—he's a big guy, he had a very strong firm handshake, as you might imagine, and he wasn't letting go of my hand, so he's shaking and he pulled me towards him—and he says, 'You know it's all make-believe, right?'"

Christie paused for a moment, and then got to his point. "You know it's all make-believe, right?," he said, getting into it. "The guy who's running first in the polls right now—you know it's all make believe. You know that there's not really a board room he and Ivanka sit in, right? You know that when he says you're fired you're not really fired, right? Because it's not real! It is an all an act! It is all for TV!"

Trump, who leads in the polls by double digits, has perhaps overshadowed the notoriously blustery Christie by being even more blustery. But Christie wasn't simply trying to take Trump down a few notches; he also wanted to bring down Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the first- and third-place finishers in Iowa who are both now lapping him in the state where he's invested most of his energy. In the second truck-driving metaphor of his speech, he took aim at the two freshmen senators who don't know how to drive in the mud:

New is great—it's shiny and pretty. It looks great. I understand that. New is really good. Even on a day like today, right, you went and passed the car dealer and saw a new pickup truck, and you said, "Look at that pickup truck! It looks good." So you go and you buy the new truck and you park that truck right in front of your house. Let's say this rain keeps going, I don’t know what the forecast is, but if it keeps raining for a while you know what happens, rain turns everything into mud. And let's say you go outside to get your new car after a day or so in the rain. You get in that new truck the first time and start it up. You put it in gear and it's in the mud and the wheels start spinning. And you're thinking, why can't I get out of the mud? I gotta get out of the mud. You keep doing it, you're going back and forth, the wheels are spinning, and you're starting to get frustrated, and what's the only thing that's running through your mind? Where the heck is my old truck! My old truck always got me out of the mud. I never got stuck in the mud with my old truck. My old truck's banged up a little bit. It's scratched up a little bit. It doesn't smell nearly as good as it used to. It doesn't look as good as it used to, but I can't go anywhere in this new truck because it can't get out of the mud.

There's two different kinds of trucks in this race, man. The Marco Rubio–Ted Cruz truck is the new, shiny, smells-nice truck. And then there's the Chris Christie truck. It’s old. It's beat up. It's dinged up. It doesn't smell as good as it used to. But man, the Chris Christie truck knows how to get out of the mud. You know why? Because it's been in the mud before.

Chris Christie is a smelly old truck, and he wants your vote, New Hampshire. Except, that is, when he's a helicopter.