The second Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 race had one clear winner—the moderator, John Dickerson. The longtime Slate political correspondent—who co-hosts the Political Gabfest podcast and recently took over as host of Face the Nation on CBS—was "the only star of the show" (The Daily Beast), and won plaudits for his "ferret-like journalistic questioning" (Politico) without making the show about himself.
But Dickerson's pointed queries and tough follow-ups should come as no surprise. John Dickerson is a political junkie's political junkie. He brings that same curiosity and attention to detail to yet another podcast: Whistlestop. This weekly gem is his obsessively researched dive into the dramas of campaigns past—forgotten and otherwise. Whether the subject is George Romney's last campaign, Grover Cleveland's love child, or the historical precedent for Donald Trump, the man has got you covered.
Mother Jones: How do you find the time to keep doing Whistlestop when you're juggling so many other jobs?
John Dickerson: It's fun! I love history. I love the human drama. And when you do something fun, it unlocks lots of other ideas in other areas of your work life. It's also a way for me to think about changing standards in campaigns and public life—what do we expect from our politicians and from our press and from the voters? And it's an antidote to the scandal or gaffe of the moment that has consumed so much of our political coverage.
MJ: How do you prep for it?
JD: I have a set of books on presidential campaigns. So whatever topic I'm writing about, I look through those books to re-familiarize myself. Then I have a researcher who goes into the archives and collects relevant newspaper clippings—I've done Whistle Stops on the races in 1840 and 1884, so I get a bunch of PDFs of the newspapers of the time. If there's anybody living who was a part of these stories, I sometimes call them. I interviewed Clark Hoyt, a newspaperman for the Knight chain in 1972 when Thomas Eagleton was put on [George] McGovern's ticket—he co-wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece about Eagle-ton and electric-shock therapy. I do all of that, and then make a huge outline and start writing.
In the wake of last Friday's attacks in Paris, Republican governors across the country have made their positions clear—they want nothing to do with the Syrians fleeing ISIS. On Sunday, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced that his state won't accept any Syrian refugees. On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence followed suit. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order to halt the flow of Syrian refugees to his state (it has accepted 14).
Even Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who had previously called welcoming refugees "part of being a good Michigander," announced he was suspending his work with the federal government on bringing Syrians to his state. "Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration," he said in a statement. "But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents."
What Snyder and his Republicans haven't explained is how they could legally do this. Refugee resettlement is a federal responsibility in which states have historically had only an advisory role. The Department of Homeland Security screens applicants. The State Department places them in new communities by working with a network of nonprofits on the ground. And the the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement works with refugees to make the transition in their new communities. (Here's a chart if you're confused.)
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reports Monday that the government would listen to the concerns of local officials, but it would not take a position on the legality of the governors' decrees or even say whether a governor could erect checkpoints to vet potential refugees entering their states. "Whether they can legally do that, I don't have an answer for you," he said. "I don't. I think our lawyers are looking at that."
But other experts are more emphatic. "They don't have the legal authority to stop resettlement in their states—much less to stop the presence of a legally authorized individual based on nationality," says Jen Smyers, associate director for immigration and refugee policy at the Church World Service, an international nonprofit that does refugee resettlement. If a family of Syrian refugees decides they want to move in with their relatives in Michigan (a hub for Muslim and Christian immigrants from the Middle East) there's nothing Rick Snyder can do to stop them. "There are really clear discrimination protections against saying someone can't be in your state depending on where you're from," Smyers notes.
Nor do the states have much have much power of the purse as far as refugee resettlement is concerned. The work of resettlement is handled by a network of public-private partnerships, and the public money comes from the federal level. In some cases, the federal dollars are diverted through state governments, but they're merely a pass-through. "If they were to hold up that fund, there would certainly be legal ramifications," Smyers says. Simply put, if these Republicans really want to block refugees from entering their states, they are asking for a fight.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may have enjoyed a detente during the foreign policy portion of Saturday's Democratic debate, but when the subject turned to Wall Street, the gloves came off.
It started when the CBS moderator, John Dickerson, asked Clinton how voters could trust her to rein in Wall Street given her close ties to the financial services industry. Clinton was ready for it. "Well I think it's pretty clear that they know that I will," she said. She described "two billionaire hedge fund managers who started a super-PAC and they're advertising against me in Iowa." Why? Because "they clearly think I'm going to do what I say I'm gonna do." She then invoked her Senate career and pointed to legislation that she introduced to limit compensation and increase shareholder oversight and continued:
I've laid out a very aggressive plan to rein in Wall Street—not just the big banks, that's a part of the problem, and I'm going after them, it's a comprehensive plan. But I'm going further than that. We have to go after what's call the shadow banking industry. Those hedge funds—look at what happened in '08. AIG an insurance company. Lehmann Brothers, an investment bank, helped to bring our economy down. So I want to look at the whole problem, and that's why my proposal is much more comprehensive than anything else that's been put forth.
But when Dickerson asked Sanders for his response, the Vermont senator was unimpressed:
"Here's the story, I mean let's not be naive about it," he said. "Over her political career, why has Wall Street been a major, the major campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton? Now, maybe they're dumb and they don't know what they're gonna get, but I don't think so."
Dickerson pressed Sanders on what specifically he believed Wall Street would get for the industry's campaign contributions to his opponent. Sanders explained:
I have never heard a candidate—never—who's received huge amounts of money from oil, from coal, from Wall Street from the military-industrial complex, not one candidate, who doesn't say, 'Oh, these contributions will not influence me, I'm going to be independent.' But why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something. Everybody knows that. Once again, I am running a campaign differently than any other candidate. We are relying on small campaign donors, 750,000 of them, thirty bucks apiece. That's who am I indebted to.
Clinton was ready with a sharp response. "He has basically used his answer to impugn my integrity, let's be frank here," she began. "Not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors—most of them small—and I’m proud that for the very first time, a majority of my donors are women—60 percent." She said her support for Wall Street is because "I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked."
Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York, it was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country. Now it's fine for you to say what you're gonna say but I looked very carefully at your proposal. Reinstating Glass–Steagall is a part of what very well could help. But it is nowhere near enough. My proposal is tougher, more effective, and more comprehensive because I go after all of Wall Street, not just the big banks.
Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign has signaled for months that it doesn't want to go negative against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. At the second Democratic presidential debate on Saturday, Sanders took the gloves off—hitting the former secretary of state for her support among Wall Street donors. But early on, he took a pass on underscoring a major point of distinction between them.
The first half hour of the second Democratic presidential debate was focused on how the United States should deal with ISIS and international terrorism. It could have been an opening for Sanders to highlight Hillary Clinton's early support for the Iraq war. And out of the gate, Sanders did emphasize his opposition to the 2003 invasion. "I don't think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the instability we are seeing now," he said. "I think that was one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States."
But when the CBS moderator, John Dickerson, pressed him specifically about Clinton's support for the war, he didn't take the gloves off:
I think we have a disagreement, and the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq if you look at history, John, you will find that regime change, whether it was in the early '50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Allende in Chile, whether it was overthrowing the government of Guatemala way back when, these invasions, these toppling of governments...regime changes have unintended consequences. I will say, on these issues I am a little bit more conservative than the secretary in that I am not in favor of regime change.
That was it. It was a history lesson—and a true one—but it was hardly a powerful indictment of her record.
By contrast, in 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama hammered Clinton over and over again for her vote to authorize the war; on Saturday, Sanders spoke right past her.
Donald Trump is trailing Ben Carson in Iowa and it's starting to get to him. On Thursday night, he told an audience in Iowa that Carson is "pathological, damaged," and sought to prove his point by reenacting the pediatric neurosurgeon's infamous childhood stabbing, in which he claims to have thrust a knife at his relative's abdomen, only to be stopped by a belt buckle. Trump used the incident to paint Carson as both a pathologically violent maniac and a fabulist who couldn't possibly have committed such an act of violence. "How stupid are the people of Iowa?" he asked. "How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?"