Political MoJo

Hillary Clinton’s Secret Weapon Is Bernie Sanders’ Colleagues

| Sat Feb. 6, 2016 10:35 PM EST

Sen Al Franken (D-Minn.) opened for Hillary Clinton Saturday night in Portsmouth with one very important message: she's good enough, she's smart enough, and doggone it, she's a Paul Wellstone progressive.

Clinton's final pitch to New Hampshire voters is as much about the people she surrounds herself with as it is the former secretary of state herself. On Friday, four woman senators were there to co-opt Bernie Sanders by arguing that the "revolution" America needs is electing the first woman. Stefany Shaheen, daughter of the New Hampshire senator, warmed up the crowd in Portsmouth by name-dropping celebrity backers Lena Dunham, Gloria Steinem, Abby Wambach—proof she's not only experienced, but maybe cool. Franken was there to follow-up on a subject of intense debate over the last week—what it means to be a progressive.

"Let my clarify something: why they let a guy up here," Franken began, flanked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Gov. Maggie Hassan, and the former secretary of state. He didn't waste any time invoking the legacy of the late Minnesota senator, a progressive icon who died in a plane crash in 2002 shortly before the midterm elections:

I'm Al Franken, I'm a Senator from Minnesota, and I hold the seat that Paul Wellstone once held. And I can point to someone on this stage whom I wouldn't be senator from Minnesota [without], and that is Hillary Clinton. My first election was kind of close. I won by 312 votes. Hillary Clinton came twice for me, once in October and then I got a call from her the Sunday before the election, she said "I'm coming out." And we did a big rally in Duluth and got more than 312 votes at that rally, I gotta tell you. I'm a Paul Wellstone progressive. And let me tell you what that means: Paul said, "We all do better when we all do better." Now if I knew what a haiku was, I'd say that was a haiku. But evidently I'm told it isn't. But Paul knew that we all do better when we all do better.

He launched into a personal story of growing up middle-class in Minnesota. And then he returned again to why they let the guy up there.

"Sen. Shaheen, my colleague, and I, like the only other [Senate] Democrats who have endorsed in this race, have endorsed Hillary Clinton for a reason," he said. "Because this is serious stuff. This is serious stuff. This is Sherrod Brown. This is Cory Booker. This is Tammy Baldwin. We are progressives. And we know what it takes to get things done."

None of these endorsers will shift many votes on their own (notwithstanding Franken's claims of Clinton in Duluth), but it's a death by a thousand cuts strategy. And with Sanders boasting just two members of Congress on his side, Clinton is all too happy to tell voters that the candidates they've worked so hard to get elected in the past—the Baldwins and Frankens of the world—are with her.

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Watch the Most Awkward Debate Kickoff Ever

| Sat Feb. 6, 2016 9:03 PM EST

The beginning of the Republican primary debate in New Hampshire Thursday night may go down as the most awkward in memory.

It all started when Ben Carson failed to walk onstage when his name was called, causing a bottleneck in the wings that the other candidates had to walk around. Then Donald Trump apparently didn't hear his name and stood by Carson while other candidates walked by the two of them. On top of it all, the ABC News moderators forgot about John Kasich, leaving an empty podium on stage and one Ohio governor hovering off to the side.

Just watch this video, because a debate kickoff this awkward doesn't happen often.

Someone in New Hampshire Is Leaving These Anti-Immigration Fliers on Cars

| Sat Feb. 6, 2016 8:50 PM EST

At some point during Hillary Clinton's rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Saturday night, I got a note on my car. Thankfully it was not a parking ticket—closer inspection revealed that it was single-page double-sided leaflet hitting both Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders for their position on immigration. It accuses Sanders of choosing "to value current and future Hispanic votes over progressive principles" by supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And it asks Clinton, "Should the President of the United States primarily represent the interests of American families or the interests of families of other countries who have entered the United States illegally?"

Fliers on windshields is standard practice in the final days before a big vote, through official or unofficial channels—or from random freelancers. This one had no name on it. Is it yours? Let us know:

 

Voters in New Hampshire Are Asking John Kasich About Ohio's Poisoned Water

| Sat Feb. 6, 2016 8:18 AM EST

John Kasich's town halls are different than anyone else's in New Hampshire, and the first person who will tell you that is John Kasich. "White Stripes at a Republican town meeting!" he said, after taking the floor to "Seven Nation Army" Friday evening in Bedford, New Hampshire. "That has never happened before in American history." He likes to make a lot of jokes, sometimes even funny ones, and to direct non-sequiturs at unsuspecting audience members. (Before taking questions, he paused to reflect on a snowball fight he'd taken part in earlier in the day: "I tackled one of my friends!") When it ended, there was a confetti machine and a triple-layer cake for the attendees.

But there's a serious message underlying his irreverence: he's a results guy. Take a look at Ohio, and if you like what you see, you should vote Kasich on Tuesday. The problem arises when those voters look at Ohio and instead read about the town of Sebring, where elevated levels of lead were found in the drinking water and residents weren't notified for five months. (Read the Columbus Dispatch for a fuller accounting.) With Kasich in a fight for second place in New Hampshire, and the water crisis in Flint making national headlines, he's finding the issue impossible to avoid.

Midway through the event, Kasich took a question from a man who had read about the crisis in Sebring this morning. He wanted to know one thing: "I was wondering if you've had a chance yet to personally apologize?"

"Well first of all, our top administration, the [Ohio] EPA, went immediately to the village," Kasich said. "We had warned the village to tell everybody that there was a risk. We have sent tests out; we have had controllers in there working to make sure the chemicals are right, because the water coming in, sir, is clean. And so at the same time we have done that, we took the operator and we got rid of him. And the federal EPA came in and said he did more than was even federally required of him. So we worked on it all the time, we worked on it with the formulas, the chemicals, and we worked to make sure that at the end of the day people are gonna be okay."

"Have you apologized?" the man asked again. Kasich wanted to move on, but the next question was about lead, too. A middle-aged woman in the second row, more sympathetic to Kasich than the first man, raised the spectre of the "800-pound donkey in the room" (that would be Hillary Clinton).

Clinton had made clear at Thursday's debate that she would be campaigning on getting justice for Flint, this voter noted. And she "wasn't remotely nice" about it. "I understand sodium is being added back into the water and I understand that Sebring is a lot smaller than Flint. But she will, I am sure, bring it up. It's the Clinton machine. So my question to you is she will look at you and say, 'You hired Butler, he even went on television and said that he was a little slow in responding to the situation there.' How do you stand up to Hillary and debate?" (Craig Butler is the head of the Ohio EPA.)

Kasich pivoted. "Look, our guys acted immediately and that's how we handle every crisis," he said. Then he switched gears and talked about how many Democrats he won over in his 2014 re-election. But it's a question that's not likely to go away any time soon.

Clinton's Pitch to New Hampshire: Electing a Woman Is the Real Revolution

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 3:10 PM EST

Hillary Clinton had some company at a rally for campaign volunteers in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday afternoon: four Democratic women who serve as US senators, and a fifth, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who wants to join them next January. As she makes her final push in a state whose first-in-the-nation primary she won eight years ago, Clinton is traveling with a group of prominent women politicians who are saying explicitly what she dances around—that electing the first woman president would be a big effing deal, and you should absolutely think about that when you go to the polls.

"This is the torch that must be passed on, that you'll be passing on when you're out there door-knocking—you know how important this historical moment is for us," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She told a story about a photo of her late mother with Clinton that she keeps on her desk, and related an anecdote about a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on the subject of paid maternity leave. "A male Republican across the table says, 'Well, I don't know why that'd be mandatory, I never had to use it,'" Klobuchar recalled. "Without missing a beat, Sen. Debbie Stabenow said, 'I bet your mother did!'" The audience ate it up.

Stabenow, from Michigan, used her five minutes to tear into the sexist standards female candidates are subjected to—something that flared up recently when the Washington Post's Bob Woodward (among other male pundits) suggested the former secretary of state shouted too much. Stabenow was blunt:

Anyone see the movie Sufragette, yeah? You need to see that if you haven't. We're almost at the 100th anniversary of the women's right to vote. But there's always a message we get about we're too this or too that. Wait your turn. You smile too much, you must not be serious. You don't smile enough, you must not be friendly! You talk too much and you're too serious and you know, I wouldn't want to have a beer with you—or I would want to have a beer with you but you can't run security for your country. Your hair! You know, that—Donald Trump's hair! What about that hair! Come on! So let me say this, and I say this particularly to the women. Guys, you can listen, but the women: Don't do this. Don't do this. This is the moment. 

"When folks talk about a rev-o-lu-tion," she said, elongating the final word in a brief Bernie Sanders impression, "the rev-o-lu-tion is electing the first woman president of the United States! That's the revolution. And we're ready for the revolution."

The presence of Klobuchar, Stabenow, and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire had another effect: It reminded voters that, notwithstanding her claim to not be a member of the Democratic establishment, Clinton has the backing of almost all of Sanders' colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus. And they're not shy about explaining why.

Ted Cruz Uses Rush Limbaugh in Radio Ad to Take Down Marco Rubio

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 11:46 AM EST

Ted Cruz is hoping Rush Limbaugh can push him over the top in next Tuesday's New Hampshire Republican primary. Here's a spot that the senator from Texas is running on a Boston sports radio station, using the conservative yakker's words to brand Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who holds a slight edge in the race for second place, as a pro-amnesty hypocrite:

Rush Limbaugh: "If you're looking for the Republican candidate who is the most steadfastly opposed to liberalism, whose agenda is oriented toward stopping it and thwarting it and defeating it, it's Ted Cruz."

Narrator: "Rush is right. It's Ted Cruz who's led our fights in Washington. To secure our border. To stop taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants. And it was Cruz who stood up for us against the Washington establishment. When the Gang of Eight proposed amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants, it was wrong. Ted Cruz fought them. But what about Marco Rubio? When Rubio ran for Senate, he made this pledge:

Marco Rubio: "I will never support it, never have and never will support any effort to grant blanket legalization amnesty."

Rush Limbaugh: "That's what he said. It's not what he did. It was Marco Rubio that was a member of the Gang of Eight, and Ted Cruz that wasn't."

Narrator: Ted Cruz, the only one we can trust."

The ad is not an endorsement from Limbaugh, who made the comments on his radio show. Limbaugh isn't quite the voice of God, but in a tight Republican primary, he might be the next best thing. Cruz is talking about immigration every chance he can get in the Granite State—even when he's supposed to be talking about heroin—as he tries to catch up to Donald Trump and keep his rival from Florida at bay.

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Fed-Up Uber Drivers Aim to Disrupt Super Bowl 50—With Their Own Mobile App

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 6:00 AM EST

A disruptive smartphone app turned Uber into a $50 billion global juggernaut. Now a group of disgruntled Uber drivers, with the help of their own smartphone app, aims to kneecap the car-hailing service precisely when and where it will be most in demand: Super Bowl Sunday in the Bay Area.

Striking drivers reportedly intend to slow traffic near the stadium and inundate the streets around crowded Super Bowl events.

For Uber, the stakes are high. The big game is in Santa Clara, about an hour from Uber's San Francisco headquarters. The company has chipped in $250,000 to $500,000 in cash and services to sponsor the Super Bowl Host Committee, according to Quartz. In return, it gets to be the first ride-sharing service allowed to access a Super Bowl game. It will even have exclusive pick-up and drop-off zones at the stadium—a coup for Uber's marketing department, assuming the company doesn't fall on its face.

And that's where Uber's labor problems may come back to haunt it. The drivers, who often make less than minimum wage, are angry because the company slashed fares nationwide over the past month. On Monday, several hundred of them protested at Uber's offices in San Francisco and New York.

The group behind the San Francisco protest, United Uber Drivers, has pledged to hold a massive strike on Super Bowl Sunday, and some Uber drivers in other cities have said they will do the same in solidarity. According to the industry publication Ride Share Report, the drivers intend to slow highway traffic near the stadium and inundate the streets around crowded Super Bowl events in San Francisco.

That might not be all. United Uber Drivers did not respond to emails from Mother Jones, but downloading the group's special iPhone app offers a bit more insight into its plans:

Other messages explain that when a push notification is received through the app, all drivers will be asked to go offline simultaneously, crippling Uber's network. "We need you to invite every Uber driver you know," urges the first message, written in November. "This communication technology will allow us to invite, unite and strike effectively without any fear or loss of the business relationship with Uber."

But that might be easier said than done. With an estimated 40,000 Uber drivers in the Bay Area, the group will need a lot of downloads to mount an effective strike. Of course, people said the same thing about some startup's harebrained bid to defeat the taxi industry. Uber proved them wrong.

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.

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: