Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich waves to his friends after giving a press conference at his Chicago home.Mark Welsh/Daily Herald/AP
In a Fox News interview this week, White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley pushed back on criticism over President Donald Trump’s decision to grant clemency of Rod Blagojevich, the corrupt Illinois governor-turned-Celebrity Apprentice star. “The president is clearly against excessive sentencing, whether it’s Rod Blagojevich or Alice Johnson,” Gildley said.
Ahead of the 2020 election, Trump is touting his reputation as a criminal justice reformer, and that apparently means equating Johnson—a Tennessee grandmother who was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense—with the politician who was convicted of to trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat. At the urging of Kim Kardashian West, Trump commuted Johnson’s sentence in 2018, freeing her after 21 years behind bars.In an ad aired during the Super Bowl this year, the Trump campaign praised the president for freeing Johnson and for reuniting “thousands of families.”
The ad’s claims weren’t exactly wrong, but they weren’t exactly right either. To put it simply:
Yes, Trump granted clemency to Johnson.
Yes, Trump signed the bipartisan First Step Act, which was a major overhaul of the federal prison system, that same year. Thanks to the sentencing reforms in the act, more than 5,500 prisoners have had their sentences reduced or have been released early.
But no, the First Step Act—which Trump’s Justice Department has actually resisted implementing—isn’t the same as presidential clemency. And, as USA Today put it, “Most of the people Trump has given clemency to did not look like Johnson.”
To date, Trump has given clemency to 33 people (though one of them was actually pardoned by Obama, but a clerical error meant Trump had to re-issue the pardon). Johnson is one of just a handful of African Americans who have been granted clemency, despite the fact that African Americans make up nearly 40 percent of the federal prison population. Just six people have been granted clemency for drug crimes. Instead, many of Trump’s pardons and commutations have gone to white men, often those with connections to Trump and the GOP.
As for the First Step Act, Trump’s support for the program may mean precious little. As Mother Jones reported earlier this month:
But as Trump claims credit for freeing people from prison, there’s one very big problem that he’s not mentioning: His Justice Department is actively pushing to send some of these same people back behind bars, and to prevent others from reducing their sentences—which greatly limits who can benefit from the law that Trump has touted as one of his signature achievements.
While the First Step Act has allies in the White House—including Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner—the officials tasked with implementing it are in the Justice Department. Attorney General Bill Barr, who leads the department, has reportedly raised concerns in private that the legislation’s reforms will drive up crime. And under his watch, the department’s prosecutors have argued that hundreds of incarcerated people applying for relief under the law’s cocaine sentencing reforms are not eligible, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. In some cases, Trump has even stood onstage hugging and congratulating people who were recently released under the law—even as the Justice Department was arguing in court to lock those same people up again.
If you thought Elizabeth Warren was going to take a deep breath and change the subject after last night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas…well, no. Before a packed room of volunteers at her North Las Vegas field office on Thursday, she picked up where she left off by ripping into the billionaire opponent who has given her campaign new life and a sense of urgency. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, she said, had “gagged” the women in his company, and she wasn’t going to let him get away with it.
“Last night was a lot of fun and I’ll tell you why,” she said, after an introduction from Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas and Andy Levin of Michigan. “Because for me it’s about accountability. I have really had it with billionaires—regardless of party—who think that the rules don’t apply to them. Billionaires who think their money buys them something special. So, you know, they can call women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians and when somebody complains, [they] throw a little money at it and then put a gag in the woman’s mouth.”
That was a reference to non-disclosure agreements Bloomberg’s company signed with an undisclosed number of employees who complained of sexual harassment. Warren had challenged him on the NDAs at Wednesday’s debate in one of the night’s most memorable exchanges. Then she returned to the subject of stop-and-frisk, which several candidates broached at the debate and which has dogged Bloomberg for much of his political career—in part because his answers are misleading. For instance, on Wednesday, Bloomberg suggested the program had turned out differently than he had intended.
“It is not enough to decide in the hours before you declare for president that maybe stop and frisk was a bad idea,” Warren said. “And the part I listened to last night about the ‘unintentional’ effect? I’m sorry, they knew exactly what communities they were targeting, what human beings that they were targeting, and what color those human beings were. In case they missed it on day one, there were all those days afterwards when people protested on the streets, when people wrote, when people cried, when people got hurt and told their story. And the answer from the mayor was silence. Crickets. Right up until he realized, ‘gee I was planning to buy a presidency, and what could go wrong?’”
“Elizabeth Warren!” someone shouted.
Warren kept going: “He had the women all gagged so they couldn’t say anything. Couldn’t say anything about sex discrimination, couldn’t say anything about harassment. Hmm. What to do about all those Latinos and African-Americans that got slammed over the hood, got slammed up against the walls? That got humiliated for doing what, walking while black? Uh, no. So he figures, what does it take? For a billionaire it’s like a big, big deal. He’s sorry. So we’re good now, right? And the answer is: not good enough.”
She suggested Bloomberg “give Mitch McConnell a call and see how telling this woman to sit down and shut up worked”—a reference to the Senator majority leader’s use of the chamber’s gag rule to block Warren from criticizing Jeff Session.
After a disappointing performance in New Hampshire and polls showing her lagging nationally and in critical Super Tuesday states, something needed to change for Warren. She would rather be polling better, of course, but in a significant way Warren’s fall from the top of the pack has been clarifying. It has put her back in the position she thrives in—grilling powerful men she believes have something to hide. Once upon a time it was Timothy Geithner, then it was the CEO of Wells Fargo. On Thursday morning, as she was roasting Bloomberg once more, readers of the the Las Vegas Review-Journal were opening their papers to find a full page ad her campaign had placed stating how much money the paper’s owner, Republican casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, would pay in taxes under her proposed wealth tax.
But the same urgency that’s sharpened her criticism of her opponents has also led her down a path she eschewed for months. After she wrapped up in North Las Vegas, she took a few questions from the press outside the office and was asked if she’d disavow a super-PAC that’s now spending money to promote her candidacy. Warren, whose own campaign site boasts that she “rejects super-PACs,” balked. Still, she found a way to pin even this reversal on the man of the hour, Bloomberg. Such a move, she explained, would be tantamount to unilateral disarmament against “multi-billionaires” who “could rummage around in their sock drawer and find enough money to be able to fund a campaign.”
Former US Attorney General Jeff SessionsJay Reeves/AP
In a new ad for his Alabama Senate campaign released last week, Jeff Sessions brags about the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy he oversaw as attorney general. The ad touts the policy as proof of Sessions’ ability to “take action” on immigration and includes clips of the May 2018 speech in which he rolled out the policy. It conveniently leaves out the part where Sessions explains that “zero tolerance” meant family separation—that is, separating the children of migrants from their families.
Here’s the spot:
In the campaign video, we hear Sessions drawling, “I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy,” and, “If you cross the border unlawfully, we will prosecute you.” But the clip does not include what Sessions said a moment later in his speech: “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law.”
AG Sessions: "I have put in place a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry on our southwest border. If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It's that simple. pic.twitter.com/WBSgQEQUrK
In practice, this policy led to the separation of more than 2,700 migrant families at the US southern border, contributing to the massive number of migrant children—nearly 70,000 in all, in 2019—being held in detention centers. As Mother Jones has reported since the crisis began in 2018, many were held in deplorable conditions without access to basic necessities or medical care. Six migrant children have died in federal custody since 2018.
But Sessions is counting on Alabama voters to think less about children in cages and more about how he “secured” the southern border to deliver him a win in the Republican primary on March 3. If he makes it past a crowded primary field—which includes the protagonist in this racist campaign ad—Sessions will look to reclaim his old Senate seat from Sen. Doug Jones. Jones, a Democrat, won the 2017 special election to replace Sessions when Sessions left for the AG role. So far, Sessions’ strategy in this campaign has been to cozy up to a president who doesn’t exactly love him back. The immigration ad is another way for Sessions to highlight his work with Trump, the man who said making Sessions his AG was the “biggest mistake” of his presidency. Trump has not endorsed Sessions for the seat.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) campaigns at the College of Southern Nevada on February 17. Brian Cahn/ZUMA
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) landed what may prove to be the toughest blow against Michael Bloomberg in the Nevada Democratic debate Wednesday night when she pressed him to release female employees who had accused him of harassment and discrimination from non-disclosure agreements. Bloomberg refused.
“Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those non-disclosure agreements so we can hear their side of the story?” she asked, standing beside him on stage.
Bloomberg began to respond, saying, “we have a very few nondisclosure agreements” when Warren cut in. “How many is that?” she said.
Allegations that he made sexist remarks and created a hostile work environment have dogged Bloomberg’s campaign. But Bloomberg, who has chalked up his past behavior to “bawdy humor,” has been unwavering in refusing to release multiple women from the confidentiality agreements they signed when settling legal actions against his company.
Warren dug the knife in on the debate stage when she argued that the behavior wasn’t just problematic but that it also undercut Bloomberg’s electability—the ability to defeat President Donald Trump that Democratic voters are searching for in their nominee.
“This is not just a question of the mayor’s character,” Warren said. “This is also a question of electability. We are not gonna beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many nondisclosure agreements and the drip drip of stories.”
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, made his debate-stage debut Wednesday night, and the other candidates were ready to pounce.
From the outset, Bloomberg’s rivals attacked his criminal justice policies. Under Bloomberg, the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy targeted people of color in the city and led to a disproportionate number of black and brown men being stopped, searched, and detained by police. To make matters worse for Bloomberg, his 2015 comments about the racist and controversial practice recently resurfaced and led to #BloombergIsARacist trending on Twitter, as I noted last week:
Bloomberg can be heard defending the policy during a speech at the Aspen Institute. “Ninety-five percent murderers and murder victims fit one M.O.,” he said. “You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16-25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city.” The former mayor then went on to say that all crime takes place in communities of color. “Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods,” he explained. “Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.” Bloomberg requested that the audio not be released.
Although Bloomberg apologized for stop-and-frisk prior to entering the race, his support for the policing tactic loomed large over the debate. One of the moderators, NBC News’ Lester Holt, brought up his 2015 comments. “What does that kind of language say about how you view people of color or people in minority neighborhoods?” Holt asked.
Bloomberg did not directly answer, instead choosing to say that he was “embarrassed” about how the policy turned out. “What happened, however, was it got out of control,” he continued. “When I discovered that we were doing many, many, too many stop-and-frisks, we cut 95 percent of it out.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden reminded him that it was then-President Barack Obama who sent a federal monitor to the city in response to stop-and-frisk abuses; the policy was eventually ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
.@ewarren, on @MikeBloomberg's apology for stop and frisk: “The language he used isn’t about stop and frisk, it’s about how it turned out. This isn’t about how it turned out, this is about what it was designed to do. It targeted black and brown men from the beginning.” pic.twitter.com/tTYXkYsIJo
Elizabeth Warren, who was highly critical of many of her opponents during the debate, also weighed in, criticizing the way Bloomberg phrased his apology.
“The language he used isn’t about stop-and-frisk, it’s about how it turned out,” she said. “This isn’t about how it turned out, this is about what it was designed to do. It targeted black and brown men from the beginning.”
Elizabeth Warren wasted no time jumping into Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate with a jab at former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who joined the other candidates for his first debate of the election season.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” the senator from Massachusetts said. “And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” she added, as shouts erupted from the audience.
“Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop and frisk,” she said. “Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.” pic.twitter.com/3xoMOgU47S
Earlier this month, Virginia lawmakers voted to eliminate Lee–Jackson Day—a holiday honoring Confederate generals—and replace it with a state holiday on Election Day. The legislation, which Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has endorsed, is being billed as a win-win, striking down a relic of the state’s racist past while simultaneously promoting an effort to boost voter turnout.
Swapping out an existing paid holiday for Election Day seems to be an increasingly popular idea elsewhere in the country, too. Election Day is already a holiday in several states, and six of the Democratic presidential candidates have said that they support making it a national holiday. Last year, the city of Sandusky, Ohio, opted for an Election Day holiday in lieu of Columbus Day, which many associate with oppression of indigenous peoples. Wilfred Codrington of the Brennan Center for Justice has suggested moving the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to Election Day to honor the civil rights leader’s dedication to democracy. This week, several public figures suggested replacing Presidents Day with an Election Day holiday.
But would an Election Day holiday actually help get voters to the polls? The answer is far from clear.
Since 1845, Election Day has taken place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, because that was the most convenient time for rural farmers to travel to cities after completing their fall harvests. Election Day now falls in the middle of the traditional workweek, and advocates for a paid holiday say that it would give working people more flexibility to cast their ballots. They also suggest that it would shorten lines at polling places by reducing the number of people voting at the peak hours before and after the workday. And, while paid federal holidays legally apply only to government employees and public institutions, private employers tend to follow suit.
Still, there’s little indication that such a holiday would really boost voter turnout. An Elections Canada study of 61 democratic countries, for example, did not find any evidence of higher voter turnout in countries where election day was a holiday. And Joshua Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law and author of Vote for Us: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting, warns that an Election Day holiday could have unintended consequences for low-income workers who might miss a day’s wages, or for parents whose daycares might close. The holiday would also fail to benefit emergency workers, hospital workers, and other employees who most likely would not get the day off, he said.
“The concern about Election Day as a holiday is it’s not clear that it will actually improve turnout, as opposed to just make it easier for people who are already going to vote anyway,” Douglas said. A better solution, according to Douglas, would be to enact universal vote-by-mail, which would allow people to fill out a ballot and return it at their convenience. This would solve the problem of long lines at polling places without forcing voters to rearrange their schedules. Colorado implemented that system in 2014, with promising results: A Washington Monthlystudy found that it increased overall voter turnout in that year by 3.3 percent. Similar systems are also used in Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.
Luckily, the Election Day holiday isn’t the only reform aimed at making it easier for people in Virginia to vote. Lawmakers there recently approved no-excuse absentee voting, which Northam has supported. The state’s Senate has voted to repeal the state’s photo ID law, and lawmakers are considering bills that would enact automatic voter registration. “There are a series of things that, taken together, could rewrite the picture quite significantly,” Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said. “It’s a really exciting time here in Virginia when you think about it in terms of access to the ballot box and reversing a long history of mostly racially designed barriers to voting.”
It was a debate in 2016, and it rages today: Can a self-proclaimed socialist win a presidential election? Bernie Sanders and his supporters enthusiastically proclaim yes. But there is no overwhelming empirical evidence to support their view. After all, it has never happened before. And a recent poll shows that socialism, while popular within limited segments of the American public, still has a negative impression across most of the population. Sanders and his fans point to polls for the 2016 race and the 2020 contests that have showed Sanders beating Donald Trump. But these polls all have been conducted within an unusual context: no negative ads blasting Sanders for being a socialist. That is, Sanders has never been on the receiving end of a nationwide blitz of attack ads that denounce him for being a socialist and that assail him for additional unorthodox stances he has taken.
This is why Sanders and his backers should at this stage welcome negative ads that attempt to delegitimize him. That would demonstrate whether they are right—and whether Sanders can withstand such a pummeling.
Of course, this suggestion is made somewhat facetiously. No candidate has ever invited an assault on himself or herself. But that would be the only way to test the Sanders camp’s contention that his embrace of democratic socialism will not be a serious vulnerability, should Sanders bag the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. There is little doubt that were he to become the Dems’ standard bearer, Sanders will likely be met with half-a-billion dollars (maybe more) in ads that depict him as a wild-eyed socialist who honeymooned in Moscow and expressed out-of-the-mainstream opinions on sexual freedom and other subjects. In 2016 and the current race so far, Sanders has not had to confront such a blast.
Sanders’ top strategists tend to wave off the socialism issue. Recently Jeffrey Weaver, a longtime Sanders adviser, told me this is no problem for Sanders. Republicans, he said, “call every Democratic a socialist, and they spend a lot of time fighting that charge. We’re not going to have that argument—whether you’re a socialist or not. Instead, Sanders can talk about how Donald Trump wants to cut Social Security and take healthcare away and give tax cuts to people who don’t deserve them.” Weaver is suggesting that Sanders can defuse this classic right-wing line-of-attack by conceding the point: Yeah, I’m a socialist.
But is that being optimistic? Sanders can make this all go away so easily? Weaver insisted that Sanders could “ju-jitsu” the you’re-a-socialist slam by talking about Trump’s “corporate socialism.” He pointed out that when Sanders ran for US Senate in 2006, his GOP opponent took out ads that essentially called Sanders a friend of terrorists and child-molesters. (Sanders had voted against mandatory minimum sentences). Yet Sanders won. By that point, though, Sanders had represented Vermont in the House of Representatives as a democratic socialist for a decade and a half.
In short, Weaver maintained that generously financed scare-ads would simply bounce off Sanders. “You go to the American people and take the money out of this. Bernie is one of the most well-defined figures in American politics. If you ask voters, what they think of him, they say, Medicare For All, he’s for the working class and the little guy. They don’t say he’s a socialist.” And in a dig at former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, he added, “Democratic socialism is far less problematic for people than taking away the soda they want to drink.”
But can any candidate just side-step the fight to define his or her public image? Even well-known hopefuls often have to deal with vicious campaigns that seek to influence how they are perceived by voters. Will an everybody-knows-I’m-a-socialist response do the trick, when ads raise questions about Sanders’ patriotism and assail his attitude toward free enterprise? Remember, these ads don’t have to be accurate. (They could, for instance, show Sanders praising Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega—years before Ortega, a leftist, went all-out authoritarian.) And while it is true that Trump and the Republicans will claim any Democratic nominee is a “socialist” who despises the American way of life, might such attacks hit harder if a Democrats retorts, “I am a socialist, but I’m a democratic socialist”? (Which to some might sound like Democratic socialist.)
Despite what Weaver argues, Sanders is probably not invulnerable in this regard. One recent Yahoo/YouGov poll noted that 62 percent of registered voters know that Sanders is a socialist. (Eighteen percent said he isn’t; a fifth were unsure.) But that poll also found that 47 percent had an unfavorable view of socialism, though only 26 percent had a positive impression. Meanwhile, 38 percent said that “socialism” is the same thing as “democratic socialism”—the label Sanders wears. (A quarter of respondents were uncertain if they are the same.) These margins do appear to give Trump’s ad-makers material to work with.
In the absence of a negative fusillade, it’s impossible to state that Sanders will fare best—or even competitively—against Trump. It can only be a hunch. Other Democratic candidates have already encountered fierce Republican efforts to discredit them. Trump and his GOP handmaids turned Trump’s impeachment into a high-profile attack on former Vice President Joe Biden. Previously, Trump trained his tweeting firepower on Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But Sanders waltzed through the 2016 campaign with no barrage of negative ads from the Hillary Clinton forces. And though his Democratic rivals have taken jabs at him at the debates during the 2020 contest, there has been no bombardment. In one debate, when the Democratic wannabes were asked if Sanders’ democratic socialism could be a problem for their party in a general election, only Sen. Amy Klobuchar raised her hand; that was hardly a blistering denunciation. (Bloomberg, too, has so far gotten off easy. But that may change as he becomes a participant in the Democratic debates.)
It’s long been an axiom of American politics that it’s better to be attacked earlier in a race than later. This gives a candidate time to figure out how best to reply and a chance to turn potential controversies into old news by Election Day. It also offers voters a chance to see how a candidate can perform under fire and handle the incoming. As of now, one cannot definitively determine if devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to vilifying Sanders as a socialist will be effective—or be a waste of money. If his Democratic foes were spending millions in such a manner, that might yield data that could be useful in assessing how the issue would play out in the general election. But that’s not happening.
For Sanders and his team, the only way to prove that he can withstand such an onslaught and go on to victory is to…withstand such an onslaught. But that assault may only occur if Sanders becomes the Democrat to challenge Trump in the fall. So for the time being, the arguments and assurances that Sanders’ socialism is no liability for Trump to exploit are merely beliefs and wishes. And the head-to-head polls matching Sanders and Trump ought to be heavily caveated. The electability of a socialist presidential candidate in the United States remains one big political science experiment, the possible results of which—without a test run—are open to guessing and never-ending debate.
Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) upcoming reelection campaign will not be an easy one. For the first time since she was elected to the Senate in 1996, Collins faces tough competition as she seeks a fifth term, according to a new poll from Colby College. According to the poll, only 42 percent of respondents said they would vote for Collins, while 43 percent of respondents said they would vote for Sara Gideon, the Democrat who is vying for Collins’ senate seat.
A lot of eyes were on Collins during the Senate’s impeachment trial of Donald Trump. As one of the Senate’s more moderate Republicans, Collins has not always followed party lines and broke with Trump and most of her Republican colleagues on issues like protecting the Affordable Care Act and funding the border wall. During her last election, in 2014, Collins cruised to victory with the support of progressive groups like the Human Rights Campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the League of Conservation Voters.
Much of the goodwill Collins had earned from the left eroded after she voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Still liberals held out hope that she’d break ranks with the GOP during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. After all, Collins had famously crossed party lines and voted to acquit Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial, and some hoped she would again do the same and vote to remove Trump from office. But Collins instead voted to acquit the president, saying that she thinks he learned a “pretty big lesson.”
Her vote apparently did not sit well with many of Maine’s voters, according to the poll. Forty-nine percent of respondents said she made the right decision in her impeachment vote, while 50 percent said it was the wrong one. But among independent voters, which make up 40 percent of Maine’s electorate, 39 percent said that they are now less likely to vote for her because of her decision to acquit the president.
But perhaps the most revealing number from the Colby College poll, which was conducted between February 10 and 13, was how much support she is losing from women voters. According to the poll, 36 percent of women said they would vote for Collins, while 49 said they would support Gideon. And for women under 50, only 26 percent supported Collins, compared to 56 percent responding that they would support Gideon.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was among the last to arrive in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. And now he’s gone. After earning 0.4 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, Patrick announced Wednesday that he would end his longshot campaign.
Patrick joined the race in November 2019; most of the other candidates had announced their bids by April. And, with neither the name recognition nor the massive wealth of former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who also entered the race in November, Patrick’s campaign was lackluster from the get-go.
“Having delivered health care to 99% of Massachusetts residents, nation leading student achievement and energy efficiency, responsible budgets, and the highest bond rating in Massachusetts history, I believed and still believe we had a strong case to make for being able to deliver better outcomes,” Patrick wrote in an email announcing the suspension of his campaign. “And having shown through legislative initiatives, economic recovery, natural and man-made disasters, and a terrorist attack that we can lead by asking people to turn to each other instead of on each other, I thought we had a pretty good case for a better way as well.”
While Bernie Sanders locked down a primary win in frigid New Hampshire, a group of student Berners in the exact opposite corner of the country spent their evening celebrating and recruiting others to join their outreach efforts ahead of the big prize: Super Tuesday.
“What do we want? Bernie! When do we want him? Now!” chanted a group of roughly 80 to 100 students at the University of California–Los Angeles, holding up Bernie 2020 signs in both English and Spanish. The campaign event—one of several planned this week in Southern California—was smaller than I’d expected, perhaps due to midterms or what some students called “freezing” weather. (It was in the mid-50s.) But the folks I talked to were all-in, listing similar reasons for supporting Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination: climate change, student debt, free college tuition, universal health care, and immigration reform.
Not surprisingly, the main theme of the campus event was the role of young people will play—on Super Tuesday, and beyond. FiveThirtyEight has predicted that Sanders could clean up in California; as Nate Silver pointed out on Twitter, that prediction is “a fairly big reason” why his organization’s model currently has Sanders as the frontrunner. The speakers encouraged the crowd to mobilize for the next three weeks to win Sanders the nomination, and then to stick with it throughout what promises to be a long campaign to defeat Donald Trump.
“Political is personal,” emphasized Joseline Garcia, the student organizer manager for the Sanders campaign in California. Throughout the event, the 25-year-old daughter of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants hyped up the crowd in her Bernie shirt, cowboyboots, and black cowboy hat, leading chants and imploring students to hold their lit-up cellphones to the sky. When I pulled her away for a moment after the event, Garcia was quick to talk up Sanders’ popularity with Latinx students and noted that this younger cohort of Latinx voters would be vital in mobilizing older generations.
Take Garcia’s family, for example. “My mother is going to be voting for the first time,” she told me. “For Bernie.”
Listen to Tim Murphy describe Bernie Sanders’ journey to frontrunner status, from inside the roaring Sanders celebration party, on this special New Hampshire primary edition of the Mother Jones Podcast:
Sen. Bernie Sanders has won Tuesday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary, according to multiple news outlets.
Tuesday marks Sanders’ second primary win in New Hampshire, which borders his home state of Vermont. Sanders defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the state’s 2016 primary with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Sanders narrowly lost to Pete Buttigieg in last week’s Iowa caucus. Sanders won the most individual votes in the caucus, but lost to Buttigieg by two state delegate equivalents. Following a week of intense competition between the two candidates, Buttigieg came in second and a rising Amy Klobuchar finished a close third.
Former vice president Joe Biden came in fifth, as the results stand now, a markedly poor result for a candidate who prides himself on name recognition. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), previously considered a front-runner in the race, placed fourth. Because neither candidate looks on track to hit 15 percent in the state, neither Warren nor Biden will gain any delegates out of New Hampshire, per CNN.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang dropped out of the race Tuesday night, as did Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
Anders Hellberg of Stockholm, Sweden, attends a get-out-the-vote rally for Elizabeth Warren in Rochester, New Hampshire.Daniel Schulman
When he stepped to the microphone at Monday’s get-out-the-vote rally for Elizabeth Warren in Rochester, New Hampshire, Anders Hellberg apologized for his accent.
“Some people seem to think I have one, too,” the candidate quipped in reply.
Hellberg hails from Stockholm. He is 68 and publishes nautical guidebooks. And it is probably safe to say he is Sweden’s biggest Warren superfan. “I came here from Europe for you,” he told Warren. “I’m going back tonight.”
He’d flown in on Friday and spent the last few days following Warren from campaign stop to campaign stop as she barnstormed New Hampshire ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday. At one of his first events, when Warren’s campaign said she would not have time for one of her famous selfie lines, Hellberg wondered if he might have to settle for a photo with Warren’s golden retriever, Bailey. “I didn’t travel all the way around the world for a selfie with Bailey—but I’ll take it,” he said.
He needn’t have worried. By the time he left the Rochester Opera House on Monday afternoon, en route to Boston’s Logan Airport to catch his return flight, he had collected his third photo with Warren. He also got the opportunity to ask her a question at the rally. Noting that he had two stepsons with autism who require full-time care, which is funded by the Swedish government, Hellberg wondered how she planned to help American families caring for disabled loved ones. (“That’s what Medicare for All is all about,” Warren answered.)
Political tourists have flocked to New Hampshire to see the candidates up close. I’ve bumped into people from California, Florida, New York, and many other locales—but Hellberg was the first person I met who had taken a transatlantic flight in order to check out the first-in-the-nation primary.
“I’ve been following American politics since the ’60s, and I would say that never, ever has the country had a candidate like Elizabeth Warren,” Hellberg told me. “She’s absolutely outstanding.”
Warren, it turns out, is not the only 2020 contender who can point to passionate Nordic support. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has apparently won over Danes by slamming President Trump on the campaign trial for canceling a visit to their country because its leaders rebuffed Trump’s outlandish proposition to purchase Greenland. (“He blames the entire kingdom of Denmark. Who does that?”) At a campaign rally on Monday in Exeter, Klobuchar brought up her “strange cult following of Danish people.” The New York Times‘ Nick Corasaniti, who was on the scene, reported, “and they were here, along the wall, waving back when mentioned.”
Pete Buttigieg, meanwhile, has a Norwegian constituency, owing to the fact that he taught himself the language in order to read the work of the author Erlend Loe in its original form.
Warren, for her part, can use all the support she can get in New Hampshire. After her third-place finish in Iowa, recent polls show her slipping into fourth or even fifth place in New Hampshire. Hellberg admitted that he was concerned about her chances. “The American people,” he said, “will be not so smart if they choose another candidate.”
Elizabeth Warren, left, and Amy Klobuchar, right, stand on stage before the start of a Democratic presidential primary debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. on Friday, February 7, 2020.Charles Krupa/AP
Three weeks before Iowa caucus-goers put their confidence in two men, the New York Times placed its confidence in two women: Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. The paper of record explained its highly unusual decision to endorse two candidates by delineating what editors perceived to be the two visions emerging in the Democratic field: a “realist” one that called for a return to a “more sensible America,” and a “radical” one that called for upending existing political and economic systems. Klobuchar, cast as the “realist,” and Warren, painted as the “radical,” were “the most effective advocates for each approach,” the Times said.
Some New Hampshire voters, down to their final moments of decision-making before they head to the polls, also think that Klobuchar and Warren are the field’s two best candidates. But these voters are drawn to them based on their personal and professional similarities, not their ideological differences.
“They’re both very bright, have a lot of experience, and have accomplished a lot,” Nancy Turkington, a doctor who works in Lebanon, New Hampshire, told me at a Warren event there Sunday night. “And I think they both have been very thoughtful about the feminist agenda.”
Susan McAtavey, who I met at Pete Buttigieg’s rally in Dover on Sunday afternoon, told me she was also considering Warren and Klobuchar. “I would love to have a female candidate—I’m not married to the idea, but I’d love that,” McAtavey said. Though she considers herself to be progressive and believes Warren aligns more closely with that vision, “I’m always impressed with how well [Klobuchar] does in debates,” McAtavey said. “I don’t know, I love Klobuchar.”
In conversations with these Klobuchar-Warren fans—across two events in New Hampshire yesterday, I met 10—it became clear that these are the résumé readers of the Democratic coalition. They like the two senators’ records of achievement, often citing Warren’s establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Klobuchar’s oft-touted record of passing more bills than her fellow senators in the race. They also cite Warren’s line from the January debate, when she told viewers that only she and Klobuchar had won every election they’d run in, while the male candidates present had lost 10 elections between them.
Voters’ familiarity with these accomplishments is perhaps attributable to the fact that women candidates have to flog those achievements harder. As my colleague Pema Levy wrote last month, a persistent side effect of sexism is that voters are often more skeptical of women’s competency, a dynamic that requires those candidates to “work harder to prove their competence to voters more skeptical of their readiness,” Levy wrote. Whatever the reason, it’s made a difference for voters I spoke with who like both Klobuchar and Warren. “They have records,” Mark Soza, an undecided voter I met at a Joe Biden rally in Gilford, New Hampshire, told me. “That’s very persuasive.”
To be clear, plenty of voters are still thinking about ideological differences. At the Buttigieg rally in Dover, several New Hampshirites told me they’re choosing between Buttigieg and Klobuchar because of those candidates’ more moderate stances; at Warren’s event in Lebanon, there were plenty of Warren fans who see fellow progressive Bernie Sanders as their second choice.
But voters looking beyond ideology told me they find fault in both Sanders and Buttigieg, the male candidates whose platforms align most closely with Warren and Klobuchar, respectively. Turkington told me she didn’t care for Sanders because he’s “not willing to compromise.” As for Buttigieg: “It’s incredible to think a mayor from a small town can compete with these senators who have accomplished so much.”
The question remains, of course, whether these candidates’ records and voters will put either candidate over the top. Warren finished third in Iowa with eight delegates and Klobuchar finished fifth with just one. Recent New Hampshire polls leading up to the nation’s first primary have found both candidates oscillating between third and fifth place behind Sanders, Buttigieg, and sometimes Joe Biden.
Michael Bloomberg speaks to gun control advocates at a rally in Aurora, Colo. in December.Thomas Peipert/AP
Most of the action in the presidential race is in New Hampshire right now, but campaign surrogates for Michael Bloomberg spent the weekend traveling throughout Virginia to highlight his record on gun violence prevention. And gun rights activists were out in full force to show how much they hate the former New York City mayor.
A statewide Bloomberg bus tour wrapped up Sunday evening in the DC suburb of Arlington, a Democratic stronghold in the Old Dominion, which votes next month on Super Tuesday. There, dozens of Bloomberg volunteers and supporters—including DC mayor Muriel Bowser—were met with fierce opposition from more than 100 gun rights activists who crashed the event and attempted to prevent attendees from getting inside. The demonstrators disrupted speeches and harassed people on their way out.
It was a tense scene, especially considering that Bloomberg was nowhere near it—he was campaigning in another Super Tuesday state, Massachusetts. It highlights the unique position that Bloomberg, a billionaire, occupies when it comes to gun control issues in Virginia. Of the many philanthropic enterprises that Bloomberg has his hands in, gun control is probably the one for which he’s best known. He founded and largely finances the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, which had a big presence in Virginia during last year’s elections, outspending the NRA and helping to flip the state legislature blue for the first time in decades. As a result, state lawmakers are fast-tracking gun control laws, much to the ire of some gun rights activists, who held a massive 2nd Amendment rally in front of the state capitol in Richmond last month.
At Sunday’s campaign stop, though, the commotion outside did not muddle the message from the gun control activists who spoke. “I could lay down and take it, but I’d rather fight,” said Brenda Moss, a Moms Demand Action volunteer who lost a son to gun violence. Moss—along with Bowser and Bloomberg senior adviser Debbie Weir—was one of several speakers to briefly address the crowd before protesters who had snuck into the rally jumped onstage and grabbed the mic. Campaign staffers promptly blasted Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” to drown them out as they were escorted from the event. The rally concluded, with Bloomberg volunteers and supporters mingling for the remainder of the evening.
Though Bloomberg’s late entrance into the already crowded Democratic race was first met with skepticism—especially his peculiar strategy of skipping the first few states and focusing on Super Tuesday—he’s starting gain more traction, thanks in no small part to the massive amount of money he’s spent on his own campaign. And the message and enthusiasm among campaign volunteers and supporters that I met at Sunday’s rally was uniform: Bloomberg is the only candidate with the resources to take on Donald Trump, they argue.
“This is the first time I’ve been excited about a candidate since Obama,” one Bloomberg campaign volunteer told me. Another volunteer said he likes Bloomberg because “he is exactly what Donald Trump is not, but exactly what Donald Trump wants to be.” Still, all the Bloomberg supporters I talked to Sunday said they’d vote for whoever ends up getting the Democratic nomination—a stance that echoes Bloomberg, himself, who has promised to fund a massive independent effort to support whoever receives the party’s nomination.
More so than any of the other Democratic candidates, Bloomberg has become a polarizing figure in Virginia. Protesters outside Sunday’s event held signs that compared Bloomberg—who is Jewish—to a Nazi and chanted “sic semper tyrannis” as security guards escorted out attendees who were ready to leave.
A couple of protesters snuck in and tried to crash the event, campaign staff tries to play them off to…. Fatboy Slim. pic.twitter.com/fE0uSADfMg
Tom Speciale, a US Army reservist who is running for the GOP nod to take on Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), was one of the protesters who crashed the Bloomberg event and attempted to speak from the podium. When I caught up with him afterward, he said he didn’t like the former New York mayor’s “socialist values.” I mentioned to him that an actual socialist is the current Democratic frontrunner. Speciale shrugged. “They’re all socialists,” he said.
On Saturday at a town hall in Keene, New Hampshire, Rep. Annie Kuster* pulled a question out of a fishbowl and began to read it aloud to Pete Buttigieg. “Alright, Pete, a classic New Hampshire question,” she said, adding that it was “important to all of us even if Washington have stopped paying attention.”
The attendee wanted to know Buttigieg’s thoughts on “the deficit.”
“I think the time has come for my party to get a lot more comfortable talking about the deficit,” Buttigieg said. “Because right now we got a president who comes from a party that used to talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, with a trillion-dollar deficit, and no plan in sight for what to do about it.”
“And yes,” he continued, “this should concern progressives, who are not in the habit of talking or worrying too much about the debt.” Buttigieg argued that the growing deficit would “start crowding out investment in safety net and health and infrastructure and education programs,” make it harder to fund economic stimulus programs should the economy demand it, and—in a talking point that might sound familiar to people who remember what life was like in 2011—hurt young people who “might be here when some of these fiscal time bombs start to go off.”
It was a little surprising—in my time on the campaign trail this year, I really haven’t heard a lot about the deficit, an object of Republican fixation during the Obama presidency that was used as justification for several debt-ceiling showdowns but which seems to have largely faded from view during the Trump administration. Maybe Buttigieg was speaking off the cuff and we shouldn’t read too much into it. But then, again, at a town hall on Sunday in Nashua, Buttigieg very conveniently received almost the exact same question out of the fishbowl.
“How important is the deficit to you?”
Buttigieg’s eyes lit up as he answered. “Important—that’s the short answer,” he said. “And I think the time has come for my party to get a lot more comfortable owning this issue. Because we’ve seen what’s happened with this president—a trillion dollar deficit, and his allies in Congress do not care. So we’ve got to do something about it!”
“It’s not fashionable in progressive circles, I think, to talk too much about the debt,” he acknowledged. But Buttigieg was there to offer some hard truths.
The idea that progressives don’t really care about this issue is an odd one, considering just how much of an emphasis the Obama administration placed on reducing the deficit (Obamacare reduced it!), and how much time it spent trying to broker a “grand bargain” to reform Social Security and Medicare. Democrats spent much of those eight years talking a lot about deficits, in part because Republicans spent much of that time pretending that Democrats weren’t. Then- and current-speaker Nancy Pelosi implemented pay-as-you-go rules mandating that bills in the House be paid for, and Pelosi has already signaled that PAYGO will be back in a Democratic administration. For the last few decades, Democrats have been the fiscal hawks.
But New Hampshire’s open primary does allow for a surge of moderate and conservative independents on Election Day, and Buttigieg—who nods to the prevalence of “future former Republicans” at his rally—perhaps thinks he stands to benefit from a little bit of lefty-bashing, real or imagined.
*Correction: This story originally misstated Rep. Annie Kuster’s current job title.
Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg is holding a get-out-the-vote rally in Nashau, New Hampshire, this morning ahead of Tuesday’s primary, following his strong showing in Iowa. Here’s the line to get in:
It curves around the corner and down the next block.
The name that loomed over Saturday’s “Our Rights, Our Courts” candidate forum in Concord, New Hampshire was not Donald Trump. It was Mitch McConnell.
The wily Republican Senate leader has bedeviled the Democrats for years. He denied Barack Obama a Supreme Court Justice, then helped to deliver Trump two. He invoked the “nuclear option” to push through the president’s executive branch nominees and pack the federal courts with ideologues, including a number deemed unqualified for the bench by the American Bar Association. Most recently, he secured the president’s impeachment acquittal in the Senate by, in part, ensuring the proceedings were free of new testimony.
“As president, how would you deal with Mitch McConnell?” That question, or variations of it, was asked repeatedly of the candidates at the “Our Rights” forum—sponsored by a quartet of progressive groups, including Demand Justice, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and NARAL. Most offered a similar—if somewhat facile—reply: The six-term Kentucky senator must be dethroned in his upcoming reelection race or, with his Republican colleagues, demoted to the minority.
This, of course, is much easier said than done.
“Mitch McConnell stole a Supreme Court seat,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. “We need to to put McConnell out of a job.”
“I will not concede that Mitch McConnell will be the leader,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said, pointing to the Kentucky senator’s Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot who in 2018 mounted an unsuccessful House bid. “Two Amys are better than one!”
Today's most-asked question: How, as president, would you deal with Mitch McConnell's obstruction?
Klobuchar responds: "I will not concede that McConnell’s going to be leader." She points to McConnell's Democratic opponent in Kentucky, Amy McGrath.
“The only way this will change is if we engage the American people to ensure there is a political consequence,” said former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, when asked how he’d deal with McConnell and his GOP Senate. Translation: vote McConnell out or seize a Senate majority. “If we can’t change Congress, we’re screwed,” he added.
For the Democrats, reclaiming the Senate is an uphill climb. McConnell, for his part, ranks among the most unpopular senators in America. (Kentucky also had the dubious honor of having one of the nation’s least popular governors, Matt Bevin, who lost his reelection bid in November.) While potentially vulnerable, McConnell is still much more likely than not to retain his seat. That means if the Democratic nominee succeeds in ousting Trump, he or she may still have McConnell and his Senate majority to contend with.
In other words, they’re kinda screwed.
Sen. Bernie Sanders said McConnell—and Trump—deserved some credit for their success in pushing the judiciary to the right. “They were well organized; they knew what they were doing. As a member of the Senate, I can tell you, you know what we do every day? We vote for right-wing, extremist judges.” He also noted that Democrats should study the Republican playbook: “We can learn some lessons from what the right-wing is doing in this country.”
The forum’s moderators—MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle and HuffPost‘s Jennifer Bendery—pressed Tom Steyer on how he would navigate McConnell and a Republican-controlled Senate. He first said that he didn’t accept the assumption that the Republicans would retain control of the Senate next year. Finally, noting that Obama had repeatedly tried to compromise with McConnell only to be obstructed, he responded: “I would assume from day one that this was a fight. Mitch McConnell has not one time put the country ahead of his party. Not one time.” He added, “Why does everyone ask Democrats how we’re going to meet in the middle and how we’re going to compromise? Why does no one ever call up Mitch McConnell and say, ‘Hey Mitch, when are you going to compromise?’ This is what we do. Democrats keep thinking the Republicans are like us. They’re not. I don’t want to be like them. They’re not like us.”
A day after the four-year anniversary of Marco Rubio’s decapitation at the hands of Chris Christie, the Democrats have shown that they are not afraid to hug it out. The stakes are high for a few candidates on the debate stage. Elizabeth Warren needs to take out Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden needs to take out Pete Buttigieg. Amy Klobuchar needs to take out Biden and Buttigieg. Tom Steyer needs to take out everybody.
But after a few early digs, the Democratic candidates are upholding their reputation for bringing tote bags to a knife fight.
Billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer—who is currently polling at 2 percent nationally—just delivered what may turn out to be the best line of Friday night’s Democratic presidential debate.
As the other candidates squabbled over health care, Steyer refocused the conversation by quoting the infamous phrase from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid,” getting to the heart of the challenge of defeating an incumbent.
“We’re gonna have to take Mr. Trump down on the economy, because if you listen to him, he’s crowing about it every single day,” Steyer said, “and he’s gonna beat us unless we can take him down on the economy, stupid.”
The problem, Steyer seemed to suggest, was not Democrats’ policies so much as their overall messaging.
“I have heard this debate so many darn times, and I love all these people, and they’re all right,” he said. “If we win, we can get the right thing, Bernie. I am with you. If we win, we can get the right thing, Pete and Amy. But we gotta win, or we are in deep trouble, and we keep not talking about the facts.”