• Trump’s Attacks on Twitter Are Part of a Plot to Keep Social Media in His Pocket

    President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media as he departs the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., for Camp David on May 15, 2020. Stefani Reynolds/CNP via ZUMA

    If you’re a Twitter user, by now you’ve probably seen the news. After years of complaints about President Donald Trump broadcasting falsehoods over the platform, the company finally took a small step to mitigate his misinformation. On Tuesday, the social media giant appended a “get the facts” link to two Trump tweets in which he claimed that mail-in-ballots would result in fraudulent election outcomes.

    The link led to a page with several bullet points that refute the president—who, to be clear, was not telling the truth—along with links to reputable news stories providing context and correct information. 

    This moment was a long time coming, and however it ends, the president and his campaign have spent years preparing for such a stand-off. Since 2016, its has been clear that Trump benefited from an unregulated social media environment, where pro-Trump content that is untrue or incendiary—whether generated by Americans, Russians, or Macedonians—can circulate freely online. The 2016 elections also demonstrated how a completely unregulated social media ecosystem can be a threat to democracy. That year, sites like Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), YouTube, and Twitter served as a gateway to voter suppression and misinformation that undermined the outcome. They could do so again this year. In battles over the the platforms’ role in breeding extremism, conservatives have taken up against efforts to reduce the presence of white nationalists, determining it was a net plus to their political efforts even if it polarized the country.

    Since 2016, the social media companies have taken some steps to rein in the worst behavior on their services, including setting up guardrails specifically related to the disinformation around voting. Facebook banned false information and suppressive content on elections in ads. Twitter rolled out its election integrity policy in January. Meanwhile, Trump, his campaign, and Republican lawmakers have engaged in a campaign to keep those guardrails off. Part of this pressure campaign is backed by the threat of regulation. The Justice Department under Attorney General Bill Barr is overseeing anti-trust investigations into major social media companies, and Republican lawmakers claiming, without evidence, conservative censorship have proposed regulations.

    But much of the pressure comes in the form of Trump’s public accusations—an open attempt to work the refs, rile his base, and keep social media companies constantly on defense. With Facebook, Google, and Twitter always battling his accusations of bias, it’s much harder for them to put in place and enforce policies, even if they are desperately needed for the broader health of democracy, that Trump and his allies believe will hurt their political fortunes. And if such policies are ever acted upon, as they were Tuesday, the claims of bias will resonate because Trump has already created a context in which his supporters believe social media is working against them. I wrote about this how this strategy has been deployed in my recent profile of Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager:

    But the campaign also gained by bending Facebook to Parscale’s will. An early example came in May 2016, after ex-Facebook employees told Gizmodo that co-workers had suppressed right-leaning content in the site’s trending topics section. A conservative chorus accused the company of discrimination until CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his deputy, Sheryl Sandberg, agreed to meet with a group that included an emissary from the Trump campaign. Facebook denied giving any preferential treatment and conducted an audit to prove it. But three months after the debacle, Facebook fired the contractors who vetted news promoted by the platform, replacing them with algorithms. According to a BuzzFeed News analysis, clicks and shares of fake news stories—most of which favored Trump—soon tripled. The campaign had accused Facebook of bias, and gotten just what it wanted…

    From his perch leading Trump’s reelection effort, Parscale has continued and helped drive a larger full-court press by conservative media outlets and lawmakers pushing Facebook and other tech platforms to behave the way they want. In March 2018, shortly after his appointment as campaign chair, Parscale tweeted a warning: “Hey @facebook @Twitter @Google we are watching,” followed by the staring eyes emoji. “This is your opportunity to make sure the playing field is level.” The tweet preceded a barrage of attacks from the president, his campaign, and GOP officials alleging anticonservative bias in Silicon Valley. 

    It is in this context that Trump shot back at Twitter on Wednesday morning, accusing it and its fellow social media companies of bias—even seeming to throw in a reference to that 2016 Gizmodo story:

    These tweets do exactly what the campaign has prepared to do in its battle with social media companies: Trump accuses them of bias, threatens regulation, and then goes ahead and repeats the false claim he was aiming to spread, in this case that voting by mail will delegitimize the election. He reminds Twitter of his power over the platform, then dares it to once again fact-check his false claim. How will Twitter respond?

    We already know how the company and its peers have responded to this exact treatment over the last several years. Caught between civil rights pushing to get voter suppression and hate off the platforms and Trump and his crew on the right pushing to let repugnant content stay up, the platforms have largely catered to Trump’s concerns.  

    Twitter’s move suggests that specific disinformation about the process of voting may be a long-awaited exception to that trend. But, when it comes to shaping over policy at the platforms, Trump has many more wins than those who want his false statements and hateful content taken down. Facebook, for example, now allows politicians to lie in their posts and ads. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook had internally determined that its algorithms increased polarization and radicalization but chose to do nothing, largely because of pressure from Republicans. And this Tuesday, the same day Twitter finally put its “get the facts” tag on Trump’s tweets, it refused to take down his tweets accusing the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of involvement in the 2001 death of an employee. The president continued making the claim on Twitter on Wednesday.

    Facebook, in particular, has repeatedly shown itself to be more interested in pleasing conservatives than cracking down on extremists using its platform. While the company’s own content policies ban hate groups, for example, just last week, a report by the Tech Transparency Project found 153 white supremacist groups’ pages on Facebook. (Many were removed after the report’s publication.) While the company has sought plaudits for its handling of misinformation around the coronavirus, such groups’ enduring presence demonstrate the company’s unwillingness to police other kinds of dangerous information on its platform.

    With Trump reportedly growing more worried about his re-election prospects and Election Day in less than six months, his campaign is expected to unleash its war chest. That will include massive spending, particularly on Facebook, where he’ll seek to connect with his audience without filter by the platform. His attack on Twitter is just the latest chapter in a years-long campaign to work the refs to make sure the social media giants feel they have no other option.

  • Biden’s “Breakfast Club” Comment About Black Voters Was Off. So Were These 5 Claims About the Crime Bill.

    Joe Biden speaks on "The Breakfast Club" with host Charlamagne tha God.screenshot

    Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden went viral in a bad way Friday morning, when, at the end of a radio interview with The Breakfast Club, he told host Charlamagne tha God that “you ain’t Black” if you “have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump.”

    Progressive activists quickly slammed the former vice president for trying to act like an arbiter on Blackness, while the Trump campaign and the president’s supporters cynically seized the comment, even selling T-shirts featuring it. Later in the day, Biden apologized. “I’ve never, never, ever taken the African American community for granted,” he said on a call with members of the US Black Chambers Inc., an organization promoting Black-owned businesses. He added that he “shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.”

    But that comment wasn’t the only problematic part of his appearance on The Breakfast Club. Biden also made several misleading or downright false statements about his role authoring the 1994 crime bill and the impact it had on mass incarceration. The much-derided law contained a host of measures to prevent crime—including “three strikes” mandatory life sentences, extra funding for policing and prisons, an assault weapons ban, and the Violence Against Women Act—and is often pointed to as a factor that fueled the disproportionate imprisonment of Black and brown people in the United States.

    During the interview, Charlamagne asked Biden about this criticism head on, pushing him on why he has been reluctant to admit that the law “was damaging to the Black community.” The host noted that Hillary Clinton went on the radio show during her presidential run and acknowledged the bill contained mistakes. Biden, though, doubled down. “She’s wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t the crime bill. It was the drug legislation. It was the institution of mandatory minimums, which I opposed.” 

    Eh. That assertion is only sort of true. Here, we fact-check five of his claims to set the record straight. 

    1. “The crime bill didn’t increase mass incarceration. Other things increased mass incarceration.”

    During his campaign, Biden has repeatedly argued that mass incarceration began before the 1994 crime bill passed. On The Breakfast Club, he reiterated that states lock up the vast majority of incarcerated people in this country, not the federal government. This is all true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. And it’s not correct to say the 1994 bill played no part in fueling mass incarceration.

    As Biden suggests, incarceration rates grew enormously before his bill passed—by 400 percent from 1970 to 1994, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. But they continued to climb afterward, too, doubling between 1994 and 2009. States did enact tough-on-crime laws and incarcerated many more people than the federal government did during that time. But Biden’s bill encouraged them to do so. As the Brennan Center’s Lauren Brooke-Eisen points out, the 1994 crime bill offered states $12.5 billion to construct prisons if they passed “truth in sentencing” laws, which required incarcerated people to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. “By dangling bonus dollars,” she wrote, the law “encouraged states to remain on their tough-on-crime course.” As Vanita Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, put it to the New York Times, the bill “created and calcified massive incentives for local jurisdictions to engage in draconian criminal justice practices that had a pretty significant impact in building up the national prison population.”

    2. “I opposed that ‘three strikes and you’re out.'”

    This, too, is only sort-of true. As the Annenberg Public Policy Center explains, there’s evidence that Biden did not support the three-strikes provision that made it into the final 1994 bill, because he worried it could put someone in prison for life for a relatively minor crime. In fact, Biden described the provision as “wacko” in 1994. But before the bill passed, he also went on the Today show and said he did support a three-strikes provision that would incarcerate people for life who committed “serious felonies…that are violent.” “We should take those predators off the street,” he said.

    3. “I opposed…any mandatory sentences.”

    The reality here is more complicated than he made it seem. Biden may have spoken out against mandatory minimum sentences by the time the 1994 crime bill passed, but he was instrumental in pushing for them in the years before. As early as 1977, Biden advocated mandatory minimums that would force judges to send people to prison for a certain length of time, according to a New York Times investigation. Then in 1984, he spearheaded the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which “added significant mandatory minimums for many federal crimes and abolished federal parole,” as the Brennan Center points out. (On The Breakfast Club, Biden argued that his intention with that bill was to erase disparities in sentencing lengths for Black and white people, “so nobody based on their color could go to jail longer than anybody else for the same crime.”) In 1986, he co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which set mandatory minimums for crack cocaine offenses that were significantly harsher than sentences for powder cocaine offenses and disproportionately targeted Black Americans.

    By 1993, Biden was starting to change his tune on sentencing. “I think we’ve had all the mandatory minimums that we need,” he noted during an event hosted by the US Sentencing Commission. He said some of the mandatory minimum sentences he helped pass previously were “not positive” and were “counterproductive,” according to the New York Times. While the 1994 crime bill did contain more mandatory minimums, it also included a “safety valve” provision that Biden backed, allowing judges to waive these sentences for certain types of offenders.

    In 2008, Biden said the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences was “arbitrary, unnecessary, and unjust,” and admitted that laws he helped pass were “part of the problem that I have been trying to solve since then.” In 2010, when Biden was vice president, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack sentencing disparity.

    4. “On balance the whole bill…it did in fact bring down violent crime.”

    Crime was actually already dropping before the bill passed, by 10 percent in the three years before. Then, from 1994 to 2000, it fell another 23 percent, with violent crime dropping by almost a third.

    But criminologists aren’t sure what exactly led to this change and if it can be attributed to the ’94 law. Brooke-Eisen of the Brennan Center argues the crime bill likely helped reduce crime to some extent—”not by locking people up, but by putting more cops on the street,” she writes. The bill “provided funding for 100,000 new police officers and $14 billion in grants for community-oriented policing, for example.” But she adds that “social and economic factors—like an aging population and decreased alcohol consumption—played a role in the crime decline as well.” John Worrall, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, told the Annenberg Public Policy Center that “the jury is very much still out” on what caused the drop in crime after the bill passed. “Criminologists and economists are in no agreement,” he said, citing theories ranging from economic and demographic changes to tougher sentencing.

    5. “The one thing I opposed in that bill was people wanting to give money to state prisons to build more prisons. I opposed it.”

    This is just false. Biden was clear in 1994 that he supported offering billions of dollars in funding to build state prisons. “We have not built new prisons to keep up with the increase in violent crime in America,” he said at a June 1994 committee hearing, according to CNN. And the bill, he said, “is partially our attempt to help the states and localities try.” At the time, he did say that Republicans were going overboard by proposing $10 billion in funding for state prisons. But he said $6 billion was an acceptable amount.

    And that funding, of course, came with a catch. In order to get it, states had to pass those “truth in sentencing” laws mentioned above. Within three years, 27 states and DC had done so, paving the way to drastically expand their prison populations.

  • A New Poll Has Bad News For Donald Trump—and He’s Only Making Things Worse

    Stringer/Sputnik via AP

    The election is in about six months, and at the moment polls have Joe Biden trouncing Donald Trump. Indeed, Trump has led the presumptive Democratic nominee in only two national head-to-heads all year.  As the Atlantic put it, “It is slowly dawning on Trump that he’s losing.”

    Polls are polls. The election isn’t for a while! They aren’t written in stone, and they aren’t perfect, but they aren’t meaningless. One person who cares about polls quite a lot is Donald J. Trump. The president has a love-hate relationship with them. Sometimes he loves (one of) them, most times he hate them, and sometimes he lies about them. The constant is that he’s obsessed with them. Trump is no less thirsty for approval today than he was when he would pretend to be John Barron and call the press to give flattering quotes about himself.

    But Trump’s desperate need for love clearly doesn’t manifest itself in the traditional way you’d expect. He doesn’t do things that poll well. If he did, he wouldn’t be telling people he’s taking a dangerous unproven drug or try to get the country to reopen during a pandemic. He can’t do those things because he’s too stubborn, lazy, and obsessed with being proven right. Which brings us to a poll from this week. 

    Public Policy Polling is a liberal-leaning firm with a B rating from FiveThirtyEight. It does normal polls but also does somewhat trollish novelty polls that are designed to get tweeted a lot. On Wednesday it released a survey that was sort of both:  A poll of 1,223 registered voters found that 54 percent would vote for Barack Obama over Donald Trump in a hypothetical matchup today. The current president would get only 43 percent. Neither the results nor the fact that Trump must obviously hate them are surprising. Obama’s approval ratings were high when he left office, and his popularity has only grown since, while Donald Trump is historically unpopular and has been since his first day in office.

    It would make sense if a person obsessed with polls and frustrated by the fact that his 2016 playbook has not yet proven effective against his current opponent, asked himself whether picking a fight with his much more popular predecessor is a wise move. But Trump can’t ask do this. Barack Obama is his mortal enemy. He has never been shy about this, and if the antagonism between the two has remained at a dull roar in the past few years, that’s only because Obama has gone out of his way to stay quiet about his successor (often to the consternation of liberals yearning for a leader in these misbegotten times). But that is mostly over. A recording of Obama criticizing Trump privately was leaked a few weeks ago. Trump is now ranting and raving daily about “Obamagate,” which is as likely to be a candy created in Willy Wonka’s factory as it is to be a genuine scandal. This is obviously not unrelated to the fact that Obama’s vice president is the presumptive pick to challenge Trump in the fall, after a successful primary campaign largely based on reminding Democrats that he was, well, Obama’s vice president. 

    And that’s the real self-own here. Somewhere in Delaware, Joe Biden’s campaign team probably has a white board with talking points on it. One of those is probably “Obama! Obama! Obama!” It’s probably been underlined. One of the more curious things that happened in the Democratic primary was that Biden’s opponents kept making his task easier for him. For most of 2019 the rest of the field ran away from Obama, the most popular political figure in the party. Donald Trump’s obsession with Obama, which goes back a decade, is causing him to make a similar mistake. 

    There is a part of the GOP that will always mash the donate button if you mention Obama. Screaming about him gets a segment of right-wing white voters riled up. Sometimes that’s enough to win a midterm election! But the logic of it is a little wobblier in elections where you need to motivate people who don’t watch Sean Hannity every night. 

    It turns out there is one thing that Joe Biden and Donald Trump do agree on: This election should be about Barack Obama.

  • With More Mail Voting, Democratic Senators Say Domestic Violence Survivors’ Addresses Shouldn’t Be Exposed

    Liu Jie/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

    Minnesota’s senators are asking the federal agency that coordinates election policy to allow coronavirus-related emergency funding to be used to protect victims of stalking, domestic violence, and trafficking whose personal information could be revealed through voter registration data.

    While nearly 40 states offer some type of privacy for the physical address of vulnerable registered voters, standards and implementation “vary widely,” according to a letter written by Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and sent to the Election Assistance Commission on Monday.

    “Many states include the physical address of registered voters in publicly available records,” the senators wrote, noting that victims of domestic violence and stalking have an obvious need to keep their addresses private. “Given that reported instances of domestic violence have risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that survivors of domestic violence be able to shield their physical address from any voter registration forms and public databases.”

    While the issue is longstanding, the senators they are pushing for resources for states to tackle it because many more people are expected to vote by mail in response to the pandemic. While Congress sets broad conditions on how federal election administration assistance funds, including  $400 million included in March’s CARES Act, are spent, the commission offers guidance about what efforts qualify. 

    Klobuchar is the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, which has key jurisdiction over federal elections. She and several other senators, including Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have been focused on election support during the pandemic. The two have driven Democrats’ push for no-excuse mail voting in every state as a response, an effort that has run headlong into opposition from President Trump and other Republicans. Whil Trump has framed mail-in voting as a threat to his reelection and Republican candidates—a claim not borne out by facts—his party generally opposes Congressional efforts to make election policy, claiming they are a form of federal overreach into states’ authority.

     



  • Trump Thinks He Can Win the Election With Off-the-Rails Memes

    Shutterstock

    On Thursday, the Washington Post published a long profile of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and her campaign to be Joe Biden’s VP. It included a photo by Dana Scruggs.

    Yesterday, Donald Trump’s official campaign Twitter account tweeted its own version. 

    It took me a while to figure out what the hell this was even supposed to be, but after talking to some Top Scientists (ie some colleagues) it was explained to me that it is Joe Biden smelling her hair. (Get it? I’m very sorry if you get it.)

    In the early days of the Trump presidency there was a regular refrain that you would hear from Resistance types. “This is not normal.” You don’t see it very much anymore because after almost 4 years what isn’t normal anymore? This. This is fucking insane. It is not normal for the president’s reelection campaign to post things like this.

    Where did this image come from? Was it created by the campaign? (I reached out to them but haven’t heard back.) If I had to bet though I would guess this was something made by Trump’s “Keyboard Warriors” on Reddit or something. Just a few days ago Trump was celebrating these folks!

    Setting aside the fact that Donald Trump apparently doesn’t think his internet hive supporters have seen Mad Men, it is true that Trump & co. rely on media that bubbles up from his supporters online. There was the GIF he retweeted of him hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball, the one he tweeted of him attacking CNN at a wrestling event, the Kingsman video of him shooting journalists to death. One of his earliest controversies was when he tweeted an image with Nazis on it instead of American soldiers. These are memes that his team is pulling from the depths of the internet. Team Trump is very proud of them. Indeed, the memes have become central to how the right wing exists online

    But that doesn’t make it normal. It’s not. It’s insane!

    Yesterday, Vanity Fair published a story by Peter Hamby about Joe Biden’s somewhat tenuous relationship with the internet

    I asked Biden about the drubbing he’s taking in the meme universe, in which he’s often portrayed as doddering and creepy. Biden laughed it off, claiming that “the vast majority of the voters out there, including young people, are not getting all their news from the internet.”

    In the story, Hamby talks to Rob Flaherty, Joe Biden’s digital director. He asks about the worry that Biden losing the internet augurs poorly for his chances in November. Flaherty allays these worries: “The job of a digital person is to build the program that is a reflection of the person they work for.” That’s true, and Flaherty admits that in that sense, Trump’s digital campaign succeeds. It is a reflection of the candidate. “Trump is scammy as hell. He’s controversial and just sort of brazen. His program looks like that.” 

    Biden and Trump are very different people, but this is a very on the nose example of how different they are. Donald Trump has internet poison. He has been Very Online for a decade now and he thinks in tweets and chases the ADD dopamine hit of Likes and Retweets. If you are not Very Online, figuring out what the hell he is even talking about requires research and effort, a suspension of disbelief. Joe Biden is very much offline. Probably too much! And his candidacy is characterized by its unflinching focus on normal people. People who do not live in the high-strung land of pure imagination that is social media. 

    And so we have two competing theories of the election: Trump is not normal. His campaign shows that. That is how he thinks he won in 2016 and how he thinks he will win in 2020. Biden’s campaign argues that the former vice president is very much normal, and that normalcy is what normal people desperately want. 

    The question for November is: Whose theory is right?

  • Rep. Justin Amash Announces He Won’t Be Running for President

    Bill Clark/AP

    Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a former Republican, just announced on Twitter that he’s will not be running for president this year. The move comes just weeks after he officially become a Libertarian and launched an exploratory committee, setting up a White House bid as his new party’snominee.

    In a Twitter thread, Rep. Amash cited social distancing measures, the turmoil of the pandemic, a lack of access to the media, and polarization among the two major parties for his decision.

    Though the election is six months away, former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger, has held a steady lead over President Donald Trump in the national polls. A serious bid by Amash would have added another factor to the November election, and provided a home to voters unwilling to cast ballots in favor of either major candidate. Some political strategists doubted the impact of his potential candidacy would have, even in his home state of Michigan. “The big question to ask is, ‘Does Amash make any difference if Democratic motivation is as high as it appears to be in Michigan?'” Richard Czuba, a nonpartisan state pollster, told the New York Times last month. “I don’t think it does.”

    Amash says he plans on continuing to work within the Libertarian Party and is hoping for some successes in the future. His supporters on Twitter are already urging him to run in 2024.

  • Hackers Claim to Have Dirt That Could End Trump’s Campaign. After All We Know, What the Hell Could That Be?

    Andrew Harrer/DPA via ZUMA Press

    Hackers trying to extort a prominent New York City celebrity law firm doubled the ransom they were seeking on Thursday to $42 million, claiming that they have dirt on President Trump that could doom his reelection chances.

    VICE News reported Friday morning that the hackers—who the prominent law firm of Grubman, Shire, Meiselas, & Sacks confirmed had targeted them with ransomware, claiming to have several hundred gigabytes of sensitive material involving Drake, Lady Gaga, and other celebrities—are now threatening to release material on Trump. The hackers have posted screenshots of a what they say is a Madonna tour contract to prove the trove’s legitimacy. The law firm confirmed to Page Six they’d been targeted and are working to address the situation. 

    “The next person we’ll be publishing is Donald Trump,” the hackers wrote on their website, according to VICE. “To you voters, we can let you know that after such a publication, you certainly don’t want to see him as president.” 

    That last claim is a bit odd, though: What could the hackers have that is worse than what’s already on the record? Before the last election voters heard Trump admit, on tape, to sexually assaulting women. Although he vehemently denies it, he’s been accused by dozens of women of sexual harassment and assault dating back to the 1970s. He’s been filmed asking Russia to hack his 2016 opponents’ emails. One of his lawyers and longtime fixers is in prison after admitting to lying to Congress about a Trump real estate deal and to campaign finance violations as part of Trump’s scheme to pay off two women who’d claimed prior affairs with the president. His onetime campaign chairman was imprisoned for tax fraud and other financial crimes. He was impeached in December after extorting a foreign government for dirt on a political opponent in exchange for already-approved military aid. According to the Washington Post, he’s told more than 18,000 lies or misleading claims during his presidency.

    And, perhaps most viscerally these days, he’s vacillated between downplaying the coronavirus and taking it seriously, portrayed himself as the pandemic’s victim, and encouraged protests against his own administration’s guidelines on how localities should address public health concerns. Nearly 86,000 Americans have died and more than 36 million Americans have lost jobs.

    So maybe the hackers have something truly novel and explosive. But given what we already know, that’s hard to imagine.

  • Joe Biden Needs Black Women Voters. They Have a New Message for Him.

    Joe Biden

    Matt Rourke/AP

    Since Black voters in South Carolina propelled Joe Biden to a comeback victory a few months ago, there has been a big looming question: How can Biden increase his appeal to young progressive Black voters—particularly women—who overwhelmingly backed rivals like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?

    In an unprecedented op-ed published Friday in the Washington Post, seven Black women, including Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, and comedian and cultural commentator Amanda Seales, start to answer that question. “Vice President Biden, You need us, you owe us,” they bluntly state, before going on to demand that Biden select a Black woman as his running mate, promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if he’s elected in November, and come up with a comprehensive plan to combat the over-policing of Black communities.

    “We have been the Democrats’ most reliable voting bloc since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” the op-ed reads. “Biden’s only path to victory is through black women and the voters we know how to energize.”

    Alongside the op-ed, the women published a moving video to make their case:

    While his impressive showing in South Carolina showed that Biden still had the hard-earned support of older and more moderate Black voters, his appeal to younger and first-time Black voters is shakier. Progressive Black women lined up behind Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, arguing that Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill and his support of the 1994 crime bill outweighed his serving in the administration of the first Black president.

    Biden seems at least receptive to these demands. He’s already promised to pick a woman as his vice presidential running mate. Elizabeth Warren—who was endorsed by several prominent progressive Black women, including Garza—seems to be the favorite. But Stacey Abrams would be a popular choice, and she’s making a very public push to join the ticket. Kamala Harris has stayed relatively quiet recently, but is another favorite in Biden’s camp. Amy Klobuchar is reportedly still in the mix, though the op-ed explicitly agues against Biden picking her as his number two:

    Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, does not need help winning white, working-class voters — he serves that function himself. A choice such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who failed to prosecute controversial police killings and is responsible for the imprisonment of Myon Burrell, will only alienate black voters. These are the same voters who may be forced this fall to take personal risks to line up and vote in many states, especially where Republican efforts to suppress mail-in voting are successful. This is a lot to ask amid a coronavirus pandemic that is disproportionately more deadly to black people.

    While campaigning in a pandemic presents a whole host of new problems for any candidate, what’s clear is that Joe Biden is going to have to do a lot more than show up in his basement studio if he wants to bring new or non-regular voters to the polls. He’ll have to come up with a plan to energize voters, particularly Black women, around what he can do, not just on what he saw get done as vice president. A new New deal, which New York Magazine reported is his plan if elected, is necessary. Biden also needs to court dealmakers. Luckily, they’re telling him just how to do it.

  • The Feds Just Executed a Search Warrant on Sen. Richard Burr, According to the LA Times

    Sen. Richard Burr, with a gray beard and glasses, speaking behind a nameplate in a Senate chamber, with a mask pulled down around his chin.

    Sen. Richard Burr on Tuesday. Burr and his brother-in-law sold a large amount of stock on the same day in February, ahead of the stock market collapse.Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty

    Holy guacamole:

    Federal agents seized a cellphone belonging to a prominent Republican senator on Wednesday night as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into controversial stock trades he made as the coronavirus first struck the U.S., a law enforcement official said.

    Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, turned over his phone to agents after they served a search warrant on the lawmaker at his residence in the Washington area, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a law enforcement action.

    The seizure represents a significant escalation in the investigation into whether Burr violated a law preventing members of Congress from trading on insider information they have gleaned from their official work.

    I personally have a hard time keeping all the news in my brain and this sounds like in this moment something I read about a lifetime ago. But in truth it was quite recent.

    The feds executing a warrant at the house of a sitting senator is big time.

    Burr spokesperson Cailtin Carroll declined to comment on the news.

    Read the whole thing at the LATimes. Tomorrow you’ll be reading about it in many more places.

  • Joe Biden Wants to Hear From Sanders’ Policy Wonks. Will It Be Enough to Win Over Bernie’s Fans?

    Evan Vucci/AP

    When Bernie Sanders exited the 2020 presidential primary last month, Biden promised that Sanders’ supporters would have a say over the policies Biden would run on in the general election. On Thursday, the Biden campaign revealed the members of six “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Forces” that will develop that policy platform. Experts who had once operated at the liberal fringe of the Democratic party will have an audience with its presumptive nominee.

    The six groups—which will focus on immigration, climate change, criminal justice, the economy, education, and health care—make strange bedfellows of Biden’s and Sanders’ high-profile surrogates. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, will lead the working group on climate change. Serving alongside them is Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), a Biden pick who chairs the House’s select committee on climate change, as well as Varshini Prakash, a Sanders surrogate and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement who’s been critical of Castor’s committee.

    The Sanders’ picks—which account for slightly less than half of the committees—include some of the biggest names in progressive politics. They include labor leaders such as SEIU president Mary Kay Henry, a “Medicare for All” supporter who slammed Biden’s suggestion that the single-payer plan would hurt unions, and Sara Nelson, the president of the country’s biggest flight attendants association who is often discussed as a next potential leader of the AFL-CIO.

    But the Sanders camp also named lesser-known experts who played an influential role in shaping his 2020 platform—ones whose ideas have been at odds with Biden’s advisers. The economics task force includes Stephanie Kelton, an expert in modern monetary theory—a controversial idea that calls for massive government spending—who served as a senior economics adviser to the Sanders’ campaign. The Sanders economic delegation also includes Darrick Hamilton, the racial wealth gap scholar who shaped Sanders’ federal jobs guarantee, as well as his plans for public education, housing plan, and student debt. As I explained in a profile of the economics professor earlier this year, Hamilton’s ideas helped Sanders bridge the gap between systemic racism and economic inequality in his policy platforms, something that has become a key rallying cry of the activist left.

    The task forces also include a familiar name from another 2020 Democratic primary candidacy: Sonal Shah, named to the economy task force, is an Obama White House alumna who most recently served as policy director of Pete Buttigieg’s campaign. None of the major policy players from Elizabeth Warren’s plan-powered campaign have been named to these groups.

    The “policy primary” had been a major story as the 2020 Democratic primary unfolded last year. Sanders, in his second run for the presidency, led the way with familiar hits such as “Medicare for All” and his universal free public college proposal, as well as new ones, such as his plan to cancel all student debt. Biden, for the most part, sat it out, opting instead for an emotional appeal to restoring “the soul of the nation.”

    Sanders’ ideas had drawn a swath of younger, liberal voters to the Vermont senator’s candidacy, as well as the favor of influential liberal grassroots organizations that had been inspired by his first run four years ago. When Sanders dropped out of the race last month, a coalition of youth-led liberal groups demanded Biden’s campaign adopt key planks of Sanders’ platform and consult Sanders’ bevy of experts as he outlined his White House transition plans. The task forces are a nod to that.

    A remaining question is really how much influence these groups will actually exert over the platform Biden and the DNC adopt. The press release announcing the groups says the task forces will “make recommendations” to the former vice president and the DNC Platform committee with no guarantee that the ideas will be adopted wholesale.

    As I reported last month, progressives had worried that Biden would name Wall Street sympathizers or corporate lobbyists he’s consulted to these groups. In a letter to Biden, a coalition of youth-led progressive groups asked that Biden appoint no “current or former Wall Street executives or corporate lobbyists, or people affiliated with the fossil fuel, health insurance, or private prison corporations, to your transition team, advisor roles of cabinet.” While the task forces are devoid of the left’s undesirables, Biden has leaned on a massive network of informal advisers accumulated during his roughly four decades in federally elected office. A number of them have been neoliberal economists who have openly criticized the work of Kelton and Hamilton—including Larry Summers, a neoliberal economist who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations who drew the ire of the left when they learned he’d been consulting Biden.

    There’s also the question of whether any platform will even matter in Biden’s face-off against Trump, who has fallen behind the former vice president in major polls as voters judge his pandemic response. Policy had been a lukewarm animating force in the Democratic primary: Elizabeth Warren, the candidate with the most plans, lost to Joe Biden, the candidate with the fewest. But Biden will need an enthusiastic left to support his campaign throughout the summer and fall.

  • Trump Is Trying to Sell His Way Out of a Recession. Joe Biden Probably Wishes He’d Done More of That During the Last One.

    Vice President Joe Biden meets with university presidents to discuss Recovery Act at the White House on September 21, 2010.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

    The pandemic-induced economic recession has put at least 28 million Americans out of work, and much of the blame for that recession falls on President Trump. But the president hasn’t let that stop him from attempting to brand the recovery efforts under his name. After Congress passed its first $2 trillion emergency relief package in March, the White House nearly slowed the delivery of the $1,200 stimulus checks because it wanted to put the president’s signature on them. When the idea was downsized to a tiny “Donald J. Trump” printed in the check’s memo line, the White House, undeterred, sent a separate letter to check recipients assuring them that the president was “working around the clock” to end the pandemic. In bold, inch-high script, the letter is signed “Donald J. Trump.”

    Trump’s general election opponent, Joe Biden, has also seen the country through a recession. When the Obama administration took over the White House in 2009, it inherited an economy in free fall. Obama put Biden in charge of overseeing the recovery, and those who worked alongside him credit the almost complete lack of abuse or fraud of government funds to Biden’s careful oversight. But eleven years is a long time. The recovery from the Great Recession kickstarted the longest period of sustained economic growth in US history, but it isn’t necessarily remembered that way—if it’s remembered at all. 

    It’s no accident that voters might not recall how the stimulus bolstered the economy. Obama, Biden, and their economic advisers crafted the recovery measures from a technocratic lens, delivering money to Americans in a way designed to get them to spend it—without much consideration as to whether it would give the White House its due credit. While there might be something crass about Trump’s egocentric boosterism, the stumbles Democrats took during the last major recession show the dangers of politicians trying to underplay their role, something that could hurt Biden as he gears up to face Trump.

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the “stimulus”—had been Obama’s first major legislative achievement, and the bill’s Keynesian strategies reflected the druthers of its academic-minded president. Chief among those had been a payroll tax credit that returned $400 to $800 to taxpayers through their paychecks over the course of a year. The decision had been a practical, not political calculation: President George W. Bush’s administration had learned that people tended to save rebate checks, not spend them—the opposite of what Obama needed to get the economy humming again.

    Biden had pushed Obama to take more credit for the payroll tax cuts, according to a recent New York Times story—he even suggested that Obama send a letter from Treasury to encourage taxpayers to spend the money. But Obama believed good deeds spoke for themselves. As it turned out, they did not. The payroll tax cuts had put more money in the pockets of the still-employed, but the slow drip across several paychecks made that extra cash hard to recognize.

    As were other signs that the recovery was working. Six months after stimulus’ passage, the White House estimated three-quarters of a million jobs had been “saved or created”—but millions more Americans were still losing jobs. Green road signs signaling ARRA-funded projects—the administration’s one attempt at stimulus vanity—became a political football as some governors eschewed them, likening the images to reelection advertisements for President Obama. Where signs did get posted, they likely didn’t have their intended effect: Most Americans were familiar with “the stimulus,” but the signs declared that the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” was “putting America to work”—and Americans didn’t know that was the stimulus’ government-given name.

    “Stimulus” wouldn’t have been the right word, either. The term eventually became so toxic that Democrats stopped using it altogether. As the midterms approached, Obama, Biden, and their allies toured the country touting the “green shoots” of the recovery. That November, Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives.

    Biden’s strategy this year, for the most part, seems to consist of laying low, allowing Trump’s approval ratings to slide as the former vice president gently reminds voters of his role in the Great Recession. These days, he talks about how “Barack” put him in charge of overseeing the stimulus during his online campaign events. Obama and Elizabeth Warren both praised Biden on that oversight in their respective endorsements. Implied in their praise is not only that voters remember the contours of the Great Recession’s recovery and Biden’s role in it—but they also remember feeling good about it. “You can bet your bottom dollar that we are going to be reminding people between now and November,” Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez told me last week.

    The trouble is, voters probably don’t remember these things—and it didn’t even take a decade for them to forget. By August 2010, only a third of Americans knew that the Troubled Asset Relief Program—better known as the “bank bailout”— had been passed under George W. Bush, not Obama. A year later, another poll found that most Americans confused TARP with the stimulus itself. As the gap between the haves and have-nots has widened in the last decade, it’s hard to argue that the stimulus has risen in esteem. Bernie Sanders, after all, powered two presidential campaigns on variations of this theme: “In 2008, the American people bailed out Wall Street. It’s time for Wall Street to bail out the American people,” as he put it in his announcement to cancel all student debt.

    “I think some of what we did is certainly more favorably viewed,” Jared Bernstein, who served as Biden’s chief economist at the time, told me recently. “But yeah—I would assume that the vast majority of people really don’t remember much about the Recovery Act at this point.”

    Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)  introduced the “No PR Act” to prevent the president from trying to sign his name to any future stimulus checks. Trump, meanwhile, came out against another round of stimulus checks, telling reporters that he prefers payroll tax cuts to additional stimulus checks, which had been his initial ask when the economy began to sour last month.

    Is Trump trying to adopt more of Obama’s posture? For a man with such a taste for the ostentatious, surely not. But now that more Americans have been killed by the virus than in the Vietnam War, Trump might be learning that leaders cannot simply sell their way out of a crisis.

  • Biden Denies Sexual Assault Allegation

    MSNBC

    For weeks, Joe Biden had remained silent about the accusations leveled by Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer who alleges Biden sexually assaulted her more than 25 years ago. When he finally broke that silence early Friday morning, he reiterated what his campaign has maintained all along: The assault never happened.

    “No, it is not true,” Biden told MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. “I’m saying unequivocally, it never, never happened.”

    Throughout their conversation, Biden said he supported Reade’s right to make her claims. “I’m not going to question her motive, I’m not going to attack her,” Biden said. He noted that neither he nor his campaign have reached out to Reade. When Brzezinski asked what Biden might say to Reade, he sidestepped the question. “I don’t know what is behind any of it,” Biden said. “It never happened. It never happened. Period.”

    In the hour leading up to Biden’s appearance, the former vice president released a statement that underscored that stance. In it, he cited statements by former senior staffers in his office who have disputed Reade’s claim that she complained to them at the time about harassment by Biden. Biden also called for the secretary of the Senate to request of search of the National Archives for a record of a formal complaint Reade says she she filed in 1993; Reade does not have a copy of the complaint and media outlets have not found one. “This is an open book,” Biden told Brzezinski, “There’s nothing for me to hide.”

    Brzezinski asked why Biden wouldn’t also subject his Senate and White House papers, currently under seal at the University of Delaware until after he leaves public life, to a search, too. Biden maintained that there was nothing in those papers that related to Reade because personnel files would not be stored in those records, and he said that the records might contain other material that could be used as “fodder in a campaign” and be “really taken out of context.”

    Brzezinski also pressed Biden on what she considered to be a shift in the position he took during the 2018 confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, who had been accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford. At the time, Biden said that “you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.”

    When Brzezinski mentioned that statement, Biden said he stood by it. “Women are to be believed” and “given the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “We should start off with the presumption that they’re telling the truth.” But “the facts exist,” he added. “This never happened.”

    Last April, Reade told her local newspaper that Biden inappropriately touched her neck and shoulders when she worked in his Senate office in the early 1990s, making her feel uncomfortable. She also claimed that he asked her to serve drinks at an event because he liked the way her legs looked. Reade’s claims emerged alongside similar ones from seven other women who said Biden’s had touched them in unwanted ways. Biden apologized for that behavior in a video before launching his third run for the presidency.

    But as Biden’s status as the Democratic frontrunner solidified in late March, Reade appeared on Katie Halper’s podcast to allege that Biden had pressed her up against a wall, kissed her neck, and digitally penetrated her in a Senate hallway in 1993. Reade says she had not previously shared these details out of fear of retribution and that she did not include the more serious allegations in the complaints she said she filed with the Senate. However, a friend of Reade’s and one of her former neighbors have told journalists that she disclosed the alleged assault to them during the 1990s. The Intercept uncovered a 1993 clip of the Larry King Live show in which Reade’s mother anonymously called in to ask for advice on behalf of her daughter who, she said, had been having “problems” with a “prominent senator.”

    For weeks, the Biden campaign has adamantly denied the allegations, and it circulated talking points to Democratic allies that asked them to do the same. This week, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who’s been vying to be named Biden’s vice presidential pick, told CNN (inaccurately) that the New York Times‘ had found Reade’s claims “not credible” and that she believed Biden over Reade. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who endorsed Biden on Monday, said she had been “satisfied” with Biden’s response to the allegations. Reade told Buzzfeed News on Thursday that those repudiations had made her feel “discounted” and “marginalized” by political leaders she admired.

    Reade has criticized the media and Democratic insiders for not demanding answers from the former vice president about her claims. Biden has sat for multiple live interviews on television and social media since major news outlets wrote stories about the allegations, and interviewers did not ask him any questions about Reade until his Friday MSNBC appearance.

  • Trump Is Weaponizing the Nice Things He Forced Democratic Governors to Say About Him

    Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) at a press conference in New York on March 30, 2020. John Lamparski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    The Trump campaign has spliced together footage of Democratic governors giving positive reviews of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and plans to spend five figures to run it on Facebook and YouTube, according to CNN. It’s unlikely to be the last time Trump uses the words of Democratic governors to combat the public’s low approval of his response to the crisis. 

    “When I’ve called the president, he’s quickly gotten on the line,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom says in footage that kicks off the ad. “What the federal government did, working with states, was a phenomenal accomplishment,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says next in footage from one of his press briefings. Governors Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico are also shown complimenting the president and his administration. The ad ends with Newsom saying what has become one of the campaign’s slogans: “Promise made, promise kept.” 

    Historically, leaders have viewed a national crisis as an opportunity to put partisanship aside and work across party lines. The federal government is expected to respond robustly and impartially to a disaster, members of the opposite party will then express appreciation for a job well done, and voters will welcome the nonpartisan response. But those norms have disappeared during the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration and most of his fellow Republicans see the crisis through a partisan frame; Mitch McConnell recently called aid to states “blue state bailouts.”

    President Donald Trump has been open about the fact that he saw aid to blue states as a transaction: He’ll send supplies like masks and ventilators to combat the virus if the governors say nice things about him. The not-so-subtle message for over a month has been that if blue states hit the hardest by the pandemic want government help, they should offer something in return. As it turns out, what their governors have provided is fodder for campaign ad footage. 

    Last month, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer criticized the federal government’s response and asked for a federal disaster declaration for her state. “We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor from—you know who I’m talking about—from Michigan,” Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News. “We can’t—we don’t like to see the complaints.” He initially withheld the desired disaster declaration, saying that he had a big decision to make on it. (He ultimately granted it.) Trump likewise attacked Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) as a “nasty person” and a “snake” for his criticism of Trump’s response.

    On March 28, a reporter asked Trump during a press briefing: “What more, specifically, do you want the governor of Washington and the governor of Michigan to be doing?” Trump responded: “All I want them to do—very simple—I want them to be appreciative.” Normally, a governor will show appreciation after receiving federal aid, but Trump wanted to reverse the process. “I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan.'” he continued. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.” 

    Trump has long shown that he views governing as a massive patronage system, in which he doles out resources —including critical aid—in response for political favors. During Trump’s impeachment of earlier this year, members of Congress concluded that the president had withheld security aid to Ukraine in exchange for a political favor. During the House’s impeachment hearings in December, Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan framed his behavior in terms starkly similar to what is happening today. Imagine a state needs aid after a hurricane, she suggested, and the president says, “I would like you to do us a favor. I’ll meet with you, and I’ll send the disaster relief, once you brand my opponent a criminal.”

    Fast forward to the current public health crisis. In this case, Trump flirts with withholding aid until he gets plaudits from governors. That those comments are now part of Trump’s campaign isn’t a surprise. It was part of the bargain. 

  • Trump’s Family Is Making Even More Money Off His Campaign Than We Previously Knew

    Don Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle

    Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle arrive for President Donald Trump's re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

    Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. For one thing, they apparently have no qualms about taking money from donors and using it instead to pay exorbitant salaries to the significant others of a billionaire’s heirs—all through a secretive third party that allows them to avoid disclosure on Federal Elections Commission reports. That sounds like a ridiculous caricature of elite grifter activity, but according to HuffPost‘s S.V. Date, President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has been doing exactly that:

    Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of eldest son Donald Trump Jr., and Lara Trump, wife of middle son Eric Trump, are each receiving $15,000 a month, according to two GOP sources who are informal White House advisers and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    They were unsure when the payments began but say they are being made by campaign manager Bradley Parscale through his company rather than directly by either the campaign or the party in order to avoid public reporting requirements.

    “I can pay them however I want to pay them,” Parscale told HuffPost on Friday, but then declined to comment any further.

    $180,000-a-year? In this economy?

    It’s not super unusual for family members to show up on a campaign payroll—they are, after all, some of the first people to sign on to a campaign, and often find themselves putting in long hours fundraising, campaign-managing, and speaking to the press. (Even less unusual is reimbursing family members for the travel expenses they incur.)

    But it’s not as if the Trumps are some scrappy little family that needs the money; these expenses fit into a longstanding pattern of self-enrichment for Trump’s family and his campaign. As my colleague Pema Levy recently noted in a profile of Parscale, the Trump campaign has been structured as much as a money-making scheme for those around him as a political operation. “In Parscale,” she wrote, “Trump may not have hired the best person, but he hired the one most like himself.” Date notes in his story that Trump has been making big bucks off his campaign ever since he launched it—by renting out his own office space to his campaign, and through the prodigious use of his properties for Republican fundraisers. In a sense, Trump is double-billing Republican donors—they’re paying Trump to raise money for Trump, and then he’s skimming even more money off the amount raised to pay other family members.

    It’s a good gig if you can get it! Still, on a human level, there is something sad about paying your daughter-in-law $180,000 to say nice things about you.

  • Jaime Harrison Just Outraised Lindsey Graham. That’s Good News For Him—He’s Gonna Need That $$$.

    Andrew Harnik/AP

    There’s big news out of South Carolina: Jaime Harrison, the Democrat running to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, outraised his opponent during the first quarter of 2020.

    Harrison’s campaign announced late Wednesday that he’d raised more than $7.3 million from January through March of 2020; Graham, meanwhile, took in only $5.6 million. This is the first time that Harrison has put up higher fundraising numbers than his GOP opponent, though Graham still has roughly $4.8 million more than Harrison on hand.

    Harrison, a longtime Democratic operative close to South Carolina power broker Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), is the first credible challenger to the three-term Graham in some time. As I wrote in my profile of Harrison earlier this year, he’s premised his campaign on a return to decency and the excoriation of Graham, who spent the last four years transforming from a Never Trumper to a loyal Trump devotee. While Harrison was recognizable in Democratic circles after his years as state party chair and a run at DNC national chair in 2017, he was a relative unknown among most South Carolinians when he announced his candidacy last year. Clay Middleton, a fellow South Carolina DNC official close to Harrison, said Harrison’s would need to become a “household name—or at least a name someone would recognize” if he were to have a shot at unseating Graham in a state the president won by 14 points in 2016.

    This money will be crucial to furthering that goal. Last November, Harrison told me intended to heed advice Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who nearly won her 2018 race, gave him: “Jaime, you gotta go everywhere.” Now, Harrison cannot go “everywhere”—or really, anywhere thanks to the pandemic, and will rely on media tools at his disposal to introduce himself to voters in the Palmetto State. This month, the Democrat launched a seven-figure television, radio, and digital advertising blitz focused on highlighting, in the words of his campaign, “the need for strong, measured leadership for South Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic.”

    It’s hard to say whether the money momentum will last. As a longtime Democratic operative and South Carolina DNC member, Harrison benefited from the ample national airtime and press coverage he received alongside the state’s Democratic primary at the end of February. But if the GOP wears any of the blame for Trump’s bungled pandemic response, perhaps Harrison’s good fortunes will continue.

  • Elizabeth Warren Just Made Many People Very Happy

    On Rachel Maddow tonight, former Democratic presidential nominee and always liberal heartthrob Senator Elizabeth Warren gave many hearts reasons to flutter and many other brows reason to wrinkle:

    God knows who will be Biden’s VP pick. But will God go on TV and tell us? Probably not. It’s fun to follow all of this in a very distraction-y way—What pandemic?—and in most cases I imagine this would be not worthy of faces contouring in any way, but in Elizabeth Warren’s case it is! And it’s not entertainment. And not a distraction. She is a liberal icon who cut her teeth in wars of not dissimilar substance after the last economic crash. She and Biden went to battle once over bankruptcy, but recently, recognizing her influence, he bowed to her position.

    It is fascinating to think of the science of traffic: how do people get where they go? How do they get on one road and not the other? How do they not mistake the highway for…the other highway? That’s life. And, as ever, we’re all haunted by the roads not taken, and they inhibit the choices we make when we approach the next interchange. If I take exit 3, will I regret it?

    “Of all the words of mice and men the saddest are what might have been.” That’s true of VP selections too, I guess.

    Anyway, i have no better idea who should be VP than you, which makes me think of a thing: who do you think should be the VP? Tell me in the comments!

     

  • There Have Been 13 Arizona Polls in the Last 14 Months and Trump Has Led Only One of Them

    Shutterstock/Evan El-Amin

    A new poll released Wednesday by OH Predictive Insights had some very good news for Arizona Democrats: The party’s likely Senate nominee, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leads Republican Sen. Martha McSally by nine points. And better still, Kelly is at or above the 50 percent threshold for the second consecutive poll.

    Or maybe it’s not exactly news. Kelly has led the last nine polls of the race, according to Real Clear Politics tracker, dating back to last August. If you want to find a survey that showed McSally in the lead, you’d have to go all the way back to last May—when this same pollster had her up by one. The Arizona race is technically a special election to permanently fill the seat held by the interim Repbulican Sen. Jon Kyl, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the late Sen. John McCain. (This is confusing, but: McSally lost her 2018 Senate bid to Democratic Kyrsten Sinema in the race to succeed a different retiring Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, but Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her nonetheless to replace Kyl.) If Democrats are going to take back control of the Senate, they will need to flip at least three Republican seats (four, if you expect Alabama Sen. Doug Jones to lose; five, if that happens and they don’t win the White House). Right now, Kelly is looking like their safest bet.

    But there’s another pretty big election in Arizona this fall—the presidential race, where 11 electoral votes are up for grabs. That’s one more than Wisconsin. And the news on that front is, if anything, even more encouraging for Democrats. There have been 13 head-to-head polls between Joe Biden and President Trump in Arizona over the last 14 months, and Trump has led just one of them—by two points in December. In the same OH Predictive Insights survey, Biden also led his opponent by nine points, and was likewise above the 50 percent threshold.

    That is, as he might say, a big effing deal. While much of the party’s energy over the last four years has focused on winning back the Midwestern “blue wall,” Arizona—which was more competitive than Ohio in 2016—right now represents a more favorable landscape than that most critical of swing states, Wisconsin. And it has one more electoral vote, to boot. Another point in Arizona’s favor: it has also taken significant steps toward a vote-by-mail system.

    So much about the November election is up in the air right now. (Who has the energy to pay attention to polls in a pandemic?) But there are signs, at least, that the next blue wall might just be in the Southwest.

  • Barack Obama Endorses Joe Biden for President

    Jerome Delay/AP

    Former President Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden on Tuesday, making the case in a video message posted to social media that his former vice president is the leader this moment of crisis demands.

    “Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery,” Obama said in the announcement.

    “The other side has a massive war chest, the other side has a propaganda network with little regard for the truth,” he continued. “On the other hand, pandemics have a way of cutting through a lot of noise and spin to remind us of what is real and what is important. This crisis has reminded us that governments matter.”

    The endorsement comes a day after Sen. Bernie Sanders officially backed Biden, urging his supporters to unite in defeating President Donald Trump in November’s general election. “I am asking all Americans, I’m asking every Democrat, I’m asking every independent, I’m asking a lot of Republicans, to come together in this campaign to support your candidacy—which I endorse—to make certain that we defeat somebody who I believe—and I’m speaking just for myself now—who is the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said in a surprise live-streamed joint announcement with Biden.

    In his message Tuesday, Obama praised Sanders as an “American original, a man who has devoted his life to giving voice to working people’s hopes, dreams, and frustration.”

    Up until now, Obama had remained neutral throughout the 2020 Democratic primary, even as his former vice president’s campaign struggled in the first three state contests. But in recent weeks, Obama’s behind-the-scenes involvement reportedly grew as Biden emerged as the clear frontrunner. From the New York Times:

    Mr. Obama—telling a friend he needed to “accelerate the endgame”—had at least four long conversations with his former vice president’s remaining rival, Senator Bernie Sanders. Mr. Obama’s efforts to ease the senator out of the race played a significant role in his decision to end his bid and, on Monday, endorse Mr. Biden, according to people close to the Vermont independent.

    By that time, Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama had already begun hashing out the thorny questions of how, when and where to deploy a former president thrust into an unfamiliar role as his sidekick’s sidekick.
    This is a breaking news post. We will update as more information becomes available.
  • Republicans Tried to Use the Coronavirus to Steal a Wisconsin Supreme Court Election. The Liberal Challenger Just Won Anyway.

    Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP

    Jill Karofsky, the liberal challenger in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race, has unseated conservative Supreme Court justice Dan Kelly in an election that almost wasn’t held at all.

    Though many states have postponed their elections during the coronavirus pandemic, Wisconsin proceeded with its primary last week despite a statewide shelter-in-place order and a dizzying ping-pong of conflicting orders by the State Supreme Court, the governor, and the United States Supreme Court. In Milwaukee, which has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus and which is home to two-thirds of the state’s Black population, only five of 180 polling stations were open last Tuesday after many poll workers opted to stay home. Some voters reported waiting in line for five hours. Viral photos showed voters wearing masks and standing six feet apart in long lines, with some holding signs in protest.

    Earlier this month, my colleague Ari Berman reported how we got here:

    When [Democratic Gov. Tony] Evers called on the legislature to postpone Tuesday’s elections amid a rising outbreak of the coronavirus or to mail a ballot to every registered voter, Republican leaders immediately refused. Their intransigence seemed likely to ensure that a conservative justice on the state Supreme Court would be re-elected in a contest with lower Democratic turnout, as dense cities like Milwaukee are hit hardest by the crisis and have seen the most polling places shuttered.

    Still, Karofsky won, despite the apparent political calculus that holding an election in a pandemic would benefit Kelly. (The results were released almost a week after the vote due to a court ruling that allowed absentee ballots to be counted through Monday April 13.) Karofsky’s victory will narrow the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 5-2 to 4-3, which could have implications for future elections. An entrenched conservative majority would have made it more likely the court would allow the state to “purge 232,000 voters, disproportionately from Democratic areas like Madison and Milwaukee, from the voter rolls before the 2020 general election,” as Ari reported.

    “Although we were successful in this race, the circumstances under which this election was conducted were simply unacceptable, and raise serious concerns for the future of our democracy,” Karofsky said in a statement. “Nobody in this state or in this country should have been forced to choose between their safety and participating in an election.”

  • Look Me in the Eye and Tell Me Voter ID in the Time of COVID Isn’t Absurd

    A voter wears a full face chemical shield to protect against the spread of coronavirus, as he votes Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in Janesville, Wisconsin.Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette/AP

    Despite most of the country being under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Wisconsin is going ahead with in-person voting today. The state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who defeated Scott Walker in the 2018 midterms, tried to delay the election and switch to absentee voting, but he was stymied by the GOP majority in the state legislature, the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court, and even the US Supreme Court. So Wisconsinites who didn’t request an absentee ballot in time will have to trek to a physical polling location—which is certain to be more crowded than usual because the state has sharply reduced the number of polling places, given the pandemic.

    Back when Scott Walker was in charge, Republicans implemented a host of voting restrictions and gerrymandered the state so thoroughly that a federal court said the redrawn maps violated the voting rights of Democrats. As my colleague Ari Berman wrote in 2017, those anti-democratic measures might have been the pivotal factor that tipped the state to Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Those voting restrictions are still on the books, and their absurdity is only heightened in the age of social distancing, as Tuesday’s election shows.

    On Sunday, Madison, the state’s second-largest city, put out a guidance for how the election would unfold, including urging voters to keep a safe six feet apart and assuring them that it’s okay for them to bring their own pens. The city offers a quasi-drive-thru voting system for people with underlying health issues, allowing them to get a ballot at the curb, but certain precautions must be observed: “Crack your window open just enough to receive your ballot from the poll workers.”

    But the instructions for enforcing the voter ID restrictions are the most, um, eye-catching. “Poll workers have been instructed to verify the identity of a voter wearing a facemask by comparing the eyes in the voter’s ID to the eyes of the voter before them. Poll workers should not ask voters to remove their facemasks.”

    Instances of the kind of in-person fraud that would be caught by voter ID laws are vanishingly low in normal circumstances, and it’s even harder to fathom people choosing to subject themselves to repeated exposure at a polling place during a pandemic. But the laws, which disenfranchise Black voters at far higher rates than their white counterparts, still exist, forcing poor poll workers to stare deeply into voters’ eyes to assess if it’s truly them in their ID.