Thu, 19 Apr 2018 18:00:25 -0400
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Senator Chuck Schumer now supports decriminalizing marijuana.
Schumer, the Senate's top Democrat, has crafted a broad outline for a bill that includes "removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances," and boosting minority- and women-owned marijuana businesses, according to a copy of the outline Schumer's office shared with BuzzFeed News. Schumer also plans to include in legislation an investment "to better understand the effects of THC on the brain and the efficacy of medicinal marijuana for specific ailments."
Schumer is working on the legislation himself, his office said, and is not currently in the process of courting co-sponsors but has spoken broadly about the outline with other senators. Schumer first made the announcement that he supports decriminalizing marijuana in an interview with Vice News.
Schumer's support of decriminalizing the drug will be a huge boost to the national movement to legalize marijuana, which has been picking up steam among both parties. Just last week, John Boehner, the former Republican House majority leader, also announced his support for de-scheduling marijuana, saying he was joining the board of a cannabis company.
"With this announcement, Senator Schumer has effectively made it clear that a legislative priority for the Democratic Party is to end the federal prohibition of marijuana," said Justin Strekal, political director at National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
There's already a marijuana bill in the Senate: Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, which comes with a litany of other provisions around criminal and racial justice, including reparations for people harmed by the drug war.
But that bill has attracted just two Democratic co-sponsors. A more moderate version by Schumer would be more likely to pick up steam in the Senate, even potentially attracting bipartisan support.
In New York, Schumer's home state, the actress Cynthia Nixon is running an insurgent primary campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent, based in part on her support for legalizing marijuana. She's using Cuomo's track record of opposition to pot, which he once called a "gateway drug," as a weapon against him.
Kate Nocera contributed to this report.
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 13:16:17 -0400
Trump campaigns in Minnesota before Election Day 2016.
Evan Vucci / AP
Minnesota is the bleeding edge of how Donald Trump is remaking Midwestern politics — and positioned to be the most competitive battleground state in the US for this year’s midterm elections.
Four of the nation’s most competitive House races are in Minnesota. Both Senate seats are on the ballot. A former presidential candidate is running for governor. The state offers a clear look at how voting patterns in rural and suburban Midwestern areas are rapidly changing — just two years after Trump nearly became the first Republican presidential candidate to win there since 1972.
“We truly are the epicenter of the 2018 elections, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time,” said Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
The terrifying part for Democrats is that Minnesota appears to be an anomaly right now. Republicans in other states are at risk of being dragged down by an unpopular president and a national electoral climate that’s expected to be brutal for their party. But Trump’s numbers have not cratered in Minnesota like they have elsewhere. And Republicans have a real chance to flip two House seats in rural parts of the state — the only two Democratic-held seats in the country that the election forecasters at the Cook Political Report consider toss-ups.
National organizations are planning major investments. The Congressional Leadership Fund, an outside spending group aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan, already has one field office in the state, with another coming soon. And the Republican Governors Association, encouraged by former governor Tim Pawlenty’s candidacy, recently reserved $2.3 million in October and November television advertising in Minnesota. The early buy is a hedge against crowded airwaves and inflated ad rates this fall.
“By booking this ad reservation ahead of time, the RGA will save considerable resources,” said Jon Thompson, an RGA spokesperson. “With a competitive gubernatorial election, and two targeted Senate races, a massive amount of money could pour into Minnesota.”
Republican Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, is running for his old job this year.
Marcus Ingram / Getty Images
Minnesota bucked the trend of its neighbors in 2016: Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin all went red, leaving it as one of the last industrial Midwest states standing for Democrats. But that slim, 1.5-point victory for Hillary Clinton concealed problems. A state party that has historically prided itself in a broad base of rural voters — it’s called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, after all — is on the precipice of losing them, becoming a party made up solely of the Twin Cities and upscale suburbs.
Take the so-called Iron Range mining country, a longtime Democratic stronghold covering the 8th Congressional District. The area’s deep union roots once made it the heart of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. In 2016, a big chunk of the region backed Trump — Itasca County, for instance, voted Republican for the first time since Herbert Hoover. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan survived, though, winning reelection by less than a percentage point. But Nolan announced his retirement this year, and a top Democratic candidate to succeed him dropped out of the race Wednesday.
Nolan’s seat is one of the state’s four toss-ups. Another belongs to Rep. Tim Walz, whose bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination puts his party in deeper jeopardy of losing the Minnesota 1st, which blankets the southern part of the state. Walz’s margin of victory, like Nolan’s in the 8th, was less than 1%. (Trump won both districts by 15 points.)
“The Nolan and Walz open seats are two of the best Republican pickup opportunities in the country, and the Congressional Leadership Fund plans to play there aggressively,” Corry Bliss, executive director of the Ryan-aligned political organization, told BuzzFeed News.
But Republicans also must play aggressively in Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd Districts, which encompass the Minneapolis and St. Paul suburbs and are filled with the kinds of affluent voters Democrats need to offset any losses in the rural, farther-flung parts of the state. Both districts reelected Republicans to the House in 2016. Jason Lewis narrowly won, and Clinton narrowly lost, in the 2nd. Erik Paulsen and Clinton both won comfortably in the 3rd.
CLF has been on the ground in Paulsen’s district since last year and soon will open an office in Nolan’s. But Democrats and Republicans acknowledge the results from the four competitive House districts could be a wash — each party could end up with two seats, just like before — when it comes to determining control of a House that’s very much in play.
Meanwhile, on the Senate level, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has an astronomically high approval rating and is seen as a safe incumbent, is up for reelection this year. Al Franken’s resignation — following accusations of sexual misconduct — has put Minnesota’s other Senate seat in play. Democrats are confident about their chances there, hoping that Klobuchar will pull Tina Smith, Franken’s interim successor and the state’s former lieutenant governor, over the finish line. But they are nervous about the governor's race because of Pawlenty, whose name recognition dwarfs that of any of the Democratic challengers, including Walz, the current frontrunner.
Pawlenty, the last Republican to serve as Minnesota’s governor, has a national profile and donor base — “the pay-attention factor,” said Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the state’s Republican Party — thanks to his unsuccessful run for president six years ago. Much like Democrats are counting on Klobuchar to carry Smith, Republicans expect Pawlenty to have coattails for their Senate and down-ballot candidates.
"A lot of [the national Democratic Party’s] messaging has been anti-Trump, but that’s not a winning strategy in this state."
“Republicans haven't had much luck in statewide races over the last decade in part because we haven't recruited candidates who could raise the necessary resources and be competitive statewide,” said Alex Conant, a national Republican strategist with experience in Minnesota politics and a veteran of Pawlenty’s presidential campaign. “Pawlenty can do both. Down-ballot candidates in Minnesota are breathing easier with Pawlenty in the race. Having a competitive, well-funded Republican candidate for governor will help with turnout everywhere.”
The extent to which Trump can be a factor in any of these races, whether at the statewide or House district level, is uncertain. Many Democrats plan to limit how much they criticize the president, admitting his numbers in the state — which, according to a poll earlier this year conducted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, have remained steady — are a source of anxiety. Trump’s voters are “pretty much solid behind him, at least in Minnesota — they’re still sticking with him,” said Martin, the state DFL chair. “A lot of [the national Democratic Party’s] messaging has been anti-Trump, but that’s not a winning strategy in this state.”
Message-testing that tied Pawlenty to Trump, for example, didn't help Democrats, one strategist in the state said. Instead, it was messages about Pawlenty's cuts to the state budget during his first time in office, particularly education, that resonated with voters, the Democrat said.
Carnahan, the Republican state chair, believes Trump would be an asset on the campaign trail.
“I drive around this state every day, and I talk to people on the ground — not just Republicans, but randomly, at the gas station and the grocery store — and they’re enthused about President Trump,” Carnahan said. “My whole pitch is that Democrats say there’s a blue wave, but there’s no blue wave in Minnesota. What we have in Minnesota is a red tsunami.”
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 10:20:18 -0400
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
Donald Trump's personal attorney has dropped a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed over the publication of a "dossier" alleging ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Michael Cohen on Wednesday discontinued a lawsuit against BuzzFeed, which published the full report last year, and a lawsuit against Fusion GPS, a private intelligence firm connected to the dossier. Cohen's decision comes a week after the FBI raided his office and seized documents, putting him in the crosshairs of a criminal investigation.
The decision also comes in advance of a Friday hearing in federal court in Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit in California. In that suit, Cohen is arguing that the litigation she filed against him should be put on hold because the criminal investigation of him means that proceeding could implicate his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
"The decision to voluntarily discontinue these cases was a difficult one," Cohen's attorney David Schwartz told BuzzFeed News. "We believe the defendants defamed my client, and vindicating Mr. Cohen’s rights was — and still remains — important. But given the events that have unfolded, and the time, attention, and resources needed to prosecute these matters, we have dismissed the matters, despite their merits."
Cohen alleged that the dossier falsely claimed he traveled to Prague for a secret meeting with Russian agents — which he has denied.
“The lawsuits against BuzzFeed over the Steele dossier have never been about the merits of our decision to publish it," BuzzFeed News spokesperson Matt Mittenthal said in a statement. "If there's one thing Democrats and Republicans agree on today, it's that the dossier was an important part of the government's investigation into potential collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Its interest to the public is, and always has been, obvious. Today's news suggests that Donald Trump's personal lawyer no longer thinks an attack on the free press is worth his time."
Chris Geidner contributed reporting.
Tue, 17 Apr 2018 18:57:45 -0400
Rainmaker Photo / MediaPunch / IPx
Say you work on a political campaign.
Say a colleague on that campaign is harassing you, making your daily work environment untenable. Do you file a complaint? Do you even know where to begin? On this campaign, as on most campaigns, there is no human resources department. Now say the colleague harassing you is your boss. Do you feel comfortable going over his head, knowing that you’d break rank in the campaign’s strict hierarchy? Say the colleague is actually the campaign manager. Do you go to another subordinate? To the candidate? Do you fear, even before figuring out how to file a complaint, that stepping forward might harm your career, might label you a “problematic” staffer? Do you worry that, if word ever got out, the complaint might harm the candidate, the cause that drew you to the campaign in the first place? And, in the end, do you tell yourself that it’s better to say nothing, because in political campaigns, you learn early on that, if staffers have one golden rule, it is to never, ever become the story — to keep your head down and just do the work?
Veteran operatives know that, far too often, these questions and fears can easily discourage staffers from reporting sexual harassment and misconduct. The singular culture of campaigns — the long hours, the close relationships, the power dynamics, the fear of being blackballed — has made electoral politics a particularly urgent and complex battleground in the #MeToo movement.
Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, one group of Democrats is proposing a new solution: unionize.
The Campaign Workers Guild, a progressive group that has helped staffers unionize on 12 campaigns and at one consulting firm, has positioned collective bargaining agreements as a roadmap for operatives trying to better navigate issues of workplace misconduct, establishing detailed provisions around the reporting process and a timeline for reviewing complaints.
The first step? “Just admitting that this does happen,” said Meg Reilly, a former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer who now serves as the vice president of CWG, the new guild. “Progressive campaigns are so, so convinced that they’re immune from any type of sexual harassment or racial discrimination, because we all know phrases like ‘male privilege’ or ‘prison industrial complex,’” Reilly said, describing a view on the left she summarized as, “‘We’re so woke.’”
“Don't think that just because you're working for a Bernie-like candidate that those same power dynamics don't exist. Sometimes the power dynamics are even stronger because of this idea that it can't happen here — and if you report it, you're threatening the candidate's chances.”
Robyn Swirling, a Democratic campaign operative who founded Works in Progress, a startup dedicated to ending sexual and gender-based harassment within progressive-based organizations, worked with CWG on language that could “lower the barriers to reporting.”
“Most people feel, and not wrongly,” Swirling said, “that the campaign they're working on would really rather not have these issues surface, and have everyone stay quiet and everyone keep their heads down and do the work. Because the work is why we're there — and that makes things really, really hard, when you have experienced something, to speak up about it.”
Since its launch last summer, CWG has unionized 11 campaigns across races for county council, attorney general, governor, and Congress, ratifying expansive collective bargaining agreements that cover wages, work hours, benefits, and housing, in addition to harassment and workplace conduct. (CWG officials say they’re in the process of negotiating contracts with around 25 other campaigns and “campaign-adjacent organizations,” such as consulting firms.)
“A sexual harassment policy is something everybody’s wanted,” said Reilly. “It just hasn't been done before in the campaign world.”
The contract language on harassment — present in all of the agreements CWG has helped negotiate — specifies where to file a complaint, identifying multiple people on each campaign, including a CWG union representative and a “mutually agreed upon neutral third party.”
The language also stipulates that a complaint may be filed by the alleged victim of misconduct, or a witness to that misconduct. Once a complaint has been made, a multistep timeline steers the process that follows: First, CWG is notified of the complaint immediately. The neutral third party then has seven calendar days to issue a report with findings and recommended actions. At that point, both parties have the chance to “appeal” the report. And throughout the process, the CWG language states, the complainant will not be forced to work directly with the accused.
CWG officials admit they’ve struggled with the idea that the “neutral” third party might end up prioritizing the campaign over the complainant. That role has varied across contracts, Reilly said. In some cases, it’s the campaign’s main consultant. In others, it’s the lawyer or treasurer. (On most races, Reilly said, operatives don’t have the budget to hire an outside lawyer.)
The CWG contracts also ask campaigns to hold lengthy interactive harassment trainings, hosted in person or through a live video service such as Google Hangouts.
Since last fall, when revelations about disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein set off a sweeping movement around workplace misconduct, harassment, and abuses of power, the political world has contended with its own revelations. Women in politics have come forward against powerful lawmakers. Operatives have shared stories about toxic work environments and abusive bosses. And at least some of the party committees in Washington — the entities that oversee political campaigns across the country — have taken new steps to combat harassment.
At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the arm of the party tasked with supporting House races, operatives asked campaigns to sign an agreement that, alongside other provisions, would require “a strong written sexual harassment policy” and “extensive online sexual harassment training,” provided by the DCCC through an outside vendor.
The Democratic National Committee has mandated sexual harassment training for all employees and has encouraged staffers at state parties to take the same training. (A DNC spokesperson said they don’t have the authority legally to mandate training for state parties.)
Officials at the party’s other major committees, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said they’ve strongly encouraged their campaigns to establish clear policies on harassment.
The DCCC’s Republican counterpart, the National Republican Campaign Committee, has also pushed campaigns to adopt strong harassment policies, providing operatives with a handbook that outlines anti-harassment guidelines and complaint procedures, a spokesperson said.
Officials at the three other GOP party committees did not respond to requests for comment.
As Swirling sees it, the steps by Democratic entities are a fine start, but not sufficient. “If you’re not getting specific about what’s required, then you run the risk of people doing this to check a box,” and of policies, she said, “that really just cover the campaign’s ass or the DCCC’s ass.”
“What do we do if somebody comes up and says, ‘Somebody on our finance committee grabbed me at a fundraiser?’ Who feels more expendable to that campaign? A 22-year-old, on their first campaign, just trying to staff [the candidate at a fundraiser] — or somebody who's a big enough donor that they're on the finance committee?” Swirling said. “You can't just crib standard anti-harassment policy language from some other organization. We need to think through really specific scenarios that make campaigns different from other workplaces.”
Campaign culture is, as Reilly put, “a petri dish.”
Mon, 16 Apr 2018 14:01:43 -0400
Mary Altaffer / AP
President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arrived at the federal court in Manhattan on Monday afternoon for a hearing relating to materials seized from his home, office, and hotel room.
By the time he left, Cohen's previously unnamed client was revealed as being Fox News host Sean Hannity and US District Judge Kimba Wood made clear that Cohen would soon get to see copies of the materials seized from his properties on April 9.
The hearing quickly veered into a dramatic courtroom showdown over the identity of the third legal client Cohen claimed to have had over the past 15 months, in addition to Trump and a former top official at the Republican National Committee. Cohen's lawyers initially fought to keep the client's identity secret, then asked to tell only the judge, claiming the client wanted privacy.
But US District Judge Kimba Wood ordered them to name the client "now." When Hannity’s name was read out, the public gallery gasped and laughed at the news. Several journalists immediately ran out of the courtroom.
Hannity, one of Trump's most vocal defenders who also has private audiences with the president, responded to the announcement shortly thereafter.
"We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael," the Fox News host told the Wall Street Journal.
On his radio show, which was on air as the news came out, Hannity said that Cohen never represented him in any actual matter.
"I never used Michael in any case that involved me and a third party," he said, but added that "we definitely had attorney-client privilege because I asked him for that."
"I've never retained him in the traditional sense," Hannity said, explaining the nature of their relationship. "I've never received an invoice from Michael — never paid legal fees. We occasionally had discussions about legal matters where I wanted his input and perspective. ... I like to have people I can run questions by."
Hannity soon tweeted similar points:
He went on to repeat much of his statement during the final minutes of his Fox show Monday night, adding that his conversations with Cohen "focused almost exclusively on real estate."
Fox News has not responded to questions from BuzzFeed News regarding the disclosure, or whether Hannity's relationship to Cohen posed any conflict of interest. Hannity's show has repeatedly covered the FBI's raid of Cohen's office, and his role Trump's personal attorney.
"My discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions," Hannity said during his show.
The revelation of Hannity's previously undisclosed relationship with Cohen came amid a chaotic second day of hearings in the dispute over records seized by the FBI last week. The federal judge ordered Cohen last week to appear in court Monday, creating a media frenzy outside the courthouse in lower Manhattan as the hearings reconvened.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who is suing Cohen in a separate case, was also in court, telling reporters "it's a Stormy day," before going inside. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was also in attendance.
In a Monday morning filing, Cohen claimed to have had only three legal clients since leaving his job at the Trump Organization last January, including Trump, Elliott Broidy, a major GOP fundraiser, and a third client who went unnamed. Cohen lawyer Todd Harrison argued that "thousands" of documents seized by the government would be protected by attorney-client privilege.
Wood, the judge, pushed back on that claim, and ordered Cohen's lawyers to reveal the identity of the third client, noting its direct relevance to their privilege claims. seized should be protected under attorney-client privilege.
Cohen's lawyers were asking Wood for an order allowing them to get a first crack at the materials seized to determine whether any of it is privileged, or to appoint a special master to review the documents before they are viewed by anyone from the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York (SDNY).
The US Attorney's Office, which executed the warrant on Cohen's properties, has instead proposed using so-called "taint team" to conduct the initial review, allowing government lawyers not involved in the Cohen investigation to determine what, if any material, is protected by attorney-client privilege and therefore off-limits to prosecutors.
Cohen's lawyers, from the law firm McDermott Will and Emery, argued that a taint team would be biased in favor of the government, and that appointing a special master would "avoid even a hint of impropriety here in the review of Mr. Cohen’s data and documents."
Trump has also brought in his own lawyers from Spears and Imes to protect his interests as one of Cohen's clients. In a filing on Sunday night, the president's attorneys made clear they believe Cohen and Trump should receive copies of the seized materials first so they can make their own assessment as to what is privileged, before the government begins its review.
In Monday afternoon's hearing, federal prosectors argued that it was, essentially, a “run of the mill case," and that appointing a taint team was standard protocol in these circumstances.
"The only thing that marks this case as unusual, in any respect, is that one of Mr. Cohen’s clients is the president,” said Thomas McKay, of the SDNY US Attorney's Office.
Cohen’s lawyer, Todd Harrison, disagreed. “That’s just not correct. We’re talking about an unprecedented raid on the office and home of the sitting president’s personal attorney.”
Harrison added that while he wasn't accusing the government of any misconduct, the heightened scrutiny on the case made “the appearance of fairness” even more important.
Wood postponed making a decision Monday, denying Cohen and Trump's request for a temporary restraining order to block prosecutors from seeing the evidence, but left open the possibility of a preliminary injunction at a later date.
Laying out the next steps in the case, Wood said the government will put all the documents seized from Cohen in an electronic database, and that Cohen will be given copies.
Once its clear just how many documents there are, and the nature of their content — the FBI raids yielded 10 boxes of documents, as well as hard drives, cellphones, and other electronics — the judge said she would be able to "make a more more intelligent choice whether a taint team handles it or a special master is part of it."
Salvador Hernandez contributed to this report.
Sun, 15 Apr 2018 16:49:31 -0400
Don Juan Moore / Getty Images
Each of the top Democratic contenders for governor is employing a different strategy in how to approach President Donald Trump.
The race’s top candidates — former Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — all are campaigning hard for the Democratic mantle in a state the president won in 2016. Graham’s early campaigning has been heavy on anti-Trump rhetoric, Levine’s has been very light, and Gillum’s balancing somewhere in between. A fourth candidate, businessman Chris King, has like Graham, been critical of Trump.
Since the primary isn’t until Aug. 28 — and polling shows voters aren’t especially familiar with any of the candidates — Florida may offer a great look at what Democratic voters really want from their candidates when it comes to a central question hanging over the party’s national politics: how best to run against the president.
“We don’t yet know what works as it relates to Trump,” said Ashley Walker, a top Democratic strategist who was Barack Obama’s Florida state director in 2012. “He is a brand unto himself and has been fairly successful at rising above political party and establishment, so it’s hard to say what will work against him.” In Florida, the Democratic candidates’ decisions on Trump speak more to their personalities than they do to party doctrine, she said. “I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to do it.”
The race promises to be expensive and closely watched, as well, especially by those with a potential stake in running against Trump next time. Already, former HUD secretary Julian Castro has endorsed Gillum — calling him the Democrat with “the courage of conviction, even when it’s not politically convenient” — and New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has thrown her support behind Graham. In a statement, a Democratic Governors Association spokesperson, Jared Leopold, noted that the general election would be highly watched, and that “Voters across the country, especially in Florida, are looking for governors who will stand up to bad policies coming out of Washington.”
In practice, Gillum is campaigning for governor as a progressive populist. (He likes to say on the trail that he understands the lived experience of ordinary, working-class Floridians and contends he is the only nonmillionaire in the race.) One of Hillary Clinton’s more effective messengers in 2016, Gillum said in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News that Democrats already ran against Trump and his message in 2016. He thinks turning out voters is the most important thing he can do to win, and while he won’t take hitting Trump “off the table completely,” he said liberals, and voters of color in particular, don’t need to be reminded that Trump’s policies are bad for Florida.
Trump arrives in West Palm.
Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images
“Frankly, running against Trump is going to be insufficient to win,” said Gillum. “We have to give voters a reason to turn out, and I trust my chances at being able to move the part of our electorate that is more difficult to turn out in [a] midterm election over anybody in this race on either side.”
Gillum is critical of Graham’s approach on Trump, the most overt anti-Trump strategy in the race. Graham went up this month with a digital ad in which she made six direct mentions of Trump. “Donald Trump is not gonna to be able to stand in my way of doing what's right for the people of Florida,” she said at the end of the ad. Said Gillum: “[It’s like], who are you running against?”
Graham’s campaign even first placed the ad in the same media market as Mar-a-Lago. But it could be a smart strategy for Graham, who is the daughter of a Florida political legend and is a more known entity in Florida who's been elected to Congress before. Strategists observing the race told BuzzFeed News that because she won’t need to work as hard to increase her name ID — and is the only woman candidate in a field of men — coming off the top rope against Trump in her first ad wasn’t a bad idea.
“Of course I’m standing up to Trump,” said Graham in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Not only is Trump deliberately dividing our country at a time we need to be pulling together, but Trump’s policies on everything from health care to protecting our environment are also a direct threat to Florida and our families. Other candidates for governor may choose to avoid Trump, or go soft on Trump, or whatever — but I most certainly will not.”
Graham told BuzzFeed News that since Trump’s election that there has been a shift in Florida. She said the Trump administration has threatened immigrant communities, undermined environmental protections, and shown “cruelty” toward Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
“Others may look at how to deal with Trump through a political lens, calculating the votes or the politics,” said Graham, who added that she views her approach as a duty of vying for the governor’s mansion. “I’m leveling with the people of Florida about the challenges we face with this president in the White House.”
Graham is also seeking to draw a sharp contrast with Philip Levine, a pro-business moderate who her campaign says is soft on Trump.
They’re not alone in that observation. “He almost never fires off press releases or tweets criticizing President Donald Trump or Gov. Rick Scott,” the political editor of the Tampa Bay Times recently wrote. Levine has argued that criticizing Trump is “not a vision,” but he has even avoided direct questions about Trump. Once, he was asked by a local television station about Trump’s disparaging remarks about Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” and what he made of the president, and responded, “Well, I can tell you this: I don't run around the state of Florida talking about President Trump.”
King, the central Florida businessman, meanwhile, campaigned in Little Haiti the day that Trump's remarks were reported, calling them "cruel" and "un-American."
Levine at a post-Parkland rally.
Don Juan Moore / Getty Images
To the question of whether he would appeal to Florida voters by running against Trump, Levine answered, “You know, it’s interesting…I don't run against anybody. I run with my own message. I’m not right, and I’m not left — I’m forward. I’m running as a Democrat but before I’m a Democrat, I’m an American.”
Levine spokesperson Christian Ulvert told BuzzFeed News that Levine, in fact, spent a year campaigning against the president, rejecting the idea that Levine has somehow been soft on Trump; he even talked up a pithy line he said Levine has delivered, making an analogy likening Trump voters to students who were duped into enrolling in Trump University. Ulvert said he instead has campaigned with a message on the economy. Levine went up on TV with an ad on guns, calling Parkland “a wake-up call we can’t ignore,” and on immigration. (“In Washington these days, they’re taking shots at immigrants who devoted their lives to this country.”)
“We’re not running against Donald Trump; we’re running against the policies that are causing Floridians problems and leaving them out of opportunity,” said Ulvert, highlighting Levine’s economic vision and his intent to inject it into the political landscape. “Mayor Levine is prepared to take on the White House on these policy fights.”
If there’s any indicator about how Democrats nationwide who are running for governor may wrestle with Trump this year, it may lie with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who chairs the DGA. Inslee firmly believes that Republican gubernatorial candidates will have to own Trump this cycle and has in interviews expressed dismay that more of them haven’t stood up to Trump.
Inslee himself confronted Trump inside the White House while in Washington, DC, for a meeting of the National Governors Association, telling the president that on the subject of arming educators, “We need to do a little less tweeting and a little more listening.” It was a startling scene, but perhaps one that Inslee — whose actions that day intensified rumors that he is mulling a presidential run in 2020 — believes is an approach that resonates with voters.
Ohio Democrats Are Worried That The Wrong Governor's Nominee Could Throw Away Their Shot At Turning Ohio Blue
Sat, 14 Apr 2018 18:00:03 -0400
Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich shake hands at this week's primary debate.
John Minchillo / AP
Under the dim venue lights of the Newport Music Theater just across the street from Ohio State University, college students stood in the pit talking about purchasing caps and gowns for graduation, Democratic socialists on campus, and their admiration of progressive star Senator Elizabeth Warren just before she took the stage to stump for Richard Cordray — who’s running in the tighter-than-expected Democratic primary for governor.
"Let's face it, Rich is not flashy. He's a nerd. Just like me," Warren said to a crowd peppered with nearly the same amount of “nevertheless she persisted” gear as Cordray-Sutton signs. "He's quiet, he's unassuming, he's humble, but deep down there is a fighter and not just any kind of fighter. Rich is the kind of fighter I love. He is a fearless fighter. My kind of man.”
Cordray’s speech wasn't, in fact, flashy — nor was the response from the college students for much of the speech — but later Friday night when the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stood before the Ohio Democratic Party’s Legacy Dinner, the crowd of party officials and insiders greeted him with a raucous welcome.
It’s the hope for some of them that Cordray will prevail in the early May primary and — leveraging liberal enthusiasm, the chaos of the Trump administration, and the recent resignation of the Republican state speaker of the house — then go onto win in November, giving Democrats the upper hand in Ohio’s redistricting.
But another candidate — Dennis Kucinich — has potentially disrupted the plans of many national and state Democrats. The primary has put the two progressive heavy hitters at odds over who’s best fit to be at the top of the ticket, splitting key endorsements, attracting national attention, and offering maybe the highest profile midterm example of Democrats wrestling with just how progressive their candidates should be.
“I think a lot of people were surprised by the polling and it goes to show that you can’t count Dennis out in this election,” said Herb Asher, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University.
“I’m sick of the Democratic Party picking the wrong candidate and eventually losing because of it."
How close it is depends on the poll you look at, but numbers generally shows a close race between Cordray and Kucinich, the well-known populist and two-time presidential candidate, who has long supported legalizing marijuana and Medicare-for-all, and has been endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution (despite Sanders himself deciding to stay out of the race). Last week, one poll of likely voters gave Cordray 27% of the vote and Kucinich 13%. In an earlier SurveyUSA effort, each pulled 21% of support from likely Democratic voters with 46% still undecided.
After Republican waves in 2010 and 2014, Democrats badly want to win back governors’ seats, especially in notoriously gerrymandered places like Ohio where Trump won big. Though they are not endorsing in the race, for instance, former attorney general Eric Holder’s redistricting project is keeping a close eye on the race, too, targeting an array of races: governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and state legislature seats.
“I really think Democrats have a good shot to win in the general election if we can put the right candidate on the ballot,” said one Democratic operative working in Ohio in a phone call with BuzzFeed News. “I’m sick of the Democratic Party picking the wrong candidate and eventually losing because of it and if the party goes with Kucinich then that’s absolutely what we’re going to be doing.”
Kucinich has been a prolific name in Ohio politics for nearly 50 years, where he rose from the ranks of the Cleveland city council to his notorious stint as the wunderkind mayor of the city, when a standoff over selling an electric utility (Kucinich refused, a move later praised) resulted in the first municipal default in the US since the Great Depression (a move that earned Kucinich the awe or ire of many locals who lived through it).
“I’m the same age as Kucinich and I’m from Cleveland, and older Ohioans like me remember Dennis’s fiasco when he was mayor and lots of us just don’t want someone with that kind of temperament in office,” offered one Ohio voter outside the Cordray event on Friday.
But it was during those early campaigns where he honed his populist message, survived a recall election, and clashed with big banks before serving in the Ohio state senate and U.S. representative and running two message campaigns for president in 2004 and 2008, in which he was considered something of a fringe candidate akin to Ron Paul, but also carried the banner for many of the same populist policies and politics that Sanders rode to much wider support a decade later (single-payer health care, free college, and a more restrictionist approach to trade).
In his bid for the party’s nomination, Kucinich has touted that his brand of progressive populism can win over enough moderate Democrats and Trump voters in the state to reclaim the governor’s office for the party.
“The one thing I can do that I don’t know if there is another Democrat in Ohio who could run for office and do, is that I can reach out to people who voted for President Trump.”
“The one thing I can do that I don’t know if there is another Democrat in Ohio who could run for office and do, is that I can reach out to people who voted for President Trump,” Kucinich said in a pitch to Ohio voters on Fox News, the conservative network where he’s appeared as a Democratic pundit — and at times, as a defender of Trump’s populist economic message — after losing a congressional election to Rep. Marcy Kaptur following a redistricting plan that consolidated their districts.
On the one hand, how to reach Obama-to-Trump voters in places like Ohio or Wisconsin has been an open question for Democrats in the wake of the 2016 election.
On the other, Kucinich’s defenses of Trump (earlier this year, for instance, he affirmed the idea that the “deep state” existed and had tried to undermine the president), and his calls for a primary challenger to Barack Obama, have frustrated more mainstream Democrats. “Kucinich has been able to duck a lot of these arguments because Ohio Democrats weren't watching Fox News when he was on,” said one longtime Ohio Democrat.
His two meetings with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad — including a trip to Syria with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard last year — are a seen as a potential major liability in a general election, however. While Kucinich has long been an anti-interventionist and a critic of the US wars in the Middle East, his willingness to meet with Assad is highly unusual for an American politician, against the backdrop of chemical weapon usage and the brutal conventional campaign waged by Assad in Syria’s civil conflict.
In other words, some Ohio Democrats are skeptical that if he were the party’s nominee that he could turn out the voters the party depends on in November, even if he might pick up some crossover voters.
Without Kucinich, Cordray possibly could have served a bit as a bridge between some of the economic populism and the more Obama-aligned Democrats: He’s won statewide twice — treasurer and attorney general — and headed the Warren-inspired CFPB in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, working under Obama. He’s backed by the AFL-CIO and he has enough of an establishment backing for general election fundraising.
“If you’re seeing him [Obama] on TV a little more these days,” Cordray said to the crowd of students before leading them in a “yes, we can” chant. “It’s because we’re putting him on TV more these days. Last week, Cordray released his first television ad featuring clips of Obama supporting him as the first director of CFPB.
But Kucinich has also prodded Cordray to be more vocal about his stances on issues like gun control. Kucinich has used his F rating from the NRA and Cordray’s A rating the last time he ran for statewide office as attorney general as kindling to light a fire under Cordray. It’s the kind of thing that party insiders in Ohio think is working to Kucinich’s advantage to keep the race as contentious as he can leading up to the primary.
But despite Kucinich’s progressive appeal, some Ohio Democrats are still nervous that he doesn’t have the fundraising prowess or statewide appeal to win. “I just think we need someone with a clean slate to help us win,” said an Ohio Democrat.
What Democrats want to avoid is a repeat of 2014, when the nominee, Ed FitzGerald, netted a dismal 33% of the vote and dragged down a slate of down-ballot races. (It’s not a perfect comparison as FitzGerald’s campaign was plagued by personal scandals.)
“The question for some Democrats is going to boil down to who can win the general election,” said Asher. “Is Kucinich our Donald Trump or our Ed FitzGerald?”
Fri, 13 Apr 2018 22:55:51 -0400
Carlos Barria / Reuters
The Trump administration's latest effort to bar transgender people from serving in the military remains on hold for now, a federal judge ruled Friday night in a decision finding strong constitutional protections against anti-transgender discrimination.
"The ban specifically targets one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, and must satisfy strict scrutiny if it is to survive," US District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled in assessing the "history of discrimination and systemic oppression of transgender people" in the US.
In order for the ban to be found to be constitutional under strict scrutiny — one of the toughest constitutional standards to meet — the government would have to show that the ban is advancing a compelling government interest and that "the means chosen 'fit'" that interest "so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate ... prejudice or stereotype."
"[Q]uestions of fact remain," Pechman ruled, regarding whether the ban is unconstitutional under that strict scrutiny standard and what, if any, "deference" should be given to the government because the ban is a matter of military personnel policy. Those questions would need to be determined at trial.
While the case goes forward, however, Pechman also ruled that she is keeping in place a prior injunction that prevents the federal government from stopping transgender people from serving or joining the military as the trial proceeds.
When Trump first attempted to stop transgender military service, Pechman had issued an injunction against that August 2017 order. The August order had itself followed Trump's July 2017 tweets announcing the policy change.
After several courts, including Pechman's in Seattle, halted enforcement of the initial order, Trump issued a new order in March — rescinding the first order but supporting an implementation plan that would still bar most transgender people from serving.
The government argued its latest effort does not have the problems of the first ban because transgender people can serve if they serve in their "biological sex."
"[T]he Court concludes otherwise, and rules that the preliminary injunction will remain in effect," Pechman wrote, later going on to detail, "The Court finds that the 2018 Memorandum and the Implementation Plan do not substantively rescind or revoke the Ban, but instead threaten the very same violations that caused it and other courts to enjoin the Ban in the first place."
The individuals challenging the ban, along with the state of Washington, argue that the ban violates equal protection and due process guarantees, as well as the First Amendment.
In announcing that transgender people "constitute a suspect class," Pechman looked at the four traditional factors — history of discrimination, the group's ability to contribute to society, immutability, and political power — and concluded that all led her to the conclusion that strict scrutiny should apply.
"Transgender people have long been forced to live in silence, or to come out and face the threat of overwhelming discrimination," she wrote.
Fri, 13 Apr 2018 20:13:35 -0400
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
President Donald Trump and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, asked a federal court in California on Friday evening to put Stormy Daniels' lawsuit against them on hold while the criminal investigation of Cohen proceeds in New York.
"Because the facts underlying this action and the criminal investigation related to Mr. [Michael] Cohen overlap, Mr. Cohen’s Fifth Amendment rights may be adversely impacted if this case proceeds," lawyers for Cohen and Trump argued in court regarding Cohen's right against self-incrimination. They are asking for the litigation to be stayed.
Daniels, the adult film star whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is seeking to have a 2016 settlement agreement that her lawyer calls a "hush agreement" tossed out, in part, because Trump didn't sign it. Daniels received $130,000 under the agreement, facilitated by Cohen through a company, Essential Consultants, that he set up for the payment.
Cohen and the company, represented by Brent Blakely, and Trump, represented by Charles Harder, have asked the court to send the case to arbitration — as required by the agreement. Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, argues that the court must first decide if there even is an agreement and has asked for limited discovery, including depositions of Trump and Cohen and production of certain documents, in order to prove there is not.
However, on April 9, federal agents executed search warrants against Cohen as part of an ongoing criminal investigation — leading to the request to put the civil case brought by Daniels on hold.
In Friday night's filing, Blakely and Harder argue that, "where there are overlapping issues in criminal and civil cases, a stay 'is appropriate to preserve [an individual's] Fifth Amendment Rights'" — quoting from a federal court ruling from New York.
"If this action is not stayed, Defendants will be unable to fully respond to and defend themselves against the claims asserted by [Daniels] (including in connection with the currently pending motions), resulting in substantial prejudice." They also argue that Daniels, too, would be prejudiced, because, they write, she "likely would be unable to obtain the documents and deposition testimony that she is seeking from Mr. Cohen" — presumably because he would invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege.
The parties had informed the court earlier Thursday that the request would be coming and agreed to a scheduled briefing, which the court granted. Daniels opposes the request; her response to Friday evening's request is due by 6 p.m. PT Monday. Cohen's reply is due by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Fri, 13 Apr 2018 15:26:17 -0400
Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters
A set of likely presidential candidates will join their party's last nominee, Hillary Clinton, to raise money for the Democratic National Committee next month at its annual Women's Leadership Forum.
California Sen. Kamala Harris, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander will speak at the May event in Washington, the second major fundraising effort by the DNC this year, following last month's "“IWillVote Gala."
Since early last year, when Tom Perez took over as chair of the DNC, the former labor secretary has faced a steady string of questions about the party's fundraising operation, which has lagged consistently behind its Republican counterpart. In 2017, the DNC raised about $67 million — falling short of the Republican National Committee by all of $58 million.
Clinton's presence at the forum, a likely draw for some of the major donors who supported her campaign against President Trump, will come about two months after she held a New York fundraiser for her post-2016 political group, Onward Together, on the same day as Perez appeared in Manhattan to raise money for the party, drawing complaints from some donors.
The event will mark Clinton's first fundraiser for the DNC since the 2016 campaign, as Republicans continue to run campaign ads against her and some Democrats still question whether her active presence in the party is a helpful one. (Last month, asked in an interview when Clinton will "ride off into the sunset," North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, now in a tough red-state reelection bid, answered, "I don't know, not soon enough.")
The DNC is presenting this year's Women's Leadership Forum, an annual event first held in 1993, under the theme, "Women Will Vote" — part of the DNC's new initiative to reach 50 million voters ahead of the 2018 election, a DNC official said on Friday.
Clinton is scheduled to open the event at a welcome reception for guests.
Harris, the first-term California senator thought to be one of the strongest possible contenders in a crowded Democratic primary, will serve as the keynote speaker.
Gillibrand and Kander are slated to speak earlier in the day, along with New York Rep. Grace Meng, Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell, and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.
Fri, 13 Apr 2018 11:25:19 -0400
Yana Paskova / Getty Images
President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, "is under criminal investigation," federal government attorneys stated on the record for the first time on Friday.
Cohen was the subject of widely publicized search warrants that were executed at his office, home, and Manhattan hotel room on April 9.
The prosecutors from the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York also revealed in a Friday court filing that search warrants on multiple email accounts "maintained by Cohen" also had been previously executed and the emails reviewed by federal investigators as part of a "months-long investigation into Cohen."
The news came as lawyers for Cohen were in court Friday asking a federal judge to halt government review of the evidence seized in the searches against Cohen earlier this week. Cohen is seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) to that effect.
The concerns raised by Cohen surround claims of attorney–client privilege and how items seized in those searches should be reviewed, and by whom. The explosive government filing was an opposition to Cohen's TRO request.
Lawyers for Trump also appeared in court Friday, seeking to intervene in the case to argue for his interests in any of the documents for which Trump is the client at issue and could claim protection through attorney-client privilege — a request US District Judge Kimba Wood granted later Friday.
"The dispute before the court is who should make the determination" on attorney–client privilege, Wood noted as the morning hearing began, but matters quickly got delayed when an attorney for Trump intervened and asked for more time to review the government's filing in the matter.
After several hearings were held on Cohen's request and related issues throughout the day Friday, however, the matter was continued over to a 2 p.m. Monday hearing. In particular, Cohen's lawyers were unable to answer several key questions on Friday, leading Wood to order Cohen to attend Monday's hearing.
Before Monday's hearing, Wood has asked Trump's lawyers to present any additional arguments on his behalf by 9 p.m. Sunday and Cohen's lawyers are to present their final arguments — and a list of Cohen's clients (more on that to come) — by 10 a.m. Monday.
President Trump's lawyers leaving court April 13, 2018.
Attorneys from the Southern District of New York US Attorney's Office represented the prosecution in the hearing before Wood on Friday, the first official confirmation that SDNY was running the investigation that led to the warrants against Cohen.
Shortly before the hearing, prosecutors provided Cohen's lawyers with the opposition filing — but it was not posted on the public docket until later Friday.
In the filing, the SDNY attorneys also acknowledge that the case began as a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller's office — which Cohen's lawyer had said previously — but the filing goes on to state that the SDNY investigation of Cohen has "proceeded independent" of Mueller's office. Robert Khuzami, the deputy US attorney for the office, is the senior name on the filing; it has been reported previously that the interim US attorney, Geoffrey Berman, is recused from the matter.
In the morning hearing, the prosecutors made clear their preference to review the seized materials for privilege by using a "taint team" — lawyers from the US Attorney's Office who are uninvolved in the investigation or prosecution of the matter — to review them. (The SDNY filing calls it a "filter team.")
The prosecutors argued that the team is a "common procedure" used in the Southern District of New York to protect possible privileged material and that, in any event, "it is [not] apparent ... that Cohen, in his capacity as an attorney, has many, or any, attorney-client relationships other than with President Donald Trump (indeed, he does not specifically identify any in his motion and thus far has refused to identify any to the USAO-SDNY)."
Cohen, on the other hand, is asking to allow his counsel to review the documents first or to have the court to appoint a special master to review the materials for attorney–client privilege — before anyone from the US Attorney's Office would do so. Cohen was represented at the hearing by Todd Harrison, one of his lawyers from McDermott Will and Emery.
In their initial filing, Cohen's lawyers argue that there is a "substantial risk" of the government "infringing" on privileged communications, citing two categories of documents — those "relating to privileged communications between Mr. Cohen and his clients" and those "relating to privileged communications between Mr. Cohen and his own lawyers."
At Friday's hearing, Trump's lawyer was primarily just asking for more time. Joanna Hendon, a partner at Spears and Imes, said that she had only been retained by Trump on Wednesday evening.
"This is the president of the United States," Hendon told Wood, arguing that, as the privilege-holder, he should be involved in the proceedings. "These interests are so weighty. Ultimately, in my view, this is of most concern to him, I think the public is a close second, and I think anyone who’s ever hired a lawyer a close third."
Assistant US Attorney Thomas McKay complained about the "last-second intervention" by Trump's lawyer, arguing that Trump's intervention isn't necessary because there would be "no difference between the arguments he would make" and those Cohen's lawyers would make.
Before the judge halted the morning hearing, Wood had a sidebar discussion — a discussion between the lawyers and the judge but not open to observers — regarding, as Wood put it, "potentially innocent individuals and their privacy being invaded if made public."
A hearing on whether the transcript of that sidebar discussion should be made public began at 2 p.m., but quickly devolved when Wood questioned how Cohen's attorney, Harrison, could claim that "thousands" of documents would be covered by attorney-client privilege.
"How do you as an officer of the court have basis to tell me there are thousands of documents?" she asked, prompting a response that he was making an "estimation" and that it could be fewer documents.
Wood then adjourned the hearing, demanding that Harrison have a list of all of Cohen's clients between 2006 — when he started representing Trump — and 2017 when the court reconvened at 4 p.m. Friday. He was not, however, able to pull together a full list — leading Wood to give him until 10 a.m. Monday.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels (whose given name is Stephanie Clifford), asked to also be heard in this afternoon’s discussion, which the judge agreed to. "We have every reason to believe some of the documents received relate to my client and privacy issues you speak about," he told the court.
This is a developing story. Please check back at BuzzFeed News for the latest.
Fri, 13 Apr 2018 10:49:29 -0400
Jeff Swensen / Getty Images
Joe Biden hasn’t decided whether he’s running for president, but he has assembled a coalition of 30 of some of the biggest names in Washington last month to help shape his domestic policy, from union presidents to former top Obama administration officials to bank officials.
Announced last month, the Biden Institute’s new Policy Advisory Board is the next major piece in what is shaping up to look like a very familiar playbook: a potential presidential run rooted in old-school, establishment politics, capitalizing on his broad popularity among Americans and vast experience in politics. It’s also a sign of what might be a weakness for Biden in a potential primary.
People close to Biden maintain he has made no decisions about whether to challenge Trump in 2020. But the work he is doing now, they say, is with a goal of keeping options open in the event of a presidential run. Said one former Biden adviser, “He’s building out a host of different pieces, and he’s definitely doing that with an eye towards the presidency and the future.”
Though many of Policy Advisory Board members say joining doesn’t mean they’re signing on to support him if he runs for president, the adviser said, “They have to know what they’re doing to some extent. It doesn’t lock them to him, but it certainly encourages them to stay close to him.”
The list of names, with the occasional exception, offers a glimpse of the people that would be likely to orient themselves around Biden in the event of a run: corporate leaders, union bosses, and longtime Obama allies.
There’s senior Obama adviser David Plouffe; former acting attorney general Sally Yates; top executives at Edelman, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley; and the presidents of the Service Employees International Union, the United Farm Workers, and the International Association of Firefighters. There is also Steve Schmidt, a prominent Republican campaign strategist, and former hedge fund boss Eric Mindich.
In a sign of what Biden might face in a presidential primary, though, some progressives see Biden’s advisers as a sign of a candidate that is too centrist, closely tied to corporate and party interests.
“I think this is a missed opportunity for the former vice president, particularly if he’s thinking of running,” said Jim Dean, the chair of Democracy for America, a progressive PAC, of the advisory board. “Most of these folks have corporate-driven missions — they’re funded by big business. The folks that really need to be on a panel like this right now are people that you and I have not heard of that are living the reality that most Americans live on.”
More than a half-dozen members sidestepped questions from BuzzFeed News about whether they wanted the former vice president to run in 2020. Asked if SEIU president Mary Kay Henry had joined in part because she thinks Biden should consider a run, a spokesperson said she joined because Biden was "a leader in how we develop and implement public policies that ensure the dignity of all working people."
Many cited long-standing personal commitments to Biden and a belief that, on the issue of the economy and working-class jobs, he speaks uniquely to the kinds of voters that the Democratic Party lost to Trump in 2016.
“The first reason I joined is out of personal loyalty to Biden,” said Larry Summers, a top Obama economic adviser and the former president of Harvard. “The second reason I did it was I think that he’s very focused on what I think is probably the central economic issue for the future of our country — which is improving the lives of working people.”
If he does run, Biden will also likely face some sharp critiques of his 1990s record, from his past role in the 1995 crime bill and the Anita Hill hearings, to his relative political centrism. At a time when the political forces favor opposition, Biden likes to talk about compromise.
Dean, of Democracy for America, said Biden’s advisers were unlikely to consider how closely the former vice president’s economic concerns were tied to issues of racial justice.
Biden “comes from working-class roots, and we don’t question that, but times are not the same as when he was going through them,” Dean said. “There’s a racial lens to this that wasn’t as present during the vice president’s time growing up in Scranton.”
Sarah Bianchi, the board’s chair and a longtime Biden ally, said the group planned to begin by tackling civil rights issues, adding that "racial economic justice was discussed at length in the initial meeting."
In the year and a half Biden has been out of office, he’s created a network of initiatives that play to his probable strengths: the Penn-Biden Center, which studies foreign policy and diplomacy, including a growing interest in trade issues and problems of globalization, on which Biden has been vocal. There’s the “cancer moonshot,” the Biden Cancer Initiative, which was born out of Biden’s wrenching personal history with his son’s death from cancer in 2015, and the Biden Foundation, which focuses on the social issues he’s kept close — namely gay rights and violence against women.
At the Foundation, those issues have their own new advisory boards too, stocked with activists and names like Cyndi Lauper and Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard's mother.
There’s also Biden's book, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose; the next leg of his drawn-out book tour, in May, is taking him to many of the red states where people have speculated Democrats have a chance of overperforming in 2018 and beyond — Georgia and Tennessee, as well as North Carolina.
The Biden Institute, at the University of Delaware, does domestic policy work — particularly the economic issues that are Biden’s bread and butter. But it will also tackle things like criminal justice and environmental issues, said Bianchi.
The Institute’s advisory board is stocked with longtime Biden loyalists, like the president of the powerful International Association of Firefighters, Harold Schaitberger. The IAFF threw itself in support of a Biden run in 2015, before he had made any formal announcements. When he said he would not run, the union waited months to support Clinton.
This time, Schaitberger said, the situation is much the same. “I wouldn’t want to get in front of my membership or my leadership, but if Joe Biden decided to offer himself up in service to the country, we’d be hard-pressed not to support him,” he said.
But most declined to even allude to supporting Biden if he ran. “I haven’t picked a horse yet,” said Deepak Gupta, a top attorney and Institute board member who has led cases against the Trump administration. Like just a small number of people in the Democratic Party, he said, Biden “has the ability to speak to working-class Americans in a way that resonates with them.”
Schaitberger and others on the board described a Democratic Party adrift — and Biden as one of the few people who could right it by refocusing the party on economic issues.
“Hopefully we’re going to see the political community getting their voice back and start speaking again to workers, and moving away from some of the identity politics stuff,” Schaitberger said. Biden is “clearly a voice that knows how to speak to workers.”
“I know by January, I have to make that decision,” Biden said in a speech at Vanderbilt University on Tuesday. “If God Almighty himself came down today and said, 'The nomination is yours,' I’d say no. Where I'll be in eight months, I don’t know. In the meantime, I'll do everything I can to be sure we elect a Democratic Congress.”
Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:36:53 -0400
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
A year after Tom Perez and other Democratic National Committee leaders promised that diversity hiring would be a priority for the party moving forward, racial and ethnic minority-owned businesses still accounted for only 17.6% of the $17.5 million the party spent on consultant work, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis.
In an analysis of the DNC’s spending from March 2017 to February 2018, $3,076,569 in disbursements for telemarketing, direct mail, and consulting work went to minority-owned businesses.
The BuzzFeed News analysis of federal filings shows that over the past year 6.4% of money spent went to black-owned firms and spending on Latino-run firms was less — about 4.3%.
In recent months, Democrats across the country have declared that black people and especially black women are the “backbone” of the Democratic Party after the constituency helped push the party to wins in places once thought impenetrable, like Alabama — the kind of refrain that frustrates minority operatives who want the party to involve a more diverse set of people at the leadership and policy level.
In response to BuzzFeed News, DNC officials said that the committee has been making a wide variety of changes over the past year, some of which aren’t reflected by pure spending numbers in FEC filings. For instance, officials said that some contractor spending in the March 2017 to February 2018 FEC filings were servicing prior agreements made under previous DNC leadership.
"Democrats have won over the past year because we’ve invested in the women and people of color who form the backbone of our party. That commitment doesn’t end with one election or with one news cycle,” said DNC spokesperson Michael Tyler. “Although outside consulting contracts make up only 2% of our overall budget, we’re focused on making sure we realize that commitment in our contracting process. That’s why these efforts are now being led at a senior level by chief operating officer Laura Chambers, who has ended many previously existing contracts.”
Since new leadership has taken charge of the DNC, officials said, it's brought a lot of functions that were previously contracted out to be in house, bringing the DNC’s total spending on outside contracts down to 2% of overall spending. The officials also emphasized that the majority of the party’s spending is on staff salary and benefits, and that currently, staffers of color make up 43% of the DNC workforce and that 57% of senior leadership is female.
In response to BuzzFeed News, the DNC shared a different story of the numbers: Per its method, the party spent $16,065,116.94 on contracts in total, but — removing some nonvendor spending like postage — really spent $10,775,201.21 for the total spending on contracts by including building contracts, like security.
The DNC also include businesses owned by women as a separate category in their diversity statistics. (The BuzzFeed News analysis includes a number of businesses run by women of color and who have consulted for the DNC.) Using that methodology, the DNC reached a figure of $2,264,800.88 spent on minority- and women-owned businesses, including building security, to reach a total of $3,079,216.96 — or 29% minority- and women-owned businesses.
Last February, Tom Perez tweeted that the DNC needed a “top-to-bottom” evaluation of its existing contracts and procurement processes and that contracts should not be “auto-renewed,” in response to DeRay Mckesson asking what the committee’s plan for making sure its money was being directed toward consultants of color.
The DNC has long maintained a lengthy “diversity supplier” list of firms approved to do business with the party where it encourages businesses to self-submit information to be considered for potential contracts. The list counts women, the LGBT community, Asians, Latinos, blacks, and people with disabilities under the same “minority” label, which some in the party have critiqued in the past.
The disparity of contracts awarded to minority firms has long been a sore spot between the national party and black and Latino strategists who feel like the party isn’t prioritizing their commitment to recruiting diverse consulting firms. In 2014, a report from PowerPAC+ found that only 1.7% of the $514 million the DNC had spent on consulting over two political cycles had gone to businesses that were minority owned.
A DNC official said that the committee has also begun a new contract-approval process that tracks all vendors with contracts of $5,000 and above by a breakdown of gender and racial diversity — a level of detail the DNC has not done in the past in tracking its contracting on diversity.
After that report, calls for the DNC to improve its numbers when it comes to diversity resulted in the committee hiring its first chief diversity officer, Greg Hinton, to ensure the party was meeting its goals in hiring diverse staff and in contracting, but the FEC records show that the DNC stopped paying Hinton for his work in November 2016.
DNC officials said Hinton’s duties had become part of the portfolio for the party’s chief operating officer, Laura Chambers.
Wed, 11 Apr 2018 16:06:13 -0400
House Speaker Paul Ryan
Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters
The tributes pouring in for Paul Ryan sound a lot like eulogies — for the retiring House speaker and for the conservative vision he and his allies have long championed.
Ryan’s admirers (and even President Trump, who has a complicated relationship with Ryan) can’t say enough about his accomplishments. And when it comes to his legacy, Ryan, who for much of the last decade was the Republican Party’s ideological architect, has plenty of defenders.
At the same time, however, nearly everyone acknowledges that Ryan is leaving several central stated policy goals unfulfilled. There is mourning for the fiscal conservatism Ryan proposed, or at least doubts about whether that movement can survive.
“No way to spin this as anything but terrible,” one national Republican operative told BuzzFeed News. “Not only is he a great speaker and respected leader — in a body with few at this moment — but it’s got to scare the donor world. Who on Earth is going to fill this void?”
As hard as Ryan and other Republicans tout the tax bill they passed and Trump signed, it’s not the kind of revenue-neutral plan that deficit hawks wanted, and it did not include some of the more fundamental tax code changes that Ryan reportedly was interested in, like a border-adjustment provision, which would have changed how imports and exports are taxed. Accomplishments in areas such as entitlement spending remain elusive, too.
Many Republicans blame the shift away from Ryan Republicanism and toward Trumpism, led by a candidate who explicitly promised no changes to entitlements. Despite having an ostensible ally in the executive branch, Trump, to the extent that he gets into the weeds or is even interested in conservative policy fights, has proven to be an unpredictable and unhelpful partner.
Minnesota billionaire Stan Hubbard, a longtime Ryan supporter, said the speaker's leadership style will be missed, especially when considering a president who by comparison focuses less on policy and tends to say and tweet things that distract from the party’s agenda.
"He's a calm and level-headed guy. That kind of leadership will be missed," Hubbard said of Ryan. "My father used to tell me, ‘Stanley, flies never enter mouths that are closed.’”
Others downplayed Trump as a factor in Ryan’s decision.
“He has been in Congress for 20 years, and he has always said he was going leave and return” to Wisconsin, a senior aide to one House Republican told BuzzFeed News. “Now he is doing that. Does Trump play a role in that? Slightly he does. I think deep down inside, the speaker doesn’t like or trust him. But I do think the family was his driving source.”
Another major party donor, who gives to multiple conservative groups, said it was an "overstatement" to describe the Republican Party as the party of Trump, but acknowledged the loss of Ryan combined with the retirements of others, like Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, would hurt the conservative cause. "It's very sad to lose someone with his incredible knowledge,” the donor said. “He's truly a man of great knowledge and sadly he took on a role that wasn't suited for him. I can only hope he continues to be a part of these fights in some way."
Some even see a day when Ryan’s brand of Republicanism is back in style.
“I have a hard time believing legacy-wise this is the last chapter in Paul Ryan’s career,” Nick Everhart, a Republican media consultant with extensive House experience, said in an email. “After the ‘Trump Era,’ there will be a thirsting for leaders like him again.”
It wasn’t all that long ago when Ryan was the next big thing in Republican politics. Ryan was the coauthor, with fellow lawmakers Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, of the 2010 book Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders. Two years later, when he was selected as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, he was hailed as a policy wonk inside the party and in media — making him the logical heir to conservatism. His claim to that mantle grew even stronger three years after that, when he reluctantly took the gavel as House speaker.
But Cantor is gone from Congress, following a surprise primary loss in 2014. And now Ryan is on his way out, meaning that, within a decade, two of the three Young Guns authors will have left politics.
McCarthy, who succeeded Cantor as majority leader, could succeed Ryan if Republicans keep the House. And John Murray, a longtime adviser to Cantor, believes there is another group of leaders who will carry on that kind of conservatism that emerged in the Obama years.
"You have a lot of people who came to Washington under the Young Guns program," said Murray, who hopes some of those members will step up. "There are still more of those members than not. These institutions go through changes, and we're just seeing another one now."
Bridging the different factions of House Republicans — ranging from the more classic mainstream fiscal conservatives like Ryan to harder-line libertarians and the populists and Freedom Caucus types who rose from the tea party — is a challenge, though, as Ryan found.
“When one takes on the burden of the speakership they subjugate many of their personal political goals in order to accomplish the task of finding compromise across the disparate opinions of a 400-plus legislative chamber,” said one former chief of staff to a House Republican. “He managed that task with grace, and that he was able to also accomplish one of his personal goals — reforming the tax code — is that much more impressive for his legacy.”
Other Republicans are willing to grade Ryan on such a curve.
“I mean, everything we have passed in the House and signed into law since Trump was elected has Ryan paw prints all over it,” said the senior House aide. “Like every member, we know the things aren't perfect and there are things you would want to see fixed. But my god, Ryan was able to pass tax reform for the first time since Reagan was in office. That was huge.”
Ryan Ellis, a conservative tax policy consultant who has worked closely with House Republican leadership, noted Ryan’s reputation for austere budget proposals when he was chair of the Budget Committee and called them a blueprint for eventual entitlement changes.
“He even got so far as to pass a bill to reform two of them — Medicaid and Obamacare — last spring,” Ellis wrote in an email. “But that effort was derailed by a handful of myopic Republican senators. … The silver lining is that there aren't too many practical ways to do entitlement reform, and Ryan's budgets provide a detailed plan the next time the politics are ripe.”
Mon, 09 Apr 2018 22:47:44 -0400
Yuri Gripas / Reuters
Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort filed papers late Monday asking a judge to suppress evidence seized last summer from his home in Virginia, arguing that the search warrant was "overbroad" and that the agents who executed it went beyond its parameters.
The motion to suppress evidence in the criminal case against him in federal court in Washington, DC, follows a similar challenge that Manafort lodged late last week to suppress evidence seized from a storage unit. Both searches are part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which has led to indictments against Manafort in DC and Virginia.
Manafort hasn't been charged with any crimes related to his work on Trump's campaign, but the search warrant documents included with his motion to suppress on Monday showed that Mueller's team was investigating his work on the campaign last year. One area of interest that the search warrant application listed was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials — including Manafort — and a Russian lawyer.
The FBI agent who signed the warrant application wrote that there was probable cause at the time to believe that Manafort's home contained evidence of various crimes. Manafort was ultimately charged with some of those violations — such as failing to report foreign bank accounts, failing to register as a foreign agent, and money laundering — but the affidavit also lists some crimes that Manafort wasn't charged with, including violations of the ban on campaign contributions by foreign nationals.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the indictments returned by federal grand juries in Washington and Virginia.
A federal judge in Virginia signed off on the search warrant for Manafort's condo in Alexandria, Virginia, in July. Manafort says the agents who searched his home "seized or imaged every electronic device and storage device." He contends that nine months later, the special counsel's office has kept everything that was seized, and failed to return materials that didn't fall under the warrant.
The search warrant was too broad, Manafort's lawyers wrote, allowing agents to take "any and all financial records" that belonged to Manafort, his wife Kathleen Manafort, his longtime associate and former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates, and any companies associated with the three of them. It also directed agents to seize evidence pertaining to Manafort's "state of mind" in connection with the crimes that Mueller's team was investigating.
"While seizing agents naturally look for evidence of the subject’s guilt, the
role of the warrant is to limit their discretion to determine what constitutes such evidence," Manafort's lawyers wrote. "This warrant did no such thing."
The affidavit that the FBI presented to the Virginia judge in asking for the warrant failed to show that the devices investigators believed were used in connection with criminal activity were actually in the Manafort home, his lawyers argued. They also accused agents of going beyond the scope of the warrant by taking all electronics that they found, including Apple "music and video devices."
Manafort's motions to suppress evidence in the DC case were due on April 6, but late that evening he asked the judge for an extension over the weekend. He filed his motion to suppress evidence taken from the storage unit in the meantime. On Monday, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave Manafort until the end of the day to file the challenge to evidence taken from his home.
Manafort's motion includes a copy of a document that lists the evidence agents seized from his Virginia home, but it is almost entirely redacted.
Investigators were looking for evidence on Manafort's work for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russia Party of Regions, whether he had made false statements to the Justice Department or the Internal Revenue Service, his foreign financial holdings, his taxes, and the Trump Tower meeting.
The application listed as one subject area of interest: "Communications, records, documents, and other files involving any of the attendees of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, as well as Aras and Amin Agalorov." Amin appears to be a reference to Emin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov's son. The two men had worked with Trump on the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013. When music producer Rob Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 about setting up the meeting with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, Goldstone wrote that he was making the contact via Emin and Aras.
In the application, the agent also wrote that there was reason to believe the apartment would contain evidence of items that Manafort allegedly bought using money from foreign bank accounts, such as clothing and rugs.
Mon, 09 Apr 2018 16:40:24 -0400
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Federal agents executed "a series of search warrants" on President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday, according to Cohen's lawyer, and prompting outrage from Trump.
"Today the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients," Cohen's lawyer, Stephen Ryan, said in a statement. "I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller."
Trump responded to the news of the searches — calling it "a disgraceful situation" — before meeting with his top military leadership.
"I have this witch hunt constantly going on," the president said, adding, "It's an attack on on our country, in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for."
Referring specifically to the Cohen news, Trump told the assembled pool reporters, "When I saw this, when I heard it ... I said, 'That is really now in a whole new level of unfairness.' ... They raided the office of a personal attorney early in the morning. It's a disgrace. So we'll be talking about it more."
The special counsel's office and the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined to comment on the execution of the warrants. The search of Cohen's office was first reported by the New York Times.
In his Monday evening comments, Trump returned to several regular sources of his criticism, calling the Special Counsel's Office "the most conflicted group of people I have ever seen." He also continued his long-standing attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for having recused himself from the Russia investigation, saying, "he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country." Trump also said no one "is looking at the other side," referring to his oft-raised interest in Hillary Clinton's deleted emails and "many, many other things."
According to the Wall Street Journal, the office, home, and Manhattan hotel room of Cohen were searched. Multiple outlets, including the New York Times, reported on the office search, and Vanity Fair reported on the hotel search.
"The decision by the US Attorney’s Office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary," Cohen's lawyer, Ryan, said in his statement. "It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients. These government tactics are also wrong because Mr. Cohen has cooperated completely with all government entities, including providing thousands of non-privileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath."
Cohen, who was a senior lawyer with the Trump Organization until after the election, did not respond to a request for comment.
In recent months, Cohen's name has mainly been in the news in relation to his role in signing a settlement agreement with Stormy Daniels on behalf of the company he set up to pay her $130,000 in exchange for her to stay silent about her alleged relationship more than a decade ago with Trump. Daniels, the adult film star whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, has sued Trump and the company, as well as Cohen, in an attempt to have the agreement tossed out.
According to the US Attorneys' Manual, the set of guidelines for federal prosecutors, seeking a warrant to search an attorney's office is unusual and requires specific standards to be met. Alternative means of obtaining the information must be considered, the warrant application must be approved by the relevant US attorney or assistant attorney general, and the federal prosecutor involved must consult with DOJ's Criminal Division. What's more, if the warrant is relating to the representation of clients, even more restrictions apply — including that Criminal Division authorization is required.
The US attorney for the Southern District of New York is Geoffrey Berman, who was the White House's pick for the important job — but he is not there through the traditional process of a presidential nomination and Senate approval.
Instead, Berman was one of several people Sessions appointed on Jan. 3 to US attorney positions under a law that allows Sessions to appoint US attorneys on an interim basis. Berman can serve in the position on that authority until May 3. A Trump supporter and former law partner at Rudy Giuliani's firm, Berman reportedly met with Trump about the role — but he was never nominated for it, a move that could have faced opposition from the Senate's Democratic leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
After May 3, the district court for the district — so, the Southern District of New York — has the authority under the law to appoint a US attorney until the vacancy is filled. That appointment could, in theory, be Berman — but there is no guarantee that it would be. Trump, meanwhile, is yet to announce a nominee for the position.
Sat, 07 Apr 2018 12:23:34 -0400
Scott Olson / Getty Images
Hundreds of Democratic candidates at different levels are expected to attend a training session next week where they’ll be told that running on policies like Medicare for all and debt-free college are strong ways to run in purple and red districts across the country.
“There’s lots of energy surrounding the resistance and people have decided to get off the bench to run for office,” said Stephanie Taylor, the cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is holding the program in Washington. “We’re helping these people build the infrastructure they need to win.”
The training comes at a time when a surge of progressive grassroots energy has helped the Democratic Party make inroads in elections that should have easily been won by Republicans in typical years. But these aren’t typical circumstances and the successes the party’s celebrating in races in Virginia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania are accompanied by strenuous intra-party fights that have bubbled to the surface over what kinds of candidates and messages Democrats should be pushing to flip the House seats in congressional districts that lean conservative.
PCCC officials point to candidates like the recently successful Conor Lamb, or like Randy Bryce, the Wisconsin ironworker who’s running to challenge House Speaker Paul Ryan, as examples that Democrats don’t have to shy away from progressive values to gain support or even win in tough districts.
Lamb notably ran as a near cultural conservative, identifying himself as personally against abortion and in favor of gun rights, while emphasizing that he would not vote for Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He did, however, run with the backing of prominent trade unions and opposing the recently passed Republican tax law.
Of the 450 candidates attending the training — which will involve programming about the basics of small-donor fundraising — 70% are running for office in 2018, and 64% running at the state and federal races are running in districts Trump won in 2016, according to PCCC.
The event is the biggest effort taken on by PCCC, a group that has long been active in progressive politics and over the last few years has seen politicians rise on further-left economic messages.
“There’s been some debate in the Democratic Party about what candidates to run, with the establishment supporting more centrist Democrats, but economic populist policies are the way to campaign in these districts,” said Taylor. “The average American doesn’t care about corporate tax credits when they’re up and worried about how they’re going to pay for their medical treatments at night, and we need to keep pushing the party to represent these everyday Americans.”
“That’s really what the progressive platform is about; it can resonate with people who are financially stressed,” said Kara Eastman, who’s attended PCCC trainings in in the past and is running in Nebraska’s’ 2nd Congressional District against former Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford, who’s been endorsed by the Blue Dog Coalition, a small group of conservative Democrats. “When we talk about policies and elections there’s a disconnect between the policies some of the establishment supports and what voters actually want and need.”
Fri, 06 Apr 2018 17:51:41 -0400
Alex Wong / Getty Images
Rep. John Lewis delivered a sharp rebuke of a controversial White House policy in the Weekly Democratic Address, alluding to a speech in which Martin Luther King Jr. warned “against the danger of building walls.”
Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement and the representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, delivered this week’s address at the request of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis, a top Pelosi aide said. A copy of the speech’s transcript was first provided to BuzzFeed News.
Lewis said King was his leader, mentor, and friend who "convinced" three presidents to "understand that civil rights was a moral issue," and that King used that moral leadership to fight for the most vulnerable people in society. “In particular, I will never forget when Dr. King spoke in Berlin against the danger of building walls," said Lewis. "He reminded the global family — the global community — that God’s children were on both sides of the wall.”
He continued, “If Dr. King were with us today, he would continue to push our country to respect the dignity and the worth of every human being — no matter where they are born, no matter their race, age, religion, or gender identity.”
While there has been progress in the 50 years since King’s death, Lewis said there are now “new forces trying to take us back, trying to turn back the clock, trying to take us to a darker time.” “Times like these can seem overwhelming, but I ask you to recommit yourself to the way of love, the way of peace, and the way of nonviolence,” said Lewis.
King’s 1964 address in Berlin is among the less-cited speeches in the civil rights leader’s oratorical canon. King connected two societies struggling with social unrest: He led the audience through the evolution of what he called the “great social revolution taking place in the United States of America...the struggle to free some 20 million Negroes from the long night of segregation and discrimination.” He also described Berlin as “a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth.”
“Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey,” said King.
For his part, Lewis referenced a line in King’s speech in which King, referring to the Berlin Wall, said that “on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.”
President Trump commemorated King’s assassination saying, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters lest we perish together as fools. He reminded the country to 'love our neighbor as we love ourselves' and that America should 'denounce racism, inhumanity, and all those things that seek to divide us.'”
But Trump this week also ramped up the rhetoric on immigration. Trump railed against Democrats for what he said is their weakness on immigration and the border. At one event, in which he was scheduled to discuss tax policy, Trump instead threw his prepared remarks in the air — and proceeded to defend a speech he made describing Mexican immigrants as rapists.
"So we have to have strong borders. We're going to have the wall. We've already started building it. We have a billion-six,” said Trump. “We've started building it and fixing miles and miles of wall that's already up — and fence. And we're going to have our wall. And we're going to get it very strongly.”
Thu, 05 Apr 2018 19:00:40 -0400
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba onstage with Sanders Wednesday night.
Rogelio V. Solis / AP
On the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., Bernie Sanders was in Jackson, Mississippi, to talk about economic justice. It was here, in a state with the highest percentage of black residents in the country, where Sanders registered one of the worst performances of his presidential campaign, losing all 82 counties, by a total of 66 points.
Two years later, on Wednesday night, there were cheers of "Feel the Bern!" in the hall as Sanders and the city's mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, discussed King's legacy.
But midway through the event in downtown Jackson, an uncertain silence fell over the audience.
"The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure," Sanders started, responding to a question about the young voters who supported his campaign. "People sometimes don't see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama, who won the presidency in 2008 and 2012.
"He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy. But behind that reality, over the last 10 years, Democrats have lost about 1,000 seats in state legislatures all across this country.”
It's a criticism of President Obama’s tenure that Sanders and plenty of others have made before. But the time and place for the remark — 50 years to the day after King's assassination, at an event to discuss that legacy — quickly shook loose old frustrations among Democrats who watched the senator struggle in 2016 to connect with black voters and speak to issues of racial justice.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ longtime top strategist, said that people were misreading the senator’s comment. “What Bernie was doing last night was praising the power and significance of the Barack Obama presidency, while at the same time pointing out that the national Democratic Party has had a lot of failures over the last 15 years, as evidenced by our loss of state legislative and congressional seats.”
“One is not the cause of the other,” Weaver said.
An Obama spokesperson declined to comment. But privately, former Obama lieutenants and other Democrats knocked the timing of Sanders’ criticism, considering his words on the Democratic Party a criticism of Obama’s own leadership. One texted that Sanders’ words were “dumb as hell.”
"Bernie's comments were tone-deaf and will not help him with communities of color, especially black folks," said Joshua DuBois, a strategist who led Obama's faith-based initiative. "On that hallowed day, our focus should've been on the transformative legacy of Dr. King and how we can come together to continue King's fight against systemic racism and injustice — not attacking the legacy of the first black president, who fought against many of the same things Dr. King fought."
Bakari Sellers, a South Carolina Democrat who emphatically supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, told BuzzFeed News that he and black Democrats have had patience with Sanders as he’s sought to better understand the role that race plays in the United States, even as Democrats have pushed Sanders to not just rely on the narrative that he marched with King in the 1960s.
To Sellers, anyway, Sanders’ time is up.
To “dismiss with utter arrogance and lack of self-awareness the first African African president,” he said on Thursday, is “just the height and epitome of arrogance and lack of self-awareness.”
Sellers argued that Obama’s legacy encompasses not just his work as president from a policy perspective, but his symbolic importance. He alluded to the photo of a boy touching Obama’s hair in the White House to see if it felt like his. “Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand how that photo is emblematic of the hope of many African Americans and that it speaks loudly to who Barack Obama is.”
Speaking by phone on Thursday, Weaver fired back at Sanders’ critics. Sellers, he said, was attempting to sow “racial division” by “deliberately misinterpreting” the senator’s remarks. (“My father was shot because of racial [division],” responded Sellers, whose father was shot during what became known as the Orangeburg Massacre in 1968. “[Weaver] should find another line of attack, because I will not dignify that.”)
The episode, and the fast and sharp response, offers another reminder of how tense Democratic politics continue to be, especially around issues of race and economics, as the party decides its direction after Clinton’s loss two years ago.
In 2016, the 76-year-old Vermont senator struggled to attract wider black support with his message about wealth and income inequality, which he cast as "the great moral issue of our time," "the great economic issue of our time," and the "great political issue of our time" — often, critics said, at the expense of highlighting issues of race.
And in the lead-up to the first caucuses and primaries, he fumbled a series of tense confrontations with young black leaders protesting against police violence and race’s effect on mass incarceration. To his critics, Sanders’ lack of experience — coming up in politics in Vermont — and near lack of black voices among his senior campaign staff left him flat-footed on the intersectional political analysis young activists craved.
Now, as Sanders contemplates another run for president in 2020, he and his advisers face pressing question about whether his political revolution's message, and its messenger, can attract a large enough coalition of voters to win the Democratic nomination.
If former campaign aides still hang on to one frustration from 2016, it's the perception that Sanders can't connect with the black community. His pollster, Ben Tulchin, can still recite exit polling figures showing his gains with black millennials. His former press secretary, Symone Sanders, published a Washington Post op-ed headlined “It’s Time to End the Myth That Black Voters Don’t Like Bernie Sanders.” And his top aides are quick to point to a series of Harvard-Harris polls showing the senator as the most popular politician among black voters.
Sanders, in the months since 2016, has cultivated a closer relationship with leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. He's been a more frequent presence at events like Wednesday's town hall in Jackson. And advisers insist that the Democratic primary, and the activists he met along the way in 2015 and 2016, did set off a real change in the senator's thinking on racial justice.
“It’s not Bernie’s fault, but the circumstance he was faced with [in 2016] is that he took on this image as this [exemplar] of progressivism when the progressive community tends to marginalize black concerns,” said Rev. Al Sharpton in an interview last week. “He was the progressive candidate and he incurred some wrath from all of us because of that.”
Tulchin, the senator’s pollster, described criminal justice and mass incarceration as relatively new issues for Sanders. “Yes, he took guidance from us on that front, because he recognized that Vermont is not at the epicenter of the criminal justice crisis, in terms of police misconduct problems. He understood that he had to absorb new areas,” Tulchin said. "But it is part of his worldview — I mean, the guy started in the ’60s as an activist in the civil rights movement getting arrested, right?"
On Wednesday night, in a brief interview backstage as he autographed campaign posters, Sanders said he saw the “fight for justice” as one for “racial justice” and “economic justice,” citing one of King’s last efforts, the Poor People’s Campaign aimed at mobilizing workers across different racial backgrounds. “That's what King's life was about,” the senator said. “We gotta move forward, fight against racism at the same time as we fight for economic justice.”
Still, early in his political career, and at times during the 2016 campaign, Sanders was reluctant to embrace any view of left-leaning politics that did not put class and economic inequality at the forefront. “The real issue is not whether you’re black or white, whether you’re a woman or a man,” he said in a 1988 interview. “The real issue is whose side are you on? Are you on the side of workers and poor people or are you on the side of big money and the corporations?”
“He was unconsciously unskillful on issues of race,” said the executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, Curtiss Reed Jr., who has observed Sanders for years in his home state. “His framework is income inequality and economic justice. He sees that as the all-inclusive tent.”
It made for a steep learning curve in 2015, as a new generation of young black leaders staged protests at campaign events across the country. One of the first major actions, at the annual Netroots Nation conference for liberal activists in July of that year, left Sanders and his team shaken. The candidate on stage before him, Martin O’Malley, had already bungled an exchange with leaders from the Black Lives Matter movement, telling the activists concerned about police brutality and mass incarceration that “all lives matter.” When Sanders came out afterward, the moderator immediately asked him to address the topic at hand. “Whoa, whoa whoa whoa whoa,” Sanders said. “Let me talk about what I want to talk about for a moment.”
After protesters interrupted him with chants of “say her name” — referring to Sandra Bland, a black woman who’d recently died inside a Texas prison after a traffic stop — Sanders stopped talking and paced the stage. “Listen, black lives of course matter. And I’ve spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights,” Sanders finally said. From the crowd, someone shouted back, “What are you doing about it now?” The protracted exchange left campaign aides “demoralized” and “devastated,” an operative present recalled. Sanders, the person said, was “pissed.”
Though Clinton won the nomination on the strength of black support, she, too, struggled with the same kinds of interactions with protesters, who objected to her use of the term “super-predators” and her support of the crime bill in the 1990s. In the wake of the 2016 election, those critiques of the 1990s, and the way politicians talk about issues of racial inequality and injustice, have become a standard feature of American political life, especially as President Trump continues to single out black politicians and protesters.
The experience was a new one for Sanders. On a trip to Seattle in August 2015, Black Lives Matter activists interrupted two events in one day. The next day, in a meeting with Don't Shoot PDX, a Portland group loosely affiliated with Black Lives Matter, Sanders repeatedly answered questions by referring the activists to his campaign website. (“He said: ‘I don't know you and u don't me, so you have to read my website, you can go on [there] and see my work and judge me from that,’" one attendee recalled in a Facebook post about the meeting.)
Around that time, the candidate brought on Symone Sanders to serve as his national press secretary and one of the first black faces of his campaign. During her first week on the job, she said, she told Sanders that he had to treat racial inequality and economic inequality as “parallel issues” — a suggestion she said he ran with. “I [told him], you know, economic equality is an issue. It’s something we need to address. But for some people it doesn’t matter how much money you make, it doesn’t matter where you went to school, it doesn’t matter what your parents do. It doesn’t matter that Sandra Bland had a job and was on her way to teach for her alma mater. It doesn’t matter. None of that matters.”
By the time his campaign aides scrambled to release a detailed criminal justice platform on Aug. 9, Sanders was still struggling. In a September meeting with Campaign Zero, a movement formed out of the Ferguson protests, activists asked Sanders why, in his opinion, there were a disproportionate amount of people of color in jail for nonviolent drug offenses. Sanders, seated across the table, a yellow legal pad at hand, responded with a question of his own, according to two people present: “Aren’t most of the people who sell the drugs African American?” The candidate, whose aides froze in the moment, was quickly rebuffed: The answer, the activists told him, was no. Even confronted with figures and data to the contrary, Sanders appeared to have still struggled to grasp that he had made an error, the two people present said.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Bernie Sanders said he "clearly misspoke" during the meeting:
During this extremely important meeting three years ago, where I learned a great deal, we had a very open discussion about the issues of systemic racism and the intersection of race and class. I am grateful to the participants in this meeting for engaging with me. The experiences and perspectives they related were incredibly impactful on me as a person and as a presidential candidate. While I clearly misspoke and had more to learn with regard to the causes of this problem, we all came to the meeting understanding what is absolutely true: the criminal justice system is broken and disproportionately arrests and jails African Americans. I am thankful to the participants for their work and willingness to have the kind of discussions that we need to have in order to move forward as a country. I intend to continue having conversations with activists and experts about how we, as a nation, create the society all of us deserve.
Ahead of a possible 2020 campaign, Sanders’ inner circle remains largely unchanged: His closest advisers include his former campaign manager, Weaver; his media consultant, Tad Devine; and his wife, Jane Sanders. Some note that his operation now includes Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president now running for governor of Maryland, as well as Nina Turner, a prominent Sanders surrogate who is now running his political organization, Our Revolution.
"Candidates need to figure out how to include black women at the top, and to my knowledge he hasn’t met with the new guard or the old guard of black women — and that’s what needs to happen if they want to create a viable plan."
“Anybody that thinks they’d like to throw their hat in the ring for 2020 has to understand that you will never get anywhere close to the presidency without black women,” said Symone Sanders in an interview last month. “Candidates need to figure out how to include black women at the top, and to my knowledge he hasn’t met with the new guard or the old guard of black women — and that’s what needs to happen if they want to create a viable plan.”
On Wednesday night, seated beside Lumumba, the 35-year-old mayor who came into office last year, Sanders talked about King's focus later in life on connecting the fight for integration and civil rights with issues of income inequality. “All of us know where he was when he was assassinated 50 years ago today,” the senator said. “He was in Memphis to stand with low-income sanitation workers who were being exploited ruthlessly, whose wages were abysmally low, and who were trying to create a union. That's where he was. Because as the mayor just indicated, what he believed — and where he was a real threat to the establishment — is that of course we need civil rights in this country, but we also need economic justice.”
Backstage after the town hall, Sanders said that these are issues he’s always discussed, whether or not people were paying attention. “Don’t get me going on the media,” he said.
“You're running against somebody who's known by everybody, whose husband was very popular in the African American community,” he went on. “How many people in Mississippi knew who the junior senator from Vermont was when I began my campaign? Wanna guess? Five percent? Ten percent? But by the time the campaign ended, we were doing much better.”
But had the campaign changed him at all — or the way he talks about racial justice?
Sanders cut in. “It’s not a question of talking about it. It’s not phraseology. It's what you're gonna do about it,” he said. “You learn and you grow. If you're not smarter tomorrow than you are today, then you're not doing a good job. So coming to Mississippi, coming to Alabama, to Flint, Michigan — did I learn something? Did I change as a part of that? Of course I did.”
But how, exactly? Sanders didn’t answer the question.
“You're asking about me. And I'm not important. What's important are the kinds of policies that we need to transform this country. OK?”
Thu, 05 Apr 2018 17:19:44 -0400
Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images
In his first comments on the topic since Stephanie Clifford, an adult film star who performs as Stormy Daniels, appeared on 60 Minutes, President Donald Trump said he did not know about the $130,000 payment his longtime lawyer has said he facilitated for her in 2016.
Asked aboard Air Force One on Thursday afternoon about whether he knew about the payment, Trump simply said, "No," according to the White House press pool report.
The payment was made in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election as part of a settlement agreement signed by Clifford, who claims to have had a relationship with Trump more than a decade ago, and the lawyer, Michael Cohen. The existence of the agreement was first reported earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal.
Clifford's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has sued over the agreement, calling it a "hush agreement" and asking a court in California to toss it out.
Asked why his longtime lawyer — and the Trump Organization's lawyer at the time — made the payment, Trump said, "You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael."
In Clifford's lawsuit, one of the issues raised is the allegation that Cohen — based on his own statements and now echoed by the president's statements — made the payment through a company set up for the payment without his client's knowledge.
After the Wall Street Journal's initial reporting on the agreement, Cohen stated, "In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly."
The lawsuit alleges that Cohen "violated Rule 1.8(e) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct by advancing or guaranteeing financial assistance to a client by paying $130,000 from his own personal funds to benefit his client Mr. Trump."
Cohen is not, however, Trump's lawyer in the ongoing litigation. In that, Trump is represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer best known for representing Hulk Hogan in his lawsuit against Gawker.
In the litigation, Cohen and the company, Essential Consultants, LLC, are represented by Brent Blakely.
Trump also said he did not know where the money came from and ignored a question about whether he ever set up a fund of money that Cohen could draw from.
Neither Harder nor Blakely — who are seeking to have the lawsuit resolved in private arbitration, as set forth in the agreement itself — immediately responded to a request for comment on Trump's statements.
Avenatti, however, quickly responded on Twitter, saying he looked forward to "testing the truthfulness" of Trump's claim.
Regarding Trump's comment that Cohen is his attorney, Avenatti told BuzzFeed News, "Another brilliant pick and an example of only the best and the brightest."