Gillum’s ‘red flag’ plan to stop Trump: 1M new Florida voters

Andrew Gillum announced a plan Wednesday to register as many as 1 million new Florida voters in an effort to crush President Donald Trump’s reelection chances in the nation’s largest swing state.

“Voter registration is red flag No. 1,” the former Tallahassee mayor told POLITICO, calling increased voter registration crucial to the Democratic Party’s ability to survive and thrive in Florida.

“We’re looking at a target of 1 million,” he said. “We’ve got over 3 million people eligible to vote, and that’s to say nothing of the 1.4 million returning citizens” — former felons in line to have their voting rights restored under a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year.

At the same time, the Florida Democratic Party said it will spend $2 million in the next year to register 200,000 voters ahead of the 2020 presidential primary.

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said the party hasn’t dedicated enough resources to registering voters in recent years.

There are currently 4.96 million registered Democrats in the state, compared to 4.7 million Republicans and nearly 3.6 million voters with no party affiliation.

Progressive activists who supported Gillum in last year’s gubernatorial race have speculated that he might mount a bid for president. In an interview with POLITICO before a speech today at the historically black Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, Gillum said it’s more important for him to grow the state’s voter rolls to help the Democratic nominee.

He noted a decline in the party’s voter edge since President Barack Obama’s first campaign.

“In 2008, Democrats had an advantage of almost 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans when Obama ran,” Gillum said. “In my last race, that advantage had shrunk to the 260,000 range. It was a very precipitous decline.”

Gillum supporters registered a voter outreach group — Bring it Home Florida, named after his signature campaign phrase — with the state last week.

Trump’s campaign is heavily focused on Florida, the biggest swing state in the nation, with 29 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win. Without the Sunshine State, the president’s path to re-election narrows significantly.

If a Democrat can carry Florida in 2020, he or she could win the White House by capturing just one other swing state—Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, or Pennsylvania—if the remaining states vote the way they did in 2016.

Trump won Florida and some other swing states by razor-thin margins, raising hope among Democrats that their 2016 turnout woes can be remedied by growing voter rolls and persuading swing and first-time voters to cast ballots against the incumbent.

Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and a state senator, was dismissive of Gillum’s new campaign.

“I think he’s found a new way to earn a living,” Gruters told POLITICO before Gillum’s speech.

“Listen, I encourage everyone to go register to vote," Gruters said. “My guess is we will get Republican votes out of his efforts as well. But I think this is more about him finding a job.”

Some Democrats have wondered if Florida is a lost cause. Gillum said it isn’t.

“Florida could be less competitive in the future, which is why you have so many Democrats talking about a pathway to the White House that doesn’t include Florida,” Gillum said. “That’s crazy talk.”

Steve Schale, a Florida political consultant who worked for Obama, agreed that Democrats need to do a better job of registering Florida voters. On his blog this week, he said that the voter registration advantage held by Democrats has fallen by 400,000 voters over the past decade.

Former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg announced earlier this month that rather than seek the presidency as a Democrat, he would fund a voter registration, persuasion and turnout effort in Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“Whoever the nominee is likely won’t be decided until late into 2020, and whoever that nominee is will face a very large and well-funded campaign-in-waiting,” Bloomberg adviser Mitch Stewart, who led Obama’s battleground effort in 2012, told POLITICO earlier this month.

“As we looked at the gaps in the current ecosystem, we said, ‘Could we set something up right now that could provide the infrastructure, provide the data and technology to whomever the eventually nominee is so they’re not at such a disadvantage once the primary is over?’” Stewart said. “We can.”

Gillum said it’s a simple math problem

“I’m aware of the fact that not everyone who registers votes,” Gillum said. “But if you have more marbles on the table, when some of them fall off, it’s not as consequential.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

O’Rourke’s sprint out of the gate leaves Democratic field gasping

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — By Thursday afternoon, Beto O’Rourke will have campaigned in all 10 counties in New Hampshire — a sprint that will take him all of 48 hours. Last week he was all over Iowa, and in between, he traversed the upper Midwest.

With no job tying him to Washington or a state capital — and a genuine zeal for the open road — O’Rourke is rallying college students, bounding onto café countertops and pressing himself into the news cycle in different media markets by the hour.

“We’re setting the pace,” O’Rourke said in Iowa over the weekend, after running a 5K race at the start of a frenzied day of campaigning in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. He then traveled to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, before driving his rented Dodge Grand Caravan more than 430 miles east to New Hampshire.

In less than a week since announcing his campaign, the Texas Democrat has singlehandedly quickened the clip of the early presidential primary, annoying some of his competitors — and driving others nuts.

O’Rourke is hardly the first presidential candidate this year to arrive in Iowa or New Hampshire, states that presidential contenders have been visiting since the midterm elections last year. But O’Rourke is benefitting from large crowds and a protracted run of media attention following the announcement of his campaign last week.

His first-day fundraising of $6.1 million, which he reported Monday, surpassed all of his competitors. And by waiting until Wednesday to announce his average donation of $47, O’Rourke generated another batch of stories. Later, as O’Rourke dashed from an event in Plymouth, an elderly woman craning her neck to see him climbed shakily onto a bench.

“Hey,” she said, “he stands on furniture.”

Aides to other top Democrats running for president granted in recent days they’ve inescapably been pulled into the “Beto Show,” texting quips about his wild arm gestures and his table-top campaigning — while acknowledging he’s giving voters and reporters an up-close view that they, by and large, are not.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, for one, gives nearly the same speech at every event. He eschews coffee counters for his podium and rarely takes questions from the audience, let alone the news media.

Rival aides have used Twitter as a kind of tracking device, privately taking shots at O’Rourke’s thin operation and noting though wry retorts each time he stumbles or borrows a policy or talking point from their candidate.

With O’Rourke unemployed and free to roam the country in his minivan, other campaigns have begun discussing how to maximize their exposure when they travel.

Yet none of the advisers to other Democrats said they’re planning wholesale changes to their approaches, with each insisting they are going to run their own races and one predicting O’Rourke will eventually fade.

As one senior official for a 2020 Democrat put it to POLITICO, “When you’re in a race of 20 people, you can’t change everything for one person.”

“He could still be in Congress, but he quit,” another senior official said of O’Rourke. “He’s decided that this is his big adventure now, and he’s going to do what he’s going to do.”

Eventually, however, some who work for those with day jobs concede, they’ll have to amend their work schedules to accommodate the anticipated faster pace of the campaign.

O’Rourke’s frenetic pace is largely an effort to replicate the closer-than-expected Texas Senate campaign he ran against Ted Cruz, when he visited all 254 counties in the Republican-heavy state.

When asked about his strategy, he says repeatedly, “You’ve got to show up.”

For O’Rourke’s supporters, the candidate’s efforts to get there are half the appeal. When several hundred students awaiting O’Rourke at Keene State College on Tuesday night heard that he would be late, they emitted a low groan, but recovered when organizers told them to turn on Facebook, where O’Rourke was streaming himself live from the car. When he arrived, he lingered long after the event to pose for photographs with anyone who wanted.

But O’Rourke is also attempting in his go-everywhere-fast campaign to establish himself as a course-correction from Hillary Clinton’s losing effort in 2016. Many Democrats remain bitter that Clinton did not campaign at all in Wisconsin in the general election — a critical state ultimately carried by President Donald Trump. Asked recently to assess the Democratic Party’s failure in the last presidential election, O’Rourke said, “You’ve got to show up, and you’ve got to come back.”

Robert Wolf, a venture capitalist who raised money for and advised former President Barack Obama, said, “If someone told me that their first stop was going to be Iowa and their second stop was going to be a road trip through the Blue Wall, considering our last candidate missed badly on the Blue Wall, I would say that’s a pretty thoughtful strategy.”

He said, “From what I am watching and hearing, the excitement around Beto is real and the grass roots following is growing exponentially on each and every stop. We have learned from the past that instead of a candidate who’s behind rope lines all the time, those who are taking selfies, shaking hands and kissing babies draw bigger crowds and support.”

Despite his fundraising and crowd-drawing ability, O’Rourke is still running far behind Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden and about even with Sen. Kamala Harris of California in the latest CNN poll, released Tuesday. O'Rourke will travel to South Carolina after New Hampshire, and he will draw another media convulsion on March 30, when he holds a campaign kickoff in his hometown of El Paso.

In his typical fashion, O’Rourke announced Wednesday that he will not only hold an event in El Paso that day, but also in Houston and Austin.

Still, it is so early in the year that O’Rourke almost certainly cannot maintain the constant crush of media attention that has accompanied his first week. Sitting lawmakers running for president can — and do — drive coverage by introducing bills, and debates starting this summer will offer abundant break-out opportunities. Biden, who is widely expected to run, will likely draw significant attention from O’Rourke following any announcement of a campaign.

Asked if he could maintain his own pace, O’Rourke said, “We’ll see. It is extraordinarily energizing to be doing this … It’s thrilling to me.”

For Jeff Roe, who was Cruz’s chief strategist, O’Rourke’s early run is familiar. He said that if O’Rourke remains tied to the road, it will prevent him from advancing any public storyline other than that he is a road warrior — a narrative that will eventually grow old.

“Coming out of the gate, for the first couple weeks, it’s probably OK,” Roe said. “But this is all he has … he’s in a constant sprint to find himself.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Agency probing Facebook plans broad review of tech data practices

The Federal Trade Commission is planning to launch a wide-ranging study of tech companies' data practices, in the latest sign of the increased scrutiny that Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook are facing in Washington.

FTC Chairman Joe Simons disclosed the agency's plans to senators in a series of written responses that POLITICO obtained Wednesday.

The news came a year after the agency began a still-unfinished investigation of Facebook's data practices, following revelations that information on up to 87 million users wound up in the hands of a consulting firm linked to President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

Simons wrote that the FTC is planning to conduct a so-called 6(b) study, which the agency has previously applied to data brokers and businesses accused of abusing the federal patent system. He suggested the study would target large tech firms but didn't specifically name companies like Google, Facebook or Amazon.

In such a study, the agency can order companies to turn over detailed information about their business practices. That could force tech companies to share closely held corporate secrets about their inner workings that they've long resisted disclosing.

Simons, a Trump nominee, is under intense pressure from both sides of Capitol Hill to more aggressively regulate the powerful tech industry. Key lawmakers have previously raised the idea of a 6(b) study with Simons.

In November, then-Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) asked Simons if the commission would consider ordering such a study on Google, Facebook and Amazon "to learn what information they collect from consumers and how that information is used, shared, and sold."

Simons at the time called that option a "powerful tool" that "very well might make sense" but did not reveal any specific plans.

In his follow-up responses to the Senate after the hearing, Simons went further, telling Thune, "I agree with you that the FTC’s section 6(b) authority could be used to provide some much-needed transparency to consumers about the data practices of large technology companies." He added, "We are developing plans to issue 6(b) orders in the technology area."

A Commerce Committee spokesperson confirmed the written exchange, which has not yet been posted online. Simons' office did not respond to a request for more information on the particulars of the study in the works.

Silicon Valley has received an increasing volley of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans in Washington. Many Democrats argue the industry's approach to competition should make it a target of antitrust enforcement. Republicans, including Trump, accuse the industry of bias in the way it manages content. Lawmakers of both parties, meanwhile, have heavily criticized the industry's handling of user data.

Tech critics have long called on the FTC to exercise its 6(b) authority when it comes to Silicon Valley's privacy and competition practices.

Asked for comment on the plans for a 6(b) study, Democratic FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra told POLITICO he's "worried that the public and law enforcement know far too little about dominant tech companies."

"There is growing support for a comprehensive inquiry into their business practices," he added. "This work is long overdue and should be the agency’s top tech priority."

Thune told POLITICO on Wednesday that he welcomed the FTC’s move.

Companies targeted by a 6(b) order can, according to the FTC, petition to "limit or quash" the agency's demand for information. The FTC can then opt to seek a court order compelling compliance.

Simons, speaking at an advertising industry conference in Washington on Wednesday, said American consumers may not fully appreciate how data collected on them is being used by ad-driven tech companies.

"Many of the companies at the heart of this ecosystem operate behind the scenes and without much consumer awareness," he said.

Margaret Harding McGill contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

The Democrats’ Donor-Measuring Contest

Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign was beginning to look like a self-indulgent midlife crisis road trip—until that number: $6.1 million. His self-reported first-day fundraising total once again made Beto not just a candidate, but a movement. Online giving is largely powered by small donors, and in this Democratic presidential primary, small donors are the coin of the realm.

O’Rourke emphasized two more numbers on Wednesday: 128,000, for the number of unique contributions to his campaign in its first 24 hours, and $47, for the average amount. This opened a new competition to determine whose movement is bigger … and whose donations are smaller. O’Rourke earned a bit more cash than Bernie Sanders did on his first day, reporters noted, but Sanders had more donors, more than 225,000, and a smaller average contribution of $27. (By the end of Sanders’ first week, his donor base was up to 360,000 people.)

Meanwhile, we don’t even know how many individual people donated to O’Rourke, because “unique contributions” is not the same thing as “unique donors.” Similarly, the “average contribution” doesn’t take into account multiple contributions by the same person. While Sanders often touted an average contribution of $27 during his 2016 bid, his average donor gave roughly $90 to his campaign.

Campaigns and the media play these number games because of the widely held presumption that a candidate funded by small donors (the smaller the better) is one who is funded by, and will govern for, “the people.” By the same line of thinking, a candidate reliant on cash from wealthy benefactors will be beholden to the “1 percent.”

But what if that’s wrong? Having the biggest small-donor army doesn’t make a candidate the best reflection of the will of “the people,” because a relatively small set—a measly few hundred thousand in a nation of 300 million—of donors, large or small, isn’t necessarily composed of a cross section of America. And having considerable support among wealthy donors doesn’t force a candidate to enact policies that favor the elite few over the common good.

Unfortunately, and foolishly, the Democratic primary candidates themselves, along with the Democratic National Committee, have turned this stage of the 2020 presidential campaign into a small-donor money chase. The regrettable consequence will be that some promising candidates not named Beto O’Rourke or Bernie Sanders are likely to fail to get a full hearing from voters and the news media. And fringe candidates will receive more of a hearing than they deserve.

In early January, Elizabeth Warren told Rachel Maddow that she would set the standard for how all presidential campaigns should be funded: “We're going to grassroots funding,” Warren said on MSNBC. “No to the billionaires, whether they are self-funding or whether they're funding PACs. We are the Democratic Party, and that is the party of the people.” Warren, trying to further set the pace, has also sworn off private big-dollar fundraisers and one-on-one donor meetings.

Since then, the rest of the Democratic Party’s 2020 field has largely followed her cue. Most candidates in the race are discouraging the formation of affiliated, but independently operated, super PACs, which place no limits on how much money rich donors can contribute. Billionaire prospects Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer bowed out, while Howard Schultz ditched the Democrats to explore a third-party bid. Worst of all, the Democratic National Committee decided to reward candidates for grassroots fundraising, even if they’ve yet to register in the polls, by offering debate invitations to candidates who amass 65,000 donors, so long as they also have a minimum of 200 donors in each of at least 20 states.

By making “Big Money” appear to be inherently corrupting, and small money a formal measurement of a campaign’s success, Warren and the DNC have made it more difficult for the rest of the candidates—including herself—to compete with the fundraising juggernauts of Sanders and O’Rourke.

Sanders and O’Rourke each grabbed huge first-day fundraising hauls of about $6 million each. That’s four times more than Kamala Harris raised, and six times more than Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Jay Inslee and former Gov. John Hickenlooper raised. Warren, meanwhile, has yet to announce how much money she has taken in, or how many donors are with her. Warren was never going to win the money race. But now she’s losing the virtue race, too.

Money does not always determine the outcome of a presidential campaign: ask Jeb Bush. But you also can’t win without it. In 2020, early money looks to be more important than it ever has been. And the number of dollars is going to be more important than the number of donors.

In the past, candidates could campaign on the cheap for months in Iowa and New Hampshire, low-population states with cultures of retail politics that give relative unknowns a chance to make a good face-to-face impression. But because those two predominantly white states don’t reflect the diversity of the entire Democratic Party, party leaders rightly encouraged a new primary schedule that increases the influence of racially diverse states.

So now California and Texas—sprawling megastates that can’t be won with handshakes—are part of a Super Tuesday set of primaries on March 3, right after the first four small-state contests. Plus, California and Texas allow for early voting. As the calendar currently stands (though dates can still shift), California’s voting window is so wide that its voters will be able to vote the same day as Iowans. That’s right, the first primary votes in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination may not be cast in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. And the election won’t necessarily start in California, even: Michigan and Ohio have primaries on March 10, but because of early voting, Michiganders can vote before Iowa, and Ohioans can vote the same day as New Hampshire.

All this puts unprecedented pressure on campaigns to spend early on expensive ad buys and get-out-the-vote efforts. And that tilts the playing field to Sanders and O’Rourke, who enter the race with a fully outfitted, pre-assembled donor operation. Even Joe Biden is sweating it. The Wall Street Journal reported that Biden is trying to “quickly raise several million dollars” from “major donors” as he has privately “expressed concern … that he wouldn’t be able to raise millions of dollars in online donations immediately.”

Candidates with online donor armies typically are—let’s face it—cults of personality. That may not always be troublesome to Democrats; Barack Obama was to some degree a cult of personality who got elected president twice and advanced a lot of progressive priorities. But if the personality cult turns out to have only niche appeal—and a small-donor base ends up representing only an unrepresentative demographic slice of the electorate—giving such a candidate an advantage in the primary may not be conducive to victory in the general.

Meanwhile, certain classes of candidates seem likely to be sidelined: those who have more appeal to swing voters than to the party’s ideological base; those more comfortable with policy nuance; those emphasizing less flashy attributes like depth of experience; and those who just haven’t had the time to find their groove.

In the business world, it’s not unusual to start with a few “angel investors” who provide seed money to help get a project off the ground. Then once you gain traction, you aim for a broader base of funding sources. For a presidential campaign, a super PAC funded by a candidate’s most ardent backers would be the logical vehicle for that kind of venture capital. Without a super PAC, and without an ability to easily command enough national media attention to juice small-dollar giving—or a willingness to say the sort of provocative things that attract media attention—an otherwise promising campaign may be unable to get off the launching pad.

Beyond the new challenges created in 2020 to get into the top tier, Democrats should also worry about what's happening at the bottom tier, thanks to the DNC’s offer to put small-donor success stories on the debate stage. It appears that the new rule is going to put not just long-shot candidates like South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, but also no-shot candidates like entrepreneur Andrew Yang in the debates. It may even be the case that candidates with better qualifications on paper than Yang won’t register in enough polls, or with enough small donors, to win a golden ticket. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is now explicitly asking for donations in order to get a debate invite, which suggests she is worried about making the cut.

And while it might be terrific that the scrappy Yang will get a chance to promote his signature issue of universal basic income (and, um, opposition to male circumcision?) to a national audience, what happens when bigoted, hateful figures—people like past presidential candidates Lyndon LaRouche or David Duke—hack their way into the debates through small-donor giving?

To all of these concerns, you may respond: So what? These are small risks relative to the benefit of ending the rule of Big Money. And if a candidate like O’Rourke or Sanders has an exceptional ability to cultivate a small-donor army, that bodes well for that candidate’s prospects in a general election, or so the argument goes. If other candidates can’t keep up, maybe they’re not good candidates.

But that argument is wrong. It’s certainly true that some candidates can’t raise enough money because of their own flaws, and an ability to fundraise is an important skill for candidates to have. But the assumption that having a sizable small-donor base is tantamount to being representative of “the people” is a dangerous one. Not every small donor is pure and virtuous, and not every wealthy donor has a self-serving angle. A campaign fueled solely by small donors does not automatically make the candidate more responsive to the broad electorate because not every set of small donors represents a cross section of America.

Progressives have long prized the false rationalization that corporate campaign money is the chief obstacle to enacting their policy agenda. But Donald Trump received far less money than Hillary Clinton from the finance and health care industries, and he pulled in little from the energy industry. (The Democratic bête noirs and fossil fuel moguls David and Charles Koch did not back Trump in 2016 and won’t in 2020). Missing out on those donations hasn’t stopped Trump from trying to roll back regulations on banking, energy and health care.

Likewise, there is a long history of Democratic presidents—from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama—winning office with the help of corporate cash (as well as small donors) and then regulating corporations anyway. For example, Obama raked in nearly double the cash from Wall Street than his 2008 opponent, John McCain, but that didn’t stop him from passing Dodd-Frank banking reform. A campaign contribution isn’t a contract, let alone a bribe, and recipients have no obligation to do a donor’s bidding after pocketing the contribution. While progressives would be understandably wary of a candidate solely funded by corporate interests, they need not treat every dollar from the “donor class” as toxic to their agenda. To move a progressive agenda, Democrats don’t need to get rid of money in politics; they need to get rid of Trump and reclaim the Senate.

Deep down, even Elizabeth Warren understands that. Asked by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes whether her disavowal of big donor events and meetings only “applies to the primary,” Warren said “yes” because she doesn’t “believe in unilateral disarmament.” Chances are whoever gets the Democratic nomination will say the same. But a dollar of cash from the top 1 percent in the general election is no different than a dollar from Rich Uncle Pennybags in the primary. Either it’s corrupting or it isn't. Warren is admitting that it isn’t.

Of course, the disparity in fundraising among the Democratic presidential candidates may not last for the course of the campaign. If O’Rourke and Sanders don’t perform well on the trail and in the debates, perhaps their fundraising will start to lag. Maybe other candidates will have breakout moments that fuel their own small-donor bonanzas. It is way too early to conclude that nobody outside Sanders and O’Rourke has a chance to win.

And there’s no rule of politics that decrees everything in campaigns must be fair. Certain candidates will always begin a presidential primary with advantages over others. Being drowned out by Big Money is just as frustrating for a candidate as being drowned out by small money. The winner has never been determined by who had the best policy ideas; sometimes it really is who has the biggest cult of personality.

But Democrats should recognize that by idolizing the small donor, they are not cleansing the political process. They are just creating incentives in the primary that help certain types of candidates over everyone else.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump says he never got a thank you for McCain's funeral

President Donald Trump on Wednesday went after the late Sen. John McCain once again, saying that he “gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted,” but “didn’t get a thank you.”

Speaking in front of a crowd at a tank plant in Lima, Ohio, the president continued the attacks on McCain that he began over the weekend. Trump said he was responsible for authorizing the state funeral services for McCain, who died of cancer in August, but got no gratitude.

“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted – which, as president, I had to approve,” Trump said. “I don't care about this, but I didn't get a thank you. That is OK. We sent him on the way, but I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.”

“I have to be honest, I’ve never liked him much,” Trump also said of the former senator in extended vent session that received a cool reception in the room. “Hasn't been for me.”

Trump and McCain clashed repeatedly after the former launched his presidential campaign, but their feud peaked in 2017 when the senator sunk GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare with a dramatic thumbs-down vote.

Trump was not invited to McCain's funeral last year, and the American flag atop the White House was initially raised to full-staff in the wake of the senator's death — and was returned to half-staff in McCain's honor only after the move garnered criticism from both sides of the aisle.

Since Saturday, the president has publicly railed against McCain for tanking the Obamacare repeal and for passing along to the FBI an explosive and largely unverified dossier alleging links between Trump and Russia. Trump also mocked McCain on Twitter for being "last in his class" at the U.S. Naval Academy. The former Navy pilot graduated from the military academy in 1958, finishing near, but not at, the bottom of his class.

For the pro-military audience gathered in Ohio, Trump added a point to his list of grievances against McCain: He blamed the senator for helping persuade President George W. Bush to invade Iraq.

“Thousands and thousands of our people have been killed, millions of people overall,” Trump said. “And frankly, we're straightening it out now, but it’s been a disaster for the country.”

He also reiterated his qualms with McCain over the dossier and the vote to repeal Obamacare, tailoring his lines to the crowd.

“He went thumbs down, badly hurting the Republican Party, badly hurting our nation and hurting many sick people who desperately wanted good, affordable health care,” Trump said, adding: “McCain didn't get the job done for our great vets in the VA.”

Trump’s inflammatory remarks about the late senator have drawn scathing criticism from lawmakers and members of McCain’s family. The president concluded his tirade in Ohio by blaming the media for drawing out the issue.

“Not my kind of guy, but some people like him,” Trump concluded.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

'Do you know how old I am?': Teenagers draft Gravel to run for president

Mike Gravel, the two-term former Democratic senator from Alaska who left elected office in 1981, is running for president. Kind of.

Late Tuesday night, a Gravel exploratory committee filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, setting off a cascade of Twitter commentary and accusations that the filing was simply a bit of trolling by teenage students.

The filing was the brainchild of teenagers — but they had the senator’s blessing.

“They asked me if it was okay, I said they could do what they wanted, as long as they were doing it and not me!” Gravel joked in a brief interview with POLITICO.

Gravel and the teens are an odd match at first glance: He has been out of the Senate for roughly double the time his young organizers have been alive.

“When they first approached me, I responded, ‘Do you know how old I am?’” Gravel said.

But the students said they were attracted to Gravel after hearing about the senator on "Chapo Trap House," a left-leaning podcast. The organizers said they were drawn to Gravel's beliefs on foreign policy specifically, as well as the promotion of direct democracy initiatives by the senator who famously read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record.

“Obviously he has been out of politics for a long time, but there’s no reason he had to stay out,” said David Oks, a high school senior who is leading the pro-Gravel effort. “We pitched it to him as a way to get the Democratic Party to move towards views that are more moral, more sensible in many ways.”

Gravel has already ran for the White House once, in the 2008 campaign, when he excoriated America’s history of military intervention while sharing a stage with Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. After not gaining much traction — despite his infamously avant garde campaign ads, including one which featured Gravel staring silently at the camera before throwing a large rock into a lake and walking off — Gravel tried and failed to win the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination.

This also isn’t the teenagers’ first time wading into politics. Oks ran for mayor of his town in Westchester County, New York in 2017, and his campaign was staffed by many of his friends who are now all in on the “Gravel Gang.”

“He and I have always been interested in getting involved in politics, before anyone told us we were allowed to,” said Henry Williams, a college freshman who was Oks’ mayoral campaign manager.

The odd couple of octogenarian ex-senator and teenaged supporters aren’t blind to Gravel's longer-than-long shot odds to win anything in 2020 — but they say that's not the point. Instead, they want to get him into the early Democratic presidential primary debates.

“[They] had the idea I should run not to win, but to expose ideas, particularly on direct democracy,” Gravel said. “We had no pretensions that we would win.”

To make their quixotic push to the debate stage, the group is hoping to use a similar strategy to other underdogs: generate attention online to get to 65,000 individual donors, one of the thresholds for qualification for the first debate set by the Democratic National Committee. Since the Gravel exploratory paperwork was discovered, Gravel’s Twitter account has been on a warpath, bashing Democrats for being insufficiently liberal.

And no, Gravel himself is not the one doing the tweeting. It is the students: “The caustic style and affinity for memes, that’s more representative of high schoolers than former senators,” Oks said.

The organizers, who initially pitched Gravel on the run with a policy memo, are flying out to California in April to convince him to to go from an exploratory committee to a full-on run. (“They need to persuade my wife,” Gravel said.) They have been in constant contact with Gravel over the last day.

They also said hundreds of people have reached out to voice support, emboldening the ragtag team. “He’s excited there’s a market for these ideas,” Williams said. “He said he’s far more interested than he was a couple days ago.”

But even that small measure of success comes at a price.

"I have to go back to school in like a week, and I have to manage this thing,” Oks sighed.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

‘We’ll make sure a space is cleared off for him’: Shop owners brace for Beto’s next counter hop

A 6-foot-4 Texas Democrat running for president walks into a bar.

And he stands on the counter.

As Beto O’Rourke treks cross-country in a rented Dodge Caravan for a flurry of campaign stops, the newest candidate in the presidential primary pool seems to have a favorite way to speak to the crowds rushing to hear him — perched atop a table or counter.

Perhaps flaunting his youthful energy — he’s just 46 — or perhaps simply figuring it’s the best way to address hundreds of people in cafes ill-designed for stump speeches, O’Rourke has developed a habit of hopping onto elevated surfaces at campaign events. He’s stood on restaurant booths and wooden chairs and, despite the March chill in Ohio, a patio table.

But counters seem to be a preferred stage for the former congressman. And the act has caused uproar among those who find it amusing, bizarre or unsanitary.

Hours before O’Rourke was set to visit Tuckerman Brewing Co. in Conway, N.H. on Wednesday, co-owner Kirsten Neves said no one from the campaign had reached out about a makeshift stage for the candidate. But the venue has picnic tables and a well-built bar — “it could probably hold a helicopter” — so Neves didn’t mind the prospect of a spontaneous speech from an elevated surface.

“We’ll make sure a space is cleared off for him, just in case he decides to jump on anything,” she said.

The brewery doesn’t typically serve food, but if it did it wouldn’t stop O’Rourke. He clambered onto the counter of a coffee house and drinkery in Burlington, Iowa, only after workers had cleared the surface of pumpkin bars and jumbo snickerdoodles, the Des Moines Register reported.

At Consuelo’s Taqueria, the Mexican restaurant set to serve as O’Rourke’s Manchester, N.H., stop Thursday, owner Martin Delgadillo didn’t seem too concerned about campaign-worn shoes dirtying his tabletops. It can all be cleaned, he said.

“If it’s helping him, go for it,” Delgadillo said. “If he wants to dance on there, go for it.”

The trend has been dissected on social media, inspiring memes and parodies, including “Beto Standing on Counters” and “beto on elevated surfaces” Twitter accounts pledging to document O’Rourke’s stances atop assorted furniture as the 2020 campaign trail continues.

Critics of O’Rourke have accused him of ducking the meatier policy questions, arousing suspicion among some that the candidate’s platform lacks specifics. Followers of the saga delighted in the irony on social media as O’Rourke bounced from counter to counter — if O’Rourke’s vague answers make it difficult to know what he stands for, at least they know what he stands on.

O’Rourke made a strong entrance into the race for the White House, raising a staggering $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign. And he had gained credibility as a national contender and deft small-dollar fundraiser during his unexpectedly close Senate race against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz last fall.

Despite his relatively small experience in public office, supporters have flocked to the young Texan, enamored by his charisma and nontraditional background.

“He’s trying to connect with the people,” said Delgadillo, who added he's interested himself to hear what the candidate has to say. “We’ll see what happens.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump warns he'll keep China tariffs for 'substantial period of time'

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the United States will not immediately lift tariffs on $250 million worth of Chinese goods even if a trade deal with Beijing is reached in coming weeks.

"No, we're not talking about removing them," Trump told reporters before departing the White House for a trip to Ohio. "We're talking about leaving them ... for a substantial period of time because we have to make sure that if we do the deal with China that China lives by the deal."

Trump also said his "top representatives" would be going to China this weekend to continue talks, confirming earlier administration statements that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would be returning to Beijing for negotiations next week.

Trump imposed a 10 percent duty on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and a 25 percent duty on another $50 billion. Some Democrats have expressed concern that he could agree to immediately lift the duties if his administration reaches a deal with Beijing to resolve a number of trade concerns, thus giving up leverage to ensure China abides by the pact.

However, China is believed to be reluctant to address Trump's demands — or to remove its retaliation against $110 billion of U.S. exports — if the U.S. duties are left in place.

Lighthizer, in testimony last week before the Senate Finance Committee, resisted specifying when the tariffs would be lifted if an agreement is finalized.

“That‘s the subject of the negotiation, so I’m not getting into it here in public,” Lighthizer told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the panel's ranking member. “But I do agree with you that we have to have real progress and we have to maintain the right to be able to — whatever happens to the current tariffs — to raise tariffs when there are situations where there’s violations of the agreement.“

A few days after the Senate Finance hearing, White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said a tentative agreement had been reached with China on how a broader pact would be enforced. That agreement features proposals that would allow the United States to impose certain duties if Beijing is found to have violated its commitments — and China would not be permitted to retaliate, Kudlow said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Mystery parties seek secrecy in Jeffrey Epstein-related suit

Two mystery litigants citing privacy concerns are making a last-ditch bid to keep secret some details in a lawsuit stemming from wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein’s history of paying underage girls for sex.

Just prior to a court-imposed deadline Tuesday, two anonymous individuals surfaced to object to the unsealing of a key lower-court ruling in the case, as well as various submissions by the parties.

Both people filed their complaints in the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which is overseeing the case. The two people said they could face unwarranted speculation and embarrassment if the court makes public records from the suit, in which Virginia Giuffre, an alleged Epstein victim, accused longtime Epstein friend Ghislaine Maxwell of engaging in sex trafficking by facilitating his sexual encounters with teenage girls. Maxwell has denied the charges.

“Wholesale unsealing of the Summary Judgment Materials will almost certainly disclose unadjudicated allegations against third persons — allegations that may be the product of false statements or, perhaps, simply mistake, confusion, or failing memories of events alleged to have occurred over a decade and half ago,” former federal prosecutor Nick Lewin wrote in an amicus brief filed Tuesday.

Lewin’s brief doesn’t provide any details about his client — identified in the brief by the pseudonym “John Doe” — beyond saying he “potentially” is mentioned in the underlying court filings and opinion. Lewin, who’s based in Manhattan, declined to comment.

“If the identities of non-parties are not adequately protected, the release of the Summary Judgment Materials in this case would likely cause severe and irreparable harm to a wide variety of non-parties, including those implicated in the conduct and those potentially victimized by it,” the brief says.

The other anonymous brief came from Washington-based attorney Kerrie Campbell, who handles gender equality cases and is affiliated with the Time’s Up movement to combat sexual harassment. Campbell requested that the brief submitted on behalf of a “J. Doe” be put under seal, but said in legal papers that the client is “objecting to public disclosure of specific content pertaining to Doe to protect compelling personal privacy interests.”

Campbell did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Giuffre and Maxwell settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum in 2017 after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet turned down Maxwell’s bid to head off a trial. In the lead-up to that ruling, Sweet accepted almost all filings in the case under seal, without specific orders justifying the secrecy.

Three different parties asked Sweet to unseal records in the case: Harvard law professor and former Epstein lawyer Alan Dershowitz — a prominent Trump defender — filmmaker and far-right social media personality Mike Cernovich and the Miami Herald.

Dershowitz said he wanted several records released to disprove and discredit allegations two women have made that they had sex with Dershowitz at Epstein’s direction. Dershowitz has categorically denied the allegations.

Cernovich said the far-ranging secrecy in the case undermined efforts to expose sexual trafficking by American elites.

The Miami Herald sought to open all records in the suit as part of a series on Epstein it was preparing and ultimately published last year.

Sweet turned down all the requests, prompting an appeals to the 2nd Circuit. A three-judge panel there heard arguments on the issue earlier this month and indicated last week that it plans to soon release Sweet’s opinion and related filings. The judges asked any parties in the appeals with specific objections to notify the court by Tuesday.

Maxwell indicated in papers filed by her lawyers Tuesday that she continues to oppose any unsealing. Her attorneys said that if the appeals court believes some unsealing is required, the matter should be returned to Sweet for action, since he is most familiar with the case.

Giuffre is supporting immediate unsealing of some materials in the case and a broader unsealing of all records, but said in a filing Tuesday that some personal information should be held back like names of minors, social security numbers, dates of birth and phone numbers.

“The truth is that Ms. Maxwell and Mr. Epstein sexually trafficked [Giuffre] to their well-connected friends, both in this country and elsewhere,” Giuffre attorneys Paul Cassell and Sigrid McCawley wrote. Unfortunately, critical documents and transcripts proving the truth of Ms. Giuffre's allegations remain sealed in the vault of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It is time for the truth to come out.”

Last month, a federal judge in Florida ruled that federal prosecutors broke the law a decade ago by failing to consult with and misleading victims of Epstein before making a deal that waived any federal charges in exchange for him pleading guilty to two state felony prostitution charges. He ultimately served 13 months of a 19-month sentence, much of it working from his office during the day.

The ruling has been a major headache for Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who was U.S. Attorney in Miami at the time and approved the plea deal. A Justice Department ethics watchdog has launched an investigation into the episode. Acosta has denied any wrongdoing and has said the deal was a reasonable move by his office in light of the available evidence and other considerations.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Federal Reserve, rejecting Trump's growth forecast, confirms rate-hike pause

The Federal Reserve sent a clear signal Wednesday that it’s unlikely to raise interest rates at all this year, a striking change from December when central bank officials judged that two more hikes might be necessary in 2019.

That message is certain to please President Donald Trump, who last year repeatedly bashed the central bank for its steady campaign of rate increases. What bodes less well for Trump is why the Fed downgraded its estimate for rate hikes: expectations of slower economic growth.

The Fed did not announce any rate moves on Wednesday.

Fed officials estimate that the U.S. economy will grow at 2.1 percent this year, down from their 2.3 percent prediction in December. That outlook clashes with the optimistic growth forecast put forward on Tuesday by White House economists, who projected that gross domestic product would grow at or above 3 percent for the next five years, citing a pickup in business investment after the recent corporate tax cuts.

The Fed poured some cold water on that front too.

“The labor market remains strong but … growth of economic activity has slowed from its solid rate in the fourth quarter,” Fed policymakers said in a statement after two days of meetings this week. “Recent indicators point to slower growth of household spending and business fixed investment in the first quarter.”

Since the Fed last hiked rates in December, Chairman Jerome Powell and other officials have emphasized that the central bank would be "patient" in judging the need for more increases, citing slowing global growth and trade tensions. They stuck to that mantra on Wednesday.

Still, no Fed officials indicated that they expect the central bank to cut interest rates in the next couple of years.

Notably, Powell has strongly cautioned against reading too much into the Fed’s projections for future rate moves, particularly given officials’ uncertainty about how the economic outlook will evolve. Central bank officials put forward estimates about future rate moves based on the most likely path of the economy but do not individually outline what type of risks might put the economy on a different course.

The Fed also announced a plan to stop shrinking its massive stockpile of Treasury bonds and bundled mortgages, bought in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to spur growth. That reduction has had the effect of tightening credit conditions, alongside the rate hikes.

The central bank said it would start to slow the pace of its balance sheet reduction in May and then stop shrinking the overall size of its holdings altogether in September. However, it will continue allowing mortgage-backed securities to roll off its balance sheet and move toward its long-term goal of holding a more conventional balance sheet of primarily Treasuries.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

IG investigating Shanahan over Boeing comments

The Pentagon's inspector general has begun an investigation into Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan's reported Boeing bias, the IG's office said Wednesday.

"The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General has decided to investigate complaints we recently received that Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan allegedly took actions to promote his former employer, Boeing, and disparage its competitors, allegedly in violation of ethics rules," DoD IG spokesperson Dwrena Allen said.

"In his recent Senate Armed Services Committee testimony, Acting Secretary Shanahan stated that he supported an investigation into these allegations," she said. "We have informed him that we have initiated this investigation."

On March 13, the independent watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washingtonrequested the investigation based on a January report from POLITICO that said Shanahan, while he was deputy Defense secretary, disparaged Lockheed Martin in Pentagon meetings and held up Boeing as an example.

One former senior Defense Department official who was in one of the meetings said the Lockheed Martin F-35 program was "f---ed up" and argued the company "doesn't know how to run a program."

At the Pentagon, Shanahan's spokesperson noted that the acting secretary welcomed an investigation when he appeared before senators last week.

"Acting Secretary Shanahan has at all times remained committed to upholding his ethics agreement filed with the DoD," Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino said. "This agreement ensures any matters pertaining to Boeing are handled by appropriate officials within the Pentagon to eliminate any perceived or actual conflict of interest issue with Boeing."

Before coming to the Pentagon, Shanahan, an engineer by training, worked for Boeing for 31 years, mostly on the civil aviation side. He has signed an ethics agreement recusing himself from decisions involving Boeing.

In December, Bloomberg reported that Shanahan pressured the Air Force to buy Boeing F-15Xs, even though the Air Force said it wasn't interested.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

MoveOn asks 2020 Dems to boycott AIPAC conference

The liberal group MoveOn is calling on Democratic presidential candidates to skip this year’s AIPAC policy conference, citing its links to the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu and charging that AIPAC has flirted with Islamophobia.

The move underscores a growing willingness on the Democratic left to criticize Israel and its staunchest Washington supporters, particularly since freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) bashed supporters of Israel in terms widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

“It’s no secret that that AIPAC has worked to hinder diplomatic efforts like the Iran deal, is undermining Palestinian self-determination, and inviting figures actively involved in human rights violations to its stage," said Iram Ali, Campaign Director at MoveOn Political Action, in a statement provided first to POLITICO. Ali said the move should “give a clear insight to 2020 candidates on where their base stands instead of prioritizing lobbying groups and policy people who rarely step outside of D.C.”

MoveOn’s move may be largely symbolic, as there is no evidence that candidates planned to attend this year’s conference, which begins on Sunday. In past political cycles, presidential candidates have tended to appear at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference during election years rather than off years. (Hillary Clinton appeared at the 2016 conference, and both she and Barack Obama appeared at the 2008 conference.)

But it sets a new marker for Democratic 2020 hopefuls, underscoring that liberal activists are prepared to make support for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an ally of President Donald Trump, a major issue in the primary race.

MoveOn, a grassroots group that claims membership in the millions, is calling for the boycott after three-quarters of respondents supported the measure in an online survey of members. Before answering the survey, MoveOn members were presented with a series of statements highlighting AIPAC’s opposition to the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal and accusing it of pushing “anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric while giving platforms to Islamophobes.” AIPAC has come under fire for, among other things, a $60,000 payment one of its affiliates made in 2015 to the Center for Security Policy, a conservative group well-known for its inflammatory positions about Muslims and Islam.

AIPAC is bipartisan lobbying group which says its mission is “to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.” It has close ties with numerous senior lawmakers. The group’s annual conference typically attracts high-ranking U.S. members of Congress and administration officials, including presidents.

Omar faced a backlash, along with some cheers from the left, last month after a tweet suggesting that GOP support for Israel is driven by donations from AIPAC. (AIPAC does not donate directly to candidates but its support helps to attract donations from Jewish PACs and donors.) Driven in part by Netanyahu’s GOP-friendly stance and hard line towards the Palestinians, liberals have questioned U.S. policy towards Israel — and groups like AIPAC — with growing boldness.

But others say that the new criticism of Israel and some of its allies is straying dangerously into the realm of anti-Semitic tropes.

Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the criticisms of AIPAC are both offensive and wrong because the group exists to support the democratically elected government of Israel, regardless of who is prime minister.

More broadly, Brooks said, Democrats and progressives are doing a disservice to Israel and themselves by being partisan.

“The Democrats consistently talk about having a strong bipartisan support for Israel, but they whitewash the anti-Semitic comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar and Sen. [Bernie] Sanders' spokeswoman,” Brooks said. “And now they’re advising and calling on Democratic candidates not to attend AIPAC. It’s the exact opposite of bipartisanship. It’s saying they have no interest in being part of a broad pro-Israel consensus.”

A spokesman for AIPAC, Marshall Wittmann, declined to comment on MoveOn’s call or say whether any candidates had been invited.

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are slated to appear at this year’s conference along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Republicans, no Democratic presidential candidates are currently listed as speakers.

In addition to its Washington policy conference, AIPAC holds events around the country throughout the year that often draw presidential hopefuls and other politicians. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), attended an AIPAC dinner in Boston in May 2015, for example.

A spokeswoman for MoveOn, Anna Zuccaro, said the call for a boycott applied only to this year’s policy conference, but called it “a clear sign that momentum is shifting.”

“Candidates should be prepared for push back regarding their involvement with AIPAC,” she said.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal Jewish group dedicated to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, welcomed the move. “Democrats have to do some serious analysis to see whether or not appearing at AIPAC in the heat of 2020 will help them with the base,” he said.

Support for Israel has become an increasingly partisan issue in recent years, as backers of Israel’s right-wing government first split with former President Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal. In 2015, at the invitation of Republicans, Netanyahu gave a remarkable address to the U.S. House of Representatives, in which the foreign leader bashed Obama’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal. Lately, Netanyahu’s backers have embraced Republican President Donald Trump, who fulfilled Israel’s long-held desire that the U.S. move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Three years before that, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney shared advisors with Netanyahu as the candidate criticized Obama for not supporting Israel enough.

For Democrats, support for Israel is largely split along generational lines, with young progressives more willing to challenge the close U.S. alliance with the Jewish state. In the wake of Omar’s comments, the issue also divided the Congressional Black Caucus and some Jewish representatives earlier this month.

The only major Democratic presidential candidate of Jewish descent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, rose to Omar’s defense and criticized Netanyahu by name, a move that pleased progressives who want to draw attention to the prime minister’s involvement in U.S. politics.

“Netanyahu,” Ben-Ami said, “single-handedly owns responsibility for turning Israel into an American political football through aligning himself and his government with the Republican Party.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Nevada Dems revamp caucuses after 2016 clashes

The Nevada State Democratic Party released new updates to its presidential caucus procedures, expanding to four days of in-person early voting and virtual caucuses as Democrats brace for record participation in the 2020 White House campaign.

Nevada Democrats, who have enjoyed critical early-state status since 2008, are aiming to boost voter turnout and fix conflict points that plagued the state's 2016 caucuses. Among the key revisions: The party will lock in delegates for 2020 candidates on Caucus Day instead of relying on an extended series of events — a shift from 2016, when Bernie Sanders supporters accused party leaders of stacking the extended process against them at the state convention, leading to raucous protests.

The Nevada Democratic caucuses will be held on a Saturday, February 22, next year, with four days of early voting during the preceding week, from February 15 to February 18. The party will also host two virtual caucuses on February 16 and 17, which will require pre-registration and voter identification. It's not yet clear how the party will host the virtual caucuses.

Nevada Democrats will not release any vote totals during early voting, instead holding onto those statistics until the close of Caucus Day. But the party will release the raw vote totals — a change from 2016, when the party only shared the delegates won in each precinct, not the vote totals.

Rather than assigning some pledged delegates during county or state conventions after the caucus, the party confirmed that it will allocate them on Caucus Day based on the caucus-level results. In 2016, Sanders supporters, angered over Hillary Clinton's delegate victory and alleged deceit in the caucus process, protested at the state party's convention, forcing the Paris Las Vegas hotel to shut down the event. Angry participants posted then-Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange's phone number online, after which she received death threats.

Next year, state Democrats will also offer presidential preference cards in Tagalog to include the state's expanding Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The state already uses English and Spanish-language cards.

“The Nevada State Democratic Party is creating a uniquely Nevada caucus process--one that reflects how Nevadans vote and the communities we live in,” Nevada State Democratic Party chairman William McCurdy II said in a statement. “We’re working to execute a successful caucus that will help us maintain our competitive edge that led to historic Democratic gains in 2016 and 2018. Our new Delegate Selection Plan will ensure 2020 is Nevada’s most expansive and accessible caucus yet.”

The caucus plan is now available for public comment, and will be submitted to the Democratic National Committee on May 3.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump says ISIS will be 'gone by tonight'

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said ISIS will be “gone by tonight” and held up a pair of maps to reporters that he claimed shows the dramatic reduction of the Islamic State’s presence in Syria since his election in 2016.

The president unfolded the maps — printed on the same page, one on top of the other — in response to a question asking if he’d reversed his Syria policy. The upper image, which Trump said depicted the region in 2016, had splotches of red that the president said marked the various area ISIS had strongholds in the Middle Eastern country.

“When I took it over, it was a mess,” Trump said.

Now, he added as he pointed to the bottom map that he said depicted ISIS presence in Syria today, “there is no red. In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot which will be gone by tonight.”

Trump unexpectedly announced in December that he would pull thousands of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, a move that drew criticism from lawmakers and his own national security team. The president has flip-flopped on his exact plan for withdrawal in the time since, eventually agreeing to leave 400 troops in Syria.

Trump reiterated this decision to reporters Wednesday, saying two groups of 200 troops will remain in Syria stationed in different parts of the country.

U.S.-backed Syrian forces seized control of an ISIS encampment on Tuesday after hundreds of fighters surrendered overnight, the AP reported. The victory was a major advance, but not the final defeat, of the group in Baghouz, the last village held by ISIS in Syria.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump on Mueller report: 'Let it come out'

President Donald Trump on Wednesday called for special counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia probe to be made public, expressing confidence that it will vindicate him.

"Let it come out. Let people see it," the president said, though he added that it's up to Attorney General William Barr on whether the report will be released for public view.

The president added that his supporters also want to see the report.

"I want to see the report. You know who wants to see it? The tens of millions of people that love the fact that we have the greatest economy we've ever had," he said. "I look forward to seeing the report."

Trump's comments come amid speculation that Mueller's investigation is winding down, and as lawmakers on both sides have called on the special counsel's report to be made public once the probe is completed.

Just five days ago, Trump fumed on Twitter that there should be no report on Mueller's probe into whether Russia colluded with the president's 2016 campaign. He went on to claim the investigation is "illegal" and that "Russian Collusion was nothing more than an excuse by the Democrats for losing an Election that they thought they were going to win."

"So, if there was knowingly & acknowledged to be 'zero' crime when the Special Counsel was appointed, and if the appointment was made based on the Fake Dossier (paid for by Crooked Hillary) and now disgraced Andrew McCabe (he & all stated no crime), then the Special Counsel...should never have been appointed and there should be no Mueller Report," the president tweeted Friday.

The president has repeatedly called Mueller's probe a "witch hunt" and has claimed there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia. Trump has also maintained that he's cooperated fully with the investigation, which includes whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

Despite the president's cries that the probe is unfair, Mueller has secured multiple indictments, plea deals and the conviction of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman.

Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, former Trump aide Rick Gates, Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone have all had charges brought against them.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are each preparing for some sort of release of Mueller's report.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, appears prepared to pick up where Mueller leaves off, opening earlier this month a wide-ranging investigation into obstruction of justice allegations against Trump and requesting documents from 81 individuals and entities.

Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers — such as Rep. Devin Nunes, who previously cast doubt on the Russia investigation — have called for full transparency from Mueller on his final report and also expressed confidence Trump will be exonerated.

Trump on Thursday continued to say that he told lawmakers in the House that if they wanted to see the report, then "let them see it."

"We will see what the report says. Let's see if it's fair," the president said, adding: "I have no idea when it's going to be released."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Kellyanne Conway defends Trump after he attacked her husband

Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s attacks on her husband George Conway saying he’s “a counterpuncher” and asserting that the president is free to respond when he’s accused of having a mental illness.

“He left it alone for months out of respect for me,” Conway, a senior Trump aide, told POLITICO in a brief telephone interview. “But you think he shouldn’t respond when somebody, a non-medical professional accuses him of having a mental disorder? You think he should just take that sitting down?”

“Don't play psychiatrist any more than George should be,” she added. “You're not a psychiatrist and he's not, respectfully.”

Conway’s defense of her boss comes as Trump has spent the past two days ripping her husband on Twitter. While the president has generally restrained from attacking George Conway, a longtime conservative lawyer who has repeatedly mocked Trump on Twitter, he broke from that habit on Monday after George Conway claimed he suffered from mental illness.

“George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”

Trump later on Wednesday took the Twitter feud offline, telling reporters that George Conway is a “whack job” and doing a “tremendous disservice to a wonderful wife.”

George Conway responded in kind to the latest attacks, sending more than two dozen tweets on Wednesday in which he called Trump “nuts” and re-upped his claim that the president suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.

The vicious back-and-forth has grabbed headlines during an otherwise tense week. The White House is anticipating the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and the president has vented about everything from late Sen. John McCain to Saturday Night Live to Fox News.

In the interview with POLITICO on Wednesday, Kellyanne Conway said Trump has treated her with the utmost respect.

“The president is obviously defending me,” she said. “He could privately say to me, ‘Honey you’re a distraction. We love you. You'll always be a part of the family but go be with your kids. They need you. Go make a million dollars an hour. Go do that honey.’ It’s the opposite.”

Conway said she’s talked about Trump’s criticism of her husband to the president “in passing” but such talk is not dominating their discussions with him but is rather something that the media wants to focus on. She declined to comment on whether she wants Trump to stop tweeting against her husband.

She also said her effectiveness as Trump’s counselor has not been affected by Trump slamming her husband.

“Why would it affect my job? Hasn’t everybody tried to push me out already and here I am, stronger than ever,” she said. “You're looking at it the wrong way.”

“Yesterday George spent the day tweeting about the president,” she noted. “I spent my day doing two one-hour briefings with press and intergovernmental affairs people, agency people from all across the country and then over an hour briefing that I led in the Oval Office with the president and first lady in the cabinet on opioids at one year, so this is what I do here. I think it probably looks differently if everybody is turning into ‘Gossip Girl.’”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Israel's Netanyahu to visit White House next week

President Donald Trump is set to welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington next week, the White House announced Wednesday.

In a statement, the White House said Trump will host the Israeli prime minister for a working meeting on March 25 to “discuss their countries’ shared interests and actions in the Middle East” and at a White House dinner on March 26.

Netanyahu’s visit with Trump will come on the heels of a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem this week, and about two weeks before Israeli voters head to the polls, where Netanyahu is in a tough reelection fight.

The visit will also come as the Trump administration attempts to craft a blueprint for Middle East peace led by Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, a steep prospect buoyed by the close relationship between Trump and the prime minister but potentially hamstrung by recent political troubles for Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s huddle with Trump also comes as both leaders are under the cloud of investigation in their home countries — with Netanyahu recently having been indicted on charges of corruption and Trump under the shadow of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

In a news conference with Pompeo Wednesday, Netanyahu said he was “looking forward” to his visit next week.

“I believe that we can carry this relationship even stronger,” he said. “It’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger.”

Next week's visit will be the Israeli prime minister's second visit to the White House during the Trump administration following an initial trip to the White House last spring.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine