More Dems grow ready to block defense bill absent Iran debate

Democratic opposition to moving forward on defense legislation without an Iran debate is rising in the Senate, raising the prospect that the party will block the annual, must-pass policy bill.

After a leadership meeting on Tuesday morning, several Democrats said they were digging in for battle with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after he moved to block amendment votes on Monday and set up a key vote to end debate on Wednesday. The caucus is leaning toward stopping the bill, several sources said privately. Moving forward will require 60 senators’ support and the backing of at least seven Democrats.

A final decision will wait until after the full Democratic Caucus gathers on Tuesday afternoon, which could expose Democrats to short-term political attacks from Republicans for voting against the military in a bid to appeal to 2020 primary voters. But some Democrats have already made up their mind.

“There should be no more unauthorized wars. And this is worth the fight,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who is the chief deputy whip. He said leaders are “assessing” whether there are 41 votes to block the bill.

“There’s a very strong consensus that we need to vote on making clear that there will be no unauthorized war with Iran. So I think that’s the direction that we’re moving in,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

The National Defense Authorization Act is typically one of the few bipartisan bills to pass every year, though sometimes Congress waits until the end of the calendar year. But temporarily blocking it is not unprecedented. A bipartisan coalition stopped it in its tracks in July 2005, in part over demands for a vote on torture policies. Republicans, including McConnell, blocked the 2008 defense bill over efforts to lower gas prices. Both times, it eventually became law by year’s end.

This time, Democrats and a handful of Republicans are frustrated by being boxed out of weighing in on Iran, which shot down an unmanned drone last week. President Donald Trump seriously considered a counterstrike but begged off, then declared on Monday that he doesn’t need Congress’ authority to attack Iran anyway, inflaming Democrats further.

“I do like keeping them abreast, but I don't have to do it, legally,” Trump told The Hill on Monday.

“If the Senate can’t vote on an issue of national security and we’re on a national security bill, then what the hell are we doing here?” retorted Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who helped write an amendment to bar funds for war with Iran without congressional authorization. “That’s my comment.”

Two Senate Republicans, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have also vowed to join Democrats and block the bill without an Iran debate.

The amendment appears unlikely to pass even if it does receive a vote. But a vote on Iran would be a difficult one for at-risk Senate Republicans, which McConnell is eager to avoid.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday he will likely oppose moving forward without a vote on the amendment, the highest-ranking Democrat to make such a decision.

But it’s clear Democrats’ preference is to receive a vote on the proposal without having to block the bill, leading to calls by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to delay consideration of the measure.

But McConnell dismissed efforts on Tuesday to wait until after this week’s Democratic debates.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the assistant Democratic leader, said she hasn’t made up her mind on the procedural vote to end debate but said she feels “really strongly” about getting the Iran vote.

“We want to get the amendment, that’s what we’re working on now,” Schumer said in a brief interview.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Prosecutors: Rep. Duncan Hunter used campaign funds to pursue affairs

Federal prosecutors have accused Rep. Duncan Hunter of improperly using campaign funds to pursue numerous romantic affairs with congressional aides and lobbyists, according to a new court filing late Monday night.

The Justice Department alleged that Hunter (R-Calif.) and his wife Margaret Hunter illegally diverted $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use, including to fund lavish vacations and their children’s school tuition. Monday’s court filings also spell out allegations that Hunter routinely used campaign funds to pay for Ubers, bar tabs, hotel rooms and other expenses to fund at least five extramarital relationships.

“At trial, the United States will seek to admit evidence of defendant Duncan D. Hunter’s expenditure of campaign funds to pay for a host of personal expenses. Among these personal expenses were funds Hunter spent to pursue a series of intimate personal relationships,” the Justice Department said in a motion to admit evidence filed on Tuesday.

“This evidence is necessary to establish the personal nature of the expenditures to demonstrate Hunter’s knowledge and intent to break the law, and to establish his motive to embezzle from his campaign.”

Prosecutors said they approached the defense to reach an agreement “that would eliminate the need to introduce this potentially sensitive evidence at trial,” but the congressman’s lawyers declined.

Hunter’s wife has pleaded guilty and agreed earlier this month to cooperate with prosecutors. Prosecutors also filed motions to permit Margaret Hunter’s testimony to be used at trial, which is slated for September 10.

"The marital communications privilege does not protect statements made by spouses who are partners in crime,” the filing read.

An attorney for the California congressman did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Department of Justice also filed a motion to exclude any evidence of Hunter’s good behavior, including his military service, and other evidence that might suggest his use of campaign funds was routine among members of Congress.

The filing comes shortly after Hunter’s legal team asked for the case to be dismissed, alleging that the prosecutors are biased against him because they supported former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In response, the Justice Department asked for any claims of political bias to be excluded.

In the filing, prosecutors detail numerous instances in which Hunter allegedly used campaign cash to fund his affairs. In one episode in 2010, Hunter allegedly took a lobbyist on a "double date” road trip to Virginia Beach with a fellow congressman and then charged his campaign for the hotel room and bar tab.

In another incident in 2015, Hunter allegedly took a House leadership aide out for cocktails and then took an Uber back to his office after they spent the night together. Both expenses were charged to his campaign account, prosecutors say.

And Hunter also allegedly became intimately involved with a woman who worked in his congressional office in 2015, regularly paying for their dates with campaign funds.

The filing also says that Hunter — who has developed a reputation on Capitol Hill for drinking heavily and carousing — used campaign money to pursue “clearly non-work related activity during get-togethers with his close personal friends." But prosecutors declined to elaborate further, saying the sensitive conduct could potentially taint the jury pool.

Prosecutors described a couple so mired in debt that they had less than $1,000 in their bank account from 2009 to 2017, and owed money to stores like Macy's and Home Depot. They had begun falling behind on their children's tuition payments and missed numerous mortgage payments.

"Evidence of Hunter’s negative bank balances, overdue mortgage payments, credit card debts, and other aspects of their depleted financial condition is relevant to proving his motive, intent, knowledge, and absence of mistake in spending campaign funds for personal use," prosecutors wrote. "It explains why he himself used campaign funds to buy everything from cigarettes to gadgets to groceries to getaways — things he wanted but could not afford to buy with his own money."

Prosecutors also pleaded with the judge in Hunter's case to "admonish" Hunter to stop attacking them as politically biased. Hunter, they said, had attempted to connect his case to President Donald Trump's claims of an FBI "witch hunt" against him.

However, prosecutors said they were not prepared to seek a formal gag order "at this time."

"Hunter may freely proclaim his innocence to the public. He may dispute the validity of the charges against him. He may insist that the jury will acquit after reviewing the evidence. He may discuss matters of public record in the case. But he may not use inadmissible, irrelevant, and inflammatory allegations to inject improper prejudice into the proceedings," prosecutors said, pointing to a slew of news articles in which Hunter is quoted attacking prosecutors as leading a "witch hunt"

Prosecutors also raised the prospect that some of Hunter's colleagues in Congress could be called to testify in his trial.

"Several of the witnesses called by the United States will be close associates of Hunter who were or remain his friends, family members, employees, or colleagues," they wrote. "Some of these witnesses have understandably expressed their unwillingness or their displeasure at being required to answer questions related to Hunter’s conduct."

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump and Xi to meet as trade war damage grows

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are both facing intense domestic pressure to de-escalate the trade war between their countries as they prepare to meet on Saturday in Japan.

Trump needs China to make vast structural changes to its economy while also buying more U.S. farm and manufactured goods. Xi needs Trump to lift the tariffs he has put on Chinese imports. With the economic strain mounting on both sides, the two are widely expected to use the G-20 summit in Osaka as an opportunity to start talking again after negotiations broke off abruptly in May.

In one sign of a thaw, Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke by phone on Monday. Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to meet with their Chinese counterparts in Osaka before Trump and Xi meet.

“President Trump likes deals, so he might agree to something,” said Matthew Goodman, a former White House international economics adviser during the Obama administration, who now is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “More likely is that they will agree to a truce, and to restart talks, and in a time-limited way, try to come to some sort of deal within three months, let’s say.”

In a briefing call with reporters on Monday, a senior administration official said Trump is “comfortable with any outcome” of the meeting with Xi because the U.S. is in a strong position. But Trump’s trade war is facing mounting criticism at home.

The U.S. government has collected billions of dollars of additional tariff revenue, but that barely has made a dent in the nation’s skyrocketing budget deficit as a result of Trump’s tax cuts and increased federal spending. Farmers are hurting, with farm exports to China projected to plunge to $6 billion this year from $26 billion during the Obama administration. And U.S. retailers including Walmart and Macy’s are warning of price hikes if Trump moves forward with a plan to impose a 25 percent tax on almost all remaining Chinese goods.

“I think Trump has painted himself into a corner on this,” said Bill Reinsch, a trade policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Since China is unlikely to make the sort of sweeping reforms the administration is demanding, “eventually Trump is going to figure out his choice is between a weak agreement and escalating the trade war.”

Xi is not under the same reelection pressure as the leader of a country with a long history of authoritarian rulers, Reinsch said.

“It’s not a market economy. I think they can outlast us,” Reinsch said.

Chinese officials on Monday stressed the need for both sides to compromise.

“We should meet each other halfway, which means that both sides will need to compromise and make concessions, and not just one side,” Wang Shouwen, China’s vice minister of Commerce and a top deputy on the negotiating team, said during a press briefing.

Still, flagging growth and soaring food prices in China are creating pressure on Xi to make a deal.

Xi has consolidated power since becoming head of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2012 and the country’s president a few months later. But during his tenure, economic growth has fallen from about 8 percent annually to an estimated 6.6 percent in 2018. The International Monetary Fund predicts growth in China will fall to 6 percent in 2020, partly as a result of the trade war.

That’s a concern in a country where citizens have come to expect improved living standards even if their demands for more democracy have become muted. Meanwhile, the cost of food in China was up 8 percent in May from the previous year, and overall inflation is at a 15-month high of 2.7 percent.

The severe stress on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which the U.S. Commerce Department put on a trade blacklist last month over national security concerns, is another pressure point for Xi.

The threat of more tariffs in particular puts Trump is in a much stronger position than Xi, said Derek Scissors, a China policy hawk at the American Enterprise Institute.

“If we went to an across-the-board 25 percent tariff on all Chinese goods, they’d have a balance of payments crisis in three or four months,” Scissors said. “You’d have people fleeing the renminbi in droves. We can force them to devalue their currency, which would make Xi look like he completely blew this.”

The average Chinese citizen might not feel much impact as result. But it would discredit Xi’s leadership and could force China to cut spending on its “Belt-and-Road” infrastructure initiative that spans Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Latin America.

So, Xi’s best hope for Osaka is an agreement with Trump that puts additional U.S. tariffs on hold while the two sides resume talks on a deal, Scissors said. But if Xi achieves that, he could drag out negotiations in the hope that America chooses a new leader in 2020, Scissors added.

Many companies, large and small, are anxious for the two sides to reach an agreement and frustrated by the preoccupation with who has the stronger hand.

The U.S.-China Business Council would welcome an agreement to restart negotiations because that would help reduce business uncertainty, especially if there is a deadline to reach a deal, the group’s vice president Erin Ennis said.

“At this point, we’ve got 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion worth of imports. The longer those tariffs are in place, with no plan of action to address them, the more damage is being done,” Ennis said.

Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Mueller could face two subpoenas to testify before Congress

The House Intelligence and Judiciary committees are “linking arms” on whether to issue a subpoena to former special counsel Robert Mueller, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Tuesday.

“We need to resolve this this week. I hope we will. One way or another, he needs to come in and testify. Time is running out,” Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters. “We want him to come in before the August recess.”

Schiff said he intends to decide this week whether to issue a subpoena to Mueller for his testimony, reiterating a comment he made over the weekend. He added that “we are linking arms in our request” with Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose panel has also been in talks with Mueller about testifying on Capitol Hill.

Schiff said a decision to subpoena Mueller would likely result in two separate subpoenas — one from his committee and one from Nadler’s. He suggested that Mueller might prefer to be subpoenaed as a procedural matter before deciding whether to testify.

“One way or the another, we expect him to testify,” Schiff said.

At a rare news conference last month, Mueller said he preferred not to testify. He said his 448-page report “is my testimony,” adding that any appearance before Congress wouldn’t go beyond what’s contained in his report.

Nadler said Mueller has expressed a willingness to answer lawmakers’ questions behind closed doors, but Democrats want Mueller’s entire testimony to be in front of the cameras.

House Democrats have been eager to get the damning findings of President Donald Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice before the public and have so far struggled to do so in their hearings.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, ripped Democrats for their wrangling over a Mueller subpoena.

"It's telling that today, as the Democrat majority are struggling even to pass a bill to send humanitarian aid to the border, they're fumbling internally in attempts to relitigate a closed investigation that found no Americans conspired with Russia," Collins said.

Both committees are conducting rigorous oversight of Mueller’s investigation, which centered on Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s attempts to obstruct the probe.

The Intelligence Committee is examining volume one of the report, which includes sensitive counterintelligence information about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia; the Judiciary Committee is reviewing a dozen potential instances of obstruction of justice, which were outlined in volume two.

Mueller concluded he did not have enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between Trump associates and Russian operatives, but he declined to reach a formal conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, citing Justice Department guidelines which prohibit the indictment of a sitting president.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

How Sen. Elizabeth Warren would overhaul elections

Democrat Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping plan to give the federal government a far bigger role in setting the rules for elections, rather than deferring to states and localities.

"[T]he Constitution gives Congress the tools to regulate the administration of federal elections," Warren wrote in a Medium post. "It’s time to pick up those tools and use them."

What would the plan do?

For federal elections, Warren wants to replace all old and paperless voting machines, standardize ballots, mandate a minimum of 15 days of early voting, make Election Day a holiday, restore the right to vote for those out of prison, create automatic voter registration and revamp election cybersecurity. She would also provide financial incentives for states to adopt those standards in their own elections.

How would it work?

The plan attempts to leverage the federal government's constitutional authority over federal elections to push states and localities to reform their own election processes. In order to incentivize that process, the federal government would "pay the entirety of a state’s election administration costs, as long as the state meets federal standards in its state and local elections and works to make voting more convenient."

What are the weaknesses in the proposal?

This plan would almost certainly set off innumerable political and legal battles between the federal government, state governments and localities over who controls elections. Some states and localities would likely insist on administering their own elections, with their own rules for voter ID and registration, leading to bifurcated election systems and confusion among voters.

How much would it cost?

$20 billion

The Warren team estimates its plan would cost $20 billion over the next decade, with $15 billion going toward election administration and $5 billion for election security. These are rough estimates, however, because the current Balkanized election system makes it difficult to estimate the exact cost.

How would she pay for it?

Warren says her administration would pay for it through an "ultra-millionaire tax," sometimes referred to as a wealth tax. That proposal would put a 2 percent tax on all household net worth between $50 million and $1 billion, according to the proposal.

What have other Democrats proposed?

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke recently released a plan that shares some elements of Warren's, including new voting rights laws, making Election Day a holiday and providing more money for election security. Several candidates support efforts to allow the formerly incarcerated to vote and to end voter ID laws that they call discriminatory. Sen. Bernie Sanders supports allowing people to vote while in prison, including those who have committed violent crimes.

Who would it help?

The plan is designed to help people who want voting to be easier.

Who opposes it?

Some conservatives will likely oppose the plan because it attempts to undo most of the voter ID laws in the states and would empower the federal government at the expense of states and localities. Other conservatives will almost certainly raise objections because of the plan's cost and the new taxes it would require.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

No pay raise for House members after GOP balks

A pay raise for House members won’t happen — at least for now — as Democrats have postponed voting on a congressional spending bill that included the politically risky measure, according to members and aides from both parties.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday morning that Republican lawmakers don’t back the 2.6 percent cost-of-living-adjustment, worth roughly $4,500 annually, according to several sources. House members and senators currently earn $174,000 per year.

With no GOP support, House Democrats have delayed votes on the annual spending bill that funds Congress. The pay raise language is included in that bill.

“The House will not consider the legislative branch appropriations bill this week,” Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokeswoman, said.

House GOP support for the pay raise evaporated after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told POLITICO last week that he wouldn’t back a pay raise for senators.

With the Senate ruling out such a move, House Republicans decided that they could not vote for the pay raise. Democrats had signaled they would only support the cost of living adjustment if Republicans did, prompting the majority party to delay any action for now.

“GOP leadership said they didn’t have the votes, but they continue to want to find a way to get the [cost of living adjustment] done. So the House will not consider the leg. branch bill this week,” said a Democratic aide speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It remains unclear if Republicans will ever change their position on a pay raise, dimming its prospects of garnering enough support in Congress to pass.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Pelosi: Border package will pass despite liberal grumbling

House Democratic leaders emerged from a closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday confident that they had secured the votes for a contentious border funding bill despite lingering ire from some progressives.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a final pitch to the caucus on Tuesday, arguing that Democrats needed to swiftly act on the humanitarian crisis, rather than squabbling over the White House's broader border policies.

“It’s for the children, the children, the children,” Pelosi told reporters after the meeting, echoing her message to members. “This is a very strong first step for us, for the children. It’s very exciting.”

Added Pelosi, “It will pass when we bring it to the floor.”

Democratic leaders plan to hold a vote later Tuesday on the $4.5 billion emergency measure, which would avert a funding lapse at the federal refugee office that has overseen thousands of unaccompanied children migrating from Central America.

Several progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had secured last-minute tweaks to the bill after a late-night meeting in Pelosi's office on Monday. It’s not clear, however, whether they will be enough to win the support of the New York Democrat and her allies.

Those changes, which require certain standards of health, hygiene and nutrition for unaccompanied children, will be formally added to the bill ahead of the afternoon vote, House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern confirmed Tuesday.

Pelosi was working the room Tuesday morning, walking around with a whip list in her hand as she approached individual members to see how they were going to vote.

Pelosi encouraged lawmakers to chat with her outside if the had concerns, according to sources in the room.

“One of the things I don’t like is surprises,” Pelosi told members in the closed-door meeting. “We have very few no [votes].”

The all-out whip operation followed a lengthy — and tense — meeting in Pelosi’s office Monday night. Members of both the Hispanic and Progressive caucuses were threatening to vote against the bill, putting its passage in jeopardy.

High-profile progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez, gave “impassioned” speeches Monday night about how the bill didn’t go far enough to ensure the administration was addressing basic humanitarian needs for migrant children who are being held at the border.

Pelosi and other top Democrats stressed the importance of passing their emergency funding package before lawmakers leave town for the weeklong recess — or risk getting stuck with the Senate’s version, which has fewer safeguards.

“It’s like every bill we pass — it’s not perfect, but it’s a good bill,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “I think [that] most think it’s preferable to the Senate bill although the Senate bill is not a bad bill either.”

In addition to Pelosi, freshman Rep. Donna Shalala, a former Health and Human Services secretary, tried to rally her colleagues in support of the legislation during Tuesday’s private meeting.

“I ran HHS...there’s nothing more central to why I came here than protecting children,” she said. “And that’s what that bill’s about, it’s about kids.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the caucus chairman, acknowledged the unsettled mood of the caucus.

"What is clear is that there is understandable anxiety amongst members of the Democratic caucus because there's understandable anxiety among the Americans people," Jeffries told reporters.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Soaring federal debt risks 'fiscal crisis,' budget agency warns

Federal debt held by the public is already sky high and it’s expected to soar during the next 30 years if current laws remain unchanged — dramatically escalating the risk of a “fiscal crisis,“ the CBO said in a new report Tuesday.

Debt held by the public is projected to rise from 78 percent of gross domestic product this year to 144 percent by 2049, according to long-term budget projections released by CBO.

The agency noted that such debt over the last 50 years has averaged 42 percent of GDP, exceeding 70 percent during only one other period in U.S. history — after the “surge in federal spending that occurred during World War II."

CBO’s projections not only assume that current laws stay in place, but that benefits through federal safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare are paid in full even if the programs are nearing or have reached insolvency.

If the U.S. stays on this path, economic output would suffer over time, the agency said. That path would also “increase the risk of a fiscal crisis — that is, a situation in which the interest rate on federal debt rises abruptly because investors have lost confidence in the U.S. government’s fiscal position.”

Higher interest costs, driven by a major increase in federal borrowing and higher interest rates over the long term, are key drivers of the country’s long-term budget woes, said CBO Director Phillip Swagel. Other significant drivers are an aging population, rising health care costs and greater federal spending on Social Security and Medicare.

The agency’s projections could vary greatly depending on how Congress acts on fiscal policy. For example, if Congress prevented $126 billion in sequestration cuts next year and an increase in individual income taxes in 2026, debt held by the public would be even higher, reaching 219 percent of GDP in 30 years.

House and Senate leaders haven’t made headway on a deal to avoid billions in mandatory spending cuts next fiscal year, increasing the likelihood of a scramble to extend current funding levels when the federal government runs out of money at the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Democratic campaign officials warn against focusing on impeaching Trump

Democratic campaign officials had a warning for lawmakers Tuesday: Voters think they’re too focused on impeachment and instead want to hear more about their legislative agenda.

Likely voters in 57 battleground districts say the Democratic caucus' aggressive policy agenda hasn’t broken through the noise emanating from Washington, according to polling conducted for the Democrats' campaign arm. Rather, voters view Democrats as preoccupied by impeachment.

The polling, which was conducted June 5-10, was presented during a closed-door caucus meeting at the party's campaign headquarters near the Capitol. It offers a glimpse at the Democratic campaign arm's strategy to keep the majority — focus more on legislative priorities like healthcare, which still ranks as the top issue in these districts.

Pollsters also told lawmakers on Tuesday that voters in these districts prefer lawmakers willing to work across the aisle. In addition, they said attacks calling Democrats “socialists” have not broken through and Republicans are viewed as being “out for themselves” by a wide margin.

But some lawmakers greeted the polling with skepticism. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said the data on investigating the president was “cloudy,” showing that some voters favor vigorous probes, others view them as a “hoax,” and that there’s a large group in the middle with no prevailing opinion.

Himes, who endorsed an impeachment inquiry on Monday, said it’s this middle group that he thinks would benefit from an impeachment inquiry where facts unearthed by former special counsel Robert Mueller can be exposed publicly.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), meanwhile, said the message from the polling officials was to promote the Democratic agenda over potential distractions. "When you're asked about impeachment, investigations and Donald Trump, you pivot quickly to what we're doing," Yarmuth said.

One lawmaker also said the poll showed that 88 percent of people in swing districts agree with the statement that Congress needs to fix “our broken immigration system by strengthening border security and creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who work hard and pay their taxes.”

The member said support for that statement was higher than a more moderately posed statement in the survey.

The discussion of the politics of impeachment comes as a stream of Democratic lawmakers have recently embraced calls to open an inquiry to determine whether Trump has committed high crimes or misdemeanors that warrant removal from office.

Though the majority of Democrats have yet to join those calls, the number of lawmakers backing such a move has crept steadily upward, despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attempts to redirect the caucus’ focus to the slew of investigations of Trump’s behavior and actions in office.

Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Judicial Crisis Network pressures 2020 Dems to release their Supreme Court picks

The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal advocacy group, will spend $1.1 million on national ads demanding that former Vice President Joe Biden and other 2020 candidates release their list of Supreme Court picks.

In an ad released Tuesday, JCN cites a recent New York Times article that described efforts from liberal judicial advocacy groups to identify young judges a Democratic president could nominate. The article noted that unlike President Donald Trump’s decision during his campaign to release his list of potential Supreme Court nominees, the liberal groups intend to keep their list private.

“Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and all Democratic presidential candidates should stop hiding and release their list of potential Supreme Court nominees so the American people can judge for themselves,” Carrie Severino, JCN’s chief counsel and policy director, said in a statement.

The ad includes a flashback to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight and attacks Democrats for “keeping Americans in the dark.”

“What are they hiding?” the ad says. “Tell Joe Biden. Trump released his list. Why won’t you?”

The ad will run for two weeks and comes just ahead of the Democratic presidential debates on Wednesday and Thursday. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made confirming judicial nominees a top priority during his presidency. The issue is expected to play a prominent role on the campaign trail for Democrats.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Iran says White House 'afflicted by mental retardation' after latest sanctions

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ridiculed the White House as “afflicted by mental retardation” after the Trump administration leveled a slate of new sanctions against the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and several military commanders.

Rouhani slammed the latest economic penalties in a televised address Tuesday, calling them “outrageous and idiotic,” according to the Associated Press.

Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi also threatened Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s “fruitless sanctions on Iran’s leadership and the chief of Iranian diplomacy" would spell “the permanent closure of the road of diplomacy” between Tehran and Washington.

Trump said Monday the U.S. sanctions “will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office and those closely affiliated with him and the office access to key financial resources," and added that the measures "represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran's increasingly provocative actions."

The administration has blamed Tehran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this month, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard claimed responsibility last Thursday for shooting down an American surveillance drone because Tehran alleged it violated Iranian airspace.

Iranian officials have denied involvement in the tanker assaults, which partly destroyed the two vessels, and the U.S. military has asserted that the drone was taken down last week in "an unprovoked attack” in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz.

Trump confirmed last Friday that he called off a retaliatory strike on Iran, and said Monday that he "look[s] forward to the day when sanctions can be finally lifted and Iran can become a peaceful, prosperous and productive nation.”

“That can go very quickly. It can be tomorrow. It can also be in years from now. So I look forward to discussing whatever I have to discuss with anybody that wants to speak,” the president said. “In the meantime, who knows what’s going to happen, I can only tell that you we can not ever let Iran have a nuclear weapon. And it won’t happen."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Monday that the administration also plans to impose sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif "later this week."

“You sanction the foreign minister simultaneously with a request for talks,” Rouhani said Tuesday, according to the AP, adding: “The White House is afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Media gears up for ‘cat and mouse game’ spotting 2020 deepfakes

A video of Republican Mitt Romney saying in 2012 that 47 percent of Americans were dependent on the government helped sink his presidential bid, and an unearthed clip of President Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women shook up the 2016 campaign.

In 2020, the race could again be rattled by video that emerges of candidates — but this time, media organizations are worried about being able to tell if it’s real.

News organizations are taking steps to tackle the problem of deepfakes, videos created through artificial intelligence technology to appear to show someone saying or doing things that never occurred. A more low-tech doctored clip, or “cheapfake,” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month that tried to make her appear drunk spotlighted the growing challenge of combating misinformation this election season.

In an effort to prevent questionable clips from duping reporters, Reuters created its own deepfakes as a training exercise to see if journalists could tell they weren’t real. The Wall Street Journal’s ethics & standards and research & development teams launched a committee last fall to tackle the problem of doctored video, studying forensic technologies for identifying fakes and asking journalists to flag suspicious content.

And on Tuesday, the Washington Post will launch a public-facing “Fact Checker's Guide to Manipulated Video,” which will try to help voters spot misleading material by classifying videos into three categories: “Missing Context,” “Deceptive Editing,” and “Malicious Transformation,” which includes deepfakes.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler said in an interview that his concern is “extremely high” that manipulated videos could be used to mislead the public.

“You’re just waiting for that kind of bomb to explode,” Kessler told POLITICO. “So, we’re trying to get ahead of these things.”

Francesco Marconi, the Journal’s research and development chief, told POLITICO that media organizations will likely struggle to stay on top of what’s real and what’s fake in 2020. Some methods of spotting fakes already appear obsolete as the technology to make them has progressed. For instance, people in early deepfakes didn’t blink; now they can. And once-blurry backgrounds are crisper.

“It’s a cat and mouse game,” he said.

So-called fake news permeated the 2016 campaign, some of it spread intentionally by Russian-sponsored social media trolls as part of an effort to disrupt the election, special counsel Robert Mueller found. But advances in video editing and artificial intelligence software have made it even easier to create counterfeit clips.

Complicating matters, major tech companies haven’t adopted consistent standards for dealing with such false material.

YouTube removed the “drunk” Pelosi video last month — which had been slowed to make it appear she was slurring her words — while Facebook allowed it to stay up. Recently, Facebook-owned Instagram opted not to remove a deepfake video that purported to show Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg bragging about controlling “stolen data.”

Two academics wrote an essay for Harvard University’s Nieman Lab describing seven hypothetical scenarios in which manipulated video and audio could disrupt the 2020 election and even cast doubt on the democratic process itself. The scenarios ranged from relatively benign, such as supporters doctoring video to boost a candidate’s record, to more destabilizing, such as suppressing votes by telling Americans that fake videos of them engaged in incriminating behaviors will be released if they go to the polls.

The Post’s editorial board recently urged the government “to invest in developing technology to detect deepfakes.” And fears about this confusing new world prompted the first Congressional hearing on the matter this month.

“Thinking ahead to 2020 and beyond, one does not need any great imagination to envision even more nightmarish scenarios that would leave the government, the media, and the public struggling to discern what is real and what is fake," said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

Hany Farid, a University of California, Berkeley professor and digital forensics expert, demonstrated software last week on CBS that he’s creating to detect altered videos and which he said could eventually be used by the news media.

Farid told POLITICO he isn’t currently “working with any specific news organizations,” but “as we roll out our analysis tools, we hope to begin to work with a range of organizations.”

The WSJ’s Marconi told POLITICO that “by 2020, there will be massive proliferation” of deepfakes, so the paper wanted to be proactive in addressing them. He said the Journal’s committee serves as a newsroom resource in providing training, webinars and arranging guest speakers on the topic.

"This is an issue the entire newsroom takes very seriously,” Washington bureau chief Paul Beckett said in a statement. “All of our reporters covering the 2020 campaigns are being trained to be aware of the potential for deep fakes."

And Kessler and Nadine Ajaka, a senior video producer at the Post who is working with Kessler’s team, said they hope the Post’s classification system will prompt major platforms like YouTube to alert viewers when videos are found to have been manipulated.

“When you name something, it’s less terrifying,” said Ajaka. The classification system, she added, is a step toward giving the public a greater understanding of “a world in which you can’t trust everything you see.”

“Right now, it’s kind of the Wild West,” she said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

The 2008 Class that Explains Elizabeth Warren’s Style

In the middle of the volatile fall of 2008, with foreclosures skyrocketing and companies failing and unemployment spiking and the stock market sinking, 80 rattled first-semester Harvard Law School students stood outside a classroom and watched the Dow plummet yet again. Then they stepped inside and took their seats for their contracts course with professor Elizabeth Warren.

“And professor Warren’s like, ‘We’re actually not going to talk about contracts,’” former student Danielle D’Onfro told me. “‘We’re going to talk about what’s happening in the world.’”

Warren ditched the syllabus and instead gave a lecture on the cratering economy and its causes, encapsulating the collapse as she understood it. In interviews over the past couple weeks, her former students described it as “riveting” and “engaging” and “eye-opening.”

“She basically proceeded to explain the financial crisis as it was happening,” Nigel Barrella said. “It was pretty amazing—at a time when no one else, really, seemed to have answers like that—that she would come in and talk about credit default swaps and collateralized mortgages, junk mortgages, carved up into tranches, and sold to financial institutions as high-quality financial products.”

Her impromptu primer on the crisis spanned two days, November 12 and 13, according to the calendar of one of her students, and their takeaway was twofold: (1) Professor Warren sure had a knack for talking about this stuff, and (2) this skill might take her somewhere beyond even the august confines of HLS.

“I think for all of us sitting there at that moment,” D’Onfro said, “we realized that, you know, this person is not just going to be our contracts professor.”

They were right. Warren’s gift for explication has led her almost inexorably from there to here—from explaining at Harvard, in classes, in a reading group, on a blog and on panels of academics and in the popular press, to explaining in Washington, where she came to prominence as a piercing watchdog before she was elected to the Senate. And on a historically crowded presidential campaign trail, she has steadily distanced herself from most of the field with her grasp of detail and capacity to break it down, standing as the top-polling Democrat not named Joe Biden heading into this week’s curtain-raising debates.

Warren’s professorial background, and her history as a Washington player on an issue as complex as financial regulation, has led some political observers to ask of late whether this particular gift could be a mixed blessing—a talent that also defines her ceiling, especially with the working-class voters who could make the difference in a presidential election.

“She’s lecturing,” David Axelrod, the top Barack Obama strategist, recently said of Warren in the New York Times Magazine, wondering how that approach would play with non-college-educated white voters. (“I regretted that the rest of my thoughts were excised,” he told me in a subsequent conversation, saying Warren has “phenomenal strengths.” But still: “I think this is the last big hurdle for her,” he said.)

He’s not the only one who’s considered this. “It’s a fascinating question,” former Jeb Bush senior adviser Michael Steel told me. He called it “a huge challenge … figuring out how to explain her policy positions, the problems they purport to address, and how it fits in with her theory, in a way that somebody sitting on a stool in a Waffle House will understand and agree with.”

Others, though, push back on just the basic terms of this conversation. Progressive consultant Rebecca Katz said in an email, “Let’s call the attack on her ‘lecturing’ what it really is: sexist.” Added Boston-based political analyst Mary Anne Marsh: “She’s been defining this race.”

On the debate stage Wednesday night, facing off against nine other contenders, Warren will have a platform, if a narrow one, to make the kind of vivid and persuasive case that grabs voters. In the Democratic Party, at least, there are footsteps for an expert explainer to follow: Obama had a professor’s demeanor and rhetorical tics, and Bill Clinton laid out big ideas and policy nuances at length, all while forging personal connections with a wide variety of audiences.

Some who’ve gauged her as a candidate think Warren is honing these same skills. “I thought at the beginning of the campaign watching her that she was lecturing,” longtime Democratic strategist Bob Shrum told me, “and then as time has gone on, and she’s done these town meetings, she’s gotten better and better at explaining and relating what she’s saying in human terms.”

Republican consultants I contacted concur. “I think she’s a much more formidable politician than a lot of people, especially, on the right, think,” Liz Mair, a communications strategist who’s worked for Scott Walker, Rick Perry and Rand Paul, said in an email.

If Warren grabs the spotlight on that crowded stage, there’s a group of former law students who can explain why.


“Will the Middle Class Survive?”

In the fall of ’08, that’s what Warren called her reading group, a quasi-extracurricular klatch of a dozen students who had signed up to explore the topic at the heart of her life’s work. The reading: some chapters from a book about class, some chapters from a book about health care and some chapters from a book of her own—The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke, which she wrote with her daughter and was published in 2003. “I’m looking forward to this,” Warren wrote to the students, according to emails one of them shared with me.

It took no time at all for current events to scramble the group’s schedule.

Class Matters is beginning to feel a bit dated,” Warren wrote to the group ahead of its first real get-together. Class Matters had come out just three years before. “Would you like me to talk with you about how the subprime crisis started and what might be done about it? If that would be more timely, I’m glad to do it.”

The students made plain what they wanted. “Your responses overwhelmingly favored talking about the mortgage meltdown,” Warren wrote.

The rest of the semester, meeting on intermittent Thursday evenings at Warren’s dark green Victorian house with a wrought-iron fence, Warren served them salmon and ribs and ordered in Redbones along with peach cobbler that almost every student I talked to mentioned without prompting. They drank herbal tea and talked, taking turns petting Otis, Warren’s convivial golden retriever. They discussed the reading—but their conversations, members of the group told me, couldn’t help but veer away from the pages of the texts and toward the topsy-turvy economy.

“There’s a tendency in elite law schools to just remove yourself from the realities of the world, and it was a really strange time to enter law school, when the economy was collapsing around you,” Rachel Lauter said. “And I remember feeling incredibly lucky to have her on the ground floor explaining what was happening.”

“She can talk to normal people and explain complicated things in a way that’s comprehensible,” Jad Mills said.

“That’s not always how law professors communicate,” Libby Benton said.

Neither is this: Throughout that fall, Warren penned op-eds (families losing their homes were “casualties of a financial system that saw them not as customers, but as prey,” she wrote in the Chicago Tribune on September 22), she blogged at creditslips.org (the $700 billion bailout was “keeping me awake at night,” she wrote on September 23), fired off quotes on network news shows (she called a credit card “a poisonous snake in your wallet” on ABC’s “Nightline” on September 25) and lit up panels with fellow academics at Harvard.

At one, “The Financial Crisis: Causes and Cures,” she proved to be “an audience favorite,” according to the student newspaper, describing subprime mortgages as “35-cent bananas” that should’ve cost 15 cents. She was the only woman on the panel with five men.

“They were talking, just trying to explain the basics of, like, credit default swaps, and what a securitized trust was, and what had happened generally,” one of Warren’s former students told me, “because no one really understood what was going on, period. And so I remember that other people on the panel would speak and everyone would sort of tune out. … But then Elizabeth started speaking, and it just, like, made so much sense, and people were, like, cheering and standing up, and it’s hard to get a crowd on their feet when you’re talking about credit default swaps! … It was one of the most incredible things that I had ever seen in terms of somebody being able to take these really arcane concepts and make them feel relevant, accessible and outraging at the same time.”

Back in the classroom, in another meeting of students, Warren asked what they would do if they were in charge of a big financial institution. Hunker down, some said, and tighten up. She made it clear that wasn’t the answer she was looking for. And then students’ hands started to shoot up. The answer, actually, was the opposite. “You grow as fast as you can. You buy as much as you can with borrowed money. And you lend and borrow from as many other large institutions as possible. Because then the government can’t afford to let you fail,” Warren would recall a student saying. “It took my students about two minutes,” as she put it later, “to see how to build a bank that would be Too Big to Fail.”

Warren’s teaching style was amped-up Socratic, fostering lightning-quick dialogue one student I talked to likened to dodge ball and another compared to machine gun fire. Her teaching assistants kept index cards to track who’d been called on how often, and it was standard, according to former students, for every one of them to be called on once if not twice every class. “Very demanding,” Marielle Macher said. “It was the class that we were all the most prepared for,” Caitlin Kekacs said. Warren’s classes, Charles Fried, her Harvard colleague who served as one of Ronald Reagan’s solicitor generals, told me, were “electric,” and her student evaluations were effusive. And she was known, at least inside the law school, specifically for never lecturing. So what happened on November 12 and 13 was decidedly different from what she usually did. Mainly, on those days, she just talked—and her students just listened.

In its way, many students told me, Warren’s lecture was strangely comforting.

“The world’s ending,” Dan Mach remembered. “And here was a professor who knew a lot about it and could explain it better than other people,” Dave Casserley said. It was something they mostly weren’t getting from their other professors.

Larry Tribe, the preeminent constitutional scholar and Warren’s Harvard colleague, told me he heard this sentiment from students that fall. “That has stuck with me,” Tribe said. “It’s also stuck with me partly because of my own memory when I was a law student at Harvard when dramatic, terrifying things would happen. I mean, I was actually a first- or second-year law student when Kennedy was assassinated, and I remember coming to class the next day, barely able to hold myself together. And the professor, who was someone I really liked and admired, not only then but years after, barely paused. He basically said, ‘Terrible things are going on, but we have our work to do.’ And then he went right back to discussing complicated issues of civil procedure. And that was kind of an inhuman and inhumane environment. And in some ways Elizabeth Warren is … the absolute opposite of someone who would treat legal education as an insulated bubble separate from the world.”

Tribe told me, too, about the way Warren at the time helped the woman who would become his wife. Elizabeth Westling was going through a divorce, riddled with worry, when her therapist gave her … books—The Two-Income Trap and All Your Worth—by Warren. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, this is ridiculous. What would I need this for?’” Westling told me. “But I went home, and I read them, and lo and behold, it really transformed my psyche, I think, because what it did was give me a sense of empowerment and confidence.”

It’s something I heard from many of the 19 former Warren students I talked to for this story. What they got from her in 2008 was not only edifying but also eased their anxieties about the economy. She helped them because they felt she maybe could be a part of helping to fix it.

And on the evening of November 13, hours after finishing her lecture on the economy to her contracts class in Pound Hall and minutes before hosting a third of them for the first of three straight nights of dinners with students at her house, she got a call from Harry Reid. The Senate majority leader asked her to take the oversight position. And she was off to Washington. “Harry Reid,” she would say, “forever changed my life with that phone call.”

The next day, Reid made the announcement about Warren’s new role.

That afternoon, she sent an email to her students. One of them shared it with me. It was … not about her new role.

“Some of you have met Otis, the 100-pound golden retriever who lives with us,” Warren wrote. “He’s sweet and he’s lonely right now—desperate for someone who would like to play. If you are around and would like to have some puppy love, would you drop by to get Otis?”


Midday this past Saturday, in Columbia, South Carolina, I stood near the rear of the main hall of the convention of the South Carolina Democratic Party and took in what quickly turned into an episode of the prosecutor versus the professor.

Kamala Harris was first up among the catalog of 2020 Democrats, and she gave a spirited personal statement to the near-capacity crowd of 1,800. She said she knew how to “take on predators”—she didn’t need to say the name of the person she was talking about—and then built to a crescendo. “I’m going to tell you we need somebody on our stage when it comes time for that general election who knows how to recognize a rap sheet when they see it and prosecute the case!” she said. “Let’s prosecute the case!” Her speech elicited raucous cheers.

Warren came on some 20 minutes after Harris. She introduced herself as a practically accidental politician, self-identifying from the start as a teacher, although she didn’t mention Harvard. “Teachers,” she said, “understand the worth of every single human being. Teachers invest in the future. And teachers never give up.” In a checklist rundown of her “big plans,” she said her proposed 2 percent tax on net worth above $50 million could pay for universal child care and pre-kindergarten, tuition-free college, zap student loan debt, make billion-dollar investments in historically black colleges and universities, and provide higher pay for teachers. But her seven minutes on stage felt a little rote and a tad flat. As Warren spoke, I stood next to the raised platform made to be an MSNBC set and watched Harris get interviewed live.

Something that’s helped Warren vault past Bernie Sanders and others in the polls and into that second slot behind Biden? Her town halls. In Iowa and New Hampshire and other early states. Even in places like West Virginia. And on CNN and MSNBC (but not on Fox News). She’s generally better, most observers and analysts agree, interacting with voters rather than delivering speeches. “I’ve seen her be very effective in small groups,” Axelrod told me. It’s the sort of setting that allows her to delve more deeply into her myriad detailed policy proposals.

An hour or so after her convention appearance, just across the street, Warren bounded into the homier, more intimate environs in the building hosting Planned Parenthood’s “We Decide” forum. In front of a gathering perhaps a quarter of the size, sitting between two women asking her questions instead of standing behind a lectern, Warren was kinetic in a way she simply hadn’t been at the convention. Here, she answered questions from people in the crowd. Here, she came off as a teacher but also as a fighter. Asked about Roe v. Wade, she was nothing if not animated. “The truth is,” she said, “we’ve been on defense for 47 years. And it’s not working. … I say it is time to go on offense!” She held her microphone in her right hand and gesticulated energetically with her left. She sat on the edge of her seat. She dropped a “by golly.” She left to a standing ovation.

A little later, up one floor, Warren darted into a small room set aside for candidates to talk to reporters if they wanted to and plucked a grape from a picked-at tray. She popped it into her mouth and faced the hasty half-moon of cameras. She was asked about Donald Trump. She dinged him for his “ineptitude.” She was asked about Pete Buttigieg and his trouble at home. She said she wasn’t going to criticize her fellow Democrats. And then she was asked why people should trust her. She gave an answer that would have sounded familiar to her first-semester law students in the fall of ‘08.

“This is a fight I’ve been in for all my life, long before I ever got engaged in politics of any kind,” she said. “I’ve spent my whole life on exactly this issue. What’s happening to working families in this country? Why is America’s middle class being hollowed out? Why is it that people who work hard every day find a path so rocky and so steep and for people of color even rockier and even steeper? And the answer is a government that works better and better for billionaires and giant corporations and kicks dirt in everyone else’s face. Well, I say: In a democracy, we can change that. And that’s why I’m in this fight.”

At that, it was time to go. It was her 70th birthday. She had a flight to catch to get home to continue to prepare for Wednesday’s debate. She reached for another grape.

“We got cake in the car,” a staffer said.

“We got cake in the car!” Warren said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump’s Confused Russia Policy Is a Boon for Putin

The next Trump-Putin meeting in Osaka, Japan is only days away, but the White House is maintaining radio silence about what it hopes to achieve there. Meanwhile, three senior voices with experience of dealing with Russia, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, the NSC’s in-house Russia expert Fiona Hill, and, reportedly, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, are all on their way out.

These developments are not linked, but they tell us a lot about how Russia policy actually works in the Trump administration.

The conventional wisdom has long held that Trump’s bizarre brand of Russian policy (which he invariably describes as “getting along with Russia”) doesn’t matter all that much because the rest of the U.S. government is taking a tougher line on the Kremlin’s misbehavior. When it comes to sanctions, military cooperation with Ukraine, or cyber operations against Russian critical infrastructure, this argument goes, largely sensible day-to-day decisions are being made.

Experienced professionals like Ambassador Huntsman, General Dunford, and Hill have focused on reestablishing reliable lines of communication with Russian counterparts that can be used to manage discrete pieces of business. In Dunford’s case, a secure hotline with Russian General Staff chief Valeriy Gerasimov has helped reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of unintentional military clashes in Syria’s crowded battlespace. All three have tried, with remarkable patience and firmness, to channel their boss’s undiminished desire to strike a grand bargain with Putin in a more realistic direction and to focus his energies on contending with a Kremlin that keeps ratcheting up the pressure rather than seeking a new modus vivendi.

Yet none of this obscures the fact that there is still no overarching Russia strategy in place, let alone the discipline to implement it. The Administration’s actual day to day policy on Russia is mostly reactive, bordering on incoherent. Sure, there’s lots of attention on the appearance of countering the Kremlin’s malign activities, but little sustained focus on how best to manage an adversarial relationship with Moscow over the long haul. Tough talk on issues like Venezuela or U.S. election meddling has hardly changed the Kremlin’s risk calculus. With different parts of the president’s team marching off in different directions, the result is a mishmash of competing approaches that don’t add up to an effective policy.

Consider the following. Hardly a week goes by without gratuitous moves by the White House to antagonize Germany, which used to be America’s single most important partner in managing relations with Russia. Trump’s frequent slaps at NATO and other U.S. alliance relationships are a gift to the Kremlin that keeps on giving. The decision to deploy more U.S. troops to Poland does little to deter Russia and serves mainly as a vehicle for tweaking the Germans while catering to Trump’s vanity about creating a possible “Fort Trump.”

Making matters worse is the propensity of powerful figures to pursue pet policies even if doing so doesn’t obviously align with the president’s stated priorities. For National Security Adviser John Bolton, that means trying to dismantle what’s left of the U.S.-Russian arms control edifice. His next target appears to be the 2010 New START Treaty on strategic arms reductions, which is due to expire in early 2021. In recent months, Bolton and his team of arms control skeptics (including Tim Morrison who will replace Hill) have been talking about roping in countries like China for new initiatives, but this seems to be a smokescreen for blocking agreement with Moscow on extending the New START treaty.

Then there are thinly disguised tensions between top players at the NSC, State Department and the Pentagon on whether it’s even useful to engage with the Russians. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has minimized his dealings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and subcontracted most of the work on topics like North Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan to special envoys. For his part, Bolton is actively courting Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, including via an unusual three-way conversation in Jerusalem June 25 with their Israeli counterpart.

That brings us to the questionable desirability of the Osaka meeting between the two presidents. Trump keeps insisting that release of the Mueller report means he can finally get down to business with Putin. But what exactly does he have in mind? Trump has never provided a coherent explanation for why Russia is so important to his vision for U.S. foreign policy. Instead, he’s limited himself mostly to happy talk while endorsing Putin’s clumsy denials about interference in the 2016 presidential election, including a disastrous performance alongside Putin at their Helsinki summit meeting last summer.

The blowback from Trump’s past encounters with Putin have even prompted jokes that the best way to avoid further deterioration to the U.S.-Russian relationship is simply to prevent the two leaders from ever meeting again. Putin has effortlessly outmaneuvered a far less experienced counterpart who famously disdains preparation and briefing materials. Does anyone even remember the time Trump endorsed Putin’s suggestion about forced repatriation of Syrian refugees under the auspices of the Assad regime? Or the “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to fight election hacking unveiled at a July 2017 meeting in Hamburg, Germany? (The latter gaffe helped trigger a near-unanimous Congressional vote on new Russia sanctions legislation.)

The rest of the agenda for a meeting in Osaka looks almost completely barren. Russian officials have sharply criticized U.S. actions on Iran amid reports of aborted U.S. airstrikes late Thursday, suggesting that Trump is deliberately pushing the region into war. And they have compared tough U.S. rhetoric about Iran to the “ vials with white powder” that the Bush administration used to justify its invasion of Iraq.The administration has rather conveniently blamed Russia for its failure to engineer the swift removal of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, even though that exaggerates the extent of Russian influence in Latin America. In Ukraine, the Russians have ratcheted up pressure on newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelensky by handing out passports to residents of Donbas; Trump’s feckless attempt to condition any future meetings with Putin on the prompt release of 24 Ukrainian sailors and three naval vessels seized at the end of last year has been quietly buried.

Even in the best of times, none of these problems would be easy to manage, let alone resolve. But they are being exacerbated by Trump’s glaring shortcomings as a manager and continued inability to staff his national security team properly. Against that backdrop, the U.S.-Russian relationship is likely to stay stuck regardless of any grand gestures aimed at turning Putin into his “new best friend.” And, sadly, Trump’s own staff will continue to view interactions like the Osaka meeting as exercises in damage limitation, not as serious chances to advance U.S. national interests.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

A new fix for long-term care

As Americans live longer, more and more families are caring for older adults and facing tough financial circumstances that give rise to a bigger question: How will we as a nation care for a growing number of older people with complex needs once they can no longer take care of themselves? So far, there’s no good answer. With smaller families and half reporting no savings at all, many 60-year-olds just don’t have the resources to pay for the care they will need during the additional 23 years they are expected to live.

This threatens public financing systems like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security will exhaust the finances of ordinary Americans. Wealthier families may have savings to provide in-home care or pay for a nursing home, but most middle- and lower-income households don’t. So they often have to impoverish themselves deliberately, spending down their assets simply so their loved one is poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, which is the only public program that covers long-term care.

Nationally, policymakers know about the growing challenge of resources for the aging but have largely been flummoxed by the math and politics in dealing with it.

As often happens with social policy, there is innovation emerging from the states to address the challenge – most significantly from the other Washington. Last month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a first-in-the-nation bill to help finance the long-term care needs of all the state’s residents. Washington state appears to be the first to find a way to make the math and the politics work, and its solution may provide a template for other states, and possibly the federal government, to follow.

New public policies are needed because the private market has failed. The long-term care insurance tends to be very expensive and has limited benefits. In 2016, of the 89 million people in the United States over age 55, only about 7 million were covered by long-term care policies. Far fewer people are buying new policies now than they used to. Fundamentally, people do not want to pay a lot now for a benefit they can access only later and may never use, and the fewer people who buy in, the more expensive premiums get.

To understand Washington state’s experiment, it helps to revisit what happened when the Obama administration tried to tackle long-term care financing. Provisions of a bill originally called the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act were incorporated into Obamacare. Championed by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, CLASS aimed to finance long-term care benefits for working-age disabled populations as well as the elderly. However, its good intentions were done in by its voluntary design: Benefits would be paid only to those who had opted into a payroll tax to finance them.

As we’ve seen in the years since Obamacare went into effect, mandatory insurance is actuarially desirable and politically torturous. On the other hand, voluntary insurance while more politically palatable, is sustainable only with big public subsidies. The CLASS Act was neither mandatory nor subsidized, so its fiscal future was doomed; Obama administration officials pulled the plug only a year after its passage.

Eight years later, Washington state’s solution, the Long-Term Care Trust Act, addresses the CLASS Act’s fatal flaw. It is old-fashioned social insurance, collecting funds from a broad population to pay for the future needs of those who need assistance. Workers will pay a mandatory payroll tax, but a small one: 58 cents per month for every $100 income starting in 2022. That works out to $18 a year for the average wage earner. These contributions will be banked in a trust fund. Although some benefits will be available to active employees and retirees starting in 2025, when fully implemented workers would be able to access their benefits (a lifetime maximum of $36,500 indexed to inflation) once they’ve paid into the program for 10 years and meet the medical system’s requirements for long-term care (usually defined as needing assistance with at least three activities of daily living, such as eating or bathing) .

Importantly, recipients can, to a large degree, decide how to spend the money. Funds dispersed by the state can be used for personal aides, outfitting a home, adult day care and residential care. Beneficiaries can also use the benefit to provide financial support to family caregivers. This is an enormous step forward, acknowledging that services and resources vary tremendously by local area — and that families, with the right supports, can keep loved ones at home longer and avoid expensive nursing home stays.

There are certainly reasons to fault the bill. Some might object to the premise of socializing the financing of long-term care. Others may take the opposite tack and claim the benefits are too skimpy, or note the risk of uneven administration. The bill’s original Republican sponsors withdrew their support from final bill, citing concerns about “costs to taxpayers.”

Demography is destiny, however, and progress requires compromise. Our population is aging, and by 2030, over 72 million people will be 65 or older with three to five chronic diseases or disorders and taking an average of five to 10 medications daily. And anyone who has cared for a fragile family member knows that the challenges of caregiving are multiplied by the insecurity and loss of dignity that comes with financial problems for both the caregiver and the family member. The Long-Term Care Trust Fund should ease some of these concerns for both, and nurture the greatest resource available – family members’ commitments to one another.

So is Washington blazing a trail for other states when it comes to recognizing the need to finance long-term care? Perhaps, but Washington is no newcomer to paying attention to the needs of elderly populations. The state has been building a community-based long-term care system for over a decade, and has been recognized as having the best system of long-term services and supports of any state in the country.

More generally, Washington’s purple state politics have consistently yielded policies that pay attention to the economic security and well-being of all its residents —including expanded Medicaid eligibility, a $12 minimum wage and paid family leave. The Long-Term Care Trust Act needs to be seen in this broader context. Its collective financing mechanism reinforces the shared responsibility citizens have to one another.

In contrast, Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country and a values system built on independence. A ballot referendum largely supported with out-of-state funds and organizing that would have raised taxes on higher-income households to finance the long-term care workforce went down to defeat last November. Hawaii has emphasized a cultural value of intergenerational care with its Kupuna Care program, which offers funds for family caregiving but services are paid for out of general revenues and subject to an eligibility waiting list.

As with other social issues, absent federal action, we will see more experimentation on long-term care financing at the state level. States with the desire and the money will make the case for social insurance and implement programs like Washington’s. They will learn if the resulting resources for services and families not only help the elderly and those who care for them but slow the spiral into Medicaid eligibility. Regardless, low and moderate wage households will be better off. Any state that does not have the political culture or values to make these choices will let families fend for themselves and continue to rely on Medicaid to serve its safety net role.

Whether federal policymakers will let this policy decision devolve to the states, or follow suit to establish a common program across the country for long-term care financing will depend in part on whether caring for the most frail members of our society is seen as an individual financial challenge to be financed with safety net programs like Medicaid, or a family and community responsibility to be encouraged with policies that promote savings and family caregiving.

Christopher F. Koller is president of the Milbank Memorial Fund, a foundation dedicated to improving public health. Terry Fulmer is president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, which works to improve the care of older adults.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Bennet adds top consultants to presidential campaign

A trio of top national consultants are joining Sen. Michael Bennet’s presidential campaign, as the Colorado Democrat fills out his national and early state staff.

Dan Sena, who led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the party‘s takeover of the House in 2018, and Scott Kozar, a Democratic ad-maker now running a consulting firm with Sena, signed on to Bennet’s bid as media consultants. Pete Brodnitz, a Democratic pollster who has worked on a range of Senate and House campaigns, also joined the campaign.

Bennet became one of the last Democrats to jump into the sprawling 24-candidate field, after he received a clean bill of health following a cancer diagnosis in April. But his late start didn’t keep him from the Democratic National Committee’s debate stage, where he’ll appear alongside several top-polling contenders on Thursday night.

Bennet is pitching himself as a tell-it-like-it-is moderate, who is focused on reforming a Washington that’s been dominated by the “shutdown politics” of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the House Freedom Caucus. He’s touted his success in Colorado, a former purple state that’s grown increasingly blue. Bennet, who was appointed to his Senate seat in 2009, won it in 2010, leaving him as one of the few statewide Democrats in Colorado after the Republican wave that year.

Bennet also bolstered his finance staff, bringing on two fundraisers who have worked with him since 2010, Jill Straus and Tracy Sturman, as his finance advisers. Jessica Boad, who most recently worked as the DCCC’s western regional candidate fundraising director, will be Bennet’s finance director.

Bennet’s late entry into the 2020 field will require quick work from his finance team as it grapples with the Democratic National Committee debate criteria, which require candidates to amass more than 130,000 donors to appear in debates in the fall. Bennet, who qualified for the first debates this summer but has criticized the DNC’s rules in the past, said in an interview with POLITICO that he “wouldn’t have chosen those metrics.”

“I think we can see the ways in which that’s already distorting how we raise money or spend money. It’s certainly distorted the way I’ve spent money,” said Bennet, who added he would’ve directed more of his resources to early states instead of online fundraising.

Bennet has already named early state staff. Brian Peters, who managed an Indiana congressional race in 2018, is his Iowa state director and Avery Martin, who led the Laurens (S.C.) County Department of Social Services, is Bennet’s South Carolina state director.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Swing-state poll: Voters wary of new military operations

A majority of likely voters in a handful of swing states do not support an American military strike on Iran despite escalating tensions, according to a new poll commissioned by a pair of veterans groups, Democratic-aligned VoteVets and Republican-aligned Concerned Veterans of America.

The survey — conducted in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida and Virginia — found that most Republican and Democratic voters alike are wary of more military action abroad. Eighty-three percent of the respondents said they preferred to see the same or lower levels of foreign military engagement by the U.S.

The poll comes amid mounting hostility between the United States and Iran. Last Thursday, President Donald Trump said the U.S. military was “cocked and loaded” for a strike against the country, but ultimately called it off with minutes to spare. Earlier that week, the White House accused Iran of shooting down an American surveillance drone, as well as using naval mines to attack six oil tankers in the region.

Despite the survey respondents’ opposition to attacking Iran, 58 percent said they still believe war with Iran is likely.

Many of the Democrats running for president have criticized Trump for his hawkish approach to Iran, calling for the U.S. to rejoin the international deal to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons that was struck during the Obama administration.

“This can be a major issue to contrast with Trump on,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic consultant who conducted the poll. “If these candidates are paying attention to the polling, they’ll respond accordingly because these voters do not want more military action.”

The poll, conducted from June 14-20, also found that half of voters in the surveyed states want to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was passed after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 of that year and has since become the legal justification for a wide range of American military actions.

Another 30 percent of participants agreed that to leave the AUMF in place “so military force can be authorized quickly and without deliberation,” according to the polling memo.

That’s another topic many 2020 Democrats agree on: All the senators running for president voted for its repeal in 2017. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg delivered a speech earlier this month calling for the law to come off the books, too.

Among Democratic primary voters in early primary and caucus states, 7 out of 10 oppose war with Iran, while 58 percent of Democrats oppose the extension of the AUMF and support a new congressional review.

Lake Research Partners and Stand Together conducted the poll together, surveying 2,951 likely voters online across the six states. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Poll: Voters back Trump decision to nix Iran strike

Most voters agree with President Donald Trump's decision to call off airstrikes in Iran last week, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that also shows little public support for U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf.

According to the poll, just over a third of voters, 36 percent, support military action in Iran after the Iranians shot down an unmanned U.S. drone aircraft — fewer than the 42 percent who oppose it. Roughly two-in-10 voters, 22 percent, said they have no opinion.

A majority of self-identified Republican voters, 59 percent, do support further military action in Iran. But support for striking Iran is much lower among Democratic voters (23 percent) and independents (28 percent).

Trump said last week that the military was planning to strike Iran in retaliation for the destruction of the U.S. drone, but the president ordered the strike to be canceled upon learning the response could kill scores of Iranians — a result he viewed as disproportionate to Iran’s actions.

The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll was conducted June 21-24 — in the immediate aftermath of the aborted strike.

Voters back Trump’s decision to scrap the mission overwhelmingly, the poll shows. Nearly two-in-three, 65 percent, support calling off the strike — while only 14 percent oppose Trump’s decision.

"As tensions continue to escalate, voters across the political spectrum back President Trump's decision to abort a strike in Iran," said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult's vice president, who noted that majorities of Democrats (62 percent), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (58 percent) all support Trump’s choice to back off.

Trump's approval rating in the weekly survey stands at 43 percent, up marginally from 41 percent last week. But a majority of voters, 54 percent, disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president — unchanged from last week.

The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll surveyed 1,991 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult is a nonpartisan media and technology company that provides data-driven research and insights on politics, policy and business strategy.

More details on the poll and its methodology can be found in these two documents: Toplines: https://politi.co/2ZPMylP | Crosstabs: https://politi.co/2xcTOf8

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Dear Democrats, Here’s How to Guarantee Trump’s Reelection

To: All Democratic candidates

As you prepare for your first debates later this week, some unsolicited thoughts on what you could do to blow this election. With 20 of you clamoring for attention over two nights, the opportunities are abundant for you to kick off the primary season with an easy win for the president.

This might seem impossible. Donald Trump remains historically unpopular because the past three years have cemented the public’s image of the president as a deeply dishonest, erratic, narcissistic, Twitter-addicted bully. As a result, a stunning 57 percent of voters say they will definitely not vote to reelect him next year and he trails Democratic challengers in key states. Trump himself seems to have given up on swing voters, instead focusing on ginning up turnout among his hard-core base. But, as columnist Henry Olsen points out, this is unlikely to be successful because millions of “reluctant Trump voters” from 2016 have already shown a willingness to bail on him by voting for Democrats in last November’s midterms.

Even so, Trump could still win reelection, because he has one essential dynamic working in his favor: You.

Trump’s numbers are unmovable, but yours are not. He doesn’t need to win this thing; he needs for you to lose it. There are millions of swing voters who regard Trump as an abomination but might vote for him again if they think you are scarier, more extreme, dangerous, or just annoyingly out of touch.

And, you have some experience at this, don’t you?

Despite the favorable poll numbers and the triumphalism in your blue bubble, you’ve already made a solid start at guaranteeing another four years of Trumpism. Last week’s pile-on of Joe Biden was a good example of how you might eat your own over the next 16 months.

On Tuesday, Trump refused to apologize for calling for the death penalty for the Central Park 5, a group of black and Latino men who were later exonerated of charges that they had beaten and raped a woman in the 1980s. But rather than focusing on the latest Trumpian racial outrage, many of you spent the next few days hammering your front-runner for saying that civility required working with people like the late segregationist senators John Eastland and Herman Talmadge.

This week’s debates give you two more chances to form circular firing squads, turn winning issues into losers, and alienate swing voters.

Here are 11 pointers on how to guarantee that the most unpopular president in modern polling history wins reelection next year.

1. Hold firmly to the idea that Twitter is the beating heart of the real Democratic Party.

Woke Twitter is convinced that anger over Trump means that voters want to move hard left. You should ignore polls showing that most Democrats, not to mention swing voters, are much more likely to be centrist.

2. Embrace the weird.

George Will carries around a small card listing all the things that you have said “that cause the American public to say: ‘These people are weird, they are not talking about things that I care about.’” A short list:

Terrorists in prison should be allowed to vote. End private health insurance. Pack the Supreme Court, abolish the Electoral College, ‘Green New Deal,’ … reparations for slavery.

“The country hears these individually,” says Will, “and they say I’m not for that.”

He’s going to need a bigger card.

3. Keep promising lots of free stuff and don’t sweat paying for it.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have run up massive deficits, but you can make them look like fiscal hawks by outbidding one another. People like free stuff, but they are less keen on having to pay for free stuff for other people, so talk as much as possible about having taxpayers pick up the tab for free college, day care and health care.

By one estimate, Elizabeth Warren’s various plans would cost about $3.6 trillion a year—or $36.5 trillion over 10 years. She insists she can pay for much of this with a vast new wealth tax that is politically impossible and constitutionally dubious, but, hey, at least she’s not Bernie.

4. Go ahead and abolish private health insurance.

Health care should be a huge winner for Democrats in 2020, as it was in 2018. But you can turn that around by embracing a Bernie Sanders-like ‘Medicare for All’ plan.

Sure, the idea polls well and is wildly popular in MSNBC green rooms. But, unfortunately, when voters find out that it would double payroll taxes, cost trillions of dollars and lead to the abolition of private health insurance, support plummets—even among Democratic primary voters. In fact, when Democratic primary voters are told that Medicare for All would cost $3.2 trillion a year, support drops to just 38 percent. And that is among Democrats.

The numbers are even worse with the wider electorate. The Kaiser Tracking Poll found that Medicare for All’s net favorability drops to minus 44 percent “when people hear the argument that this would lead to delays in some people getting some medical tests and treatments.” Voters also turn sharply against the idea when they are told that it would threaten the current Medicare program, require big tax increases and eliminate private health insurance. Count on the GOP to spend hundreds of millions of dollars making those arguments.

5. Spend time talking about reparations.

There may be no magic bullet to guarantee Trump’s reelection, but support for reparations for slavery may be awfully close. Even before Charlottesville, Trump’s record on race was horrific, and his winking appeasement of the white nationalist alt-right has been a running theme of Trumpism. But Democrats can neutralize Trump’s most glaring weaknesses by redoubling their support for reparations.

You have already made the hyperdivisive issue a big theme of the campaign and the Democratic House seems poised to pass legislation calling for a study of the issue. Support for considering reparations has also quickly gained support in the 2020 Democratic primary, with contenders like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris expressing their interest in Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s plan. It’s a stark shift from previous presidential campaigns in which Barack Obama opposed reparations.

The problems here are obvious. No one really knows how reparations would work. The historic wrongs committed against African Americans are undoubtedly unique, but as the debate heats up, the questions will be: Who pays? Who is owed? How do we pick the winners and losers? And then there are other inevitable questions: Who else? The Irish? Jews? Native Americans? Asian Americans? Gays and lesbians?

What is clear, however, is that reparations are opposed by somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of white voters, so your support is a huge gift to Trump’s reelection campaign, which would like nothing more than to drive a deeper wedge between black and white Americans.

6. Trump thinks that immigration and the crisis at the border are winning issues for him. They aren’t. But you can turn that around.

Trump is actually underwater on the immigration issue. In a recent Fox News poll, 50 percent of Americans said Trump has gone too far, more than double the number of voters who think he hasn’t been aggressive enough. Family separations continue to shock the conscience of the nation and his threats to round up millions of illegals could backfire badly on him. Moreover, huge majorities favor giving legal status to the so-called Dreamers.

But you can flip the script: instead of talking about Dreamers, talk as much as possible about your support for sanctuary cities, double down on proposals to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and be as vague as possible about whether or not you really do support open borders.

7. Lots more focus on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

By no means allow voters to hear more about centrists who actually swung the House like Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey or Dean Phillips in Minnesota. Trump wants nothing more than to make AOC the face of the Democratic Party. You can make it happen.

8. Socialism.

Trump will accuse Democrats of being socialists who want to turn the United States into Venezuela. This is a tired, implausible trope. But you can make it work for him by actually calling yourself socialists and loudly booing your fellow Democrats who suggest that “socialism is not the answer.”

9. Turn the abortion issue from a winner into a loser.

Polls suggest that there is wide opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade and Republicans have drastically overreached in states like Alabama where they have outlawed abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

But here again, Democrats can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by moving to a hard-line maximalist position. While the public leans pro-choice, its views are quite nuanced. So, instead of talking about abortion as “safe, legal, and rare,” you should demand the legalization of late-term abortions, focus on taxpayer funding and express as much contempt as possible for people with different views.

A model for this is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who compares being anti-abortion to being racist. When she was asked whether her pro-choice litmus test for judges threatened their independence, she said:

“I think there’s some issues that have such moral clarity that we have as a society decided that the other side is not acceptable. Imagine saying that it’s OK to appoint a judge who’s racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic. Telling or asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America, I don’t think that those are political issues anymore.”

You might recall how Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment played in 2016; this time around, Democrats can convey their contempt for much larger groups of people, which will be immensely helpful to Trump’s efforts to convince his base and swing voters that Democrats look down on them.

10. You can also turn a winner into a loser on the issue of guns.

There is a growing bipartisan constituency for reasonable restrictions on guns, including overwhelming support for expanded background checks. Trump’s GOP is especially vulnerable here because it remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Rifle Association, which is stumbling under the weight of its own extremism and grift these days.

But you can easily turn this into a firewall for Trump by joining Senator Cory Booker’s call for vast expansions of the licensing of guns and banning certain kind of weapons. Under Booker’s plan, “a person seeking to buy a gun would need to apply for a license in much the same way one applies for a passport.”

Let’s see how that plays in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

11. As you try to get Americans more alarmed about Trump’s attacks on democratic norms, make sure you talk as much as possible about your support for court-packing.

Tinkering with the makeup and independence of the Supreme Court hasn’t been a winning issue since 1937, but, waving the bloody shirt of Merrick Garland as often as possible still feels satisfying, doesn’t it?

Given Trump’s deep unpopularity, losing to him won’t be easy. But don’t despair; remember, you managed to pull it off in 2016.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine