Top Notes – This Week in Presidential Politics (May 18– 24, 2019)

Each week I curate a set of “Top Notes” of media coverage on the 2020 presidential elections. Read it to keep up to date on latest developments.
– Sarah Lyons, Director of Communications, Independent Voting

May 18– 24, 2019

Who will emerge in course of 2020 as leader of progressive movement?

Sanders and Warren are the two most progressive major candidates in the Democratic field. Both have consistently polled their best among those Democrats who call themselves “very liberal” and their worst among Democrats who call themselves either moderate or conservative. By merely looking at ideology, however, you miss what I believe are key differences between the types of voters each is attracting. It could prove difficult for Warren to make further gains among Sanders’ supporters, unless she starts appealing to a different type of voter. (CNN, 5/18/19)

 AOC Factor – Democratic presidential candidates are vying to be seen as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ally — even if they don’t ultimately win her endorsement. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren showcased her alliance with the freshman lawmaker from the Bronx on Thursday. The two penned a five-page letter — and released a three-minute video explaining it — pressing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over his work on Sears’ board while his roommate from Yale gutted the department-store giant on its way to bankruptcy. Still six years short of the Constitution’s minimum age requirement to be president herself, Ocasio-Cortez’s massive social media following and ability to generate news headlines has made her a key player in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

With progressives looking to stand out in the crowded field of more than 20 candidates, some Democrats believe that no endorsement — other than the Obamas — would be more potent in than one from Ocasio-Cortez.

Her closest links are to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for whom she and many of her aides and the activists in her orbit worked in 2016, and to Warren, who had lunch with Ocasio-Cortez and wrote the Time essay when the magazine included her on its list of 2019’s most influential people. The two also recorded a short video criticizing the ending of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” this week.

“What I would like to see in a presidential candidate is one that has a coherent world view and logic from which all these policy proposals are coming forward. I think Sen. Sanders has that. I also think Sen. Warren has that,” Ocasio-Cortez said earlier this month.

Ocasio-Cortez has also proven to have an important voice as a validator of progressive policy proposals — demonstrating an ability to elevate lesser-known candidates and cause headaches for those at the front of the field.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has built his candidacy around the argument that he has the strongest record, and is the most focused, on combating climate change.

When Inslee released a lengthy climate proposal last week, Ocasio-Cortez turned her progressive following toward it, tweeting that Inslee’s plan was “the most serious + comprehensive one to address our crisis in the 2020 field.”

Inslee spokesman Jared Leopold said his campaign saw a clear spike in Google searches around the time of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet, and attributes part of a boost to its number of donors around the time of the policy rollout to her highlighting the policy.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, drew Ocasio-Cortez’s ire earlier this month when one of Biden’s advisers touted the need to find “middle ground” in an interview with Reuters.

Biden’s campaign has since said the interview does not reflect its views on climate policy. But the political damage was done.

“I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need a ‘middle of the road’ approach to save our lives,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a clear shot at Biden at a Washington, DC, event hosted by the Sunrise Movement, an activist group that backs the Green New Deal, where Sanders was also in attendance.

The comment led to news coverage of progressives’ problems with Biden before he’s had a chance to roll out his own climate policy proposal, which his campaign has said is coming soon. (CNN, 5/23/19)

Buttigieg – “Being left of Obama doesn’t make you extremely progressive,” Pete Buttigieg told me last week, when we met in Chicago to record a conversation for the new episode of “The Argument” podcast. My question to Buttigieg — the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate — had been about tax policy. Specifically, I wanted to know whether he supported an annual wealth tax and how high he thought the top marginal income tax rate should be.

He said he did support a wealth tax, arguing that it was not so different from a property tax. On income taxes, he said something I hadn’t heard him, or anyone else, say before: He is intrigued by a top rate of 49.9999 percent. “There’s something about paying the majority of a dollar that comes your way to Uncle Sam that I think people have more trouble with,” he explained. He also said he would favor a financial transaction tax.

All of that adds up to a highly progressive agenda, I responded. President Obama, by comparison, raised the top rate to 39.6 percent and didn’t pass either a wealth tax or a financial transaction tax.  That’s when Buttigieg said that merely being to Obama’s left doesn’t make somebody extremely left-wing.

“Remember that he was the last Democratic president of the Reagan era,” Buttigieg said. Obama was constrained by congressional Republicans and by a misunderstanding among many politicians, in both parties, about how progressive the American public really was on economic policy. “What I’m proposing might be considered conservative by the standards of the 50s, 60s or 70s.” Buttigieg said. “And so where I think we are today is the beginning of a totally new chapter.” (New York Times, 5/23/19)

Inslee – The rising tide of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls calling for environmental reform now includes Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a politician who has made climate change the crux of his campaign. Inslee unveiled his initiative, dubbed the “100% Clean Energy for America Plan,” on Friday morning. The proposal’s scope is sweeping — laying out 100% clean energy standards across three sectors: electricity, new vehicles and the construction of new buildings. His aggressive proposals on climate change come as the party’s progressive wing, bolstered by young voters, has continued to call for candidates to take a more aggressive approach. Democrats continue to debate the best way to combat climate change, an issue that is poised to take on a greater level of importance this cycle than any the party has held in years past. (ABC News, 5/23/19)

Williamson – her candidacy offers an unusual blend of constitutional fundamentalism and political progressivism. At a time when many of her fellow Democrats are dismissing the Constitution as a fundamentally flawed document or calling for major changes in it like eliminating the Electoral College or repealing the Second Amendment, Williamson says its principles are needed to bind together a diverse nation. (Inside Sources, “Marianne Williamson: Tea Party Progressive?” 5/24/19)

De Blasio – The mayor endorsed Secretary Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016 but he has governed like a Sanders progressive. The theme of his mayoral campaign was the tale of two cities. There was the city of wealthy New Yorkers who live on Park Avenue and another city like the South Bronx which is full of people struggling to stay afloat. As mayor, he has done a full Bernie and successfully pushed for a $15 an hour minimum wage, paid sick leave and universal pre- school education.  His record as mayor could be attractive to liberal Democratic primary voters but there are already two strong progressives, Sanders who was born in New York City and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the race. De Blasio is running for president because he feels that he deserves credit for implementing the programs that Sanders and Warren can only talk about. (The Hill, 5/19/19)

Biden – Biden’s most obvious weakness in the crowded contest is that his centrist instincts and policy record, particularly during his 36-year-long Senate career, are likely to regularly spark conflict with younger progressives such as Ocasio-Cortez who are growing far more assertive in the party. His greatest strength is his appeal to older Democratic voters, both white and African American, who are typically more ideologically moderate and more politically pragmatic. For the 76-year-old Biden, that’s an acceptable trade-off because voters older than 45 cast fully 60 percent of all votes in the 2016 Democratic primary, according to a cumulative CNN analysis of all the exit polls conducted that year. (The Atlantic, 5/17/19)

  • Democratic presidential frontrunnerJoe Biden officially kicked off his 2020 campaign with a Saturday rally in Pennsylvania, birthplace of both himself and the Declaration of Independence, and home to his campaign headquarters. The former vice president used the speech to push his “unity” theme, hitting directly back at those who criticize his desire to reach across the aisle, as well as highlighting his links to Barack Obama.  Many have argued that Biden’s desire to return to consensus politics is naive, including Lee Drutman here at Vox, who explained why Biden’s “epiphany” theory — that Republicans will have an epiphany about the power of bipartisanship once Trump is gone and start working with Democrats again — is misguided. As Drutman argued:  The problem with Biden’s theory is that Republicans’ hostility to Democrats did not begin with Donald Trump (see, the Obama administration). Today, as in 2012, the partisan hostility is highly transferable. It is based neither in opposition to one president nor loyalty to another. It is based in the underlying zero-sum electoral logic that defines the American two-party system and the winner-take-all elections that make the two-party system possible. Others on the left oppose the idea of consensus politics on ideological grounds, arguing that there is no “middle ground” when it comes to existential threats like climate change. (Vox, 5/18/19)

Candidate Activity Summary for May 17-23, 2019  (Source: FiveThirtyEight, 5/24/19)

Michael Bennet (D) – The Colorado senator released his plan to combat climate change Monday. It sets a 2050 goal for the U.S. to reach net-zero emissions, calls for the expansion of zero-emission energy options for American households and businesses, and — among other initiatives — includes a pledge to host a global climate summit in the first 100 days of a Bennet presidency.Next Thursday, Bennet will take part in a CNN town hall in Atlanta.

Joe Biden (D) -At a campaign rally in Philadelphia last weekend, Biden defended his bipartisan outlook on governance, pitching his experience of working across the aisle and arguing that it isn’t too late to unite Americans across the political spectrum. Biden brought in over $2 million through a pair of fundraising events in Miami and Orlando this week, showing a willingness to engage with big-money donors from which much of the Democratic field has shied away.

The former vice president’s campaign took part in a back and forth with North Korea after an opinion piece that was posted on the website of KCNA — the North Korean news agency — said Biden was “misbehaving” and criticized him as someone “who likes to stick his nose into other people’s business and is a poor excuse for a politician.” Biden’s campaign responded, saying that “it’s no surprise North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House.”

Cory Booker (D) – The New Jersey senator issued a plan to “protect reproductive rights”Wednesday in which he pledged to create a “White House Office of Reproductive Freedom” if he is elected. It would coordinate the advancement of “abortion rights and access to reproductive health care” across his administration. Booker was scheduled to take part in an MSNBC town hall in Iowa on Thursday, but it was rescheduled so that he could remain in Washington for Senate votes. He’ll still travel throughout the Hawkeye State this weekend.

Steve Bullock (D) – Bullock’s first week as a presidential candidate included an NPR interview in which he played up his ability to win over voters in his red home state of Montana. “I’m probably the only one in the race that actually won in a Trump state,” he said. “I mean, I got reelected in 2016. Donald Trump took Montana by 20 points. I won by 4. Twenty-five to 30 percent of my voters voted for Donald Trump.” After spending three days in Iowa last week, the Montana governor returns to the state next Tuesday for four events.

Pete Buttigieg (D) – Buttigieg garnered headlines for his performance in a Fox News town hall last weekend, renewing the debate over whether it is beneficial for Democratic candidates to appear on the news network that is often criticized for its conservative bent. During his appearance, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, took aim at a pair of the network’s right-wing commentators, arguing that Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham were “not always there in good faith,” pointing specifically to their views on the ongoing immigration policy debate.

After stops in Florida, New York and Washington, D.C., this week, Buttigieg will campaign over the weekend in New Hampshire, with events in Londonderry, Exeter and Keene on Friday and Saturday.

Julian Castro (D) – As the Democratic field railed against abortion restrictions passed by legislatures in several states, Castro promised to appoint “an entirely pro-choice cabinet,” saying that the issue transcends any one executive branch department. Castro appeared on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and responded to criticism that either he or Beto O’Rourke could make a greater political impact by challenging Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn next year. “I think Beto would be a great Senate candidate,” he joked.

Bill de Blasio (D) – A Quinnipiac University poll had some bad news for the New York City mayor. It showed de Blasio with a net favorability rating (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) of -37 percentage points among voters overall. Last Friday, de Blasio made his first campaign stop in Iowa, where he toured an ethanol plant with former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. During the visit, he lashed out at Trump, saying: “Time and again, when there’s an opportunity to help the biofuels industry grow and to create jobs in places like rural Iowa, the Trump administration has favored big petroleum companies, and that has to end.”

John Delaney (D) – The former Maryland congressman rolled out a climate action plan with a $4 trillion proposal on Thursday. The central aspect of his plan is a fee on carbon emissions that he says will reduce them by 90 percent by 2050. “We have to act on climate, and we have to act now,” Delaney said in a statement. “We need a real plan to hit our goals, and we have to listen to actual scientists. This is a real plan that all Americans can support. It is full of new ideas and massive investments in innovation that will both deal with climate change and create jobs in the heartland and all across our country.” Delaney, however, is not among the slate of Democratic contenders backing the Green New Deal.

Tulsi Gabbard (D) – Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, continued to push her campaign’s focus on foreign policy. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” Gabbard said Trump is “leading us down this dangerous path towards a war in Iran.” She further cautioned that a war in Iran “would actually undermine our national security, cost us countless American lives, cost civilian lives across the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis in Europe and it would actually make us less safe by strengthening terrorist groups” like ISIS and al-Qaida. “As president, I will end these counterproductive and wasteful regime-change wars, work to end this new cold war and nuclear arms race, recognizing how wasteful and costly these are,” she said.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D) – Gillibrand unveiled a plan on Wednesday termed the “Family Bill of Rights” to invest heavily in maternal and child health, paid family leave and universal prekindergarten. This proposal is part of Gillibrand’s focus on women, children and families. She is also working to position herself as the most outspoken proponent of abortion rights within the Democratic field. On Tuesday, she spoke at a rally with other Democrats to protest the new abortion restrictions that states such as Alabama and Georgia have passed. Later in an interview with NPR, she said, “I think President Trump and these very extreme Republican legislators around the country, they are taking this country in a direction that it does not want to go.” She added, “I believe that if President Trump wants a war with America’s women, it’s a war he will have and it is one he will lose.”

Kamala Harris (D) – The California senator rolled out a bill to address racial discrepancies in maternal health care, calling for investment in training to reduce bias among health professionals and the early identification of high-risk pregnancies. On “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Wednesday, Harris accusedTrump of holding the nation’s infrastructure “hostage.” Earlier in the day, the president abruptly ended a White House meeting on the issue with Democratic leaders in response to the party’s efforts to continue investigating him.

John Hickenlooper (D)– The former Colorado governor pushed back against calls for candidates like him to run for the Senate instead of the presidency, telling Stephanopoulos on “This Week” that he’d be a “difficult candidate as a senator.” “I’ve spent my whole life putting teams together both as an entrepreneur in the private sector, but also as a mayor and as a governor,” Hickenlooper said. “And by building those teams, we’ve been able to bring people together and do the big progressive things that people said couldn’t be done.” “That’s the only way we’re going to … be able to bring some common sense to Washington,” he added.

Jay Inslee (D) – The Washington governor’s push for a 2020 debate focused on climate change picked up steam this week, with Elizabeth Warren adding her support. “Yes! We need to do everything we can to save our planet,” Warren tweeted. in April, Inslee wrote: “We have barely a decade to defeat climate change. And whether we shrink to this challenge, or rise to it, is the central question of our time — and it deserves a full DNC debate.”

Amy Klobuchar (D) – Klobuchar, who’s attempted to position herself as a moderating voice in the Democratic field, joined demonstrators on the steps of the Supreme Court this week to protest anti-abortion bills that have passed in states like Alabama. The Minnesota senator said: “I think one of the things I’ve seen in my state is that there are people that hold their own individual beliefs. … But they don’t believe that that means you put those beliefs on other people. And that is exactly what this president has done.”

Seth Moulton (D)– Moulton, an Iraq War veteran, announced a plan this week to encourage young Americans to serve their country. Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” the Massachusetts representative called the proposal “the kind of forward-looking policy that I think we need to meet the challenges of a changing world, to address climate change, to bring broadband to rural communities and to say to America we need a common mission.” 

Beto O’Rourke (D)– O’Rourke continued his campaign reboot. He appeared on CNN for a town hall, in which he called for impeachment proceedings against Trump. “We should begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump — not something that I take lightly,” he said.

Tim Ryan (D)– Ryan, who was once against abortion but flipped his stance a few years ago, called for bipartisan solutions to address women’s reproductive rights this week. “I met women for the first time in my life that had an abortion,” Ryan said at a protest on the Supreme Court steps on Tuesday. “I met women who had to deal with very difficult, complicated circumstances in their pregnancies. And over time, because of the courage of the women who came into my office and who wanted to help craft legislation, I changed my position.”

Bernie Sanders (D) – The Vermont senator rolled out a comprehensive education plan that would halt federal funding for charter school expansion, set a teacher pay floor at $60,000, and provide universal free lunches, among other investments. At a South Carolina event announcing the plan, Sanders drew a connection between education reform and social injustice, noting that changes to public education in recent decades have disproportionately affected African Americans and increased school segregation. In a CNN interview on Wednesday, Sanders expressed his strongest support yet for an impeachment inquiry, saying that if Trump “continues to not understand the Constitution of the United States” and blocks further subpoenas of staffers and former aides, “it may well be time for an impeachment inquiry to begin.”

  • “Sanders’ call is out of touch – as usual – with what African Americans want,” said Amy Wilkins, the senior vice president of advocacy for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. “More disturbing, the senator – for personal political gain – would literally lock African American students into schools that have failed them for generations.” During his time in the White House, President Obama was supportive of merit pay and charter schools, both issues generally opposed by teachers unions. The Obama administration’s education reform effort, dubbed “Race to the Top”, gave states a chance to compete for federal grant money if they adopted a series of reforms, including link student performance to teacher evaluations. Biden’s brother, Frank Biden, is also a former executive in a company that developed charter schools. Other Democratic contenders also have backed school choice in the past. Before winning a U.S. senate seat, Cory Booker was a fierce advocate of charters during his time as mayor in Newark. A third of Newark’s students now attend charter schools. The New Jersey city’s charters are among the highest-performing the in the country, according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes.  (USA Today, 5/17/19)

Eric Swalwell (D)– On the steps of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the California representative joined seven other 2020 Democratic hopefuls and protesters to speak out against abortion bills that have recently passed at the state level. Swalwell also appeared on the liberal podcast “Pod Save America” and argued that Democrats shouldn’t dismiss Trump voters, speaking about his parents’ support for the president.

Elizabeth Warren (D) – Warren continued to introduce policy proposals. This time, she offered up a platform aimed at protecting women’s reproductive rights. Warren’s plan would “block states from interfering in the ability of a health care provider to provide medical care, including abortion services,” according to her policy rollout. The senator had a viral moment when she responded to a Twitter user who asked her for relationship advice. “DM me and let’s figure this out,” Warren replied. The senator apparently went on to call a number of Twitter users asking for advice. “

Bill Weld (R) – Still the sole Republican challenging Trump in the Republican primary, Weld revved up his attacks on the president. “I celebrate that America has always been a melting pot,” Weld said at a speaking event. “It seems he would prefer an Aryan nation.” Speaking to ABC News after the event, Weld said: “It’s not just that I’m feeling more like going on the attack; it’s also that the president is moving to a deeper level of irresponsibility.” Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signaled support for former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld over President Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primary. Scott, during his weekly news conference Thursday, was asked whether he would prefer Weld, the only declared Republican primary challenger to Trump, over the incumbent president. “Oh sure,” Scott said. But the Vermont governor said he wasn’t ready to formally endorse any Republican and that he hoped Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan or Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker would consider jumping into the primary. “I like Larry Hogan … Charlie Baker, maybe he’ll run,” Scott said. (Politico, 5/17/19)

Marianne Williamson (D) – The spiritual adviser and author made her case for the presidency on ABC News’s “The Briefing Room,” arguing that she’s not running just to “elevate a conversation.” “It’s important that I absolutely be prepared to win and that I make the effort to win,” Williamson told ABC News Senior Washington Reporter Devin Dwyer. “I’m not here just to elevate a conversation. We need to elevate this country”

Andrew Yang (D)– Yang was the subject of a Politico Magazine profile that examined his candidacy and ability — thus far — to gain a relatively substantial following through non-traditional media interviews while pushing his universal basic income plan and cautioning about the economic dangers of automation. (FiveThirtyEight, 5/24/19)