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Political Wire logo My Reaction to the Third Democratic Debate
The Third Democratic Debate
Extra Bonus Quote of the Day
Yang to Announce $120K Giveaway
Trump Struggling to Hold Three Key Rust Belt States
Trump Won’t Also Name Pompeo National Security Adviser

It's Time for the Third Debate

All the major Democratic candidates will be on stage tonight in Houston for the third Democratic debate. For the ones not on stage tonight, this is probably the end of the road, with the exception of billionaire Tom Steyer, who will be on stage next time and could still be a force (mostly, by endorsing one of the others after dropping out and giving $100 million to a super PAC supporting his choice). The candidates making the cut this time are Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), Julián Castro, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Andrew Yang.

The debate will be co-hosted by ABC and the Spanish-language network Univision. It will be located at Texas Southern University, a historically black university, and will run for 3 hours. The long length could be a factor that helps the younger candidates, who might be more physically and mentally fit in that last hour. The longer format will also allow the candidates more time to answer questions (75 seconds vs. 60 seconds last time). The hosts will allow opening statements but no closing statements. The moderators will be George Stephanopoulos (ABC), David Muir (ABC), Linsey Davis (ABC), and Jorge Ramos (Univision). It is a reasonably diverse crew. Stephanopoulos and Muir are white, Davis is black, and Ramos is an immigrant from Mexico.

This will be the first time Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris will be all on stage together. It is likely that the three senators will be gunning for Biden, either politely or less so, in hopes of getting him to say something that haunts him later on. It isn't the content of what he might say that matters, necessarily. It is the potential image of him looking like an old geezer well past his prime that could hurt. In that sense, it doesn't matter if Warren and Sanders come after him for not supporting Medicare for All, which they support, as long as he sounds like he understands the material well and forcefully defends his own health-care plan (a public option). If he wants to go on the attack, he can ask each of them if they want to abolish private health insurance. If they are honest, they will each say "yes," even though that is actually an unpopular position with the voters.

A subplot here is how Sanders and Warren will interact. So far, they have refrained from attacking each other, even though each is the other's biggest obstacle, at the moment. Probably they will continue their truce for the time being.

For the lesser-known candidates it is not yet do-or-die because all of them have qualified for the fourth debate, but polling at 1-2% indefinitely is not a good road to the nomination. Still, one of them could say something clever that gets repeated endlessly tomorrow.

Reuters has a list of five things to watch for in the debate:

  • How will Biden, Sanders, and Warren interact?
  • Can Biden go 3 hours without a gaffe?
  • What does Harris stand for?
  • Will any of the low-polling candidates break out?
  • How will the health-care issue play out?

Of course, these are merely the known unknowns. There could easily be unknown unknowns as well. (V)

All Major Democratic Candidates Lead Trump

A new WaPo/ABC News poll has nothing but bad news for Donald Trump. It shows all five of the top Democratic candidates beating him in the general election. Among registered voters, the top five, versus Trump, look lke this:

Democrat Candidate Trump
Joe Biden 55% 40%
Bernie Sanders 52% 43%
Elizabeth Warren 51% 44%
Kamala Harris 50% 43%
Pete Buttigieg 47% 43%

For the Democrats as a group, with the possible exception of Joe Biden, it is good news. Any of the major Democrats could beat Trump, it would appear. In Biden's case, though he does better than the other candidates, his rallying cry is: "I can beat Trump." But based on this poll (and several others), all the other top candidates can respond: "Me, too!" While Biden's 15-point lead is enormous, Sanders' 9-point lead is more than enough to counter voter suppression, especially now that the governors in the key states Trump unexpectedly won last time (Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania) are all Democrats, as are all three secretaries of state. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have 7-point leads, which is outside the margin of error, but slightly weaker than Sanders' lead. Still, they too can claim they can beat Trump. That said, always remember that the election is more than a year away and Trump is going to throw mud at the Democrat as no mud has ever been thrown before. (V)

Biden Is Slipping in the Primary Polls

The new CNN/SSRS poll has the gap between front runner Joe Biden and the two progressive senators, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, narrowing. Here are the numbers:

Candidate Pct.
Joe Biden 24%
Elizabeth Warren 18%
Bernie Sanders 17%
Kamala Harris 8%
Pete Buttigieg 6%
Beto O'Rourke 5%
Cory Booker 2%
Tulsi Gabbard 2%
Andrew Yang 2%

Of course, this is just one poll and there is always some statistical noise in any poll, but it could well be that slowly but surely, Sanders and Warren are catching up to Biden. Tonight's debate could conceivably continue the trend or reverse it. No doubt the pollsters will be out in the field tomorrow. (V)

SCOTUS Allows Asylum Limitations to Take Effect

At the moment, there are several lawsuits challenging Donald Trump's plan to make it harder for people from Central America to ask for asylum in the United States. Because of those lawsuits, there were several injunctions keeping the new rules from taking effect. Not anymore, though, as the Supreme Court lifted the injunctions yesterday. The actual vote of the justices is not publicly released in these cases, but it is known that: (1) it took at least five votes to lift the injunction, and (2) Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. The inference that follows from these two pieces of information is that it was the usual 5-4 vote, but only nine people know for sure, and they're not talking. The lawsuits that led to the injunction are still pending, and the new rules may yet be struck down, but they will be allowed to take effect in the meantime.

If it really was 5-4, we are a little surprised that Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the other four conservatives. Trump's new rules sit on a shaky legal footing, the challenges to them have an excellent chance of succeeding, and in those circumstances an injunction is usually pretty perfunctory. As the Court's "guardian," John Roberts concerns himself greatly with its reputation. On top of that, he should also be significantly concerned about the possibility that fed-up voters and/or members of Congress insist on some sort of change to the Court, whether more seats being added, or term limits, or something else. Anyhow, it seems he spent an awful lot of capital here on an overtly partisan issue, but with limited benefits. Wednesday's decision could matter for just a few months, until the legal cases are resolved. And even if Trump's policy is upheld, it will promptly be reversed by the next Democratic president. When Roberts cast the key vote in striking down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it was pretty nakedly partisan, but it came with a long-term payoff for him. This looks just as partisan, but with far less payoff. Given his desire to manage and protect the Court's reputation, one would think that this is the kind of case where he would join with the liberals to make it look like he was just calling balls and strikes. Apparently not, though. (Z)

Nadler and Hoyer Are Not on the Same Page about Impeachment

On Monday, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released a five-page resolution basically saying his committee is investigating whether it should impeach Donald Trump. This matters because when subpoenas are issued to compel testimony, courts may want to know if they are related to a legitimate congressional activity or just part of a fishing expedition. Impeaching the president is a legitimate congressional activity.

However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said yesterday that Democrats were not conducting an impeachment inquiry, basically contradicting Nadler. When reporters began asking Hoyer: "What's going on here?" he backtracked and said that he was misunderstood, claiming that since the full House had not voted on the question, it was not a formal impeachment inquiry. At the very least, Hoyer sowed a lot of confusion with his statement and semi-retraction.

Many Democrats are worried that the conflicting statements could hurt them in court, where Donald Trump will surely argue that Democrats are not trying to impeach him, they are simply trying to damage him politically. This was definitely an unforced error. If Hoyer doesn't want Nadler to investigate Trump, he should have told him that long ago and in private. Now the entire mess has become public. (V)

Why Bolton Was Fired

In an administration that leaks like the proverbial sieve, it wasn't likely to take long for the reason Donald Trump fired former NSA John Bolton to come out. And now it has. On Monday, Trump brought up the idea of easing sanctions on Iran, potentially to restart negotiations with the country. Bolton, always the hawk, spoke up forcefully against the idea, since simply sitting down with Iranian leaders would break with four decades of U.S. policy, and would show the world that the U.S. regards the Iranian regime as legitimate. Bolton was always a big fan of "regime change" in Iran, so he couldn't stomach cozying up to Iran and said so. Later on Monday Trump decided Bolton was a problem and made the decision to fire him.

The real mystery is why Trump hired Bolton in the first place. The former NSA's views on Iran have never been a secret. If Trump didn't want a hard liner, Bolton was the wrong guy from the outset. Most likely, Trump was only barely aware of Bolton's actual positions on the issues and picked him for his macho demeanor (despite the mustache), rather than his views or policy expertise. When he finally realized what Bolton wanted, he had to go. (V)

Senators Give Trump's Judicial Nominee a Hard Time

Donald Trump has nominated Steven Menashi to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The court is considered to be one of the most powerful, since it has jurisdiction over New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. Menashi faced more than a few critics in the Senate yesterday in his confirmation hearing. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), chided him for not answering questions about how he helped shape Trump's immigration policy as special assistant to the president, which is his current job. The Democrats jumped on him for his track record of writing articles about ethnonationalism, and pointing out (and seemingly applauding) the fact that many nations have an ethnic basis. He singled out Israel in this regard.

Most of the sparks flew when the senators, of both parties, asked him about his work at the White House. He refused to answer. The senators were not amused. On the other hand, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) praised him for getting a degree from Stanford Law School and clerking for Justice Samuel Alito.

The Committee has 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats, so it would take two Republican defections to sink the nomination if all senators vote. Based on what's happened so far, it is very plausible this could happen. (V)

Mulvaney Ordered Ross to Back Trump on Sharpiegate

After Donald Trump tweeted that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian, the National Weather Service contradicted him so as to avoid alarming people in Alabama and having them needlessly evacuate. Trump doesn't like being told he's wrong, not even by the weatherman, so he told Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to order Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to make sure the National Weather Service changed its tune and backed Trump, lest heads roll. Ross had earlier denied the story, and Trump has denied telling Mulvaney to get the Weather Service on board with Forecaster-in-chief Trump. But three sources have told The Hill that Mulvaney did as instructed and gave the orders. As a consequence of all the lying going on, a story that should have died out a week ago is still alive.

A somewhat longer term consequence of this story and other ones in which the administration is caught lying is that people don't believe what they hear from the White House anymore. A CNN poll shows that 71% of Americans don't trust most of what they hear from the White House. Sooner or later, someone in the White House will cry "wolf" when there really is a wolf, and no one will believe it. (V)

9/11 Day, the GOP Way

It is possible that somewhere in the country yesterday, one or more prominent Democrats did something very tacky vis-à-vis the anniversary of 9/11. However, we searched Google, along with Fox News, Breitbart, and several other conservative outlets, and we can't find any stories of that sort. If you know one, please send it along and we'll note it.

What we do know is that many Democratic officeholders in North Carolina, including Gov. Roy Cooper, participated in a 9/11 commemoration yesterday morning. And although the Republicans in the legislature promised that no business would be conducted until the afternoon, State Rep. Jason Saine (R) looked around, noticed that there were enough members of his party in the chamber for a quorum, and promptly called a vote to override Cooper's veto of the 2019 budget passed by the legislature (an action the Governor took because he wants a Medicaid expansion that would insure another 600,000 North Carolinians). Because there were few Democrats present when the vote was called, the Republicans were able to put together the three-fifths majority needed to override, and the motion passed 55-9. Now, the Democrats are going to have to hold together (and rarely leave their desks) if they want to avoid the same result in the state senate.

We mention this story because the North Carolina GOP is getting quite a reputation these days. This is the same state, of course, that just had to have a do-over of a House election because Republican operatives manipulated the results of the last one. This is also the same state that has had two different GOP-drawn electoral maps rejected by the state supreme court for being too gerrymandered. One wonders if the state's Democratic voters, who are essentially equal to the Republican voters in number, are growing weary of this, and will be extra motivated to turn out to vote next year. If so, that could potentially have a significant impact on the presidential election.

And now that we are doing a 9/11 commemoration item anyhow, we will note how Donald Trump spent the day. What he did not do was take a day off from being nasty on Twitter. He fired off a few tweets slamming the Democrats, and also claimed that his wall is being built very quickly, as demonstrated by...a computer animation of a wall being built. Later in the day, the President laid a wreath at the Pentagon 9/11 memorial, and then gave a speech in which he talked mostly about himself. CNN's Chris Cillizza describes all of this as "a strange way of commemorating 9/11." We would describe it as "par for the course."

Speaking of Team Trump, the President's TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani—who is surely associated with 9/11 more than any other politician—also decided to mark the day, sending out this tweet:

For those who don't care to watch the embedded video (though it's only 30 seconds): it shows a series of patriotic/staunchly nationalist vignettes, like soliders saluting the American flag, or football players honoring the National Anthem. Most of the clip is taken up by the bookends, however, with the opening bookend showing police in riot gear staring down some protesters, and the closing bookend showing the po-pos getting ready to beat the crap out of the protesters. It is certainly possible that Giuliani did not know that the clip is actually a commercial for clothing maker Grunt Style, whose target demo is the sort of folks who join militias. But Giuliani definitely should have picked up on the rather fascist overtones of the ad. Since he sent it out, presumably he approves.

In any case, those who are old enough to remember that day in 2001, which is presumably most readers, will remember that while it was one of the darkest days in U.S. history, it was also one of the most unifying. Not anymore, though. (Z)

Shaheen Leads Lewandowski by 10 Points

Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is thinking of running for the Republican Senate nomination in New Hampshire. A new Emerson College poll shows Lewandowski, who hasn't even announced yet, leading the Republican field by 9 points. However, most New Hampshire Republicans haven't made up their minds yet.

In a general-election matchup, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) beats Lewandowski 49% to 39%. Sooner or later, we will know if polls like this have a positive or negative effect on Lewandowski. After all, winning the nomination is nice, but then losing the general election isn't. So is it worth it? (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep11 Bolton Gets Broomed
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