Senator Sanders Cancels Campaign Events

The Story:

Senator Bernie Sanders (I – Vt), one of the leading candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, underwent surgery on Tuesday, October 1. Doctors inserted stents to resolve a blockage in an artery.

Cancellations:

Sanders had complained of chest pains during a campaign appearance in Las Vegas, Nevada. (The Democrat Party will hold a potentially critical caucus in Nevada on February 22 next year.) Due to the pains, the Senator was admitted to a local hospital for examination, and the stent procedure followed.

The procedure is a common one: stents are implanted more than 600,000 times per year in the United States.

Doctors have confirmed that the chest pains were a heart attack. The Sanders campaign has announced the cancellation of all previously planned “events and appearances until further notice” and promised continuing updates.

The Thing to Know:

There exists a sharp generational divide within the Democratic Party, and even if Sanders (age 78) returns to the campaign trail with speed and evidence of vitality this news is bound to raise the profile of that divide.  It will allow younger candidates such as Mayor Pete Buttigieg (37) to stress their youth and health in contrasts to the older tier, which along with Sanders includes Vice President Biden (76) and Senator Warren (70).

US-Ukraine Relations and Renewed Impeachment Talk

Joe Biden receives flak for controversial comments about 'the hood'

The Story:

President Donald Trump has acknowledged that, in a conversation with the President of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Selenskiy, in July,  he asked Selenskiy  about former Vice President Joseph Biden and about his son Hunter, who has business interests in Ukraine. The acknowledgement has fueled demands for more information about that conversation and has racketed up expectations of an impeachment move in the House of Representatives.

Why It Matters:

Bribery is quite explicitly listed in the US Constitution as a grounds for the impeachment of a President of the United States.

Trump has said that earlier this year he withheld nearly $400 million in aid to the Ukraine.

The Thing to Know:

It has been suggested that there was at least an implicit quid-pro-quo here: Trump might have been suggesting that he would allow the $400 million to go through to the Ukraine if Zelenskiy would help him undermine a likely Democratic Party nominee for President by way of an investigation into the Bidens, father and son.  Such a deal would seem to meet the meaning of the word “bribery.”

Accordingly, on September 25, 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry that will involve several House Committees.

De Blasio is Out of the Running for POTUS

de Blasio: Kids have lice, bed bugs, and chickenpox

The Story: 

Bill de Blasio, the Mayor of New York City, announced Friday morning the suspension of his campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States. He has been in the race since May 16, but his efforts never really gained traction.

Background:

Despite the size of the City (and the State) of New York, high office and political prominence in the one or the other has not been a successful launchpad for a Presidential run since the days of the Roosevelts, in the first half of the 20th century.

Nelson Rockefeller, the State’s Governor throughout the 1960s, repeatedly sought the Republican nomination for President. He was defeated in that quest by Nixon, then by Goldwater, and then by Nixon again.

The last person to attempt a serious run for the Presidency directly from the office of NYC Mayor was John Lindsay, who briefly sought the Democratic Party nomination in 1972. Lindsay’s campaign, like de Blasio’s, never took off.

The Thing to Know: 

De Blasio is now the sixth to drop out of the Democratic primary contest within three months: after Swalwell, Hickenlooper, Inslee, Moulton, and Gillibrand.  The field is narrowing to the core candidates.

 

Top Ten Democratic Candidates Debate

Joe Biden finally enters 2020 presidential race

The Story:

On Thursday, September 12, the leading ten candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States met on a stage at a historically black college in Houston, Texas for a third round of DNC sponsored debate. There were a lot of illuminating moments, but the debate as a whole doesn’t seem to have had any clear winner.

Observations:

Each candidate has offered a plan for how to expand access to health care for uninsured or underinsured Americans. Some candidates believe that it is enough to work on the margins of the existing Obamacare system, while saving that system itself from Republican attack. Others want to go much further and, among them, Warren and Sanders stand out, as advocates of a ‘single payer’ system. Some of the sharpest exchanges of the night, including a brief shouting match between former Vice President Biden and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, arose in the health-care policy context.

Much of the debate, too, turned on issues of criminal justice. Biden made a clear and simply worded statement in this context, “Nobody should be in jail for a non-violent crime.”

The Thing to Know:

Biden, Senator Warren, and Senator Sanders went into this debate as the “top tier” of candidates for the nomination. They left the debate stage with that status unchanged.

Schultz, Citing ‘Spoiler’ Prospect, Bows Out of 2020

The Story:

Throughout 2019, Howard Schultz, the man behind the explosive growth of the Starbucks coffee empire in the 1990s, has been very publicly contemplating the use of his wealth to mount a third-party campaign for President of the United States. Last week, though, he decided that he will not, after all, run such a campaign.

Background:

The old political term “spoiler” refers to a candidate with little or no chance of prevailing himself who nonetheless divides support for one side of a campaign, therefore intentionally or not spoiling that side’s chances and allowing the other side to prevail.

Many in the Democratic Party, for example, have criticized Ralph Nader as a spoiler in connection with the campaign of 2000, when Nader arguably took critical votes in Florida away from the Democratic nominee Al Gore, allowing Republican Gorge W. Bush’s victory in that state, and in the final result.

The Thing to Know:

In his statement Friday, Schultz said “There is considerable concern that four more years of a Trump administration pose a graver threat to our democracy than four more years of political dysfunction.” In the end, he was persuaded by that concern.

Abrams Neither Running for POTUS Nor Sitting it Out

The Story:

In 2018 Stacey Abrams ran for Governor of Georgia, and very nearly won (losing to Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee, by only 50,000 votes.) Since then, Abrams — a black woman and a former tax attorney — has been celebrated by her fellow Democrats on the national stage, and often touted as a plausible candidate for the Presidency. Last week, Abrams responded to speculation on that score.

She Will Not Run for POTUS:

Abrams blames her narrow loss on voter suppression efforts, in which Kemp was involved as Georgia’s former secretary of state. After the election, she created an organization (Fair Fight Action) to press for stronger protection of voter rights in the state.

Last week, Abrams said that she is expanding this organization, and the efforts it represents. She is going to go national as a leader in pushback against voter suppression. As part of her commitment to that goal, she says that she will not run for President. Nor is she ready to endorse any of the candidates for that office.

The Thing to Know:

It does not follow that Abrams will not be on the Democratic Party’s national ticket in 2020. For she has also said that she would “be honored to be considered by any nominee” as a potential vice presidential candidate.

 

The Politics of Vaccines

The Story:

The number of measles cases in the US this year has passed 1,000: a rare milestone. This has stoked the already contentious politics of childhood vaccines. Every state in the United States requires that children receive certain immunizations before they may be enrolled in public schools. Most states allow a religion-based exemption, and several states allow exemption on the basis of conscientious objections that may not be religious in character. The whole subject is in flux.

Background:

The issue of childhood vaccinations reached the bully pulpit of the presidential campaign when Democratic primary candidate Marianne Williamson described mandatory vaccination as “Orwellian.” She compared a push to close the conscientious exemptions to the efforts to narrow the range of lawful abortions, saying “The US government doesn’t tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child.”

As criticism of this statement rolled in, Williamson then sought to clarify: “I am sorry that I made comments which sounded as though I question the validity of life-saving vaccines. That is not my feeling and I realize that I misspoke.”

The Thing to Know:

The extent of public skepticism about vaccines, or at least about the mandatory character of vaccinations, and sentiment for expanding rather than shrinking the range of exemptions, is difficult to measure. It could ally itself with a much broader skepticism about the political pull of “Big Pharma,” and this issue may become increasingly explosive in years to come.

Klobuchar’s Views on Education Policy

The Story: 

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D – Minn), one of the Democratic Party’s candidates for President, announced what she calls a “Progress Partnership” plan last week. This is a program to provide federal aid to states that agree to: increase teachers’ pay in their public schools, update the high school curricula, and demonstrate an equitable system to repair their schools.

Background:

Klobuchar is languishing in the polls, oscillating between 1% and 2% support. She is doing somewhat better in Iowa, site of the first actual primary season vote (a caucus, scheduled for February 3, 2020). Iowa borders Minnesota, so Klobuchar is more familiar to voters there than to voters in much of the rest of the country. Still, even there she is only in the mid single digits.

She may reasonably hope to improve her position by stressing important issues thus far largely unexplored in this campaign, and education policy is among them.

The Thing to Know:

Klobucher spoke about her plan at a forum hosted in Houston, Texas on Friday, July 5 by the National Education Association. She described herself there as the daughter of a teacher, adding that her mother “taught second grade until she was 70 years old.” That, even more than her policy specifics, won a warm response from the crowd.

Puerto Rico in US National Politics

Puerto Rico admits Hurricane Maria's death toll may be 1,427

The Story:

In four hours over two nights last week, twenty Democratic candidates for President and five moderators discussed a wide range of issues facing the US, foreign and domestic. They hardly mentioned Puerto Rico at all. And this week, that omission has received a fair amount of attention.

Background:

There are a lot of Puerto Rico related topics to which the candidates might have spoken. For example: the Commonwealth faces a huge debt crisis and a consequent need for financial restructuring. The island’s power grid needs a lot of rebuilding, and this might well provide a test case of both political parties’ professed commitment to infrastructure as an issue. And the island is regularly in the path of hurricanes, so it is an inkblot in which a candidate can see his/her own ideas about climate change.

The Thing to Know:

Although Puerto Rico is not a state and does not cast electoral votes in Presidential elections, that would a short-sighted rationale for ignoring its concerns. After all, transplanted Puerto Ricans are a significant voting bloc in several states, most of all in the paradigm of swing states, Florida.

 

Klobuchar Opposes Ethanol Refinery Waivers

Fight brewing as Trump favors big oil in Alaska

The Story:

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D – MN), a candidate for President, has come out against refinery waivers on the ethanol rules. This is an intensifying fight between the agribusiness and the oil industry lobbies, and Klobucher has sided with the former.

Background:

Chemically, “ethanol” is simply drinking alcohol. But the term “ethanol” is used when the compound is taken from the starch in corn and used as a clean fuel, or as an additive to other fossil-based fuels. Most cars in use in the U.S. today can run on a mixture with up to 10% ethanol.

Under a system administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, oil refineries are required either to blend their crude with biofuels, most typically ethanol, in the process of creating gasoline, or to purchase credits from other refiners who do the blending. But the system also allows the EPA to waive the requirement for smaller refineries if compliance would cause significant financial strain.

The gasoline industry has been pushing for a more extensive use of such waivers, and agribusiness has been pushing back, seeking to have the requirements applied across the board.

The Thing to Know:

The first nominating contest between the candidates for President is the Iowa caucus, which in this cycle will take place on February 3, 2020. More than half of Iowa’s corn crop becomes ethanol fuel. Klobuchar’s jaundiced view of the refinery waiver must be understood in that context.