NDN Blog

Dems Fight It Out, Delusions of A Mad King, Nevada This Saturday

Notes on 2020 - There has been lots of polling over the past few days and it tells a simple story – the Democratic race is very competitive and what happens in Nevada and South Carolina is really going to matter. Perhaps the most important development has been the slew of good polls for VP Biden in NV, SC, and other states showing him very much in the game.  Tomorrow’s Nevada debate, with Mike Bloomberg on the stage, will be a significant moment. Lots of drama ahead for the Democrats.

One bit of drama we hope we don’t see again is the troubles which plagued Iowa and which may repeat in Nevada this weekend. NDN believes it would be wise for DNC Chair Tom Perez to take some concrete steps to improve his operation in the coming days, sending a clear signal that he knows he needs to do better, and regain the trust of Democrats across the country.  This will be particularly important if Dems look like they are headed to a brokered convention, something which will put a much greater burden on the DNC to carry a negative message against Trump for the next 4-5 months, build a true general election operation for the nominee, and manage a divisive and challenging convention.  

As for Trump, his numbers remain bad and he has not shown any kind of significant bump from his illicit acquittal.   There is no doubt he is building a powerful juggernaut, which is why Dems not having a nominee until late July will be so problematic.  But some perspective here please.  Trump only won 2016 with the extraordinary trifecta of Russia’s enormous intervention, a left leaning third party candidate, and the Comey letter;  the GOP has had three truly awful elections since including the 8.6 point win for the Dems in 2018; incumbents in the low 40s as Trump is now almost never win; and do we expect him to behave more like Reagan and less like Caligula in the coming months?

The big story with Trump remains his dangerous disregard for the rules and laws which make our democracy, and all democracies, work.  In just the past few months he has solicited campaign help from a foreign nation, illegally held back information for a legitimate Congressional investigation, and corrupted the Senate Impeachment trial, and he now appears to be trying to turn the Department of Justice into an arm of his political project and campaign (something he did with the White House and State Departments in the Ukraine affair). 

What worries us the most is that the latest revelations about Trump and Barr are not just corrupt and illegal, but represent an attempt by the President to replace the story of the past few years with a new, fictitious, and delusional one.  It feels really crazy and dangerous  - as if the President has really lost contact with the real world, becoming in every way the Mad King our Founders so feared.  It remains shocking that the Senate GOPers and Barr are playing along with this destructive and out of control man. 

NDN Applauds New Democrat Coalition Letter On Section 232 Auto Tariffs

NDN is pleased to pass along a letter released today by the New Democrat Coalition that strongly criticizes the President for withholding the Section 232 report on potential auto tariffs that the President is legally required to release to Congress. This refusal to respect the basic separation of powers in our government is another threat to our constitutional framework, and follows repeated illegal impositions of tariffs without the consent of Congress.

NDN has long urged Congress to challenge the President's reckless and extra-constitutional tariff policies, and we are very pleased that the New Democrat Coalition has taken this important step. You can find the letter here, and below.

New Democrat Coalition Letter On Section 232 Auto Tariffs

Dear President Trump,

American autoworkers, parts suppliers and retailers, dealers, vehicle service providers, and millions of consumers have lived under the threat of tariffs since you initiated the Section 232 investigation into auto imports on May 23, 2018. The Secretary of Commerce submitted the Section 232 report to you in February 2019; however, the report continues to be hidden from Congress and the public.

As Members of the New Democrat Coalition Trade Task Force, we once again want to reiterate that we do not believe that imported automobiles and auto parts and the hard-working Americans in the auto sector are a national security threat. As you have admitted publicly, there is no national security risk from automobiles and auto part imports. In fact, your abuse of the Section 232 tariff process jeopardizes our national security by alienating our allies and threatening the economic security of American workers. Imposing tariffs under Section 232 on autos and auto parts for reasons not related to national security clearly oversteps the authority granted by Congress.

Further, to help bring more transparency to this process, Congress included a provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020 which required the release of the section 232 report by January 19th of this year. You signed this legislation into law; however, you continue to refuse to release the report to Congress and the public.

You are therefore not only in violation of Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, but also the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020.  Your willful disregard for these laws threatens American workers as well as the balance of power that is so essential to our Constitution. We implore you to not only release the Section 232 report on imported automobiles and auto parts as required by law, but strongly urge you to abandon any further tariff action that threatens the American automotive sector, auto workers, and our economy.

We look forward to the immediate release of the Section 232 auto report to Congress and the abandonment of the tariffs you are considering implementing. 

Sincerely, 

Reps. Terri A. Sewell (AL-07), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Ron Kind (WI-03), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05), Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), Don Beyer (VA-08), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), and Susan Davis (CA-53)

Our List of High-Volume, Pro-Trump Twitter Accounts

As we have previously discussed, we’ve begun a project to locate and publicize high volume pro-Trump accounts on Twitter. These “amplifiers” are a critical part of the modern social media ecosystem and are also an important part of how Trump and his allies move their narratives through the body politic here in the US. It's our sense that all of us need to get a better understanding of these accounts and how they influence our domestic discourse. 

As our research has evolved, so has Twitter. In September of 2019, Twitter began suspending thousands of accounts for manipulation as part of their ongoing battle against disinformation. We went ahead and reviewed our database to check in on which accounts were active. Out of the 441 accounts, we found that 59 are no longer active. These 59 accounts range from some of the highest-performing to some of the lower performing accounts. As our landscape continues evolving, we will be sure to keep checking on how many accounts in our database are suspended for violating Twitter’s platform.

You can find some of the most aggressive accounts below, or you can see all 441 of the accounts we’ve found so far in the attached pdf. You will now notice a column indicating if the account is still active. Feel free to use this information for whatever work you are doing in this space. Our goal is get a better sense of how many of accounts like these are out there – is it a few hundred? A few thousand? More? Help us figure that out.

 

Dems Battle It Out, Nevada Caucus Concerns

We know that Bernie and Mayor Pete will do well tomorrow night.  As the various trackers are very bouncy right now, we don’t really know much else other than that the candidates who finish fourth and fifth will be in serious trouble.  As Nevada isn’t for another 12 days – the longest stretch without voting in the Feb window - the New Hampshire bounce could be more important than ever.  538’s national poll tracker has Biden/Bloomberg/Buttigieg/Klobuchar at 48% combined support, Sanders/Warren at 35%.  Questions remain about how low Sanders’ ceiling is – he’s not where he wants to be given his name ID and the money he’s spent.  And we worry that the President’s/GOP's months long illicit attack on VP Biden did take a toll on the former Dem frontrunner – a terrible outcome for our democracy. 

Trump remains in dangerous electoral territory, down 8 in the latest 538 job approval tracker, 51.7 disapprove/43.9 approve.  Despite the expected incoherent bluster from the White House over the end of Impeachment, whatever small improvement we’ve seen in the President’s numbers hasn’t been enough to make him competitive this fall.   Regular reminder – Trump has led his team to terrible defeats in the 2017/2018/2019 elections and there’s no evidence that he’s found some new formula for success.  A President with 52% wanting removal will never have an easy time getting re-elected; the fallout from his illicit dealings will continue to damage him; and all of us should remain worried/vigilant about the expansive new powers the Senate gave to him last week. 

Our take on the app fiasco is that it was an early test of the Democratic Party’s readiness for this new post-2016/Russia world of disinformation and cyber insecurities, and the Party failed the test, terribly.  The DNC should join Iowa’s call for an independent investigation into what happened, stop blaming the states for what was clearly a joint failure, and restore the critical partnership between the DNC and the states needed to win the 2020 election.  The DNC and the Nevada Democratic Party also must take immediate steps to assure the public that we are not headed towards another fiasco/security breach in the Nevada caucuses; our friends at the OSET Institute offer some concrete steps they could take today.  You can find NDN’s extensive work in this space here

Trump's New Budget Proposal Is Incoherent Yet Immensely Dangerous

Three years of economic policy under the Trump administration are well represented by just a few words: incoherent yet immensely dangerous. First, incoherent. The President promised that his tax cut would pay for itself and super-charge economic growth to a sustainable 3%/year. Instead, the tax cut has cost over $180 billion/year and growth has never come in at 3% or higher during his Administration (and was just 2.3% in 2019). Furthermore, Trump promised that his trade war would revitalize manufacturing and create far more jobs than during the Obama administration. Instead, his tariff policies have led to a deep manufacturing recession and job growth through his first three years is almost 40,000 jobs/month slower than during Obama's second term.

Second, immensely dangerous. As a result of Trump's attacks on Obamacare and his support for new restrictions on Medicaid access in the states, the uninsured rate has begun to rise rapidly after years of declines under Obama. In 2019, almost 8 million fewer people had health insurance than did when Trump took office in 2016. In addition, the sharp decline in pollution of almost 25% from 2009 to 2016 has rapidly reversed under Trump. As a result of his gutting of several major environmental programs such as the Clean Power Plan, emissions have actually increased by over 5% since 2016, a development that his own EPA estimates will cause 1,400 additional deaths per year in the US. 

It is fitting then that the budget proposal released by the administration today continues this trend of being implausible yet significantly harmful to the most vulnerable Americans. First, the budget proposal projects economic growth of 3.1% in 2020 and 3%+ every year up to 2024. This is a wildly unrealistic and downright laughable estimate. Growth was 2.3% in 2019, and the IMF and Fed both estimate that it will be just 2% in 2020. Furthermore, the Fed projects that growth will hit just 1.9% in 2021 and 1.8% in 2022, nowhere close to the administration's 3% estimate.

And second, the budget proposal includes significant cuts to the social programs that disproportionately help poor Americans. Trump's proposal would cut Medicaid and food stamps by almost $300 billion and reduce federal disability benefits by almost $100 billion, targeting literally sick, hungry, and disabled Americans. Furthermore, he proposes significantly cutting the budgets of critical future-looking federal departments such as the Environmental Protection Agency by 27% and the Department of Health and Human Services (which funds medical research organizations such as the CDC and NIH) by 9%. For more on NDN's work on economic and trade policy under the Trump administration, please click here.

On To New Hampshire, Impeachment Ends, The App Fiasco

The race for the Democratic nomination enters an important new phase this week.  Impeachment ends today, and it means that the attention of many Democrats will turn to the Presidential race.  What they will find is a wide open race, with six candidates, including Mike Bloomberg, slugging it out over what is an incredibly intense five week stretch.  In part due to the election night app fiasco, Iowa didn’t do what it often does and winnow the field.  So we have an exciting few weeks ahead with a wide open race, and two candidates – Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar – still very much alive and in contention for the nomination.  The New Hampshire debate this Friday is really going to matter – do make sure you watch.

Like many, we are disappointed in the Senate GOP’s embrace of Trump’s ongoing cover up of his crimes, and worry about where this leaves our Republic.  In a recent piece we wrote how important it was for Democrats to embrace the success of their time in the White House as the foundational argument needed to defeat Trumpism and illiberalism in the coming days.

This morning Simon offered an extensive reflection on the app fiasco, and how all of us – not just the DNC and Iowa Party – have to learn from the mistakes made.  We are in the midst of a wrenching transition to a new era of politics marked by cyber intrusions and disinformation, an era we describe as operating by Moscow Rules, and the need for a fundamental re-invention of our parties and other democratic institutions to prosper in this new era is now more urgent than ever. 

Trump's Make-Believe Economic Record

During last night's State of the Union address, Trump heavily focused on his supposed economic achievements and tried to contrast his record with one of decline under Obama. He described a world in which the economy had been long suffering under the Obama administration, but was now prosperous and strong thanks to his policies. Of course, the entire story is preposterous. While it is true that the economy is quite strong today (although large structural problems remain), that strength is a result of a largely unbroken trend that began under President Obama. Indeed, most macroeconomic indicators show either a continuation or slight decline in the pace of economic progress under Trump compared to Obama's 2nd term.

First, job growth has slowed moderately under Trump. From January 2013 to January 2017 under Obama, monthly job growth averaged 217,000 jobs. From January 2017 to December 2019 under Trump, meanwhile, it has averaged 177,000 jobs. Similarly, real median household income grew at an average annual rate of 2.6% from 2012 to 2016, while it has risen at an annual rate of only 1.1% in 2017 and 2018.

The only macro indicator that has seen even a slight pick-up has been economic growth, but even this will very likely be the same as under Obama after the 2020 data is in. In Obama's second term, quarterly GDP growth averaged 2.37% while so far quarterly GDP growth under Trump has averaged 2.54% - already very similar. For 2020, however, the IMF projects that growth will be 2%, meaning that quarterly GDP growth for Trump's four years will likely average 2.41%, essentially identical to the 2.37% average growth under Obama. 

And this doesn't even get into the significant decline in other key indicators of economic well-being under Trump. After the uninsured rate fell from 16% in 2012 to 11% in 2016 thanks to Obamacare, the trend has sharply reversed under Trump and the uninsured rate rose to 14% in 2018. Furthermore, after air pollution declined by 20% from 2012 to 2016 thanks to tighter environmental regulations under Obama, that trend has also gone backwards and pollution rose by 6% from 2016 to 2018. Even Trump's EPA estimates that this increased pollution will cause about 1,400 more deaths per year. As can be seen, it is simply not true that Trump has overseen an economic revival since 2016, and actually almost every macro-economic trend has declined to some extent under Trump. For more on NDN's work on trade and economic policy under the Trump administration, please click here.

Where Bolton Is Headed - Putin

"Where Bolton Is Headed-Putin" originally appeared on the website, Medium

I want to posit that when John Bolton’s story comes out, however it comes out, the most shocking revelations will be about Donald Trump’s treasonous fealty to Vladimir Putin.

We know that the President’s rough treatment of Ukraine’s Zelensky benefited Russia. Trump’s top Russia experts told us so, under oath, in the House hearings. And the President told us so in that infamous July 25th phone call — his first “favor” was actually for Russia and Putin, not himself.

We also know thanks to reporting from the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman that Bolton refused to go television in late August of 2019 to defend the President’s incredible advocacy for Putin at the just completed G7 meeting in France. Over the objections of Ukraine and the European Union, the President made the relaxation of sanctions imposed on Russia for their illegal annexation of Crimea a central issue in the talks. It was rightly seen as an outrageous PR gift to President Putin at the time, and one which of course has to now be seen as a critical part of Trump’s month’s long illicit shakedown of Zelensky.

We also know that the New York Times headline the day after Bolton departed the White House read “Trump Leaves Open Possibility of Easing Iranian Sanctions to Spur Nuclear Talks.” The Times pieces goes on to report “his subtle yet startling signal about relaxing the sanctions came just a day after the president unceremoniously ousted John R. Bolton, the White House national security adviser who opposed détente with Iran.”

Let’s try to put all this together. Bolton joined the Administration in April of 2018. He was there in Helsinki, when the President shamefully said he trusted Putin over America’s intelligence agencies. He was there in December of 2018 when the President abruptly announced America’s first abandonment of Syria, a geopolitical gift to Russia and its regional ally, Iran, a move that caused Defense Secretary Mattis to resign. He was there in early May of 2019 when, after speaking to Putin on the phone, the President abruptly reversed course in Venezuela, essentially once again giving a nation over to the Russians. He was there when the President lavishly praised Russia’s close ally, Viktor Orban, in the Oval Office even saying that Orban was “like me” (we know now that Bolton opposed allowing Orban to come to the White House, and that he used that meeting to help turn Trump against Zelensky and Ukraine).

It was in the late summer of 2019 when Trump gave Bolton reasons to get truly alarmed. He was there as the entire Ukrainian “drug deal” played out over the summer and early fall, including the President’s truly unbelievable suck up to Putin at the all-important G7 in late August. He then had to contend with the President inviting the Taliban to Camp David to finalize a peace deal that would humiliate the United States and provide another boon to Russia. But it was the President’s floating of the relaxation of the “maximum pressure” regime on Iran, Russia’s close ally, which seemed to be the last straw.

And for good reason. While we know the President was deferential to Putin in their public meetings, and had seemed to take a series of dramatic steps to align the US with Putin’s global ambitions in recent months in Syria, Europe, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Afghanistan, the true test of Putin’s influence over Trump would always be Iran. While nodding to Putin across the rest of the world, when it came to Iran, Putin’s ally, the President was with Iran’s enemies, the Gulf Arab states and Israel, in a big way. The President’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. He pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, re-imposed sanctions, and began his campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran. He threatened Qatar for being too friendly to Iran. We know of his deep intimacy with Israel’s Bibi, and the President even looked the other way when the Saudi’s dismembered a journalist living in the US, working for the Washington Post. Weakening the Trump/Bibi/MBS alliance seemed beyond even Putin’s reach even though like Ukraine this one really mattered to him — he had soldiers fighting and dying in Syria.

Iran hawks had reason to worry about the President’s commitment to their project when he began his first pull out of Syria in December of 2018, a move seen as benefiting Iran and Putin. But it was his shifting of his position on Iran in early September, detailed above, that clearly was the last straw for Bolton and a sign that Putin had run the table with his apprentice in the White House. In reading through contemporaneous news accounts of the President’s repeated gifts to Putin, Bolton appears consistently on the other side — opposing Orban’s visit, the about face in Venezuela, the Ukraine and Afghanistan polices, and finally this new “détente” with Iran.

In the months following Bolton’s departure, events have shown that his concerns about the President’s Russian drift appear to have been more than justified. In one of the more dramatic and dangerous foreign policy acts in American history, the President finished his Syria pull out in mid-October, abandoning our allies the Kurds, risking the return of ISIS, angering our European allies, and fundamentally tipping the scales in the Middle East in Putin and Iran’s direction, all at the expense of the Gulf Arab states and Israel. Zelensky still hasn’t gotten his Oval Office meeting, and every day he and his Republican allies bash Ukraine for being a corrupt cesspool. And in something which deserves far more attention, veterans groups have criticized the Administration for not moving against a newly discovered Russian foreign influence campaign targeting vets here in the US.

But it is what has happened with Iran since Bolton departed which should have American policy makers most concerned. Inspired by the President’s apparent bowing to Russia’s will in the region, the Iranian regime became far more aggressive. It attacked Saudi oil facilities — no US response. Iran downed a US drown — no response. It then began a campaign to bully the US out of Iraq, a campaign which led to the death of an American contractor, the assassination of General Soleimani, an Iranian strike on a US base which caused extensive damage and wounded dozens of our soldiers, and a formal request for the US to leave Iraq altogether — which was the goal of the Iranian/Russian campaign from the start.

With Bibi’s loss of immunity today, and more unacceptable behavior from the Saudis in recent months including the still unfolding terrorist attack in Pensacola, the Russian/Iranian alliance while having taken some casualties in recent months seems to have come out of this skirmish stronger than ever.

The Washington Post reported this morning: “Bolton was regularly appalled by what he saw from the president, the people close to him said. He wondered at times if Trump was acting in America’s best interest or if he was inspired by nefarious reasons, according to a person familiar with the book.”

“Inspired by nefarious reasons.” We don’t yet know what John Bolton is going to say about his time in the White House. What we’ve learned so far has been pretty explosive, and it seems likely that he will be called to testify in the Senate Impeachment trial. But if I am right, and the tale he tells is about an American President repeatedly doing the bidding of Russia to the detriment of the national security of the United States, then we are not just looking at the end of the Trump Presidency but a scandal of potentially world altering proportions.

Crossing The Rubicon

The descent of the GOP from Reagan to Trump, and its increasing acceptance of illiberalism and actions at odds with our democratic tradition to gain/maintain power, is perhaps the most important political story of our time.  As I argued in this long form magazine piece from 2012, once Communism fell and a new age of globalization began, the American right failed to reinvent itself around new circumstances, becoming an angry reactionary force which has chosen the corrupt path of cheating and degrading our democracy to win rather than doing the hard work of modernization that every political party must do as times change. 

In 2000, the GOP gained power through a party line SCOTUS decision which prevented votes from being counted (remains astonishing); in 2002, it lied about the cause of a war of choice to America and the world; it went on an orgy of illegal voter suppression/redistricting in the 2010s which led to unlawfully gained power in state after state in the Union; it illicitly stole a Supreme Court seat in 2016/17 and jammed a terribly flawed nominee through in 2018; its nominee won a very close election in 2016 through the help of a foreign power and a dramatic late intervention by the FBI, and the GOP has worked as a party to illegally cover it all up for years.  So perhaps it is no surprise that we are where we are today, with the GOP unified in once again covering up for this obviously venal President, even to the point of turning the Constitutionally mandated  Senate “trial” into perhaps the first in our history without witnesses and evidence. 

This week feels a bit like a “crossing the Rubicon” moment for the once proud party of Reagan and America itself, particularly after last night’s revelations that John Bolton will be the fourth Trump aide to confirm the President broke the law and abused his power (joining Mulvaney, Sondland, and Parnas). Will the Senate and the Chief Justice really still allow the corruption of the trial as the President calls for? Will the Senate really sanction the effort to rig an upcoming election, certainly one of the gravest crimes an American President can commit, and one which we know from history and the present day can lead shortly to tyranny? The President’s defense is dangerous, and constitutionally ignorant.  Impeachment is not extraordinary this close to an election; it is required if the crime is an attempt to deny citizens their right to fairly choose their own leaders.  Impeachment was included in our Constitution for a situation just like this – an errant President using the awesome power of their office to prevent a free and fair election, and thus the remedy of removal through the upcoming election is simply no remedy at all.  Many of the world’s worst leaders – Putin, Maduro – have gained power through corrupt elections and Potemkin edifices of democracy.  Is this where the Republicans really want to take us this week?  

Failure to allow witnesses and documents in this trial at this time will be among the worst betrayals of our nation and our Constitution in American history.  It may very well leave us a republic in name only, as we will at that moment be led by the kind of Mad King without checks and balances that the Founders so desperately feared.  I am not sure our democratic experiment has seen as many moments as consequential as the one ahead – a moment which unfortunately may be far too much a Rubicon moment than any of us could have imagined even a few months ago.  Let us hope that reason and patriotism prevails, and that this Impeachment “trial” has those elements so critical to the rule of law and our republic itself – germane evidence and witnesses. 

The Threat Of Trump's Trade Agenda

This piece was originally published by the Washington Monthly. Below is an excerpt from the piece, and you can find the whole piece here.

Democrats should be pleased with the successful negotiations over the USMCA and the deal’s passage in the Senate. While the trade agreement’s scope is clearly quite limited—and more work remains to be done on the environmental impact of continental trade—the pact achieves some much-needed tariff reduction, modernizes some aspects of digital trade, and helps to improve labor standards in Mexico. Importantly, House Democrats were able to negotiate stronger labor rights for workers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, with more effective enforcement provisions for those rights, which helped give the deal more teeth. These are all positive steps that will help American workers and businesses.

All that said, Democrats cannot wash their hands of trade policy now that the USMCA has been completed. Quite simply, the deal is only a minor piece of the president’s overall trade strategy. His larger trade agenda is undoubtedly malignant. He has attempted to tear down the global trading system by illegally circumventing the legislative branch­—moves that must be challenged strongly by Congressional Democrats. Otherwise, their win on the USMCA will be significantly undermined by a broader trade policy that has created major losses for incomes, jobs, and the rule of law. 

To read the rest of the piece, please click here.

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