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Harris seen as Biden VP favorite as clock ticks

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPolice investigating fire at Arizona Democratic Party headquarters Biden says Whitmer still in contention for VP pick Poll: Harris, Warren top list of VP picks among Democratic voters MORE (D-Calif.) is seen as the favorite as Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill’s Campaign Report: Campaigns prepare for homestretch run to Election Day Charlamagne tha God rips Biden: ‘Shut the eff up forever’ Hogan stakes claim to big-tent Republicanism with critiques of Trump MORE nears a decision on his vice presidential pick.

Harris would be the first Black woman and Indian American woman to be nominated on a major party’s presidential ticket, and she battled with Biden memorably on the debate stage more than a year ago.

Harris wouldn’t put a new state in play. She represents California, the largest electoral prize on the map but one that is completely safe for Democrats.

Yet many see her as the least risky pick for Biden, who is under pressure to select a woman of color as his veep, and someone who would be prepared to be president on day one.

“Knowing him, Kamala is the best pick for him,” said one longtime Biden confidant. “Their politics are very similar. I would be surprised if it wasn’t her.” 

“I’d be shocked if it was anyone else,” the source added. “You’re getting to the degrees of risk after that.” 

Still, sources say it’s not as if Harris has the race locked up.

If Biden doesn’t select Harris, it would come down to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCharlamagne tha God rips Biden: ‘Shut the eff up forever’ Warren, Booker call for OSHA standards for meatpacking plants in next relief package Wave of evictions could be coming for nation’s renters MORE (D-Mass) or former national security adviser Susan Rice, women the former vice president knows well, the confidant said. 

Another source close to the campaign said Team Biden is giving Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassOcasio-Cortez rejects Yoho apology as disingenuous House votes to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Democratic congresswomen: Yoho’s apology to Ocasio-Cortez not ‘enough’ MORE (D-Calif.) a serious look in the final days of deliberation. Bass leads the Congressional Black Caucus.

“The Bass thing is real,” the source said, adding that if Harris was such a sure thing, the campaign wouldn’t be testing other prospects. “In many ways, she’s the easiest pick, even though she may not be the most obvious pick,” the source said of Bass. 

Bass appeals to progressives, who desperately want to defeat Trump but are lukewarm on Biden.

In an open letter written to Biden earlier this week, California delegates who supported Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIs Ilhan Omar one and done? Why she could lose the August primary Tea Party rises up against McConnell’s trillion relief plan A 21st century New Deal MORE (I-Vt.) during the primary listed Bass as someone on their short list. 

Some strategists also think Biden should select someone who is outside his comfort zone. 

“Joe Biden comes from the ‘safe,’ moderate wing of the Democratic party and I assume he’s inclined to choose a VP who does, too,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “But that’s exactly the wrong instinct. Our base isn’t centrist; they’re progressive, and he needs to choose someone who excites them.” 

In 2016, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump campaign manager says polls understate president’s support Lincoln Project releases new video targeting Trump comments on Ghislaine Maxwell The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Trump pivots on convention; GOP punts on virus bill MORE considered selecting Warren as her running mate, but landed on Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFinger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police MORE, (D-Va.) who strategists — then and now —  saw as the safe choice.

“God love him, but no one is excited by Tim Kaine,” Setzer said.

“To our detriment, Democrats always play it too safe with our VP picks,” Setzer added. “Joe Biden was probably the best in the Democratic field to win independents and disaffected Republican votes, so his VP choice better bring in the progressives.” 

Other strategists predict Biden may not feel like gambling with a big lead in the polls.

The RealClearPolitics national average of polls shows Biden with a lead of more than 8 points on President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Dept. says 18 people facing federal charges after Portland protests US takes over former Chinese consulate in Houston Overnight Defense: GOP senator targets Confederate base rename | Trump OKs sale of more large armed drones MORE. He also holds leads in key states including Florida, where a Quinnipiac University poll out on Thursday showed him beating Trump 51 percent to 38 percent.

The widening Biden lead in polls, some say, gives an edge to the candidates perceived as safe.

“He’s going to take less of a chance because the polls look so good and political observers would say the race has tilted toward Biden,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “There are no surprises with Kamala. You know what you’re going to get out of her. No one will be shocked that Kamala Harris is the choice. 

“It’s the safer, more conservative choice,” he added. 

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said historically the candidates who take risks with their vice presidential picks are struggling and looking for a boost. He pointed to 2008, when Republican nominee John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Trump pivots on convention; GOP punts on virus bill Democratic super PAC to launch six-figure ad buy backing Biden in Texas Conservative think tank director says Lincoln Project members beholden to pro-business Republicans MORE selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. 

“However, this race is different than others,” Zelizer said. “Despite his lead in the polls, which can shrink, this campaign is hard to predict in terms of what it will look like. So there is an argument to be made that Biden could benefit from someone who could help him keep the Democratic message out front in the media and help to ensure high turnout in a pandemic era.”  

The Biden confident said the team is taking nothing for granted and considering all options. 

Still, the source added, “There’s a different level of risk no matter who you pick. There are opportunities and challenges for everyone.” 

“But I think when all is said and done, he’ll land on the woman who is ready to be president on day one and will help fill some of the gaps that he has,” the source said. 

Payne added that to date, Biden’s campaign hasn’t been packed with surprises and he doesn’t expect one with the running mate decision. 

“Everything he has done has been close to the vest, do no harm, make the least waves,” he said. “He could throw us a curve ball but it would go against everything he stands for.” 

 

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Regis Philbin Dead at Age 88

Lifestyle News

Beloved television host Regis Philbin has died at the age of 88.

In a statement to People on Saturday, the Philbin family confirmed the news of the television host’s death.

“We are deeply saddened to share that our beloved Regis Philbin passed away last night of natural causes, one month shy of his 89th birthday,” the statement said.

“His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him — for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about.

“We thank his fans and admirers for their incredible support over his 60-year career and ask for privacy as we mourn his loss.”

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“Saddened to hear about the passing of Regis Philbin. Condolences to his wife Joy,” actor William Shatner tweeted after learning the news of Phibin’s passing.

Philbin hosted “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” from 1988 until Kathie Lee Gifford’s departure from the show in 2000.

Kelly Ripa joined Philbin in 2001, and the popular show became known as “Live! with Regis and Kelly” until Philbin’s departure in 2011.

Some may remember Philbin from his days hosting “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” between 1999 and 2002.

In both 2001 and 2011, Philbin won Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show Host for “Live!”

He won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in 2001, as well.

A Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Philbin from the Daytime Emmy Awards in 2008.

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Philbin was also a Guinness World Record holder for “Most Hours on Camera,” a feat he achieved in 2004 with 15,188 hours on television, according to The Associated Press.

The legendary host is still the current record holder, with 16,746.50 hours on camera at the time of his 2011 retirement.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Joy Philbin, and their daughters J.J. Philbin and Joanna Philbin.

He was also the father to daughter Amy Philbin, whose mother, Catherine Faylen, was his first wife. The couple’s son, Daniel Philbin, passed away in 2014.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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Regis Philbin, television personality and host, dies at 88 – Boston Herald

By DAVID BAUDER

NEW YORK (AP) — Regis Philbin, the genial host who shared his life with television viewers over morning coffee for decades and helped himself and some fans strike it rich with the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” has died at 88.

Philbin died of natural causes Friday night, just over a month before his 89th birthday, according to a statement from his family provided by manager Lewis Kay.

Celebrities routinely stopped by Philbin’s eponymous syndicated morning show, but its heart was in the first 15 minutes, when he and co-host Kathie Lee Gifford — on “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” from 1985-2000 — or Kelly Ripa — on “Live! with Regis and Kelly” from 2001 until his 2011 retirement — bantered about the events of the day. Viewers laughed at Philbin’s mock indignation over not getting the best seat at a restaurant the night before, or being henpecked by his partner.

“Even I have a little trepidation,” he told The Associated Press in 2008, when asked how he does a show every day. “You wake up in the morning and you say, ‘What did I do last night that I can talk about? What’s new in the paper? How are we gonna fill that 20 minutes?’”

“I’m not gonna say it always works out brilliantly, but somehow we connect more often than we don’t,” he added.

“One of the greats in the history of television, Regis Philbin has passed on to even greater airwaves,” President Donald Trump said in a tweet. “He was a fantastic person, and my friend.”

After hustling into an entertainment career by parking cars at a Los Angeles TV station, Philbin logged more than 15,000 hours on the air, earning him recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most broadcast hours logged by a TV personality, a record previously held by Hugh Downs.

“Every day, you see the record shattered, pal!” Philbin would tell viewers. “One more hour!”

He was host of the prime-time game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” briefly television’s most popular show at the turn of the century. ABC aired the family-friendly program as often as five times a week. It generated around $1 billion in revenue in its first two years — ABC had said it was the more profitable show in TV history — and helped make Philbin himself a millionaire many times over.

Philbin’s question to contestants, “Is that your final answer?” became a national catchphrase. Philbin was even a fashion trendsetter; he put out a line of monochramactic shirts and ties to match what he wore on the set.

“You wait a lifetime for something like that and sometimes it never happens,” Philbin told the AP in 1999.

In 2008, he returned briefly to the quiz show format with “Million Dollar Password.” He also picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award from the daytime Emmys.

He was the type of TV personality easy to make fun of, and easy to love.

When his son Danny first met his future wife, “we were talking about our families,” Danny told USA Today. “I said, ‘You know that show Regis and Kathie Lee?’ And she said, ‘I hate that show.’ And I said, ‘That’s my dad.’”

Yet Philbin was a favorite of a younger generation’s ironic icon, David Letterman. When Letterman announced that he had to undergo heart surgery, it was on the air to Philbin, who was also there for Letterman’s first day back after his recovery.

Letterman returned the favor, appearing on Philbin’s show when he went back on the air in April 2007 after undergoing heart bypass surgery.

In the 2008 AP interview, Philbin said he saw “getting the best out of your guests” as “a specialty. … The time constraints mean you’ve got to get right to the point, you’ve got to make it pay off, go to commercial, start again. Play that clip. Say goodbye.” He gave his desktop a decisive rap.

“And make it all conversational.”

Regis Francis Xavier Philbin grew up in the New York borough of the Bronx, the son of Italian-Irish parents and named for the Roman Catholic boys high school his dad attended. He went to Notre Dame University, and was such an enthusiastic alum, he once said he wanted his ashes scattered there.

After leaving the Navy in 1955, Philbin talked his way into a meeting with the stationmaster at KCOP-TV in Los Angeles. He got a job parking cars, then progressed into work as a stagehand, courier, newswriter and producer of a sports telecast. When its sportscaster didn’t show up one day, Philbin filled in.

Philbin got far more on-air experience in San Diego in the early 1960s, when KOGO-TV began producing “The Regis Philbin Show” for a national audience. The program of music and celebrity interviews was taped two weeks before each airing. It was canceled after four months.

In 1967, Philbin was hired as the announcer and sidekick to comic Joey Bishop on his network show. When he heard that he was going to be fired because of poor ratings, Philbin tearfully announced he was leaving on July 12, 1968, walking off during a live broadcast. He returned three days later after letters of support poured in.

He and Bishop had bad blood: Bishop called Philbin an “ingrate” for walking off during a salary dispute and later badmouthing him.

Philbin’s second wife, Joy, was Bishop’s assistant.

After three years of commuting to St. Louis each week for a local Saturday night show, Philbin became a star in local morning television — first in Los Angeles, then in New York. In 1985, he teamed with Kathie Lee Johnson, a year before she married former football star Frank Gifford, and the show went national in 1988.

Philbin’s “sarcastic playfulness” endears him to fans, Good Housekeeping magazine wrote in 2000.

“He’s the little guy protesting the injustices of life, from crime waves to paper cuts,” the magazine wrote. “The ranting is punctuated with Kathie Lee’s familiar cry of ‘Oh, Reege,’ uttered sometimes in sisterly sympathy and sometimes in teacherly admonishment.”

The gentle bickering and eye-rolling exasperation in Philbin and Gifford’s onscreen relationship was familiar to anyone in a long-lasting relationship.

“No arguments, no harsh words in all this time,” Philbin told a theater audience in 2000. “Well, there was the time I didn’t talk to her for two weeks. Didn’t want to interrupt her.”

Gifford left the show in 2000. After a tryout period for a replacement, soap star Ripa (“All My Children”) filled the slot.

The same hustler who parked cars in Hollywood worked just as hard to land the job on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

“I begged my way on,” he told People magazine. “There was a short list, and I wasn’t on it. I called my agent, and we made a full assault on ABC in L.A.”

The audience responded to Philbin’s warm, comic touch in the role. He later jokingly referred to himself as the man who saved ABC. It wasn’t complete hyperbole: ABC was suffering in the ratings before the game became a smash success. Forbes reported that two-thirds of ABC’s operating profit in 2000 was due to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Philbin appeared to love every minute of it. Even the ultimate arbiter of hip, the MTV Video Awards, asked him to make an appearance.

“It’s better to be hot,” he told the AP. “It’s fun. I know this business. I was perfectly content with my morning show. People would ask me, ‘What’s next?’ There is nothing next. There are no more mountains for me to climb. Believe me when I tell you, all I wanted when I started this show in 1961 was to be a success nationally.”

The prime-time game burned out quickly because of overuse and ended in 2002.

Philbin enjoyed a side career as a singer that began when he sang “Pennies from Heaven” to Bing Crosby on Bishop’s show. He said a record company called him the next day, and he made an album.

Even though the series “Regis Philbin’s Health Styles,” on Lifetime in the 1980s, was part of his lengthy resume, Philbin had health issues. Doctors performed an angioplasty to relieve a blocked artery in 1993. He underwent bypass surgery in 2007 at age 75.

He’s survived by his wife, Joy, and their daughters J.J. and Joanna Philbin, as well as his daughter Amy Philbin with his first wife, Catherine Faylen, according to People.

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“Michael Brooks Leaving This World Was Only the Beginning of His Legacy”

I knew that Michael Brooks had a massive audience that extended far beyond the United States, but I was still shocked at how many emails I received from his listeners and viewers all over the world after putting out a call for reflections on what Michael’s work meant.

The reflections were emotionally taxing to assemble, if I’m being honest. Reading them only deepened my grief at his death. But they also showed me just how deep and how wide his impact in an incredibly brief time in media was. For that, I’m grateful for everyone who wrote in.

You can read the first installment of reflections on Michael’s death from his viewers and listeners here.


Michael meant to me what he meant to so many others who deeply value internationalism and the fraternity of peoples. He was a true believer and a comrade, a breath of fresh air in a sea of cynicism.

As someone from a non-Western country, Turkey, it is hard sometimes to not feel alienated by being assigned a status of a racial/cultural other or remembered often only for political expediency. It wasn’t so with Michael. He always treated other countries/peoples with the same thoughtfulness and nuance he afforded his own.

Listening to him filled me with hope. I saw someone who not only knows a better world is possible, but who yearns for it, who can’t wait to build it together, shoulder to shoulder, and that we could all become better versions of ourselves in the process.

His show was just that: a gathering of many who cared for this world to come, of curiosity and ideas, but also an exploration of the ties that bind us, of connected struggles in a connected economy. And his vision, like his show, was joyous and fun, full of laughter and kinship.

Michael gave me hope in a way few things do, and it’s hard not to feel gutted by his passing. I can’t help but feel now we all need to try that much harder to make up for his loss.

— Defne Dalkara


The first TMBS clip I ever watched was one on Pakistan, India, and Kashmir. I was blown away by the depth of knowledge this random white guy on YouTube had about a deeply complex issue. As a Pakistani leftist, I congratulated him on a job well done, and that is how our political and personal friendship began.

With time, I learned that he wasn’t only insanely smart, he was ridiculously funny. Bernie-or-Bust Bill Clinton was my personal favorite. And with more time, I learned how generous he was. Always offering words of support or advice or aid, randomly asking how I was doing.

He went from a podcaster I admired to a friend I genuinely cared about.

He was unreasonably kind, irrationally generous. Whenever I got bullied online, I knew he’d be in my inbox sending me words of support.

If I expressed I was in the middle of a bout of anxiety or depression, there Michael would be, sending a few sentences to cheer me up. When I found out I lost PhD funding, he was the first to reach out and say he would personally contribute and support a GoFundMe.

He became a reliable source of laughter and light. He was my friend and political guiding light. I will miss him for the rest of my life.

—Aisha Ahmad


I began listening to The Michael Brooks Show not long after it started in 2018 while I was working at Whole Foods in Portland. Though I started listening out of an interest in national politics and political culture, Michael’s focus on labor and global solidarity slowly began to shift my perspective.

Instead of thinking of the job as the shitty way I made money, I saw myself and my fellow workers being exploited in innumerable ways. I started putting together the Marx I’d read in college with the low-wage work I and my fellow workers (unquestionably in worse positions than myself) were tasked with.

That summer, the Portland Democratic Socialists of America and other groups occupied the local ICE detention center after the news of family separations broke, setting off a wave of similar actions in cities across the country. When I listened to Michael shouting out these organizers on the show, speaking eloquently to the urgency and strategic advantages of an occupation, I used my sick time to help the occupation however I could.

Similarly, his enthusiasm for Bernie’s 2020 campaign — as a way for the Left to gain the most power in this country and thereby benefit the most people — played a major role in my decision to canvass and fully support the campaign. I’d like to think I’d have been as willing to jump in without regularly listening to TMBS, but it’s difficult to imagine.

Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles, I found that TMBS and The Majority Report were the two shows that could make any commute or bus ride through hellish traffic, trip to the grocery store, or (after the onset of the COVID lockdown) daily walks bearable. At this point, I can hardly think of a place in LA where I didn’t drive or walk and listen to Michael in some capacity. I was so excited by where the show was headed and Michael coming into his own that I became a patron of TMBS this past January, listening to hours upon hours of Brooks content each week. I can probably hear his voice in my head clearer than even some of my close friends’.

While I was an entirely passive listener, I will deeply miss listening and thinking through the show each week. I will never forget his selection of guests, the insights of his opening monologues, how he gave space to his equally astute collaborators Matt and David, his hysterical impressions, and his deeply humanist, empathetic drive.

Above all, I’m forever grateful for how he made political education as inviting, fascinating, and invigorating a journey as it clearly was for him. Like all brilliant political thinkers who left us far too soon, we will be looking back on Michael’s words and ideas for decades to come, and his influence among us will hopefully in some small way make up for his absence.

—Dan Molloy


Michael was influential to me starting after the 2016 election through The Majority Report, when I was coming into my own in my undergraduate studies. It wasn’t until almost exactly this time last year, however, that his voice made a serious impact.

I was going though a lot of personal turmoil dealing with my own mental illness, which was exacerbated by my father falling ill in a serious way, causing me to lose my job and eventually most of my friends. During that time, one of the few connections I had was the para-social relationship that I suddenly developed with Michael, who had become undoubtedly my greatest teacher. He spoke directly to and validated what was always at the core of me, all of my innermost instincts that I had let the cynicism of others suppress, because I was under the impression that it was a debilitating weakness, my capacity for empathy and impulse to see the humanity in anyone.

He proved by example that it is not only possible but virtuous to embrace sincerity without sacrificing levity, having a sense of humor about the absurdity of our callous world without being an apologist for it. What has stuck with me the most, however, is his unrelenting commitment to a dialectical approach to not just politics but all aspects of thought and life. I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy since I was young, and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Michael taught me more about dialectical thinking than any psychologist ever has.

I can’t even remember how I constructed my worldview or thought process before Michael. Without him, and the community he built around him, I would be psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually incomplete. I wouldn’t have any concept of the holistic and globalist perspective on politics, power, and humanism that I am so grateful to have cultivated through his teaching.

I’ve experienced a great deal of loss and tragedy for someone of my age and background, but this one has struck me in a way I never could have imagined. Michael was the voice that told me not to give in to despair when everything around me seemed to suggest that I should. I feel like he was such a beautiful embodiment of everything I could be if only I let go of the shackles that hegemony has constructed for me, for which I hold the key to but can’t bring myself to lift it to the lock.

As I enter the final stretch of my degree, I am resolute in my determination to use it to dedicate myself to the project that Michael and so many in his orbit have fought so hard to materialize. His sudden and seemingly senseless passing has shaken me to my core in such a way that is electrifying and has filled me with equal parts sorrow and intense vigor to exit my paralytic mental state and use all that I’ve learned from him to ensure that his leaving this world was only the beginning of his legacy.

—Lindsey McNab


The first time I heard Michael Brooks’s voice, it wasn’t his voice — it was Right Wing Mandela’s, on The Majority Report. It was just one of the characters in Michael’s repertoire of dialectical impressions, along with Nation of Islam Obama, 30 Gangster Hillary, and Woke Susan Collins. These voices embodied Michael’s humor, intelligence, and political savvy. He was working on a Chomsky Boston Sports Fanatic for me.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Michael announced that he would be creating his own show. I subscribed to his eponymous effort immediately.

It is rare for someone born in the heart of the empire to fundamentally understand how the United States has warped and degraded the histories and politics of all people across the globe. I believe it is because he grew up poor and experienced firsthand how US elites impoverished people within its own borders just as it did peoples in the Global South. Michael made the connections between my experience being born and raised in Hawaii and the struggles of the working class and indigenous peoples of the Global South.

But even while acknowledging the international movements that must be sustained or awoken, he did not ignore our responsibilities in the imperial core. He continually explained that power must be wrested away from the ruling class to the working people. There was a synthesis in his vision where this class struggle was a force multiplier in the struggle to destroy dehumanizing, exploitative ideologies like racism, colonialism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.

In the Discord community associated with The Michael Brooks Show, I met wonderful people who have helped me put into sharper focus what is to be done. The year 2019 was the International Year of Indigenous Languages. One of my friends in this community and I wrote about dozens of languages in danger of extinction and the historical and political forces that caused this peril. There is a saying that when a language dies, a world dies. Michael strived to give us the tools to save worlds.

Michael was never satisfied with the status quo, in neither himself or the world. This drive didn’t harden his spirit but rather opened his heart and mind. I will miss him. The world will miss him.

—Joanna Hicks


On our first phone call, a fellow organizer and I pitched Michael the shell of an idea — a leftist conversation on class warfare at Harvard University. We had little to offer by way of information, little sense of the event that would take shape. Beyond our faculty advisor, Dr Cornel West, Brooks was our first confirmed speaker.

On the panel, after Dr West offered his reflections on the state of the “soul” of the Democratic Party, Michael began his reply with a mention of his debt to Dr West, “who is an influence on me.” I consider what followed to be the definitive Brooks manifesto on love and power — rooted firmly in the struggle and solidarity of Dr West’s spiritual tradition, and yet, of course, pure, undeniable Michael Brooks.

Like Cornel West, Michael thought of Martin Luther King when he thought of love and power, and when he looked toward the horizon that awaited a global leftist movement. He said he had recently played a passage from a King speech on his show that had struck him. He paraphrased: “Love without power is sentimental and anemic; power without love is abusive and corrosive.”

And he shared his response: “I thought: Well, here, okay. We know the left-wing Dr King . . . Here’s the Machiavellian Dr King, and I love it!

“I want the Left to have a Machiavelli, so that we can have the strategy, the ruthlessness, the clarity to actually win these battles, and be ruthless with institutions. And then I want us to learn how to be really kind to each other, welcoming of a broad set, and to have a movement that has the capacity to do that.”

Brooks was exactly what he wished for us, for our movement: a Machiavelli with ruthlessness and clarity in the pursuit of love and justice.

If you subscribe to the Brooks philosophy, you believe that the tougher and more worthwhile thing, the thing that makes victory not certain but possible, is engagement on the terms of kindness and of humanity recognizing itself in another. Turn to Michael’s work and you will see that he was not in the business of turning a blind eye to anything; he harbored no delusions about how simple or expedient this engagement would prove. He wanted us to stay with one another, to labor with love in order to bring about the political consciousness to grow our coalition.

The reality is that with the loss of Michael, we have lost precisely what Michael wanted for us — a leftist Machiavelli, scheming for a revolution of love and human connectedness against the international forces of commodification and dehumanization. It feels unthinkable, a blow too great to bear.

What Michael saw in the words of Dr King that he invoked at the Harvard conference was “the left-wing spiritual — but also with a vision of power.” For Michael, that power always operated in service of victory over oppression and dehumanization.

If we can synthesize that power with that spirituality, Michael said, “I think we will speak to the highest impulses of this country. We will be welcoming to people. And we will win.” When we win, we will continue to feel Michael’s absence; nothing will change that. But we will know that it was his vision for love and power that helped to make that victory possible.

—Piper Winkler


I’ve spent the last few days mourning the loss of a man I didn’t know. Or at least had never spoken to. Having stumbled across clips of The Majority Report on YouTube a few years back, I gradually picked up on the fact that this Michael guy had some serious analysis and wisdom that he was sharing, as well as a mischievous sense of humor (with an infectious cackled squeal of a laugh that seemed to consume his whole being).

Having moved north to the middle of England, about a hundred miles from my nearest friends, sitting back with The Michael Brooks Show and thinking and laughing along as he cajoled, riffed-off, and joked around with the likes of Briahna Joy Gray, Bhaskar Sunkara, Meagan Day, and Daniel Bessner often felt like a more than adequate replacement. Through the breathless hope and gut-wrenching defeats of the last few years, he was a consistent voice of moral and strategic clarity and synthesis, and brought issues onto my radar that I would have otherwise barely been aware of.

I’ve always spent a lot of my free time reading, thinking, and strategizing, and only a tiny fraction actually doing anything with the products of it all. I’ll try to use this tragedy as motivation to Be More Michael from now on, and make the best use of the time I have to further the cause of dignity, justice, and joy for everybody on this planet. There’s a huge void to fill, so I’ll try to do my bit.

—Jack Cregan


My first time seeing Michael live was at a Jacobin event in Brooklyn with Krystal Ball and Matt Karp. I was really excited because Rising had been growing quickly so it seemed like a great intimate setting to see some powerful speakers. Michael, of course, got all the great laughs and also made space for a wonderful dialogue.

It just felt like a bunch of friends hanging out, talking shop, and expanding their consciousnesses. There was a hum in the air that night, the enthusiasm shared between everyone felt electric. I feel privileged to have been in that room.

Michael spent a lot of time connecting the political with the spiritual which is something that I think there is a dearth of on the Left, but is a really important part of our collective momentum. To me, it feels like morale can be driven far with political success but needs spiritual fulfillment to even things out in times of loss and reassessment.

I feel that acutely with Michael’s passing, the need for a balance between the inner and the outer, galvanizing our politics and practicing inner calm through whatever spiritual practice we subscribe to. I wish we’d had more time with him, but I know his work will be carried on by others and his legacy will be enduring.

—Dan Bellury


I’m a forty-one-year-old guy that lives in Alexandria, Virginia. I’ve always been a voracious reader and politically conscious in some configuration of the liberal/left-ish variety. I’ve been with my wife now for ten years, who comes from a family of US State Department officials of high standing. With my intense career life in independent wine importation, coupled with the natural influence of my social environment here in the DC area, my personal politics had shifted away from my left roots.

Looking back, I now realize that I really WAS living in a bubble of state-centric, US bourgeois politics instinctively agreed upon by mainstream media sources, many of my friends who work on the Hill or in the government-affiliated private sector, and of course my extended family representing the United States government. Like many Americans, the Trump 2016 presidential victory was a shock to my system. I genuinely couldn’t understand how it was even possible, so I did what I always do: I read.

I read constantly, but I began to notice a stark contrast between the perspectives found in the mainstream news opinion factory I typically frequented and the old lefty sources I had gradually drifted from. The former group was hysterical, while the latter who clearly shared in the despair of the moment possessed a more confident analysis.

Enter Michael Brooks.

Michael’s humorous takes on public figures I had once considered unassailable from the standard “smart and informed” DC-area perspective made me smirk and simultaneously blush. His comedic impressions and searing critiques were tracking parallel to my own unfolding transformation.

I was reconnecting with Marx. I was remembering my college-era Chomksy obsession. And there, right along with me was an unexpected mentor and guide: Michael.

I continued to read, but this time Gramsci and Adolph Reed Jr, upon Michael’s recommendations. I discovered “Yoda” (Dr Richard Wolff) and “Grandpa Marx” (Dr David Harvey). The light bulbs that had grown dim over the last twenty years were suddenly flaring above me, and there seemingly right by my side was Michael and TMBS crew.

Almost instinctively, I campaigned for Bernie Sanders in Virginia, even flying to South Carolina for a week to knock on doors before. I consider the last three years of my life to be the most fulfilling in terms of rekindling my passion for politics, and Michael Brooks’s influence can’t be overstated during this time.

And Michael gave me much more. His intellectual rigor, his dedication to theory’s interface with praxis was certainly inspiring. But it was his insistence on grounding all of these ideas in a deep abiding love for fellow human beings that has impacted me the most.

During the pandemic, as Michael podcasted from his home in Brooklyn, I began to find the personal effects I could see behind him to be oddly comforting. It felt as though I was checking in every Tuesday night with three of my closest friends. And though I never met Michael or David and Matt for that matter, they will always feel like family to me as I tuned in while washing the nightly dishes.

We leftists often carry an immense load of theory and abstract analysis around in our heads. But it will always be necessary to synthesize that with real-world compassion and a commitment to solidarity with our fellow humans. Even in the Obama impressions and Dave Rubin dunking, this basic principle resonated in everything Michael produced.

I feel like I’ve lost a true mentor and a comrade. But I will celebrate him daily by continuing to stay involved in the struggle for working people.

—James Kellaris


I discovered TMBS as I was going through graduate school in international affairs. My program relied heavily on twentieth-century liberal orthodoxy, and so I went through this tension of embracing socialism domestically without knowing what it meant internationally.

Michael Brooks, through his insight, his reporting, and his sense of humor, helped me resolve that. His guests gave me as good an education as any of my professors (some of whom remain well connected to the Washington “Blob”) ever could.

But he made me laugh, too. Lord knows someone is gifted if they can seamlessly crack a joke and lay out the details of our hellscape.

After his death, the WhatsApp chat of Bernie campaign people within NYC I’m a part of lit up with tributes and messages of grief. I’d like to think that if myself and others in that chat or elsewhere become better internationalists and political educators, then we’ll be carrying on his legacy. It’s a monumental task, but I feel it’s how I can repay him.

—Christian Araos


When I started watching The Majority Report eighteen months ago I remember thinking Michael was “way too liberal.” But his sharp wit, humor, and impressions kept me from writing him off. Over time, I warmed up to his perspectives and began watching his own show, TMBS. Michael taught me about Lula’s imprisonment, the coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia, Corbyn’s inspiring campaign platform, and the unique moment that the Bernie Sanders candidacy was providing for working people in the United States.

Michael’s ability to bring a global perspective through a lens of empathy and compassion was truly special. It was always clear that his passion for education and theory was directly tied to action and practice. He was one of my biggest motivators for becoming politically active.

This year I went on four Bernie journeys to canvass voters. I also joined DSA and recently hosted my first committee meeting. I have to say, it was all thanks to Michael’s contagious energy.

—Quinn Keitel


I found Michael (and the rest of the Majority Report crew) in 2017, when I decided to listen to less of the Joe Rogan Experience and searched for leftist political podcasts. Majority Report, TMBS, and all of what Michael did presented an alternative that I enjoyed and really needed at the time. I still do.

Since then, my girlfriend and I both became patrons, we saw the TMBS live shows twice in Brooklyn, and we both gave Michael a hug when we met him after the Bernie Sanders rally in Queensbridge back in October. I will forever be grateful I got to meet him and tell him how much I love his work.

When I let Michael know that I had ordered three copies of his book from the leftist bookstore Red Emma’s in Baltimore, he replied right away: “Thanks brother!” I didn’t know if he actually typed out the message or if it was an auto-reply, but after hearing on the Majority Report how responsive and kind he was, I don’t doubt he read my message and considered me a fan who, despite being a stranger, was a brother.

—Daniel Hinton

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Marijuana licensing woes dog Missouri’s governor

The situation reflects how quickly the promise of legalized marijuana can turn from being an asset for political leaders to a liability, as administrations come under intense lobbying and pressure to hand out lucrative licenses, while confronting the risk of outright corruption.

In the wake of the investigations, the race has become increasingly competitive, according to polls and rating services. While Missouri is firmly red when it comes to presidential elections, state offices are another matter: Democrat Jay Nixon served two terms as governor from 2009 to 2017. POLITICO rates the governor’s race as “Lean Republican,” though many observers acknowledge that Galloway is making significant inroads.

Parson’s defenders, including Republican political strategist David Barklage, suggest the blow-up is more a matter of intra-party politics and won’t resonate with voters.

“In terms of campaigning I just don’t see [the impact],” Barklage said.

Dissatisfaction with Parson’s handling of marijuana goes beyond just his close ties to Tilley, which date back to when both men were members of the state legislature. The Parson administration’s decision to cap the number of state licenses has led to a staggering number of administrative appeals — more than 800. A lawsuit aiming to overturn the cap heads to trial this fall.

“What they’re doing with the medical marijuana business looks a lot like what Republican rhetoric accuses Democrats of doing with government,” said Michael Wolff, a Democrat and former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court who supported the legalization campaign in 2018. “The libertarian side of the Republican electorate are thinking, ‘Wait a minute, we’re free market people. Why are we setting up a drug cartel?'”

The Parson administration’s choices of marijuana regulators also have been criticized for their political and industry connections. House lawmakers are looking into why Parson tapped former Republican state Rep. Lyndall Fraker — who has no prior medical experience — to head the medical marijuana unit. His administration then brought on Amy Moore as Fraker’s deputy, after she served in various roles at the Missouri Public Service Commission. Moore’s husband is a lawyer who serves cannabis industry clients, which has drawn questions from lawmakers.

A spokesperson for Parson declined to answer specific questions, but said the governor played no role in the licensing of marijuana businesses.

“The Governor’s Office does not review licensure decisions so that the process remains fair and unencumbered from undue influence,” the spokesperson said. “This is in stark contrast to the Auditor’s position that she would kowtow to plaintiff’s attorneys who attempt to use the court system to cajole licenses for applicants who are not otherwise qualified.”

The 64-year-old Parson was a longtime state legislator who was elected lieutenant governor in 2016. He ascended to the state’s top post less than two years later, when Gov. Eric Greitens resigned amid a cloud of scandals, some stemming from an affair with his hair stylist.

The medical marijuana referendum won a decisive victory at the polls just months after Parson took office, and he quickly took steps to implement it. His administration licensed tens of thousands of medical cannabis patients and made business license applications available by the deadlines in the legalization amendment. The state hired a third party to score license applications based on merit.

But the seemingly arbitrary way licenses were awarded drew the attention of the state House’s Special Committee on Government Oversight, said Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth, ranking minority member. Attorneys brought the lawmakers examples of wildly different scores for the same answers to the same questions.

“Even if there wasn’t corruption, the appearance of corruption is so problematic,” Merideth said. “The fact that they’re so set on keeping this cap suggests to me it’s because they’re trying to benefit certain players in the industry.”

Then there is the role of Steve Tilley.

Everyone from state lawmakers to the FBI are investigating the lobbyist and former state legislator’s role in the medical marijuana licensing process. Tilley has been under FBI scrutiny for months for his involvement in the program, The Kansas City Star reported. House committee members investigating the program also requested records involving Tilley and key officials in the governor’s office.

Tilley and Parson served together in the Missouri state House from 2005 to 2011 and Parson, who went on to serve in the state Senate, was one of Tilley’s first clients when he became a political consultant and lobbyist in 2012.

Tilley has raised a substantial amount of money for Parson’s gubernatorial campaign — much of it from his lobbying clients, including those in the marijuana industry. Last May, just as officials were finalizing rules for the program, Tilley hosted a pricey fundraiser for Parson, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

One of Tilley’s lobbying clients is MoCannTrade, a cannabis industry trade group whose members won dozens of cannabis business licenses. A spokesperson for the organization said that most of its members had more unsuccessful applications than successful ones, if they were successful at all. When asked how many of its members won at least one license, he said that there were 2,300 applications and that “we have no way of knowing exactly how many of those were filed by our members.”

Another client, BeLeaf, was one of two companies that settled early with DHSS in its appeals over licensing decisions. Now, as other companies face a potentially yearslong appeals process, BeLeaf has become one of the first companies in the state to start cultivating cannabis this summer. BeLeaf President Kevin Riggs said that the company did not hire Tilley as a lobbyist until after it was awarded licenses, adding that Tilley was not involved in its administrative appeal. The reason BeLeaf’s appeal was settled so fast was because it was a more straightforward request compared to other, more complicated appeals, he explained.

Tilley’s other clients include Bootheel CannaCare and Kindbio, which each won multiple types of cannabis licenses. Another client, Herbal Health, was denied licenses.

Tilley did not return requests for comment through his lobbying firm.

The public corruption and fraud division of the office of Galloway — the auditor who is running against Parson — reviewed two whistleblower complaints about the application process, referring them to law enforcement. The office declined to comment further, citing whistleblower protection laws.

Galloway’s campaign has been taking aim at Tilley, publishing a memo earlier this year with the subject line: Governor Tilley?

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the relationship between Tilley and Parson is leaving a lot of smoldering ash around the capitol as the interests of Missouri’s families get snuffed out,” the memo read.

During a town hall event held by the Missouri Patients Alliance — a group largely made up of businesses that lost out on licenses — Galloway hit the Parson administration for benefiting “well-contrived insiders” at the expense of “working families.”

“It looks an awful lot that the well-connected got what they wanted from this program,” she said during the event.

Nonetheless, Barklage, the Republican strategist, thinks that a combination of a presidential race in which Trump is likely to carry Missouri by a comfortable margin and the state’s overall preference for GOP candidates will benefit Parson in November. In the state’s previous gubernatorial election, in 2016, promising Democratic nominee Chris Koster lost with just over 45 percent of the vote.

“[Galloway] doesn’t have many of the strengths Koster has in terms of raising money, in terms of charisma,” Barklage said.

But Galloway has been steadily closing in on Parson in the polls. A Remington Research Group poll in March showed Parson with a 13-point lead over Galloway. More recently, an SLU/YouGov poll found that Parson only has a two-point lead.

The focus of the race so far is the coronavirus crisis. Parson is trying to reassure Missourians as case counts hit new highs, while defending his decision not to wear a mask. The state has confirmed more than 37,000 cases so far, seeing a 3.1 percent jump in the past week.

But if cronyism becomes a key campaign issue — as Galloway clearly hopes it will — the controversies surrounding the medical marijuana program will impact the race, Wolff, the former Supreme Court justice, said.

“[Galloway] has a very good record as the state auditor in ferreting out corruption [and] insider deals,” Wolff said. “When you have insider deals or the appearance of insider deals going on with medical marijuana licensing, that can [contribute to] a bad perception with the governor.”

Some of the Parson administration’s decisions have been ripe for second-guessing.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services opted to limit the number of licenses to the fewest required under the law, even though it wasn’t obliged to set a cap at all. Businesses that applied for multiple licenses noticed that the supposedly merit-based scoring seemed inconsistent.

In one of many examples, a company called GVMS got a meager four points on a 10-point scale for an answer to a question about accounting on its application to open a dispensary. The company gave an almost identical answer on applications for manufacturing and cultivation licenses, and received a full 10 points on those applications, according to its appeal, which outlines 10 instances of similar disparities.

A spokesperson for DHSS said that such criticism “stems from a misunderstanding of this system, and contrary to these claims, public records show the scoring within facility types was remarkably consistent.”

The department has just three commissioners to hear more than 800 appeals, said Joe Bednar, a lawyer representing some applicants in the appeals process and a lawsuit. “[A] judge told me it will take six years to litigate.”

Meanwhile, industry advocates point to the hundreds of jobs that could be created during a historic economic downturn by removing the license cap and allowing entrepreneurs that have already invested heavily in their businesses to move forward.

“We’re broke, in the midst of a pandemic,” Merideth, the state representative, said. “My hope is if nothing else, those reasons alone could push them to do the right thing.”

The 2018 law that legalized medical marijuana also directed revenue from the program into a fund for veterans’ health care. But now, the department is using those funds to hire outside lawyers.

A spokesperson for the DHSS estimates litigation will cost the agency between $2 million to $8 million.

Similar administrative and legal battles have ensued in other states with limited number of licenses, including Nevada and Arkansas. The House committee investigating the program is also looking into the third party hired by the DHSS to score applications — Wise Health Solutions.

When Wise Health received the contract, it touted its credentials of having “a successful history of scoring applications in Nevada and Arkansas.”

The marijuana programs in both of those states, however, have been dogged by allegations of corruption. Earlier this summer, medical marijuana applicant Carpenter Farms in Arkansas was granted a cultivation license after a legal battle went all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The court found that Carpenter Farms, the only Black-owned farm to apply for a license, was treated unfairly in the licensing process.

Merideth noted that department leadership was unable to name a single Black-owned business that secured a Missouri license during committee hearings on the issue.

“There’s a horrifying under-representation of people of color in the licensing process,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who led a recent successful effort in Kansas City to decriminalize marijuana in the name of racial justice. “I think that Missouri needs to do much better.”

During House committee hearings earlier this year, regulators defended Wise Health and denied any conflicts of interest.

There’s no indication that Parson’s administration will remove the license cap on its own. Cannabis businesses are suing the state in court, arguing that the cap is unconstitutional. One of the lawsuits, brought by Bednar, has a trial date set for October.

The legislature is also considering action to lift the cap. Meredith is confident that the House has the votes to pass such a measure, but he thinks that its chances in the Senate will depend on the outcome of the elections.

But mostly, he is frustrated that the legislature is even having to consider the move when DHSS could just do it themselves. He’s hopeful that the corruption accusations as the election nears might pressure Parson to “see the light and get things fixed.”

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Trump directs a campaign ad in Portland

“I think he’s fishing around for an image, for optics that project the image he’s trying to retain,” said Seth Mandel, the executive editor of the right-leaning Washington Examiner magazine. “‘Law and order,’ as he says.”

Meanwhile, there is another image of Portland that has emerged outside of the Trump echo chamber. Local Portland media outlets — as well as most news organizations — have shown a scene that features mostly peaceful albeit vocal protesters taking up a few square blocks, spraying graffiti and lighting some fires. But the primary debate has been over the right of unmarked federal officers to enter the city, fire tear gas on unarmed marchers and toss protesters into unmarked vehicles without formally arresting them. In short, they say, it’s the America Trump has created.

It’s the latest split-screen reality of the last four years.

And it’s the culmination of years of GOP narrative-building, said Jared Holt, a reporter at Right Wing Watch, a nonprofit that tracks conservative media and far-right groups.

“This kind of messaging has been going on for years, whether it was in Berkeley or in the streets of New York City,” he said. “Instances where we see anarchist or anti-fascist demonstrators taking to the streets to oppose what they believe to be bigoted or fascistic political movements or actors, has been spun and regurgitated to right-wing audiences as a imminent threat against any Trump supporter or conservative who loves the country.”

And Trump is trying to use that division to his advantage.

Over the past month, as unemployment claims rose again, new coronavirus hotspots emerged, and Biden pulled further ahead in the polls, Trump has turned to several different culture war issues to agitate his base.

He has called the Black Lives Matter movement “a symbol of hate,” focused intensely on protesters defacing and pulling down statues and repeatedly called for the amorphous concept of “antifa” to be classified as a domestic terrorist group despite having no clear authority to do so. He attempted to portray Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone — a six-block zone overtaken by anti-policing activists — as a breeding ground for mass antifa violence, only to see it dismantled without much incident by local officials.

In his description of Portland and other cities, Trump is also adding to a long-running attempt to demonize American cities as lawless pits, from tweeting about “sanctuary cities” being overrun with immigrants and threatening to send undocumented migrants to San Francisco, to his claim that homelessness only started two years ago due to “liberal mayors” running these cities.

“We may intercede,” Trump told Fox News host Tucker Carlson in 2019. “We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up.”

The recent rise in protests has only given more fuel for the right to portray city leaders as complicit with antifa or unable to stand up to violence.

And Portland has become the perfect staging ground. While the city’s protests had been dying down before Trump sent in federal troops, the region already had a reputation in conservative circles as a hotbed of antifa violence — primarily due to the presence of far-right militia groups protesting there over the years, and the media coverage of their subsequent clashes with left-wing protesters and antifa groups.

The 2019 assault of conservative journalist and Quillette writer Andy Ngo introduced the Portland narrative to a wider conservative audience, said Holt.

“All this rage bait coming out of Portland, getting right-wing audiences all hyped up and twisted out of sorts about antifa — now we’re at a turning point in the equation where the Trump administration is using the force of the government to get involved in this sort of outrage cycle.”

Alexander Reid Ross, an adjunct professor at Portland State University and the author of “Against the Fascist Creep,” added that Trump’s intercession was viewed on the ground as an escalation. In particular, the federal officers reminded locals of the far-right militias, like Patriot Prayer, that had previously descended on the city.

“At this point, people are just looking at that and saying, this is just Patriot Prayer with a semblance of legitimacy,” Ross said. “So while they’re wearing badges and while they’re wearing camo fatigues, they still look like militias.”

Meanwhile, Trump has portrayed the interventions as just an offer to re-establish order.

“We want to go in and help the cities, we want to help Chicago, we want to help all of them,” Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News recently. “We’ll go into all the cities, any of the cities. We’ll put in 50,000, 60,000 people that really know what they are doing. And they are strong, tough, and we can solve these problems so fast. But as you know, we have to be invited in.”

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Renters brace for evictions as moratorium ends

After talks with the White House on the next economic rescue package stalled on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would release their proposal for the legislation “early next week.” But GOP lawmakers are still split over unemployment benefits, and the leadership has not made rent relief a priority.

Brown on Thursday excoriated McConnell on the Senate floor for letting the House moratorium bill “collect dust” on his desk.

“Right now, millions of Americans are in danger of losing their homes,” Brown said. “The last thing we need in the middle of a public health crisis is families being turned out on the streets.”

The Senate adjourned hours later, allowing the federal ban — which covers about 12 million households — to expire as scheduled on Friday.

There’s still a grace period, though. Under the CARES Act, landlords who were subject to the ban must give tenants 30 days’ notice before filing eviction papers in court.

“Families won’t actually be pushed out of their homes until the end of August, so there is still an ever-closing window where Congress can act,” said Yentel, who is leading a coalition of housing groups to pressure lawmakers for additional relief.

Relief efforts so far have prevented a dramatic drop-off in rent payments, despite tens of millions of Americans losing their jobs: 91.3 percent of apartment households had made a full or partial rent payment for this month as of July 20, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council — down just 2.1 percentage points from this time last year, and roughly in line with the 92.2 percent who had paid by mid-June.

But that’s sure to change quickly if Congress fails to reinstate the $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit after it lapses.

With the current benefits, just 3 percent of renter households are “severely housing burdened,” meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their incomes toward rent, according to a Zillow analysis of rental households impacted by the crisis released on Thursday. Losing the federal benefit, even if state unemployment benefits hold steady, would cause the severely burdened share of tenants to skyrocket to 41 percent, Zillow found.

“Right now, we’re in a situation where people will be evicted from their homes,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an MSNBC interview Friday. “People will be on the street, and people are hungry. This is the United States of America. So let’s find out how we can work together to go forward.”

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Fact-checking Rodham: Curtis Sittenfeld’s alternate history gets analyzed

The Vox Book Club is linking to Bookshop.org to support local and independent booksellers.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Rodham postulates a theory: If Hillary Rodham had never married Bill Clinton, the past 30 years of American politics would be fundamentally changed — sometimes subtly, and sometimes in huge, world-bending ways.

Rodham isn’t a political treatise or textbook that’s aiming for documentary levels of realism in the political events it tweaks. It’s a work of fiction that uses the real-life Hillary Clinton to examine ideas about power, gender, and the role of charisma in politics, and most of the changes to real history that appear in the book were chosen specifically to fit those themes. Demanding that they fit a narrow idea of documentary realism would be pedantic at best.

But listen, this is Vox and we’re pedantic nerds here. So at the Vox Book Club this week, we’ve decided to check Rodham’s alternate history against the facts of what happened in the real timeline — and, in the process, show a little more clearly exactly what ideas about politics and power Sittenfeld is interested in as she bends reality to her will.

To help make this fact-check as stringently accurate as possible, I (Vox book critic Constance Grady) have enlisted help from Matthew Yglesias, Vox co-founder and senior correspondent. Together, we hammered out what a Jerry Brown presidency would mean for America, what the Supreme Court might look like in Rodham, and whether a Hillary Rodham who never served in the executive branch would be quite so dominant a frontrunner for president as our own Hillary Clinton was.

Constance Grady

Matt Yglesias! Thank you for visiting the Vox Book Club this week to share your expertise. I want to start at Rodham’s first major point of divergence from our own timeline: the 1992 Democratic primaries.

Without Hillary by his side, Bill Clinton crashes and burns at his infamous 60 Minutes interview and drops out of the race four days later. Bush wins the general election, and the list of American presidents and vice presidents over the next two decades looks like this:

1992: George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle

1996: Jerry Brown and Bob Kerrey

2000: John McCain and Sam Brownback

2004: John McCain and Sam Brownback

2008: Barack Obama and Joe Biden

2012: Barack Obama and Joe Biden

Of note: Under the McCain presidency, it appears that neither 9/11 nor the Iraq War ever happened, which in turn means that when Hillary eventually runs for president, she never has to defend voting in favor of invading Iraq.

How does all this strike you? Does it look broad-strokes accurate? Was Bill Clinton really the only Democratic nominee who stood a chance against Bush in 1992? Would John McCain definitely have stopped 9/11? Who even is Jerry Brown?

Matthew Yglesias

It’s a little hard to know what to make of this alt-1992 election in part because Sittenfeld doesn’t tell us who the Democratic nominee was. But there were basically five candidates in that race — Clinton, Jerry Brown, Bob Kerrey, Tom Harkin, and Paul Tsongas. Since a Brown-Kerrey ticket wins in 1996, it seems likely that neither of them was the loser of the 1992 general election. I’m inclined to guess that if Clinton had dropped out early, then Harkin, an affable Midwestern labor liberal, would’ve run and would’ve beaten Bush.

But the story I’m going to tell for myself about this is that Clinton’s dropout proves to be a boon to former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, whose neoliberal approach was a good match for Clinton policy-wise but who didn’t have anything close to Clinton-level charisma. Democrats are now saddled with a bit of a cold fish New Englander as a nominee who also doesn’t have Clinton’s connections to the Black community. Consequently, he loses Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia (all of which Clinton carried — politics was very different back then) while a stronger Ross Perot campaign tips Ohio, Montana, and Nevada to Bush. It sort of makes sense if you squint. Maybe.

The fundamental problem here, though, is that the 1992 race just wasn’t that close. The most plausible alternate history scenario in which Bush gets reelected is one in which the Fed doesn’t deliberately slow-walk economic growth as part of an “opportunistic disinflation” scheme. But the normal rules of alternate history are that you only get to change one thing — in this case, Hillary standing by her man — and everything else has to follow from that. And I have a hard time seeing why Bill Clinton dropping out would change the macroeconomic fundamentals.

What’s really interesting here in a big-picture sense is Sittenfeld’s implicit theory of how presidential nominations work.

Brown and John McCain were both, like Howard Dean, charismatic outsiders who exploited new technological paradigms to raise money outside traditional party donor networks and made a lot of noise during their primary campaigns before losing to a consensus party favorite. An important political science book, The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform, argued that the failure of these insurgencies was no coincidence and that party networks effectively controlled nominations. After Donald Trump’s victory, that theory doesn’t look so good. But one view is that it was true of the nominations of the 1990s and 2000s, but party control has been eroded by changes in the media landscape.

Sittenfeld’s alternate history is implicitly arguing that, no, it was never really true and if you allow events to unfold slightly differently, then Brown and McCain can succeed. I don’t think I agree with Sittenfeld (if anything, making H.W. Bush a more successful president should have made the Bush legacy stronger, not weaker) but it’s not a crazy hypothesis either.

What’s tougher for me is to see how Barack Obama becomes president in this world.

Obama’s accession to the presidency had a lot to do with his natural talents. But it also had more than a little to do with his having been on the right side of the Iraq debate. In real life, McCain was super hawkish and I think it’s plausible he’d have tried to start a war there even without 9/11. But the story here seems to be that the McCain administration somehow averted 9/11 and didn’t invade Iraq. In that case, what’s Obama’s issue that he rides to overcome doubts about his experience and electability?

Another interesting thing to think about is the alt-SCOTUS. Clinton filled two Supreme Court vacancies in his first term with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Harry Blackmun’s retirement that created the Breyer vacancy was pretty clearly strategically timed, and in the alternate timeline he would have simply waited until 1997 to step down.

But even though Byron White, who stepped down early in Clinton’s presidency, was a Democratic appointee, he fell out of step with cultural liberalism pretty quickly and dissented from famous progressive opinions like Miranda and Roe v. Wade. He didn’t pass away until 2002 so he clearly could have stayed on the bench and waited for the Brown administration if he’d wanted to. But it’s not clear to me from the historical record that he really was acting strategically with that timing — he was pretty old by 1993 and maybe just didn’t want to do the job anymore. In that case, you’d have had a more conservative Supreme Court throughout this period, and especially so after Sandra Day O’Connor stepped down in 2005.

Constance Grady

So interesting! My impulse as a book critic is to say that part of the fantasy of this alternate George-W.-less, Obama-full history is to restore some innocence to America. We never have to experience the generational horror of 9/11 and the ensuing war, but we do get to have the redemptive moment of electing our first Black president. It’s a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too story.

But back to the fun part: demanding real-world accuracy from this fictional book.

While Bill Clinton is dropping out of the 1992 election in Rodham, Hillary Rodham is just starting to take her first steps into national politics. After leaving Bill in the ’70s, she took a job as a law professor at Northwestern. She did some local political work, most notably advocating for voting rights in Black communities during the 1983 Chicago mayoral election, which, in Hillary’s timeline as in ours, saw Harold Washington becoming the city’s first Black mayor. And in 1991, after Anita Hill’s testimony pushes a wave of women to campaign for national office, a political strategist tells Hillary she should run for Senate and face off in the Illinois primary against Alan Dixon, who voted to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Hillary’s tempted by the idea, but she doesn’t officially sign on until she sees Bill flame out of the presidential race.

In the real world, Carol Moseley Braun successfully primaried Alan Dixon in that race and went on to become the first Black woman in the US Senate. In Rodham, Hillary briefly decides against entering the campaign after Braun announces, because she believes Braun to be more charismatic than she is, and she doesn’t think a comparison between the two of them will do her any favors. “Your serious-professor vibe,” her strategist friend tells her, might “come off as pretentious or elitist” next to Braun.

But after she attends one of Braun’s campaign events, Hillary reconsiders. Braun’s late to her own event; she seems messy and disorganized. A wealthy Chicago socialite tells Hillary that Braun doesn’t have what it takes to win and she would prefer to invest in Hillary as a candidate over Braun. Hillary takes her offer, defeats both Braun and Dixon, and goes on to win the general election, too.

How does this election strike you as a plausible entree into national politics from a respected law professor? Are we basically turning Hillary into Elizabeth Warren here?

Matthew Yglesias

As far as ways to make this plot mechanic work, Sittenfeld has hit on a pretty good one. It’s a little bit far-fetched, but that 1992 Illinois Senate primary was genuinely weird. Not only did Moseley Braun knock off an incumbent Democrat but a third candidate — rich-guy lawyer Albert Hofeld — got 27 percent. You could take Hofeld as a proof of concept that there was an appetite for a non-Moseley Braun challenger to Dixon, and posit that Clinton would’ve been more compelling.

But you’re right that this does seem to sort of be a merger of Clinton’s life story with Warren’s, which is telling in its own way.

In ideological terms, these are actually two very different Democrats and Warren was very critical of Clinton in her book The Two-Income Trap. But politics is about more than just public policy and ideology, and I know a lot of die-hard Hillary fans who fell hard for Warren in 2020. On a personality level they both fit an archetype of hyper-competent, detail-oriented professional women that I think resonates very strongly with a lot of the people in my personal social circle, even if it’s not as appealing nationally.

Of course the other thing that makes this plot development great is that by having Clinton be an Illinois senator in the 1990s rather than the first lady of Arkansas in the 1980s, it means she would naturally develop a policy record and political profile that’s more in keeping with mainstream contemporary liberalism than the actual one she and her husband put together as red-state Democrats during the Reagan era.

Constance Grady

Yes, I think one of the big fantasies this book indulges in is that Hillary gets to be freed from her sins. She never supports her husband’s crime bill; she never votes for the Iraq War. And since she never enters Obama’s Cabinet to become secretary of state, nothing happens with Benghazi either.

The downside of that is we end up with a bit of a vacuum in terms of Hillary’s actual politics that is never quite filled. We get some descriptions of her process that seem to match real Hillary pretty closely — obsessive reading of policy papers, meetings with experts, a wonkish love of details — but we don’t learn much about the actual results. We don’t know much about what her legislative aims are or what her major accomplishments are as a senator. And since she was never a first lady or a secretary of state, she has no significant experience in the executive branch. Her public persona actually veers away from Warren to become a bit Amy Klobuchar-esque, with profiles referring to her as a “flat-voweled Midwesterner” and making much of her straightforward uncoolness.

Nevertheless, alt-Hillary comes to occupy essentially the same space that real Hillary held leading up to the 2016 election: It seems pretty clear to everyone, including Hillary herself, that she is the woman most likely to be America’s first woman president. And she faces a virulent misogynistic backlash as a result of that status. When Bill decides to come back into politics to throw his hat into the ring for the 2016 Democratic nomination after decades as an infamously hedonistic tech billionaire (whatever, it’s fun), the young tech bros at his rallies start chanting, “Shut her up! Shut her up!” every time Hillary’s name is mentioned.

But Sittenfeld’s version of the 2016 election ends differently than ours did. In a deliberately comic string of events, Donald Trump ends up deciding not to run and instead throws his support behind Hillary and against Bill, whom he hates. (In Trump tweets, Hillary becomes “Hardball Hillary,” and Bill is “Cheatin’ Bill.”) Bernie Sanders is never mentioned. And Hillary ends up clinching the nomination against Bill by making a speech at a debate about how much she resents people focusing on her likability. “If you want someone very attractive, you can watch a Hollywood movie,” she says. Instead, she thinks people should vote for her “because I’ll do a good job.”

That argument encapsulates what a lot of Hillary’s supporters said about her during the 2016 election: that Hillary’s particular set of skills is better suited for governing than for campaigning. And the thought of hearing Hillary give voice to that argument is a little cathartic.

But when I read that speech in Rodham, I didn’t feel catharsis. Instead, my first thought was, “No way do Americans vote for a woman who scolds them for wanting her to be likable. We just don’t respect women enough to do that.”

What do you think? Do you see a surprise moment of honesty from Hillary Rodham clinching the presidency for her? And would she have become a de facto frontrunner without any time at all in the executive branch?

Matthew Yglesias

This seems like something you see over and over again in fictionalized versions of Democratic Party presidencies, whether it’s Laine Hanson in The Contender telling Congress that she believes in gun confiscation or Jed Bartlett smacking down evangelical Protestants on The West Wing.

Secular, cosmopolitan, educated liberals see that most Democratic Party politicians seem to resemble them demographically but don’t actually voice some of the views that are widespread in that demographic. They process that as a form of unattractive hypocrisy, and then they posit that a hypothetical “more honest” Democrat who would forcefully embrace the authentic spirit of cultural liberalism would be more popular and win. Realistically, though, that seems unlikely. These scenes are a kind of fan service for a certain class of Democrats. The Clintons, in particular, seem to inspire some people to try to clean up their narratives — with Bartlett’s impeachment happening over something more high-minded than Bill’s, or Sittenfeld’s book rewriting history to eliminate people’s issue-oriented complaints about Hillary and leaving only pure misogyny behind.

The question of whether she’d have been a contender at all in this scenario is an interesting one. By virtue of her service as first lady, Clinton sort of had the mantle of “potential first woman president” to herself presumptively throughout 21st-century Democratic Party politics.

Without that boost, would someone like Dianne Feinstein have been a formidable contender in 2008? Would former Washington state governor Christine Gregoire have gotten more buzz? Clinton herself was given to saying during the 2016 campaign “I’m not a natural politician,” making some unfavorable comparisons in that regard to her husband and to Obama. In some ways that’s giving herself short shrift — as Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote at the time, she’s a very skilled politician in the sense of coalition-building. But she’s not great at showpiece speeches. It’s easy to imagine her being a very successful workhorse senator or even a majority leader based on her very real skills. But absent the context of her White House service in the 1990s, would she be seen as having the kind of star power that makes a person a presidential prospect?

Happenstance really matters here. We know from the 1988 and 2008 campaigns that Joe Biden is not such a dynamo of charisma that nobody can beat him in a primary. But eight years as vice president put him in a position to win rather easily. I don’t mean it as a big slam on Hillary to say I’m skeptical she’d have been president without prior service as first lady. But we really did have plenty of other qualified women in statewide office who just didn’t get any consideration in the real world. On a more level playing field, it’s easy for me to imagine one of them prevailing instead.

Constance Grady

I agree with you on that, and that’s what makes me think that one of the great strengths of Rodham is also its biggest limitation.

This book is enchanted that by the idea of tweaking one thing in the recent past, you can fundamentally alter the present. You can save brilliant, ambitious Hillary Rodham from her marriage to Bill Clinton; you can unleash all that frustrated potential on the world and then sit back and watch what happens next. And that idea is, especially to those who appreciate Hillary Clinton’s fierce and undeniable ambition as an attractive quality in and of itself, a heady one. But because Rodham is so narrowly focused on Hillary herself, it is never able to examine all of the other possibilities for the world it’s created.

I was shocked, in 2019, to realize how moving it was for me to see so many women on the floor at the first debate of the Democratic primaries. And it’s entirely possible that there would never have been so many of them there if Clinton hadn’t cracked the glass ceiling in the first place. But I also have to wonder if her position as the de facto “if there’s going to be a woman president, it’ll be her” figure of the past 20 or so years means that other women politicians who are just as smart and just as capable never found national attention, and if they are only now, after Hillary Clinton has more or less ceded the game, finding themselves emboldened to enter the field.

Watching Hillary face off against Bill offers Rodham some of its most compelling scenes. But what would it have looked like if she were facing off against another woman candidate instead?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, book clubbers. You can let us know what you think about Rodham and all the ideas embedded in its alternate history in the comments below. Plus, meet us back here next week, on Thursday, July 30, to see me talk with Curtis Sittenfeld live on Zoom. You can RSVP here, and make sure to sign up for the Vox Book Club newsletter to be sure you don’t miss a thing.

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Lawrence Jones: Big-city ‘anarchists’ using George Floyd’s death ‘as a shield’

Left-wing protests that have spiraled out of control in cities like Portland, Ore., are examples of a well-funded anarchist movement — not a grassroots call for reform in the wake of George Floyd‘s death two months ago, “Fox Nation” host Lawrence Jones said Friday.

The violent protesters have a far-left agenda that doesn’t comport with the needs of the underprivileged communities on behalf of which they claim to be rebelling, Jones told “Hannity” guest host Jason Chaffetz.

“As you know Jason, I’ve been on the ground reporting on all these liberal cities for a while,” Jones said. “I spent the better part of last year going to every single city — talking about the death, poverty and destruction in these communities. It’s not just the anti-law-enforcement rhetoric but the fact that they are willing to let the cities burn.”

JUDGE DENIES OREGON’S REQUEST TO STOP ARRESTS BY FEDERAL AGENTS IN PORTLAND

“It’s not just the anti-law-enforcement rhetoric but the fact that they are willing to let the cities burn.”

— Lawrence Jones, “Fox Nation” host

“The most disgusting part about this is, this started being about George Floyd — and you have a bunch of paid anarchists who are now trying to use George Floyd’s death as a shield when this has nothing to do with them. These people have their own agenda — they are anarchists and they are paid — they’re willing to take over ‘zones’.”

“You have a bunch of paid anarchists who are now trying to use George Floyd’s death as a shield when this has nothing to do with them.”

— Lawrence Jones, “Fox Nation” host

Jones added that there is no accountability in municipal offices in these cities, saying leaders like Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler have failed in their No. 1 responsibility: keeping residents safe.

“Average Americans who don’t even care about the politics of a Democrat or Republican Party, are fearful right now because they see what is happening to their cities,” Jones added.

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Later, Jones said he would advise President Trump to press the Republican National Committee to go out and fill the void being left by failing Democratic leaders in the cities.

“I think he should hold the Republican National Committee accountable. These are American citizens … it is our duty to fight for life from the womb to the tomb. The only way we can win is changing what’s happening in those communities. You can’t change it if you are not there,” he said.

Jones added that he has spoken with residents of hard-hit cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore who underline that they don’t care where the help comes from, they just need it soon.

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Stacey Abrams’s Record Is Not as Progressive as She Wants You to Think

US political discourse has a habit of elevating figures without knowing anything about them. Barack Obama became president with nary a discussion of his ties to finance, thanks to his speeches and charm. Beto O’Rourke, a centrist, business-friendly Democrat, was briefly a top contender for president on the back of his youth and mastery of viral videos. And then there’s Stacey Abrams.

For the past two years, Abrams has been a leading recipient of this hopscotching swarm of liberal adoration, moving like O’Rourke, from losing a high-profile statewide race to becoming one of the leading Democratic officeholders in the country, despite no longer holding any office. Abrams has been floated as everything from a future president to a future attorney general.

She delivered the party’s official State of the Union response in 2019, and her every public utterance tends to set off a flurry of fevered speculation about the exact shape of her political future. The subject of countless glossy profiles, Abrams has been one of the more high-profile names on Joe Biden’s vice presidential short list, and was even briefly floated as a possible appointee to the late John Lewis’s House seat.

And yet despite an accomplished political career spanning four years as deputy city attorney in Atlanta, ten years in the Georgia House of Representatives, and eight of those as the House minority leader, virtually none of the discussion has invoked her actual record. Far from the unapologetic progressive she’s been depicted as in left-leaning media, Abrams’s time as a policymaker in Georgia reveals her politics to resemble nothing but the centrism of the man whose running mate she has campaigned to be.

Abrams grew up in Mississippi, one of six children raised by a librarian mother and dockworker father, whose undiagnosed dyslexia in the 1950s was mistaken for ignorance by his school, which forced him to memorize his way through college. Once a politician, Abrams would tell a story of making the forty-mile trip on Christmas to pick her father up from the shipyard where he worked, finding him trembling in the cold on the side of the highway. He had given his coat to a homeless man.

In her childhood, the Abrams family was part of what her mother described as “the genteel poor,” which Abrams explained meant “we had no money, but we watched PBS and read books.” “My parents did what we called visiting poverty a lot,” she later joked to attendees at an event hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce. “We didn’t live there, but we had a really nice summer home.”

Seeing their power and water cut off wasn’t unusual for the family, and on those occasions Abrams’s mother would have her kids volunteer at the local homeless shelter. Things didn’t get much better when they moved to Georgia in Abrams’s mid-teens, at which point her parents became Methodist ministers — a decision, she has said, “guaranteeing that they would be permanently poor.” The Abrams’s were civil rights activists, beaten, imprisoned, and kicked off buses for asserting their basic rights. In Mississippi, both had been active in registering voters, hardly a risk-free affair at the time.

Abrams and her siblings were “saved by public education,” she said in 2018 during a brutal Democratic primary for governor that saw her and her opponent battle over who was most progressive. Speaking to the LaGrange-Troup Chamber three years before that, however, Abrams ascribed her and her siblings’ success to something different: the values of cooperation, competitiveness, and accountability, imbued by their parents. “The first part of leadership is to co-operate,” she said.

As a student at Atlanta’s Spelman College, Abrams followed her parents into the world of activism, helping found the two-hundred-member-strong Students for African-American Empowerment. The group made headlines for running a voter registration drive, and really made headlines when they burned the Georgia flag in the middle of a protest, turning Abrams into a target for racist abuse. “I’m used to stuff like that,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. “When I was in the tenth grade, I had a police escort because my dad spoke out against the KKK.”

“My parents never told us there was anything we couldn’t do, so between the six of us, we decided to try and do all of it,” Abrams later said. That applied not just to her prolific private-sector work later in her career, but the bewildering array of causes she got involved in through college and, later, at Yale Law School, including several different Democratic campaigns, the transition team of 1993 Atlanta mayor-elect Bill Campbell, the platter of local bodies whose boards she sat on, and the several romantic suspense novels she published under a pen name.

In November 1999, Abrams joined Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, one of Atlanta’s largest and oldest law firms, whose clients included the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, and a host of the country’s biggest companies. It was a somewhat surprising choice: at the time, Sutherland had established a national reputation as the go-to firm for state and local governments fighting progressive challenges to racial disparities in their school systems.

The firm had produced legal advice for Palm Beach County justifying the end of busing, was hired by Missouri and Phoenix to fight legal challenges to unequal school funding, and one of its senior partners was a high-profile figure inveighing against traditional solutions to desegregation, later claiming in one mock trial that inner city school systems had all the funding they needed, but were simply not spending it properly. In one particularly notorious case, New York state hired the firm to resist a lawsuit brought by an advocacy group seeking to correct funding disparities between New York City and its suburbs. Sutherland lost the case, only adding to the outrage when it left the state a bill worth millions of dollars in fees and expenses — something of a habit for the firm.

Abrams’s work for the firm focused on a different area. As she would later disclose, her three years at the firm were spent securing tax exemptions for clients, including universities, hospitals, and foundations, and providing them with legal advice and strategies on tax. Sutherland’s recent activities suggest what kind of work that meant: just a year before Abrams joined, it had led a lobbying battle on behalf of businesses against the Clinton Treasury’s attempts to clamp down on corporate tax evasion.

This corporate work seemingly began to infuse Abrams’s politics. In a Christian Science Monitor op-ed from the time, Abrams proposed one idea to “bridge the divide” in education access and quality that exemplified the style of entrepreneurial social justice that would characterize her later political career: IPO-Funded Educational Trusts (IFETs).

IFETs would be a series of privately and competitively managed investment funds overseen by a board of public and private advisers that would take a small percentage of the proceeds from companies’ initial public offerings (IPOs), invest them in the stock market, and have the Department of Education pour the proceeds into subsidies for charter schools or local equivalents. In this way, IPOs, which “fuel the entrepreneurial engines of American prosperity,” would guarantee a “social inheritance” for impoverished kids, she wrote.

Sometimes, however, the interests of business and social justice didn’t mix as well. In 2005, as deputy city attorney of Atlanta, Abrams drafted and became a leading proponent of an anti-panhandling ordinance at the behest of the mayor and city businesses, who worried begging would drive away tourism and conferences. The measure banned all panhandling after dark and levied punishment of up to thirty days in jail and even a $1,000 fine for a third “strike.” Abrams had explicitly modelled it on ordinances passed in cities like Fort Lauderdale, limiting the ban to a specific section of the city so it could survive the same kinds of court challenges those measures had withstood.

Abrams almost sold the ban as a progressive measure. It was a “kinder, gentler” version of the city’s existing Draconian law, she said, true only because of its cruelty at the time, allowing police to arrest people on a first offense. It would direct the truly needy, she said, into the center of the city where a new round-the-clock shelter had just opened; then all that would be left would be the con artists, she explained, ready to be swept up by police.

Religious officials and advocates for the homeless weren’t convinced. Joe Beasley, the Rainbow/PUSH coalition’s Southern regional director, called it “a mean, cold, calculated move.” One homeless shelter operator termed it a “Negro removal” policy, given that many of the city’s panhandlers were black.

It was a “travesty” said one former council person. He was one of several arrested the day the council approved the law 12-3, part of the more than two-hundred-strong crowd that had packed into city hall to fight and, eventually, protest its enactment. Many wore red T-shirts with the name of Martin Luther King Jr — fitting, since the southern boundary of the ban zone was the city’s Martin Luther King Jr Drive, and the council had extended it to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site in the eleventh hour.

When Abrams ran for governor in 2018, she had cause to brand herself an unflinching progressive. Abrams resisted and spoke out against the US Right’s socially regressive policies. She denounced the GOP’s Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act in 2010, which sought to criminalize “sex-selective abortions,” and pushed an “anti-vasectomy bill” to highlight the hypocrisy of the state’s largely male, Republican legislature trying to restrict abortion rights. She also voted against a Republican bill to expand the right to carry guns in bars, churches, college campuses, and government buildings.

As anti-immigrant sentiment became increasingly central to the GOP, Abrams stood against it. She fought bills to force employers to verify new hires’ immigration status and to make all official state businesses and related forms be conducted in English, and condemned Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to appoint the spokesman for the far-right Americans for Immigration Control to an immigration panel.

Yet she also opposed them on conservative, pro-business grounds: she worried what impact the verification bill would have “on the bottom line of the state at a time of economic downturn,” while the English language bill would “put Georgia at an economic disadvantage,” and warned it “drains our tax base” because “people that work and pay taxes into the state coffers” wouldn’t be able to contribute anymore. “If we’re seen not as anti-illegal, but anti-legal, businesses that are looking to relocate will look past Georgia,” she warned.

Though Abrams has stopped just short of running on single payer, she was firmly in the Obama consensus on the issue of health care. Despite firm resistance from Georgia’s GOP-dominated government, Abrams was a major proponent of expanding Medicaid, making it a top priority for House Democrats and introducing and reintroducing a bill to do so in 2016 and 2017, arguing that it would aid the hundreds of thousands of Georgians in public health care no-man’s-land — too poor to afford private care, but earning too much to qualify for the program — create jobs, and provide much-needed federal funding for the state’s ailing hospitals.

Despite taking a trip to Israel with other Georgia lawmakers early in her career, Abrams voted against a 2017 bill forcing companies competing for state contracts to pledge they weren’t taking part in a boycott against Israel, earning her the ire of a prominent local developer. Abrams carefully triangulated on the issue: she penned an op-ed reiterating her support for Israel, rejecting “the demonization and delegitimization of Israel represented by the BDS narrative and campaign,” noting her repeated attendance at American Israel Public Affairs Committee conferences, and rooting her opposition in concerns around potentially hurting future boycotts similar to those of the Civil Rights and Anti-Apartheid Movements.

She was a critic of austerity, lamenting the sorry level of Georgia’s government worker salaries, criticizing the changes wrought by Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform bill, and assailing the state’s punitive treatment of the poor, including drug tests for welfare. To that end, Abrams was instrumental in derailing Republicans’ 2011 tax reform plans, pitched to voters as a tax cut. Abrams helped embarrass GOP leadership into abandoning the plans by reading out data provided by the Georgia State University Fiscal Research Center, which showed they were poised to increase taxes on middle-income Georgians while slashing them for the rich.

The effort capped years of Abrams speaking out against Republican efforts to cut property taxes, as well as a regressive plan to reinstate a grocery tax. She stressed that the resulting budget hole from tax cuts would mean the elimination of vital programs like Meals on Wheels. (Though conservative rhetoric kept creeping into her comments, as when she chided the GOP for its lack of transparency: “That is not only no way to run a democracy, that is no way to run a business,” she said.)

But Abrams’s time in the House was perhaps most notable, and certainly most controversial, for the times she chose to work with Republicans. Abrams became House minority leader at a difficult time. The Democrats were already at a historic nadir of political influence in the state, with fewer Georgians than ever identifying with the party, largely thanks to an exodus of rural, white voters into the arms of the GOP. After dominating the state as late as the beginning of the new millennium, by 2010 the party had lost the last statewide office it had clung to, and fundraising had all but dried up, overwhelmingly flowing into the GOP’s coffers.

By the time Abrams had ascended to leadership in 2010, the Democrats had lost the governor’s office for the third time and held just eighty-five of the state House and Senate’s 236 seats, with nine of the party’s legislators defecting to the GOP after the 2010 election, including the newly elected chairman of the House Democrats. Republicans were ultimately just one seat shy of a 120-vote House supermajority.

In such a weak position, Abrams made repeatedly clear she saw her role primarily as one of working with Republicans. “We should, first and foremost, compromise where we can,” she later said, stressing it would be the only way the Democrats could have an impact.

Or as she told Governing magazine upon being named their 2014 Public Official of the Year: “My fundamental philosophy is that my first job is to cooperate and collaborate with the other side whenever I can.”

That approach first ignited controversy when newly elected governor Nathan Deal announced plans to cut the state’s lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship in 2011. The pride of Georgia politics since it was championed and enacted by former governor Zell Miller in 1993, HOPE had helped 1.3 million students attend college for free or with a substantially reduced debt over eighteen years.

Deal wanted to raise the grade point average (GPA) for students to qualify, take HOPE out of the business of paying for books and remedial classes, and be less forgiving to students whose grades fell and wanted a second shot at the scholarship. He also wanted to steeply cut pre-K programs, in one of four states with a universal pre-K program.

Abrams lined up behind the plan. Deal announced the cuts with Abrams and the Republican House speaker by his side, allowing him to claim he was working “in a bipartisan fashion” to save the program. “We as Democrats … as the party that created HOPE, support any process that preserves HOPE,” she said.

Deal had included two of the provisions she’d requested, including a low-interest student loan program for kids who couldn’t meet the 3.0 GPA and extra money for technical college students taking remedial classes. “By supporting the legislation, we were able to insert several key changes that will protect working families and at-risk students,” Abrams explained. With her backing, the bill easily cleared the House 152-22.

Senate Democrats, for their part, said they were blindsided. As high school and college students chanted “Shame on you!” and “Kill the bill!” outside the state Capitol, a dozen Democrats in the upper chamber unveiled a counter-proposal, this one upping the amount the scholarship received from the lottery. But with Republican dominance, the bill was dead on arrival.

It was an ideal study of Abrams’s political approach in action. By backing Deal’s plan, Abrams got a seat at the table, allowing her to soften the cuts. This was also why Deal scaled back his plans to cut the state’s pre-K program, she claimed — though an outcry from parents over the unpopular idea played some role, too.

Instead of slashing teachers’ salaries by 30 percent, Deal’s new plan would cut them by 10 percent; and pre-K classes would see their funding reduced to 94 percent of what they were getting. “For the minority party to be able to come to the table and get real tangible results, that’s what we were looking for and that’s what we want”, she said, after standing by Deal at a news conference in which he announced the cuts. Fortunately for Abrams, education cuts wouldn’t be the last issue she and the state’s GOP could collaborate on. Both also happened to be equally enthusiastic proponents of charter schools.

From 2012 on, a statewide to-and-fro ensued over the state’s authority over education funding. When Deal proposed a constitutional amendment giving the state the power to create charters, even to the point of overruling local bodies, Democrats, following Abrams’s lead, bitterly opposed it, defeating it in the House.

But Abrams didn’t oppose it because of the many well-known problems with charter schools. Her only objections were the “unprecedented, unchecked power” it delivered to the state government, and the lack of money to pay for it. She instead backed an alternative proposal that allowed the state government the same power, while checking its influence over local school decisions.

After Republicans agreed to make sure local school systems wouldn’t be on the hook financially for the cost of any newly approved charter, Abrams let her caucus vote freely for the measure. Despite Senate Democrats’ opposition, it passed, and voters later approved it with 58 percent of the vote.

Abrams continued flirting with similarly far-reaching measures. In 2013, when the Republican majority whip proposed a controversial bill allowing parents to vote on converting their local schools to charters and even firing their principals, she didn’t dismiss it, saying the “ethos is good, which is to increase engagement.” Two years later, when Deal proposed a constitutional amendment creating a statewide “Opportunity School District” that could take over, close, or turn failing schools into charters, Abrams called it an “interesting” idea that “has shown some promise in some areas.”

While Senate Democrats put forward a counter-proposal to add health clinics and counselors to failing schools, Abrams went with Deal on a fact-finding mission to Louisiana, where a similar idea had been trialed after Hurricane Katrina, with disastrous results — a trip paid for by a pro-charter group.

Though Abrams and her caucus ultimately came out in opposition, eleven of sixty Democrats defected, crucial votes that made up for nine Republicans who had gotten cold feet, giving the measure the two-thirds majority it needed to pass. The measure ultimately had to be stopped by Georgians themselves, who voted it down in November 2016.

In the face of opposition from voters, Deal and the GOP simply decided to circumvent them, this time with Abrams’s full support. The start of the following year, Republicans pushed a bill allowing schools deemed “unacceptable” by the state to come under the authority of a “chief turnaround officer” (CTO), who could fire staff, remove schools from local board authority, let parents enroll their kids somewhere else, or, naturally, convert them to charters.

With a few morsels thrown to Democrats — deleting language for vouchers to send kids to private schools, and inserting language that promised some unspecified action on child poverty, though without actually committing any money — Abrams endorsed it, calling it “a step in the right direction” and urging her party to back it. Columbus’s Ledger-Enquirer called her “its most influential backer” on the Democratic side. It sailed through the House 138-37, over the objections of half the Democratic caucus and even some conservative Republicans, and despite the opposition of the Georgia Federation of Teachers and the state NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Critics called it a “backdoor” to Deal’s original amendment. Abrams, in an op-ed for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called it “a testing ground for what works and the empirical results necessary for smart policy changes.” It was, again, only in the Senate that Democrats resisted, with all of the party leadership voting against and more than two-thirds of the party overall voting it down. “Teachers will be fired,” warned Sen. Vincent Fort, the Democratic whip, who called the $2.2 million Deal belatedly inserted to turn around failing schools “a pittance.”

“It’s insufficient to simply be the party of opposition,” Abrams had said two years earlier, outlining an alternative to the typical, adversarial approach taken by minority parties. “My first job is to work together with the majority party.”

The CTO legislation was the fruit of this approach, and the worst fears of its critics were only averted because of a series of unrelated events: opposition from the state school superintendent, a whistleblower investigation over allegations of discrimination and conflict of interest surrounding the man appointed to the office, and repeated slashing of its budget thanks to a lack of enthusiasm from Deal’s Republican successor — who, incidentally, had beaten Abrams for the position. The marginally less Republican state legislature finally eliminated the position at the end of June this year.

For the political press, Abrams’s willingness to work with the state GOP is a marker of her political skills and seriousness. But it rubbed some fellow Democrats the wrong way, such as Fort, who in 2014 complained she “probably meets with Republican leadership more than Senate Democratic leadership.”

Abrams’s collaborative philosophy continued right up to the gubernatorial run that made her a household name. In 2017, Republicans, backed by a coalition of business groups like the Georgia Bankers Association and the state Chamber of Commerce, pushed a bill that sought to undo a 2014 Georgia Supreme Court ruling allowing a failed bank’s board of directors and officers to be held liable for its recklessness and negligence, itself a response to the rash of racist, predatory lending that has plagued the state and its capital for decades.

The bill became a flashpoint in the following year’s primary contest, when Abrams was running as an unabashed progressive seeking to win the governor’s office by inspiring a massive turnout of nonwhite voters. Her rival, fellow State Rep. Stacey Evans, had delivered the Democratic speech against the measure on the House floor; Abrams, on whom that task would typically have fallen thanks to her leadership status, instead had walked over to Evans and briefly spoke with her when she was done talking. Evans later claimed Abrams had asked her “if the bill was really that bad,” and that she replied that it was; Abrams denied that’s how the conversation had gone.

Whatever the case, Abrams went back and voted with Republicans to pass the bill. “Bottom line, the bill would allow for the same kind of abuses in subprime banking that we saw in the ’90s and 2000s, and would have given even less accountability for bank officers and directors,” Fort, who had spent decades fighting predatory lending in Georgia and backed Evans in the race, told the Intercept in 2018. He and State Rep. Spencer Frye recalled for the outlet how the bill had been pushed by a swarm of bank lobbying groups — groups that, incidentally, had given generously to Abrams, along with employees of the state’s finance industry.

Yet Abrams didn’t always take this approach, even on some losing issues. One need only look at her and her caucus’s doomed but ardent resistance to GOP redistricting, an issue that happened to directly threaten their political power.

When Republicans rolled out a redistricting plan in 2011 creating seven more mostly minority districts, and potentially purging white Democrats by pitting them either against black Democrats in those districts or Republicans in GOP-voting districts, Abrams went on the offensive. Calling it “a craven and cynical misappropriation of the Voting Rights Act,” she accused Republicans of trying to “re-segregate Georgia.” With the GOP’s maps, she warned, the number of white Democrats in the House would fall from twenty-two to only ten.

In stark contrast to her passive opposition to — and even support of —some of Deal’s education bills, Abrams emailed her caucus urging them to stay united against these plans. “There certainly are some folks I’m going to have to coax a little bit, but any individual member’s success at the expense of the Democratic caucus and millions of Georgians is not worth the sacrifice,” she wrote. “It is in the Democratic nature to say we stick together, lest we all fall.”

So intent was Abrams on stopping it, that she had threatened to primary any Democrats who voted for the new maps, the Journal-Constitution later reported. “The role of a caucus leader is to protect the ideals and policies of our constituents,” she told the paper. “I can see no justification for any member to put his or her personal interests above our constituents and vote for a map that decimates the Democratic caucus and creates a Republican super-majority.” There were some things, Abrams suggested, that it was more important to go down fighting on principle, than to be complicit in.

Fighting a losing battle, Abrams and House Democrats nonetheless put forward their own alternative map and unsuccessfully voted against the GOP’s proposal. Accusing Republicans of acting as bullies, Abrams vowed to challenge it in court if they won approval from Obama’s justice department, which they did.

It was from around this time that Abrams recast herself as a voting rights advocate, something that would remain at the core of her political identity to the present day. The turnaround was unexpected for political observers in the state. In 2011, Abrams had voted with Republicans to roll back the state’s 2008-era expansion of early voting, reducing it from forty-five to twenty-one days, something groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for American Progress had cited as examples of voter suppression at the time, and which the NAACP had warned would “disproportionately affect voters of color,” given that 60 percent of black voters in 2008 had cast their ballots in the early period.

Now, Abrams became a member of American Values First, a Democrat-led organization connected to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee that looked to combat countrywide GOP voter suppression, including the kind of early voting restrictions she had helped impose on her state. She traveled to Washington to hold a closed-door forum with legislators about boosting voter turnout, and sponsored bills creating one-time and online voter registration.

Yet even after her apparent conversion, Abrams’s penchant for collaborating with the opposition could send these goals crashing into a wall. In 2015, Republicans passed a redistricting plan that gerrymandered two GOP-held districts on the road to turning blue, funneling more white voters into them. Its passage followed a familiar pattern: while Senate Democrats opposed the plan, it sailed through the House with unanimous approval.

When the NAACP and Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Foundation challenged the new maps in court in 2017, three Republican legislators behind it testified under oath that Abrams had given her nod to the changes. Several Democrats told the Intercept and the Journal-Constitution that Abrams had backed the bill and ordered Democrats to vote for it. Abrams, for her part, claimed she had been misled by its author.

Whatever had happened, Abrams’s support helped undermine the ultimately doomed legal challenge. And neither version was particularly flattering: Abrams had either consciously helped Republicans disenfranchise voters of color, or she had been tricked into it, the GOP successfully using her yearning for compromise against her.

This wouldn’t be the last time Abrams’s voting-rights advocacy would embroil her in controversy. The other involved a theme that runs though her entire career: the mixing of her public service and private enterprise. Abrams’s extensive business career shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, Abrams has long considered Ayn Rand’s libertarian Bible Atlas Shrugged one of her favorite books. She does so not because of its “selfishness theory,” which she rejects, she once said, but because “when we stop celebrating innovation and genius and thought and creativity … then we run very real risks as humans.”

“I’m a tax attorney romance novelist politician … and a serial reluctant entrepreneur,” Abrams once said. “That is a reality show waiting to happen.” It was also a potential scandal waiting to happen. Even after leaving Sutherland in 2003 to become an Atlanta deputy city attorney and, eventually, a state representative, Abrams never left the private sector behind.

She started a company that produced bottled water for infants, served on the Women’s Advisory Board for the Moore Financial Group, was chief operating officer (COO) for a tech firm she founded, cofounded and served as senior VP of a financial services firm, and was the CEO and COO of two separate consulting companies that specialized in public infrastructure projects — potentially conflict-laden business for someone serving as the minority leader in the state house.

This is exactly what happened with NOWaccount Network Corporation, the financial services firm Abrams cofounded in 2010, just prior to becoming minority leader. For years, and unbeknownst to her fellow Democrats, as Abrams worked with the Deal government on a host of controversial issues, the firm — from which she drew a yearly executive’s salary of $60,000 and held a minority stake in  — was benefiting from contracts with the state government, and depended in large part on millions of dollars in federal business loans passed by Congress that year, ones that Abrams admitted she had seen as a business opportunity for the firm. Emails later showed state officials were frustrated with NOWaccount’s work, and that in the midst of this clash, Abrams’s cofounder at one point threatened to “engage the legislature.”

“You should be aware that Stacey Abrams is a co-founder and SVP in the company,” read one intra-government email about the conflict. “(I expect she is smart enough not to weigh in, but [her co-founder] is otherwise well-connected).”

Abrams also remained CEO of Third Sector Development, a nonprofit consultancy she founded back in 1998. It was Third Sector, or more specifically, its subsidiary the New Georgia Project (NGP), that was at the center of one of the more high-profile scandals in Abrams’s career, when Georgia’s then-secretary of state (and now governor) Brian Kemp targeted it with a trumped up investigation into voter fraud.

Kemp was your typical hard-right Republican using the playbook the GOP had developed against the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) under Obama: jumping on a handful of cases of voter registration fraud to allege vast voter fraud, which could in turn be used to justify voter suppression efforts.

Kemp’s chief investigator soon made publicly clear that nothing actually suggested the NGP had deliberately aimed to commit registration fraud, and, contrary to Kemp’s initial alarmist announcement, announced they had only found twenty-five forgeries in the 85,000 applications the organization collected, around 0.03 percent.

The brouhaha, which lasted into 2017, distracted from the actual legitimate concerns with the project, which by 2014 had catapulted Abrams into national attention and given her adoring coverage. Pledging to submit 120,000 voter applications for the 2014 election, the NGP raised $3.6 million from major donors like George Soros, with Abrams pocketing $177,500 as CEO. But its results fell short of the monumental outcomes these figures heralded.

According to Abrams herself, the NGP managed to add only 46,000 new voters to the rolls. In fact, the Constitution-Journal reported, around 53,000 fewer voters were registered in 2014 than four years prior, and voter turnout fell six points between those years, to a dire 34 percent.

Despite an endorsement from former governor Zell Miller and name recognition — she was the daughter of a former senator — Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn went down in flames that year by eight points, as did gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter, grandson of former president Jimmy Carter.

As early as June 2014, one Savannah State University student paid by the nonprofit to register voters had raised the alarm to a local TV station, questioning if it was a “legitimate business” after he was told to direct people to a polling station that didn’t exist, among other irregularities. A host of Democratic officials, and staffers and activists who had worked with the NGP aired their concerns over the organization with Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing, which included a lack of transparency.

Two NGP staffers accidentally tried recruiting county election office staffers, the outlet reported, unwittingly confessing to them that the nonprofit required them to meet a quota to stay employed — creating an incentive for exactly the kind of application forgeries that Kemp later exploited for his own ends. “[The NGP] underperformed what was done in 2010,” one former Abrams staffer complained to the magazine. “Absolutely nothing was done in 2010. It’s hard to grasp how unsuccessful her effort was, given the amount of money raised.”

Around half of the gargantuan amount of money raised went to Field Strategies, a Washington DC-based consultancy favored by the Democratic Party and Obama’s campaigns. Nunn’s family, which had used its influence in the state to secure donations for the organization, reportedly wanted answers. The following year, after the controversy had peaked, Abrams scaled her compensation back to $85,000.

This wasn’t the last time Abrams’s extracurricular activities would get her in trouble. In 2016, it would come out that all the while, Abrams had been collecting $5,000 a month from the Nunn campaign for six months’ work, a fact obscured by Abrams’s decision to have the money paid to a company registered under her sister’s name, which, she later said, she simply forgot to disclose on her annual financial paperwork.

Had it been known at the time, the revelation would have been a legal headache for a nonprofit whose work was meant to be nonpartisan, already made complicated by the fact that Abrams was personal friends with Nunn and sat on the board of a volunteer organization she ran.

There are many ways to evaluate a politician: their rhetoric, their ideas and policy plans, and where they get their money from, to name a few. But whether it’s Pete Buttigieg, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, one of the surest ways to do so is to look at what they’ve actually done with the responsibilities of elected office.

Unfortunately for the public, coverage of Abrams has been all but devoid of discussion about the most crucial of factors. Ironically, liberal-leaning media has tended to mirror the terms of right-wing attacks on Abrams — which both portray her as a far-left firebrand, based almost entirely on her rhetoric.

At only forty-six years old, and with a powerful national profile, Stacey Abrams will be around for a long time. She’s said her “plan” is to become president by 2040, and there’s more than a good chance she’ll mount another run for governor. If she’s going to wield power someday, voters may as well know something about how she’s used it.