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Portrait of politicos in their formative years

“Boys State”

Rated PG-13. On Apple TV+

Grade: B plus

In 2018, documentary filmmakers Jesse Ross and Amanda McBain turned their cameras on an event that takes place annually all over the country, titled Boys State (and also Girls State). It is a American Legion-sponsored leadership program involving, in the case of the film, 1,000 male Texas high school students, who spend a week forming political parties known as the Federalists and Nationalists and putting up candidates for office. In Austin, Texas, where the film was largely shot, the offices include governor and lieutenant governor. These are smart and motivated young men.

One of them is Robert McDougall, a truck-driving Texan, who bought into Bitcoin early, has applied only to West Point for college and yearns to run for governor. Before that, he must get 30 signatures from fellow Nationalists to qualify. Tall, handsome and charismatic, he gets them. Steven Garza, a son of a once undocumented mother, who works at a gas station, has the same ambition. But he has a harder time getting his signatures. Previous “graduates” of Boys State include Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh. The group in Texas is, as you might expect, conservative. The issues that compel them most are abortion, gun rights and immigration. Rene Otero, an African American, is elected state chairman for the Nationalists. He finds himself the target of a perhaps racist instant impeachment campaign. Ben Feinstein, the chairman for the Federalists, is a “progressive” among conservatives. He is a double leg amputee with two prosthetic limbs. His determination to win the governorship for the Federalists presents him with a choice: use the divisive techniques of the Trump right-wing or face almost certain loss.

Garza, who idolizes Napoleon Bonaparte, is also a left of center candidate. But he is a brilliant speaker, and he says he is after compromise on all issues. McDougall chooses to hide his pro-choice sentiments in a bid to get nominated for governor by the Nationalists. In the final hours, Feinstein finds footage of Garza online, leading an anti-gun violence march. Garza counters by saying anti-gun violence is not an anti-gun position. There is something odd about these young men, giving speeches to all-male crowds about abortion. No one in the film says the words, “women’s rights.” In a moment of anger, Rene, perhaps justifiably, describes Boys State as “a conservative indoctrination camp.” Will Feinstein sell his soul to win?

Ross and McBain follow the young men around with cameras and recording equipment and capture the speeches, immediate reactions, private moments and political male-bonding.

“Boys State” is a microcosm of what will happen between now and Nov. 3. Cue Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” even if some people have no idea what the lyrics mean.

(“Boys State” contains profanity.)

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Is Lindsey Graham Actually in Trouble in South Carolina?

Harrison could not have foreseen that things in his state would get even worse because of the coronavirus pandemic. In early July, the New York Times reported that, adjusted for population size, South Carolina had the third-worst outbreak in the world, with 2,300 confirmed new cases per million residents over the preceding week. Meanwhile, the protests in response to George Floyd’s death have prompted many Americans to consider the impact of racism on every aspect of society, including this election. Both issues have provided Harrison with campaign fodder that didn’t exist when he announced his candidacy. If Harrison manages to unseat Graham, it would mean that South Carolina, which still keeps a statue of Tillman, the racist former governor, at its statehouse, would have two Black senators.

On a grassy hillside overlooking the Reedy River in downtown Greenville, roughly 50 people gathered for a Juneteenth celebration. In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, sprawling Greenville County is the most populous county in South Carolina, and reliably Republican. But the city at its center is different. A quarter of Greenville residents are Black and four out of seven City Council members are Democrats. Michelin and BMW are headquartered nearby, along with Furman University, providing an influx of international and academic residents.

At the Juneteenth festival, commemorating the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they had been emancipated, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” blared from loudspeakers on the outdoor stage. Devon Taylor, 30, stood nearby wearing a red-and-white T-shirt that said: “Make Racists Scared Again.” The nursing student said he plans to vote for Jaime Harrison “Because I want to unseat Lindsey Graham.” Taylor, who is Black, said he usually votes Democrat but had just voted in the Republican primary against Graham (who had three opponents and won 67.6 percent of the vote.) When I met him, Taylor was chatting with Christen Clinkscales, a 31-year-old with red hair and freckles. “One hundred percent not Lindsey Graham,” Clinkscales said of her voting preferences. “He’s been in office a long time, and what has he done?”

Clinkscales was raised in a conservative household in Greenville, where even her Republican father referred to the senator as “Lindsey ‘Fifteen Seconds of Fame’ Graham.” (Before he became a fixture on Fox News, Graham earned a reputation for hogging the microphone with folksy, quotable soundbites during Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings). But during the five years she lived in New York after college, her political views had evolved. Now back home and working in marketing, she heard about Harrison through her local Young Democrats chapter and supports him. The nation’s reckoning with racial justice over the past few months has influenced her perspective. “White people need to step up,” she said. “I’ve been trying to be a better white person.”

Not everyone in the crowd was familiar with Harrison. MaKenzie Donald, 27, and Heather Nasuti, 30, were seeking shelter from the rain shortly after the festival began. Both women said they are registered but don’t regularly vote. Neither had decided on a Senate candidate. When I mentioned that an African American man was hoping to unseat Graham, their first question was whether he was a Democrat. “If I had to pick one today, it wouldn’t be Lindsey Graham,” said Nasuti, who is white. “I’m more left-leaning I guess,” she added. “It’d be nice to see some Southern states leaning in that direction.”

Donald, who is Black, said she accompanied her father to the polls when she was too young to vote. Now, she admits, voting is “something I want to get better at.”

Voters like her are part of the reason Harrison is facing such an uphill battle. According to Vinson, the Furman University professor, the “real place he stands a chance is independent voters and getting young people to the polls.” But there’s no guarantee either group—or voters of color—will turn out in large numbers in November.

Although a third of South Carolina’s 3.37 million voters are nonwhite, the state also has more than 400,000 unregistered voters of color, according to the progressive data company Catalist. Harrison isn’t campaigning in person, and he’s fighting the sense from Blacks and Democrats that his quest is hopeless. In the past, Vinson explains, conservative Democrats supported Graham because South Carolina is such a red state, and they’d rather have him than someone more right wing. “I think this time around they’re probably not [going to vote for Graham],” she said. “This time around, they’ve actually got a credible candidate.”

Jimmy Williams, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser to the anti-Graham LindseyMustGo PAC, says Black voters will be motivated by the “wildly popular” Joe Biden at the top of the ticket, along with several candidates of color further down the ballot, including Clyburn and Harrison. In the February presidential primary, Biden won 61 percent of Black voters in South Carolina, according to a Washington Post analysis, and the overall turnout of 540,000 voters surpassed Barack Obama’s 2008 primary turnout in the state by about 7,000 votes.

A memo released by Harrison’s campaign in early February laid out a clear, if ambitious, path to victory. He planned to register a quarter of eligible African Americans, mobilize “new and inconsistent” voters of color and “persuade white suburban voters who are already moving away from Republicans.” Harrison was also counting on some Republicans to abandon Graham for more conservative candidates. About 6.6 percent of voters chose Libertarian or independent candidates over Graham six years ago, and there are similar candidates on the ballot this year who could help Harrison’s cause.

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Go figure that RINO Ben Sasse is criticizing me again now that he’s won his primary

It pains me to agree with him in a dispute with a more genuinely conservative figure, but when the guy’s right, he’s right. And he’s right about Sasse finding his spine only when it’s politically convenient.

He is not, however, right about Sasse’s critique being “foolish.”

Let’s back up. If you missed yesterday’s post, Sasse dinged Trump in a statement this weekend for practicing Obama-style pen-and-phone executive unilateralism.

Lots of people, me included, wondered why Sasse wasn’t as much of a stickler about congressional prerogatives last year when Trump declared an emergency and started moving Pentagon money around to try to pay for the border wall. Could it be because he was facing a potentially rough Senate primary challenge from the right back then and is safely past that challenge now?

The president thinks so. And the president is right:

Sasse also declared last fall that there was “terrible stuff” in the White House transcript of Trump’s “quid pro quo” phone call with Ukraine’s president, but in the end he voted not just to acquit Trump at his impeachment trial but not to allow witnesses to testify. How would he have voted on that if he weren’t up for reelection this fall?

Meh, he probably would have voted the same way, knowing that he’ll have another Senate primary eventually. Superficially it feels unfair to dunk on Sasse for electoral calculations since all politicians make them, especially ones as young as him. What grates in his case is that his most memorable speeches as a senator have had to do with how Congress no longer functions effectively. “We need better, more independent leaders” isn’t just political boilerplate for Sasse, as it is with most pols, it’s his whole pitch. (Well, half of his pitch. Abortion and China are his two other hobbyhorses, as you know if you get press releases from his office.) Yet, when given multiple opportunities to go his own way on a big vote that might displease Trump, he put his career first and stayed in line.

He may disdain the Senate but he seems to like the prestige of being a senator enough to consider his deviations from Trumpist orthodoxy very carefully. This weekend’s complaint about “unconstitutional slop” comes at a moment of maximum political safety — Sasse is past his primary, he’s crossing a president who’s likely to lose this fall, he’s rebranding himself as a “constitutional conservative” in anticipation of the party’s ideological pivot next year, and his criticism of Trump has no policy implications that might piss off one side or the other. Eventually he’ll vote no on whatever relief package passes the Senate and burnish his “fiscal conservative” cred too, possibly with an eye to a presidential run in 2024. He deserved a Twitter brushback pitch from Trump for his cynicism.

He replied this afternoon, more tactfully than he did this weekend. “I care about you personally”?

Sasse isn’t wrong on the merits. Whether Trump’s orders are “unconstitutional slop” or just plain ol’ “slop” is less important than the fact that they move the country further towards a model in which Americans look to the president and the Supreme Court for all major policymaking, not to Congress. Down that path lies ruin, say Yuval Levin and Adam White, remembering Republicans’ righteous complaints about Obama’s DACA/DAPA overreach on immigration. What would Democrats say if a Republican president tried changing the law with the stroke of a pen, wondered Ted Cruz in 2014? Well, say Levin and White, here we are:

That is precisely what has now happened, and it is indeed wrong. But so far, most Republicans in Congress seem reticent to say so. As in the Obama years, the president’s party in Congress is all too eager to encourage an executive incursion onto legislative turf.

And thus, one kind of constitutional failure invites another: An absence of the necessary constitutional self-restraint on the part of the presidents is answered with an absence of the necessary constitutional assertiveness on the part of Congress. These are both failings of constitutional virtue.

And they are not the only such failures at the juncture of the two elected branches. They have emerged alongside Congress’s eagerness to delegate its power to administrative agencies and the Senate’s lack of interest in asserting its advice-and-consent powers (as the executive branch fills with “acting” officers in the Trump era just as it did with recess appointments in the Obama years).

Yep. And the hypocrisy goes both ways, of course. Watch below and you’ll find Nancy Pelosi experiencing a very belated constitutional awakening triggered by Trump’s executive orders. As for righties, they’ll end up splitting into two familiar groups on the propriety of his actions — the group that thinks if it was bad when Obama did it then it’s bad when Trump does it and therefore he shouldn’t do it, and the group that thinks if Obama did it then Trump should be allowed to do it irrespective of whether it was bad when Obama did it. Group two is bigger than group one at this point, possibly much bigger. Which is why Levin and White are worried, rightly.

Exit question via Axios: Did Trump try to set a “tax trap” for Biden with his executive action on the payroll tax? The idea might have been to bait Biden into declaring that he’ll undo Trump’s deferral of the tax as soon as he’s in office, which sets up Republicans to accuse Biden of wanting to hike everyone’s taxes. The problem with that “trap” in the context of the payroll tax, though, is that it also sets Biden up to claim that Trump wants to slash entitlements, an attack he’s already pursuing. If Trump wanted to set a political trap of dubious legality involving taxes, he would have been better off deferring the collection of a certain amount of income tax instead.

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Trump’s mail-in voting falsehoods are part of a wide campaign to discredit the election

“I’m doing our country a big favor by bringing it up, and you know, from a common sense standpoint, if you look at it just out of common sense and pure basic beautiful intelligence — you know it can’t work,” Trump said Wednesday.

Now the President says he may deliver his speech to the virtual Republican National Convention from the South Lawn of the White House, obliterating the tradition of presidents seeking to safeguard their office from politicization.

Some of these steps, like trying to shape the conditions of mail-in voting, are not necessarily sinister and fall more into the category of legal challenges frequently made by both parties to win advantage within the structure of elections. But others come across as the actions of a campaign that believes its own claims it is winning.

Demanding more debates — as Trump is doing — is a time-honored tactic of a trailing candidate needing a game-changer. The upshot of Trump’s complaints on mail-in voting often appears to be an attempt to limit the number of people can vote — when they may fear showing up to a polling place during a pandemic exacerbated by his own mistakes. There is also a key attempt by the Trump campaign to lay the groundwork for legal and political challenges that could discredit Biden’s victory if he wins and to give Trump’s ego an out if voters reject him.

None of this is surprising. After all, the President made inaccurate claims of massive voter fraud in the popular vote in the election that he won in 2016.

The evidence in the impeachment trial strongly suggested that the President used his power in an attempt to coerce a foreign power into interfering in the election based on false claims of corruption against Biden.

And as President, Trump has relentlessly attacked institutions that have held him to account and countered his false narratives, including the courts, the press, US intelligence agencies and independent government watchdogs. Casting doubt on election institutions is consistent with his normal behavior.

For his entire life in business before he entered politics, Trump bent rules, laws, traditions and ethics. His willingness to do so now signals that he is prepared to do anything within his power to win the election. And it suggests that he’s also willing to drag the country through a corrosive period of legal and political brinkmanship if the election is close.

If he loses power in such circumstances, Trump’s tactics could sow a sense of grievance and disenfranchisement among his voters that would shatter his successors’ attempts to forge unity and could damage US democracy for years ahead.

A politically motivated reversal

The President introduced a new caveat to his opposition to mail-in voting on Wednesday that may reflect concern among Republicans that he risks suppressing his own vote in several tight swing states.

If the system is up and running in a state with a Republican, and presumably pro-Trump governor, it’s fine. Elsewhere, it’s mired in fraud.

“In Florida, they’ve done a very good job with it. In Nevada, it would be a disaster. In New York, it’s been a disaster. In many other places, it’s been a total catastrophe,” Trump claimed on Wednesday in one of those rare flashes of candor that perfectly reveals his true motives.

Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey walked a fine line when he met Trump at the White House.

“In Arizona, we’re going to do it right. It will be free and fair. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to cheat. And it will be easy to vote,” he said, noting that 78% of Grand Canyon Staters already voted by mail.

But he also warned: “This is no time to experiment. This is a time to go with the tried and true, and in Arizona, our system works very well.”

The President has made multiple false claims about fraud in mail-in voting. He has warned that the process is vulnerable to forgery and that ballots will be illegally printed and fraudulently signed and that foreign powers will find it easy to inject millions of false voting papers into the system.

US intelligence officials last week discounted the possibility that foreign nations could flood the election with fake ballots.
There is little evidence that mail-in voting is any more susceptible to fraud than any other kind of voting. And irregularities remain exceedingly rare in US elections, according to multiple academic studies.
Trump also makes a flawed distinction between absentee ballots and mail-in ballots. And he claimed on “Fox and Friends” Wednesday for instance that in Nevada “anybody that ever walked” will get a ballot. That’s not true — the state plans to send out ballots to all active registered voters who can only be adult citizens of the United States. The President is making claims of fraud in New York primary elections in which counting has been slow. But there’s no evidence there’s cheating.

Like all the conspiracy theories that he’s advanced in office, it doesn’t matter from his point of view if he is being truthful. Trump’s goal is to create uncertainty and doubt among voters about the election in order to advance his political goals and destroy any objective view of reality.

If the President was really concerned about the efficiency of the election machinery, he could do something about it. Instead, it has been congressional Democrats along with a few Republicans who have pushed to increase funding for the election in stimulus bills.

The President has tweeted that there is no way that the Post Office could “handle the Traffic of Mail-In Votes without preparation.”
But the agency said in a statement on Monday that it had “ample” capacity to meet projected election demand.

The appointment of a Trump loyalist, Louis DeJoy, to head the agency was a warning flare for Democrats. A slowing of delivery times by new procedures has sparked so far unproven accusations of a deliberate effort to delay the distribution of mail-in ballots. And Trump has resisted efforts to offer more funding to the USPS, with which he has held a long-term grudge.

Debate maneuvering

Trump campaign calls for a fourth presidential debate, citing early voting

Trump, as he trails Biden in most polls, has a strong incentive to maximize the televised chances for him to goad his opponent into a disastrous mistake. His campaign on Wednesday asked the Commission on Presidential Debates for a fourth encounter — in a legitimate attempt to press for changes.

But its motives are questionable since pro-Trump figures on conservative media have launched a baseless campaign to portray Biden as running away from debates.

“Joe Biden will be there. We await Donald Trump’s decision — and perhaps the president should put as much time into managing COVID as does into this,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement on Wednesday.

Campaigns often squabble about moderators. But the Trump campaign is again pushing boundaries.

On Wednesday, the President’s camp released a list of suggested moderators including down-the-line journalists such as Norah O’Donnell and Major Garrett of CBS. But it also featured several Fox anchors known for friendly treatment of the President, such as Maria Bartiromo and radio host Hugh Hewitt, who just penned a strongly pro-Trump op-ed in The Washington Post.

This gambit prepared the way to falsely paint other potential mainstream moderators who have exposed Trump’s lies as biased — and to therefore lessen the possibility the President will be held accountable in debates.

Once, again, as with the campaign against mail-in voting, and the potential use of the people’s house — the White House — as a political backdrop, the Trump campaign appears to be pushing for advantage outside reasonable limits.

There is a clear attempt to erode the arrangements that have guaranteed a peaceful transfer of power for generations, and to offer him a way out should his own hyperbolic predictions of success not materialize.

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Veepstakes Heats Up: Guide to Biden’s running mate options

The Democratic National Convention is exactly two weeks away and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has yet to select his running mate — leaving supporters, detractors and the contenders themselves anxiously waiting for his announcement.

The presumptive nominee has played his cards close to the vest in recent months, holding a number of fundraising events with a host of potential contenders but seldom addressing the decision in public. Biden told reporters during a rare news conference at the beginning of July that he had prepared a list of “women of color” for consideration – but he wouldn’t announce a decision until August.

“There are a number of women of color. There are Latino women. There are Asian. There are — across the board. And we’re just underway now in the hard vet of going into the deep background checks that take anywhere from six to eight weeks to be done,” Biden said.

Biden’s list of vice president contenders includes (from left) Sen. Kamala Harris, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Rep. Karen Bass, Rep. Val Demings, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

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And in recent days some Biden’s potential picks have engaged in a media blitz, with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., each appearing on “Fox News Sunday.” Meanwhile, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was on MSNBC’s “Kasie DC.”

Here’s a handy guide to Joe Biden’s potential running mate options.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.: Harris has long been considered a frontrunner in the VP race, but her record as a prosecutor and contentious debate exchanges with Biden during the primary are seen as liabilities. Kamala Harris: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.: Demings was the first female police chief in Orlando, Fla., and her husband was the city’s first Black police chief. She saw her national profile increase as one of the House’s impeachment managers earlier this year, but her past as a cop could hurt her at a time when law enforcement is not popular with some in the Democratic Party. Val Demings: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

POTENTIAL BIDEN VP PICK LANCE BOTTOMS SAYS SANDERS CAMPAIGN HAS SIGNIFICANT INFLUENCE IN DRAFTING DNC PLATFORM

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: Bottoms, like other big-city mayors, became more of a national name as she captained her city through the coronavirus pandemic and recent racial unrest. She is also the chair of the DNC’s Platform Drafting Committee. Keisha Lance Bottoms: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

Former Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams: Abrams gained popularity within the Democratic Party after her unsuccessful campaign for Georgia governor, and has made clear she would be happy to be Biden’s running mate. She also said earlier this year that she plans to be president by 2040. Stacey Abrams: 5 things to know about Biden’s potential vice presidential nominee

Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice: Rice is a controversial figure from her time in the Obama administration, specifically over her handling of Benghazi. But she would be an experienced pick, and someone Biden already has a working relationship with to boot. Susan Rice: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.: Bass has been a latecomer to the VP conversation but brings to the table her experience as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and a background in medicine. She has had to fight off controversy, though, about past comments praising Scientology and former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Karen Bass: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

KAREN BASS, ON BIDEN VP SHORTLIST, SCRAMBLES TO EXPLAIN REMARKS ON CASTRO, SCIENTOLOGY

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.: Warren is one of the few White women reportedly in consideration for Biden’s VP slot after Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., took herself out of contention. But she would bring progressive street cred and a plan for just about everything on the ticket. Elizabeth Warren: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.: Baldwin comes from a state that was key to President Trump’s 2016 victory and has a progressive record that could excite the base. Additionally, she would be the first openly gay vice president, bringing a potential air of history-making to the Democratic ticket. Tammy Baldwin: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.: Another Democratic senator in contention, Duckworth is a veteran who lost her legs in a helicopter crash in the Iraq war. She has also been one of the most successful members of Congress, according to the Center for Effective LawmakingTammy Duckworth: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

WHITMER ANGERS GOPLAWMAKERS AFTER USING STATEWIDE EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM FOR MESSAGE ON MASKS

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Whitmer, with her tough stance on the coronavirus pandemic, has been one of Trump’s chief antagonists in recent months. She is also the governor of a key swing state. Gretchen Whitmer: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible running mate

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham: New Mexico’s chief executive has fresh experience governing a state through a crisis and has experience on a federal level, too, as a former member of the House of Representatives. Michelle Lujan Grisham: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible VP contender

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates: Yates was one of the first political martyrs of the Trump administration after she was fired for refusing to enact the initial version of Trump’s Muslim ban. She also has a long history as a prosecutor — she played a role in putting away Eric Rudolph, the man who bombed Olympic Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Sally Yates: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

Sally Yates was removed from her position as acting attorney general after she refused to enforce President Donald Trump's travel ban.

Sally Yates was removed from her position as acting attorney general after she refused to enforce President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
(AP Photo/J. David Ake)

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Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.: Hassan, the other senator from New Hampshire, is the daughter of  Robert Wood, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Lyndon Johnson. She is also a former governor, giving her executive experience to use as a vice president. Maggie Hassan: 5 things to know about Biden’s possible Democratic VP contender

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.: Cortez Masto was the first Latina to be elected to the U.S. Senate and would be the first Latina or Latino vice president. She also served four years as a civil attorney in Las Vegas and two as a criminal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the nation’s capital. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto: 5 things to know about Biden’s potential vice presidential nominee

Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser, Morgan Phillips and Brie Stimson contributed to this report.

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What we know – and what we don’t – about Susan Rice, Biden’s potential VP pick

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has long said that there is one quality in a vice presidential pick he values above all: the ability to be “simpatico” with him.

And only one vice presidential shortlist finalist — former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice — boasts a long personal and professional relationship with the former vice president. The pair worked closely during the Obama years, and she is considered a member of the former vice president’s inner circle. 

Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama. (Kevin Sanders/AP)

But while Rice is a successful and accomplished diplomat who has already served as a top White House official, not that much is known about her views on matters of domestic policy. She has also never run for elected office, meaning that her appeal to voters is, as of now, completely theoretical. 

Rice’s strength is found in her substantial foreign policy chops. Under President Bill Clinton, Rice served on the national security council and was eventually promoted to senior director of African affairs in 1995. Two years later, Rice became the youngest assistant secretary of state. She was 33. 

Those who have studied Rice say that her time working in Bill Clinton’s state department was a formative experience, in particular her role in guiding the U.S. response to the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. Rice argued against intervening militarily, a decision that critics said cost hundreds of thousands of lives. 

In the years since, Rice has advocated for the U.S. to take stronger stands against human rights violations. When she was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she became one of the most public advocates of the NATO intervention against Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. That operation was successful in that it forced Gadhafi from power, although critics argue that the lack of post-war planning allowed Libya to descend into chaos. 

Rice’s position in the Obama White House gave her a high-level view into the possibilities and limits of presidential power. She was also perhaps the most visible Black woman within the administration, which could be a tremendous asset for Biden at a time when the U.S. has been convulsed by protests for racial justice. 

National security advisor Susan Rice with President Barack Obama trade representative Michael Froman. (Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images)
National security advisor Susan Rice with President Barack Obama trade representative Michael Froman. (Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images)

Since departing the White House, Rice has joined the board of Netflix and now chairs D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s commission that helps plan the city’s coronavirus reopening stages. She has also authored numerous op-eds for the New York Times since leaving government and has come out in favor of D.C. statehood, a longtime priority for progressives. 

Yet little is known about where Rice stands, exactly, on the domestic policy issues that have come to define the 2020 contest. And that could hamper her ability to be an effective running mate for Biden, who has opened up a significant lead over President Trump in nationwide polls. 

And when it comes to foreign policy, her more hawkish stances in recent years might draw criticism from progressives who are already frustrated with having a centrist at the top of the ticket.

Rice is also unpopular with conservatives who criticize her handling of the 2012 attack against two U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of American military personnel and Ambassador Chris Stevens. At the time, Rice said the attack was spurred by an internet video that disparaged Mohammed, the central prophet of the Islamic faith. Republicans alleged that Rice’s comments were part of a cover-up, although that claim has been largely refuted

Rice told the hosts of daytime talk show “The View’ on Wednesday that she suspects the GOP will resurface the Benghazi issue if she’s tapped by Biden. 

“Not one of them found that I had deliberately misled the American people, but I don’t doubt that the Republicans will use this, and they’ll attack whoever is Joe Biden’s choice to be his vice president. But let’s be honest about what this is. This is dishonest, and it’s a distraction,” Rice said.

In an interview with the Boston Globe in 2019, Rice says she suspects she was targeted so fiercely because she is a Black woman. 

Susan Rice. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Susan Rice. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“Whether I was a more attractive villain because I was an African-American woman? Maybe. That was my hypothesis. But I’m not certain of it. And I really don’t think it matters,” said Rice. 

“What I do think matters is that you fast-forward to today, and we have the president of the United States demonizing Black women and other women of color. Really calling the dogs on them. Inciting violence against them. And that is not only dangerous and divisive. It’s despicable behavior on the part of the president of the United States.”

Rice’s ability to stand up for herself could be an asset to Biden, who may want a running mate who can take the fight to Trump and the GOP. In 2019, she called South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham a “piece of s***” after Graham was quoted calling Trump’s impeachment trial “a lynching in every sense.”

Paul Musgrave, a foreign policy expert and assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, recalled only one mainstream vice presidential pick in modern history — Sargent Shriver in 1972 –– who was a foreign policy specialist above all else. 

“There are folks who think that Joe Biden could be choosing the Democratic nominee, and I would think that is something that he’d be conscious of: wanting to balance the good working relationship with trying to make sure the Democrats are well set up for the next presidential term,” explained Musgrave.

Joe Biden. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Joe Biden. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

And tapping a foreign policy expert, despite her long credentials, may not be a perfect fit in an election dominated by domestic issues. Biden seems to be beating Trump in nearly all head-to-head matchups on domestic affairs, but choosing Rice could put the spotlight back on Biden’s own lengthy record on foreign policy matters, including his vote in favor of the Iraq War and his role overseeing anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine while his son pursued business opportunities there.

But Musgrave, who views Rice as a “consummate power player,” contends that Rice and Biden’s foreign policy relationship is a boon more than anything.

“If one of the considerations for being a modern vice president is your ability to be entrusted with significant assignments by the president, I’m not sure there would be any two people who would be better matched on that,” said Musgraves.

“That could easily be one of the best working relationships from day one.”

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Trump’s “delay the election” tweet is grounds for impeachment and removal

In three and a half years, this is the first time I’ve seen the president say or do something that’s caused otherwise reasonably solid Trumpers to recoil in horror.

Not hardcore Trumpers. A good third of this country’s electorate would stick with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, started kicking dogs, stealing candy from babies, whatever. They’re not going to move. And they’re most of the GOP now.

But there’s a meaningful slice of voters on top of that base, I think, that still strongly prefers him to Biden, is prepared to vote for him this fall in spite of COVID and everything else, but isn’t part of the cult. Those people have a red line — in theory. They don’t admire everything about him. They’re willing to criticize him politely when they disagree. They’re very forgiving of him in the interest of preserving Republican control of governance, though. As I say, in three and a half years he’d managed not to cross their personal red line, so that line must be awfully far afield.

This morning’s tweet crossed it for two conservative commentators who’d been with him until now, which makes me wonder if this episode is going to turn into a serious liability for him with voters. Anything that can make someone go from “Trump 2020” to calling for impeachment in the span of a few hours is something with real political salience, one would think. First up is Steven Calabresi, who co-founded the most influential conservative legal organization in the country, the Federalist Society. Not all FedSoc luminaries are solid Trumpers (see, e.g., George Conway) but Calabresi had been a good soldier for Trump. Two years ago I wrote about him and Conway clashing over the Mueller investigation. Conway defended the probe; Calabresi called it unconstitutional. He also accused Democrats of violating Trump’s Sixth Amendment rights in how they conducted the Ukraine impeachment inquiry. He’s not a Never Trumper by any means.

But maybe he is now?

I have voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, including voting for Donald Trump in 2016. I wrote op-eds and a law review article protesting what I believe was an unconstitutional investigation by Robert Mueller. I also wrote an op-ed opposing President Trump’s impeachment.

But I am frankly appalled by the president’s recent tweet seeking to postpone the November election. Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate

President Trump needs to be told by every Republican in Congress that he cannot postpone the federal election. Doing so would be illegal, unconstitutional and without precedent in American history. Anyone who says otherwise should never be elected to Congress again.

I’m not sure how someone can go from calling for the president’s removal because he’s too fascist-y to grudgingly supporting him this fall over Biden but we’ll check back in with Calabresi circa late October. The second pundit to turn on Trump this afternoon is Henry Olsen, who writes interestingly about elections and polling for WaPo. Olsen’s another guy whom you might not catch in a MAGA cap but who’s been friendly to POTUS in his columns. He didn’t react to Trump’s tweet as strongly as Calabresi did, but the language here is still plenty strong:

President Trump’s tweet Thursday morning suggesting that the November election should be delayed is more than reckless and irresponsible. It is the single most anti-democratic statement any sitting president has ever made. It should be immediately, forcefully and vocally repudiated by every conservative and Republican.

I do not write these words lightly. I have generally supported the Trump administration’s policies. Everyone has disagreements even with leaders of their own party, but I remain what I was before Trump was even a candidate — a conservative Republican with populist leanings. Were this election solely a matter of Trump’s platform vs. former vice president Joe Biden’s, I would enthusiastically back the Trump agenda.

Nonetheless, his tweet strikes at the heart of American democracy and therefore must be instantly repudiated. Republicans should be among the leaders in denouncing his call.

Olsen wants Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy (both of whom reiterated today that the election will proceed as scheduled) to introduce resolutions affirming Congress’s intent that the election be held on November 3, and he wants every Republican in both chambers to support it. He even wants Mike Pence to show a little spine for once and politely disagree with his boss.

Why is it worth highlighting this stuff? It’s not just that it may presage a backlash among undecided voters and independents. It’s that harsh criticism now from erstwhile admirers about attempts to play games with the election might convince Trump that he needs to stop talking about this. Because let me tell you: If he doesn’t learn that lesson immediately, he will keep talking about it. This will get worse. It’s going to get worse no matter what as he copes with the prospect of defeat, but it’ll get worse sooner, and to a more alarming degree.

A notable line from the Times: “Opposition leaders expressed outrage, but most agreed, in public and private, that Mr. Trump’s outburst should be treated as a distress call rather than a real statement of his governing intentions.” That’s the best thing he has going for him in terms of defusing this situation before it starts to cost him in the polls. Voters understand he’s a blowhard and that he’s prone to pop off idly. They might not dwell on his latest tweet-fart, as there are so many others to smell. But if he keeps coming back to delaying the election, evincing a real interest in chicanery to protect his own power, we might see a dam-break in popular opinion. If he were to lose the other Calabresis and Olsens out there, he could go from 50/40 against Biden to something like 52/35. And then all bets would be off as to what the composition of the next Congress might look like.

He should bite his lip going forward and trust that Dan Foster is right about this, because he probably is:

If he stops talking about delaying the election and suggesting that any sort of voting methods except the ones of which he personally approves are grounds for delegitimizing the result, the Calabresis and Olsens will talk themselves into returning to the fold. (“In hindsight I think that one really fascist tweet he sent was just him blowing off steam.”) If he keeps going back to it, some of these people are going to conclude that they just can’t support him. You don’t extend the tenure of the most powerful man in the world if you think he’s serious about potentially clinging to power unlawfully.

In lieu of an exit question, go read Michael Brendan Dougherty on another pitiful manifestation of Trump-related “distress,” the QAnon cult. Trump copes with the likelihood of defeat by fantasizing about moving the election. QAnoners cope with Trump’s failures by fantasizing that he’s accomplishing amazing things to rid the world of evil behind the scenes and that all will be revealed in due time. When actual reality is too grim to stomach, invent your own.

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Trump Campaign, Super PAC Halt Ads In Michigan Amid Concern Over ‘Dismal’ Numbers

President Donald Trump’s campaign and allied super PAC America First Action have halted television and radio ads in Michigan amid concerns of underperformance in the battleground state.

The Trump campaign stopped running ads in Michigan last week and America First Action has not aired ads since July 2, McClatchy DC reported. The campaign and super PAC are both running ads planned for Michigan in other battleground states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

America First Action cut Michigan from its ad buy in early July and replaced the state with Arizona and North Carolina, The New York Times reported.

“We’re looking at the map and basing our investment decisions on the most reliable pathway to 270 electoral college votes,” an adviser to America First Action said. The super PAC believes Michigan is still in play and also encouraged the Trump campaign to continue campaign activity in the state, according to McClatchy DC.

President Donald Trump speaks at the Kellogg Arena on December 18, 2019 in Battle Creek, Michigan (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Data provided by Advertising Analytics revealed the Trump campaign shrunk its Michigan budget to under $1 million in July after spending $2.5 million in the state in June, McClatchy DC reported. The Biden campaign more than tripled Trump’s television ad spending in Michigan over the last month, according to The Hill.

“The numbers speak for themselves and the advertising dollars speak for themselves,” a Trump administration official involved in the 2016 campaign said. “The campaign thinks they have a better shot in Pennsylvania and that’s why they are matching Biden on advertising there.”

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien — who replaced Brad Parscale earlier this month — told reporters last week that the president still intended to keep Michigan from flipping back to the Democrats, according to The New York Times. “We intend to protect this 2016 map,” he said.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leads Trump in virtually every public poll and commands an 8-point lead in Michigan according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. A Morning Consult poll released Tuesday found Trump trailing Biden by 10 points in Michigan.

US President Donald Trump(C)delivers remarks at American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Michigan with General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Dennis Williams, United Auto Workers president on March 15, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump delivers remarks at American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Michigan with General Motors CEO Mary Barra and United Auto Workers president Dennis Williams (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

“The numbers are dismal,” a GOP pollster familiar with the presidential race in Michigan told McClatchy DC. “Hard to see how it remains competitive.” (RELATED: Fox Poll Shows Trump Down Nearly 10 Points From 2016 Results In Key Midwestern States)

Trump beat then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a slim margin of 10,000 votes. Clinton campaign operatives cited a lack of activity on the ground and Trump’s over-performance among “white male union members” representing the state’s auto industry, Politico reported.

The Trump campaign still has $11.4 million in television ads reserved in Michigan starting in September, and Republican Party leaders like Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel say Trump still has a chance in the state, The New York Times reported.

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SCOTUS & 2nd Amendment: Court Declines to Take Up Case After Roberts Signals Alignment With Liberals

Chief Justice John Roberts arrives to preside over the impeachment trial for President Trump at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The conservative wing of the Supreme Court reportedly declined to take up a case dealing with Second Amendment rights after Chief Justice John Roberts indicated that he would vote with the court’s liberal justices.

In June, the justices rejected petitions from 10 challenges relating to state restrictions on firearms after Roberts signaled he would not vote with them, depriving the court’s conservatives of the fifth vote needed to overturn gun regulations, CNN reported Monday.

In December, the Court heard a challenge to a New York City handgun regulation but ultimately determined that the challenge was made irrelevant when the New York City law involved was altered. The case revolved around whether licensed handgun owners may take a locked and unloaded handgun to locations outside the city, such as second homes or upstate firing ranges. The justices returned the relevant provisions of the challenge back to a lower court.

The four most reliably conservative justices were not confident that they would get a fifth vote from Roberts on the case or similar cases addressing the Second Amendment, according to unidentified sources cited by CNN.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh penned an unsigned opinion that was overseen by Roberts for that case in which six justices agreed that the case should be relegated to the lower court. In a separate statement that Kavanaugh signed, he said that the Supreme Court should address “soon” the issue of varying interpretations of the Second Amendment.

Roberts became a frequent deciding vote on the Supreme Court after Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018. Since then, the chief justice has voted frequently with the Court’s four liberal justices and most recently cast the decisive vote last month to block the Trump administration from ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which prevents immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children from being deported.

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Republicans and Democrats want Mueller to testify again. They may regret it.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a Judiciary Committee member, said in a brief interview. “I have seen nothing since that leads me to think [Graham] is actually going to call Mueller.”

Despite the public bipartisan agreement, there are real obstacles and risks to securing Mueller’s testimony. For Republicans, a strong defense by Mueller could shed unwelcome light on President Donald Trump’s previous statements and conduct in the final stretch of the election. For Democrats, another halting performance by the ex-FBI chief could give Trump and his allies more ammunition for their attacks on the investigations that have dogged Trump and his associates for years.

Then, there’s the logistical hurdles.

House Democrats faced an uphill battle to pressure a reluctant Mueller to testify last year; it took weeks of talks, and eventually a subpoena, for Mueller to appear before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees — an appearance Graham later called “not pretty.”

Negotiating with Mueller a second time won’t be any easier, and Graham said his staff isn’t yet in contact with Mueller or his team.

Graham is spearheading a comprehensive review of the origins of the Russia investigation, which ensnared Trump and his allies for years. And he’s eyeing testimony from former FBI bigwigs in the coming months, including former FBI Director James Comey and the ex-FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, even before hearing from Mueller.

That puts a potential Mueller hearing just weeks before Americans head to the polls. Democrats view Graham’s posture as simply an effort to discredit Mueller’s investigation and, in the process, boost a key theme of Trump’s reelection campaign as close to the November election as possible. Graham has maintained that his investigation has nothing to do with the election.

“He’ll be invited,” Graham reiterated last week. “[But] that’ll come at the end. I’m just working through the nuts and bolts.”

A spokesman for Mueller and former deputy special counsel Aaron Zebley, declined to comment on possible testimony before the panel.

With Graham’s investigation, Democrats also see an election-year plot by Republican senators to run cover for Trump, who has sought to hit back against those who spearheaded the various investigations that targeted him and his associates. To this day, Trump continues to remind Americans of the probes that he believes unfairly targeted him — an effort that invigorates his loyal base of supporters.

At the same time, Democrats still welcome Mueller’s appearance before the committee and dismiss the notion that it would be politically risky for them, leaning on Mueller to push back on Republicans’ characterizations of his investigation as unfounded and to defend what they believe was a properly predicated inquiry.

“They’ll hear more of the truth. It’s the old Harry Truman story — someone from the crowd called out, ‘Give ‘em hell, Harry.’ And he said, ‘I’m just going to tell them the truth and they’ll think it’s hell,’” Blumenthal quipped.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), another member of the panel, talked up Mueller as a skilled professional who is “more than capable” of defending his probe, which yielded 34 criminal indictments.

“I would think for people who are trafficking in these conspiracy theories and these unfounded allegations about Mueller, the risk is that he’ll be forceful and clear, and demonstrate that it was a well-predicated investigation,” Coons said in a brief interview.

In justifying their investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, Republicans point to several pieces of recently declassified information that calls into question the genesis of the investigation into potential ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin. That includes a Justice Department inspector general report that documented serious errors and abuses as part of the warrant application process for a former Trump campaign adviser.

Earlier this month, Graham released documents suggesting that senior FBI officials were initially skeptical of the emerging narrative early in Trump’s presidency that his campaign was in contact with Russian intelligence officers. Republicans assert that the risks of hearing from Mueller instead lie with Democrats, whom they say will be forced to defend an investigation riddled with biases and corruption.

“I want to know how, [did] this become a fishing expedition — and we got plenty of evidence that it should have never started in the first place,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the former Judiciary Committee chairman.

“Now, that’s probably not his fault. He didn’t make the decision to set up his job,” Grassley added of Mueller. “But it’s just kind of irritating that the president has gone through two years of Russia-gate, $30 million, and then you’ve got impeachment and I don’t know how many other things that ever since before he was elected president, they were going to get him out of office.”

Indeed, Republicans concede that their concerns about the Russia investigation have less to do with Mueller himself and focus more on the Justice Department officials who spearheaded the counterintelligence investigation that eventually spun off into the Mueller probe, after then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel.

Republicans have focused more of their ire on the Obama administration, specifically the senior FBI agents who opened and continued pursuing an investigation that Trump has said was a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” even as more evidence began to emerge that Russia was interfering in the 2016 campaign to boost Trump’s prospects against Hillary Clinton.

“More and more disturbing evidence has come up about the politicization and corruption of the Obama FBI and Department of Justice, and I think it’s important for Mr. Mueller to describe what they knew and when they knew it,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a one-time Trump foe who has used his perch on the Judiciary Committee to hammer the Obama administration for its handling of the Russia probe.

Graham announced earlier this month that he would grant Democrats’ request for Mueller to appear before the committee, citing Mueller’s July 11 Washington Post op-ed in which he strongly defended his nearly two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

In the op-ed, Mueller also defended his office’s prosecution of Roger Stone, the longtime Trump confidant whose prison sentence the president had commuted just a day earlier. Stone was convicted on seven counts including obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements.

“Bottom line is, I had no intention of calling Mr. Mueller. He testified before the House. It was not pretty to watch. But at the end of the day, Trey, he decided to interject himself into the Roger Stone case,” Graham said recently on a Fox News podcast with former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Democrats had said they were eager for Mueller to appear before the committee to allow him to more thoroughly justify his investigation, which has drawn consistent attacks from Trump and his allies, particularly as the committee continues to release new information about the probe’s origins.

Asked about the timing of Mueller’s possible appearance before the Senate, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), a Judiciary Committee member, said her party’s initial calls for Mueller to testify came months ago, noting that Democrats have since sought testimony from other central figures in the Russia investigation like Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — only to be shut down by the committee’s Republican majority.

“That pretty much gives you an idea of where Lindsey is coming from with regard to getting to the truth of anything,” Hirono added.

Democrats insist they’re not afraid of what could come out of a Mueller hearing, even if it happens so close to the election. They said Americans would see through what they perceive to be a partisan stunt.

“Everything that Lindsey has been doing lately is really, in my view, for political purposes,” Hirono said. “And he’s very much in step with the president, who does nothing without a political motive behind it, which has to do with protecting — as we say in Hawaii — his okole.”