By Robert A. Vella
Before getting to the political stories, it is important to note that the World Health Organization has now declared the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic. Although COVID-19 had already met the technical definition of a pandemic earlier this year, today’s official announcement by the WHO provides newsworthy confirmation (see: WHO declares the outbreak of the new coronavirus is a pandemic).
The Democratic presidential primaries held in six states yesterday swung heavily towards Joe Biden in continuance of a national trend which emerged from last week’s Super Tuesday elections. Bernie Sanders was counting on a repeat victory in the Midwest rustbelt state of Michigan – where he garnered the support of working class voters in 2016 – to reinvigorate his faltering 2020 campaign, but instead he was soundly defeated. Biden won Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, and Idaho. Sanders won North Dakota, and has a very slight lead in Washington state (32.75% to 32.54%) with 67% of the precincts reporting. Currently, the delegate count is 860 for Biden versus 710 for Sanders; however, this race is essentially over. Barring some extraordinary circumstance, Biden will be the party’s nominee.
So, what happened this year compared to four years ago? Is Joe Biden really a much better candidate than Hillary Clinton was? Although Clinton’s negatives were higher than Biden’s are now (i.e. she was more disliked), something far more impactful has occurred. In 2016, the mood of the electorate was profoundly populist (i.e. anti-establishment). In 2020, the public is desperate for a return to normalcy and stability after nearly four years of intense turmoil under the megalomaniacal president Donald Trump. Despite indications in the early primaries (through the Nevada caucuses) that populism was reemerging, this strong anti-Trump sentiment has dominated ever since – to which I forecasted shortly after the Iowa caucuses:
In 2016, the mood of the electorate was profoundly populist. That’s why Sanders performed so strongly in the Democratic primaries (especially in the Midwest), and why Trump won the general election via the Electoral College (also by strong support in the Midwest). By nominating the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton, Democrats were bucking the prevailing mood of the people… and, they understandably lost.
But, it would be an equally disastrous mistake to assume that the 2016 political dynamics will repeat this year. The mood of the electorate is no longer populist. The 2020 election will be a national referendum on Donald Trump even more so than the 2018 midterms were. Political outsiders who vow to “shake-up the system” will have difficulty gaining traction because the system has already been dramatically shook-up by President Trump. What the majority of Americans want now instead is a return to normalcy and stability.
Obviously, this favored Biden over Sanders. It would be a huge mistake to presume that Biden possesses the same broad appeal of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, or that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because of sexism and misogyny, or that Americans suddenly rejected popular progressive policies and re-embraced centrist neoliberalism, or that Trump is a typical president and 2020 will be a typical election. Absolutely not. Such assumptions are evidentially inaccurate and are often asserted by ideological and political self-interest.
Regarding the all-important voter turnout yesterday, the numbers counted so far generally reflect a continuing national trend with some caveats. First, we can’t really compare the 2020 primary election results to 2016 in Washington, Idaho, and North Dakota because those states held caucuses four years ago which always produce low turnout (this year, North Dakota used a hybrid primary/caucus system). In Michigan, about 1,585,000 voted compared to 1,205,552 in 2016 – a whopping 31.5% increase. In Missouri, about 660,000 voted compared to 629,425 in 2016 – a much weaker 4.9% increase. In Mississippi, about 269,000 voted compared to 227,164 in 2016 – a modest 18.4% increase. Suburban voters (particularly women), who have traditionally supported Republican candidates up until the 2018 midterms, are leading the anti-Trump electorate in favor of Biden. Black voters heavily supported Biden, and Biden also prevailed among most demographic groups including the working class, union members, college educated and high school educated whites. Voter turnout among younger voters, who supported Sanders, remained poor and this is a problem the Democratic Party must learn how to solve.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. took command of the Democratic presidential race in decisive fashion on Tuesday, marshaling a powerful multiracial coalition in the South and the Midwest that swept aside Senator Bernie Sanders and completed Mr. Biden’s rapid transformation from a sometimes-fumbling underdog into his party’s likely nominee.
Replicating the combination of voters that delivered him broad victories a week ago on Super Tuesday, Mr. Biden won Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi with overwhelming support from African-Americans and with large margins among suburban and rural white voters.
Mr. Biden was also named the winner in Idaho, leaving little doubt by the end of the night that Mr. Sanders had lost his recent status as the progressive front-runner in a race defined for months by feuding and factionalism on the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that Mr. Sanders picked up his first victory, in North Dakota, while Washington remained too close to call.
Acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell has declined to appear before Congress on Tuesday to speak about foreign election threats, citing apprehension about his preparedness to address sensitive subjects that tend to upset the president, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Another notable absence in the briefings is the intelligence community official who ordinarily would appear before Congress, election threats executive Shelby Pierson, who was not scheduled to be present at the closed, all-members meetings in the House and the Senate scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
She drew Trump’s ire last month after she informed lawmakers that Russia had developed “a preference” for Trump. Though she believed she was fulfilling her duty to keep Congress informed about foreign interference attempts, the disclosure angered the president, who feared Democrats would leak the assessment to undermine him in the 2020 election.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer directly confronted senior intelligence officials Tuesday during a classified election security briefing — accusing them of providing insufficient and contradictory information about Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 election.
Their concerns, described by multiple attendees, reflected frustration among House Democrats at what they said was incomplete, unspecific and at-times inconsistent information about the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the upcoming election.
Instead, his office was represented by William Evanina, the top counterintelligence official in the Office of the DNI. Other briefers included FBI Director Christopher Wray, Assistant Attorney General John Demers, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, Homeland Security Cybsersecurity Director Christopher Krebs, NSA Director Paul Nakasone and Assistant Secretary of Defense Kenneth Rapuano.
The Federal Election Commission — which is charged with policing federal campaign finance law — has been sidelined for months leading up to the presidential election because it lost its quorum. But a hearing Tuesday to fill a seat on the FEC with a new appointee from President Donald Trump sparked fierce pushback from Democrats upset with Trump’s handling of the vacancies and the nominee’s views on election law.
Senate Democrats not only disapprove of Texas election lawyer Trey Trainor’s public history of supporting lax campaign finance regulations, they are furious with a break in tradition by the White House and Senate Republicans, which typically sees a bipartisan pair of nominees advanced together instead of just one nominee. The fight drew both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to the hearing room of the Senate Rules Committee for an unusual battle of words off the Senate floor.
Senior aides for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have been negotiating after it became clear that committee leaders in both parties weren’t going to come together on a proposal to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ahead of the March 15 expiration date.
The three expiring FISA provisions include “roving wiretap” authority for federal intelligence agents to surveil suspects who change phones, the power to monitor people acting as “lone wolves” — inspired by, but not necessarily at the direction of, foreign powers — and the ability to access business records and email metadata of suspects.
But the agreement could be thwarted by Senate Republicans or President Donald Trump, who has demanded significant changes to the surveillance programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sought to protect the expiring FISA provisions.
MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian parliament approved a sweeping constitutional reform in the third and final reading Wednesday, a move that will allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power for another 12 years after his current term ends in 2024.
The Kremlin-controlled lower house, the State Duma, endorsed a set of amendments to the constitution and a provision resetting the term count for Putin after the revised constitution goes into force by a 383-0 vote with 43 abstentions. A nationwide vote on the proposed amendments is set for April 22.
Kremlin critics condemned the move as a cynical manipulation and called for protests.
House Democrats scored a significant legal victory Tuesday as a federal appeals court panel granted them permission to access grand jury secrets from Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
The 2-1 ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision in favor of the House’s ability to see the deleted passages in the public version of the Mueller report, the 448-page tome that describes the two-year investigation into potential links between Trump’s campaign and Russia. The report, released in April 2019, also examines President Donald Trump’s attempts to stymie the Russia probe.
Six women in Utah’s Senate, from both sides of the aisle, walked out on their male peers Tuesday, as they passed a bill requiring pregnant women to sit through an ultrasound before being able to undergo an abortion.