4 min read

Wake Up To Politics - February 19, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, February 19, 2020. 3 days until the Nevada caucuses. 258 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Bloomberg joins the debate stage

Michael Bloomberg isn't even on the ballot in Nevada, the next key contest on the Democratic primary calendar. But he is expected to be the dominant presence as the party's presidential candidates meet in Las Vegas tonight, his inaugural presence on the Democratic debate stage.

Bloomberg has seen a quick rise in the polls in recent days, surging to third place in the RealClearPolitics national average while also grabbing key endorsements and turning his $63 billion fortune towards becoming a near-ubiquitous presence on television with a steady stream of advertisements.

But the former New York City mayor's moment in the spotlight has also led to a re-examination of his record, from his history of alleged workplace discrimination against women to his past support of the controversial "stop and frisk" police practice. Increasingly seen as a threat by rival campaigns — even though they will not face him on the ballot until Super Tuesday (March 3), due to his decision to skip the four early voting states — Bloomberg will likely face a bevy of attacks on these issues and others from his fellow candidates tonight, as they seek to blunt the billionaire's momentum.

Bloomberg, who has not participated in a debate since 2009, is expected to see incoming from both sides of the Democratic Party: fellow moderates Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar, whose respective paths to the nomination he threatens, and progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, for whom he provides a perfect foil. Many of Bloomberg's rivals have already begun sharpening their attacks on him, accusing the billionaire of seeking to buy the election and making light of his controversial past. After months of mostly running unchallenged, saturating TV screens with a carefully contrived message, Bloomberg's ability to respond to criticism from his rivals will be tested tonight for the first time in the campaign.

Meanwhile, while Bloomberg is expected to be the leading target for attacks, the candidate who has recently rocketed to frontrunner status could once again glide by largely unscathed. Sanders, the left-wing Vermont senator, has opened up a double-digit lead in two national polls released in the past 24 hours, while former Vice President Joe Biden (the former national frontrunner) has cratered amid Bloomberg's rise and a series of disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

For Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Las Vegas debate provides an opportunity to resupply oxygen to their faltering campaigns. For former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who each saw success in the first two early contests — it is a chance to appeal to a broader coalition as the primary campaign heads into more diverse terrain. As for Bloomberg and Sanders? They must simply avoid being knocked off their current upward trajectories.  

Despite his polling advantage — nationally, and in Nevada, where Democrats hold their "first in the West" caucuses this Saturday — Sanders has largely avoided attacks from other campaigns, as the centrists in the race have aimed their fire at each other and sought to avoid upsetting his loyal base. With the 2020 race hurtling into a new phase — and becoming a two-man contest, at least according to Bloomberg — that anti-Sanders ceasefire will likely have to change tonight for the dynamics of the campaign to shift along with it.

Tonight's debate, the ninth of the Democratic primary race, will air at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC, MSNBC, and the Nevada Independent website.

Trump issues high-profile pardons

New York Times: "President Trump, citing what he said was advice from friends and business associates, granted clemency on Tuesday to a who’s who of white-collar criminals from politics, sports and business who were convicted on charges involving fraud, corruption and lies — including the financier Michael R. Milken."

"The president pardoned Mr. Milken, the so-called junk bond king of the 1980s, as well as the former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik and Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers. He also commuted the sentence of Rod R. Blagojevich, a former Democratic governor of Illinois."

. . ."Mr. Trump also pardoned David Safavian, the top federal procurement official under President George W. Bush, who had been sentenced in 2009 to a year in prison for lying about his ties to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and obstructing the sprawling investigation into Mr. Abramoff’s efforts to win federal business. The president also granted clemency to six other people."

--- Washington Post: "During his Senate impeachment trial, Democrats repeatedly asserted that President Trump is 'not above the law.' But since his acquittal two weeks ago, analysts say, the president has taken a series of steps aimed at showing that, essentially, he is the law."

"On Tuesday, Trump granted clemency to a clutch of political allies, circumventing the usual Justice Department process. The pardons and commutations followed Trump’s moves to punish witnesses in his impeachment trial, publicly intervene in a pending legal case to urge leniency for a friend, attack a federal judge, accuse a juror of bias and threaten to sue his own government for investigating him."

--- Trump's recent involvement in a crop of politically charged Justice Department matters has come despite the public warning of his attorney general, William Barr, who told ABC News last week that the president's tweets "make it impossible for me to do my job." Barr is now reportedly considering resigning over Trump's interference in DOJ business, according to the Post and other news outlets.

The Rundown

President Donald Trump will travel to California, to attend two fundraisers in Rancho Mirage and deliver remarks on water accessibility in Bakersfield, and Arizona, to hold a Keep America Great rally in Phoenix.

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Virginia, to deliver remarks at NASA Langley Research Center, participate in a roundtable discussion at Hampton University's Proton Therapy Institute, and deliver remarks to military personnel at Naval Air Station Oceana.

First Lady Melania Trump will travel to Palm Beach, Florida, to deliver remarks as the honoree of Palm Beach Atlantic University's 2020 Women of Distinction Luncheon.

The House and Senate are on recess.

Presidential candidates Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren will participate in tonight's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Warren will also participate in a Culinary Workers Union Local 226 picket line at The Palms Casino in Las Vegas.

Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard will hold a town hall in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, please consider donating to support me and my work, listening to my new podcast with St. Louis Public Radio, and spreading the word about the newsletter to your friends and family. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, go to wakeuptopolitics.com to subscribe and learn more.