I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, February 20, 2020. 2 days until the Nevada caucuses. 257 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
Bloomberg receives onslaught of attacks in debate debut
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent upwards of $400 million on his presidential campaign since its launch 10 weeks ago, fueling a rise in the polls that lifted him to the Democratic debate stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.
It bought him a two-hour series of attacks from nearly every single one of his rivals.
After spending much of the race preaching Democratic unity, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren distinguished herself by going after Bloomberg in particularly harsh terms, seeking to breathe new life into a campaign that has been flagging in recent weeks.
"I'd like to talk about who we're running against," Warren said in the debate's opening minutes. "A billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians.' And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg. Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop and frisk."
"Look, I'll support whoever the Democratic nominee is," she continued. "But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."
Warren also urged Bloomberg to release female employees who have accused him of sexual harassment and gender discrimination from nondisclosure agreements.
"None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told," the billionaire candidate responded, dismissing the complaints and refusing to discuss the NDAs, drawing groans from the studio audience of Nevada Democrats.
But Warren was not the only contender to repeatedly pile attacks on Bloomberg.
"I don't think you look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House," said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
"Mr. Bloomberg had policies in New York City of stop and frisk which went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way," added Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
"We shouldn't have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to pay this party out," Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said, attacking both Sanders and Bloomberg in one fell swoop.
Nor was Bloomberg the only candidate to receive bitter criticism throughout the evening. Sanders, who has emerged as the national frontrunner in the Democratic race, received his fair share of attacks: from Buttigieg over the tone of his online supporters ("Leadership is about what you draw out of people") and from Bloomberg over his democratic socialist ideology ("The best known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses").
At one point, Warren managed to criticize the health care plans of three of her rivals in one answer, accusing Buttigieg of offering a proposal "that was thought up by his consultants," comparing Klobuchar's plan to "a Post-It note," and claiming that Sanders' "own advisers" admit his plan "probably won't happen anyway."
In addition, sniping continued between Buttigieg and Klobuchar — two moderates who rose to prominence in Iowa and New Hampshire but now face the challenge of expanding their bases in more diverse states — throughout the night.
Seizing on Klobuchar's inability to name the president of Mexico in an interview last week, Buttigieg turned to her and stated bluntly: "You're literally a part of the committee that's overseeing these things and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south."
"Are you trying to say that I'm dumb?" Klobuchar responded.
Later, after the South Bend mayor spoke in Spanish at the end of an answer criticizing her voting record, the Minnesota senator acidically shot back: "I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete."
By the end of the two-hour Las Vegas brawl, it was clear that the Democratic presidential candidates were no longer playing nice. Instead, they were playing with fire.
But it remains to be seen if the debate will have an impact on the rapidly-unfolding primary campaign. Once Super Tuesday arrives on March 3 — when nearly one-third of Democratic delegates are at stake — Bloomberg and Sanders have been preparing for a head-on collision: upstart senator vs. billionaire ex-mayor, democratic socialist vs. capitalist, grassroots movement vs. personal fortune. Will either of these conflicting visions take a hit after the attacks they received at the debate?
And if so, who in their opposing ideological lanes benefits? Can Warren re-surge and challenge Sanders for the progressive vote he'd previously sewn up? Which of the centrist alternatives might be able to challenge Bloomberg's wealth and growing support in the Super Tuesday states?
The Las Vegas debate left the as-yet-hazy 2020 field as unsettled as ever, just days before Nevadans participate in the third contest of the cycle. Saturday's Nevada caucuses — which some fear could end as disastrously as Iowa's did earlier this month — will be followed in quick succession by the South Carolina primary the following week, and then the huge Super Tuesday prizes (think California, Texas) the week after that.
And if the significant infighting on Wednesday night was any indication, the race is unlikely to calm down much from here.
Trump names new Acting DNI: "President Trump on Wednesday named Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany who quickly antagonized the establishment after arriving in Berlin in 2018, to be the acting director of national intelligence overseeing the nation’s 17 spy agencies."
"By choosing Mr. Grenell, who has little experience in intelligence or in running a large bureaucracy, the president signaled that he wants a trusted, aggressive leader atop an intelligence community that he has long viewed with suspicion and at times gone to war against." (New York Times)
The Investigations: "Roger Stone, a longtime showman, political strategist and friend of Donald Trump's whom a jury found guilty of lying to Congress and threatening a witness regarding his efforts for the President's 2016 campaign, will be sentenced Thursday in Washington." (CNN)
--- "A lawyer for Julian Assange said in a British court Wednesday that former Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an ally of President Trump, made an offer to the WikiLeaks founder on behalf of Trump to pardon Assange in exchange for saying that Russia had nothing to do with the 2016 hack and leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee." (Washington Post)
--- "Trump tests Barr with more tweets about the Justice Department" (Washington Post)
Iowa caucuses, continued: "Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg's campaigns have both requested recounts from targeted precincts in this month's Iowa caucuses, according to an announcement from the state Democratic Party late Wednesday."
. . . "After a less-intensive recanvass earlier this week, Buttigieg led Sanders by an incredibly narrow margin. He had a lead of .08 state delegate equivalents, according to results posted by the state party — only four thousandths of a percentage point. The initial results, which were delayed for almost a day, were marred by apparent reporting or mathematical errors." (Politico)
President Donald Trump will deliver the commencement address at the Hope for Prisoners Graduation Ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada, and deliver remarks at a Keep America Great rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Vice President Mike Pence will also address the Colorado Springs rally.
The House and Senate are on recess.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren will participate in CNN town halls in Las Vegas, Nevada. Warren will also host a canvass kick-off in North Las Vegas.
Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg will attend a town hall and hold a fundraising event in Los Angeles, California.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard will hold a town hall in Boulder, Colorado.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar will host a grassroots event in Aurora, Colorado.
Businessman Tom Steyer will attend a forum on asylum and immigration in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
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