Political News

#2020Vision: Booker's bold marijuana move; Obama world loves Patrick; Why Sanders supporters are attacking Harris

Posted August 4

Our weekly roundup of the news, notes and chatter about the prospects for the next Democratic presidential race:

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is making the national legalization of marijuana a centerpiece of his new racial justice bill -- staking out a position that goes far beyond the decriminalization other Democrats have backed.

The bill is an effort to "remedy many of the failures of the War on Drugs," Booker wrote on Facebook. It would also aim to undo some damage from marijuana laws by expunging federal marijuana convictions and penalizing states with racially disparate arrests for marijuana-related crimes.

By taking this stance before other major Democrats, Booker has positioned himself as a leader on a social justice issue. California Sen. Kamala Harris, meanwhile, is championing legislation with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to overhaul pre-trial bail laws so that poorer people aren't stuck behind bars for months while accused of minor crimes.

From a 2020 perspective, Booker's bill is important for two reasons: African-Americans are a hugely important part of the Democratic electorate, starting in South Carolina -- and blacks are disproportionately hit by harsh enforcement marijuana laws. Booker's position is also popular with millennials, most of whom flocked to Bernie Sanders in 2016.

News and notes:

IOWA'S STEAK FRY RETURNS: The Steak Fry -- that progressive showcase for presidential aspirants long hosted by former Sen. Tom Harkin -- is back. Set your calendars for September 30 at Water Works Park in Des Moines, where Polk County Democrats will take over hosting duties and Reps. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio are the headliners of an event that's been dormant since Harkin's 2014 retirement.

The three -- all important to House Democrats' future -- are interesting for different reasons: Bustos, a former broadcast journalist, won in a heavily Trump district. Ryan challenged Nancy Pelosi for House minority leader and has been making visits to early states. And Moulton is seen as a real emerging star who has raised money and helped recruit candidates and therefore has credibility to challenge his own party.

Here's one more name you should get to know: Sean Bagniewski. He's the new chairman of the Polk County Democrats -- and a rising star himself in Iowa Democratic politics. He'll get major credit for resurrecting the steak fry, which will be a boon for the county party's coffers.

WAITING FOR DEVAL: Hold on -- Barack Obama and several of his closest political advisers want the next president to come from Bain Capital? That's what Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere reports, noting that Obama has urged former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to consider running in 2020.

Two things you need to know about Patrick: 1) He's a managing director at Bain Capital -- yes, that Bain Capital, the one where Mitt Romney worked -- where Patrick oversees investments in companies that address social problems. It's the kind of job you take if you don't want to run for office again. 2) Obama world knows this is a political liability if Patrick does want to run for office again, but loves him anyway and would line up to work for him.

"It's true. We all love Deval," one senior Obama veteran told me. "I think he is exactly the right kind of candidate and someone who I truly admire and think has what it takes to win. And I agree that the Bain resume is far from ideal. His other corporate work will also be a tough sell. But he would be top tier right away and attract the best campaign talent."

SANDERS SUPPORTERS TARGET HARRIS: Some of Bernie Sanders' allies this week amped up their criticism of California Sen. Kamala Harris -- a reflection of both the restlessness within his base and that Harris has emerged as a serious 2020 player.

Mic's Andrew Joyce highlights attacks on Harris from National Nurses United's RoseAnn DeMoro, People for Bernie's Winnie Wong and journalist Nomiki Konst in noting a "Bernieland problem." They take issue with Harris for cozying up with top Democratic donors, and they blast her for not prosecuting now-Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin during her time as California attorney general. It led to sharp rebuttals ranging from Neera Tanden, the head of the Center for American Progress, to Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the progressive blog DailyKos.com, who pointed out that Harris has already taken the policy positions they demanded.

Why attack Harris, and why now? I asked CNN's Greg Krieg, who covers progressives. Here's his take: "First off, don't overthink it. Harris is a dynamic politician whose national profile is on the up, along with her fundraising prowess, meaning she is gaining attention -- and attention-grabbing headlines -- as a potential 2020 primary candidate.

For progressive activists who are turned off by parts of her record as California's attorney general, that's a cue to push back. It's as simple as that. She won't be the last center-left 2020 hopeful to have her bona fides questioned by progressives. Nor is this the last time the party establishment returns fire, creating that gnawing sense of 2016 redux.

"It's also important here to consider the state of Sanders' 2020 ambitions. Even as many progressives stay earnestly focused on local races and gaining strength within the Democratic Party apparatus, make no mistake: they are on edge waiting for his decision and will attack anyone they see developing a following that could foreclose his chances in the primary. Hence, the jabs at Harris."

One more thought several Democratic operatives expressed to me: Sanders didn't win the nomination in 2016 because he lacked minority support. By attacking a woman of color who is well-liked by Democrats across the board, his allies aren't doing him any favors if he wants to run again in 2020.

WARREN'S HEARING AID BILL PASSES: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is known as a liberal firebrand -- but a bill she sponsored with Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Johnny Isakson is now headed to President Donald Trump's desk.

The bill makes hearing aids available over-the-counter -- which could lower prices and expand availability, since currently only one in six Americans suffering from hearing loss get hearing aids. And significantly, for Warren, it's a tool to rebut charges she's merely a partisan bomb-thrower with nothing to show for her time in the Senate as she runs for re-election. It was the eighth bill to pass the Senate in a roll call vote this year.

ANOTHER ZUCKERBERG POLITICAL HIRE: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg added another presidential campaign veteran this week, with Democratic pollster Joel Benenson -- the pollster for Obama and a top adviser to Hillary Clinton -- joining Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan's nonprofit as a consultant.

Already, Zuckerberg had brought Obama 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe on as president of policy and advocacy and hired former Tim Kaine spokeswoman Amy Dudley. Ken Mehlman, who managed George W. Bush's campaign, is on Zuckerberg's board.

The week ahead:

Sunday, August 6 -- Former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander headlines the Maine Democratic Party's Muskie Lobster Bake at 12 p.m. ET.

Thursday, August 10 -- Netroots Nation kicks off in Atlanta. The progressive gathering lasts through Sunday, and Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Al Gore are both up Saturday.

Friday, August 11 -- The Iowa Democratic Wing Ding dinner in Clear Lake, featuring Kander, California Rep. Eric Swalwell and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, kicks off at 5 p.m. CT.

Before you go:

Mark Cuban is giving attorney general Jeff Sessions credit for going after doctors and pharmacies in combatting the opioid crisis. "If they are using Machine Learning to analyze prescriptions and detect fraud and anomalies I love it," Cuban tweeted. ... 'Hell no' caucus tracker: Five senators voted against Christopher Wray for FBI director. Among them were three 2020 prospects: Warren, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley.

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