Political News

#2020Vision: Kander and Buttigieg make moves; Holder takes on a more public role

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

Posted Updated

Eric Bradner (CNN)

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

When the Democratic National Committee gathered in February in Atlanta, its members were there to settle the race to chair the party. But speeches there by two up-and-coming Democrats -- Jason Kander, who'd been impressive in a close loss in Missouri's Senate race, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana -- stole the show. Many within the party left that day talking about those two as its future.

Four months later, Kander and Buttigieg are making moves.

In Iowa last weekend, Kander appeared at a Democratic dinner in Ottumwa. But he also held some private meetings in Des Moines with a few key progressive activists, mostly chatting about his voting rights-focused Let America Vote political action committee. State Sen. Janet Petersen said she and Kander talked for 30 minutes over coffee about "his worry about what's going on with election law across our country and what we need to do to fight to make sure people have the right to vote. You could tell he's clearly passionate about that."

Kander is downplaying (but not quashing) the notion that he's a 2020 prospect. "I'm flattered that people suggest that at all, but I really, truly am focused on making sure that we're still holding elections in this country. If I'm successful at that, then maybe one day I'll be in one," he told me.

Raising eyebrows in Iowa, though: Kander hired Brendan Summers, who was Bernie Sanders' caucus director, for Let America Vote. And he's keeping up an aggressive travel schedule, using speaking engagements to talk about "how we over performed the top of ticket by 16 points in a red state while running as a progressive -- because I am one."

What's the view of Kander in Iowa? "He is young, energetic and a good speaker. People around here really respond to him. I don't think it's enough to mount a campaign, but he was certainly talking to the right people," one Democratic operative said.

As for Buttigieg -- he resurfaced this week with a Thursday night appearance on Seth Meyers' late-night show on NBC and the news that he is launching his own PAC.

Buttigieg's rhetorical gift, thanks to his red-state upbringing, is selling Democratic policy through a less partisan lens. He told me his PAC will "focus on the ways in which decisions that are being made by politicians hit home in our communities and our lives." That, he said, will include TV ads putting "regular people on the airwaves explaining how some of these decisions affect them."

Buttigieg has also been on the road a lot lately. His speaking schedule has included recent stops in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois. He headlined events for Phil Murphy, the New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and spoke to Democrats Abroad in Berlin, Germany. He'll also be at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in September.

News and notes:

Franken doesn't want to be president: Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has gotten more and more buzz as a top-tier 2020 Democratic prospect in recent months. But this week he told ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast straight up that he doesn't want the job. "I don't want to be president. It looks like it's too much work, it's too hard," he said. "I've seen what the presidency is from a little closer than I thought I'd ever see it when I was a comedian. And it is an incredibly demanding job."

- Franken is also telling fellow Democrats to cool off on the Donald Trump impeachment talk because Vice President Mike Pence, he says, is a "zealot" who would be "worse than Trump."

Holder wants a bigger voice: Former Attorney General Eric Holder thrust himself into 2020 speculation this week, telling Yahoo after an event in California: "I thought, frankly, along with everybody else, that after the election, with Hillary Clinton as president, I could walk off the field. So when she didn't win, I thought, 'We'll have to see how this plays out.' But it became clear relatively soon -- and certainly sooner than I expected -- that I had to get back on the field."

- A Democrat familiar with Holder's thinking warns against reading those remarks as suggesting Holder wants to run for office. He was talking about policy, not campaigns, the person said.

- Holder already has one major vehicle to enter electoral politics: The National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Some Democrats told me they'd like to see Holder more focused on raising money, engaged and aggressive in that effort, which some in the party are grumbling has not gone well.

Harris releases a Spotify playlist: California Sen. Kamala Harris released a 45-song Spotify playlist to celebrate African-American Music Month ... and it's actually really, really good. (The Daily Caller called it "pretty epic" and VIBE says it "could very easily be a playlist of our own.") The playlist spans from Nina Simone to Kendrick Lamar.

Sanders lawyers up: The federal investigation into Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' wife, Jane Sanders, for potential bank fraud has led the two to lawyer up. They've hired Vermont-based Rich Cassidy and Washington-based Larry Robbins.

Murphy: Russia a distraction: Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy wants Democrats to be "hyper-focused" on economics and told MSNBC he sees the Russia investigation as a departure from that. "The fact that we had spent so much time talking about Russia has you know, has been a distraction from what should be the clear contrast between Democrats and the Trump agenda which is on economics," he said.

Steyer's midterm efforts: Many Democrats think Tom Steyer is more interested in running for governor of California than president. But he's still spending like a national player. Steyer is putting $7.5 million into mobilizing voters ahead of the midterms in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and California through his NextGen Climate group.

- Steyer also blasted Republicans over tax reform in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, writing: "The Kansas experiment is a failure only if you care about what happens to American workers and their families. Clearly, Republicans don't."

Facebook skips a Trump meeting: No one from Facebook attended a meeting Monday Trump held with tech CEOs, with the company citing scheduling conflicts. What were the Facebookers up to? Mark Zuckerberg was in Chicago for the Facebook Community Summit -- but he also visited the South Side and spoke with recent graduates of the Urban Prep Academy. Here's his post about his experiences. Sheryl Sandberg talked to Bloomberg about the need for tech companies to create jobs as it replaces others, and also called attention to Facebook's partnership with an organization that raises awareness and money for Syrian children's health care.

The week ahead:

- Saturday, June 24: Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan will be the commencement speaker at Iowa's Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield.

- Tuesday, June 27: Hillary Clinton speaks at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago.

The view from the left:

Notes from CNN's Greg Krieg:

- A last line on Jon Ossoff's loss in Georgia: Progressive groups were absolutely rooting for him Tuesday, and even in the aftermath of his loss, most activists I spoke to were realistic about how a Sanders-esque message might be received right now in a red district like Georgia's 6th. But there was also some concern that if he did prevail, the party would begin to look for more candidates like him. With Democrats of all stripes now openly questioning the broader party strategy -- like its focus on Russia at the expense of the economy -- the progressive wing feels better about its place in the tent today than it did a week ago.

- Speaking of economics: Look at all the Democrats speaking about "economics" this week. It was amazing -- to me and a whole bunch of people I spoke to over the last 48 hours -- just how many congressional Democrats were out saying the word on Wednesday. That alone is not a win, necessarily, for the left, but it signals that the debate is shifting into their wheelhouse.

- The further Trumpcare goes, the more you attention you should expect states' push for single-payer to get from the left. If the GOP plan gets to Trump's desk, the more moderate (if often nebulous) argument about a need to "fix" Obamacare very quickly becomes near-obsolete. It reminded me of this quote from California state Sen. Ricardo Lara, who said he launched his single-payer bill in part as a response to the very real possibility that Obamacare, which he supports too, was on its way out. He told CNN this back in March: "Trump's election and what Republicans are doing to dismantle health care has really given us an opportunity to have an honest dialogue about how we get to health for all. I don't think we would have had the same opportunity if Clinton would have won."

Before you go:

MSNBC hired Maya Harris -- a top Hillary Clinton campaign policy adviser who is also the sister of Sen. Kamala Harris -- as a political analyst. ... Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is calling for the removal of 12 Wells Fargo board members. ... Virginia Sen. Mark Warner's prominent role in the Senate's Russia investigation is getting more attention.

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