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Where things stand in the race
It’s starting to dawn on everyone that, after the relative breeze of the New Hampshire primary, we have more caucuses coming up. Early voting in Nevada begins this weekend, the caucuses are on Feb. 22, and plenty of uncertainty still surrounds them. Democratic insiders are waiting with bated breath to see if the state can avoid a meltdown like the one that occurred in Iowa.
On Thursday, officials in Nevada announced that they would provide caucus precinct chairs with iPads, and would use a calculator and the Google Forms application to tabulate the results. If that doesn’t inspire confidence, well, keep your breath bated. (More on the Nevada caucus situation is below, from a reporter on the ground there.)
Joe Biden is looking for some good news — any good news at all — after failing to make the top three in the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. But he won’t be getting any from Nevada’s powerful culinary workers’ union, which announced on Thursday that it wouldn’t endorse a candidate in this month’s caucuses. The union wants to keep private health insurance as an option, and was therefore seen as being more likely to endorse Biden than to back Bernie Sanders, his most formidable rival in Nevada, who supports a “Medicare for all”-type health care system.
The union’s secretary-treasurer, Geoconda Argüello-Kline, said, “We’re going to endorse our goals, what we’re doing — that’s what we’re going to endorse.”
The lack of an endorsement could be a boon for Sanders, the only candidate to have matched Biden’s support in Nevada polls. And that data is probably underestimating Sanders’s support: The most recent polls we have of Nevada are over a month old, and were taken before Biden’s candidacy began to falter.
Michael Bloomberg has spent over $350 million on TV spots since November, putting him way ahead of any Democratic rival in terms of ad spending — but apparently, that’s not all. In a display of just how “with it” the 78-year-old media mogul is, Bloomberg has also paid some of the biggest meme makers on the internet to put his sponsored content on their Instagram accounts. Voters can haz Bloomberg?
President Trump’s campaign is off and rolling — and that means high-dollar fund-raisers. He will be the guest of honor on Saturday at the billionaire Nelson Peltz’s Palm Beach estate, located just a few miles from Mar-a-Lago, the president’s resort. Tickets to the Saturday event will cost a whopping $580,600 per couple, making it the priciest fund-raiser since Trump took office, The Washington Post reports.
A young attendee got a better view at a town hall event for Elizabeth Warren in Arlington, Va., on Thursday evening.
Barr hits back at Trump
On Monday, Justice Department prosecutors recommended that a judge sentence Roger Stone — a longtime Trump ally — to seven to nine years in prison for his role in obstructing an investigation into the president.
Hours later, Trump tweeted his displeasure, calling it a “miscarriage of justice.” The next day, Attorney General William Barr ordered his team to lower its sentencing request.
The president then went on Twitter again, praising Barr’s decision. But all four of the lawyers prosecuting the case withdrew from it, and a public outcry followed. Many of the president’s detractors worried that after his acquittal on impeachment charges, it would be impossible to prevent him from meddling in cases that concerned his own alleged misconduct.
But on Thursday, Barr offered a rare rebuke to Trump during an interview with ABC News. “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me,” he said.
Those comments represent some of the strongest pushback that Trump has received from a member of his cabinet during his administration. But they also might have been basically obligatory: Barr wasn’t exaggerating when he said his job was becoming impossible.
As our reporter Katie Benner notes, “Speaking up could have put Mr. Barr at risk of losing the backing of the president, but remaining silent would have permitted Mr. Trump to continue attacking law enforcement and all but invited open revolt among the some 115,000 employees of the Justice Department.”
Still, critics of the attorney general saw his comments mainly as a way to deflect responsibility for his role in carrying out the president’s political wishes.
Capitol Hill is back in action, sort of
Less than two weeks after the impeachment trial came to a close, Congress is back to business as usual. But as usual, that does not mean any laws are on their way to being passed.
The Senate on Thursday passed — if you can believe it — a piece of bipartisan legislation. The bill would require Trump to gain congressional authorization before he can take any further military action against Iran, in a rare assertion of Congress’s war-making powers.
It was passed largely on the strength of Democratic votes, but eight Republicans crossed the aisle to support it. Still, Trump is widely expected to veto the bill — which would force the Senate to muster a two-thirds majority to override him.
In the House, Democrats on Thursday passed a measure that would extend the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment — a constitutional amendment that Congress first approved in 1972, but that did not win the support of enough states to become adopted.
The amendment still faces opposition from many Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. And even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal Supreme Court justice who has long supported the E.R.A., said this week that she thought the amendment should be scrapped in favor of a new version.
“I’d like it to start over,” she said at a Georgetown University Law Center event on Monday. “There’s too much controversy about latecomers.”
Hello, Nevada caucusgoer. Can you spare $20?
Will Nevada’s caucuses devolve into an Iowa 2.0? That’s the big question as all eyes turn west for the Feb. 22 nominating contest. State Democratic officials are scrambling to assure everyone the process will unfold just fine. For months, Nevada planned to use the same app that helped cause the meltdown in Iowa, but officials scrapped that plan in favor of a new one that will rely on iPads and Google forms.
There are other only-in-Nevada quirks, too. In case of a tie at a caucus site, delegates will be decided by which campaign chooses the highest card from a deck.
So just where does the party get the money to pay for all these iPads? Well, donations, of course. And caucusgoers will be asked for a suggested $20 donation, according to a script being given to precinct leaders. But even though caucusgoers could choose not to put any cash in the envelope, a couple of precinct leaders told me that the mere fact they would be asking made them uncomfortable.