It’s been a couple of weeks since we dipped into a news roundup to catch the action from all the 2020 Democratic contenders, but as we head into the month of May tomorrow, it seems like a good time to examine the field and see what the candidates are up to.
First up, Joe Biden started a week of campaigning as an official candidate. His kickoff on Monday with an event in Pittsburgh went alright, but he’s now mired in questions about how he handled Anita Hill as a witness during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings back in 1991.
Biden Talks Anita Hill
During an interview recorded on Monday which aired on Tuesday, Biden said he takes “full responsibility” for how Hill was treated during the 1991 hearing. Politico picks up the story with some more reporting:
The Democratic presidential candidate’s remarks were his latest attempts to address his oft-criticized handling of the hearing — during which Hill, a young African American law professor, faced aggressive questioning from an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I believed her from the very beginning, but I was chairman,” Biden said in a “Good Morning America” interview that will air Tuesday. “She did not get a fair hearing. She did not get treated well. That’s my responsibility.”
In the four days since Biden officially announced his candidacy, the former vice president has faced a number of questions about Hill, to which he has offered a smattering of different responses. In an interview on “The View” last Friday, Biden said he was “sorry” Hill faced the treatment she did but did not claim personal responsibility for the way the hearing was handled.
”Look, there were a lot of mistakes made across the board. For that I apologize. We may have been able to conduct it better,” Biden said on “The View.” “I believed Dr. Hill from the beginning.”
If you weren’t born yet in 1991, or you simply don’t remember the Clarence Thomas hearings, here’s a brief history of the topic from New York Magazine.
This is not the place that any candidate wants to start a campaign, and there are only so many answers Biden can give to the same questions over and over again. Voters will either accept his answer and allow for his statement to stand, or they’ll decide to hold it against him. Biden has baggage, as any politician with a forty-year career would have. Voters know this going in. That doesn’t mean, however, that Biden’s primary opponents won’t try to use it to their advantage, some of them certainly will.
Buttigieg Winning With Gay Donors
Democratic donors looking to advance an LGBTQ rights agenda have plenty of options in the Democratic field. However, Pete Buttigieg has started making an argument that those donors should specifically set aside some money for his campaign since he personifies the fight to mainstream their views as a candidate. The New York Times reports:
Top L.G.B.T. donors face no shortage of loyal allies among the 20 Democratic candidates. But Mr. Buttigieg’s candidacy has struck an especially powerful chord with many of them. Though many said they believed they would see a gay man or lesbian become a serious contender for the White House one day, most of them had never considered it beyond the abstract. Mr. Buttigieg’s ascent has made a sudden and unexpected reality of something they thought was still years away, if not decades.
“There is absolutely no way to be cavalier about this candidacy — it is extraordinary,” said the television producer Richie Jackson, who with his husband, the Broadway producer Jordan Roth, hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Buttigieg at their New York City home this month.
The L.G.B.T. support provided Mr. Buttigieg a crucial early financial foothold before his candidacy began to surge after a CNN town-hall-style event in March, and now is poised to power a campaign staffing up nationally and in the early-primary states. His rise has threatened the donor allegiances that other candidates, led by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., have established over many years in the L.G.B.T. world.
Buttigieg’s candidacy is nothing short of extraordinary having risen from a lower-tier unknown candidate a couple of months ago into a mid-tier powerhouse fighting for a donor base with Joe Biden. Some of his fire has died down a little bit, simply as the race continues to develop, but his status as a contender remains and will continue to grow, especially with some deep pocket fundraising sources as the Times article mentions.
Kamala Harris Talks Iowa Rent Relief
Each candidate has been spending a lot of time in Iowa, naturally, and they often end up talking about issues near and dear to voters in the Hawkeye State. For Sen. Kamala Harris, the issue of housing affordability has struck a chord in Iowa where some residents may see a rent increase of 58 percent due to increased economic activity in certain areas and increased demand for housing.
Harris decided to specifically address the matter by writing an op-ed for the Des Moines Register in which she laid out her plan, called the Rent Relief Act, and explained how it could help low-income and fixed-income Iowans afford their rent:
When families have to put so much of their income toward housing, it takes an emotional and financial toll. In one of the most prosperous nations on earth, you shouldn’t have to work two or three jobs just to pay your rent and put food on the table.
That’s why when I continued to hear from families struggling with this issue, I came up with a plan to put money in their pockets.
It’s called the Rent Relief Act. Under my plan, renters who pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities would be eligible for a refundable tax credit that they could access monthly to help cover their costs. This would ensure that families aren’t priced out of the basic security of a place to live and it would bolster the economic security of working families, strengthen our country, and increase opportunity.
I believe access to housing is a fundamental right, a human right, a civil right. And as president, I’m going to make sure it’s a priority.
Harris is focused on Iowa rather than focused on national issues, which may be her best strategy right now. Each candidate will need to put in face time and lip service to the local constituents in these early states regardless of what the national polls may say. According to the latest polls, Harris is running in fourth place on average among Iowa Democratic caucus voters.
Bernie Feels the Bern on Prison Voting
It’s arguable that Bernie Sanders faced a lot of scrutiny in 2016. However, the 2016 race will be nothing compared to the scrutiny and attention he will face in 2020, especially if he gets close to the nomination this time around. Some of his policies are popular, and some, according to a new poll reported by Business Insider, are not:
The vast majority of Americans — roughly 75% — do not support Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposal to enfranchise all prisoners, but many are open to giving voting rights to non-violent inmates, according to a new INSIDER poll.
Only 15% of respondents said all prisoners — regardless of their crimes — should keep their voting rights while behind bars. Meanwhile, 20% said only voters convicted of non-violent offenses should be allowed to vote.
During a CNN town hall last Monday, the Vermont senator was asked to clarify if he supports voting rights for people like the Boston Marathon bomber or people convicted of rape. Sanders replied that even “terrible people” should be allowed to vote, contending that disenfranchising any group of people is a “slippery slope.”
Bernie’s view is an example of the most extreme position on this subject, but there are plenty of ways to dial it back and come up with some sort of compromise. Many voters would support restoring rights for non-violent prisoners, as mentioned in the story, but it’s a hard sell to say murderers and sexual predators should have any voting rights. Still, Bernie proved once again he doesn’t shy away from things he believes in, regardless of whether they’re popular or not.
Elizabeth Warren Proposes Student Loan Relief Plan
A few days back, Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a student loan relief program which would enact a “wealth tax” on the 75,000 wealthiest families in the country to pay for college tuition at most state and community colleges, as well as pay off most existing student loan debts.
The Hill reports that this proposal from Warren actually seems reasonably popular among Democrats, according to a new poll:
In the latest Hill-HarrisX survey, 64 percent of registered voters said that they would support such a plan.
The proposal was also supported across all age groupings although voters who are 65 years old and up were somewhat less likely to support it. Sixty-seven percent of respondents between 18 and 64 said they backed Warren’s idea compared to 53 percent of voters who were older.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents living in households making $75,000 or more a year said they supported the education and tax proposal. Respondents who made less than $75,000 were even more enthusiastic, backing the new policy by a 69-31 percent margin.
Voters who identified as Republicans or conservative of some stripe were the only demographic groups that opposed Warren’s proposal, the survey found.
Warren’s not proposing this plan to play for a conservative audience, she’s gearing it toward younger college-age voters and their parents. There are plenty of voters who could appreciate a benefit to this, despite being onerous as a laser-focused “wealth tax” to redistribute funds from one group of people to another.
Warren has been eager to get specific on policies rather than speak broadly as a candidate. This can be good and bad depending on the popularity of the policies being proposed. Bernie hit a gutterball saying all prisoner should be allowed to vote, but Warren’s student debt relief plan has gained more acceptance among her targeted voting constituents.
Beto O’Rourke Releases Climate Change Plan
For Beto’s first major policy position, he chose to tackle a popular initiative within the Democratic Party. Beto’s climate change plan, according to the Texas Tribune, would cost some $5 trillion dollars and aims for net-zero emissions by 2050:
In making the first major policy announcement of his campaign, O’Rourke is seeking to get specific on an issue that has dominated the Democratic primary and increasingly animated the party more broadly — including in Congress, where U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made waves with her crusade for a Green New Deal. That plan calls for net-zero global emissions over the next three decades.
“The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “We have one last chance to unleash the ingenuity and political will of hundreds of millions of Americans to meet this moment before it’s too late.”
O’Rourke’s proposal has four main components. On his first day in office, he would take executive action to reduce pollution by doing things such as recommitting the United States to the Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump withdrew the country from in 2017. He would also move unilaterally to strengthen waste limits for power plants and fuel economy standards.
Beto is specifically targeting voters who likely follow and support elected Democratic officials like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. By pushing this issue, he’s likely to get some nods from her, and some of her supporters. On the other hand, proposals like this are generally met with skepticism, even from within Beto’s own party due to the price tag and overhaul needed to the U.S. economy to make such a drastic change. Beto’s taking a gamble on this and we’ll continue watching to see if it pays off.
That’s everything in the roundup this week. Stay tuned as we enter the month of May and the campaign enters another level while the countdown looms closer to the First Democratic Debate at the end of June.