Another Democrat gets a 2020 look: Andrew Gillum


Even in defeat, Democrat Andrew Gillum is proving to be one of the winners of 2018. The former Tallahassee mayor is parlaying his razor-thin loss in the Florida governor’s race into a role in the 2020 presidential primary — as a kingmaker or perhaps even a candidate himself.

With his stature enhanced by an exceedingly narrow loss in the nation’s largest swing state, Gillum has hit the Democratic speaking circuit across the nation, urging the party to stay the course on social justice and taking private meetings with top party officials — among them, former President Barack Obama.

Last week, Gillum spoke at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington and later met with Obama. Days later, he spoke by phone to potential 2020 rival Beto O’Rourke and to former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a one-time presidential prospect who praised Gillum.

“He was a rock star yesterday, he’s a rock star today, and he will be a rock star in the future,” Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said Tuesday when he introduced the former mayor at a closed-door Democratic National Committee finance gathering in Washington, where Gillum got a standing ovation, according to two attendees.

New York Democrat Alex Kirk said he was impressed with Gillum after hearing him for the first time. “Very charismatic, speaks from the heart,” Kirk said.

Asked if Gillum seemed down about his loss in the Florida race for governor, Kirk said it was the opposite. “He’s very energized. It was an upbeat speech about the progress made.”

Another New York Democrat, Jenny Joslin, called Gillum “a star, you can just tell. He really cares about his constituents not as numbers, but as people.”

Gillum came closer to victory than any Florida Democrat running for governor in the past two decades — losing by just 0.39 percentage points, or 32,463 votes out of more than 8.2 million cast — on the strength of a dynamic speaking style and progressive platform that was more liberal than any in the state’s modern history. Gillum would have been Florida’s first African-American governor if elected.

At his closed-door speech Tuesday, attendees said, Gillum stuck to what was his standard 2018 campaign speech. He spoke about his biography (son of a bus driver and construction worker), the gains of Democrats in the last midterm (they won the U.S. House and flipped two Florida congressional seats blue) and voter disenfranchisement, a trenchant issue in Florida after 65 percent of voters opted to automatically restore the voting rights of non-violent former felons.

One topic he avoided: the 2020 presidential election.

For the first time since graduating from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, after which he was elected Tallahassee city commissioner and then mayor, the 39-year-old Gillum won’t hold public office.

But in the spring, he’ll head back to school to teach a weekly class at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.

Aides and supporters say Gillum is not completely sure about his next steps, but he may head up a political group or movement that focuses on voting rights. His spokeswoman, Kirsten Allen, said he wants to stay true to his campaign and to Florida, the nation’s largest swing state.

“Democrats are realizing the door to Florida is wide open,” Allen said. “Andrew is standing at the doorway and saying, ‘hey, while I didn’t win, I have the blueprint to win. If you’re willing to do the work with me, that door will stay open for us in 2019, 2020, 2022.’”

Another Democrat familiar with Gillum’s plans said, “at this point, he’s more likely to play the role of kingmaker [in the presidential race] but he 100 percent hasn’t ruled out a run for president, either.”

Another possible role Democrats are whispering about: vice presidential candidate.

Fueling the speculation is his busy travel schedule since the end of the gubernatorial campaign.

Two weeks ago, Gillum was honored at the Ebony 100 gala in Los Angeles and taped the Van Jones show there.

On Monday, Gillum gave a “thank you” address to 200 campaign volunteers in Miami and plans to meet with more Tuesday in Tampa and Wednesday in Jacksonville.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


U.S. moves on China threaten trade talks before they heat up


President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that trade war talks with China have been “very productive.”

But there’s little evidence that the two countries are making progress on a 90-day timeline to work things out, and China-U.S. relations are becoming more volatile with each passing day. A top executive from Chinese telecom Huawei remains jailed in Canada, awaiting extradition to the United States, stirring outrage in China. The Justice Department is expected to soon charge Chinese government hackers with a broad campaign of cyberattacks against major technology companies.

Meanhwhile, face-to-face talks, originally said to begin as soon as this week, have yet to materialize. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spoke by phone this week with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, and reportedly China said it would begin lowering tariffs on U.S. auto imports. But so far there’s been no sign of movement on other agreements that Trump said were part of the deal — such as increased Chinese purchases of U.S. commodities.

China this week detained a former Canadian diplomat, in what many saw as a sign of Beijing’s anger over the Canadian government’s arrest of Huawei CFO Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, who stands accused by the U.S. of fraud connected to violations of sanctions on Iran.

Sam Natapoff, a former Commerce Department official who now runs an international business advisory firm, said he believes Xi is serious about getting an agreement to prevent further damage to the Chinese economy. However, the Canadian government’s arrest of Meng on suspicion of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran is putting enormous pressure on Xi and could change the dynamic of the trade negotiations, despite the two governments claiming the issues are separate.

Not only is Huawei is a symbol of the new China because of its business success and technological prowess, but Meng is the daughter of the firm’s founder in a country that puts enormous emphasis on family ties. “Had this been someone else, and not a family member, it would have been treated very differently,” Natapoff said.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Liu told Lighthizer and Mnuchin on Monday that China would be lowering its tariff on U.S. automobile imports to 15 percent, from 40 percent currently. Beijing had raised the tariff to the higher level as part of its broader retaliation on $110 billion of American exports.

However, the paper also reported that Liu is now likely to visit the United States for face-to-face talks after the new year, instead of this week as had been expected earlier. That would get the two sides past the Christmas holidays and Chinese celebrations of the 40th anniversary of its reform movement, but leave only two months for the talks.

In addition, the annual Chinese Spring Festival in early February could require a pause in the negotiations and add to the time crunch.

“So, this is like the worst possible 90 days you could have,” Charles Freeman, senior vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said. “But I’m sure they’re going to get something done. We’re certainly going to be working to help them get something done.”

Meanwhile, farm groups were still waiting for news on commodity purchases that China is expected to make to help reduce the U.S. trade deficit with that country.

In a statement after the Dec. 1 talks between Trump and Xi, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said China planned to buy a "very substantial" amount of agricultural, energy, industrial and other products. She also emphasized China intended to "immediately" begin buying U.S. farm products as part of the truce.

But just how much that will be and which commodities could be part of China’s purchase order is still unclear. Earlier this month, Mnuchin said China had offered to buy $1.2 trillion worth of goods, but it was not clear from his remarks how quickly that would take place.

"There might be an overall dollar amount that they’re looking for, but I’m not certain that there’s [a certain] amount for this commodity, [a certain] amount for that," said Floyd Gaibler, director of trade policy and biotechnology at the U.S. Grains Council.

So far, no Chinese purchases have shown up through the U.S. Agriculture Department’s reporting system, which requires exporters to report large commodity sales on a daily basis to avoid surprising the market.

U.S. soybean and other farmers have been hit particularly hard by China’s retaliation, which has already prompted Trump to authorize billions of dollars in aid payments to soften the blow. China has also stopped purchases of liquified natural gas as a result of the trade war.

While autos, soybeans and LNG could all figure prominently on China’s shopping list, companies are still awaiting details of how that would work, said Erin Ennis, senior vice president at the U.S.-China Business Council.

There appear to be three different possibilities: China will keep its retaliatory duties in place and require state-owned enterprises or private buyers to pay the higher price; it will temporarily waive the duties while negotiations continue; or it will permanently remove the retaliation in anticipation of final deal with the United States, Ennis said.

Part of the difficulty with boosting agricultural sales to China is the country has a number of trade barriers that pre-date the trade war that Trump started this year over China’s intellectual property practices. Unless those come down, sales of certain products like corn, sorghum and dry distillers grains will remain stunted, Gaibler said.

"We’d rather just see the obstacles removed and let the market determine whether there’s demand for it," Gaibler said. But "there’s a lot of issues that you have to work your way through in order to ensure that you do have access," he said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Manafort may not challenge Mueller’s charges that he lied


Paul Manafort’s lawyers signaled Tuesday they may not contest special counsel Robert Mueller’s accusations that the former Trump campaign chairman breached his plea agreement by lying to federal prosecutors.

During a 30-minute hearing that largely centered around scheduling matters, Manafort attorney Richard Westling said the longtime GOP operative’s legal team was still digesting Mueller’s narrative that their client misled investigators after agreeing to cooperate with the special counsel’s Russia probe. In court documents, Mueller has said Manafort dissembled about contacts he had with the Trump administration and with a former colleague in Ukraine.

Manafort’s lawyers last week argued in a court filing that their client had done his best to provide useful and truthful answers to prosecutors’ questions over a dozen debriefing sessions held after the former lobbyist pleaded guilty in mid-September. But Westling said his team is now reviewing materials that the special counsel has shared spelling out its evidence, adding that his team would spend time talking with Manafort before determining its next move.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered Manafort’s attorneys to file their official response by Jan. 7. She also set several other tentative deadlines for additional briefings, as well as a Jan. 25 hearing to consider whether Manafort breached his plea agreement.

Jackson said she called Tuesday’s hearing to try to sift through the question of whether Manafort’s team really did contest Mueller’s allegations.

“I don’t want to get to sentencing and they say, ‘He wasn’t truthful.’ And he says, ‘Yes, I was,’” said Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama.

Jackson is scheduled to sentence Manafort on March 5, and the dispute over whether he was untruthful during his cooperation agreement with Mueller is likely to be a factor in whether the judge gives a more lenient or harsh prison sentence.

Manafort is also scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 8 by U.S. District Court Judge T.S Ellis III in Northern Virginia for his conviction on eight felony counts of bank and tax fraud. Manafort has been jailed since June for alleged witness tampering.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Senate GOP schedules annual retreat


Senate Republicans will hold their annual retreat in mid-January, but for the first time in several years, their House GOP colleagues won’t join them.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said Tuesday that the annual Senate Republican retreat will take place Jan. 17, 2019. The location of the retreat has yet to be announced.

The 2018 retreat, which included the House Republicans, was in West Virginia.

For years, the two caucuses did not participate in a joint retreat. But that changed in January 2015, when GOP lawmakers met in Hershey, Pa. after Republicans took the Senate majority.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


N.C. GOP says fresh misconduct allegation should trigger new House election


The North Carolina Republican Party said Tuesday that a new election should be held in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District if a new allegation regarding the leak of early-voting results before Election Day is proven.

The results of the race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready have already been held up over allegations of election fraud against a contractor for one of Harris’ campaign consultants. But the state Democratic Party has highlighted another incident in the inquiry into the House race, releasing a signed affidavit from a Bladen County poll worker alleging that the results of early votes were shared improperly before the election.

“On Saturday, 11/3/18, the last day of early voting, the ‘tape’ showing election results at the one-stop polling site was run after the polls closed, and was viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not judges. It is my understanding that this was improper,” wrote Agnes Willis, a precinct worker in the state, in an affidavit dated Nov. 29, according to The Charlotte Observer.

North Carolina Republican Party chair Robin Hayes released a statement on Tuesday saying that if these allegations were true, they alone would be cause to hold a new election.

“This action by election officials would be a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty, and integrity that the Republican Party stands for,” he said in a statement. “We can never tolerate the state putting its thumb on the scale. The people involved in this must be held accountable and should it be true, this fact alone would likely require a new election.”

The North Carolina Republican Party will hold a press conference at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the race.

The earlier allegations of election fraud that originally shook the race revolve around McCrae Dowless, an independent contractor working for Harris’ campaign.

Dowless reportedly oversaw an operation that collected absentee ballots from voters before submitting them, which is against the law in the state. The activity also allegedly took place in Bladen County.

On Tuesday, the state Democratic Party called on Harris to answer questions regarding this scandal.

“Mark Harris is hiding behind his lawyers,” North Carolina Democratic Party chair Wayne Goodwin said in a press conference. “Mark Harris must answer to the voters about what he knew and when he knew it.”

On Monday, McCready said his campaign team was getting ready for a potential special election.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Pelosi privately disses Trump’s manhood after White House meeting


Nancy Pelosi was on fire with her fellow Democrats.

Minutes after a very public showdown with Donald Trump over his border wall with Mexico, the California Democrat returned to the Capitol and railed against the president in a private meeting with House Democrats.

Trump “must have said the word ‘wall’ 30 times,” the House minority leader said, according to multiple sources in the room.

“I was trying to be the mom,” she added, but “it goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

And then, Pelosi went for the most sensitive part of Trump’s ego.

“It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him,” she deadpanned. “This wall thing.”

Congressional Democrats are feeling smug — and actually a little excited — for the looming shutdown fight with the president after Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting.

The president may have opened up the entire negotiation session to the public to throw Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer off their game. But in the end, Democrats feel confident that their leaders came out ahead.

Trump, Democrats argue, fell into a trap the minute he took ownership of what Pelosi has dubbed “the Trump shutdown.” Absent a bipartisan agreement on Trump’s border wall, about a quarter of the government will run out of money on Dec. 21.

"If we don’t get what we want … I will shut down the government,” Trump said in the Oval Office before a room full of reporters and TV cameras. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security. … I will take the mantle … for shutting down the government."

Democrats say their leaders looks like the only reasonable adults at the table: they were the only side arguing that a government shutdown is a bad thing.

“The Trump shutdown is something that can be avoided and that the American people do not need at this time of economic uncertainty, and people losing jobs and the market in a mood and the rest,” Pelosi said after the meeting. “It is a luxury — the Trump shutdown is a luxury that the American people cannot afford.”

The public sniping between both sides is a sign of just how ugly the next two years will be once Democrats take the House.

And if House Democrats wanted to see how the next potential speaker would match up against Trump, they got a pretty good glimpse of the future Tuesday.

Indeed, the episode is likely to help Pelosi in her bid to round up the votes to be speaker. The women who’s led the caucus for 15 years is still working behind the scenes to secure the 218 votes needed to retake the gavel.

It was in that vein that Pelosi harped on Trump as she returned to the Hill to join her colleagues at a Democratic Steering Committee meeting. She told the room the party was well positioned to fight in this shutdown showdown — particularly after Trump’s comments.

“The press is all there! Chuck is really shouting out. I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” she said, later adding: “But the fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his. That was an accomplishment.”

At one point, after reporters and TV cameras left the Oval Office, Trump told Pelosi and Schumer that the new trade agreement he recently struck with Canada and Mexico was going to pay for the wall, Pelosi told lawmakers.

On the campaign trail, the president had vowed that Mexico would pay for any southern barrier — not the United States. Pelosi and Schumer reminded him several times during the rare public meeting Tuesday that he failed to keep this vow.

In private, however, Trump suggested both U.S. neighbors would pay for the construction with the new NAFTA agreement.

The entire thing baffled Pelosi. It’s a “cultural phenomenon,” Pelosi told her colleagues, that “the fate of our country [is] in the hands of this person.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine