Jan 24, 2020

FRIDAY EDITION: Tom Steyer adviser unloads about Democratic party.

FRIDAY EDITION: Tom Steyer adviser unloads about Democratic party.

Tangle sits down with a D.C. veteran.

Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter. Today is a special edition of Tangle: the transcript of a conversation with one of D.C.’s biggest insiders, a former lobbyist and MSNBC talking head Jimmy Williams. To subscribe to Tangle, drop your email address below.

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Few people know Washington D.C. as well as Jimmy Williams.

He went to D.C. in 1992 as a Republican to work for George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign. A few years later, he was an openly gay Democrat working for Illinois Rep. Dick Durbin, who is still serving in Congress today as one of the country’s most recognizable senators.

Williams’ path through D.C. since then has been just as winding and unpredictable as his beginning. He’s worked as an unpaid intern, legislative assistant and on a Senate banking subcommittee. He’s worked for Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer. And when Democrats lost the Senate in 2002, he “went to the dark side” and became a lobbyist.

Williams has written extensively about his experience as a lobbyist, why he quit in 2010 and what he learned after playing for so many different teams in D.C. After lobbying, he got into journalism, and he’s now best known as a talking head who frequently appears on MSNBC. There aren’t many people who can say they’ve been a Republican, Democrat, worked with Joe Biden, lobbied Bernie Sanders, and shared their opinions on MSNBC as a journalist. But Williams is one of them.

It wasn’t his past that caught my eye this week, though. It was a tweet. I had just blasted out a quote from Hillary Clinton that included criticism of Bernie Sanders, the one where she said “nobody likes him” and he gets “nothing done.” Amidst all the enraged and enthusiastic responses was a simple quip from Williams: “But it’s true.”

The tweet caught my eye because I know who Williams is and I know he is an authoritative voice on how D.C. works. In fact, I accurately suspected that he had experience working with Bernie Sanders. So I reached out and set up an interview.

In the hour-long, free-wheeling conversation that followed, Williams — who recently moved back to South Carolina — shared with me his story of trying to lobby Sanders, disclosed that he’s currently advising billionaire and Democratic nominee Tom Steyer’s campaign, and shared his thoughts on what the general public misunderstands about lobbyists. He also unloaded about the identity crisis the Democratic party is going through and why he isn’t buying the hype about millennial voters. It was a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion. I’ve transcribed it below and edited certain parts for length and clarity (I’ve also annotated a few sections with asterisks for additional context).

Photo: Jimmy Williams

Tangle: The reason I wanted to reach out to you was that you popped up into my mentions after I tweeted out Hillary Clinton’s comments saying "nobody likes" Bernie, he "got nothing done," and "nobody wants to work with him.” You replied, “But it’s true.” Given your experience working with Dick Durbin, who is known in the Senate for being a guy that consistently works across party lines, I consider someone like you a pretty authoritative voice on who people in D.C. like and who can get stuff done. Could you tell me a bit about your perspective on Bernie and why you agree with Hillary?

Williams: It’s multi-faceted. I used to lobby Bernie when he was in the House and it was very hard to lobby Bernie. Unless you work for a labor union or another group like that on the Democratic side, Bernie is not interested in hearing what you have to say, to be brutally honest. He was a senior member of the Senate financial services committee and he didn’t care what the bank had to say, he didn’t care what the realtors had to say, that was just not his style.

I understand why: he’s a socialist and that’s his thing. I don’t agree with him on that, but at the same time, I respect him for owning his own politics. Good for him. When it comes to what Secretary Clinton said with regards to his record, she’s pretty factual about it.* If Bernie were a Democrat or Republican I’d say the exact same thing. If you look at my social media, I have zero problems going after senators if I find them to be lazy, racist, or inept, or just downright dumb. I have zero problems. The target doesn’t matter to me in that sense, because these people are paid by the taxpayer. Bernie doesn’t have much of a record and he’s been in Congress for a really, really, really long time. So that tells you what you need to know. Bernie has been elected by the people of Vermont for decades, so they must love him.** Good for Vermont. But that doesn’t mean his political leanings are what the country wants. Maybe it does, maybe they don’t, that’s what elections are all about. I know Vermont loves Bernie, but the question is, does the rest of the country?

I can tell you after he ran against Hillary Clinton in the primary in 2016 and how nasty that was, and it was very nasty, I lost a lot of respect for Senator Sanders because I thought it was disrespectful. How his followers attacked people on social media was crude, disrespectful and dangerous at times, so honestly, I’m just not a big fan. Now I respect him, I just don’t have as much respect for him as I used to.***

My time in the Senate was simple: my job was to get stuff done for my boss Dick Durbin. And Durbin had a mantra: don’t drop a bill unless you have a Republican on it. That’s just the way he operated with me. I spent as much time working with Republicans getting stuff done and compromising as I did with Democrats. My instinct and my political DNA is let’s make a deal, let’s get stuff done. And to your point about Washington D.C., that’s what’s wrong with Washington D.C. right now: Democrats only want to work with Democrats and Republicans only want to do the opposite. That’s a recipe for nothing. They don’t pass bills. The only thing the Senate does is pass judges. That’s it. The House passes a bunch of bills, and then they die in the Senate. And by the way, when the Democrats had the Senate and Republicans had the House, Republicans would send bills up and they would die there too. That’s the nature of the Senate.

But the bottom line is nothing is being signed into law to help the country. We pass spending bills. We pass defense authorization and we pass judges. That’s it. This is not why we send lawmakers to D.C. It’s embarrassing and it’s disrespectful to the American taxpayer. The late John McCain used to say when Congress would get its approval rating and it would be 13%, “who the hell is the 13%? Friends and family?” And he was right. Who actually thinks Congress is doing a good job?

That’s kind of why I think the Hillary Clinton quote about Bernie is so apt. You’ve got another member who doesn’t really legislate. When he was the chairman of the Senate veterans committee, he passed the VA reform bill that didn’t do a whole lot, to be honest with you. So what’s his record? What is his record? He is not interested in working with Republicans. He’s barely interested in working with the Democrats he serves with. So that’s my problem with Bernie, frankly, and I don’t know how you solve that problem.

*Several writers have come to Sanders’ defense over the question of his record and divisiveness. The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein wrote a strong defense here.
*** Bernie Sanders’ supporters developed a very bad reputation in 2016 for sexism and cyber-bullying online. After it was clear Clinton had the nomination in 2016, Sanders famously waited to endorse Clinton for several weeks. But when he did, he ended up holding 39 rallies in 13 states on behalf of her campaign.

Tangle: Given all that, he is clearly rising in the polls and obviously has a shot at the nomination. Do you think Bernie, as president, could get things done in D.C. and work across the aisle?

Williams: Look, that’s for the American people to decide. But on that note, I will say this: Bernie Sanders is not reaching out to the black community or the African-American community as much as he should be. I’m on the ground here in South Carolina where I live and I’m watching what these candidates are doing. The one who is visiting the state the least is Bernie Sanders. Now let’s be very clear about the national Democratic primary: you don’t win the primary in the United States without courting African-American and Latino voters. That’s a fact of life. If you can’t reach out to African-Americans in South Carolina, then where the hell are you going to reach out to them?

It’s not like they are in New Hampshire or Iowa. Both are really white states. So that’s just not a smart move on him. If you just look at the polls down here, you’ve got Biden way ahead and you’ve got Tom Steyer, who was in four black churches this past weekend alone.* Four. That’s a big deal. For someone who wants to win the Democratic primary, Bernie has a lot of issues here. And that echoes nationally, I think.**

If he [Sanders] does get the nomination, obviously I will support the Democrat. But let’s say he does that. Do you think that Ted Cruz, Mark Meadows, Tom Cotton, Kevin McCarthy or all these Trump sycophants are going to work with Bernie on Medicare for All? The answer is hell no they’re not. Absolutely not. They will not work with him. They won’t do it. And if you don’t believe me, ask Barack Obama. They didn’t work with him and they tried to stop everything he was doing, including a Supreme Court nominee. If people think Mitch McConnell is going to help Bernie Sanders then they are grossly mistaken. That’s a fact of life.

*Tom Steyer surprised many in the political world this week when new Fox News polls showed him second in South Carolina, a crucial early-voting state.
**Bernie Sanders has lagged behind Joe Biden in polls of black voters, but recent polling shows he is the most-liked candidate amongst all non-white voters.

Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter. Today is a special edition of Tangle: the transcript of a conversation with one of D.C.’s biggest insiders, a former lobbyist and MSNBC talking head Jimmy Williams. To subscribe to Tangle, drop your email address below.

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Tangle: Do you have a preference in the upcoming election? And if so, could you tell me a little bit about why?

Williams: Well, full disclosure, I worked with Joe Biden, like I said earlier, for a very short period of time in the U.S. Senate. I have not endorsed Joe Biden because Joe Biden has not asked me to endorse him. I have also been advising the Tom Steyer campaign, which is why I know what churches he’s been in this past weekend. It’s on a brief basis and I’m not working for the campaign, I consult with the campaign as they need me, but I’m not doing that with any other presidential candidate. I’m not endorsing Steyer, either, I’m just telling you I’m working with him.

My vote in February in South Carolina is going to matter a lot to me. It will be the first time I’ve voted back home in South Carolina in almost 30 years. That being said, I think the mantle of whoever can beat Trump is where we all should be. I don’t give a damn who it is as long as we can beat Trump. Now let me be clear: let’s say Bernie Sanders dominates and wins the presidency. No one should be at all shocked to watch me criticize President Sanders if he does something I disagree with personally. And nobody should be shocked to see me thank him if he does something I like. I praised George W. Bush sometimes but I criticized the hell out of him about the war in Iraq, about his economic policies and his tax cuts. You agree when you can agree and you disagree when you can disagree. It’s not about your party, it’s about your politics. I just don’t agree with many of Bernie’s policies. I, for example, do not agree that we should retire college debt for kids from wealthy families. I’m sorry, I don’t. I get it, I understand colleges are charging too much, but in that policy debate, guess what conversation nobody is having? Nobody is talking about the cost of college education, they’re talking about retiring the debt.* That’s a short-term fix. Why in the hell are these colleges and universities charging so much? That’s legitimate, but nobody is having that conversation. Before everyone gets on board about canceling debt I’d like to have a conversation about why colleges are charging so much. Then we can have a conversation about debt.

Democratic nominee Tom Steyer. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

This is an election about where the country needs to go, and it’s also an election about where the Democratic party needs to go. There is this fight between the two wings of the party that for me is a very important exercise for us to go through. The Republicans did this several cycles ago when the Tea Party began to rise in 2008 and 2009. They became a real driving force and Donald Trump is a result of the tea party in some ways.** The Republican party has been snatched away from moderate, conservative Republicans who are establishment people. The party looks nothing like that now and the Democrats are going through the exact same thing right now, and I’m glad we’re going through that.

But when I hear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez say on national TV that in any other country she wouldn’t be in the same party as Joe Biden, then my response is “Well then get the hell out.” This is the United States. This is the Democratic party. And if you don’t like the Democratic party then get out of it. She’s not even paying her dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). She raises more money than pretty much anyone except Pelosi and she can’t pay her dues because she doesn’t believe in the DCCC standing?*** Who made her the chairman of the DCCC? Noone did. If she doesn’t like being a Democrat then she can resign from the party and run as a socialist and see how far she gets then. So that’s my problem right now that’s happening — this purity test that Democrats are going through — that’s destructive. But I’m glad we’re going through it.

To go back up 30,000 feet, when it comes to who I’m aligning myself with, I’m not there yet. But I’ll get there and I’ll make my vote in late February and whoever wins that primary will have won that primary. If it’s Tom Steyer, it’s Tom Steyer. If it’s Joe Biden, it’s Joe Biden. If it’s Bernie Sanders, it’s Bernie Sanders. So be it. But there are a lot more states to go after South Carolina and I think the country will tell us who they want.

*Bernie Sanders has promised to eliminate $1.6 trillion of student loan debt. But he’s also laid out an ambitious — if not unrealistic — tax plan to eliminate tuition for two-year and four-year public and tribal colleges. So in that sense, he has presented a plan to reduce the cost of college: he wants to make college tuition-free.
**The Tea Party movement arose in opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency and had an emphasis on fiscally conservative policies, reducing spending and reducing taxes. Some of the movement’s more populist conservative principals have been compared to Donald Trump, and some Tea Party leaders have attached themselves to Trump, but Trump himself has been anything but a small-government fiscal conservative.
***Pelosi is typically the top fundraiser amongst Democrats, but in the third quarter of 2019, Ocasio-Cortez actually outraised Pelosi, bringing in more than $1.4 million. Ocasio-Cortez has defended her decision by saying she plans to funnel her money to Democrats she supports in tough House raises in 2020. Dues for the DCCC are about $250,000 for the 2019-2020 election cycle.

Tangle: I didn’t know you were consulting Steyer, that’s interesting. I saw just this morning that he’s polling ahead of Warren in early voting states, which shocked me, if I’m honest. What do you—

Williams: Wait, wait, why would that shock you? He’s spending hundreds of millions of dollars on ads [laughs].

Tangle: That’s true, that’s true. I guess I just imagined that Elizabeth Warren’s name recognition in the party would still be giving her an advantage at this point in the race. But I suppose you’re right that the money does a lot of work. Aside from that, do you think it’s just a matter of the money?

Williams: No.

Tangle: Do you think there’s something behind his platform that’s getting a lot of traction?

Williams: I think it’s the latter. Don’t get me wrong, money does not hurt you if you’re a billionaire and you’re running for something it’s very helpful. At the same time, if you have a really crappy idea and a lot of money it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got. I’ve met with the guy [Steyer] and I’ve met with his kids and some of his surrogates and I’ve watched him in crowds and I’ve gotta tell you: they really respond to him.* I went to an event that he had on Saturday night at a brewery in Florence, South Carolina, about halfway between Colombia and Myrtle Beach. Tom and I are sitting across from each other and the place is packed — packed! — on a Saturday night. All to hear a wealthy liberal from San Francisco** talk about running for president. And he’s taking question after question after question, which is something a lot of these candidates will not do. Consequently, I think he is resonating because of what he’s saying. There is something to be said for that. Now the question is can he do better than third or fourth in these states. He actually went up a couple of points in Iowa. I have not seen his polling in New Hampshire lately and his numbers in Nevada are going up. And he’s running second in South Carolina and their internal polling says the exact same thing. So there’s something going on there — the question is, what is it? And does he have the stamina to keep up with that?

If he can keep up with that and stay on the airwaves and in people’s mailboxes, there’s something to that. And people in South Carolina, trust me, people here check their mailboxes every single day. That’s a thing here. South Carolinians have this mantra: don’t come down here expecting my vote, you better come down here asking for my vote. If you expect my vote you don’t get it. And that’s how we feel. That probably doens’t make us much different from anyone else in America, but we do like our independence and we don’t like it when people just assume we’re going to vote one way or the other. So Tom Steyer is making the rounds, he’s been in the state multiple times. This is his stomping ground.

And Joe Biden has been in this state for decades because of his longtime friendship with South Carolina State Senator Fritz Collins, who died this past year. Biden has goodwill with the people of South Carolina. He is just doing so well here because the people love him. Hell, I love him because I worked for him. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to win the state. That means it’s his state to lose. Biden will have a majority of the black vote down here, but the question is can Steyer eat into that? Older black Americans here love Joe Biden, younger black Americans down here seem to like Tom Steyer. We’ll see how that turns out, I just don’t know.

*The most recent poll in South Carolina from early January showed Tom Steyer in second place with 15% of the vote behind Joe Biden, who is polling at 36%.
**Steyer was born in New York City but now works and lives in San Francisco, where he started a hedge fund company and has headquarters for his presidential campaign.

Tangle: If you don’t mind, I’d like to pivot away from the election real quick. I’ve written to my readers a lot about lobbyists and the huge role they play in D.C. You worked as a lobbyist but quit, saying your conscience couldn’t take it anymore. But you’ve also mounted a defense for the legality and practice of lobbying in your writing.  It’s rare you get to chat with someone who has been inside that experience. “Lobbyists” have become such a dirty word these days, especially amongst Democrats and on the left. What does the public get wrong about lobbyists?

Williams: Look, there is great honor in lobbying because it’s constitutionally required. In fact, demanded. The first amendment of the constitution says you have the right to demand and address your government with your grievances.* That used to mean you could literally walk up to the White House, knock on the door and say, “I’ve got a problem, President Jackson, and I need you to fix it.” And you could get in.

But the bottom line is that lobbying has been around for a really long time and it’s engraved in the constitution. And I will always, always defend lobbyists. Because everybody deserves to have a voice. What I will never defend is money in politics. Money in politics to me is why the system is broken. I have a theory: if you get rid of money in politics, the Republican party evaporates. The Democratic party evaporates. We wouldn’t have political parties anymore because all of a sudden you [politicians] are not paid to think a certain way. And you might actually be paying attention to your — I don’t know — constituents! Instead of the lobbyists back in D.C.

Tom Steyer talks about it, that helps. Bernie Sanders talks about it, that helps. Elizabeth Warren talks about it, that helps. Joe Biden talks about it, that helps. About Corporate America and how Corporate America has bought and sold the United States of America. They’re all right. And I am not anti-business, I’m as pro-business as you’re going to get. But the lobbying and the money that they spend, that’s the problem. I loved lobbying. I loved going up and pitching for clients to members of Congress and senators. It was satisfying as hell. What I didn’t like is the fact that they didn’t care what I had to say. All they cared about was whether or not I was going to write them a check. Literally, that’s all they cared about. So I’m not cool with that. Then you’re just buying your way in. That’s legalized bribery.

Also, I don’t expect Democrats to take off their suicide vests while Republicans don’t.** Democrats should go out there and raise as much money as they can. There is no reason for us to disarm when Republicans will never disarm. But at the same time, the amount of money that’s traded in Washington D.C. is why the institutions are broken. It’s exactly why they’re broken. The reliance on money is like a heroin addiction. They can’t stop shooting up. They’ve got to have it. It’s like they’re Precious from Lord of the Rings. If you take it away from them and have federally financed elections, that’s far better. But people will have a problem with that, they don’t like the idea that their money doesn’t speak. There are lots of people who say their money is speech and they will continue to do that until we do one thing, and one thing only: amend the constitution of the United States of America to say that money is not speech.

Now, there’s an alternative to all of this which is simple. We let anybody spend as much money on any race for anything as long they want. The only question is can we have sunshine on that so we know who is spending what money on what races. If they did that, that idea would shed light on how corrupt the system is. It’s not the $2,500 donations, it’s all the dark money from billionaires, that’s where you get your bang for your buck. We have to get rid of all that but neither said is going to disarm on that, and I get that — I did it, I was part of it. The American people are going to have to figure this out.

Again, lobbyists are not bad people. Lobbyists are doing their jobs. I think it’s complete and total bullshit that these members of Congress are running around saying “I’m going to ban lobbyists.” No, you’re not. Or they say, my favorite of all, “we’re going to say to members of Congress or their staff they can’t go lobby.” Since when in the hell in America’s history have we told people that when they’re done with public service that they can or can’t do something for their career? Or we shouldn’t? The American people have no say over what you do as long it’s legal. And you’re not going to make lobbying illegal because it’s in the constitution. So we need to just stop this B.S. running around saying we’re going to ban it because we’re not. We need to reform the system.

*The full text of the first amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
** Every Democrat running for president made a pledge not to take money from Corporate Political Action Committees this year, and several have gone further, swearing off things like Super-PACs and high-donor fundraisers.

Tangle: What does lobbying without money look like? How would that work?

Williams: Well, you’d have clients that pay you, then you go to members of Congress and pitch your best story. That’s what it looks like. People still need to be heard, corporations still need to be heard, labor unions need to be heard, and they have the right. And my God, everyone has a lobbyist. Snack food industries have lobbyists. Nuns have lobbyists. Everyone has lobbyists, they just don’t know it. Trust me, they do.

Tangle: I’ve got one last question for you and then I’ll let you go. What can you tell me about how lobbying in D.C. is changing under Trump? I know he promised to “drain the swamp,” etc., but I’ve also seen some thorough reporting that regulatory lobbying has actually increased while he’s in office. I’m wondering if you have seen any changes from your vantage point.

Williams: Yes, I have. It’s increased dramatically. This idea that he’s “draining the swamp” is ironic on so many levels. One of his closest advisors, Corey Lewandowski — what is Cory Lewandowski doing right now? He’s over at the lobbying shop. Call it what it is, boys and girls. You have people trading on Trump’s name like crazy. It is as disgustingly gross as you can possibly imagine. Not because they’re lobbying, but because they spent so much time saying lobbying was bad and now they’re all doing it.

The hypocrisy is unimaginable. So consequently, I don’t need to be told by Donald Trump that he’s going to “drain the swamp.” You know why? Because I was told by Barack Obama he was going to drain the swamp, to change Washington. Do you know what Barack Obama did to change Washington and the lobbying scene? Absolutely nothing. Nothing. Hillary Clinton said exactly the same thing but on a smaller scale. Bill Clinton said exactly the same thing. George W. Bush: “we’re going to reform Washington.” Now perhaps I’m wrong or just live in a jaded world, but can someone explain to me exactly how any of those presidents, especially the current one, did anything to change lobbying and to drain the swamp? The answer is not a damn one did.

So how about we stop trying to “change Washington” and we look a little inward and figure out exactly what it is what they as politicians should be doing instead of what they’re currently doing. Because what they are currently doing doesn’t work and I’m tired of being lied to. The American people are tired of it, too. They have no say in Washington D.C. and how it will change. They don’t. Because Washington D.C. has never shown the American people an iota of proof, an ounce of proof, that it can be done.

I take that back. After the Jack Abramoff scandal, Nancy Pelosi changed a bunch of rules.* Including getting rid of earmarks, which was probably the dumbest thing that I’ve ever seen in my life.** I got why she did what she did with regard to lobbyists, but the change to get rid of earmarks is beyond stupid. The reason is because one-fifth of one percent of the entire federal budget was earmarked. There are thirteen appropriations bills. You know why Congress got appropriations bills passed back then? Because everyone got a little something-something for their district. That’s why. It’s the carrot versus the stick analogy. You can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Well, there’s no honey to be had in Congress today. They don’t give each other anything and jostle back and forth. I’m voting for a member of Congress because I want you to bring as much of my tax dollars back to my district as possible. There’s nothing else for you to do. Go get my money that I’m sending to Washington and bring it back to South Carolina, that’s what I want. That’s how I feel about all this. Members of Congress should just get up there and do better than they’re currently doing. Use the Melania Trump idea: just be better.***

I’ll add one more thing. I was having a conversation with a colleague this morning and we were talking about millennial votes. You’ve seen me tweeting about this probably. I don’t want to hear from someone that the future of the Democratic party is millennials.**** Because in 2016, when Donald Trump got elected, less than 50% of millennials showed up to vote. Less than 50%! Now in 2018 to their credit, 54% of them showed up. So they went up. That’s good. Because you put a guy like Trump in the White House all the sudden young people are like “whoa, what the hell is going on?” But my question to you is still: Where are the other 45% of you? What the hell are you guys doing? Don’t ask me to bail out your college debt when you can’t even show up to vote. I don’t believe this is about millennials or the gay community or the black community the privileged white community. It’s about all of them put together. If you can build that coalition you can become President of the United States.

I just feel like the future of the politics in this country are in a weird, weird place right now. There’s not a whole lot we can do about it right now when they think Washington is broken. When I worked for Dick Durbin, people would call up and I would say, “Well would you vote?” And they would say “well my vote doesn’t count.” I would want to just scream at them. Really? Do you really think your vote doesn’t count? That’s bullshit. Every vote counts. Every single vote counts. If you’re just throwing your hands up in the air and not even going to the polls, you’re admitting defeat already. And I don’t understand that mentality. That is averse to my DNA and my political position. People need to understand that Washington is not going to change itself. It doesn’t need to, all it needs to do is talk about it. If you don’t like the fact that Donald Trump is president, then show up and vote him out. If you want Bernie Sanders to be president, then you better show up and vote. If you want Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren, you better show up and vote. Don’t complain if Donald Trump wins again if you don’t show up.

* In 2006, American lobbyist Jack Abramoff was arrested and convicted of a series of federal corruption and tax evasion charges. His arrest led to one of the most far-reaching political scandals of all-time. The scandal revealed a system in which Abramoff was essentially selling earmarks to politicians in exchange for votes or other favors. Earmarks are defined differently by different groups, but they are basically provisions in legislation that allocate money to very specific people or causes. They were often used as add ons to bills as a negotiating tactic. Abramoff leveraged them to bribe public officials, as did many other lobbyists who would “sell” earmarks. In the wake of the Abramoff scandal, the Senate and House both passed bills to reduce and eliminate earmarks. In 2011, they were banned entirely.
**Some have made the case that banning earmarks is one reason Congress has become so unproductive in recent years.
***Melania Trump has an anti-bullying campaign whose slogan is “be best.”
****In 2017, millennials passed Baby Boomers as the largest age bloc of eligible voters in America.

Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter. Today is a special edition of Tangle: the transcript of a conversation with one of D.C.’s biggest insiders, a former lobbyist and MSNBC talking head Jimmy Williams. To subscribe to Tangle, drop your email address below.

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