Jul 28, 2020

Joe Biden's pick for vice president.

Joe Biden's pick for vice president.

Plus, my "beef" with Bernie.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that’s dedicated to helping you understand the best arguments from across the political spectrum. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to subscribe. You can try it for free, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email.

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Today’s read: 12 minutes.

The latest on Joe Biden’s pick for VP, I answer a question about Bernie Sanders and a very important “A story that matters” section.

National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice helps Vice President Joe Biden with a spot on his suit jacket in 2013. Rice has unexpectedly become a frontrunner in the vice president sweepstakes. Photo: The White House

Quick hits.

  1. The Republican coronavirus relief package was officially unveiled yesterday. Most notably, it cuts the $600 a week enhanced unemployment benefit to $200 until September, when it will be combined with state benefits to replace 70% of wages. The proposed change sets up a clash with Democrats over this and state funding issues. Because of how states process unemployment, the $600 a week unemployment benefit effectively expired this weekend, but its official expiration date is July 31. Bills like this are considered a starting point in negotiations, and — because of divisions in the GOP ranks and increasing public pressure over Congressional coronavirus response — many in D.C. view Democrats as having the upper hand.
  2. Attorney General William Barr is testifying Tuesday morning in front of the House Judiciary Committee. It took more than a year for Democrats to get Barr in front of the committee, and the hearing faced another delay this morning after Rep. Jerrold Nadler was in a minor car accident. Barr is expected to mount a strong defense of President Trump’s controversial use of federal agents in Portland and to tell Congress that the president has not interfered in Justice Department business, despite Barr intervening in several criminal cases to benefit allies of the president.
  3. Rep. John Lewis was honored in Washington D.C. yesterday as the “the conscience of Congress.” Lewis is the first African-American to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, a significant honor in Congress. The Atlanta Democrat served 34 years in the House of Representatives. “President Donald Trump told reporters Monday he would not make the trip to the Capitol to pay respects to Lewis,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. “The two had an antagonistic relationship, and Lewis considered Trump an illegitimate president.”
  4. The University of Notre Dame withdrew as host of the first planned presidential debate in September, citing the coronavirus pandemic. The debate was highly anticipated and marks the second time a debate plan has been changed because of the pandemic. The Commission on Presidential Debates said the debate will instead be co-sponsored by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
  5. Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue was criticized yesterday for running an ad against his Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, that enlarged the size of Ossoff’s nose. The ad said, “Democrats are trying to buy Georgia!” Ossoff, who is Jewish, called it the “least original anti-Semitic trope in history.” The Perdue campaign said it was an error made by an outside vendor they paid for the advertisement and immediately took it down.

What D.C. is talking about.

Joe Biden’s pick for vice president. A few weeks ago, Biden said the vetting process for vice presidential candidates would end on July 24th. That was Friday. Then, Biden said he’d start interviewing candidates personally. Reporters suspect that’s happening now. He also said he’d announce a pick in early August. August 1st is Saturday, and some insiders think we may know who his VP is by the end of the week.

As we come down the stretch, one name is gaining real traction: Susan Rice. Yesterday, Politico ran a story about the likelihood of Rice, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and United States national security adviser under Obama, being chosen. In it, Politico reports that Rice is a serious contender and in some circles is now considered the frontrunner. This morning, The New York Times’ lead politics story is headlined: “Susan Rice Wants to Run for Office. Will Her First Campaign Be for V.P.?" Last week, The Washington Monthly ran a story titled “The Case for Susan Rice.”

For weeks, California Sen. Kamala Harris has been the presumed frontrunner. Harris and Biden sparred on the campaign trail but she’s an experienced senator, a strong presence on stage and someone who could easily navigate the complexities of Congress. Both Harris and Rice are also Black women, a reality that is not lost on a campaign that’s trying to meet the moment and would love to shatter some glass ceilings.

“Privately, some in California Sen. Kamala Harris’ world have indicated that Rice could be Harris’ most formidable rival for the vice presidential slot,” the Politico story says.

If Biden sticks to the timeline he previously laid out, he will announce his decision in the next two weeks. I suspect it could be a little bit longer before we know for sure, but pundits, politicians and activists across the country have already made their case for who Biden should choose. We’re going to dive into those today. And, in case you missed it, I recently ranked Biden’s top five choices. It was a subscribers-only post from the end of June but I’ve unlocked it for anyone who wants to read it. You can check it out by clicking here.

What the right is saying.

Of all the choices Biden could make, Susan Rice is probably the one that would irk them the most. For conservative Americans, Rice is a household name for the blame she took in the Benghazi attacks, a coordinated attack against American ambassadors stationed in Libya in 2012. Though then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took much of the blame for the deaths of Americans in the attack, which hampered her own campaign for president, Rice’s name was often pinned to the tragedy by conservative media.

In The American Conservative, Barbara Boland said Biden picking Rice would “give Republicans an opportunity to resurrect Rice as their bogey-woman.” In the National Review, John McCormack said Rice is a “a creature of Washington” and warned that, compared to Florida Rep. Val Demings — a former police chief who is also Black — Rice would have far more trouble connecting with Americans.

“The contrast in demeanor and tone [between Susan Rice and Val Demings] is pretty striking,” McCormack said. “Rice comes across as cold and negative, while there is a certain warmth and positivity to Demings. Rice hammers the Trump administration, calling [it] ‘racist to its core,’ and repeatedly denounces the ‘disgraceful despicable lies that this president tells.’ Demings, by contrast, seeks to establish a sense of empathy with viewers, discussing how she grew up in the South as the daughter of a maid and a janitor.”

Many conservatives have also rallied around the “Tammys.” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is an Iraq war veteran, double-amputee and someone whose politics are nicely aligned with Biden’s: moderate left. In The Washington Post, Greg Olsen made the case for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Baldwin has progressive credentials, and is well to the left of Biden, but she’s also highly regarded by more moderate and economy-focused politicians on the right. She’s good at working across the aisle. Not only that, but she’s been dominant in Wisconsin politics — a crucial swing state that could clinch the election for Biden if he wins it.

“Baldwin’s selection would also make history of its own,” Olsen noted. “She is openly lesbian and became the first LGBTQ member from Wisconsin in the House, and from any state in the Senate… Baldwin, like Biden, has held political office nearly all of her adult life, winning her first election at the age of 24. She also prefers the background to the spotlight, working to forge legislation rather than jump in front of the cameras.”

What the left is saying.

You can find an advocate on the left for just about everyone. Still, there seem to be three names getting the most love right now: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Susan Rice and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Despite being dismissed as too progressive, last week, Robert Kuttner made the case that Warren actually improves Biden’s odds of getting elected more than any other option. “The assumption has been that he has to name a Black woman, to keep faith with the rising movement for racial justice,” Kuttner wrote, but recent polling upends that assumption. Warren out-performs Harris among black voters and independent voters in basically every category, including the economy and who would be best fit to take over for Biden.

“The other interesting finding is that Harris scores better among voters who say they will definitely vote for Biden (25 to 15 for Warren) but Warren does better among voters who are less sure of whether they are backing Biden (21 to 5),” Kuttner wrote. “In other words, Warren would help a lot more with undecided voters.”

In The Washington Post, Karen Tumulty made the case for Harris. Tumulty addressed rumors that Harris had fallen in the veepstakes because she had “no remorse” for being so tough on Biden during the campaign.

“If anything, Harris’s lack of ‘remorse’ should recommend her for the job,” Tumulty said, noting that President Barack Obama picked Biden for VP after the two sparred on the campaign trail. “She is an able debater, and a tough inquisitor in Senate hearings. Harris also has the perspective that comes from growing up as a nonwhite woman in this country.”

Meanwhile, the prospect of Rice is garnering both excitement and fear. Jonathan Alter made the case for Rice in his Washington Monthly op-ed referenced at the top of this newsletter: Rice and Biden know each other, trust each other, have a longstanding experience working together, and Rice could easily handle the foreign policy side of the White House while Biden focuses his energy on needs at home. Plus, she’s a Black woman who has spoken powerfully about her experience in America as a minority, something at the center of the conversation for the left.

And yet… there are concerns. The Daily Beast reported today that many Democrats are fearful choosing Rice would “reinvigorate Trump’s so-far flat attempts to recreate his 2016 win by sticking Biden with some of the same storylines that dogged Hillary Clinton in 2016.” Few names juice up the Republican base, fury, and fundraising like Rice. If Biden is looking to maintain his advantage and tap a “do no harm pick,” Rice shouldn’t be the choice.

My take.

There are so many options to get to here, but I’ll try to give you a brief breakdown of my thoughts. The idea here is Biden wants a candidate who both helps him win and is qualified enough to be president. Based on what we know, I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren is now Biden’s best option.

I had her ranked #2 at the end of June. But new polling has shifted my perspective. If the goal is to win in 2020, she’d unite the left more than any other option, she’s polling best on the economy with moderates and “she has a plan for that.” Her whole political persona is made for this moment — when Americans are desperate for a plan out of this mess. Anyone scared off by her progressive credentials probably wasn’t going to vote for Biden anyway, and inspiring turnout in a race where Biden already has an advantage seems like the easiest way to stop Trump. I don’t agree with all of her positions, but it’s also tough to argue that anyone has more experience. The former Republican turned progressive lefty has been crafting reforms in Congress for decades.

Susan Rice is an intriguing choice and I’ve been shocked to see her climb the ranks of possibilities recently. She didn’t even make my top five list at the end of June for Biden’s potential choices. The idea of her taking control of foreign policy while Biden focuses on coronavirus, race relations, health care and the economy is appealing. There’s something to having a complementary VP who can drop in and hit the ground running on a whole slew of issues that Biden can then turn his focus away from. But that requires faith in Rice’s foreign policy, which many people on the left (and almost all on the right) don’t have.

I still believe Sen. Kamala Harris is the most likely pick, but I also think she’s risky. “Kamala the cop” is a good nickname and it was well-earned. In this political moment, with police reform at the forefront of the conversation, how could Biden pick someone infamous for locking up parents of derelict students in California? I just think it would backfire spectacularly, despite the fact Harris would be a huge asset on stage and in the Senate.

Speaking of cops: At the end of June, my #1 ranking, based on who is the most qualified and who would best improve Biden’s chances, went to Florida Rep. Val Demings. I still think a former chief of police calling for police reform is a powerful dynamic. I still think a Black woman on the ticket is a powerful statement. I still think a popular Florida politician is a powerful advantage for Biden. I still think someone with relatively low name recognition who can shape their own narrative would be a powerful starting point for the Biden campaign. But somehow, Demings seems to have lost the powerful position she was in at the end of June. I’m not sure where she stands anymore, but — besides Warren — I think she’s the strongest bet.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin was not someone I had on my radar but Olsen’s piece in WaPo was compelling. Sen. Tammy Duckworth would probably lock up any remaining never-Trump Republicans who weren’t going to vote for Trump anyway, but that electorate is small — and Duckworth adds little from a progressive ideology perspective. She and Biden are already aligned on basically everything, and I don’t think she unites the left in the way Warren or Demings would.

Stacey Abrams, once considered a favorite, now seems firmly out of contention, which I think is smart. She was underqualified compared to the competition and was likely to bring some baggage when the opposition research dropped.

The final wrinkle: Trump is clearly struggling to campaign against Biden. As one strategist put it, Biden’s “culturally inconvenient for Trump: old, white, moderate Irish Catholic guy from Pennsylvania.” For the Biden campaign, the number one rule here is “do no harm.” They’re winning. Whatever Biden does, Trump’s attack line will be that Biden is 77, losing his marbles and his VP will one day be president. That could hurt Warren’s chances, and opens the door for someone we’re not yet considering who does well in an interview with Biden to get the nod. The next week should be interesting.

Trump’s “new tone.”

Over the weekend, President Trump was praised for his “new tone” on coronavirus after insisting Americans wear masks, wearing a mask himself and committing to coronavirus briefings again. But for the last 24 hours, he has drawn renewed criticism for sharing tweets claiming Dr. Anthony Fauci is complicit in a vast American conspiracy to harm U.S. citizens by preventing hydroxychloroquine from being used as a treatment.

He also elevated a doctor named Stella Immanuel from Houston who says face masks aren’t necessary to stop COVID-19 transmissions and insists hydroxychloroquine cures coronavirus. Immanuel, who is also a religious minister, has shared past medical advice that includes warnings about alien DNA in medicine, vaccines that prevent people from being religious, and that having sex with demons in your dreams can cause gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis. Videos Trump shared of Immanuel received tens of millions of views on Facebook alone.

Your questions, answered.

Asking a question is easy. All you have to do to reach me is reply to this email and write in. I answer a reader question in almost every newsletter. Give it a try!

Q: In this newsletter, you talk about how you view Bernie’s never-changing political stances negatively, and while I agree with you that not changing your opinion or stance on an issue when confronted with new information and experiences is a negative trait, the policies Bernie has fought for his entire life are progressive policies that have been successfully modeled by other countries for years and so perhaps he has examined new evidence for them but has still found them to be worthy and just.

— Jonah, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tangle: You raise a fair point. Criticizing someone’s ideas for being rigid or consistent brings up the conundrum that such a person’s ideas may just be right — so why should they change them?

When it comes to Bernie, I have criticized him most often because I don’t think his positions should be the same now as they were 30 or 40 years ago. That’s not to say I don’t agree with much of what he says: the corruption in Washington D.C., the struggle of working-class Americans, the need for more affordable health care. All of these are central to Bernie Sanders’ ideology and are things I fundamentally believe should be at the top of any politician’s list of priorities. I also think there are things Bernie has evolved on, and those things should be celebrated.

To more directly answer your question: the easiest stuff to knock Sanders on is the way he discusses and avoids criticism for past support for left-wing dictators abroad. The right often tries to hit Sanders for taking a “honeymoon in the Soviet Union” in 1988, where he criticized the United States’ housing costs and lauded the Soviet Union’s — even while the economy and political situation there were rapidly declining.

That’s a valid criticism but it doesn’t irk me too much. Far more frustrating is Sanders’ celebration of the Sandinista takeover in Nicaragua, and his inability to criticize the many human rights abuses committed by the Ortega dictatorship. At the time, he also contributed to Nicaraguan propaganda against U.S. reporters by calling the press “worms” because they published honest articles about the Sandinista regime.

He had similarly poor affinities throughout the 1980s — from opposing El Salvadoran governments that prevented guerilla takeovers to the glowing reports on life in Cuba despite the country being run by another insane, unhinged left-wing regime.

This isn’t to say Sanders is a communist or supporter of communism. I don’t think he is. There are also legitimate defenses of Sanders’ position as it relates to his opposition of the U.S. government trying to overthrow leaders in other countries.

But his present-day refusal to acknowledge those comments, and how poorly some have aged, is fairly Trumpian. When The New York Times reporters pressed him on it last year, he responded by talking about how he was right on Vietnam, right on Iraq and trying to prevent a war with Iran. All of which is true, and all of which are positions I appreciate and acknowledge him having (even when they were unpopular). But the response itself was a dodge. It would have been easier, and more honest, to just say “I was wrong.”

I also think there’s room to more closely analyze Sanders’ signature policy: universal health care. I’ve written supportively about the concept before, but it’s worth noting that Sanders has been beating this drum, too, for decades. Now it’s a popular refrain from Democrats on the campaign trail. So plus-one for Sanders. Right?

I’m not entirely sure. It’s worth noting he was incapable of getting single-payer health insurance off the ground, even in Vermont, his home state, where he’s governed seemingly since the beginning of time. Vermont is one of the healthiest states in the U.S., with low uninsurance rates, is spitting distance from Canada (where single-payer health insurance rules) and is small and homogenous, as The Wall Street Journal put it. In other words: it’s fertile ground to experiment with this policy. If Sanders couldn’t get single-payer off the ground there, how would he do it across the U.S.?

And if he can’t pull it off — maybe it’s worth re-thinking single-payer as the approach to getting every American access to health care. This isn’t a novel question. Sanders has been asked about it repeatedly, and he’s repeatedly dodged it, instead blaming the failures on other members of the Vermont government, as if the United States Congress will be more forgiving than a state where Sanders enjoys wide support.

Another good example is cannabis legalization. Sanders has been advocating this for decades, well before we had any serious research on the long-term impacts of smoking pot — especially on teenagers and Americans in their early 20s. I smoked pot regularly in college and a few years ago I endorsed marijuana legalization. I’ll transparently admit to still indulging here and there, though I smoke far less frequently than I did five or ten years ago. My point is I’m not some fear-mongering, anti-drug extremist and I don’t think moderate use of cannabis is dangerous for most adults. But legalization is a position I’ve recently moved a little on.

That’s because a slew of new research has tied habitual marijuana use to long-term mental health issues like depression and psychosis. Alex Berenson, who has unfortunately since transformed into a COVID-19 truther, wrote an excellent book last year about this called “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence.” The book set off a firestorm of controversy over cannabis. Some psychiatrists and physicians criticized Berenson’s book as “pop science.” Others wrote that Berenson made a fatal mistake of conflating causation with correlation and transformed semi-concerning research into alarming, definitive conclusions.

But what became clear from the book and the debate it set off was how much we still didn’t know, and how many risks associated with marijuana are still being debated on the science. This reality was best summed up by German Lopez of Vox, who wrote critically about the book but — even in his criticism — exposed the vastness of what we still had to learn:

“Far from declaring this issue ‘settled’, the National Academy’s report was extremely careful, cautioning that marijuana’s – and marijuana addiction’s – link to psychosis ‘may be multidirectional and complex’. Marijuana may not cause psychosis; something else may cause both psychosis and pot use. Or the causation could go the other way: psychotic disorders may lead to marijuana use, perhaps in an attempt to self-medicate.”

A different version of Sanders, one I’d prefer, would respond to the last decade of research on cannabis use by changing his position from recreational legalization to decriminalization — something that’s desperately needed to address the absurd punishments we impose on cannabis users (especially men of color).

Paradoxically, and relatedly, if I were running for office I’d advocate the decriminalization of all drug use and instead focus on addiction treatment, prosecuting dealers and violent criminals, and the over-prescription of pharmaceuticals. I’d advocate that because the model has worked elsewhere. But Sanders has done no such thing. Instead, he’s beating the same drum he’s beaten for decades — new information and evolving science be damned.

I like Bernie. As a politics reporter who has interviewed a load of politicians, and as an American, I appreciate what he represents. He’s far more honest than many of his colleagues and his consistency is endearing in many ways. As former lobbyist and D.C. insider Jimmy Williams told Tangle in January, Bernie is impossible to lobby and almost unapproachable unless you represent the working class.

That curmudgeon style “for the people” is something that makes me smile. It’s what makes Bernie Bernie. But I still think he has room to evolve, as we all do, and I still fundamentally reject the idea that consistent views are a virtue in and of themselves. They’re not. I believe all of our views should be evolving, so long as they are evolving for good reasons: in response to new data or life experiences, not political expediency or acrimony. Parsing the two isn’t always easy, but it’s the difference between an open-minded individual and a cynical flip-flopper. For better or for worse, I’m not sure Bernie is either.

A story that matters.

Two very different COVID-19 realities are arising in America. For white-collar workers who have financial assets, COVID-19 has actually improved many of their financial positions, Axios reports. Those workers are able to work remotely and have seen their stock portfolios and homes rise in value. In the meantime, the average blue-collar worker or small business owner has been crushed. For the half of the country that has no stock holdings, there is very little upside to this pandemic. Instead, it’s nothing but unprecedented job losses and business closures. Now, more than 20 million people are set to lose the $600 federal weekly unemployment benefit that was keeping them afloat. The vast difference in outcomes is shaping the future of U.S. policy and increasing an already vast economic class divide. Click.


  • 46%. The percentage of Americans who say they know someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
  • 18%. The percentage of Americans who say they know someone who has died of Covid-19.
  • 360. The number of delegates to the Democratic Convention who have signed on to a pledge to vote against the Democratic Party’s platform if it does not include support for "Medicare for All.”
  • 33%. The median global approval rating of U.S. leadership.
  • 32%. The median global approval rating of Chinese leadership.
  • 30%. The median global approval rating of Russian leadership.
  • 62%. The percentage of registered voters who say they would get a coronavirus vaccine if it becomes available.
  • 19%. The percentage of registered voters who say they would not get a coronavirus vaccine if it becomes available.

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Have a nice day.

In Chile, an intriguing new detection program is underway: coronavirus sniffing dogs. The Chilean police and a “veterinary epidemiologist” named Fernando Mardones are training four dogs to sniff out COVID-19 on people. The trainers are putting a gauze pad under the arm of COVID-19 positive patients for 15 minutes and then allowing the dogs to smell the gauze and sit down next to a patient with that specific scent. They hope that the dogs can identify COVID-19 patients in public places like schools, sporting events and bus stations in the future. It’s a novel approach that has people buzzing. "The selected dogs have years working on the detection of drugs, explosives and other types of things. For them, it is simply learning to detect a new smell, a new aroma," Mardones told CNN. Click.

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