Plus, an important FDA story about the drugs you're taking.
Today’s read: 7 minutes.
The Warren-Sanders “feud” that really isn’t, an important story about the drugs you’re taking and a question about partisanship.
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What D.C. is talking about.
The “Warren-Sanders” beef. After it bubbled for a couple of weeks, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are experiencing some friction. Longtime friends in the Senate who are viewed as broadly sharing the same progressive principles, Sanders and Warren’s “beef” broke out into the open yesterday with this CNN story: “Bernie Sanders told Elizabeth Warren in private 2018 meeting that a woman can't win, sources say.” CNN cited four anonymous sources who described a December 2018 meeting where Warren shared her plans with Sanders to run for president and the two agreed to keep it friendly so as not to hurt the progressive movement. Via CNN:
Warren laid out two main reasons she believed she would be a strong candidate: She could make a robust argument about the economy and earn broad support from female voters. Sanders responded that he did not believe a woman could win.
Of course, this immediately set off a firestorm. Sanders called the claims “ludicrous” and his supporters accused Warren’s campaign of dirty politics. Warren supporters said it’s the latest example of sexism in Sanders’ ranks, something he’s been accused of since the Democratic primary in 2015. Warren later confirmed the story with a curt statement that included this line: "I thought a woman could win; he disagreed." This story comes just a day after POLITICO ran the headline “Sanders surges as progressives flock to him over Warren” and only a couple days after reports broke that Sanders’ door-to-door volunteers had a script framing Warren as a candidate of the elite.
What the left is saying.
It’s a bit chaotic. When the story first broke, Warren’s camp stayed silent. As Jonathan Swan noted, that’s a tell-tale sign they were going to let the story run instead of shooting it down, which gave the whole thing a lot more oxygen. Shaun King, a far-left activist and Sanders surrogate with his own history of bending the truth, claimed he had a “source” that said Warren “embellished” the story to friends. He later claimed vindication when a Washington Post report said: "One of the people with knowledge of the conversation said Sanders did not say a woman couldn’t win but rather that Trump would use nefarious tactics against the Democratic nominee." Other Sanders supporters pointed to his record to frame the allegations as absurd: many shared a video from 1988 where Sanders says “in my view, a woman could be elected president” or pointed to widespread reporting from 2016 that Sanders encouraged Warren to run and only entered the race when she declined. Moira Donegan, a columnist at The Guardian, said she hoped the episode “will prompt Sanders camp to evaluate the sexism within their movement, and recognize that it will inhibit their noble policy goals.” One CNN pundit said “it does kind of seem like something we could see him saying because he has had this gender problem historically.” A lot of progressives between Bernie and Warren said the whole thing reeked of a lazy media grasping at a new storyline and trying to turn the progressive caucus against itself in favor of a moderate.
What the right is saying.
The right is reveling in it. For many pundits and politicians who are conservatives, they are often the targets of liberals’ claims of sexism, racism, xenophobia, etc. To see two progressive darlings and their supporters go after each other over a vague accusation of sexism is a perfect encapsulation of 2020 politics — one that vindicates their allergy to identity politics or political correctness. Ben Shapiro called the story “delicious.” Ross Douthat at The New York Times said Warren’s campaign “has been punctuated by three bold moves: The DNA test, the all-in for Medicare for All before they had a plan, and now this Bernie gambit. They should hope the third time’s the charm.” Sean Hannity celebrated the “socialist showdown.” Warren is widely viewed as a dishonest politician by the right, so most of the reactions could be classified as “pro-Bernie.” The skepticism that Warren was telling the truth was everywhere, and if conservatives weren’t celebrating the brewing controversy outright they were openly deriding Warren for playing “dirty politics.”
For the most part, I think it’s nonsense. I’ll tell you why: a few months ago, when Pete Buttigieg was getting into the race, I told a friend that I didn’t think he could win because he was gay. My view was (it has since changed, based on the polling I’ve seen) that there were too many Americans with homophobic inclinations for Buttigieg to win valuable swing states. That’s not a comment on the abilities of a gay man or the LGBTQ community, it’s a comment on the failure of Americans and their open-mindedness. I don’t think someone’s sexual orientation is anyone’s business or makes them any less or more in any way. But I’m aware of the reality a lot of Americans do.
So, assuming for a moment that Bernie said exactly what Warren says he said, do I think that’s sexist? Or is it a comment on a woman’s abilities or capacity to be president? No. I think it’s a comment on the failure of Americans and their open-mindedness. I don’t believe it’s sexist to think a woman would struggle to win the presidency, I think it’s sexist to believe a woman couldn’t perform the duties of the president. And, like I was wrong about Buttigieg, I think (if it’s true) Bernie is wrong about Warren: I believe America is ready for a woman to be president, and I absolutely believe Warren could win if she gets the nomination. As Sanders himself said while denying the content of the story:
"Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016."
Based simply on the fact that Sanders pushed Warren to run in 2016, which was reported a number of times in a number of different places, I think it’s absurd to conclude that he believes a woman couldn’t be or shouldn’t be president. And as a reporter who has sat in on the morning pitch meetings, I absolutely understand how a story like this takes off. Sanders-Warren is a juicy and tempting tale of two friends with very similar policy stances who also have stark differences and are trying to distinguish themselves from each other. It’s easy to reach for the signs their relationship is fraying, but my bet is at tonight’s debate they will both signal unity. The reality is there are far more important things going on in our country than this story, and I imagine both Sanders, Warren and each of their supporters will try to re-focus Democrats on those issues. Nobody, by the way, is benefitting more from this story than Biden, who is now holding slim to large leads in each of the first four states in the election while his two biggest challengers are being pitted against each other in the news.
Your questions, answered.
Q: How worried should we be about the general health of American democracy that impeachment has somehow gone into this extremely partisan territory? We have GOP Senators openly admitting they want a quick trial, getting on TV and admitting that before hearing all of the facts that they've "made up their mind,” and rejecting witnesses that would be crucial to the trial. I don't think this is how it was done during Clinton's impeachment or even when Republicans were calling for Obama to be impeached. What do you think?
- Jimmy, New York, NY
Tangle: Pretty worried! Partisanship is one of the issues in America that there doesn’t seem to be a good solution to. It’s also one of the reasons I started Tangle. Three years ago, the Pew Research Center released a study that America’s partisanship had waded into new territory. Last fall, a follow-up study found it had only gotten worse under Trump. Partisanship is more intense and more personal now than it’s ever been since Pew started tracking the data, with 79% of Democrats giving a “cold” rating to Republicans and 83% of Republicans giving a “cold” rating to Democrats. In March of 2016, those numbers were 61% and 69%, respectively.
My hope from the beginning has been that this newsletter can successfully present the best arguments in politics and give people more (and better) exposure to views that they don’t hold themselves. While Fox News might run clips of the most far-left professors in America making a bold and offensive politically-charged comment about conservatives, I want to share arguments and perspectives that I think are both representative of how large swathes of people think and — if not stated otherwise — reasonable and attached to reality.
What’s happening in Congress started a long time ago but is hitting a fever pitch now. I’ve written before about the fact that there are a lot of issues Americans actually agree on, but our representatives are a lot like the general population: more polarized and divided than they’ve been in decades. This was first visible during Obama’s presidency when everything was a scandal and Obama was treated with more disrespect and vitriol than any president before him. Trump often claims that he is the most disrespected, victimized president of all time, the former of which may now be true (he’s one of the least liked ever). But he conveniently forgets that he led a right-wing crusade claiming Obama — the first black president — wasn’t even American. It’s tough to imagine anything more offensive or deriding than that.
What was true about Obama was that he had celebrity status, unlike most presidents before him, that made it hard to get through to his supporters when he defiantly broke promises to reign in Wall Street or when he killed civilians in the Middle East with extrajudicial drone strikes. What we’re seeing under Trump, though, is a whole other level of blind support. It’s a cult of personality that relies on a conservative media ecosystem and a few dozen unflinchingly loyal politicians to talk him out of every blunder, mistake or uniquely absurd and offensive thing he does or says.
Trump has inundated the airwaves with so much negative news that many Americans have simply given up on keeping track. Even Republican Mitt Romney, who is perhaps the least loyal to Trump of any sitting Republican politician, said this week that he didn’t have time to respond to every offensive Trump tweet. His comments came after Trump shared a photograph of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in Muslim garb, which his press secretary later justified by saying it was to illustrate Democrats’ siding with terrorists, apparently unaware how offensive it was to equate Muslim garb with terrorism.
All of this has culminated in a Congress paralyzed by partisanship. For Republicans, turning against Trump is a death sentence — so they never do it. For Democrats, uttering a kind word about a Trump policy is politically dangerous — so they rarely give him credit even when credit is due. Impeachment has shown that many Republicans, even in the upper chamber, will refuse to look at evidence that may be an indictment on the Trump administration because they understand he’s a means to an end: conservative judges, conservative policies, keeping Democrats out of the White House. I’m not really sure where we go from here, but I will tell you definitively that Trump — and his supporters — have changed the standards of the office for good. I don’t really know how this genie goes back into the bottle and I am absolutely worried about what happens in the post-Trump world. It’s not hard to imagine a post-Trump liberal president who uses all the same brazen tactics he has to solicit support and keep it, even through scandal. I wish I could give you a more optimistic take than that, but I really can’t.
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Things are about to get interesting. The House is expected to send over articles of impeachment to the Senate as early as Wednesday. Senate Republicans seem to be softening on their stance that they would move toward a quick dismissal. In fact, several key Republicans ruled out a total dismissal of the charges on Monday, saying they would instead proceed to a trial with arguments and kept open the possibility they’d call forward more witnesses. Three senators — Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, and Mitt Romney — all explicitly said they’d be open to calling new witnesses if they felt it was appropriate. While it’s still inconceivable the Senate would remove Trump, the latest signals point to a trial that could be more politically damaging for him than Republicans initially thought. Click.
A story that matters.
The FDA is getting a lot faster at approving drugs, but the proof those drugs work or are safe is getting weaker and weaker. That’s according to new research from Harvard Medical School’s Program on Regulation, Therapeutics and Law. For years, public health advocates have been pushing to speed up the FDA’s process for approving drugs, which has often kept life-saving treatment out of the hands of desperate patients. But now that the process is getting faster, researchers are seeing the downsides of speed. “Almost half of recent new drug approvals were based on only one pivotal clinical trial instead of the two or more that used to be the norm, according to the study published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association,” NPR reported. The study’s lead author said there has been a “gradual erosion of the evidence” required for FDA approval. Click.
- 7. The number of consecutive months border crossings from Mexico to the U.S. have fallen.
- 85%. The percentage of House Democrats who held a town hall in 2019, according to 2019 Congressional Accessibility Report from Town Hall Project.
- 45%. The percentage of House Republicans who held a town hall in 2019, according to 2019 Congressional Accessibility Report from Town Hall Project.
- 47%. The percentage of Senate Democrats who held a town hall in 2019, according to 2019 Congressional Accessibility Report from Town Hall Project.
- 23%. The percentage of Senate Republicans who held a town hall in 2019, according to 2019 Congressional Accessibility Report from Town Hall Project.
- 100%. The percentage of freshmen House Democrats who held a town hall in 2019 (63 of 63).
- 6%. The lead Joe Biden has over Bernie Sanders nationally, the top two polling Democratic candidates, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.
- 1,000. The “unprecedented” estimated number of staffers Michael Bloomberg is now employing across the U.S., according to Politico.
Reminder that tonight is the seventh Democratic debate. It will be broadcast live on CNN and begins at 9pm EST in Iowa. I’ll be covering the debate in tomorrow’s Tangle, so feel free to skip it if you’ve got better things to do (like sleep!). Here are the six candidates who will be on stage:
- Bernie Sanders
- Pete Buttigieg
- Elizabeth Warren
- Joe Biden
- Tom Steyer
- Amy Klobuchar
Have a nice day.
An Iowa woman is being honored for fostering more than 600 children and turning her home into a safe haven where any child could be given shelter, food, clothing and “endless amounts of love,” according to CNN. Linda Herring is now 75 years old, but for the last five decades, she’s been fostering children in need of a home. She formally adopted three of those children and has five biological kids on top of that. As of 2017, 397,122 children were living without permanent families in the foster care system. Click.