The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats step up attacks ahead of Detroit debate

The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats step up attacks ahead of Detroit debate

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LEADING THE DAY: The Democratic primary saw its hottest week of fighting as candidates gear up for the pivotal second debate in Detroit next week that could be a make-or-break opportunity for several White House hopefuls

When former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden offers support to union organizing efforts Senate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Kavanaugh dismays conservatives by dodging pro-Trump election lawsuits MORE unveiled a wide-ranging proposal this week to combat mass incarceration, he had hoped to insulate himself from criticism of his criminal justice record ahead of the next presidential debate.


What he got, however, was a critic in the form of Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerObama says reparations 'justified' Congressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE (D-N.J.), another presidential hopeful, who accused Biden of worsening racial disparities within the criminal justice system by once supporting the 1994 crime bill widely credited with exacerbating mass incarceration.

That line of attack kicked off a series of swipes among the Democratic presidential candidates that may portend a new phase in the party's nominating contest.

Biden's campaign delivered a calculated rebuke of Booker's criticism, seeking to turn the tables on the New Jersey senator by highlighting his own criminal justice record. The former vice president also took a shot at Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBrown vows Democrats will 'find a way' to raise minimum wage Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson vs. Donald Trump: A serious comparison Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren MORE's (D-Calif.) insistence that a single-payer health care system could be paid for without a tax hike on the middle class.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill NFL's Justin Jackson praises Sanders for opposing Biden's USDA nominee MORE's (I-Vt.) campaign accused Biden of being disingenuous in his criticisms of "Medicare for All," suggesting that the former vice president was "standing with health insurance companies and not patients."

After months of relative calm on the campaign trail, the series of dust-ups suggest that the candidates are becoming more eager to go on the offensive against one another, as those at the top of the pack seek to maintain or accelerate their momentum and those further down scramble to improve their prospects of holding on to a long-term run.

The spats also highlight how the candidates are trying to harden their postures ahead of the second round of primary debates in Detroit next week, keenly aware of how drastically their debate performances can affect their standing in the race.

Biden, whose campaign took damage after a confrontation with Harris during the first debate last month, foreshadowed a more aggressive performance in the second round, saying at a fundraiser on Wednesday that he's "not going to be as polite this time."

 "If they want to argue about the past, I can do that," he said. "I got a past I'm proud of. They got a past that's not quite so good."

--Max Greenwood




The Hill: Team Biden fires back: You can't let people say bullshit and not respond to it.

The Hill: Biden defends his civil rights record at NAACP

The Hill: Booker, Biden clash on criminal justice

The Hill: Sanders campaign accuses Biden of 'lies' about 'Medicare for All'

The Hill: Biden says he doesn't need Obama as a 'crutch'

The Hill: Buttigieg defends campaign staff diversity

The Hill: O'Rourke pushes back on narrative he has fallen out of contention

The Hill: Gabbard says Harris 'not qualified' to be commander in chief




MUELLER TIME: Former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE delivered his long-awaited testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees this week, prompting a predictable show of partisan grandstanding from lawmakers. Mueller declined to answer a number of questions, and frequently responded with one-word answers to others. 

He did, however, hit President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE a few times, primarily on his conduct during the investigation, and most notably on the president's past praise for WikiLeaks. "Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some, I don't know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity," Mueller said in reference to Trump's previous comments on the organization. While Democrats have touted Mueller's testimony as an overall negative for the president, his testimony did not likely do much to move the party's sentiment on impeachment.


Read more: 

Five takeaways from Mueller's marathon testimony via The Hill's Morgan Chalfant, Olivia Beavers, Jacqueline Thomsen, and Maggie Miller 

Mueller testimony fails to move needle on impeachment via The Hill's Cristina Marcos and Mike Lillis 

The Memo: Mueller's stumbles distract from substance via The Hill's Niall Stanage 


The 2020 Democratic presidential contenders also followed Mueller's testimony by lashing out at Trump. 

Biden told reporters in Michigan on Wednesday that he thought it was premature to comment on whether he would prosecute Trump if elected president in 2020. 

"I'm not one of these guys, you know, lock him up or send her home or that kind of stuff," Biden said after Mueller told lawmakers he believed Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice when he is no longer president. 


Other candidates continued to dig in on their calls for impeachment.  


Read more: 

2020 Democrats double down on Trump attacks after Mueller hearings via The Hill's Rebecca Klar.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner Trump rules out starting a new party: 'Fake news' Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate MORE (R-Ky.) blocked two election security measures on Thursday, arguing Democrats are trying to give themselves a "political benefit," The Hill's Jordain Carney reports




A top Democratic strategist is projecting an extremely narrow victory for Democrats in the Electoral College if the election were held today. Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, has moved Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania back into the Democratic column, but only by the narrowest of margins, The Hill's Jonathan Easley reports.


PRE-DEBATE READ: TargetSmart Insights has a new report out today on the electorate in Michigan, as Democratic contenders head to Detroit for the second debate. The takeaway: Young voters are on the rise and will be key to winning the state in November. Read the full report HERE.


ECONOMIST/YOU GOV: Biden holds a 7 point lead over the Democratic presidential primary field with 25 percent support, according to the poll. He is trailed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who came in at 18 percent. Sanders came in at third place with 13 percent, while Harris and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Chasten Buttigieg jokes about his husband biking home from work MORE came in at 9 percent and 6 percent, respectively.


MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY: Biden holds a significant lead in South Carolina among Democrats, notching 39 percent support among likely primary voters in the state, according to the survey. Harris comes in second place at 12 percent. The survey found that attacks against Biden's civil rights record have not hurt him with black voters, who make up about 60 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina. Biden has 51 percent support among African Americans in South Carolina, followed by Harris at 12 percent.


FOX NEWS: Biden leads Trump by 10 points nationally. Sanders has a 6 point advantage over Trump, while Warren and Harris are in a statistical tie with the president, according to the poll.


The American Federation of Teachers commissioned a focus group through Greenberg Research & Democracy Corps taking a look at the views of white working class voters outside of metro areas in Wisconsin, Nevada and Maine. Read the full report here.




TEXAS SENATE: The crowded field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees MORE (R-Texas) got a little more crowded this week after state Sen. Royce West threw his name into the running. The longtime state lawmaker has been viewed as a potential Senate candidate for a while. But it wasn't until last month, after he met with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.), that he signaled that a run was likely.


The Hill spoke with West this week following his campaign announcement about his record, the political divide in Washington and why he thinks 2020 will be different for Democrats in Texas (the interview has been condensed and edited for clarity):


Q: There are a handful of Democrats running for Senate in Texas. What sets you apart?

A: The fact of the matter is you look at my record and you see a record of leadership and a wealth of knowledge and experience. I've been able to get things done in a Texas state Senate where I've served in the minority party as a minority.


Q: What kind of support have you received so far?

A: In the state Senate, there are 12 Democratic senators. Of the 12, 10 of them are supporting me. There are 67 House members. Of the 67, 47 are supporting me.


Q: Democrats seem more confident than ever that they can flip Texas. What makes 2020 different than 2018, when Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeTexas Republican criticizes Cruz for Cancun trip: 'When a crisis hits my state, I'm there' Progressives target 'Cancun Cruz' in ad to run on 147 Texas radio stations 'Get off TV': Critics blast Abbott over handling of Texas power outages following winter storm MORE was running?

A: This is the verge. This is what's going to determine this particular race: The president has divided this country like I've never seen it before. The fact is, I think people of good will want to make sure that the person that sits in that office can be respected by the people of this country.

I believe that Beto O'Rourke was not a political aberration. I think that it was part of a political trend, OK? I think that as a result of that trend, you will see that it's been trending in the direction where Democrats can finally win.


Q: What are some issues you think you can work across the aisle on in Washington?

A: I think we can work with the other side on the issue of health care, I think we can work with the other side on education, on criminal justice and hopefully on voting rights.

What I can do is sit down at the table and be the last one to get up. What I'm saying is I will sit there and try to find a solution to some of these problems.


> Elsewhere in Texas, Rep. Pete OlsonPeter (Pete) Graham OlsonHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Republican Fort Bend County Sheriff wins Texas House seat 10 bellwether House races to watch on election night MORE (R-Texas) announced Thursday he will not seek reelection, opening up a competitive race for a House seat that Republicans held narrowly in 2018, according to The Texas Tribune.


"One of the most diverse districts on the battlefield, Democrats can win this open seat." - Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Avery Jaffe.


Earlier this week, Rep. Paul MitchellPaul MitchellUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Growing number of House Republicans warm to proxy voting Juan Williams: The GOP's betrayal of America MORE (R-Mich.) announced he would not seek reelection. Mitchell's district is safely Republican.


More from Congress … Inside the progressive hunt for vulnerable House Democrats (The Hill) … Democrats hold a 7 point lead on the generic congressional ballot (The Hill). 




TRUMP MONEY: Donald Trump Jr.Don TrumpTrump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged Donald Trump Jr. attacks Cheney at CPAC: 'Lincoln Project Liz' Trump Jr. was deposed in inauguration funds probe MORE and former Fox News host Kimberly GuilfoyleKimberly GuilfoyleNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech Haley isolated after Trump fallout Noem to get fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago hosted by Donald Trump Jr. MORE headlined fundraisers for Trump's reelection campaign in California that brought in about $2.5 million over 48 hours last week. The swanky events drew big names from tech and sports, including Debby Magowan, who is part owner of the San Francisco Giants, and Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR, The Hill's Jonathan Easley reports. 


TOP FLIGHT: Buttigieg's campaign has spent roughly $300,000 on private jet travel so far this year, according to campaign finance documents. The expenses were first reported by The Associated Press on Thursday. A review of Buttigieg's filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show that the vast majority of his charter plane spending – at least $289,000 – came in the second quarter of the year, after Buttigieg's meteoric rise in the Democratic primary contest.

Chris Meagher, a spokesman for Buttigieg, told the AP that the campaign is "careful with how we spend our money, and we fly commercial as often as possible. We only fly noncommercial when the schedule dictates."

Buttigieg isn't the only candidate dropping campaign dollars on private jet travel. Biden spent nearly $257,000 on jet charters (his campaign told the AP the high price was due to the purchase of carbon offsets), Warren spent a little under $61,000, Sanders spent about $18,000 and Harris spent about $17,000, according to federal filings.


NEW DYNAMICS: The Club for Growth has been strategizing with a top super PAC supporting Trump's reelection campaign, a sign that the fiscally conservative group is moving closer to the president after fiercely opposing his 2016 presidential bid.The Club for Growth has not put any money directly behind ads supporting Trump's reelection bid. But Club for Growth President David McIntosh told The Hill that his group coordinated with the America First Action PAC, an outside group supporting Trump, before deciding to put its money behind attack ads targeting the Democratic presidential contenders, The Hill's Jonathan Easley reports.


TEXAS-21: Wendy Davis raised $250,000 in first 24 hours after her announced challenge to Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyHouse passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people GOP's Chip Roy vows to fight Equality Act in court Conservatives go after Cheney for Trump CPAC remarks MORE (R-Texas), The Houston Chronicle reports.






Warren heads to New Hampshire on Saturday, where she will hold a house party in Bow at 1:15 p.m. and a town hall in Derry at 3:30 p.m.


  • There are 185 days until the Iowa caucuses, 200 days until the New Hampshire primary, 211 days until the Nevada caucuses, 218 days until the South Carolina primary and 221 days until Super Tuesday.




Inside the fight for the future of the Democratic Party, by Time's Molly Ball.

Trump's racial politics will backfire on him in 2020, by The Atlantic's Ronald Brownstein.




YOGA WITH THE CANDIDATE: Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanTim Ryan: Prosecutors reviewing video of Capitol tours given by lawmakers before riot Acting chief acknowledges police were unprepared for mob Six ways to visualize a divided America MORE (D-Ohio) is trying to find his zen with voters. The longshot presidential hopeful is giving donors who contribute to his campaign before Aug. 1 the chance to win a trip for two to New York for the congressman's "Healing America Through Mindful Leadership" sesh. 



We'll see you next week for more campaign coverage!