The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice?




Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Wednesday! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, find us at @asimendinger and @alweaver22.

The first night of the Democratic presidential debates has arrived and all eyes are on Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission MORE (D-Mass.), who will be center stage on Wednesday night as she looks to continue her rise in the pecking order of 2020 Democrats and make her presence felt with voters and her opponents in Miami. 


The lead-up to Wednesday night’s debate has been ideal for Warren, who has been on helium watch for the past month as she has seen her stock rise and surpass Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission MORE (I-Vt.) in some polls. 


As Jonathan Easley and Amie Parnes write, Warren will be the only top-tier candidate on the stage on Wednesday as she shares center stage with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who has seen his stock plummet since he entered the race and posted a massive fundraising haul. Some believe that being the only candidate polling in double digits on stage could be of detriment.


However, she is known as a tough debater who has the ability to command a room, just as she does at her campaign rallies. 


"Warren has one of the easier debate strategies because what she's been doing on the campaign trail is already working, so just needs to keep doing that," said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. "A lot of people will be turning in for the first time so she just needs to keep telling her great policy ideas interwoven with her bio and personal stories like she has been on the trail."


While Warren will be on stage, Wednesday’s debate could be as much about who isn’t on stage. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Booker takes swipe at Biden criminal justice reform plan Panel: Has Joe Biden been wrong on everything for 40 years? MORE isn’t slated to debate until Thursday night, but he has found himself in the crosshairs of two of the main candidates at tonight’s debate. In recent weeks, Warren has hit him for his stance with credit card companies, while Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker takes swipe at Biden criminal justice reform plan Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration MORE (D-N.J.) got into a tussle with the former vice president last week over his past work with segregationist Dixiecrat senators in the late 1970s. 


Biden will loom large without being on stage Wednesday night as he continues to lead nationally and in all of the early primary states, while showing an ability to parry attacks  and avoid much of a dent in his support. 


Outside of the top candidates, the debates provide an opportune moment for candidates who have been unable to bust out of the low single digits and barely register in polls to make a name for themselves. As Max Greenwood and Julia Manchester write, it will be a big challenge for these candidates to make their mark with standout performances.


While the mountain for the candidates to climb is steep, many of them have nothing to lose at this point, and as the boxing analogy goes, a fighter with nothing to lose is a dangerous fighter, creating a sense of unease and volatility that could be on display in Miami.


The Washington Post: ‘Looking for fireworks’: How 2016 — and Trump — ushered in the era of the mega-debate.


The New York Times: Is Cory Booker too nice? (And is that bad?)


The Wall Street Journal: Debates put Democratic National Committee back in the spotlight.


The Associated Press: Zingers, breakouts and burns. What to watch in the debates.


Politico: Team Trump plans debate night offensive.


Karen Tumulty: Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration MORE steps out of her comfort zone — and it works.





CONGRESS & INVESTIGATIONS:  Former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Top Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction MORE has agreed to publicly testify to Congress on July 17 about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees announced Tuesday night (The Hill). Mueller previously said he would testify only to what is in the 400-page report released nearly three months ago, but his public presentation has the potential to reshape the political landscape around Trump’s reelection bid and a possible impeachment inquiry in the Democrat-controlled House (The New York Times).


> Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Harris, Nadler introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE (R-Ky.) is giving 2020 White House hopefuls a choice: Show up in the Senate to vote or hit the presidential campaign trail, reports Jordain Carney.


The Senate is moving forward with a mammoth defense bill and potentially a heated fight over President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE’s ability to take military action against Iran, even as Democratic senators who are also candidates are in Miami today and Thursday for presidential debates.


It’s one of the first high-profile examples of the crowded 2020 contest spilling over into the day-to-day running of the Senate, where seven lawmakers are competing for the Democratic nomination.


McConnell has relished the juggling act, taking multiple opportunities to hit Democrats over missed votes.


“Some of our Democratic friends need to go hit the presidential campaign trail. They can’t be here because they have to go campaign. Not one day but two. …They’re too busy to stay in the Senate and authorize the resources that our all-volunteer armed forces rely on,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate.





> Democratic leadership: It’s more than a year away from leadership elections, but House Democrats are already jockeying for position to eventually takeover the speakership and the upper rungs on the leadership ladder.


Although everything depends on what happens next November, House Democrats are trying to put themselves in a position to move up within the conference. Among those looking to move up are Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesWendy Davis launches bid for Congress in Texas 3,100 to be released from prison under criminal justice reform law House Democrats delete tweets attacking each other, pledge to unify MORE (D-N.Y.), the No. 5 House Democrat, Rep. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question CBC lawmakers rip Justice Democrats for targeting black lawmakers for primaries MORE (D-N.Y.), Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineBig Tech has big credibility gap Two Democrats vow to press forward on Trump impeachment Democratic lawmaker calls asylum, refugee programs 'crown jewel' of immigration system MORE (D-R.I.) and Rep. Primila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (The Hill).


> Drug pricing: The leaders of the Senate Finance Committee are in talks about a potentially sweeping deal to limit drug price increases in Medicare, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. 


Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBarr warns encryption allows 'criminals to operate with impunity' Grassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices Tech critics on both sides have it wrong: Section 230 is not a special privilege MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the panel, is pushing the idea to make drug companies pay rebates to Medicare if their prices rise faster than inflation. Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices Overnight Energy: Senators push back on EPA's new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Bipartisan senators fight 'political considerations' in EPA's new FOIA rule MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman, has not ruled the idea out, and discussed it with other Republican senators on the committee in a meeting last week. 


Some Republicans are pushing back on the far-reaching proposal, arguing it comes too close to price controls for drugs, which Republicans have long opposed. Drug companies are scrambling to figure out what is being discussed (The Hill).


The Hill: House approved a $383 billion spending package.




POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Bernie Sanders’s proposal to wipe out $1.6 trillion in student debt has broad support from the public, but it’s making one group uneasy: Democratic lawmakers.


Sanders’s plan is expected to increase the pressure on other 2020 Democrats and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but some are hesitant to do so for fear that they could be branded as socialists by Republicans who are hungry to lob the attack at any turn. 


However, dismissing Sanders out of hand will be tough for Democratic leaders, as he remains a popular figure in the party despite not being a Democrat (The Hill). 


> The president made a pair of high-profile endorsements on the Senate map Tuesday, giving his official blessing to Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric MORE (R-N.C.), both of whom are considered among the most vulnerable Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020. 


After losing to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) last November, McSally took up the remainder of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainStephen Miller hits Sunday show to defend Trump against racism charges Michelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Meghan McCain shares story of miscarriage MORE’s (R-Ariz.) term, but she has a tough road to hoe against Mark Kelly, who is challenging her. Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), has shown an unparalleled fundraising ability by Democratic challengers for the Senate. 


One boost for McSally this year is that she is not expected to face as contentious of a primary in 2020. Trump endorsed her in 2018 only after she made it through a three-way primary in mid-August, one of the latest primaries of the year (The Arizona Republic). 


In North Carolina, Trump endorsed Tillis after Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerWhite House officials defend budget deal amid conservative backlash Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal On The Money: Trump, Congress reach two-year budget, debt limit deal | What we know | Deal gets pushback from conservatives | Equifax to pay up to 0M in data breach settlement | Warren warns another 'crash' is coming MORE (R-N.C.) decided to forgo a primary bid and as Tillis looks to bring the party behind him in the state despite poor polling numbers at this early stage. In two polls released in recent weeks, Tillis trails two of his Democratic challengers, including state Sen. Erica Smith by seven points (The Hill). 


WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: The Trump administration’s much-criticized care of migrant children detained at the U.S. southern border, described by lawyers as “inhumane” at one Customs and Border Protection facility near El Paso, stirred House Democrats into adopting new requirements on Tuesday inserted into a $4.5 billion funding measure the House passed late on Tuesday (The Hill).


Earlier in the day, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled a set of changes to accommodate concerns, especially among progressive and Latino lawmakers, about conditions at the border, adding detailed standards to ensure that migrants held in detention facilities have access to adequate food, shelter, hygiene and translators following reports of unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiConservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Grassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices Why do Republicans keep trying to outspend Democrats in Congress? MORE (D-Calif.) agreed to the added language to gain support before the final 230-195 vote along party lines. With the clock ticking before lawmakers expect to leave Washington before a July 4th recess, the measure faces a veto threat from the White House and an uphill battle in the Senate, which has its own bill to address issues at the southern border (The Associated Press).


Department of Homeland Security: At the same time that lawmakers reacted to bleak headlines describing federal facilities for migrants, Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner John Sanders announced his resignation effective July 5 amid the uproar (The Associated Press).


Sanders said last week that detention conditions for migrants that are intended to be temporary had become longer-lasting in part because of holdups in appropriations and a surge in migrants that caused overcrowding.


Sanders is expected to be replaced by Mark Morgan, who has been leading Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since the spring. Morgan is seen as an outspoken supporter of Trump’s hardline immigration enforcement policies (USA Today).


House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDemocrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump MORE (D-Miss.) assailed the administration for creating what he described as “chaos” at DHS and for immigration policies he said are cruel and abhorrent.”


At the same time that conditions are described as unhealthy for migrant children, administration officials have said they want to send a message to immigrants in Central American countries not to try to come to the United States because their stays will be short and the conditions difficult.


In an exclusive interview with The Hill on Monday, Trump defended migrant detention conditions on his watch, arguing they are “better than they were under President Obama” (The Hill).


The Hill: Full text of the Trump interview, plus video from Hill.TV.


The New York Times: Migrant children moved back to troubled Texas border facility.


The Hill: ICE chief Morgan’s view: “Lawmakers failed us.”


> Iran: Days after saying he does not want war and prefers diplomatic discussions with Tehran, Trump threatened on Tuesday to obliterate parts of Iran if it attacks “anything American,” after Tehran said new U.S. sanctions shredded any chance of diplomacy, calling White House actions “mentally retarded” (Reuters). Meanwhile, McConnell opened the door to a Senate vote on Iran and war authorization (The Hill).


> Group of 20 Summit: Trump departs for Osaka, Japan, this afternoon to participate in the annual G-20 economic summit this weekend. Some analysts have dubbed the gathering “G-2” because of the planned meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump to try to jump-start trade talks between the two governments. Among the sticking points: the United States has told China it will not forfeit its option to impose tariffs as part of any agreement that may be reached on trade (Reuters).


In Japan, the president will also meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinDemocrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission How Mueller deputy Andrew Weissmann's offer to an oligarch could boomerang on DOJ Key Merkel ally set to test Trump amid tensions with Europe MORE, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. 


The president will fly to South Korea on Saturday to meet with President Moon Jae-in before he flies back to Washington late Sunday. The United States and North Korea are in talks to set up a third summit meeting about denuclearization between Trump and Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnDemocrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Human rights: Trump's trump card against China and North Korea Trump and Pakistan's Khan are a lot alike — but can they master the art of any deals? MORE, according to Moon (Reuters). 


> West Wing staff news: Trump and the first lady selected Stephanie Grisham, Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Mueller ahead of testimony Trump pays respects to late Justice Stevens at Supreme Court Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail MORE’s tough-minded communications director, to replace Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersBiden pledges return to daily press briefings as president Sarah Sanders: I will walk out of the White House 'with my head held high' Trump directs Pentagon to develop policy allowing service academy athletes to go pro right away MORE Sanders as White House press secretary and communications director (The Hill). The hybrid role sketched out for the East Wing loyalist who began volunteering in Trump’s campaign in 2015 suggests the president will continue to steer his own communications strategy.


The Hill: Who is Grisham?


Politico: Trump is tiring of acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyConservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Pelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill MORE.




The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: and We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


Iran's got 99 problems, and that's an opportunity, by James Durso, opinion contributor, The Hill. 


Democrats' debates risk 'McGoverning' their own nominee, by Bob Lehrman, opinion contributor, The Hill. 


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features Roland Martin, the host and managing editor of “Roland Martin Unfiltered,” to discuss the Democratic primary debate, and Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyCBP detains 3 children, all US citizens, at Chicago airport Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses MORE (D-Ill.), who looks ahead at Medicare’s future and Democrats’ policy ideas at 9 a.m. ET at or on YouTube at 10 a.m. at Rising on YouTube.


The House meets at 10 a.m. The Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing at 10 a.m. with representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter to examine “social media companies' efforts to counter online terror content and misinformation.”


The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020.


The president speaks at 11 a.m. to the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Policy Conference in Washington. Trump departs the nation’s capital at 1 p.m. to attend the Group of 20 economic summit in Osaka, Japan, later this week.  


Vice President Pence participates in a ceremonial swearing-in for U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Edward Crawford at 2 p.m. Pence holds a bilateral meeting with Nigeria’s vice president, Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo, at 3 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room.


Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrGraham says he will call Papadopoulos to testify Pelosi, Democrats launch Mueller messaging blitz The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike MORE addresses the U.S. Attorneys' National Conference at 9 a.m. at the Department of Justice.


Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike On The Money: Trump, Congress reach two-year budget, debt limit deal | What we know | Deal gets pushback from conservatives | Equifax to pay up to 0M in data breach settlement | Warren warns another 'crash' is coming Overnight Defense: Iran's spy claim adds to tensions with US | Trump, lawmakers get two-year budget deal | Trump claims he could win Afghan war in a week MORE speaks at 8:15 a.m. in Bahrain at the Peace to Prosperity Summit’s panel discussion with finance ministers about economic transformation. The conversation is live streamed.


Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoKudlow: 'The president doesn't make things up' Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Trump threatens Guatemala with penalties over migration MORE is in India where he meets with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


The Supreme Court will return to the bench at 10 a.m. to hand down rulings in some of the eight cases remaining this term.


The Hill at 8:30 a.m. hosts a “Future of Healthcare Summit,” which explores some of the biggest questions in health care with policymakers, health officials and industry leaders. Speakers include Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan Cassidy2 Republican senators introduce resolution to label antifa as domestic terrorists Finding a path forward to end surprise medical billing Liberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow MORE (R-La.); Dr. Amy Abernethy from the Food and Drug Administration; Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who advised the Obama administration during enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; and Steve Papermaster, the CEO of Nano Vision. Location: Long View Gallery in Washington, D.C. Information is HERE.  ★ The Hill’s “Future of Healthcare Special Report” is HERE. ★


U.S. Census: A federal appeals court on Tuesday allowed a district judge to reopen a case related to the origin of the Trump administration’s proposed addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census, which raised the prospect that the federal government might be unable to meet a deadline for completing census questionnaires that include the question. The development threw the controversial issue into turmoil just as the Supreme Court was expected to issue a ruling on the dispute this week (The New York Times). 


United Kingdom: Either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will be announced as Great Britain’s new prime minister on July 23 (Reuters).


State/City Watch: Illinois became the 11th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana and only the second to do so through the state legislature and not in an election (The Associated Press) … Mitsubishi announced it is moving its U.S. headquarters from California to Tennessee (The Associated Press) … San Francisco on Tuesday became the first city to adopt a ban on e-cigarette sales (CNN).


And finally … The city of Pascagoula, Miss., celebrated some unusual history last weekend, dedicating a historical marker at Lighthouse Park on the shores of the Pascagoula River. 


The occasion? The community marked the spot where Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker claimed in 1973 to be abducted by what they described as aliens that approached them while they were fishing. They said they were lifted aboard a UFO, examined by a machine shaped like a football-sized eyeball and by three robots, and then returned to Earth unharmed (The Clarion Ledger).


Hickson, then 42, and Parker, then 19, reported their experiences to the local sheriff’s department immediately on Oct. 11, 1973, and the pair were examined at a local hospital. 


Hickson died in 2011, and Parker published a book last year recounting an alien abduction tale that made the rounds worldwide for decades (The Associated Press).