Kennedy deplores anti-trans violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) said he sees a connection between Trump’s policies and anti-trans violence on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The anti-trans policies of the Trump administration were a key focus Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference hosted by Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), who deplored anti-trans violence in recognition of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Kennedy, chair of the congressional Transgender Task Force, said at the beginning of news conference 30 transgender people were killed in the United States in 2019 and 331 internationally, citing a newly recently report from Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide. 

“We must be explicit about who we recognize, and who we mourn,” Kennedy said.

On the same day as the news conference, Kennedy introduced in the U.S. House a resolution recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Kennedy identified a general system failing transgender people as among the things to mourn on this occasion, but also pointed to the anti-trans policies of the Trump administration.

“We mourn an administration that has made a disgusting habit to demean and devalue trans Americans from the classroom to the boardroom, from the battlefield to the hospital to those who chose violence motivated by hatred, bigotry and ignorance,” Kennedy said.

Among other things, the Trump administration has banned transgender people from enlisting into the armed forces and gutted regulations prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in health care and homeless shelters.

House Democratic Vice-Chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) took the Trump administration to task in particular for the proposed rule change within the Department of Housing & Urban Development rolling back protections for transgender people at homeless shelters.

“A significant number of transgender individuals experience homelessness and are sexually assaulted during their stay at a shelter,” Clark said. “Rather than put in place additional protections, the Trump administration has dismantled the Equal Access Rule, which is meant to ensure transgender individuals have a safe place to seek refuge.”

Asked by the Blade whether Trump himself is responsible for anti-trans violence, Kennedy affirmed a connection between his policies and violent acts.

“I think it’s impossible to divorce the lack of protections coming out from the highest office in our land with the elevated rates of violence, and to not draw that connection,” Kennedy said.

Also speaking at the news conference was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who spoke in solidarity with transgender people.

“The levels of violence at this point that are directed agents the transgender community throughout our nation is unconscionable, is un-American, is unacceptable,” Jeffries said.

In attendance at the news conference was Toni-Michelle Williams, the new executive director of the Solutions NOT Punishment Collaborative, which seeks to improve the lives of black Americans.

Pointing out much of anti-trans violence is committed by black hands against black people, Williams asked Jeffries what he’d tell his black son. The New York lawmaker called it “an important question.”

Jeffries said he has two sons who are both teenagers, grew up in tolerant communities and have family members belonging to different religion, races, sexual orientation and genders.

“I think we can all do a better job within the African-American community and beyond to understand the value and the humanity, the soulfulness of every single human being regardless of not just race and gender obviously, or religion, or regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Jeffries added.

A guest at the news conference was Angelic Ross, a transgender woman and actor who’s appeared on “Pose” and “American Horror Story.”

“I may be a face, I may have some privilege, but not everyone in our community has access to the same opportunities and privileges, and it needs to be always at the first and foremost of our minds when we talk homeless, health care, we’re talking about employment,” Ross said.

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers lawsuit seeking clarification on whether LGBT people have protection under federal civil rights law, Ross pointed out the Trump administration has argued transgender people should be excluded from them.

Ross, however, interjected amid the questioning to say Trump shouldn’t the sole focus in terms challenges facing transgender people.

“To the question about is Trump responsible for a lot of the anti-trans and homophobic rhetoric? No,” Ross said. “Is he helping to bring of it the surface? Yes.”

Ross said too much focus on Trump would make into a “scapegoat” when there are other issues at play.

“There’s a lot of well-meaning people who have supported Trump along the way, whether they know it or not, in policy…and through action, so I think the time for people look at Trump’s administration as a reflection,” Ross said. “This is not about Trump. This is about us as Americans. Who are you in the time of the Trump administration and what will you allow, and what will stand up for?”

In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which make hate crimes against LGBTQ against federal law.

Asked by the Blade whether the law and enforcement of it is adequate, Kennedy expressed an openness to change and brought up legislation he introduced in the U.S. House prohibiting the use of anti-LGBT panic as a defense in federal courts.

In more than 40 states, Kennedy said, and in the federal government, using the gay or trans panic is still an accepted plea when charged in the courts with committing an act of anti-LGBT violence.

“So because of who you are, if I happen to attack you, if somebody happens to commit a violent act, it justifies that violence, which is literally the definition of a hate crime, so there’s far more that our country can do,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy held the news conference as he’s challenging Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in a Democratic for his seat representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. The primary date is Sept. 15, 2020.

Asked by the Blade whether Markey is doing enough on the issue, Markey declined to criticize the senator and instead issued a general call to action.

“I think Sen. Markey has been a strong champion on this issue,” Kennedy said. “I think he’s a got a record of support of here, and I think many of us do. The fact is that we have to be able to do more, have to be doing more.”

POLITICO’s 2020 election forecast

Editor’s Note: This edition of Morning Score is published weekdays at 10 a.m. POLITICO Pro Campaign subscribers hold exclusive early access to the newsletter each morning at 6 a.m. Learn more about POLITICO Pro’s comprehensive policy intelligence coverage, policy tools and services at

— POLITICO unveils its 2020 election forecast: Right now, the presidency is too close to call, with both congressional chambers likely staying in control of the party that currently holds them.

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— As Pete Buttigieg rises in early-state polling, he becomes a big target for tonight’s debate, with many Democrats expecting him to draw a lot of fire tonight.

— The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Democratic dark money network, flooded more than 100 left-leaning causes with $141 million of spending in the midterms.

Good Wednesday morning.. Email me at, or DM me at @ZachMontellaro.

Email the rest of the Campaign Pro team at,, and Follow them on Twitter: @POLITICO_Steve, @DanielStrauss4, @JamesArkin and @allymutnick.

Days until the POLITICO/PBS NewsHour Democratic primary debate: 29

Days until the Iowa caucuses: 75

Days until the 2020 election: 349

UP FOR GRABS — The moment you’ve all been waiting for: POLITICO is launching our 2020 election forecast, which rates every election in 2020 from the electoral college and control of both chambers of Congress to the gubernatorial mansions up for grabs.

Campaign Pro’s Steve Shepard is once again heading up our ratings project, after rating only 22 House seats as a toss-up before the midterms and missing just three (so if you have any complaints, make sure you email him and not me). You can read his introduction to this cycle’s ratings here.

Right now, we’re projecting that the Senate remains in Republican hands. Democrats need to pick up four seats to win a majority, and even with a lot of Republican seats up for grabs this cycle, Democrats face an uphill battle to taking control. Democrats have a hard battle ahead of them defending Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama, perhaps the cycle’s most endangered incumbent. If they lose Alabama, they need to flip the three seats Steve has in the toss-up category — Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina — and then flip one more seat that’s rated lean Republican right now: Iowa, Maine, Texas or one of the two seats in Georgia.

But Democrats are favored to retain control in the House. Right now, POLITICO has 211 seats as leaning Democratic or better — six seats short of a majority, but much closer than the Republicans, who have 192 seats leaning in their direction. A new congressional map in North Carolina also eases Democrats’ path somewhat, pending a final resolution from the courts.

The big prize — the White House — is still too close to call. Right now, we rate 222 Electoral College votes leaning toward the Democrats, and 204 as leaning toward the Republicans, with a whopping 112 electoral votes still up for grabs. In the tossup category: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida and Nebraska’s 2nd District. One reason for all the toss-ups: the still-wide-open race for the Democratic nomination.

As for governors, of the four large-to-medium-sized states up next year, two are more competitive: Missouri (lean Republican) and North Carolina (toss up).

THE DEBATE STAGE — Buttigieg is rising in early state polling and now has a big target on his back in tonight’s debate. “That surge in the early states comes with the glare of additional scrutiny, including on his struggles appealing to African American voters in other states, and the growing likelihood of attacks from Democratic opponents eager to blunt Buttigieg’s rise and regain momentum of their own,” POLITICO’s Elena Schneider wrote from Atlanta. “I remember being in the lead,” Howard Dean told her. And “the other candidates are going to come after you, try to knock you off your perch.”

COALITION BUILDING — Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are battling over Latino voters. “Biden is relying on support from Latino and Black voters to keep his campaign alive and collect large sums of delegates to the Democratic National Convention even if he struggles in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders’ strength with Latino voters is a direct threat to that strategy,” HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard wrote.

AD WARS — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock released a new ad, which opens with the crowd at the World Series in Washington chanting “lock him up,” at President Donald Trump. “As a sitting president, Donald Trump can’t be prosecuted. And the truth is, if he’s reelected, he never will be — because the statute of limitations will run out,” Bullock said in the ad. “I’m Steve Bullock, and I won’t promise to lock up my opponent. But as the only Democrat running who won a state Trump won, I will promise this: After I beat Trump, I’ll empower prosecutors to follow the evidence all the way to the top.”

— Biden’s campaign released an ad with Iowan Chrissy Simonds praising him for pushing for the Violence Against Women Act. “Joe Biden became my hero that day because he didn’t even know me and he was fighting for me and my son,” she said in the ad. The ad ends with the tag line “Joe Biden has always stood with survivors.”

CAMPAIGN CHATTER — Kamala Harris dismissed concerns that her campaign was in a tailspin in an interview with The Nevada Independent’s Megan Messerly. “I’m not going to focus on the gossip about the campaign,” she said. “The challenge for me is to be in all of the places where I need to introduce myself to people, which is why I’m spending time here in Nevada, which is why I’m spending time in Iowa.” Harris also said “one of the challenges” her campaign has is “we’ve got to raise the money to be able to be on TV” (and reread POLITICO’s Chris Cadelago on said tailspin).

— Deval Patrick defended his time at Bain Capital, the company that Democrats spent the 2012 cycle ravaging to sink now-Sen. Mitt Romney. “It’s not the cartoon, God bless ’em, that was painted in the 2012 campaign,” he told the AP’s Alexandra Jaffe. “And this is what we do, right? We pick a villain, we decide we’re gonna make a caricature of him or her, and we run with that. That’s not what I’m about.” He also said he thought some Democrats spent too much time attacking business: “I’m not gonna say, ‘and therefore we shouldn’t have business.’ We can have capitalism that is humane. And I don’t think that attacking any one company or any one sector is productive.”

POLLS POLLS POLLS — The CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll from Selzer & Co. found Democratic caucusgoers split on health care. 36 percent said they’d back creating a Medicare for All plan that “eliminates private health insurance,” while 34 percent prefer a public option “that people can choose to buy into.” Twenty percent said they’d prefer to “restore the Affordable Care Act provisions that have been lost and work incrementally” from there (500 likely caucusgoers; Nov. 8-13; +/- 4.4 percentage point MOE).

THE BATTLEGROUNDS — Immigrants who have recently become American citizens could be influential in 2020 battlegrounds, according to an analysis from New American Leaders, a group that helps immigrants run for office, POLITICO’s Laura Barrón-López reported.

HIM AGAIN! — Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee appears to be inching toward running for president as a Libertarian. “Chafee was in Miami over the weekend for the quarterly meeting of the Libertarian National Committee, where he became a ‘life membership level’ donor and met with party activists,” The Boston Globe’s Dan McGowan wrote.

ENDORSEMENT CORNER — Senate Democrats have largely sat on the sidelines in the 2020 primary after rushing to back Hillary Clinton in 2016, POLITICO’s Burgess Everett wrote.

— Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) endorsed Biden’s campaign. Check out our full endorsement tracker for more.

DARK MONEY — The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Democratic dark money nonprofit, flooded the midterms with $141 million worth of spending. POLITICO’s Scott Bland and Maggie Severns: “The money contributed to efforts ranging from fighting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other Trump judicial nominees to boosting ballot measures raising the minimum wage and changing laws on voting and redistricting in numerous states. The spending was fueled by massive anonymous donations, including one gift totaling $51.7 million.” Here’s the group’s tax filing (most of the group’s donors will remain anonymous because it is a “social welfare” group.)

More from Scott and Maggie: “The group’s 2018 fundraising surpassed any amount ever raised by a left-leaning political nonprofit, according to experts, who pointed to the Koch network and the Crossroads network as rare right-leaning groups that posted bigger yearly fundraising totals at the height of their powers.”

THE HOUSE MAP — Democrats still haven’t recruited a top-tier challenger to GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in PA-01, even as they’ve seen success in local elections in the area. “Behind the scenes, Democrats are worried that their big wins in former GOP strongholds like Delaware, Chester, and Bucks Counties won’t translate to success,” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Andrew Seidman wrote. “It’s still relatively early in the election cycle, and the search for a new candidate is ongoing.” Seidman reported that the DCCC tried and failed to recruit both former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) and Diane Ellis-Marseglia, who won reelection as a Bucks County commissioner recently.

— House GOP leaders are pushing their rank-and-file members to help out Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has been under the bright lights in the impeachment inquiry, POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt writes in to Score. During a closed door conference meeting on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise urged lawmakers to donate to Stefanik. McCarthy also announced that leadership would be hosting a fundraiser for her (for what it is worth: Steve rates NY-21 as likely Republican).

— Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) endorsed former Rep. Karen Handel as she vies for a rematch with freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath in GA-06, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein.

FIRST IN SCORE — AD WARS — Need To Impeach is launching a new ad in Kentucky criticizing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead of a possible impeachment trial in the Senate. “Will Mitch McConnell do his job and protect our democracy or will he cover up wrongdoing?” a narrator asks in the ad. The organization is spending $40,000 in the Cincinnati market to air the aid, and potentially expanding the buy statewide, Campaign Pro’s James Arkin writes in.

— FIRST IN SCORE — Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund is launching a $200,000 digital campaign against a handful of Senate Republicans. The ads will hit Sens. Martha McSally (Ariz.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rick Scott (Fla.), David Perdue (Ga.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), McConnell, Thom Tillis (N.C.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Romney.

— Rocky Mountain Values, a Democratic dark money nonprofit, is up with an ad hitting Gardner over prescription drug prices: “Call Cory Gardner and ask him to protect us, not drug company profits.”

THE SENATE MAP — Both parties are playing the waiting game in the planned Senate special election in Georgia. “Gov. Brian Kemp has not yet named his appointment to the seat,” James wrote for Pros, and “Democrats’ top potential recruits passed on the race, leaving others waiting on Kemp’s appointment before jumping in.”

— At a fundraiser in early November, NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin “told a room full of lawmakers, lobbyists, and GOP donors to call” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “and urge him to run,” The Kansas City Star’s Francesca Chambers and Bryan Lowry reported.

THE GOVERNATORS — Donald Trump Jr. is headlining a fundraiser for GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte’s Montana gubernatorial bid, per the Helena Independent Record’s Holly Michels.

WAY DOWN BALLOT — John Yudichak, a state senator in Pennsylvania, announced he was switching his party affiliation from Democratic to independent and start caucusing with Republicans, per Penn Live’s Charles Thompson. Both parties are battling for control of the chamber ahead of 2021 redistricting, with 27 Republicans (not including Yudichak) and 21 Democrats.

ENDORSEMENT CORNER — BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, endorsed Democrat Oz Vazquez in FL-18.

CODA — QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I hope that your brother is nicer to you than mine is to me and doesn’t make you grow a beard.” — Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), joking during the impeachment hearing to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (who is also apparently an identical twin).

Childhood trauma in the U.S. is a ‘public health crisis’ linked to myriad social problems, CDC study reports


If American children grew up in homes without abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, drugs or domestic partner violence, instances of depression in the general population would fall 44%.

If such a world of trauma-free households could ever exist, national unemployment would fall 15%. There would be 24% fewer heavy drinkers and 33% fewer smokers. Cases of coronary heart disease — the leading cause of death in the U.S. —would fall 13%. 

Those are among the findings in a new study that has special relevance to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, regions that already have been studying the impact of nonmilitary psychological trauma on their populations.

Issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study ranks as the most comprehensive examination to date on the lifelong impact of adverse childhood experiences, known as ACE’s.

ACE’s measure exposure to potentially traumatic events before age 18, including physical, emotional or sexual abuse. ACE research remains an emerging science but consistently shows that neurological trauma inflicted in childhood often is the root cause later in life for chronic stress and anxiety, opioid addiction, sleep disorders, unemployment, homelessness, suicide and other post-traumatic disorders

From 2015 to 2017, the CDC surveyed 144,000 Americans in 25 states, including Wisconsin, making the sample more than eight times bigger than any previous ACE study.


Reggie Jackson, a historian and diversity trainer, says Milwaukee’s “perfect storm” of extreme job loss explain the city’s social extremes. Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The psychological scars of trauma are invisible and often cloaked in stigma. But the new data lays bare the breadth of a national epidemic of domestic trauma. About one in six Americans (15.6%) admitted to four or more types of potentially traumatic experiences as they grew up, landing them in the high-risk category of those most prone to mental and physical health afflictions, according to the CDC report. 

No ethnicity or geography is immune, the data shows, meaning trauma can affect those caught in farm foreclosures in rural Wisconsin as well as suburban homes where an alcoholic breadwinner loses his job. As a share of the population, the CDC found that 15% of white adults admitted to four or more ACE’s. That compares with 15.8% for Hispanic adults, 17.7% for African American adults and 28.3% for Native Americans. 

In Milwaukee in recent years, ACE studies and trauma research have shifted the understanding of chronic social and economic problems. Regional leaders are rethinking how to address the region’s most chronic problems, including school dropouts, incarceration, addiction and human sex trafficking. 

The study validates the strategy of SaintA, a large Milwaukee-based social services agency that’s active across the state, to align its efforts around trauma-responsive practices and interventions, said SaintA chief executive Ann Leinfelder Grove.

“We are doing what the science tells us,” Grove said. She’s making the CDC study required reading for her board of directors ahead of their next meeting. 

For the last two years, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has published a series of multimedia stories, called A Time to Heal, which documents communities of concentrated trauma in rural Wisconsin communities as well as urban areas like Milwaukee and Racine.

The scale of Milwaukee’s trauma-driven social dysfunction overwhelms the existing agencies and nonprofits. SaintA is active in new collaborative efforts to coordinate the  region’s disparate trauma-responsive initiatives among social service workers, therapists, university researchers, leaders of nonprofits, criminal justice authorities and health care representatives.  

“There are good things happening in Milwaukee, but this report can compel us to continue the push,” Grove said. 

The CDC’s methodology was simple. It asked eight blunt yes-or-no questions: Before the age of 18, were you abused, either physically, emotionally or sexually? It asked about five other kinds of household adversity: adults who abused drugs or alcohol; adults who were incarcerated; adults with mental illness; parental divorce; or witnessing intimate partner violence.

The same respondents also were asked a separate roster of questions: Do you suffer from coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes? Are you overweight? Depressed? Did you finish high school? Are you unemployed? 

The results “grossly undercount” the severity of widespread trauma and its impact on physical and mental health, said Melissa Merrick, lead author on the CDC study.

In an interview, Merrick explained that respondents routinely withhold information that involves deeply personal and painful events. “To even get to one-in-six (who admit to high-risk exposure) on a state-level random-dial telephone survey means the real numbers are way higher,”  said Merrick, adding: “It’s just a fact.” 

Even so, compared with someone with zero “yes” answers, a person with four or more ACE’s is more than five times more likely to suffer depression and more than three times more likely to smoke. The high-risk four-plus category is nearly twice as likely to have coronary heart disease. There’s be far less obesity and fewer high-school drop outs.

Like almost all ACE studies, the CDC survey has shortcomings. Whether a traumatic event such as sexual abuse happens once or repeatedly, it only counts as a single ACE score. The CDC questions ask what happened in the home and exclude experiences at school or on the streets. It doesn’t count emotional neglect, which can be particularly toxic. Nor does it try to measure the effects of racism.

The CDC study is the most comprehensive and most recent, but it’s not the first. A project funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, studied the life histories of every mass shooter in the United States dating back to 1966. “The vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age,” it found.

Childhood trauma too often is fatal, said Merrick. Citing other studies, Merrick said ACE’s have been linked to at least five of the top 10 leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes and suicide. 

“Exposure to ACE’s is one of the biggest public health crises we confront in this country,” Merrick said.

SERIES:  A Time to Heal – An epidemic of generational trauma haunts Milwaukee 

RELATEDImpact of civilian trauma reaches rural Wisconsin

RELATED:  Wisconsin trauma data explodes myth of ‘not in my small town’

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John Schmid has covered globalization and economic disruption for the Journal Sentinel since 2003. He has reported extensively on the parallels between manufacturing in China and Wisconsin; the global forces that devastated Milwaukee’s urban workforce; and the pressure from Asia that crumpled Wisconsin’s paper industry. His work has been honored by the Associated Press Media Editors, the National Headliner Awards, the National Press Foundation, the Fund for American Studies, and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. A Lawrence University graduate, he lived more than a decade in Germany covering economic change after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Email him at; follow him on Twitter: @GlobalMilwaukee.

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Pete Buttigieg, leading in mostly white Iowa, struggles in…

LOS ANGELES — Pete Buttigieg has risen to the top of the Democratic presidential polls in Iowa, where 90% of the population is white. But he’s lagging in California, in part because he’s having difficulty winning over Latinos and African Americans, who make up a large chunk of the Democratic electorate in the country’s biggest state.

Buttigieg is riding a mini-wave of momentum after a recent Des Moines Register/CNN poll showed him as the favorite of 25% of likely voters in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, nearly triple his showing from a September survey. In the RealClearPolitics aggregation of Iowa polls, Buttigieg now has a narrow lead on Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Eric Kingsley, a delegate at the California Democratic Party’s convention over the weekend in Long Beach who watched Buttigieg at an event there, said the South Bend, Ind., mayor “gives those speeches like an Aaron Sorkin character would.” It’s a common theme among Democrats who pine for a measured, moderate candidate out of Sorkin’s Clinton-era show “The West Wing” to take on President Trump.

But Buttigieg’s Iowa boomlet will be hard to carry over to more diverse states like California unless he makes more inroads with Latinos and African Americans — voters who were key in powering Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to the Democratic nomination in the last three elections.

California donors have accounted for 22% of the $51 million that Buttigieg has raised for his 2020 run, but that hasn’t translated into support in state polls. He is running fifth in California with 7%, far behind state front-runner Biden at 24%, according to a Public Policy Institute of California survey released Monday.

Pete Buttigieg speaks to members of the media in Long Beach. The candidate leads the Iowa polls but is fifth in California. Photo: Kendrick Brinson / Special To The Chronicle

Photo: Kendrick Brinson / Special To The Chronicle

Pete Buttigieg speaks to members of the media in Long Beach. The candidate leads the Iowa polls but is fifth in California.

Buttigieg’s problem is especially pronounced among Latinos, who account for about a fifth of California’s likely voters, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Nearly 60% are registered Democrats.

Half of likely Latino voters have no opinion of him, a survey released last week by the Latino Decisions polling firm found. Only 1% of the 807 likely primary voters supported him, seventh among the candidates and far behind Sanders, who was first in the poll with 31%.

“In order to win and in order to deserve to win, it is so important to connect with diverse voters, in particular in California,” Buttigieg said Sunday at a forum focused on the Latino community at California State University Los Angeles.

In addition to their concerns about health care and pocketbook issues, Buttigieg said, Latino voters tell him they’re worried about “something deeper: the way that people are being treated, singled out and told they do not belong in this country. I believe that we have a crisis of belonging, fueled by this president.”

He promised to “pick up the pieces” after defeating Trump and said he would “create a sense of belonging and policy answers so that everyone in this country can thrive.”

There’s nothing wrong with that answer, Los Angeles state Sen. María Elena Durazo said after hearing him at the Los Angeles forum.

“But I think his answers are more in tune with an Iowa audience — and I don’t mean that disrespectfully,” said Durazo, a longtime Los Angeles labor leader and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee who has not endorsed a candidate.

“It’s just not strong enough, not specific enough for Latinos in California who live these attacks every day, who know the discrimination and the racism every day,” she said. “In order to get the attention of the Latino voter — when there are so many others who have good positions — you have to jump in and be much clearer.”

In contrast to Buttigieg, Durazo noted, Sanders has opened campaign offices in east Los Angeles and Fresno, both of which have large Latino populations. Buttigieg has yet to open a California office.

Plus, she said, Sanders speaks “in such a way that grabs you. He’s talking with a real strength, real confidence.”

LONG BEACH, CA - NOVEMBER 16: Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders supporters and others listen as Pete Buttigieg speaks to the California Young Democrats at the California Democratic Party's 2019 Fall Endorsing Convention at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California November 16, 2019. Photo: Kendrick Brinson / Special To The Chronicle

Photo: Kendrick Brinson / Special To The Chronicle

LONG BEACH, CA – NOVEMBER 16: Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders supporters and others listen as Pete Buttigieg speaks to the California Young Democrats at the California Democratic Party’s 2019 Fall Endorsing Convention at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California November 16, 2019.

Sanders, who is of Polish descent, told an audience at an East Los Angeles high school on Friday that like many of them, he is the child of immigrants. “And we are sick and tired of the demonization of the immigrant community,” he said.

That passion is resonating with young Latinas like Crystal Meza, a 22-year-old from East Los Angeles, who said she is trying to decide between Buttigieg and Sanders. She attended UC Berkeley for a year but had to drop out because she couldn’t afford the cost of housing and other expenses. Now she is enrolled at Cal State Los Angeles.

Meza is leaning toward Sanders because of his proposal to eliminate student loan debt by applying a tax on stock trades that the senator estimates would raise $2 trillion over a decade.

“That would help out a lot of people like me,” Meza said. Buttigieg, who owes more than $130,000 in student loans with his husband, Chasten, does not support debt elimination but believes that low-income students should be able to get a debt-free college education. He supports expanding the Pell Grant program for low-income students.

Latinos aren’t the only demographic with whom Buttigieg is struggling. Nationally, he’s polling in the single digits among African Americans, who are expected to make up one in four Democratic primary voters.

Buttigieg fired South Bend’s first African American police chief shortly after he took office in 2012, an action he admits hurt him with the city’s black community “for years.” In June, shortly after a white police officer shot an African American man in South Bend, Buttigieg took responsibility for failing to hire more black officers in a city that is one-fourth African American. “I couldn’t get it done,” he said.

In July, Buttigieg released what his campaign dubbed “The Douglass Plan,” named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The 18-page document contains policy prescriptions for policing, public health, education and voting rights.

LONG BEACH, CA - NOVEMBER 16: Pete Buttigieg signs and buttons are seen on the floor at the California Democratic Party's 2019 Fall Endorsing Convention at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California November 16, 2019. Photo: Kendrick Brinson / Special To The Chronicle

Photo: Kendrick Brinson / Special To The Chronicle

LONG BEACH, CA – NOVEMBER 16: Pete Buttigieg signs and buttons are seen on the floor at the California Democratic Party’s 2019 Fall Endorsing Convention at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California November 16, 2019.

“We will tear down systemic racism so that your race has no bearing on your health or your wealth or your relationship with law enforcement,” Buttigieg said Sunday in Las Vegas.

His campaign fears that Buttigieg’s sexuality — he’s openly gay — is also an issue among African Americans. A leaked internal campaign document said focus groups of black voters in South Carolina found that “being gay was a barrier for these voters, particularly the men who seemed uncomfortable even discussing it.”

Los Angeles Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, one of the longest-serving members of the Congressional Black Caucus, has read Buttigieg’s Douglass Plan and said she liked it. And she doesn’t think his sexuality is a problem with black voters.

“He’s very clear, very articulate, fluent,” Waters, who hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet, said at the state party convention Saturday. “I think what he has to do is keep on, getting known, going into black churches, going into the black community. The black community was a long time in coming around in the issue of LGBT, but they’re there now. I think he can connect. But he’s just got to do the work.”

Buttigieg didn’t do some of the work at the convention, skipping the meeting of the African American caucus. That didn’t please caucus member Tyron Turner, 42, a delegate from Los Angeles.

But Turner was already supporting Biden. He thinks the former vice president gives Democrats a better chance at winning back onetime Obama supporters in the Rust Belt who backed Trump in 2016.

“Sometimes Democrats can overthink things,” Turner said. “Right now, I just want to win.”

Joe Garofoli is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer. Email: Twitter: @joegarofoli

7 key questions heading into the 2020 Democratic debate

Updated 4:12 am PST, Wednesday, November 20, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — New uncertainty hangs over the Democratic presidential primary as 10 candidates meet on the debate stage once again.

No longer is there a clear front-runner. The fight for African American voters is raging. And there are growing concerns that impeachment may become a distraction from the primary. Those issues and more will play out Wednesday night when the Democratic Party’s top 10 face off in Atlanta just 75 days before primary voting begins.

Seven big questions heading into the debate, to be carried on MSNBC:


Turbulent polling across the early voting states has created a murky picture of the top tier of the 2020 class. As much as Joe Biden is still a front-runner, so are Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. The question is who gets the front-runner treatment in Wednesday’s debate. Warren was under near-constant attack last month as a new leader. Will Warren continue to face the heat, or will the ascendant Buttigieg or weakening Biden take more hits?



Former President Barack Obama, the most popular Democrat in America, inserted himself into the 2020 primary in recent days by warning candidates against moving too far to the left. His comments create a challenge for Warren and Sanders and an opening for moderates Buttigieg, Biden and Amy Klobuchar to attack. At the same time, Obama’s involvement offers a powerful reminder of the massive role African Americans will play in the presidential nomination process. As we know, all candidates not named Biden have serious work to do when it comes to winning over the black vote. Race and Obama’s legacy could play a major role in shaping the action.



They have all come out in favor of impeachment — some more aggressively than others — but it’s noteworthy that five of the 10 Democrats onstage will serve as jurors in the Senate impeachment trial should the House vote to impeach President Donald Trump. It’s a complicated topic for Democrats. Some senators worry that a prospective impeachment trial will interfere with their ability to court voters early next year. Others fear that impeachment could hurt their party’s more vulnerable candidates in down-ballot elections next year. Either way, what the prospective jurors do or don’t say on the debate stage could be relevant if and when the Senate holds an impeachment trial, which is increasingly likely.



Never before has wealth been under such aggressive attack in a presidential primary election. And with one billionaire onstage and another likely to join the field in the coming days, the billionaire bashing could reach new heights. Tom Steyer has largely gone under the radar, but the even wealthier Michael Bloomberg has generated tremendous buzz as he steps toward a run of his own. Of the two, only Steyer will be onstage, but expect Bloomberg’s shadow in particular to generate passionate arguments about wealth and the role of money in politics.



Biden continues to be the favorite of many establishment Democrats, but his underwhelming candidacy has created an opening for another pragmatic-minded Democrat to step up. That’s why former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Bloomberg are moving into the race. Buttigieg stepped aggressively into the establishment lane in the last debate, but many donors and elected officials remain skeptical of the 37-year-old small-city mayor’s chances. The opportunity is there for lower-tier candidates including Kamala Harris, Klobuchar and Steyer.



No single issue has dominated the initial Democratic primary debates more than health care, and it’s safe to assume that will be the case again Wednesday night. And no one has more riding on that specific debate than Warren, who hurt herself last month by stumbling through questions about the cost of her single-payer health care plan. Given that policy specifics make up the backbone of her candidacy, she can’t afford another underwhelming performance on the defining policy debate of the primary season. Expect the policy-minded senator to have a new strategy this time around.



New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, businessman Andrew Yang and Steyer are under enormous pressure to break out given their status as the only candidates onstage who haven’t yet qualified for the December debate. They likely won’t have the same number of opportunities to speak as their higher-polling rivals, but these are dire times for the underdogs. They need to do something if they expect to stay relevant in the 2020 conversation.


Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

Hackney: Buttigieg will be on the debate hot seat Wednesday. The stakes are enormous.


Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke at an Indianapolis NAACP event on Oct. 4, 2019. Grace Hollars, Indianapolis Star

Pete Buttigieg’s surging presidential campaign means his Democratic opponents will be gunning for him, columnist Suzette Hackney writes.

Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg’s success in recent polls suggests he has a big target on his back — one that, if not skillfully negotiated, could cost him the Democratic nomination.

Buttigieg’s campaign is surging, just in time for Wednesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta. Once an obscure long shot, Buttigieg has wedged his way to the top of a field featuring Democrats, Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Buttigieg is leading in the Iowa polls, with 25% of voters >>in one survey<< saying he’s their first choice for president. Since September, according to the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll,Buttigieg has risen 16 percentage points among Iowa’s likely Democratic caucusgoers. Biden, Sanders and Warren are all about 10 percentage points behind Buttigieg.

Momentum is on Buttigieg’s side among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — at least for now. If he wins Iowa he could also secure New Hampshire, which sometimes follows the whims of bellwether state Iowa. Because of his newfound top-tier stratus, Buttigieg also will undoubtedly be in the crosshairs of his rivals. And unfortunately, Buttigieg’s campaign has given them some ammunition.

Buttigieg, who has struggled to build broader appeal among people of color, particularly African Americans, is facing allegations that his campaign grossly inflated support among black voters in South Carolina.

Last month, Buttigieg’s campaign announced that more than 400 South Carolinians endorsed his Douglass Plan, his proposal aimed at helping to combat institutional racism and empower black Americans. It turns out some of the signees were not African American, nor did they even live in the state.

Earlier this week, Buttigieg was again dinged because a stock photo that appeared on his campaign website accompanying details about the Douglass Plan — named after abolitionist and activist Frederick Douglass — was that of a Kenyan woman and child. The photo was reportedly removed from the website’s page in September.

 “As our campaign has grown, we have brought all of our web development in-house to help guard against mistakes like this,” Buttigieg’s campaign said in a statement. “We apologize for its use and the confusion it created.”

Stock photos certainly are used in today’s digital sphere, both on professional and personal platforms. But with Buttigieg’s large campaign kitty, such a snafu looks looks amateurish — and worse — dishonest.

In both cases, I don’t believe there’s some deeper, nefarious political manipulation happening, but among already skeptical black voters, such missteps can be costly. I expect Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African American, to take at least a few swipes Wednesday.

After all, during the October debate, Buttigieg set an aggressive tone. Along with other candidates, he repeatedly used his time to go after Warren, who was leading in polls at the time. 

“This is why people are so frustrated,” Buttigieg said about Warren’s lack of details in her “Medicare for All” health care platform. “Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this.”

I foresee Warren returning the favor.

Buttigieg, 37, has thus far beat back criticism about his youth and lack of government experience by touting a need for generational change and arguing that he has more executive experience than President Donald Trump. I expect his (ahem) older rivals to try to paint Buttigieg as an up-and-comer-but-not-ready for the Oval Office.  

Buttigieg may be the mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city, but he’s playing on the biggest stage of his career now. He is at a pivotal point in his presidential bid. Wednesday’s debate may be Buttigieg’s toughest test yet. The pressure is on and he has little room for error.

Email IndyStar columnist Suzette Hackney at Friend her on Facebook at Suzette Hackney and follow her on Twitter: @suzyscribe.

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Finding peace in a troubled world

As a college teacher for many years, I prepare assignments that will not only meet the requirements of the courses I teach for knowledge and skill development but also meet my hope for students in terms of the more illusory objective of emotional growth.

Those who pay little attention to research or commentary on college students might feel that this is a privileged group in American society and can be defined by the cars they drive, the clothing they wear, the wild parties they attend, their joyful faces when the television camera operators at The Ohio State University or the University of Kentucky sports events pan the audiences.

There is so much more to my students from the 14- year-old enrolled as a College Credit Plus student to the 50-year-old seeking a degree required in his company or to the woman who knows that a degree in a health-care field will enhance her employment possibilities for the remainder of her work life.

I realize the power of the written word to give a permanence, a reality to an experience as well as the power of words to heal. As part of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize events, each fall se4mester my students write about the obstacles, challenges, and horrific situations they have faced and the ways in which they have come to peace with them – or not.

I’d like to share with you some of their topics so that you can see college students as the complex human beings they are.

Several years ago a Marine veteran wrote about the grief he feels at not being deployed to Afghanistan because of a shoulder injury and a friend who was deployed and died there. He believes he might have saved his friend’s life. Another veteran wrote about being warned by a father and son that the convoy in which he and members of his unit were riding was about to be ambushed. The convoy took an opposite route but later came across the man and his son, murdered because they had given a warning to the enemy, American forces.

One of my students wrote about being “set up” in a robbery, sent to jail, and in handcuffs giving birth to her son.

As students write these personal experience essays, it’s their task to be reflective, to tell their story — and they do so in prose that resonates with me.

Recently, a student detailed her mother’s drug addiction and her acceptance of the reality that her mother will probably never be clean and sober. Another wrote of power lifting that has given her confidence and pride in her body.

When another student indicated that she was going to write about dying, I was curious about her approach. Her essay detailed brilliantly a medical mistake that caused her death following what should have been a routine surgery and a subsequent resuscitation.

Finding a path out of deep depression is another journey a student detailed recently, and another wrote of meeting with hostility and rejection in a church where she assumed she would find acceptance and spiritual growth.

The list is long, and my students explore bullying, the death of a parent, parents who fail in their responsibilities, addictions, disease, sexual abuse, and being “other”: African American in a world dominated by Anglos, homosexual with some religious denominations proclaiming they are on a pathway to hell.

As Thanksgiving arrives in this turbulent world, I want to thank my students for sharing their lives with me, for having the courage to explore and write their truths. I am blessed in many ways; however, working with students brings me joy.

I encourage my readers to find their joy in things small and large as they discover ways to find peace with the challenges/atrocities of their past lives. Embrace the good; be thankful. Maybe you’ll even consider writing a short essay!

Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. This column shared through the AIM Media Midwest group of newspapers.

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Black voters
Paul Morrow, a concrete business owner, joins President Trump on stage during the Black Voices for Trump Coalition rollout on Friday, Nov. 8 in Atlanta.

President makes re-election pitch to ‘forgotten’ Democrats


ATLANTA – Three years after challenging Black voters to shrug off support for Democrats and back him, President Donald Trump used Atlanta as a staging ground for a new Black outreach initiative that he said would be a key part of his 2020 reelection bid. 

Surrounded by roughly 400 supporters, including some who were from out of state, the president on Friday, Nov. 8 invoked the refrain he repeated so often during the 2016 campaign in front of largely White crowds as an appeal to Black voters: “What the hell do you have to lose?” 

Those who took the gamble and supported him, Trump said, were rewarded with criminal justice initiatives, low Black unemployment rates and staunch opposition to abortion, he said at the launch of his Black Voices for Trump group. Democrats, he countered, can only come up with empty promises. 

“Under Democratic politicians, African Americans have become forgotten — literally forgotten — Americans,” Trump told the crowd, a mostly Black audience that also included much of the Georgia GOP’s top leadership. “Under my administration, they’ve become forgotten no longer.” 

Black voters
Supporters listen to President Trump while he speaks at the Black Voices for Trump Coalition rollout.

Drew protesters too

Outside the cramped Georgia World Congress Center, hundreds gathered to protest the president, waving signs mocking his agenda or supporting his impeachment. 

Some got into shouting matches with Trump supporters. And earlier in the day, several of Georgia’s most prominent Democratic leaders assailed his presidency. 

State Sen. Nikema Williams, the Atlanta-based chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said Trump was bringing his “backward agenda to Georgia to pretend like his actions haven’t been a disaster for the Black community and marginalized communities across this entire country.”

“In Georgia, we know better on issues from health care to criminal justice to education to basic respect, Donald Trump has failed to be a president for all Americans, especially Americans from marginalized backgrounds,” Williams said the morning of Nov. 8. 

Black voters
Supporter Joel Patrick wears his campaign gear while waiting for President Trump to arrive.

‘Get educated’ 

Trump is trying to improve on dismal support among Black voters. Just 8% of them cast ballots for him nationwide in 2016. And a recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that only 4% of Blacks think Trump’s actions and policies have benefited Black people. 

Angeline Payne, who lives in South Fulton, said she attended the event to support Trump and “rally and recruit” Black voters. “More Blacks need to get engaged in politics and stop letting others tell them how to vote,” she said. 

“If you live in America, you’re involved,” said Payne, 58. “So you should get educated. Find out about the parties, where the parties came from, how they represent you, and then make a decision on what party you want to be and don’t let somebody tell you what party you’re in.” 

Invitation-only event 

Payne, who teaches financial literacy, said when voters aren’t engaged they just align with a party by default. “And if you’re not looking at the other side and seeing what they’re doing,” she said, “do you really want to be represented by that?” 

The event was nothing like the last time Trump appeared at the Georgia World Congress Center, when thousands of his supporters thronged a vast concrete ballroom in 2016 for a rally memorable in part because the lights briefly went out. 

The Nov. 8 event was held in a far smaller room in the convention center and was open to only those who had invitations, leaving some of the president’s backers waiting outside for a chance to see him speak. 

Pence, Carson speak 

It started with an excerpt of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a poem that’s often referred to as the Black national anthem, which caused a stir on social media with critics who called it disingenuous. 

Trump was preceded by Vice President Mike Pence, who told the crowd of the sweep of Black Republicans who were elected to office during the Reconstruction era and said that the GOP, from Abraham Lincoln to Dwight Eisenhower, has advocated for Black Americans. 

Then came U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the only Black member of Trump’s Cabinet, who drew a rousing ovation when he told the crowd that if “Trump is a racist, he’s an awfully bad one.” 

That contrasted with the message from Williams and other Democratic legislators, who blasted the president’s play for Black voters and said their party is best positioned to meet the needs of communities of color. 

A pastoral rebuke 

The Rev. Timothy McDonald, a civil rights leader and pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, closed a news conference with a scathing rebuke of Trump’s latest effort to woo Black voters. 

“To launch a program that he thinks is going to cause Black people to vote for him is outrageous, it is insane and it is a slap in the face of all Americans of goodwill,” McDonald said.

“This man’s rhetoric and his agenda have taken our country backward, not forward, to a time when there was much pain that existed.” 

Georgia politicians attend 

Although Trump’s event targeted Black voters, the audience was peppered with influential White politicians from Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, and U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, Buddy Carter and Jody Hice were all in the building. Each was also singled out by Trump. 

The crowd was also dotted with local Black conservatives. Among the attendees was Herman Cain, the former presidential hopeful; Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and Melvin Everson, a former state legislator. 

The event served as a reunion of sorts for Black Trump supporters from across the nation. Political adviser Katrina Pierson named over a dozen states she said attendees hailed from, including Georgia, Florida, Ohio and Texas. “You forgot Arkansas!” a few people shouted. 

A thankful veteran

Trump gave one of the most prominent speaking slots, though, to a lesser-known supporter: Kelvin King, an Atlanta contractor and Air Force veteran who credited Trump’s economic agenda for helping his business thrive and thanked the president for “making the Black community a priority.” 

“Our future success depends on our success in ignoring the distractions we see on a daily basis,” King said. “Don’t sit on the sidelines because of emotions or feelings.”

David Solomon, who came to the event from Miami, is the type of voter that Trump is hoping to win over. He said he was drawn to Trump because of his support for school choice and opposition to abortion, and that he plans to challenge other black voters to question their party ideology. 

“Why not try something different?” he said. “We’ve already given them a shot for 50-some-odd years, and what have they done for us?”

Bria Felicien contributed to this report.

Eight weeks of impeachment has taken a toll on Trump

WASHINGTON — It’s been a rough two months for Trump and the GOP: Eight whole weeks have now passed since Democrats began their impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, and it’s hard to overstate just how damaging it has been for Trump and the GOP.

Let us list the ways.

  • Every week (and sometimes every day) has produced a new bombshell revelation. The most recent was from State Department official David Holmes, who testified he overheard a phone conversation between Trump and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland: “I then heard President Trump ask, quote, ‘So he’s going to do the investigation?’ unquote. Ambassador Sondland replied that, ‘He’s going to do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will quote, ‘Do anything you ask him to.’”
  • Republicans have been forced to give changing and conflicting defenses — Trump’s July 25 call was perfect; there was no quid pro quo; if there was a quid pro quo, it’s not impeachable; the testimony against Trump is merely hearsay; let the voters decide about the president’s actions.
  • During it all, Trump has tweeted more and more, including that tweet Friday directed at witness Marie Yovanovitch: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”
  • The president has uttered more and more falsehoods about Ukraine and impeachment (CNN has counted 45 different false claims).
  • And during this time period, the GOP has lost gubernatorial elections in the red states of Kentucky and Louisiana, as well as control of the legislature in increasingly blue Virginia.

The good news for Trump is that the totality of the last eight weeks hasn’t changed his political standing. A new NPR/PBS/Marist poll has his approval rating essentially unchanged at 41 percent, and it shows the public is divided about his impeachment/removal from office.

Nov. 19, 201901:48

But what the impeachment inquiry has done is produce the worst version of Trump — the tweeting, the dissembling, the changing explanations.

As we wrote on Friday, he can’t compartmentalize.

Impeachment inquiry update: Today’s Hearing-palooza

And when it comes to the public testimony, today will be the biggest day yet – with four different witnesses testifying, per NBC’s Geoff Bennett.

  • Today beginning at 9:00 am ET: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and VP aide Jennifer Williams
  • Today beginning at 2:30 pm ET: Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison
  • Wednesday morning: Gordon Sondland
  • Wednesday afternoon: Laura Cooper and David Hale
  • Thursday morning: Fiona Hill and David Holmes

2020 Vision: One day out before tomorrow’s MSNBC/WaPo debate

On the campaign trail today: The day before Wednesday’s MSNBC/Washington Post debate in Atlanta, most of the Dem candidates are down for debate prep… Julian Castro, who didn’t qualify for the debate, holds a discussion with Angela Rye in Atlanta… And Stacey Abrams participates in a discussion on voter suppression in Atlanta.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds: While in Atlanta yesterday, Pete Buttigieg responded to reporters’ questions about him continuing to poll low with African-American voters. From NBC’s Priscilla Thompson: “Buttigieg responded to NBC’s question about the latest poll showing him at 0 percent support among African-Americans. Buttigieg said he tries not to get too caught up in poll numbers, but that polls also showed a number of voters there still don’t know who he is. ‘There are some areas, certainly places like Iowa where folks feel like they’ve seen every candidate dozens of times, others where clearly we’ve got a lot of work to do just to make sure that the message gets out,’ he said. ‘And it’s one of the reasons why we’re making investments both on the ground, and on the airwaves and South Carolina.’”

Buttigieg went on to say he “understands the skepticism of a new political figure coming in making promises to the black community, but he hopes in doing show he’s demonstrating ‘where our priorities are and where my heart is,’ so that people know what they’re voting for.”

Data Download: And the number of the day is … zero

That’s the share of African-American vote that Pete Buttigieg gets in South Carolina, according to a Quinnipiac poll of the state that was released on Monday.

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The overall horserace numbers in the poll among likely Democratic primary voters: Joe Biden 33 percent, Elizabeth Warren 13 percent, Bernie Sanders 11 percent and Pete Buttigieg 6 percent.

And the horserace among likely African-American Democratic primary voters in the state: Biden 44 percent, Sanders 10 percent, Warren 8 percent, Kamala Harris 6 percent and Buttigieg … 0 percent.

Talking policy with Benjy

The big policy news over the last week has been Elizabeth Warren’s plan to split Medicare for All into two parts, with the (relatively) easier task of expanding health care through a public option coming first, and the harder task of banning private plans second, per NBC’s Benjy Sarlin. This comes on the heels of her plan to finance Medicare for All without directly raising taxes on the middle class.

In combination, the plans come with upside. Warren has argued her two-bill approach shows she’ll both protect Obamacare and get more reforms done ASAP rather than getting bogged down in every detail of the current Medicare for All bill. If you’re a moderate nervous about the general election, the plans signal she’ll have flexibility responding to attacks on Medicare for All’s private insurance provisions and its taxes. If you’re a progressive worried about how to make single-payer a reality, Warren’s filled in more details than Sanders has about his own bill, and earned high praise for it from the House’s lead Medicare for All sponsor, Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

But the risks are massive. Warren is now effectively all on her own on this issue, making her a gigantic target for criticism from all sides for the rest of the primaries.

On the left, the alliance between her and Sanders on this issue has never looked shakier. He has made clear he doesn’t like her plan to finance Medicare for All and on Friday said he’d pursue his full bill on day one.

At the same time, the center-left candidates show no sign of being placated by her latest moves. The Biden and Buttigieg campaigns both portrayed the two-step plan as validation of their criticism that full Medicare for All is politically untenable. And while Warren has made clear her plan is still much more far-reaching than either of theirs, she’s now operating under a framework that Buttgieg supports — passing a public option to get to Medicare for All. That could make it harder to play the purity card with the left against him.

Tweet of the day

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The White House physician released a new statement Monday night denying speculation about the president’s weekend hospital trip and reiterating the administration’s previous statement that the trip was part of a routine checkup.

House investigators released testimony from David Holmes, a U.S. embassy official in Ukraine, who raised questions about a phone call between Ambassador Gordon Sondand and President Trump.

The New York Times reports that Kurt Volker is expected to testify Tuesday that he didn’t know about attempts by others to link Ukrainian foreign aid to an investigation into former Vice President Biden and his son.

Politico reports House freshmen want Democrats to move on President Trump’s proposed trade deal with Canada and Mexico, and are worried impeachment could blunt their re-election.

Trump Agenda: Prisoner release

The Taliban released two American University of Kabul professors, one American and one Australian, who have been held hostage since they were kidnapped at gunpoint three years ago.

A senior State Department aide resigned Monday after an NBC News investigation into whether she inflated her resume.

The New York Times explores how Rudy Giuliani’s foreign policy efforts were undertaken on open cell-phone lines and unclassified applications.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration is reversing previous U.S. policy and now believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank don’t violate international law.

An IRS whistleblower spoke to Senate aides about concerns about potential Treasury Department interference into the audit of the president or vice president’s tax returns.

The Supreme Court temporarily blocked a ruling that would have required an accounting firm to turn over the president’s tax returns to Congress.

2020: Stacey in the spotlight

Stacey Abrams may not be running for president, but she looms large in the 2020 debate as she works to expand voting rights.

The New York Times looks at how Tulsi Gabbard’s spat with Hillary Clinton has breathed new life into her campaign.

Joe Biden is trying to clean up his position on marijuana, arguing he wants to decriminalize possession and allow states to legalize it after telling town hall attendees he doesn’t support federal legalization at this time.

Buttigieg takes the debate stage leading in Iowa but mired in controversy in South Carolina


Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke at an Indianapolis NAACP event on Oct. 4, 2019. Grace Hollars, Indianapolis Star

Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg’s night-and-day campaigns in Iowa and South Carolina clearly show both why he’s such a formidable opponent and also why he remains a longshot to win the nomination. 

In Iowa, he surged into first place after hitting Elizabeth Warren hard on how she would pay for her massive Medicare expansion. In South Carolina, he’s navigating troubling accusations that his campaign grossly overstated black support for his sweeping platform for African Americans. 

Here’s what it means in the short term. For the first time, he’s going to have a target on his back when he walks onto the debate stage Wednesday in Atlanta. The three frontrunners can no longer afford to mostly ignore him as little more than a smooth-talking Midwestern curiosity, pundits say. 

And for the long term, if he emerges from the debate politically unscathed, he’s going to have to find a way to convince voters of color that he has their backs

“In the past debates, he’s come out swinging and he’s landed some punches,” said Chad Kinsella, assistant professor of political science at Ball State. “As his popularity has grown, I don’t think they’re going to let him go. I think a couple of people will come after him and bring him back down to Earth.”

New front-runner? Pete Buttigieg shoots to the top of the 2020 field in Iowa poll

The unanswered question: Buttigieg scored by hitting Warren on spending. But how will he pay for his own plans?

A campaign spokesman for Buttigieg declined to comment on debate strategy, other than to say the mayor will be prepared.

Buttigieg’s record on race clearly remains his greatest vulnerability. When a white South Bend police officer shot a black man wielding a knife in June, the mayor’s bumpy relationship with African Americans was exposed. Things haven’t much improved. 

African Americans make up a significant portion of the Democratic base and as long as he’s polling at near zero percent with black voters, his path to the nomination remains murky at best.

He clearly knows he has to make up ground, recently announcing a $2 million advertising purchase in South Carolina, where the campaign has been heavily promoting his Douglass Plan, named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and where he remains mired in fifth. 

Things are not going well. Prominent African Americans in South Carolina are accusing his campaign of embellishing black support for the Douglass Plan.

Their criticism stems from an open letter published Nov. 15 in the HCBU Times, purportedly written by 400 South Carolinian supporters of the Douglass Plan, including several elected officials, pastors, business owners and students. 

“Together, we endorse his Douglass Plan for Black America, the most comprehensive roadmap for tackling systemic racism offered by a 2020 presidential candidate,” the letter states.

The trouble started soon after publication. Several elected leaders denied they had endorsed the plan, according to The Intercept, a digital news publication. A review by the publication showed many of the 400 supporters were white and some lived out of state.  The Intercept also reported a woman in a photo used to promote the platform lives in Kenya, and had never heard of the plan.

According to the campaign, some leaders withdrew previously made endorsements and their names were removed. The list of 400 people was intended to show biracial support, the campaign said, not just endorsements from African Americans. And the photo is a stock image, the campaign said. 

“Our campaign is working to build a multi-racial coalition, and we sought and received input from numerous black policy experts and advisers to create a comprehensive plan to dismantle systemic racism: the Douglass Plan,” the campaign said in a prepared statement. “We asked a number of black South Carolinians, as well as South Carolinians from many backgrounds, to support the Douglass Plan, and we are proud and grateful that hundreds agreed to do so.”

Larry Sabato,the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the rollout has been sloppy but it’s not a campaign killer. Still, he said Buttigieg will have to weather a barrage of criticism. 

The more important question, he thinks, is whether Buttigieg can win over voters of color. In addition to the polls of African Americans, Sabato referenced a survey in California where the mayor had little support among Latinos

“He doesn’t just have a black problem,” Sabato said. “He has a brown problem.”

At Wednesday’s debate, Buttigieg’s response to the controversy might reveal his strategy with African American voters moving forward. In the June debate, he took responsibility for the ongoing tensions between his police department and black citizens, saying “I couldn’t get it done.” 

That moment aside, Buttigieg has had it pretty easy at the debates so far. He’s taken on the front runners, made his points on policy, while easily swatting away attacks from lower-tier candidates such as Eric Swalwell, Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar.

But Wednesday, pundits don’t think Warren and Bernie Sanders, in particular, can stay on the defensive as he continues to hammer away at their more progressive positions, most notably on health care. 

Elizabeth Bennion, a politics professor at Indiana University-South Bend, said there’s some risk that attacking Buttigieg could simply raise his profile even higher. But she thinks the frontrunners will want to slow down his rise heading into Iowa and New Hampshire.

“As Warren, Sanders, and (Vice President Joe) Biden compete with Pete Buttigieg to win the first-in-the-nation caucus in Iowa, I expect that the three national frontrunners will be more forceful in drawing distinctions between themselves and Mayor Pete,” she said. “The candidates head into the November debate with many Iowa, and national, voters undecided.”

Biden might be the least likely to target Buttigieg. In fact, pundits think the former vice president would prefer Buttigieg win Iowa over Warren, who had been leading. Biden’s support among African Americans remains strong, positioning him for a comeback in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, when several southern states vote. From that perspective, Warren is Biden’s more significant long-term threat. 

Then again, Biden might be tired of Buttigieg’s strategy to replace him as the moderate candidate. 

“Somebody will go after Buttigieg,” Sabato said. “I don’t know which one, maybe all of them. Warren seems the most anxious to do so.” 

Warren and Buttigieg have clashed on Medicare for All. She released a $20.5 trillion funding proposal after Buttigieg and others criticized the lack of details in her proposed expansion. Meanwhile, progressive groups have dismissed Buttigieg’s Medicare for All Who Want It counterproposal as not bold enough. 

There’s cause to think Buttigieg would win that fight. Sabato said he recently commissioned a study that showed Medicare for All was a loser among voters in Congressional races in 2018. Warren notably didn’t talk much about her plan to expand Medicare at a recent trip through Iowa, which might be a sign she knows it’s troubling for some Democrats. 

Unions, in particular, remain a strong force in the Democratic base, and they fought for health-care benefits as part of their salaries. 

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Progressive groups have taken another tactic that might foreshadow what happens at the debate. Pointing to past tweets and statements, they accuse Buttigieg of flip flopping, once supporting but now opposing Medicare for All. While Buttigieg’s campaign pushes back on that, being saddled with the flip-flopper moniker has hurt others, perhaps most notably Al Gore in 2000

It’s also possible Biden, Sanders and Warren continue to ignore Buttigieg, for the most part. If that happens, Sabato said it’s a sure sign that their internal information says he’s still not much of a threat beyond Iowa. If that’s the case, Buttigieg might be positioned to continue to attack the leaders while fending off the rest of the field. And be sure, the rest of the field is likely to continue to target him. 

“We’ll have to see what their internal calculations are,” Sabato said of the frontrunners. “For the second-tier candidates, there is a lot of jealously and resentment of Buttigieg. They see him as arrogant and inexperienced.” 

In that scenario, his biggest vulnerability remains his first: He remains the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend. 

Call IndyStar reporter Chris Sikich at 317-444-6036. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisSikich.

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