What to Know in Washington: 2020 Democrats Look for Internet Win in Iowa

Posing next to the Iowa State Fair’s famous butter cow while holding a pork chop on a stick has long been a way for presidential hopefuls to gain credibility with the state’s voters. But this year’s Democratic contenders are also shadowed by staff who’ll leverage those images to win support from younger voters nationwide.

The fun times will quickly be uploaded to their own social media accounts and available to reach the critical younger demographic where they are: on their mobile phones. It’s a tactic that’s become a matter of course in the crowded race for the Democratic nomination, even at heavily covered events like the annual Fair, as candidates attempt to win the White House by winning the Internet first.

The Democrats are defying conventional campaigning and allocating more resources than ever to producing original, behind-the-scenes content. Campaigns have built in-house digital teams to meet the expectations for real-time online interactions with a voting bloc of social media users that’s going to play an important role in choosing next year’s Democratic nominee.

“Digital strategists are the new field organizers,” said Danielle Butterfield, paid media director of Priorities USA, a Democratic super political action committee. “The campaigns that are going to use that opportunity in an offline setting to extend it into an online setting are going to be the ones that have success.”

With the visibility gained during his 2016 run Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is winning the online race with almost 18 million followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter combined. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has almost 8 million followers and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and former vice-president Joe Biden around 6 million. Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Photographer: Marco Bello/Bloomberg
Warren poses for a selfie with an attendee following a town hall event in Miami on June 25.

McConnell Says Senate Will Weigh Background Checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said gun legislation will be at the top of the agenda when lawmakers return from their August break, including expanded background checks and so-called red flag laws to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.

In remarks yesterday to a Louisville radio station, the Republican leader gave the first hints of what he might consider for the debate on gun legislation, but offered no indication that he would throw his support behind any particular proposal. McConnell, who’s opposed most gun control legislation in the past, said he and President Donald Trump spoke yesterday and both agreed bipartisan support will be needed for whatever direction the legislation takes. Trump, he said, is “very much open to this discussion.”

Pressure for new gun restrictions has intensified after two mass shootings last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead and dozens of others wounded. “The urgency of this is not lost by any of us because we have seen entirely too many of these outrageous acts by deranged people,” McConnell said in an interview on Louisville radio station WHAS. He added, though, that he won’t bring the Senate back early from an August recess to act.

He pointed to an earlier proposal by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as a possible starting point for developing tighter background check laws. Their measure, blocked in the Senate in 2013 in part because McConnell opposed it, would eliminate loopholes in required background checks in firearms transactions. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Mayors Urge Senate Action on Gun Violence: U.S. Conference of Mayors President Bryan Barnett (R) called on the federal government to take action on gun violence in the U.S. yesterday. “Mayors are on the front lines of these attacks and that’s why we are speaking out and demanding action,” said Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills, Mich. The shootings are becoming “all too common,” he and 214 mayors said in a letter urging the Senate to come back from August recess to consider background check legislation passed by the House, Laura Litvan and Daniel Flatley report.

White House Meeting: White House staff will lead a meeting with internet and technology companies today to discuss violence online. Attendees will include the Internet Association, the trade group that represents large tech including Google, Facebook and Twitter. The suspected attacker in El Paso posted a manifesto online minutes before the attack began that was laced with words and phrases Trump himself has used in reference to immigrants and the media. It was the third killing linked to controversial message board 8chan this year.

Trump said Monday that he had ordered federal officials to work with social media companies to identify people who may perpetrate mass shootings before they can act.

ESPN Delays E-Game Telecast: Meanwhile, Walt Disney’s ESPN has chosen not to broadcast a recent video-game competition—one that features gun violence—in the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings, according to a person familiar with the plans. ESPN is postponing its planned broadcast tomorrow of a recent tournament for Apex Legends, a popular battle royale game made by publisher Electronic Arts, the person said. The decision comes after politicians, including Trump, said games that glorify violence could be contributing to the country’s shooting epidemic. Read more from Eben Novy-Williams.

More Elections & Politics

Democrats Decry ICE Raids Leaving Children Alone: Democrats lashed out at the Trump administration over immigration raids in Mississippi that swept up hundreds of food processing workers and left bewildered children returning home from school to find their parents missing. The raids, the largest workplace immigration sweep in a decade, drew scorn from 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, who have vowed to reverse Trump administration policies they say harm immigrant communities, especially children. Front-runner Joe Biden said the enforcement action shows Trump is “morally unfit” for the office he holds.

The operation took place on Wednesday, the same day Trump was visiting the border city of El Paso. Trump is facing criticism from Democrats that his harsh rhetoric has dehumanized immigrants and contributed to violence against minorities. While the president “is supposed to be embracing a grieving community and celebrating our American diversity in El Paso, his administration is instead stoking fear by conducting massive immigration raids,” Biden said on Twitter. Read more from Mike Dorning.

Biden Says ‘Poor Kids’ as Smart as ‘White Kids’: Meanwhile, Biden told a group of mostly Asian and Hispanic voters that “poor kids are just as bright” as white children. Biden, known for his many verbal gaffes, made the remarks to the Asian & Latino Coalition in Des Moines, Iowa. “We should challenge students in these schools and have advanced placement programs in these schools,” he said. “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright, just as talented, as white kids.”

He quickly added, “Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids, no I really mean it, but think how we think about it.” Read more from Emma Kinery.

Movers & Shakeups

Trump Picks Counterterrorism Aide as Spy Chief: Trump said Joseph Maguire, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, will take over as acting Director of National Intelligence when Dan Coats leaves the post next week. Maguire has had a “long and distinguished” career in the military, Trump said in a pair of tweets late yesterday. “He commanded at every level, including the Naval Special Warfare Command. He has also served as a National Security Fellow at Harvard University. I have no doubt he will do a great job!”

Trump’s tweet came shortly after he announced that Sue Gordon—the deputy director of national intelligence—will resign this months along with Coats, her boss. Gordon would have been next in line to serve as acting director until the Senate confirmed Trump’s choice for a permanent replacement.

Several Trump allies outside the White House had urged the president to remove Gordon, a career intelligence officer, describing her as too close to former CIA Director John Brennan. Brennan has publicly criticized Trump’s leadership, and the president in turn has called him “the worst CIA director in our country’s history.”

Trump told reporters last Friday that he liked Gordon “very much” and said he might appoint her acting director. But after House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) praised Gordon last month, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “If Adam Schiff wants her in there, the rumors about her being besties with Brennan and the rest of the clown cadre must be 100% true.” Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

Former White House Adviser Lobbying For Tech: Kelsey Guyselman, the former senior policy counsel for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, has taken a job as the senior director of government affairs for the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents hardware and software companies, including Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. ITI CEO Jason Oxman congratulated Guyselman, saying, “Her insight and expertise will be a valuable resource for our member companies as we continue to advance policies that encoura ge innovation across the United States.”

Breier Steps Down as Assistant Secretary of State: Kimberly Breier, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, is stepping down to spend more time with her family, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter. The move comes after The Washington Post reported White House policy adviser Stephen Miller chastised Breier, considering her insufficiently committed to publicly defending Trump and the Guatemalan government’s agreement on asylum.

McCabe Sues DOJ Over His Firing: Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director fired last year for failing to fully disclose conversations he had with a reporter about pending investigations, sued the Department of Justice and Attorney General William Barr. Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, fired McCabe in March 2018, just two days before he would have retired and become fully eligible for his pension and health benefits, Andrew Harris reports. In the suit filed yesterday in Washington federal court McCabe seeks a judge’s order that would deem him to retire as an agent in good standing, so he can retire “as he had originally planned.”

What Else to Know

Tax Extender Opponents See Reason for Hope: Political groups and think tanks from across the political spectrum see 2019 as the year that Congress may finally end temporary extensions of tax breaks. For years, Congress has extended tax incentives for industries on a temporary basis because lawmakers don’t want to balance the long-term cost of the breaks by cutting spending or ending other tax breaks. But Congress let several of those breaks expire following passage of the 2017 tax law, and more fell by the wayside last year as the government funding showdown dominated the end of 2018. Now, extender opponents see the best opportunity they’ve had in years—if not ever—to end the legislative merry-go-round. Read more from Colin Wilhelm.

Ivanka Trump’s Worker-Training Initiative: Ivanka Trump has opened the White House doors and her father’s administration to companies that participate in a worker-training initiative she’s led, even as the president adopts policies that labor unions say would weaken apprenticeships. The president and his daughter, who is a senior adviser in the White House, celebrated the anniversary of her “Pledge to America’s Workers” program late last month. More than 300 companies including Apple, Microsoft, WalMart, Salesforce, Lockheed Martin and T oyota have agreed to train more than 12 million people, the White House says.

Participating in the program may score the companies goodwill and even face-time with a president who sometimes considers policies that would hurt them. For example, Trump has threatened to slap tariffs against cars Toyota imports to the U.S. and on iPhones imported from China, and he’s criticized the price of weapons Lockheed makes for the military, its most important customer. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Administration’s Immigration Efforts: More than 30,000 migrants have been sent to Mexico to await their immigration court proceedings as part of a program expanded under a June 7 deal between Mexico and the Trump administration, Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told reporters. The Migrant Protection Protocols program, first launched in January, sent approximately 22,000 back to Mexico as of July 24, Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost told a House committee that day, Michaela Ross reports.

Customs Officers Returning to Airports: Hundreds of customs officers are returning to airports and the northern and coastal borders now that the surge of migrants at the southwest border has started to decline, Border Patrol Chief of Law Enforcement Operations Brian Hastings told reporters yesterday. About 400 customs officers are still redeployed to the southwest border, down from more than 730 in May, he said, Michaela Ross reports.

The aviation industry and lawmakers have expressed concern about the staffing shortage during the busy travel and cargo season. Hastings and U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting Commissioner Mark Morgan also told reporters the average amount of time single adult migrants are being held in border facilities is now 69 hours, far below the 300 hour average a month ago. The agency had come under scrutiny from its internal watchdog for holding migrants at times for weeks longer than its 72 hour standard.

DOJ Scrutinizes Google Advertising: The Justice Department is scrutinizing Google’s digital advertising and search operations as authorities gear up for a broad antitrust review of the market power of giant internet companies, according to people familiar with the matter. Antitrust officials have been actively meeting over the past month with third-party companies that could have grievances against Google, including publishers and consumer-facing websites, said two people familiar with the matter. Advertisers and ad-tech companies have also met with the officials, and more meetings are on the calendar, one of the people said. Read more from Sara Forden and David McLaughlin.

U.S. Calls China ‘Thuggish’ Amid Hong Kong Feud: The State Department’s spokeswoman yesterday called China a “thuggish regime” for releasing personal information on an American diplomat who met with opposition protesters in Hong Kong, escalating a war of words over protests that have wracked the territory. “I don’t think that leaking an American diplomat’s private information—pictures, names of their children—I don’t think that that’s a formal protest, that is what a thuggish regime would do,” Morgan Ortagus said at a State Department briefing yesterday. “That’s not how a responsible nation would behave.” Read more from Nick Wadhams.

U.S. Holds Off on Huawei Licenses: The White House is holding off on a decision about licenses for U.S. companies to restart business with Huawei Technologies after Beijing said it was halting purchases of U.S. farming goods, according to people familiar with the matter. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department has vetted the applications to resume sales, said last week he’s received 50 requests and that a decision on them was pending. American businesses require a special license to supply goods to Huawei after the U.S. added the Chinese telecommunications giant to a trade blacklist in May over national security concerns. Read more from Jenny Leonard, Ian King and Jennifer Jacobs.

U.S-China Trade: The trade war’s August escalation has spooked markets around the world. The bad news, though, is that while Trump has fired two large weapons in the past week by green-lighting his biggest swathe of tariffs yet and formally branding China a currency manipulator, his arsenal is far from exhausted. The loudest shot Trump could take may be the one that he increasingly appears focused on: weaponizing the dollar, the world’s reserve currency. Read more from Shawn Donnan and Jenny Leonard.

With assistance from Rebecca Kern

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com