Our weekly roundup of the news, notes and chatter about the prospects for the next Democratic presidential race:
A week ago, special counsel Robert Mueller alleged in an indictment that Russian hackers boosted President Donald Trump in 2016 by, among other things, encouraging disaffected Democrats and progressive activists to ditch Hillary Clinton and cast protest votes for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Then, on Wednesday, Sanders stepped in it during a long interview with Vermont Public Radio, when he suggested that Clinton hadn’t done enough — in September 2016 — to go public with concerns about the suspicious online activity, which Sanders said a staffer had flagged to her campaign.
“The real question to be asked,” Sanders said, “is what was the Clinton campaign (doing or not doing) — they had more information about this than we did.”
But with a haphazard explanation, Sanders appears to have compounded his problem, as Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere writes: “It turns out that the purported Sanders’ staffer who said he tried to sound the alarm was a campaign volunteer who acted on his own, without any contact or direction from the Vermont senator or his staff. When the volunteer, John Mattes of San Diego, said he communicated with the Clinton campaign in local press accounts, he was confusing it for a super PAC supportive of Clinton.”
The upshot here is less to do with what Sanders did or didn’t do 18 months ago, but what it means for 18 months from now, as the 2020 presidential season begins to hit its stride. “I would not want to go into a Democratic primary as either a defender of Russian intervention, an ally of Trump or a discreditor of Mueller. Sanders has managed to position himself as all three,” one Democratic strategist emailed. “He’s worked quickly to correct it but it’s a good reminder that he’s never had to answer the real questions he’s going to get as the frontrunner.”
Speaking of 2020 … In a Wednesday interview with the Chicago Sun Times’ Lynn Sweet, Sanders addressed the question — sort of. “I would not be honest with you if I didn’t say, ‘Am I thinking about it? Yes I am. Have I made a decision? Absolutely not,’” he said. Sanders is on a Midwestern swing to help keep Democratic opposition to the Trump tax cuts at a boil and rally support for allies running for Congress in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Sanders will also publish a book titled “Where We Go From Here” a week after the 2018 midterm elections, St. Martin’s Press announced Wednesday.
News and notes:
HICKENLOOPER’S FUTURE: At the National Governors Association gathering in DC this weekend, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said he intends to travel to support Democratic candidates this year — but just on a few trips. He said he’ll start weighing his political future (a presidential run? A Senate race against Republican Cory Gardner?) this fall, months after his final legislative session wraps up.
Here’s what Hickenlooper said: “The moment I start talking about ‘next,’ the moment I start a PAC, then people are going to be saying, ‘He’s distracted.’ And not only am I distracted — I mean, my Cabinet gets distracted. We’re doing so many cool things; I want Colorado when I’m finished to be a national model on a whole bunch of different levels. If I do that much right, then I’ve helped my country, and I’m probably going to give myself choices, right?”
What about his buddy-buddy relationship with Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich? “I had dinner with him last night,” Hickenlooper said Friday. “He’s a hoot. You guys never get to see the funny side of him. That man is a funny man.”
A ONE-TERM BIDEN? Former Vice President Joe Biden, as the AP’s Josh Lederman reports (and we’ve heard too), is weighing the possibility of running in 2020 but serving just one term in the Oval Office before handing off to his running mate to serve for the next four, or maybe eight, years. Part of the motivation: Assuaging concerns about his age. Biden would be 78 when he took office if he ran and won in 2020.
One more Biden note: He booked a March 17 trip to a Democratic fundraising dinner in North Dakota. It’s a week after he’ll be in Montana. What they have in common: Democratic senators in tough re-election fights.
GARCETTI’S PALMETTO STATE DEBUT: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti took a three-day trip to South Carolina this week, marking his first visit to the first in the South primary state. Garcetti’s trip was branded as officially part of the job policy work that he is doing with the nonprofit group that he chairs, Accelerator for America. However, the Jewish Mexican-American mayor also attended a town hall and South Carolina Democratic Party fundraiser. A line from the town hall “Yes, it’s true, I come from Los Angeles, and we have a few more Kardashians than you do, but we are mostly not Kardashians.”
GILLIBRAND’S LENTEN PROMISE: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand went on “Late Night” with Stephen Colbert Wednesday, one week after the Parkland school shooting. Gillibrand made headlines last year when she dropped an f-bomb during a speech, but she told Colbert that she gave up cursing for Lent. When the comedian asked how that promise is holding up, she she said “not well” and that her cursing flares up “daily,” including after seeing “Trump tweets.”
Gillibrand also blasted the National Rifle Association for its “chokehold on Congress.” Colbert pointed out that she used to have an A rating with the NRA and now she has and F, which got applause from the audience.
KANDER’S TRAVELS CONTINUE: Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander isn’t slowing down his travel schedule, especially to early primary states, signaling he’s seriously considering a 2020 run. He made his eighth visit to New Hampshire in the past 13 months last weekend.
When asked by the Concord Monitor about why he keeps returning to the Granite State, Kander said, “Obviously, people keep asking me about running, and that makes me think about it.” He went on to say “I’ll consider my options” after the 2018 elections.
HARRIS MAKING THE WEST COAST ROUNDS: California Sen. Kamala Harris was spotted spending time with entrepreneur and actress Jessica Alba, among others. In an Instagram post, Alba wrote, “Baby boy and I got to spend time today w a very inspiring @kamalaharris-discussing all things we as mothers, business owners and citizens face today. We owe it to our children to get educated and vote for folks that align with our human values … Thank you #kamalaharris for being a beacon of light for us.” Also spotted in the post with Harris and Alba were designer Rachel Zoe, actress Nicole Richie and singer Kelly Rowland.
Harris will travel to neighboring Nevada on March 10 to attend the Nevada Democrats’ Gold Circle lecture series, “Local Brews + National Views.” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada also will be on hand.
From the right:
WHICH 2020 NAMES CPAC IS LOOKING AT? At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, the focus, as you’d expect, is on President Donald Trump’s first year in office. Simply stated, attendees are very happy with Trump and very excited for the next three years. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have eyes on 2020. The America Rising PAC is on the scene with a reminder to Republicans in the form of pins showing — and encouraging conservatives to reject — seven potential Democratic contenders. They include: Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, former Vice President Joe Biden and … the surprise entry: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Before you go:
The memo is out, further elevating California Rep. Adam Schiff’s role. What’s his next political move? … New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking campaign money from state appointees. … Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he thinks a mayor could be the next president “for a number of reasons.”
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Sophie Tatum, Saba Hamedy, Betsy Klein, David Siegel and Ashley Killough contributed to this memo.