Moderates Take On Elizabeth Warren at Fourth Democratic Debate

While most polls still show Joe Biden as the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Elizabeth Warren has been gaining momentum, and trend lines show that she’s likely to maintain a lead over the former Vice President in the following months. As such, many of the candidates in last night’s Democratic primary debate took the opportunity to attack Warren for her more progressive proposals, competing amongst one another to position themselves as a sensible and moderate alternative to the two leading progressives in the race, Warren and Sanders, as well as the leading moderate, Joe Biden. While this tactic among many members of the historically crowded debate stage was to be expected, it nonetheless poses a challenge for Warren, who must struggle to maintain her narrow lead amidst concerns about the electability of such a radically progressive candidate in the general election.

Perhaps the most notable takeaway from Warren’s performance last night was her steadfast refusal to answer a question about whether or not the middle class would see an increase in taxes to pay for her Medicare-for-all plan. Despite being asked the question multiple times by moderator Anderson Cooper, and thereafter by fellow contenders Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, Warren evaded a direct answer, instead insisting that her policies would not raise “costs” for the middle class and that she would not sign a bill that would make healthcare more expensive for working families. 

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Her failure to directly answer this question was made even more jarring by the fact that Bernie Sanders, who reiterated his famous quip that he “wrote the damn bill,” readily acknowledged that while premiums and deductibles would be eliminated under his plan, bringing down costs overall, taxes on the middle class would be increased to pay for it. Warren’s evasiveness on this issue, while strategic, stands in stark contrast to her normally thorough and detailed descriptions of her policy plans for which she has become well-known. Rivals Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden wasted no time in calling Warren out, commenting that this politician-like evasiveness was exactly what voters hated about Washington and opining that her Medicare-for-All plan is not convincing if she can’t explain how to pay for it.

Despite heated disagreements among the dozens candidates displayed during the three-hour debate, the competitors were in near-unanimous agreement on a number of issues. The moderators, forgoing opening statements due to time constraints, opened the debate by asking each candidate for their views on impeachment. All twelve Democrats on-stage voiced their support for impeaching Donald Trump, with Elizabeth Warren pointing out that she supported impeachment in the immediate aftermath of the release of the Mueller Report for its description of numerous instances of obstruction of justice. 

Notably, none of the candidates took the opportunity to attack Joe Biden for his son’s business dealings in Ukraine, instead focusing on the impropriety of a sitting president asking a foreign power for election assistance. Most, if not all of the candidates described Trump in damning terms, describing him as some variant of “the most corrupt president ever.” Joe Biden responded to a question about whether it was appropriate for his son to conduct business overseas while he was the Vice President by asserting that neither he nor his son ever did anything wrong and claiming that his son’s statement on the matter speaks for itself. Though many of the candidates have voiced their support for Biden in this matter in other venues since news broke of the whistleblower’s complaint, none did so last night, instead choosing not to address the topic.

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Last night’s debate was not only the first debate since the beginning of formal impeachment proceedings, but also the first since Bernie Sanders’ heart attack, for which he received emergency surgery and which amplified concerns about the impact of his age on his ability to effectively carry out the duties of the president. Sanders preempted a question about his health by saying he was feeling great, and last night the Vermont senator appeared as vigorous and energetic as ever. Whereas in previous debates, candidates like Julian Castro attacked their older competitors for age-related concerns, this line of attack was not on display last night. Joe Biden, facing questions about his age, promised he would release his medical records before the first votes would be cast. Notably, the three most popular candidates Warren, Sanders, and Biden are all in their 70’s, as is Donald Trump, whose unhealthy lifestyle Cory Booker criticised last night.

Overall, last night’s historically crowded three-hour debate offered few surprises, but instead reflected the realities of a hotly contested primary to choose who should run against a uniquely vicious and corrupt incumbent president. Buttigieg pointed out that, due to the extent of Trump’s corruption, the next President would have the unenviable and tremendous task of healing a historically divided populace, as well as rebuilding damaged governmental institutions and relationships with allies around the world. The enormity of this task, as well as the urgency of selecting a candidate with the widespread appeal necessary to defeat Trump, is surely on Democratic voters’ minds. 

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Hunter Biden Announces Departure from Chinese Company Amidst Criticism

Until recently, the business dealings of the son of former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden were not often the subject of political discussion. However, following an unlikely and consequential string of events involving President Trump, a phone call with Ukraine, and a whistleblower complaint, Hunter Biden announced his decision to step down from the board of a Chinese company, BHR, to reduce the appearance of a conflict-of-interest with respect to his father’s presidential bid. Trump has responded to the news of the whistleblower complaint, which alleges that he illegally requested campaign assistance from a foreign power when he asked the President of Ukraine to investigate his likely political opponent, Joe Biden, by doubling down on his attacks of the Biden family, putting the Biden campaign in an awkward and defensive position.

No evidence of misconduct on Hunter Biden’s part is known to exist, and he has not been formally charged with a crime nor is he known to be under investigation. However, the younger Biden has been the target of relentless, vicious, and personal attacks from President Trump on the campaign trail and by abusing the powers of the presidency to undermine the integrity of the upcoming election in what has become the subject of an ongoing and historic impeachment investigation. Trump’s ongoing attempts to smear his political rivals by using both lawful and unlawful strategies, including outright lies and quid-pro-quo requests for foreign assistance, present a unique and unprecedented challenge for the Biden campaign as well as for the campaigns of any potential nominee.

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Hunter Biden’s announcement came via a statement released by his lawyer, who also said that the younger Biden would pledge to forgo all work in foreign countries if his father is elected president. Hunter Biden’s decision seems to have been made independently of his father’s campaign, as both Bidens have publicly stated that they had never discussed Hunter’s business dealings with each other. Joe Biden has said that he only found out about his son’s decision to step down from BHR after being contacted by Hunter’s lawyer, and had no input into the decision-making process.

The younger Biden’s decision to step down from his position at BHR is the first time anyone in the pro-Biden camp has acknowledged the appearance of impropriety of Hunter’s business activities, and though the move was made in order to quell conspiracy theories about political corruption, the political ramifications are as of yet difficult to predict. Predictably, Trump responded to the news with a tweet, asserting without evidence that Hunter Biden was “forced to leave” the company. Joe Biden, on the other hand, praised his son’s decision, arguing that it demonstrates his son’s integrity, and hoped that it would put an end to any speculation of political corruption.

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In a brief news conference on Sunday, Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to transparency and integrity, promising that if he becomes president, neither he nor anyone in his family would be involved in any foreign operation whatsoever. Joe Biden also took the opportunity to indirectly point out the political family corruption of his opponent, President Trump, by saying “No one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in on meetings as if they’re a Cabinet member, will in fact have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country.” (The President’s daughter and his son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both have worked for the White House and for Trump’s campaign, as have his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr.)

Despite ongoing concerns about Trump’s various business properties around the world and their impact on his foreign policy, the roles of his family members in government and business, and the funneling of taxpayer dollars into Trump-owned businesses, the President and his campaign have decided to focus on political corruption as a line of attack against Biden, spending millions of dollars on ad campaigns featuring demonstrably false accusations. In his defense, Joe Biden has pointed out that “no one has asserted that I have done anything wrong except the lying president.” However, Biden seems reluctant to call out his opponent’s political corruption, apparently signaling a refusal to stoop to his level, though he has called for Trump’s impeachment.

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Amidst Ongoing Trade War, China Ignores Trump’s Investigation Request

Ever since President Trump began his controversial trade war with China, Chinese-run state media has been openly critical of the American president, as the economies of both countries are harmed by the ongoing dispute. However, after the president’s recent and highly contentious public request that China open an investigation into the business affairs of his political opponent and his family in that country, their media has been mostly quiet, signalling a lack of willingness to cooperate with the White House in election interference. On Thursday, while standing on the White House’s front lawn before boarding Air Force One, Trump told reporters that China should “start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.” The president’s efforts to solicit foreign aid in discrediting his political opponents in the next presidential election is the subject of an ongoing impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

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Although China is a country with heavily enforced restrictions on speech, news of the president’s request has seeped onto their version of the internet. However, official media in the country has had nothing to say about the request, and mentions of Trump’s solicitation on Chinese social media are few and far between, suggesting the country’s highly sophisticated censorship apparatus is at work preventing the population from engaging in conversation on the subject. According to several experts interviewed by the New York Times, China’s lack of response is indicative of the country’s struggles in navigating its awkward relationship with the United States. The country is attempting to stand tough in its relationship with the U.S., but also wants to avoid worsening tensions with an unpredictable and chaotic president. Relations are particularly sensitive in advance of the election, where the country is likely to be a primary subject of discussion.

According to Susan Shirk, a deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for China during the Clinton administration, the country’s silence on the subject is itself a political message to the U.S. indicating both a lack of willingness to cooperate with the president and an effort not to provoke the president, whose erratic behavior is feared to worsen the global economy. Additionally, China is still in the midst of its National Day holiday, during which state media are usually slow to respond to international affairs. After Sunday, the country’s top trade negotiator, Liu He, is expected to travel to Washington to discuss trade, and it’s unclear as of yet how the president’s request will shape these talks. 

However, China has already declared a position of being unwilling to meddle in other countries’ internal affairs, and as such, if the country expresses a willingness to work with the administration to discredit Biden, this change in policy position would be difficult to explain. But the United States is a uniquely powerful country on the world stage, and as such the country may find benefit in making an exception to this rule. That being said, Professor Zhang, of Peking University, suggested that even if China opens up an investigation into Hunter Biden, they’d likely keep the findings of that investigation to themselves, as they are a notoriously secretive country.

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On the Chinese internet, Trump has been given the nickname “Te-mei-pu,” a pun which roughly translates to “totally unpredictable.” The president’s trade war, which he started by imposing tariffs on imports of Chinese goods and which China retaliated to by imposing similar tariffs on American imports, has been unpopular in both countries, as it’s widely viewed as unnecessary and has led to an increase in prices paid for by consumers. The country has widely reported on Trump’s request of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens just a few days prior, making their silence on this issue all the more jarring. The closest the country has come to commenting on the matter is a statement from China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who said “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the US, and we trust that the American people will be able to sort out their own problems.” China is widely unpopular in the US, and Democratic presidential candidates, including frontrunners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, have criticized both Trump’s trade war and the country’s policies.

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Warren Overtakes Biden in 2020 Democratic Primary Race

Ever since he announced his intention to run for President, former Vice President Joe Biden has led the race, often by double-digit percentage points. However, following a series of embarrassing gaffes and questions about his conduct in Ukraine amplified by the President, Biden’s favorability in the polls has subsided, and in recent days a poll from The Economy/YouGov has shown the far-more left-leaning Elizabeth Warren as the frontrunner. Although Biden benefits tremendously from the name-recognition factor created by eight years as Barack Obama’s Vice President, his moderate positions on a number of issues important to Democrats, a party which has grown increasingly progressive over the past several years, suggest his dominance among the field of 2020 contenders is not as certain as it once seemed. Since the start of the race Biden has remained the favorite of black voters, a caucus of critical importance in the early stages of the Democratic Primary, owing to perceptions of his electability among a constituency disillusioned by an electorate who put Donald Trump in the White House.

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Historically, black voters have tended to be near-unanimous in their support of a particular candidate this early in a presidential primary, but new reports indicate their preference for Biden is beginning to shift in favor of Elizabeth Warren, whose progressive position on policies from health care to maternal mortality rates to racial justice appeal to this critical demographic. A Quinnipiac University Poll released on September 25th showed a nine-point jump in Elizabeth Warren’s favorability among black voters, and although she continues to trail Biden among this demographic, she has been on an upward trajectory since the beginning of her campaign. Biden’s favorability, on the other hand, has remained relatively static since his campaign started, and while he remains virtually tied with Warren, with several polls showing just a single-digit lead, her gradual climb in the polls is sure to worry Biden’s campaign.

At this point in the primary process, name-recognition is of critical importance, as most of the current candidates were virtually unknown prior to announcing their candidacy, barring perhaps Biden and Sanders. Warren’s unique approach to her campaign has generated a lot of news, from her practice of taking hundreds of selfies with supporters at campaign rallies to her detailed policy proposals on a wide range of issues. Recently, leaked audio from a staff meeting at Facebook portrayed CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggesting Warren’s candidacy as an “existential threat” to the company, and he claimed he would “go to the mat to fight” her. Warren, whose policy proposals include a pledge to break up big tech companies like Facebook, welcomed this fight, and doubled down on her commitment to take on companies like Facebook. This high-profile fight has generated a lot of attention for the candidate, whose representation of the of the progressive wing of the Democratic party is fairly evenly split with that of Sanders.

The recent announcement by Nancy Pelosi that the House of Representatives has opened an impeachment inquiry into President Trump is sure to have a significant impact on the democratic primary, though given the unprecedented nature of current events, it is difficult to predict exactly how this impact will manifest. The very suggestion of corruption on Biden’s part, as unsubstantiated as these claims may be, is likely to hurt perceptions of his electability among primary voters, which in turn is likely to hurt his chances of winning the nomination as primary voters list electability as among their primary concerns when selecting their preferred candidate. Many commentators have observed that the phrase “electability” seems to be a code for “white and male,” as the popular image of a President remains somebody who fits that description. Nevertheless, perceptions of Warren’s electability are on the rise, as she is broadly well-liked among Democratic voters, who increasingly view her as capable of defeating Donald Trump in a general election.

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Still, Warren has to contend with superdelegates, who tend to prefer the establishment candidate, as they did in 2016 with their overwhelming support of Clinton over Sanders, although the influence of superdelegates has been dramatically reduced since the last primary. And if Warren maintains her lead over Biden, she is sure to be the subject of vicious and personal attacks from Donald Trump and the Republicans, who have recently shown to be relentless in their hostility towards political opponents, acting without regard to the law in their smearing of potential rivals. As such, it is uniquely difficult to make predictions about the outcome of presidential politics at this juncture, but Warren’s calls for “big, structural change” may just be the rallying cry the Democratic Party needs to win the presidency in 2020.

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