Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
Elizabeth Warren (remember her?) has so far withheld an endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary, though there’s little doubt where her loyalty lies. After all, it was the decision by the Massachusetts senator to forego a run that compelled her neighbor to the north, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, to pick up her populist critique and carry it into the race against Hillary Clinton. Sanders has since built the message — of hostility toward what he frames as entrenched corporatism and the campaign finance system that sustains it — into a bona fide grassroots movement. Now on the eve of his first test against Clinton, in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, Warren is reemerging. What she’s offering in lieu of an endorsement is a more nuanced argument for Sanders than the one he’s made for himself.
Last week, on the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Warren took the Senate floor to decry it for allowing dark money to flood back into campaigns. She didn’t mention Sanders by name, but as she concluded, she channeled him: “A new presidential election is upon us,” she said. “Anyone who shrugs and claims that change is just too hard has crawled into bed with the billionaires who want to run this country like some private club.”
Then on Friday, Warren released an 11-page report arguing that the Obama administration’s approach to holding corporate lawbreakers criminally accountable has been “shockingly weak.” The report provides snapshots of 20 criminal and civil cases from 2015 in which she holds the feds went easy on wrongdoers — GM for its ignition switch problems; Novartis for an alleged kickback scheme with pharmacists; Massey Energy for its mine explosion; JPMorgan, Citigroup and others for manipulating exchange rates, and so on. In a New York Times op-ed promoting the report, Warren contends that aggressive prosecutions would not only signal to executives that they’ll be held to the same standard as everybody else, they could also spare working people who’d otherwise get gouged. In other words, Warren is arguing that by simply wielding the laws already on the books, rather than struggling to pass new ones, a president could strike a blow against the inequality now agitating the left. And all it would take is somebody in the White House committed to stocking the administration with likeminded enforcers.
Say what you will about its merits. But that’s a far more realistic case for how a Sanders presidency could differ from a Clinton presidency than the candidate has made. On the stump, Sanders pledges a massive expansion of government, to the tune of $18 trillion, and higher taxes to pay for it, while acknowledging it will require no less than a political revolution to push it through Congress. In all likelihood, Sanders’s bid will fall short and he’ll return to the Senate. Then, the measure of his campaign’s success will be how far it forced the party establishment to move to adopt his appeals, from the aspirational to the relatively practicable.
• Clinton’s email migraine returns, three days before the Iowa caucuses
The State Department acknowledged Friday for the first time that classified material has been found in the cache of emails that passed through Hillary Clinton’s private server while she was Secretary of State. The department flagged 22 emails and said they would not be released as part of the latest batch in the piecemeal public disclosure of the communications. The development comes at a particularly inopportune time for Clinton, just three days before Iowa voters gather to caucus in the first voting event of the primary season. Clinton’s team is fighting back, saying the intelligence community is going overboard in characterizing the material as sensitive and instead urging its disclosure.
• Trump’s cross-partisan appeal rattles labor leaders
Some Democratic leaders are openly rooting for Donald Trump to capture the GOP presidential nod, believing that not only would he all but guarantee their party holds the White House but that he’d also have a devastating down-ticket impact on other Republican candidates. Yet some Democratic allies in the labor movement are now beginning to fear the exact opposite — that Trump could pull disproportionately from the ranks of their workers, rendering states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin newly competitive. On immigration and even more so on globalization, Trump’s populist line strikes a cord with many union members. But other labor leaders believe that support will prove soft once they introduce new information about the history of Trump’s treatment of union workers.
New York Times
• Rubio’s ties to a sugar baron worry conservatives
One of Marco Rubio’s earliest political patrons in Florida also happens to be a sugar baron who owns one of the biggest sugar companies in the country. And Rubio in turn has stuck up for federal sugar subsidies, even as he’s derided benefits targeted to other industries as corporate welfare. That inconsistency worries some free-market conservatives who see a candidate willing to bend principle to accommodate his biggest donors.
Around the Water Cooler
• Trump could scare corporate sponsors away from the GOP convention
The quadrennial national party conventions are typically cushy affairs, with the most politically-connected companies throwing money around to underwrite events, sponsor hospitality suites and throw parties for the assembled poobahs. But as Donald Trump steadily improves his prospects for seizing the Republican nomination, some corporate regulars are reconsidering just how involved they’d like to be this year. The fear is that Trump’s over-the-top campaign — with all of the controversial statements he’s made about immigrants, Muslims, and women and others — could make the event a reputational hazard. As on lobbyist put it, “Do you want your company logo underneath Trump’s name?”
• On the trail, Clinton and Sanders both taking whacks at the pharma piñata
In a season when anti-corporate appeals resonate reliably with the Democratic base, the pharmaceutical industry is coming in for especially heavy abuse. On the stump, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders make a regular point of lighting into drugmakers, accusing them of jacking up prices beyond what people can reasonably pay in order to goose profits. Clinton has made a whipping boy of Valeant Pharmaceuticals for its price hikes; she says tackling drug costs should be the next step in improving the Affordable Care Act. A recent poll showed most Americans agreed, with 80% reporting they find drug prices unreasonable.
• Apple steps up its investment in Washington influence
Apple’s first-quarter revenue may have missed the mark, and it’s iPhone sales may be down, but there’s at least one place where the company is most definitely stepping up: Washington. The electronics giant spent a record $4.5 million in lobbying last year — somewhat less than a rounding error for a company with a more than half-trillion dollar market cap, but nevertheless a multiple of what it invested in political influence in the Steve Jobs era. Apple dove into debates across the spectrum, including taxes, trade, encryption and education. And though Tim Cook has moved to raise the company’s profile inside the Beltway, it still spends a fraction of what some other tech heavies do. Facebook, for instance, spent $9.85 million last year.