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For the ninth time, the Democratic primary field will come together to debate tonight. However, for the first time, former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Warren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle ‘an egomaniac billionaire’ HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE will take part, throwing a new persona into tonight’s event as Democrats appeal to Nevada voters ahead of Saturday’s caucuses.
Bloomberg — a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat — isn’t competing in the Silver State, yet he’s a center of attention in Las Vegas tonight, along with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Warren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle ‘an egomaniac billionaire’ HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE (I-Vt.), the independent front-runner in the state’s Democratic contest. Both men are 78.
The former mayor has taken on an outsized role in the primary cycle since former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination Meghan McCain to Joy Behar: ‘You guys have done a piss-poor job of convincing me that I should vote for a Democrat’ MORE’s disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire and as the Democratic establishment searches for a candidate who can topple the ultra-left Sanders and then beat Trump.
Bloomberg’s rise in polls invited an escalation in attacks, with Sanders and others accusing the billionaire of running a stealth campaign to buy the nomination. According to The New York Times, Bloomberg has spent more than $400 million on his campaign to date and is reportedly willing to spend upwards of $2 billion by Election Day.
As Julia Manchester reports in her preview of tonight’s event, how Bloomberg parries the coming attacks is worth watching. He offered a preview on Monday when he called out the rhetoric of Sanders’s supporters and accused the Vermont Independent of being President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE’s latest “bro.”
The Associated Press: 5 questions for next Democratic debate, Bloomberg’s 1st.
Matt Flegenheimer, The New York Times: Michael Bloomberg has to debate without a net.
The three-term mayor’s decision to take part in tonight’s debate was a no-brainer. But whether his candidacy ascends following the experience is an open question, as Niall Stanage writes in his latest memo. For months, Bloomberg has moved to the beat of his own drum, flooded the airwaves with campaign ads and bypassed the early states.
Bloomberg will face direct challenges from opponents about his background, wealth and reasons for running. He is likely to hear questions about his “stop-and-frisk” policy of policing, which marred his record in New York. And he will eventually be pressed about his past support for Republicans, including former President George W. Bush in 2004 and other down-ballot candidates over the past decade.
The Hill: Trump accuses Bloomberg of “illegally buying” the Democratic nomination.
The Washington Post: For Mike Bloomberg, Wednesday’s presidential debate means stepping outside his very expensive comfort zone.
The Associated Press: Bloomberg would sell business interests if elected president.
Sanders will be forced to defend his Medicare for All proposal for the umpteenth time as he comes under fire from Nevada Democrats and the powerful Culinary Union, which represents 60,000 workers and provides healthcare for at least twice as many individuals.
Appearing at a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, Sanders also indicated that he has no plans to release any additional medical records despite suffering a heart attack in October. He insisted that the release of three letters from his doctors at the end of December declaring him healthy is sufficient during his presidential bid (The Hill).
For others in the field, the debate will be a prime opportunity to potentially rebound. Biden and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle ‘an egomaniac billionaire’ Klobuchar campaign gets first super PAC HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE (D-Mass.), fresh off disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, are hoping to rise in Nevada and for a diverse group of voters to propel them in the next two contests.
The challenge facing former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegHuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination Sanders campaign expands operations in Michigan Sanders leads among Latino voters: poll MORE and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar campaign gets first super PAC Sanders leads among Latino voters: poll How the media fall in and out of love with candidates MORE (D-Minn.) will also be fresh as they look to appeal to a diverse electorate, something they haven’t had to do so far on a large scale.
FiveThirtyEight: Election Update: Bloomberg’s Super Tuesday gamble may be paying off.
William Galston: Why the young back Bernie Sanders.
The Washington Post: Buttigieg and super PAC improperly coordinated on Nevada ads, watchdog group says.
The Hill: Trump’s four-day swing to California, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado begins with a vow to “clean up” Los Angeles.
More politics news: Former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreClarence Thomas breaks his silence in theaters nationwide New Hampshire only exacerbates Democratic Party agita What Trump got right MORE is launching a voter registration drive (and a defeat-Trump effort) focused on combating climate change and wooing younger voters (BuzzFeed News). … Former President Obama is a fan of data-driven policy solutions “from housing to health,” so he used his Twitter account on Tuesday to highlight articles published by The New York Times as examples. … On Tuesday night, Wisconsin state Sen. Tom Tiffany won the Republican primary for the special election in the state’s 7th Congressional District to replace former Rep. Sean DuffySean DuffyGOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts Ex-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street Why the Wisconsin special election could decide the 2020 presidential election MORE, who resigned in September (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
LEADING THE DAY
JUSTICE & COURTS: Trump’s exercise of his clemency powers on Tuesday was interpreted even by some Republicans as a warmup for what may still be coming from the president following his impeachment and acquittal. Even some of his admirers on Fox News said the burst of mercy, telegraphed and teased by Trump for months, flew in the face of his commitments to voters to drain the swamp.
Trump on Tuesday commuted a 14-year sentence being served by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and pardoned three high-profile white-collar felons and intervened on behalf of seven other people (The Hill).
The president pardoned Michael Milken, convicted of securities fraud; former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, found guilty of tax fraud and lying to federal investigators; and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who paid a $1 million fine and pleaded guilty in 1998 to concealing an extortion attempt to obtain a gaming license in Louisiana (The New York Times).
The White House portrayed the decisions as beneficence. Legal experts said the president may be working up to using his constitutionally unalterable pardon power to keep friend Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneTrump says he has ‘total confidence’ in Barr Judge refuses to delay Stone sentencing In defense of William Barr MORE and former national security adviser Michael Flynn out of prison. Stone was convicted on seven felony counts of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing a proceeding. Flynn admitted to lying to the government.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Tuesday refused to delay Stone’s scheduled sentencing on Thursday (The Hill).
Trump, expressing his personal opinions about the convicted criminals and acknowledging his willingness to be influenced by powerful friends and television commentators, said Blagojevich, who entered prison in 2012 on public corruption charges, was given “a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence.”
Within hours, the former governor, casually dressed and now white-haired, was seen shaking hands with passersby and expressing his gratitude to Trump as a free man. “He’s got, obviously, a big fan in me, and if you’re asking me what my party affiliation is, I’m a Trumpocrat,” he said, smiling.
The president expressed hostility toward the federal investigations and prosecutions handled by James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump commutes sentence of ex-Illinois Gov. Blagojevich A tale of two lies: Stone, McCabe and the danger of a double standard for justice DOJ attorney looking into whether CIA withheld info during start of Russia probe: NYT MORE, the former FBI director, and Patrick Fitzgerald, a former U.S. attorney in Illinois who supervised Blagojevich’s prosecution and was hailed in 2010 as a modern-day Eliot Ness.
Reuters: Trump on Tuesday said all cases stemming from the probe by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN’s Toobin warns McCabe is in ‘perilous condition’ with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill’s 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE into Russian interference in the 2016 election should be “thrown out.”
In remarks to reporters before flying to Los Angeles, Trump commended Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrTrump says he has ‘total confidence’ in Barr In defense of William Barr Trump suggests he may sue over Mueller investigation MORE, who has urged the president without success to stop commenting publicly about ongoing criminal cases (The Hill). Ignoring that advice and claiming that social media put him in the White House, Trump on Tuesday tweeted his desire to see the Stone case tossed out of court (The Associated Press).
The Washington Post: Barr has told people close to Trump that he is considering resigning over Trump’s tweets (the Justice Department denied it).
The Washington Post: Following impeachment and acquittal, Trump declares himself “chief law enforcement officer” of America.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
ADMINISTRATION & INTERNATIONAL: The coronavirus death toll stands at 2,012 this morning, with at least 75,201 cases worldwide, according to the latest data.
Japan overnight released quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers to travel freely without restrictions if they were without symptoms of the virus (The Wall Street Journal).
U.S. health officials on Tuesday told Americans in Japan who declined to fly back to the states on government-chartered flights over the weekend that they wouldn’t be allowed back into the United States for at least 14 days after they depart the cruise ship Diamond Princess, on which the largest concentration of virus transmissions outside of China has erupted.
“Obviously the quarantine hasn’t worked, and this ship has now become a source of infection,” said Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, an outbreak expert at King’s College London. She said the exact mechanism of the virus’s spread was unknown. Although scientists believe the disease is spread mostly by droplets — when people cough or sneeze — it’s possible there are other ways of transmission (The Associated Press).
> China: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from Chinese tech giant Huawei on Tuesday, ruling that the company didn’t have grounds to sue the U.S. government or challenge a 2018 law prohibiting federal agencies from doing business with them.
The telecommunications behemoth filed the lawsuit last year after Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other things, prohibits federal agencies and contractors from purchasing certain products from Huawei and fellow Chinese tech giant ZTE. Huawei contended in the suit that the restrictions were overly punitive and singled out certain companies (The Hill).
“Contracting with the federal government is a privilege, not a constitutionally guaranteed right—at least not as far as this court is aware,” Judge Amos Mazzant of the U.S. District Court in East Texas said in his 57-page ruling.
Huawei expressed its disappointment with the ruling, adding that it would consider additional legal avenues (The Wall Street Journal).
Despite the Huawei fight, the president took aim at proposals that could hurt the ability of U.S. companies to supply jet engines and other parts to the Chinese aviation industry. Trump said in a series of tweets that U.S. national security should not be considered an impediment from having countries buy U.S. products.
“The United States cannot, & will not, become such a difficult place to deal with in terms of foreign countries buying our product, including for the always used National Security excuse, that our companies will be forced to leave in order to remain competitive,” Trump tweeted.
Separately, Beijing revoked the press credentials of three Wall Street Journal reporters while objecting to an opinion article published by the newspaper (The Wall Street Journal).
> Venezuela: The Trump administration on Tuesday announced sanctions against Rosneft Trading, a Russian state-controlled brokerage, adding it to a financial blacklist as it looks to choke off funds from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government and ultimately oust him from office.
According to The Washington Post, Rosneft has taken over an increasing share of Venezuela’s state-owned oil industry and reaped huge profits from exporting its crude while simultaneously trying to evade U.S. sanctions and the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign to oust the Venezuelan president.
Rosneft Trading is reportedly responsible for shipping up to 70 percent of Venezuela’s oil to overseas customers.
“Rosneft Trading has propped up the dictatorial Maduro, enabling his repression of the Venezuelan people,” Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDemocratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister The Hill’s Morning Report – Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Congress looks to strengthen hand in State Department following impeachment MORE said while announcing the new round of sanctions (The Associated Press).
> Afghanistan: Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner of a disputed presidential election, but his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, rejected the result and vowed to form his own government, threatening new turmoil as the United States works to seal a U.S. troop withdrawal deal with Taliban militants (Reuters).
> Climate change: Coral reef habitats could be wiped out across the world by the end of the century, according to research released Monday, with climate change serving as the main cause.
According to Renee Setter, a biogeographer at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, warming oceans and rising seas could have a devastating impact on the corals and ocean ecosystems, suggesting that current efforts to restore dying corals will be a challenge.
“By 2100, it’s looking quite grim,” said Setter, who presented her findings at the annual conference in San Diego called the Ocean Sciences Meeting (NBC News).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: [email protected] and [email protected]. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
In defense of William Barr, by Jonathan Turley, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2STeN13
Imagine if a Democrat behaved like Bill Barr, by Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, contributing writers for The Atlantic and Lawfare editors. https://bit.ly/2P2oMjd
WHERE AND WHEN
The House returns to legislative work on Feb. 25.
The Senate will convene for a pro forma session on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and return from recess on Feb. 24.
The president participates in a roundtable with supporters in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and attends a joint fundraising committee luncheon there. Trump will speak in Bakersfield, Calif., about access to water in the state’s agricultural sector. The president will fly to Arizona tonight to speak at a reelection rally in Phoenix.
Vice President Pence will be in Virginia today to speak to employees at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton; visit Hampton University’s Proton Therapy Institute to mark Black History Month and participate in a roundtable discussion there; and visit Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. He will return to Washington this evening.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today has already participated in a Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Pillar 3 event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and spoke there about “Liberating Africa’s Entrepreneurs.” Flying to Saudi Arabia this evening, he meets with Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman in Riyadh. Later this week, the secretary will be in Oman and plans to return to the United States by Saturday.
You’re invited to The Hill’s upcoming newsmaker events:
➤ Building the Dream: Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, with Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, Rep. Alma AdamsAlma Shealey AdamsThe Hill’s Morning Report – Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms The Hill’s Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in On The Money: Republicans expect Trump to pull controversial Fed nominee | Inside Judy Shelton’s confirmation hearing | Trump extends emergency declaration at border MORE (D-N.C.), state Sen. Paul Newton (R) and others to discuss financial hurdles to homeownership. Join live in Charlotte or join the livestream.
➤ America’s Opioid Epidemic: Lessons Learned & A Way Forward, Feb. 26, in Washington, exploring access to treatment for opioid addiction and recovery issues with Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rep. David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceThe Hill’s Morning Report – Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi’s staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit The Hill’s Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoThe Hill’s Morning Report – Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi’s staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit The Hill’s Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (D-N.Y.). RSVP today!
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➔ State watch: In Massachusetts, longtime state Rep. David Nangle (D) was arrested Tuesday and charged with embezzling campaign funds. Nangle was indicted on 10 counts of wire fraud, four counts of bank fraud, nine counts of making false statements to a bank and five counts of filing false tax returns, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement (The Hill). … In Utah, lawmakers voted on Tuesday to get tough on pornography but eased penalties for polygamy (The Associated Press).
➔ Sexual abuse: The Boy Scouts of America on Tuesday urged victims to come forward as the 110-year-old organization filed for bankruptcy protection in the first step toward creating a compensation fund for potentially thousands of men who were molested as youngsters by scoutmasters or other leaders. The Scouts resorted to Chapter 11 in hopes of surviving a barrage of lawsuits (The Associated Press).
➔ Washington, D.C.: Early signs suggest the Washington Redskins and owner Dan Snyder will build a new stadium on the site of FedEx Field in suburban Maryland rather than relocate into the District. Members of Congress who believe the team’s name is a demeaning slur and want it changed do not want to grant the city long-term access to land at RFK Stadium, where the Redskins earned football fame eons ago (The Washington Post). … Some of the cherry trees in the nation’s capital are confused by warm winter weather this year, which is prompting some angst about the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, a magnet for tourists and scheduled for March 20 (DCist).
➔ Books: The U.S. book publishing industry is dominated by white, female executives, according to a recent survey that suggested a lack in the industry of diverse perspectives and world experiences. Publishers vow to correct blind spots following debate and criticism of the bestselling novel “American Dirt” (Christian Science Monitor).
And finally … The April 25 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington — a red carpet affair shunned by the president since his inauguration and affectionately derided by naysayers as a “nerd prom” — will add some comedy dazzle this year to accompany a full-throated defense of journalistic excellence in America.
Comedians Kenan Thompson of “Saturday Night Live” and Hasan Minhaj of Netflix’s “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” are tasked with enlivening an event that’s sure to gain some spark in an election year (The Associated Press).
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