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By Benjy Sarlin

WASHINGTON — Democrats running for president have debated the Green New Deal for months, but a separate demand from climate advocates to aggressively restrict fossil fuel extraction is exposing new fissures within the field of primary candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., unveiled a plan for public lands last week headlined by a moratorium on fossil fuel exploration. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called for a similar ban as well.

“Any serious effort to address climate change must include public lands  —  fossil fuel extraction in these areas is responsible for nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,” Warren said in a Medium post outlining her plan.

The move drew cheers from activists in the “keep it in the ground” movement, a coalition of environmental activists who seek to block back mining, drilling and fracking operations in order to push the economy toward renewable energy more quickly.

“Keep it in the ground” supporters draw on the same arguments as the Green New Deal: According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world has only a limited window to slash greenhouse gas emissions to levels that are likely to head off a dangerous increase in global temperatures.

But the two causes, while closely related, are not identical. The Green New Deal resolution co-authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., called for sweeping investments in renewable energy, but kept silent on how to regulate fossil fuels. That omission prompted some criticism from groups like Greenpeace, which praised Warren and Sanders for their own plans.

The climate advocacy group is keeping a scorecard for 2020 candidates that grades them separately on their support for the Green New Deal and for “keep it in the ground” policies. “In order to actually achieve a Green New Deal, you have to transition off fossil fuels,” Thanu Yakupitiyage, U.S. communications manager for, told NBC News. “It’s implicit in the deal.”

Sens. Warren, Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand have signed onto the “Keep It In The Ground Act,” a bill by Sen. Jeff Merkley that would block new oil, coal and gas leases on public land and waters. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is backing onto a separate bill with Sanders that seeks “a mandatory fossil fuel phase-out” in the electricity sector by 2050. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has tweeted that she opposes drilling on public land.

The issue is set to be a major divide in the general election. President Donald Trump has regularly disparaged climate science and renewable energy technology, while pushing for an expansion of coal, oil and gas and rolling back Obama-era regulations. Republicans have made the Green New Deal an early focus of their attacks.

But even among Democrats and climate-minded policymakers, keeping it in the ground is far from a default position.

Some argue natural gas, a booming industry in recent years, is an important component of any climate strategy because it displaces energy sources like coal that produce more pollution. On the political front, some Democrats worry about ceding ground on economic policy to Republicans, who cite oil and gas production as a source of job growth.

“I see these attempts to ban production of oil and gas on public lands more as a campaign ploy than a serious climate change strategy,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former climate aide to President Bill Clinton and strategic adviser at the centrist Progressive Policy Institute.

Within the 2020 Democratic field, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has made his ties to the oil and gas industry a key part of his campaign message, setting up a contrast with candidates like Warren and Sanders. Dubbed “Frackenlooper” by environmental critics in the state, he cites his work negotiating with gas companies to regulate methane leaks, a major source of climate emissions, as a national model.

“If climate change policy becomes synonymous in the U.S. psyche with higher utility bills, rising taxes and lost jobs, we will have missed our shot — and we might not get another one before it’s too late,” he wrote in an op-ed last month.

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who recently announced a jobs-focused presidential campaign, has also praised the “immense climate-related benefits and economic benefits” of natural gas, a growing industry in his state.

Others are still working out their approach. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, faced criticism for voting to lift a decades-old ban on oil exports, which environmental groups worried would discourage countries from transitioning to clean energy. O’Rourke’s campaign defended the move, arguing oil production faced stricter environmental regulations in America, but also said he now opposes lifting the ban under Trump.

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Trump’s facing crises around the world. So why aren’t Democratic candidates talking about foreign policy?



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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — There could be a war with Iran. There’s already a trade war with China. Venezuela is in crisis. North Korea is not giving up nukes. And Russia is up to its usual tricks.

But you won’t hear much about any of that on the Democratic presidential campaign trail. And while most of the leading candidates touch on foreign policy on their campaign websites, it’s often only in short and broad statements that lay out universal principals like keeping Americans safe, while offering little in the way of details.

And some party leaders say that has to change since national security is always one catastrophe away from being the only issue anyone cares about, and Washington these days seems perpetually on the brink of crisis.

“I’m just surprised nobody’s talking about it because this is where Donald Trump is weakest,” presidential contender Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., told NBC News last week, the day after a confrontation with Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., on Iran.

“This is the most reckless commander-in-chief perhaps in American history, and we can’t just ignore that,” Moulton said.

A largely unknown Marine combat veteran, Moulton has positioned himself as the national security expert in the crowded Democratic field.

It’s a spot no one else seems to want it, at least so far.

With a near daily rollout of detailed policy statements and legislation, the Democrat have churned through everything from slavery reparations to abolishing the Senate’s legislative filibuster to saving the planet from climate change — but they have barely skimmed the world and America’s place in it.

That’s a stark contrast to the last time Democrats had a sprawling presidential primary — in 2008, when the Iraq War was the biggest issue and the main one separating the two final candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, though it took a back seat in the 2016 contest between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has warned that Democrats need to do more to close “the national security gap” with Republicans, who Americans have viewed for decades as better able to defend the country from attack.

“I think it is going to be a key element of Trump’s strategy in 2020,” Murphy said last week at a conference organized by National Security Action, a new group of former Obama administration officials. “If we don’t actively talk about our plans to protect the country … then we will not close that gap.”

But among Democratic primary voters, there’s little interest.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found just 11 percent of respondents said national security and terrorism should be the top priority of the federal government, down from 21 percent at a similar point in the last presidential election cycle. And those questions rarely get put to candidates by voters as they visit the early voting states around the country.

“It’s hard to get people to care about foreign policy, generally,” said Tommy Vietor, a former Obama national security spokesperson who now hosts Pod Save the World, a foreign policy spinoff of the popular Pod Save America podcast.

But he predicted candidates won’t be able to avoid the issues forever and noted that foreign policy is the one place where presidents can implement their vision without worrying too much about Congress or the courts.

“It’s surprising to me how much time candidates spend debating policy that they may never end up getting through Congress when, on foreign policy, as president, you have full latitude to act on your own,” he said.

One reason is that few of the Democratic presidential candidates have much experience in international relations and may feel more comfortable sticking to familiar domestic turf, especially when voters aren’t demanding it.

It used to be accepted as fact that no one could win the White House without passing the “commander-in-chief test,” which meant projecting strength, a steady hand and expertise on national security, but recent elections have scrambled the rules of American politics.

Clinton twice tried and failed to exploit the test. First, in 2008 against Obama, her campaign produced an ad asking voters if they wanted Obama, an inexperienced freshman senator from Illinois, answering a 3 a.m. phone call about a global crisis. Then, Clinton and her allies tried in 2016 when they borrowed the mushroom cloud page from Lyndon Johnson’s playbook to question Trump’s temperament.

In both cases, her successful opponents countered that they had better judgment on world affairs, even if she had more experience.

Stephen Miles, the director of Win Without War, a progressive national security coalition, said Trump was effective in 2016 by painting Democrats as defenders of a creaky foreign policy establishment that had led to endless wars, controversial trade deals and pointless foreign aggression.

In 2020, he said, candidates should offer an alternative not only to Trump, but also to the old way of doing things. “Trying to defend the failed status quo is not going to fly, so what is your take?” he said.

But he pointed to some candidates who have started to take steps to do that, even if it’s far from being the centerpieces of their campaigns.

Sanders has given some speeches on foreign policy, hired a well-known adviser and pushed congressional resolutions against the Trump administration’s policy toward the Yemeni civil war.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who joined the Senate Armed Services Committee a few years ago in part to bolster her limited foreign policy experience, recently has become more active on that panel and laid out her vision in a speech and article in Foreign Affairs.

And while many Democrats may not agree with her worldview, longshot contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a military veteran, has made foreign policy central to her presidential bid.

But the candidate with by far the most experience in that realm is former Vice President Joe Biden. When speaking, he weaves in stories about world leaders and mockery of Trump’s warmth to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I know all the world leaders,” Biden said in an interview with a South Carolina NBC affiliate. “I’m the guy that told the Chinese that when they set up these air defense zones, we’re going to fly right through them.”

Jesse Lehrich, a foreign policy spokesperson on Clinton’s 2016 campaign, summed it up: “I get it — Democratic primary voters aren’t clamoring for detailed plans on countering terrorism in the Sahel. But there’s a real opportunity to put forward an affirmative vision of American leadership.”

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For Trump’s 2020 re-election, not all tariffs are created equal



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By Dante Chinni

WASHINGTON — Since his arrival in Washington, President Donald Trump has brought a different approach to trade, sparking fights with U.S. allies and adversaries in search of better deals. But as the 2020 election draws closer, a look at some of the numbers shows not all trade disputes are equal in the eyes of the nation’s electoral map.

Consider Trump’s trade fight with China.

Last week those talks hit another bump in the road as both sides dug in a little deeper. The United States raised tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports and the Chinese responded by raising tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods.

The impact of that fight can be felt around the U.S. economy, but America’s farmers have taken some of the biggest hits as the Chinese have hiked tariffs on U.S. agricultural products such as corn, wheat and soybeans.

Those agricultural tariffs have some very specific targets. Look at the top 10 states for crop acreage in 2018.

Look at the top 10 states for crop acreage in 2018.

The affected swath runs right through the heartland and a collection of states that was very good to Trump in 2016. All but two of those states on that list supported Trump in the last presidential race.

And that’s not unintentional. The Chinese created a set of tariffs that would hurt Trump politically. But the tariff impacts have led some people to question the political wisdom of such a fight for Trump. How can the president fight a war that hits so directly at his voters?

Part of the answer may be because he doesn’t really have to worry much about them. Their political loyalty looks solid. Look at the outcomes in those states in 2016. Trump won most of them by huge margins.

Part of the answer may be because he doesn’t really have to worry much about them. Their political loyalty looks solid. Look at the outcomes in those states in 2016.

The closest states on that list in 2016 were Iowa and Texas, and Trump won both by 9 percentage points. And some of the states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas — were massive 20-plus-point blowouts.

In other words, even if Trump takes a hit in the states on this list, his 2020 chances aren’t likely to be affected too harshly. If he wins Kansas by 18 points instead of 20, he still gets the state’s six electoral votes.

Why are they so safe? The truth is, despite all talk about trade and the economy, other issues matter more to some voters. Many of these states have a deep vein of cultural conservatism running through them. Among the eight states Trump won on that list, only Iowa (three times) and Indiana (once) have voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 2000.

But not all trade fights are created equal. Consider the news this week around auto tariffs.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration announced it was delaying a possible 25 percent tariff on foreign cars and car parts by up to six months. The auto tariffs have been aggressively opposed by both U.S. and foreign automakers who say the fee’s imposition could lead to a loss of 700,000 jobs in the United States.

The Trump Administration could still choose to impose auto tariffs at a later date, but the more cautious approach on autos may have something to do with the automakers and suppliers make up important parts of the states that won 2016 for Trump: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

In each of these states Trump’s victory margin was less than one percentage point.

In each of those states, Trump’s victory margin was less than one percentage point and in each state, the number of auto industry employees far exceeds the number of votes that gave Trump his win.

Simply put, every vote is likely to matter in those states in 2020 and right now Trump has a good re-election argument to make to them.

The workers in those states have enjoyed the fruits of a booming economy under Trump. The unemployment rate in each is 4 percent or lower — down from when Trump took office. And the auto industry has added 42,000 manufacturing jobs in that period.

But anything that changes that situation could be problematic for the president. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin aren’t like Kansas and North Dakota. They have a history of voting Democratic in presidential races. In fact, until 2016, they had all voted Democratic in every presidential race since 1992.

As the tariff fights go on, those are points to keep in mind.

Trade disputes may center on economic leverage and better deals, but they are also about politics. And as 2020 gets closer, the states affected by a trade fight may be just as or more important than the deals the Trump Administration has in mind.

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It’s ‘not good enough’ just to defeat Trump in 2020



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By Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., argued Sunday that his candidacy has the potential to energize and transform the Democratic Party on issues like climate change, saying that it’s “not good enough” for the party to nominate a candidate just to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.

Appearing on “Meet the Press,” Sanders hit back at former Vice President Joe Biden’s argument, delivered Saturday during a campaign rally in Philadelphia, that the “most important plank” of his environmental policy is to “beat Trump.”

“Beating Trump is not good enough. You have to beat the fossil fuel industry, you have to take on all the forces of the status quo who do not want to move this country to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” he said.

“Taking on Trump? Of course you’ve got to do that. But you need a real plan to transform our energy system.”

Calling Trump “the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said that he brings a different coalition to the ballot box around his progressive agenda on issues like health care, education and wages.

“We’re going to create the kind of excitement that we need to bring out the large voter turnout,” Sanders said. “The truth is that our campaign, I think, can generate that excitement.”

It’s a debate that underscores the differences in approach between Sanders and Biden. The former vice president recently told reporters in New Hampshire that he expects bipartisanship to return to Washington once Trump leaves office.

“You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends,” Biden said.

“If we can’t change it, we’re in trouble. This nation cannot function without generating consensus.”

When he addressed climate change during his Saturday rally, he argued that the solution to the “existential crisis” is cooperation.

“We need to set the most aggressive goals as soon as possible. But we have to work together to get it done,” Biden said.

Sanders on Sunday made the case for more sweeping changes.

“Our campaign has a different goal — to transform this country,” Sanders. “And we are taking on the entire establishment when we do that.”

Sanders and his allies have sought to draw a contrast to the former vice president as they take on the political establishment. The two men have topped virtually every poll of the Democratic presidential field.

But while Sanders blasts establishment Democrats for thinking too small, embedded in Biden’s argument about the need to defeat Trump is the idea that some in the party have that Sanders’ progressive platform is too far to the left to win in a general election.

Sanders dismissed that notion during his interview, as well as the question of whether his defeat in 2016 to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton shows he can’t capture the party’s nomination.

“We took on the entire Democratic establishment — we took on the Democratic National Committee, we took on every Democratic governor, we took on every Democratic mayor, and we ended up winning 22 states and 13 million votes, and in fact bringing forth an agenda that transformed the Democratic party,” he said.

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