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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — If New Hampshire Democrats voted today, and the most recent polling is correct, the only candidates who would get any delegates at all from the first-in-the-nation primary would be Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

The two are not only leading the packed field of 2020 presidential contenders, but are the only contenders who have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the crowd in polling and surpassed the crucial 15 percent threshold that candidates need to hit to be awarded delegates.

Of course, the election is not today. And it may look very different when Granite State voters actually head to the polls in February.

But the dynamic between Biden and Sanders is the most important relationship in the 2020 primary at the moment.

And for all their differences, Sanders and Biden have a mutual interest in preserving their duopoly and using each other as foils. Sanders needs an establishment antagonist, while Biden, 76, may prefer running against the 77-year-old Sanders than 20 younger options.

“With Biden in the race, it gives (Sanders) someone to contrast with,” said Mark Longabaugh, who was a aide in Sanders’ 2016 campaign. “I still think one of Bernie Sanders’ central challenges is being able to adjust to a front-runner’s position and ultimately building a coalition that makes him the nominee.”

Longabaugh added: “Biden has the opposite challenge. He has the ability to build a broad coalition, but his challenge is being able to consolidate really core support and enthusiasm. It seems that a lot of people are for Biden, but are they really for Biden?”

Sanders thrilled supports in 2016 as the scrappy underdog taking on Hillary Clinton. But the Vermont independent entered the 2020 contest at the top of a field that had largely adopted his worldview. Fancy fundraisers with corporate titans were out, “Medicare for All” was in.

Then along came Biden, showing little interest in kowtowing to progressive activists and holding a high-dollar fundraiser at the home of a top executive of Comcast (which owns NBC) on his very first night as a candidate.

Sanders began attacking Biden almost immediately on issues like trade, which he wielded effectively against Clinton in 2016, as his poll numbers slipped and Biden’s rose.

“If you add the job loss as a result of NAFTA, which Joe voted for — Joe was a friend of mine and we’re going to have this discussion in a very civil way — but Joe voted for NAFTA, he voted (for Permanent Normal Trade Relations) with China,” Sanders told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “Add those two trade policies together — you’re probably talking about the loss of more than 4 million jobs.”

On CNN, Sanders added, “Joe and I have very different pasts in terms of how we have voted and very different visions for the future.”

Meanwhile, his campaign mentioned Biden in at least three fundraising emails to supporters, including one with a subject line, “The political and financial establishment are plotting against us.”

“Bernie Sanders is trying to make this into a two-person race to recreate the 2016 campaign where Joe Biden becomes a foil for his candidacy,” said Zac Petkanas, a former Clinton aide and Sanders critic.

Other Democrats think Biden stands to gain from conflict with Sanders, too.

Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who attended the first Biden fundraiser, said he knows lots of party donors who worry about Sanders.

“Both from the standpoint of who’s strongest to beat Trump and who’s strongest to stop Bernie, it’s Biden,” said Kessler. “Bernie’s running strong in the polls and there’s a real concern that if we nominate him, we lose.”

One senior Democrat, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about a subject that Biden allies would not engage in on the record, put it more bluntly: “Bernie attacking Biden is the best thing that ever happened to (Biden)” because it makes it appear that it’s already narrowed to a two-person race.

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Politics

Trump’s border visit draws few spectators, for or against his wall

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SAN DIEGO – President Donald Trump’s visit to the border with Mexico here was attended by only a handful of supporters and protesters, some saying a border wall would protect the nation and others that it won’t address the area’s real problem of smuggling tunnels.

Trump’s stop in the Otay Mesa community was announced Monday night, leaving little time to plan organized events for his 3 p.m. arrival. The first time he came to this neighborhood, in early 2018, dozens of anti-Trump protesters shouted at the president from both sides of the border.

A few die-hard Trump fans were there Wednesday wearing red and donning “Make America Great Again” and “USA” baseball caps.

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Supporter Danny Duran had an American flag draped over his shoulders as the president’s motorcade of armored Chevrolet Suburban SUVs rolled by en route to a dirt road that would take him to a section of upgraded border barriers, unveiled last month.

The wall, Duran said, is “good for his campaign, but it’s good for America.”

Though the barrier is part of a long-planned fence replacement, Duran was convinced this was Trump’s wall.

“We need the wall,” he said. “Why not protect our country? I got a fence on my property.”

The Trump well-wishers were confined to a neighborhood of industrial parks about a half mile from the president’s appearance at the border.

Some of the Trump supporters there didn’t want to talk to reporters for fear of having their words misconstrued — one called a reporter “fake news” — or because they believed it would endanger their families.

Duran, a Latino who speaks Spanish, was proud to speak out. “I don’g agree with everything Trump says,” he said, “but he’s doing a good job.”

Luis Garcia, who owns a packaging supplies business nearby, wasn’t as enthused. He said the president’s past threats to shut down the border and place tariffs on some Mexican goods has been bad news for a border economy dependent on trade between both nations.

“I’m from the border,” he said. “I deal with both countries. People here don’t like the president.”

A border wall won’t stop legitimate trade, he said, but neither would it protect the Otay Mesa community from its true scourge — tunnels that run from Mexico to warehouses here and attract cartel traffic — he said. They’ve been used to ship drugs wholesale into the United States.

“It makes no sense,” Garcia said of Trump’s wall. “The wall doesn’t work. It’s a campaign tactic.”

Trump wrapped up a two-day trip to California that included campaign fundraisers in San Francisco, Beverly Hills and San Diego.

The $147-million replacement barrier he observed Wednesday runs for 14 miles from Imperial Beach to Otay Mesa.

Trump plans to use $3.6 billion earmarked for the Pentagon to help construct 175 miles of wall along the southern border.

Last year Trump vowed that a new border wall would stop 99 percent of unauthorized crossings along the border at San Diego.

“Now we have a world class security system at the border,” Trump said Wednesday.

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John Bercow makes prime ministers’ lives ‘hell’ by breaking precedent, claims Cameron

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DAVID CAMERON has revealed that Commons Speaker John Bercow used to make his “life hell” and was often left baffled by his actions as he made unprecedented decisions to side against the Government.

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Barr praised 2017 book that claims colleges unfairly went after male students accused of sexual assault

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WASHINGTON — Before being nominated by President Donald Trump to be attorney general, William Barr strongly endorsed a 2017 book accusing colleges and universities of unfairly punishing male students accused of rape.

Barr’s praise for “Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities” by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, is posted on the book’s Amazon.com page. But during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Barr was not questioned about the blurb, which suggested men are often railroaded by a politically correct campus “mob.”

In the blurb, Barr praises the book for examining multiple cases where, as he described, “Male students are sacrificed to the mob, with academic leaders happily serving as the hangmen.”

Barr’s professed skepticism about some campus sexual assault claims surfaced after Trump’s call this week for the Justice Department to “rescue” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after The New York Times published an excerpt of a new book detailing asexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh while a student at Yale that he had previously denied. The book also includes information about a new allegation.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for further investigation or for the impeachment of Kavanaugh in light of the allegations.

Barr’s endorsement of the book includes a broadside on the Obama administration’s approach to the issue of campus sexual assault.

During Obama’s presidency, colleges and universities were directed to aggressively pursue sexual misconduct allegations under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in education. In 2017, the Trump administration ordered those Obama-era protections to be reversed.

“President Obama’s Education Department — promulgating regulations beyond its statutory authority, invoking erroneous data, and fanning the false narrative of a ‘rape culture’ on college campuses — has created a regime of kangaroo justice,” Barr wrote in the blurb.

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for Barr at the Justice Department, declined comment.

The book by Johnson and Taylor — and Barr’s endorsement of it — were part of the administrative record Education Secretary Betsy DeVos relied on to make her decision to roll back the Obama-era rules, according to records ordered released by a judge in response to a lawsuit challenging the rollback. DeVos, not Barr, has led the Trump administration’s effort to change campus sexual assault policy.

Taylor told NBC News that now that Barr is attorney general, “I am hopeful he will help move policy in the direction Betsy DeVos is trying to do,” while acknowledging that many of DeVos’s proposals could easily be undone by a future administration.

The changes include requiring schools to disclose the identity of accusers to alleged assailants and allowing the accused to question alleged victims during campus investigations.

In light of Trump’s recent tweet about the Justice Department and Kavanaugh, it’s unclear Barr has the power to do anything to “rescue” Kavanaugh or any male student accused of sexual misconduct. Most sexual offenses are prosecuted locally, not by the Justice Department, which handles sex trafficking and child exploitation cases.

In an interview, Taylor said Barr had agreed to write a blurb for his book at a time when neither expected Barr would serve in the Justice Department again. Barr was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993.

Barr’s blurb has also raised concerns among some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said it should have been raised during his confirmation hearings last January. A spokesman for Judiciary Democrats said they had not been aware of the blurb at the time.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the committee, is among those who say they would have wanted to question Barr about the statement.

Due process is always important, Blumenthal told NBC News, but Barr’s comments are “way over the top.”

Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, said Barr’s comments are “incredibly disturbing” coming from someone who is now the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

His statement “really discounts the experiences of survivors and the challenges they face,” Martin said.

She went on to raise concerns that Barr’s comments would mean his Justice Department would “leave schools less safe, especially for women and girls.”

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also members of the committee, agreed that Barr should have been pressed on the matter during his confirmation.

“This statement seems very out of step with the improvements that have been made in recent decades” around how victims of rape are “taken seriously,” said Whitehouse.

Trump and a number of administration officials have come under scrutiny for expressing skepticism about whether females alleging sexual assault should be believed.

In July 2017, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Candace Jackson told The New York Times that 90 percent of accusations fall into the category of “we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation.” She later apologized for the comments.

Earlier, DeVos delivered a policy address in which she said “if everything is harassment, then nothing is.”

At least 17 women have accused Trump of inappropriate behavior, including allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Trump has strongly denied the accusations multiple times.

Taylor, the book’s author, said he doesn’t believe Barr’s endorsement of his book has any bearing on how he would pursue prosecution of sex crimes as attorney general.

Taylor said that he and his co-author are “strong critics” of Trump, adding, “I’m quite willing to believe a lot of the accusations against him are true.”

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