Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. Reminder: There are 150 days until the Iowa caucuses and 424 days until the 2020 presidential election.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Wednesday night’s first-ever candidate forum on climate change was the lackluster performance turned in by former Vice President Joe Biden. While the other nine contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination who trail him outlined their largely similar visions of how to try to transition the United States away from a carbon-based economy, Biden was forced to explain a campaign fundraiser hosted by the co-founder of a fossil fuel company. “What I was told by my staff is he did not have any responsibility relating to the company,” Biden said of Andrew Goldman, a former executive at the natural gas company Western LNG. “He was not on the board, he was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all. But if that turns out to be true, I will not in any way accept his help.”
It wasn’t the only miscue for Biden at the CNN forum. He also kept repeating what sounded to some like a Donald Trump talking point that the U.S. accounts for only “15 percent of the problem” of global carbon emissions — ranking second in the world, behind China — without noting that in total the nation has emitted more carbon into the atmosphere than any other country. Moreover, Biden seemed to be playing defense all night, a dynamic illustrated by a garbled exchange with a young audience member, who asked him, “How can we trust you to put us, the future, over the wants of large corporations and wealthy individuals?”
“Because I’ve never done it,” Biden replied, unintentionally saying the opposite of what he meant. “I’ve never made that choice my whole career. Simple.”
Biden, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, declined to back a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial technique of extracting oil and natural gas by blasting subsurface rocks with ultrahigh-pressure fluids, which has been blamed for water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and manmade earthquakes. Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders said they would support a nationwide ban.
“Any proposal to avert the climate crisis must include a full fracking ban on public and private lands,” Sanders said.
Businessman Andrew Yang and Sen. Cory Booker also stood out from the pack by calling for an expansion of carbon-neutral nuclear power. The U.S. currently gets 20 percent of its power from nuclear plants, and Booker said the quickest way to reaching the goal of zero carbon emissions nationwide was to bolster nuclear power capacity.
“People who think that we can get there without nuclear being part of the blend just aren’t looking at the facts,” Booker said. While opponents of nuclear power like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren cite the dangers of storing nuclear waste, Yang made the point that technological advances could minimize those risks.
“Nuclear, right now, it gets a bad rap in part because the technologies we’re using are antiquated,” Yang said. “We are working on these new-generation nuclear reactors that use thorium instead of uranium, and thorium is not natively fissile or radioactive. So the odds of a catastrophe drop precipitously.”
Beto on the bus
Campaigns often rent customized buses to move their retinue between events, but it’s unusual for a serious presidential candidate to travel on a scheduled bus like an ordinary person.
But former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke followed up his appearance at the CNN forum by taking the BoltBus, Greyhound’s popular low-cost line, from New York City to Boston, rather than flying or driving. A one-way ticket for the four-and-a-half-hour trip from New York to Boston can cost as little as $15. O’Rourke, who was en route to a town hall at Tufts University, posted several photos from the ride to his social media channels and did a live stream on Facebook.
A spokesperson for the Democratic hopeful told the Washington Post that, when you factor in airport security and transportation to and from the airports, a flight would take “nearly every bit of time as the 4 hr Bolt ride — so why not choose the lower carbon option?”
There is a popular belief that taking Amtrak, which runs frequent service between the two cities, would be even more fuel-efficient than a bus, but on average that’s not the case, according to one study. That analysis, however, assumes that every seat is filled, whereas O’Rourke reported his bus was half-empty.
How long before a candidate wanting to demonstrate climate-change wokeness begins traveling by bicycle?
Schultz drops out before he was in
On Friday morning, billionaire Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, announced he would not be making a third-party challenge in the 2020 presidential election. He blamed the “extreme voices [that] currently dominate the national dialogue, often with a vitriol that crowds out and discourages thoughtful discussions,” and cited the danger of throwing the election to Donald Trump by peeling moderate voters away from the Democrat.
Schultz had said in January that he was considering the race, although he never finalized the decision. He had put his plans on hold in June after back surgery.
The Schultz campaign was not well received from the start. His first dozen tweets after announcing he might run were the subjects of an epic “ratio,” meaning they attracted many more replies (usually in the form of jokes, insults or pleas to sit out the race) than shares of his message. Schultz complained that “billionaire” had become an insult, preferring the terms “person of wealth” or “person of means.” CNN gave him a primetime town hall to share his platform, but he didn’t have much of one, preferring to promote the importance of “leadership” and “results” over any actual policies.
WATCH: @Alivelshi presses Howard Schultz on rich people talking about the concept of a “bifurcated America,” and they engage in a frank discussion about wealth distribution and inequality. pic.twitter.com/JHEXFK1qql— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 5, 2019
In an April interview with MSNBC that went viral, Schultz seemed to struggle with understanding how wealth inequality was a global issue not limited to the United States.
He never connected with voters, with one poll finding him underwater in terms of approval among even independent voters, along with Republicans and Democrats — with just 4 percent total approval across the three groups.
In the end, the coffee mogul evidently found that his campaign was groundless, after being roasted on all sides.
We’ll be here every week, folks. Don’t forget to tip your barista.
Third Dem debate looms
On Thursday, the third Democratic primary debate will be hosted by ABC News in Houston. Because the qualification threshold has been raised, the field has shrunk from the previous 20 participants to just 10: former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
This is the first time that Warren will share a stage with Biden. Warren and the former vice president have a history that goes back to her time as a Harvard professor, when they were at odds over a bankruptcy bill. Biden joked that “you gave me hell” in 2013 as he swore her into the Senate. Multiple polls released this week showed Warren in second place behind Biden, with the gap as small as 4 points in two instances. This is also the first time Warren will share a stage with Harris, who earned a poll bump after the June debates that has since faded.
One topic of interest next week will be health care. In the first of the July debates, Warren and Sanders formed a tag team in defense of a single-payer Medicare for All system against the more moderate, lower-polling candidates on the stage. The next night, Harris and Biden battled each other over their public-option plans, but were sloppier on the details compared with the previous night’s discussion.
The fourth Democratic debate will be held in mid-October at a to-be-announced city in Ohio. Billionaire Tom Steyer and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii are close enough to qualifying that they could join the field, likely splitting it into two nights again. Spiritualist author Marianne Williamson has reached the donor threshold but needs three more qualifying polls before the Oct. 1 deadline.
Does Team Trump fear Warren?
With Elizabeth Warren’s steady rise in the Democratic primary polls and betting markets, the Daily Beast reported this week that President Trump and his allies have gone from viewing the senator as a joke they could easily defeat to seeing her as perhaps the most dangerous potential threat to his reelection. Per the Beast, “the president has specifically highlighted what he views as her surprising political and populist talents during the Democratic primary.”
Trump thought he had dispatched Warren by nicknaming her “Pocahontas.” But she bounced back after her clumsy handling of the controversy over her claim to Cherokee ancestry after apologizing and releasing a comprehensive plan to help Native Americans. She received the endorsement of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, although not all Native Americans were mollified.
Republican strategists told the Daily Beast that attacks against Warren would pick up in the coming weeks as the field continued to narrow. One adviser said that the plan would be to paint her as a far-left radical, following the strategy taken toward the opponent of every recent Republican presidential nominee.
“I mean, look, I’m going to be honest, it’s really difficult to drink out of a paper straw.”
— Sen. Kamala Harris, at Wednesday’s CNN town hall on climate change, after endorsing a ban on plastic straws
“This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about. It wants to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your light bulbs, around your straws and around your cheeseburgers.”
— Sen. Elizabeth Warren, at the same town hall, dismissing calls for such a ban
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”
— President Trump, when asked on Wednesday if a crudely doctored map showing Alabama in Hurricane Dorian’s path had been altered with a Sharpie
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