Sanders unveils plan to tax companies with high-earning CEOs

Sen. Bernie Sanders. | Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders. | Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Holly Otterbein writes:

Bernie Sanders has a new plan to reduce the widening gap between the rich and poor.

The presidential candidate and decadeslong crusader against income inequality unveiled a proposal Monday to raise taxes on businesses whose CEOs make at least 50 times more than their median workers.

The boost in corporate taxes would be imposed on companies that bring in $100 million or more in annual revenue.

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Sanders campaign wracked by dissension


By Holly Otterbein and Trent Spiner

A staff shakeup and loss of an endorsement to Elizabeth Warren has allies warning of deeper problems.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Some of Bernie Sanders’ fiercest supporters are sounding the alarm that the campaign is bogged down by disorganization, personality clashes, and poor communication between state operations and national headquarters.

After a pair of setbacks this week — the acrimonious shakeup of his staff in New Hampshire on Sunday and loss of the Working Families Party's endorsement to Elizabeth Warren a day later — Sanders’ allies and former aides are worried that recent disappointments are not one-off stumbles but rather emblematic of larger problems in his bid for the White House. The concerns are particularly acute in New Hampshire.

“Seeing the campaign not be able to outshine Warren with WFP progressives doesn’t have me questioning WFP’s process,” said Rafael Shimunov, a former national creative director for WFP and 2016 Sanders volunteer. “It has me questioning where the Bernie campaign could have done better, because I want to make sure the strongest candidate unmasks Biden and unseats Trump.”

The worries come as the campaign enters a critical, more urgent phase. After Labor Day, more voters typically tune into the election and begin to make up their minds. Expectations for Sanders are sky-high, especially in New Hampshire, where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 22 percentage points. 

But Warren has jumped in the national polls to tie Sanders for second place, and Joe Biden has proven harder to knock off his first-place perch than his rivals expected.

“In 2016, Bernie was the David who beat Goliath in New Hampshire — the expectations this time around are incomparable,” said Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist with close ties to labor groups. “It would be a mistake to try to replicate the type of campaign that Sanders ran in New Hampshire in 2016 because the dynamics of this race are completely different. For Sanders to be successful, a professional operation is critical.”

Jeff Weaver, a top Sanders adviser, told POLITICO that numerous rank-and-file members in the Working Families Party support Sanders and that his ground game in New Hampshire and other early states is strong. Sanders has 14 times as many identified voters in the Granite State than it had at this time in 2016, according to his campaign, and is doubling his field staff there from 26 to 50 employees. He also said the campaign’s national and states staff are in daily contact, and that he has a regular “states call” in which he asks his aides across the country to be honest about the problems they’re seeing.

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Stalled Sanders campaign orchestrated reboot after first debate


The senator is betting that a renewed focus on his signature proposal — 'Medicare for All' — is the key to jump-starting his candidacy and overtaking Joe Biden.

Holly Otterbein and Alex Thompson report:

DES MOINES — A little over a month ago, despite putting on a brave face publicly, Bernie Sanders’ aides privately concluded that a shakeup was needed for his presidential campaign.

The Vermont senator had neglected to practice in mock sessions before the first 2020 debate, and failed to aggressively take on former Vice President Joe Biden on stage. On the trail, he was sticking to the old hits: His stump speech sounded remarkably similar to the one he delivered in his first presidential bid, and he gave a major address touting democratic socialism that mirrored his talk on the same subject in 2015. Even some of his diehard supporters wondered how he would distinguish himself in a crowded field of candidates, especially when many claimed to embrace his left-wing ideals.

Now, Sanders and his team have settled on a new strategy designed to make him stand out in the massive field: They’re betting that a renewed focus on his signature proposal of "Medicare for All" is the key to jump-starting his candidacy and overtaking Biden as the race ramps up this fall.

Sanders has raised more money and has more donors than any other candidate in the Democratic primary — upwards of $36 million from over 850,000 people. But as support in some national and early-state polling stalled or gradually eroded after Biden jumped in the race, it became clear that what worked in 2016 in a one-on-one primary against a moderate wouldn't necessarily succeed in a multi-candidate race with more than one progressive.

Over the past several weeks, his staffers have organized a flurry of events centered around the failures of the current health care system and highlighting his role as the author of the main Medicare for All proposal in the Senate. His aides also brainstormed before the second debate to establish a game plan to put Medicare for All at the center of the showdown.

Sanders told POLITICO he is now talking about Medicare for All more than ever before and that he sees it as the “defining issue” of the 2020 campaign. 

“It could be the winning issue for me in the primary, it will be the winning issue for me in the general election,” he said. “I’m campaigning on the legislation that I wrote. As you know, I wrote the damn bill,” he added, referencing his quip from the second debate that went viral.

Campaign staffers argue the new tack is working, pointing out that Sanders received the biggest polling bump (1.8 percent) of any candidate after the second debate, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. That was especially encouraging given that health care dominated much of the conversation. 

But the focus on Medicare for All does come with risks. Some recent polls show that a public option — essentially an ability to buy into Medicare, which Biden supports — is more popular than the sweeping single-payer proposal that Sanders backs. Several 2020 rivals have also argued that any candidate who supports Medicare for All is unelectable given the disruption it would cause for people who like their private insurance.

But the Sanders campaign believes they are seizing on his natural strength. Primary voters already see Sanders as the strongest Democratic candidate on health care, usually followed by Biden and Elizabeth Warren, according to recent polls by Morning Consult, Reuters-Ipsos, Washington Post-ABC News and CNN.

“Health care is the No. 1 issue with voters, especially Democratic primary voters, and Bernie is the most trusted candidate on health care,” Sanders’ pollster, Ben Tulchin, said in an interview. “So it became increasingly clear over the last few months, as the campaign talked more and more about it, that health care was a real strength and opportunity for us to focus on. And as a result of doing that, we’ve gained in the polling.”

Nina Turner, a co-chair on the Sanders campaign, said his team was by no means ignoring Medicare for All earlier in the primary. “But it's his signature issue and he needs to go all in on that, and the polling shows that,” she said The strategy has begun to take form over the past several weeks. Sanders has rallied with protestors in Philadelphia over a hospital closure, given a high-profile speech about Medicare for All in Washington, D.C., and traveled across the border into Canada with two buses full of reporters and diabetic patients looking to buy lower-cost prescription drugs.

"To be honest, I wasn't taking notice of Bernie Sanders before," said Rachael Lockwood, a Michigan-based mother of three diabetic children who rode with Sanders to Canada but hasn't decided yet who she is voting for in the Democratic primary. "I'm definitely paying attention now.”

The Sanders campaign is also considering doing additional Medicare for All events, such as health care-focused town halls in the early states. “I wrote the damn bill” — his rejoinder at the second debate to criticism of Medicare for All — has become a campaign rallying cry, fit with printed stickers

Beyond playing to the candidate’s sweet spot, Sanders’ team believes that Medicare for All provides a sharp contrast in a large field — and is an issue he knows inside and out — at a time when several surveys show health care is a top concern among voters. Though he has pushed for Medicare for All for decades, his aides think it is critical to remind voters of that fact — and that they can use his health care-related campaign events to shape media coverage of the race.

Advisers also say the new focus especially allows Sanders to distinguish himself from Biden, who is opposed to Medicare for All, and could eat into Biden’s support. Despite coming from opposite wings of the Democratic Party, polling shows there is significant demographic overlap between Biden and Sanders backers, particularly among white voters without a college degree. Biden’s voters often list Sanders as their second choice.

"The health care discussion allows us to highlight a number of differences between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden,” said Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders. “Obviously health care, but it's also a willingness to take on special interests and a willingness to act decisively to lower prescription drug prices by half, and speaks to broader themes of whose side people are on."

The new strategy was put to use in the second debate late last month. The campaign’s plan was to use John Delaney and John Hickenlooper as anti-Medicare for All foils. They served as stand-ins for Biden, too. And by making his health care-focused trips to Canada and Philadelphia before the second debate, as well as battling with Biden over Medicare for All, Sanders’ aides believe they made it more likely that moderators would focus on the issue.


‘Corn, soybeans and landmines’: Dems sweat early state blunders


David Siders reports:

LAS VEGAS — With two sets of debates and six months of fundraising finished, a new stage is opening in the Democratic presidential primary: The summer slog.

For six weeks until the next debate, in mid-September, candidates will shift their focus more completely to the early primary states, grinding through a ritualistic run of picnics, forums, and party fundraisers: The Wing Ding, the Iowa State Fair, the Summer Sizzler, Londonderry’s Old Home Days.

For the frontrunners, the rigors of a month full of intimate, often less scripted public appearances will present a significant test. But the weaker contenders will also come under considerable pressure. Some will likely begin running out of money or will fail to qualify for the next set of debates, culling the now-sprawling field.

It was at the Iowa State Fair in 2011 that Mitt Romney perilously told a heckler: “Corporations are people.” Republicans Tommy Thompson and Tim Pawlenty abandoned their presidential campaigns that year after a weak showing in the Ames Straw Poll, before the GOP discontinued the tradition. 

Four years later in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton welcomed summer with her moving rope line to keep reporters at bay, reinforcing her campaign’s imperious image.

“The political landscape in Iowa is full of corn, soybeans and landmines,” said Dave Nagle, a former Iowa congressman and state Democratic party chairman. “An offhanded comment when a candidate is tired, a flippant remark can be blown way out of proportion and put a candidate significantly behind.”

Or as the progressive consultant Rebecca Katz put it, “There’s plenty of chances to fuck this all up.”

“All of these moments with candidates have been pretty controlled” so far in the campaign, said Katz, who advised Cynthia Nixon in her primary campaign against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year. “But now we’re getting into the quote, unquote fun part, and you’re going to see them out there with people really talking, and who knows what will happen.”

The campaign’s summer push began in 108-degree heat over the weekend in Las Vegas, where 19 candidates were drawn to a labor forum, then held competing rallies and events at senior centers, restaurants and churches in the city and suburban Henderson. 

The herd will migrate this week to Iowa and its Wing Ding dinner and state fair — speaking to raucous crowds and meeting with supporters, but also contending with fried food and hecklers.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign will focus much of its effort over the next six weeks building its organization in the four early primary states, with the candidate planning a spate of public appearances. Such in-person visits are vital to locking in support reflected in current polls, while also allowing Biden to road test and fine tune his campaign messages before public attention turns more completely to 2020 after Labor Day, a Biden adviser told POLITICO.

Sen. Kamala Harris, who has been slower than some candidates to establish a presence in Iowa, is planning a five-day bus tour through the state to assert herself there. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are both planning to aggressively campaign in Iowa and other early primary states. Several campaigns are beginning to internally discuss television advertising, after President Donald Trump aired a 30-second ad during the Democratic debates last week criticizing Democrats for “proposing a free taxpayer-funded healthcare for illegal immigrants.”

“Somehow these debates sort of stultified the race in some ways,” said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster. “We’re in the middle of summer, and starting to get into late summer, and I don’t think any major candidate … has start to spend serious money in Iowa yet, or South Carolina or New Hampshire for that matter.”

He said, “I think these debates were a weird kind of death trap for most of these [campaigns] … I think now it’s going to start becoming much more of a fight about Iowa and New Hampshire.”

Initial polling following the second round of debates suggested little movement in public opinion polls. And most observers — including advisers to several campaigns — do not expect significant swings in public opinion before the next debates.

It is not impossible, however, and candidates will try. Twenty years ago, Bill Bradley used a furious summer of campaigning in New Hampshire to pull even with or overtake Al Gore in state polls, putting a scare into Gore’s campaign. Mark Longabaugh, who ran Bradley’s campaign in the state, called August “a dynamite time to gain ground in Iowa and New Hampshire … It’s a good opportunity to connect to some of those voters.”

In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama used the summer of the off-election year to add policy heft to his campaign, proposing tax cuts for the middle class and announcing a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq. But it was still a slog for the future president, who entered August 2007 about 15 percentage points behind Clinton.

In the “dog days of summer,” said Doug Herman, a Democratic strategist who worked for Obama in New Hampshire in 2007, “It was a slog. We had trouble getting people to show up.”

“You’ve got people focused on vacation, and in Iowa they’re going to the state fair. And I guarantee you they’re not going because of the Soapbox,” he said. “There’s opportunity for stealth, under the radar movement. But it’s going to be because you’re organizing, and you’re doing it at a retail level.”

Free of debate preparation, candidates can focus on staffing, fundraising and on messaging that is not dictated by confrontation with other candidates. Michael Ceraso, who was South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s New Hampshire director before leaving the campaign last week, called August “a good month to get the house in order, scale, hire, put their efficiencies in place.”

Ceraso, who said he is leaving presidential politics to focus on advocacy work around mental health, said what a candidate accomplishes in August “is a huge part of the campaign’s DNA.”

In Las Vegas on Saturday, Julián Castro, the former Obama Cabinet secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, said his campaign is “keeping our head down and just getting stronger and stronger and stronger in this race.”

For many candidates, August will remain a rush to qualify for the September debates. On Friday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar became the eighth candidate to announce that she had met the polling and donor thresholds required ahead of an Aug. 28 deadline.

Marc Farinella, who ran Obama’s North Carolina campaign in 2008, said, “The way most campaigns end is your accountant calls you and says you’re out of money. So, the second-tier candidates need to find a way to hold on … The summer is likely to be a tough time. It’s often a slow fundraising time anyway.”

He said, “The whole environment is such that there’s likely going to be a lot of stasis. Things are likely frozen for a bit.”

Jaime Harrison, associate chair of the Democratic National Committee and a former South Carolina state party chair, said, “The question is whether dollars start to dry up … and you get folks who drop out before the official announcement of the next debate [qualifiers] in order to save face.”

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, one of many candidates who has not yet qualified for the September debate, joked to reporters over the weekend at an event in Las Vegas, “As soon as all of you put as part of the story, I’m sure we’ll get the donors.”

But he downplayed the significance of qualifying, saying it is voters in early primary states — “like here in Nevada” — who winnow the field.

In his answer, Bullock avoided a common gaffe.

As Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said when asked what advice he would give to candidates about campaigning in his early primary state, “The first thing they need to do to appeal to the people of Nevada is understand that it’s pronounced Nev-AD-a.”