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Democrats debate: A crack that Biden isn't likely to forget

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren onstage

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren onstage Thursday at the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Robyn Beck

That got old fast

For the low-tier candidates at Thursday night's Democratic debate, time is running short to stand out and break out. Julián Castro decided to take a shot at Joe Biden during an argument about health insurance with a dog-whistle suggestion that the former vice president was going senile.

Are you forgetting already what you just said two minutes ago?” So no one in the audience would forget, or miss his meaning, Castro accused Biden of "forgetting" three times. In fact, Biden hadn't said what Castro said he said.

For the first two hours, Biden seemed steady enough as he sought to keep his fragile front-runner status. But he provided a grandpa giggle in the third hour when, meandering about how communities can educate children, Biden advised, “Make sure you have the record player on at night."

Onstage with both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for the first time, Biden hit their "Medicare for all" plans. When Sanders asserted union members who lost hard-won private plans would get what their companies saved, Biden countered: “For a socialist, you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do.”

Warren, contending private plans won't be missed, said, "Let's be clear: I've actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company." Amy Klobuchar, warning against an end to private insurance, said, “I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think that’s a bad idea.” Pete Buttigieg favored a public option but said he trusts Americans "to decide what makes the most sense for you.”

Jousting paused when four candidates praised rival Beto O'Rourke for his passionate advocacy for gun control after the mass shootings in his El Paso, Texas, hometown. But few went as far as his call for a mandatory surrender of assault weapons. Kamala Harris said a president could issue an executive order outlawing them. Biden disagreed. “It’s unconstitutional,” he said.

President Donald Trump got roasted from all sides of the stage on race, immigration and his conduct of the trade war with China. He's "treating our farmers and workers like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos," said Klobuchar. Harris called it "trade policy by tweet, frankly borne out of his fragile ego" and compared him to the Wizard of Oz: "When you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude," she said. For a full wrapup on the third Democratic debate, see Newsday's story by Emily Ngo.

Dems with benefits

On the morning of the debate, Warren looked to peel off Biden's support among older voters with a proposal to immediately boost Social Security benefits by $200 a month for every recipient.

She would pay for that and other enhancements with a new 14.8 percent payroll tax on wages above $250,000, split between employees and employers, and a similar tax on investment income for individuals making more than $250,000 or families making more than $400,000 a year.

Warren's plan goes several steps beyond those offered earlier by Biden and Sanders.

Janison: Fall guy

What did Trump gain from John Bolton's 17 months as national security adviser? If nothing else, a scapegoat for underachieving with North Korea and Iran, suggests Newsday's Dan Janison.

He joins the pile of other Trump discards who didn't live up to Trump's expectations, often predictably. That includes Jeff Sessions, whom he wanted to be a protector and hatchet man; Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence whose clear-eyed assessments of foreign threats clashed with Trump's public views; and Gary Cohn, the economic adviser who loathes tariffs.

Pompeo's new circumstance

Trump knocked down speculation that he would give Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a second job as national security adviser to replace Bolton. That would have replicated the dual role served by Henry Kissinger for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the 1970s.

Even so, Pompeo's influence is at a peak. First brought in as CIA director, he has outlasted every other top member of Trump's national security team. Unlike those who have been cast out — including the first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and former Defense Secretary James Mattis — Pompeo has shown an enduring knack for connecting with Trump and assuring the president of his loyalty, The New York Times writes.

Meanwhile, Trump, who said he had 15 candidates to succeed Bolton, was portraying himself Thursday as a tougher guy than the departed hawk. "In fact, my views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton. He was holding me back!" Trump tweeted. He didn't elaborate.

The I-word has it

House Judiciary Committee Democrats voted Thursday to adopt procedures for intensifying their investigation into whether Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors. Chairman Jerry Nadler affirmed that yes, it is an impeachment investigation, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

“Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature,” Nadler said.

The resolution to allow staff questioning of witnesses, confidential treatment of documents, empowering subcommittees to hold hearings and allowing the president to respond to evidence passed along a party-line vote after lengthy debate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has cautioned against diving into impeachment without public support, insisted the procedures simply help the committee to do the investigation it already has been doing for months. "We’re still on our same path,” she said.

Muddying the waters?

The Trump administration on Thursday revoked a regulation adopted during the Obama administration to shield U.S. wetlands and streams from pollution.

Developers and farmers complained the rules hurt economic development and infringed on property rights. Environmentalists say the Trump move would leave millions of Americans with less safe drinking water and threaten wetlands that prevent flooding, filter pollutants and are a home to fish, waterfowl and other wildlife.

Another brilliant moment

The flaks and fan base will undoubtedly say that's just his crazy sense of humor talking, but Trump on Thursday really did tell an audience that energy-efficient light bulbs make him — and everyone else — look orange

What else is happening:

  • In 2016, Trump introduced Gregory Cheadle at a rally as "my African American." The California real estate broker tells PBS he's quitting the Republican Party. Cheadle said he wouldn’t use the term “racist” to describe Trump but believes he has a “white superiority complex.”
  • Trump went Thursday night to Baltimore, which he has derided as a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," to speak at a congressional GOP retreat. Protesters inflated a giant rat carrying a cellphone and adorned with yellow hair and a red tie.
  • Former FBI No. 2 Andrew McCabe, openly despised by Trump, faces possible indictment after his attorneys were unable to persuade senior Justice Department officials not to pursue charges that he lied to internal investigators.
  • The conservative group Concerned Women for America, paying Trump's Washington hotel to host events there, landed Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence as speakers. Representatives for the officials told The Washington Post that the appearances were vetted for ethical or legal concerns.
  • Some 2020 Democratic campaigns are accusing news media fact-checkers of making a false equivalence between exaggerations and questionable claims on their side and Trump's endemic falsehoods, Politico reports. In response, CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale warned against letting "the bar to sink so low that it vanishes."
  • The White House will release its hold on $250 million in military aid for Ukraine after bipartisan complaints from lawmakers. Democrats suspected the delay was an effort to pressure Ukrainian officials to help Rudy Giuliani's search for political dirt on Biden, The New York Times reported.
  • Trump said he finds "hard to believe" a story reported by Politico that the U.S. government believes Israel was behind the placement of cellphone surveillance devices that were found near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington.

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