Ten Democrats who want the chance to take on Donald Trump offered starkly contrasting visions of where America needs to go. His name wasn't mentioned often, but his policies and leadership style were roundly condemned as the candidates sought to define themselves to their first national debate audience and stand out from the crowd.
Elizabeth Warren, who has been gaining on Bernie Sanders among the progressive left, dominated the early part of the debate. "Who is this economy really working for? It's doing great for thinner and thinner slices at the top," said Warren. She denounced the Trump administration of being "the most corrupt in living memory" and said the nation needs "big structural change."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, looking to gain altitude in the polls, was the only candidate on the stage to join Warren's call for a total Medicare-for-all revamp of the nation's health insurance that would do away with private coverage. That opened up contrasts with centrists such as Amy Klobuchar and longer shots John Delaney and Tim Ryan.
De Blasio turned in a forceful performance. "For all the American citizens out there who fear you’re falling behind, the immigrants didn’t do that to you. The corporations did that to you. The 1 percent did that to you," he said during the two-hour prime-time NBC encounter on Wednesday night.
A big surprise was that none of the candidates took a shot at the Democrats' early front-runner who wasn't there, Joe Biden. He will appear Thursday with the second debate group, which also includes Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris.
The candidate onstage who took the most heat from rivals was fading golden boy Beto O'Rourke, slammed by de Blasio for retreating from Medicare-for-all and accused by fellow Texan Julián Castro of not doing his "homework" on immigration. For lower-tier candidates struggling to gain traction, scoring points was one part of the mission. Thinning the herd was another.
Klobuchar scored a couple of zingers, calling Trump's claims of progress on lowering prices "all foam and no beer" and decrying his Twitter-centric approach to world affairs. "I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5 in the morning,” she said. Trump professed to being unimpressed by the debate, tweeting from Air Force One: "BORING!"
Trump's packed carry-on
With a long flight to Japan for G-20 meetings ahead of him, Trump got a few things off his chest Wednesday. Such as remarks to a religious conservatives group that gave the impression of doing a dance on John McCain's grave.
Speaking of Republican senators who had crossed him during his first two years as president, Trump said: "We needed 60 votes, and we had 51 votes. And sometimes, you know, we had a little hard time with a couple of them, right? Fortunately, they’re gone now. They’ve gone on to greener pastures — or perhaps far less green pastures. But they’re gone."
Because Trump spoke of "them," it's not impossible he was counting former Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, both very much alive, as those who've moved on to "pastures" of whatever hue. On Wednesday night aboard Air Force One, a Trump spokesman said that's who he meant. But it's McCain who has become an eternal Trump target, even after he died last year, for casting a decisive vote against repealing Obamacare.
Trump's talk to the Faith and Freedom Coalition followed a wild morning phone-in to Fox Business Network in which he ranted that special counsel Robert Mueller "terminated the emails … he terminated them. They're gone. And that's illegal. That's a crime." He seemed to be blaming Mueller — without evidence — for 19,000 text messages lost from devices belonging to two FBI agents who worked on early phases of the Russia investigation. The Justice Department's inspector general said unintentional technical issues were responsible.
Also without evidence, Trump accused Twitter of making it "very hard" for people to follow him on the platform. He complained of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who hasn't yielded to Trump's demand for rate cuts: "I made him, and he wants to show how tough he is, OK?"
For more on Trump's day, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Janison: The Mueller show
Mueller, who unsuccessfully resisted testifying before Congress, said his 488-page report speaks for itself.
But when he testifies before two House committees on July 17, members will see it less as a book talk and more as an opportunity for a sort of political rally in Q&A format, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Democrats in the majority will undoubtedly seize on various paragraphs, footnotes and even redactions as helping justify the push to impeach Trump, mostly likely on allegations of obstruction. Republicans will seek to shore up their arguments that Mueller's investigation was tainted by presumed political motives of his staff.
Kicking and steaming
Trump fired off a three-tweet volley at Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. women's national soccer co-captain, who has said in explicit language that she wouldn't accept an invitation to visit the White House if her team wins the Women's World Cup.
“Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team,” Trump wrote. The president also tweeted that he will invite the U.S. team, “win or lose.”
Rapinoe, who is gay, has frequently spoken out about politics and has criticized the Trump administration and its policies in the past. She staged kneeling protests during the national anthem before the United States Soccer Federation then adopted a policy that requires players to stand.
The eyes have it
If tough isn't enough, Trump's reported choice to become his next head of Customs and Border Protection brings more: a claim to clairvoyance.
“I’ve been to detention facilities where I’ve walked up to these individuals, so-called minors 17 or under, and I've looked at ’em and I've looked at their eyes, and I've said, 'That is a soon-to-be MS-13 gang member.' It's unequivocal."
On the G-20 dance card
The trade war with China is just one of the issues that Trump faces at the G-20 summit. He'll meet one-on-one with at least eight world leaders on the summit's sidelines as he faces mounting pressures to deliver results on a lengthy roster of global concerns.
But White House officials are playing down prospects of specific accomplishments, The Associated Press reported. Trump said before departing Wednesday that he'd be meeting "competitors" from other nations, adding, "That's OK. We're doing great. We're doing better than any of them."
What else is happening:
- Trump blamed Democratic inaction on immigration law while they blamed his hard-line policies amid widespread horror over a photo showing a young migrant father and his 2-year-old daughter drowned on a border riverbank. The House and Senate will seek to reconcile differences in emergency funding bills, reports Newsday's Figueroa and Tom Brune.
- Trump’s son Eric said the Secret Service took a waitress of a Chicago cocktail lounge into custody after she spit on him Tuesday night. He blamed Democrats but declined to press charges, the Chicago Tribune reported.
- The EPA is making changes to its transparency rules that include explicitly granting its administrator the authority to decide which public records the agency will release or withhold, CNN reports.
- Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will be arraigned in state Supreme Court in Manhattan Thursday afternoon on state fraud charges.
- Trump said in the Fox Business interview that a war with Iran would not "last very long" or require ground troops. He reiterated his desire to avoid a war but said “we’re in a very strong position if something should happen.”
- A reporter questioned Trump on whether he would ask Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit to not meddle in the 2020 election. His response: What he talks to the Russian leader about is "none of your business."
- U.S. and North Korean officials are having "behind-the-scenes talks" to try to arrange a third summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.