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Democrats debate beating Trump without beating themselves

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren hug at

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren hug at the end of the first round of Tuesday night's Democratic primary debate hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

Go big or go home?

The topics included health care, immigration and racism, but the underlying argument in Tuesday night's Democratic debate was this: How hard a left turn can the party make without careening into a ditch and giving Donald Trump a second term?

"It will turn off independent voters and get Trump reelected," said former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, one of the moderates with microscopic poll numbers trying to hang on. "We're not going to solve the urgent problems we face with small ideas and spinelessness," countered Elizabeth Warren. Bernie Sanders says he is running to "transform this country and to stand with the working class of America.

Warren and Sanders, longtime allies both polling in the low double digits, never went at each other though they are competing for progressive wing votes. They fought back as the "Medicare for all" plans they favor came under assault from the eight other candidates in Tuesday's debate installment who occupy points closer to the center of the spectrum.  No one mentioned the front-runner among both moderates as well as the entire field, Joe Biden, who will appear with Wednesday night's group.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar , taking a subtle dig at Warren and Sanders, said: “Yes I have bold ideas, but they are grounded in reality.” No one mentioned the front-runner among both moderates as well as the entire field, Joe Biden, who will appear with Wednesday night's group.

There was broad agreement that  Trump's border policies were cruel but disagreement on how much to relax them. "What Trump is doing through his racism and xenophobia is demonizing these people; they are not criminals,” Sanders said.

Warren and Pete Buttigieg said illegally crossing the border shouldn't be a crime. But Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said, "You are playing into Donald Trump’s hands … A sane immigration system needs a sane leader and we can do that without decriminalizing."

Buttigieg said "worrying about what Republicans will say" is self-defeating: “If we embrace a far-left agenda they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda … they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. … Stand up for the right policy,” he said. For in-depth coverage of Tuesday night's faceoff, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Michael Gormley

Major moments

Newsday's Emily Ngo collected the top quotes from the candidates. The Associated Press ran fact-checks. CNN posted video highlights.

The debate will resume at 8 p.m. Wednesday on CNN with Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill de Blasio, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand among the combatants.

Trump's Believe it or Not

As Trump addressed reporters on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday, his words were fantastic and fabulous. Not necessarily in a good way. Here's a sampling:

On his continuing targeting of critics of color and the places they come from: "I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world." In a new Quinnipiac poll, voters deemed Trump racist by 51% to 45%.

Of the reaction to his attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings and his depiction of Baltimore: "The African-American people have been calling the White House. They have never been so happy as what a president has done." There's no word how many if any actually called, but the Quinnipiac survey put Trump's disapproval among black voters at 84%. That's up from 75% in a Fox News poll last week. 

On other subjects, Trump also uttered notable quotes.

Defending Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell against a Washington Post columnist who called him a "Russian asset" for blocking election security legislation, the president said, "Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russia’s influence than even Donald Trump. And I know nothing."

Trump offered two incompatible ways to look at prospects for a trade deal with China. Beijing "would love to wait and just hope" that Trump is beaten in 2020 so they could "deal with a stiff" — meaning one of the Democrats. But Trump also said, "I will tell you this: China is dying to make a deal with me."

Strategic thinking?

Trump again described Baltimore as "filthy dirty" and horrible" and accused Rep. Elijah Cummings with no evidence of corruption. He was asked about the strategy behind the attacks.

"There’s no strategy, I have no strategy, there’s zero strategy," Trump said. "All it is is I’m pointing out facts." Getting lost in arguments about Baltimore's problems is why it suddenly became a concern of Trump.

It's because Trump was looking for a way to strike back at Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee, for his blistering criticism of border detention conditions and for pressing investigations that included recent subpoenas of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

It also fits into broader pattern of racially charged appeals — remember his attacks on NFL players who didn't stand for the national anthem — that Trump believes will excite his base, according to The Associated Press.

The electoral downside, AP reports, is that interviews with suburban women in key states who leaned Trump in 2016 found many are recoiling at the abrasive, divisive rhetoric.

Janison: Intelling it like it isn't

What credentials would Trump's choice for director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe, bring to the job? It's not a military or intelligence background. Ratcliffe has neither.

The Texas Republican congressman's website boasts that in a brief stint as a federal prosecutor he "put terrorists in prison." But NBC News and ABC News found no evidence he ever prosecuted a terrorism case. In a belated clarification, his office said he looked into issues that arose from a mistrial. 

What Ratcliffe showed is a willingness to embrace and run with Trump's talking points against the Russia investigation. That gives cause to wonder, as Newsday's Dan Janison writes, whether Ratcliffe would bend intelligence assessments to fit Trump's views. Departing director Dan Coats would not, and that put him on the outs with the president.

Family separations haven't stopped

More than 900 children have been separated from their families at the Mexican border since a judge ordered the Trump administration to sharply curtail the practice, the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday.

The ACLU based its findings on reports that the administration provided.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan has said, according to The Washington Post, that separations remain “extraordinarily rare” and occur only when the adults pose a risk to the child because of their criminal record, a communicable disease, abuse or neglect.

The ACLU and other advocates for migrants say federal immigration and border agents are splitting up families for minor alleged offenses — including traffic violations 

What else is happening:

  • Trump sent the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs to Stockholm to watch the assault trial of rap star A$AP Rocky, which began Tuesday. Sweden spurned Trump's demand to release him. 
  • Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) became the 114th House Democrat to come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry. If four more go that way, it will be a majority of House Democratic members.
  • A Manhattan federal judge dismissed a Democratic National Committee suit that sought to hold Trump's 2016 campaign and WikiLeaks legally responsible for the Russian hacking of Democratic Party email accounts 
  • A Muslim state legislator shouting"you can't send us back!" interrupted Trump's speech in Jamestown, Virginia, on Tuesday commemorating the 400th anniversary of Virginia's first legislative assembly.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that will bar Trump from the state's GOP primary ballot unless he discloses his tax returns. Legal challenges to the law, which applies to all presidential candidates, are expected.
  • Trump said he will visit Poland Aug. 31-Sept 2. for commemorations of the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of the country, which began World War II.

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