Home Politics On Politics With Lisa Lerer: The Sanders-Biden Smackdown – The New York Times

On Politics With Lisa Lerer: The Sanders-Biden Smackdown – The New York Times

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Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

In his 18 days as a presidential candidate, Joe Biden has refused to say anything about Senator Bernie Sanders, his closest rival.

But it’s clear he’s listening. Over the past few weeks, the Democratic primary contest has become a septuagenarian smackdown.

Standing on a makeshift stage at a pizza restaurant in New Hampshire on Monday afternoon, Mr. Biden adopted some of the language — though not the policy — of Mr. Sanders’s “political revolution.”

“We need environmental revolution,” said Mr. Biden, mentioning climate change legislation he sponsored in 1987 and promising a big speech on the issue by the end of the month. “It’s even more urgent now. We do need to finish this green revolution in a way that’s rational.”

The comments seemed to be a direct response to Mr. Sanders and others on the left, who attacked a Reuters report on Friday saying that Mr. Biden planned to seek “middle ground” on climate change — a characterization the Biden campaign said was inaccurate. “There is no “middle ground” when it comes to climate policy,” Mr. Sanders tweeted.

While the other candidates have largely avoided going after Mr. Biden, the early front-runner in the race, Mr. Sanders has begun a full-scale assault.

For those keeping score at home: Mr. Sanders has gone after Mr. Biden’s support of the war in Iraq, his votes for trade deals, the early outlines of his climate plan, his close relationships with credit card companies and his decision to hold big-dollar fund-raisers.

Some of these attacks have drawn quiet derision from other campaigns. When Mr. Sanders made the point on CNN that he voted against Nafta, the controversial trade agreement, one strategist noted that no other candidate in the 21-person field had held federal office during the 1993 vote. (Quick fact check: There was one other, Governor Jay Inslee, who represented Washington in the House at that time. He voted for the trade deal.)

For weeks, some Democratic strategists fretted that Mr. Sanders could become the party’s nominee, concerned that he is too far outside the mainstream to win a general election. At the very least, they worry, he could turn the primary battle into a politically damaging slog to the nomination.

Since Mr. Biden entered the race, Mr. Sanders’s national support has flatlined. A Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire voters showed Mr. Biden with twice as much support as Mr. Sanders — 36 percent to 18 percent — a notable number, given that New Hampshire neighbors Mr. Sanders’s home state of Vermont.

Still, Mr. Sanders’s attacks on Mr. Biden have turned the 2020 race into a kind of duel, underscored by the reality that so far the two men are the only candidates to hit the 15 percent threshold necessary for a primary candidate to pick up delegates in early voting.

It’s a dynamic that benefits both campaigns, allowing Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders to retain their status at the top of the pack while avoiding what may emerge as their shared weakness — their age.

Having Mr. Sanders, 77, as a foil allows Mr. Biden, 76, to run against a liberal wing that he argues is offering unrealistic and out-of-touch promises, positions that he says could cost Democrats the general election.

For Mr. Sanders, Mr. Biden is the perfect establishment foil, helping him retain the outsider quality that helped him build support against Hillary Clinton four years ago — even though Mr. Sanders is now a household name.

Of course, we’re a long way from 2016. This time, both men face an expansive field packed with candidates who have invested heavily in establishing their message, field operation and teams. All are keeping a close eye on the brawl between the two heavyweights.

Their hope? While Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders focus on each other, they can rise out of the pack.

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Democrats are finalizing the details of their first debate next month. Matt Stevens has been tracking this for us. He sent this update.

Last month, we published an article and a graphic that explained what Democratic presidential candidates need to do to qualify for the first debate in June and showed which ones have already met the thresholds. The Democratic National Committee said it would allow up to 20 candidates to participate, and at the time had provided only vague outlines of a system for breaking ties if more than 20 people qualified.

Late last week, after the field of Democrats swelled above 20, the D.N.C. fleshed out some of the details.

There are two ways that candidates can qualify for the debates: by receiving donations from 65,000 people, or by registering 1 percent support in three polls. In its updated memo, the D.N.C. made clear that the candidates who meet both qualifications will qualify first. As best we can tell, there are now around 11 candidates safely in this camp.

Candidates who qualify through polling, but not with donors, will be the next group in, the D.N.C. said. (Currently, that’s another six or so people.) And officials have now also specified that candidates with the highest polling average will get priority. The polling average, they said, will be calculated using the top three polling results for each candidate, as opposed to, say, an average of all qualifying polls, or the most recent ones.

If for some reason multiple candidates fighting for the final spots all end up with the same polling average, the D.N.C. said it would take the ones that had drawn 1 percent support in the largest number of qualifying polls.

And then, if there are still spaces left, candidates who have qualified only with donors will be invited to participate. The candidates with the highest number of unique donors will get priority in that situation, officials said.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York criticized the 65,000-donor threshold — which she has not yet reached— as “random and inaccurate” in an interview with CNN on Monday.

“I don’t think it’s a measure of success,” she said.

The cutoff date to submit polling and donor data will be June 13, the D.N.C. added, which is about two weeks before the first debate.

These criteria are expected to stay in place for the second debate in July. But after that, the committee has said the thresholds to qualify for the debates will go up, though it has not specified how.

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An enormous antitrust class-action suit against Apple advanced, with the Supreme Court saying consumers should be allowed to try to prove that the technology giant used monopoly power.

As the Trump administration cuts the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States, upstate New York cities are trying to lure refugees who have settled in other parts of the country.

Consider the chipotle. Now consider Chipotle. Eater reports how 1,200 calories of edible brick became the most ubiquitous Mexican meal in America

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Forgot to call your mother yesterday? To make you feel even more guilty, here’s a roundup of pictures of baby animals and their mothers.

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