If Warren and Sanders want to beat Biden, one of them will need to drop out – The Week Magazine

If Warren and Sanders want to beat Biden, one of them will need to drop out - The Week Magazine

Everything Old Can Be New Again: Inside the G.O.P. Operation to Take Down Joe Biden

The fact that the interview is from 2006 is irrelevant to the opposition-research team at the Republican National Committee, which recently uploaded the clip to YouTube as part of a painstaking, labor intensive effort to excavate the last 50 years of Biden’s personal and political life. The former vice president is already facing uncomfortable questions about his immigration agenda from political reporters and progressive activists. This most recent evidence of un-wokeness, Republicans hope, will jeopardize the sizable lead he has built in the crowded contest for the presidential nomination.

Welcome to the plot to take down Joe Biden, the 2020 candidate most feared by President Donald Trump and the Republican insiders working to re-elect him. For years, decades really, Biden was largely written off as a buffoon. Yet, somehow, this gaffe-prone, admitted plagiarizer, a miserable failure at running for president (twice!) who only found success by hitching his broken-down wagon to Barack Obama, is suddenly a formidable challenger. After a couple years lashed to the Trump merry-go-round, Uncle Joe looks like the steady, centrist status quo.

Strategically, Warren is one candidate with little initially to fear from Joe Bidens front-runner status. Indeed, it benefits her if Biden beats Sanders and Buttigieg in Iowa and New Hampshire and Kamala Harris in South Carolina. Shes not that strong presently in New Hampshire, which is troubling given her residency in next-door Massachusetts, but historically candidates who overperform in Iowa get a nice bounce in the Granite State. If she can finish ahead of Bernie Sanders in Iowa or New Hampshire, thats a very big deal, since his expectations are higher (especially in New Hampshire, where he trounced Hillary Clinton in 2016) and he is perceived as occupying the same lane as she does. Warren has more potential as a party-unifier than Sanders, and would probably thrive if the field melts down quickly to a battle with Biden.

Slowly and Persistently, Elizabeth Warren Is on the Rise

Of course, a long history in Washington cuts both ways. “There’s a lot of Hillary Clinton 2.0 in Joe Biden,” says a senior Republican opposition-research specialist, describing the the G.O.P. strategy to derail Biden in the primary or, at the very least, make sure he hobbles into the general election. “I think he is one of those rare politicians where everything old can be new again. I believe he has built a certain persona as ‘Middle Class Joe’ that just isn’t true anymore and that is a picture that can be painted.”

You can add to that her enormous credibility among Democrats nationally when it comes to policy chops, which she has enhanced significantly during the early stages of the campaign, and the opportunity she may have to excel during this summers first two rounds of candidate debates. Her favorability ratings in her own party are solid; shes at 57/16 in the Morning Consult tracking poll, with some room for growth. 28 percent of Democrats say either theyve never heard of her or dont know enough about her to form an opinion, as opposed to only 8 percent with no opinion of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

With laser-like precision, the G.O.P. machine plans to expose it all: previously undisclosed or forgotten episodes, statements, Senate votes, relationships, favors granted, favors accepted, what he ordered in the Amtrak café car and how much he tipped— anything that might be relevant now that Biden is ascendant. “It’s a bountiful harvest of research,” is how one Trump World insider described it.

The Trailer: Democrats look past 2020

It’s not as easy as it looks. Since Obama plucked Biden from a collection of 2008 also-rans, a powerful mythology has emerged around the colorful, 76-year-old politician. He’s lovable “Middle Class Joe” from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is or crack a politically incorrect joke. He is, in fact, a little like Trump, minus the high-risk side effects that read like they belong in a pharmaceutical ad. As one concerned Republican pollster told me in an e-mail, Biden “doesn’t seem like the type of guy who wants to take my gun. He doesn’t seem like a miserable person to have to live with for four years. Biden’s record is so long and all over the map, that I think we worry voters give him a pass on everything before Obama and somehow he almost seems like he has a clean slate.”

For now, though, Warrens She Persisted catchphrase fits her campaign quite well. Shes broadly admired in her party, and has a quality of toughness that is the next best thing to a lead in trial heats as evidence she can go toe-to-toe with the sinister incumbent. She will always be vulnerable to someone younger or flashier catching fire as caucus and primary voters prepare to start voting. But if that doesnt happen, she should have her chance to compete and win.

Republicans want to rewind the clock and re-write the script, recasting Biden as the rhetorically cringe-worthy second coming of Crooked Hillary, responsible for nearly everything that’s gone wrong in Washington during Biden’s 50 years walking the corridors of power. To pull it off, the R.N.C., working hand in hand with the Trump campaign, has assembled perhaps its largest-ever war room, with approximately six to seven operatives working in opposition research and four to five conducting near ‘round-the-clock rapid media response. The effort—featuring public document requests and other standards of the dirt-digging trade—has been well underway since last year.

Its unclear how much Warren is still suffering from the poor impression she made with her handling of claims that she erroneously identified herself as Native American some years ago — claims that Trump and his allies have kept alive with their racist but effective Pocahontas sobriquet for her. But time is on her side. Generally speaking, presidential candidates who grow in strength in their own party ranks eventually develop better electability indicators.

But the real oppo muscle of the Republican campaign is being provided by America Rising, an outside group that is focused on finding damaging information on Democratic candidates. With a staff of 70, expected to grow to 90 by Election Day 2020, America Rising for more than a year has been compiling dossiers on Biden and several other Democratic contenders. There’s more to it than Freedom of Information Act requests. The group, which was founded by some of the best in the business, employs a full-time army of trackers shadowing the Democratic candidates, while another unit travels the country searching for obscure pieces of history on each candidate, in courthouse records, public libraries, maybe college yearbooks, that the candidates themselves might not even realize exists. The material is forwarded to two of America Rising’s most important clients, the R.N.C. and America First Action—Trump’s designated, third-party super PAC—and weaponized. “There’s a lot of material on Biden. He was the vice president, so we got a head start, which is great. But we’re definitely not relying on that; we’re going deeper,” said an R.N.C. strategist involved in the takedown attempt. “It’s sort of a gold mine of content.”

Its harder to get a grip on the infrequently polled early states, though Warren does seem to be running a bit behind her national averages in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But on the other hand, she has invested the most of any candidate in early-state staff and infrastructure, and has an especially impressive organization in Iowa, as the New York Times reported earlier this month:

Whatever Biden’s potential weaknesses as a candidate, Donald Trump appears more than a little angst-ridden at the prospect of a general election matchup. And for good reason, according to more than a dozen Republican operatives I spoke to for this story. “Biden is the biggest threat to Trump because he is a sharp, double-edged sword,” one veteran Republican operative told me. Trump won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point; if Biden can cut into the president’s margins with the white working class, it’s not hard to imagine the old-school Labor Democrat reconstituting the blue wall that used to ring the industrial heartland. And without those three states, it’s game over. “He’s been singing the song of the disposed a hell of a lot longer than Donald Trump has,” a Republican media maven said. “He knows how to do grievance politics.”

[Warren has] about 50 paid staff members … already on the ground in Iowa, far more than any other Democratic candidate is known to have hired in the state. The growing Warren juggernaut reflects a bet that rapidly hiring a large staff of organizers will give the senator an advantage over her rivals who are ramping up their efforts at a slower pace.

It’s not just the Rust Belt. Republicans fret Biden would build on the Democratic Party’s midterm-election success in traditionally conservative suburbia, where women voters are inclined to switch off the television to shield their children from #MAGA rallies. Hillary Clinton showed some appeal in the suburbs three years ago, but was too radioactive to close the deal. Biden, however, could succeed with affluent, college-educated whites where Clinton failed. “The one thing Biden apparently gets is that he needs to motivate the white-collar suburban people who think politics should all be like the TV show The West Wing. He speaks that pablum fluently,” an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House lamented.

Even without overt Democrat-on-Democrat attacks, Biden has found himself in a presidential marathon to separate himself from his opponents as they battle labels like out-of-touch and identity politics that have manifested themselves this year as a rebuke white male privilege.

“If you talk to a lot of rank-and-file Democrats, they think the only way they can lose to Trump again is to screw it up and nominate a fatally flawed candidate,” the veteran Republican operative said, explaining what has been plainly suggested by recent public opinion polls. “They think Biden is safe and known. He won’t fumble the election away on the way to the goal line.”

Asked about Beto ORourkes quickly regretted attempt to portray himself as inevitable, Sanders told DailyMail.com at Bidens kickoff rally, You talk about white privilege, my candidate aint come out here talking about, they was “born to do this”.

Even so, Republicans are as bullish as they’ve ever been on Trump’s prospects over the course of an occasionally maddening, often nerve-racking, two years. And there are a few among them who would actually welcome a Biden nomination. “I want Joe Biden in the worst way,” Jason Miller told me last month in an interview for the Washington Examiner. Most successful modern presidential candidates run as change agents. And Biden, whatever his merits, is not a change agent. “Keep in mind, Joe Biden makes Donald Trump the youth candidate in this race,” Miller said, previewing a message that has begun cropping up in Trump tweets. “He can literally stand there and point at Joe Biden and say: ‘You’ve been here for 45 years screwing this place up . . . I’m trying to clean up this mess that you have made as a career politician.”

Sanders insisted that although Biden is running far ahead of the pack in several early states, hes taking nothing for granted. And Barack Obamas two-term vice president, she said, is beginning an epic battle thats been a lifetime in the making.

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A top adviser to Joe Biden says that while none of his opponents has settled on a message that might topple him, the former vice president is steering clear of suggesting hes a candidate of destiny.

Any day now, if you haven’t seen it already, a video will surface of Joe Biden sounding downright Trumpian on the subject of immigration. “This isn’t amnesty,” Biden says in the clip, arguing that if “illegal aliens” want to earn their place in America, they need to pay a fine and learn to speak English, damnit. Chris Matthews, who is interviewing Biden on MSNBC’s Hardball, nods his head. He wonders whether, if the U.S. government wants to prevent employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, it should be made a “huge embarrassment to your family” with a “fine that’ll kill you.” Biden, his hair combed back into a silvery helmet, agrees. “Absolutely you can,” he says. “And that’s what we should do.”

The fact that the interview is from 2006 is irrelevant to the opposition-research team at the Republican National Committee, which recently uploaded the clip to YouTube as part of a painstaking, labor intensive effort to excavate the last 50 years of Biden’s personal and political life. The former vice president is already facing uncomfortable questions about his immigration agenda from political reporters and progressive activists. This most recent evidence of un-wokeness, Republicans hope, will jeopardize the sizable lead he has built in the crowded contest for the presidential nomination.

Welcome to the plot to take down Joe Biden, the 2020 candidate most feared by President Donald Trump and the Republican insiders working to re-elect him. For years, decades really, Biden was largely written off as a buffoon. Yet, somehow, this gaffe-prone, admitted plagiarizer, a miserable failure at running for president (twice!) who only found success by hitching his broken-down wagon to Barack Obama, is suddenly a formidable challenger. After a couple years lashed to the Trump merry-go-round, Uncle Joe looks like the steady, centrist status quo.

Senior adviser Symone Sanders recognized in the same breath that not everyone in the 2020 field shares that sense of caution, however.

Of course, a long history in Washington cuts both ways. “There’s a lot of Hillary Clinton 2.0 in Joe Biden,” says a senior Republican opposition-research specialist, describing the the G.O.P. strategy to derail Biden in the primary or, at the very least, make sure he hobbles into the general election. “I think he is one of those rare politicians where everything old can be new again. I believe he has built a certain persona as ‘Middle Class Joe’ that just isn’t true anymore and that is a picture that can be painted.”

This is not a coronation. This is going to be a fight. We know its a fight. Weve said its a fight from day one, she said. 

With laser-like precision, the G.O.P. machine plans to expose it all: previously undisclosed or forgotten episodes, statements, Senate votes, relationships, favors granted, favors accepted, what he ordered in the Amtrak café car and how much he tipped— anything that might be relevant now that Biden is ascendant. “It’s a bountiful harvest of research,” is how one Trump World insider described it.

Senior adviser Symone Sanders says Biden is taking nothing for granted, despite his early popularity in the 2020 race

It’s not as easy as it looks. Since Obama plucked Biden from a collection of 2008 also-rans, a powerful mythology has emerged around the colorful, 76-year-old politician. He’s lovable “Middle Class Joe” from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is or crack a politically incorrect joke. He is, in fact, a little like Trump, minus the high-risk side effects that read like they belong in a pharmaceutical ad. As one concerned Republican pollster told me in an e-mail, Biden “doesn’t seem like the type of guy who wants to take my gun. He doesn’t seem like a miserable person to have to live with for four years. Biden’s record is so long and all over the map, that I think we worry voters give him a pass on everything before Obama and somehow he almost seems like he has a clean slate.”

Republicans want to rewind the clock and re-write the script, recasting Biden as the rhetorically cringe-worthy second coming of Crooked Hillary, responsible for nearly everything that’s gone wrong in Washington during Biden’s 50 years walking the corridors of power. To pull it off, the R.N.C., working hand in hand with the Trump campaign, has assembled perhaps its largest-ever war room, with approximately six to seven operatives working in opposition research and four to five conducting near ‘round-the-clock rapid media response. The effort—featuring public document requests and other standards of the dirt-digging trade—has been well underway since last year.

But the real oppo muscle of the Republican campaign is being provided by America Rising, an outside group that is focused on finding damaging information on Democratic candidates. With a staff of 70, expected to grow to 90 by Election Day 2020, America Rising for more than a year has been compiling dossiers on Biden and several other Democratic contenders. There’s more to it than Freedom of Information Act requests. The group, which was founded by some of the best in the business, employs a full-time army of trackers shadowing the Democratic candidates, while another unit travels the country searching for obscure pieces of history on each candidate, in courthouse records, public libraries, maybe college yearbooks, that the candidates themselves might not even realize exists. The material is forwarded to two of America Rising’s most important clients, the R.N.C. and America First Action—Trump’s designated, third-party super PAC—and weaponized. “There’s a lot of material on Biden. He was the vice president, so we got a head start, which is great. But we’re definitely not relying on that; we’re going deeper,” said an R.N.C. strategist involved in the takedown attempt. “It’s sort of a gold mine of content.”

Whatever Biden’s potential weaknesses as a candidate, Donald Trump appears more than a little angst-ridden at the prospect of a general election matchup. And for good reason, according to more than a dozen Republican operatives I spoke to for this story. “Biden is the biggest threat to Trump because he is a sharp, double-edged sword,” one veteran Republican operative told me. Trump won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point; if Biden can cut into the president’s margins with the white working class, it’s not hard to imagine the old-school Labor Democrat reconstituting the blue wall that used to ring the industrial heartland. And without those three states, it’s game over. “He’s been singing the song of the disposed a hell of a lot longer than Donald Trump has,” a Republican media maven said. “He knows how to do grievance politics.”

It’s not just the Rust Belt. Republicans fret Biden would build on the Democratic Party’s midterm-election success in traditionally conservative suburbia, where women voters are inclined to switch off the television to shield their children from #MAGA rallies. Hillary Clinton showed some appeal in the suburbs three years ago, but was too radioactive to close the deal. Biden, however, could succeed with affluent, college-educated whites where Clinton failed. “The one thing Biden apparently gets is that he needs to motivate the white-collar suburban people who think politics should all be like the TV show The West Wing. He speaks that pablum fluently,” an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House lamented.

“If you talk to a lot of rank-and-file Democrats, they think the only way they can lose to Trump again is to screw it up and nominate a fatally flawed candidate,” the veteran Republican operative said, explaining what has been plainly suggested by recent public opinion polls. “They think Biden is safe and known. He won’t fumble the election away on the way to the goal line.”

Even so, Republicans are as bullish as they’ve ever been on Trump’s prospects over the course of an occasionally maddening, often nerve-racking, two years. And there are a few among them who would actually welcome a Biden nomination. “I want Joe Biden in the worst way,” Jason Miller told me last month in an interview for the Washington Examiner. Most successful modern presidential candidates run as change agents. And Biden, whatever his merits, is not a change agent. “Keep in mind, Joe Biden makes Donald Trump the youth candidate in this race,” Miller said, previewing a message that has begun cropping up in Trump tweets. “He can literally stand there and point at Joe Biden and say: ‘You’ve been here for 45 years screwing this place up . . . I’m trying to clean up this mess that you have made as a career politician.”

Two years ago, I made a case for why Joe Biden should run for president in 2020, and I confess I had to look it up in order to remember why. This was a case of literally—to use a favorite Biden word—asking, What was I thinking? Turns out I was highlighting the normal stuff (likability, experience, folksiness) and, more important, writing in a spirit of the more the merrier, like a drunken party-goer beckoning another guest into a crowded Jacuzzi. But sober eyes reminded me that not all soakers are equal. I failed to consider that the entrance of Biden might crowd out everyone else. Biden now leads the Democratic polls by a wide margin. Rather than enlivening the party, Bidens candidacy could wind up cutting it short.

Despite the many reasons he could flame out early, Biden now seems to be the likeliest presidential nominee. In a field with too many candidates already, almost two dozen, Biden will get far with even a small plurality, and he feels like a safe choice. Much as anybody-but-Bush sentiment pushed Democratic primary voters to John F. Kerry, perceived as most electable among his rivals, anybody-but-Trump sentiment will play a powerful role in 2020, leading many Democrats to shy away from big gambles. That could either be a fatal mistake—Kerry lost in 2004, and Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, where bolder candidates might have won—or it could be a shrewd judgment, as was seen with Bill Clinton in 1992. So lets ask a narrow question: If your sole goal is to get Donald Trump the hell out of office, is Joe Biden the safest choice of challenger?

Plenty of factors point to yes. Any Democrat starts with certain advantages, chief among them that Democrats start out with a larger number of locked-in states. For Biden, in particular, prospects are even better. A hefty majority (80 percent) of Democrats likes him, and so, remarkably, does about a third of Republicans. Many of the old positions that are getting him in trouble with Democratic primary voters—such as his backing for tough anti-crime measures in the 1990s—help more than hurt in a general election. He has a folksy manner and a sincere affection for the working class that Hillary Clinton, if she felt it, never managed to convey. He has White House experience. He is kind. He shies away from drastic policy ideas. He seems non-threatening and familiar. Average Joe. Maybe thats why he beats Trump in polls so far—not just nationally, but in crucial swing states like Pennsylvania—and unfamiliar and unseasoned Democrats like Beto ORourke dont.

But to assume Biden is a safe bet is to forget that some of his vulnerabilities are serious and unique. A minor one is a propensity for gaffes, which are often tolerated if an overall message is strong, but this is tied to a major one, which is an absence of coherence overall. Biden as a senator was never known for getting to the point, offering epic monologues that often sounded more like sleep talk than anything resembling thought, and age isnt proving to be the cure. Asked recently about Trumps trade war with China, Biden offered such a mess of words—just read the whole statement, because its the non sequiturs that distinguish it—that only journalists quoting him selectively could pretend to make sense of it. It takes a lot to make Donald Trump sound articulate, but Joe Biden can manage. In an election about serious ideas—and Trump offered those in 2016, despite the buffoonish wrapping—youre behind if you seem like you dont have any.

More important, to the extent that Biden has a message, its a dicey one. Biden seems to think he can attract support by highlighting the problem of Trump-era racial conflict, which he chose to put front and center in his video, reminding viewers of the atrocious events in Charlottesville, where a demonstration by white nationalists in 2017 turned deadly. This might appeal to younger voters, and demographic change works in Bidens favor. (In very, very rough terms, over the four-year span between presidential elections, about 10 million old people die, and about 10 million young people turn 18.) But about 7 million to 9 million voters picked Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016, and most are likely to be alive still. A focus on race seems like one of the least promising means by which to reach them.

Let us be specific about why: According to one study, racial resentment played a crucial role in the defections of Obama voters to Trump. (This causes lazy commenters to say that racism elected Donald Trump, but that muddies the problem. Racism, by almost any definition, is a different beast from, say, resentment over affirmative action.) Its easy to forget that the late Obama era was characterized by a surge in racial hostility, with riots in several cities. Americans were bitter in their divisions over who was responsible for this unrest—for some, the villains took the form of enforcers of racial oppression; for others, of agitprop activists—and resentment ran strong. Its likely that many Obama voters who jumped to Trump took the law-and-order side against the activists. They may agree that Trump is bigoted, and they may be open to kitchen-table arguments for a Democrat. But Biden, who in a general election could have counted on the woke vote anyway, is offering one of the unlikeliest pitches for winning them back.

Finally, and fundamentally, whether you consider Biden to be a safe bet has a lot to do with whether you consider the idea of a third term for Obama to be a safe bet. In his campaign-announcement video, Biden offered a restoration of what we had—suggesting Americans view the presidency of Donald Trump as an aberrant moment in time, and remember who we are. But, for many voters, a sense of hopelessness and alienation grew rather than receded during Obamas presidency. Bidens praise of unions or vague talk of helping out the middle class this time around, all the while downplaying the idea that China is a serious economic threat, is unlikely to inspire those left behind. Maybe those who fled to Trump are in the mood for the status quo that preceded him. But if you toss out your old pillow and dont like the new one, are you going to go back to the old one—or are you likelier to take a chance, once more, on something new?

Aside from his global fame and his love affair with soft-serve ice cream, Joe Bidens biggest calling card at this budding stage of the presidential race is the mushy notion of electability. Biden, the former vice president, isnt outright saying that he would be the best foil against Donald Trump next year, but hes laying it on thick, mugging for the cameras in Iowa diners and bragging to a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh that the road back to the White House runs straight through working-class Pennsylvania. Bidens home turf. Shot-and-a-beer territory, as Richard Ben Cramer called it.

The imagery is not subtle. Biden wants Democrats to know that he and he alone is best positioned to reclaim the Upper Midwest after Trumps Electoral College burglary in 2016. With Biden, you know what youre in for: a tested statesman with populist charm who can clean up Trumps malarkey on day one. He can go to the Hague one day, and then show up at Sturgis the next. And folks, if youre not getting the message, his allies will give it to you loud and clear: Biden. Can. Win.

This is do-or-die, and Joe Biden is the best candidate to go against Trump in November, said Dick Harpootlian, a state senator in South Carolina who recently hosted a Biden fund-raiser in Columbia. Would Joe Biden be running if he thought any of these other folks could beat Donald Trump? No way. We cant risk this thing with someone who has not done this before, who is unchallenged, who is untested. There is something to be said for two old white guys going at it. The African-Americans in the State Senate with me are going to be with him overwhelmingly. Because this is a pragmatic year. This isnt a battle of ideologies or identity or Medicare for All or a Green New Whatever. Its all about who can stop this juvenile narcissist from getting a second term.

The glaring counterpoint to Harpootlians argument is the most shopworn of political clichés: Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line. Since Vietnam, every time a Democrat has won the presidency, its because Democrats voted with their hearts in a primary and closed ranks around the candidate who inspired them, promising an obvious break from the past and an inspiring vision that blossomed in the general election. Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton. Barack Obama. All were young outsiders who tethered their message to the culture of the time. When Democrats have picked nominees cautiously and strategically—falling in line—the results have been devastating, as Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton made plain. Its not a perfect rule: While Gore and Clinton didnt quite electrify the country, they still won the popular vote. And George McGovern was a heart candidate who got slaughtered by Richard Nixon in 1972. But the McGovern wipeout is kind of what Biden and his loyalists are clinging to: the idea that this Trump moment, like the wrenching 60s, is so existential and high stakes that Democrats will overlook their usual instincts and do the sensible thing. Theatrical and Irish, Biden surely is hoping that he can be a vehicle for both passion and pragmatism. But if he wins the nomination next year, it will be because Democrats went with their heads, not their bleeding hearts.

This is just not a normal year, Harpootlian told me. I believe that pragmatic Democrats will vote in larger numbers than what you would call the ideologue candidates. Joes record in Congress wasnt particularly stellar, but they understand the importance of winning in November of 2020. The folks that I talk to, they arent looking for a socialist, or trying to make a statement on the basis of identity or sex or gender. They want somebody to run the country in a normal fashion that typifies the dignity of the office. People want stability.

Mounting an electability argument is a risky gambit in a Democratic primary. Recent election cycles are littered with unheeded calls to look ahead to the general election, while genuine passion flowed elsewhere. Hillary Clinton made such a case about Bernie Sanders in 2016—she called herself a progressive who likes to get things done—but her electability strategy was far more pronounced in 2008. She announced in 2007 with a statement that Beto ORourke would be proud of: Im in. And Im in to win. As Clinton ran against Obama, who was rallying a diverse coalition of young anti-war voters and African-Americans, she memorably downplayed her gender and the history-making possibility of her own candidacy, choosing instead to highlight her toughness against the callow young outsider. She was the deal-making insider, brimming with experience and the right connections, who would be ready to take that infamous 3 A.M. phone call at a time of national emergency. Clinton held an enormous lead in national polls throughout the entirety of 2007, even leading Obama by as much as 20 points in some surveys as late as December, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

But Clintons team was entitled. They were contemptuous of the obvious cultural and generational tides pushing against her, so twisted up by their defensive posture over the Iraq War and her shifting positions, that they closed Clintons Iowa campaign with a slogan by committee straight out of Veep: Big Challenges, Real Solutions: Time to Pick a President. When Oprah Winfrey announced her endorsement of Obama in late 2007, Clinton backer Tom Vilsack was hilariously dismissive. Im not sure who watches her, Vilsack said as Oprah and Obama packed arenas and stadiums in Iowa and South Carolina. Even as their staffs peddled negative stories about one another to the press, Clintons public strategy was largely to ignore Obama, until it was too late.

Electability became Clintons guiding light in that primary fight, in a way that ultimately turned toxic. Even as she faded in the delegate chase against Obama and was facing questions about why she remained in the race, Clinton reminded an editorial board in South Dakota that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated late in his campaign, so all the better to stick around until the bitter end. (She quickly apologized.) During the long Pennsylvania primary, after Obama was caught on tape at a San Francisco fund-raiser saying that working-class Americans can get bitter and cling to guns or religion, Clinton immediately targeted older white voters around the state by calling Obama elitist, and talking up her own fondness for church and firearms. Just a few months later, Sarah Palin would echo the charges against Obama in the very same Pennsylvania towns.

Clintons focus on winning became her reason for running, the message du jour for almost every day of that long primary slog, obscuring the core reasons she had to run for president, big ideas on health care, energy independence, and cleaning up the miasma in Iraq. All the while, Obama aimed straight for the hearts of primary voters, embracing his outsider status and anti-war pedigree in a way that dovetailed with the political moment. Like Clinton, he downplayed his identity in speeches. But he was not afraid to find ways to leverage his race to curry favor with black voters where he needed it. His skin color, like Hillarys gender, was a powerful symbol that moved and excited Democrats, even if it remained largely unspoken. The dynamic left the many other white guys in the 2008 race in the dust, particularly John Edwards, who was ever so gently making the case that he could better appeal to white moderate voters in red states, an argument that Biden is tiptoeing around today, even as rural whites have largely made a home in the Republican Party. Predictably, Edwardss electability plea fell on deaf Democratic ears. Voters, donors, and journalists were just interested in seeing other people. Edwardss always-forthcoming wife, Elizabeth, let her frustration over the matter show.

We cant make John black. We cant make him a woman, she told an interviewer in 2007. Those things get you a lot of press.

Electability campaigns havent always gone bust. Late in 2003, John Kerry was able to mount a comeback on the idea that he was best suited to confront George W. Bush in wartime, thanks to his service in Vietnam and his tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Democrats werent exactly gung ho about the charisma-deprived Kerry—aloof was the preferred adjective of the pundit class—but he entered the campaign as a front-runner nonetheless. The unexpected rise of Howard Dean, who ran hard against the Iraq War and ignited a powerful grassroots following, became concerning to many moderate Democrats who figured Dean was too liberal to take on Bush. Iowans shopped around and eventually settled on Kerry, who fizzled early in his race, but later emerged the consensus choice after the other horses failed to impress. A bumper sticker became popular at the time: Dated Dean. Married Kerry. Its not implausible to envision Biden hanging out by the altar come next February.

Kerry explicitly said, You want me on that debate stage against George W. Bush. I took the bullets, said Mark Kornblau, Kerrys press secretary in 2004. He projected strength in that primary in a way that was believable to voters. Kerry, I felt, captured the nomination based on a projection of strength that was comforting to Democrats who knew exactly who the occupant of the White House was.

Kornblau would go on to work for Edwards three years later, which gave him key insight about electability messages: they can actually work, if primary voters know who the opponent will be that November. Edwards and Clinton, each running on general-election viability in 2008, had no idea who would emerge as the Republican nominee, let alone that the worlds economy would begin to fray as Election Day approached. In Kerrys case, he could define himself and his foreign-policy agenda directly against Bush, the man in the White House prosecuting two wars. In 2008, everyone was running against an unknown, Kornblau told me. Democratic voters didnt have in their heads the Bush of 2004, or the Trump of 2020.

All of the Democrats running in 2020 have set their sights on Trump, but Biden seems most intent on rising above the internecine Democratic squabbles over identity and ideology, focusing squarely on Trump. Yet unlike Kerry, who ran against Bush in wartime as the electable national-security guy, the long-winded Son of Scranton has yet to attach his I-Can-Win message to a concise vision and set of values. Right now, Biden is just assumed to be the Guy Who Can Beat Trump, but do Democrats really know why? Saying I am electable for some demographic or primary campaign reason is not sellable, Kornblau said. Electability has to be a visceral feeling by the voter, not just a strategic move.

Given his nearly 50 years in American politics, Biden can authoritatively make the case that he is best equipped to step onto the global stage and be a competent, get-shit-done president after dispatching Trump. He would be wise to focus on his stature and what he would do in office, because Democrats have a fondness for thinking about whats next. Somewhere inside Bidens theory of electability is the hazy idea that 2020 will just be a do-over of 2016, only with a more inspiring candidate atop the ticket. Bernie Sanders is offering a similar promise with the Revolution 2.0: that the essential malfunction of 2016 was Clinton and her failure to inspire key voting groups in the right states. Electability means re-running the same program with a new input, like that scene in Waynes World 2 when Wayne swaps out the D-list actor at the gas station for Charlton Heston. But that feels like a miscalculation. The next presidential election will not be like the last one. They never are. So who knows what electable really means? Does it mean playing it safe with a seventysomething white man when the country just elected a raft of millennials, women, African-Americans, Muslims, gays, and bisexuals to governors mansions, city halls, and Congress, many of them in suburban swing districts and others in districts long held by Republicans? Legions of new Democratic voters were activated by Trumps election and last years midterms. If youre one of those Democrats, its difficult to look at the results of 2018 and not think that pretty much anyone, regardless of race, gender, or background, has a shot at winning.

We dont know what its going to take to beat Trump, said Amanda Litman, a former Hillary Clinton aide who co-founded Run For Something, a group that recruits Democrats to run for down-ballot offices. To assume that we do and act on that assumption, thats a dangerous risk. Part of electability is to inspire people, to pump people up, and also get their friends to show up. To cultivate a sort of fandom. Excitement and passion are contagious. Candidates who can do that will do better than those who cant. Or, as Ben Smith from BuzzFeed tweeted on Monday, Bizarre the extent to which the electability conversation leaves out the fact that the only Democrat elected in two decades is black.

Polls right now show Biden clobbering the Democratic field. Polls, too, show that Biden wins on the question of who can best beat Trump. But in a CNN poll last week, Sanders, ORourke, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg also beat Trump in head-to-head matchups. Another recent poll from CBS News and YouGov revealed that Democrats would prefer a female candidate over a man, a candidate of color over a white person, and a young nominee over an old one. Polls also reveal, shockingly, that most voters dont really know much about the rest of the candidates. What do all these numbers mean? Biden is popular and famous among Democrats, but primary voters are open to something different and want to hear more about the other candidates. Biden can still win, and should be treated as the front-runner. But he has nowhere to go but down. While polls are useful, they fail to account for Bidens terminal foot-in-mouth disease, the natural ebbs and flows of the news cycle, an ever-changing set of national issues and emergencies, the capacity of candidates to grow and change, or the volatility of the cable-news viewer who sits in the Oval Office. This is why we have campaigns. Be sure to remember that point about 2008 for your next cocktail party: Clinton was beating Obama by 20 points a month before she finished third in Iowa.

I wrote last year about the flimsiness of political punditry that classifies politicians according to their identity: the simplistic concept that women candidates are best positioned to win women, that white men will only vote for white men, that black voters will rally for black candidates. Research has shown that a candidates identity is not fixed. It is conditional on who they are running against in a campaign, what the issues are, and how voters see them in that floating context. Electability, too, is only a condition of the moment. Nothing about the term is predictive. It is always subject to change. At this point four years ago, the least electable person on the planet had not even taken his escalator ride down to the lobby of Trump Tower. Today, he is the president of the United States. So if Biden can surf this moment all the way to November 2020, well, it will be an enormous feat. A Big F–king Deal indeed.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's formal entrance into the 2020 campaign Thursday was met with endorsements, criticism—and, it turns out, a whole lot of cash. The Biden campaign revealed Friday that it had raised $6.3 million in the first day of its campaign, the highest fundraising haul of any 2020 primary candidate. Biden crushed it, one bundler told Politico.

Biden's one-day haul came from more than 96,000 donors whose donations averaged $41 each, including 65,000 new donors who weren't on existing email lists. The campaign received donations from all 50 states within 90 minutes of Biden's campaign announcement video going live, and of Biden's online donations, 97% of online donations were less than $200. Though Biden has vowed not to accept money from registered lobbyists and corporate PACs, much like his fellow candidates, he isn't shirking big-money fundraisers as Sen. Elizabeth Warren is, and his one-day total includes $700,000 from a fundraiser Thursday night in Pittsburgh. The campaign's first-day totals were reportedly something that Biden had been concerned about, stressing in a call the night before his announcement that the campaign was going to be judged by what we can do in the first 24 hours, the first week. People think Iowa and New Hampshire are the first test, Biden said. Its not. The first 24 hours. Thats the first test.

The candidate's 24-hour total presumably put his fears to rest, as Biden's numbers cemented his front-runner status by blowing past those of his fellow candidates. Beto O'Rourke had previously held the first-day fundraising record of $6.1 million, while Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second with $5.9 million—though both candidates attracted more donors than Biden, receiving donations from 128,000 and nearly 225,000 donors, respectively. Biden's one-day haul has even outmatched many candidates' entire first-quarter fundraising hauls, including those of Warren and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker. Whether Biden will be able to sustain his record fundraising pace is a different matter; many big Democratic donors are either holding off until later in the race or donating to multiple candidates, and far-left groups are already taking a stand against the 76-year-old's candidacy. But the unexpectedly high first-day total, coupled with Biden's decisive lead in the polls, are ensuring that the candidate enters the 2020 race on strong footing nevertheless. Joe is going to do a lot better than a lot of people think, Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge told Politico before Biden's announcement. Theres broad support from him in our party, just look at the polling.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

Bellicose attacks by North Korea on American politicians deemed unfriendly to the regime are pretty par for the course. But on Wednesday, the countrys state media leveled up, unleashing a tirade against Joe Biden that piled petty insult on top of petty insult. The presidential candidate from the Democratic Party during his recent election campaigning reeled off rhetoric slandering the supreme leadership of [North Korea], read a statement by the regime. What he uttered is just sophism of an imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being, let alone a politician . . . Even the American media derided him as a man with manic-obsessive running of the mouth, saying that he likes giving a speech but he is not serious in his words. The regime added that Biden will pay for his criticism, and went for the jugular with: He is a fool of low IQ.

What did Biden do to deserve such a verbal lashing? Over the weekend, the former veep called out Donald Trump for fawning over dictators and tyrants like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, both of whom the president has called friends. Are we a nation that embraces dictators and tyrants like Putin and Kim Jong Un? Biden asked, rhetorically.

The low IQ jab in particular has drawn comparisons to Trump himself, whos used it in Biden rage tweets of his own. Did Kim just like the way it rolled off the tongue? Is he borrowing the insult to show the president theyre still in love, even though nuclear talks between the two countries have recently hit a wall? Who can say. But the takedown is probably a good indicator that the regime is backing Trump in his re-election bid, just as it did in 2016 when it referred to him as wise and prescient and endorsed his candidacy.

Its also likely a sign of how seriously the regime is taking Bidens candidacy, considering it usually reserves its taunts for those who are already president. It leveled racist insults against Barack Obama, and famously engaged in tit-for-tat sparring with Trump, who threatened to destroy North Korea in response and mocked Kim as short and fat. Biden hasnt even won the Democratic primary, let alone the presidency, and already hes the subject of Pyongyangs colorful bravado. He is praising himself as being the most popular presidential candidate, North Korea said Wednesday. This is enough to make a cat laugh.

Perhaps more than any other Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden is a comedians dream. The former vice president and former senator from Delaware has an extensive record—and, more importantly, a famous tendency for committing gaffes at record rates. As Trevor Noah put it on The Daily Show Thursday night, The only thing that spends more time in Bidens mouth than those perfect teeth is his own foot.

In a weird way, I feel like these gaffes are what made Biden the perfect balance to President Obama, Noah added. You know, because . . . Obama . . . measured every . . . word. You could feel . . . him . . . thinking . . . as he was . . . talking. But when Biden talks, his brain just clicks Im Feeling Lucky, and the first result comes out of his mouth.

Biden announced his presidential campaign Thursday, with a video calling for supporters not to grant Donald Trump eight years in the White House—although it was hard to absorb any of what he was saying after seeing that unfortunate font choice, or the curious way the video was shot. (As Jimmy Fallon put it on The Tonight Show, Is he running for president, or trying to sell me a reverse mortgage?)

Yes, Noah conceded, Biden has a formidable list of accomplishments. For example, hes known as an expert dealmaker in Washington, with a gift for working across the aisle: Thats right. Joe Biden was so good at getting stuff done, he even found a way to work with Mitch McConnell, Noah said. And they probably got along because Mitch was the only person Biden wouldnt give a massage to.

Any politician who has served as many decades as Biden is bound to rack up some baggage. But Biden does have a lot in his past to answer for, including his treatment of Anita Hill, passing the now-controversial 1994 crime bill, and voting for the Iraq war. So on the downside, Joe Biden got a lot of things wrong back in the day, Noah said. But on the upside? He managed to grow his hair back!

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

— Abigail Disney is calling for her familys company to raise the salaries of thousands of employees

On Thursday morning, Joe Biden announced his presidential campaign not with a bang, but a video. In it, he said some stuff, Im sure. Something about unity? It was great. But also, I couldnt hear what he was saying over the noise of that font. Did you see and/or hear the font? Right there at the beginning of the video, when Biden reads a quote from the Declaration of Independence, the same quote pops up in script to the left of his head. This is the font of a Hallmark condolence card. Its the font of a budget wedding invite. It is the font of cheese.

The thought process here seems fairly transparent: the team wanted something that would hat-tip cursive, what the real Declaration of Independence is written in, but in a more easily readable version. That compromise, it turns out, creates something funereal.

And the tweet! Oh boy, the tweet. Whats going on with that thing, huh? He tweeted his announcement as well . . . with weirdly spaced . . . ellipses . . . like this. The ellipses, plus those two little hyphens in a row— — America — —rather than the grammatically complete em dash, makes it read like the tweet of dear, old gramps. But then, of course, hes trying to prove his mettle to a specific demographic, and its not the demographic known for deftly executed tweet syntax. Between Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Beto ORourke, those folks have been taken care of. These are the consecutive hyphens and weird ellipses of a man who is shooting for bigger game: older Republicans who are ready to go Dem, baby.

Good thing nobody cares about how good a candidate is at the Internet. Remember, the guy who repeated cyber on the campaign trail like a malfunctioning sex robot is in the White House.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

Trump lawyer Rudy Giulianis plan to make Joe Bidens Ukrainian entanglements into the next Benghazi is not faring well. Giuliani has recently been playing up an investigation into the Burisma Group, where Hunter Biden previously served as a board member. His theory: that then-Vice President Joe Biden called to remove former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was leading an investigation into Burisma, to protect his sons interests. There doesnt seem to be much to that theory, however. In an interview on Thursday, Ukraines current prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko distanced himself from Giuliani, and emphasized that the Ukrainian government had no plans to investigate Bidens son.

While there is an ongoing probe involving Burismas owner in conjunction with a long-running criminal investigation into another mogul, he told Bloomberg, that matter is unrelated to Biden, and neither Biden nor Burisma are directly under investigation. He added that he would forward information to U.S. Attorney General William Barr about payments to the Burisma board—where Hunter Biden was apparently paid up to $50,000 a month—to determine whether Biden had paid U.S. taxes on the income. I do not want Ukraine to again be the subject of U.S. presidential elections, Lutsenko told Bloomberg. Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws—at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing. A company can pay however much it wants to its board.

Even before now, Giulianis plan had met with some roadblocks. As Bloomberg noted, the timeline doesnt add up; Biden seniors call came a year after Biden Jr. had left the Burisma board. Still, Giuliani had been doggedly pursuing it, even planning a trip to Ukraine to encourage the government to continue the probe, which could theoretically have damaged one of Donald Trumps political rivals. He ultimately decided to scrap the trip due to the Democratic spin. They say I was meddling in the election—ridiculous—but thats their spin, Giuliani said about pushing for the Burisma Group investigation, which he previously claimed could yield information [that] will be very, very helpful to my client.

The Bloomberg comments appear to be a reversal for Lutsenko, who The New York Times previously reported had reopened the investigation into the Burisma Group, and who has reportedly already met with Giuliani multiple times. Before splitting with Giuliani with his most recent interview, the prosecutor was even seen as something of a Trump shill: His reported decision to reopen the investigation was seen by some as an attempt to curry favor with Trump, and Lutsenko has also previously investigated whether other Ukrainian officials attempted to sway the 2016 election in favor of Hillary Clinton. He also helped to turn the Trump camp against the soon-departing Ukrainian ambassador Masha Yovanovitch, who Lutsenko alleged had given him a do not prosecute list that, as my colleague Abigail Tracy noted, was presumably to shield Obama–Clinton allies. (Lutsenko has since walked back those comments and claimed he instead asked Yovanovitch for a do not prosecute list.)

Lutsenkos refusal to investigate Biden now may be the death knell for Giulianis Ukrainian plan, as any investigation seems unlikely under Ukraines next administration. Ukrainian president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky is slated to be sworn into office by the beginning of June and will reportedly replace Lutsenko, whom the Zelensky camp has faulted for his efforts to conspire with Giuliani. Lutshenko has decided his only way to cling onto the prosecutors office is with the help of a Trump ally, Member of Parliament Sergii Leshchenko told The Independent.

While Giuliani has been attempting to get the Zelensky administration behind his investigation scheming, and tried to meet with Zelensky during his now-cancelled trip, that also appears to be a fools errand. According to sources cited by The Independent and The Washington Post, Giulianis Ukrainian efforts havent gone down well with the incoming administration, which would really prefer to stay out of the U.S.s partisan infighting entirely. This is definitely not our war, one person close to Zelensky told the Post. We have to stay away from this as much as possible.

Time, Twitter, and VHS continue to be the bane of Joe Bidens presidential campaign. As if the left needed another reminder that Biden has been in politics for decades, and that the center of the Democratic Party used to be considerably further to the right than it is today, along comes video unearthed by CNNs KFile, in which Biden takes a practically Trumpian tone when talking about tightening U.S. immigration laws, building fences along the U.S.-Mexico border, punishing sanctuary cities, and jailing employers who hire illegals.

The clip is from 2006, which isnt that old, but is also a lifetime in Democratic politics. Barack Obama was against gay marriage. Kirsten Gillibrand was opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants (another KFile exclusive) and was calling for increased deportations. In 2007, Gillibrand would say you have to close the borders in order to right size immigration—the same year that Senator Bernie Sanders opposed comprehensive immigration reform on the basis that millions of people coming into the country would drive wages down even lower than they are now for American citizens. Gillibrand and Biden have both evolved a lot since then. (Sanders, for what its worth, remains somewhat more skeptical about immigration than the median Democratic presidential candidate.)

Democratic centrists probably wont care all that much about the new Biden video. They might even agree with him. Still, its another tally in the non-woke column for the 76-year-old Scrantonite, who has already committed a multitude of progressive sins, from his flippant remarks about touching women to his non-apology apology to Anita Hill, to his past praise of segregationist Strom Thurmond and his opposition to desegregating busing.

The clip itself is sure to provide plenty of fodder for Bidens progressive enemies. Folks, I voted for a fence, I voted, unlike most Democrats—and some of you won't like it—I voted for 700 miles of fence, he says during an appearance at a South Carolina rotary club in November 2006, defending his vote for the Secure Border Act, which allocated over a billion dollars for hundreds of miles of double-layered fence. He went on:

But, let me tell you, we can build a fence 40 stories high—unless you change the dynamic in Mexico and—and you will not like this, and—punish American employers who knowingly violate the law when, in fact, they hire illegals. Unless you do those two things, all the rest is window dressing.

Now, I know I'm not supposed to say it that bluntly, but they're the facts, they're the facts. And so everything else we do is in between here. Everything else we do is at the margins. And the reason why I add that parenthetically, why I believe the fence is needed does not have anything to do with immigration as much as drugs … And let me tell you something folks, people are driving across that border with tons, tons, hear me, tons of everything from byproducts for methamphetamine to cocaine to heroin and it's all coming up through corrupt Mexico …

Asked for comment by CNN on Friday, Bidens team attempted to downplay his past comments and distance their candidate from his pre–Obama era politics. As then-Senator Biden said at the time, we can build a fence 40 stories high, but it will not address the real issues here, the spokesman said, adding that Biden wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform, create a pathway to citizenship, and end Trumps crackdown on sanctuary cities and especially its repugnant treatment of migrant children.

In the politics of American memory, the harsh reality of the past has traditionally been obscured by a more romantic idea of ourselves. At one time, our culture could look beyond the past and reshape it, much like how Manifest Destiny transformed this country as it moved westward. Our public statues and memorials—to the genocidal Andrew Jackson or the slaver Robert E. Lee—are a testament to how myth becomes history. Yet in the digital age, past deeds—both bad and good—cannot so easily be erased or forgotten. No one in American politics today knows this better than Joe Biden.

Ever since Biden announced his run for the presidency, his candidacy has found itself on a collision course with the politics of memory. Bidens record—built on 40 years in the public eye—plays out not as a dusty old melody, but on shiny screens that can summon the past with a click. His tone deafness at the October 11, 1991, testimony of Anita Hill before the Senate Judiciary Committee is now being replayed on a feedback loop, one Biden cannot escape. At a time when America is debating how to render judgment about racism and sexism in the context of history, Bidens venial sins—such as opposing federally mandated busing or eulogizing the segregationist Strom Thurmond—occupy a perilous middle ground: far enough in the past to be forgiven by some, but current enough to be captured on hours of videotape.

During his recent appearance on ABCs The View, Biden refused to apologize for his treatment of Hill, but at least acknowledged that he must confront rather than hide from the past. He said he holds regret for how he facilitated his fellow senators questioning of Hill. But Biden could easily have called in witnesses to corroborate Hills testimony, rather than allowing the hearings to descend into a prurient discussion of breasts and bestiality. When he told the women of The View that he was sorry she was treated the way she was treated, he missed the mark in such passive acknowledgment of his active failures.

As Biden pointed out in his awkwardly convivial exchange with Joy Behar, Clarence Thomas gained approval by only the narrowest of margins. What Biden sweeps over is that Thomas would never have been confirmed had Biden chosen another course of action. Instead, Biden allowed himself to be steamrolled by Thomas and the Republicans on his committee, who effectively weaponized racial language to characterize the hearings as a high-tech lynching.

Now, Biden wants America to believe he has learned from his mistakes. Its possible. But what took him so long? And what else is he eliding in our increasingly defogging national memory?

It was even more recent—in this century, in 2003—that Biden eulogized Dixiecrat segregationist Strom Thurmond, one of Thomass most vigorous supporters. As Hill herself noted in a 2011 interview in The New York Times Magazine, given Thurmonds history and his constituency, I think he would have been hard pressed to treat a white woman accusing a black man in the same way he treated me. Of course, it is bad form to speak ill of the dead. Still, Biden failed to consider the long-range optics of the appropriateness of his eulogizing Thurmond. He made his choice.

In his eulogy, Biden said he believed time had healed and changed Thurmond, judging from the number of African-Americans on his staff, as well as African-Americans who sought his help. But Thurmond had African-Americans on staff, in spite of decades of efforts he made to stop black political and social progress. Thurmond supported a black man to be on the Supreme Court, but he did so only because he felt Thomas would not push harder to pursue the social transformation Thurmond had once so vigorously fought against.

In his eulogy, Biden spoke of Thurmond as if the South Carolina senator had played only a minor role in this countrys history of racist transgressions. Instead, what Biden could have done was talk about how the politics of race that were part of Thurmonds political life had also shaped his own back home in Delaware.

Though Biden frames his biography through his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, his life as a politician was shaped by the border state of Delaware. Delaware is a provincial hybrid, writes Northwestern University historian Brett Gadsden, meaning it is a place in which both southern and northern modes of confronting race were part of the culture. That means Biden has spent his entire political life navigating a place that blends the cultures of North and South. While the North is often characterized as the Souths antithesis, Delaware stands as a small yet significant example of how Americans have oversimplified our regional divide. One of the first acts of mass resistance in this country took place in 1954 in Milford, Delaware, when a small group of black students were admitted to a local white school. As Malcolm X once proclaimed, As long as you south of the Canadian border, you South.

Soon after his 1972 election to the Senate, Biden found himself mired in the politics of school busing, both nationally and in Delaware. In the summer of 1974, Biden was invited to a community meeting in Newport, Delaware, just south of Wilmington, to discuss the issue of busing with his constituents. While it had been framed as an open discussion, it was secretly organized to pressure Biden to support anti-busing legislation, which he had already done, if not at a level that satisfied many of his white suburban constituents. Biden had campaigned for the Senate as a supporter of the ideals of the civil-rights movement, but he soon found himself making political alliances with the likes of Thurmond and North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms on anti-busing legislation as the political winds had begun to shift on school de-segregation. Bidens political stance on busing, both then and now, appears to be at odds with his position as a social-justice Democrat. Its yet another piece of the public memory of Joe Biden he has yet to confront and explain.

Biden is part of a long tradition of alliances between old-line segregationist Southern politicians and East Coast liberals. Senator Ted Kennedy forged a strong relationship with white supremacist James Eastland, one that led to Kennedy giving the 1978 commencement address at the University of Mississippi. Eastland and Kennedy were a political odd couple, each using the other to his advantage.

During his commencement address, Kennedy said, How can you invite a Kennedy to be a graduation speaker at Ole Miss? Eastland replied by saying, Because Im not running for re-election. There is both humor and truth in this exchange. Eastland knew bringing Kennedy to Ole Miss could not be brought out against him in the future. But a larger agenda was at work here as well. Eastland was seeking to affect the way he would be viewed in historical memory. Somehow, Eastland did not think his vicious segregationist past would loom larger than that light moment on the dais in Oxford. Today, this piece of public memory is a footnote, with Eastlands darker politics largely overshadowing it. This should serve as an object lesson to Biden.

Biden views his celebration of Strom Thurmond, his support of anti-busing legislation, and his grilling of Anita Hill as mere venial sins, lesser transgressions that neither pierce the soul nor affect his state of grace, both personally and politically. His non-apology to Hill amounts to a trip to a public confessional, an effort for which he has not been granted absolution, nor should he be. In fact, Biden has only amplified how much more he has failed to confront.

Of course, Biden and his campaign are well versed in how public memory can be used to political advantage. To launch his 2020 campaign, Biden used an event from the recent past—the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville—to frame his candidacy, which he says is a battle for the soul of this nation. Bidens inaugural campaign video would look very different had it featured scenes from his own political past. It is almost as if Biden is saying we should forget his place and role in American memory, and allow him to help us forge a path forward out of the Trump era. And perhaps we should. But can American voters, in a political culture that already has a tenuous relationship with truth and reality, allow a politician who has spent so many years in the public arena to escape his past? And shouldnt we consider how Biden could have altered the course of our current political trajectory decades ago, had he made different choices?

Our digital world has destroyed our cultural ability to forgive and forget. This shift has made American society position tangible public acts of atonement ahead of pure unfettered forgiveness. Still, a quest for redemption must be accompanied by atonement. Bidens lack of atonement in his pronouncements may be the real hurdle to the redemption he appears to be seeking.

W. Ralph Eubanks is the author of Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey into Mississippis Dark Past and The House at the End of the Road. He is a visiting professor of English and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi and is currently at work on a book on Mississippis literary landscape.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

Less than a week after Joe Biden formally announced his presidential run, one of the most potentially awkward aspects of his family history—perhaps even more awkward than his predilection for over-enthusiastic hugging—appears to have resolved itself. Page Six reports that Joe Bidens son Hunter Biden has split up with Hallie Biden, the widow of Hunters late brother, Beau, ending a two-year-long relationship that began after Beau died of brain cancer.

The devastating loss of Beau, the charismatic attorney general of Delaware and a rising star in the Democratic Party, was perhaps the foremost reason that Joe Biden decided not to run for office in 2016, despite overwhelming popularity and Beaus reported encouragement. Hunter and Hallie became an item slightly less than two years later, apparently with the Biden parents approval, and while Hunter was separated from his wife. We are all lucky that Hunter and Hallie found each other as they were putting their lives together again after such sadness, Biden told Page Six in 2017. They have mine and Jills full and complete support and we are happy for them. Its unclear what caused the split—sources described the breakup as a private family matter, but amicable. (Hunters ex-wife and the mother of his three children, Kathleen, whom he divorced in 2017, is reportedly thriving and looking better than ever and back on the dating scene.)

Though Biden the Elder was (and remains) the likely front-runner in the 2020 Democratic primary, rumors swirled for months that he might decline to run, in part, because of various family dramas. Hunter Biden was discharged from the military after testing positive for cocaine (hed already received a waiver for a previous drug-related incident), and in a court filing during divorce proceedings, Hunters ex-wife claimed he was spending extravagantly on his own interests including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, strip clubs, and gifts for women with whom he has sexual relations. (The former couple agreed to settle the divorce in private.) Biden allies and Democratic insiders also feared that Hunters former position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company with ties to an oligarch and former president Viktor Yanukovych would be scrutinized. None of which, it seemed, was Hunter Bidens intent. You know how some people are both fuck-ups and earnest at the same time? Thats how Hunter is. Hes not a bad guy at all, a former colleague of Hunters told my colleague Chris Smith earlier this year.

Back in January, Hunter told Smith that he didnt expect his past to factor into his fathers decision. My father has been a constant source of love and strength in my life. Even though my life has been played out in the media, because I am a Biden, my father never once suggested that the familys public profile should be my priority, he wrote. The priority has always been clear for my dad, as it is, now, for me: Never run from a struggle.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

After months of indecision, Joe Biden officially flung himself into the 2020 race on Thursday morning with a brief video announcing his intention to return America to its pre-Donald Trump glory. We are in the battle for the soul of this nation, he says, framing his candidacy as a bid to restore the Obama coalition and bring decency back to the White House. The implicit paean to the status quo wont be popular with the left—the progressive Justice Democrats have already slammed Biden as a centrist interloper—but Bidens big-tent politics nevertheless represent a clear and present danger to the rest of the Democratic field. In an era when much of the country is pining for a return to normalcy, Biden is the front-runner to beat.

The most immediate threat is to fellow centrists (Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, John Delaney, Tim Ryan) and other would-be unifiers (Beto ORourke and Pete Buttigieg, who share Bidens policy-lite politics), but his potential appeal isnt limited to predefined electoral lanes. As polling firm Morning Consult found back in February, theres plenty of overlap between Biden and Bernie Sanders voters: when asked to identify their second choice for a presidential candidate, about a quarter of Bernies supporters said they would go with Biden, and vice versa. That might be because those two candidates have the highest name recognition (near 100 percent) in the Democratic field. But it also suggests that Biden and Sanders, for all their policy differences, share a similar political orientation that is resonating with voters.

With Biden finally in the race, will he siphon support from his left, too? Hes already hired Symone Sanders, Bernies former press secretary during the 2016 campaign, suggesting that he is thinking not just about how to appeal to Bernie voters, but also how to make his (old, white) campaign both younger and more diverse.

The danger for Biden, as for Sanders, is that hes already a known quantity. Biden has a commanding lead in most polls (with Sanders in second), but much of his popularity is a function of name ID. Biden could rise as opponents drop out, consolidating his support. But in the shorter term, it may be that polling drops off as voters get to know new candidates. Buttigieg, for instance, remains unknown by about a third of Democratic primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. As Nate Silver argues, better to be polling at 10 percent with low name recognition than 20 percent with high name recognition.

For now, Bidens perceived electability works in his favor. But as the primary race goes on, and voters get more comfortable with other candidates, those dynamics could shift. Bidens favorables are off the charts, but theres plenty of room to go down. A brief flurry of media attention earlier this month regarding Bidens history of over-affectionate behavior toward women is likely the tip of the iceberg.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

In a move sure to trigger 2016 P.T.S.D., The New York Times has published a nearly 3,000-word tale of intrigue involving the Biden familys various entanglements in Ukraine. In short, the story is this: in the final year of the Obama presidency, Vice President Joe Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in United States loan guarantees if Ukraines leaders did not dismiss the countrys top prosecutor—Viktor Shokin—who had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in his own office and among the political elite. The pressure campaign also just so happened to benefit Bidens younger son, Hunter, who was then getting paid as much as $50,000 to sit on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that was in Shokins sights. The question the Times raises, but does not answer, is: were Joes and Hunters overlapping interests in Ukraine coincidental, or corrupt?

The Bidens say Joe acted without any regard for the impact on his son, and that Hunter never discussed private business with his father. But of course, that seems unlikely to put this story to rest. The current Ukrainian prosecutor general recently decided to reopen the investigation into Burisma, which could unearth new details about Hunters work. No surprise, the story is also being heavily promoted by Donald Trump and his allies, including lawyer Rudy Giuliani. According to the Times, Giuliani has met repeatedly with both the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor and the new prosecutor, and has discussed his findings with Trump—who then suggested he would like Attorney General William Barr to look into the matter. (Perhaps that is why Barr was at a loss for words on Wednesday, when Senator Kamala Harris asked whether the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone.)

Times reporter Ken Vogel, presumably seeking to pre-empt accusations of water-carrying, explained on Twitter that the papers interest in the subject predates Trump. TO BE CLEAR: Independent of @RudyGiulianis efforts, the intersection of @JoeBiden & HUNTER BIDEN in Ukraine warrants scrutiny, he said, noting that the Times had begun reporting on the Burisma story in 2015. Some within the Obama State Department, too, were concerned with the appearance of impropriety, or the possibility that Hunters business could complicate his fathers diplomatic efforts. (I have had no role whatsoever in relation to any investigation of Burisma, or any of its officers, Hunter Biden told the Times in a statement. I explicitly limited my role to focus on corporate governance best practices to facilitate Burismas desire to expand globally.)

Nevertheless, the Times report dovetails with Trumpworld efforts to get the Biden-Ukraine story in the news. The Hill reported in April on Joe Bidens 2020 Ukrainian nightmare. More recently, the right-wing American Greatness and conservative-leaning Fox News both highlighted stories about the Biden familys entanglements in Ukraine. MAGA-friendly outlets Breitbart and The Daily Wire made hay of the story on Thursday, leveraging the journalistic credibility of the Times.

The Burisma affair—whether coincidence or scandal—may be just the first volley in what is likely to become a broader war over Joe Bidens conduct and record. Past speculation about Biden family drama has centered on Hunters documented struggle with drug use and his recently ended relationship with his late brothers widow. But the bigger threat might actually be Hunters past business enterprises. Already, theres another attack line looming on the horizon: in his latest book, Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends, Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer describes how a private-equity firm managed by Hunter Biden, Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC, negotiated a $1.5 billion investment deal with the state-owned Bank of China at the same time that his father, then the vice president, was conducting high-level diplomacy with Beijing. (On one of his trips, Hunter allegedly made use of Air Force Two.) Whether or not the Chinese hoped to curry favor with Hunters father, Trump allies are sure to make note of the issue, especially given Joe Bidens controversial remark this week downplaying China as an economic competitor. (A spokesman for Hunter Biden disputed Schweizers claims to the Journal.)

Trump and his family are plagued by their own foreign-business and ethical entanglements, of course, which are too numerous to recount quickly. But that didnt stop Trump from weaponizing questions about the funding of the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Giulianis accusations against Hunter have a familiar ring, and could resonate with voters for the same reason. There doesnt need to be a quid pro quo for the ordinary voter to find something sleazy about Clintons husband or Bidens son apparently benefiting from their proximity to power. (Why else does a Ukrainian natural gas company want a Biden on its board?)

Democrats might ignore the whole Biden-Ukraine imbroglio if not for the fact that it has the imprimatur of The New York Times. Considering how the paper damaged Clintons candidacy by running 10 front-page stories about her e-mail scandal in the days leading up the election, one wonders if the Hunter Biden scandal has legs, too—and whether Democrats might come to prefer a candidate without his baggage.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

Im really rich, Trump declared while announcing his candidacy in June 2015. To prove it, he released a Summary of Net Worth balance sheet, indicating a net worth of $8,737,540,000. A month later he upwardly revised that figure to in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS. (The caps are his.)

Since then, a cottage industry of spreadsheet-diving journalists has worked itself into a lather trying to peg his real net worth. But without tax returns to go on, its really anybodys guess. Despite the all-caps figures Trump has dispensed, most estimates from the established financial-media outlets have been lower, FAR LOWER. Forbes put his net worth at $4.5 billion. Fortune postulated $3.7 billion, and later upped it to $3.9 billion. Bloomberg guessed it was closer to $2.9 billion.

In response to these wanton guesstimates, Trump instinctually fired back at the guesstimators. Forbes is a bankrupt magazine, doesnt know what theyre talking about. Fortune has no idea what my assets are and has totally lost its way. But the real sulfuric acid was reserved for the lowballers over at Bloomberg. As usual, Trump made it personal, even suggesting his friend, the former New York City mayor, might be jealous. Maybe Michael told them to do it, Trump speculated in the Daily Mail, because he always wanted to do what Im doing. Perhaps wisely, The New Yorker—even with its legendary phalanx of persnickety fact-checkers—wouldnt venture any closer than just a back-of-the-envelope calculation of $2.56 billion, which shouldnt be taken too seriously.

In November, Trump was elected president of the United States in a shocking turn of events. He lost the popular vote by some two million ballots.

When Donald Trump first opened Trump Tower, the centerpiece of his property empire, he was able to convince everyone from Steven Spielberg to Johnny Carson to Sophia Loren to pay top dollar to live in the place, with units selling for as much as $15 million. Now, thanks to a name thats synonymous with racist blowhard of debatable mental stability and questionable moral conduct, not to mention a lack of updates in recent years, people cant get away from the building fast enough.

Bloomberg reports that since Trump was elected, at least 13 condos in the tower have been sold. Among the nine for which property records show the original purchase price, eight were unloaded at an inflation-adjusted loss, with several selling at a discount of more than 20 percent. (By contrast, just 0.23 percent of homes sold in Manhattan during the same period booked a loss.) And, of course, its not hard to understand why! Michael Sklar, who sold his parents unit for $1.83 million last October after they bought it for $1.4 million and spent $400,000 on renovations, summed up the situation thusly: The name on the building became a problem. . . . No one wants in that building. Matthew Hughes, a broker at Brown Harris Stevens, said that while the luxury market is softening, its rare that someone owns an apartment here for 10 years and takes a loss. Another real-estate agent told reporter Shahien Nasiripour that clients have repeatedly and insistently told him not to show them units in any of Trumps buildings. Its a similar situation at Trump properties around the world—last year, Jeffrey Rabiea, who owns three units in the Trump Panama hotel and was part of a group fighting to have the name removed, told The Washington Post: Its a bloodbath, basically. Its a financial bloodbath. . . . Nobody wants to go there. If youve got a Marriott and a Hyatt and a Trump, youre not going to Trump.

The commercial portion of the building has been struggling for months to find tenants for more than 42,000 square feet of vacant office space, despite advertising rents well below the areas average, listings and data from real-estate brokers show. . . . If I were looking for office space, that would be a building Id want to avoid, said Edward Son, until recently a market analyst for CoStar Group, Inc.

The office portion of Trump Tower is advertising five vacancies spread across five floors. In January, prices for the open space ranged from $72 to $85 per square foot annually. A month earlier, the Trump Organization posted to its YouTube channel a glossy marketing video that referred to the tower as one of New Yorks most iconic trophy buildings. Now the prices are listed as negotiable. A commercial real-estate broker said that his firms surveys show that prospective tenants wont consider a Trump building until hes out of office. One of the buildings other problems is that Trump hasnt spent much money updating the tower in recent years, according to disclosures to investors.

I dont think I would want an office in Trump Tower, Barbara Res, a former Trump Organization executive, told Bloomberg. Why would you go there? Its a wonder he doesnt have 50 percent vacancy.

Last week, The New York Times followed up its 2018 report about Donald Trump inheriting $400 million from his father largely through highly questionable, possibly illegal tax schemes with the news that the very successful businessman had lost more than $1 billion between 1985 and 1994. Specifically, according to the team that won a Pulitzer for its coverage of Trumps finances, the former real-estate developer frittered away a whopping $1.17 billion in a decade, more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, and such a massive sum that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. If anyone still believed Trump to be a successful businessman, thats the sort of data point youd think would cause them to re-evaluate. But apparently, not so much!

According to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll, 54 percent of voters believe Trump has been successful in business, compared to 36 percent who think hes been unsuccessful, and 10 percent who have no opinion. Broken down by party lines, a whopping 85 percent of Republican voters think Trump has kicked ass in the private sector—despite the 10 figures worth of losses, the bankruptcies, and the words Trump Steaks . . . exclusively sold through The Sharper Image, while a mere 10 percent of Republican voters view him as unsuccessful. (On the flip side, 61 percent of Democratic voters say hes been unsuccessful.) Reminded about the Times report in a subsequent question, 74 percent of Republicans still clung to the belief that Trump was somewhat to very successful in business.

Of course, this isnt the only area in which Trump supporters have been happy to buy his obvious lies. Elsewhere, many seemingly believe that hes the same height and weight as Tim Tebow, and a full two inches taller than Barack Obama, glaring evidence to the contrary. They also seem to believe hes as rich as he says he is, that his tax cut was all about the middle class and cost him a fortune, and that he cant release his tax returns because hes under audit.

To be fair, Trumps rank-and-file believers have good company in high places. After the Times reported he lost $1 billion, the clapping seals at Fox & Friends remarked, If anything, you read this and youre like wow, its pretty impressive, all the things that hes done in his life. Its beyond what most of us could ever achieve.

More than a dozen allies, along tech giants Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, all signed a pledge, but the U.S. government decided it couldnt get on board with such an initiative:

The United States broke with 18 governments and five top American tech firms Wednesday to endorse a New Zealand-led effort to curb extremism online, a response to the live-streamed shootings at two Christchurch mosques that killed 51. White House officials said free-speech concerns prevented them from formally signing onto the largest campaign to date targeting extremism online.

The Christchurch Call, unveiled at an international gathering in Paris, commits foreign countries and tech giants to be more vigilant about the spread of hate on social media. It reflects heightened global frustration with the inability of Facebook, Google, and Twitter to restrain hateful posts, photos, and videos that have spawned real-world violence.

The call is named for the New Zealand city where a shooter killed 51 people in a March attack broadcast on Facebook and posted afterward on other social-media sites. Facebook, Google, and Twitter struggled to take down copies of the violent video as fast as it spread on the Web, prompting an international backlash from regulators who felt malicious actors had evaded Silicon Valleys defenses too easily. Before the attack, the shooter also posted a hate-filled manifesto that included references to previous mass killings.

Last year, the shooter who opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh posted anti-Semitic screeds online, and neo-Nazis used Facebook to organize before their deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, after which Trump famously commented that there were very fine people on both sides of the clash.

Gov. Brian Kemp postponed an annual trip to Los Angeles to promote Georgias film industry on Tuesday as a growing number of movie executives and celebrities criticized his decision to sign the anti-abortion heartbeat bill into law. Abortion-rights activists had threatened to protest the May 22 event, and Georgia film executives were worried that tepid turnout and no-shows from studio chiefs could do lasting damage to the states moviemaking business. . . . The delay is the latest sign of how quickly the fallout over House Bill 481, which outlaws most abortions as early as six weeks, has rocked Georgias film industry since the Republican signed it into law a week ago.

Several film production companies have vowed not to shoot anything in Georgia, and dozens of actors including Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, and Sean Penn signed a protest letter saying they wont work in Georgia because of the law. . . . Georgia has become one of the leading locations for movie and TV productions thanks to a lucrative incentives signed into law in 2005 that allows film companies to earn tax credits for up to 30 percent of what they spend here.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 455 productions were shot in Georgia during the fiscal year 2018, with an estimated economic impact of $9.5 billion. Oops!

Trump is going to take the next six months to decide if he should introduce yet more job-killing tariffs

Trump plans to hold off on imposing steep tariffs on imported autos while the U.S. pursues agreements with key trading partners, industry sources told A.F.P. Wednesday. Trump has threatened to impose 25 percent punitive duties on autos—a possibility that has worried the European Union and Japan in particular, as well as Mexico and Canada. Facing a deadline to announce a decision by Saturday on whether to implement the tariffs based on national-security concerns, the sources said Trump would hold off as negotiations proceed.

New tariffs risk exploding already-tense trade relations with Washingtons major trading partners, who are angry about punitive duties on steel and aluminum imposed last year. . . . German car-makers are especially concerned about the tariff threat, but Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared a truce in July 2018 in order to pursue negotiations.

In related news, very few people are enthused by the presidents plan to provide farmers with another multi-billion-dollar bailout in order to make up for the damage done by his trade war with China:

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a leading member of the Senate Finance Committee, is warning that President Trumps plan to provide $15 billion in assistance to farmers hurt by the escalating trade war with China is very bad policy. Its a very bad policy, he told a group of reporters in his office. Think about what were doing. Were inviting this retaliation that denies our farmers—the most productive farmers on the planet—the opportunity to sell their products overseas and then we say, Dont worry, well have taxpayers send you some checks and make it O.K. Thats a very bad approach.

This, of course, would be the second farm bailout Trumps trade war has necessitated. The first one clocked in at a cool $12 billion and still didnt stop farm income from plummeting $11.8 billion.

Barr asks Pelosi outside the Capitol, Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs? (The Washington Post

The never-before-told story of the Navy plane that drew a giant penis in the sky (The Washington Post)

For those old enough to remember, as recently as March 25, Donald Trump was all about the Mueller report and the man who authored it. Asked by reporters if he wanted to see the special counsels findings completely released, shortly after William Barr told Congress the investigation totally exonerated him, the president said it would be up to the attorney general, but it wouldnt bother me at all. He even said that he thought Robert Mueller had acted honorably. Fast-forward six weeks and things have changed slightly! Now that people know the Mueller report actually lays out multiple episodes of deeply corrupt behavior, as well as obvious instances of obstruction by the president, the ex-real-estate developer isnt so keen on giving the public the full story, asserting executive privilege over the report and the underlying materials pertaining to it. Hes also reverted to batshit-crazy mode when it comes to Mueller himself, claiming, among other things, that the special counsel has amorous feelings for ex-F.B.I. director James Comey.

Asked by reporters on Thursday if he would allow Mueller to testify before Congress—over the weekend, President Twitter said he Mueller should not be allowed to—Trump responded that he would leave the decision up to our very great attorney general, and then offered this rambling, incoherent aside:

Bob Mueller is no friend of mine. I had conflicts with him. We had a business dispute, we had somebody that is in love with James Comey. . . . They were very good friends, supposedly best friends. Maybe not, but supposedly best friends. You look at the picture file and you see hundreds of pictures of him and Comey. And with all of that and other things, he wanted the F.B.I. job. I dont know if anybody knows that, but as you know, he was considered for the F.B.I. job, wanted it, and the day after he didnt get it, he became the special counsel. Thats a conflict. And we had other things, but those are tremendous conflicts.

Listen to this. Your judge, call him a judge, is a—has a business dispute with me. Your judge has a fantastic relationship with James Comey. Well, hes a part of this. He lied to Congress, he leaked—hes a liar, a leaker. And your judge has a situation where he wanted to become the F.B.I. director. We chose Director Wray instead and told him Im sorry. Thats—those are tremendous conflicts. Those are tremendous conflicts. . . . then he puts on his staff almost all Democrats, many of whom contributed to Hillary Clinton. None of them contributed to me. That I can tell you. And it started out at 13 and it went to 18. And these were angry Democrats. These were people that went to her, in one case, went to her what was supposed to be a party and turned out to be a funeral on election evening and was going wild. He was so angry. And this man now is judging me. You had other people made big contributions to Hillary Clintons campaign. They were angry Democrats in, I think, almost all cases.

So, obviously we have a lot of questions, the first being: what is a picture file? Is Trump talking about a Google image search (which, incidentally, shows just a handful of photos of the two men from when they worked together)? Does he have a Getty account? Did someone—and this seems most likely—print out pictures of Comey and Mueller together and put them in an actual file folder for Trump to flip through and annotate with his favorite Sharpie? Unfortunately, the White House did not respond to the Hives request for clarification.

Elsewhere during Trumps Q&A, the president said he was surprised Don Jr. had been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence committee; accused Representative Adam Schiff of conning this whole country; repeated his false claim that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in disaster aid (and thus that its people should really like President Trump); and called for former Secretary of State John Kerry to be prosecuted.

Theres something deeply poetic about 11-day White House Communications director Anthony Scaramucci inviting Angelo Mozilo, who had a major role in the 2008 mortgage crisis, to speak at his annual Wall Street confab. Per the Post:

Speaking at an exclusive hedge fund conference in Las Vegas this week, the disgraced former head of Countrywide Financial said he doesnt care that he is still being held responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown, driven by a collapse in shoddy subprime loans, many of them sold by Countrywide.

A lot of years went by, my wife passed away, I turned 80 years old, and now I dont care, Mozilo said, eliciting nervous laughter from the crowd gathered at the SALT Conference in Las Vegas. Theres other things more important in life, said Mozilo, 81, wearing his trademark tan with stiff white-collared shirt.

Mozilo, who was charged in 2009 with insider trading and securities fraud related to e-mails in which he said things like In all my years in the business I have never seen a more toxic product and called another Countrywide offering the most dangerous product in existence, all while publicly touting the stock, claimed ignorance with how people got the idea that he had any role in the global financial crisis. For some unknown reason, I got blamed for it, he said. (Mozilo settled his case with the S.E.C. for $67.5 million and received a lifetime ban for serving as an officer or director of a public company, while neither admitting or denying wrongdoing.)

Trumps accounting firm might be able to release his shady financial documents sooner than we thought

Last month, the presidents lawyers filed a lawsuit to prevent his longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, from responding to a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee for 10 years of Trumps financial statements. (The suit followed Michael Cohens testimony that his former boss frequently inflated his wealth in order to obtain loans, and a Washington Post exposé that revealed Trump frequently had Mazars prepare Statement(s) of Financial Condition that included blatant lies intended to exaggerate the former real-estate developers wealth.) While the president would obviously like to keep his financial documents (and tax returns) a secret forever, the move was presumably designed to, at the very least, delay Mazars from turning over information for several months. But according to CNN, thats unlikely to happen:

Judge Amit Mehta plans next week to weigh the major legal issues raised in President Donald Trumps challenge of a congressional subpoena for his accounting firm's records, according to an order issued Thursday—putting the case on an even faster track than it previously looked to be. Congress has subpoenaed Trump and his business accounting records from the firm Mazars USA, and Trumps personal legal team sued to stop the records from being turned over. A hearing is now scheduled for May 14.

Previously, the case was set up so that Mehta would consider it in multiple stages, beginning next week—which could have lengthened out the legal fight and held off Congress from getting the records.

According to the Post, in one of the Statement(s) of Financial Condition, Trump invented an extra 800 acres at his 1,200-odd-acre Virginia vineyard. In another, he claimed Trump Tower had 68 stories, despite the fact that anyone with eyes could tell you there are 58. In a 2013 document titled Summary of Net Worth, which was used for his failed Buffalo Bills bid and also fell under the genre of fan fiction, he conveniently omitted ownership of a hotel in Chicago, and another in Last Vegas, to hide those debt loads from anyone reviewing the statement.

The direct impact of tariffs could be consequential. Economists at Moodys Analytics calculate the increase to a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion in Chinese imports would pare 0.8 percentage points off U.S. growth by the fourth quarter of 2020. A scenario in which the U.S. applied a 25 percent tariff to all imports from China and Beijing retaliated would slash U.S. real GDP by 2.6 percentage points and cost the economy 3 million jobs by the final quarter of 2020. Bloombergs own economists calculate that a 25 percent tariff on all imports from China would shave 1.5 percentage points off Chinese growth.

If Trumps threat becomes reality, it will be a game changer for the global economy, wrote Steve Cochrane, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Moodys Analytics.

Told by Charles Leerhsen—the ghostwriter on the real estate developers book Surviving at the Top— who was inspired to describe his time with Trump during the period in which he lost $1 billion:

Trumps portfolio did not jibe with what I saw each day — which to a surprisingly large extent was him looking at fabric swatches. Indeed, flipping through fabric swatches seemed at times to be his main occupation. Some days he would do it for hours, then take me in what he always called his French military helicopter to Atlantic City — where he looked at more fabric swatches or sometimes small samples of wood paneling. It was true that the carpets and drapes at his properties needed to be refreshed frequently, and the seats on the renamed Trump Shuttle required occasional reupholstering. But the main thing about fabric swatches was that they were within his comfort zone — whereas, for example, the management of hotels and airlines clearly wasnt. One of his aides once told me that every room at the Plaza could be filled at the rack rate (list price) every night, and the revenue still wouldnt cover the monthly payment of the loan hed taken out to buy the place. In other words, hed made a ridiculous deal.

On days when there were no broadlooms or chenilles to ponder, we would sit around his office and shoot the breeze while (as we now know) out there someplace in the real world, his businesses were hemorrhaging cash. Hed talk about the Yankees, show me pictures of Marla Maples (whom he was then romancing while still married to Ivana) and tell me obviously made-up stories, such as how he had just the other day seen a beautiful, completely naked woman on the street. Put that in the book! hed say, and Id pretend to write it down.

Anna Delvey, Fake Heiress Who Swindled N.Y.s Elite, Is Sentenced to 4 to 12 Years in Prison (NYT)

Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Team Up to Fight Big Banks in First Joint Legislation (The Daily Beast)

He Founded Students for Trump. Now He Could Face Jail Time for Impersonating a Lawyer. (Politico)

The presidents decision last year to slap tariffs on goods from countries around the world and drag the U.S. into a trade war with China hasnt gone super well for America. The farmers whose profits have been destroyed as a result know this. The manufacturers who have had to lay off employees and move production overseas know this. The consumers who paid $3 billion a month last year to finance the tariffs know it, too. One person who doesnt? Donald Trump, who lives in his own alternative reality and still thinks this whole thing is going great. On Tuesday, after China responded to the latest round of tariffs with fresh punitive measures of its own, the president claimed that Tariffs have rebuilt our Steel Industry (fact-check: false); that Our great Patriot Farmers will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of what is happening now (fact-check: false, and weirdly Soviet); and that we will be moving jobs back to the USA (fact-check: false again!).

Alarmingly, while Trump previously appeared to view tariffs as a negotiating tactic, he now seems to believe they should be permanent economic policy, despite his own advisers admitting theyre hurting not just China but the U.S.:

In tweets and other public utterances in recent days, Trump has hailed his tariffs, claiming they have helped power U.S. economic growth, and repeated over and over again that other countries such as China foot the bill, a view even his own economic advisers are uncomfortable defending. Trump is also displaying a preference for his tariffs over his own deals. Among the major hurdles to a congressional vote to ratify his renegotiated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement are the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump imposed on products coming from Canada and Mexico.

Those tariffs have invited retaliation against U.S. agricultural exports, such as corn and pork, that [is] hurting U.S. farmers. They also have caused senior Republicans like Chuck Grassley, the powerful head of the Senate Finance Committee, to say they will block any vote for Trumps rebranded NAFTA, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. But Trump has refused to bend unless Canada and Mexico agree to other trade restraints with new investment in domestic steel mills and aluminum smelters, one of the benefits of Trumps trade wars the president is most eager to tout.

While an obsession with tariffs certainly hurts the U.S. economy—Moodys analysts predict Trumps threat to hit virtually all Chinese goods with a 25 percent levy would slash U.S. real G.D.P. by 2.6 percentage points—experts say the never-ending counterattacks would likely be detrimental to the global economy, too, causing a painful economic slowdown that could tip the country into a recession. Im with most economists and I think tariffs and a reduction in free trade are going to be a bad outcome for all involved, Stephen Gallagher, chief U.S. economist at Societe Generale SA, told Bloomberg. Gary Hufbauer, of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, noted that while it might be easy—if not entirely misguided—to slap tariffs on imports from other countries, its a lot harder to take them off, pointing to a tariff that was introduced in the 1960s to protect U.S. light trucks from foreign competition and has never been removed.

Meanwhile, China appears to be in this thing for the long haul. On Tuesday, its state media released a clip effectively saying the countrys been through a lot worse than some bloated real-estate developer with a Twitter addiction.

In a clip from state broadcaster CCTV that went viral, an anchor asks, After 5,000 years of trials and tribulations, what kind of battle have the Chinese not been through?

The video, which has been viewed more than 3.3 billion times, underscores how China wants to portray itself as playing the long game in the trade battle in contrast with President Trump, whose re-election next year could be at risk if voters perceive the trade war negatively. Meanwhile, the Peoples Daily, the official newspaper for Chinas Communist Party, posted a photo captioned, This, is Chinas attitude! CNBCs translation of the Chinese phrases in the image reads: Negotiate—we can! Fight—bring it on! Bully us—YOU WISH!

Ubers underwriters, led by Morgan Stanley, were so worried the companys initial public offering had run into trouble, they deployed a nuclear option ahead of the deal last week, so they could provide extra support for the stock, four people with knowledge of the move said. This level of support, known as a naked short, is a technique that goes above and beyond the traditional help a new offering can get.

In every deal, theres an overallotment, which allows the underwriters to sell 115 percent of the available offering to investors, effectively opening a short position. The excess 15 percent can be purchased by the underwriters in the open market—covering the short position—to support the stock if it goes down. More colloquially, this is known as the greenshoe. But in rare cases, bankers will use a strategy called a naked short, which allows underwriters to sell shares in excess of that greenshoe portion and then buy them back in the open market to provide even more firepower in the event there is significant selling pressure. Some of the bankers tried to console market participants prior to the opening of trading by telling them that there would be additional support from the naked short, said one of the people, who asked not to be named discussing private conversations. The exact size of the naked short could not be learned, but it is expected to have been fairly small, two of the other people said.

Unfortunately for Uber investors, the plan didnt stop the stock from falling 18 percent in its first two days of trading (it closed at $39.96 on Tuesday, a far cry from the now-delusional-seeming price of $45/share). Both Morgan Stanley and the ride-share company declined CNBCs requests for comment.

AT&T has cut more than 23,000 jobs since receiving a big tax cut at the end of 2017, despite lobbying heavily for the tax cut by claiming that it would create thousands of jobs. AT&T in November 2017 pushed for the corporate tax cut by promising to invest an additional $1 billion in 2018, with C.E.O. Randall Stephenson saying that every billion dollars AT&T invests is 7,000 hard-hat jobs. These are not entry-level jobs. These are 7,000 jobs of people putting fiber in ground, hard-hat jobs that make $70,000 to $80,000 per year.

The corporate tax cut was subsequently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. The tax cut reportedly gave AT&T an extra $3 billion in cash in 2018. But AT&T cut capital spending and kept laying people off after the tax cut. A union analysis of AT&Ts publicly available financial statements shows the telecom company eliminated 23,328 jobs since the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed in late 2017, including nearly 6,000 in the first quarter of 2019, the Communications Workers of America (C.W.A.) said yesterday.

Last month, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that, contrary to the administrations claims that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had resulted in big bonuses for American workers, employees had received, on average, an increase of a penny, which they hopefully havent spent all in one place.

A federal judge in Washington expressed astonishment Tuesday at arguments raised by President Trumps lawyers seeking to block his accounting firm from turning over years of financial records to the Democratic-controlled House Oversight and Reform Committee and seemed to signal a swift ruling in favor of lawmakers. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta fired pointed questions at the presidents lawyers, who argued in an April 22 lawsuit that the committees sweeping subpoena to Mazars USA for the financial records of Trump and various associated entities since 2011 was not a valid exercise of legislative power.

The lawsuit in Washington was brought by Trump and several of his businesses against House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and Trumps accounting firm Mazars USA. . . . Mehta gave both sides until Saturday to file any additional submissions and promised a ruling promptly, consistent with the gravity of the issues involving the balancing of powers between Congress and a president. Mehta did not say when he would rule, but noted that a different House panel, the Financial Services Committee, is set to appear in federal court in Manhattan on May 22 to defend other subpoenas for Trumps bank records issued to Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp. Trump and his three eldest children and companies have sued to quash the subpoenas.

According to a report from The Washington Post, Trump would frequently have Mazars prepare statements of financial condition that included blatant lies intended to exaggerate the former real-estate developers wealth, the tip-off being that the firm would note that the figures were neither verified nor audited, that they didnt follow normal accounting principles, and that readers of the documents should recognize that they might reach different conclusions about the financial condition of Donald J. Trump if they had more information.

In the halcyon days of 2015, back when his build the wall mantra was more of a mnemonic device, Donald Trump claimed that constructing his beautiful barrier along the southern border would be easy. Its not even a difficult project if you know what youre doing, he insisted. Fast forward to 2019, and his quest for a wall has been anything but simple. Mexico isnt paying, and Trumps emergency declaration, a last-ditch effort to fund the thing, is facing multiple legal challenges. In desperation, the president has reportedly turned to the Pentagon for help. And according to The Washington Post, his newly-installed acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, is happy to comply.

Per the Post*, the Pentagon is planning to shift another $1.5 billion to Trumps project from its own programs—including its ballistic missile program, its Airborne Warning and Control System, and a program that funds war efforts abroad. Shanahan maintains the diversion wont adversely effect military operations: The Department carefully selected sources for the reprogramming that are excess or early to need and will not adversely affect military preparedness, read a document reviewed by the Post. Still, the fact that the D.O.D. is funneling money from bona fide defense systems to fund a wall that will be largely ineffective is deeply ironic.

Also ironic: that Trump, who has claimed the D.O.D. was depleted by Barack Obamas administration, would siphon funds from D.O.D. programs to fund his pet project. Democrats, too, are incensed at the move, noting that raiding the Pentagons coffers is yet another way Trump has subverted Congressional authority, and that the funds could be better spent on, say, disaster relief for military personnel. Once again, the Department of Defense has ignored decades of precedent and cooperation with the Congress in carrying out a transfer of funds without regard to any consultation with the Appropriations Committee, a team of Democratic senators including Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, and Jack Reed wrote in a letter to Shanahan on Friday. We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritize a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available.

The dispute comes as the White House redoubles its efforts to make good on the presidents signature campaign promise. Trump failed to make headway on the wall during his first two years in office, and tensions increased when Democrats took over the House, leading to a historic government shutdown over funding. When that failed to produce the cash he wanted, the president employed the nuclear option, even as he publicly undermined his own claim of an emergency at the border. Since then the administration has repeatedly sought money from the Pentagon, looking to delay more than $10 billion in military construction projects, and diverting $1 billion in March to the border project. The administration has previously floated siphoning resources set aside to address natural disasters—including in hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico—to pay for the wall.

Perhaps anticipating the backlash, the administration told the Post that the $1.5 billion in funding is being redirected from cost savings, programmatic changes and revised requirements at the Pentagon. Still, the hypocrisy is hard to miss, as is the fact that Trump is once again thumbing his nose at Congress role in governance. We look forward to hearing your views on how you intend to repair the damaged relationship between the defense oversight committees and the Department, Democrats wrote in their letter to Shanahan.

Donald Trump is never more bothered by something than when he goes to great lengths to brush it off. For example, his nonchalant tweets about Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden can be taken as an admission that he is very nervous about Joe Biden. The pattern reared its head again on Sunday, when the president tweeted that he had Never [been] a fan of @justinamash, a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy, referring to G.O.P. Rep. Justin Amash.

The tiff began with Amash, who became the first Republican to call for Trumps impeachment. In a damning Twitter thread on Saturday, he acknowledged the fallout of Robert Muellers report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as attorney general William Barrs controversially dismissive summary. Contrary to Barrs portrayal, Muellers report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment, Amash wrote, clarifying that high Crimes and Misdemeanors refers broadly to a violation of public trust. Impeachment, which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.

Amash, a libertarian who has spoken out on Trumps abuses of power in the past, acknowledged that While impeachment should be undertaken only in extraordinary circumstances, the risk we face in an environment of extreme partisanship is not that Congress will employ it as a remedy too often but rather that Congress will employ it so rarely that it cannot deter misconduct. Some Democratic lawmakers have indicated they would support impeaching Trump—regardless of the unlikelihood of Senate conviction—though Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have dismissed the notion as a political liability.

Trump, on the other hand, has not. Amashs words clearly rankled him, prompting a Sunday string of tweets re-litigating his view of the Mueller report:

If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, composed by 18 Angry Dems who hated Trump, he would see that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION the president argued to his followers. Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands! Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also spoke out on Amashs tweets, stating Saturday the congressman was parroting the Democrats talking points on Russia.

Amash is a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is currently investigating Trump for alleged financial misconduct. He also alleged that few members of Congress even read Muellers report before drawing partisan conclusions. Americas institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome, he wrote. Our Constitution is brilliant and awesome; it deserves a government to match it.

Donald Trump isnt making things easy for himself in 2020. Despite the strong economy, the protection and support of G.O.P. sycophants, and a potential identity crisis among Democrats, the halfwit president continues to put obstacles in his own path to re-election, including, most recently, by escalating his war on the Affordable Care Act. In a filing on Wednesday, the Trump administration called for the entirety of Barack Obamas signature health care legislation to be struck down, formalizing the more aggressive posture on the A.C.A. Attorney General Bill Barr signaled last March in throwing the D.O.J.s weight behind a Texas district judge who ruled that the law should be invalidated.

Previously, the administration had suggested that only certain elements of Obamacare be killed. But, it argued in March and in its filing Wednesday, it now believes that the proper course of action would be the wholesale elimination of a system on which millions of Americans rely for their healthcare. Instead of rewriting the statute by picking and choosing which provisions to invalidate, the proper course is to strike it down in its entirety, the administration wrote.

Still, its not clear that Trump has a real shot of nuking the law. Obamacare has withstood close to a decade of legal and political attacks from the right and has remained not only relatively stable, but popular with the American people. That makes the presidents continued assault particularly perplexing. Democrats seized on his failed attempts to repeal and replace the law to win back the House in 2018, and would be only too happy to run on healthcare again in 2020. Republicans, battered after their House and Senate majorities failed to make good on promises to deliver health care solution, seem to have little appetite for another fight. Trump has no plan to replace the A.C.A., should it be struck down. So why is he wading back into such politically treacherous waters?

The easy answer is that hes an imbecile whod rather play exclusively to his base, even as Democrats hammer him over his latest push to strip Americans healthcare and the A.C.A.s protections for those with preexisting conditions. President Trump wants to take all that away from the American people, jacking up health care costs and leaving millions without coverage, Chuck Schumer said in a statement on the administrations filing. There is no viable legal argument and no moral defense for the devastation the Trump Administration is asking the court to inflict on Americans health care, Nancy Pelosi added. In the courts and in Congress, the Democratic House Majority will fight relentlessly to defend Americans health care and to lower health costs and prescription drug prices for all Americans.

But its also possible that Trump, who says hell reveal his own really great health care agenda if and when hes re-elected, is taking up the fight again because he actually thinks he can win. In Barr, who has served as something of a defense attorney for the president in the melee over Robert Muellers Russia report, Trump seems to have found a willing foot-soldier. And while the Supreme Court has twice upheld the the A.C.A., Trump has added two deeply conservative justices to its bench. Even so, some analysts have questioned whether the administrations argument can pass legal muster. It is a truly indefensible position, Nicholas Bagley of University of Michigan law school, told The New York Times. This is just partisan hardball. Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright made a similar argument last month as he grilled Barr about his decision to take up the case, calling it unbelievable for its recklessness and its lack of legal justification. But Barr signaled he was game for the fight. If you think its such an outrageous position, Barr told the Pennsylvania congressman, you have nothing to worry about.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

Earlier this week, the national firefighters union endorsed Joe Biden for president, saying he was the candidate with the best chance of beating Donald Trump in 2020. As you can probably imagine, this didnt go over so well with President Twitter, whos known to fly off the handle at the smallest of perceived slights. But rather than simply shoot off a typical all-caps, unglued tweet or two before moving on, Trump had a massive, flaming meltdown that does not bode well for the next 552 days.

Lashing out at the union for having the audacity to throw its weight behind Biden—a move that apparently came as a shock to the White House, despite the presidents aggressively anti-worker policies, Trump wrote: Ive done more for Firefighters than this dues sucking union will ever do, and I get paid ZERO! (He, Trump, is doing the work without expecting compensation, thank you very much.) He then proceeded to unleash a whopping five dozen re-tweets in the span of an hour, trashing Biden and the union and suggesting that firefighters actually have his back. Heres a small representative sample:

Despite a history of flying off the handle via social media, Wednesdays volume is a record for Trump, which might have something to do with the fact that hes panicked about Bidens candidacy for office, and reportedly has no strategy in place to beat the former V.P. Earlier this month, before Biden even officially got into the race, Trump blew his top when Uncle Joe delivered a speech to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and received applause and laughter from the crowd. Ive employed thousands of Electrical Workers, the leader of the free world tweeted, like a lover scorned. They will be voting for me!

In addition to fear of a Biden vs. Trump general election, the president was presumably also on edge Wednesday morning thanks to the news that special counsel Robert Mueller wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr criticizing the latters characterization of the investigation into Russian election interference and whether Trump obstructed justice. Following his Biden tirade, the president tweeted:

Barr is expected to testify for most of the day on Wednesday, and potentially also on Thursday, so who knows what additional deranged ravings that will inspire. Stay tuned!

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

President Donald Trump's ever-elusive tax returns got slightly demystified Tuesday, as the New York Times released a report detailing one decade of Trump's finances from his days as a real estate tycoon. And, spoiler alert: he's not the VERY successful businessman he's claimed to be. According to the Times report, which is based on printouts from Trumps official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, rather than the actual tax returns themselves, the now-president lost $1.17 billion from 1985 to 1994—more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.

Per the Times, Trump's startling losses came from of a rash of unprofitable business purchases, largely in real estate, that included a shuttle operation from Eastern Airlines funded at a rate of $7 million per month and the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino, which opened with $800 million in debt. The casino never recouped its debts, the Times found, and sucked revenue from [Trump's] other casinos, Trumps Castle and Trump Plaza, pulling them deep into the red. By 1990, Trump's adjusted gross income was negative $400.3 million, which would balloon to negative $915.7 million by 1994. (An earlier Times report found Trump's 1995 adjusted gross income was negative $916 million, an amount then described as so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.) As a result of his overwhelming losses, the Times found that Trump didn't pay income tax for eight of the ten years reviewed, only paying income tax in 1987 and 1988. Trump was required to pay taxes both years through the alternative minimum tax, which, as the Times described, was created to make sure wealthy people could not avoid all income tax through loopholes and deductions.

There were actually some ways that Trump made money in that decade, of course. The Times report details income that changed year after year, including $67.1 million in salary in 1988, which largely came from a lucrative deal with former T.V. host Merv Griffin for the Taj Mahal, and a still-unexplained $52.9 million in interest income in 1989. Trump's primary money-making scheme was as a corporate raider, in which Trump would buy stock in companies to fuel speculation that he could buy the company—only to drive up the stock price and then cash out. But always, those gains were overwhelmed by losses on his casinos and other projects, the Times said, and Trump ultimately lost the bulk of the gains from his four-year trading spree. As the Times noted Tuesday, though, the now-president could stand to lose so much money and keep up his gilded lifestyle, largely because the money he lost wasn't actually his. Most of Trump's money belonged to others, the Times found, to the banks and bond investors who had supplied the cash to fuel his acquisitions. Trump also secretly leaned on his fathers wealth to continue living like a winner.

The Trump camp has disputed the findings as demonstrably false, though they've yet to point out any specific falsehoods in the Times report. Trump lawyer Charles J. Harder said in a statement to the Times that their statements about the presidents tax returns and business from 30 years ago are highly inaccurate, later adding, I.R.S. transcripts, particularly before the days of electronic filing, are notoriously inaccurate and would not be able to provide a reasonable picture of any taxpayers return. The Times has disputed that claim, citing Mark J. Mazur, a former director of research, analysis and statistics at the I.R.S., who said such transcripts are referred to by I.R.S. auditors as handy summaries of tax returns, undergo quality control, and have been used to analyze economic trends and set national policy.

The Times' tax report comes as the struggle to see Trump's current tax returns has only intensified. House lawmakers and state governments alike have been hotly pursuing the closely-guarded documents, both through investigations and legislation, and the Trump team has been responded by ramping up its stonewalling to prevent the documents from ever seeing the light of day. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin officially refused to hand over Trump's tax returns to House lawmakers Monday—potentially risking jail time in doing so—and Trump and his family members have been desperately attempting to stop Deutsche Bank, some of whose employees have seen the tax returns, from complying with a congressional subpoena. While Trump's 1985-1994 tax returns don't necessarily answer the questions about the Trump Organization's modern-day dealings that investigators are hoping for from the current tax returns, their debunking of Trump's wealth and business acumen suggests there could be much more dirt left to find. The 1985-1994 returns show that in fact Donald Trump is not the modern Midas who turns everything to gold. He is the Wizard, and Toto in the form of the New York Times has pulled back the curtain and revealed the con man, David Cay Johnston, a tax policy expert and author of The Making of Donald Trump, told MSNBC Tuesday. When it comes to Trump, Johnston added, Money . . . flows out faster than it flows in. And one of the reasons we should be concerned about that is someone who is constantly, desperately in search for money to maintain the appearance that they're wealthy, is likely to commit crimes and be open to various actions.

Since taking office in January 2017, Donald Trump has issued 10 pardons, all of which neatly fit in with his worldview. Theres Kristian Saucier, who pleaded guilty to unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information and argued at this sentencing that he should have received probation because Hillary Clinton didnt go to jail for her e-mails, which Trump obviously loved. There was Scooter Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, a topic near and dear to the presidents heart. And, of course, there was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who the Department of Justice said oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling by a law enforcement agency in U.S. history and was convicted of contempt of court. On Thursday, though, the president issued his platonic ideal of a pardon, hitting nearly every spot on the World According to Trump bingo board.

We speak, of course, of Trumps pardon of ex-businessman Conrad Black, who was convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice and fraud after swindling millions from Hollinger International and subsequently removing 13 boxes with documents from his Toronto offices in 2005, and a security camera had caught Black and his driver transferring boxes from his office to the car. Black:

Has claimed, in an argument that sounds uniquely Trumpian aside from the proper grammar and syntax, that his conviction was never anything but a confluence of unlucky events, the belligerence of several corporate governance charlatans, and grandstanding local and American judges, all fanned by an unusually frenzied international media showing exceptional interest in the case because I was a media owner;

Wrote an op-ed one day before his pardon was issued entitled Smooth Sailing Ahead for Trump, in which he declares that this president will have a stronger argument for reelection next year than any president since Richard Nixon in 1972 after his extraordinarily successful first term, if not Franklin D. Roosevelts double reelections in 1936 and 1944, while also making sure to note that Trump is the wealthiest person in the history of the presidency.;

And, most importantly, wrote an entire book last year entitled Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other, which argues that Trump possesses the optimism to persevere and succeed, the confidence to affront tradition and convention, a genius for spectacle, and a firm belief in common sense and the common man, and that the great majority of anti-Trump activity in the first year of his administration was devoted to falsehoods, and that Trump is not a racist, sexist, warmonger, hothead, promoter of violence, or a foreign or domestic economic warrior.

In addition to his book (presumed working title: Women Want to Be with Him, Men Want to Be Him: the Donald J. Trump Story), in 2015 Black wrote an op-ed for the National Review entitled Trump is the Good Guy, in which he argued that it was time to look more seriously at the Donald Trump presidential candidacy. To which Trump responded, What an honor to read your piece. As one of the truly great intellects & my friend, I wont forget!

The Environmental Protection Agency should consider recovering nearly $124,000 in improper travel expenses by former EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the agencys inspector general recommended Thursday.

The findings, issued nearly a year after Pruitt resigned amid controversy over his spending, travel and ties to lobbyists and outside groups, highlight the fiscal impact of his penchant for high-end travel and accommodations. Investigators concluded that 40 trips Pruitt either took or scheduled during a 10-month period, between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2017, cost taxpayers $985,037.

EPA said in response to the report that the agency had a long-standing policy of allowing travel other than coach class. Its general counsels office had issued an opinion determining that the acting controller had the authority to grant first-class exceptions. Therefore, in evaluating the delegation EPA believes that the trips were authorized by an appropriate official, making cost recovery inappropriate.

The bulk of those expenses were for Pruitts round-the-clock security detail, which billed $428,896 in travel costs. The agency spent an additional $339,894 on staffers traveling with the former administrator. The questioned amount the inspector generals office identifies for possible recovery is the $123,941 that taxpayers spent on flying both Pruitt and a security agent in first- or business class, instead of coach . . . The EPA watchdog details a litany of other problems with the way Pruitt and his entourage rang up excessive costs" using taxpayer money: Exceptions for first- and business-class travel were approved for Pruitt and his security detail without sufficient justification, and approved by an individual who did not initially have the authority to grant such approval. In addition, lodging costs in excess of 150 percent of per diem guidelines were not approved and/or adequately justified; international trip reports were inaccurate and incomplete.

Last year, Pruitt claimed that he simply had to be in the part of the plane where champagne is on the house because, on several occasions, people had approached him at airports and yelled entirely factual things right to his face, like Scott Pruitt, youre fucking up the environment, or something in those sort of terms. In July, he resigned after a deluge of stories detailing his decisions to, among other things:

Reportedly insist on the use of lights and sirens to transport him more quickly through traffic to the airport, meetings, and social events;

Treat E.P.A. staffers like personal assistants whose jobs included picking up dry cleaning, driving around looking for a particular type of fancy moisturizing lotion, and paying for his fancy hotel stays.

Adidas AG, Hennes & Mauritz AB, Kraft Heinz Co., Coca-Cola Co. and Gap Inc. are among those at the end of the long, often opaque supply chains that travel through Chinas northwest region of Xinjiang. Residents there are routinely forced into training programs that feed workers to area factories, according to locals, official notices and state media. Political indoctrination is a significant component of the programs, which are aimed at ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, according to official notices. Along with vocational skills, the curriculum covers Mandarin Chinese, the importance of the Communist Party and national unity, Chinese law and how to counter extremism—such as not dressing too conservatively or praying too frequently. The programs can include militarylike drills.

Much of this has taken place under the radar. Beijing has directed Chinese companies to bring jobs to Xinjiang, often through subcontracting that isnt known to Western companies, as part of the governments effort to reduce what it says is violence and religious extremism in the area. Authorities in Xinjiang have also put in place aggressive surveillance measures, razed traditional Uighur neighborhoods and drawn international protest over detention camps for Muslims, a separate category from the job-training programs.

In a statement, Adidas told The Wall Street Journal that it banned suppliers from hiring workers through Xinjiang government agencies in 2016. Gap said it has communicated to our vendors entire mill base our expectations of their social and environmental performance, which are conditions of doing business with us. Kraft Heinz said only 5 percent of its tomato supply comes from Xinjiang, with none sold in the U.S. (not sure that makes it better?), while Coca-Cola said it requires suppliers to follow strict policies on responsible workplace and human rights.

Administration staffed by poster children for nepotism doesnt want immigrants entering the country through family connections

The plan was developed by Jared Kushner, late of never having worked for anyone but his father and father-in-law and unveiled by the Big Guy today:

President Trump outlined his administrations new immigration proposal on Thursday, declaring it a common sense plan that builds upon our nations rich history of immigration.

The plan, which the White House has yet to release in legislative form, focuses on reorienting the existing visa system toward skilled workers and away from family-based immigration.

Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker, Mr. Trump told a crowd of lawmakers and other dignitaries gathered in the White House Rose Garden. This plan was not developed, Im sorry to say, by politicians. It was designed with significant input by our law-enforcement professionals.

The plan is unlikely to get the support it needs to become law. Jared Kushners after-school project is never going to see the light of day with both Democrats and Republicans saying it's useless and is dead on arrival, Tyler Moran, the director of the Immigration Hub, told CNN. The Rose Garden announcement of President Trumps plan is nothing more than a straight-up 2020 campaign rally to feed red meat to his base.

Having a reputation as a colossal moron helped Donald Trump Jr. escape being charged by Robert Mueller, despite his starring role in the infamous Trump Tower meeting—a rendezvous he helped arrange after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, hypothetically tantalizing information he loved the idea of deploying especially later in the summer of 2016. Yet it appears his excitement over avoiding prosecution by the special counsel—TOLD YA!!! he tweeted after the report was released—may have been slightly premature.

NBC News reports that the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Don Jr. to answer questions about supposedly having limited information about the plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow while his father was running for president. While both he and his sister claim to have barely known anything about the effort—in September 2017, Don Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was only peripherally aware of the project, and this past January told Laura Ingraham, The reality is this wasnt a deal—others say thats not the case. Trumps former fixer Michael Cohen, for example, told a House committee in February that he met with the presidents namesake and Ivanka Trump approximately 10 times to brief them about the Trump Tower plan. Before Cohen and Trumps relationship hit the skids, Cohen falsely told Congress that the project had been scrapped in January 2016 when, in reality, it was pursued all the way through June 2016. Vladimir Putin, of Russian sweeping and systematic election-interference fame, was reportedly set to receive a $50 million penthouse in the tower, in an effort to get in good with the oligarch crowd. According to Muellers report, the president authorized the highly lucrative project, and remained interested in it until it was dropped.

Before the news of the congressional subpoena—the first known to be issued to any member of Trumps immediate family—broke on Wednesday, Don Jr. tweeted, Democrats are not interested in the truth, they just want to keep the Hoax going forever. The games need to stop. He also called Representative Jerry Nadler a hack for protesting an effort to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. Hopefully he plans to live-tweet his chat with the Senate!

The news that Kim Jong Un launched two short-range missiles on Thursday, the latest weapons test for North Korea after a period of diplomatic quiescence, is surely disappointing for Donald Trump, who has built his entire foreign policy around the belief that he can bully, befriend, and then bend the worlds dictators to his will. In the past weeks, however, the presidents cult-of-personality approach to international affairs appears to be faltering—not just on the Korean Peninsula, where tensions are once again rising, but also in South America and the Middle East.

In Venezuela, the Trump administrations efforts to force out authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro appears to have backfired, both for the Venezuelan opposition, which launched an anemic, failed coup last week, and for Trumps hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton. Trump previously recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, and took Boltons advice to ramp up pressure on Maduro to leave the country. Now, however, Trump is reportedly fuming that Bolton is trying to get into a war that he doesnt want to fight. (So much for Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatening a military option.) Maduro, far from fleeing the country, has responded by detaining political enemies who tried to depose him, solidifying his power, and exposing Trump and Bolton as paper tigers.

The blustery, peace-through-strength approach has hit similar stumbling blocks in Iran, where Bolton is also at the wheel. In recent days the administration has ramped up tensions with Tehran, sending a strike carrier to the region in response to what it called troubling and escalatory threats from Iran. The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces, Bolton said Sunday in an unusual statement, warning that the U.S. would respond to any provocation with unrelenting force.

But the troubling intelligence the administration used to justify its saber-rattling was exaggerated by Bolton and other foreign-policy hawks in Trumps orbit, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday. Its not that the administration is mischaracterizing the intelligence, one U.S. official told the publication, so much as overreacting to it. Meanwhile, Irans moderates are power as the countrys hardliners grow frustrated with Trumps insistence on economic sanctions. Amid growing tensions with the U.S., Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Wednesday that Tehran would no longer adhere to parts of the Iran nuclear deal, the landmark 2015 accord brokered by Barack Obama, which Trump withdrew from last year.

While Bolton beats the war drum in Iran and Venezuela, the administration is flailing to salvage talks in North Korea, once Trumps favorite foreign-policy success story. (There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from Pyongyang, Trump proudly declared after their summit last June.) When he and Kim met again this year to hash out a more concrete denuclearization plan, however, negotiations broke down before the two sides could even agree on first steps. It didnt help that Trump repeatedly acknowledged publicly that his threats to rain down fire and fury on North Korea were all just a ploy. The weapons tests Kim had seemingly put on hold? They started up again last month, with North Korea once more attempting to set the terms of negotiations.

Trump has expressed confidence that a deal will eventually materialize thanks to his very good personal relationship with the dictator. But of course, this belies the fact that foreign policy is an unavoidable weak spot for the president. Trump took office without any previous political or military experience beyond vague tough talk about how he knows more than the generals. But Trumps playbook—threaten total annihilation and then quickly cut a deal—has limited effectiveness once rivals catch wise. And, as Trump is struggling to learn, authoritarian governments tend to have a high threshold for political and economic pain. Kim, Maduro, and Ali Khamenei know theyll likely still be in power once Trump is gone.

To be sure, there are a good many Americans who do not feel such affection for Clinton. As First Lady for eight years, she forgave her husband, Bill, for cheating with an intern, covering up the affair, and being impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. After the Clintons left the White House for New York, she voted in favor of the Iraq war—a decision that has since raised questions about her hawkish judgement. She lost her 2008 bid for the White House, which some assumed shed win handily, to a first-term community organizer turned senator from Chicago. And when that newcomer took office as the 44th president and named her secretary of state, she hosted her work e-mails on a private server and took responsibility for a 2012 security breach in Benghazi that led to the death of four Americans.

But the Wellesley- and Yale-educated lawyer, champion for womens rights, advocate for children, and well-regarded glass-ceiling smasher finally seems as though she is headed back to the Oval Office, on her own terms. After a drawn-out primary process with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton appears to have locked up enough super-delegates to win the nomination.

Weve reached peak irony. Hillary Clinton has now done a brief dramatic reading of the Mueller report—including, specifically, the moment when Donald Trump found out Robert Mueller had been appointed special counsel, and then reportedly slumped back in his chair and said, This is the end of my presidency; Im fucked. Her Trump impression might never make it into the pantheon of great impersonations, but it gets the job done.

The stunt comes courtesy of Jordan Klepper, who has been busy prepping his new Comedy Central docuseries, Klepper. The show will find the former Daily Show correspondent and Opposition host on the front lines of American activism, learning about the fights surrounding issues like fracking, legalizing marijuana, and protecting undocumented students from deportation. (Until it premieres, though, the show might be best known as the project that got Jordan Klepper arrested.)

Klepper sat down with both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton for this clip, which finds the comedian asking which crowdfunding efforts they think he should support. The Clintons offer some advice before Klepper convinces Hillary to perform her dramatic reading—although, truthfully, it doesnt take much cajoling. The former secretary of state needs a few tries to nail the right tone, but pulls it off after Klepper gives a bit of helpful advice: Feel it; imagine like you have a history with this.

As always, Hillary appeared totally game to run with the comedians conceit. The ex-presidential candidate has previously done guest stints on everything from Broad City and Saturday Night Live to Murphy Brown and Madam Secretary. Not too shabby! And when it comes to audiobooks, she does have a bit of prior experience thanks to her own 2017 book about the 2016 election, What Happened. So if Klepper ever does get his Mueller report audiobook off the ground, he could certainly do worse for a narrator.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

— Abigail Disney is calling for her familys company to raise the salaries of thousands of employees

When Peter Francis James enters stage right at the Golden Theatre, theres an enraptured hush and recognition as the audience takes him in. Starring in Hillary and Clinton with Laurie Metcalf as Hillary Clinton, John Lithgow as Bill, and Zak Orth as Mark Penn, James is the spitting image of Barack Obama.

In the play, which opened on Broadway last month, Obama comes knocking at Hillarys hotel room in New Hampshire just after shes taken the state in the 2008 primary elections. Bill is also there, against the advisement of chief strategist Penn. Although the characters and their situations are drawn in an imagined, alternate-reality past by playwright Lucas Hnath, the four players onstage still capture the subtle, human privacies of these gargantuan public figures—perhaps none more recognizably so than James and his Barack.

Lucas is not talking about the surface tics of people. Hes talking about what makes people tick, James said in recent interview. His goal was not to impersonate Obama, but to play a version of him. An imitation would get in the way.

Considering Jamess practiced presidential posture, his exacting cadence and intonation, and even his striking physical similarities, his fit for the role is clear. But that moment of recognition from the theaters audience, he said, largely comes from a level more subliminal than explicit: his clothing.

I can feel the first 15 seconds Im onstage that my costuming is doing a whole lot of work for me in a way that allows me to just focus on other things, James said. It just couldnt be better. . . . Theres nothing like coming out with the wind at your back.

Thats thanks to costume designer Rita Ryack, who perfects the former presidents uniform of a navy suit and tie. Plus, its winter in New Hampshire, so hes got a calf-length, ash-gray cashmere overcoat, too. His tie was originally striped and dark red, but after consulting director Joe Mantello, they went with blue: striped with white, royal, and an arctic-gray hue. When you have a very small play like that, everything counts, Ryack said. Its very important, each tiny detail.

So just how did they capture the silhouette of one of the worlds most recognizable men? Ryack actually tapped Obamas real-world tailor to make Jamess suit just so. While the rest of the four-person ensemble is dressed in less presidential attire—Hillary in purple track pants and a cream turtleneck, Bill in mid-thigh running shorts and knee-high white socks—Jamess Barack required a more elegant treatment. Thats where Martin Greenfield Clothiers, under the direction of Martin Greenfield and his son Jay, came in. The elder Greenfield has tailored suits for over 70 years and has worked with presidents such as Eisenhower and Obama. Conveniently for this Scott Rudin–produced, Broadway-bound play, Greenfields factory is located in the heart of Brooklyns Bushwick neighborhood, and they were eager to assist.

This was immediately very exciting for us to do, Jay Greenfield said. They mentioned his signature navy suits, which we obviously knew all about. We have made clothing for various movies that actors played presidents, but we never really were asked to emulate a specific look for an actor playing a president who we dressed.

Ryack, who previously worked with the Greenfields on projects like Barry Levinsons Bernie Madoff biopic, The Wizard of Lies, with Robert De Niro, explained that taking James to the factory space allowed for the greatest degree of authenticity. And he could also have the experience of seeing where that clothing came from—its a little more insight into the presidential wardrobe. As an actor, James also admits that simply coming close to the suit-maker is kind of an extraordinary experience.

Jay explained that the suit seen onstage is the exact make and material of the famous navy suits that became Obamas sartorial calling card: a very fine Italian cloth that comes from a mill called Loro Piana. Theyre kind of known with really finishing the cloth with a little more luster than, say, the English mills do, he says. The finish set him apart from those around him, and the deep navy had just enough blue to it to be noticeably navy next to gray or black.

Jay was the lead tailor on this project, as his father has relinquished his duties in older age. I tried to come as close as I could to what we actually did for President Obama, he explains. We helped [Obama] pick that first navy suit that we made for him, and we went on over the years to make many more of that same suit for him. It became almost a uniform. He also had other colors, charcoal grays, but navy was always the first choice. . . . Every time it was a more important event that would be viewed by more people either on television or pictures, he seemed to always choose the navy suit.

Considering their whos-who clientele of Washington, D.C., power players (including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom James has also portrayed on stage), James was surprised to find that modesty is the name of Greenfields game. They dont discuss their clients any more than youd want them to discuss you, he adds. Theyre a classy bunch.

James did have find one sign of the people who have been fitted before him, though. You couldnt have a less ostentatious kind of establishment, James says. It was wonderfully low-key. The first thing I saw as I went into the—I cant even call it a changing room, but it was kind of a little section—was a picture of Colin Powell thumbtacked to the wall.

There is one secret design element that only the real Obama gets to wear. While Jay ensured Jamess replica suit have the hand stitching along the edges of the suit, the handmade working buttonholes on the sleeves, the same rich shoulder and the lapels of the jacket not too narrow and trendy but not too wide, either, there is one interior detail missing. The Greenfields will sometimes add a decorative touch along the edge where the lining meets the facing, and presidents get to have it in red, white, and blue thread. Its a little painstaking because [theres] three needles going at the same time, and thats one stitch of red, one stitch of white, one stitch of blue, and then keep changing the needle and go all the way around the lining of the jacket, Jay says. [But] thats something that we figured out we like to do for the president.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

Aside from his global fame and his love affair with soft-serve ice cream, Joe Bidens biggest calling card at this budding stage of the presidential race is the mushy notion of electability. Biden, the former vice president, isnt outright saying that he would be the best foil against Donald Trump next year, but hes laying it on thick, mugging for the cameras in Iowa diners and bragging to a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh that the road back to the White House runs straight through working-class Pennsylvania. Bidens home turf. Shot-and-a-beer territory, as Richard Ben Cramer called it.

The imagery is not subtle. Biden wants Democrats to know that he and he alone is best positioned to reclaim the Upper Midwest after Trumps Electoral College burglary in 2016. With Biden, you know what youre in for: a tested statesman with populist charm who can clean up Trumps malarkey on day one. He can go to the Hague one day, and then show up at Sturgis the next. And folks, if youre not getting the message, his allies will give it to you loud and clear: Biden. Can. Win.

This is do-or-die, and Joe Biden is the best candidate to go against Trump in November, said Dick Harpootlian, a state senator in South Carolina who recently hosted a Biden fund-raiser in Columbia. Would Joe Biden be running if he thought any of these other folks could beat Donald Trump? No way. We cant risk this thing with someone who has not done this before, who is unchallenged, who is untested. There is something to be said for two old white guys going at it. The African-Americans in the State Senate with me are going to be with him overwhelmingly. Because this is a pragmatic year. This isnt a battle of ideologies or identity or Medicare for All or a Green New Whatever. Its all about who can stop this juvenile narcissist from getting a second term.

The glaring counterpoint to Harpootlians argument is the most shopworn of political clichés: Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line. Since Vietnam, every time a Democrat has won the presidency, its because Democrats voted with their hearts in a primary and closed ranks around the candidate who inspired them, promising an obvious break from the past and an inspiring vision that blossomed in the general election. Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton. Barack Obama. All were young outsiders who tethered their message to the culture of the time. When Democrats have picked nominees cautiously and strategically—falling in line—the results have been devastating, as Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton made plain. Its not a perfect rule: While Gore and Clinton didnt quite electrify the country, they still won the popular vote. And George McGovern was a heart candidate who got slaughtered by Richard Nixon in 1972. But the McGovern wipeout is kind of what Biden and his loyalists are clinging to: the idea that this Trump moment, like the wrenching 60s, is so existential and high stakes that Democrats will overlook their usual instincts and do the sensible thing. Theatrical and Irish, Biden surely is hoping that he can be a vehicle for both passion and pragmatism. But if he wins the nomination next year, it will be because Democrats went with their heads, not their bleeding hearts.

This is just not a normal year, Harpootlian told me. I believe that pragmatic Democrats will vote in larger numbers than what you would call the ideologue candidates. Joes record in Congress wasnt particularly stellar, but they understand the importance of winning in November of 2020. The folks that I talk to, they arent looking for a socialist, or trying to make a statement on the basis of identity or sex or gender. They want somebody to run the country in a normal fashion that typifies the dignity of the office. People want stability.

Mounting an electability argument is a risky gambit in a Democratic primary. Recent election cycles are littered with unheeded calls to look ahead to the general election, while genuine passion flowed elsewhere. Hillary Clinton made such a case about Bernie Sanders in 2016—she called herself a progressive who likes to get things done—but her electability strategy was far more pronounced in 2008. She announced in 2007 with a statement that Beto ORourke would be proud of: Im in. And Im in to win. As Clinton ran against Obama, who was rallying a diverse coalition of young anti-war voters and African-Americans, she memorably downplayed her gender and the history-making possibility of her own candidacy, choosing instead to highlight her toughness against the callow young outsider. She was the deal-making insider, brimming with experience and the right connections, who would be ready to take that infamous 3 A.M. phone call at a time of national emergency. Clinton held an enormous lead in national polls throughout the entirety of 2007, even leading Obama by as much as 20 points in some surveys as late as December, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

But Clintons team was entitled. They were contemptuous of the obvious cultural and generational tides pushing against her, so twisted up by their defensive posture over the Iraq War and her shifting positions, that they closed Clintons Iowa campaign with a slogan by committee straight out of Veep: Big Challenges, Real Solutions: Time to Pick a President. When Oprah Winfrey announced her endorsement of Obama in late 2007, Clinton backer Tom Vilsack was hilariously dismissive. Im not sure who watches her, Vilsack said as Oprah and Obama packed arenas and stadiums in Iowa and South Carolina. Even as their staffs peddled negative stories about one another to the press, Clintons public strategy was largely to ignore Obama, until it was too late.

Electability became Clintons guiding light in that primary fight, in a way that ultimately turned toxic. Even as she faded in the delegate chase against Obama and was facing questions about why she remained in the race, Clinton reminded an editorial board in South Dakota that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated late in his campaign, so all the better to stick around until the bitter end. (She quickly apologized.) During the long Pennsylvania primary, after Obama was caught on tape at a San Francisco fund-raiser saying that working-class Americans can get bitter and cling to guns or religion, Clinton immediately targeted older white voters around the state by calling Obama elitist, and talking up her own fondness for church and firearms. Just a few months later, Sarah Palin would echo the charges against Obama in the very same Pennsylvania towns.

Clintons focus on winning became her reason for running, the message du jour for almost every day of that long primary slog, obscuring the core reasons she had to run for president, big ideas on health care, energy independence, and cleaning up the miasma in Iraq. All the while, Obama aimed straight for the hearts of primary voters, embracing his outsider status and anti-war pedigree in a way that dovetailed with the political moment. Like Clinton, he downplayed his identity in speeches. But he was not afraid to find ways to leverage his race to curry favor with black voters where he needed it. His skin color, like Hillarys gender, was a powerful symbol that moved and excited Democrats, even if it remained largely unspoken. The dynamic left the many other white guys in the 2008 race in the dust, particularly John Edwards, who was ever so gently making the case that he could better appeal to white moderate voters in red states, an argument that Biden is tiptoeing around today, even as rural whites have largely made a home in the Republican Party. Predictably, Edwardss electability plea fell on deaf Democratic ears. Voters, donors, and journalists were just interested in seeing other people. Edwardss always-forthcoming wife, Elizabeth, let her frustration over the matter show.

We cant make John black. We cant make him a woman, she told an interviewer in 2007. Those things get you a lot of press.

Electability campaigns havent always gone bust. Late in 2003, John Kerry was able to mount a comeback on the idea that he was best suited to confront George W. Bush in wartime, thanks to his service in Vietnam and his tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Democrats werent exactly gung ho about the charisma-deprived Kerry—aloof was the preferred adjective of the pundit class—but he entered the campaign as a front-runner nonetheless. The unexpected rise of Howard Dean, who ran hard against the Iraq War and ignited a powerful grassroots following, became concerning to many moderate Democrats who figured Dean was too liberal to take on Bush. Iowans shopped around and eventually settled on Kerry, who fizzled early in his race, but later emerged the consensus choice after the other horses failed to impress. A bumper sticker became popular at the time: Dated Dean. Married Kerry. Its not implausible to envision Biden hanging out by the altar come next February.

Kerry explicitly said, You want me on that debate stage against George W. Bush. I took the bullets, said Mark Kornblau, Kerrys press secretary in 2004. He projected strength in that primary in a way that was believable to voters. Kerry, I felt, captured the nomination based on a projection of strength that was comforting to Democrats who knew exactly who the occupant of the White House was.

Kornblau would go on to work for Edwards three years later, which gave him key insight about electability messages: they can actually work, if primary voters know who the opponent will be that November. Edwards and Clinton, each running on general-election viability in 2008, had no idea who would emerge as the Republican nominee, let alone that the worlds economy would begin to fray as Election Day approached. In Kerrys case, he could define himself and his foreign-policy agenda directly against Bush, the man in the White House prosecuting two wars. In 2008, everyone was running against an unknown, Kornblau told me. Democratic voters didnt have in their heads the Bush of 2004, or the Trump of 2020.

All of the Democrats running in 2020 have set their sights on Trump, but Biden seems most intent on rising above the internecine Democratic squabbles over identity and ideology, focusing squarely on Trump. Yet unlike Kerry, who ran against Bush in wartime as the electable national-security guy, the long-winded Son of Scranton has yet to attach his I-Can-Win message to a concise vision and set of values. Right now, Biden is just assumed to be the Guy Who Can Beat Trump, but do Democrats really know why? Saying I am electable for some demographic or primary campaign reason is not sellable, Kornblau said. Electability has to be a visceral feeling by the voter, not just a strategic move.

Given his nearly 50 years in American politics, Biden can authoritatively make the case that he is best equipped to step onto the global stage and be a competent, get-shit-done president after dispatching Trump. He would be wise to focus on his stature and what he would do in office, because Democrats have a fondness for thinking about whats next. Somewhere inside Bidens theory of electability is the hazy idea that 2020 will just be a do-over of 2016, only with a more inspiring candidate atop the ticket. Bernie Sanders is offering a similar promise with the Revolution 2.0: that the essential malfunction of 2016 was Clinton and her failure to inspire key voting groups in the right states. Electability means re-running the same program with a new input, like that scene in Waynes World 2 when Wayne swaps out the D-list actor at the gas station for Charlton Heston. But that feels like a miscalculation. The next presidential election will not be like the last one. They never are. So who knows what electable really means? Does it mean playing it safe with a seventysomething white man when the country just elected a raft of millennials, women, African-Americans, Muslims, gays, and bisexuals to governors mansions, city halls, and Congress, many of them in suburban swing districts and others in districts long held by Republicans? Legions of new Democratic voters were activated by Trumps election and last years midterms. If youre one of those Democrats, its difficult to look at the results of 2018 and not think that pretty much anyone, regardless of race, gender, or background, has a shot at winning.

We dont know what its going to take to beat Trump, said Amanda Litman, a former Hillary Clinton aide who co-founded Run For Something, a group that recruits Democrats to run for down-ballot offices. To assume that we do and act on that assumption, thats a dangerous risk. Part of electability is to inspire people, to pump people up, and also get their friends to show up. To cultivate a sort of fandom. Excitement and passion are contagious. Candidates who can do that will do better than those who cant. Or, as Ben Smith from BuzzFeed tweeted on Monday, Bizarre the extent to which the electability conversation leaves out the fact that the only Democrat elected in two decades is black.

Polls right now show Biden clobbering the Democratic field. Polls, too, show that Biden wins on the question of who can best beat Trump. But in a CNN poll last week, Sanders, ORourke, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg also beat Trump in head-to-head matchups. Another recent poll from CBS News and YouGov revealed that Democrats would prefer a female candidate over a man, a candidate of color over a white person, and a young nominee over an old one. Polls also reveal, shockingly, that most voters dont really know much about the rest of the candidates. What do all these numbers mean? Biden is popular and famous among Democrats, but primary voters are open to something different and want to hear more about the other candidates. Biden can still win, and should be treated as the front-runner. But he has nowhere to go but down. While polls are useful, they fail to account for Bidens terminal foot-in-mouth disease, the natural ebbs and flows of the news cycle, an ever-changing set of national issues and emergencies, the capacity of candidates to grow and change, or the volatility of the cable-news viewer who sits in the Oval Office. This is why we have campaigns. Be sure to remember that point about 2008 for your next cocktail party: Clinton was beating Obama by 20 points a month before she finished third in Iowa.

I wrote last year about the flimsiness of political punditry that classifies politicians according to their identity: the simplistic concept that women candidates are best positioned to win women, that white men will only vote for white men, that black voters will rally for black candidates. Research has shown that a candidates identity is not fixed. It is conditional on who they are running against in a campaign, what the issues are, and how voters see them in that floating context. Electability, too, is only a condition of the moment. Nothing about the term is predictive. It is always subject to change. At this point four years ago, the least electable person on the planet had not even taken his escalator ride down to the lobby of Trump Tower. Today, he is the president of the United States. So if Biden can surf this moment all the way to November 2020, well, it will be an enormous feat. A Big F–king Deal indeed.

A convoluted, Fox News-fueled story involving the Clinton campaign and the Biden familys potential conflicts of interest in Ukraine appears to have claimed its first victim: Masha Yovanovitch, a career diplomat and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. This week, Yovanovitch was suddenly recalled from her post, months before she was expected to end her three-year assignment this July, following increasingly feverish accusations in Trumpworld that Yovanovitch has demonstrated disloyalty to the president. Donald Trump has alluded to a Ukrainian plot to help Clinton. Democrats are calling Yovanovitchs ouster a political hit job. According to two congressional sources familiar with the situation, the decision to recall Yovanovitch two months early did not come from the seventh floor of the State Department, but directly from the White House.

The strange circumstances surrounding Yovanovitchs early exit provide a window into what is becoming a new front in a wide-ranging information war between Democrats and Republicans that could have a significant impact on the 2020 election. The official story coming out of Foggy Bottom is that Yovanovitchs departure is timed to the arrival of a new administration in Kiev and as planned. But few believe it. There is no other reason for her early departure, one of the congressional aides told me, adding that the president is aware of the situation. In fact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had previously asked Yovanovitch to stay on beyond the three-year mark, the other source said.

The trouble for Yovanovitch can be traced, in part, to a speech she gave in March, during which she took a firm stand against political corruption in Ukraine and called for the ouster of Nazar Kholodnytskyy, the chief of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutors Office. Those remarks, notable for their asperity, outraged Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. Two weeks later, he gave an interview to The Hills John Solomon in which he alleged, without evidence, that Yovanovitch had given him a list of people whom we should not prosecute during their first meeting, presumably to shield Obama–Clinton allies.

The State Department bluntly dismissed the allegation at the time as an outright fabrication. And in April, Lutsenko walked back his remarks entirely. (In this new telling, it was Lutsenko who asked for a do-not-prosecute list, and Yovanovitch who said no.) But by that point, the allegation had already been injected into the bloodstream of the conservative media.

The same day the Solomon–Lutsenko interview was published, frequent Fox News guest Joseph diGenova called for Yovanovitchs removal as ambassador to Ukraine in an interview with Trump confidant Sean Hannity, saying she has bad-mouthed the president of the United States to Ukrainian officials and has told them not to listen or worry about Trump policy because hes going to be impeached. Later that week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham piled on, revealing a May 2018 letter former congressman Pete Sessions had sent to Secretary of State Pompeo, which accused Yovanovitch of having reportedly demonstrated clear anti-Trump bias. Two days after Ingrahams show, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a Daily Wire roundup of conservative attacks on the diplomat. We need more ⁦@RichardGrenells and less of these jokers as ambassadors, the presidents eldest son wrote on Twitter, referencing the current U.S. ambassador to Germany.

Among veterans of Foggy Bottom, Yovanovitch has an impressive reputation and the allegations against her ring false to many. Very much a role-model female diplomat, one former high-ranking State Department official said. Admired, respected, liked. Very professional. Another former senior U.S. official echoed the sentiment. Shes everyones idea of the best kind of professional diplomat, they told me. But it appears she made enemies in high places—and became a convenient scapegoat.

Behind the scenes, Trump allies have been developing a labyrinthine counter-theory of collusion, designed to distract from and deflect the Mueller report. One aspect involves allegations that Ukrainian officials sought to boost Hillary Clintons candidacy in 2016 by questioning Trumps fitness for office and leaking damaging information about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort—information that ultimately made its way to Robert Mueller. Another aspect involves allegations that Joe Biden abused his position as vice president to engineer the ouster of Viktor Shokin, Lutsenkos predecessor, to kill an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that was paying Bidens son Hunter Biden up to $50,000 a month to sit on the board. (Hunter Biden told The New York Times he had no role whatsoever in relation to any investigation of Burisma, or any of its officers.) Lutsenko has reportedly reopened the investigation into Burisma, and told Solomon that he has opened an investigation into whether Ukrainian law enforcement worked in favor of Clinton, too. (On Tuesday, citing a Ukrainian official, Bloomberg reported the Burisma case has not been reopened. The Times is standing by its reporting.)

Of course, Lutsenko has not been working alone. Trumps personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has met with Lutsenko multiple times over the past year and has discussed the Burisma case with him, according to the Times. Lutsenkos decision to reopen the investigation was reportedly interpreted by some as an attempt to curry favor with the Trump administration on behalf of his boss, President Petro Poroshenko. (Poroshenko lost his re-election bid last month; incoming president Volodymyr Zelensky, a television comedian, has said he intends to replace Lutsenko as prosecutor general.)

Giuliani told the Times that he has discussed the Burisma affair with Donald Trump on multiple occasions, and has called on the Justice Department to investigate the Bidens involvement in Ukraine. Trump himself recently suggested that Attorney General William Barr should look into materials gathered by Lutsenko. I would imagine [Barr] would want to see this, he told Hannity in an April 25 interview. It sounds like big stuff, very interesting with Ukraine. . . . But that sounds like big, big stuff, and Im not surprised. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

It is unsurprising that Yovanovitch was quickly ensnared in this narrative. Despite the fact that she was first nominated as a U.S. ambassador by George W. Bush, she was appointed to her post in Ukraine by Barack Obama at the tail end of his presidential term. As a result, she has been cast by Fox News talking heads and allies of the president as an Obama holdover and a deep state agent.

As the attacks on Yovanovitch were escalating, Congressmen Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, privately called on Pompeo to publicly defend Yovanovitch. It is disappointing that certain political actors within Ukraine have criticized Ambassador Yovanovitch, given her anti-corruption efforts that touch on their interests, the lawmakers wrote in an April 12 letter. It is critical that State Department leadership support ambassadors and foreign service officers in the field and make clear that they will not be subjected to any politically motivated attacks. We urge you to make public statements personally defending your team and those who represent our country from these spurious disparagements.

Less than a month later, Yovanovitch is on her way out. An internal management notice sent to embassy staffers in Kiev and shared with me reveals that there is no succession plan in place, suggesting the decision was abrupt. Yovanovitchs last day as ambassador to Ukraine will be May 20. We expect the Department to appoint a long-term Charge dAffaires to lead the Mission until a new Chief of Mission is nominated and confirmed, the notice reads. During the transition, Joseph Pennington will serve as the charge daffaires and acting deputy chief of mission until Kristina Kvien arrives at the embassy on May 28.

The saga of G.O.P. operative Peter Smiths ill-fated attempts to uncover the 33,000 e-mails deleted from Hillary Clintons server was revealed shortly after his death in 2017, and depicts an isolated and increasingly desperate researchers scramble to fulfill a task he believed would benefit Donald Trump. But according to Robert Muellers report, the directive to track down the missing correspondence came straight from the top. Though Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign had initiated or directed Smiths efforts, he did note that the then-candidate asked several associates, most notably then-adviser Michael Flynn, to find a way to obtain the e-mails—and that they complied. According to the report, Flynn recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, prompting Flynn to contact multiple people in an attempt to do his bosss bidding.

One of those people was Smith. Back in December 2015, Smith and Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen had begun to coordinate their own efforts to track down the e-mails. When Flynn contacted Smith asking him to look into the matter, however, he kicked things into high gear. Per Muellers report, Smith created a company to find said e-mails, raised tens of thousands of dollars, and hired security experts and business associates. Smith made claims to others involved in the effort (and those from whom he sought funding) that he was in contact with hackers with ties and affiliations to Russia who had access to the e-mails, and that his efforts were coordinated with the Trump Campaign, wrote Mueller, describing the fervent, secret-agent-style effort.

In his recruitment efforts, Smith repeatedly described his connections with the Trump campaign, mentioning in a fund-raising e-mail that he was in coordination with Trumps circle to the extent permitted as an independent expenditure organization. He then name-dropped several prominent figures in the campaign, including Flynn, chairman Sam Clovis, Steve Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway. He also drafted multiple e-mails stating or intimating that he was speaking to hackers with ties and affiliations to Russia, though there was nothing to suggest this was the case.

Mueller likewise found no evidence that anyone on the campaign directed Smiths efforts. Nevertheless, Trumps allies bought in. Per Mueller, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who would later be involved in a sketchy meeting with Jared Kushner and emissaries from the Middle East in Seychelles, funded efforts to authenticate a trove of e-mails Ledeen had discovered on the dark web. (They did not belong to Clinton.) Despite their enthusiasm, however, Trumps supporters shambolic search led to naught. Mueller ultimately concluded that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign never ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton e-mails.

On Thursday, Attorney General William Barr is expected to release a redacted version of Robert Muellers report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, a fact that may or may not be putting Donald Trump off his Big Macs. After initially claiming that he was totally in favor of fully releasing the special counsels report (I have nothing to hide . . . absolutely nothing to hide), the president now seems to be having second thoughts about letting the public peruse the nearly 400-page document, rather than the four-page summary in which Barr cleared his boss of obstruction. Anticipating that the full accounting of Muellers investigation may include some unflattering details about the Trump campaigns contacts with various Kremlin operatives, or uncomfortable motives for the presidents friendly behavior toward Vladimir Putin, there is said to be significant concern in the White House.

As such, Rudy Giuliani is circling the wagons. Bloomberg reports that Trumps legal team has put together a rebuttal to the chain of events they believe Mueller may describe, and the legal arguments for why they dont amount to obstruction of justice. Rather than wait for that to come together, the president appears to be previewing his own rebuttal in the event the report does not show Total EXONERATION (which we already know it wont, because it didnt): changing the subject to Hillary Clinton, and why she should be investigated for colluding with Russia.

What Lassie seems to be referencing here is the fact that U.S. research firm Fusion GPS contracted former British spy Christopher Steele to compile the the dossier that alleged, among other things, collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Steeles research was initially bankrolled by the Washington Free Beacon, a Republican media firm, with the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign picking up the tab after Trump won his partys nomination. In the presidents fever dreams, this means Clinton colluded with Russia.

In addition to attempting to pivot the conversation from what the Mueller report might expose about his conduct to that of his longtime arch-nemesis, Trump continued to argue this morning that Democrats will never be happy with the information they get, ergo maybe they shouldnt be given anything:

He also doubled down on Barrs wild suggestion last week that the F.B.I., investigating evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, spied on his campaign—a tragedy that, like 9/11, we must keep in our memories forever:

Democrats have a dilemma. If they impeach Donald Trump, a futile exercise in the Republican-controlled Senate, it could backfire, hurting their chances in next years election and possibly gifting him another term. But if they do nothing with Robert Muellers findings, they may run afoul of their base, the majority of which seems to support impeachment, and allow the presidents transgressions go unchecked. So how can they hold Trump accountable without risking giving him another four years to run amok in the White House?

They may have found an answer in Republicans own playbook. As Politico reported Wednesday, Democrats are considering a Benghazi approach to the Trump administration—that is, holding hearing after high-profile hearing, both for political spectacle and for the potentially damaging information they may produce, similar to the nearly three dozen hearings Republicans held on the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack that killed four Americans and was weaponized by the right to smear Hillary Clinton.

Theres a big sentiment amongst some that they should Benghazi Trump, Julian Epstein, a former senior House Democratic aide, told the publication. They dont have a lot of good options.

Republicans held a whopping 33 hearings over the Benghazi attack, seeking to pin the blame on Clinton, her state department, and then-President Barack Obama for failing to adequately protect American personnel in Libya. They failed to do so definitively, at least beyond the G.O.P. bubble, but in the process they helped unearth what would eventually become one of the biggest thorns in Clintons side in 2016: Her use of a private e-mail server. That spawned an F.B.I. investigation, which cast a shadow over her campaign for months and flared up again just days before election day, becoming one of Trumps favorite lines of attack. (Never mind that at least seven Trump administration officials, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, have used private e-mail or other unofficial communication means since he took office.)

Democrats railed against the Benghazi hearings at the time, accusing Republicans of using their investigatory powers to kneecap Clintons presidential bid. Its time to bring this taxpayer-funded fishing expedition to an end, Democrat Elijah Cummings said in 2015. Now, though, such high-profile probes likely seem increasingly attractive to Democrats in the wake of the Mueller report, which didnt quite find criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, but outlined a number of attempts by the president aimed at derailing the investigation. The Democratic plan, then, according to Politico, could be to hold a torrent of hearings, featuring big names certain to draw significant media attention, including Mueller himself. In part, these hearings would be designed to draw focus to shady behavior by the president and those around him. They would also likely result in new revelations about Trump and his administration that could be seized on ahead of 2020. Similar hearings have already struck dirt: Michael Cohen accused his old boss of crimes and other misdeeds, triggering new lines of inquiry for congressional investigators and frustrating Trump with another bad news cycle. A repeat could bring similar results.

In contrast with the Benghazi hearings, this isnt just about politics. Democrats are seeking real answers to legitimate questions about the presidents behavior and that of those around him, including Barr, whose summary of Muellers report has been thrown into question, most recently by Mueller himself. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the special counsel wrote in a letter to Trumps attorney general that his four-page letter did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of investigators work and added to public confusion about the probe. Lawmakers plan to grill Barr about the letter in his Wednesday hearing. Updating my questions! Amy Klobuchar, a member of the Judiciary committee and a 2020 presidential candidate, tweeted Tuesday evening after news of Muellers gripes emerged. Such scrutiny is a legitimate part of government oversight. But for Democrats, its also a chance to hold Trump politically accountable. Most Americans are not going to read a 400-plus page report, Hank Johnson, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told Politico. They would much rather see something on TV that they can make conclusions for themselves about. Thats the age were living in. Its almost entertainment.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

After it was first reported months ago that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry would be moving residences to live in Frogmore Cottage, outside of London, it is now official Thursday, per a release from the Palace, that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will have a new household in their name as well. Celebrate however you please; perhaps with a loaf of homemade banana bread.

The Queen has sanctioned this development, and the release notes that the creation of the household—which will take place in the spring—also has the support of Prince Charles. Harry currently has his own private office—which has been servicing Meghans needs as well, ever since the couple became engaged in 2017. The release notes that this long-planned move will ensure that permanent support arrangements for The Duke and Duchesss work are in place as they start their family and move to their official residence at Frogmore Cottage.

The couples office, though, will be based out of Buckingham Palace, and the pair will appoint their own communications staff (who will report to the Queens communications secretary). And the Palace has already announced who will be heading up their communications staff: Sara Latham, who, per the release, joins from Freuds where she oversaw global corporate accounts with a particular emphasis on executive thought leadership and purpose-led campaigns. Latham was a former senior adviser on Hillary Clintons 2016 presidential campaign (and she worked in the White House for Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, too).

When Latham was hired at Freuds last year (after having previously worked at the company from 2003 to 2005), the C.E.O. stated, Sara brings unrivaled experience as an adviser at the very highest levels. Her judgment and counsel is of huge value to our roster of clients. Reporter Omid Scobie also noted that Latham has joint citizenship in the U.S. and the U.K., and that she worked as special adviser to U.K. Labour politician Tessa Jowell in 2005 and as a transition official for then-president-elect Barack Obama in 2008.

The Palace also announced that Jason Knauf will serve as senior adviser to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and he will be advising Their Royal Highnesses on their charitable initiatives—including work on the environment, mental health, and early childhood—and supporting a review of the charitable structures that underpin their work.

Joe Biden said he was very close to a final decision about whether to run for the White House. That was on February 26, 2019. Or perhaps it was February 26, 2018. Or maybe it was February 26, 2004. The former vice president has been inches away from declaring hes taking a shot at the presidency for so long now that it is becoming difficult to keep straight Bidens actual (1988, 2008) and almost (2004, 2016) and possible (2020) campaigns. The more important question for his current Democratic primary chances, though, is whether Bidens drawn-out deliberations are pure indecision or craftily strategic. Its genuine indecision, a Democratic strategist who is in touch with Bidenworld says, that his team is trying to make into good strategy, by basically waging a Rose Garden campaign of leaks and trial balloons.

On the surface, Bidens delay has produced mostly awkwardness and apologies. In January, during a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he seemed weirdly out of touch with the realities of modern Washington by saying, I read in The New York Times today that . . . one of my problems is, if I were to ever run for president, I like Republicans. O.K. Well, bless me, Father, for I have sinned. A few weeks later, Biden infuriated gay activists by calling his vice-presidential successor, Mike Pence, a decent guy. This week, Biden completed a strange sort of trifecta by musing that I wish I could have done something, so Anita Hill was treated fairly by the Senate Judiciary Committee during the brutal 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Biden was merely the chairman of the committee at the time.

Maybe its all a methodical attempt to anticipate and defuse criticism of the likely candidate. Probably not. Bidens gonna Biden, right? says Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist who ran Cynthia Nixons losing campaign for governor in New York, and who helped Nixon craft a Washington Post op-ed that blasted Biden for hollow civility in his remarks about the gay-unfriendly Pence. Biden says whats on his mind, and its usually authentic, until it doesnt sound quite right in 2019. If I were working for him, I would not let him announce until December, to try to limit the gaffes.

Its unlikely Biden would or could wait quite that long to make a run official, but being consistently on top in public polling has given him the luxury of waiting, as lesser-known contenders eagerly jump into the field. Yet emotion, not data, is the main reason for Bidens hesitation. Is he willing to subject his family, particularly his younger son, Hunter, to the harsh scrutiny of a campaign? Biden would also risk tarnishing the halo he currently enjoys from serving under President Barack Obama. He is looking at this race with a bunch of ego. He doesnt see anyone else in the field as good as he is, a top advisor to one of the Democratic contenders says. But of the declared and likely contenders, Biden does have the most to lose, reputationally, in what would be his last race.

So while their man continues to mull a run, Bidens inner circle has been using the time to see how different gimmicks might affect Bidens popularity. They know that Bidens age would be an issue for primary voters—his 78th birthday falls two weeks after Election Day 2020—so word was leaked that Biden is considering pledging, in advance, to serve only one term. His mid-March meeting with Stacey Abrams, the dynamic 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate, quickly found its way into print, followed by chatter that Biden could offer Abrams the vice-presidential slot at the outset of the primaries. It was a transparent, and clumsy, way to test how Biden might help himself with women, Southerners, and black voters. His team knows Biden would start off as the front-runner. What theyre trying to gauge is whether thats a real thing, says a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary Clinton, and saw her favorables crater once Clinton declared her 2016 candidacy. Theyre saying, Is that a durable cushion of support, or will we give back half or two-thirds of that support within three months, after we decide to get in the race?

No doubt Bidens team is actively polling and focus-grouping those questions, though his spokesman refused to comment. Bidens potential rivals are certainly measuring his strengths and weaknesses, and they are encouraged by what theyre seeing and hearing. Biden is polling as the front-runner right now, but theres no intensity there. And he has nowhere to go but down, a strategist for one of the Democratic contenders says. There were these mirages in early polling that doomed Hillary both times, and it was a function of a similar dynamic, where you've got broad, deep name I.D. Every backward-looking Democratic nominee, one whos been a vice president in the previous administration or played a major role—Hillary, Gore, Mondale—all failed. And Democrats have always succeeded when its been a fresh face and somebody who hasnt spent a ton of time in Washington. Thats consistent with the research weve done internally this time: Do you want someone older, or someone new? People overwhelmingly want someone new. To me, A.O.C. represents so much of what is going to be challenging for Biden. Shes speaking to people, saying, Yeah, Im fucking sofa-surfing as a member of Congress. Thats how people live. Biden is not exactly matching that moment.

Biden would be betting that math—white and older voters still outnumber millennials—is stronger than cultural momentum, and that Democratic primary voters will value electability against President Donald Trump above all else. But the longer he avoids joining the fray, the less confident Uncle Joe looks about his chances of winning the nomination.

Katy Perry has always been one to deliver a show, when it comes to her red carpet looks, and this years Met Gala look was no exception, as the singer arrived at the event as—well—a glamorous chandelier, is probably the best way to describe it. Designed by Moschino, the outsize, glistening look was an immediate pull all the focus moment on the carpet.

For past Met Galas, Perry has worn a variety of out there ensembles—angel-wings, a red veil—but this year is more fun and frothy and high-concept, paying tribute to the camp theme, which seems tailor-made for her. Perry, of course, is known for committing to her costume looks. She has dressed as pretty much every variety of candy or dessert confection out there; and her Halloween costumes are more involved than most peoples wedding day looks (the Flaming Hot Cheeto and Hillary Clinton looks come to mind).

It is hard for us not to think, gazing upon this chandelier ensemble, about how she is going to converse with basically anyone inside the event tonight. We imagine a lot of people trying to get close to her to chat and then just sort of waving: Well catch up later!

Imagine a straight-A student. Shes perky. Shes generally blonde, from a bottle or otherwise. She understands how to style her hair, how to wear the right makeup and clothes to radiate a seriousness of purpose. She cares. She is fully self-possessed—and theres something about her that just bugs you.

Maybe its that she also seems a bit soulless. Maybe its that she wants things. She laps her peers, parlaying dutiful research and kissing up into enviable promotions. She accepts an Oscar with a line that sounds fake and practiced in the mirror. She makes certain men irrationally angry—the type who swear they would totally vote a woman into office, just not this one. Shes a specter haunting all women of ambition, no matter what that ambition may be. Shes Tracy Flick.

Twenty years after Alexander Paynes Election opened to glowing reviews and middling box office ($15 million, against its $25 million budget), the film has penetrated the national consciousness—especially in regard to its indelible central character, a smiling Slytherin and aspiring high school student-body president played by a career-best Reese Witherspoon. In some crowds, the term Tracy Flick has become a pejorative term for a woman who is just too much—too accomplished, too hardworking, too ambitious. Female politicians are especially susceptible; women who have been accused of Flick-ish tendencies include but certainly arent limited to Elizabeth Dole (in Roger Eberts 1999 review), Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Hillary Clinton has borne the brunt of such comparisons—the 2016 election led to an avalanche of think pieces connecting her to Tracy, some about how brutal Election felt in 2016 (The Very Uncomfortable Experience of Watching Election in 2016, published in The Cut in September 2016), some anticipating her seemingly inevitable win (The Triumph of Tracy Flick?, published in The New York Times November 7, 2016).

Every four years, when some gal is running for president of something, they dredge out the Tracy Flick comparison, Payne acknowledged in a recent phone call, from his home in Omaha. It might be Kirsten Gillibrand, or Hillary Clinton, or who knows who. Then Im called to make some comment about that. I say, well, its like she entered the popular culture, like Archie Bunker. You could never foresee those things.

Payne didnt. The director—who won a pair of Oscars for films he made post-Election—never anticipated Tracys staying power. One never thinks that. One only hopes that, he said. I wasnt seeing it so much as a political metaphor. I knew it was in there—I just thought it was a fun little comedy . . . Elections a film that I still get the most compliments on as a movie from film people, because it has a very good rhythm to it. The stars all aligned to make it a pretty decent film.

Time has been good to Election, a film based on an early novel by author and screenwriter Tom Perrotta. Its one of those stories that only seems to become more sharp and prescient with age. Barack Obama told me twice that it was his favorite political movie, said Payne. I met him once in 2005, and he had just been elected senator, and again in 2008 when he was running. Both times when I introduced myself, he said, Oh, Election is my favorite political movie.

The story is deceptively simple. Its plot centers on a banal student council race, where junior overachiever Tracy seems to be a shoo-in—until shes challenged by dumb rich-kid jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein, in his first on-screen role), whos convinced to run by a teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who holds a grudge against Flick. The race is further shaken up by a wildcard third candidate: Pauls little sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), who gives burning-down-the-house speeches that hit a now-familiar note: I dont even want to be president, she says. The only promise Ill make is that as president, Ill immediately dismantle the student government so that none of us will ever have to sit through one of these stupid assemblies again!

Perrotta is on record as saying that the dynamics in his novel were shaped by his obsession with the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, in which Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush was running against young upstart Democrat Bill Clinton, with Independent Texan Ross Perot as a billionaire spoiler candidate. (Though the women compared to her tend to be Democrats, Tracy was based on a Republican, and is portrayed as being to the right of center herself. She writes letters to Elizabeth Dole; in her final scene, shes seen working for a Republican congressman from Nebraska.)

Every election seems to foreground intangibles—likability, relatability, beer-drinking—over substantive issues, such as policy. Thats probably why its so easy to graft the dynamics in Election onto the real-world political primaries and elections that have followed it, from Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obamas out-of-nowhere cool to Hillary Clinton versus spoiled-rich-kid-slash-nihilist Donald Trump. Speak to a historian, Payne said, [and] you can certainly see patterns which iterate themselves in their own unique ways, given the personalities, but following a certain pattern.

As prescient as it now seems, Perrotta initially had trouble selling Election; publishers couldnt figure out whether to slot it as a YA book or an adult novel. Producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa eventually got their hands on it, and a chain of events led to his manuscript being both optioned by MTV films and published by Putnam. Payne came on board the film project as director and co-screenwriter, with his frequent writing partner Jim Taylor.

As played by Witherspoon, Tracy Flick is the sort of nuanced character that serves as a tabula rasa for her audiences feelings about women, especially ambitious young women. Is she a villain? A victim? An abuse survivor? An annoying overachiever? A misunderstood hero? Perhaps shes all of the above, suggested Payne. Shes a person. A strong person with a strong personality. But thats how I see all the characters in my movies. Theyre people. Because I have to understand them and see what makes them tick.

Some aspects of her personality arent as up for debate: One thing we built into the film is that she has some class resentment, because shes from a lower class family with a single mom. You didnt see it in the movie, because we cut that specific scene, but she lives in an extremely modest house. The rich kid whos running, who won, really burned her heinie.

The late 90s were a fertile period for teen movies. Most featured people in their twenties playing students—and they all look too pretty, and the high school itself is too well-lit and idyllic, somehow, said Payne. (Witherspoon had made one of those movies right before she did Election: Cruel Intentions, a cheeky riff on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the ever-remake-friendly 1782 French novel of sex, power, and intrigue.) But Election stands apart, thanks to its awkward, pimply, teenage sensibility.

That was a byproduct of filming in Omaha, Payne said, on my turf—at a real high school that was in session during the shoot. Payne also cast the film with a mix of established actors and non-actors. All of the extras were students from that high school, which lent to the film exactly what I wanted, which was authenticity, he said. And though Witherspoon herself was 20 or 21 at the time, he added, she still passed for a high schooler. Had she not, I wouldnt have cast her.

Witherspoons performance is indelible, the sort that still ranks on best-of lists. Part of her process involved perfecting Flicks particular Midwestern accent. Voice was a big one for her. She adopted a clipped, snippy, slightly-verging-on-Fargo-but-not-quite, because Fargo was in our consciousness. She found Tracy Flicks voice, and then a little tight lip. I remember, before every take, before Id call action, she would twitch her mouth around, her mouth and nose, not unlike Samantha Stephens in Bewitched. That would help anchor her in what she was doing.

Witherspoon received great notices and some award nominations for the role—though perhaps her greatest validation came years later, when she met Hillary Clinton. As the actress said in a 2015 Variety interview, Clinton herself acknowledged the Tracy connection: Everyone talks to me about Tracy Flick, she told Witherspoon.

Tracys real-life avatars—particularly Clinton, Gillibrand, and Warren—also coincidentally happen to be women who grew up in middle and rust belt America, and who initially identified as conservative or centrist—Hillary was once a Goldwater girl—before moving politically left as they accrued more life experience. Might that have happened to Tracy as well—or would she have become a Fox News anchor? The film is open-ended enough to imagine a variety of possibilities.

Like Tracy, Clinton has long been a woman whom people use as a mirror for their own projections; their impressions of her often seemed wrapped up in their impressions of themselves, and how they feel about women more broadly. Theres an unfortunate kind of stereotype, said Payne, that when a woman has got a lot on the ball and is in politics, theres a stick up her butt. But in terms of a larger observation—which has little to do with Election, or maybe it does—you think about Hillary, and what became of her. All it made me think about is that in this country, the white man gave the black man the vote 60 years before he gave it to the white woman. It didnt surprise me, in a way, that a black man has been elected president before a white woman.

Election officially entered the canon with a 2017 Blu-ray edition via the Criterion Collection, and will eventually be available in its best movie-geek form via Criterions new streaming service. When asked what he thinks of the movie now, Payne demurred with typical Midwestern modesty. But he did say this: Im very proud of [it]. I wouldnt have said that for many years, because I dont want to say Im proud of any of them, necessarily—because I dont want to cast any judgment on them. You want to just put them out there, and to let people have their own reactions to them.

When watching the film for its Criterion re-release, though, he found himself thinking positively, if in the third person: This isnt bad, and its use of music is good. The director was still somewhat under the spell of Casino and Goodfellas about how to link editing and camera movement together with an unending string of songs that change the mood on a dime. It has some of that influence in it. I lucked out with the actors, both professional and non-professional.

Really, Payne continued, The other thing Im proud of is capturing a flavor of a genuine Midwestern high school. The movie was put out by Paramount, a big studio, but it doesnt feel like a studio movie. It feels like a film with its own integrity. Part of me wishes I could get back to that now. Its like that Woody Allen movie, Stardust Memories, where they ask him, Why dont you make more movies like the earlier, funnier ones? Well, you hear that from others—but you also hear that from a voice inside yourself.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

— Abigail Disney is calling for her familys company to raise the salaries of thousands of employees

Fresh off a tirade encouraging Donald Trump to stonewall Democratic subpoenas, Lindsey Graham kicked off William Barrs Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday by rehashing the Hillary Clinton e-mail controversy, a matter settled by the F.B.I. close to three years ago now, and vowing to probe the origins of the investigation into the president and his campaign. When the Mueller report is put to bed, and it soon will be, Graham said in his grating opening remarks, this committee is going to look long and hard at how this all started.

At one point, Graham went full-on conspiracy crank, alleging the Clinton team went to great lengths to dispose of pertinent evidence. There was a protective order for the server issued by the House and there was a request by the State Department to preserve all the information on the server, he said. Paul Combetta, after having the protective order, used a software program called BleachBit to wipe this email server clean . . . Eighteen devices possessed by Secretary Clinton she used to do business as secretary. How many of them were turned over to the F.B.I.? None. Two of them could be turned over because Judith Casper took a hammer and destroyed two of them. What happened to her? Nothing. (Both the BleachBit and hammer-smashing theories are popular on the right.)

It was a familiar stance for Graham, whose public defenses of the president and his allies have at time left him beet red and gasping for breath. Barrs appearance before the committee, it seemed, struck a similar nerve. Wednesday was Barrs first appearance before Congress following the release of the redacted Mueller report, in which the special counsel did not establish that the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin in 2016, but described a pattern of behavior by the president that suggested he was attempting to strangle the investigation. Barr has been criticized for his handling of the probe, including by Mueller himself, who complained in a letter to Barr that his investigators work had been misrepresented in the four-page summary Barr submitted to lawmakers. The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Offices work and conclusions, Mueller wrote. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.

Democrats have used Muellers letter to raise a fresh round of questions about Barrs motivations. But Graham, one of Trumps most obnoxious advocates on the Hill, echoed the presidents talking points about the probe, as well as his insistence that it was actually Clinton and the Democrats who committed crimes. The South Carolina Senator said in his opening statement Wednesday that there was no collusion, no coordination, no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government—which isnt quite what Mueller said in his report. While the special counsel does acknowledge that his team didnt find evidence of a conspiracy, he says at one point that investigators faced limitations in conducting their work and that the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report. In short, investigators not finding evidence of collusion is not the same as there not having been any collusion, as Barr, Trump, and Graham claim. Graham continued Wednesday that because there was no underlying crime, there could be no obstruction—leaving out the possibility that obstructive behavior by the president and those around him, if successful, would have made it impossible to find evidence of such a crime.

Of course, Grahams opening statement was largely political, meant to provide cover for a president whose apparent abuses of power were painstakingly catalogued by the special counsel. As such, it wasnt enough to merely defend the president—Graham also parroted Trumps attacks on investigators and sought to re-litigate the Clinton e-mail controversy. He lashed out at Peter Strzok, an F.B.I. agent leading the Clinton probe who expressed opposition to Trump in text messages, saying that Strzok hated Mr. Trumps guts—and reading through some of the texts to prove it. He also vowed, as Trump and Barr have, to look into the origins of the Russia probe, including what he suggested were surveillance abuses by the F.B.I. and Department of Justice.

The bottom line is, were about to hear from Mr. Barr, the results of a two year investigation into the Trump campaign, all things Russia, the actions the president took before and after the campaign, $25 million, 40 F.B.I. agents, Graham said. I appreciate very much what Mr. Mueller did for the country. I have read most of the report. For me, it is over.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

The first Romney debate was a significant waypoint in Obamas slow drift from ebullient optimist to cranky, deflated cynic, sparking speculation that he might just be over being president. Republicans from Chris Christie (I dont think he likes being president) to Donald Trump (Hes just not into it) made note. So did the liberal media, perhaps feeling betrayed by the vanishing act of their heretofore cheerleader in chief. Salon asked in a headline, Does Obama just hate his job? *Harper*s Kevin Baker reminded readers, Barack Obama has repeatedly informed us that he hates living in the White House and cant wait to be an ex-president.

But Obama, an indefatigable basketball fan, soon turned it around and flashed his competitive side. He roundly beat Romney in the second and third debates, before soaring through November and concluding one of the most quietly accomplished portfolios of any president in the modern era: auto-industry bailout, Wall Street reforms, new fuel-efficiency standards, increased aid to veterans, expanded F.D.A. food-safety oversight, gay marriage, getting private lenders out of the federal student-loan program, the Iran deal, and of course, the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Not to mention ending the war in Iraq and drawing down our presence in Afghanistan.

So whats next for the Obamas? All the strands of my life came together, and I really became a man when I moved to Chicago, Obama said in May 2015, announcing Chicago as the future home of his presidential library and leading to speculation that the departing First Family will resettle in the Windy City. Others had predicted Hawaii, Obamas home state, as nice a place as any to unwind. Finally, in March, Obama put an end to the guessing game: the family will remain in Washington at least until youngest daughter Sasha graduates from high school in 2019. Wherever they end up, Obama will be hitting the phones: hes raised just $5.4 million of the projected $1 billion cost of his 21st-century digital-first library and its endowment.

And what of the first ladys post–White House plans? Despite media speculation about a possible future in politics, There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and Michelle is not running for president, Barack recently declared. Wherever they are, the windows are likely to be open. We cant do little things like open the windows, the First Lady told Ellen Degeneres about life in the prison-like White House. I havent been in a car with the window open for, like, seven years.

When Peter Francis James enters stage right at the Golden Theatre, theres an enraptured hush and recognition as the audience takes him in. Starring in Hillary and Clinton with Laurie Metcalf as Hillary Clinton, John Lithgow as Bill, and Zak Orth as Mark Penn, James is the spitting image of Barack Obama.

In the play, which opened on Broadway last month, Obama comes knocking at Hillarys hotel room in New Hampshire just after shes taken the state in the 2008 primary elections. Bill is also there, against the advisement of chief strategist Penn. Although the characters and their situations are drawn in an imagined, alternate-reality past by playwright Lucas Hnath, the four players onstage still capture the subtle, human privacies of these gargantuan public figures—perhaps none more recognizably so than James and his Barack.

Lucas is not talking about the surface tics of people. Hes talking about what makes people tick, James said in recent interview. His goal was not to impersonate Obama, but to play a version of him. An imitation would get in the way.

Considering Jamess practiced presidential posture, his exacting cadence and intonation, and even his striking physical similarities, his fit for the role is clear. But that moment of recognition from the theaters audience, he said, largely comes from a level more subliminal than explicit: his clothing.

I can feel the first 15 seconds Im onstage that my costuming is doing a whole lot of work for me in a way that allows me to just focus on other things, James said. It just couldnt be better. . . . Theres nothing like coming out with the wind at your back.

Thats thanks to costume designer Rita Ryack, who perfects the former presidents uniform of a navy suit and tie. Plus, its winter in New Hampshire, so hes got a calf-length, ash-gray cashmere overcoat, too. His tie was originally striped and dark red, but after consulting director Joe Mantello, they went with blue: striped with white, royal, and an arctic-gray hue. When you have a very small play like that, everything counts, Ryack said. Its very important, each tiny detail.

So just how did they capture the silhouette of one of the worlds most recognizable men? Ryack actually tapped Obamas real-world tailor to make Jamess suit just so. While the rest of the four-person ensemble is dressed in less presidential attire—Hillary in purple track pants and a cream turtleneck, Bill in mid-thigh running shorts and knee-high white socks—Jamess Barack required a more elegant treatment. Thats where Martin Greenfield Clothiers, under the direction of Martin Greenfield and his son Jay, came in. The elder Greenfield has tailored suits for over 70 years and has worked with presidents such as Eisenhower and Obama. Conveniently for this Scott Rudin–produced, Broadway-bound play, Greenfields factory is located in the heart of Brooklyns Bushwick neighborhood, and they were eager to assist.

This was immediately very exciting for us to do, Jay Greenfield said. They mentioned his signature navy suits, which we obviously knew all about. We have made clothing for various movies that actors played presidents, but we never really were asked to emulate a specific look for an actor playing a president who we dressed.

Ryack, who previously worked with the Greenfields on projects like Barry Levinsons Bernie Madoff biopic, The Wizard of Lies, with Robert De Niro, explained that taking James to the factory space allowed for the greatest degree of authenticity. And he could also have the experience of seeing where that clothing came from—its a little more insight into the presidential wardrobe. As an actor, James also admits that simply coming close to the suit-maker is kind of an extraordinary experience.

Jay explained that the suit seen onstage is the exact make and material of the famous navy suits that became Obamas sartorial calling card: a very fine Italian cloth that comes from a mill called Loro Piana. Theyre kind of known with really finishing the cloth with a little more luster than, say, the English mills do, he says. The finish set him apart from those around him, and the deep navy had just enough blue to it to be noticeably navy next to gray or black.

Jay was the lead tailor on this project, as his father has relinquished his duties in older age. I tried to come as close as I could to what we actually did for President Obama, he explains. We helped [Obama] pick that first navy suit that we made for him, and we went on over the years to make many more of that same suit for him. It became almost a uniform. He also had other colors, charcoal grays, but navy was always the first choice. . . . Every time it was a more important event that would be viewed by more people either on television or pictures, he seemed to always choose the navy suit.

Considering their whos-who clientele of Washington, D.C., power players (including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom James has also portrayed on stage), James was surprised to find that modesty is the name of Greenfields game. They dont discuss their clients any more than youd want them to discuss you, he adds. Theyre a classy bunch.

James did have find one sign of the people who have been fitted before him, though. You couldnt have a less ostentatious kind of establishment, James says. It was wonderfully low-key. The first thing I saw as I went into the—I cant even call it a changing room, but it was kind of a little section—was a picture of Colin Powell thumbtacked to the wall.

There is one secret design element that only the real Obama gets to wear. While Jay ensured Jamess replica suit have the hand stitching along the edges of the suit, the handmade working buttonholes on the sleeves, the same rich shoulder and the lapels of the jacket not too narrow and trendy but not too wide, either, there is one interior detail missing. The Greenfields will sometimes add a decorative touch along the edge where the lining meets the facing, and presidents get to have it in red, white, and blue thread. Its a little painstaking because [theres] three needles going at the same time, and thats one stitch of red, one stitch of white, one stitch of blue, and then keep changing the needle and go all the way around the lining of the jacket, Jay says. [But] thats something that we figured out we like to do for the president.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

In February 2017, a controversy roiled the food world: President Donald Trump went to a steakhouse for dinner, where he ordered a $54 steak well-done and paired it with a heavy helping of ketchup. The story caught on because it seemed to reflect Trump's worst tendencies: his inability to take advice and his helplessly gauche behavior despite his wealth. At the time, writer Helen Rosner put it succinctly, writing A person who refuses to try something better is a person who will never make things good.

On Sunday, in a look at V.I.P. dining in Washington, D.C., published in Washingtonian magazine, another data point emerged in Trump dining story. Badger Russell, a former server at the Trump restaurant in D.C., said that as far as he could tell, Trump was putting the ketchup on his fries, not his steak, when he would dine at the restaurant. The server also added that every time Trump dined at the restaurant, he was greeted with a standing ovation.

That the president expects adulation with his well-done steak is one understandable reason why he tends not to eat at restaurants that he does not own himself. Hes probably doing the other restaurants of D.C. a favor: consider what happened when Trump official Stephen Miller allegedly demanded a seat in the middle of the restaurant, sparking anti-Trump anger among other customers.

But for as many Trumpworld figures as there are dining in D.C., it's still the previous administration that owns the hearts and minds. Restaurants will still do anything they can to accommodate Barack and especially Michelle Obama, whose presence at a restaurant is such great word-of-mouth advertising, said Billy Carter, who has been a maître d at various D.C. haunts. And the restauranteurs return the favor by keeping their dining habits to themselves, though Brent Kroll, a former beverage director at the St. Regis, acknowledged that when it came to wine, Barack Obama wouldnt go really expensive. He wanted domestic."

When the Obamas are in, everyone who enters the restaurant is wanded, which seems like a pain, but is worth it for the employees and owners. We dont say at first, but finally it all gets out, so all those people are going to say, I was at Joes when Michelle was there, added Carter.

Unlike celebrity-choked Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., still has the type of restaurant culture where having a big name gets you the best service. Unless youre one of the many politicians who all kind of look the same. At the restaurant Oyamel, they realized one day that a regular who would dine at the bar was wearing a lapel pin. They finally thought to look at the name on the credit card, and it was former Tennessee senator Bob Corker they had been serving that whole time. Who can blame them? Would you recognize Bob Corker in the wild?

— Shooting a tiger: the bitter infighting, global protests, and massive egos of Indias most controversial tiger hunt

Before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became a game-changing congresswoman, she was a bartender fighting an uphill political battle after the election of Donald Trump. Its all captured in the upcoming Netflix documentary Knock Down the House, directed by Rachel Lears. The film, which has a new trailer out today, follows four everyday women—A.O.C., Amy Vilela, Paula Jean Swearingen, and Cori Bush—who decided to get into politics ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, inspired to change their respective communities and fight against rising Trumpism.

The trailer opens with Ocasio-Cortez in an elevator, talking straight to camera. If I was a rational person, I would have dropped out of this race a long time ago, she says cheerfully, referring to her fight for New Yorks 14th District against career politician Joe Crowley. (Ocasio-Cortez would go on to defeat him in the districts Democratic primary.) The trailer offers tons of behind-the-scenes footage of her in action, hitting the pavement and passing out flyers. Hes gonna tell me Im small, that Im young, that Im inexperienced, she says at another point, preparing herself for the fight ahead.

From there, the trailer also offers glimpses at Bush (a nurse in St. Louis), Swearingen (a West Virginia environmental activist), and Vilela (a Las Vegas businesswoman). Each woman shares the varied reasons they got into politics. For Bush, it was social activism. I live six minutes from Ferguson, she said, referring to the Missouri city that was home to numerous Black Lives Matter protests.

In an interview last June with Vanity Fair, Lears said she began working on the film the day after Trumps election, communicating with organizations like Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats to find aspiring female politicians. She raised money for the project on Kickstarter, then debuted the final doc at this years Sundance Film Festival, where it earned strong reviews. Of the four women, the New York-based Lears has the most footage of Ocasio-Cortez, witnessing firsthand how the congresswomans fame exploded overnight.

Ive heard multiple people say to her and to me that they havent been as excited about a candidate since Obama, Lears said. She was able to engage voters that have been neglected by the Democratic Party machine in New York City.

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Barack Obamas close, nearly brotherly friendship with Joe Biden is the stuff of meme legend. Its perhaps surprising, then, that the former president has mostly remained silent as women accuse his former vice president of inappropriate touching—allegations that could weigh on Bidens expected 2020 bid. Other establishment politicians, from Dianne Feinstein to Lindsey Graham, have defended the notoriously handsy ex-veep, with Democratic brass calling on Biden to keep his hands to himself (Pretend you have a cold and I have a cold, Nancy Pelosi remarked at a breakfast this week), but saying that the allegations are not disqualifying. But Obama, who has been careful in choosing when to throw his weight around, has so far remained on the sidelines.

Initially, those close to Biden indicated to my colleague Chris Smith that Obamas even-handed approach to the 2020 field had ruffled the former veeps feathers. (This is unequivocally false, a Biden spokesperson said at the time.) But this time around, Obamas reticence is probably the best outcome for Biden, whos done his best to brush off the allegations. Obama thinks the world of [Biden] and thinks hed be an excellent president, and is standing by him through the controversy, a source close to the former president told The Hill Thursday. Moreover, Joe Biden would be the first to tell you that hell have to earn the nomination on his own.

Bidens trouble began last week, when Nevada Democrat Lucy Flores wrote an essay describing how he kissed the back of her head at a campaign event in 2014. Several women have since come forward to say Biden made them similarly uncomfortable, and calling his behavior demeaning. Biden attempted to address the allegations in a video posted to Twitter this week, in which he acknowledged that social norms have begun to change, and promised to be more mindful about others personal space. Yet at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers conference on Friday, Biden seemingly poked fun at the rash of stories. I just want you to know I had permission to hug Lonnie [Stephenson], he joked, referring to the union president who introduced him. By the way, he gave me permission to touch him, Biden then said of a boy he hugged on stage. Everybody knows I like kids more than people. According to reporters at the event, the largely male crowd responded with laughter.

Whether this kind of brush-off will fly with the rest of the Democratic electorate remains to be seen. Biden continues to lead early polls, though his standing has dipped somewhat since Flores went public. His opponents could easily weaponize the claims against him, something Donald Trump has done already. WELCOME BACK JOE! the president tweeted on Thursday, along with a doctored video of Biden. Asked Friday if he—the guy who told Billy Bush that his celebrity allowed him to grab [women] by the pussy—was the right person to take Biden to task, Trump said he was a very good messenger. People got a kick out of it, he told reporters, unabashed.

Unlike Trump, a source told The Hill Thursday, Obama does not want to influence public opinion on the matter. Thats probably a smart move, as it keeps the former president from being dragged into a contentious debate. Its also beneficial to the former vice president; any intervention by Obama would likely make allegations appear more serious than the Biden camp has sought to portray them. He realizes that he breathes so much air into every situation, the Hills source said. And I think he realizes that he would have to walk a bit of a fine line on this. Anything he says would cut against Joe Biden.

Would you believe that Queen Elizabeth is the cool, approachable name for the reigning monarch of England? In moments of proper formality, shes actually Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Thats a lot of name! Imagine trying to ferret ones way through all that pomp and prestige and the title of it all to get to the person beneath it. The Crown has made a good-faith attempt at it, but there must be a better way to understand Her Majesty than by waiting until Netflix gives us Season 3, when we learn how Charles disappoints his father this time.

Michelle Obama, though, shows us another way. The former First Lady, still on the never-ending press tour for her memoir, Becoming, made a stop at Londons O2 arena on Sunday, where she recounted her first visit to the palace, in April 2009, with then-president Barack Obama. She—horrors of horrors—placed an arm around the Queen's shoulder, a clear breach of protocol, as protocol is always and forever: Stay off the grass, no photographs of the crown jewels, and please, please dont touch the Queen.

What is true among world leaders is that there are people who handle protocol, and usually the people theyre representing dont want all that protocol, she said of the moment that sent waves of gasps through the British press. So you wonder, Well, who are you doing this for? Because they dont want it, we dont want it. But its just the way things are. So I dont know that I could have done anything differently because it was a natural human reaction.

Yes, cut the B.S. Be a human to another human. These formalities and special treatments may have buoyed the Queen through, like, 20 wars last century and many more Christmas addresses, but lord, shes 92 now (and 82 then). She must be a little exhausted by all of it.

There are, of course, reasons for protocol. Maybe in days of yore, when monarchs were a more common way of structuring things, all those rules were used to prop up that big title kings and queens had. Now, in an era of constant cameras, protocol seems geared toward giving world leaders marks to hit so they dont have pained expression of confusion etched on their faces for all of history to see.

Obama was on the other side of a bewildering moment of protocol breach during the changing of the guard at the White House back in 2017, when the Trumps brought a gift for the outgoing family to their inauguration. (Its just not done!) But a brief pat on the back is not a big blue Tiffanys box that no one knows what to do with. Its a relatively benign gesture of affection.

In her memoir, Obama recalls the incident, writing that the Queen remarked on Obamas height, and Obama remarked on her heels, and the Queen remarked on her own heels, and they had a moment of recognition in each others shared lack of arch support. Forget that she sometimes wore a diamond crown and that Id flown to London on the presidential jet: we were just two tired ladies oppressed by our shoes, she wrote. I then did whats instinctive to me anytime I feel connected to a new person, which is to express my feelings outwardly. I laid a hand affectionately across her shoulder.

I couldnt have known it in the moment, but I was committing what would be deemed an epic faux pas, Obama added. But I tried not to let the criticism rattle me. If I hadnt done the proper thing at Buckingham Palace, I had at least done the human thing. I daresay that the Queen was okay with it, too, because when I touched her, she only pulled closer, resting a gloved hand lightly on the small of my back.

The Queen has since verbalized her frustration with protocol, apparently. During a panel in Royal Festival Hall in London last December, Obama recalled another Windsor Castle visit. So I had all this protocol buzzing in my head, and I was like, dont trip down the stairs and dont touch anybody, whatever you do, she said. And so the Queen says just get in, sit wherever, and shes telling you one thing and youre remembering protocol and she says, Oh its all rubbish, just get in.

On Tuesday, attorney general William Barr turned Donald Trumps wildest dreams into reality when he told a congressional committee he was assembling a team to investigate the F.B.I.s handling of its probe in the Trump campaign. The next morning, the president was apparently riding high. It was an illegal investigation, Trump told reporters running down the list of intelligence officials hes cast as villains of the so-called witch hunt. This was an attempted coup.

Trump and his allies have long called for closer examination of the Russia probe, suggesting it was born out of anti-Trump bias and amounts to a politically motivated attempt to bring down the president. Trumps supporters have insisted that a controversial dossier—which alleged, among other things, that Russia had salacious tape of the president in a Moscow hotel room—served as the basis for the probe, though The New York Times reported in 2017 that it stemmed from drunken comments former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos made to an Australian diplomat in May 2016.

At present, its unclear how far Barrs probe will extend. Per Bloomberg, he explained to lawmakers that he is reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016. He clarified in a second straight day of testimony on Wednesday, saying he would look into both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign, including potential spying, which he said did occur. He added that he wanted to make sure there was no improper surveillance, as Trump and Co. have alleged.

Whether these measures will satisfy Trump, who has continued to call for a separate investigation into the origins of the inquiry, even after Barrs letter exonerating him, remains to be seen. Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for the release of Robert Muellers full report, which some on the special counsels team apparently view as more damaging to Trump than the four-page summary Barr provided last month. Barr, who had criticized the investigation before being appointed by Trump, said Tuesday that he plans to publish a redacted version of Muellers report, but that will almost certainly fall short for House Democrats, who are preparing to issue subpoenas for more information and have accused the attorney general of attempting to protect the president. I think thats a betrayal to what he promised during his confirmation, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told CNN Tuesday. The president wanted his own Roy Cohn, and apparently he got one.

Even if Democrats prevail, however, Barr has already given Trump some legal cover. And in complying with Trumps wishes to investigate the investigators, he could also further muddy the political waters. We beat them, Trump crowed to reporters Wednesday. I won. No collusion, no obstruction. I won. Everybody knows I won. He added that he has not seen the Mueller report.

Donald Trump still has Obamacare in his crosshairs, and now his administration has launched a new effort to torpedo the law. On Monday, Trumps Department of Justice threw its weight behind a federal district judges ruling that would invalidate the Affordable Care Act in its totality, a more extreme position than the administration had previously staked out, and one that could prove potentially devastating for Americans who depend on the law. The Department of Justice has determined that the district courts judgment should be affirmed, the D.O.J. wrote in a filing Monday to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently considering the case. The United States is not urging that any portion of the district courts judgment be reversed.

Republicans have sought to undermine Barack Obamas signature health-care policy since its inception nearly 10 years ago, and Trump last year succeeded in ending the laws individual mandate, a key part of the legislation requiring Americans to either have health insurance or pay a fine. But he and his allies have so far failed to repeal and replace the A.C.A., despite having controlled both the House and Senate for the first two years of Trumps presidency. Trump has groused about those high-profile defeats, most notably in his bizarre, ongoing attacks against late senator John McCain, who shot down the G.O.P.s half-baked skinny repeal with a dramatic, last-minute thumbs-down. Trump has also continued to target the A.C.A., proposing in his most recent budget that Obamacare be repealed and replaced with his preferred block-grant system—a position that will likely figure heavily into the 2020 campaign, but that would almost certainly be a nonstarter in the Democratically controlled House.

But the D.O.J.s support for Judge Reed OConnors ruling in Texas v. United States could present a legitimate threat to the A.C.A. Texas, banded with other red states that opposed Obamacare, argued that the whole law should be thrown out because the individual mandate had been repealed. California and several blue states have challenged the judges ruling, setting up a battle in the Fifth Circuit, and likely in the Supreme Court down the road. The administrations support for the sweeping ruling is a more aggressive position than its previous stance, which held that only some parts of the law, like protections for people with pre-existing conditions, should be eliminated.

That argument last year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a direct and unusual threat by the Justice Department against an existing law. This even more extreme position, under William Barrs D.O.J., not only threatens to leave millions of Americans without health care, but, as Politico noted, would upend some of the Trump administrations own agenda, such as its proposed drug-price reforms and its battle against opioids. It could also carry political costs for the president. Polls suggest that more Americans support the A.C.A. than oppose it. And several Democratic presidential candidates have not only defended Obamacare, but have pledged to expand access to health care.

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have vowed to fight the administrations latest monstrous broadside. Tonight in federal court, the Trump Administration decided not only to try to destroy protections for Americans living with pre-existing conditions, but to declare all-out war on the health care of the American people, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after the D.O.J.s filing. Democrats will continue to fight relentlessly to protect people with pre-existing conditions and to deliver lower health costs and prescription drug prices for every American.

When Barack and Michelle Obama first landed their big Netflix deal more than a year ago, one obvious question came to mind: what will the former First Couple be like as auteurs? What is their programming philosophy? Are they fans of the burgeoning half-hour-drama format? Will their upcoming shows and films be all about politics? (To answer that last one: nope!) Our wondering came to an end this week, when Netflix announced seven upcoming programs from the former president and First Lady—and with only a few exceptions, the unifying theme here seems to be serious Big Dad Energy.

A few selections on the list sound a bit like subtle jabs at Donald Trump; for instance, theres a feature film adaptation of David W. Blights Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. (Guess Trump was right; the long-dead abolitionist is being recognized more and more.) Theres also an adaptation of Michael Lewiss The Fifth Risk, which examined the transition into Trumps presidency, as well as some of the well, risks it posed. Per Netflixs release, that nonfiction series will aim to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation. Indeed.

But beyond these projects, the grander uniting theme seems to be a dedication to dadliness—which makes a certain kind of sense, given Barack Obamas long-standing Cool Dad vibe. In addition to the Frederick Douglass and Fifth Risk programs, both of which sound like catnip for a certain brand of wonkish, history-loving dad, theres American Factory, which already won the U.S. documentary directing award at Sundance. Per Netflix, The acclaimed film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. See also: Overlooked, a series developed from the long-running New York Times column by the same name, which runs long-overdue obituaries for interesting people whose deaths had been unrecognized by the paper. Theres also a film that documents the rise of the disability rights movement—which happened to spring up just down the road from Woodstock in the 70s. That one sounds like itll have a little something for everyone.

Naturally, there are also a few exceptions to the rule. The half-hour preschool series Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents will teach children all about food—a move that sounds like it came straight out of the Michelle Obama playbook. And then theres Bloom, an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in post-World War II New York. Per the release, that show will examine the world of fashion at the time, and the barriers women and people of color faced. In other words: theres a decent amount of Big Mom Energy among these projects as well.

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

— Abigail Disney is calling for her familys company to raise the salaries of thousands of employees

Nicole Avant has been an actress, music executive, and U.S. ambassador, and half of a Hollywood power couple, so shes a woman in constant motion. But she rarely misses a Friday lunch with her father, Clarence, the polymathic music mogul and trusted mentor to entertainers, athletes, and politicians for more than 50 years. Only taking a hiatus from their weekly routine when she served as President Barack Obamas envoy to the Bahamas, from 2009 to 2011, Nicole absorbed her fathers stories of escaping the Jim Crow South to become the consigliere for such legends as Bill Withers, Hank Aaron, and Muhammad Ali, eventually becoming the chairman of Motown Records and one of the first black entertainment executives to plunge into politics. Clarences tales inspired Nicole to produce The Black Godfather, a documentary premiering on Netflix in June, directed by Reginald Hudlin, and featuring such friends and associates of her fathers as Quincy Jones, Cicely Tyson, Snoop Dogg, David Geffen, Jamie Foxx, Obama, and President Bill Clinton.

Making the movie was an opportunity for Avant—who with her husband, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, has become one of the Democratic Partys go-to fund-raisers in L.A. (as for their 2020 favorite: Too early to say)—to wield her spirited drive. Ive always been a producer, working towards a goal, Avant says. Whether at A&M Records, with my team in the Bahamas, or now this film, I love putting the pieces together to get dreams fulfilled.

Perhaps more than any other Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden is a comedians dream. The former vice president and former senator from Delaware has an extensive record—and, more importantly, a famous tendency for committing gaffes at record rates. As Trevor Noah put it on The Daily Show Thursday night, The only thing that spends more time in Bidens mouth than those perfect teeth is his own foot.

In a weird way, I feel like these gaffes are what made Biden the perfect balance to President Obama, Noah added. You know, because . . . Obama . . . measured every . . . word. You could feel . . . him . . . thinking . . . as he was . . . talking. But when Biden talks, his brain just clicks Im Feeling Lucky, and the first result comes out of his mouth.

Biden announced his presidential campaign Thursday, with a video calling for supporters not to grant Donald Trump eight years in the White House—although it was hard to absorb any of what he was saying after seeing that unfortunate font choice, or the curious way the video was shot. (As Jimmy Fallon put it on The Tonight Show, Is he running for president, or trying to sell me a reverse mortgage?)

Yes, Noah conceded, Biden has a formidable list of accomplishments. For example, hes known as an expert dealmaker in Washington, with a gift for working across the aisle: Thats right. Joe Biden was so good at getting stuff done, he even found a way to work with Mitch McConnell, Noah said. And they probably got along because Mitch was the only person Biden wouldnt give a massage to.

Any politician who has served as many decades as Biden is bound to rack up some baggage. But Biden does have a lot in his past to answer for, including his treatment of Anita Hill, passing the now-controversial 1994 crime bill, and voting for the Iraq war. So on the downside, Joe Biden got a lot of things wrong back in the day, Noah said. But on the upside? He managed to grow his hair back!

— Cover story: Nicole Kidman reflects on her career, marriage, faith, and texting with Meryl Streep

— Abigail Disney is calling for her familys company to raise the salaries of thousands of employees

But Dean reminded Buttigieg of something lost in popular memory: his early support for civil unions. In April 2000, Dean had signed the nations first law allowing same-sex civil unions, then a groundbreaking step in the nations slow march to marriage equality. At the time, the law was so controversial, so aberrant to the American mainstream, that Dean had to wear a bulletproof vest at times in public. But as Dean began to assemble a presidential campaign, his support for civil unions was a door opener. Running for re-election in Vermont that fall, Dean was the toast of the L.G.B.T. fund-raising circuit, appearing at several events hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. He later appeared on the cover of The Advocate in a very hetero-looking fleece half-zip under the headline A Civil Unions President? His connections in the gay community would become foundational as he began to raise money and put together an organization.

Im not sure Howard Dean fully appreciated this at the beginning, but civil unions was kind of a made-up artifice, said Elizabeth Birch, who was then the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. It had no legal meaning. It was made-up legal creature that had no history in the country. But because Dean had supported at least what would be the equivalent of a domestic partnership, that was the biggest step to date. He went on our dinner circuit. And the H.R.C. had really grown into a formidable organization. We bought talent from Silicon Valley and it became a real force. Dean was able to tap into that, appear at a number of dinners, and really impress people. He was intelligent. He was a truth-teller.

Deans early ask to L.G.B.T. donors in 2002, as he launched his presidential exploratory committee, was similar to Buttigiegs last year as he ramped up his potential bid: I might not be your first choice, but Id appreciate some of your support as I try this. His rapport with the gay and lesbian political community was critical. It became the building block upon which he would capitalize as he broke into the mainstream. Big L.G.B.T. donors had fancier names to support, like John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, and John Edwards, but they also tossed some friendly extra cash Deans way because they respected his bravery on civil unions. I showed up on the campaign early and almost everyone there was there because of civil unions, said Nicco Mele, the Web master of the Dean campaign who now teaches at Harvard. Almost all of the early money was around the civil-unions issue from the gay community. Dean lost that 2004 campaign, but he raised more money than any candidate in the Democratic primary.

Seventeen years later, so much has changed. Other states began to recognize civil unions, then same-sex marriage. In 2012, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to openly support marriage equality. The Supreme Court in 2015 made same-sex marriage the law of the land after a five-four ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. And today, an openly gay man is not only running for president, but has leapt to third place in the Democratic primary polls behind internationally famous candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Buttiegiegs sexual orientation is not a central theme of his campaign message, but it doesnt need to be for prominent L.G.B.T. donors who have grown accustomed to supporting candidates who are friendly on their issues, but never one their own.

There is just this shock in the midst of this incredibly important presidential campaign that is simmering: you have an openly gay man who is catching fire, said Corey Johnson, the 37-year-old Speaker of the New York City Council who is also gay and recently attended two packed Buttigieg fund-raisers in Manhattan, giddy events chronicled by my colleague Tina Nguyen. Of course his message extends beyond his sexual identity, but in the L.G.B.T. community, people are used to supporting allies who have been our friends, but maybe not even fully your friends, Johnson told me. Maybe they once voted for DOMA or only quietly supported marriage equality. Now you have this young, openly gay mayor who is married. Whether you are a big donor or a random donor, there is this palpable excitement. People are kind of slack-jawed.

But before Buttigieg could even think about catching fire, he had to find a way to pay for a staff, travel, and digital advertising. He initially followed Deans counsel, cracking open wallets in L.G.B.T. donor networks even if he was unable to lock down full-blown commitments from major bundlers. If Buttigieg could raise enough to get started and prove viability, the theory went, he could come back for more later. It worked: in the first quarter of 2019, Buttigieg was able to raise funds not just from adoring small donors over the Internet, but also from major L.G.B.T. donors who initially liked other candidates but were nevertheless enamored with Buttigiegs history-making gamble. Buttigieg raised $7.1 million in the first quarter, out-raising all but three Democratic candidates and taking in more money than four sitting U.S. senators. Among 2020 candidates, according to the Associated Press, Buttigieg received the second-highest number of checks from donors who gave to multiple candidates.

Now that Buttigieg is firmly established as a credible candidate rather than just a Twitter-friendly novelty act, his financial support is growing more serious by the day. While he netted over $4 million from donors giving under $200 in the first quarter, some $2.5 million came from large donations, a sum likely to balloon in the coming months. Many L.G.B.T. donors who gave early to multiple candidates are now either firmly in Buttigiegs corner or lining up to host big-money events for his campaign. Movie producer Richie Jackson hosted a finance event for Buttigieg in New York in April. This week, Buttigieg traveled to Chicago for an event with Democratic donors Eric Janssen and Marco Zerega. In May, Buttigieg will attend a fund-raising event in the Washington area co-hosted by Obama bundler Barry Karas, public affairs strategist Alex Slater, and lobbyist Steve Elmendorf, a top Hillary Clinton bundler who recently told CNBC that hes fully in Buttigiegs corner in the 2020 race.

Buttigieg, of course, has attracted financial support from plenty of straight bundlers as well, including from well-connected Obama and Clinton donors like Susie Tompkins Buell and Orin Kramer. But in conversation after conversation, its becoming clear that the high-dollar L.G.B.T. donor community has never been as excited about a presidential candidate as it is right now. The gay community should speak freely and clearly, and to have someone on the national and international stage is meaningful to us, said Rufus Gifford, the former ambassador to Denmark who was Obamas national finance director in 2012. As a public member of the gay community, its an inspiring voice, without a doubt. I have maxed out to Pete because of what you are seeing.

Put simply, Buttigiegs identity is helping him tap into a deep reservoir of politically engaged wealth that has, until recently, been watching the Democratic race somewhat tepidly. If Buttigieg manages to post a monster fund-raising number in the second quarter of this year, it wont just be because small-donor millennials were fired up about his CNN town-hall appearances or his viral piano covers of Spoon songs. It will be thanks to a growing set of major fund-raisers, many of them gay and lesbian, who are coalescing behind him early and fast, delivering substantial checks that other Democratic candidates are choosing to leave on the big-money table.

If you look in my sent e-mail box, I am constantly forwarding e-mails on to the campaign saying, How can I get involved? I want to get involved. Can you connect me? said Jackson, the film producer. Something very real is happening.

Jeff Trammell, a longtime Democratic fundraiser who is supporting Buttigieg, first began doing outreach to the L.G.B.T. donors in 1999, as an advisor to Al Gores 2000 presidential campaign. Previously, gays and lesbians were not explicitly a target group for Democratic fund-raisers. But the culture was changing, and a gay man, Andy Tobias, had recently taken the reins as treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. People were just ready, people were starting to come out, Trammell said. Lawyers, doctors, bankers. People wanted to come out to engage in the political process. At the same time, being out and gay was not mainstream in places beyond major urban centers. Today, you wouldnt do a separate L.G.B.T. event. But in those days, you did separate events. Fifteen years ago, people were closeted and wanted to come to an event but not run into a senior partner. I remember once in Des Moines, we once set up a moveable wall at a hotel between the media and gay and lesbian Iowans who came to our fund-raiser and wanted to talk.

Today, Trammell said, part of the buzz around Buttigieg among L.G.B.T. donors is that hes appealing to Democrats outside the gay and lesbian universe—that, so far, he appears to be viable with straight people. There is a feeling of surprise and excitement in the community to see one of our own not just standing up there, but doing so well in the process. Its exciting for us because it signifies promise. That we are all part of this and we are living the revolution. Obama significantly out-raised Buttigieg in the first quarter of 2007—$25 million to Buttigiegs $7.1 million this year—but both numbers projected credibility to once-skeptical insiders who then felt more open to giving. Buttigieg is now capitalizing on his cultural virality by harnessing the support of big donors and small donors alike. But his immediate emotional connection with the increasingly influential L.G.B.T. donor set is giving him an early financial edge in the Democratic race.

What is going on now is one of the untold secrets of the D.N.C. and Democratic Party generally, which is that the L.G.B.T. community is a huge source of money into the Democratic Party, said Birch, who admires Buttigieg but said she is hoping for a woman president. You could call it the Obama moment. But he is the right package of characteristics for gay donors. I think hes striking a chord in the hearts of donors about childhood and the all-American boy. He reminds you a little of one of the kids next door, like he would have been on Father Knows Best. He is not a Ken doll. He has the appeal of Opie Taylor, and then within that persona comes out this really wise and deep and intelligent commentary about the country and the world. And on top of that, he talks about faith. Hes calling for awakening of the religious left. A great number of L.G.B.T. people were thrown out of their places of worship growing up. Pete is grabbing the mantle of spirituality and reclaiming it. There is an undercurrent in the L.G.B.T. world that finds that incredibly moving. For many L.G.B.T.Q. people, it is enormously appealing and healing. So that combination of awakening the religious left, the boy-next-door feel of him, and combining all of it is very appealing to many donors in the L.G.B.T.Q. community, particularly some of the really traditional wealthy donors in the Democratic Party. Some of them think that had they been born in a different time, they would have had more opportunities open to them, so they love the idea of putting money in this very appealing mayor.

What is going on now is one of the untold secrets of the D.N.C. and\nDemocratic Party generally, which is that the L.G.B.T. community is a\nhuge source of money into the Democratic Party.

Richie Jackson, the movie producer who recently hosted a Buttigieg fund-raiser alongside his husband, Broadway mogul Jordan Roth, told donors at his fund-raiser that hes made a daily habit of waking up in the morning and watching or listening to a new interview with Buttigieg to soothe his nerves about the Trump era. My shoulders relax and I breathe easier, Jackson told his guests, with Buttigieg looking on in his trademark tie and white shirtsleeves. Jackson punctuated his introduction with a refrain often heard among Buttigieg donors: I am old enough to remember when there were no out gay elected officials.

What I think about with Pete is that we know that there are 1.5 million L.G.B.T.Q. youth at risk today, Jackson told me. My only feeling, as far as being gay, is can you imagine how life-saving and life-changing his election would be for them? Just his running. What a beacon. He is not saying he didnt struggle. And that it hasnt been difficult for him. When I think about those young people who need to hear you are worthy and you can do whatever you want, that alone is reason to support him.

Buttigiegs willingness to raise money from major donors sets him apart from candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are swearing off fund-raising events to focus on grassroots donations. Its also caused problems for Warren, who saw the recent departure of her finance director and raised only $6 million in the first quarter. Progressive activists are throwing darts at Buttigieg for taking money from wealthy elites, like Facebook executives and energy lobbyists, but his supporters say that Democrats who swear off big donors are making a mistake, with Trump amassing a significant fortune that hes already using to run digital advertisements and build a field staff. The Trump re-election campaign raised $30 million in the first quarter of 2019, and along with the Republican National Committees war chest, hes currently sitting on $82 million in the bank.

Democrats have the disadvantage of being encumbered with a do-gooder mentality, Trammell said. We believe in good government and not cutting corners with campaign financing. On the other hand, you have to win. As someone famously said, if you dont win, you dont legislate. The Democrats need to have enough money. We will see if the Elizabeth Warren approach works.

Gifford, who raised money for both of Obamas campaigns, said Democrats need to depend on many streams of revenue. Small donors will never be enough. Buttigieg has to make sure he diversifies his revenue streams just like we did in 2007 and 2008. Early on it was the big supporters that got us to that first number. That wasnt online money. That was old-school fund-raising, direct mail, and telemarketing. That gets you out of the gate. You should never be reliant on one strain of fund-raising and I think a lot of the campaigns have been doing that. The idea that I can send an e-mail and be good to go? Thats just naive as far as Im convinced.

Despite his excitement, Gifford cautioned that Buttigieg cant just assume the L.G.B.T. community will rally behind him in full. It is only April 2019, and Buttigieg is still figuring out how to ride the lightning. There are candidates who have been fighting for L.G.B.T. equality longer than Petes been out of the closet, Gifford said. My allegiances are pulled a million different ways. Just because he has inspired a lot of people doesnt mean the L.G.B.T. community will vote that way. Biden, Kamala, Gillibrand, Booker. They have long-standing relationships that do matter. But Pete has been doing all the right things. He had no real relationships nationally when he launched his campaign. He had to do that legwork. He is definitely working his tail off.

Aside from his global fame and his love affair with soft-serve ice cream, Joe Bidens biggest calling card at this budding stage of the presidential race is the mushy notion of electability. Biden, the former vice president, isnt outright saying that he would be the best foil against Donald Trump next year, but hes laying it on thick, mugging for the cameras in Iowa diners and bragging to a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh that the road back to the White House runs straight through working-class Pennsylvania. Bidens home turf. Shot-and-a-beer territory, as Richard Ben Cramer called it.

The imagery is not subtle. Biden wants Democrats to know that he and he alone is best positioned to reclaim the Upper Midwest after Trumps Electoral College burglary in 2016. With Biden, you know what youre in for: a tested statesman with populist charm who can clean up Trumps malarkey on day one. He can go to the Hague one day, and then show up at Sturgis the next. And folks, if youre not getting the message, his allies will give it to you loud and clear: Biden. Can. Win.

This is do-or-die, and Joe Biden is the best candidate to go against Trump in November, said Dick Harpootlian, a state senator in South Carolina who recently hosted a Biden fund-raiser in Columbia. Would Joe Biden be running if he thought any of these other folks could beat Donald Trump? No way. We cant risk this thing with someone who has not done this before, who is unchallenged, who is untested. There is something to be said for two old white guys going at it. The African-Americans in the State Senate with me are going to be with him overwhelmingly. Because this is a pragmatic year. This isnt a battle of ideologies or identity or Medicare for All or a Green New Whatever. Its all about who can stop this juvenile narcissist from getting a second term.

The glaring counterpoint to Harpootlians argument is the most shopworn of political clichés: Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line. Since Vietnam, every time a Democrat has won the presidency, its because Democrats voted with their hearts in a primary and closed ranks around the candidate who inspired them, promising an obvious break from the past and an inspiring vision that blossomed in the general election. Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton. Barack Obama. All were young outsiders who tethered their message to the culture of the time. When Democrats have picked nominees cautiously and strategically—falling in line—the results have been devastating, as Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton made plain. Its not a perfect rule: While Gore and Clinton didnt quite electrify the country, they still won the popular vote. And George McGovern was a heart candidate who got slaughtered by Richard Nixon in 1972. But the McGovern wipeout is kind of what Biden and his loyalists are clinging to: the idea that this Trump moment, like the wrenching 60s, is so existential and high stakes that Democrats will overlook their usual instincts and do the sensible thing. Theatrical and Irish, Biden surely is hoping that he can be a vehicle for both passion and pragmatism. But if he wins the nomination next year, it will be because Democrats went with their heads, not their bleeding hearts.

This is just not a normal year, Harpootlian told me. I believe that pragmatic Democrats will vote in larger numbers than what you would call the ideologue candidates. Joes record in Congress wasnt particularly stellar, but they understand the importance of winning in November of 2020. The folks that I talk to, they arent looking for a socialist, or trying to make a statement on the basis of identity or sex or gender. They want somebody to run the country in a normal fashion that typifies the dignity of the office. People want stability.

Mounting an electability argument is a risky gambit in a Democratic primary. Recent election cycles are littered with unheeded calls to look ahead to the general election, while genuine passion flowed elsewhere. Hillary Clinton made such a case about Bernie Sanders in 2016—she called herself a progressive who likes to get things done—but her electability strategy was far more pronounced in 2008. She announced in 2007 with a statement that Beto ORourke would be proud of: Im in. And Im in to win. As Clinton ran against Obama, who was rallying a diverse coalition of young anti-war voters and African-Americans, she memorably downplayed her gender and the history-making possibility of her own candidacy, choosing instead to highlight her toughness against the callow young outsider. She was the deal-making insider, brimming with experience and the right connections, who would be ready to take that infamous 3 A.M. phone call at a time of national emergency. Clinton held an enormous lead in national polls throughout the entirety of 2007, even leading Obama by as much as 20 points in some surveys as late as December, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

But Clintons team was entitled. They were contemptuous of the obvious cultural and generational tides pushing against her, so twisted up by their defensive posture over the Iraq War and her shifting positions, that they closed Clintons Iowa campaign with a slogan by committee straight out of Veep: Big Challenges, Real Solutions: Time to Pick a President. When Oprah Winfrey announced her endorsement of Obama in late 2007, Clinton backer Tom Vilsack was hilariously dismissive. Im not sure who watches her, Vilsack said as Oprah and Obama packed arenas and stadiums in Iowa and South Carolina. Even as their staffs peddled negative stories about one another to the press, Clintons public strategy was largely to ignore Obama, until it was too late.

Electability became Clintons guiding light in that primary fight, in a way that ultimately turned toxic. Even as she faded in the delegate chase against Obama and was facing questions about why she remained in the race, Clinton reminded an editorial board in South Dakota that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated late in his campaign, so all the better to stick around until the bitter end. (She quickly apologized.) During the long Pennsylvania primary, after Obama was caught on tape at a San Francisco fund-raiser saying that working-class Americans can get bitter and cling to guns or religion, Clinton immediately targeted older white voters around the state by calling Obama elitist, and talking up her own fondness for church and firearms. Just a few months later, Sarah Palin would echo the charges against Obama in the very same Pennsylvania towns.

Clintons focus on winning became her reason for running, the message du jour for almost every day of that long primary slog, obscuring the core reasons she had to run for president, big ideas on health care, energy independence, and cleaning up the miasma in Iraq. All the while, Obama aimed straight for the hearts of primary voters, embracing his outsider status and anti-war pedigree in a way that dovetailed with the political moment. Like Clinton, he downplayed his identity in speeches. But he was not afraid to find ways to leverage his race to curry favor with black voters where he needed it. His skin color, like Hillarys gender, was a powerful symbol that moved and excited Democrats, even if it remained largely unspoken. The dynamic left the many other white guys in the 2008 race in the dust, particularly John Edwards, who was ever so gently making the case that he could better appeal to white moderate voters in red states, an argument that Biden is tiptoeing around today, even as rural whites have largely made a home in the Republican Party. Predictably, Edwardss electability plea fell on deaf Democratic ears. Voters, donors, and journalists were just interested in seeing other people. Edwardss always-forthcoming wife, Elizabeth, let her frustration over the matter show.

We cant make John black. We cant make him a woman, she told an interviewer in 2007. Those things get you a lot of press.

Electability campaigns havent always gone bust. Late in 2003, John Kerry was able to mount a comeback on the idea that he was best suited to confront George W. Bush in wartime, thanks to his service in Vietnam and his tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Democrats werent exactly gung ho about the charisma-deprived Kerry—aloof was the preferred adjective of the pundit class—but he entered the campaign as a front-runner nonetheless. The unexpected rise of Howard Dean, who ran hard against the Iraq War and ignited a powerful grassroots following, became concerning to many moderate Democrats who figured Dean was too liberal to take on Bush. Iowans shopped around and eventually settled on Kerry, who fizzled early in his race, but later emerged the consensus choice after the other horses failed to impress. A bumper sticker became popular at the time: Dated Dean. Married Kerry. Its not implausible to envision Biden hanging out by the altar come next February.

Kerry explicitly said, You want me on that debate stage against George W. Bush. I took the bullets, said Mark Kornblau, Kerrys press secretary in 2004. He projected strength in that primary in a way that was believable to voters. Kerry, I felt, captured the nomination based on a projection of strength that was comforting to Democrats who knew exactly who the occupant of the White House was.

Kornblau would go on to work for Edwards three years later, which gave him key insight about electability messages: they can actually work, if primary voters know who the opponent will be that November. Edwards and Clinton, each running on general-election viability in 2008, had no idea who would emerge as the Republican nominee, let alone that the worlds economy would begin to fray as Election Day approached. In Kerrys case, he could define himself and his foreign-policy agenda directly against Bush, the man in the White House prosecuting two wars. In 2008, everyone was running against an unknown, Kornblau told me. Democratic voters didnt have in their heads the Bush of 2004, or the Trump of 2020.

All of the Democrats running in 2020 have set their sights on Trump, but Biden seems most intent on rising above the internecine Democratic squabbles over identity and ideology, focusing squarely on Trump. Yet unlike Kerry, who ran against Bush in wartime as the electable national-security guy, the long-winded Son of Scranton has yet to attach his I-Can-Win message to a concise vision and set of values. Right now, Biden is just assumed to be the Guy Who Can Beat Trump, but do Democrats really know why? Saying I am electable for some demographic or primary campaign reason is not sellable, Kornblau said. Electability has to be a visceral feeling by the voter, not just a strategic move.

Given his nearly 50 years in American politics, Biden can authoritatively make the case that he is best equipped to step onto the global stage and be a competent, get-shit-done president after dispatching Trump. He would be wise to focus on his stature and what he would do in office, because Democrats have a fondness for thinking about whats next. Somewhere inside Bidens theory of electability is the hazy idea that 2020 will just be a do-over of 2016, only with a more inspiring candidate atop the ticket. Bernie Sanders is offering a similar promise with the Revolution 2.0: that the essential malfunction of 2016 was Clinton and her failure to inspire key voting groups in the right states. Electability means re-running the same program with a new input, like that scene in Waynes World 2 when Wayne swaps out the D-list actor at the gas station for Charlton Heston. But that feels like a miscalculation. The next presidential election will not be like the last one. They never are. So who knows what electable really means? Does it mean playing it safe with a seventysomething white man when the country just elected a raft of millennials, women, African-Americans, Muslims, gays, and bisexuals to governors mansions, city halls, and Congress, many of them in suburban swing districts and others in districts long held by Republicans? Legions of new Democratic voters were activated by Trumps election and last years midterms. If youre one of those Democrats, its difficult to look at the results of 2018 and not think that pretty much anyone, regardless of race, gender, or background, has a shot at winning.

We dont know what its going to take to beat Trump, said Amanda Litman, a former Hillary Clinton aide who co-founded Run For Something, a group that recruits Democrats to run for down-ballot offices. To assume that we do and act on that assumption, thats a dangerous risk. Part of electability is to inspire people, to pump people up, and also get their friends to show up. To cultivate a sort of fandom. Excitement and passion are contagious. Candidates who can do that will do better than those who cant. Or, as Ben Smith from BuzzFeed tweeted on Monday, Bizarre the extent to which the electability conversation leaves out the fact that the only Democrat elected in two decades is black.

Polls right now show Biden clobbering the Democratic field. Polls, too, show that Biden wins on the question of who can best beat Trump. But in a CNN poll last week, Sanders, ORourke, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg also beat Trump in head-to-head matchups. Another recent poll from CBS News and YouGov revealed that Democrats would prefer a female candidate over a man, a candidate of color over a white person, and a young nominee over an old one. Polls also reveal, shockingly, that most voters dont really know much about the rest of the candidates. What do all these numbers mean? Biden is popular and famous among Democrats, but primary voters are open to something different and want to hear more about the other candidates. Biden can still win, and should be treated as the front-runner. But he has nowhere to go but down. While polls are useful, they fail to account for Bidens terminal foot-in-mouth disease, the natural ebbs and flows of the news cycle, an ever-changing set of national issues and emergencies, the capacity of candidates to grow and change, or the volatility of the cable-news viewer who sits in the Oval Office. This is why we have campaigns. Be sure to remember that point about 2008 for your next cocktail party: Clinton was beating Obama by 20 points a month before she finished third in Iowa.

I wrote last year about the flimsiness of political punditry that classifies politicians according to their identity: the simplistic concept that women candidates are best positioned to win women, that white men will only vote for white men, that black voters will rally for black candidates. Research has shown that a candidates identity is not fixed. It is conditional on who they are running against in a campaign, what the issues are, and how voters see them in that floating context. Electability, too, is only a condition of the moment. Nothing about the term is predictive. It is always subject to change. At this point four years ago, the least electable person on the planet had not even taken his escalator ride down to the lobby of Trump Tower. Today, he is the president of the United States. So if Biden can surf this moment all the way to November 2020, well, it will be an enormous feat. A Big F–king Deal indeed.


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