NDN Blog

Monday Musings on the 2016 Political Landscape

Monday, October 12th - here we go:

The Rise of the Reactionaries - What a week. The GOP repudiation of its establishment – something evident in the Presidential – has gone to a whole new level now. This dynamic may be the most important early dynamic in the 2016 cycle so far. And with all sorts of important work to do in Congress – a budget, debt ceiling, TPP, Ex-Im, transportation/infrastructure, the Middle East, immigration reform – there isn’t going to be a honeymoon for the new Speaker and House GOP leadership team. Be sure to read my long form magazine piece on what is driving the rise of reactionary politics inside the GOP.

Polling – No significant shifts this week. Trump and Carson still stand atop the GOP field, with Bush showing continued weakness and everyone else fighting to get in the game. On the Dem side, the story remains Bernie Sanders’ very strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire and his ability to match Clinton on money. Clinton still holds a strong national lead among Democrats and has established what some consider a firewall in South Carolina and Nevada. While I am not a big believer in political firewalls, her strength and Sander’s weakness in these late February states is meaningful.

The Democrats Debate – The 1st Democratic debate is tomorrow, Tuesday October 13th on CNN at 9pm. Be sure to watch and encourage everyone you know to do so too. Clearly will be a big moment in the campaign.  I offered some thoughts on how the Democrats can improve their debate schedule and close the gap with the GOP in a new op-ed here. Also recommend this new piece from Greg Sargent on why it is time for the Vice President to make his decision.

HRC and TPP – At this point, I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s opposition to TPP will make a big difference in what is likely to be a spring vote. The Dems who supported TPA are likely to hold, though her opposition may make it harder for the President to pick up support in his own party. The real question now is how the new anti-establishment dynamic affects the GOP and their ability to work with the President in a Presidential election year.

Going to be a remarkable political year ahead! 

Getting to Yes on TPP

The five year long effort to update and modernize the global trading system through the innovative Trans-Pacific Partnership took a giant step forward on Monday with the announcement of a final deal. This was a huge accomplishment for the Obama Administration and USTR Mike Froman. Now comes debate over the terms of the deal in the 12 countries, including our own. Our assumption is that the vote in the US will come in the spring of 2016, giving the American people and its leaders six full months to debate the deal. We will be gearing up for what will no doubt be a contentious but meaningful debate - saddle up NDNers! For more from us, see this new TPP "Backgrounder" we've put together, and for a deeper dive you can see me on what was a terrific panel discussion on Wednesday at the Washington International Trade Association. Of note in that package is the two polling presentations - well worth a review.

On Dem debates: progress, but more to do - 3 steps the DNC should take next

So, give credit where credit is due. This week the DNC took a few important steps to close the gap with the superior RNC debate schedule:

- First, it began letting people the debates, including the first one this Tuesday October 13th, was coming. The overall promotion is still far less than what is appropriate given how central these debates are to the DNC this election cycle but it is a start. Asking all Democrats to watch the upcoming debates, making the watching of these debates central to what it means to be a Democrats and driving viewership to these debates should become the primary mission of the DNC over the six months. As I’ve written elsewhere, the RNC simply built a far better and smarter debate schedule, and the DNC has to become obsessed with closing the gap. Using the immense database of the DNC and all the other tools at its disposal to drive viewership to the debates has to become far more important than it is. 

- Second, the strategy behind the newly announced dates for the 5th and 6th debates is good. They both take place during the week (unlike debates 2-4 which are on the weekends) when viewership is much higher, and they in that magic window between Feb 1 and Mar 15th when almost 60% of all eligible voters will vote.

So while there is some good news here, the DNC still needs to do more. Even with the improved DNC plan, the RNC’s superior debate schedule (more debates, more weekdays, better media partners, closer to the actual voting when more people are paying attention) guarantees them hundreds of millions of additional impressions over the life of the debates. This gap is so huge and so consequential that the DNC must do more to attempt to close it. In previous op-eds on MSNBC and in Time, I have suggested possible changes to the current DNC strategy, but whatever the DNC does to do to try to close the gap there are three things it must do in the coming weeks

Move the New Hampshire debate - This all important debate has been scheduled for December 19th, the Saturday night before Christmas. Simply this may be the single worst weekend of the entire year to schedule a debate if the goal is to get viewers. So the debate should be moved either to early December or early to Mid January. There are plenty of open weekends in that window, but of course it would be best to find a night during the week to gain maximum audience

Add another debate in late February, early March - Almost 60% of eligible voters will vote in the February 1 through March 15th window, with 21 states voting in the first two weeks of March alone. This two week crush will involve far more states and media markets than the general election will, and no candidate, no matter how much money they have, will be able to run an immersive paid and free media effort in these 21 states at the same time. So what this means is that for many of those voters the only real contact they will have with the campaign is through a debate. Understanding this, the RNC has schedule 4 and perhaps 5 English language debates during this magic window. The DNC has only one, February 11th in Wisconsin. Ideally the DNC should add 2-3 more during this window to match the RNC, but at this point adding one more in a large state like Ohio is a must at this point. The current approach is not providing enough information to Democratic voters to make up their minds, and will also certainly guarantee very low turnouts and lost party building opportunities in these critical states.

Be Open to More Debates - The rigid defense of an insufficient debate schedule hasn’t really made a lot of sense given how many important party leaders and leading Presidential candidates have suggested that the DNC makes improvements. But where the schedule is most indefensible is in the insistence only six debates with the last English language debate taking place on February 11th, when only 2 states will have voted. The primaries are scheduled to go through June, and in 2008 Clinton did not concede until early June. In addition to adding a debate in late February or early March, the DNC should say, publically, that they are open to more debates between March 15th and June if the nomination fight is still raging. The current schedule ensures there is no English language debate when 98% of the country is voting. We can do better.

A few additional points:

Be creative, engage Millennials – There are lot of other ways to reach voters than the traditional debate approach with old fashioned media partners. Innovative ways of the candidates reaching voters should be explored with newer media outlets like Yahoo News, YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, Huffington Post, Twitter, Buzzfeed and even services like Twitch. Garnering strong support from the Millennial generation – the largest generation in history - is arguably the Democrat’s highest strategic priority this cycle and more must be done to engage Millennials this cycle.

Use the DNC database and website – One thing the DNC should do immediately is announce that they are going to live stream every major candidate appearance by all the candidates including Larry Lessig for the remainder of the cycle. Every forum like the New Hampshire Democratic Party annual event a few weeks ago should be live streamed, recorded, put on you tube and promoted through the vast and powerful DNC database and social media assets. The DNC could use young and interesting party leaders like Tulsi Gabbard, the Castro brothers,Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Gavin Newsom. Joe Kennedy, Cory Booker or some of this cycle’s terrific Senate and House candidates to “host” these events, garnering exposure to a next generation of thoughtful leaders who could use far more national exposure. Short packaged 60 or 90 second videos, designed for younger more digitally inclined viewers could be created. If done right, these events will garner far more viewers and impressions than Saturday afternoon candidate forums on cable news networks.

The bottom line:

The RNC has produced a far better approach to showcase their candidates than the DNC has this cycle. The good news is that there is time for the DNC to take steps to close that gap. Some of the steps required have to do with the debate schedule, but the Committee could also become far more creative in finding other ways to bring its candidates and emerging leaders to the public. The very small and relatively old Democratic field, coupled with an inadequate debate schedule, means that the Party is not sufficiently building the public profile of an emerging generation of leaders, as the Republicans are this cycle, and often happens in a Presidential nomination fight. The DNC should do more to acknowledge this strategic challenge and take create, aggressive steps to ameliorate it, starting with some of the suggestions I’ve spelled out here. Failure to do so will not only hurt the Democrats in 2016, but could also do harm to the party for years to come.

President Obama On TPP

Following the completion of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama released this statement: 


Office of the Press Secretary


October 5, 2015

Statement by the President on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

 I've spent every day of my presidency fighting to grow our economy and strengthen our middle class. That means making sure our workers have a fair shot to get ahead here at home, and a fair chance to compete around the world. My approach to trade has been guided by a unifying principle: leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses, so we can export more products stamped Made in America all over the world that support higher-paying American jobs here at home.

Over the summer, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together to help the United States negotiate agreements for free and fair trade that would support our workers, our businesses, and our economy as a whole. When more than 95 percent of our potential customers live outside our borders, we can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy. We should write those rules, opening new markets to American products while setting high standards for protecting workers and preserving our environment.

That’s what the agreement reached today in Atlanta will do. Trade ministers from the 12 nations that make up the Trans-Pacific Partnership finished negotiations on an agreement that reflects America’s values and gives our workers the fair shot at success they deserve.  

This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products. It includes the strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and those commitments are enforceable, unlike in past agreements. It promotes a free and open Internet. It strengthens our strategic relationships with our partners and allies in a region that will be vital to the 21st century. It’s an agreement that puts American workers first and will help middle-class families get ahead.

Once negotiators have finalized the text of this partnership, Congress and the American people will have months to read every word before I sign it. I look forward to working with lawmakers from both parties as they consider this agreement. If we can get this agreement to my desk, then we can help our businesses sell more Made in America goods and services around the world, and we can help more American workers compete and win.


Monday Musings on 2016

In this new feature, I offer my weekly thoughts on the 2016 race. To see previous entries, click the "Monday Musings" tag. 

- The 1st Democratic debate is eight days away, Tuesday night October 13th. Will be a big night for all the candidates, and an important moment in the 2016 campaign. The biggest news heading into next week is the strength of Bernie Sanders. He is leading in NH and in some polls in IA, and is now competitive with Hillary Clinton on resources. As I said in this recent Time magazine article, Democrats don’t do coronations, and it sure looks like the Democratic race has become competitive (even without the potential entry of Joe Biden). Important to acknowledge that the Clinton campaign has shown of late a degree of creativity and confidence, however, that has been in short supply over the past few months. That in of itself is a true sign the campaign is heating up!

- The GOP field seems to be winnowing now, with Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio, Bush and Cruz still in the hunt. Not sure there is room left for the rest. It is growing increasingly unlikely that the GOP will nominate a traditional, establishment candidate. As we are also seeing in the leadership fight in the House, the energy now in the GOP is in rejecting the Bush era “establishment” GOP and ushering in a new and different GOP.

- The McCarthy “slip” has become another critical moment in the 2016 cycle. Kathleen Parker captures the sentiment many GOPers have about what happened, and how McCarthy is now, even if he wins, another in a long line of wannabe GOP leaders who just have not been able to play the game at the big league level.

Till next week!

Invite: Thur 10/8 - Simon to give talk at Tufts University

Next week Simon will join students at his alma mater Tufts University. He will be sit down with students to discuss his career, the current political landscape and more.

The event starts at 6 pm at Tisch College. For more details, including to rsvp visit this page here. If you have any children or friends that go to Tufts, we encourage them to join Simon at this event!

Getting Serious About Helping Puerto Rico

I recently penned a major op-ed in the Hill, "Getting Serious About Helping Puerto Rico." The story appears today in both the print and digitial editions. You can find the digital version here or below. 

Getting serious about helping Puerto Rico
By Simon Rosenberg

Whatever the United States government does in the coming months to help Puerto Rico, it is important that policymakers act with a deep sense of urgency about the scale of the problem the island faces. The crisis is far more than a fiscal one. If working-age and young Puerto Ricans continue to leave the island at current rates, soon the island will hit a demographic tipping point where the ratio of retiree to worker will make it nearly impossible to ever restore to a virtuous cycle of economic growth and prosperity. Simply put, we have to get it right this time or the future of Puerto Rico will be very bleak indeed.

Getting it right also means that policymakers in the United States will have to accept two inconvenient truths: The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens and deserve the same kind of attention the people on the mainland would receive, and our Congress has played a significant role in helping push Puerto Rico to the brink. There is little doubt that years of bad governance and fiscal management by both political parties in Puerto Rico are the central cause of today’s crisis. But as Washington readies to act, acknowledging that a series of decisions by the U.S. Congress — including the removal of a job-generating tax break a decade ago and inequitable treatment of Puerto Ricans across many U.S. government programs — have made matters worse. In practical terms, this means that the only way to truly address the crisis will be through deep, sustained coordination among the administration, Congress and political leaders of both parties on the island, as everyone will have to do their part, together.

Given the coming elections in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and rancorous politics in both Washington and San Juan, how will this level of complicated political cooperation be established? I’ve come to believe that the only way forward will be through a package of joint Washington and San Juan led reforms that include establishing an inclusive federal financial control board akin to what was successfully implemented in New York and Washington, D.C. decades ago. 

For Puerto Ricans, the virtue of a federal financial control board are: 1) It has worked before; 2) despite a well-intentioned reform package from the Padilla administration, it is highly unlikely that the Congress and international financial markets will view any locally led, partisan-led reform effort to be credible; and 3) it binds the United States to the process, preventing it from walking away and not doing its part in restoring prosperity to the millions of American citizens on the island.

For Puerto Ricans wary of this level of federal involvement in their affairs, it is important to remember that here in Washington, D.C., the head of our control board became so politically popular that he was able to run, win and become a very successful mayor of our city. In this case, like is often the case, the very best politics is good governance. Local leaders in Puerto Rico will only be rewarded now through results, not empty posturing or overly cautious measures.

In exchange for San Juan accepting and participating in a federal financial control board, Washington should agree to:

Treat Puerto Ricans as Americans. Without diving into the clearly antiquated political status question of the island, what is simply true is that Puerto Ricans are American citizens and should be treated as such. Over the years, Congress has often treated the residents of Puerto Rico as second-class citizens, repeatedly legislating inequitable treatment and funding. These discrepancies should be addressed, and in programs including Medicare and Medicaid, parity should be restored. This is not just about equity. Taking these steps will provide a short-term fiscal stimulus, help stem the flow of healthcare professionals and other productive workers from the island and make an economic recovery far more likely.

Amend U.S. bankruptcy laws. The same laws that apply to U.S. states should apply to Puerto Rico. Congress should amend current U.S. bankruptcy law to allow San Juan to restructure its municipal and public corporate debt. This step would enable a rapid, orderly restructuring of almost all of Puerto Rico’s debt without taking on the general obligation debt — a risky step that could cause a legal, political and financial backlash strong enough to interfere with the implementation of the rest of the reform package.

Focus on sustained growth and prosperity. The U.S. government should begin a serious dialogue with the island’s political, economic and civil society leaders about its long-term economic future. Congress’s ending of the 936 tax credits for U.S. businesses investing on the island a decade ago stripped Puerto Rico of its primary economic development approach without offering an alternative. A new approach is needed, and as Rob Shaprio and I wrote recently, Puerto Rico should look to Ireland as its inspiration for crafting a 21st century economic strategy. Thirty years ago Ireland set out to become a low-cost manufacturing platform for multinationals seeking access to the vast European market. Puerto Rico, with its wonderful climate, extraordinary natural beauty and direct access to the North American (Canada, Mexico, U.S.) market, should adopt a similar approach to foreign multinationals looking to break into this region. With such a farsighted plan, Ireland was able to attract more than 1,000 multinationals over a 20-year period. The U.S. and Puerto Rico should study this model and build some of its premises into its coming fiscal reform plan.

The economic and fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico was many years in the making, and there is plenty of blame to go around in both Washington and San Juan for how we got here. But it is important now for the leaders in both capitals to realize the gravity of the situation and find a coordinated and respectful path forward that gives the millions of American citizens in Puerto Rico the future every American deserves.


"Getting Serious About Helping Puerto Rico," is the latest in a series of thought pieces NDN has written on the crisis. Feel free to review these other pieces, in both Spanish and English:


Monday Musings on 2016

I'm going to start a new weekly look at 2016 and the broader political environment.  Check back Monday mornings for this new feature from NDN - Simon

We are in the midst of an extraordinary political period here in Washington. The remarkable Papal visit, the end of Boehner, a Chinese state visit, Putin’s offensive, the UN today, a possible govt shutdown, and of course Bryce Harper getting strangled in the Nats dugout by a Phillies pitcher. Some observations on this big week:

- The GOP “establishment” that was formed through two Bush Presidencies and Boehner’s Speakership has lost its hold on power, perhaps for good. You see it in the Presidential race now w/the rise of Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Cruz and even to some degree Rubio, and we see it now in the House. A new GOP is emerging now, and it is still too early to tell where it will go, but it is unlikely to be in more constructive direction than the current path. It is also increasingly hard to imagine how Jeb Bush survives in this new dynamic (and he has already moved into the second tier of the GOP field).

- The first Democratic debate is in two weeks, Tuesday October 13th. Given how much the two GOP debates affected their their field (Walker and Bush faded, Carly, Carson and Rubio gained) the Dem CNN debate is shaping up to a very consequential event in the 2016 campaign. Don’t make any plans that night!

- As I argued on this segment from the O’Reilly Factor on Friday night, it is time for the US to adopt a new strategy for Syria. Bringing about a political settlement, and fighting more effectively against ISIS appears to be the next big thing on the President’s plate. We will be watching for hints of a new strategy in the President’s UN speech this morning.

Till next week....

Video: Simon on the O'Reilly Factor discussing Syria, Russia

Last Friday, Simon joined Eric Boiling on the O'Reilly Factor to discuss a path forward for Syria.  He argued the US must now proceed on two tracks: finding a political resolution to the civil war, and stepping up our efforts to defeat ISIS. 


President Obama's 2015 UN Speech

NDN, like many, was impressed by the President’s speech at the 70th United Nations General Assembly. Be sure to take a look at the video below and read a transcript of it here.

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