The Atlantic Politics Daily: That Time Sanders Nearly Primaried Obama

Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot, but he’s still a looming presence over the crop of 2020 contenders. Plus: Is America in the first days of the Trump regime?

It’s Wednesday, February 19. Debate night, Vegas, 9 p.m. ET. See you there.

In today’s newsletter: The behind-the-scenes story of the time Bernie Sanders almost mounted a primary challenge against Barack Obama. Plus: Adam Serwer on the first days of the Trump regime.


When Bernie Sanders mounted his Senate run in 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama came to Vermont to campaign for him. (TOBY TALBOT / AP)

That Time Bernie Sanders Almost Primaried Barack Obama

Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot, but he’s still a looming presence over the crop of 2020 contenders. Obama is more popular among Democrats than Jesus (yes, really), and every candidate—Bernie Sanders included—has advertised their ties to the former president.

But Bernie and Barack don’t exactly have the warmest of relationships. Though 44 and front-runner-for-46 have both built large political movements within the Democratic Party, Sanders’s democratic socialism is a whole lot different than Obama’s establishment incrementalism.

But what exactly is the source of the bitterness between the two? My colleague Edward-Isaac Dovere has never-before-reported details on the animosity between them—from the time that Sanders nearly mounted a primary challenge to Obama in 2011, to when the two really butted heads a few years later:

The low point between the two men was a 2013 meeting with other Democratic senators. Obama had just put a chained Consumer Price Index in his budget, a proposal that would cut Social Security benefits by tying them to the rate of inflation. Many Senate Democrats were angry about it. But when they arrived for the meeting, it was Sanders who bubbled up, ripping into Obama for giving in to Republicans and not understanding the impact of the cuts.

“I don’t need a lecture,” Obama told him, according to several senators who attended the meeting.

Here’s Isaac’s full piece on the Bernie vs. Barack feud.

Obama himself isn’t expected to chime in until the convention this summer. That calculated silence is especially tough for one particular candidate … Obama’s own vice president. Joe Biden’s candidacy is largely predicated on his closeness to Obama, but in 2016, when Biden had pondered running for president, Obama had talked him out of it. What one Obama adviser told the then-veep:

“Do you really want it to end in a hotel room in Des Moines, coming in third to Bernie Sanders?”

—Saahil Desai


Six candidates take the stage tonight for the ninth (yes, ninth) Democratic primary debate. Here’s where we left them:

‣ Mike Bloomberg: He’s the Democratic debate stage’s newest face, but progressives can’t wait to rain on his parade.

Joe Biden: After two disappointing primary performances for the VP, was the Ukraine scandal more damaging for him than for Trump?

‣ Pete Buttigieg: It was everybody vs. Pete on the last debate stage. Another round in Vegas?

‣ Amy Klobuchar: After a New Hampshire surge, will the so-called “Klomentum” continue tonight?

‣ Bernie Sanders: Nevada will be his biggest test among Latino voters.

‣ Elizabeth Warren: New Hampshire might’ve been her last stand. Maybe?



The First Days of the Trump Regime

The signs that President Trump feels emboldened after his GOP-led acquittal in the Senate earlier this month. He’s retaliated against impeachment weaknesses, pressured his attorney general on Twitter, and claimed an “absolute right” to determine who the Justice Department prosecutes.

Those are the first steps toward an authoritarian government takeover, Adam Serwer writes:

These recent events are not the only evidence that the United States has entered a process of authoritarianization. Aside from Trump’s claim, effectively uncontested by Senate Republicans, that he can unilaterally direct the Justice Department to prosecute anyone he wants, Trump has asserted blanket authority to block congressional oversight. His office has claimed that he can blithely ignore congressional appropriations as he sees fit. The Republican-controlled Senate has ratified Trump’s authority to interfere in American elections, while helping install judges who understand that their paramount obligation is to shield Trump from accountability.

Read the full essay.


Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an associate editor on the Politics desk and Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

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