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D.C. Memo: A nation’s eyes turn to Minneapolis

Klobuchar’s big announcement; Trump’s schedule; inauguration investigation; and more.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaking to members of the press at the DFL gathering on Election Night.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

The D.C. Memo is a weekly recap of Washington political news, journalism, and opinion, delivered with an eye toward what matters for Minnesota. Sign up to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

Welcome to the D.C. Memo, once again coming to you not-from-D.C. This week, we’re writing from what is about to become, of course, the true center of the political universe: Minneapolis, where Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Sunday will announce … “something” — something that requires “hot cocoa, cookies, warming houses and live entertainment,” according to the notice her people sent the media this week. All of which means Klobuchar is totally running for president of the USA! That, or she’s taking over the organizing for Holidazzle. We’re going to be excited either way.

Even so, before we get to Klobuchella 2020, there’s a few other essential things to know from this week, though sadly none involve hot cocoa or warming houses. So let’s get to it:

Three big things (Non-Kloby division)

1. Leaky blinders: 
For the Trump administration, the week started out not with a bang, but with the hiss of a massive leak: On Sunday, Axios’ Jonathan Swan published a story examining the president’s private schedule since the 2018 midterms. Among other things, the documents revealed, “Trump has spent around 60 percent of his scheduled time over the past 3 months in unstructured ‘Executive Time,’” according to Axios. And yet, the leak was less important for what it revealed about Trump — we already knew the president spends a lot of time on “unstructured” activities like phone calls, tweeting and watching TV, after all — than for for what it said about the people who work for him. Indeed, as many a talking head has pointed out, the only reason to do this is to try and embarrass Trump; to stick it to the boss in a manner so aggressively passive-aggressive that it would be a shock if the leaker didn’t have some connection to Minnesota.

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2. A series of inaugurate events: Things didn’t get much better from there for the Trump folks. On Monday, the New York Times reported that federal prosecutors have ordered the president’s inaugural committee to turn over documents, like lots and lots of them:

The subpoena seeks documents related to all of the committee’s donors and guests; any benefits handed out, including tickets and photo opportunities with the president; federal disclosure filings; vendors; contracts; and more, one of the people said.

The new requests expand an investigation prosecutors opened late last year amid a flurry of scrutiny of the inaugural committee. And they showed that the investigations surrounding Mr. Trump, once centered on potential ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election, have spread far beyond the special counsel’s office to include virtually all aspects of his adult life: his business, his campaign, his inauguration and his presidency.

In the subpoena, investigators also showed interest in whether any foreigners illegally donated to the committee, as well as whether committee staff members knew that such donations were illegal, asking for documents laying out legal requirements for donations. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds.

It sounds more than a tad ludicrous to say some Trump activities have actually been under-covered by the media. And yet: As the Times piece hints at, the inauguration just might fit that bill, if only because of there remains a bunch of really basic questions that have yet to be answered about the whole thing. As ProPublica noted in story it reported with WNYC in December: “Trump’s 2017 inauguration committee, which was chaired by his friend the businessman Tom Barrack, raised nearly $107 million from donors including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and AT&T. The January 2017 festivities cost almost twice President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, previously the most expensive. … How the inaugural committee managed to spend all the money it raised remains a mystery, nearly two years after the event.”

3. The man with the draggin’ SOTU: There is a convincing argument out there that the State of the Union address is, well, pretty pointless, though even those who think that don’t usually go as far in their assessment as conservative commentator Kevin Williamson did a few years ago, when he somewhat famously called it “a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying.” Other than that, though, he loves it!

Anyway, it isn’t going anywhere, and on Tuesday night, Trump got his second shot at bringing his unique mojo to the speech. And reviews were… Ok, we guess. The Washington Post called it “dissonant” and “discordant,” while the Times said it “toggled between conciliation and confrontation,” and Politico called it “Zig zagging,” though — Politico being Politico — that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. At least it was long; it clocked in at the third-longest SOTU ever.

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Mostly, though, it was a chance for a lot of media outlets to do what they love to do with events that are made for TV: takeaways. So if you’ve already forgotten what was in the speech, here’s our takeaway on what you were supposed to have taken away from the speech:

USA Today’s 6 takeaways: “Bipartisanship”; “Border wall, government shutdown”; “‘Ridiculous investigations’”; “Infrastructure proposal”; “Lowering the cost of prescription drugs”; “Law to ban late-term abortions”

The Washington Post’s 5 takeaways: “A discordant call for unity”; “A call for a wall, but no demand”; “A double-down on withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria”; “Areas for compromise?”; “The women’s white-out — and a bipartisan celebration”

The New York Times’ 6 takeaways: “No national emergency. Yet”; “Mr. Trump suggested that investigations into his conduct posed a threat to national security”; “He attempted to unite divided Republicans”; “He defended his record on women’s issues”; “As President Trump veered into immigration, partisan tension soared”; “The women in white took their bows.”

The Guardian’s 6 takeaways: “Trump pitches bipartisanship while pushing his own agenda”: “Trump pitches bipartisanship while pushing his own agenda”; “On immigration, a dark tone and scare tactics prevail”; “Trump celebrates women in moment rife with irony”; Trump’s foreign policy doctrine: no more ‘endless wars’; “Trump denounces socialism in 2020 election preview”

The Decision: Klobuchar takin’ her talents to the 2020 race?

After months of talking, teasing and deliberating, Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign sent a notice to the media earlier this week that she would be making a “major” announcement on Sunday. Notably, the words “president,” “presidential” and “2020” did not appear in the statement, though it did mention that she will make this mysterious announcement “in Minnesota, where she built a strong grassroots organization and garnered over 60 percent of the vote — winning all eight congressional districts and 42 counties that voted for Trump in 2016 — in her reelection bid in 2018, and led a state ticket that experienced historic victories: winning the Governor’s office, every statewide constitutional office, took back control of the Minnesota State House for the first time since 2014 and elected five women to represent Minnesota in Congress.”

The assumption, of course, is that the Senator Next Door will be officially throwing her hat in the ring to be the President next door — even Walter Mondale couldn’t help but speculate about it — and the announcement set of a wave of national analysis on her popularity, her potential appeal to voters, and the odds of her prevailing in what is already a very crowded field. “Aside from ideology, it’s her disposition that most separates her from the field of high-wattage, inspirational voices that are populating the presidential field,” wrote The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. “If one thinks that the country is ready for a sober, calm and self-contained figure, someone in control of her emotions and in command of her facts, Klobuchar might be the right candidate. Her biggest problem might arise if former vice president Joe Biden, cast in the role of Democratic centrist, enters the race.”

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But there’s a big difference between being a maybe-sorta candidate and being an actual candidate, which became apparent almost immediately after Klobuchar’s announcement of her announcement. Wednesday afternoon, HuffPost published a story about how Klobuchar treats staff, including the charge that, “At least three people have withdrawn from consideration to lead Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s nascent 2020 presidential campaign — and done so in part because of the Minnesota Democrat’s history of mistreating her staff.”

In response, Klobuchar’s office pointed HuffPost to other ex-staffers who raved about her: “‘I’ve heard people say she’s tough to work for and I sometimes cringe when I hear it because I rarely hear that said about male bosses in Congress despite the fact that half of Congress is tough to work for,’ said Tristan Brown, a former legislative aide who called Klobuchar ‘probably the most brilliant, hardworking person I’ve had the privilege to work for,’” HuffPo reported.

And, not for nothing, but HuffPo also wrote that ex-staffers, “question whether former co-workers who thought she was abusive were falling for sexist stereotypes about female leaders with high standards.”

A fair question. But this not the first time that the issue has been raised, and — fairly or not — it’s probably not going to be the last. Back in November, in an otherwise positive piece on the senator, the Times noted: “On Capitol Hill, Ms. Klobuchar’s reputation is not all sweetness and light; she is said to be brutal to work for. A survey of senators by the website LegiStorm found that from 2001 to 2016, her office had the highest turnover, which earned her a prominent mention in a Politico article headlined “The ‘Worst Bosses’ in Congress?” (By 2017, two colleagues — John Kennedy of Louisiana and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland — had surpassed her.) She acknowledged that she is demanding: “I have high expectations.”

The week in takes

Your weekend longread

A lot has been written about Foxconn’s deal with the State of Wisconsin to build a massive plant in the southeast part of the state. But nobody has dug as deep as Bloomberg Businessweek writer Austin Carr, who talked to dozens of people involved with the project for this story, “Inside Wisconsin’s Disastrous $4.5 Billion Deal With Foxconn,”a piece that makes it abundantly clear that the project will never, ever live up to the hype that initially greeted it:

Interviews with 49 people familiar with Foxconn’s Wisconsin project, including more than a dozen current and former employees close to its efforts there, show how hollow the boosters’ assurances have been all along. While Foxconn for months declined requests to interview executives, insiders describe a chaotic environment with ever-changing goals far different from what Trump and others promised. Walker and the White House declined to comment for this story, although a Trump administration official says the White House would be “disappointed” by any reduced investment. The only consistency, many of these people say, lay in how obvious it was that Wisconsin struck a weak deal. Under the terms Walker negotiated, each job at the Mount Pleasant factory is projected to cost the state at least $219,000 in tax breaks and other incentives. The good or extra-bad news, depending on your perspective, is that there probably won’t be 13,000 of them.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for sticking around. Until next week, feel free to send tips, suggestions, and sound advice to: