The Morning Jolt


Can Warren Emerge as the Biden Alternative?

Senator Elizabeth Warren during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: New reports indicate that guards responsible for Jeffrey Epstein fell asleep and missed several hours of routine checks; Elizabeth Warren settles into the top tier of the Democratic primary along with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders; and another Democratic hopeful, Julian Castro, took out an ad on Fox News blaming President Trump for the El Paso shooting.

The Epstein Mystery Carries On

New reports out this morning indicate that the failure of responsibility that allowed financer and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein to apparently commit suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City was more widespread than we initially thought. Here are details from the New York Times:

The two staff members who were guarding the jail unit where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself fell asleep and failed to check on him for about three hours, then falsified records to cover up their mistake, according to several law enforcement and prison officials with knowledge of the matter.

Those disclosures came on Tuesday as the two employees were placed on administrative leave and the warden of the jail . . . was temporarily reassigned, pending the outcome of the investigation into Mr. Epstein’s death, the Justice Department announced.

The two staff members in the special housing unit where Mr. Epstein was held — 9 South — falsely recorded in a log that they had checked on the financier, who was facing sex trafficking charges, every 30 minutes, as was required, two of the officials said. Such false entries in an official log could constitute a federal crime.

This wasn’t the first indication in the case that someone, or several people, were asleep on the job — whether literally or figuratively. Just six days after Epstein reportedly attempted to commit suicide in late July, he was removed from suicide watch and returned to a normal cell, with a cellmate. According to the Times, that inmate later was transferred out of Epstein’s cell, leaving him alone on the night he apparently killed himself.

This latest news comes just after the Department of Justice announced late last night that the correctional officers guarding Epstein’s unit on the night of his death had been placed on leave and that the warden of the MCC had been reassigned. Those decisions were made by Attorney General William Barr, who is overseeing an investigation into what happened at the center that allowed Epstein to die.

Reporting from the Wall Street Journal indicates that systemic problems with the federal Bureau of Prisons, and specifically the MCC, were largely responsible:

The staffing shortage has forced prison officials to fill the void with secretaries, counselors and teachers within the prison who step in as correctional officers, a practice known as “augmentation.” Lawmakers in recent months have urged the Justice Department to stop relying on the practice, warning it puts employees in harm’s way.

At the Metropolitan Correctional Center, which housed Mr. Epstein, the staff was so overworked that some were sleeping in their cars because they were too tired to drive home, according to Darrell Palmer, a regional vice president for the federal prison union.

“When you don’t have the proper amount of staff to run a prison, bad things happen,” Mr. Palmer said. “It’s just systemic across the United States.”

This latest news will certainly ratchet up already bipartisan pressure on the investigation to determine exactly how and why Epstein didn’t make it to his court date.

Elizabeth Warren Settles into the Top Tier of the Democratic Primary

As the long summer of campaigning wears on, it’s fairly clear that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has become one of two candidates vying for the second-place spot behind current primary frontrunner, former vice president Joe Biden.

Warren has been swapping places with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in nearly every poll of the race since the last primary debates at the end of July, and in national surveys, she’s more consistently coming in second. In fact, according to Morning Consult data, Warren was the only top-tier candidate to get a bump in polling following her performance in those debates, rising from 13 to 15 percent support.

Now, she seems to have settled, with Sanders, into a competition for second place. Here’s a rundown of the most recent surveys released over the last week. The August IBD/TIPP survey puts Biden at 30 percent, Warren at 17, and Sanders at twelve. Quinnipiac shows Biden with 32 percent support, Warren with 21, and Sanders with 14. Data from the latest Economist/YouGov survey shows Biden in a narrower lead, at 25 percent compared to Warren’s 18 and Sanders’s 13.

Two polls, meanwhile, show Sanders in second place: SurveyUSA puts Biden at 33 percent, Sanders at 20, and Warren close behind at 19, and yesterday’s Politico/Morning Consult data are similar, with Biden again at 33 percent, Sanders again at 20, and Warren dropping to 14.

For Warren, it’s probably worth celebrating that she’s managed to step out above the middle of the pack, and for now, at least, has put some distance between herself and California Senator Kamala Harris — who after June’s primary debates appeared poised to settle into second place behind Biden.

A recent analysis in the Washington Post suggested Warren’s main concern at the moment, even as she rises in the polls, ought to be electability. More from the Post:

Warren is not only among the most liberal candidates in the 2020 field; she’s also an older, white, intellectual woman running in the aftermath of the Hillary Clinton debacle, and she follows in a long line of failed presidential nominees from Massachusetts. Dukakis ’88. Kerry ’04. Romney ’12. It’s entirely too easy to caricature her as a liberal-elite former Harvard professor whom President Trump could drub with those oh-so-important working-class white voters. . . .

Quinnipiac University poll Tuesday showed Warren rising to 21 percent in the Democratic primary field — six points higher than last week, and her best showing to date in any national poll. The same poll, though, showed just 9 percent of Democratic primary voters viewed her as the most electable. So more than half of her supporters say they’ll vote for her but don’t say she’s the most likely to beat Trump.

As has been the case throughout 2019 — including in recent Washington Post-ABC News polling — that distinction belongs to former vice president Joe Biden, with 49 percent saying he had the best chance.

Maintaining a solid spot competing for second place might not mean a whole lot, given that Biden seems to have a lock on the frontrunner position, running double digit margins on his competitors. But at this stage of the race, and given how prone he is to missteps of his own, keeping up with him might be good enough.

Julian Castro Once Again Blames Trump for El Paso — This Time in an Ad

If President Trump was watching his favorite news program — Fox & Friends — this morning, he likely got a rude interruption in the form of a television ad from Democratic primary candidate Julian Castro. The presidential hopeful took out a 30-second spot during the show to address a message directly to the president, blaming him for the recent mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

“As we saw in El Paso, Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racists,” says Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “Innocent people were shot down because they look different from you because they look like me. They look like my family.”

Castro isn’t the first Democratic candidate to blame the president for the anti-immigrant violence. After the shooting, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke said Trump is “causing this” by being “an open, avowed racist.” New Jersey senator Cory Booker declared Trump “responsible” for the attack. Several candidates, meanwhile, have insisted that Trump is a white supremacist.

For Democrats, it isn’t enough to criticize Trump’s rhetoric as being unpresidential or inadvisable. They always have to take it a step further, beyond defensible arguments, and make Trump out to be the cartoon villain they’re longing to run against.

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