The 2020 Democratic race is underway. Here are 5 takeaways

Washington (CNN)Democrats got their first side-by-side view of the biggest names vying to lead the party — and potentially its ticket against President Donald Trump in 2020.

More than a dozen senators, governors and House members got their first chance to flash their personalities, policy platforms and cases against Trump in front of a largely establishment audience at an “Ideas Conference” hosted by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.
Here are five takeaways from the first potential candidate showcase of the 2020 election cycle:

    The problem with focusing on Trump

    Democrats sense that they’re in the middle of a drop-everything moment, where nothing matters more to their voters than fighting Trump with everything they’ve got.
    But those who want to lead the party in 2020 and beyond know they need to offer an optimistic and policy-focused message of their own, too.
    The problem is, the transition from issuing dire warnings about the immediate emergency to selling a vision for a post-Trump America isn’t a smooth one.
    The messaging challenge facing Democrats was on display Tuesday. Most speakers simply attacked Trump at the outset of their remarks, and then — with no real transition — moved on to the policy topic they’d been assigned for the day.
    Two senators seen as 2020 presidential prospects did try, though, to offer a cohesive vision.
    New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker cast Trump as another of the “demagogues” — Joseph McCarthy and Father Charles Coughlin were others he cited — that have been obstacles to overcome in the arc of history.
    “I want to fight in this climate. I want to dedicate myself,” Booker said. “But we cannot just be a party of resistance — we’ve got to be a party that’s reaffirming the American dream.”
    Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a much more Trump-focused case.
    She cast Trump’s sharing of highly sensitive intelligence with Russian officials and his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey as symptoms of a political elite run amok.
    “Concentrated money and concentrated power are corrupting our democracy and becoming dangerously worse with Donald Trump in the White House,” she said.
    The ideas on display here were broadly familiar. Many of the key talking points echoed the core principles that guided Hillary Clinton’s campaign. They spoke soberly about technocratic solutions to all manner of economic displacement. Trump was dismissed as a craven bully.
    “We can’t allow Twitter wars to become shooting wars,” former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice said to applause. Close your eyes, change a sentence here and there, and it could have been the late summer of 2016.
    The touchier policy questions roiling the left in the Trump era were mostly glossed over. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper spoke with conviction, but the particulars — “Investment in education has got to be all the way from birth through higher education” — were gauzy and familiar. The repeated nods, over and again, to coal miners felt like clumsy lip service. (The whiplash came when Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley suggested, to cheers, that the US “put every coal electricity generating plant into a museum by the year 2050.”)

    The 2020 anti-Trump messaging test drive

    It’s 42 months from Election Day 2020 — but Democrats seen as presidential prospects used the first “cattle call” of the new cycle to take their best shots at Trump.
    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand focused on Monday night’s report that Trump had shared classified information with Russian officials in the Oval Office last week. “Last night’s reporting has taken us to a whole new level of abnormal. The President is truly creating chaos,” she said.
    For Warren, it was all economic inequality, all the time.
    “The swamp is bigger, deeper, uglier and filled with more corrupt creatures than ever before in history,” Warren said.
    “The CEO of Exxon-Mobil is now the secretary of state. Goldman Sachs now has enough people in the White House to open a branch office,” she said. “Do you get the feeling that if Bernie Madoff weren’t in prison, that he’d be in charge of the SEC right now?”
    Sen. Kamala Harris, a California freshman who many Democrats see as a rising star, harshly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ push for harsher sentences for drug-related crimes — and accused Trump and Sessions of “reviving the failed war on drugs.”
    Another Harris swipe at Trump carried racial, geographic and urban vs. rural implications. “We need this administration to understand that if they care about the opioid crisis in rural America as they say they do, they have also got to care about the drug-addicted young man in Chicago or East LA,” she said.

    The names you didn’t hear

    Specifically: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
    Tuesday’s event was an opportunity for new Democratic leaders to take the stage without a former president or presidential candidate seizing the limelight. But it was impossible to ignore the shadow those figures still cast over their party.
    Clinton’s name rarely came up — but occasionally, Democrats did take implicit shots at her 2016 campaign.
    Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar pointed out that Clinton’s campaign did not pay attention to rural towns.
    “Winning candidates do that,” she said.
    Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — a two-time statewide winner in a place Trump cruised — faulted the party for what he called an over-reliance on analytics and its focus on turning out the base.
    Democrats should worry more, he said, “about really offering voters a reason to vote for a Democrat for president.”
    “From my perspective, Democrats need to do a better job of showing up, making an argument — even in places where people are likely to disagree,” he said.

    Not all the cattle showed up for this ‘call’

    If this was Democrats’ first semi-formal gathering of potential 2020 nominees, it was an incomplete one.
    To the extent Tuesday’s speakers were competing, it was to define their particular styles and cadences. The room was full of friends. When Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime party fundraiser and Clinton super supporter, delivered his spirited argument about the importance of redistricting reform, his exaggerated drawl drew only warm smiles.
    Warren, who probably tracks as far left as anyone of the keynote speakers, delivered the most round and polished remarks. Her decision to so vocally support Clinton in 2016 seems to have won her the trust of the party’s liberal professional class.
    But even as the politicians preached inclusion, it was, perhaps oddly, the panel titled, “The Resistance,” that spoke in the harshest terms about the absent “cattle.”
    Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas dismissed “that grassroots Bernie (Sanders) thing” as a corrosive element that would forestall Democratic victories, even suggesting the Berniecrat call to win over working class whites was a cover — “code,” he called it — for uglier ambitions.
    “There’s a changing of the guard in progressive leadership to one where women and marginalized communities are centered. It doesn’t mean they’re part of the party anymore, they’re leading it. And there is some resistance among some corners of that, and you see it in things like people saying, ‘Well we need to reach out to working class people,'” Moulitsos said. “Because, you know, none of us know any working class people in our communities.”
    Sanders was not present because CAP, as a spokeswoman explained, did not offer invitations to anyone who had previously run for president.
    Still, the absence of anyone — Warren aside — who might feasibly win his and his supporters’ enthusiastic support gave the event a narrower feeling.

    Few new ideas on health care

    Democrats here were prepared to fight and die in defense of Obamacare. Activists and organizers onstage and off pointed to the Republican bill as the party’s ticket back to a House majority.
    The language was stark. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the Republican bill “deadly” and “the most damaging bill for women in legislative history.”
    Of all the issues coming down the pike, health care is “the huge one,” Indivisible Project co-founder Leah Greenberg told CNN before her panel discussion.
    And still, the elephant in the room went unaddressed. Through a full day of speeches, group discussions, and one-on-one chats, the question of what, specifically, Democrats would pursue and sell voters — beyond preserving and beefing up the ACA — went unanswered.
    Single-payer health care, or “Medicare-for-all,” a demand of the progressive left movement led by Sanders, never came up. No one for, no one against — though by its absence, the message was clear. Democrats in Washington, and those who perhaps aspire to careers in the city, are still choosing caution.
    Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, praised Warren for her “big ideas” on job creation, and shouted out Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley for their ambitious infrastructure programs.
    But he conceded that health care would be a tougher nut to crack.
    “It will take discipline,” he said, “for progressives to pivot to offense and use the oxygen in the room to educate Americans about Medicare for All and big-picture themes like taking on the insurance industry monopolies.”
    There is still more than a year until the midterm elections, and maybe a little while longer before big decisions are made ahead of the party’s presidential primary, but the health care divide isn’t going away.
    And like any other fight among mostly like-minded people, the longer it lingers, the nastier the eventual reckoning.

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    Obama calls for ‘courage’ to oppose Obamacare repeal

    (CNN)Former President Barack Obama called on members of Congress to oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, his signature health care law, in a speech Sunday night at the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston.

    Obama’s remarks, which he gave upon receiving the 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, are his first since the House voted to repeal and replace Obamacare on Thursday. They mark a rare post-presidency appeal on a policy matter for Obama, who has steered clear of discussing political issues since leaving office.
    Obama called on lawmakers to have the courage to “champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm.” He said he hopes they understand that “courage does not always mean doing what is politically expedient, but what they believe deep in their hearts is right.”
      The former President also said there was a reason why health care reform had not been accomplished earlier: “It was hard.”
      In his acceptance speech, Obama talked about the need for courage in times when politics “remains filled with division and discord, and everywhere we see the risk of falling into the refuge of tribe and clan.”
      The former President also spoke about challenging the status quo and “fighting the good fight.” Although Obama did not explicitly mention the health care vote from last week, he focused on the need for health care for all Americans. He spoke of the courage of the men and women who were in Congress when he was President, who risked their political futures to pass the Affordable Care Act.
      “They had a chance to insure millions,” Obama recalled. “This same vote would likely cost them their new seats and perhaps end their political careers. And these men and women did the right thing, the hard thing, and theirs was a profile in courage.”
      The House narrowly passed the GOP’s American Health Care Act on Thursday, sending it to the Senate, where Republicans, who tend to be more moderate than in the House, have expressed concerns about provisions that would freeze the expansion of Medicaid in 2020 and make changes to the mandate on coverage for preexisting conditions; several Republican senators have said they expect to write their own bill over the coming weeks.
      Obama alluded to the coming legislative fight when he said of the current crop of lawmakers: “This great debate is not settled, but continues, and it is my fervent hope and hope of millions that regardless of party, such courage is still possible.”
      The award Obama received Sunday is given to a public official or group of public servants “whose actions demonstrate the qualities of politically courageous leadership,” according to the John F. Kennedy library’s website.
      Songwriter James Taylor was also at the ceremony and said it is a “great relief” to be in the presence of the Obamas again.
      Taylor said there were similarities between the Kennedy and Obama administrations in that “both summoned the very best of our spirit and generosity.”
      Obama was introduced by former Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and her son and grandson of President Kennedy, Jack Schlossberg.
      Former Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush have also received the Profile in Courage Award.
      The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation said Obama received the award for “expanding health security for millions of Americans, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and leading a landmark international accord to combat climate change.”

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      House-passed GOP health care plan is ‘unconstitutional,’ NY attorney general says

      (CNN)One day after President Donald Trump celebrated the first successful phase of his quest to rewrite American health care policy, opposing forces have begun to formulate their resistance plans.

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a longtime critic of his fellow Empire State resident, tells Erin Burnett he’s planning a lawsuit should the legislation be signed into law.
      “If they pass the bill in the form the House passed it, it is unconstitutional,” he said on Friday’s edition CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
        Calling it “bad public policy” that will ultimately “cost millions of people health care,” Schneiderman takes particular issue with the impact the bill will have on women.
        “This is an effort to cut off funding for breast cancer screenings, education on sexual-transmitted disease,” he noted, adding that “it imposes an undue burden on women’s constitutional rights.”
        Health care, meanwhile, is hardly Schneiderman’s only concern with the president.
        He also takes issue with Donald Trump’s failure to release his tax returns, a sign, he feels, of the man’s dangerous overall lack of transparency.
        “The failure to divest and failure to disclose is going to be a problem for this president as long as he keeps this up… sooner or later this is going to come to a head.”
        On Thursday the House passed the health care bill by a count of 217-213. It now heads to the Senate where a challenge is expected.

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        An unscientific analysis of the Florida delegation’s feelings on orange juice

        (CNN)In addition to being the day the House of Representatives passed an Obamacare repeal bill and the unofficial Star Wars day, Thursday was also National Orange Juice Day.

        It’s a totally real thing promoted by the state’s Department of Citrus, which you should not be surprised to hear is also a real thing. Florida is proud of its citrus, even offering visitors cups of orange juice at the state’s welcome centers — perhaps softening the blow of having to use a rest stop.
        Most Floridians have strong preferences on their orange juice, so we decided to reach out to every member of Florida’s congressional delegation to squeeze some answers out of them regarding what is arguably the state’s greatest export.
          (Note: The author of this piece is both a native Floridian and #TeamNoPulp, but that bias could not skew the answers received straight from the lawmakers’ offices.)
          Of the 29 members of the Florida delegation, 15 responded — nine Republicans and six Democrats. This is by no means conclusive analysis. But let’s keep in mind we’re talking about a breakfast/welcome center drink, so let’s keep this lighthearted.
          Thirteen respondents say their offices have Florida orange juice available for visitors and constituents, while two others indicated that a juice fridge is something they’re working on.
          Based on the responses, it seems like Tropicana is the unofficial juice provider for most of respondents, even providing branded refrigerators to some offices. The company did not return a request for comment.
          Offices don’t choose what kind of juice is delivered, with deliveries varying from Some Pulp to No Pulp. On thing is clear: orange juice is a big hit. Look at Rep. Al Lawson’s overjoyed staffer reacting to an OJ delivery!
          On a February trip to the offices of Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, CNN found Tropicana in both offices — although it should be noted that the senator only had one bottle of the stuff left — with Rubio repping Some Pulp and Wasserman Schultz laying claim to None.
          Speaking of pulp preferences, a bipartisan majority of eight, including Sen. Bill Nelson, said that they prefer No Pulp. Even if there are times when they don’t agree on legislation, (they split along party lines on the health care bill), there is at least one thing a majority stands behind.
          Even then, several lawmakers had willingness to show flexibility.
          “I keep consistently no pulp regardless of the location. However sometimes Mrs. Soto buys Some Pulp OJ and I drink it rather than let it go to waste,” Democratic Rep. Darren Soto, who represents one of Florida’s largest citrus-producing counties, told CNN via email.
          Interestingly, all six respondents who preferred pulp were from the GOP.
          Republican Rep. Daniel Webster’s office explained via email, “His parents had orange trees and his mom would juice them, she included pulp and expected him and his sister to drink it that way.”
          Two members indicated that they can find their juice on both sides of the grocery aisle. And one of them could not choose between the options given as part of the informal survey. According to Rubio’s press secretary, the senator chooses between “No Pulp and Some Pulp — as long as it’s from Florida!”
          Rep. Charlie Crist, who has served as both the Republican governor of the state and a Democratic member of the House, goes right down the middle with his choice. Some Pulp.
          Regardless of preferences, it’s always sweet to have a taste of Sunshine on the Hill.

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          Trump to sign executive order to ‘vigorously promote religious liberty’

          (CNN)President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order Thursday that could allow churches and other religious organizations to become more active politically, according to officials.

          The order will direct the IRS to exercise “maximum enforcement discretion” over the Johnson Amendment, which prevents churches and other tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It will also provide “regulatory relief” for organizations that object on religious grounds to a provision in Obamacare that mandates employers provide certain health services, including coverage for contraception.
          The order will declare that it is the policy of the Trump administration “to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty,” according to a senior administration official.
            Trump plans to sign the order and deliver remarks during an event at the White House Thursday marking the National Day of Prayer. The event will bring national religious leaders to the White House.
            The order stops short of offering broad exceptions for groups to deny services based on religious grounds. An earlier version of the order, which had previously leaked to The Nation, would have provided sweeping legal protections for people to claim religious exemptions, provisions that civil liberties groups claimed would allow for discrimination against LGBT Americans.
            The order Trump plans to sign Thursday is more modest in its scope. By directing the IRS to use its discretion in enforcing the Johnson Amendment, religious organizations are likely to escape punishment for backing political candidates. Religious leaders have argued the provision stifles their rights to free speech.
            The 1954 measure says any tax-exempt group can lose its exemption if it is found to have endorsed or actively opposed a candidate for political office. The IRS is officially tasked with investigating suspected violators of the law, though only one organization has lost its exemption as a result of IRS action.
            Trump himself vowed early in his presidential tenure to get rid of the measure, though completely striking the amendment would require an act of Congress.
            “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Trump said in February.
            Some religious leaders, however, object to any measure that would make it easier to inject politics into places of worship.
            “For decades, the Johnson Amendment has prevented houses of worship from being turned into partisan political tools. A majority of clergy — and Americans — support the status quo and oppose political endorsements from the pulpit,” Interfaith Alliance president Rabbi Jack Moline said. “President Trump’s executive order reportedly aims to gut the Johnson Amendment and clear the way for the Religious Right to weaponize their churches for partisan battle.”
            “If the effort succeeds,” Moline said, “these churches would become conduits for unregulated ‘dark money’ in elections, with no restrictions or disclosure requirements.”
            In a letter delivered to House and Senate leaders last month, a group of religious leaders argued against scrapping the Johnson Amendment, citing similar concerns that such a move could turn religious groups into political organizations.
            “The charitable sector, particularly houses of worship, should not become another cog in a political machine or another loophole in campaign finance laws,” the group wrote.
            Briefing reporters Wednesday evening, a senior Trump administration official downplayed the possibility that churches would soon act as political groups advocating for particular candidates.
            “Nobody is suggesting that churches are allowed, or it’s legal, for tax-exempt organizations to tax out ads endorsing candidates,” the official said. “That’s illegal now for them, as a condition of their tax-exempt status. So we’re not changing what’s legal, we’re not changing what’s illegal, just enforcement discretion.”
            Selectively enforcing law has drawn scrutiny in past administrations, and could present another legal challenge to Trump’s administration. Several of Trump’s executive orders — including an entry ban for citizens of certain Muslim-majority nations, and an order stripping federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” — are on hold are courts weigh their legality.
            The senior administration official downplayed any fears the religious order could face a similar fate.
            “I don’t think that we expect any legal challenges,” the official said.

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            Plain cigarette packaging could drive 300,000 Britons to quit smoking

            Review by research organisation Cochrane suggests impact of UKs ban on branded packs could echo results seen in Australia

            Plain cigarette cartons featuring large, graphic health warnings could persuade 300,000 people in the UK to quit smoking if the measure has the effect it had in Australia, scientists say.

            Standardised cigarette packaging will be compulsory in the UK from 20 May. A new review from the independent health research organisation Cochrane on the impact of plain packaging around the world has found that it does affect the behaviour of smokers.

            In the UK, the tobacco industry has become increasingly innovative in the design of cigarette packets as other controls on sales and advertising have taken hold, according to Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at Kings College London. The tobacco industry has been focusing its efforts on the tobacco packs, she said.

            Among those that will be banned are vibrant pink packets, targeted at young women, and gimmicky cartons that slide rather than flip open. The rules that come into force next month require all packs to look alike, with graphic health warnings across 65% of their surface.

            The Cochrane reviewers found 51 studies that looked at standardised packaging and its impact on smokers, but only one country had implemented the rule fully at the time. Australia brought in plain packs in 2012.

            Analysing the evidence from Australia, the team found a reduction in smoking of 0.5% up to one year after the policy was introduced. According to the Australian government, that translates to 100,000 people no longer smoking. The decline was attributable specifically to plain packaging, after taking into account the continuing drop in the numbers of smokers caused by other tobacco control measures.

            Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce of the Cochrane tobacco addiction group at Oxford Universitys Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences said: We are not able to say for sure what the impact would be in the UK, but if the same magnitude of decrease was seen in the UK as was observed in Australia, this would translate to roughly 300,000 fewer smokers following the implementation of standardised packaging.

            The review found signs that more people were trying to quit smoking as a result of plain cartons, rising from 20.2% before to 26.6% after introduction. There was also evidence that standardised packs were less attractive to those who did not smoke, making it less likely that they would start.

            However, the researchers say variations in the way countries are introducing standardised packs may affect the outcomes. Some allow different colours, slightly different carton shapes and the use of descriptive words such as gold or smooth.

            Cancer Research UK backs plain packaging. Smoking kills 100,000 people in the UK every year, so we support any effective measure which can help reduce this devastating impact. The evidence shows that standardised packaging works and helps to reduce smoking rates, said George Butterworth, the charitys tobacco policy manager.

            Its too soon to see the impact in the UK, as the new legislation will only be fully implemented in May, but we hope to see similar positive results as the UK strives towards a day when no child smokes tobacco. Cancer Research UK is continuing to evaluate the impact of standardised packaging in the UK and will share the lessons with other countries who are considering introducing them.

            Simon Clark, director of the smokers group Forest, said the idea that plain packaging would have an impact on the number of smokers in the UK was based on hope and anecdotal evidence.

            Since plain packaging was introduced in Australia, smoking rates have fallen, but only in line with historical trends, he said. Its grasping at straws to credit plain packaging with the continued reduction in smoking rates, because the most significant anti-smoking measure in recent years in Australia has been a massive increase in tobacco taxation. Like graphic health warnings, the novelty of plain packaging quickly wears off.

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