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2020 Daily Trail Markers: As Iowa looms, Biden and Sanders continue to exchange punches

Trump campaign manager talks impeachment

On Wednesday, CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe asked former Vice President Joe Biden why he re-ignited a feud with Senator Bernie Sanders after the two had seemingly patched things up. 

"Why, why, why, why? You're getting nervous, man! Calm down, it's OK," said a spirited Biden. "He apologized for saying I was corrupt. He didn't say anything about whether I was telling the truth about social security."

Earlier this week, Sanders apologized after one of his supporters wrote an op-ed calling Biden corrupt. On Tuesday, Biden accepted Sanders' apology, but just hours later, his campaign released a video on Twitter going after Sanders for "negative attacks" on his record on Social Security. Sanders then punched back, renewing the charge that when Biden was a senator, he was open to cutting benefits.

Sanders, who was off the campaign trail and in Washington for day two of the impeachment trial, was asked about Biden questioning his vote against the Brady Bill, a piece of gun control legislation from the 1990s. CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte says Sanders told reporters that Biden is a friend and that the campaign is about discussing issues.  

"Biden wants to look at my record, that's fair. I will look at his record. We'll have that debate," said Sanders.

STATE-BY-STATE

CALIFORNIA

After a vote among its membership, another California union has thrown its support this week behind Bernie Sanders. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says 66 percent of UPTE-CWA Local 9119, whose contracts encompass more than 16,000 University of California employees, voted to back Sanders this month. The announcement comes as Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a former Kamala Harris backer, says he has thrown his support behind Joe Biden.

ISSUES

SOCIAL SECURITY

The leading Democratic presidential candidates have sparred in recent days over records on social security. The Sanders campaign has shared a video of Biden on the Senate floor in 1995 talking about his past efforts to freeze entitlement programs, including Social Security. In 1995, Bill Clinton was president and trying to balance the federal budget. It was a time when a number of politicians — Republicans, along with centrist Democrats — thought it would be prudent to cut the nation's spending and secure the future of entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. 

At the time, Biden was among the deficit hawks who agreed with that approach, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Biden is now pledging he won't cut Social Security or Medicare if he's elected, and would in fact even increase benefits for some. According to his campaign website, Biden would provide a bigger benefit for the oldest Americans. Workers who spent 30 years of working would receive a benefit of at least 125% of the poverty level. 

During a Vice News forum on Monday, he also proposed increasing the cap on the payroll tax income that's subject to Social Security taxes, which is something that Warren and Sanders have both advocated for. Meanwhile, in an interview with CNBC, President Trump said he would take a look at entitlements down the road even though he promised on the campaign trail in 2016 not to change Social Security or Medicare

MONEY MATTERS

ON THE $$$

The Democratic National Committee announced Wednesday that it's scaling up its investment in six battleground states to lay the groundwork for the eventual Democratic presidential nominee and down-ballot candidates ahead of the general election. 

The DNC will be focusing its multi-million dollar push starting in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona, all of which are states President Trump won in 2016. CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says the "Battleground Build-Up 2020" plan will roughly double the number of on-the-ground field organizers across the six states and allow them to open additional offices in each state. The DNC is working in coordination with state parties and aims to have hundreds of staff on the ground by March. 

DNC officials hope the efforts will allow the eventual nominee to scale up his or her operation quickly to be able to take on President Trump and provide multiple potential pathways to victory. "We are taking nothing for granted as we work to make Trump a one-term president and win up and down the ballot in 2020," said DNC Chair Tom Perez in a statement.

This comes just over a week after the progressive group Priorities USA announced it is also expanding its pre-convention budget and will begin running TV ads in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania starting in February and March. They hope the ads will counter Mr. Trump's spending in battleground states while Democratic candidates are busy with their primary. 

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

Maryland's special election for Congressman Elijah Cummings 7th district is less than two weeks away, and Democrats are seeking to distinguish themselves amongst a field of 24 candidates. Cummings died in October 2019, leaving the seat vacant. 

Kweisi Mfume, who represented the district from 1987 to 1996, was endorsed by Baltimore County Council member Julian Jones Wednesday morning, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. "In these trying times in Washington D.C. with all the challenges that we face, it's very important that we have a person with the experience knowledge, commitment, to be able to go there and hit the ground running and represent our community well," Jones said.

Former Maryland Democratic Party Chair and Cummings' widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, isalso  running for the seat and held a lunch fundraiser in D.C. on Wednesday. In an appearance on ABC's "The View" this week, Rockeymoore Cummings said her late husband expected her to "continue the fight" and that "on several occasions he told me that he thought that I should, you know, run for his seat. And I never wanted to engage that conversation because you know that meant that he wouldn't be here," she said. "We have hordes of women who are running to take office...I am a part of that vanguard of people who are seeking to build on the legacy left by Elijah Cummings."

Both candidates took part in a primary debate along with five other contenders on Monday. The Baltimore Sun reported that Rockeymoore Cummings was asked about her late husband's daughters supporting Harry Spikes, a longtime aide to Cummings, and not her. In response, Rockeymoore Cummings said she was glad "they are focused on having their voices heard in this debate." 

Mfume was asked about his affair with a staffer when he was head of the NAACP, and said that while he was single at the time he regretted the relationship. 

The special election's primary is on February 4, with a general election in the heavily-Democratic district on April 28.

Meanwhile in Utah, Thom Carter, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, declined a run against Democratic Congressman Ben McAdams. In a statement, Carter said, "After many late nights and much discussion, we have decided that now isn't the right time to enter the race for Congress." 

KSL.com reports that Carter was being encouraged to run by the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee. McAdams raised close to $900,000 in the fourth quarter, and with Carter's announcement on Wednesday, state representative Kim Coleman and former Utah GOP communications adviser Kathleen Anderson are among the top Republican contenders for the seat.

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