Daily Digest: Two freshmen, two approaches

Good morning. As usual this time of year, there’s lots of weekend political reading to catch up on.

1. Omar and Phillips as a microcosm of the Democratic Party. The voters of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District knew they were making history last November: Omar’s victory made her both the first Somali-American to serve in Congress and, along with fellow newcomer Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, its first Muslim female member. What they didn’t expect was that in her first seven weeks on the job she would become one of the most prominent, polarizing and recognizable politicians in America—the subject of fierce debates on the House floor and cable news, lauded on the left for standing up to Israel and vilified on the right for comments seen by many as anti-Semitic. The Minnesota congresswoman, along with the likes of Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, represents the unapologetic new guard of progressivism, pushing the party’s establishment to embrace tactics and positions that have heretofore been considered outside of the mainstream. Yet they face resistance not just from party elders but from many of their fellow freshmen, centrists who campaigned as fixers not firebrands, moderates who are watching warily as the Democrats’ brand is being hijacked by the far left. One of these members is Omar’s neighbor in Minnesota: Dean Phillips, a wealthy businessman who represents the 3rd District. (Politico)

2. Omar’s Obama comments bring more criticism. U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar is facing a new round of controversy following comments in an interview that implied that former President Barack Obama’s political prowess helped him get “away with murder.” Omar accused the Politico reporter of misrepresenting her quotes and posted an audio snippet of the interview that ultimately corroborated the newsmagazine’s reporting. She has since deleted the combative tweet. The Twitter scuffle began on Friday, after Politico published an extensive profile highlighting Omar and fellow Minnesota freshman Rep. Dean Phillips’ vision for the future of their party. (Star Tribune)

3. Clean slate for marijuana crimes? If lawmakers legalize recreational marijuana this year, tens of thousands of Minnesotans are poised for forgiveness. Under legalization bills introduced in the House and Senate, Minnesota would offer to clear people who have been convicted of possessing up to an ounce and a half of marijuana, as well as possession in a motor vehicle. That could wipe clean the records of nearly 70,000 Minnesotans since 2010 alone, according to data the district courts provided to MPR News. But the total number is likely much higher: the bill directs the attorney general to go back indefinitely to find anyone with petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses on their record who could be eligible for expungement. “People who have been hurt, whether they are in their 60s now or in their 20s, are still having the same obstacles of housing, ability to get a job and to have the opportunities that other citizens have,” said Sen Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, the author of the bill. “We should take into account that they shouldn’t be punished for something that is now legal.” (MPR News)

4. Building trust in law enforcement. Acknowledging a lack of trust around investigations of Minnesota officers who use deadly force, the state’s new public safety commissioner is among a growing set of law enforcement leaders now studying new approaches to such cases. “We’re not in crisis right now,” Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said. “In my mind, this is the time to have that outreach, to have that conversation, because when you’re in the middle of a crisis is the worst time to try to make friends.” Joining Harrington is Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who said early on in his latest four-year term that reevaluating officer-involved shooting probes is a top priority. And Attorney General Keith Ellison, not long removed from speaking out at the scene of police shootings, is willing to consider using his office to help prosecute those cases. Meanwhile, some state lawmakers are again calling for creating a special prosecution board that would take police shooting investigations out of the hands of county attorneys. (Star Tribune)

5. Klobuchar struggles to stand out from Democratic crowd in poll. The field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for president in 2020 is one of the largest the party has seen, but for Iowa’s most likely caucus attendees, two names stand above the rest: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The latest CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll finds Biden and Sanders near even at 27% and 25% respectively, with no other candidate earning even 10% support. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (9%) and Sen. Kamala Harris of California (7%) come closest, and of the rest of the 20-person field tested in the poll, just former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas (5%), Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota (3% each) rise above 1% support. A handful of candidates have seen improvements in their favorability numbers since December, and nearly all of those had announced their candidacies in between the two polls. Klobuchar’s positive numbers have gone up 5 points to 43%. Klobuchar has seen a corresponding rise in negative views, however, with 15% now saying they have unfavorable opinions, up from 8% in December. (CNN)


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