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The matchups to watch at the Democratic presidential debate

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WASHINGTON — The opening 2020 Democratic debate double feature is set: Elizabeth Warren vs. the field on the first night, and establishment Joe Biden vs. democratic socialist Bernie Sanders — plus two more of the top-five polling hopefuls and six undercard candidates — in the “Lord of the Flies” closer.

The two-day extravaganza in Miami, which will air live on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo June 26-27, represents the first time a national television audience gets to see most of the contestants for the Democratic nomination compete against one another. In this case, it will be in decahedral — or ten-headed — fashion, with the group of 20 candidates who qualified split evenly between the two nights.

But in terms of marquee names, the draw ended up heavily weighted toward the second night — a dynamic that has big implications for both rounds.

Night One

In the first heat, Warren — the Massachusetts senator who currently sits third at about 12 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls — is the only one of the five candidates registering above 4 percent routinely in surveys who will be on the stage.

That could be a blessing for her — a chance to dominate — but it could also be a curse if she fails to deliver.

Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist whose firm Park Street Strategies is releasing a poll of Democratic voters on Monday, said that the same pressure is on all the top-tier candidates regardless of which night they drew.

“None of them can afford to falter in a debate,” he said. By the same token, he said, Democratic voters are suffering from candidate overload and are ready for the field to winnow some, which puts an onus on the lesser-knowns to raise their profiles quickly.

“Either they rise to the moment, or their candidacy is done,” he said. “The margin-of-error candidates have no margin for error.”

The other nine competing with Warren, a set that includes two of her fellow senators, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and one former Texas congressman — Beto O’Rourke — who has become more aggressive as he tries to jump-start his campaign, see an opening in avoiding a Biden-Sanders slugfest that also features Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

“This is an opportunity for us,” said an aide to Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the challenges facing other candidates. “Every story that comes out of Night Two of the debates is going to be about Biden and how he stacked up against the younger candidates given how he has been covered lately.”

Those younger candidates “are going to struggle to break out of that shadow,” the aide said.

The sleeper candidate on the first night could be Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has been praised in Democratic circles for her performance in high-profile congressional hearings and who gets informal advice from a set of longtime party hands familiar with the debate-prep process.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who has made climate change the center of his campaign, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who has earned plaudits from Warren for his immigration proposal, and three sitting House members, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Tim Ryan of Ohio and John Delaney of Maryland, round out the lineup for the first night.

Night Two

All eyes will be on Biden and Sanders, who represent the poles of the Democratic primary contest — a centrist who has “evolved” as the party has moved leftward on social policy over his decades in the spotlight, and an iconoclastic progressive who has run as an independent for the House and Senate and recently gave a speech laying out his philosophy of democratic socialism.

They also happen to be the candidates with the highest name-recognition and the leaders in most national polls, as well as the small set of surveys that have been taken in the first four states on the Democratic primary calendar.

Sanders will welcome the opportunity for a direct contrast, as he has been the candidate most open to taking on Biden, the popular former vice president, directly. But he’ll have competition on the stage in the form of Buttigieg and Harris, who will have to weigh whether they are more concerned with introducing themselves to the many voters who still don’t know them or taking the risk of going after the front-runners to cut into their support.

For voters, the stage will offer a full study in comparisons between Biden and the rest of the pack.

“He’s going to have a lot of sharp contrasts, because you’re going to have Bernie Sanders, who is much more progressive than he is, and Pete Buttigieg, who is much younger than he is, and Kamala Harris, who is a woman of color,” said Patti Solis Doyle, who was campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s first bid for president. “There’s just going to be a lot of visual contrasts there between the front-runner and the other candidates.”

That could cut two ways for Biden: It could be that the panoply of Democratic rivals drown one another out or that he comes off as unrepresentative of the party.

“I don’t know if it’s good or bad,” Solis Doyle said. “But for the first time in this race, you’re going to see what the choices are.”

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Tory leadership race tracker: How Boris Johnson and Rory Stewart fared after BBC debate

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TORY leadership candidate Rory Stewart has suffered a massive drop in support following the BBC debate on Tuesday evening – whilst Boris Johnson is looking more popular than ever.

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Hope Hicks testifies before House committee behind closed doors

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former aide Hope Hicks arrived on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to testify behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee.

Democrats planned to focus their questions on what they say are five crimes of obstruction of justice established by the Mueller Report against Trump, as well as campaign finance violations involved with alleged election-year hush money payments.

Her appearance marks the first time a former Trump aide has come in to answer questions before that panel as part of Democrats’ obstruction of justice investigation. A transcript of the interview will be released, though it may not appear for several days.

Other issues Democrats plan to question Hicks about include Trump’s conduct and attitude towards former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s reaction when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, among others.

In a letter sent to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Tuesday evening, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone asserted that Hicks was not legally required to provide testimony regarding her time working in the White House.

“Ms. Hicks is absolutely immune from being compelled to testify before Congress with respect to matters occurring during her service as a senior adviser to the President,” he wrote.

Nadler dismissed those claims. “I reject that assertion” regarding blanket executive privilege, he said in a response released late Tuesday night, adding that after the panel poses questions to her, “we will address privilege and other objections on a question by question basis.”

Hicks’s testimony comes after the Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena last month for her appearance. She previously served as White House communications director and the White House director of strategic communications after a stint as a senior aide on Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The White House directed Hicks and another former White House aide earlier this month not to hand over any documents to the House Judiciary Committee related to their time at the White House.

Mike Memoli contributed.



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Commons erupts in fury as SNP's Ian Blackford brands Boris Johnson 'racist'

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SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford sparked fury in the House of Commons after he branded former foreign secretary Boris Johnson “racist”.

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