Start Here: Moderate Dems debate progressives as Trump keeps attacking Baltimore


It’s Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Let’s start here.

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1. Prog rocks

Ten Democratic presidential candidates on Tuesday night faced off in the first of two debates in Detroit, sparring over progressive policies proposed by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

“They are happy to joust against centrists in the party, moderates, red state governors and senators, folks that they feel like represent a dated and different vision of the party,” ABC News Political Director Rick Klein tells us.

Although front-runner Joe Biden’s name didn’t come up in the debate, Klein says the former vice president will be one of the moderates onstage tonight trying to make the case for electability versus enacting progressive policies, effectively “fighting against the Elizabeth Warren and the Bernie Sanders wings of the party.”

2. ‘The least racist’

President Donald Trump on Tuesday pushed back against accusations that he’s racist, telling reporters, “I’m the least racist person there is,” while also ramping up his recent attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and the city of Baltimore.

He said the people there are “living in hell,” after tweeting over the weekend that Baltimore is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” and claimed residents had been calling the White House “thanking [him] for getting involved.”

“You have a large African American population, and they really appreciate what I’m doing,” Trump said. “And they’ve let me know it. They really appreciate it.”

But when asked later Tuesday about a new Quinnipiac Poll that showed 80% of African-Americans believe Trump is racist, he said it was because the work of his administration wasn’t being reported “properly,” adding, “If I didn’t do well, relatively speaking, I wouldn’t be president right now.”

Trump also denied his pushback against critics was part of a 2020 strategy, but ABC News White House Correspondent Karen Travers says the attacks are still not likely politically advantageous: “He is banking on locking down his base and getting them fired up. This is not a strategy that expands upon his numbers from 2016.”

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks to the media after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 30, 2019.Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump speaks to the media after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 30, 2019.

3. Off a cliff?

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, the president’s pick to replace Dan Coats as the director of national intelligence, could face a tough confirmation battle as critics question his qualifications and whether he can maintain the independence of the intelligence community as a political ally of Trump.

An ABC News report found that Ratcliffe, who’s claimed to have significant national security experience, misrepresented his role in a major anti-terrorism finance case against Holy Land Foundation. Ratcliffe asserted on his website that he “convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas,” but ABC News could not find public court records linking him to the case.

Ratcliffe’s office said in a statement to ABC News that his role was instead related to investigating issues surrounding what led to the mistrial in one of two anti-terrorism financing trials in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, adding that “because the investigation did not result in any charges, it would not be in accordance with Department of Justice policies to make further details public.”

Ratcliffe has had a relatively low profile as a congressman on the House Intelligence Committee, but he gained attention for his tense exchange with special counsel Robert Mueller during his testimony “about decisions that weren’t reached” on obstruction of justice. Democrats have voiced concerns that Ratcliffe would be a “foot soldier” for Trump as one of the chief critics of the Russia investigation, ABC News’ Alex Mallin says on “Start Here.”

PHOTO: Rep. John Ratcliffe listens as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies in Washington, July 24, 2019.Andrew Caballero-reynolds/AFP/Getty Images, FILE

Rep. John Ratcliffe listens as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies in Washington, July 24, 2019.

4. Financial aid loophole

Wealthy parents in affluent Chicago neighborhoods are accused of exploiting a financial aid loophole in a new ProPublica report by giving up their guardianship in an effort to save money on college tuition.

Their child’s earnings would be the only income associated with the student, allowing them access to scholarships and financial aid designed for low-income students, ABC News’ Linsey Davis explains on the podcast.

“This is totally legal,” Davis says. “The question here is, just how ethical is it?”

The Education Department’s Office of Inspector General is investigating the matter, according to The Wall Street Journal. A person familiar with the matter told ABC News the OIG is aware of the report and said officials have “suggested to the Federal Student Aid office that it add clarifying language to the FSA Handbook that would help close possible avenues for this type of potential student aid fraud.”

“Start Here,” ABC News’ flagship podcast, offers a straightforward look at the day’s top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or the ABC News app. Follow @StartHereABC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for exclusive content and show updates.


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Doff your cap:

Two professors are using see-saws to bring fun and unity to the U.S. and Mexico border.

The bright pink, custom-made see-saws were brought Monday to Sunland Park, New Mexico, which is separated from neighboring Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, by a slatted border fence.

The see-saws are the brainchild of Ronald Rael, an architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Virginia San Fratello, associate professor of interior design at San Jose State University. The pair came up with the idea for what they call the Teetertotter Wall in 2009.


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