Newsletter: Essential Politics: Remembering a plainspoken political icon, Barbara Bush


It seems safe to say that no presidential family member will ever be quite like Barbara Bush. Admirers and critics alike respected that she always spoke what was on her mind, forever fiercely loyal to her husband and her son in their times as president and beyond.


At the very least, Bush occupied a rare place in the political history of the United States, only the second woman to be the wife of one president and the mother of another.


But she was a political force in her own right, “a behind-the-scenes influence and the skills of an effective campaigner,” write Valerie Nelson and Cathleen Decker for The Times.

Sign up for the Essential Politics newsletter »


President Trump said on Tuesday that direct talks with North Korea have already begun at “extremely high levels” and that five undisclosed sites are being considered for his meeting with Kim Jong Un. Trump on Wednesday tweeted that CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with the North Korean leader in North Korea last week.

That news offered a signal that plans for a once unlikely summit between Trump and the leader of the adversary regime have new momentum.

The movement on the North Korea conundrum gave the president a chance to possibly short-circuit the news cycle from Monday when his attorney Michael Cohen had to disclose the name of a celebrity client he had tried to keep secret: Fox News host Sean Hannity.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on both topics on our Essential Washington news feed.



The political partnership of wealthy Democratic activist Tom Steyer and state Sen. Kevin de León dates back to 2010, two years before the two teamed on a successful California ballot measure to change corporate tax rules and use the cash for energy efficiency projects.

Now, De León is running an insurgent campaign for the U.S. Senate and Steyer has endorsed him.

“I think he’s the kind of young progressive that reflects California and would be a very strong advocate for our state nationally,” Steyer said in an interview.

But will the billionaire San Francisco environmentalist spend money to help De León? After all, this week’s campaign finance reports showed Feinstein with a $10-million war chest, far above what De León has for the election season ahead.

“I don’t have any concrete plans for that,” he said in an interview with The Times.



-- She was confused about Russian sanctions? “With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

-- The chances of bipartisan legislation in the Senate to protect Robert Mueller III, the special counsel, from being fired? Not good. “I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

-- There’s not much (officially) being said about the role Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee for CIA director, played in the torture of terrorism suspects after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

-- With Justice Neil Gorsuch casting the deciding vote, the Supreme Court on Tuesday spared a California immigrant from deportation because his conviction for home burglary was not the kind of “aggravated felony” that would require removing him from the country.

-- Moderate GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania will leave Congress early instead of serving out the rest of his term.

-- A former FBI agent who says he was angry about racial targeting by the agency has pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to a news organization.

-- States that have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana in recent years appear to have found some new, unexpected supporters: Republican politicians.

-- The IRS is giving you one extra day to file after its website crashed on tax day.



In Sacramento, proposals with national buzz tend to stick around until the end of a legislative session — a truism that made what happened late Tuesday so surprising.

A closely watched bill to push for more, dense housing near mass transit locations in California’s urban areas was killed by a state Senate committee, a rare rebuke for a Democratic lawmaker.

By allowing for significant increases in development near transit, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said the bill would help reduce a shortage of homes he has estimated at 4 million. Wiener didn’t sound like a guy who was giving up on Tuesday night.

“The status quo isn’t working and we need to do things differently,” he said. “We need an enormous amount of new housing at all income levels.”



Gov. Jerry Brown wrapped up his out-of-state trip on Tuesday, making his way from talk of climate change in Ontario, Canada, to a Q&A with national reporters in Washington.

There, he insisted that Trump isn’t going to force California to change course on just about anything.

“We have so many lawsuits now that a few more doesn’t make any difference,” Brown said of the state’s strident opposition to federal efforts on everything from illegal immigration to auto emissions standards.


Hundreds gathered in Sacramento recently for annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week events, where calls were issued for a new approach to criminal justice and public safety, putting the focus on survivors.

But a debate is brewing over what that means.


As California rolled back sentencing laws through legislation and voter initiatives, a growing victims’ rights movement has pushed for alternatives to incarceration. On the other side, a smaller but visible coalition of crime survivors and law enforcement officials wants a return to tougher sentences and fewer people on parole.


-- CalPERS is sending an invoice to state lawmakers for pension payments, to the tune of some $6.3 billion.

-- Turlock Republican Rep. Jeff Denham says he has the votes to force party leaders to consider bills to protect “Dreamers.”

-- After listening to more than five hours of public comments, Los Alamitos City Council members have voted to opt out of the state’s “sanctuary” laws designed to protect immigrants in the country illegally.

-- The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to require companies that do business with L.A. to reveal whether they are helping to build a wall along the Mexican border.


-- California police groups said they’re open to making some of their internal disciplinary records public — a marked shift from their previous position — in response to a bill from a state senator from Berkeley.

-- Net neutrality rules in California moved past the first hurdle in Sacramento — but not without substantive changes.

-- California regulators are warning legal pot sellers not to participate in any unlicensed 4/20 events.

-- The Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP SuperPAC endorsed by House Republican leaders, plans to spend millions on TV ads in three California districts held by vulnerable incumbents.

-- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in a new radio ad by GOP gubernatorial hopeful John Cox, calls the San Diego County businessman a “conservative champion” who is gaining momentum in California’s race for governor.

-- The newest state lawmaker, Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), took the oath of office in Sacramento on Monday.


-- Plan to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend? The California Politics team — present company included — and journalists from the Washington bureau will be out in force. Here’s the full schedule. To see where we’ll be, filter the list by Politics & History.

Also, don’t miss the “Ask a Reporter” booth on the USC campus. (I’ll be at the booth at 2 p.m. on Sunday!)


Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

You can keep up with breaking news on our politics page throughout the day. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Miss Monday’s newsletter? Here you go.


Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to

Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox.