Whither, Iowa? Dems Consider Shaking Up Primary Season : The NPR Politics Podcast The Democratic National Committee is meeting this week in Washington to decide whether Iowa should still have the first caucus in the party's presidential nominating contest. President Biden and others favor switching to a different state, arguing Iowa's population isn't representative of America as a whole.

Also, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was found guilty of seditious conspiracy in a trial related to the Jan. 6 insurrection. What do the results of this and other related trials mean for the Justice Department's ongoing investigations?

This episode: White House correspondent Asma Khalid, political correspondents Susan Davis & Barbara Sprunt, and justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

This episode was produced and edited by Eric McDaniel, Elena Moore and Casey Morell. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Research and fact-checking by Katherine Swartz.

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Whither, Iowa? Dems Consider Shaking Up Primary Season

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RYAN: Hi. This is Ryan (ph) from Allendale, N.J., and you're listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. Currently, I'm in Amsterdam, sitting at a cafe overlooking the canal, having an ice-cold beer. This podcast was recorded at...


1:09 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, December 2 of 2022.

RYAN: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but I'll still be hanging out watching the boats and all the people on bicycles stroll by. OK, here's the show. Cheers.


SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: That's the first timestamp we've had in a while where I feel actual FOMO. Like I wish I was...

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: I'm very jealous.

DAVIS: ...There with them right now.

KHALID: In Amsterdam, living that life.


KHALID: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

SPRUNT: And I'm Barbara Sprunt. I also cover politics.

KHALID: And today, we're going to kick off the show with some sad news for Iowans. It appears that it may be the end of an era for Iowa politics. The Iowa caucuses traditionally kick off the presidential campaign season, but they may no longer have that distinguished position, at least for Democrats. The Democratic National Committee is meeting this week to determine whether a different state ought to go first. And President Biden has put his thumb on the scales, calling for a big shakeup. Barbara, you are at the DNC meetings right now. So walk us through what the discussion is looking like and why people have turned on Iowa.

SPRUNT: Yeah. Well, I think it's important to say, you know, people haven't turned on Iowa necessarily.


SPRUNT: But members of the committee, yes, are overwhelmingly eager to move away from Iowa as the first state to hold contest during that presidential early window that you were just describing. And that's for a couple reasons. There's been growing criticism, I should say, in recent years of Iowa and New Hampshire - that the states are overwhelmingly white and don't sort of represent the party's demographic and even geographic diversity overall. And, you know, the DNC also has a clear preference, as does President Biden, for states that have primaries, not caucuses. And that's because data shows that with primaries, there's more voter participation, more votes. You know, that's one of the things that, you know, Democrats want as part of their platform is increasing access to the ballot box. And, you know, I also can't get away from this without saying that we might recall - some of us with a little more anxiety than others - about the last Iowa caucuses and...

KHALID: Oh, my God - utter mayhem, yeah.

SPRUNT: ...The technical glitch that made it...

DAVIS: Yeah.

SPRUNT: ...Very difficult for a winner to be announced. And that only sort of fueled this big momentum, this big push from people to move things around.

KHALID: Yeah. Yeah. So what state or states are being considered to replace Iowa?

SPRUNT: So 16 states plus Puerto Rico had made official pitches to the DNC over the summer. And I should say, like, Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, those states that make up the early window as we know it, they also had to, like, basically reapply. President Biden has weighed in, as you mentioned. He wants to elevate South Carolina to that first spot. That would displace Iowa. He wants to see Nevada and New Hampshire hold their primaries on the same day, so that No. 2 spot would be split between two states, and then bring out the rest of the early calendar with Georgia and Michigan, two new, you know, very critical states for Democrats.

KHALID: And also battleground states in a general election - I mean, which I think is noteworthy and interesting. You know, you mentioned South Carolina as this state that Joe Biden really wants to see go first in this process. And I don't think it's coincidence that South Carolina is the state where Biden's own political fortunes turned around during the 2020 presidential primary. He came in, I believe, fourth in the Iowa caucuses, fifth in the New Hampshire primaries. He had not won a state until the calendar reached South Carolina.

DAVIS: No, that's right. I mean, South Carolina saved Joe Biden. It's the path that put him on the course to the presidency. I think one of his top political allies, Jim Clyburn, is, you know, a powerhouse in South Carolina politics. The current DNC chairman, Jaime Harrison, hails from South Carolina. And look, the Democratic Party - Black people are a critical constituency of the Democratic Party. Black women in particular have been some of the most loyal Democratic voters as a constituency for the party, not just in South Carolina but nationally. South Carolina has done a lot for Joe Biden. And I don't know if the DNC will ultimately ratify what the president wants, but the DNC is essentially an arm of the White House when they're the party in power. So it's hard to see how they might override him. But, you know, part of me, I feel a little sad. I mean, a lot of us who have done campaigns and spent a lot of time in Iowa kind of just want to, like, pour little out for Iowa and the role it's played and the historic role it played in...

KHALID: The summer state fair.

DAVIS: Yeah. Like, it's been such a, I don't know, powerful place for so long. It's kind of crazy to me to think that this could all be changed. But I will say that South Carolina in January might be a little bit nicer of a place to have to spend some time.

KHALID: How many times we've, like, lugged our snow boots and winter coats to go to Iowa and cover those caucuses. So, Barbara, I want to ask you, though, about what happens to New Hampshire because my understanding is when this news came out yesterday, New Hampshire Democrats immediately insisted that, no, they still intend to go first.

SPRUNT: Yeah. There were some very spicy tweets yesterday from the state party, from the two Democratic senators in the state basically saying, like, that's nice, but we're going to do it anyway. And it's complicated. They do - New Hampshire does have a state law on the books that basically gives its secretary of state discretion to move up the primary so that it can retain its first-in-the-nation status. But this gets complicated because, yes, they can do that. Will they do that? I mean, they're saying they will, but there are potential consequences to that. And the consequence comes in the form of the DNC choosing not to seat delegates. That's a pretty big hammer because that's where...


SPRUNT: ...The power comes from. And states...


DAVIS: And they've done it before.


SPRUNT: They've done it before.

KHALID: In 2008, right?

SPRUNT: They did it - yeah, they did it in 2008. They chose not to seat some of Michigan's delegates because they also jumped the queue without authorization from the DNC. So enforcement is sort of the - to me, what the next big question is because, like, OK, you can say you're going first. Maybe they very well will go first. What sort of actions will the DNC take? What are they prepared to do?

DAVIS: Barbara, one thing I'm thinking about, just from an elections administration standpoint, is what a headache this could be. I mean, the two parties have sort of followed this Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina path together for so long that if you - one party breaks up the calendar, and the other doesn't - and Republicans have not, they've reaffirmed that they're going to stick with the Iowa, New Hampshire...

SPRUNT: Right.

DAVIS: ...South Carolina calendar - just the logistics of putting this into play seems like it could be really hard for a lot of these states...


DAVIS: ...And for a lot of these governors that, you know, there is a ministerial component to making sure that these things run smoothly. And having to do it twice or having competing calendars - I mean, there's cost here. There's logistics here. That seems kind of complicated.

SPRUNT: Yeah. I mean, it is complicated. I think - and also, this is a new terrain, you know? Like this - Iowa and New Hampshire have been the top two spots since 1972, I believe. You know, there's - this is not just, you know, something that's embedded in state law and practice and, you know, everything that we've experienced from a historical perspective. This is also something the voters are really, really, like, not going to want to let go of. You know, in New Hampshire and Iowa, this is something that they treat as sort of their political birthright, you know, to be able to kick the tires of people who want to run for president.

And so you could see a situation where the state does decide to hold its primary first, you know, regardless of the consequences because it just means that much to them. But to your other point about the kind of complicated nature of the election administration, I mean, this is new territory, and it's going to be probably a little messy. And it's kind of hard to predict exactly what will happen at this point.

KHALID: So, Barbara, when will we know for sure what happens with this calendar?

SPRUNT: So the Rules and Bylaws Committee - which is the committee that I'm sitting in their meetings today on - they still have to vote on an early slate of states. We expect that to happen probably sometime tomorrow. And then the full DNC has to vote on their recommendation. It's very likely that they will adopt whatever vote comes out of this Rules and Bylaws Committee.

And one other thing I wanted to note is in the letter that President Biden sent yesterday to the DNC sort of mapping out what he sees as the guiding principles for who should be selected first, he actually called on the committee to review the calendar every four years, you know, in the name of ensuring that it continues to reflect the values and the diversity of the party. So, I mean, look, we might be having this discussion later on, right? We could be moving away from something where there's a lot of historical precedent for this calendar, and we could be reevaluating it every couple of years.

KHALID: All right. A lot to keep in mind, but I am sure we're going to keep you all posted once we officially know what that Democratic primary calendar looks like. Let's take a quick break. And, Barbara, we'll let you get back to those DNC meetings for a bit before we join you again. And more in a moment.

And we're back. And we're joined now by NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Hey there.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello there.

KHALID: So the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, has been found guilty of seditious conspiracy and other offenses in connection with the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. It is the most serious set of charges tied to January 6 so far. And, Ryan, I have a bunch of questions, actually, about this, but I want to begin by just asking, what does seditious conspiracy actually mean?

LUCAS: So without getting into the concrete language of the statute, basically, in layman's terms, it's plotting, conspiring to oppose by force the authority of the U.S. government. It can also mean attempting to overthrow the U.S. government. In this case, though, it's - what Rhodes and the other defendants were accused of is plotting to use force to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden. That's what they were accused of here by the government in this trial. Long trial - lasted seven or eight weeks, seemed to be endless on some days. But in the end, it was a very interesting trial and very important trial because of this charge of seditious conspiracy.

As you said, it's the most significant charge that we've seen come out of the January 6 investigation so far. What prosecutors did was really root this case in incendiary text messages and audio recordings in which Rhodes talks of - and other defendants - of civil war, of violence, of trying to resist a potential Biden presidency after the election. And, of course, ultimately, on January 6, Oath Keepers, including some of Rhodes' co-defendants - not Rhodes himself, though - entered the Capitol. And so the jury, after three days of deliberating, looked at all the evidence and came to the decision that Rhodes was guilty.

KHALID: So you mentioned there that this is a very important conviction. And I want you to help us understand why it's so important. Is the significance just that this seems to, I think, give added clout to just the importance of what actually occurred on January 6?

LUCAS: Yes, in the sense that, you know, the Justice Department has portrayed January 6 as a uniquely dangerous day to American democracy. And seditious conspiracy is a way of conveying that. There's a political element to this charge, a symbolic element to this charge in a way that there isn't with just obstruction or as sort of garden-variety conspiracy charge. This gets into attempting to oppose the U.S. government.

And getting a conviction on that - the government does not have a great track record, historically, of winning convictions on seditious conspiracy. And so getting a conviction here on that, from a jury, one, it validates the department's decision to kind of take the risk and bring this charge against Rhodes and the other defendants. But it also sends a message that, you know, January 6 was a big deal. It was a danger to American democracy and that a jury of 12 Americans came to that conclusion.

DAVIS: Ryan, you mentioned other defendants in the case. What happened with them?

LUCAS: So there were four other people on trial along with Rhodes. One other defendant, Kelly Meggs, was also convicted of seditious conspiracy. He was the leader of the Florida chapter. On January 6 he led, if you remember, the stack of people dressed in tactical gear...

DAVIS: Oh yeah.

LUCAS: ...Up the stairs of the Capitol. And then he led that stack into the Capitol. But he was the only other defendant in this case who was convicted of seditious conspiracy. The jury acquitted the three other defendants - Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell. But every defendant was convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding - that would be Congress' certification of the Electoral College count. They were also found guilty of a couple of other counts as well.

I think the kind of important thing to bear in mind here is that the jury clearly looked at the evidence as it related to each and every defendant, thought about it and came to a well thought out verdict here. It was not just kind of a clean sweep for the government where, you know - some defense attorneys have argue that D.C. juries are just going to give - you know, convict every January 6 defendant of every crime. And that's not what they did here. They clearly looked at the crimes that these people were accused of, what they were charged with, went through the evidence and came to a very reasonable conclusion, I think. And that's the conclusion, certainly, that one of Rhodes' attorneys said as well.

KHALID: So, Sue, I want to ask you about what's been going on in Congress around January 6 and specifically the January 6 investigations. I know we've been waiting on a report from the January 6 committee. Presumably that's supposed to come out before the new Congress.

DAVIS: It has to.


DAVIS: The committee will dissolve at the end of this year.


DAVIS: And they're essentially done their work. And they're in the writing phase. Our colleague Claudia Grisales has been covering this very closely. But the report is expected to be at least eight chapters. It's - they will publicly release what they're saying is all of the transcripts of the hundreds upon hundreds of interviews they did with people around. I mean, I think most of the bulk of the information of which this committee is provided has been given to the public already through hearings and other formats. But it will sort of tell the whole narrative and the whole tale.

And one of the things we're waiting to see is if the committee ultimately does decide to make any criminal referrals to the Justice Department. And we've said a million times that Congress doesn't have the power to prosecute. But they can, based on the evidence that they have accumulated, believe that a crime may have been committed and send it to the Justice Department to say, hey, we think you should look at this. Obviously, there's been a lot of focus over whether they would make a criminal referral around the former president, Donald Trump. But there's also an open question whether they might make criminal referrals for behavior for other actors involved in January 6. And that's one of the things that we're watching.

And I do think that the report will probably get a lot of attention again because it ultimately will be the final congressional record narrative of what the legislative body deemed happened on that day, what the potential consequences are and potentially recommendations for how Congress can, you know, make sure this doesn't happen again, one of those being the Electoral Count Act, which is legislation before Congress right now that would essentially clarify very murky election law that makes it clear that the vice president only serves a symbolic role in overseeing the electoral counts and will make it harder for lawmakers to object to their state's results.

KHALID: Ryan, I've got one last question for you before you go. You know, there was news yesterday about a special master was appointed to oversee documents seized from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, that that has stopped now. So what's going on?

LUCAS: That's right. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said basically that a lower court didn't have the jurisdiction to order the special master review or to bar Justice Department investigators from using files that were seized from Mar-a-Lago back in August. They said basically there's no reason to treat Trump differently from anybody else. Remember, there is a special counsel, Jack Smith, appointed to lead investigations that relate to Trump, one of them being the Mar-a-Lago investigation and the mishandling of classified documents. And then, of course, the other one is something that relates to what Sue was talking about in the January 6 committee, and that would be, you know, aspects of January 6 and looking at whether anyone unlawfully interfered in the transfer of power or the certification of the election. So there may be more shoes to drop in the weeks and months to come out of the special counsel.

KHALID: All right. Well, let's take a quick break. Ryan, thank you for your reporting, as always. Appreciate it.

LUCAS: Thank you.

KHALID: And when we come back, it is time for Can't Let It Go.

And we are back, and so is Barbara Sprunt. Hey there again.


KHALID: So it is time to end the show, like we do every single week, with Can't Let It Go. That's the part of the show where we talk about the things that we just cannot stop thinking about - politics or otherwise. And, Sue, how about you kick it off?

DAVIS: The thing I can't let go this week - it's Meghan and Harry again.


DAVIS: Again, I can't let it go.

KHALID: Tell me more.

DAVIS: Netflix dropped this week a trailer for...


DAVIS: ...A new documentary. I actually don't know if it's fair to call it a documentary 'cause I think they did it about themselves.

KHALID: It's the Beyonce move.

DAVIS: Yes, it's like a biopic documentary.

SPRUNT: They definitely call it a documentary.


DAVIS: They would call it a documentary.

SPRUNT: Whether we would is a different story.

DAVIS: I don't really know what it's about. It was a mashup of black-and-white photographs of them as a couple and then these very sort of dramatic "Real Housewives" moments where Harry's like, it's time to tell our story, or I must protect my family - and Meghan being like, with so much at stake, who better to tell our own story?


MEGHAN MARKLE: When the stakes are this high, doesn't it make more sense to hear our story from us?

SPRUNT: So have you watched this trailer more than once?


DAVIS: I don't - that's none of your business, Barbara.

SPRUNT: Yeah. No, not at all. One question I have here is, like, I feel like I've heard the story several times. I'm not saying I won't watch it again and hear the story again.


DAVIS: (Laughter) Yeah, I agree. I feel like the story is pretty well established at this point, but tell it to me again. It comes out, I think, next week. I will absolutely watch it, but...

KHALID: Me, too, then we can discuss.

DAVIS: Part of what I can't let go about it is that they made a very conscious decision to drop this trailer at the exact same time that his brother, Prince William, and Kate are in Boston on U.S. soil visiting.

SPRUNT: To drop their Netflix trailer.

DAVIS: It's just cold.

KHALID: Not a coincidence.

DAVIS: It's ice-cold in this family.

SPRUNT: Messy, messy.

KHALID: Well, speaking of Boston, I will say, that is my can't let it go - Boston and Will and Kate. This is a very royals-themed episode here at the end. So what I cannot let go of, as you mention, Will and Kate, the other royals - well, do we still call Meghan and Harry royals? I guess they're not.

DAVIS: They're still...

SPRUNT: I think they...

DAVIS: No, they're not...

KHALID: They're no longer royals.

SPRUNT: Didn't they consciously uncouple from the royal household?

KHALID: I think that is right.

DAVIS: They might have consciously uncoupled, yes.

KHALID: Well, Will and Kate, they are in Boston, as you mentioned. And I just cannot get over the very classically Boston response they have gotten to their visit.

DAVIS: They're seeing Boston hospitality?

KHALID: (Laughter) And for those of you who are unfamiliar with Boston hospitality, it included a trip to the Celtics game where they were booed and chants of U.S.A., U.S.A. were heard. I'm still left very confused as to why people were chanting U.S.A. Was this, like, in regards to the Revolutionary War?

DAVIS: I mean, look, Boston probably has the highest concentration of Irish Americans...


DAVIS: ...Anywhere in the U.S. - or at least absolutely one of the top destinations of Irish American populations. And the Irish and the British have a very complicated history, to put it mildly. So I would say it was a choice for Will and Kate...

KHALID: To go to Boston.

DAVIS: ...To choose Boston as the place to visit in the U.S. You had to be open to the fact that you might get a little pushback especially at a Boston sports game...


DAVIS: ...Like, the most Boston-y attitude place you could go.

KHALID: But what I love is it wasn't just the basketball game. There's this blurb from the Boston Globe. I'm going to read to you all. It says, I didn't invite these people.

SPRUNT: (Laughter).

KHALID: Somerville locals worried about what royal visit means for trips to Market Basket.

DAVIS: Or Dunkin's.

KHALID: Market Basket, for those of you who don't know...

SPRUNT: Not Dunkin'.

KHALID: ...Is the very beloved grocery store. And I just love this sort of curmudgeonly attitude. It's very Boston.

DAVIS: That it's just going to mess with traffic...


DAVIS: ...So why could anyone be excited about that? I do like that, too.

SPRUNT: Although I will say, like, we get a little bit of that in D.C. Like, when the motorcade comes through or when, like, people are visiting from other countries...

KHALID: It's like, ah, yes.

SPRUNT: ...And, like, whole roads get shut down - like, we didn't invite those people here either.


KHALID: So, Barbara, what can you not let go of?

SPRUNT: OK. Well, this is related, but I just cannot let go of the wardrobe choices from the prince and princess of Wales. I - this is a reason why I - this is the only reason why I could never be royalty, is because I would not choose fashion over function. Like, it's supercold in Boston. And they look cold because they have these flimsy...

KHALID: They weren't wearing coats.

SPRUNT: ...Very fancy, very beautiful coats.

DAVIS: Yeah.

SPRUNT: But, like, there's no way that keeps you warm. You know what I mean? Like, you need a parka, scarves, gloves...


SPRUNT: ...Maybe a little heated jacket. Like - and none of that looks cute, right? So I just couldn't let that go.

DAVIS: Like, Princess Barbara's in Ugg boots and a parka.

KHALID: Were they wearing coats everywhere, though? I feel like I saw a photo of her out on the street not - maybe it was a coat.

SPRUNT: I mean, if it's a coat, it's not a coat that I recognize as a winter coat, you know?

DAVIS: I mean, look, these are not people that need to wait for the car to warm up. The car is already warm when they get in it. So I'm not sure that not having your coat from, like, the door to the car is going to be that bad in a Boston winter.

SPRUNT: That's fair. Although, can you imagine? Because, like, you're having your picture taken constantly, right? And, like, I don't look very photogenic when I'm freezing cold.

DAVIS: I also feel bad for Kate 'cause she always has to look like she's so happy to be wherever she is...


DAVIS: ...'Cause you never want to get the shot where you look miserable. But, like, that has to be exhausting, too. Like, the constant smiling and, like, admitting, like, I've - there's nowhere else I'd rather be than in this Boston game getting booed.


KHALID: All right. Well, that is a wrap for today. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Our editor is Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Elena Moore and Casey Morell. Thanks to Krishnadev Calamur, Brandon Carter, Lexie Schapitl, Juma Sei and Katherine Swartz. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

SPRUNT: And I'm Barbara Sprunt. I also cover politics.

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


SPRUNT: So fun.

KHALID: The royals.

SPRUNT: I think we could just do a pod on that.

KHALID: I know.

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