John Light

John is TPM‘s Prime editor. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, UN Dispatch, Vox, Worth, and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. Before joining TPM, John was a producer for Bill Moyers and WNYC, and worked as a news writer for Grist. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and film at Oberlin College, and got his master‘s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Articles by John

Hello TPM members,

This week we saw the House Judiciary Committee receive the impeachment baton from the House Intelligence Committee, and we got a video of world leaders of various ideological stripes giggling together about Trump at a cocktail party.

Next week impeachment hearings resume, and the Department of Justice’s inspector general will release his report on the origins of the investigation in Trump’s 2016 campaign. Watch for leaks this weekend.

Also: we’re getting ready to hand out the Golden Dukes. Give us your nominees!

Here’s what happened in Prime.

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The end of the year is just around the corner, and it’s time to look back and contemplate what was. Get ready for the annual TPM Golden Dukes: the awards celebrating the year’s political disasters of all stripes.

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Another twelve person debate didn’t afford any one candidate much time to shine. But here is some of what stood out to us about each one.

Joe Biden seemed to get off to a weirdly shaky start when asked about Trump’s Ukraine and China-related attacks against his son, Hunter — especially given that he is innocent and that the question was one that the moderators were definitely going to ask. He picked up speed as the debate went on. In the last half hour, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Biden rehashed some of their differences on health care.
Elizabeth Warren did well, again. She spoke cogently about her support for a wealth tax, and the problems with Amazon’s near-monopoly on online shopping. She also resisted, smartly, when Kamala Harris pushed her to call on Twitter to ban Trump’s account.
Bernie Sanders was back, post-heart attack, a fact for which the audience gave him a long round of applause. He felt a bit subdued, but made his points clearly. As the debate wrapped up, news broke of a coup: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will endorse Sanders.
Pete Buttigieg, a Rhodes scholar and former McKinsey consultant, seemed to be angling to distinguish himself as the anti-elite, man of the people on stage, citing his midwestern upbringing. He stood out for his strong stance in favor of court packing.
Kamala Harris made a curious decision in choosing to challenge Warren to call on Twitter to suspend Trump’s account, part of a larger discussion about checking the influence of big tech. It seemed to miss the point of the conversation — holding big tech accountable means kicking Trump off Twitter? — and Warren did not take the bait.
Beto O’Rourke shone, as in previous debates, when talking about his strong stance on gun laws. He also ended up on the defensive when Buttigieg seemed to take offense at O’Rourke’s gun comments.
Andrew Yang felt more combative this time, and his performance was free of the raffle-type gimmick that he kicked off with in September. Yang continues to advance a strong diagnosis of the U.S.’s domestic problems — which makes it weird that he continues to pivot, on each topic, to championing a one-size-fits all solution: a universal basic income.
Cory Booker hit a note, twice, that always feels a bit bizarre — that Democrats should be careful not to debate too hard during a debate. Still, he came off as perhaps the most positive candidate on stage, a unique identity during a gloomy time for the party. He also told a powerful story about a neighbor who was fatally shot. Those charged anecdotes can be tricky to navigate.
Amy Klobucher’s performance tonight was even and seemed to be her strongest so far. Her framing of the need to confront big tech as a “pro-competition” issue — something both parties once advocated for — was effective.
Tom Steyer didn’t get a lot of time during his first night on stage, and his performance got dinged a bit for his stiff delivery. He tried to present himself as a successful businessman, and thus a compelling candidate to go up against Trump, who he expects to tout the strong economy. He also was the source of some of the only lines on climate change tonight.
Julián Castro also didn’t get much time tonight, but made a strong point that police violence is gun violence, invoking Atatiana Jefferson of Fort Worth, Texas, who was killed last week by a police officer while in her own home.
Tulsi Gabbard made the interesting play of going after first Warren and then fellow veteran Pete Buttigieg on Syria, asking them to condemn wars fought to achieve “regime change.” No one ended up committing to anything specifically, but it provided a jumping off point for a series of Democrats to speak to the damage Trump’s recent withdrawal from Syria, and the subsequent massacre of the Kurds, has done to the U.S.’s international trustworthiness.

We’ll be watching along with you tonight as twelve Democratic presidential contenders take the stage, and TPM’s New York team will be liveblogging our reactions. (Pretty sure the DC office is busy with the Nationals game.)

Follow along here.

Around 2:30 p.m. last Thursday, TPM investigative reporter Josh Kovensky and I were having a conversation through instant message as I edited one of his articles. In the middle of this, he suddenly wrote “HUH.”

Then: “I just had a breakthrough.”

I continued editing, and he started working on something new. I soon learned what that breakthrough was.

The story of Kovensky’s realization illustrates just how knowledgeable our reporting team is and how our members make their tireless work to report on and analyze the news possible. (So if you’re not a member, please take a moment to join.)

And read on about his big hunch.

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Starting today and continuing for a week, TPM will be joining more than 250 news organizations in amping up our coverage of climate change and the political realities that surround it.

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This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.

The annual session of the United Nations General Assembly will open Tuesday in New York City. Topping the agenda for Secretary-General António Guterres is action on climate change.

Saying the stakes are high for Guterres is an understatement. Diplomats will gather this week at a time when global efforts to address climate change appear dangerously close to stalling out thanks to American indifference, even though the unavoidable signs that the climate is changing are becoming increasingly apparent to people around the globe.

In the run-up to this UN General Assembly, Guterres has been attempting to paint an especially dire picture, hoping to push countries to amp up their greenhouse gas-cutting commitments under the Paris Agreement a year ahead of schedule.

But President Trump’s unwillingness to play ball remains the elephant in the room. He will skip the climate summit and will send EPA administrator and former fossil fuel lobbyist Andrew Wheeler in his stead. As Trump moves quickly to dismantle Barack Obama’s climate legacy by removing restrictions on greenhouse gases, it’s a big ask for Guterres to suggest that other countries to do more.



To understand why Trump’s presidency is so paralyzing to UN climate negotiations, it’s helpful to take a look back at how we got the Paris Agreement in the first place.

The political will to address climate change was at a high in 2015 when the deal became a reality during an end-of-year summit in the French capital. After abortive attempts to work out a climate deal in Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009, negotiators arrived in Paris hopeful that they might finally agree to a global plan to cut emissions.

The difference this time was that the world’s two biggest polluters appeared to finally be on board. The year before, Obama and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping had shaken hands on an agreement to reduce their respective countries’ climate change-causing emissions.

That was a big deal. China and the U.S. had always been fickle during climate negotiations. The U.S.’s unwillingness, in particular, to cap its pollution had repeatedly derailed past efforts. Now, negotiators were arriving in Paris with a U.S.-China promise already on the table.

What’s more, Obama showed a desire to make his promise of U.S. emission cuts a reality. His administration moved to clean up electricity generation through the Clean Power Plan, reduce vehicle emissions, and cap methane leaks from natural gas pipelines. Meanwhile, China seemed to be cleaning up its own act.

With that foundation, nearly 200 countries convened at the end of 2015 to hammer out a climate agreement, and by mid-December, they had it. The Paris Agreement they produced was non-binding — that was crucial for the U.S., as a binding agreement would likely need sign-off from the Republican-controlled Congress. It called on countries to voluntarily offer up a plan for cutting emissions. As time went on, countries would revise those plans to make them more ambitious.

That Paris agreement went into effect on November 4, 2016.

Four days later, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

It was at that point that the wave of global enthusiasm for addressing climate change crested, and began to retreat.

Trump announced his intention to pull out of the Paris Agreement, and, aided by EPA administrators and Secretaries of the Interior who shared his vision, started to dismantle Obama’s climate legacy. (Their job was made considerably easier by the fact that much of what Obama did was through executive branch rulemaking. It was a strategy of necessity: During Obama’s second term, Republicans controlled the House, and, during the last two years, the Senate.)

As the U.S. has stepped away from leading the climate charge, other countries have attempted to pick up the mantle. China and the EU have repeatedly sought to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to the Paris agreement. China is, reportedly, planning to unveil new, more ambitious climate targets at the UN General Assembly this week. But the country’s case for climate leadership is complicated by its global ambitions: Even as it cleans up its act at home, it continues to invest in dirty-energy projects abroad as it expands its reach in the developing world.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres before the bilateral meeting of the Second Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People on April 25, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Andrea Verdelli/Pool/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the rising tide of right-wing populism worldwide and the skepticism of institutions that comes with it is battering the Paris Agreement. Following in Trump’s footsteps, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to pull his country out of it.

But while climate action appears stuck in place, climate change itself continues to move forward: the most salient, recent example is the Bahamas, which was battered for days by Hurricane Dorian, which paused above it.

“I’ve never seen such dramatic devastation anywhere else in the world,” Guterres said, visiting Abaco Island in the Bahamas Saturday. “They say this is a hurricane category five. I believe is is a hurricane category ‘hell.'”



While action on climate change is a global project, negotiators worldwide will be closely watching the U.S. election.

Though Trump has touted the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, we’re actually still in it — though we’re making no effort to comply. The U.S. sends negotiators to climate talks, and they weigh in with their perspective on issues. (Journalist Bob Berwyn calls it a “schizophrenic” approach, with the State Department sending a delegation of career diplomats, the White House sending a separate delegation to talk up fossil fuels, and a coalition of blue and purple cities and states sending a third delegation under the banner “We Are Still In.”)

In fact, the U.S. will remain in the agreement until November 2020. That’s because the agreement stipulates that, after entering it, no country can leave for three years. After a country announces its intention to leave, there’s an additional one-year waiting period before it can do so. That means that, because the agreement went into effect on November 4, 2016, the U.S. can’t leave until November 4, 2020.

That’s the day after the 2020 presidential election.

Each Democrat running has said they will recommit the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, and has their own plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, many of which go far beyond what Obama’s efforts would have achieved. Having the U.S. rejoin the Paris Agreement and seek in good faith to reduce emissions would change the political calculus entirely for other nations.

The challenge for Guterres is to push the world to move forward, Trump be damned. It’s not an easy job, but it’s also not one for which the world really has a choice.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.


John Light is Talking Points Memo’s managing editor. He has written about the politics of climate change for Reuters, The Atlantic, Grist and UN Dispatch.

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Join us at 8 p.m. for live coverage of tonight’s Democratic debate. Josh Marshall will be writing here in the ed blog, and TPM staff will be on hand with a liveblog for members and coverage of tonight’s notable moments.

Hello TPM members and welcome to the weekend.

With signs of a recession on the horizon, Trump is trying to make sure that Americans don’t blame him — especially at the ballot box in 2020. For now, Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell is a convenient target.

Here’s what happened in Prime this week.

  • Arizona’s Republican attorney general is staffing up a new “election integrity” unit. David Kurtz writes that it’s part of a “vicious cycle where those making bogus voter fraud claims (including the president himself) create an environment where ‘confidence’ becomes an issue, and elected officials respond to the supposed climate of concern. It basically rewards those making the most outlandish bad faith voter fraud claims.”
  • A state official in Oregon says that a weekly newspaper is coming after him due to a personal vendetta. The newspaper says it’s just doing its job.
  • Court filings this week gave us a look at where the New York attorney general’s investigation into the NRA might be headed.
  • Mark Halperin and Judith Regan cash in on outrage.
  • Josh Marshall reviews a study that shows higher rates of aggression in the American South.
  • Another official spins through the revolving door between the White House and Fox News.
  • When it comes to election security, Georgia isn’t doing so hot, according to a federal judge.
  • Chris Murphy thinks there’s a chance Trump will still act on gun control. Is that true?
  • Mueller’s probe is over, but his case against the Russian trolls may still go to trial.

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We’ve heard some wild stories about former Trump business associate Felix Sater over the years. Not only did he try to help Trump build a tower in Moscow; not only did he promise to “get Putin on this program” in order to “get Donald elected” — he also was an FBI informant? And also, supposedly, helped track down Osama bin Laden? And imprison mafiosos? It strained credulity.

A newly surfaced government document confirms that many of these stories are, in fact, true. Matt Shuham writes up the highlights for TPM members.