The Issue Is: Sex trafficking and the politics of crime, 2024, and Hollywood on strike

A busy week in California, as state legislators debated the issue of sex trafficking, former President Trump further solidified his lead in the GOP primary, and Hollywood shuts down with actors joining writers on the picket lines for a historic dual strike.

Elex Michaelson and an esteemed group of journalists break down those topics and more, this week on "The Issue Is."

First up, Michaelson is joined by political strategist Brian Goldsmith and professor Dan Schnur. The two discuss the controversy this week in Sacramento, where Democratic members of the Assembly initially blocked a bill that aimed to make child sex trafficking a "serious felony." Eventually, backlash, including from Governor Newsom, led to a change of heart. The whole incident leading to a larger discussion about the politics of crime in the Golden State.

Also on the agenda: 2024. This, as President Biden sees his poll numbers remain underwater, amid calls from some to "step aside," and as President Trump solidifies his lead in state and national polls, over the rest of the GOP field. But with 16 months left until Americans cast their final ballot, does any of it matter just yet?

Next, Michaelson is joined by Variety’s Elizabeth Wagmeister. This, on a week when SAG-AFTRA, representing 160,000 actors and performers officially went on strike, joining picketing writers who have been on strike themselves for nearly three months. Wagmeister reveals what she’s hearing from the picket lines, the sticking points of the negotiations, and more.


SCHNUR’S CENTRAL TAKE: "For most of the late 20th century, Republicans used the criminal justice and public safety issue debate here in California and elsewhere, essentially as a tiebreaker in statewide elections. And through the eighties and nineties, this was the issue that they used as a wedge against Democrats. Now, as we find out so often, history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. And just as after Democrats had been perceived as being weak on crime in the 1960s and seventies, Republicans benefited from the overcorrection. We've now seen over the last couple of decades here, Democrats in California pursuing a much less aggressive stance on criminal justice. Because crime has dropped so much in California, that hasn't really hurt them over the years, but now the crime rates are going up again, it IS a challenge…"

GOLDSMITH’S CENTRAL TAKE: "Crime really came roaring back as an issue this decade. It cost the Democratic Party probably 12 to 14 House seats in 2020. It cost the Democrats the House itself in the '22 cycle, especially in two big blue states, California and New York. There are about a dozen Biden districts that are now represented by Republican members of Congress, and that alone is more than double Kevin McCarthy's margin. So Democrats have got to go right at this issue. They've got to fix this issue. And any time the word or phrase, 'child sex trafficking' is anywhere near the Democratic Party, that is a big problem…"


GOLDSMITH’S CENTRAL TAKE: "The driver behind it is an economic driver, which is that a middle class job is no longer providing middle class life, particularly in places like L.A. and San Francisco. The cost of housing, in particular, is making it just unaffordable for people to be able to live decently even, and especially, if they're working full time. And so Labor is pushing back to try to use the tight market to drive more earning power for their members…"

SCHNUR’S CENTRAL TAKE: "Well, it has the potential to be more effective this year than under most circumstances... One of the thing that's going on here, Elex, which I think does help them, is think of this as the post-COVID season of strikes. A lot of these men and women were essential workers during the shutdown, and that allowed them to gain a level of public sympathy, but it also gave them a political opportunity, as COVID has eased, to come back and say we were there for, you know, we want our share, too…"


SCHNUR’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I think what most Americans have decided is decided is that it's not a good idea [to have a President in his mid-eighties], but they're going to make that decision in the context of a comparison. Old old joke about the two guys on the camping trip, bear shows up, one of the guys starts to lace on his sneakers, hs friend says, 'what are you putting on sneakers for? You can't outrun that bear,' and the guy says, 'yeah, but I can outrun you.' That's essentially the Biden strategy against Trump. Make no mistake about it, Elex. Joe Biden may be is the only Democrat who can beat Donald Trump. But Donald Trump might be the only Republican who Joe Biden can beat, because in the context of that comparison, Biden knows I don't have to be perfect. I just have to be better than him…"

GOLDSMITH’S CENTRAL TAKE: "It's a legitimate question. I mean, Joe Biden acknowledges that it's a legitimate question. I think it has been helpful that his answer to that question has moved from 'Watch me,' to, 'with age comes wisdom and experience and the ability to be effective.' I think we saw that just this week. I don't know of any other president, Democrat or Republican, who could have kind of moved the chess pieces in a way to persuade the Turks to get the Swedes into NATO to expand NATO to push back against Russia. Domestically, you look at his record, every other presidents, Democrats and Republicans, has not lived up to what Biden has achieved probably since LBJ. So I think he has an answer to the question, but he's going to have to answer it over and over…"


GOLDSMITH’S CENTRAL TAKE: "Well, he's the former president. You know, he has a very favorable view among Republican voters. You would expect him to be quite dominant. I'm a little bit contrarian on this, I think the national polls don't matter until after Iowa and New Hampshire. I think the whole campaign boils down to: can somebody beat Trump, presumably, hopefully, the same person, because I'm rooting for Trump to lose in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then it's a real race. But if Trump wins those two states, it's over, he's the nominee…"

SCHNUR’S CENTRAL TAKE: "Years and years ago, the former basketball player, Dennis Rodman, once said he said, quote, 'the only bad press is an obituary,' and to me, that sums up Donald Trump's approach to politics... He would rather achieve unfavorable coverage than no coverage, because at least then he can dominate the conversation. And in the Republican primary, he's dominating the conversation to a degree that no other candidate has a chance to be heard, and one or more of them, other than Chris Christie, are going to have to figure out how harsh they're willing to go after him in order to get into that conversation…"


WAGMEISTER’S CENTRAL TAKE: "First of all, when we say rich actors, that is the .01% of the 0.01% in Hollywood. When you were out there on the picket lines, where I just was earlier today, these are not rich actors, these are people who are living paycheck to paycheck. And then when you look at what this is about, strikes are usually all about money, right? This is about money, of course, they want their pay to be increased, it's also about protection in the streaming world and with artificial intelligence….

"They are telling us that when they were in the negotiating room, that what the studio side wants is to be able to have an extra come in for one day, and a day rate under the SAG contract is around $200, they want to be able to scan their face, they work one day, and then they could use their likeness and their image in perpetuity. So that means that you are getting paid around $200 for a few hours of work, but then you show up in the background everywhere. So that is a really scary reality and that's what the actors say that they are fighting against…"

The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to