First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Clinton, Sanders to clash in debate after contentious week
Remember last fall when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders shook hands after Sanders exclaimed that "the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damned emails"? Well, those days are long gone, particularly after a combative week that sets up the final Democratic debate (?) of the 2016 campaign before the April 19 New York primary. Consider the back-and-forth over the past week:
- Sanders called Clinton "unqualified" after the former secretary of state dodged repeated questions on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" about whether Sanders was qualified.
- After backing away from that line of attack, Sanders went after Clinton's "judgment" on NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday: "In terms of her judgment, something is clearly lacking," he said.
- The Clinton campaign seized Sanders' interview with the New York Daily News editorial board to hit the Vermont senator on his guns record and his plans to break up the banks.
- Clinton herself said, "I have noticed that under the bright spotlight and scrutiny here in New York, Senator Sanders has had trouble answering questions."
- Sanders said Bill Clinton should apologize for defending his wife's 1990s-era "super predator" comments.
- And on "Today" this morning, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that the Sanders is expected to go after the $225,000 that Verizon paid Clinton for a speech, especially in light of the strike of Verizon workers.
Sanders surrogates and supporters gone wild
What's more, before Sanders took the stage at his big rally in New York City last night, health-care-reform activist Dr. Paul Song told the crowd that the country needs to stop electing "corporate Democratic whores" and elect instead "Bernie-crats," per MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald. Song apologized on Twitter, "I am very sorry for using the term 'whore' to refer to some in Congress who are beholden to corporations and not us. It was insensitive." The Clinton campaign asked for Sanders to "disavow" that language, and Sanders tweeted Thursday morning that the comment was "inappropriate and insensitive." NBC's Danny Freeman has observed that Sanders surrogates and supporters veering off message isn't something new. "Winning South Carolina in a Democratic primary is about as significant as winning Guam!" actor Tim Robbins recently proclaimed. "Well, yes, she is under FBI investigation, thank you," actress Rosario Dawson has added. And rapper Killer Mike quoted a feminist insisting that having a "uterus" doesn't qualify you to be president. Asked about his surrogates' controversial remarks, Sanders told CNN recently, "We have many, many surrogates who say many, many things. Many of these surrogates do not agree with everything I say. And I do not agree with every approach and everything that they say. And that's the simple reality." But here is the reality of presidential politics: When a surrogate does something controversial, a high-profile presidential campaign typically owns it. Take, for instance, Bill de Blasio's racially tinged joke at that New York dinner, which has produced plenty of news. Tonight's Democratic debate takes place at 9:00 pm ET.
Where the Democratic delegate race stands
In pledged delegates, Clinton holds a lead of 244 delegates (with Washington delegates to still be allocated)
- Clinton 1287 (55%)
- Sanders 1043 (45%)
In superdelegates, Clinton holds a lead of 422 delegates
- Clinton 461
- Sanders 39
In overall delegates (pledged + super), Clinton holds an overall lead of 666 delegates
- Clinton 1748 (62%)
- Sanders 1082 (38%)
Clinton must win 33% of remaining delegates to reach 2383 magic number
Sanders must win 67% of remaining delegates to reach 2383 magic number
Cruz, Kasich to participate in town halls airing on MSNBC
Tonight's Democratic debate isn't the only 2016 event that's taking place tonight. At 7:00 pm ET, MSNBC will air a town hall with John Kasich moderated by MSNBC's Chris Matthews. And at 8:00 pm ET, MSNBC will air a town hall with Ted Cruz moderated by NBC's Chuck Todd. Here is where the GOP delegate race currently stands:
Trump holds a 211-delegate lead over Cruz
- Trump 756 (45% of delegates won)
- Cruz 545 (32%)
- Rubio 172 (10%)
- Kasich 143 (9%)
Trump needs to win 61% of remaining delegates to reach 1237 magic number
Cruz needs to win 87% of remaining delegates to reach 1237 magic number
Kasich needs to win 138% of remaining delegates to reach 1237 magic number
What happens to the Rubio delegates?
Sticking with the GOP race, MSNBC's Ari Melber looks at what happens to Marco Rubio's delegates. "When he suspended his campaign, Marco Rubio said he wasn't running for president but urged local GOP officials to let him keep his delegates… It turns out, however, that Rubio won't get to keep them all. The Florida senator's strategy is hitting some turbulence, NBC News has learned, because several state parties have determined Rubio does not get to hold onto all his delegates. Only 34 of the 172 delegates Rubio won in the primaries will be immediately up for grabs on the first ballot in Cleveland. That development is opening up a fierce competition to win these lapsed Rubio delegates, which are located in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Louisiana."
Politico: Charges against Trump campaign manager to be dropped
Finally, per Politico: "A Florida prosecutor has decided not to prosecute Donald Trump's campaign manager for battery after a March run-in with former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, sources with knowledge of the situation told POLITICO. The decision not to press charges against Corey Lewandowski is scheduled to be announced on Thursday afternoon by Palm Beach County State Attorney David Aronberg."
On the trail
Before tonight's debate, Bernie Sanders addresses Al Sharpton's National Action Network at 12:15 pm ET… Bill Clinton campaigns in Rhode Island… And Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich speech at a NYGOP dinner in Manhattan.