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2020 roundup: Sanders makes big promise on carbon emissions

WASHINGTON — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sander is putting his money where his mouth is on climate change, announcing Thursday that his campaign is "offsetting all carbon emissions produced from campaign travel activities."

That's a notable ask for a campaign that has to crisscross the country, often by plane. His 2018 reelection campaign spent almost $300,000 on private jet travel, with his campaign spokeswoman telling VT Digger those flights were to help campaign for Democrats and that it spent almost $5,000 to purchase carbon offsets in response to that flight. Sanders also invested in carbon offsets to help balance out his 2016 travel too. 

This is yet another example of what NBC's Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald pointed out yesterday—Democratic candidates are trying to live their campaign values this cycle through how they run their own campaigns. 

Click here to read more from Sarlin and Seitz-Wald, and read on for more stories you may have missed from the 2020 beat. 

  • Former Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper drew some headlines from his CNN town hall last night, but perhaps not one he was intending to garner.
  • Axios is reporting that former Vice President Joe Biden's advisers are debating whether to announce Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams as his vice presidential pick early on in the process. It would be a move meant to shore up many of his potential weaknesses, as Benjy Sarlin writes in new NBC anaylsis. But it's not one without some big risks too, as it could also look like an acknowledgement he needs a crutch to run. 
  • Seitz-Wald also broke some news this morning about Democratic super PAC American Bridge's plans to chip away at President Trump's base with a $50 million effort. 
  • Politico reports that there's going to be a Texas-sized showdown in the Lone Star State's Democratic primary, with California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris making moves to challenge Texans Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro.

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Dem candidates welcome Biden to race with fundraising pitches

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidates are responding to former Vice President Joe Biden's decision to jump into the presidential race ... with fundraising appeals.

In the hours after Biden's announcement, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders all reached out to their lists to raise money off of Biden's announcement. 

Booker's email appeal notes that "there is no doubt his decision could shake up the race," and warns that Biden's entry "poses a real challenge for an underdog campaign like ours."

Castro takes a more confident approach, arguing that he welcomes Biden's candidacy because even though he is not a frontrunner, "this country was not built by frontrunners."

O'Rourke's email and Sanders' text-message appeal strikes a similar note, both telling supporters that "today is an important day" to show support. 

Inslee's email points to his embrace of combating climate change, arguing that "with so many voices speaking up, it's up to us to ensure climate change becomes the defining issue of this race." 

And Harris pivots off of praise for Biden and her declaration that "the more, the merrier" in a primary to ask for a donation to help her "cut through the noise and reach more voters" in the crowded primary. 

Top Biden aide: He's at the top of presidential primary polls because people 'know who he is'

WASHINGTON — Kate Bedingfield, the deputy campaign manager for former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid, argued Thursday that Biden can be the change that Democratic voters are looking for despite being one of the oldest candidates in the field. 

"Voters know Joe Biden. I think they know he's a man of character, he's a man of empathy," she said on MSNBC. 

"And, I think, as Democrats are looking for a change — and frankly, it's voters across  the country looking for a change from what we currently have in the White House — there's no bigger change than Joe Biden."

Watch Bedingfield's full interview with MSNBC's Hallie Jackson, hours after Biden launched his campaign, below. 

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Cory Booker gave $460K to charity over 10 years, tax returns show

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., released 10 years of tax returns on Wednesday, which show that the lawmaker and 2020 hopeful gave $460,000 to charity between 2009 and 2018.

As a U.S. senator, Booker receives a salary of $174,000 a year. In 2018, he reported $152,715 in income and paid $29,446 in federal taxes. That same tax year, he gave $24,000 to charity. In 2017, the senator raked in more income than in 2018 — $429, 983 — in addition to his Senate salary thanks to $275,250 in income from "Rents, Royalties, Patents, and Copyrights." He paid $34,298 in taxes that year. 

Booker released a book in 2009 titled "United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good."

Booker now joins several other 2020 candidates who have publicly released tax returns public. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., released his long-awaited returns earlier this month. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also released 15 years of returns. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., added 2018 to the 10 years of returns she released last August. In March, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was the first candidate to release her 2018 returns, publishing 12 years total, and started an online petition that calls on every candidate to disclose their taxes. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, and his wife released 10 years of tax returns in mid-April.

Beto and his wife reported $370,412 in income in 2017, the most recent year available, and listed $1,166 in charitable giving, which is one-third of 1 percent. Harris and her husband made $1.9 million last year, according to her returns, and gave $27,000 to charity. Warren and her husband reported $906,000 in income and reported donating $50,000 to charity in 2018.

Harry Reid: Democrats can't 'afford' impeachment

LAS VEGAS — Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that his party can't "afford" to impeach President Donald Trump, arguing that such an effort could backfire politically. 

“If you look at what happened following the impeachment of President Clinton, his popularity rose dramatically,” Reid said. “We have just a short time until the next election. If impeachment proceedings go forward — and they might go forward — I think this country will be spending an inordinate amount of time on impeachment and nothing else. And I don’t think we can afford that.”

The former Nevada Senator appeared alongside former GOP House Speaker John Boehner for an on-stage interview with “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada’s MGM Public Policy Institute.

Prior to the event, the two men had a chance to address a topic that’s historically dear to Reid on the Chuck ToddCast: term limits for judges. Some Democrats have flirted with supporting term limits as both a way to provide a check on the judiciary and lower the stakes of a confirmation battle. 

When asked if it's time to consider term limits for judges, Reid said, “the judiciary itself should take care of it.”  But, he added, "if they don’t do something about it themselves, Congress is gonna step in in the meantime.”

Boehner agreed: “I don’t think there’s any way to legislate this. But I think the Bar Association and these judges need to look in the mirror and determine what makes sense.”

What one Founding Father warned about impeachment

WASHINGTON — As House Democrats weigh the potential costs and benefits of impeaching Trump, it’s worth noting how one of the Founding Fathers predicted impeachment would go.

Here is Alexander Hamilton writing in Federalist 65

“A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."

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"The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”

Back then, Senators weren’t even elected directly by the people. And they were considered to have far more distance from political pressure than they do today, in part because the lack of the two-party structure that dominates modern American politics.

And even so, Hamilton warned that impeachment could “divide [the debate] into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused” and that the debate could ultimately be decided “more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”

College football great Lou Holtz endorses in IL House race

WASHINGTON — College Football Hall of Fame Coach Lou Holtz is backing one of his former Notre Dame players, Republican Ted Gradel, in his quest to face off against freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood. 

Gradel jumped into the Republican primary for the western Illinois seat on Tuesday with a video that predominately features Holtz telling the story of Gradel's quest to become the starting Notre Dame kicker despite not coming into college with a football scholarship. 

"Americans know what it's like to be up against the odds. We just need our chance and leaders to protect our freedom, opportunity and the values that made this underdog nation the greatest on Earth," Holtz says as video 

"You give Ted Gradel a chance, I promise you, he won't let you down."

After his time playing football, Gradel went into a career as an investor and trader. It's because of that experience, he says, that he decided to run for Congress.

Gradel will have to wade through a crowded field if he wants to win the chance to challenge Underwood, a field that includes State Sen. Jim Oberweis, who was the party's nominee for Senate in 2014 and the party's nominee for the district in 2008 before redistricting shuffled the boundaries. 

Underwood defeated GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren in 2018 by 5 points, despite the fact that President Trump won the district in 2016 by 4 points. 

Democrats differ on granting voting rights to prisoners

WASHINGTON—The Democratic presidential field has differing opinions on whether incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote, a divide that surfaced during a handful of candidate town halls on CNN Monday night. 

When asked about his view on the issue, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders backed the idea of protecting the voting rights of people in jail, even violent felons, pointing to the fact that it's already law in his home state. 

"The right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away and you say, Well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote.  Oh, that person did that, not going to let that person vote.'  You're running down a slippery slope," he said.   

"So I believe that people commit crimes, they paid the price.  When they get out of jail, I believe they certainly should have the right to vote.  But I do believe that even if they are in jail they're paying their price to society, but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy."  

Other candidates disagreed, or offered a more qualified answer.

  • California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris: "I agree that the right to vote is one of the very important components of citizenship and it is something that people should not be stripped of needlessly...I think we should have that conversation. "
  • South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, when asked if those incarcerated should be able to vote: "No, I don't think so. I do believe that when you are out, when you have served your sentence, then part of being restored to society is that you're part of the political life of this nation again.  And one of the things that needs to be restored is your right to vote."
  • California Rep. Eric Swalwell: "Some people, like the Boston marathon bombers, those individuals should never vote in America again.”
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed the issue Tuesday in a conversation with reporters, saying "I'm not there yet." 

While other issues, like health care and climate change, have dominated much of the presidential debate, many Democrats have previously voiced their support for a related measure—felon re-enfranchisement laws that would grant the right to vote back to former felons who complete their sentencing requirements. 

Harris, Buttigieg, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Warren and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke are among those who back that policy. 

The push comes months after a high-profile vote in Florida last November that gave formerly incarcerated felons the right to register to vote after completing any post-sentencing requirements (such as parole and probation.)

 

Gillibrand criticizes Kushner for downplaying Russia election hack

WASHINGTON—New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is running for president, accused top White House adviser Jared Kushner of trying to minimize Russia's interference in the 2016 election. 

Earlier Tuesday, Kushner downplayed Russia's interference as "a couple of Facebook ads" during an interview at the Time 100 Summit, arguing that "the investigations and all the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy." 

Gillibrand responded to Kushner's comment during an interview on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" by calling it "an outrage." 

"For him to make light of a foreign adversary purposely trying to undermine our elections is untenable," she said. 

"And I'm gravely concerned this administration continues not to take this seriously and those statements are highly inappropriate.” 

Gillibrand also criticized Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's lawyer, for normalizing foreign election interference  during his Sunday interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." And she pointed to her new pledge to not use hacked or stolen information on the campaign trail. 

The Mueller report detailed extensive attempts by Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor through posts on social media. It also outlined that the Trump campaign planned how to to best capitalize  on the release of private information stolen from Democrats, and that some members of the campaign sought to reach out to WikiLeaks to learn more information about the hack.  

Watch Gillibrand's full interview below. 

Poll: Democratic voters aren't putting a premium on the diversity of their presidential nominee

WASHINGTON—As former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders continue to hold the top spot in Democratic presidential primary polling, a new national poll shows that Democratic voters aren't placing too much importance on the diversity of their nominee. 

Almost nine in 10 registered Democrats in Monmouth University's new poll said that the race of their nominee doesn't matter in the campaign against Donald Trump. The remaining portion was split between whether Democrats would be better off nominating a candidate of color or a white candidate. 

There's a bit less ambivalence over the gender of the presidential nominee, but not much. More than three quarters of registered Democrats don't believe the gender of the nominee matters, with seven percent believing the Democrats would be better off nominating a woman and 12 percent saying the party would be in a better position with a male nominee. 

That sentiment comes as four white men—Biden, Sanders, former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg—have all spent time toward the top of the polls. 

“This is the most diverse field of presidential candidates in history, but that doesn’t seem to be a major consideration for Democratic voters at this early stage of the campaign. It’s probably a large reason why a couple of old white guys are leading the pack right now,” Patrick Murray, the director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement accompanying the release of the poll.

That same poll showed Biden in first place, followed by Sanders, Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and O'Rourke.

Monmouth polled 330 registered Democrats by telephone (a mix of landline and cell phone) between April 11 to April 15. The poll's margin of error is 5.4 percent. 

MJ Hegar jumps in to face John Cornyn in Texas Senate battle

WASHINGTON—MJ Hegar, the Texan combat veteran who ran a surprisingly strong challenge in a Republican-held House seat during the 2018 midterms, is running for Senate in the hopes of taking on Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

Hegar announced her bid in an online video, a familiar medium for the Democrat. Last cycle, her introductory video detailing her service and challenge to Defense Department restrictions on women in combat went viral and helped her raise more than $5 million over the cycle. 

The new spot recounts her last campaign and the strong challenge former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke ran against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. And Hegar spends the final minute of the video laying into Cornyn as a lackey to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Weakness, partisanship, gridlock. Those are not Texas values, John. But maybe you've been in Washington so long that you've forgotten that," Hegar says.

Hegar's candidacy gives Democrats a candidate with a strong ability to fundraise and someone with experience on challenging political terrain. While Hegar lost her congressional bid last cycle, she came within about 3 points of GOP Rep. John Carter, who hadn't previously faced a competitive election since he entered the House in 2002. 

President Trump won the district by 13 points in 2016. 

But Cornyn is a strong fundraiser himself, with more than $7 million in the bank. He has a deep network of experienced operatives looking to keep him in office. And Republicans are already making it clear they're looking to dust off the same playbook they used against O'Rourke in 2018, framing Hegar as a Washington-backed candidate who is too progressive for the red state. 

“New York liberal Chuck Schumer found his chosen candidate in MJ Hegar. Hollywood Hegar’s support for late-term abortion and government-run health care will play better with progressive Hollywood celebrities than with mainstream Texans," National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Jesse Hunt said of Hegar in a statement.

Hegar so far is the top Democrat in the race, but allies of Rep. Joaquín Castro are encouraging him to run and he has not yet ruled out a bid.