2020 rundown: Biden nabs a top staffer

What's that sound you hear? It might just be former Vice President Joe Biden ramping up for a presidential race. 

The 2020 Democratic primary field is all waiting on Biden, who would instantly jump in as a favorite considering he's already leading virtually all polling. 

And as we continue to read the tea leaves from his various public comments, Politico is reporting that Biden's nascent campaign has hired Cristóbal Alex from his post leading the Latino Victory Fund for a yet unspecified role in a possible campaign. 

That's not all that's been going on in the world of 2020 politics. Read on for more stories from the trail. 

  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says he's raised more than $1 million in the first two days since announcing his campaign. For comparison, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's camp says he raised $1 million in the first 72 hours; Amy Klobuchar raised $1 million in her first 48 hours; Kamala Harris raised $1.5 million in her first 24 hours; and Bernie Sanders raised $6 million in his first day as a presidential candidate. 
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock swung through Iowa on Monday as he considers his presidential bid, answering "I don't know" when asked if Vice President Penec is a "decent" guy, adding “I fundamentally disagree with the policies that he’s putting forward and the way that he governs.” He also reiterated the idea that his decision on whether to run has "nothing to do with other candidates."
  • Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has signed a loyalty pledge to the Democratic Party as part of his presidential bid, swearing that he is a member of the party and is "faithful to the interests, welfare and success of the Democratic Party." But as NBC's Mark Murray points out, Sanders promised to run as a Democrat in future elections when he filed to run in the party's New Hampshire primary. But he ran for reelection to the Senate in 2018 as an independent. 

UPDATED: This post was updated to include more context from Bullock's comments in Iowa. 

Demings: 'Long overdue' for nationwide review to address police misconduct

WASHINGTON — Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief, called Sunday for all law enforcement agencies to re-evaluate standards and practices in order to address police misconduct, a call that came after protests across the country related to the death of a man in Minnesota police custody last week. 

Demings joined "Meet the Press" to discuss the protests regarding the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody last Monday after an officer, who has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, pinned him to the ground with his knee on his neck. 

“Before, as we dealt with misconduct involving police officers, we’ve always tried to deal with it as an individual department or an individual city or an individual state. But I do believe the time has certainly come, we are overdue for us to look at the problem as a nation," she said.

"Every law enforcement agency in this nation, whether they are 10 persons or 35,000 persons, need to review their hiring standards, their training standards, look at their de-escalation training that they are doing in their department, look at those officers who are training other officers." 

The former police officer and Orlando Police chief has said she's being vetted as one of the candidates to be former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate. In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Demings asked her former police colleagues "What in the hell are you doing?"

"When an officer engages in stupid, heartless and reckless behavior, their actions can either take a life or change a life forever. Bad decisions can bring irrevocable harm to the profession and tear down the relationships and trust between the police and the communities they serve," she wrote.

Amid Floyd fallout, Clyburn says it's not the right time for Klobuchar to be named VP

WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Friday that he believes it’s not the right time to choose Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate in light of the developing events in Minnesota following the death of George Floyd. 

While Clyburn acknowledged that Klobuchar “absolutely is qualified” to serve as vice president, he said that the protests that have erupted in her state this week have complicated her chances.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., claps for Joe Biden at a primary event in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

“We’re all victims sometimes of timing and some of us benefit tremendously from timing,” Clyburn said on a call with reporters Friday. “This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar, who I respect so much.”

Asked to clarify whether he believes her chances to be chosen are less likely today than they were a few weeks ago, Clyburn said: “That is the implication, yes.”

The senior congressman from South Carolina added that his belief is based on a “gut feeling,” not any personal conversations he has had with Biden or his campaign.

Klobuchar’s record as Hennepin County attorney has come under fire in recent days even though she has not been involved with the police officer who is being accused of killing Floyd. Even so, she has faced increased scrutiny from the African American community in numerous op-eds over the last week that say she should not be chosen as Biden’s vice president because of her lack of prosecuting police misconduct in Minnesota during her tenure.

Prior to ending her presidential campaign in early March, Klobuchar was forced to cancel a campaign event in St. Louis Park, Minn. because black activists overtook the stage to protest her decision to sentence a Minnesota teenager to life in prison for murder while serving as county attorney.

Clyburn, whose endorsement ahead of the South Carolina primary was credited with delivering a jolt of energy into Biden's campaign, did not say outright that this moment calls for Biden to pick an African American woman as his running mate.

However, Clyburn did speak highly of Democratic Florida Rep. Val Demings, who was formerly a police chief in Orlando.

“I think she's a very fine woman. I think she's a very qualified woman. She has the kind of compassion and sensitivity I would like to see in the last president,” he said.

President Trump to resume in-person fundraisers

WASHINGTON — After foregoing in-person fundraisers due to the coronavirus pandemic in March, President Trump is expected to resume the campaign staple in mid-June, according to a Republican National Committee official. 

The president will participate in two high-dollar fundraisers next month: one on June 11 at a private home in Dallas — there will be approximately 25 guests and it will cost about $580,600 per couple to attend. The second will take place at Trump's Bedminster, N.J. golf club on June 13. There will also be about 25 attendees and each person will pay $250,000 to attend. POLITICO first reported the campaign's decision. 

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with industry executives on reopening the country, in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 29, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

“Trump Victory’s top priority is ensuring the safety of President Trump and our attendees, and that includes testing all attendees as well as several other safety measures that align with CDC’s  guidance,” the RNC official explained. 

The White House Medical Unit and U.S. Secret Service will also evaluate all attendees in order for them to be admitted to the event. All attendees will have to test negative for coronavirus on the day of the fundraiser,  complete a wellness questionnaire and pass a temperature screening. 

The costs of the tests will be covered by Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee that includes the Trump campaign, RNC and 22 state parties. Each event site will be “professionally cleaned and sanitized” prior to the fundraisers, according to the RNC official.

Trump last attended an in-person fundraiser on March 9 in Orlando, Fla. 

Biden's VP list narrows and unrest in Minnesota enters discussion

WASHINGTON — Another week of veepstakes news and speculation is ending as apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden says he hopes to pick his running mate by Aug. 1 and that his team continues to be steeped in the vetting process.

While New Mexico Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina to be elected to the U.S. Senate, formally withdrew from the V.P. selection process Thursday, others vying for the job have put their markers out. Here are some of this week's developments.

Val Demings speaking about the Senate impeachment trial on Jan. 28, 2020 in Washington.Michael Brochstein / Barcroft Media via Getty Images file

Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris: Sens. Warren and Harris will have a chance to prove their ability to share a stage with Biden — albeit virtually — at the Texas Democratic convention next week where both are set to speak ahead of Biden’s concluding address.

The upcoming event could be seen as a trial run for Biden’s eventual nomination at the Democratic National Convention. Not only is there a possibility for the Democratic convention to be held virtually in August, it could be either Warren or Harris speaking before Biden as his running mate. Plus, any V.P. pick will be campaigning in places in Biden’s absence, and Texas could be a red state that his campaign looks to play. 

Amy Klobuchar and Val Demings: The death of George Floyd in Minnesota this week, and the ensuing fallout, have also called attention to the resumes of two other veep contenders.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents Minnesota, also once served as chief prosecutor for Hennepin County — the county now charged with investigating Floyd’s death. While Klobuchar has not worked as an attorney for the county since 2007, upon her election to the Senate, the focus on the county’s police force renews criticism that she had a poor record on prosecuting police brutality cases.

During an MSNBC interview, Klobuchar was asked if she’d withdraw from the vetting process due to the crisis in Minnesota. Klobuchar left it up to Biden himself to decide. 

“He's going to make the best decision for him, for our country, for the pandemic and the crisis we're facing,” Klobuchar said. 

She added, “With his strong support and understanding of the African American community, he will make that decision.”  

The latest in Minnesota has also put a spotlight on Florida Rep. Val Demings. Demings served as the chief of police in Orlando and could offer Biden unique insight as an African American woman with a law enforcement background. In an op-ed in The Washington Post Friday, Demings detailed her experiences as a black police officer and called for a nationwide review of police practices.

“As a former woman in blue, let me begin with my brothers and sisters in blue: What in the hell are you doing?,” Demings wrote. 

Michelle Lujan Grisham and Gretchen Whitmer: These two governors may have seen their stocks fall in the veepstakes this week after their personal activities during the coronavirus pandemic made for unappealing headlines. 

In New Mexico, non-essential businesses, like retail stores, are still closed. But according to local news reports, Lujan Grisham purchased jewelry from a store over the phone in April and an employee left the purchase outside of the store for someone else to pick up. However, curbside pickup for retailers was not allowed until earlier this month. Lujan Grisham’s office says no laws were broken.

In Michigan, Gov. Whitmer’s husband reportedly used Whitmer’s status to try and get a business to place his boat in the water before Memorial Day Weekend. Whitmer called the name-drop a “failed attempt at humor.”

Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.

Despite Trump's threats, Charlotte convention preparations continue

WASHINGTON — Despite President Donald Trump’s continued threats to yank the Republican National Convention from North Carolina, GOP officials and the state’s Democratic governor are preparing adjustments for the mass gathering to take place in Charlotte, as planned, and there haven’t been any serious discussions with new venues in other states yet, according to people involved in the discussions.

And NBC News obtained a letter from top Republican officials to Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, dated Thursday, on proceeding with the convention, asking the governor to sign off on some “safety protocols,” including pre-travel health surveys and thermal scans of all mandatory attendees. 

Once the state signs off on these proposals, the RNC says it will move forward to plan the event in Charlotte. “We are asking for a partner in leadership to make this happen,” the letter says, which requests a response from the state by Wednesday.

The president, however, remains frustrated that his re-nominating convention may turn into a pared back event — deprived of the massive crowds that fuel him — due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, per two people close to the White House.

Trump arbitrarily set an unofficial deadline for Tuesday in a Rose Garden press conference last week, asking Cooper’s office to put forward proposals for an alternate convention plan, in consultation with Republican officials.

“We are still waiting for a plan from the RNC, but our office will work with state health officials to review the letter and share a response tomorrow,” a spokeswoman for the governor said.

But none of that will seemingly satisfy the president, who wants a full-scale event with no modifications, including open restaurants and bars where thousands of his supporters can congregate and celebrate, according to these people.

Trump’s warning and demands even caught his own Republican officials working on the event off guard, according to those involved in the conversations. Trump later walked back the intimidation slightly, saying he would still like the event to take place in North Carolina.

“We still want this to work out in Charlotte,” one person said, echoing the preference not to uproot an event several years in the making.

Last week, these people said, Republican National Committee officials acknowledged they would need to come up with contingencies plans and the re-elect effort is currently working on a new set of proposals for what a scaled-down event would look like.

These same people were surprised the president is mandating that those ideas be finalized this week, though the conversations were already underway for a smaller and safer convention in late August. The president hasn’t been shy about telling his aides he rejects this concept, according to a Republican familiar with the discussions.

Cooper’s office was expecting the suggestions “in the coming weeks,” ranging from an entirely virtual convention — which the president and RNC have stated is out of the question — to an in-person, four-day spectacle. That timeline has now been accelerated by the president’s ask for a solution “very soon.”

The North Carolina governor has long said any final decisions about how the political conference will be held will depend on health data and science, not the president’s desires.

For months, Trump has told people he wants to see his supporters packed shoulder to shoulder, which officials involved in the planning have acknowledged is close to impossible given current health concerns over the virus.

But the conflict allows Trump to blame Democrats if he doesn’t get the event he’s hoping for, according to those people.

“He wants it to be Cooper’s fault,” one person said.

Republicans are making a political calculation based on a belief Cooper will “blink” according to a senior administration official, who predicted it would cost him “a ton of good will, if not votes.” Failing to come to an agreement with the opposing party could leave “thousands of North Carolina businesses, contractors in the lurch” and deprive them of tens of millions of dollars.

There is an emergency provision that would the RNC to move the convention under extenuating circumstances, according to a former Senior White House official, and that could still be triggered late in the process. 

Meanwhile, “the preference is to go full steam ahead with an in-person convention in Charlotte,” according to a White House official, stressing that a move to a new state would be unlikely at this stage.

“Time is of the essence and we will need some answers sooner rather than later, or be forced to consider other options. Given the major financial investments and anticipated revenues to the city and state, it should be Charlotte. But it can’t be Charlotte or nothing,” the official said.

Trump campaign committee Facebook ad draws mask on Biden

WASHINGTON — President Trump's re-election committee ran a Facebook ad on Thursday featuring former Vice President Joe Biden in a drawn-on mask as the president continues to poke at his Democratic rival's decision to wear a mask in public, a decision based on public health guidance. 

While Biden is depicted in front of a Chinese flag wearing the mask, which says "Sleepy Joe" on it, Trump is maskless and in front of the American flag. 

Trump's campaign ran the ad from his verified account and was paid for by the "Trump Make America Great Again Committee," a joint fundraising committee affiliated with both the campaign and the Republican National Committee. Facebook data shows that the campaign spent less than $100 promoting the ad. 

The president has not donned a mask during any public events, but did during a private portion of his recent trip to a Ford plant in Michigan. This week, he retweeted a photo mocking Biden wearing a mask during a Memorial Day ceremony. And he tweeted an article by The Federalist warning that masks are about "social control," adding the commentary "So many different viewpoints." 

Biden has been supportive of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that says people should cover their mouth and nose with "a face cover" when around other people in order to slow the spread of the virus. He changed his Twitter picture to one of him in a mask after Trump's tweet, and he recently appeared in a TikTok social media video with The Washington Post promoting mask use. 

As Kansas Republicans squabble in Senate primary, Democrat pitches herself a 'sensible centrist'

WASHINGTON — While the Kansas Republican primary has been dominated by attack ads, calls for candidates to drop out and other partisan tensions, Democrat Barbara Bollier is going up on the air seeking to present herself as above the partisan fray. 

In a new ad released this week, the state senator's campaign pitches herself as "a sensible centrist; a leading moderate voice; independent."

"At a time like this, we need a reasonable voice like hers in the U. S. Senate," the narrator says, adding she'll "work with both parties" on issues like health care and jobs. 

Bollier, a former Republican, has raised the most money of any candidate on either side of the race so far — almost $3.5 million through March. And she is the far-and-away favorite to win the August Democratic Senate primary and face off against whoever wins the heated Republican primary. 

That GOP primary has gotten chippy.

Some Republicans believe that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach would cost their party the race if he wins the primary, pointing to his 2018 gubernatorial loss. And they're running ads to that effect. 

But opponents of Rep. Roger Marshall are piling onto him too, as the state party chairman has called for a handful of other candidates to drop out so that voters can have a more clear choice. That's rubbed some people the wrong way. 

The whole back and forth prompted state Sen. President Susan Wagle, one of those candidates asked by the chairman to drop out, to release an ad of her own framing her as above the "food fight" herself. 

Biden condemns death of George Floyd, says black lives are 'under threat'

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden publicly condemned the “horrific killing” of George Floyd, which he says serves as a reminder to all Americans that racism still courses deeply through the country’s bloodstream.

“George Floyd’s life matters. It mattered as much as mine. It matters as much as anyone's in this country. At least it should have,” Biden said during a Wednesday livestream, expanding on his initial statement made in a Tuesday evening tweet.

Joe Biden and Jill Biden depart after placing a wreath at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veterans Memorial Park, on May 25, 2020, in New Castle, Del.Patrick Semansky / AP

He acknowledged that watching the video of 46-year-old Floyd being pinned down to the ground by a police officer’s knee triggered the memory of Eric Garner who also died at the hands of police. Though both black men died almost six years apart, Garner and Floyd each repeatedly told police that they could not breathe while being pinned to the ground, ultimately playing a role in their deaths that reignited public outcries of racist-motivated police attacks.

Biden said Floyd’s passing is the latest “tragic reminder that this was not an isolated incident, but a part of an ingrained systemic cycle of injustice that still exists in this country.”

“It cuts at the very heart of our sacred belief that all Americans are equal in rights and in dignity, and it sends a very clear message to the black community and to black lives that are under threat every single day,” he added.

The apparent Democratic nominee’s condemnation of Floyd’s death came during a virtual discussion with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who endorsed him ahead of the state’s primary next Tuesday. Besides discussing Floyd’s death, they also spoke about the persistent inequalities in the U.S. that have been exposed to a greater degree as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“If some of us can't count on our freedom, some of us are not free. None — none of us is,” Wolf said. “And we have got to make sure that is something that all of us, every single American, recognizes is something that gets to the heart of our self-interest.”

While Biden applauded the Minneapolis mayor’s decision to fire the officers involved in Floyd’s arrest, he said the move wasn’t enough and that an investigation by the FBI and DOJ is necessary to “ensure that the Floyd family received the justice they are entitled to.”

Biden, who recently faced renewed criticism for how he speaks about the African American community, has regularly mentioned the need to get the country to a place where black parents can feel confident that their children — regardless of age — can walk safely on the streets without having to worry about them getting stopped or even killed by police.

“I don't think we can move forward unless we take aggressive action to rip out the insidious race-based inequalities that corrupt every part of our society,” Biden said.

The most expensive 2020 Senate races so far, by ad spending

WASHINGTON — As Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, the political calendar shifts to a smattering of primaries that will set the stage for the key Senate races this cycle.

But while voters haven't chosen nominees in many contests yet, there's already been more than $133 million spent on TV and radio advertising in Senate races so far, according to Advertising Analytics. 

Here are the top ten most expensive Senate races so far, by ad spending:

  1. Maine: $25.6 million
  2. North Carolina: $20.9 million
  3. Iowa: $13.3 million
  4. Michigan: $13 million
  5. Kentucky: 12.4 million
  6. Georgia (special election for the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson): $10.1 million
  7. Arizona: $9.3 million
  8. Alabama: $6.1 million
  9. Colorado: $5.4 million
  10. Texas: $4.2 million

Joe Biden nabs AFL-CIO endorsement

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic nominee, earned the AFL-CIO's endorsement on Tuesday.

The organization, which says it has about 12.5 million members across 55 union groups, said in a press release announcing the endorsement that it plans to draw contrasts between Biden and President Trump's union records up until the general election. 

"Joe Biden is a lifelong supporter of workers and has fought his entire career for living wages, health care, retirement security and civil rights,” president of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka said in the statement. “Our members know Joe has done everything he could to create a fairer process for forming and joining a union, and he is ready to fight with us to restore faith in America and improve the lives of all working people.”

The group highlighted "Trump’s record of slashing rules designed to protect us on the job, cutting workplace health and safety inspectors to their lowest level in history, and taking away overtime pay from millions of workers" as points they intend to make against the president. 

Trump and Trumka traded jabs in September 2019 when Trumka criticized the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. The president responded that union members should stop paying their dues in protest. The president has made a play for union workers both during the 2016 election and the 2020 election, and has made recent trips to factories in battleground states producing personal protective and medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Biden's campaign has often touted the former vice president's support for unions — and it's usual for him to use lines like, "The country wasn't built by Wall Street, CEOs and hedge fund managers, it was built by you, the American middle class and the middle class is built by unions," at rallies and events.

—Marianna Sotomayor contributed. 

Democratic super PAC wades into New Mexico GOP primary

WASHINGTON — A Democratic super PAC is inserting itself into a contentious GOP primary in New Mexico, spending so much that it’s set to be the top TV ad spender in the race’s final week.

Patriot Majority PAC has booked $150,055 worth of ads set to hit the television airwaves between Tuesday and next week’s June 2 Republican primary in New Mexico’s second House District, according to ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

A recent ad from the group depicts former state legislator Yvette Herrell as loyal to President Trump and criticizes her GOP rival, oil executive Claire Chase, for once labeling the president “unworthy of the office.” 

Republican House candidate Claire Chase campaigns in Los Lunas, N.M. on Feb. 13, 2020.Russell Contreras / AP file

“She's 100 percent loyal to Trump, backed by 11 pro-gun sheriffs and Cowboys for Trump, and she's even for Trump's border wall,” a narrator says of Herrell, ticking through some popular characteristics among Republican voters. 

By underlining Herrell’s pro-Trump credentials and attacking Chase as disloyal, the Democratic group is echoing Herrell’s own strategy in the primary.

The spot has come under fire from some Republicans, including Chase, who suggested in a letter issued Sunday that the Democratic group is attempting to boost the GOP candidate they view as weaker against Democratic incumbent Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who flipped the seat as part of the 2018 blue wave. Torres Small narrowly defeated Herrell that year.

“The group has a history of meddling in GOP primaries to support candidates they view as less electable in general elections,” the letter reads, according to the Associated Press. 

Herrell disavowed the spot, per the AP, saying in a statement that, “Liberal Super PACs have no business getting involved in this primary, and they should stop immediately.”

Patriot Majority PAC’s heavy spending comes as the contest has gotten more controversial — and personal.

Earlier this month, Chase demanded that her opponent drop out of the contest after spreading what Chase argues are false rumors about her first marriage. 

Herrell denied the accusations and stressed that she’d stay in the race. 

The contest has drawn significant outside spending. GOP super PAC Defending Main Street, which is backing Chase, has booked $85,200 to spend in the race’s final week. Another anti-Herrell group, Citizens for a United New Mexico, has booked approximately $61,000 for the final week, with the anti-Chase Make New Mexico Great PAC and House Freedom Action booking about $61,000 and $56,000 respectively. 

The campaigns of Herrell and Chase are scheduled to spend only $26,000 and $24,000 on TV and radio waves during the culminating week of the primary respectively, Advertising Analytics shows. However, it’s possible more money may pour into the heated race in its final days.

—Ben Kamisar contributed.