Biden: Midterms are 'a battle for the soul of America'

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Joe Biden, calling the midterm elections "a battle for the soul of America," said Wednesday that electing a Democratic Congress would give more Republicans the courage to speak out against what he called the degradation of the nation’s values under the Trump administration.

"I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired of what’s going on in this country today," Biden said at a campaign rally for Mikie Sherrill, a Democratic House candidate. "This is not who we are. We are a generous people, we are an honorable people, we are an inclusive people. That’s who we are."

Biden noted that as a young senator more than four decades ago, he saw as Republican senators like Barry Goldwater helped push Richard Nixon to ultimately resign during the Watergate scandal. But too many in the GOP are silent today, afraid of the backlash that would inevitably come if they spoke out about what they believed was wrong.

"The consequence of gerrymandering and unlimited campaign contributions has cowered them into remaining silent," he said. "You’ve got to give these Republicans who know better — and most of them do — the courage to stand up. Now, if they stand up, if they stand up they’re fearful they may be alone and isolated. But we get enough of a critical mass in the United States Congress I promise you you’re going to see an awful lot of decent Republicans I know screwing up the courage."

His remarks also included sharp attacks on the GOP on policy, warning that they would seek to gut Social Security under the guise of cutting the deficit despite having just enacted tax cuts for the wealthy. And he pushed for a focus on the middle class, understanding the genuine fear many Americans have about their ability to make ends meet.

"They’re not deplorables, they’re simple people, they’re people I grew up with. They’re not stupid. They understand we’re in the midst of a fundamental industrial change," he said. ""t’s legitimate for them to be scared. But the answer is, we’ve got to speak to them. It’s not enough to point out how dangerous this administration’s philosophy is. What are we as Democrats going to do?"

Sanders campaign seeks to refocus messaging for Iowa's final stretch

DES MOINES, Iowa — After nearly a week of back-and-forth with former Vice President Joe Biden, the Bernie Sanders campaign is aiming to get back on the policy messaging track with just days to go before the Iowa caucuses. 

“When you start to go up, obviously, you get a lot of fire,” senior Sanders campaign advisor said in an interview with NBC News Wednesday, noting state and national polls showing the Vermont senator surging. “The person in front has the biggest target on their back. And I think you're starting to see that now.”

Asked if voters might be concerned about the negativity on display in the recent clashes with Biden, Weaver said, “it’s not really negative and this is not personal. This is about a very different view in terms of [Sanders and Biden’s] policy positions and their record. And that’s what voters need to know in the course of the caucus.”

The sparring between the two camps over the holiday weekend continued this week. After Biden expanded it to include Sanders’ record on gun control in the Senate, Sanders told reporters in Washington Wednesday that it was “fair” for Biden to look at his record. “Joe Biden voted for the war in Iraq. I opposed it. Joe Biden voted for a terrible bankruptcy bill. I strongly opposed it. Joe Biden voted for disastrous trade agreements like NAFTA and PNTR with China. I vigorously opposed them. And Joe Biden has been on the floor of the Senate talking about the need to cut social security.”

In his interview with NBC News, Weaver echoed the same criticisms, but wouldn’t say whether the campaign sees Biden as Sanders’ biggest competitor. Instead, Weaver said he believes the focus should remain on President Donald Trump. 

“Donald Trump is the most threatening competitor because he's destroying America, as we watch,” Weaver said.

Weaver also touted Sanders' ability to expand the Democratic vote in the general election, saying that the senator “does very well with independent voters. He does very well with the young voters that we need to bring out. He does very well with voters of color, particularly Latino voters, so we need to engage at higher levels in this process and if we do that, we're going to defeat Donald Trump.”

But the criticism of Biden resurfaced when NBC News asked Weaver about the campaign’s involvement with “Our Revolution,” an organization that promotes the ideals of Sanders but also accepts high-dollar donations without disclosing contributors, a practice that has come under much criticism. 

“We have no relationship with Our Revolution, frankly. Just like we don't have any former relationship with MoveOn or DFA or a host of other progressive groups who are out there fighting for progressive change in this country,” Weaver said. “On the other hand, Joe Biden has a sanctioned super PAC which is running hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising here in Iowa. We don’t need big donors coming in here and deciding who the Democratic nominee is going to be.” 

Weaver told NBC News, “We've been very clear we don't want any outside help from any third party groups. The way the law is set up we can't direct them not to do it, we don't control them in any way.” While the law doesn’t explicitly prevent the campaign from asking them to stop, the organization is not required to adhere to the request. Weaver is the former president of Our Revolution, when it was founded by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the summer of 2016.

When Sanders was asked about Our Revolution in an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio this weekend, he called for the group to be shut down — on the condition that other candidates disavow their Super PACs as well. “I think that we should end Super PACS right now,” Sanders said. “So I will tell my opponents who have a Super PAC, why don’t you end it? And that’s applicable to the groups that are supporting me.”

Joe Biden says he won't cut Social Security

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would not cut social security funding if elected president during an interview on "Morning Joe" on Wednesday. Biden's answer comes amid attacks he's faced from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign that Biden has called for cutting Social Security benefits.

"I have 100 percent rating from the groups that rate social security, those who support Social Security. I think at a minimum [my comment] was taken out of context," Biden said. "The plan I have to deal with Social Security not only makes it solvent for the next, for my grandchildren, it also increases payments for the very elderly." 

On Tuesday night, Biden and Sanders' camps released videos about Social Security funding. In the video, tweeted out by Biden, the narrator says "Bernie's negative attacks won't change the truth, Joe Biden is still the strongest Democrat to beat Donald Trump."

Sanders' new ad featured old floor footage from Biden where he discussed freezing government spending including social security. Sanders tweeted out, "Let's be honest, Joe. One of us fought for decades to cut Social Security, and one of us didn't." 

When asked about Sanders' new ad, and if he would consider cutting Social Security given his past comments on freezing it, Biden said "No, no, no." 

Biden continued, "We go back and look at statements, many of them, most of them taken out of context of 10, 20, 30, 35 years ago. It's like my going back and pointing out how Bernie voted against the Brady bill five times while I was trying to get it passed." 

Biden campaign releases video hitting debunked GOP claims on his Ukraine involvement

FORT DODGE, Iowa — Joe Biden’s campaign largely stayed on the sidelines while the House held hearings to consider impeaching President Trump, as Democrats who controlled key committees and testimony from current and former administration officials were able to defuse and rebut GOP efforts to raise debunked conspiracy theories about the former vice president and his role in firing a corrupt prosecutor.

But as the Republican-led Senate has opened the impeachment trial, his campaign has released its most aggressive and comprehensive — and even at times R-rated — effort to address and challenge the GOP claims.

In a more than four-minute video, Biden campaign rapid response director Andrew Bates lays out Biden’s work as vice president to support anti-corruption efforts for the fledgling democracy in Ukraine, which included the firing of prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. 

"It was a monumental, international, bipartisan anti-corruption victory,” Bates says in the video. GOP efforts to suggest Biden sought Shokin’s ouster because of a dormant investigation of the energy company his son Hunter served on is "horse-****.”

"Why is Donald Trump doing this? He knows he can't beat Joe Biden,” Bates says. "He tried to make our national security policy an extension of his struggling reelection campaign.”

Pro-Biden super PAC gives former vice president significant air cover in Iowa

WASHINGTON — A super PAC supporting former Vice President Joe Biden is coming to the candidate's defense in Iowa, dropping more than $1.8 million in television advertising dollars there this month and reserving another almost $800,000 for the final days before the Iowa caucuses. 

Unite the County, the pro-Biden group, alone has spent more in Iowa in January ($1.8 million) than every individual Democratic presidential candidate except Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders ($2.2 million). Combined with Biden's $1 million spent on the airwaves so far this month, the pro-Biden effort is the highest spender in Iowa so far this January. 

And while candidates are still deciding how to spend their ad dollars in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Unite the Country's $800,000 in reserved airtime from Wednesday through caucus day is about even with what the Biden campaign has reserved so far over the same period.

So that combined effort of $1.6 million between Wednesday and caucus day puts the pro-Biden spending within spitting distance of that of Sanders' campaign, who has booked about $2 million in future Iowa spending. 

By rule, candidates receive preferred television rates when compared to other outside groups, so the super PAC spending won't have the same bang for the buck of the spending by individual campaigns.

But Unite the Country's spending is giving Biden a significant spending boost ahead of the pivotal caucuses. And it sends a signal to the Biden campaign that help is on the way, help that could allow the Biden campaign to invest dollars elsewhere, knowing that the super PAC is providing air cover. 

Below, take a look at the current ad spending in Iowa from the start of the race through today, as well as the future spending candidates have already booked. 

All of the advertising data is courtesy of Advertising Analytics, a media-tracking firm. 

Total TV and radio ad spending in Iowa as of today

  • Tom Steyer: $13.5 million
  • Pete Buttigieg: $8.8 million
  • Bernie Sanders: $8.3 million
  • Andrew Yang: $5.6 million
  • Elizabeth Warren: $4.6 million
  • Joe Biden: $3.4 million
  • Unite the Country (pro-Biden Super PAC): $3.0 million
  • Amy Klobuchar: $2.8 million
  • Michael Bennet: $1.1 million 

Total Iowa TV and radio ad spending in January

  • Sanders: $2.2 million
  • Unite the County: $1.8 million
  • Buttigieg: $1.8 million
  • Warren: $1.8 million
  • Steyer: $1.4 million
  • Yang: 1.4 million
  • Klobuchar: $1.3 million
  • Biden: $1 million

Future Iowa TV and radio ad spending already booked

  • Sanders: $1.9 million
  • Warren: $1.4 million
  • Steyer: $700,000
  • Unite the Country: $780,000
  • Biden: $730,000
  • Buttigieg: $610,000
  • Yang: $155,000
  • Klobuchar: $115,000

Dems say they're pressuring GOP senators on impeachment in other ways

WASHINGTON — In First Read Tuesday morning, we observed how Democrats aren’t trying to pressure vulnerable GOP senators over the TV airwaves on impeachment.

Of the 11 impeachment-themed television ads airing across the country right now, according to the ad trackers at Advertising Analytics, all are from Republicans and GOP groups.

But Democrats at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tell us that they’ve been pressuring GOP senators — like Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine — in other ways.

For Maine’s Senate contest, for instance, the DSCC has created a website – WhatChangedSusan.Com – highlighting how Collins called for more evidence and witnesses in Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, but hasn’t made the same explicit demands for President Trump’s impeachment trial.

And in Colorado, the DSCC has blasted out press releases noting that he’s “refuse[d] to answer basic questions on [the] president’s conduct” or on the demand for “a fair trial.”

Michael Bloomberg launches new ad focused on impeachment trial

WASHINGTON — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a new campaign ad in the presidential race on Tuesday focused on the impeachment trial. While Bloomberg has spent millions of his own dollars on his campaign ads, this ad is the first to focus on removing President Trump from office through the impeachment trial. 

The ad, entitled "Impeachment", declares that it's "time for the Senate to act and remove Trump from office. And if they won't do their jobs, this November you and I will."

According to the Bloomberg campaign, the ad is running in 27 states including four states with vulnerable Republican senators: Arizona, North Carolina, Maine and Colorado. 

Warren pledges to 'cleanse' the 'corruption' from Trump administration beginning with transition if elected

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren promised “no ordinary transition” between her administration and the current, Trump administration Tuesday, outlining a plan that would “cleanse the corruption from our government” and establish early rules for how she’d run — and staff — her administration, if elected come November. 

Pointing out the what she says is "unprecedented corruption from the current administration," Warren says that even with Trump gone “it would be foolish to assume" that "the government will start moving in the right direction all on its own.” 

Elizabeth Warren speaks during the Democratic primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 14, 2020.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

The new plan prescribes, among other things, asking all government political appointees, including U.S. Attorneys, to resign and establishing a new task force to investigate corruption by Trump administration officials — part of a push to “root out the corruption and incompetence of the Trump administration” that she would pursue, if elected. 

The 8-page plan makes exceptions for the resignations for positions needed to preserve continuity or protect national security during a transition period, while also advocating for that a new DOJ task force investigate violations (bribery, insider trading, anti-corruption, immigration-related) with authority to pursue “any substantiated criminal and civil violations.”

Below are some of the plan's highlights.

  • Warren would speed up her transition by: 
  • Announcing all cabinet choices by December 1, 2020.
  • Announcing other top nominations by December 15, 2020.
  • Fully staff senior and mid-level White House jobs by Inauguration Day.
  • Warren’s administration will not hire any lobbyists or employees of for-profit contractors unless she personally reviews it and decides it’s in the national interest. Also, she will not hire anyone who has received a “golden parachute.”
  • Former corporate lobbyists will need a 6 year “cooling off period” (no waivers or exceptions).
  • Non-corporate lobbyists will need a 2-year “cooling” and any waivers would be made public.
  • Employees of contractors will need to wait 4 years from their last contract or license award.
  • Similar restrictions will come into play after serving in government: senior officials can never accept a lobbying gig, all other administration officials will pledge not to lobby their former office or agency for 2 years after leaving — and 6 if they become corporate lobbyists.
  • Officials will be required to divest from “any individual stock, bond, or other investment” that ethics officials say might be directly influenced by the employee’s agency.
  • Parameters on who she’ll put in her Cabinet will include:
  • Her Education Secretary will be a former school teacher (this is a frequent promise on the trail).
  • Her Labor Secretary will have been a labor leader.
  • Her Secretary of Agriculture will have to show a commitment to advocating for black farmers.
  • Her FEC Chair will be committed to restore 2015 Net Neutrality rules, block media-telecom merger.
  • Warren also commits to making at least 50 percent of her cabinet and senior staff women.

Klobuchar on NYT endorsement: 'I am a progressive that gets results'

WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. expressed surprise Monday about her partial win of the New York Times' Democratic presidential endorsement

After speaking at an event marking Martin Luther King Day at South Carolina’s state capitol, Klobuchar told NBC News "very excited about it" and that she didn't expect the endorsement, which she shares with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Klobuchar also referenced her endorsement from the Quad-Cities Times in Iowa. 

"I think one of the things that they noted is that you need a candidate for president and someone leading our country that's gonna actually represent everyone, not just half of America," she said. 

"That's not gonna wake up every day trying to draw a divide like this president does, so I was honored that they saw that, and I was also honored to get the endorsement of the Quad-City Times."

She went on to call herself a "proven progressive" that "gets results," underscoring the contrast between she and Warren that the Times editorial reflected.

“If you wanna be a progressive you actually have to make progress,” she said. “The difference between a plan and a pipeline is a pan is something you can actually get done and I'm very honored that they recognized that.” 

Republican Main Street Partnership backs Steve King's primary opponent

WASHINGTON — The Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that supports moderate Republicans, is backing the Republican primary challenger to Iowa Rep. Steve King, who was stripped of his committee assignments last year after making racist comments during an interview. 

The group announced on Monday that it would back Randy Feenstra, the state senator looking to unseat King. 

Sarah Chamberlain, RMSP's president and CEO, told NBC News that her group has never taken on an incumbent Republican before and that she hopes King will decide to retire before the June primary.

But if King remains an active candidate, Chamberlain said her group will make the argument that the district deserves a congressman who hasn't been marginalized by his colleagues and can still be an effective voice for his constituents. 

"We add our voices to Liz Cheney and Mitch McConnell and hope that he will actually retire. But it’s time to move on. He had his committee assignments stripped from him in January 2019—they’ve literally gone a year without any representation in committees," Chamberlain said, referencing the criticism of King from top Republican leaders. 

"Pretty much everyone in D.C. has come out and been critical, Republican or Democrat. How can you work with your colleagues when they’ve all come out to criticize you? People in Iowa-4 deserve a member who can get things done for them, and it does not appear any longer [King] can."

Chamberlain told NBC that the RMSP has already given Feenstra the maximum $5,000 check it can, under campaign finance laws. The group is also asking its donors to support him as well, and it introduced Feenstra to donors and members at an event last week for its political action committee. 

The group also has an affiliated super PAC, which legally cannot coordinate any spending with Main Street, but has made ad-buys supporting candidates endorsed by the PAC during previous cycles. 

House Republicans voted last year to remove King from his spots on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business Committees in response to his comments in the New York Times about white nationalism. 

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" King asked.

"Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

In response to criticism from across the political spectrum, King told NBC News last year: "I reject white nationalism. I reject white supremacy. It's not part of any of my ideology. I reject anyone who carries that ideology."

Feenstra, the state Senate Majority Leader, is the top Republican running to replace King.

He’s argued during the impeachment trial that King’s removal from committees has left him ‘unable to defend President Trump” during impeachment. He’s also won a key endorsement in Iowa from Bob Vander Plaats, the leader of the conservative group The Family Leader.

Andrew Yang talks women's issues, calls U.S. “deeply misogynist”

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Businessman and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang kicked off a pre-caucus 17-day bus tour through Iowa on Saturday with a town hall focusing on women’s issues, a departure from his typical stump speech about automation and the economy, in light of his wife’s decision to share her story of sexual assault at the hands of her gynecologist while she was pregnant. 

“Our country is deeply misogynist,” Yang told a crowd of nearly 250 Iowans just off the University of Iowa’s campus. “I feel like I could get away with saying that ‘cause I’m a man. I think if a woman said that, it might somehow seem accusatory or inflammatory. But for me it’s just a statement of fact.” 

Yang answered questions from women about the gender pay gap and paid maternity leave, but it was clear that solving issues around sexual assault was top of mind. He encouraged women to be role models in the way his wife, Evelyn, has but acknowledged that in terms of policy, “we have to do much, much more to help women at every level,” calling the number of untested rape kits in the U.S. “unconscionable.”

The federal government estimates that police department warehouses house more than 200,000 untested sexual-assault kits across the country. Yang emphasized the need to allocate resources for authorities to be able to be more responsive to women’s complaints. 

“Terrible things happen to women every day in many, many contexts. Many of them wouldn’t rise to what you’d consider criminal behavior,” Yang told NBC News. “You have to try and make it so that women don't have to dedicate their lives to getting some form of justice in order to feel like anything is going to happen.”

Yang discussed investing in government programs that would pay for the testing of rape kits, as well as make it mandatory for the testing to be done in a certain timeframe. 

He also discussed issues surrounding the development of young men, asking, “why do we have trouble with our boys becoming strong young men? A lot of this is around trying to help our boys develop into strong, healthy men who will not assault women.”

Yang, a parent of two young boys, expressed concern over “rampant access to pornography” that could be “influencing the formation of many of our young peoples’ attitudes towards women in particular.” He suggested that, in order to help children develop positive attitudes towards women, access to technology that could influence children’s attitudes should be reigned in. 

“We have to help men get better and stronger,” Yang said, floating the idea of developing resources for young men who feel their behavior impulses “are trending in a direction that they’re going to end up being destructive to someone, particularly women.”

Four presidential candidates pitch themselves to Iowa educators

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Four Democratic presidential hopefuls pitched themselves to a room full of Iowa educators on Saturday.

Around 200 members of the Iowa State Education Association, the largest union in the Hawkeye state, gathered to hear remarks from former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. 

During his prepared remarks, Biden was the only candidate to acknowledge the teacher strikes that have taken place across the country.

“These walk outs are vital not just to make sure that you get paid fairly, or you get healthcare or your school safety although they're essential, many times, you're walking out and make sure students get greater resources,” Biden said.

Biden also emphasized the need to treat teachers with the “dignity,” they deserve. He promised them that if elected, “you’re never going to have a better partner in the white house than Jill and Joe Biden and that's the God's truth,” he said. “I give you my word on that.” 

Warren hit a similar note when it came to respecting teachers. 

"This is about respect,” Warren said. “And this is about reminding ourselves and our entire nation that the way we build a future is that we invest in every single one of our children.”

This wasn't the only moment of agreement between the candidates. Warren and Buttigieg also shared similar comments about for-profit charter schools. 

“Public school dollars should stay in public schools, period,” Warren said denouncing the use of tax dollars to fund for-profit charter schools. 

And Buttigieg continued that he didn't see a place in the U.S. for for-profit charter schools. 

"We all believe in innovation we all believe in keeping up and getting ready for the next steps. But that has to be done with educators, not to educators and that's one of many reasons why for profit charter schools have no place in the future," Buttigieg said. 

Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar spent a majority of their time on stage introducing themselves to the educators. Each candidate highlighted the multitude of additional responsibilities placed on teachers beyond their role as educators.

Klobuchar recalled a teacher she met while campaigning in Iowa who described dealing with students contemplating suicide.

“Not everyone in this room is qualified to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist,” Klobuchar said. “Yet, so many of you are on the front lines having to do that work.” 

Buttigieg echoed this sentiment saying that teachers are “expected to be counselors, mental health professionals, test administrators, and according to some are supposed to snap into action and become highly trained armed guards." He continued, "As if you don't have enough on your plate, practicing the craft of being professional educators,” he said.

The ISEA has not endorsed in the primary, while all four candidates have received endorsements from individual members. The union did not endorse in the 2016 primaries either.