Bredesen on Kavanaugh support: 'I’d do it again'

Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen on Wednesday doubled down on his decision to support Justice Brett Kavanaugh after allegations of sexual assault surfaced against the future Supreme Court justice. 

"I thought that was the right call given the standards I was applying to it. Doesn’t say anything about my enormous sympathy for people in Dr. Ford’s position or any others who are like that," Bredesen told NBC News in a wide-ranging interview.

"But it was the right decision and if I had the same information, I’d do it again."

Bredesen has been locked in a tight race with Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, with the Democrat finding success pointing to his tenure as governor to preach bipartisanship. Bredesen led a handful of polls released over the summer, prompting questions as to whether the Democrat can transcend party lines in a red state. 

But Republicans are hopeful that the entire nomination process halted his momentum and have seized on the vote to help pull Republicans back to their corner even despite Bredesen's support for Kavanaugh. 

Polling from the days after the vote showed Blackburn increasing her lead, but a recent Bredesen internal poll found the race within the margin of error, and a Wednesday Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics poll showed Blackburn up 3 points. 

As Republicans try to leverage the Kavanaugh confirmation, Bredesen has also seen some frustration from Democrats since his decision to stand with Republicans backing Kavanaugh. He admitted that his campaign lost nearly two dozen volunteers in response to the decision, a fact first reported by Politico, a small portion of the  4,000 people who volunteered for him over the course of the campaign. 

"I think what’s happening is with the way in which the Kavanaugh hearings proceeded and how much and how partisan they became and how bitter at the end. It tends to bring people back to their party," Bredesen said.

Bredesen's decision to back Kavanaugh put him in rare company on the left—Joe Manchin, W.V., was the only Democrat who supported the judge in his Senate confirmation vote, and all of the other Democratic Senate candidates who aren't in the Senate now signaled they would have voted against him. 

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Ben Kamisar

Gillibrand on 2020: 'I’m going to run'

Add New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s name to the quickly-expanding list of Democratic presidential candidates. 

She’s announcing her exploratory committee on tonight’s episode of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS, which was filmed earlier today. Read more here from NBC News’ Jane C. Timm about her announcement and how Gillibrand matches up with the field. 

Ben Kamisar

What the 2020 Democrats focused on during Barr nomination hearings

Democratic senators and possible 2020 presidential candidates Amy Klobuchar, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris all had a big opportunity Tuesday during William Barr's attorney general confirmation hearing.

As members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tasked with advising and consenting on Barr's nomination, the three possible White House hopefuls had time during the nationally televised hearings to make their points and question Barr. 

Certainly they all have issues they want to address based on their time on the committee, but there's no doubt the confirmation hearing will be looked at through the lens of 2020 (just as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation was last year). 

Here's a rundown of what each of the three senators asked of Barr during their questioning (UPDATED to include their second round of questioning later Tuesday afternoon): 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Klobuchar, who came out of the Kavanaugh hearings with a 2020 bump after Democrats lauded her tough questioning, started her questioning off pushing Barr on the government shutdown and the border wall. 

She then spent the majority of her time running through a battery of quick-hit questions: does Barr have confidence in FBI Director Christopher Wray; whether various actions by a president would constitute obstruction of justice; why he wouldn't commit to following the advice of Justice Department ethics officials on whether or not to recuse himself from the special counsel's probe; would he make the probe's findings public; would he recuse himself if he had a conflict with an investigation; and how he'd aim to protect voting rights. 

Klobuchar also elicited an eye-catching response from Barr when she asked if he would be open to the department jailing journalists for reporting. Barr kept the door open on that by replying that "there could be a situation where someone would be held into contempt."

On her second pass at Barr, she questioned Barr about the attorney general's loyalties during a constitutional crisis, asked him to review her bill on preventing abusers stalkers from obtaining firearms, and to support the Violence Against Women Act. 

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Booker's round of questioning was more subdued than his rounds of questioning during the Kavanaugh hearing, where he evoked "Spartacus" and got into a clash with Republicans over previously confidential documents.

This time, he focused primarily on criminal justice, on the heels of the bipartisan bill signed into law. 

He got Barr to commit to not using Justice Department resources on prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that have legalized the drug, with Barr saying he doesn't want to "upset settled expectations" and "reliance" on the Justice Department's past policy to ignore those violations of federal law. 

Confronting Barr on his record on mass incarcerations during his first stint as attorney general, Booker asked Barr to commit to studying "racial disparities and disparate impacts" of criminal justice policies (Barr said he would). And he ended on a personal note. 

"Sir, I was a young black guy in 1990s. I was a 20-something-year-old. And I experienced a dramatically different justice system," Booker said. 

During the afternoon portion of the hearing, Booker brought up Barr's old writings on LGBT rights, to which Barr said he's open to the law as it stands but wants "accommodation to religion." 

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Harris stuck to similar themes as Booker and Klobuchar, a consequence of her being one of the final members of the committee to question Barr. 

She pushed Barr on states' rights on marijuana, on whether a wall would prevent the flow of drugs into America since most drugs come to America through legal ports of entry, and to definitively state why he might choose to disregard the agency's ethics board if they recommend he recuses from the special counsel investigation. 

And she called for the Justice Department to approach the drug epidemic as more of a public health response instead of a "lock-em-up" response, an important issue as she looks to frame her past work as a prosecutor for a Democratic primary electorate that could be distrustful of a former state law enforcement chief. 

"The war on drugs was an abject failure, America frankly has a crisis of addiction and putting the limited resources of our federal government into locking up people who suffer from a public health crisis is probably not the smartest use of taxpayer dollars," she said. 

"If confirmed, I'd ask you to take a look at the more recent perspective on the drug crisis." 

Later in the day, Harris pointed to the recent Washington Post story reporting that President Trump was concealing records related to meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask if he thought that was against the law (Barr said he wasn't familiar with the underlying law).

And she peppered Barr with questions about the Justice Department's position on the ObamaCare lawsuit, put him on the record agreeing to address her concerns about voter suppression and on consent decrees with local police departments. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Klobuchar, Gillibrand inching closer to bid

Democratic politicians are so far making good on their pledges to "take the holidays" to decide whether to run for president — it seems like every day, another candidate is sending smoke signals about an impending bid. 

Here's our latest round-up of news from the 2020 trail, including the latest flirtations: 

  • Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday that her family "is on board" with a possible presidential bid. While she added that she is going to make "this decision on my own course," she noted that candidates sometimes use their families as a way out of running and that won't be the case here. 
  • New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand could announce her exploratory committee as soon as Tuesday's taping of CBS's "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," CBS reports
  • Priorities USA, the Democratic super-PAC that plans to support the party's nominee and blast President Trump, is shifting away from the traditional reliance on television and radio advertising, Politico reports, as it looks to change the way it wages the messaging wars in 2020. 
Monica Alba

Shutdown has kept Trump off golf course for longest stretch of his presidency

It's been 50 days since President Donald Trump has hit the links, marking his longest stretch without a golf outing since taking office. The government shutdown is at least partially to blame — his planned holiday break at Mar-a-Lago was cancelled as a result of the standoff, meaning Trump has now spent much of the last seven weeks at the White House in the midst of Washington's winter weather.  

Golf is typically a staple in the president’s weekend routine but the last time the president teed it up was on November 25, at the end of his Thanksgiving vacation in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Beyond what he’s dubbed the “Southern White House,” the president also frequently spends time on the golf course at his Bedminster, New Jersey property in the summer and fall. During the warmer months in Washington, Trump often makes weekend trips to his golf club in nearby Virginia.

Since the start of his administration, Trump has visited self-branded golf properties more than 160 times. It’s not always clear when he is playing a round of golf though, because the White House doesn’t normally acknowledge or confirm that is how the president is spending his time.

In the past, Trump has called the sport his “primary form of exercise!” But he is unlikely to golf again until the longest shutdown in history gets resolved or he decides to go to Florida — whichever comes first.

During this current golf-free stretch, Trump has traveled to Iraq and Germany for brief visits with soldiers, as well as a day trip to the border in Texas and went to Louisiana Monday to speak at the farm bureau convention.

As a candidate, Trump frequently criticized his predecessor for playing too many rounds of golf. (“Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter,” he tweeted in 2014).

Shortly after the December lapse in funding, the president promised in a campaign email: “When our beautiful country’s national security is at stake, I will NEVER take a vacation.”  

With both sides dug in and deadlocked on any shutdown solution, Trump’s golf game also seems stalled indefinitely. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Trump takes aim at Warren again

President Trump has been running for reelection since he took office, both with direct efforts like fundraising and indirect efforts like trying to soften up his potential 2020 opponents. 

No Democratic hopeful has faced more incoming from the president than Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He's tweeted about her at least 10 times since taking office, many times using a pejorative nickname referring to her claim of Native American ancestry, and has criticized her even more on the stump and during sessions with the media. 

Those attacks are continuing now that Warren is exploring a bid for president, most recently as Sunday evening on Twitter. 

Along with more on that latest barb, here's a roundup of what you may have missed on the 2020 beat over the last few days. 

  • Trump retweeted a quick clip of a recent Instagram Live video of Warren's where she cracks a beer in her kitchen and talks with her husband. In his tweets, he references the Battle at Little Bighorn and the massacre at Wounded Knee, controversial battles between Native Americans and U.S. forces in the 1800s. 
  • Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders—seen as one of Warren's top opponents in that he has the keys to a strong campaign organization and sits in a similar, progressive/populist lane as Warren does—is staffing up his digital team, according to Politico. Among those moves, Sanders is reportedly in talks to bring on the video team that made viral videos for New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during her Democratic primary last cycle. 
  • Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard apologized for her past statements on LGBT rights to CNN as she begins her presidential campaign.
  • Former Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is flirting with a challenge to President Trump, penned a new op-ed in USA Today where he accuses his party of being "stuck in the 1950s" both in its representative diversity and it's approach to problem-solving. 
  • NBC News' Benjy Sarlin took a look at how Washington Democratic Gov Jay Inslee's (a possible presidential candidate) failure to push through a carbon tax in his home state is shaping his approach to combating climate change. 
Ben Kamisar

Castro, Gabbard latest Dems to jump into 2020 race

This weekend brought two more Democratic candidates into the presidential race-former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. 

Castro's announcement had been thoroughly teased out-he announced an exploratory committee last month and made his intentions clear. But he followed through on Saturday when he declared in his hometown of San Antonio. 

Gabbard had been known to be mulling a bid too. But instead of a more scripted roll-out like the one Castro and others landed on, Gabbard told CNN on Friday during an interview that she is running, only after rolling out her campaign website and the other trappings of a bid. 

Castro has made it clear he's running as a progressive, telling Iowans during a trip last week that he's supporting universal healthcare and the "Green New Deal" environmental policies, as well as refusing to take corporate donations. 

Gabbard hasn't given many more details just yet, telling supporters in an email she's running on "building a movement for peace at home and abroad that will fulfill the promise of America for freedom, justice, equality." She has fans among those who supported Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, thanks to her public break with the party to support him. But her stances on other issues, like gay rights and the Syrian conflict, have cost her support on the left too. 

Presidential potentials are making their case on Instagram Live

Potential 2020 candidate Beto O’Rourke grabbed the internet by surprise Thursday morning when he started posting Instagram videos from the dentist chair, the latest example of possible candidates taking to social media to expand their reach and connect with younger voters.

O’Rourke is no stranger to social media — he had a robust presence across platforms during his Texas senatorial bid. But the viral moment it prompted is indicative of an increasingly popular strategy among politician peers.

The former Texas Democratic congressmen’s video was the latest in a series of talking to people about life near the border. This video included his own dental hygienist, Diana.

After a close-up shot of the former Texas Congressman getting his teeth cleaned, O’Rourke turned to Diana, asking about her life on the border. “It’s a beautiful community” she responded, adding that it’s not what everybody thinks.

O’Rourke is far from the only candidate to bring the mundane to their social media followers in the hopes of connecting.

Shortly after announcing her candidacy on New Years Eve, Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped headfirst into Instagram Live, streaming herself in her kitchen drinking beer and discussing her nascent campaign.

With 1.2 million followers, Warren has one of the biggest Instagram audiences among the potential 2020 field.

Another 2020 hopeful Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, tapped into Instagram’s potential for connecting with voters during his 2018 re-election campaign, answering questions his followers submitted using the app’s “questions” feature.

Brown answered questions about his favorite snacks and his dog Franklin, but stayed away from the deeper discussion other lawmakers have tried broadcasting.

Since the campaign, Brown has repeatedly taken to Instagram Live to talk about the issues like the ongoing government shutdown. But he still has a far way to go to catch some of his colleagues when it comes to reach on the platform, with less than 10,000 followers.

The strategy has been employed by a number of other politicians, including freshman New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who regularly streams herself cooking and chatting with followers.

Former  Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, another possible Democratic hopeful, reacted to O’Rourke’s video and the larger trend Thursday on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

“I think people are trying to get out, get their own way, you know trying to figure out what’s the best path way to do it and people are doing it in unique way,” he said.


Ben Kamisar

Sanders apologizes to women on 2016 campaign "who were harassed or mistreated"

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is formally apologizing after multiple reports detailed allegations of harassment or inappropriate sexual conduct against Sanders' former 2016 presidential campaign staffers. 

Sanders addressed the reports during a press conference Thursday, subsequently issuing a statement on Twitter

"It now appears that as part of our campaign there were some women who were harassed or mistreated. I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out. hat they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign or any campaign, should be about," Sanders said. 

"When we talk about ending sexism and all forms of discrimination those beliefs cannot just be words. They must be reality in our day to day lives and the work we do—and that was clearly not the case in the 2016 campaign. To the women in that campaign who were harassed or mistreated I apologize. Our standards and safeguards were inadequate." 

The comments came the morning after an unnamed former staffer told Politico that former Sanders convention floor leader Robert Becker made inappropriate sexual comments to her, grabbed her wrist, and forcibly kissed her.

In a statement to Politico, Becker said: "I categorically deny these allegations of improper and unprofessional conduct," adding that the accusation is "at odds with my recollection" of the evening in question, when Sanders staffers got together the final night of the Democratic National Convention. 

Late last year, Sanders' campaign issued a statement responding to a letter from former campaign staff that raised concerns about sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct that occurred during the campaign. In response to those concerns, Sanders' campaign said that it implemented "more robust policies and processes" during Sanders' 2018 Senate reelection campaign and that it continues to evaluate its policies. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: More primary state traveling

As the Democratic presidential field begins to swell, early-primary state voters will soon not be able to turn their head without catching a glimpse of a presidential hopeful (not to mention, turn on the TV without being innundated with ads). With more and more Democrats booking their winter travel plans, here's our latest roundup of the news from the trail. 

  • Elizabeth Warren heads to Manchester  this weekend for an organizing event, marking her first swing through the home of the "First in the Nation" primary since she announced she's exploring a presidential bid. New Hampshire is a key state on Warren's road to the Democratic nomination, considering the Massachusetts senator is from just a short drive away.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is giving a speech at the Las Vegas "Battle Born Progress" summit on Saturday as well as he continues to consider a bid.   
  • A new Politico report has more details on accusations of harassment and assault during Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign. The new report quotes a former female staffer (quoted anonymously for her fear of reprisal) accusing a top Sanders aide of making lewd and sexual comments toward her during the Democratic National Convention, grabbing her wrists and forcibly kissing her. The accused staffer "categorically" denied the allegations in a statement to Politico, but the campaign told the outlet that he would "not be a part of any future campaigns." 
  • Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who once-upon-a-time dropped out of the 2016 presidential race with a call for unity around a candidate who could defeat Donald Trump, told Fox News that he's going to "help chair" the president's reelection campaign in Wisconsin. Trump's narrow victory in Wisconsin was integral to his Electoral College win, making it likely the state will turn into a key battleground once again in 2020. 
Ben Kamisar

Tom Steyer won't run for president, will spend millions on impeachment push instead

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has decided to forego a presidential bid, instead announcing he'll redouble his commitment to calling for President Trump's impeachment. 

Steyer had been stoking serious speculation about a presidential bid, posting LinkedIn ads for staff in early states and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads for his "Need to Impeach" group in key primary states. But during a speech in Iowa (a backdrop where candidates usually jump into the presidential place, not out of it), Steyer announced that he's out. 

Instead, he'll invest $40 million in that "Need to Impeach" effort, which has run ads and campaigns meant to convince Americans and lawmakers to support impeachment. 

Read more from NBC News' Allan Smith and Ali Vitali here