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Castro pans Trump's Syria withdrawal as 'erratic'

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who is expected to announce a Democratic presidential primary bid in the coming weeks, criticized President Trump's plan to withdraw troops from Syria as haphazard during an interview on Sunday's "Meet the Press." 

Castro drew a distinction between a desire to bring troops home and what he sees as a lack of a stable plan associated with the drawdown. He argued that Trump's decision, abruptly announced on Twitter this week, is proof "he's behaving extremely erratically." 

"I'm not a big fan of the commitments America has made over these past 15 years, whether it was the Iraq War or this commitment," he said.

"I agree with folks who say that for our own sake, for the sake of our troops, for the sake of our allies, once you're there, you have to have a solid plan for how you are going to withdraw. What we saw this week is not the way it should be done."

Castro has more than flirted with a presidential bid, launching an exploratory committee that many see as a clear sign of his intention. As he delays any official word until a January announcement, his brother (Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquín Castro) joined him on CBS's "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and spoiled what was left of the surprise

Watch the full interview below for more on Castro's comments about both Trump and his possibility of running for president. 

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Republican candidate Mark Harris supports new election after absentee fraud allegations roiled congressional race

UPDATE: The North Carolina State Board of Elections has ordered a new election in the state's Ninth Congressional District. Thanks to a law passed late last year, which the State Assembly passed over the governor's veto, there will also be a new primary. 

ORIGINAL: Republican Mark Harris, who appeared to have won his congressional race until an absentee ballot fraud investigation thew the result into doubt, is now calling for a new election, conceding that he believes a do-over is the only way for voters to regain faith in the process. 

"Through the testimony I listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called. It's become clear to me that the public's confidence in the ninth district seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted," Harris said Thursday during the state Board of Elections hearing into the contested election.

Read more from NBC News' Leigh Ann Caldwell and Dartunorro Clark on this developing story

Ben Kamisar

Priorities USA unveils $100 million investment in key presidential battlegrounds

Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PACs focused on the 2020 presidential race, is spending $100 million across four of the top swing states as part of the group's initial investment in defeating President Trump. 

Guy Cecil, the group's chairman, announced the early investment in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania during an event with reporters on Thursday. He argued that early polling shows Democrats have "opportunity to expand the electorate to the largest, if not certainly the largest in a generation" and that he wants to make sure the party wastes no time in starting that work. 

"We are going to have a long, year-and-a-half long, sustained conversation with these 2, 2.5 million voters in these four states," he said. 

These four states represent 75 Electoral College votes and were pivotal to Trump's 2016 victory. The $100 million will primarily be spent on digital ads and infrastructure in the states—Cecil said it is "highly unlikely that we will be on television this year." 

Later this year, the group will pivot towards investing in its "Phase 2" states, which include North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. 

Cecil walked reporters through a detailed theory of the case—including how Priorities views the universe of potential Democratic persuasion and turnout targets, as well as the messages it believes is best suited to win over those voters. 

He specifically called out the 16 percent of registered voters who did not vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 that say they are open to supporting a Democrat in 2020. Of those, 51 percent did not vote in 2016, 20 percent voted for Trump because they opposed Clinton, 17 percent voted for a third party candidate and 12 percent voted for Trump because they supported him. 

Like other Democratic groups that have done postmortems after the 2016 race, Priorities wants to prioritize issues like health care and wages over the more general concerns Democrats have about Trump's tweets and temperament. The group's polling has found that Democrats have the biggest advantages when message on those issues, and less of an advantage when trying to message directly on Trump's tone or rhetoric. 

"Our job is to refocus as much of the conversation on economic issues—not on tweets or temperament or personality, but on how this administration affects them," Cecil said. 

"While people are talking about Mueller, we will be talking about high health care prices…When people are talking about Trump’s temperament, well be talking about how Trump's temperament relates to the rising cost of pharmaceuticals.” 

But that work won't be done in a vacuum, as Trump's reelection and its allies have already begun spending heavily too to tar Democrats as too extreme to be trusted to run the country. And while Democrats had hoped to prioritize policy debates over rhetorical debates in 2016, Trump's siren song ultimately distracted them at times from that goal. 

While the group is already starting to spend heavily, Priorities is officially neutral in the Democratic primary. But with the Democratic primary including such a wide swath of policy positions on a variety of issues, including whether Democrats should even have super PACs at all, Cecil says the group is positioning itself for whoever eventually wins the nomination.  

He added that the group has "developed a more permanent infrastructure for the left that isn't focused on one election" and that it intends to fight against Trump's reelection "all the way through November" regardless of the eventual nominee's stance on super PACs. And he added that while the group has polled head-to-head matchups between Trump and possible nominees, he hasn't seen "seismic changes" in the data dependent on who the party nominates. 

Read the full Priorities presentation here. 

Ben Kamisar

Tweet the Press: NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell talks scandal-tainted North Carolina House race

In Wednesday's edition of Tweet the Press, NBC News Capitol Hill reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell catches us up on the dramatic North Carolina State Board of Election investigatory hearing looking into election irregularities in the state's Ninth Congressional District. 

The board has refused to certify the race after serious allegations of absentee ballot fraud emerged. The allegations center on a local political consultant who did work for Republican Mark Harris, who appeared to have won the election before the accusations emerged. 

Check out the Twitter thread below for more from the hearing. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Warren sketches out child care plan

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is unveiling her latest policy proposal—universal child care—as she looks to show voters the types of progressive projects her administration could fund with her tax on the richest Americans. 

The broad strokes of the plan, which Warren outlined in a Medium post on Tuesday are as follows: 

  • Universal childcare from birth until children are old enough to go to school
  • A network of licensed centers created through public-private partnerships 
  • Families making less than 200 percent above the federal poverty line receive free childcare
  • For all others, childcare costs will be capped at 7 percent of family income
  • Warren's team ballparks the program, which would not be mandatory, at about $700 billion. The campaign adds that cost would be covered through her "Ultra-millionaire tax," which she says would bring in $2.75 trillion over ten years

Read more from Warren here, and read below for more from the campaign trail: 

  • Former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who has said he'll announce his decision on 2020 by the end of the month, said that he's keeping all options open, including a presidential bid, another Senate bid, or even perhaps serving as the Democratic nominee's vice presidential pick. 
  • NBC's Benjy Sarlin joined California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris in New Hampshire, where she pledged to "compete in New Hampshire" and "shake every hand that I possibly can" even as some question whether the state is integral to her path to the party's nomination
  • Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's campaign welcomed Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders into the presidential race with a statement that prods at his influence pushing the Democratic Party to the left, the very leftward drift that Schultz says helped spark his potential candidacy. 
  • Kayleigh McEnany, President Trump's newly-minted reelection national press secretary, made clear on Fox News that the campaign looks at the news media as right up there with Democrats as its biggest foes.

Ben Kamisar

Hogan on challenging Trump: People are approaching me and I "haven't thrown them out" of my office

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan suggested that he hasn't closed the door on challenging President Trump in the 2020 Republican primary as Trump opponents continue to float his name as a potential primary candidate. 

Hogan criticized Trump in a new interview with CBS News—saying that he sometimes "acts irrationally" and that he's "exaggerated what's going on at the border." But while he said that he's fielded requests from people who want him to run in the GOP presidential primary, Hogan made clear he's far from any potential run. 

"I was just sworn in a month ago for my second term. I've got a lot of work to do here in Maryland.I would say I'm being approached from a lot of different people, and I guess the best way to put it is I haven't thrown them out of my office," he said. 

When asked how the special counsel's report could impact the Republican presidential primary field, Hogan replied that "you would see a number of potential challengers in the Republican Party considering jumping in" if that was the case. 

Hogan has reportedly spoken with prominent anti-Trump Republicans like Bill Kristol, who founded "The Weekly Standard," the conservative magazine that shuttered a few months ago, 

Bernie's big bucks: Sanders raises staggering $4 million in first 12 hours after launch

UPDATED: By Wednesday morning, Sanders' campaign announced that it raised $5.9 million in the 24 hours after launching the campaign, from 225,000 individuals. The campaign also says that it secured $600,000 in monthly recurring donations. 

ORIGINAL: At 8:00 pm ET last night, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign announced having raised more than $4 million since the start of his campaign kickoff from nearly 150,000 individuals. That’s in just 12 hours.

By comparison, Kamala Harris’ campaign raised $1.5 million in its first 24 hours; Amy Klobuchar’s reported raising more than $1 million in its first 48 hours; and Elizabeth Warren got some $300,000 from ActBlue in her first day (although that’s not a complete way to measure total fundraising).

So Bernie’s haul is VERY impressive. Then again, as a repeat candidate who’s already proved he can raise big bucks online, that kind of fundraising prowess should be expected from him.

The question we have is: If Beto O’Rourke does run, can he match or exceed Bernie’s first-day amount?

 

Biden: Trump administration "rooting" for demise of EU and NATO

Former Vice President Joe Biden took sharp aim at President Trump on foreign policy Tuesday at what he called an “inflection point” in America’s relationship with its allies. 

Days after he attended a major international summit in Germany, Biden noted the deep concern among allies about the United States and blasted the Trump administration for in his view “rooting” for the demise of the European Union and diminishment of NATO. 

It “is the dumbest thing in the world,” Biden said during a conversation at the University of Pennsylvania. 

He noted that Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on behalf of Trump, was received there with “deafening silence” as he “lectured” the audience, while he received a standing ovation from a bipartisan U.S. delegation and the allies in attendance. 

Biden was not asked specifically during the Q-and-A session with the university president about his 2020 plans. But with his emphasis on foreign policy and the importance of addressing middle class economic anxiety, he showcased what would be at the heart of his potential candidacy. 

Biden noted he had championed the Obama administration’s auto industry bailout but noted that economic policies have not creative enough incentive for businesses to reinvest profits into their workforce, blasting GM for having accepted the rescue package during the Great Recession but now laying off workers. 

“I’m not looking for charity. Business is not in business to be a charity,” he said. “I don’t begrudge anybody making a million or hundreds of millions of dollars. I really don’t. But I do think there’s some shared responsibility and it’s not being shared fairly for hard-working, middle class and working class people.”

Ben Kamisar

Kamala Harris: 'Medicare for All' is not socialism

California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris defended "Medicare for All" from Republican attacks comparing it to socialism, arguing drastic steps are necessary thanks to rising healthcare costs. 

As the policy continues to gain steam in her party, Harris brushed aside that label during an interview with NBC Capitol Hill Correspondent Kasie Hunt during Harris's trip to New Hampshire as part of her presidential campaign. 

"No, no. It’s about providing health care to all people," she said in response to Hunt's question. 

"It’s about understanding that access to affordable health care should not be a privilege, it should be a right. It’s about understanding that in a democracy, and the  way we have constructed our democracy, we at least in concept have said that your access to public education, public health or public safety should not be a function of how much money you have. But in America today, that’s not the case."

Watch more from the interview below and stay tuned to MSNBC for more excerpts from the interview to come. 

Ben Kamisar

The potential 2020 Democratic candidates we are still watching

As the Democratic presidential field continues to swell Tuesday with the addition of Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, there are still a handful more waiting to run off of the sidelines. 

Here's a breakdown of who the political unit is still watching, grouped by their recent public statements. 

Announcing decision soon

  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke: One of the marquee candidates of the 2018 cycle, O'Rourke recently emerged from the shadows this month, telling Oprah he's "thinking about running for president" and promising to announce his decision by the end of February.
  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: The billionaire told the Associated Press earlier this month he would also announce whether he's running by the end of February. Politico reports that he'd still spend hundreds of millions of dollars to deprive President Trump of a second term if he decides not to run.
  • Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown: While Brown's been openly considering a bid and traveling to swing states, he told CNN on Sunday that "We will have a timetable in the next couple, three weeks to make a decision." 
  • Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe: During an interview on CBS "Face the Nation" this past Sunday, McAuliffe said that "I have made hundreds and hundreds of calls across the country, talked to potential staff and, listen, we're close to making a decision."
  • Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley: Merkley told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last week that "I'm going to decide by the end of the quarter."
  • California Rep. Eric Swalwell: Swalwell traveled to Iowa this past long weekend, where he told potential caucus-goers "I'm about to jump in. The water's warm." 

Leaning yes 

  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee: Inslee has made no secrets about his presidential aspirations and his hope to focus on climate change as a top issue for a possible bid. Earlier this month on CNN, he said that "we're still doing that due diligence, but so far all systems go at the moment" when asked about his intentions in 2020. 
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: The former brewery-owner turned politician has also been publicly handicapping his odds of running for a while, telling CNN last month that "I would probably take the bet" on him running. 
  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet: Lest we have only one Coloradan in the race, Bennet told Meet the Press this month "I think we have an opportunity to have a presidential campaign" and that "having one more voice in that conversation that's focused on America's future, I don't think would hurt."

Undecided 

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden: Biden, whose shadow looms large over the race, said in Germany last week that he hasn't reached a decision yet on whether to run. "I'm in the process of doing that and I will in the near term let everyone know what that decision is. I think there is a sufficient amount of time to do that."
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock: The purple-state governor told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last month " “I don’t feel any rush to be jumping in the race."
  • Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton: After previously ruling out a bid, Moulton changed his mind, telling Buzzfeed News that he's "seriously" considering a bid and saying during a foreign policy address earlier this month that "an argument for me to jump in" is if he can add a foreign policy emphasis to the debate. 
  • Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan: The congressman who gained national recognition when he challenged then-House Minority Leader Nany Pelosi for her leadership spot, Ryan told MSNBC's "MTP Daily" last week that he's "strongly considering" a bid because he's "worried" for the country.  
Ben Kamisar

Sanders: Voters should look at what candidates 'stand for,' not at their demographics

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to vacillate in explaining how he prioritizes class and race, priorities that will play an interesting role in how he approaches his 2020 presidential race. 

Speaking to Vermont Public Radio on Tuesday morning while announcing his bid, Sanders addressed the issues when asked about whether he's still the "face of the new Democratic Party." The field already includes a historic number of women and minority candidates, as well as an openly gay presidential hopeful. 

"We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age," Sanders said. 

"I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for."

Sanders struck a similar tone in a GQ profile last month, where he said that "there are people who are very big into diversity but whose views end up being not particularly sympathetic to working people, whether they're white or black or Latino." 

But that answer is a departure from the scripted remarks he delivered last month while commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day in South Carolina.

"Combating racial equality must be central to combating economic inequality," Sanders said during that trip to the Palmetto State, which is home to an early primary with a significant black voter population. 

The Vermont senator struggled in the 2016 primary in states like South Carolina where the primary electorate included a strong portion of black voters. So Sanders' evolving answers on the intersection between racial and economic inequality will be worth watching as he looks to improve his showing with minority voters.