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.
Here's how the RNC is preparing to counter the Democratic debates
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump may be flying to Japan on Wednesday for a global summit but his presence is sure to hover heavily over the Democratic debates in Miami this week.
While the president may weigh in on the proceedings via his Twitter feed, the Republican National Committee will be at full-throttle, wielding material it has been gathering on the opposition candidates since the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections.
Even so, Republicans face an unprecedented task in organizing research for the largest field of major Democratic presidential hopefuls in the modern era, who will spar over two nights of debates.
A team of about thirty staffers has pored over thousands of pages of public record requests and hundreds of hours of videos, ready to pounce the moment one of the contenders misspeaks or missteps in primetime.
Each Democrat has required a different approach to the research. Some like former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have been in public service for decades, making their opposition troves rich and deep. Others, such as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have thinner profiles.
The RNC has compiled long-term, in-depth investigative research on about half of the 20 candidates who qualified for Wednesday and Thursday’s events, according to a spokesman.
While the president will be halfway around the world at the G20 conference, Trump’s allies will be on offense, with resources deployed on the ground in Miami.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel will oversee the effort.
“This week, the crowded field of Democrat candidates will use the debate stage to paint a glamorous view of their socialist proposals. With the advantage of a fully equipped war room and rapid response team, our job is to fact-check Democrats’ bogus statements and expose the truth behind their radical agendas,” McDaniel said in a statement to NBC News.
During the debate, the RNC will have a full “war room” monitoring every network and clipping and emailing top moments to its massive email and donor lists in real time as well as blasting them out on social media.
There will be four-dozen surrogates available as well, with an emphasis on Spanish-speaking content in battleground states where Hispanics make up a key demographic.
Republicans have prepared fact-checks on everything from the Russia investigation to the economy and how various Democrats plan to pay for their individual policy proposals.
For its part, the Trump 2020 campaign is letting the party take the offensive lead on the debates this week, but Vice President Mike Pence will hold a “Latinos for Trump” coalition rollout in Miami Tuesday, hoping to deliver a prebuttal before the first crop of Democrats take the stage Wednesday night.
Maine Democratic House speaker to run against Susan Collins
WASHINGTON — Sara Gideon, the Democratic Speaker of the Maine House, has jumped into the race against Republican Sen. Susan Collins.
Gideon announced her bid in a video on social media where she recounted her political career, highlighting her work on health care, job training and drug addiction.
She also framed herself as a the bulwark against controversial former Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage in the state legislature, arguing that she'll be able to take the same approach in Washington
"Getting things done for Mainers is what we are elected to do, not falling in line behind the demands of someone else," she said.
"It doesn't matter if that person is Paul LePage, Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump."
Collins presents a unique opportunity and challenge for Democrats.
They see her as newly vulnerable after she voted for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination was roiled by allegations of sexual assault stemming from his teenage years.
But Collins is a mainstay in the state — she's been in the Senate since 1997 and has cruised to re-election since. And her Kavanaugh support could galvanize Republicans around her too.
Gideon speaks to that dynamic in her announcement video, arguing that Collins has lost her bipartisan streak.
Republicans panned Gideon's announcement, arguing that bipartisan streak will serve Collins well once again in 2020.
"Susan Collins is the most independent Senator in the country because of her ability to work across party lines to get things done for Maine,” said Nathan Brand, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Chosen by Schumer and Washington Democrats, Sara Gideon is an extreme partisan who will give away Maine’s voice to radical leftists like Pelosi and AOC.”
Inslee pledges to phase out fossil fuels
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee is proposing an aggressive plan to eliminate fossil fuel use in the U.S and transition the nation to 100% clean energy by taking on corporations and adding 8 million new jobs.
The “Freedom from Fossil Fuels” plan, being unveiled Monday, consists of 16 policy initiatives that include phasing out fracking and use of coal, creating a “climate test” for new infrastructure, introducing a climate pollution fee on corporations and establishing an office in the Department of Justice entirely focused on prosecuting environmental injustices.
"In order to build a more prosperous, just and inclusive clean energy future, our nation must confront the economic and environmental harm caused by corporate polluters," the campaign’s plan states.
The governor will officially announce his proposal from Everglades Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where there has been recent controversy over a real estate company trying to explore oil drilling in the wetlands.
Inslee has released three other plans has part of his “Climate Mission” including a plan on global action on climate change, a clean energy plan and an “Evergreen Economy” plan and is the only candidate who has made the environment the central focus of his campaign.
Biden previews immigration policy visions ahead of debate
WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden continued to ramp up his attacks on President Donald Trump Monday with harsh criticism of the administration’s hardline position on immigration, just days ahead of the first Democratic presidential debate in Southern Florida.
In a Miami Herald op-ed, Biden writes that Trump continues to threaten U.S. relations with Latin America by relying on campaign tactics of “vilifying immigrants to score political points.” He lists the administration’s latest threat to immediately deport thousands of undocumented immigrants, the decision to end aid to Central American countries and continued “horrifying scenes” of families detained at the border as examples to contrast the leadership he says would bring to the presidency as an experienced foreign policy expert.
“It’s clear Donald Trump is only interested in using his policies to assault the dignity of the Latino community and scare voters to turn out on election day, not addressing the real challenges facing our hemisphere,” he writes.
He adds, “at a time when the challenges we face demand a united, regional response, Trump repeatedly invokes racist invective to describe anyone south of the Rio Grande, including calling migrants ‘animals.’”
Biden says that Trump’s signature “build the wall” mantra is “a slogan divorced from reality.”
The “true solution” is to address the root causes of the migrant flow from Central America, Biden argues, calling for returning to a strategy he helped lead in the Obama administration to support economic and security initiatives in the Northern Triangle countries.
Biden calls for Congress to pass the DREAM Act to finally allow undocumented immigrants to come “out of the shadows through fair treatment, not ugly threats.” He also targets Trump’s “increasing belligerence” in handling the Venezuelan crisis and calls for granting temporary protected status to refugees from the South American country.
The broad immigration policy overview in the Miami Herald comes after Biden attacked what he called the “mindless” Trump approach to immigration in an interview Saturday with MSNBC’s Al Sharpton.
“Not only is that cruel, but imagine what it says to the rest of the world about who we are,” Biden said of children in detention centers. “This is absolutely mindless what he’s doing.”
Beto O'Rourke rolls out proposals to help veterans
TAMPA, Fla. — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is unveiling an expansive policy outline to address veterans issues on Monday, which includes revitalization of the VA and other improved veterans services and a proposed $1,000 new “war tax” on wealthy households that don’t include veterans or current servicemembers.
The former Texas congressman wants to pass on some responsibility of military service by imposing a $1,000 progressive tax on people making over $200,000 a year for every new authorized war the United States enters. That money would be funneled into what he calls a “Veterans Health Care Trust Fund,” which would support veterans’ medical services and other forms of care.
“It means that before we go to war again, after we’ve ended the wars that we’re already in, we’re gonna make sure that we understand the full cost and consequence of going to those wars,” O’Rourke told NBC News in an exclusive interview. “It’s not just deploying the women and men, the missiles and the bombs, it’s their care when they come back.”
O'Rourke has long called for bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a “responsible end,” and says he wants to invest half of the money being spent there — which he estimates is around $200 of $400 billion — into programs helping veterans.
The candidate is proposing to reshape the VA on several fronts, including implementing partnerships with research universities and standardizing electronic health care data. He wants to build upon existing “reverse boot camps” and work with federal agencies on various economic concerns for members of the military transitioning back to civilian life.
O’Rourke’s plan for veterans is the seventh major policy rollout of his campaign, but this is a topic that was at the forefront of his career prior to his vault into the mainstream public eye during the Texas Senate race last year. As a congressman, he held quarterly veterans town halls, served on both the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees, and worked on numerous pieces of veterans-focused legislation that became law.
Part of his proposal this week to address veteran suicide and mental health matters also includes allowing VA physicians to prescribe or recommend medical cannabis where it’s legal, while also ensuring VA providers communicate with veterans about safe and responsible gun storage.
He told NBC News Monday that his potential administration would “make suicide reduction our No. 1 clinical priority at the V.A.”
He also calls on Congress to increase funding to the National Institutes of Health to fight diseases prevalent with veterans, including doubling research into Alzheimer’s and other dementia's from $2.5 billion to $5 billion a year.
Bullock makes first trip to New Hampshire while the rest of the field is in South Carolina
MANCHESTER, N.H. — While nearly all the other 2020 Democratic candidates were in South Carolina this weekend, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock headed north to New Hampshire for his first campaign trip to the Granite State. With Bullock’s visit, every 2020 contender has now officially introduced themselves to first-in-the-nation primary voters.
All of the retail politics typical of a New Hampshire swing were on full display during Bullock's visit — he was escorted by influential state senators as he met voters at Concord’s Market Days Festival, held a brewery meet and greet, shook hands with diners at local Manchester haunts, and attended a Nashua house party hosted by a former New Hampshire attorney general.
Bullock entered the race five weeks ago. The house party was initially scheduled for March, but had to be postponed, along with Bullock’s announcement, due to working with the Montana state legislature to expand Medicaid.
“I only got into this formally a little bit over a month ago because I had a job to do,” Bullock said. “And if I had to choose between chasing 100,000 voters or providing health care for 100,000 people, easiest decision I’ll ever make.”
When asked why he chose to jump into such a crowded field rather than vie for a Montana Senate seat, Bullock told NBC News, “We need to win places we lost in addition to bringing out our base, we need to be able to make people believe that government works.”
“My whole life experience has been in the executive branch of things, I think I have something really meaningful to offer there, so that was the decision I made,” he said.
Bullock said New Hampshire is critical because at the end of the day, it’s the state that’s “going to sort out a lot of this.”
“Folks in New Hampshire, they take their role seriously, so they want to get to know the candidates,” he said. “As much as at times people try to nationalize elections, this really is a person to person effort.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has made the most trips to the first primary state, with ten N.H. campaign swings according to NBC News' tally. And in the latest CBS News/YouGov poll, only two percent of Granite Staters are so far considering supporting Bullock for the nomination.
NBC News' Amanda Golden contributed to this report.
Americans weigh in on how to improve democracy
WASHINGTON — In a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Americans were asked about potential changes that could occur within U.S. democracy. The most popular answers, below, are added up by those who said the changes would improve democracy "a lot" or "just some."
- Term limits for members of Congress: 71 percent.
- Non-partisan commissions drawing congressional/state legislative districts: 66 percent.
- Election Day as a national holiday: 66 percent.
- Automatic voter registration for every adult citizen: 65 percent.
- Term limits for Supreme Court justices: 60 percent.
- Eliminating the Electoral College to decide presidential elections: 56 percent.
- Federal funding of congressional campaigns: 54 percent.
- Eliminating the filibuster: 44 percent.
Of course, there are significant partisan differences on these fixes: 81 percent of Democratic respondents said abolishing the Electoral College would improve democracy a lot/somewhat, versus just 32 percent of Republicans who agreed.
But the one fix where there’s bipartisan support is congressional term limits, with 81 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents and 67 percent of Democrats who think it would improve the U.S. democracy.
On World Refugee Day, one campaign staffer shares his journey
NEW HAMPSHIRE — Suraj Budathoki is a man of dates. March 5, 1990 is when he left Bhutan overnight at age nine as a political refugee with his family. February 24, 2009 is when he resettled in Atlanta, GA and began working two full-time jobs to support himself. December 5, 2009 is when he got to New Hampshire and soon after started taking classes at a community college, later earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and a masters’ degree in international relations.
And May 1, 2019 is when he started working for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign as his Constituency Director in New Hampshire.
Budathoki left Bhutan at a time when a sixth of the population was being evicted due to political persecution from an authoritarian government. But he says that when he finally got to America, he was unaware of how hard it would be to feel like he was succeeding.
Thursday was World Refugee Day, marked by the U.N. and Budathoki told NBC News that arriving in the U.S. was a shock. “When I came to the United States, I was unaware of the reality of America, the hardship, the recession,” he said. “I was unaware of all those things. And I was kind of traumatized.”
Budathoki says Sanders’ plans to address education and student debt, healthcare, income inequality and climate inspired him to get involved with the campaign.
"Suraj represents the promise of America and what this country can be,” Joe Caiazzo, Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire State Director, told NBC News. “He overcame enormous hardships and built a life for him and his family in New Hampshire. Suraj became an entrepreneur, a leader in his community, and a role model not just for new Americans, but for all of us. We're lucky to have him on our team as we build our grassroots campaign throughout New Hampshire."
Budathoki said while he and other refugees see America as a beacon of hope, the country isn’t addressing the underlying causes of refugee displacement — supporting authoritarian regimes, implementing imbalanced trade policies and tackling climate change. “We have a responsibility to answer these issues,” he said.
Budathoki says working on the Sanders campaign has been his “proudest moment.” To future refugees who want to get involved in the political process, Budathoki said, “Fight for your right. Speak up. No one has the right to dehumanize you.”
Marianne Williamson walks back skeptical comments about vaccinations
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson Thursday walked back comments expressing skepticism about government-mandated vaccinations.
Appearing on "The View,” Williamson was challenged on remarks she made at an art gallery reception in Manchester, N.H. on Wednesday evening. When asked by an attendee about her perspective on medical freedom and choice, Williamson responded with her views on government-mandated vaccinations. “To me," she said, "it’s no different than the abortion debate. The U.S. government doesn't tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child.”
She added, “I have met very sincere, very smart people on both sides of the vaccine issue. I understand infectious diseases are no small deal, but I have to say I know as a mother, if you're telling me that I have to put a needle into the arm of my baby and I don't feel good about what's in that needle, I'm not sure about that.”
"I’ve seen too many mothers with just tears in their eyes," she added, "with real fear. And that’s too draconian to me, it’s just too Orwellian to me."
On Thursday, Williamson said that as president, she would have a commission of scientists, not paid by “big pharma,” to research vaccines and infectious diseases. "The days of blind faith in big pharma are over," she said.
Pressed by "The View" co-host Meghan McCain on calling mandatory vaccines “draconian” and “Orwellian,” Williamson responded, “I think I misspoke in that one sentence.”
She later added, “I understand that public safety must come first, but I also understand that we must have a balance between public safety and the issues of individual freedom. I do not trust the propaganda on either side,” telling co-host Whoopi Goldberg, “I support vaccines.”
The latest Monmouth University poll released on Thursday shows Williamson at one percent, along with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Republicans launch anti-Medicare for All ad campaign tied to Dem debate
WASHINGTON — As Democratic presidential candidates prepare to debate issues like health care next week in Miami, Republicans are preparing a major national ad campaign to try to turn public opinion against Medicare for All.
One Nation, a GOP group tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is launching a $4 million campaign on national broadcast and cable TV, as well as radio and digital platforms around the debate to highlight what it calls "horror-stories" from Canada's single-payer health care system.
A handful of prominent Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and California Sen. Kamala Harris, are backing a Medicare-for-All approach to health care.
The ad focuses on long wait times patients have had to endure for procedures like heart surgery, with a narrator warning, "Medicare for All would eliminate private insurance for 180 million people — you and every American waiting in the same government-run plan."
“We’re going to make sure every American understands that Medicare for All means paying more for lower-quality care, longer wait times and restricted choice,” said One Nation President and CEO Steven Law. “If you’re a union worker, a family dependent on employer insurance, or a senior relying on traditional Medicare, so-called Medicare for All will turn your world upside down.”
While many presidential candidates have said they support "Medicare for All," the term can actually apply to a wide variety of plans to overhaul the health care system.
Most candidates actually support an idea to give Americans the option to buy into a government-run system like Medicare, while Sanders calls for a more sweeping reform that would replace private insurance with a Canadian-style single-payer system like the ones described in the One Name ad.
The concept is a fairly new one to most Americans, which gives partisans on both sides have an opportunity to try to define it. Polls show a majority of Americans favor the idea of universal health care, but are confused about specifics of "Medicare for All."
One recent survey by a Democratic group found Americans favor an optional buy-in scheme, but are more hostile towards a full-blown Canadian-style system that would eliminate private insurance, giving Republicans an incentive to try to conflate the two in voters' minds.
Mike Pence to headline pre-Democratic debate Miami event touting Hispanic support
WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence will headline a speech on Tuesday in Miami to tout Hispanic support for the Trump-Pence 2020 ticket, just 24 hours before the first Democratic presidential debate there, according to two sources familiar with the plans.
The campaign is still finalizing the list of Latino leaders and business executives that Pence is expected to reveal in order to show support from a key demographic in the battleground state of Florida and beyond heading into next year’s election.
Tuesday’s speech will also mark the official rollout of the Trump campaign coalition and Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez will be announced as national co-chair of the campaign, these sources said.
While President Trump won’t be traveling for any specific campaign events or rallies next week, he will be gearing up for a trip to Osaka, Japan for the G20, and will likely be aboard Air Force One for the first night of debates.
On Wednesday night, the president told Sean Hannity he might live-tweet the back-to-back events, though initially he said he had not planned to and called a Wall Street Journal report that he might “fake news.” Moments later, Trump changed his tune and said “Maybe I will now.”
It would not be surprising for Trump to use his favorite social media platform to react to the Democratic candidates on stage in Miami but it’s unclear whether he will be able to watch the second night of debates in real time while he’s on the ground in Osaka.
Next week, the day before the debates, Trump is expected to speak at a closed press fundraiser in Washington D.C. The following morning, June 26, he will speak at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. He’s expected to leave for Japan at some point after that.