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Five things we learned from Tuesday's contests

Tuesday turned out to be another notable evening in the primary packed month of May, with contests in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas. It was another good night for Democratic females, but, unlike last week’s primaries, wasn’t a stellar showing for progressives. 

First Read lays out the five major takeaways from last night:

1. It was another big night for Democratic female candidates

Stacey Abrams easily won the “battle of the Staceys,” defeating Stacey Evans in the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial primary. But she wasn’t the only Democratic woman to emerge victorious Tuesday. Female House candidates beat their male opponents in Kentucky, Texas and Georgia. Lupe Valdez won the gubernatorial nomination in Texas. Just two female Democrats lost notable races to men, both in Texas.  

2. Democrats look stronger in Georgia than they did in 2014. But will that be strong enough for the fall?

Approximately 50,000 more Republicans participated in last night’s GOP gubernatorial primary than in the Democratic primary (608,000 to 553,000). By comparison, nearly 300,000 more Republicans voted in the competitive 2014 Senate primaries (605,000 to 329,000).

3. Houston-area Democrats picked the establishment choice over the progressive

The DCCC’s preferred candidate, Lizzie Fletcher easily beat insurgent Laura Moser, 67 percent to 33 percent, suggesting that last week’s progressive upset in Nebraska was the exception rather than the rule.

4. The pro-Bernie Sanders group Our Revolution continues to lose more races

Two of Our Revolution’s picks in Texas ultimately fell short. The group did back Abrams in GA, but so did almost every other national Democratic group.

5. Democrats are running candidates with fascinating biographies

A number of Dems are making firsts. Abrams will have the chance to be the first black woman governor in the U.S. Valdez is the first Latina and the first openly gay person nominated for Texas governor by a major party. Democrats have also chosen a retired female a fighter pilot in Kentucky and intelligence officer in Texas.

 

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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. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Obama gives counsel but not expected to endorse Dem primary candidate

Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Eric Holder, Beto O'Rourke and Michael Bloomberg have all reportedly met with President Obama as they considered whether to run for president, but the New York Times says that the Democratic Party kingmater isn't expected to make an endorsement. 

The Times has a new story that takes a look into how Obama's orbit is looking at 2020. But even those close to former Vice President Joe Biden believe Obama won't ultimately endorse in a primary. 

Read more here, and read on for more news from the 2020 trail. 

  • The Boston Globe looks how the historic number of mothers running in the 2020 Democratic primary are emphasizing their experience raising children during the early campaign. It also includes the nugget that Warren will announce a "universal child care and early learning plan" to be financed by a tax on the wealthy. 
  • NBC's Jonathan Allen reports on the difficult decision facing the Democratic National Committee as it decides on a 2020 convention city. 
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, the 2016 Libertarian vice presidential nominee, defended his decision to run against President Trump in the GOP primary on Sunday's "This Week" on ABC
  • Republicans are looking to wrest away moderate voters from Democrats with a heavy emphasis on abortion and accusations of socialism and anti-Semitism, aiming at pressure points where Democrats disagree in the hopes of tarring the party as extreme. 
  • Several Democratic presidential nominees (or likely candidates) in the Senate are joining together to author legislation that would block President Trump from paying for his border wall with disaster relief funds. 
Ben Kamisar

Long-awaited hearing in contested North Carolina House race set to begin Monday

Monday marks the start of the long-awaited North Carolina State Board of Election hearing investigating a series of election irregularities that have thrown the state's Ninth Congressional District race into question. 

Republican Mark Harris edged out Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes according to the official tally, but the state board refused to certify the election amid concerns about absentee ballot fraud. That's kept the district without congressional representation so far this year.  

Now, the board will hear from a handful of witnesses on both campaigns, as well as political operative McCrae Dowless, whose absentee ballot operation for the Harris campaign in Bladen County has drawn the most high-profile scrutiny. 

Read more from NBC News Capitol Hill reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell here, and watch her preview the hearing on Sunday's "Kasie DC" on MSNBC below. 

Ben Kamisar

Perez: Don't mistake Democratic 'unity' for 'unanimity'

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez argued Sunday that the Democratic Party is more in touch with American values than the Republican Party is as he pushed back on the idea that Democrats are drifting to the left.  

When "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd pointed to headlines about the divisions in the party over issues like Israel and its relationship with corporations, Perez framed the debate as well within the confines of the views shared by the majority of Americans. 

"We must never confuse unity and unanimity. We have unity on the fact that healthcare is a right for all and not a privilege for a few. Thanks to Democrats, we now have 90 percent coverage. We're having a conversation on how to get from 90 percent to 100 percent. They're talking about, on the Republican side, how to eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions," Perez said. 

"We believe that climate change is real. It’s not a hoax. And we're having a discussion about how we build this clean energy economy. The other side denies that climate change exists. So, we're having a discussion about the means, but our values are the values that I believe command the respect of the vast majority of the American people."

The party's growing pains after its strong showing in the 2018 midterms, where the party took back control of the House, has played out in the headlines in recent weeks. 

House Democratic leadership recently issued a rebuke of Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for evoking 'anti-Semitic tropes' on Twitter, an episode that pointed to the larger debate over Israel that's been simmering in the party for years. 

And Democrats have been split on whether to embrace extreme ideas to combat climate change espoused by some progressives promoting a "Green New Deal," as well as whether deals like the scuttled one to put an Amazon corporate headquarters in New York City is worth the tradeoff. 

But Perez argued that the vast majority of the Democratic debates are happening on turf that reflects American values, and that Democrats have shown a willingness to call out comments that go too far. He contrasted that to the Republican treatment of President Trump, pointing to Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson's defense of Trump's controversial decision to declare a national emergency to secure border wall funding. 

"The difference between Democrats and Republicans is when we see people within our own ranks do things or say things that are antithetical to our values, we are not reluctant to call them out," Perez said, pointing to Omar's comment.

"On the other side, unfortunately, they are enablers. Look at Senator Johnson with this national emergency calisthenics that he just did. He understands that it's unconstitutional, but God forbid that he would say something against Donald Trump."

Watch Perez's full interview below, where he discusses the upcoming Democratic debates amid the announcement that NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo will be broadcasting the first salvo later this year. 

Ben Kamisar

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson undecided on whether to support Trump emergency declaration

After President Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’s concerned about the precedent the declaration might set for future presidents.

But he wouldn't say whether he'll vote to approve Trump’s emergency declaration, which would allow him to repurpose funds to build his border wall, because Democrats have "thwarted" the president's attempts to secure the borders

“I'm going to take a look at the case the president makes. And I'm also going to take a look at how quickly this money is actually going to be spent, versus what he's going to use,” he said.

“If he's not going to be spending it this fiscal year or very early in the next fiscal year, I would have my doubts. So again, I'm going to take a look at it and I’ll, you know, I'll decide when I actually have to vote on it.” 

Trump announced a national emergency on Friday as part of a larger plan to repurpose government dollars to fund his wall, while agreeing to sign the bipartisan spending deal that avoids a government shutdown. That congressional plan included almost $1.4 billion for border fencing in Texas, far short of the billions more Trump has said he wants for the wall.

The move is controversial, and opponents are already readying legal challenges questioning whether it’s constitutional. Democrats have also raised the prospect of holding a vote to disapprove of the declaration in the House, which would, by congressional rules, trigger a Senate vote if passed by the Democratic-majority body. 

And while some on the right have celebrated the move as a commitment to Trump’s signature campaign promise, others have raised broad concerns that the declaration could open the door for future Democratic presidents to declare emergencies on issues like climate change and gun violence. 

The full interview with Johnson will air on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC. Check your local listings for the broadcast time in your market.

Stacey Abrams: ‘I’m going to run for something’

Speaking at the DNC winter meeting in Washington Friday, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams reflected on her gubernatorial campaign, discussed her new voting rights initiative and promised she’s not done running for office.

“I’m going to run for something,” Abrams said as she took the stage with shouts of “run” from the audience. She then teased the crowd by saying that she might run for president — of her homeowners’ association.

Abrams spoke about the success of her 2018 gubernatorial campaign, despite the fact that she narrowly lost. She touted the record voter turnout rates, diversity of issues she talked about, money raised and communities she reached. “We don’t have to ignore any voting bloc,” she said.

Abrams explained,“I do not regret the campaign I ran” because she is proud of the record increases in voter turnouts and political engagement. She said her campaign “worked except for voter suppression.”

After several election controversies in the 2018 midterms, she established the Fair Fight Action to advocate for free and fair elections. Abrams said voter suppression is “baked into our DNA” by ways of poll taxes, registration discrepancies, ballot access and more.

Looking to 2019 and 2020 elections, she said, “We are a 50 state country and we have to run 50 state campaigns.” Abrams stressed the importance of talking to people in all communities in all states. “I talked about issues we were not supposed to talk about,” she said.

Monica Alba

The End of 'Mexico Will Pay?'

Now that President Trump has accepted a budget deal that provides for $1.375 billion in funding for barrier-building on the southern border and declared a national emergency in a bid to secure more, the idea that Mexico would pay for the wall appears finally to be retired. 

But the insistence has been absent from the president's rhetoric for quite some time already. At his first rally of the year last week, Trump hit many of the familiar notes supporters have come to expect at the freewheeling, raucous events. Notably absent, and seemingly forgotten, was his frequent promise that Mexico would pay for a border wall.

In fact, Trump hasn’t repeated the dubious claim in months and it was largely missing from the 2018 midterms as well. 

The shift away from this central pledge was evident last month.

“During the campaign, I would say, ‘Mexico is going to pay for it.’ Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check. I said, ‘They’re going to pay for it.’ They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made, called the United States, Mexico, and Canada USMCA deal,” he told reporters in January. 

There is nothing in the trade deal, however, that requires Mexico to pay for a wall, not to mention that it hasn’t been ratified by Congress yet.

The last time Trump definitively stated that “Mexico is going to pay” was May of last year at a Make America Great Again rally in Nashville, Tennessee. “I don't want to cause a problem. I don't want to cause it. But, in the end, Mexico is going to pay for the wall. I'm just telling you,” Trump told the chanting crowd. “They're going to pay for the wall and they're going to enjoy it. OK?”

In the months prior, the president had started to couch the promise, by adding “in some form.” The common catchphrase had extended beyond the trail and into his time in the White House at various events and in multiple tweets.

“With Mexico being one of the highest crime Nations in the world, we must have THE WALL. Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other," he tweeted on August 27.  

But gone was the notorious call and response from 2016 where Trump would ask, “who is going to pay for the wall?” and thousands of people at his rallies would roar back: “MEXICO!”

On Monday in El Paso, just blocks from the border, the president’s priority for the evening was clear. Giant red banners that said “FINISH THE WALL” flanked an American flag as the backdrop.  

Notably, there was no mention of Mexico paying for said wall, a major departure from his campaign staple a few years ago.

“So a lot of politicians said you can't get Mexico to pay for the wall. I said, it's going to be so easy. It's going to be so easy,” candidate Trump predicted in Iowa, just two days before the 2016 election.

Former Mass. Gov. Bill Weld announces exploratory bid to challenge Trump in GOP primary

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld launched a presidential exploratory committee in New Hampshire Friday, making him the first Republican officially eying a longshot GOP primary challenge to President Donald Trump.

“I’m here because I think our country is in grave peril,” Weld said at an announcement at a “Politics and Eggs” breakfast in New Hampshire, a frequent stop for presidential candidates. “I cannot sit quietly on the sidelines any longer.”

"We cannot sit passively as our precious democracy slips quietly into darkness," he said.

Weld, who served as governor in the Bay State from 1991 to 1997, was the Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee in 2016, when former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson topped the party’s ticket. But he recently changed his party registration back to the GOP.

In his Friday morning address, Weld criticized Trump for failing to champion freedom of the press and to “denounce appalling instances of racism.”

He also pressed for U.S. leaders to address climate change and longer work visas for immigrants. 

While Weld’s possible run could provide an outlet for Republicans dissatisfied with Trump, a bid would largely be viewed as a dark horse candidacy. While Trump’s national approval rating remains mired in the 40s, almost nine in ten Republicans approve of his performance.