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Forty five percent of voters believe Trump has broken the law as president

Forty-five percent of registered voters believe President Trump has committed crimes while in office, a new Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday shows, while 43 percent believe he has not broken the law as president. 

Unsurprisingly, there’s a stark partisan split inside those numbers. 

Three-quarters of Democrats say they believe Trump has committed a crime as president, while just 12 percent of Republicans share that view. Majorities of women, voters between 18-34 years of age and black voters all think Trump committed a crimes since his inauguration. 

A plurality of independents, 46 percent, also believe Trump has broken the law while president. 

There's far less debate over his conduct before he took office.

Sixty-four percent of registered voters — including majorities of Democrats, independents, men, women, college educated voters, non-college educated voters, white voters, black voters and Hispanic voters — say they believe he committed crimes before he became president. 

Quinnipiac's poll was conducted after former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's public congressional testimony last week, where he doubled down on his accusation that Trump directed him to secretly cover up an alleged affair by paying off porn actress Stormy Daniels and not disclosing it as a campaign contribution. 

The poll also shows that a plurality of voters approved of how Democrats handled Cohen's testimony, while just one-quarter of voters approved of Republicans during the hearing. A majority of voters say they're more likely to believe Cohen over Trump in general. 

Quinnipiac polled 1,120 self-identified registered voters between March 1 and Mach 3 by telephone and the poll has a margin of error of 3.4 percent. 

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Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Pete Buttigieg gets personal about his faith

WASHINGTON — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday sat down for an interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" where he spoke at length about his own connection to religion and how it plays into his political perspective

Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, emphasized his strong feelings in support of the separation of church and state but argued that there should be more of an embrace of how faith informs politicians on the left too. 

"I think anybody in this process needs to demonstrate how they will represent people of any faith, people of no faith, but I also think the time has come to reclaim faith as a theme," he said.

"The idea that the only way a religious person could enter politics is through the prism of the religious right, I just don't think that makes sense."

Hear more from Buttigieg's interview by clicking here, and read on for more stories from the 2020 trail below.

  • Former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke filled in some of the blanks on his massive first-day donation haul—he raised an average of $48 from 128,000 individual donors.
  • NBC News' Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald just published a smart dive into how presidential campaigns are looking to send a message in how they run the nuts and bolts of their campaign. 
  • The Wall Street Journal reports  former Vice President Joe Biden has started telling supporters he's running for president and is lining up donors in the hopes of making a big splash. 
  • CNN reports that only four Democratic presidential campaigns were using a fundamental form of email security as of a March study, despite rampant concerns about phishing and hacking after the 2016 election.
Ben Kamisar

Mike Gravel explains his viral moment

WASHINGTON — No, he's not writing the snarky tweets lambasting both President Trump and the 2020 Democratic field. 

And he doesn't expect to win the White House.

But former Alaska Democratic Sen. Mike Gravel says he hasn't closed the door on a presidential bid in 2020 amid his new viral moment. 

Questions about a possible Gravel candidacy surfaced late Tuesday night, when founding documents for the "Mike Gravel for President Exploratory Committee" were posted to the Federal Election Commission's website and a Twitter account in Gravel's name began tweeting. 

Reached by NBC News, Gravel explained that a small group of students had recently reached out to him in the hopes of convincing him to run for president because they felt his platform deserved wider attention.

"When they called me, I said: Do you realize how old I am?" Gravel, who turns 89 years old this spring, recounted to NBC. 

(Politico's Zach Montellaro first reported the arrangement between Gravel and the students).  

During Gravel's 2008 presidential bid, he issued a broad condemnation of the Iraq war and promoted his idea that Americans should be allowed to vote directly on potential new laws. And his opposition to the Vietnam War and interventionist foreign policy in general were central pillars of his political career. 

Neither Gravel nor the students (who are running his eponymous Twitter account) expect Gravel to win, he said. But they are interested in amplifying Gravel's policy platform either through the media or by a longshot effort to make the debate stage.  

Gravel, who is finishing up a book on direct democracy, didn't rule out a presidential bid to NBC, and said he's looking forward to meeting the students next month when they travel to California to pitch him on a plan. And in the perspective of a politician who raised eyebrows with some of the more unusual campaign ads in American presidential history, the viral moment could help get his message out. 

"I'm not closing the door, my wife needs to be persuaded," he said.

"I would go along — a group of millennials really want to advance the ideas that I had, primarily the idea of direct democracy, which I've spent the past 30 years of my life on."

Ben Kamisar

New Democratic digital ads: 'Working people gotta fight back' against Trump

WASHINGTON — Priorities USA, the major Democratic super PAC expecting to spend heavily in the 2020 race, is launching its opening salvo of digital ads across Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The new spots, part of a six-figure digital buy, contrast President Trump's campaign promise to prioritize Americans over special interests with criticism that his policies on trade, taxes and health care are jeopardizing the well-being of average Americans.  

One new spot uses a profane blurb, saying Trump's promise to average Americans is "b*******."

"Trump's trade war is costing me;" one person featured in the ad says.  "The president has put my kids one medical emergency away from bankruptcy," another claims. 

"All Trump cares about is the people at the top," says a third. "Working people have to fight back." 

The ad's style, direct-to-camera criticism from people who are supposed to be average Americans, harkens back to President Obama's re-election ad strategy when he ran against Republican Mitt Romney. 

The digital buys are part of Priorites' already announced $100 million investment across those four swing states, an investment it announced earlier this year. The group also plans to spend heavily in other swing states too throughout this year and next year. 

Watch one example of the ad here

Clyburn advises Biden against early VP pick if he runs

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Less than a year ago, South Carolina’s top Democrat was predicting that Joe Biden could win the state’s critical early primary “going away” if he were a candidate. As the Democratic field has expanded — and with Biden possibly just days away from entering himself — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is being more cautious.

“Well, not going away maybe,” Clyburn told NBC News during an interview on the steps of the South Carolina capitol Tuesday. “When you get this many people into a race you have no idea how the spread will occur. What I do know is, according to all the polls I’ve seen in South Carolina and around the country, he is the leading contender among Democratic voters. Now, how big that lead is I think depends upon whether or not any of the other people catch fire. And some of them may.”

The two men have been friends for decades, and Clyburn said the two spoke as recently as three weeks ago. Even though he said he has not been told about Biden’s final decision, he offered some advice, suggesting that Biden's focus should be about the country’s future.

He also advised Biden against something the former vice president's team has considered: naming a vice presidential running mate at the same time he announces his candidacy.

“I think that we have to be careful about doing cute things in campaigns,” he said. “I think it would be a mistake for Joe Biden to come out – or any other candidate – and announce a running mate right out of the gate.”

Clyburn, who said he does not plan to endorse in the race, expects about half of the Democratic contenders to attend his annual fish fry fundraiser, scheduled for June 21.

Asked about former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy ahead of his first trip to South Carolina, Clyburn questioned whether the enthusiasm that brought him to nearly upset Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last November would carry over into 2020.

“His [challenge] is whether he’s able to show that same kind of energy, intensity, and fundraising capacity that he did against Cruz. I’m not too sure that that can happen in the presidential race. But if he can, he’s going to be very formidable,” he said.

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Warren wants to abolish the Electoral College

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the latest Democratic presidential candidate to call for abolishing the Electoral College, an issue that's becoming more and more popular among the party's candidates. 

Warren made the announcement during a CNN town hall on Monday, noting that candidates don't typically campaign in red states like Mississippi or California because those states aren't winnable in a general election. 

"Every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College," she said. 

That makes her the second Democrat in the race to support the policy, joining South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, who is considering a bid, also supports ending the Electoral College, and former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke said Tuesday there's "a lot of wisdom in that" idea but did not explicitly support it. 

The issue is just one of a handful of issues front-and-center in the Democratic primary this cycle that aren't normally a part of the debate

That's not all that's been happening on the trail—read on for more stories from the 2020 beat. 

  • New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is drawing a hard line on punishing drug manufacturers for their involvement in the opioid crisis, criticizing those who "purposefully made these drugs stronger more addictive" to goose their sales. She made the comments during an "All in 2020 Town Hall with Chris Hayes" on MSNBC—click here for more coverage of that event.
  • The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is teaming up with UCLA for a Democratic presidential campaign forum that will center on LGBTQ policy. The forum is set for October 10, 2019 and will use the same qualifying metrics that the Democratic Party used for its first debate—either 1 percent of the vote in three national polls or 65,000 individual donations from donors in at least 20 states.
  • California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell reiterated on MSNBC Tuesday that he's going to announce his presidential decision by the end of the month. But he also shed some light on why he's been waiting so long to announce, noting that he's still paying off almost $100,000 in student loans, and has two young children who will need childcare if he embarks on a presidential bid. 

 

Beto O'Rourke talks job losses with UAW union representative attacked by Trump

WARREN, Ohio — Beto O’Rourke has spent the first week of his presidential campaign working to educate himself on issues central to the lives of various communities across the Midwest, and on Monday night he joined the fight on the side of one of those issues.

The former Texas congressman and current Democratic presidential candidate inserted himself into a debate between President Donald Trump and the leader of the local union representing workers at the General Motors auto plant in Lordstown, Ohio. He met with UAW Local 1112 President David Green Monday evening, one day after the president launched an attack on Green on Twitter over the status of the facility.  Production was stopped at the Lordstown GM plant two weeks ago, but its future is currently uncertain.  

O’Rourke live-streamed part of their discussion on Facebook, and then spoke with NBC News.

“The president with his actions has added insult to injury,” O’Rourke said. “Not only has he done nothing to prevent this job loss, he actually blames the workers and their leadership in the UAW president of 1112 for something that GM and his administration caused. He’s literally financed GM’s ability, through this tax cut, to move jobs elsewhere.”

President Trump won Ohio in 2016, along with much of the rest of the manufacturing belts of the Midwest — areas O’Rourke has attempted to emphasize on his trip this week. Trump has repeatedly promised to bring lost jobs back from many of these industrial communities that have deteriorated with closing factories.

“I asked Dave, the UAW President here, ‘what can we do to get those jobs back?’” O’Rourke said. “He said we can ensure that our trade policies and our tax code does not incentivize offshoring these jobs."

"I think UAW is going to do everything they can to salvage something from GM’s investment and the public’s investment, perhaps there are other auto manufacturers that could relocate a plant here. The investment is here. This community is ready.”

Ahead of his Ohio stop, O’Rourke contacted the state’s senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, for insight on campaigning in the Buckeye State.

He said he didn’t ask Brown for an endorsement, “just asked him for advice.”

“I wanted to give him the courtesy of letting him know I was in the state,” O’Rourke said. “He was very helpful and I imagine he’s going to be very helpful to every candidate who puts in a call.”

Ben Kamisar

Democratic presidential field pushes new issues into spotlight

WASHINGTON — The 2020 Democratic primary features the most wide-open field in decades, with candidates who are already bringing in massive amounts of money. And it's getting even more crowded by the day. 

The large field is also creating space for a new set of issues not normally discussed during nominating contests. There's even increased interest in debating procedural changes to grease the wheels, an idea explored by NBC's Benjy Sarlin and Lauren Egan. 

Read on to see how the candidates are handling three of these issues — reparations, court packing and abolishing the electoral college.

Broad support for some form of reparations

Reparations hasn't been at the forefront of any recent primary conversation. But this cycle, seven candidates have offered support for reparations, with varying definitions. 

Julián Castro thinks reparation payments should be on the table, and promised to create a commission to offer a plan for reparations.

Others — Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar — all say they're open to the debate on how to best handle reparations, pointing to policies aimed at helping low-income families as a way to help level the playing field. However, Sanders has ruled out the idea of direct reparation payments.

And Beto O'Rourke has broadly called for the country to recognize the ills of slavery without committing to any specifics. 

Candidates split on court packing

There's less unanimity on the idea of making structural changes to the Supreme Court. 

Pete Buttigieg has offered one idea to expand the number of justices to 15 — a third Republican-appointed, a third Democratic-appointed, and a third of consensus picks. 

Warren, Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand all signaled an openness to the idea in a new Politico piece on the debate. 

O'Rourke has mused about the idea, but hasn't settled on a specific answer. 

But Booker and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who is exploring a bid, are throwing cold water on the idea. 

Abolishing electoral college gaining some traction

As a coalition of states is pushing to abolish the electoral college, two of the younger presidential candidates are making abolishing the electoral college a key issue.

Buttigieg regularly talks about the idea during interviews and candidate events, while Seth Moulton penned a column in The Washington Post earlier this month on abolishing the electoral college as well as the Senate filibuster. 

Ben Kamisar

Sen. Toomey: 'Plausible argument' that Trump's border emergency declaration is legal

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey said Sunday that while he voted to disapprove of President Trump's border emergency declaration, he's not convinced the controversial move to reauthorize dollars to pay for a border wall is unconstitutional.

“I’m not sure that is is straight up an illegal act. I think it’s a strained argument, but there is a plausible argument for the legality of what the president did. There’s a plausible argument for the constitutionality," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

"What we voted on on Thursday was not a question of whether the president has broken the law, what we voted on was on whether we approve of what he did."

Toomey joined with 11 Republican colleagues and all Democratic senators to vote to revoke Trump's emergency declaration, sending the already House-passed legislation to the White House. But Trump vetoed the legislation over the weekend, calling it his "duty" to veto the "reckless" argument from Congress. 

It appears unlikely that Congress will be able to secure enough votes to override the veto, which means the matter could ultimately be settled in court. 

Toomey added that he does support the GOP-led plan to reign in future emergency declarations, a plan opposed by Democrats who argue Trump shouldn't be grandfathered into those changes. 

“This is one area where we should simply reclaim the legislative responsibility that we have," he said. 

“They’re happy to poke President Trump in the eye — will they join us in making sure this will never happen again?”

Watch the full interview with Toomey below. 

Ben Kamisar

Klobuchar: Treat threat from white supremacists like 'other forms of terrorism'

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar Sunday called for the federal government to treat the threat of terrorism from white supremacists the same as all other terrorist threats in the wake of last week's deadly attacks at two New Zealand mosques. 

During an interview with "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd, Klobuchar said that the U.S. should put together a strategy to combat white supremacists being radicalized online, one similar to the approach used to counter radicalization in the Muslim community. 

"Of course they should. You have a situation right now, where you look at what's happened in places like that synagogue in Pittsburgh, when you look at the bombing attempts on leaders, including President Obama, in our nation. We have white supremacists, a resurgence of this kind of anger and the Ku Klux Klan. And it just keeps getting worse," she said.

"And so I think that our country needs to take this just as seriously as we do other forms of terrorism. And if some of it needs to be in law enforcement, there is ways we can do this. And we can do better."

Klobuchar's comments come days after 50 people were killed in two New Zealand mosques. Officials say that the alleged shooter may have sent a white-supremacist manifesto to a variety of places ahead of the attack. 

Watch Klobuchar's full interview with "Meet the Press" below. 

Ben Kamisar

Klobuchar on running for president: 'I wasn't born to run, but I am running'

WATERLOO — Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar told "Meet the Press" on Sunday that while she started thinking about running for president in college, that she doesn't believe she was "born to run." 

Speaking to NBC's Chuck Todd during an interview in Waterloo, Iowa — where Klobuchar is campaigning — she reflected on her beginnings in politics and responded  to former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke's recent comment to Vanity Fair that he's "just born to be in it" ahead of his presidential launch. 

"I have a lot of respect for Beto. And it's great to have some Texas in this race. But no, I wasn't born to run for office, just because growing up in the '70s, in the middle of the country, I don't think many people thought a girl could be president," she said in an excerpt of her interview, which will be aired on Sunday's "Meet the Press." 

"I wasn't born to run, but I am running."

Watch Klobuchar's full interview on Sunday's "Meet the Press." Click here to check what time the show airs in your market.