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Harris, Gillibrand say assault allegation against Virginia Lt. Gov. should be investigated

Democratic senators and White House hopefuls Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand want there to be an investigation into what they both call the "credible" sexual assault allegation against Virginia Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. 

Speaking to reporters in the Senate, Harris didn't call for Fairfax's resignation outright. But she made clear that the full account, detailed in a lengthy statement by the alleged victim on Wednesday, only raises more serious questions she wants Fairfax to answer. 

"The letter written by the woman reads as a credible account and I think there should be an investigation to get to the bottom of it," Harris said. 

"Her letter reads as—it's quite detailed and suggests there's credibility there—that there needs to be an investigation to determine what exactly happened."

And Gillibrand tweeted  shortly after Harris's comments that Tyson "showed enormous courage in coming forward, and her very credible claims require investigation."

"In this country, institutional bias stacks against survivors, for the powerful. We have to support survivors first so their claims can be fully investigated," Gillibrand added. 

On Wednesday, Fairfax's accuser, said in a detailed statement that Fairfax forced her into oral sex after "consensual kissing" in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. 

"I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual," she wrote.

"To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent. Quite the opposite. I consciously avoided Mr. Fairfax for the remainder of the convention and I never spoke to him again."

Fairfax responded to the allegation in a statement where he said: "Reading Dr. Tyson's account is painful. I have never done anything like what she suggests."

"I take this situation very seriously and continue to believe Dr. Tyson should be treated with respect. But, I cannot agree to a description of events that simply is not true. I support the aims of the MeToo movement and I believe that people should always be heard and the truth should be sought. I wish Dr. Tyson the best as I do our Commonwealth," he added. 

The allegation comes as the two other top Democrats in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, deal with revelations they dressed in blackface years ago. 

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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.

Ben Kamisar

Harris wins endorsement from Barbara Lee

California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee is endorsing Kamala Harris's presidential bid, a high-profile endorsement from her fellow Golden Stater who has deep ties to the progressive caucus and the black community. 

Lee backed Harris in a statement that evoked Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman both elected to Congress and to run for president for a major party. 

"Shirley set us on a path toward progress, and now Senator Kamala Harris picks up the baton," Lee said. 

“As just the third African American woman from a major party to run for President, I am so proud to endorse her candidacy as she continues this fight for equality, fairness, and dignity for all Americans. Watching Kamala’s career in the East Bay and San Francisco for 20 years, I’ve witnessed her deep passion for justice and opportunity, and I know she will be a president truly of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Lee previously chaired the Congressional Black Caucus and has significant clout with black lawmakers. She has also long fought to check presidential war powers and was notably the only lawmaker to vote against the authorization for war in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. 

The congresswoman joins the Harris campaign as its California co-chair, giving her a boost in her home state, which will award a healthy amount of delegates in the 2020 primary race. 

Ben Kamisar

One quarter of registered voters, almost half of Republicans, believe God wanted Trump to win 2016 election

Almost half of registered Republican voters agree with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that God "wanted Donald Trump to become president," a new Fox News poll shows. 

Forty-five percent of Republicans agree with the sentiment—the Fox poll didn't mention Sanders by name, referring to a recent comment by a "White House spokesperson." That number represents a plurality, as 37 percent of Republicans disagree. 

Overall, one-quarter of registered voters share that view while 62 percent said they do not believe God wanted Trump to be commander-in-chief.

That number—one quarter of a sample—is consistent with other polls on God's influence in events. The Public Religion Research Institute's January 2017 poll found that 25 percent of Americans "completely agree" or "mostly agree" with the idea that "God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event."  That same poll found similar support for the idea that God played a role in the 2016 election too. 

Back to the Fox News poll, white evangelicals are the only demographic subgroup where a majority—55 percent—agrees with Sanders. 

And while few Democrats believe that God was pulling for Trump in 2016, 8 percent of registered voters who backed Democrat Hillary Clinton in that election said they do believe a higher power wanted Trump to be president. 

Read more from the full poll here

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Hickenlooper sips craft beer in New Hampshire

Former Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper may be thousands of miles away from Denver, but a sip of craft beer may have helped him feel right at home during his swing through New Hampshire. 

The former brewery owner is in the Granite State as he considers running for president—the Washington Post's Dave Weigel reported from a Wednesday evening house party that Hickenlooper talked up the aspects of the Green New Deal as "powerful" while cautioning America doesn't have "endless amounts of money" and discussed his change of heart over the marijuana legalization, among other issues. 

And WMUR notes that the Democrat brushed aside concerns about handling attacks from Trump:  "If you've got a name like Hickenlooper and you're a skinny kid with thick glasses, you learn how to deal with bullies."  

Read more from WMUR here, a Twitter thread from Weigel (including a picture of Hickenlooper with his New Hampshire craft brew) here, and more stories from the 2020 trail below. 

  • South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg sat down with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday, where he discussed where he fits on the party's ideological spectrum. "I consider myself a pretty strong progressive but I don't consider the left center spectrum to be the most useful way to look at our politics right now because I think it’s gotten jumbled up both by the current president and by the pace of change," he said. 
  • President Trump;'s allies see Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker at the top of the Democratic presidential primary so far, with Trump reportedly believing former Vice President Joe Biden would be the toughest general election nominee, according to Politico
  • NBC News' Jane C. Timm details how chummy the early weeks of the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign—which pits Senate colleagues against each other—and explores whether it can last. 
  • The Associated Press reports that the Democratic National Committee will announce its debate qualifications this week. 
  • Politico reports that former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as some Democrats hope O'Rourke runs for Senate again against Republican Sen. John Cornyn. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Booker says he'll be "looking" first for a female vice president

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker is thinking ahead, and he says he'll prioritize looking for a woman to join him on the ticket if he wins his party's presidential nomination. 

Appearing on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show," Booker said while he wouldn't "make any specific commitments," he believes future Democratic tickets will include diverse candidates. 

"We have such a great field of leaders,  I think you will rarely see a Democratic ticket anymore without gender diversity, race diversity," he said. 

"I think it's something that we should have.  So, I’m not going to box myself in, but should I come to it, you know I’ll be looking to women first."

Click here to watch more from the interview and read more in the 2020 roundup below. 

  • Whether or not he decides to run for president, Michael Bloomberg is gearing up to spend at least a half a billion dollars to stop President Trump from being elected to a second term—either by funding his own bid or funding a data and field program meant to support the Democratic nominee, Politico reports.
  • Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar raised $1 million in the first two days since her presidential campaign launched on Sunday. That's a healthy chunk of change, but less than California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris' $1.5 million she raised in the first 24 hours. 
  • Virtually the entire Democratic presidential field has called on Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to resign, to no avail, and many have called for further investigation into sexual assault allegations against Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. With the ugly situation in Virginia continuing to drag on, NBC News' Elena Moore compiled a rundown of how the candidates have responded so far. 
  • During his CNN town hall on Tuesday night, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz again unveiled few policy specifics upon which he'd base a presidential campaign. Read more analysis in today's First Read.
  • Democratic Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. sat down with Teen Vogue to discuss the historic nature of his presidential bid—if he wins, he'd be the first openly gay president (or party nominee) in American history.  

How 2020 Democrats have responded to the mess in Virginia (so far)

With Virginia's top statehouse Democrats at the center of high-profile criticism, the Democrats' possible presidential candidates have had to wrestle with two important issues—allegations of sexual misconduct and racism. 

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam is refusing to step down despite overwhelming calls for his resignation following the discovery of a racist photo in his medical school yearbook and an admission he appeared in blackface years ago.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax's political future is uncertain as he's been faced with two different allegations of sexual assault, which he's denied and argued were consensual. Amid calls for his own resignation, Fairfax is advocating for an independent investigation into the claims and a bid to impeach him has reportedly lost steam for now. 

As of Feb. 12, all nine candidates who have announced their bids or exploratory committees have called for Northam's resignation, and virtually all of the prospective candidates have too. The vast majority of official candidates, and many prospective candidates, are at least calling for further investigations into Fairfax, while some want his resignation. 

No candidates have made statements on Virginia attorney general Mark Herring's admission to also wearing blackface while in college. 

The dynamic raises the possibility that the eventual nominee could have called for the resignation of whoever happens to be governor by Election Day 2020. 

If Northam, Fairfax and Herring all resign—which remains unlikely—the governorship would swing to Republican control, with Republican speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox next in line. 

Take a look at how the party's presidential candidates, and possible candidates, have addressed these scandals so far:

Called for Northam's resignation

Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Amy KlobucharJulián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard (if he "cannot win back the trust of his constituents), John Delaney, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Sherrod Brown, Michael Bloomberg, Jay Inslee, Terry McAuliffe, John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell, and Jeff Merkley

Called for Fairfax's resignation

Booker, Harris, Gillibrand, Warren, Klobuchar, Castro, Sanders, Bennet, and McAuliffe

Called for more investigation into Fairfax allegations

Gabbard and Swalwell

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Holder to decide in coming weeks

It's time to add another name to the list of potential Democratic presidential candidates—former Attorney General Eric Holder. 

NPR is reporting that Holder will decide whether to run for president in the next two weeks, after he delivers a speech Thursday at Drake University Law School in Des Moines.

In the speech, according to excerpts obtained by NPR, Holder will blast the Trump administration as "rife with corruption, stunning incompetence and shameful intolerance" as well as for a "total abdication of moral and policy leadership." 

Read more from Holder's speech and about his possible bid here, and check out the latest stories from the blossoming 2020 presidential race below. 

  • One thing was clear during President Trump's speech in El Paso—former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke was on the president's mind. Trump mentioned O'Rourke on multiple occasions, deriding the crowd size at the protest O'Rourke and others organized (even though NBC and others reported that O'Rourke's rally was quite well attended). As First Read wrote today, Trump not only elevated the Texan last night, but he made clear that he's paying attention to the potential 2020 candidate. 
  • Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton launched his 2020 trial balloon Tuesday during a foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution, where he compared the clean-up job needed after Trump leaves office to when "your old house gets damaged by a bad renter." Read the Rundown's preview of the speech here
  • Another Bay Stater, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, appeared at the National Conference of American Indians' conference in Washington, HuffPost reports. Warren is looking to move on from blowback about her claims of as having Native American ancestry. 
  • NBC's Vaughn Hilyard reports the Iowa Democrats are adding a virtual caucus to next year's caucuses, as well as a paper trail in case of a recount request. Read more about the new changes here
  • And while you're adding Holder to your list, don't put the cap on your pen, because here comes New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Politico reports  he's preparing to travel to New Hampshire to meet with a local mayor and holding a meet and greet with organizers, moves that only contribute to speculation he's considering a presidential bid. 
Ben Kamisar

Astronaut Mark Kelly to run for Arizona Senate

Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, announced he's running for Senate in Arizona as a Democrat in what's expected to be one of the marquee Senate races of the 2020 cycle. 

Kelly wants to take on Republican Sen. Martha McSally, who lost her high-profile 2018 Senate race to then-Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Doucey appointed McSally to the Senate weeks after her loss to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, who had temporarily filled the seat vacated by the late Republican Sen. John McCain.

In his announcement video, Kelly evoked his wife's recovery from being shot while at a constituent event in 2011, as well as his career in both the Navy and as an astronaut in explaining why he decided to run.

"I learned a lot from being an astronaut. I learned a lot from being a pilot in the Navy. I learned a lot about solving problems from being  an engineer," he said.

"But what I learned from my wife is how you use policy to improve people’s lives.Arizonans are facing incredibly challenging issues here in the years to come. Access to affordable healthcare, the stagnation of wages, job growth, the economy."

And he leaned on those experiences outside of politics as he looks to define himself favorably for the electorate in a state that's moved toward the center in recent years.

"Partisanship and polarization and gerrymandering and corporate money have ruined our politics, and it’s divided us," he said.

"I care about people. I care about the state of Arizona. I care about this nation."

Kelly stepped into the political spotlight after his wife was shot, joining her in founding Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun violence prevention group. 

Even though Democrats haven't held the Senate seat in 50 years, Democrats are optimistic about their chances in Arizona primarily because they will get to run against McSally again immediately after defeating her. 

McSally leaned heavily on her barrier-breaking experience as America's first female fighter pilot during that campaign, questioning Sinema's patriotism. But Kelly's own personal backstory neutralizes that 2018 line of attack. 

The big question for Democrats is whether Kelly's candidacy can clear the field. Sinema had no serious primary challenger, a major asset that allowed her to stay focused on the general election while McSally slogged it out as primary challengers hit her from the right. Arizona's late primary multiplied the advantage of Sinema not having a primary, as McSally had less than three months to pivot back to a general. 

But Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego is still publicly weighing a bid, tweeting Tuesday morning that he's still "seriously" looking at running and will "be making a final decision and announcement soon." 

Gallego is a member of leadership in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, so a primary between the two heavyweights could turn into a debate over whether the party should seek more moderate candidates to win swing voters or more progressive candidates to drive turnout—something Sinema didn't face in 2018.   

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, McCain's former chief of staff who served in office as a Republican, announced this week he was no longer planning to run as a Democrat. 

Ben Kamisar

Moulton to lay out foreign policy vision in 2020 trial balloon

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton is wading back into the 2020 presidential conversation Tuesday with a foreign policy speech that seeks a contrast with President Trump and advocates for new thinking about defense spending and alliances.

During a Tuesday morning speech at the Brookings Institution, Moulton will argue his time in the Marines shaped both his approach to foreign policy and his prescription for how America should move on after Trump. 

“When your old house gets damaged by a bad renter, or—in this case—a terrible President, you don’t just restore it to look like it was built in 1950; you renovate,” he plans to tell the audience, according to excerpts obtained by NBC News ahead of the address.

“You don’t just rebuild—you build something new.”

Moulton plans to call for “next-generation thinking” in three areas: arms, arms control and alliances.

On arms, the congressman wants to see a shift in investments away from older, less nimble weapons like aircraft carriers and toward investment in newer technology like cyber weaponry, as well as autonomous and hypersonic weapons, with modern arms control agreements to match.

He also plans to spend significant time discussing alliances, criticizing Trump's approach to the relationships with allies. While he'll call for a "re-strengthening" of NATO, he will also call to consider a new approach to alliances, floating a "'Pacific NATO' to counter China."

“Just as we’re not going to counter Russia’s amazingly successful work at undermining democratic elections by simply refurbishing our nuclear arsenal, we need to re-think the strategic role and purpose of NATO. Now is the opportunity, presented to us ironically by this Administration, to renovate and strengthen it for a new world,” he will say.

Moulton will also criticize the prospect of pulling out of Syria “without any plan” and ignoring climate change, which he labels a “national security” threat. On the Middle East, the Iraq veteran wants to see Congress take back power to authorize “clear and achievable missions” that will make plans for withdrawal more transparent.

The heavy emphasis on foreign policy comes one day after a Buzzfeed News interview where Moulton admitted that he’s “thinking about running for president” and going to take a “very serious look at it.”

The Bay Stater had a strong midterm cycle, where he was able to show some fundraising prowess and help a more than a dozen of his endorsed candidates, many veterans or former national security officials themselves, win congressional races.

But he faced some high-profile blowback in the party when he unsuccessfully helped to lead a group of Democrats who opposed California Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid for Speaker of the House. While Pelosi ultimately agreed to a term-limit deal and Moulton won some praise about his push for new blood in leadership, the insurgents never found a candidate to oppose Pelosi and Moulton has faced some criticism for helping to lead the charge against Pelosi.

Now openly his presidential trial-balloon phase, Moulton's speech positions him in the foreign-policy lane of the blossoming Democratic primary, one where the clearest fit right now is former Vice President Joe Biden, the former Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chairman who is still weighing a bid.

But it’s unclear how voters will prioritize foreign policy in choosing a candidate—October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that just 8 percent of registered voters said foreign policy was either their first or second-most important issue going into the 2018 midterms. And so far, the Democratic primary debate has largely focused on domestic issues.