Manchin touts commitment to bipartisanship, Second Amendment in new TV ad

WASHINGTON — Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is out with a new TV ad telling West Virginians what he's fighting for in this election. 

Seated on the back of a pickup truck and brandishing a rifle, the West Virginia native promises to "always" protect the Second Amendment, while also assuring he will "secure our borders," keep promises to veterans and coal miners, and fight for "decent affordable healthcare." The ad — shared first with NBC News — will run statewide, per the campaign.

It's not the first time Manchin has put his defense of the Second Amendment on display on the airwaves, but things have changed since a 2010 ad featured him taking "dead aim" at a copy of the cap and trade bill.

Then, Manchin was touting his endorsement from the National Rifle Association. Now, the same powerful lobbying group has come out with a six-figure ad buy against Manchin and in favor of his opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

Manchin drew the NRA's ire after he teamed up with Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey to champion legislation that would have expanded gun background checks in the aftermath of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 schoolchildren in December 2012. But the so-called "Manchin-Toomey" bill fell short of the 60 votes needed to move forward in 2013, and again in 2015. 

After the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, both Manchin and Toomey were part of discussions with the White House and President Donald Trump to discuss how to stop mass shootings. Their bill, however, was not revived.

Even without the pro-gun lobby on his side, polls show Manchin leading his GOP opponent despite running for re-election in a state that was decidedly pro-Trump in 2016 — and remains that way in 2018.

In the ad, Manchin says he will "work with both parties, and any president who wants to get things done for the people of West Virginia." While Trump has attacked Manchin, the men have also found points of consensus during Trump's time in the White House. And Manchin has even gone so far as to leave the door open to backing Trump in his 2020 bid for re-election.

“I’m open to supporting the person who I think is best for my country and my state,” Manchin told Politico in June. “If his policies are best, I’ll be right there.”

Manchin has delivered Trump his crucial vote for his first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and could do so again in coming weeks as Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation battle comes to a close. Asked Wednesday by reporters if he'd heard anything so far from Kavanaugh that would lead him to vote no, Manchin said "no, I haven't seen anything from that standpoint" adding that the could-be Supreme Court Justice "handled himself very professionally." 

A recent MetroNews/Dominion Post poll  found Manchin up over Morrisey 46 percent to 38 percent among likely voters. That poll upholds a trend throughout the summer of the Democrat leading the Republican, despite a visit from the president and promises of more to come.

Biden campaign releases video hitting debunked GOP claims on his Ukraine involvement

FORT DODGE, Iowa — Joe Biden’s campaign largely stayed on the sidelines while the House held hearings to consider impeaching President Trump, as Democrats who controlled key committees and testimony from current and former administration officials were able to defuse and rebut GOP efforts to raise debunked conspiracy theories about the former vice president and his role in firing a corrupt prosecutor.

But as the Republican-led Senate has opened the impeachment trial, his campaign has released its most aggressive and comprehensive — and even at times R-rated — effort to address and challenge the GOP claims.

In a more than four-minute video, Biden campaign rapid response director Andrew Bates lays out Biden’s work as vice president to support anti-corruption efforts for the fledgling democracy in Ukraine, which included the firing of prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. 

"It was a monumental, international, bipartisan anti-corruption victory,” Bates says in the video. GOP efforts to suggest Biden sought Shokin’s ouster because of a dormant investigation of the energy company his son Hunter served on is "horse-****.”

"Why is Donald Trump doing this? He knows he can't beat Joe Biden,” Bates says. "He tried to make our national security policy an extension of his struggling reelection campaign.”

Pro-Biden super PAC gives former vice president significant air cover in Iowa

WASHINGTON — A super PAC supporting former Vice President Joe Biden is coming to the candidate's defense in Iowa, dropping more than $1.8 million in television advertising dollars there this month and reserving another almost $800,000 for the final days before the Iowa caucuses. 

Unite the County, the pro-Biden group, alone has spent more in Iowa in January ($1.8 million) than every individual Democratic presidential candidate except Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders ($2.2 million). Combined with Biden's $1 million spent on the airwaves so far this month, the pro-Biden effort is the highest spender in Iowa so far this January. 

And while candidates are still deciding how to spend their ad dollars in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Unite the Country's $800,000 in reserved airtime from Wednesday through caucus day is about even with what the Biden campaign has reserved so far over the same period.

So that combined effort of $1.6 million between Wednesday and caucus day puts the pro-Biden spending within spitting distance of that of Sanders' campaign, who has booked about $2 million in future Iowa spending. 

By rule, candidates receive preferred television rates when compared to other outside groups, so the super PAC spending won't have the same bang for the buck of the spending by individual campaigns.

But Unite the Country's spending is giving Biden a significant spending boost ahead of the pivotal caucuses. And it sends a signal to the Biden campaign that help is on the way, help that could allow the Biden campaign to invest dollars elsewhere, knowing that the super PAC is providing air cover. 

Below, take a look at the current ad spending in Iowa from the start of the race through today, as well as the future spending candidates have already booked. 

All of the advertising data is courtesy of Advertising Analytics, a media-tracking firm. 

Total TV and radio ad spending in Iowa as of today

  • Tom Steyer: $13.5 million
  • Pete Buttigieg: $8.8 million
  • Bernie Sanders: $8.3 million
  • Andrew Yang: $5.6 million
  • Elizabeth Warren: $4.6 million
  • Joe Biden: $3.4 million
  • Unite the Country (pro-Biden Super PAC): $3.0 million
  • Amy Klobuchar: $2.8 million
  • Michael Bennet: $1.1 million 

Total Iowa TV and radio ad spending in January

  • Sanders: $2.2 million
  • Unite the County: $1.8 million
  • Buttigieg: $1.8 million
  • Warren: $1.8 million
  • Steyer: $1.4 million
  • Yang: 1.4 million
  • Klobuchar: $1.3 million
  • Biden: $1 million

Future Iowa TV and radio ad spending already booked

  • Sanders: $1.9 million
  • Warren: $1.4 million
  • Steyer: $700,000
  • Unite the Country: $780,000
  • Biden: $730,000
  • Buttigieg: $610,000
  • Yang: $155,000
  • Klobuchar: $115,000

Dems say they're pressuring GOP senators on impeachment in other ways

WASHINGTON — In First Read Tuesday morning, we observed how Democrats aren’t trying to pressure vulnerable GOP senators over the TV airwaves on impeachment.

Of the 11 impeachment-themed television ads airing across the country right now, according to the ad trackers at Advertising Analytics, all are from Republicans and GOP groups.

But Democrats at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tell us that they’ve been pressuring GOP senators — like Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine — in other ways.

For Maine’s Senate contest, for instance, the DSCC has created a website – WhatChangedSusan.Com – highlighting how Collins called for more evidence and witnesses in Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, but hasn’t made the same explicit demands for President Trump’s impeachment trial.

And in Colorado, the DSCC has blasted out press releases noting that he’s “refuse[d] to answer basic questions on [the] president’s conduct” or on the demand for “a fair trial.”

Michael Bloomberg launches new ad focused on impeachment trial

WASHINGTON — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a new campaign ad in the presidential race on Tuesday focused on the impeachment trial. While Bloomberg has spent millions of his own dollars on his campaign ads, this ad is the first to focus on removing President Trump from office through the impeachment trial. 

The ad, entitled "Impeachment", declares that it's "time for the Senate to act and remove Trump from office. And if they won't do their jobs, this November you and I will."

According to the Bloomberg campaign, the ad is running in 27 states including four states with vulnerable Republican senators: Arizona, North Carolina, Maine and Colorado. 

Warren pledges to 'cleanse' the 'corruption' from Trump administration beginning with transition if elected

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren promised “no ordinary transition” between her administration and the current, Trump administration Tuesday, outlining a plan that would “cleanse the corruption from our government” and establish early rules for how she’d run — and staff — her administration, if elected come November. 

Pointing out the what she says is "unprecedented corruption from the current administration," Warren says that even with Trump gone “it would be foolish to assume" that "the government will start moving in the right direction all on its own.” 

Elizabeth Warren speaks during the Democratic primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 14, 2020.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

The new plan prescribes, among other things, asking all government political appointees, including U.S. Attorneys, to resign and establishing a new task force to investigate corruption by Trump administration officials — part of a push to “root out the corruption and incompetence of the Trump administration” that she would pursue, if elected. 

The 8-page plan makes exceptions for the resignations for positions needed to preserve continuity or protect national security during a transition period, while also advocating for that a new DOJ task force investigate violations (bribery, insider trading, anti-corruption, immigration-related) with authority to pursue “any substantiated criminal and civil violations.”

Below are some of the plan's highlights.

  • Warren would speed up her transition by: 
  • Announcing all cabinet choices by December 1, 2020.
  • Announcing other top nominations by December 15, 2020.
  • Fully staff senior and mid-level White House jobs by Inauguration Day.
  • Warren’s administration will not hire any lobbyists or employees of for-profit contractors unless she personally reviews it and decides it’s in the national interest. Also, she will not hire anyone who has received a “golden parachute.”
  • Former corporate lobbyists will need a 6 year “cooling off period” (no waivers or exceptions).
  • Non-corporate lobbyists will need a 2-year “cooling” and any waivers would be made public.
  • Employees of contractors will need to wait 4 years from their last contract or license award.
  • Similar restrictions will come into play after serving in government: senior officials can never accept a lobbying gig, all other administration officials will pledge not to lobby their former office or agency for 2 years after leaving — and 6 if they become corporate lobbyists.
  • Officials will be required to divest from “any individual stock, bond, or other investment” that ethics officials say might be directly influenced by the employee’s agency.
  • Parameters on who she’ll put in her Cabinet will include:
  • Her Education Secretary will be a former school teacher (this is a frequent promise on the trail).
  • Her Labor Secretary will have been a labor leader.
  • Her Secretary of Agriculture will have to show a commitment to advocating for black farmers.
  • Her FEC Chair will be committed to restore 2015 Net Neutrality rules, block media-telecom merger.
  • Warren also commits to making at least 50 percent of her cabinet and senior staff women.

Klobuchar on NYT endorsement: 'I am a progressive that gets results'

WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. expressed surprise Monday about her partial win of the New York Times' Democratic presidential endorsement

After speaking at an event marking Martin Luther King Day at South Carolina’s state capitol, Klobuchar told NBC News "very excited about it" and that she didn't expect the endorsement, which she shares with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Klobuchar also referenced her endorsement from the Quad-Cities Times in Iowa. 

"I think one of the things that they noted is that you need a candidate for president and someone leading our country that's gonna actually represent everyone, not just half of America," she said. 

"That's not gonna wake up every day trying to draw a divide like this president does, so I was honored that they saw that, and I was also honored to get the endorsement of the Quad-City Times."

She went on to call herself a "proven progressive" that "gets results," underscoring the contrast between she and Warren that the Times editorial reflected.

“If you wanna be a progressive you actually have to make progress,” she said. “The difference between a plan and a pipeline is a pan is something you can actually get done and I'm very honored that they recognized that.” 

Republican Main Street Partnership backs Steve King's primary opponent

WASHINGTON — The Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that supports moderate Republicans, is backing the Republican primary challenger to Iowa Rep. Steve King, who was stripped of his committee assignments last year after making racist comments during an interview. 

The group announced on Monday that it would back Randy Feenstra, the state senator looking to unseat King. 

Sarah Chamberlain, RMSP's president and CEO, told NBC News that her group has never taken on an incumbent Republican before and that she hopes King will decide to retire before the June primary.

But if King remains an active candidate, Chamberlain said her group will make the argument that the district deserves a congressman who hasn't been marginalized by his colleagues and can still be an effective voice for his constituents. 

"We add our voices to Liz Cheney and Mitch McConnell and hope that he will actually retire. But it’s time to move on. He had his committee assignments stripped from him in January 2019—they’ve literally gone a year without any representation in committees," Chamberlain said, referencing the criticism of King from top Republican leaders. 

"Pretty much everyone in D.C. has come out and been critical, Republican or Democrat. How can you work with your colleagues when they’ve all come out to criticize you? People in Iowa-4 deserve a member who can get things done for them, and it does not appear any longer [King] can."

Chamberlain told NBC that the RMSP has already given Feenstra the maximum $5,000 check it can, under campaign finance laws. The group is also asking its donors to support him as well, and it introduced Feenstra to donors and members at an event last week for its political action committee. 

The group also has an affiliated super PAC, which legally cannot coordinate any spending with Main Street, but has made ad-buys supporting candidates endorsed by the PAC during previous cycles. 

House Republicans voted last year to remove King from his spots on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business Committees in response to his comments in the New York Times about white nationalism. 

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" King asked.

"Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

In response to criticism from across the political spectrum, King told NBC News last year: "I reject white nationalism. I reject white supremacy. It's not part of any of my ideology. I reject anyone who carries that ideology."

Feenstra, the state Senate Majority Leader, is the top Republican running to replace King.

He’s argued during the impeachment trial that King’s removal from committees has left him ‘unable to defend President Trump” during impeachment. He’s also won a key endorsement in Iowa from Bob Vander Plaats, the leader of the conservative group The Family Leader.

Andrew Yang talks women's issues, calls U.S. “deeply misogynist”

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Businessman and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang kicked off a pre-caucus 17-day bus tour through Iowa on Saturday with a town hall focusing on women’s issues, a departure from his typical stump speech about automation and the economy, in light of his wife’s decision to share her story of sexual assault at the hands of her gynecologist while she was pregnant. 

“Our country is deeply misogynist,” Yang told a crowd of nearly 250 Iowans just off the University of Iowa’s campus. “I feel like I could get away with saying that ‘cause I’m a man. I think if a woman said that, it might somehow seem accusatory or inflammatory. But for me it’s just a statement of fact.” 

Yang answered questions from women about the gender pay gap and paid maternity leave, but it was clear that solving issues around sexual assault was top of mind. He encouraged women to be role models in the way his wife, Evelyn, has but acknowledged that in terms of policy, “we have to do much, much more to help women at every level,” calling the number of untested rape kits in the U.S. “unconscionable.”

The federal government estimates that police department warehouses house more than 200,000 untested sexual-assault kits across the country. Yang emphasized the need to allocate resources for authorities to be able to be more responsive to women’s complaints. 

“Terrible things happen to women every day in many, many contexts. Many of them wouldn’t rise to what you’d consider criminal behavior,” Yang told NBC News. “You have to try and make it so that women don't have to dedicate their lives to getting some form of justice in order to feel like anything is going to happen.”

Yang discussed investing in government programs that would pay for the testing of rape kits, as well as make it mandatory for the testing to be done in a certain timeframe. 

He also discussed issues surrounding the development of young men, asking, “why do we have trouble with our boys becoming strong young men? A lot of this is around trying to help our boys develop into strong, healthy men who will not assault women.”

Yang, a parent of two young boys, expressed concern over “rampant access to pornography” that could be “influencing the formation of many of our young peoples’ attitudes towards women in particular.” He suggested that, in order to help children develop positive attitudes towards women, access to technology that could influence children’s attitudes should be reigned in. 

“We have to help men get better and stronger,” Yang said, floating the idea of developing resources for young men who feel their behavior impulses “are trending in a direction that they’re going to end up being destructive to someone, particularly women.”

Four presidential candidates pitch themselves to Iowa educators

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Four Democratic presidential hopefuls pitched themselves to a room full of Iowa educators on Saturday.

Around 200 members of the Iowa State Education Association, the largest union in the Hawkeye state, gathered to hear remarks from former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. 

During his prepared remarks, Biden was the only candidate to acknowledge the teacher strikes that have taken place across the country.

“These walk outs are vital not just to make sure that you get paid fairly, or you get healthcare or your school safety although they're essential, many times, you're walking out and make sure students get greater resources,” Biden said.

Biden also emphasized the need to treat teachers with the “dignity,” they deserve. He promised them that if elected, “you’re never going to have a better partner in the white house than Jill and Joe Biden and that's the God's truth,” he said. “I give you my word on that.” 

Warren hit a similar note when it came to respecting teachers. 

"This is about respect,” Warren said. “And this is about reminding ourselves and our entire nation that the way we build a future is that we invest in every single one of our children.”

This wasn't the only moment of agreement between the candidates. Warren and Buttigieg also shared similar comments about for-profit charter schools. 

“Public school dollars should stay in public schools, period,” Warren said denouncing the use of tax dollars to fund for-profit charter schools. 

And Buttigieg continued that he didn't see a place in the U.S. for for-profit charter schools. 

"We all believe in innovation we all believe in keeping up and getting ready for the next steps. But that has to be done with educators, not to educators and that's one of many reasons why for profit charter schools have no place in the future," Buttigieg said. 

Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar spent a majority of their time on stage introducing themselves to the educators. Each candidate highlighted the multitude of additional responsibilities placed on teachers beyond their role as educators.

Klobuchar recalled a teacher she met while campaigning in Iowa who described dealing with students contemplating suicide.

“Not everyone in this room is qualified to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist,” Klobuchar said. “Yet, so many of you are on the front lines having to do that work.” 

Buttigieg echoed this sentiment saying that teachers are “expected to be counselors, mental health professionals, test administrators, and according to some are supposed to snap into action and become highly trained armed guards." He continued, "As if you don't have enough on your plate, practicing the craft of being professional educators,” he said.

The ISEA has not endorsed in the primary, while all four candidates have received endorsements from individual members. The union did not endorse in the 2016 primaries either. 

Bernie Sanders nabs endorsement from central Iowa Postal Workers union

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders received the endorsement of the American Postal Workers Union Local 44 in Central Iowa, the campaign announced Saturday. 

Mike Bates, president of APWU Local 44, called Sanders a “champion for postal workers.”

“He will fight for postal banking that would bring in revenue to the Postal Service and stop the legalized loan sharking of check into cash and payday loans that feed on the working poor,” Bates said in a statement. “He has our backs and we will have his back in this election. The DMI Area Local 44 of the American Postal Workers Union will do everything we can to elect Senator Bernie Sanders for President of the United States of America."

Bernie Sanders sits down for an interview on TODAY.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

The endorsement, voted upon by the more than 700 members of the union this week, is one of more than 130 individual Iowa union worker endorsements already announced in support of Sanders this cycle. 

In thanking the union for their support, Sanders pivoted to Pres. Donald Trump. “Donald Trump wants to privatize the Postal Service and threaten over 630,000 jobs. That absolutely cannot happen,” said Sen. Sanders. “I’m proud to stand together with the postal workers of Local 44 as we fight to strengthen USPS, protect jobs and allow post offices to provide basic banking services.”

Sanders has a plan for postal workers that would allow the Postal Service to provide basic financial services and other consumer products and services. 

“Post offices would offer basic checking and savings accounts, debit cards, direct deposit, online banking services, and low-interest, small dollar loans,” Sanders’ plan states. “It would end the racial disparities in access to banking and access to credit, while also stopping financial institutions from reaping massive fees off the poor and underserved.” 

“The post office guarantees to deliver your mail in snow and rain, in heat and in gloom of night. It delivers your mail whether you live in a city skyscraper or down a long country road. It can do the same for banking,” he writes.

In 2018, Sanders wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin outlining his plans. In the letter, he detailed that he would allow the Postal Service to recover $50 billion in overpayments it made to its retirement program, end the price cap on stamps which is, according to Sanders, costing the system two billion dollars a year and reinstate overnight delivery and speed up service standards.

Democratic National Committee releases New Hampshire debate qualifications

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee released the latest polling, donor and pledged delegate thresholds for the Feb. 7 Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire on Friday. 

The DNC will offer to pathways for candidates to make the debate stage in February — one mirrors the qualifications for the January debate in Iowa: Candidates must reach 5 percent in four qualifying polls or 7 percent in two qualifying polls conducted in state polls conducted in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, plus have fundraising from 225,000 unique donors and a minimum of 1,000 unique donors per state. 

In this Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 photo, the stage for the Democratic presidential primary debate is shown before Wednesday's debate in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)John Amis / AP

Polls must be released between Dec. 13 and Feb. 6 to count, and all the candidates who participated in the January debate have met the new polling threshold: former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and philanthropist Tom Steyer.  

Candidates can also qualify through the pledged delegate pathway. If a candidate finishes the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 with one pledged delegate they will automatically make the debate stage. 

The debate in New Hampshire is one of three debates schedule in February — candidates will also participate in debates in Nevada and South Carolina ahead of those states' nominating contests.