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Michael Bennet targets Iowa Caucus-goers with new TV ad

DES MOINES, IA — Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is the latest candidate to hit TV screens in Iowa with two 30-second ads titled, “Most,” and “Truth. Bennet failed to qualify for the September debate stage and is still struggling to meet the October threshold. The campaign hopes the new ads will introduce potential caucus-goers to the candidate.

“Not enough people have had the chance to meet him or learn what drives him,” campaign spokeswoman Shannon Beckham said. “These ads show who Michael is and how he’s different from other candidates.”

The combined ad buys will ultimately hit a seven-figure spend across TV and digital platforms, according to the campaign. Ad-buy trackers show that the initial TV buys cost the campaign nearly $200,000 with more investment to come over the next several weeks in Iowa, and other early states like New Hampshire. 

That's a significant investment considering Bennet’s campaign ended the second quarter with only $2.2 million in the bank, per FEC filings. In contrast, Tom Steyer has already spent $4.5 million on the air in Iowa, while Joe Biden’s invested $688,000, with Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris trailing closely behind with $635,000 and $562,000 investments, respectively. 

In the ad titled “Most,” Bennet discusses how he’s dedicated his political career to “tackling tough problems,” including jobs, education and immigration reform to make Washington “work for the people again.” Bennet closes the ad focusing on health care saying, “As president, I’ll get everyone covered with a public option or keeping the health plans they already have.”

Bennet has separated himself from the more progressive wing of the Democratic candidates by opposing Medicare for All plans.

Health care  is also the central focus of Bennet's second ad, "Truth." The ad starts with a narrator talking about  how Bennet “pounds truth into the campaign.” 

“The truth is a health care plan that starts by kicking people off their coverage makes no sense,” Bennet says in the ad. “Before we go and blow up everything let’s try this.”

“This” is Bennet’s "Medicare X Plan,” which would allow people to keep their current health care plan or buy into a public option.

Iowans will remember a push in ad spending by former Democratic candidate Kirsten Gillibrand earlier this summer before she ultimately dropped out of the race after failing to qualify for the September debates. 

Bennet’s ads will broadcast in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, in addition to CNN and MSNBC.

Virginia Republicans decide on drive-up convention to pick 2021 statewide nominees

WASHINGTON — The Republican Party of Virginia on Tuesday night approved a plan to nominate its gubernatorial candidate by a convention – instead of a primary – in what’s shaping up to be the marquee general-election race of 2021,

The convention will take place on May 8 at conservative Liberty University, whereby convention delegates will drive up and cast their pick for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general under ranked-choice voting

By contrast, Democrats will be selecting their nominee at the ballot box, through a statewide primary contest on June 8. 

This drive-up GOP convention at Liberty University is the same process that took down then-incumbent Congressman Denver Riggleman, R-Va., who lost the GOP nomination last year to conservative Bob Good; Good ended up winning the general election and now represents Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. 

But this time around, the conventional wisdom is that this convention process is a bad outcome for the most controversial GOP candidate in the field: state Sen. Amanda Chase. 

Chase denounced the process after its approval, arguing relying on a process that relies on people driving from all over the state to Lynchburg will disenfranchises voters. 

“I would like the VA GOP State Central Committee to answer a question. 1,962,430 voters voted for President Trump in Virginia. How are you going to accommodate these people who will want to cast a vote for our statewide candidates?” she tweeted

The assumption in this multi-candidate GOP field — which not only includes Chase, but also House Delegate Kirk Cox, businessman Pete Snyder and former Carlyle Group executive Glenn Youngkim — is that the percentage of the field a candidate needs to win could be as low as 25 or 30 percent. That could leave the door open for someone like Chase if the rest of the field splits the vote. 

But it will likely be more difficult for Chase to win a process where she’ll need more than 50 percent, even at a convention at Liberty University, where the former university president has been a stalwart backer of former President Donald Trump and has hired a handful of Trump allies in recent months. 

But the convention process also has a downside for Republicans trying to win back the governor’s mansion: It encourages less participation. And since Virginia is an open-primary state – where primary voters can request either a Democratic or Republican ballot – the only option that primary voters will have on June 8 is on the Democratic side.

Perdue opts out of 2022 Senate race after runoff loss

WASHINGTON — Former Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., announced Tuesday he will not join the field for the 2022 Senate race in the state — a surprising move coming a week after he publicly signaled he was considering a run. 

Perdue told supporters in an email that he and his wife, Bonnie, "have decided that we will not enter the race for the United States Senate in Georgia in 2022." He called the decision "personal," not "political," and said he plans to "do everything" to help the eventual Republican nominee defeat Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in the fall. 

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks at a campaign event in Milton, Ga., on Dec. 21, 2020.Al Drabo / Reuters file

There were two runoff elections for Georgia's Senate seats in January because Georgia election law mandates runoffs between the top-two vote-getters if no candidate wins a majority of the vote on Election Day. Perdue lost his runoff to now-Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., by just over 1 percentage point in January. 

That race was for a full term, so Ossoff is not on the ballot in 2022. But Warnock, who defeated then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., by 2 percentage points, is on the ballot, because his race was a special election to fill the remainder of the term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who retired in 2019.

On top of Democrats winning both Georgia Senate seats, President Joe Biden won the state narrowly during the presidential election. All of those races saw record-breaking turnout

Perdue declared in his statement that the 2020 election cycle proved that "Georgia is not a blue state" and "the more Georgians that vote, the better Republicans do."

"These two current liberal US Senators do not represent the values of a majority of Georgians," he said. 

Perdue had been publicly weighing a 2022 bid, filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to kickstart a potential candidacy and tweeting last week to confirm he was considering another campaign. 

While Perdue is passing on a bid this cycle, Loeffler continues to float a comeback bid against Warnock. She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she's starting a group to mobilize Republican voters in Georgia and that a possible Senate bid is "certainly on the table." 

Manchin undecided on supporting Deb Haaland for Interior

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is undecided on whether he'll support Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland, Manchin's spokesperson Sam Runyon told NBC News. 

Haaland, a Democratic congresswoman representing New Mexico, would be the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency and will testify before Manchin's committee on Tuesday. Haaland has been a fierce public lands defender, and has been critical of fossil fuel energy development on those lands. 

Manchin “hasn’t made a decision on Haaland yet. He’s looking forward to her hearing tomorrow,” Runyon said.

Manchin's support will be critical for Haaland's nomination, as Democrats can't afford to lose any one of their members' votes before needing Republican Senators to confirm a Cabinet nominee. Manchin flexed his political muscle in the nomination process when he announced he wouldn't support Neera Tanden to be Office of Management and Budget director, likely sinking her nomination. 

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 19, 2020.Joshua Roberts / Getty Images

When Haaland testifies on Tuesday, in addition to Manchin, she will also face a committee stacked with western-state Republicans who strongly support energy development. At least two Committee members, Sens. John Barasso, R-Wyo., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., have expressed reservations about Haaland. 

After Barrasso spoke with Haaland on the phone, Barrasso said, "energy development on our nation’s public lands is essential to Wyoming’s economy and America’s global energy dominance. The United States is a world energy powerhouse. We need to act like one.”

And Daines called Haaland “radical” and pointed to her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and her support of the Green New Deal as likely reasons to oppose her. Daines also threatened to try and block her confirmation.

Senate Parliamentarian to decide if $15 minimum wage can be in Covid-19 relief

WASHINGTON — The Senate Parliamentarian, who officially advises the Senate on Senate rules, could determine as early as Tuesday if a minimum wage hike could be included in the Covid-19 bill, according to a senior Democratic aide. 

The decision by the parliamentarian could come before the House of Representatives completes its work on the $1.9 trillion plan which currently includes an incremental increase to the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next four years. 

If the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, rules that a minimum wage measure can be included in the budget package, Democrats would just need 50 votes with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chair of the Budget Committee has repeatedly expressed optimism that the minimum wage would satisfy the budgetary requirements for inclusion. 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., participates in a meeting of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 10, 2021.Michael Brochstein / Sipa USA via AP file

If she rules that it is acceptable, Democrats will still have to work to ensure all 50 Democrats are on board. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have come out against raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. 

If MacDonough rules that the minimum wage hike isn't germane to the Covid-19 package, Democrats will need to find a new way to get this priority through an evenly-split Senate. Democrats are aiming to pass the Covid-19 relief bill through budget reconciliation to avoid a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. But that would require all 50 Senate Democrats voting together. 

MacDonough will need to determine if a federal minimum wage hike will meet the specific parameters of a budget reconciliation, including if the wage hike has to have significant budgetary impact.  

Update: A meeting with the Senate parliamentarian is now slated for Wednesday, two Democratic aides tell NBC News. 

This meeting will consist of Republican and Democratic staff who will present their cases to the parliamentarian as to why the minimum wage should or should not be allowed to be included in the Covid-19 budget reconciliation bill. 

A decision could come as early as Wednesday night, one of the aides said.

Town Hall Project merges with Indivisible as progressive groups chart path after Trump presidency

The Town Hall Project, a progressive group that sprung up after the 2016 election to track members of Congress’ public forums, is folding into Indivisible, one of the prominent so-called “resistance” groups that emerged to oppose former President Donald Trump’s agenda. 

The Town Hall Project filled a simple, but valuable niche of crowdsourcing and publicizing information on lawmakers' local town halls so constituents — and journalists — could attend to ask questions and push lawmakers in the interest of transparency and accountability. 

That mission was upended by the pandemic, but the group has continued to track virtual town halls and host their own, while also starting an offshoot to aggregate local mutual aid groups.

The merger, which includes the group's town hall database and a small handful of staff, comes at an inflection point for the liberal activism that flourished in opposition to Trump, now that Democrats control Washington.

“The moment is obviously different, not just because of who’s in the White House and controlling Congress, but the work is different. It was pretty straightforward in 2017,” said Nathan Williams, the founder of the Town Hall Project. “Now we're at a moment where there is a really broad assault on democratic institutions to try to really remove the possibility of accountability and representative democracy.”

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks during a town hall at the Proulx Community Center in Franklin, N.H.Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images file

Indivisible has made what they call "democracy reform" — voting rights, anti-gerrymandering efforts, filibuster reform and more  — their new raison d'etre, especially after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which they say fits well with the Town Hall Project.

“The Town Hall Project's work of focusing on how constituents can directly put pressure on their elected representatives are directly aligned with what we’re trying to do,” said Ezra Levin, an Indivisible co-founder. "(Some lawmakers) don't really care about what national progressives say, they don't care about what the national media really says, but they do care what their constituents say.”

Ivanka Trump won't run against Rubio in 2022 Senate race

WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump, former President Donald Trump's eldest daughter, called Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio a few weeks ago to offer her support for Rubio’s re-election, multiple aides confirm to NBC News. 

Trump informed Rubio that she was behind his campaign and will not run for Florida's Senate seat in 2022, which would have pit her against Rubio in a GOP primary. The two had a “great talk,” an aide for Senator Rubio adds.

A person close to Ivanka Trump confirmed the conversation and told NBC News that Ms. Trump was never considering a Senate run in Florida.

In a statement provided to NBC News, Trump said that Rubio is a “good personal friend and I know he will continue to drive meaningful progress on issues we both care deeply about.”

There was also discussion on the call of holding a joint event to highlight Rubio and Ivanka Trump’s push to expand the Child Tax Credit, a Rubio spokesperson added. 

The New York Times first reported the news. 

Ivanka Trump listens to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speak during a news conference in Washington on Oct. 25, 2017.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP file

Asked about the potential for Ivanka Trump to enter the race, here’s what Sen. Rubio told Fox News' Chris Wallace on Jan. 24th: 

“When you decide to run for re- election in a state like Florida, you have to be prepared for its competitive race. You run it like a competitive race. So that's what I'm preparing to run, a very competitive race against the tough opponent.”

“I like Ivanka. We've worked very well together on issues," Rubio added. "Look, anybody can decide to run if they want to. I mean I'm not entitled to anything and so forth. I've got to earn my way forward.”

Trump previously worked as an executive at the Trump Organization, her father's business, before joining him in the White House as a senior adviser. 

Job guarantee resolution joins a growing list of progressive proposals

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., is introducing a resolution Thursday calling for a federal job guarantee, seeking to actualize an idea from Franklin Delano Roosevelt 77 years after it was proposed.

The 16-page resolution states that "it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Federal job guarantee," in order to "finally eliminate the moral and economic scourge of involuntary unemployment."

The idea is the latest in a flurry of proposals from the new Democratic-led Congress that paints a portrait of a party embracing its more economically liberal roots and throwing caution to the wind after decades of moderating its platform in response to a series of defeats in the 1980s.

Biden to mark anniversary of initial coronavirus shutdowns next month

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to mark the one-year anniversary of the country’s initial coronavirus shutdown by addressing Americans next month, according to two White House officials.

The occasion will allow the president to reflect on the difficulties the country has endured since March 11, 2020, the day that the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic, the NBA canceled its season and Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S. — then at roughly 1,000 cases — would get worse, officials said.

While Biden intends to give a significant nod to the sacrifices Americans have made, he also would outline how he sees the path forward, officials said. 

“He’ll acknowledge how far we’ve come,” one White House official said. Officials said plans are for him to do so on March 11 or close to that date.

As of Wednesday the number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. was nearing 28 million and the number of deaths caused by the pandemic is more than 490,000. Some 55 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine also have been administered in the U.S., with Biden promising this week that all Americans eligible to receive it should be able to do so by the end of July. 

White House officials said they are discussing specifically what Biden might do to mark the one-year anniversary of shutting down the country, including whether it’s simply a speech or a broader event and if it’s held in Washington our elsewhere in the country.

Biden, a month into his presidency, is making his first official travel outside of Washington this week with a trip to Wisconsin on Tuesday and one to Michigan planned for Thursday.

During a CNN town hall in Milwaukee Tuesday night, he telegraphed his vision for when life may return to some semblance of normal for the country.

“By next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today,” Biden said. “A year from now I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, but we don't know. So I don't want to over promise anything here."

A new 'Medicare X' bill looks like Biden's public option plan

WASHINGTON — Teeing up what’s likely to be a major Democratic policy priority this year, two Democratic senators have unveiled the latest edition of their bill to create a government-run health plan — popularly known as a public option — to compete with private insurance and put pressure on health care providers to lower prices.  

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. and Tim Kaine, D-Va. released their new “Medicare X” bill on Wednesday, which would create a public option plan to be sold alongside private plans on the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces. Health care providers who accept Medicare or Medicaid plans would also have to accept “Medicare X."

While versions of this bill have been introduced before, the senators emphasized that their latest proposal tracks closely to what President Biden promised during his 2020 campaign. 

“We think what we’re introducing is the closest match to the Biden campaign,” Kaine said in a Zoom call with reporters. 

The senators also said they crafted their plan to be passed through budget reconciliation — meaning they only need to get a simple majority of senators to approve the proposal (or all 50 Democratic senators and Vice President Kamala Harris' vote).

And in addition to consulting with the White House, Kaine and Bennet said they spoke with key Senate votes like Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“If it’s a blend of this proposal and others, we think that that’s great,” Kaine said. “We’re not going to mourn another bill passing.”

There's wide Democratic support for a public option but there’s also a wide range of proposals, some of which are functionally close to single-payer Medicare for All and others that would fill more narrow gaps in the current system. 

Bennet and Kaine's bill falls in the latter category. It would initially be available only in places with few private insurance options, then gradually open up to everyone on the ACA exchanges. Medicare X would reimburse health care providers at up to 150 percent of Medicare rates depending on local costs. 

Biden also ran on a relatively narrow, if more vaguely defined, public option proposal. Kaine and Bennet noted that their bill reflects Biden's 2020 policy papers by capping premiums at 8.5 percent of income. It would also cover people whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to qualify for subsidized insurance. In line with Biden’s campaign promises, the new Medicare X plans would also come with no-cost primary care services.  

Biden’s 8.5 percent income cap on ACA plans is included in his Covid-19 bill being debated in the House, but it would last for only two years.  

While a public option has broad support within the party, this proposal is likely to face pushback from progressives who want a public option that more aggressively supplants private plans.

“These issues were litigated fiercely in the last presidential campaign in both the primary and the general election and the place where Biden started the race and ended up is essentially where Tim and I are,” Bennet said. 

Milwaukee Bucks vice president announces run for Senate

WASHINGTON — The senior vice president for the Milwaukee Bucks, Alex Lasry, announced his Wisconsin Senate run on Wednesday. 

Lasry, who served as an aide to former President Barack Obama before joining the Bucks, said he is entering the Democratic primary to bring a "new perspective" to Washington.

"We've lived through three systemic shocks to the system over the last 20 years: 9/11, the Great Recession and now this pandemic, and we still haven't fixed things," Lasry said in his announcement video. 

The 2022 Senate race in Wisconsin is still wide open. Incumbent GOP Sen. Ron Johnson hasn't said whether or not he'll run for a third term. And the state's Democratic Treasurer, Sarah Godlewski, has said she's considering a run. 

But grassroots Democratic groups are already mobilizing. On Tuesday, a progressive labor group launched a $1 million ad buy against Johnson. It's the first step for Wisconsin Democrats to try and capitalize on President Biden's narrow victory in the state in 2020. 

In his announcement, Lasry said he wants companies to "earn" tax cuts by increasing their manufacturing in America and paying their workers $20 an hour, and create a "worker's bill of rights." 

Lasry served as chair of the Bid Committee and Finance Chair for the Democratic Convention's Host Committee, and he will take a leave of absence from the Bucks for the duration of the campaign. 

"Through my work with the Milwaukee Bucks, I have shown that progressive values are good for business. Making sure that we are paying people family sustaining wages, providing workers with good union jobs, and investing in projects that respect our communities and our environment should be the new model for business across our state,” Lasry said in a press release. 

Perdue takes first step toward possible bid against Warnock

WASHINGTON — Former Sen. David Perdue, D-Ga., filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission Monday night that moves him closer toward a possible challenge to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. 

Perdue lost his bid in last month's runoff against now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff. But while that race was for a full six-year term (as Perdue's term expired in 2020), Warnock is up for re-election in 2022 because his 2020 election was for the right to fill the final two years of the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

So with the Warnock seat on the ballot in 2022, Perdue took a first big step toward a bid against him by filing a statement of candidacy with the FEC. 

But while the move means he's formally a candidate in the race, it's not an explicit announcement of his intentions. That's because candidates considering running for office have to file this paperwork once they hit certain thresholds (typically fundraising) in order to stay on the right side of campaign finance law. So candidates who file with the FEC don't always follow through with an actual campaign, although they typically do end up running. 

Perdue described the filing as a "necessary legal step that will allow me to continue to keep all options open," adding that he's considering running again. 

It's unclear whether Perdue would face a primary challenge as Republicans look to take advantage of typically-favorable midterm headwinds to win back the Senate seat. But if Perdue does decide to run, he'll start with a nice nest-egg, as he ended his 2020 campaign with $5.7 million left in the bank, which he can use on a subsequent bid for federal office.