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O'Rourke: 'I will not run for president in 2020'

Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who has skyrocketed to star status in the Democratic Party with his underdog bid against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, is ruling out a presidential bid in 2020. 

O'Rourke made the comment responding to NBC's Garrett Haake during during a Monday press gaggle in Houston. The Texas Democrat has shattered fundraising records during his time in office, and his closer-than-expected bid has prompted some speculation as to whether he could harness that newfound national brand into a presidential bid. 

Polling still shows Cruz with an edge in the race—the Republican has led every single public poll in the race. But the Democrat's team is hopeful that it can score the come-from-behind victory by translating the enthusiasm around his bid leading to strong turnout. 

Hear more from O'Rourke's comments to NBC in the video below. 

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Hundreds of state and local elected officials sign on to clean energy pledge

In the aftermath of the 2018 election, more than 550 state and local lawmakers have pledged to move toward 100 percent clean energy in their states and communities by 2050.

The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group working with its state partners, instituted the pledge in March of 2018 — and is already seeing wide interest from elected officials. 

Among the 550 lawmakers on LCV's post-election list are nine governors-elect in crucial swing states like Michigan, Ohio, and Nevada.

The release of the list comes after new comments from President Donald Trump about climate change and the environment, this time in reaction to massive wildfires raging across California. Asked over the weekend if the fires changed his mind about climate change, Trump said "no." The president has previously called climate change a hoax and the White House has not been explicit about if he believes the scientific phenomenon is real.

While Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement — an international environmental accord — LCV promises to "aggressively campaign to ensure state legislatures and governors enact laws that keep the U.S. on track to fulfill the Paris Agreement and increase access to clean energy for all communities."

Read the list of lawmakers here.

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Koch Network launches week of political thanks

The Koch network is getting into the holiday spirit, thanking lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for their work on Koch-aligned issues. 

The bipartisan mail and digital advertisement campaign is meant to benefit lawmakers who are advancing criminal justice reform, relief for Dreamers, government spending and free trade — all issues that the organization is working to pressure Congress to addresses in the final weeks of the year. 

"As Americans gather around the table to give thanks, we want to take the opportunity to bring people together to address some of the toughest problems facing our country," Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, said in a statement.

This tactic of positive reinforcement and reaching across the aisle is a continuation of a strategic shift the organization announced at its semiannual donor seminar in June. It has since been more open to working — and financially supporting — Democratic lawmakers who align with their priorities. The shift comes alongside the realignment of the Republican Party in the era of President Donald Trump where the party has moved away from the Koch Network's libertarian-leaning beliefs. 

In this week-long effort, the network is thanking a handful of lawmakers who are helping to pass a component of criminal justice reform named The First Step Act, which is gaining momentum. It was endorsed by Trump last week, a move that could help propel the legislation through Congress. A sample mailer encourages recipients to call the lawmaker mentioned in the campaign and thank him for his support of the proposal. 

Not every dollar spent on political ads this week, however, will be positive. Some will pressure lawmakers, too.

They are also releasing ads to "encourage" a handful of Democratic senators, including Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who haven't yet signed onto the The First Step Act. 

Voters in the districts of Congressional leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could see an advertisement to pressure leadership to act on Dreamers. 

"As families prepare to gather on Thanksgiving, thousands of immigrants are living in uncertainty. Your senator can protect their contributions to America," a sample mailing says. 

And finally on spending, the group is sending a "thank you" in the form of a digital or mail advertisement to more the two dozen senators — all Republican — for "voting to rein in spending."

Kailani Koenig

Sherrod Brown has a message for presidential bid but no timetable for a decision

WASHINGTON — Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown on Sunday said he is seriously considering running for president in 2020 but did not offer a specific timetable on when he might decide.

Fresh off his win for a third term in this month's election, Brown said he’s heard from a crowd of both labor and Democratic party activists who have encouraged him to consider a presidential campaign because of his focus on "the dignity of work."

"Too many people in this country work hard every day, pay their dues, never get ahead, don't have the kind of retirement security they should," he said on Sunday’s "Meet The Press."

"That's why I won Ohio. You know, whether I run or not, I'm hopeful that narrative, that message, begins to be part of the narrative among my colleagues who want to be president and who've dreamed of it, frankly, for longer than I have."

Brown also swiped away the argument that a presidential win would mean that his valuable senate seat would transfer to Republican hands when the Republican governor appoints a replacement.

"I think a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands to project that out," he said.

Brown didn’t offer any kind of specific timeline for when he might decide to pursue a 2020 campaign, but wasn’t shy about making clear that it was a considerable possibility that he will contemplate with his wife and extended family.

"Connie and I are still thinking about this," he said. "It's an intensely personal decision with my wife and my children. My grandchildren don't know enough to know what it means. But it would change their lives, and I need to be aware of all of that as I make this decision."

Hallie Jackson

Trump team plans to submit special counsel answers this week

President Donald Trump’s legal team plans to submit answers to special counsel Robert Mueller by Thanksgiving, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The president and his lawyers have spent several days this week meeting at the White House to formulate responses to written questions from Mueller’s team.

But the president will not be answering any questions related to obstruction of justice — a critical part of the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential campaign. Because the answers are in writing, the president's legal team can presumably decide which questions they do and do not want to answer.

It’s not clear why it has taken so long to get these answers to Mueller. Five months ago, Rudy Giuliani said publicly he’d like to get "our part over to them by July 4th."  

And while the president told reporters on the South Lawn yesterday that "we haven’t even talked about” a sit-down with Mueller, Trump did initially indicate he would be open to an in-person interview with Mueller. And as recently as August, he pushed for it against his lawyers’ advice, according to the New York Times.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, President Trump said he "probably" would not sit down with Mueller to answer questions in person. "I think we've wasted enough time on this witch hunt," Trump said, adding that after the written questions are submitted, "probably this is the end."

Here's where the legal fights in the Florida recount stand

As the week closes out in the Florida recount legal battle for the Senate and governor's races, most of the filings in federal court have been ruled on and there remains one more in state court that we are watching closely from Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's team, which is attempting to argue that all 588,000-plus ballots in Palm Beach County for the Senate race should be hand recounted. It's unclear how that ruling will come down, but it’s being heard today.

Here are the week’s top cases, how they were ruled on and why it matters. These may change and more cases could be added but here is the current state of play:

Democratic Executive Committee of Florida vs. FL Secretary of State Ken Detzner

The issue: Signature matching on vote-by-mail, absentee, and provisional ballots.

The ruling: In favor of Democrats — signature matching deadline is extended until Saturday at 5 p.m. Republican lawyers filed an appeal  in circuit court, which was then denied.

What does it mean?  About 4,000 voters whose ballots were rejected due to signature matching issues now have an opportunity  to “cure” or rectify those issues so that their vote may be counted.

Vote Vets, DNC, DSCC vs. Detzner

The issue:  Deadlines for vote-by mail ballots and whether they should be counted based on when they are received by counties OR when they are postmarked (current rule says when they are received).

The ruling:  None yet. 

What does it mean?  If a judge were to rule that ballots should be counted based on when they are post-marked, not when they  are received, it would put thousands more votes into play statewide.

DSCC v. Detzner

The issue: How voter intent is judged during a hand recount.

The ruling: Judge Mark Walker said rules about voter intent — consistency and “magic words” — are Constitutional, a decision that went against the Democratic side.

What does it mean? For voters who didn’t fill out the ballot correctly, consistent use of X’s, O’s, stars, etc. throughout  a ballot shows a clear voter intent, as does explicitly writing “Vote for [Candidate]”.

DSCC v. Detzner

The issue:  Extending deadlines for counties to complete their machine recounts

The ruling: The judge denied Democrats' request for counties to get more time for their machine recounts. This case was filed and decided on before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline for counties to finish their machine recounts.

What does it mean? Counties, like Palm Beach, and others who didn’t finish their machine recount by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline were not given more time to do so by the court.

League of Women Voters and Common Cause vs. Rick Scott

The issue: That GOP Gov. Rick Scott should recuse himself in his capacity as governor from anything having to do with the recount process. (Reminder: Scott did recuse himself on Wednesday, as he had done in his previous 2014 election, kind of rendering this case moot).

The ruling: Request rejected — but with some choice words for how Rick Scott has conducted himself during this process. Judge Walker  described the governor as “careening perilously close to a due process violation” because of his press conference held in front of the FL Gov’s mansion on Nov.8th.

What does it mean? Not much. Scott is an elected official who is running for office, so he can’t do much about the  fact that he’s governor while running for Senate. And he already recused himself before this case was heard, so tangible action was kind of impossible from the court.

Booker interviewing potential campaign managers for likely presidential bid

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is interviewing potential campaign managers as his team works to quickly fill the key post for a likely presidential bid, a source familiar with the process tells NBC News.

Booker is one of dozens of Democrats considering a run for the White House in 2020, but among the best known in the potential field. The interviews, the latest of which took place Wednesday, speak to the sense of urgency among potential candidates to lock down top talent for campaign roles.

The likelihood of a Booker candidacy has grown in recent months as he stepped up his campaigning for Democratic candidates in state and congressional races throughout the country.

Booker delivered the keynote address at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Fall Gala in October, his most conspicuous 2020 move to date. He visited South Carolina a week later, a trip that included a major local Democratic party fundraiser that drew more than a thousand attendees. He said then that he would give serious consideration to a 2020 bid in the days after the midterm elections but that his focus was on winning reelection in New Jersey in 2020. He repeated that sentiment this week.

“We should be able to come together and get good work done before we start balkanizing ourselves for presidential ambitions,” Booker said at the Yahoo! All Markets Summit Tuesday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation earlier this month clarifying existing state law to allow Booker to simultaneously run for a second full Senate term and the presidency in 2020. The source said potential campaign manager candidates could serve in a dual role should Booker seek both the presidency and re-election.

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey on a presidential bid: 'We'll see'

WASHINGTON — Fresh off of a 13-point win in his re-election bid, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey isn't ruling out a presidential bid in 2020. 

The Pennsylvania Democrat said he knows how to win a crucial state with a significant rural population that President Donald Trump won in 2016, which he says will be necessary to beating the president in two years.

Will he jump in the race himself? 

“We'll see what happens,” he said in an exclusive interview in his office Thursday when asked twice if he plans to run for president.

Casey says that Democrats need to maintain their strength in urban and suburban districts, especially among women, but they also need to drive up the margins in rural areas, too. He argues he successfully did that in his re-election race when he won 44 percent of the vote in rural areas against Rep. Lou Barletta, a hard-line immigration critic who ran close to Trump. 

“I didn’t win it but getting (above) 40 percent is a significant victory,” Casey said, adding that he won rural women by two points.

The senator, first elected to the Senate in 2006, said that he not only showed up in rural areas but campaigned on issues they care about: opioids, infrastructure, child care and especially health care.

He adds that Democrats have to figure out how to show that they can relate to and care about rural voters.

“A lot of this comes down not just to an issue list, but to show you give a damn about their lives and their future and the future of their children,” he said.

If Casey's flirtations with a bid prove serious, he'll add his name to an increasingly crowded field of Democratic senators who are currently exploring a presidential bid. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California are all weighing bids, as at least a dozen more outside of the Senate are considering running for president too. 

Casey acknowledged the size of the field could complicate any potential bid. 

“It’s going to be a multi-candidate field and that's probably the biggest understatement. They'll be a lot of variety in that field, so we'll have to see what happens,” he said.

Casey, however, said that to win the White House, a Democrat will have to win Pennsylvania, which Trump narrowly won by less than a point, and Michigan and/or Wisconsin. He said the paths are similar on the national stage to how he won his race in Pennsylvania: “I think it's enormously helpful to try and replicate as best you can what we're able to do here.”

Ben Kamisar

Democrat Jared Golden wins Maine congressional district after ranked-choice voting

Maine Democrat Jared Golden appears to have dethroned Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the Maine secretary of state's office announced Thursday, after the state's first adventure in ranked-choice voting for congressional races. 

While Poliquin won more votes than Golden on Election Day, the state's new rules don't crown a candidate with a plurality the winner.

Instead, the vote moved onto a second round where votes from the lowest-finishing candidates are redistributed to the voter's next preference until only two candidates remain. 

Golden surged ahead thanks to an overwhelming edge among those who cast their ballots for one of the independent candidates but  ranked Golden above Poliquin.

The Democrat finished with 50.53 percent of the vote, compared to the Republican's 49.47 percent, the secretary of state's office announced. 

"It looks like Jared Golden is the apparent winner," Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced at a press conference where the results were unveiled. 

Maine voters blessed the new electoral procedure in previous ballot questions, and while the state has run other elections under the new rules, this was the first time a congressional race was decided by ranked-choice voting in the nation's history. 

But with Poliquin emerging from Election Day with the edge but not the victory, his campaign has tried to challenge the constitutionality of ranked voting in court. 

Hours before the results were announced, a federal judge denied Poliquin's appeal for an injunction that would have blocked the ranked-choice runoff. 

But he's expected to continue to press the case in court, as a spokesperson said Thursday before the results were announced that "we will still proceed with constitutional concerns" even "if Congressman Poliquin prevails in the rank vote algorithm." 

Poliquin has long been on the Democratic target list in a district that voted for both President Obama and President Trump. But surviving a handful of tough races over the years, he fell to Golden, a member of Democratic leadership in the state House and a Marine veteran.

The victory brings the Democrats up to a net gain of 35 seats in the House.

NBC News

Inside the Florida recount: Undervotes, overvotes and overseas votes

Florida election officials are scrambling to recount votes as the races for governor, senate and agriculture commissioner with candidates there separated by a razor-thin margin. 

But as the Senate campaigns battle it out in the courtroom, counties are poring over their ballots. 

Watch NBC News's Ali Vitali speak with the Leon County Supervisor of Elections about what he and his staff are looking as they conduct their portion of the recount.

Ben Kamisar

Pence: Midterms were 'a great win for our side'

Vice President Pence downplayed last week's midterm elections that gave Democrats control of the House, arguing in a new interview that "we didn't really see that blue wave in the House of Representatives come our way."

"We were very encouraged by the results. We thought Tuesday's midterm elections were a great win for our side making history in the senate, electing some great governors around the country," he told NBC News correspondent Vaughn Hillyard in an interview during an overseas trip to Singapore. 

"I really do believe that we're gonna continue to be able to build on the progress and the momentum in this country."

The tone matches that of President Trump, who described the election as "incredible day" during a press conference the morning after Election Day. There, Trump played up the GOP's performance in the Senate while not focusing much on the House, where Democrats have picked up at least 34 seats and could flip more as final votes are counted. 

At the point Trump spoke at that press conference, it was still possible for Republicans to net as many as four seats in the Senate once all the votes were counted. But with the dust settling, it's now clear that the party can only gain a net of two seats at best if Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott holds onto his narrow lead through the state's recount.  

Democrats have also won a handful of congressional seats in races that had been left uncalled after Election Day, and could eventually end up netting almost 40 seats once all the races are called. 

During his interview with NBC News, Pence also defended the president's criticism of the vote-counting process in Florida, where top statewide races are in a recount, and Arizona, where the results of the senatorial election were delayed by a slow vote count. 

Asked about Trump's comments, including an unfounded accusation that voters showed up to polling places in disguises to vote multiple times, Pence said that the president wants to protect election integrity. 

"The integrity of the vote is the foundation, and the president and our administration continue to support efforts to make sure that every ones vote is counted, and counted accurately and fairly," he said. 

You can watch the full interview, where Pence discusses topics including Trump's upcoming summit with North Korea and the controversial appointment of Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, here.