Rubio walks back his tax law criticism — a bit

Earlier this morning, First Read pointed out how Sen. Marco Rubio’s, R-Fla., recent criticism of the tax law he voted for — “there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker” — could provide cover to red-state Democrats who voted against it.

Well, now Rubio is walking back that criticism — somewhat at least.

“Overall, the Republican tax-cut bill has been good for Americans. That is why I voted for it. But it could have been even better for American workers and their families,” Rubio writes in an op-ed for National Review. “The central reason why it wasn’t is that in the new economy, it isn’t enough to just cut taxes; you have to cut the right ones.”

During the tax debate, Rubio supported targeted tax cuts to working-class families. 

First Biden digital ad featuring Harris targets Hispanic voters in key states

WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden's presidential campaign Saturday released its first ad featuring the ticket's vice presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as part of an ongoing paid media buy in key battleground states.

The 30 second digital ad targeting Hispanic voters in Arizona and Florida on YouTube stresses how Joe Biden and Harris have devoted their careers to uplifting others, particularly noting how the presumptive Democratic nominee has long lived by the Spanish belief that who you surround yourself with defines who you are as a person.

“Now Joe confirmed he’s walking with perfect company,” the narrator says in English before the bilingual ad unveils Harris’ image for the first time in a paid media ad. “An ally and a fighter for the Latino community for years, Kamala is the final piece of the puzzle. Together Biden and Harris will rebuild the American dream and ensure a future for everyone.”

Tying Harris to the Hispanic community is a notable push by the campaign as they continue to strengthen their direct outreach. Her historic nomination as the first biracial woman to be picked as vice president has already enthused coalitions across the Democratic Party.

The Biden campaign has devoted $44 million to TV, radio and print ads this week and next, rolling out five new ads including two that target the Latino community. Late last month the campaign announced their $290 general election paid media investment beginning in September, which will include an eight-figure investment in Spanish-language ads across Colorado, Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Virginia. 

In a press call announcing the large media buy, senior campaign advisers stressed that Biden’s vice presidential pick will play a notable role in their advertising. The campaign will continue to present the Biden-Harris ticket as one that shares the same values of the Latino community.

Hamilton-inspired rap aims to get out the vote for 2020

WASHINGTON — A Grammy-winning musician and a constitutional law professor have teamed up to create a get-out-the-vote rap inspired by the musical Hamilton.

The six-minute music video released Friday blends together video performances from dozens of dancers, professional musicians and other performers, set to the tune of “The Constitution Song.”

The song traces the history of democratic rights in the U.S. starting with the American Revolution and continuing through the protest movements that expanded voting access to Blacks and women. The lyrics encourage Americans to “add your voice” to an evolving understanding of equality and justice under the Constitution.

“Our founding generation thought the king was a disaster. They fought to make a country where the people would be master. So if you think your country isn’t acting as it should be, register and vote to make your country what it could be,” the lyrics go.

The song is the creation of Johnny Butler, a saxophonist and musical creator who has worked with Beyonce and Stevie Wonder, and Peter Shane, who teaches constitutional law at The Ohio State University. The university’s Moritz College of Law is supporting the project.

Republican Jewish Coalition provides new details on $10 million in general election commitment, largely to help Trump

WASHINGTON — The Republican Jewish Coalition expects to spend "millions of dollars on television" as part of its $10 million independent expenditure campaign for November's elections, with the lion's share coming to support President Trump's re-election. 

Matt Brooks, the group's executive director, touted Trump's policies on anti-Semitism and on Israel to reporters on a conference call Thursday, hours after the administration touted a deal to normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. 

The group added more details about its spending plans for the fall which includes TV and digital ads as well as voter mobilization and turnout programs augmented by an investment into building out a strong voter file on Jewish American voters.

Brooks estimated that around 90 percent of the money would go toward helping Trump in key states like Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, but that the work would also act as a "force multiplier to make sure these same voters support our Republican candidates" in down-ballot races.

And he said that the group will be messaging on a variety of issues — including Israel, but also law and order, energy independence, the economy and fossil fuels — because the American Jewish community is not a "monolith." 

Trump has been a strong ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has been harshly critical of the world nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump pulled out of to Israel's praise. His administration has also offered a broader Middle East peace deal, which stalled after a tepid response from Arab nations, and signed an executive order he said was aimed at combatting anti-Semitism on college campuses. 

But Trump has faced criticism from other prominent Jewish groups and Jewish politicians as well both for his policies as well as his comments.  Last year, Trump said that "any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat" shows "either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty." Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called those comments anti-Semitic. 

Pointing to Thursday's deal with the UAE and Israel, former Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, the national chairman of the RJC's board of directors, framed Trump as a steadfast ally of Israel and said he hoped the deal would help Jewish voters side with him in the fall. 

"President Donald J. Trump is owed a debt of gratitude for the role he’s played today," Coleman said. "Our hope is American jews will be wise enough to see on Election Day that this accomplishment has really been part of a process of what Donald J. Trump has delivered and will continue to deliver."

Kushner confirms Kanye West meeting: A 'great discussion'

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and a top adviser, confirmed Wednesday that he met with rapper Kanye West amid the superstar's presidential bid that's been aided by Republicans.  

Asked about the meeting during a Thursday White House briefing, Kushner said he's known West for about 10 years and that they met when they both "happened to be in Colorado."

"We had a great discussion about a lot of things. He has some great ideas for what he'd like to see happen in the country, and that's why he has the candidacy that he's been doing," Kushner said.

"There's a lot of issues that the president's championed that he admires, so it was great to have a friendly discussion."  

The meeting, first reported on by the New York Times, comes as West's quixotic presidential bid has not filed to appear on enough ballots to compete for the presidency, but has filed to be on the ballot in a handful of states that are typically key presidential battlegrounds.

West so far will be on ballots in Colorado and Oklahoma, while his campaign awaits verification in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, where he's submitted the required paperwork and state election officials will rule on whether he met those states' standards 

West's candidacy has been aided by Republican operatives or those connected to Republican politics in a variety of states, including Wisconsin, where Vice first reported that West's signatures were delivered by an election lawyer who had previously advised the state Republican Party and represented Trump's re-election campaign in a lawsuit against a local NBC affiliate. 

Those ties between West's candidacy and Republicans have raised concerns among Democrats that people are using West's campaign in an attempt to siphon votes away from former Vice President and apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Poll: Nearly half of registered voters concerned voting will be difficult this fall

WASHINGTON — As voters grapple with the pandemic and with President Trump’s assertion — without evidence — that voting by mail is riddled with fraud, a new survey finds that about half of all registered voters believe it will be difficult to vote in November. 

According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of registered voters say they think it will be easy to vote and 49 percent say it will be difficult.

A Pew Research Center Survey ahead of the 2018 midterm elections asked the same question and just 15 percent anticipated that it would be difficult to cast their ballot.  

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s supporters are more pessimistic than President Trump’s when it comes to the ease of voting. Sixty percent of voters who say they are supporting Biden believe it will be difficult to vote, while just 35 percent  of Trump voters say the same. 

Voters wait in a line, which continued a few blocks south of the polling location, at Riverside High School in Milwaukee on April 7, 2020.Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Reuters file

Black voters are particularly unlikely to believe it will be “easy” to vote.

The survey comes as concern grows over mail delays resulting from the newly-installed Postmaster General’s implementation of what he calls cost-cutting measures, which voting advocates worry will gum up the processing of absentee ballots. President Trump said Thursday morning that the Post Office would need millions in emergency funds — which he is blocking — in order to manage “universal mail-in voting.”

The poll also finds  a partisan split in how Trump and Biden voters prefer to cast their ballots.

Most voters who support Trump — 80 percent — want to vote in person, either on Election Day (60 percent) or early in-person voting (20 percent.)

But a majority of Biden voters — 58 percent — say their preference is to vote by mail.

That same feeling was found in the latest NBC|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll. In that poll, 55 percent of adults said they are very or somewhat likely to vote by mail in November.

And in the NBC|SurveyMonkey poll, 55 percent of American adults want to allow all Americans to vote by mail in the fall, and 55 percent of adults say they’re very or somewhat likely to mail-in their vote in November. But just 33 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners said they were somewhat or very likely to vote by mail, and 79 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaners said were likely to cast their ballot by mail. 

The Pew poll also measured a head-to-head matchup between Trump and Biden, finding the Democratic candidate leading the incumbent by eight points, 53 percent to 45 percent.

Biden, Harris raise $34.2 million in day and a half after announcing ticket

WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Joe Biden's selection of California Sen. Kamala Harris to join his Democratic presidential ticket has led to a massive fundraising boost for the campaign. 

From the time Harris was announced as the vice-presidential pick on Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday, the campaign brought in over $34.2 million, including from more than 150,000 first time contributors, the campaign announced

The campaign saw its best digital fundraising hour from the moment she was announced Tuesday afternoon, a record that was broken just one day later, after Harris and Biden appeared publicly together for the first time in Wilmington, Del.

“The response has been overwhelming," Biden said during the ticket’s first grassroots fundraiser Wednesday, where he added that the campaign saw 150,000 first-time contributors over the short span. 

"It's really palpable the excitement because there is so much at stake."  

Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris arrive to speak at a news conference in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 12, 2020.Carolyn Kaster / AP

Long before Joe Biden would choose Harris as his running mate, he stressed his wish to tap someone who would be a partner in governing and campaigning. On Tuesday, Biden described the financial support his campaign saw in the wake of the announcement as proof he made the right choice. 

“You know, it seems Americans all across this nation, at least at the outset here, agree with me,” Biden said after describing Harris as the “right person” to serve as his vice president if elected. 

After the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee outraised the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee for two consecutive months, the Trump effort re-gained the upper hand with its July fundraising. 

But the Biden campaign and the DNC have seen a massive influx of cash since Biden became the apparent Democratic nominee in April. They strategically spent less during those months, redirecting spending to digital during the coronavirus pandemic, which helped them virtually erase the Trump effort's cash-on-hand advantage. 

Harris spent her first 24 hours as the newly-minted running mate trying to enthuse her party's base stressing repeatedly at Wednesday’s events that supporters must show up to vote or regret not participating in historic “inflection moment.”  

“What I know, based on who you are and why you're here right now is that when you look back at them, you're not going to just talk about how you feel. You're going to talk about what you did. You're going to talk about the fact that you participated. You were activated, you were involved in electing Joe Biden President of the United States,” she said during a grassroots fundraiser.

Trump plans counter-programming in battleground states during Democratic convention

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to hit the road next week as counter-programming to the Democratic National Convention, traveling to several battleground states in an effort to generate competing coverage, according to two officials involved in the planning. 

While the plans are fluid, as of now Trump will head to Minnesota and Wisconsin on Monday, Arizona on Tuesday and Pennsylvania on Thursday. In Pennsylvania, he's slated to visit Scranton, the hometown of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, in an effort to taunt the former vice president on his own turf. Trump plans to make the case that Biden shouldn’t be treated as a native son of the city since he hasn’t lived there in decades. 

President Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak at a campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP file

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Wisconsin on Thursday and will expected to accuse Democrats of “abandoning” the state for pulling most of their convention from Milwaukee, just hours before Biden accepts the Democratic nomination in Delaware. Biden announced earlier this month he would accept the nomination virtually, rather than in Milwaukee, due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. 

Trump made counter-programming a hallmark of his strategy during the Democratic primaries, scheduling rallies in all the early voting states to, in his words, “troll”  the opposing party. 

While the pandemic has eliminated any large, traditional campaign events from happening during this battleground state tour, the president will still likely be met with several hundreds of supporters at each stop. It’s unclear how much social distancing and mask wearing will be enforced.

It’s also unknown exactly how many of these events will be categorized as White House events rather than campaign events.  

Trump campaign returns to airwaves in WI, still dark in MI and PA

WASHINGTON — President Trump's campaign returned to the Wisconsin airwaves on Tuesday, marking the first time the campaign aired significant TV or radio advertising in the state in almost two weeks. 

Trump’s campaign spent $110,000 there Tuesday, and it’s slated to spend the same on Wednesday, according to data from Advertising Analytics. It had been dark there since July 29. 

But while the campaign has returned to Wisconsin airwaves, it has been off the air in both Pennsylvania and Michigan for at least two weeks (since July 29 in PA and July 22 in Michigan, and even before then, its spending in Michigan had been dwindling).

But while the campaign isn't spending on TV or radio ads there, it has had some outside help. Since the campaign dropped off the air, the GOP group Restoration PAC has spent $2.4 million on ads in Michigan, and America First Action super PAC has spent $2.9 million in Pennsylvania.

The Trump campaign announced last month it would briefly pull ads to review its ad strategy, and it returned to the air days later touting a new focus on North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Arizona ahead of early voting.

But that new strategy so far hasn’t included the Great Lakes states key to Trump’s victory in 2016, states he won by the narrowest of margins. 

Poll: Few parents say their children will be attending full, in-person school in the fall

WASHINGTON —  Less than a fifth of American parents say their children will be attending school “fully in-person” this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest NBC|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll. 

Just 17 percent of American adults with kids say that their children’s schooling will take place fully in-person while 41 percent (a plurality) say that their kids’ will be learning only online. Twenty-seven percent say there will be a mix of in-person and online instruction and 15 percent of adults say they didn’t know what their children’s school situation would be yet. 

President Trump has been pushing for schools to fully reopen this fall, but with the continued high transmission rate and positive case results of coronavirus, schools across the country are rethinking their instruction plans. 

After a school in Georgia made headlines for packed hallways when schools fully reopened, several students and teachers tested positive for coronavirus. The school was forced to go fully remote temporarily while the school underwent deep-cleaning. 

States that have taken a more conservative approach to reopening, like New York, have announced that schools can reopen for in-person instruction as long as their plans are approved by the state’s health and education departments – but even then reopenings won’t be uniform across the state. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling for a mix of in-person and remote instruction, and some teachers are threatening a “sickout” instead of returning to in-person work. 

Minority parents are far more likely to report that their kids will be taking classes exclusively online, while white parents are more likely to say their children will be returning to full, in-person schooling. 

Fifty-eight percent of Black parents, 49 percent of Hispanic parents and 47 percent of Asian parents say all of their child’s learning will be conducted online, compared to 33 percent of whites who say the same. 

Parents are divided when it comes to how they rank the quality of education their children are receiving. Just 22 percent of adults say they’d rate the education quality as an “A”, 31 percent grade the quality a “B”, 28 percent say “C”, 10 percent D and 7 percent say “F”. 

But a significant majority of adults, 66 percent, say that teachers are paid too little in their community. Only 26 percent say teachers are paid the right amount, and 6 percent say teachers are paid too much.

The data come from a set of SurveyMonkey online polls conducted August 3-9, 2020 among a national sample of 44,601 adults in the U.S. Respondents were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 1.0 percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.

Democratic outside groups booking more than $10 million in new August Senate TV ads

WASHINGTON — Outside groups linked to Senate Democratic leadership are upping the ante in the race for the Senate majority, injecting another $10.3 million into key states.

The moves from Senate Majority PAC and an affiliated non-profit, Duty and Honor, first reported by NBC News, represent an increased investment in ad spending across five states: North Carolina, Maine, Iowa, Montana and Georgia. And they come after the top GOP-aligned Senate super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, announced last week it would start running ads in August too.  

The nonprofit Duty and Honor is adding $3 million in TV spending to Maine, $1.5 million in North Carolina, $1.7 million in Montana and $1.4 million in Georgia. 

Senate Majority PAC is adding $2 million in North Carolina, as well as $500,000 in Iowa and $200,000 in Maine. 

All of the spending augments existing ad buys through August. 

"Less than 90 days until Election Day and momentum and grassroots energy are on the side of Democratic candidates who have built strong campaigns across our offensive battlefield,” J.B. Poersch, Senate Majority PAC's president, said in a statement.

“Our latest investment will keep Senate Republicans on their heels as they are forced to defend their weak incumbents who are trailing in fundraising and in public polling."

The bulk of the outside group's ad spending has already been earmarked for the fall — in March, SMP announced plans to spend almost $70 million in TV ads in North Carolina, Arizona, Iowa, Maine and Colorado, with other spending planned by its allies. 

But Democratic effort, which also includes the allied Majority Forward, has also been spending in primaries and over the summer as it looks to soften up Republican incumbents ahead of the fall. 

Democrats are bullish on their chances in the fall because the majority of competitive races are in states where Republicans are currently in office. 

But Republicans have been shoring up their resources this summer too, as Senate Leadership Fund, the GOP group, launched a new, $21.3 million August TV and radio campaign — $6.6 million in Georiga, $6.1 million in Montana, $4.1 million in Iowa, $2.6 million in North Carolina, and $1.9 million in Arizona. 

SLF had already announced plans to spend $90 million in ads starting after Labor Day.

Top GOP super PAC backing House Republicans books $45 million for fall ads

WASHINGTON — The top GOP super PAC boosting House Republicans’ efforts to take back the lower chamber in November announced Monday that it’s reserving another $45 million for an ad campaign launching this fall, with sizable investments dedicated to 40 different media markets. 

Congressional Leadership Fund’s multi-million dollar commitment includes spending for broadcast and cable TV spots as well as efforts on digital platforms and direct mail. According to a CLF spokesperson, the majority of the buy is dedicated to television and ads from the new reservations will air starting after Labor Day. 

CLF’s latest buy narrows in on several critical 2020 battleground states and media markets where House Republicans are hoping to either win back Democratic-held seats or defend their districts. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at a GOP news conference on Wednesday. Behind him, from left, Rep. Tom Cole, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Rep. Kay Granger.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The largest portion of the $45 million purchase targets Iowa, where Democrats currently hold three of the state’s four House districts, with $3.5 million being invested there. 

CLF is dedicating $3.4 million to the upstate New York and New York city areas each. About $2 million of New York city’s allotment will go towards defending the GOP-held seat of retiring Rep. Peter King in Long Island while $1 million is focused on the state’s 11th House District, which Democratic Rep. Max Rose flipped in 2018

The recent buy also includes about $3 million for ads in Dallas, Houston, and Miami each, plus $2.9 million divided between New Mexico’s Albuquerque and Texas’ El Paso media markets. 

Minnesota ($2.5 million) and Montana ($500,000) are among the list of states CLF is investing in for the fall, and other top cities the PAC has booked ads in include Los Angeles ($2.3 million) — home to California 25th District, which Republican Mike Garcia won in a May special election — Salt Lake City ($2.3 million), Philadelphia ($2.1 million), Atlanta ($1.7 million), and Las Vegas ($1 million). 

The newly-announced reservations mark CLF’s second wave of ad spending for the November elections, more than doubling its first commitment of $43 million in April to about $90 million.

“The investments we’re making today are a second down payment in key races where we can make a real difference in the battle for the House,” CLF President Dan Conston said in a press release out Monday. “The hard work CLF put in from the outset has allowed us to keep Democrats where we want them: on defense. This reserve positions us well for the fall battle and it won’t be our last.”

The new ad campaign was first reported by POLITICO.