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Sanders: Voters should look at what candidates 'stand for,' not at their demographics

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to vacillate in explaining how he prioritizes class and race, priorities that will play an interesting role in how he approaches his 2020 presidential race. 

Speaking to Vermont Public Radio on Tuesday morning while announcing his bid, Sanders addressed the issues when asked about whether he's still the "face of the new Democratic Party." The field already includes a historic number of women and minority candidates, as well as an openly gay presidential hopeful. 

"We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age," Sanders said. 

"I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for."

Sanders struck a similar tone in a GQ profile last month, where he said that "there are people who are very big into diversity but whose views end up being not particularly sympathetic to working people, whether they're white or black or Latino." 

But that answer is a departure from the scripted remarks he delivered last month while commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day in South Carolina.

"Combating racial equality must be central to combating economic inequality," Sanders said during that trip to the Palmetto State, which is home to an early primary with a significant black voter population. 

The Vermont senator struggled in the 2016 primary in states like South Carolina where the primary electorate included a strong portion of black voters. So Sanders' evolving answers on the intersection between racial and economic inequality will be worth watching as he looks to improve his showing with minority voters. 

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Ben Kamisar

New Democratic digital ads: 'Working people gotta fight back' against Trump

WASHINGTON — Priorities USA, the major Democratic super PAC expecting to spend heavily in the 2020 race, is launching its opening salvo of digital ads across Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The new spots, part of a six-figure digital buy, contrast President Trump's campaign promise to prioritize Americans over special interests with criticism that his policies on trade, taxes and health care are jeopardizing the well-being of average Americans.  

One new spot uses a profane blurb, saying Trump's promise to average Americans is "b*******."

"Trump's trade war is costing me;" one person featured in the ad says.  "The president has put my kids one medical emergency away from bankruptcy," another claims. 

"All Trump cares about is the people at the top," says a third. "Working people have to fight back." 

The ad's style, direct-to-camera criticism from people who are supposed to be average Americans, harkens back to President Obama's re-election ad strategy when he ran against Republican Mitt Romney. 

The digital buys are part of Priorites' already announced $100 million investment across those four swing states, an investment it announced earlier this year. The group also plans to spend heavily in other swing states too throughout this year and next year. 

Watch one example of the ad here

Clyburn advises Biden against early VP pick if he runs

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Less than a year ago, South Carolina’s top Democrat was predicting that Joe Biden could win the state’s critical early primary “going away” if he were a candidate. As the Democratic field has expanded — and with Biden possibly just days away from entering himself — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is being more cautious.

“Well, not going away maybe,” Clyburn told NBC News during an interview on the steps of the South Carolina capitol Tuesday. “When you get this many people into a race you have no idea how the spread will occur. What I do know is, according to all the polls I’ve seen in South Carolina and around the country, he is the leading contender among Democratic voters. Now, how big that lead is I think depends upon whether or not any of the other people catch fire. And some of them may.”

The two men have been friends for decades, and Clyburn said the two spoke as recently as three weeks ago. Even though he said he has not been told about Biden’s final decision, he offered some advice, suggesting that Biden's focus should be about the country’s future.

He also advised Biden against something the former vice president's team has considered: naming a vice presidential running mate at the same time he announces his candidacy.

“I think that we have to be careful about doing cute things in campaigns,” he said. “I think it would be a mistake for Joe Biden to come out – or any other candidate – and announce a running mate right out of the gate.”

Clyburn, who said he does not plan to endorse in the race, expects about half of the Democratic contenders to attend his annual fish fry fundraiser, scheduled for June 21.

Asked about former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy ahead of his first trip to South Carolina, Clyburn questioned whether the enthusiasm that brought him to nearly upset Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last November would carry over into 2020.

“His [challenge] is whether he’s able to show that same kind of energy, intensity, and fundraising capacity that he did against Cruz. I’m not too sure that that can happen in the presidential race. But if he can, he’s going to be very formidable,” he said.

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Warren wants to abolish the Electoral College

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the latest Democratic presidential candidate to call for abolishing the Electoral College, an issue that's becoming more and more popular among the party's candidates. 

Warren made the announcement during a CNN town hall on Monday, noting that candidates don't typically campaign in red states like Mississippi or California because those states aren't winnable in a general election. 

"Every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College," she said. 

That makes her the second Democrat in the race to support the policy, joining South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, who is considering a bid, also supports ending the Electoral College, and former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke said Tuesday there's "a lot of wisdom in that" idea but did not explicitly support it. 

The issue is just one of a handful of issues front-and-center in the Democratic primary this cycle that aren't normally a part of the debate

That's not all that's been happening on the trail—read on for more stories from the 2020 beat. 

  • New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is drawing a hard line on punishing drug manufacturers for their involvement in the opioid crisis, criticizing those who "purposefully made these drugs stronger more addictive" to goose their sales. She made the comments during an "All in 2020 Town Hall with Chris Hayes" on MSNBC—click here for more coverage of that event.
  • The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is teaming up with UCLA for a Democratic presidential campaign forum that will center on LGBTQ policy. The forum is set for October 10, 2019 and will use the same qualifying metrics that the Democratic Party used for its first debate—either 1 percent of the vote in three national polls or 65,000 individual donations from donors in at least 20 states.
  • California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell reiterated on MSNBC Tuesday that he's going to announce his presidential decision by the end of the month. But he also shed some light on why he's been waiting so long to announce, noting that he's still paying off almost $100,000 in student loans, and has two young children who will need childcare if he embarks on a presidential bid. 

 

Beto O'Rourke talks job losses with UAW union representative attacked by Trump

WARREN, Ohio — Beto O’Rourke has spent the first week of his presidential campaign working to educate himself on issues central to the lives of various communities across the Midwest, and on Monday night he joined the fight on the side of one of those issues.

The former Texas congressman and current Democratic presidential candidate inserted himself into a debate between President Donald Trump and the leader of the local union representing workers at the General Motors auto plant in Lordstown, Ohio. He met with UAW Local 1112 President David Green Monday evening, one day after the president launched an attack on Green on Twitter over the status of the facility.  Production was stopped at the Lordstown GM plant two weeks ago, but its future is currently uncertain.  

O’Rourke live-streamed part of their discussion on Facebook, and then spoke with NBC News.

“The president with his actions has added insult to injury,” O’Rourke said. “Not only has he done nothing to prevent this job loss, he actually blames the workers and their leadership in the UAW president of 1112 for something that GM and his administration caused. He’s literally financed GM’s ability, through this tax cut, to move jobs elsewhere.”

President Trump won Ohio in 2016, along with much of the rest of the manufacturing belts of the Midwest — areas O’Rourke has attempted to emphasize on his trip this week. Trump has repeatedly promised to bring lost jobs back from many of these industrial communities that have deteriorated with closing factories.

“I asked Dave, the UAW President here, ‘what can we do to get those jobs back?’” O’Rourke said. “He said we can ensure that our trade policies and our tax code does not incentivize offshoring these jobs."

"I think UAW is going to do everything they can to salvage something from GM’s investment and the public’s investment, perhaps there are other auto manufacturers that could relocate a plant here. The investment is here. This community is ready.”

Ahead of his Ohio stop, O’Rourke contacted the state’s senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, for insight on campaigning in the Buckeye State.

He said he didn’t ask Brown for an endorsement, “just asked him for advice.”

“I wanted to give him the courtesy of letting him know I was in the state,” O’Rourke said. “He was very helpful and I imagine he’s going to be very helpful to every candidate who puts in a call.”

Ben Kamisar

Democratic presidential field pushes new issues into spotlight

WASHINGTON — The 2020 Democratic primary features the most wide-open field in decades, with candidates who are already bringing in massive amounts of money. And it's getting even more crowded by the day. 

The large field is also creating space for a new set of issues not normally discussed during nominating contests. There's even increased interest in debating procedural changes to grease the wheels, an idea explored by NBC's Benjy Sarlin and Lauren Egan. 

Read on to see how the candidates are handling three of these issues — reparations, court packing and abolishing the electoral college.

Broad support for some form of reparations

Reparations hasn't been at the forefront of any recent primary conversation. But this cycle, seven candidates have offered support for reparations, with varying definitions. 

Julián Castro thinks reparation payments should be on the table, and promised to create a commission to offer a plan for reparations.

Others — Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar — all say they're open to the debate on how to best handle reparations, pointing to policies aimed at helping low-income families as a way to help level the playing field. However, Sanders has ruled out the idea of direct reparation payments.

And Beto O'Rourke has broadly called for the country to recognize the ills of slavery without committing to any specifics. 

Candidates split on court packing

There's less unanimity on the idea of making structural changes to the Supreme Court. 

Pete Buttigieg has offered one idea to expand the number of justices to 15 — a third Republican-appointed, a third Democratic-appointed, and a third of consensus picks. 

Warren, Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand all signaled an openness to the idea in a new Politico piece on the debate. 

O'Rourke has mused about the idea, but hasn't settled on a specific answer. 

But Booker and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who is exploring a bid, are throwing cold water on the idea. 

Abolishing electoral college gaining some traction

As a coalition of states is pushing to abolish the electoral college, two of the younger presidential candidates are making abolishing the electoral college a key issue.

Buttigieg regularly talks about the idea during interviews and candidate events, while Seth Moulton penned a column in The Washington Post earlier this month on abolishing the electoral college as well as the Senate filibuster. 

Ben Kamisar

Sen. Toomey: 'Plausible argument' that Trump's border emergency declaration is legal

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey said Sunday that while he voted to disapprove of President Trump's border emergency declaration, he's not convinced the controversial move to reauthorize dollars to pay for a border wall is unconstitutional.

“I’m not sure that is is straight up an illegal act. I think it’s a strained argument, but there is a plausible argument for the legality of what the president did. There’s a plausible argument for the constitutionality," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

"What we voted on on Thursday was not a question of whether the president has broken the law, what we voted on was on whether we approve of what he did."

Toomey joined with 11 Republican colleagues and all Democratic senators to vote to revoke Trump's emergency declaration, sending the already House-passed legislation to the White House. But Trump vetoed the legislation over the weekend, calling it his "duty" to veto the "reckless" argument from Congress. 

It appears unlikely that Congress will be able to secure enough votes to override the veto, which means the matter could ultimately be settled in court. 

Toomey added that he does support the GOP-led plan to reign in future emergency declarations, a plan opposed by Democrats who argue Trump shouldn't be grandfathered into those changes. 

“This is one area where we should simply reclaim the legislative responsibility that we have," he said. 

“They’re happy to poke President Trump in the eye — will they join us in making sure this will never happen again?”

Watch the full interview with Toomey below. 

Ben Kamisar

Klobuchar: Treat threat from white supremacists like 'other forms of terrorism'

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar Sunday called for the federal government to treat the threat of terrorism from white supremacists the same as all other terrorist threats in the wake of last week's deadly attacks at two New Zealand mosques. 

During an interview with "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd, Klobuchar said that the U.S. should put together a strategy to combat white supremacists being radicalized online, one similar to the approach used to counter radicalization in the Muslim community. 

"Of course they should. You have a situation right now, where you look at what's happened in places like that synagogue in Pittsburgh, when you look at the bombing attempts on leaders, including President Obama, in our nation. We have white supremacists, a resurgence of this kind of anger and the Ku Klux Klan. And it just keeps getting worse," she said.

"And so I think that our country needs to take this just as seriously as we do other forms of terrorism. And if some of it needs to be in law enforcement, there is ways we can do this. And we can do better."

Klobuchar's comments come days after 50 people were killed in two New Zealand mosques. Officials say that the alleged shooter may have sent a white-supremacist manifesto to a variety of places ahead of the attack. 

Watch Klobuchar's full interview with "Meet the Press" below. 

Ben Kamisar

Klobuchar on running for president: 'I wasn't born to run, but I am running'

WATERLOO — Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar told "Meet the Press" on Sunday that while she started thinking about running for president in college, that she doesn't believe she was "born to run." 

Speaking to NBC's Chuck Todd during an interview in Waterloo, Iowa — where Klobuchar is campaigning — she reflected on her beginnings in politics and responded  to former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke's recent comment to Vanity Fair that he's "just born to be in it" ahead of his presidential launch. 

"I have a lot of respect for Beto. And it's great to have some Texas in this race. But no, I wasn't born to run for office, just because growing up in the '70s, in the middle of the country, I don't think many people thought a girl could be president," she said in an excerpt of her interview, which will be aired on Sunday's "Meet the Press." 

"I wasn't born to run, but I am running."

Watch Klobuchar's full interview on Sunday's "Meet the Press." Click here to check what time the show airs in your market. 

Ben Kamisar

John Delaney pledges to donate to charity for each new campaign donor

WASHINGTON — Former Maryland Democratic Congressman John Delaney has a novel idea to help him secure enough individual donations to qualify for the first Democratic presidential debate—he's giving money away.

In order to qualify for the debate stage, the Democratic National Committee says a candidate either needs to hit a polling requirement or raise money from 65,000 unique donors with a minimum of 200 unique donors across 20 states. 

So Delaney unveiled a new plan on Thursday—he'll donate $2 dollars to charity for each of the next 100,000 new donors who give to his campaign.

The new donors can pick from 11 charities to direct Delaney's money toward—American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; ARA/Dilley Pro Bono Project; Environmental Defense Fund; Everytown for Gun Safety; Feeding America; The Fisher House Foundation; Human Rights Campaign; NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Planned Parenthood; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; or the Wounded Warrior Project.

Delaney has struggled to gain traction in public polling—he's only finished with at least 1 percent in one poll that qualifies under the DNC's debate qualifications, the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll released last week.

While there's more than enough time for Delaney to qualify for the June debate through the poll criteria, qualifying under both the polling and fundraising criteria could help him in case more than 20 candidate qualify and trigger a tiebreaker

Mark Murray

Where does ‘Beto’ come from?

WASHINGTON — Beyond whether he can maintain his fundraising and crowd-size advantages from 2018, there’s another question for the newest entrant in the 2020 presidential race: Why does Robert Francis O’Rourke go by “Beto”?

Well, it's a  Spanish nickname for someone named Roberto – it’s like Bobby being short for Robert (it's pronounced BET-toe, not BAY-toe). 

It's not unheard of for white Texas kids and adults on the border having Latino nicknames, especially those from more prominent families. 

Perhaps the best example of this is King Ranch heir Stephen “Tio” Kleberg – “Tio” is uncle in Spanish.

The name “Beto” has been an issue before, coming up in O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate race against Ted Cruz, whose own given name is Rafael Edward Cruz.

In 2018, the Dallas Morning News reported that O’Rourke’s late father, Pat O’Rourke, called him Beto because he thought it would help his son if he ever wanted a political future in El Paso. Pat O'Rourke served as a local county commissioner before an unsuccessful congressional bid. 

And, as it turned out, Beto defeated incumbent Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, in the 2012 Democratic primary. 

When told of his father’s motivations, O’Rourke said, per the Dallas Morning News, “I believe it, I believe it,” adding: “He was farsighted in that way. ... He loved this community and imparted his love of this community to me. It’s helped shape who I am today.”

(Mark Murray was born and raised in McAllen, Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border).