Some Democrats aren't over 2016

The calendar may read 2019, but for some, it's still 2016. 

Some professional Democrats are harboring bad blood related to the party's 2016 primary, a dynamic that's become clear in the early days surrounding Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential launch. 

It's unclear how much resentment rank-and-file Democratic voters still feel after the tough primary, which left some Sanders supporters feeling like the race was rigged against them and Hillary Clinton supporters frustrated that Sanders' orbit didn't fall faster in line behind her. 

But the fissures that do still exist are clear in recent stories that call into question whether Sanders can put the past behind him and capture the party's 2020 presidential nomination, a question First Read identified last week as central to Sanders' bid.

The dynamic is most clear in Politico's new story on Sanders' post-primary travel in support of Clinton, the premise of which hinges on Sanders' use of a "a carbon-spewing private jet" amid his calls to combat global warming and the fossil fuel industry. 

Zac Petkanas, Clinton's former rapid response director, panned Sanders in a particularly blunt quote

"I’m not shocked that while thousands of volunteers braved the heat and cold to knock on doors until their fingers bled in a desperate effort to stop Donald Trump, his Royal Majesty King Bernie Sanders would only deign to leave his plush D.C. office or his brand new second home on the lake if he was flown around on a cushy private jet like a billionaire master of the universe," he told the outlet. 

Michael Briggs, a spokesman on Sanders' 2016 presidential bid, responded by panning Clinton and her staff as "total ingrates." 

"You can see why she’s one of the most disliked politicians in America. She’s not nice. Her people are not nice...[Sanders] busted his tail to fly all over the country to talk about why it made sense to elect Hillary Clinton and the thanks that [we] get is this kind of petty stupid sniping a couple years after the fact," he said. 

It's not the only reincrimination from 2016 in recent days—New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the possible presidential candidate who served as Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign manager back in 2000, panned Clinton in Iowa for her "focus on Trump" over "kitchen-table issues." And he added that Clinton's camp didn't make a "true effort" to unify the party after the primary, according to the New York Post

And Sanders recently addressed criticism of his surrogates during the 2016 race, sending a new letter obtained by HuffPost that says he opposes "bullying and harassment" and warns surrogates against talking about "past grievances." 

Again, it's unclear how prevalent feelings of resentment are among Democratic primary voters that will actually decide the nomination. But the constant reminders of the 2016 election certainly won't help a party that wants to put that contest in the rear-view mirror, and could complicate the terrain for Sanders in the process.

Trump campaign demands Sessions stop tying his Senate campaign to the president

WASHINGTON – President Trump’s re-election campaign sent a scathing letter to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, calling him “delusional” for tying himself to the president in his current Senate campaign and demanding it stop circulating any mailers that imply Trump supports his bid. 

The Trump campaign specifically called out Sessions’ team for an advertisement that mentioned the president by name 22 times and “even makes the delusional assertion that you are President ‘Trump’s #1 Supporter.’”

“We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump’s loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the President supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary run-off election. Nothing could be further from the truth,” wrote Trump campaign chief operating officer Michael Glassner in a letter obtained by NBC News. 

The New York Times first reported on the letter. 

Trump endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, Sessions’ primary opponent, last month after the two men advanced to a runoff. Aides close to the president had tried to get him to hold off on slamming Sessions until after the primary, which Trump did, until the morning after.

The president famously told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that the single “biggest mistake” of his administration was appointing Sessions as attorney general and wishes he would have made that decision differently. 

Sessions, for his part, has repeatedly complimented Trump in this race, tweeting adoring videos and reminding voters that he was the first senate backer of then-candidate Trump back in 2016.

 The Trump campaign letter to Sessions includes text from the president’s tweets in mid-March endorsing Tuberville, with bolded emphasis added to underscore the point.

 “We want to be absolutely clear about it: President Trump and the Trump Campaign unambiguously endorse Tommy Tuberville,” the letter included, with a stark warning at the end. “We demand that you and your campaign immediately stop circulating mailers—or any other similar communication—that wrongly suggest otherwise.”

Session’s team did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment, but spokeswoman Gail Glitcho told the New York Times that "Alabamans don't like to be told what to do," pointing to the 2017 Alabama special election where Trump's preferred candidates lost the GOP primary and the general election. She went onto argue that Sessions is "indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda." 

The Alabama Senate race has now been postponed until July 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tweet the Press talks with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres

WASHINGTON — In case you missed today's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres about the latest on coronavirus. 

The wide-ranging discussion touched on what to expect across the country, how the virus is affecting young people, whether Americans should wear masks and what to expect about the treatments being explored. 

Click on the link here to read the full conversation on Twitter

With Biden or Sanders at the top of the ticket, Democrats look down-ballot for diversity

WASHINGTON — With the party's presidential race having been whittled down from a historically diverse field to two white men, Democrats are pointing to at least one bright spot when it comes to diversity among their candidates in 2020: state legislative elections.

According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which aims to elect Democratic state legislators nationwide, there are over twice as many Democratic women serving as state delegates or senators compared to their Republican counterparts — 1,455 versus 670 respectively. And in some key battleground states, the party has recruited more diverse candidates considering race and sexual identity than the GOP.

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn shakes hands with Gov. Ralph Northam before his State of the Commonwealth address at the Virginia State Capitol on Jan. 8, 2020 in Richmond, Va.Zach Gibson / Getty Images file

DLCC president, Jessica Post, told NBC News in a recent phone interview that diversity matters because it energizes the Democratic base and leads to victories.

“Diversity is our winning strategy,” she said. “We’ve recruited great communities thinking about the voices that need to be represented.”

The efforts to attract a diverse field of candidates is especially crucial in states where election outcomes will affect congressional redistricting. For example, the DLCC reports that Democrats are running eight LGBTQ+ candidates for the Texas state House versus none for Republicans. There are 20 Democratic candidates of color seeking seats in the North Carolina state Senate compared to Republicans’ six. For the state House there, 40 Democratic minority candidates are running against the GOP’s single candidate of color.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) — the DLCC’s counterpart — did not respond to NBC News’ request to confirm these numbers but answered several other questions last week, saying they are supporting candidates of various backgrounds in pivotal states.

The RSLC reports that over fifty Republican women are running for Pennsylvania's state legislature while in Florida, there are about 30 GOP minority candidates. In Georgia, almost 40 Republican women along with four Asian-American and two African-American candidates are seeking state seats, according to the GOP committee. 

RSLC communications director, Stami Williams, said these examples reflect the GOP’s “great success” in recruiting diverse candidates and noted that Democrats flipped less than half the amount of legislative seats during Trump’s first three years than Republicans did in the same period under President Obama. 

The DLCC's Post argues that the GOP views legislative diversity as a mere “add-on” to their agenda, saying that the party has “fallen down on the job.”

Yet despite growing diversity down-ballot, Democrats face criticism for lacking diversity at the party’s upper echelons after the most minority and female-heavy field narrowed down to two older, heterosexual, white men — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

For Post, the boost in state-level Democratic diversity isn’t purely a reaction to the party’s dilemma at the top. She believes that Trump and his party have been “repellent to women and people of color,” and have motivated diverse candidates to run for state office.

The DLCC president said that she’s encouraged by Biden’s commitment to choose a female running mate. 

Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang arrive onstage for the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia on November 20, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP - Getty Images

“We would’ve loved to see many of these diverse candidates stay longer in the presidential field,” Post stated. “I do think it’s notable that we have a direct way to point to our state legislative pipeline of diversity right now with Stacey Abrams [former Georgia state minority leader] potentially being a vice presidential nominee.” 

Director of the Center for American Women and Politics, Debbie Walsh, told NBC News last week that an “almost primal” desperation to beat Trump this election drove Democratic primary voters to make a “calculated choice” to back candidates they deemed electable — not personally preferable.

These voters, Walsh emphasized, assumed that nontraditional presidential candidates couldn’t defeat Trump. She pointed to the spike in down-ticket diversity as evidence that less conventional candidates can win. 

State legislative primaries began in March and will continue through September. The results of the November general elections will significantly impact the 2021 congressional redistricting cycle. 

Biden leads Sanders in Wisconsin primary poll

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by over 30 points in Wisconsin, according to the latest Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday. Per this poll, Biden garnered 65 percent support among likely Democratic voters versus Sanders' 32 percent support.

Wisconsin's primary, which is still scheduled to take place on April 7 despite the coronavirus pandemic, is one of the only contests still taking place in April — and it could be a stunning defeat for Sanders. In 2016, Sanders won the Wisconsin primary by 14 points. On Wednesday, Sanders called for the Wisconsin primary to be postponed, have early voting extended and encouraged people to vote by mail. 

Despite lagging poll numbers, Sanders has said he will continue to assess his campaign and stay in the race. On Wednesday he said on MSNBC, "We're taking a hard look at our campaign. We do have a narrow road, a path to victory. It's going to be a tough fight." 

Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters file

Biden has since said that there isn't a need for more Democratic debates, but that he will not call for Sanders to exit the race. 

The new poll also shows Biden just narrowly pushing ahead of President Trump in a general election match-up, where Sanders lags slightly behind Trump. Forty-eight percent of registered voters support Biden in a general election, with 45 percent supporting the president — however that falls within the poll's 4.2-point margin of error. The poll's February tracker showed the president and Biden tied in the state. 

Wisconsin could become a must-win state for both the president and the eventual Democratic nominee. President Trump was the first Republican nominee to win Wisconsin since former President Ronald Reagan in 1984. And much of Biden's campaign has been focused on restoring the so-called "Blue Wall" in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 

Laid off Bloomberg staffers docked taxes for campaign phones, computers

WASHINGTON — Laid off campaign staffers to Michael Bloomberg's campaign who received their final paychecks on Tuesday were docked hundreds of dollars to cover taxes on their campaign-issued cellphone and laptop, three former Bloomberg campaign staffers told NBC News.

The deductions came as a lawsuit against the Bloomberg campaign, alleging that the campaign fraudulently promised jobs through November, has grown from one plaintiff to more than 50. The plaintiffs are seeking to get the case certified as a class action in seven states, a move that could raise the number of claimants to over a thousand.  

Former staffers told NBC News that their paychecks were docked more than $400. The Bloomberg campaign had touted how they had lured top talent to the campaign with new iPhone 11s and MacBooks, and offered to let staff keep them when they were let go. A campaign spokesperson said staffers were told during the off-boarding process that they’d pay taxes on those items, but several former staffers said they did not realize that it would be automatically deducted from their remaining paychecks.

Mike Bloomberg greets Jewish voters at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Aventura, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2020.Andrew Uloza / AP file

Sally Abrahamson, an attorney for the former staffers suing the campaign, said her firm, Outten & Golden, is now investigating the campaign’s deduction of “purported taxes on cell phones and laptops.”

“It doesn't sound right. How can workers be expected to pay taxes on something they didn't want?” Abrahamson told NBC News. “The law certainly doesn't allow an employer to pay wages with anything but money.”

Earlier this month, Bloomberg abandoned his initiative to form an independent super PAC to absorb his presidential campaign and instead transferred $18 million to the Democratic National Committee. He laid off his staff of more than 2,400 people in that process and those staff members were invited to enter a competitive hiring process for a job at the DNC. Laid off staff will lose their health insurance at the end of April amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The lawsuit, filed by a former field organizer, alleges that Bloomberg’s campaign promised potential hires they’d have jobs through November regardless of who won the nomination. Many of the 50 additional plaintiffs who joined the lawsuit in an amended complaint filed in federal court Monday said they left other lucrative jobs and relocated across the country based on the campaign’s assurances.

A Bloomberg campaign spokesperson, responding to both the docked paychecks and the expanded lawsuit, re-issued the campaign's statement from earlier in March. 

“This campaign paid its staff wages and benefits that were much more generous than any other campaign this year,” the spokesperson said. “Staff worked 39 days on average, but they were also given several weeks of severance and healthcare  through March, something no other campaign did this year.”

Democratic groups significantly outspending GOP groups on airwaves since coronavirus crackdown

WASHINGTON — Democratic candidates and aligned groups are outspending their Republican counterparts in the two weeks since President Trump announced guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. 

There's been $23.5 million spent on political advertising from March 16 (the day the administration announced its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines) through Tuesday, with Democrats making up 69 percent of that ($16.2 million), Republicans making up 29 percent of that ($6.7 million), and independent groups filling in that last 2 percent. 

All of these figures are from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. 

Four of the top five biggest spenders over this period were Democrats:

  • Senate Majority PAC, the group aligned with Senate Democrats, has spent $3 million
  • Priorities USA Action, which is backing former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid, has spent $2.8 million
  • One Nation, the non-profit aligned with Republican efforts particularly in the Senate, has spent $1.7 million
  • American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic-aligned group that plays up and down the ballot, has spent $1.3 million
  • And Unite the Country, the pro-Biden super PAC, has spent $741,000

The ad backed by the most spending in that window was from Priorities USA, which is running an ad that's criticizing Trump's response to the coronavirus outbreak. It's spent $1.2 million to run that spot so far. 

The ad with the second-most money behind it is from Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, attacking Biden on Social Security and Medicare. Although both Biden and Sanders have wound down their ad spending to a virtual halt recently, Sanders spent $620,000 to run the ad over the time period. Virtually all of that came in the days surrounding the March 17 primaries, the ad has barely run since. 

The Republican-aligned ad with the most spending behind it in recent weeks has been from One Nation, a spot that plays up Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst's work on prescription drugs. That spot has had $333,000 behind it since March 16. 

During this time period, the top markets were the Portland-Aurburn market in Maine, Phoenix, and two markets in Florida covering Orlando and Tampa.

Maine is home to GOP Sen. Susan Collins' re-election race; Arizona held its presidential primary on March 17 and has a competitive Senate race; and Florida also held its presidential primary on March 17.

Physician embraces his expertise while campaigning in the coronavirus era

WASHINGTON — As candidates across the country adjust to campaigning in the age of coronavirus, Dr. Cameron Webb sees an opportunity and is embracing his experiences as a physician and public health expert on the trail. 

“It’s necessary to have the range of professional backgrounds represented in our legislature,” Webb told NBC News in a recent phone interview. “I think the expertise that I have is really useful in a moment like this.” 

Dr. Cameron Webb.Dr. Cameron Webb for Congress

Webb hopes to be the first Democrat to fill Virginia’s fifth congressional seat since 2008, a GOP-held district the size of New Jersey that includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia. A practicing physician and a public health sciences director at the University of Virginia’s medical school, he has made expanding affordable health care a major focus of his career and campaign. 

“My job is to walk into rooms and ask people where it hurts,” Webb explained. “When you have a district that’s this diverse, that’s this broad, you have to be a really skilled listener in order to meet everybody’s needs.” 

So far, the candidate thinks this strategy of listening to voters like he does with patients has been effective, and that his background allows him and his campaign to “model the leadership” required during the coronavirus crisis. 

Webb, who serves on Virginia’s Medicaid board, remarked that he’s grateful for his state’s 2019 Medicaid expansion as the pandemic takes a toll on patients and businesses.

The candidate previously worked under both Presidents Obama and Trump as a White House Fellow serving on the health care team and a drug pricing task force. When speaking to NBC News, he compared Obama’s track record on public health to Trump’s, commenting that there are “very clear differences'' in how this pandemic would play out under the former president.

Although Webb stressed that he won’t use the novel coronavirus as political leverage, he argued that the crisis reveals “other fault lines” in society and called out the American health care system for failing people. 

“We’re seeing the lack of access to health care through the lens of this virus,” he said. 

Republican candidate for Virginia governor, Denver Riggleman, speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, Jan. 31, 2017.Steve Helber / AP

The fifth district is widely-considered a likely Republican seat and includes counties that pivoted from pro-Obama to pro-Trump but Webb doesn’t view the race as an “uphill battle.” The physician must beat out four other candidates in the Democratic primary before facing expected GOP competitor, Rep. Denver Riggleman, who won the district by almost seven percentage points in 2018. 

The Riggleman campaign did not respond to a request for comment but the congressman’s Virginia distillery, Silverback, recently began producing hand sanitizer, which it’s offering for free to first responders and health care workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the UVA Center for Politics, told NBC News last week that Republicans are favored to win the district but that it’s competitive enough to elect a Democrat “under the right circumstances." He noted that Webb may “fit the moment.”

The Democratic primary is currently scheduled for June 9 and the district is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of seats it aims to flip from red to blue.

Sanders: 'There is a path' to the nomination

READINGTON, N.J. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been coy as of late about the future of his presidential campaign, told "Late Night" host Seth Myers on Monday he believes “there is a path” for him to win the Democratic nomination.

Sanders currently trails former Vice President Joe Biden by 312 delegates according to NBC News' delegate tracker, and most of the Democratic primary races that occur in April have been pushed to later this Spring or Summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. But on Monday, Sanders touted his grassroots support which helped him earned first place finishes in a number of the early voting states, including delegate-rich California. 

"There is a path. It is admittedly a narrow path," Sanders said. 

He added, "We have a strong grassroots movement who believe that we have got to stay in, in order to continue the fight to make the world know that we need Medicare for All, that we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, that we need paid family and medical leave,” Sanders said. 

But Sanders did repeat his promise that he would support Biden if he himself is not the nominee.

“We’re seeing just how dangerous [President Trump] is with all of the misinformation that he is providing during this Coronavirus pandemic,” Sanders said, “So, yes, we have got to defeat Trump.”

Earlier this month when asked about the future of his campaign, Sanders said he was “focused” on coronavirus legislation, and heatedly told reporters that that he was not interested in answering campaign questions.

“I'm dealing with a f****** global crisis. You know? We're dealing with it and you're asking me these questions," Sanders told reporters earlier this month. 

After suffering a series of losses in primary states in March, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told reporters the senator was “going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign" from Burlington, Vt. which is where Sanders has been when he was not voting in the Senate. 

Republican, Democratic super PACs place initial ad buys in fight for Senate

WASHINGTON — Key Republican and Democratic super PACs have announced big spending plans in the fight for the Senate majority. 

Both the Senate Majority PAC and the Senate Leadership Fund, groups aligned with top Democratic and Republican leaders respectively, have announced their first round of television advertising investments in recent days. The groups are focusing on five of the same states — Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina — with Senate Leadership Fund spending in Kentucky as well. 

SLF is booking $67.1 million, the group announced in a press release last week. And SMP is booking $69.2 million, it said in a press release Monday. 

Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 15, 2019.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

North Carolina is the beneficiary of the most early ad booking, with the Democratic SMP announcing plans to reserve $25.6 million there and the Republican SLF planning to book $21.8 million. There, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis will take on Democratic former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.

An NBC News/Marist University poll taken in late February of that race showed Cunningham up 5 points on Tillis among registered voters, 48 percent to 43 percent, within the margin of error. That poll took place just before the state's primary. 

The race receiving the next-most early booking dollars is Iowa, where Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is defending her seat against whichever Democrat wins the primary currently scheduled for June 2.

Ernst's favorability rating fell to 47 percent among Iowa adults in the March Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, but 41 percent of likely voters said they'd definitely vote to re-elect Ernst compared to 31 percent who said they'd definitely vote for someone else. 

Close behind in that early-spending figure is Arizona, where SMP is booking $15.7 million and SLF is booking $9.2 million through an affiliate group called Defend Arizona. There, Republican Sen. Martha McSally is looking to win the rest of the term vacated by the death of the late Republican Sen. John McCain.

While McSally lost the state's 2018 Senate race, she was appointed to fill McCain's seat after his death. A recent Monmouth University poll had Kelly up 6 points over McSally among registered voters, within the margin of error. 

Then there's Maine, which has already been home to a significant bevy of television ad spending by other outside groups. SMP is booking $9.6 million there while SLF is booking $7.2 million ahead as Republican Sen. Susan Collins seeks to defend her seat. The top Democrat in that race is state House Speaker Sarah Gideon, but Betsy Sweet, the former director of the Maine Women's Lobby, is also running. 

The groups are also going toe-to-toe in Colorado, where Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is expected to take on former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. The Democratic SMP plans to book $5.2 million there, with the Republican SLF booking $5.5 million. 

And SLF is also putting $10.8 million in early television spending into Kentucky through another affiliated group, Keep Kentucky Great. There, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is running for reelection and will likely face off against Marine veteran Amy McGrath. 

These totals don't include what's expected to be a large digital presence by both groups, and the investments are likely to change as it gets closer to election day, with groups moving money around or injecting more money into competitive races. 

NYC Democratic House candidate announces positive COVID-19 test

WASHINGTON — New York City Democratic House candidate Suraj Patel has tested positive for COVID-19, he confirmed in a new statement Monday. 

Patel, one of the candidates featured in a recent MTP Blog story about how the new social distancing guidelines and the threat of coronavirus has fundamentally upended House campaigns, disclosed his positive test in a new statement posted on social media and on the blogging platform Medium

Suraj PatelSuraj Patel for Congress

He said he began developing symptoms earlier this month — which he described as "troubling tightness in my chest and difficulty breathing followed by a regular fever of 102 degrees. Patel lives with two doctors, one of whom is his brother, which he said underscored the need for him to test to see if had COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, so that his roommates would know whether they were at risk. 

Patel said that ultimately, he and his two housemates all tested positive. But he's now "fully recovered" and "asymptomatic."

"New Yorkers and Americans at large are stepping up in a tremendous unified way. We know how important it is to our most vulnerable populations that we slow the growth of this COVID epidemic. But as this becomes less abstract and more personal — when people’s loved ones start to show symptoms — human nature is such that we are going to want certainty and safety," Patel wrote, before calling for universal COVID testing. 

"The only proven way to slow and eventually stop this pandemic is to have an accurate picture of who has had the disease, who currently has it, and who is still at risk. Social distancing and the strong leadership of Governor Cuomo and others is buying us vital time, but the question is what is our federal government doing with the time that the sacrifices of so many Americans are buying them?" he wrote. 

"If we fail to universally test, we face an indefinite amount of time in social distancing, only to see new cases of the virus arise when we ultimately return to normal life."

Patel is running in the Democratic primary against longtime Rep. Carolyn Maloney. 

Texas Republicans back Lt. Governor on controversial coronavirus comments

HOUSTON — Republican leaders in Texas are defending Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's controversial comments on coronavirus as illustrative of his love of country, even as others see those comments as reckless amid a national crisis. 

Patrick, a Republican and popular former conservative radio host, drew headlines last week when he said he supported President Trump’s call to restart the U.S. economy as quickly as possible despite the ongoing spread of the virus.

The virus has proven most deadly to older people and those with underlying conditions, which means many of those being treated or hospitalized are elderly. Texas has almost 3,000 cases of Covid-19, the illness produced by the coronavirus, according to NBC News. Some 47 people have died.

Emphasizing the need to “get back to work,” Patrick told Fox News host Tucker Carlson, “those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”

Patrick, who turns 70 this week, added, “No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?' And if that is the exchange, I'm all in.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks in McAllen, Texas, on Jan. 10, 2019.Sergio Flores / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Patrick’s comments sparked backlash online, spurring hashtags including, #NotDyingforWallStreet and #TexasDeservesBetter. But in Texas, prominent Republicans said Patrick has a point.

“He's really telling a story which is, you know, he wants to make sure there's an American economy for people to come home to,” Houston area state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, 61, told NBC News. “That’s a big worry. The virus is a big worry, but then the next worry is, ‘do I have a job.’”

McKinney-area state Sen. Angela Paxton, 57, told NBC News: “We want to protect people and keep them healthy. Everyone is going to agree on that. How do we do it, that's where there's differences.”

She added, “But I think on the other hand, there's no one that is going to say, it doesn't matter if we destroy our economy.”

The mayor of Fort Worth, Betsy Price, a 70-year old grandmother of six, said that while the economy is a concern so is respect for the value of life. 

“My children and my grandchildren are certainly not ready for their Tootsie to go anywhere or to put myself at risk,” Price said.

“I don't know what talent he would sacrifice? Is it young talent? Is it the experience in seniors? Or where is it?“ Price said. “I just can’t quite get a handle around that.”

Other Texas GOP leaders suggested Patrick had been talking about a sacrifice he would be willing to make — not asking the rest of the country to do so.

“He was talking about himself,” Denton-area state Sen. Pat Fallon, 52, said. “He perfectly has every right to say, ‘I love this country so much that I would sacrifice, if I had to, my own well-being, to ensure the prosperity and opportunity that I had that my kids and grandkids could have.' And I think it’s very noble.”

Not everyone is convinced, particularly Republicans who have been critical of Trump's pull on their party. 

“He’s a public official, he knows what he says has policy implications and it's absurd to think that he just meant himself,” said Rick Tyler, a former aide to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and MSNBC political analyst who has frequently criticized President Trump. 

John Weaver, a Texan and longtime Republican political strategist who has since founded a group that's aimed at defeating Trump in November, argues Patrick wouldn’t actually be among the most vulnerable if restrictions were lifted. Texans who live along the US-Mexico border or lack access to adequate care, Weaver said, would be the ones who suffer.

“He's talking about those people in the valley, who don't have health insurance because they blocked the expansion of healthcare in this state. He's talking about people in parts of Houston where, because of density and lack of healthcare, they're more at risk.” Weaver said. “He's not talking about himself.”

“There's no real public policy out there where people are going to say, ‘Fine, we'll get the economy moving again at the expense of 2 percent of the population,’” Weaver added.

In a statement released the day after the Fox News interview, Patrick seemed to reframe his message away from senior citizens potentially sacrificing their lives.

“When you close the doors of every business in America, you cannot help but destroy the economy and with it, the opportunity for the next generation to live the American dream,” the statement said.