Tonight's outcome will reverberate beyond PA's 18th district

The race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone has occasionally been described as a high-dollar contest for a district that's "going extinct." That's partly accurate: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to strike down the current GOP-drawn congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander mean that all 18 districts will be newly configured in November. But the Republican outside groups attempting to rescue Saccone, including the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, wouldn't have spent millions on TV ads attacking Lamb if the outcome didn't have big implications for the fall.

First, the race's outcome will have big local repercussions. If Lamb wins tonight, he would likely run for re-election in the new 17th District, a seat that takes in much more of his suburban Allegheny County base than the current 18th District and is much more favorable to Democrats. He might even be the favorite there against GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus in the fall, assuming both Lamb and Rothfus choose to run in the district where they live. If Saccone wins, he would have the inside track to win reelection in the new 14th District, which takes in much of the current 18th District but is roughly three points more Republican. Regardless of who wins, both Lamb and Saccone will only have a week to plot their next moves: Pennsylvania's filing deadline for the November elections is March 20.

Second, tonight's outcome will reverberate nationally. If Lamb wins, the election would tell Republicans that even districts that voted for President Trump by 20 points may not be safe this fall. It could also indicate that the tax cut bill - a key element of GOP groups' messaging throughout February on the Pittsburgh airwaves - failed to motivate Trump supporters to get behind Saccone sufficiently, a development that could cause several more incumbent Republicans to contemplate retirement. Even if Saccone wins, he's unlikely to do so by nearly the same margin as Trump did in the district. And that would signal it's become possible for Democrats to make inroads in GOP districts by running to their party's right on issues like guns, trade and energy - just like Lamb did.

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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). 

How immigrants are viewed in America compared to other countries

WASHINGTON — Americans are just as likely as those in other nations to say that immigrants make their country stronger, but they're also notably more politically polarized over the merits of immigrants, according to a new  survey from the Pew Research Center.

The survey of 18 countries — which together host half of the world’s migrants — found that 59 percent of Americans overall agree with the statement that immigrants made the country stronger — compared to 68 percent of Canadians, 64 percent of Australians, and 62 percent of those in the U.K.  

The countries where immigrants are viewed less positively include South Africa (where 62 percent call immigrants a “burden”), Israel (where 60 percent say the same) and Russia (61 percent).

But out of those 18 nations, the United States recorded the highest differential between positive feelings about immigrants on the political right and the political left.

More than eight-in-ten Americans on the left side of the spectrum — 83 percent — view immigrants as a strength, while just 37 percent of those on the political right say the same. That’s a difference of 46 percentage points between the two sides.

France and the Netherlands are the next most politically polarized, with 76 percent of those on the left but just 39 percent of those on the right calling immigrants a source of strength. That’s a difference of 37 percentage points.

In the United Kingdom, which is currently in the throes of a painful Brexit debate fueled in part by a divide over migrant policy, 72 percent of those on the political left and 52 percent of those on the right say that immigrants make the country stronger.



Ben Kamisar

Beto O'Rourke visits Iowa coffee shop in first stop as presidential candidate

WASHINGTON — Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke landed in Iowa hours after he launched his presidential race, making his first trip to the key caucus state in his life, let alone as a presidential candidate. 

Watch the video below to see O'Rourke's appearance at a Keokuk coffee shop. 


Ben Kamisar

Warren on capitalism: I believe in markets but 'markets without rules are theft'

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren defended her economic outlook during a Wednesday morning conversation with "Morning Joe," arguing that while markets have been a force for good that "markets without rules are theft." 

The presidential hopeful has long called for increased economic regulations, helping to spearhead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But she's distanced herself from the "Democratic socialist" label that other progressives, including Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, wear proudly. 

Warren told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday that the development of the technology sector is proof of the "benefits that markets can produce." But pointing to the financial crisis, she argued that there have to be strong guard rails. 

"Markets without rules are theft. And there's got to be rules and there's got to be a cop on the beat," she said.

The arguments are indicative of Warren's push to cast her presidential bid as fighting back against the elites that she says have tilted the system against middle-class Americans, a frame that has prompted Republicans to try to cast her as a socialist. 

Watch her interview below. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 rundown: The buzziest names from 2018 are back

WASHINGTON — Last cycle's buzziest Democratic candidates are back in the conversation this week, first with former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's repeated flirtations with a presidential bid and now with former Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams jumping into the fray. 

During a conversation at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Abrams said that a 2020 presidential bid is "definitely on the table." 

Abrams rose onto the national scene last cycle when she ran a tight race for governor against the eventual winner, Brian Kemp. 

Read more about her potential candidacy in this article by NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald here. And read on for more news from the 2020 trail. 

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden teased a presidential bid of his own on Tuesday when he spoke to an influential firefighters union that's long been an ally. "Be careful what you wish for," he joked with a crowd chanting "Run, Joe, Run." 
  • Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan heads to New Hampshire as he continues to keep the door ever-so-slightly open on challenging President Trump in a primary. 
  • California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell told "MTPDaily" on Monday that he's "getting close" to a presidential bid and will decide by the "end of the month." 
  • California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris is proposing a new bill that would require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing, a bill responding to a recent NBC News investigation into carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in public housing.