What happens if resignations roil Virginia?

A rash of new developments surrounding the three top elected officials in Virginia have only led to more uncertainty about the state's political future. 

At the start of the week, Virginia's woes seemed to begin and end with Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who admitted to appearing in blackface after it was discovered that racist images were included on his medical school yearbook page. Northam has bucked calls to resign and said that while he had previously donned blackface once, he did not appear in the racist yearbook photo. 

But on Wednesday, Herring too admitted to wearing blackface, saying in a statement that he wanted to dress like a popular rapper at a party he attended at the age of 19 in 1980. 

And the sexual assault allegation against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax only looks more serious as time goes on. Earlier this week, Fairfax sought to discredit the allegation by falsely claiming The Washington Post had looked into the accusation and found inconsistencies in her statement. 

Now, the victim released a lengthy statement where she claims that Fairfax "forced" her to perform oral sex on him and that she "cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this force sexual act was consensual."

The whole mess brings up the question about the state's line of succession, if any combination of these politicians resign. 

The state constitution says that if Northam resigns, Fairfax replaces him and can appoint his own lieutenant, who would have to face reelection this November. 

If both Northam and Fairfax resign, then Herring becomes governor and gets to again appoint the lieutenant governor to fill the spot until November. Herring's attorney general position would be filled by a vote of the state assembly. 

If all three resign, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, would assume the position of governor. 

Andrew Yang meets polling threshold for December debate in new poll

WASHINGTON – Businessman Andrew Yang appears to have qualified to participate in the December Democratic debate after reaching 4 percent support in a newly-released Quinnipiac University national poll

His campaign says it has already met the threshold for fundraising for unique donors also necessary for the DNC's criteria for participation in the debate. The final slate of participants won't be official until the Democratic National Committee certifies who has qualified. 

Democratic presidential candidate businessman Andrew Yang speaks during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party on Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas.John Locher / AP file

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is still waiting for one more poll to put her on the debate stage, but only garnered 2 percent in the Quinnipiac poll. 

Gabbard tweeted on Monday that she wouldn’t participate in the December debate regardless of whether she qualifies. 

To participate in the Dec. 19 debate, candidates need to raise money from at least 200,000 unique donors and either hit 4 percent in four national sanctioned polls, or 6 percent in two early-state sanctioned polls. Candidates have until Dec. 12 to reach these thresholds.

As of now six candidates have met the donation and polling thresholds in addition to Yang: former Vice President Joe Biden, Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and California businessman and philanthropist Tom Steyer. 

In the new Quinnipiac poll, Biden and Sanders both increased their support since Quinnipiac’s last national poll in November. Biden sits at 29 percent support at the front of the pack, with Sanders in second place at 17 percent. Warren stayed within a similar range, polling at 15 percent – she was at 14 percent in November’s poll. Buttigieg, however, suffered a steep drop. In November the mayor polled at 16 percent, while now he is at 9 percent support. 

In Pennsylvania, Trump supporters fired up ahead of campaign rally

HERSHEY, Penn. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's rally Tuesday night, supporters weigh in on the latest impeachment news:

Top 2020 candidates release housing affordability plans

WASHINGTON — Health care, income inequality and defeating President Donald Trump have dominated the 2020 Democratic primary. But affordable housing has also become a top issue for the campaigns and the top-polling candidates have all addressed the issue on the campaign trail and the debate stage.

Here’s what some of the major Democratic candidates have proposed on affordable housing — including increasing home ownership in African-American and Latino communities.  

Democratic presidential hopefuls participate in the fifth Democratic primary debate co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta on Nov. 20, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

The centerpiece of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., plan is her American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which she initially introduced last year. It proposes building more than 3 million new housing units for low- to middle-income families, providing assistance to “people hurt by federal housing policy failures through two targeted new programs,” and strengthening existing anti-discrimination laws. The plan also incorporates a strategy to combat rising rent prices.  

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan is arguably the most ambitious. It calls for creating a protection bureau for housing — the National Fair Housing Agency — as well as investing $32 billion over the next five years to help end homelessness. A majority of that money will go to increasing homelessness assistance grants and providing funding to states and localities for homeless management and social services.  

“He sees housing as a human right,” Josh Orton, Sanders’ national policy director and senior adviser, said. 

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg hasn't released his housing plan yet, but his strategy centers on the Community Homestead Act, which is meant to revitalize abandoned properties and convert them into homes for eligible candidates.

Buttigieg’s national press secretary, Chris Meagher, told NBC News that Buttigieg’s plan will focus on “making housing more affordable in general” and that this issue is definitely a “kitchen table topic.”  

This past June at an event for Black Economic Alliance Forum, Buttigieg said, “Let's face the fact that segregation of our neighborhoods didn't just happen. As a matter of fact there are neighborhoods that were integrated 100 years ago that became segregated in the middle of the last century because of federal government policy.”   

Current Democratic frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden has yet to issue a comprehensive affordable housing plan. But his campaign says one will be released in the coming weeks.  

Statistics back the need for this issue to be a focus of the 2020 race. Homeownership has decline and there's a wide homeownership disparity among racial groups. And benefits often exclude low-income households and renters. 

But experts aren’t optimistic that a change in administration will improve the affordable housing crisis. 

“For a candidate to pretend they’re going to [change] is disingenuous,” says Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.  

Rothstein told NBC News that affordable housing solutions have long been touted around Capitol Hill but none have been implemented. He doubts a new president will take actionable steps. 

December Democratic debate stage remains static with new poll

WASHINGTON — Businessman Andrew Yang and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have still not qualified for the December Democratic presidential debate after a new poll released just days before the qualifying deadline found them short of the debate's polling threshold.

Yang polled at 3 percent with Democratic voters and leaners in Monmouth University's new national poll, while Gabbard finished with less than 1 percent. Both candidates need one more poll of at least 4 percent in order to qualify for next week's contest.

To qualify for the Dec. 19 debate in California, candidates need to have raised money from at least 200,000 unique donors (and meet state-by-state requirements) as well as hit a polling threshold of either 4 percent in four sanctioned polls or 6 percent in two sanctioned, early-state polls. 

Yang and Gabbard both say they've hit that donor threshold — which will be independently verified by the Democratic National Committee before they officially set the field. But both candidates are short one poll, and they have until Dec. 12 at 11:59 p.m. to qualify. 

Gabbard has already signaled she won't participate in the debate whether she ends up qualifying or not. 

The new Monmouth poll keeps the roster of likely debate participants static, and while billionaire Michael Bloomberg hit the threshold with 5 percent, he's not soliciting individual donations. That makes it impossible for him to participate in any debate unless the Democratic National Committee removes the unique-donor threshold for a future debate. 

In that poll, former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field with 26 percent, followed by Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders at 21 percent, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 17 percent and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8 percent. 

Buttigieg campaign opens fundraisers to reporters, will release names of McKinsey clients

DES MOINES, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg’s campaign announced Monday that it will now open its fundraisers to the press and release a list of his campaign bundlers. A short while later, McKinsey and Company said in a statement to NBC News that it will allow the South Bend, Indiana, mayor to release the names of his clients from his time working at the worldwide consulting firm.

Pete Buttigieg holds a town hall event in Creston, Iowa, on Nov. 25, 2019.Scott Morgan / Reuters file

The announcements came after days of heightened scrutiny over Buttigieg’s closed door fundraisers and a nondisclosure agreement that has prevented him from naming which clients he worked for while at McKinsey from 2007-2010. 

In a statement, campaign manager Mike Schmuhl wrote, “In a continued commitment to transparency, we are announcing today that our campaign will open fundraisers to reporters, and will release the names of people raising money for our campaign.”

Shortly after that, McKinsey and Co. responded to an NBC News request stating that the firm would allow Buttigieg to disclose who his clients were during his time at the firm. Buttigieg has been publicly calling on the company to release him from the NDA over the last several days. 

A spokesman for the firm wrote in a statement, “After receiving permission from the relevant clients, we have informed Mayor Buttigieg that he may disclose the identity of the clients he served while at McKinsey from 2007 to 2010.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Buttigieg have spent the past few days jostling over the transparency of each other’s campaigns. Buttigieg has called on Warren to release tax returns from her time in the private sector and Warren challenged Buttigieg to open his fundraisers and disclose his McKinsey clients. 

Sunday night, the Warren campaign released a case-by-case breakdown of how the senator was paid for her past legal work. 

Schmuhl says Buttigieg’s fundraiser will be open to the press starting Wednesday and a list of the people who fundraise on his behalf will be released within the week. As for the list of his McKinsey clients, Buttigieg’s senior communications adviser Lis Smith tweeted that the campaign will “be releasing the list soon.”

Bloomberg is spending big on Facebook ads too

WASHINGTON — There's been a whole lot of coverage of billionaire Michael Bloomberg's massive television spending (almost $59 million so far) for his presidential campaign. 

But he's also outpacing the field on Facebook too. 

From Nov. 24 through Dec. 5, Bloomberg's campaign has spent $1.97 million on Facebook, according to the platform's ad tracking website

That's more than fellow billionaire Tom Steyer, who's spent $1.3 million over that same period; Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's spent about $400,000; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who's spent $382,000; and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who's spent $176,000.

President Trump's campaign has spent $667,000 over that period. 

Recent Bloomberg ads include a big push promoting open field organizer jobs, pushing short biographical spots, touting his commitment to climate change, and re-upping clips of his initial campaign ads. 

Elizabeth Warren releases detailed breakdown of income from legal work

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a case-by-case breakdown of how much she was paid for her past legal work Sunday night, totaling just under $2 million over more than 30 years and capping off a days-long back-and-forth over transparency with 2020 rival, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall event in West Des Moines, Iowa on Nov. 25, 2019.Scott Morgan / Reuters file

The Warren campaign broke down the fifty-plus cases by Warren’s role on them, with her ranging from acting as counsel, to working as a mediator. Many of the cases for which she wrote amicus briefs, for instance, were done pro bono.

You can read the full breakdown here.

While the Buttigieg team has been calling on Warren to release her tax returns for this period of time but Warren’s campaign countered Sunday that tax returns wouldn’t get to the income question that Buttigieg’s camp is seeking — those returns don’t itemize the sources of income, for instance. Warren’s team adds that about half of this information was available in public records, but they worked to include more beyond that. Most cases are accounted for in here.

“Any candidate who refuses to provide basic details about his or her own record and refuses to allow voters or the press to understand who is buying access to their time and what they are getting in return will be seen by voters as part of the same business-as-usual politics that voters have consistently rejected,” Warren Communications Director Kristen Orthman said in a statement.

Biden's campaign touts success of 'No Malarkey' Iowa bus tour

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Joe Biden's campaign is touting its successes from the former vice president's “No Malarkey” bus tour through Iowa, saying it helped to solidify support in this key early state where he has seen his poll numbers slip in recent months.

In a congratulatory email obtained by NBC News, Deputy Campaign Manager Pete Kavanaugh told staff that Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden met with more than 3,300 caucus-goers over 19 stops throughout the state. Biden held several meet and greets with voters on the week-long trip, a recently new campaign strategy they believe leverages his strength in one-on-one interactions with voters.

 

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign stop in Emmetsburg, Iowa on Nov 26, 2019.Scott Olson / Getty Images

“In a state that prizes — and rewards — the personal interactions that come with retail politics, there’s simply no one better at it than Joe Biden and this week we saw why,” Kavanaugh writes.

Looking beyond the campaign trail, the campaign also noted that their digital video showing world leaders laughing at President Donald Trump during the NATO meeting became the campaign’s most watched social media video with 12 million views across platforms.

Citing growing enthusiasm, Kavanaugh adds that the campaign is confident that Biden is “uniquely positioned to compete — and meet the delegate thresholds — in all 1,678 precincts across the state."

Iowans NBC News spoke with over the past week were genuinely pleased to see Biden visit mid-sized and rural towns throughout the state that he had not previously visited. However, it’s remains unclear if Biden’s visit will help convince Iowans to support him over the current frontrunner in the Hawkeye State, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Kathleen Delate, an agriculture professor at Iowa State University thanked Biden for making the trip to Ames, Iowa, but suggested that his arrival could be a little too late now that Buttigieg is the “shiny new thing” drawing attention because he has stumped in Iowa more often than Biden.

Biden denied her premise that he has not spent much time in Iowa, saying that he has already traveled over 10,000 miles throughout his 15trips in the state. He said he’ll make up for lost time for jumping into the race later than most candidates, emphasizing his deep belief that winning the state is a recognition of “democracy beginning in Iowa.”

Kavanaugh told staff that there’s still a lot of ground to cover in Iowa, predicting that the race will come down to the final days leading to the February 3rd caucuses.

“There are 58 short days until February 3rd, and a lot of work to do. Let’s go win this thing."

Bennet doubles down on pitch for moderates in New Hampshire

CONCORD, N.H. — A new strategy memo from Sen. Michael Bennet’s, D-Colo., presidential campaign to supporters and donors spells out how his campaign will place a greater emphasis on New Hampshire leading up to the primary in February where the race remains fluid and independent or unaffiliated voters make up the biggest part of the electorate.

The memo, exclusively obtained by NBC News, highlights Bennet’s push for a moderate message in a field crowded with progressive proposals.

“The ideological candidates will likely wash out — as they historically tend to do — when voters truly consider which candidate can realistically win in a general election,” the memo says.

Sen. Michael Bennet speaks during the Democratic presidential debate in Miami on June 27, 2019.Doug Mills / The New York Times via Redux Pictures

“Voters continue to struggle to find a standard-bearer who inspires confidence in their ability to win against Trump and lead the country forward,” the memo adds. “Will the always-sensible voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, with electability front of mind, nominate an electorally untested small town mayor; a senator from a coastal blue state who puts ideology over progress; or a past generation of leadership?”

“I don't think the democrats are going to beat Donald Trump with a bunch of empty promises of free stuff,” Bennet told NBC News after an event in Concord, NH earlier today, singling out Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. as fitting into that criticism.  

Despite currently polling in low single digits in the state, Bennet insists that his positions and what he presents as a candidate will ultimately impress New Hampshire voters. Earlier today, Bennet launched a digital ad to announce that he would be holding 50 New Hampshire town halls in the 10 weeks leading up to the primary as he kicked off a five-day swing in the state — an ambitious schedule that could be modified if Bennet has to attend impeachment hearings in January, his campaign said.

Multiple noteworthy New Hampshire political figures told NBC News that they like Bennet, and his more moderate positions compared to some of the other Democratic candidates, but aren’t quite willing or able to throw their support behind him due to skepticism of his ability to beat out the current four-way split of frontrunners in the state.

“We, of course, recognize our current standing in the race,” the memo adds, “though we are within the margin of error of many candidates who are better known — and, in recent weeks, polls have shown us tied or ahead of half the candidates who were on the recent debate stage. “

“I think there's a lot of skepticism among people in New Hampshire about whether or not the four front runners could actually beat Donald Trump,” Bennet said. “And that's good for me because I think I can beat Donald Trump."

Bennet is not the only candidate looking at New Hampshire as an opportunity to break through. In recent weeks, businessman Andrew Yang has expanded his New Hampshire operation to 30 staffers and eight offices in the state, a 9th opening later this month. Similarly, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is in the midst of a two-week swing through the Granite State, even renting houses to accommodate her and her team during the trip. 

“Iowa remains important to our effort,” the memo said. “We believe our support in Iowa will shift significantly only after Bennet’s position is elevated nationally, so we are focusing our resources accordingly.”

The memo details tangibly how Bennet plans to woo Granite States leading up to voting day, by undertaking aggressive digital and mail programs that target “soft Democrats and undeclared voters” who participate in Democratic primaries to invite them to town halls and further introduce them to Bennet as a candidate.

“My objective is to make sure that I've stayed here until people in New Hampshire started making up their minds and I think that's only beginning right now in New Hampshire,” Bennet said. “I'm just going to keep pounding the truth into this campaign. That's what we have to do.”          

Independent Alaska Senate candidate looks to beat the odds

WASHINGTON — Al Gross is a political neophyte. By trade, he’s a fisherman and orthopedic surgeon who says he once killed a grizzly bear that was sneaking up on him.

Now, he’s trying to take down even bigger game, looking to oust Alaska incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2020, and doing so as an independent. If Gross succeeds, he'll be the fourth senator to be first elected as an independent.  

Dr. Al Gross is running for Senate in Alaska.Dr. Al Gross for U.S. Senate

Since 1913, only 17 senators served while not a member of one of the two major parties. Of those, only 8 were technically "independents." The others have served as members of minor parties — Progressive, Farmer-Labor and Conservative — or have loosely aligned with a major party, styling themselves "Independent Democrats". For example, Washington's Miles Poindexter and Wisconsin’s Robert La Follette, Jr. they both left the both left the Republican Party to joined the more liberal splinter group, the progressives. Eventually both men rejoined the Republican Party.  

Most U.S. senators who have been elected and served as independents were first elected within the two-party structure, but later left their parties over ideological disagreements. 

Take Nebraska’s George Norrisand Oregon’s Wayne Morse. They were both elected as Republicans but were far more left-leaning than their colleagues. Norris served five terms as a Republican in the House and then another four terms as a Republican in the Senate. But he supported President Franklin Delano Rooselvelt's New Deal and won his final term in 1936 as an independent. 

Morse, elected in 1944, often clashed with his party on labor issues and disaffiliated in 1952. For two years he served as an independent but was left without a side in the Senate to sit on, so he once put a folding chair in the chamber's center aisle. In 1955 he became a Democrat and served for another two terms.

Perhaps the most notable recent example of a consequential Senate independent was Vermont Republican Jim Jeffords. After two terms in the Senate, he broke with Republicans in 2001 over the party's lack of support for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. When he chose to be an independent who caucused with Democrats, he gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority in the chamber.

If Gross succeeds in his independent bid, he'll join the ranks of South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maine Sen. Angus King who all won their first senate election as independents. However, Thurmond, a well-known segregationist who had previously ran for president as an independent, won his first senate campaign by waging a write-in campaign in protest of Democratic state officials who didn't hold a primary in a special election. He promised to caucus with Democrats if elected. He later served as both a Democrat and then a Republican. 

Gross' trajectory could mirror Sanders' in his first Senate win in 2006. Sanders won but declined the Democratic nomination, so he only had to run against the Republican candidate. Gross has already won the endorsement of the Alaska Democratic Party and the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

While Gross out-raised Sullivan in the last quarter, he faces an uphill climb in the conservative state. But, if another independent senator can join the Senate's ranks, Alaska may be the place to do it. The state has an unusually high tolerance for unorthodox political arrangements. Alaskans elected an independent governor in 2014, and the state’s lower house is currently controlled by a bipartisan coalition and an independent speaker.

In 2010 the state was the site of only the third successful write-in Senate campaign in history, when Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski eked out a victory in the three-person general election with less than 40 percent of the vote. Six years later, she won another term with under 45 percent in an election that saw four candidates with double-digit vote counts.

If there’s anywhere Al Gross can make history, it might just be there.

Warren releases health records from yearly physical

PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released the results of her latest yearly physical Friday, along with a letter from her longtime doctor stating that the Massachusetts senator is in “excellent health” and “there are no medical conditions or health problems that would keep her from fulfilling the duties of the President of the United States.”

In addition to the letter from Dr. Beverly Woo, Warren’s campaign released results of blood work and routine lab tests. Dr. Woo points out that the 70 year-old's only medical condition is hypothyroidism, common in millions of Americans. The results are from Warren’s latest physical — done earlier this year, in January.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks to her supporters after officially filing to be on the ballot for the New Hampshire state primary at the State House on Nov. 13, 2019 in Concord, N.H.Sarah Rice / Getty Images

While Warren’s clean bill of health may help reassure voters about her transparency and physical condition, it’s also likely to re-ignite calls for her fellow septuagenarian contenders to release their own health-related materials.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, has promised to release his medical records to the public “before there’s a first vote.” Asked back in September about concerns of his acuity, Biden replied: “What the hell concerns?” before asking the reporter who made the inquiry if he wanted to wrestle.

“I mean there’s no reason for me not to release my medical records,” Biden said at the time.

Senator Bernie Sanders, 78, suffered a heart attack in October and has similarly promised to release his medical records at some point. “I want to make it comprehensive,” he told the Associated Press in late October. “The answer is I will, probably by the end of the year.” Sanders’ campaign manager later specified that the Independent Vermont senator would release his medical records by the end of December.

During his 2016 bid, Sanders did release a letter from his doctor that deemed him “in overall very good health.”