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Why Democratic presidential candidates love the Republican tax bill

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The 2017 Republican rewrite of the nation’s tax laws has found an unlikely constituency who just can’t stop talking about it: The 2020 Democratic candidates for president.

While tax plan itself cut hasn’t proven to be broadly popular with most Americans, it is among Democratic contenders. The $1.5 trillion dollar cost of the cuts represents an amount that, if the cuts were rolled back, could pay for plenty.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., offered a new public education plan that he suggested would be funded by rolling back the “Trump tax cut” that he criticizes at nearly every event.

“We say to the top one percent, and large profitable corporations, that under a Sanders administration, you no longer are going to get huge tax breaks,” Sanders said during a campaign swing last week. “In fact you’re going to start paying your fair share of taxes.”

Sanders and his campaign have used similar language in explaining their funding ideas for student debt forgiveness, a federal jobs guarantee and his plan to “rebuild rural America.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has proposed funding two of her key policy proposals by repealing the tax law. The first initiative would inject $315 billion in federal funding into increasing in teacher pay over the next ten years, specifically by making alterations to the estate tax, the exemption for which was doubled in the 2017 rewrite.

Harris has also often touted her intent to sign legislation as president that would provide families making less than $100,000 a year a tax credit of up to $500 a month.

"When people ask me, 'How are you going to pay for it?' I tell you: I’m going to repeal that Trump trillion-dollar tax cut that benefited the top one percent and the biggest corporations in our country," Harris said in Detroit in early May.

Sen. Cory Booker’s, D-N.J., campaign likewise says he would repeal the changes in the estate tax to fund his “baby bonds” plan to give children seed savings accounts at birth – an effort to mitigate the wealth gap.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke also regularly refer to repealing portions of the tax cuts as a way to pay for different priorities.

“Let's roll back the worst of those Trump tax cuts,” O’Rourke told a Des Moines audience earlier this month. “The corporate rate just went from 35 down to 21. Even if we took it only up to 25 or 26%, we would generate hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years that we can invest in people and communities.”

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2020 spotlight will shift to South Carolina this weekend

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina will take center stage in the 2020 race this weekend, as 22 presidential hopefuls shift their focus away from Iowa and New Hampshire to this critical early primary state.

Nearly the entire field of Democratic candidates — aside from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska — are set to appear at House Majority Whip James Clyburn’s, D-S.C., annual fish fry, in what is likely to be the largest gathering of contenders before the first debate.

“This is going to be the biggest fish fry we’ve ever had,” Rep. Clyburn told NBC News, with a laugh. “I don’t know if they’re going to be able to produce enough fish for us.”

The fish fry, an event Rep. Clyburn started nearly three decades ago to say thank you to campaign workers, has become an important stop for Democrats seeking the nomination — offering the opportunity to woo voters, particularly those in the African American community.

While he could be a kingmaker in the state, Clyburn says he isn’t likely to endorse a candidate ahead of the primary, telling NBC News, “It would be a bit selfish for me to go out and please my political inclinations and threaten the foundation on which we are trying to build a new, vibrant South Carolina Democratic Party.”

Rep. Clyburn said he hopes candidates present specifics on how they intend to make the “greatnesses of our society accessible and affordable.”

“That's where we’re coming up short,” he said. “Why don't we connect with these people? … You can’t just can’t say, ‘I'm for you, but I can't come and hang out with you, I can’t come and be a part of the dreams and aspirations that you adhere to.’ That’s a big mistake we make.”

In addition to the fish fry, many of the candidates will also make appearances at the state party’s Blue Palmetto dinner, the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention and a Planned Parenthood Action Fund forum.

Some contenders — including Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.— have also scheduled meet and greets and other weekend events in the state.

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Swing district Democrat Katie Porter announces support for impeachment proceedings

WASHINGTON — Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat from a swing district, announced her support for an impeachment inquiry Monday, providing more fuel for a growing number of Democrats who support at least beginning such proceedings and further pressuring reluctant House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Porter, a first-term Democrat representing Orange County, California, said in a social media post that she came to the decision after “weeks of study, deliberation, and conversations” with voters.

“I didn’t come to Congress to impeach the President,” Porter said. “But when faced with a crisis of this magnitude, I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution. I can’t claim to be committed to rooting out corruption and putting people over politics and then not apply those same principles and standards in all of the work I do.”

While more than 65 Democrats have officially backed impeachment proceedings, the vast majority are from safe, solidly Democratic districts. Porter joins Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey as the only two lawmakers who barely won their election against Republican incumbents in the last election to endorse an impeachment inquiry. Porter won her race with 52 percent of the vote and Malinowski with 51.7 percent. Both are on Republicans' target list of seats to win in 2020.

During a town hall discussion with voters in Tustin, Calif., last month, she said that there had been “a turning point” on the issue of impeachment after special counsel Robert Mueller’s public statement and after the repeated defiance of Congressional subpoenas by the administration.

“The question is not whether a crisis is in our midst, but rather whether we choose to fight against it,” Porter said Monday. “I’ve reached a point of clarity in my decision. Congress must continue the work of Special Counsel Mueller.”

Pelosi has resisted calls to open an impeachment inquiry, saying just last week that the idea is “not even close” to having the support in the Congress to move forward. She maintains the position that it’s best to “investigate, legislate and litigate.” She points to the judiciary successfully ruling in Congress' favor in court challenges.

But if more members in districts like Porter’s come out in support for impeachment, it could be more difficult for Pelosi to resist.

An NBC News/WSJ poll released on Sunday found that a growing number of people are supportive of impeachment proceedings, an increase of 10 points — to 27 percent — in the past month. The number of Democrats who support impeachment hearings has risen from 30 percent to 48 percent.

Democrat Cunningham joins list of Tillis challengers for 2020 Senate race

WASHINGTON — North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis got another Democratic challenger for his 2020 re-election bid Monday when former North Carolina State Senator Cal Cunningham announced his decision to drop his campaign for run for lieutenant governor and seek the Senate seat instead.  

Cunningham, an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran, took direct aim at Tillis in his announcement video, saying the first-term incumbent is “part of the problem” and is standing in the way of progress for North Carolinians. He also said he’ll “go places that Democrats don’t always go” during his campaign. Cunningham ran for Senate once before in 2010, but finished second in the Democratic primary.

Cunningham’s announcement news follows leaked internal polling from President Trump’s 2020 campaign that showed him losing North Carolina to former Vice President Joe Biden by eight points — signaling North Carolina could become a state to watch up and down the ballot in 2020.  Tillis won the Senate seat in 2014 when he defeated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagen by just 1.7 points. And both Trump and Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper won the state in 2016.

Tillis is facing entrepreneur Sandy Smith and businessman Garland Tucker III in the GOP primary. Cunningham joins Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller and state senator Erica Smith in the Democratic race.

Buttigieg on concerns about sexuality and electability: Americans 'will not discriminate'

WASHINGTON — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg downplayed the possibility that voters might be concerned about his sexuality, arguing Sunday that being gay will not hurt his standing with socially conservative voters. 

Some faith leaders have raised concerns about whether Buttigieg's sexuality could hurt his ability to gain traction, particularly among the more socially conservative black voters that make up a significant portion of the Democratic primary vote in the South. 

But during a Sunday interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Buttigieg noted that he won re-election by an overwhelming margin after he came out as gay in 2015 and said his experience combating "exclusion" helps him sympathize with a large swath of voters. 

"We have an opportunity to reach into our own distinctive identities and use them to build bridges. To reach out to people different from us, knowing that anybody who has been on short end of an equation of exclusion has a way to sympathize with people who've had different experiences with exclusion in this country," he said. 

"People, if you give them the chance, will evaluate you based on what you aim to do. What the results are, what the policies are. And I have every confidence that American voters, especially Democratic voters, will not discriminate when the opportunity comes up to choose the right leader for the future."

Watch the full interview from Buttigieg, who is running to be the first gay president in American history, in the video below. 

Harris gets South Carolina grassroots support

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former Richland County councilwoman Bernice Scott and her “Reckoning Crew” of community activists announced Thursday they are backing Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., in the state’s presidential primary.

In 2016, the grassroots group of volunteers — largely comprised of African American women — worked to help propel Hillary Clinton to victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., in the state by going door-to-door, speaking to voters in the most rural parts of South Carolina.

Harris trails both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders in recent polling, and the endorsement could help the senator build momentum and secure the votes of African Americans, the largest group of Democratic primary voters in many southern states.

Scott is the grandmother of Jalisa Washington-Price, the Harris campaign’s South Carolina state director, but Scott said she and her “Reckoning Crew” made the decision after a careful process of elimination.

“Jalisa will tell you, ‘Meemaw’s got her own mind,’” Scott told NBC News. “My group is here to serve. And I saw that in her. I saw her ability to make you feel like you’ve known her all her life. And that’s a comfortable feeling.”

Harris has visited South Carolina seven times since launching her campaign—and has held more events in the state than any other 2020 candidate.

This weekend, four of her fellow contenders — Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke — will all make stops in Charleston to highlight their own economic policies specific to the African American community.

Activist Lawrence Lessig was once a presidential candidate, now he's interviewing them

WASHINGTON — Lawrence Lessig has a twinge of regret about not joining the massive field of candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, so he’s doing the next best thing — starting a podcast to interview and cajole them to support his agenda of political reforms.

The prominent Harvard Law School professor and political activist briefly ran for president in 2016, an experience that he describes as both “the worst of times” and “the coolest thing I've ever done.”

He didn't make the Democratic debate stage last time, but thinks he would this year under new Democratic National Committee rules that prioritize small donors. "I kind of regret that in February when they announced the rules, I wasn't in a position to spin it up and try to run," he said during an interview over iced tea in Washington this week.

So instead, he’s using his new podcast to go deep with candidates on campaign finance reform, voting rights, gerrymandering and more, and to push what he calls "POTUS 1” — a play on the name of a similar bill House Democrats’ passed this year called HR1.

Lessig argues a future Democratic president should prioritize political reform before health care, climate change, immigration, or anything else, “because it makes everything else easier.”

The first episode of his podcast, sponsored by his group Equal Citizens, launches this week with an interview with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., whom Lessig praised as “better than I was” for her “democracy dollars” idea to give every American $600 to donate to candidates they support.

He’s not too impressed yet with the details put forward by the rest of the field, including his former Harvard Law colleague Elizabeth Warren, nor does he have much sympathy for the longshot candidates in the race, even though he once was one.

"I look at some of these candidates and I’m wondering why they’re running,” he said, saying he ran to advance a clear set of policy ideas, while some candidates today seem in it for themselves. “It’s like a vanity show.”

Buttigieg calls for 'Douglass Plan' to boost economic prosperity for African Americans

WASHINGTON — Pete Buttigieg is calling for a “new Marshall Plan” to create economic prosperity for African Americans, as he seeks to address his biggest vulnerability in the 2020 race: his struggle appealing to black voters who play a critical role in the Democratic primary. 

Naming it “the Douglass Plan” after abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, Buttigieg is calling for reducing the number of Americans incarcerated by half. He also says he would triple the number of entrepreneurs from underserved areas and particularly entrepreneurs of color within 10 years, which he says would create 3 million jobs and $660 billion in new wealth for black communities. 

Buttigieg also wants to reform credit scoring in the U.S., increase access to credit, expand the number of successful small businesses in black communities and increase the rate of federal contracts that go to minority and women-owned firms from 5 percent to 25 percent. 

“Replacing racist policies with neutral ones will not be enough to deliver equality. We must actively work to reverse these harm,” Buttigieg says in an op-ed laying out the plan in the Charleston Chronicle. Buttigieg will emphasize the plan during a visit this weekend to Charleston, South Carolina, for the Black Economic Alliance forum. 

The plan, which Buttigieg says should rival in scope the Marshall Plan that invested in Europe after WWII, appears to represent his initial attempt at a proposal on reparations for slavery. 

In recent days, Buttigieg has said he would create a commission to figure out the best way to do reparations, noting that he supports the idea of reparations, but not as a cash check. Rather, he supports a program to address long-term structural inequities that linger from the era of slavery. 

Buttigieg is still struggling mightily to attract minorities to his campaign, and particularly in South Carolina, where a recent poll did not show him registering at all among black voters. His rallies and events remain very racially homogeneous, including a foreign policy speech in Bloomington, Indiana, on Tuesday that was attended mostly by white attendees.

Harris proposes executive actions to help Dreamers

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Wednesday released a new proposal to give Dreamers and other immigrants a pathway to citizenship through targeted executive action if elected president. Harris’ plan would break down the barriers Dreamers face in applying for permanent residency status and reinstate and expand DACA.

Harris’ executive actions would strike down obstacles such as the clause in current immigration law that bars Dreamers from applying for a Green Card if they have “accept[ed] unauthorized employment.” Instead, Harris’ Secretary of Homeland Security will grant work status authorization to DACA recipients retroactively. Another executive action would clarify that being brought to the U.S. as a child means Dreamers were not able to keep lawful status “through no fault of [their] own.”

The campaign estimates these executive actions would ease the pathway to citizenship for more than two million Dreamers.

“Every day in the life of a Dreamer who fears deportation is a long day. Dreamers cannot afford to sit around and wait for Congress to get its act together. Their lives are on the line,” Harris said in a statement. “These young people are just as American as I am, and they deserve a president who will fight for them from day one.”

Harris’ proposal would also go beyond DACA and create a deferred action program for the parents of citizens or green-card holders and other law-abiding immigrants with "strong ties to their communities." The program will be administered on a case-by-case basis but military service, time spent as a resident of the U.S. and whether the individual has family members who benefit from deferred action will be considered. 

Vaughn Hillyard

Bullock web ad highlights reason for his late entry into the presidential race

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock Wednesday released a new digital ad highlighting his decision to not enter the race until after passing legislation to re-authorize Medicaid expansion in the state, a move that will likely help cost him a spot on the first debate stage in just two weeks.

Bullock has struggled to meet the criteria set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for the debate, having entered the race just one month ago, on May 14, due to Montana’s legislative session.

“You won’t see Governor Steve Bullock at the first debate, and I’m the reason why,” says Montana resident Madison Johnson in the web ad, which campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen said will be targeted at Iowa voters online.

In the ad, Johnson says Bullock’s signature on legislation that re-authorized Medicaid expansion in the state “saved her healthcare.”  Bullock signed the legislation on May 9.

In an interview last week, Bullock told NBC News, “If I had to decide between campaigning for 100,000 donors or getting 100,000 people healthcare, that’s the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

“I’m sorry Steve got started too late to make the first debate, but I’m asking for your help to get him on the stage this fall,” Johnson says in the ad.

The May 14 entry left him with less than a month to qualify for this month’s debate, which is hosted by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

According to rules established by the DNC, candidates can qualify either by finishing with at least 1 percent in three sanctioned polls by different organizations or by the same organization of different geographic areas. They can also qualify through a secondary avenue requiring 65,000 unique donors, but a candidates’ polling average is more important since it serves as a tiebreaker and Bullock has struggled in that area during his campaign's first month. The second debate will follow the same requirements as the first.

Democratic presidential candidates to join striking workers in early nominating states

California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg will join striking fast-food workers this week as they seek to support efforts to organize labor and raise the minimum wage to $15.

The three will join events organized by Fight for $15 and a Union, the group started by striking fast-food workers in 2012.

Harris will join striking workers in Las Vegas, while O’Rourke and Buttigieg head to Charleston, South Carolina. Both states hold early presidential nominating contests and their campaigns were eager to note their support.

"I have fought with organized labor throughout my career and I'm proud to stand in solidarity with the working women and men fighting for the wages and benefits they deserve here in Nevada,” Harris said in a statement to NBC News.

Buttigieg spokesperson Chris Meagher pointed to a campaign video the candidate made endorsing the movement, as well as the fact the campaign is paying its interns $15 per hour.

And the O’Rourke campaign said the candidate is "proud to stand with South Carolina's workers" and that "we need to confront that inequality today by ensuring that every workplace is free of sexual harassment and violence and that every worker can earn enough to support themselves and their families."

The trio is not the first group of Democratic presidential candidates to hit the picket lines with striking workers — New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Sen. Bernie Sanders have all done so in recent weeks. And New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called into a strike line. 

Virtually all of the Democratic presidential candidates support a minimum wage hike to $15. But Service Employees International Union International President Mary Kay Henry told NBC that no one candidate has separated themselves from the pack on labor issues in her view because most haven't fleshed out specific plans on how they'll support workers' rights.

Terrence Wise, a fast-food worker and organizer from Kansas City, Mo., said that the effort was an important chance for workers to keep the pressure up on politicians to stay committed to their issues.

“I’ve worked two, three jobs, and I’ve been homeless while I’ve had a job. It doesn’t make sense to live like that in the richest nation on Earth,” he said.

“I don’t think elected leaders on either side of the aisle are there yet, but we have to help them get there.”