First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
It’s time for Joe Biden to make up his mind
With the first Democratic presidential debate tomorrow and with Joe Biden finishing up his long weekend in his home state of Delaware (he’s expected back in DC on Tuesday), time is running out for the vice president to make up his mind about the 2016 race. More than 10 weeks have passed since that Maureen Dowd column floated the possibility of a Biden run, but he continues to run -- or stand -- in place. Now, it’s very likely this was decision weekend for Biden, and either we’ll hear a firm “no” from him in the next 48 to 72 hours, or we’ll see the building blocks of an active campaign (website, staff hires). But what is unsustainable is continued inaction, because it won’t be helping his party (if the Democratic nominee needs to raise $1 billion to compete in the general election in this Super PAC Era, Biden still hasn’t raised a cent); it won’t be helping Hillary Clinton (see the latest CBS poll, which shows her leading Bernie Sanders by 24 points without Biden, but by a smaller amount -- 19 points -- with him included in the contest); and despite experiencing his highest poll numbers during this limbo period, it won’t be helping Biden himself, either (if you want to compete in the early states, build an organization to win, and simply meet the upcoming filing deadlines, you’ve got to jump in ASAP).
If he’s a go, he’s got to hop on Air Force Two -- ASAP
The 2016 train took off months ago. If Biden wants to catch up to his fellow Democrats, he’s got to hop on Air Force Two now. And if he’s not ready to make that move, he owes it to his party and its presidential frontrunner to end the limbo.
Sanders, O’Malley draw contrasts with Clinton ahead of Tuesday night’s debate
With that debate coming up tomorrow, the Democratic candidates who have been running for months -- Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley -- drew contrasts with Clinton over the weekend. “People will have to contrast my consistency and my willingness to stand up to Wall Street and corporations, big corporations, with the secretary,” Sanders said of Clinton on “Meet the Press” yesterday. Added O’Malley on CNN: “It's not about the words. It's about the actions -- things we did in Maryland to pull together new consensus after new consensus to pass a living wage, to pass comprehensive gun safety legislation, to pass the DREAM Act and marriage equality. It's about the doing, not the saying.” We’ll have much, much more on Tuesday night’s debate tomorrow morning. But here is a little extra pre-debate drama, per Maggie Haberman: “Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said she was disinvited from the first Democratic presidential primary debate in Nevada after she appeared on television and called for more face-offs.”
Hillary catches another break regarding the Benghazi committee
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton keeps on catching breaks when it comes that House Benghazi committee, which she testifies in front of on Oct. 22. First came Kevin McCarthy’s comments suggesting that the committee was intended to hurt Clinton’s poll numbers. Then over the weekend, we learned that one of the Republican staffers on the committee, who had been fired, is alleging that committee’s investigation turned into a partisan witch hunt against Clinton. “This has become a partisan investigation,” the career intelligence analyst Major Bradley Podliska said on CNN. “I do not believe this investigation was set up to go after Hillary. I think it shifted that way.” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who chairs the House Benghazi committee, denies the charge. “It's a damn lie, and that's not a word I often use," Gowdy told NBC’s Kristen Welker. (One of the ironies: Podliska was allegedly fired from the committee for mishandling classified information.) And the New York Times seems to back up Podliska’s claims. “Now, 17 months later — longer than the Watergate investigation lasted — interviews with current and former committee staff members as well as internal committee documents reviewed by The New York Times show the extent to which the focus of the committee’s work has shifted from the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack to the politically charged issue of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.”
All eyes still on Paul Ryan
As for as the top political story at the end of last week -- the instability inside the House GOP conference -- Republicans continue to pine for House Ways & Means Chairman Paul Ryan to acquiesce and accept the speaker’s job. But on “Meet” yesterday, moderate Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said the same dynamic that frustrated outgoing Speaker John Boehner will exist for Ryan. “Paul Ryan, if he becomes speaker, and I hope he does, what will happen is he will have to make accommodations and collaborate with the Democrats to pass a debt ceiling, to pass a budget agreement, and an omnibus appropriations bill. If he does those things, he will have his legs taken up by some of his own members. We all know that,” Dent said. And Tea Party Rep. Dave Bratt (R-VA), who joined Dent on “Meet” yesterday, added: “I've got five policies on my webpage and five processes. If he goes with that, we're gonna give him a strong look.” The question for Ryan: Is it worse to let things linger (and not make up his mind)? Or is it worse to jump in right away (with some conservatives sharpening their knives)?
The 158 American families bankrolling the 2016 election so far
Over the weekend, the New York Times wrote about the 158 families – all of them rich, mostly white and mostly Republican, who have contributed at least $250,000 so far in the 2016 election. “In marshaling their financial resources chiefly behind Republican candidates, the donors are also serving as a kind of financial check on demographic forces that have been nudging the electorate toward support for the Democratic Party and its economic policies. Two-thirds of Americans support higher taxes on those earning $1 million or more a year, according to a June New York Times/CBS News poll, while six in 10 favor more government intervention to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly seven in 10 favor preserving Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are.”
Washington Post’s Rezaian convicted in Iran
“Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post correspondent in Tehran imprisoned for more than 14 months has been convicted in an espionage trial that ended two months ago, Iranian State TV has reported,” the Washington Post writes. “News of a verdict in Tehran's Revolutionary Court initially came early Sunday, but court spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei did not specify what the judgment was. In the State TV report late Sunday night, Ejei said definitively that Rezaian was found guilty.”
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