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Why Hur’s testimony isn’t leaving either party happy: From the Politics Desk

Plus, Biden and Trump are set to officially clinch their parties' presidential nominations.
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Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior national politics reporter Alex Seitz-Wald explains why neither party got what it wanted from former Special Counsel Robert Hur's testimony. Plus, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki breaks down whether the Joe Biden-Donald Trump rematch will be the longest general election campaign ever.


A prosecutor meets politicians, and no one leaves happy

By Alex Seitz-Wald

In an election that is testing the political independence of the judiciary like never before, with one candidate facing prosecution overseen by his rival’s Department of Justice, former special counsel Robert Hur’s congressional testimony today showed how precarious it can be to try to enforce the law without appearing partisan.

Hur’s report last month delved into some of the critical questions of the 2024 election, including President Joe Biden’s mental faculties and former President Donald Trump’s alleged crimes. But during his roughly four-hour appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, Hur himself seemed to have no interest in answering those questions beyond the narrow scope of his probe. His testimony often felt more like a book report on his investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents.


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Going into the hearing, Republicans were hoping for some bombshell revelations to revive their Biden impeachment effort, which appears to have stalled out after their star witness was arrested for allegedly lying about his claims.

But Republicans did not get what they wanted. Hur offered no new evidence against the president, despite GOP fishing attempts for dirt on Biden’s alleged “influence peddling.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have spent the past several weeks crowing about the fact that Hur decided against charging Biden, while also lambasting him for what they say were gratuitous and inaccurate comments about Biden’s faulty memory. Hur is a Republican who was appointed by Trump to be a U.S. attorney, some liberals have noted.

But Democrats also did not get what they wanted from the hearing.

Hur explained that his understanding of Biden’s “state of mind” was not a side question, but a critical part of his job. “My task was to determine whether the president retained or disclosed national defense information ‘willfully’ — meaning, knowingly and with the intent to do something the law forbids,” he said. And he affirmed hearing memory lapses.

And transcripts of Hur’s two-day interview with Biden, released just before the hearing started, show several examples of the president struggling to remember a date or name, but also did not confirm some Republicans’ wilder claims about Biden’s alleged cognitive decline.

Nor did Hur fully exonerate Biden on the classified documents question, as some Democrats have claimed. In fact, Hur noted, he concluded that Biden did willfully mishandle classified material, but that he was unlikely to secure a jury conviction based on the evidence, so charges were not advised.

But “not-guilty-but-not-quite-innocent” doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker or a hashtag, and neither does Hur’s more nuanced take on Biden’s memory.

In the end, both parties will inevitably salvage something from the hearing to use in the campaign, but no one really got what they wanted — except perhaps for Hur, whose restrained testimony will likely be studied by other presidential prosecutors who will inevitably be asked to testify before Congress.


Will 2024 be the longest general election campaign ever? 

Analysis by Steve Kornacki

With perhaps the most suspense-free primary season in history winding down, it sure feels like the 2024 general election campaign will be the longest ever. And by one metric it could well be — but just barely.

That’s because today’s primaries and caucuses in Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi and Washington state are set to give both Biden and Trump enough delegates to reach the magic number needed to clinch their parties’ nominations. 

Biden, now just 99 delegates short of the mark, figures to do so early — probably in the 7 p.m. ET hour, when polls close in Georgia. For Trump, it will take a bit longer. Potentially, he could do it once Washington’s polls close at 11 p.m. ET. If that happens, then today, March 12, will be the day that both candidates clinch. And that would then leave 240 days until the Nov. 5 election, which would indeed set 2024 up to feature the longest general election campaign in the modern era.

But vote tabulations and delegate allocations can sometimes take a while, so it’s possible Trump won’t clear the number until after midnight, and maybe not even until Hawaii’s results come in around 2 a.m. ET. Under this scenario, it would technically be tomorrow that both candidates clinch, which would leave 239 days until Nov. 5. And that would tie the record set in both the 2004 election between George W. Bush and John Kerry, and the 2000 election between Bush and Al Gore.

Of course, this is just one metric to measure the length of a campaign, and it has its flaws. Four years ago, for instance, Biden crossed the Democrats’ delegate threshold on June 6. But that was a mere formality; Bernie Sanders had dropped out two months earlier and Biden had long since shifted his attention to Trump. So for all intents and purposes, the 2020 general election campaign was a lot longer than the 151 days shown above. 

On the other end of the scale, there’s 1980, when Jimmy Carter obtained the needed delegates on June 3. But his Democratic primary opponent, Ted Kennedy, battled all the way until the August convention, pursuing a rules change that would free delegates from their existing commitments and allow them to vote for him instead. (The effort failed, of course.) It could be argued, then, that the Carter-Ronald Reagan campaign was much shorter than 155 days. 

Similarly subjective issues arise in other election years too, including the current one. While the formal delegate thresholds will be met tonight or early in the morning, media outlets already declared Trump the presumptive Republican nominee last week after Nikki Haley dropped out.

Was that the real start of the general election? Or was it even earlier than that? Even as Haley continued to campaign after Trump’s Iowa and New Hampshire victories, it was taken as a given that he’d be the GOP nominee, and the Trump and Biden teams were already aiming their fire at each other. 

Ultimately, calculating the precise length of a campaign is an art, not a science.



🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 📱 TikTok flip-flop : Trump’s newfound opposition to banning TikTok isn’t swaying Republicans on Capitol Hill as the House prepares to vote Wednesday morning on legislation to bar the popular video-based video app in the U.S., unless the China-based ByteDance agrees to divest it. Read more →
  • 🚨 2024 warning: American intelligence agencies said in their annual global threats assessment that Russia and China could use new technologies, including artificial intelligence, to sow divisions in the U.S. and interfere in elections. Read more →
  • 🇺🇦 Ukraine update: The White House is providing $300 million in additional weapons to Ukraine as more funding remains held up in Congress by Republican leaders. The announcement comes as the Ukrainian military is facing dire weapons shortages in its two-year war with Russia. Read more →
  • 📺 Taking on Trump: The group Republican Voters Against Trump is planning a $50 million campaign against the former president, featuring videos of former Trump supporters, according to The New York Times. Read more →
  • 🐘 Staff shakeup: Trump allies’ takeover at the Republican National Committee has led to a staff shakeup. At least four senior RNC staffers were terminated on Monday, with dozens more potentially facing layoffs. Read more →
  • 👋 Buck-ing his party: Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., announced Tuesday that he is resigning from Congress at the end of next week, telling CNN that this past year was “the worst year of the nine years and three months that I've been in Congress.” Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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