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The 2020 field may be crowded — but maybe not as crowded as we originally thought

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
amfAR Los Angeles 2018 - Inside
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks onstage at the amfAR Gala Los Angeles 2018 at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 18, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.Kevin Winter / Getty Images for amfAR file

WASHINGTON — Another day, another potential 2020 Democrat — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — is saying no to a presidential run.

And it raises the question: Is the ultimate Democratic field going to be smaller than everyone anticipated? More like 12 to 15 candidates instead of the 20 to 30 folks have talked about?

Right now, we have seven candidates who have declared or who have filed paperwork, and it already feels a bit, well, crowded. Part of that is due to Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., announcing early, and staking claims to their lanes.

And part of it is due to the fact that Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke have the name ID, potential resources and ability to wait on a decision, thus freezing the rest of the field.

If you’re not in early, and if you’re not Biden, Sanders, O’Rourke or a billionaire like Mike Bloomberg, it becomes harder and harder to differentiate yourself and your candidacy.

To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s getting late early.”

And that’s a good way to view the emerging 2020 Democratic field.

Updating our 2020 list: Who’s in, who’s out, who are we still waiting on?

Those who have filed paperwork or announced presidential bids (7)

  • Sen. Kamala Harris (who announced on Jan. 21)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (who announced her exploratory committee on Jan. 15)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who announced her exploratory committee on Dec. 31)
  • Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro (who formally announced his decision on Jan. 12)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (who announced her decision to run on Jan. 11)
  • Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (who announced his presidential bid back on July 28, 2017!!!!)
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who announced his exploratory committee on Jan. 23)

The other potential candidates we’re watching (in no particular order)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas
  • Former VP Joe Biden
  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
  • Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
  • Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
  • Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
  • Outgoing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

Possible 2020 Dems who have declined to run (5):

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
  • Attorney Michael Avenatti
  • Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley
  • Tom Steyer
  • Current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

No, the Harris campaign isn’t backing away from Medicare for All

Kamala Harris made some news in her televised town hall on Monday night when she vowed to end private health insurance as part of her support for “Medicare for All,” as one of us wrote yesterday.

CNN: So just to follow up — so just to follow up on that, and correct me if I'm wrong, to reiterate, you support the Medicare for all bill, I think...

HARRIS: Correct.

CNN: ... initially co-sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders. You're also a co-sponsor onto it. I believe it will totally eliminate private insurance. So for people out there who like their insurance, they don't get to keep it?

HARRIS: Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don't have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require. Who of us has not had that situation, where you've got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don't know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on.

(Emphasis is ours.)

Then CNN popped a story Tuesday night suggesting that she was moderating her position on eliminating private insurance — by being open to more moderate bills that add a public option but keep private insurance.

But NBC’s Benjy Sarlin notes, that was ALREADY Harris’ position, because she co-sponsors multiple bills that would do this. Sarlin also reached out to two Harris aides, who confirmed that Medicare For All and ending private insurance is still her campaign’s official position.

Communications director Lily Adams: “Her preferred plan as we have always said is Medicare for all. That’s her plan. She has cosponsored other bills to expand coverage which is good. The CNN piece is frankly a misread of what are pretty simple facts.”

National press secretary Ian Sams: “She is for Medicare for All. Period. Has been on the bill for more than a year. That is the plan she is running on and you heard her last night. In the past, she's also cosponsored buy-in bills."

But would Harris fight for it in her first year in office?

The other big news that Harris made in her televised town hall was saying that the working-class and middle-class tax cuts she supports would be the FIRST thing she does as president.

QUESTION: Senator Harris, what is the very first thing you would do as president of the United States?

HARRIS: Pass the LIFT Act. Pass the LIFT Act, which I mentioned earlier, which is — and would end up being one of the most significant middle- and working-class tax cuts in recent generations in the United States.

But as New York Magazine’s Josh Barro observes, “If you're leading with a large middle-class tax cut — and planning to eat up many of the low-hanging fruit, tax-the-rich pay-fors to finance it — then you are not actually planning to implement Medicare for All.”

Asking the 2020 Democrats would they would prioritize in their first year in office might be the most constructive question for all of 2019….

Shakeup inside Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign — before her official launch starts

“Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard's campaign manager for her forthcoming bid for president will leave the campaign after its official launch this weekend,” NBC’s Ben Kamisar confirms.

“Rania Batrice, Gabbard's campaign manager and a longtime progressive activist who served as Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' deputy campaign manager during his underdog 2016 presidential bid, confirmed her decision to NBC News on Tuesday evening.”

Politico first reported her departure hours earlier.”

“The Gabbard campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but campaign spokeswoman Erika Tsuji told Politico that Batrice is a ‘long-time advisor and friend and remains so’ despite her departure… The latest news comes days before Gabbard's official launch event, set for Feb. 2 in Hawaii, and amid a spate of bad headlines dogging her from her unofficial announcement earlier this month.”

On the 2020 trail, per NBC’s Kyle Stewart

Independent Howard Schultz is in Tempe, Arizona, for a book talk … Sherrod Brown hits Cleveland, Ohio, on the first stop of his “Dignity of Work Tour” … And John Delaney stumps in Iowa.

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