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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
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Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

New campaign filings show Trump's fundraising haul off claims of voter fraud

WASHINGTON — President Trump's full campaign effort raised $495 million between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23, according to new FEC filings, a total that includes the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and other affiliated committees. 

Nearly half of that — $207.5 million — was raised since Election Day (between Nov. 3 and Nov. 23). Much of this haul has come from fundraising appeals that include unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and it's an enormous amount for the GOP effort to be able to raise after losing an election. The Trump fundraising effort has sent more than 500 fundraising emails since Nov. 4, plus hundreds of text messages soliciting donations. 

President Donald Trump waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return from Camp David on Nov. 29, 2020.Yuri Gripas / Reuters

Much of the money being raised to help fund election challenges, like donations being solicited through requests to challenge the election outcome, isn't being funneled to a specific group. The campaign is allocating some money for recount efforts, and the same "election defense" rhetoric is being used to direct money to Trump's new political action committee, “Save America”. 

Trump started "Save America" in mid-November to fuel his post-presidency plans. It will allow the president to raise money for potential future travel, rallies or pay political consultants. But this money can't be used for any future campaign, should Trump decide to run for president again in 2024. The group raised about $570,000 through Nov. 23. 

The campaign filings also show more than $4.7 million in legal fees between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23. Legal adviser Jenna Ellis was paid $30,000 in consulting fees over that timeline, and overall the campaign has spent about $8.8 million on fees related to the recount effort in the same timeframe. 

Tweet the Press: A look into Michael Flynn's firing, and eventual pardon, with Carol E. Lee

WASHINGTON — In case you missed Thursday's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News Correspondent Carol E. Lee about the events that led up to President Trump firing, and then pardoning, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Lee reported on the timeline from when Flynn was first contacted by the FBI about his phone calls with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, to the moment he was fired, his guilty plea and the once wavering, but now full-throated support, from the White House. 

Click the link here to read the full conversation. 

Kamala Harris adds to V.P. team with a majority of women of color

WASHINGTON — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced on Thursday she hired three more women to be on her senior staff. Harris’ chief of staff, domestic policy adviser and national security adviser will all be women, two of whom are women of color.

Harris has a long history of hiring and elevating women of color in her senate office and primary campaign and in the general election, as well.

“Together with the rest of my team, today’s appointees will work to get this virus under control, open our economy responsibly and make sure it lifts up all Americans, and restore and advance our country's leadership around the world,” Harris said in a press release.

Tina Flournoy, who currently serves as former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, will become Harris' chief of staff. Flournoy is a member of "The Colored Girls", a group of Black women who work in public service. Other members include Donna Brazile and Minyon Moore. Harris pointed to Flournoy's "deep experience, public policy expertise and accomplished career in public service" as her reasons for the pick. 

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris talks to reporters in Washington on Nov. 28, 2020.Hannah Mckay / Reuters

Harris' domestic policy adviser will be Rohini Kosoglu. Kosoglu was a senior adviser on Harris' presidential campaign and worked in Harris' office. She previously held positions with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. 

Nancy McEldowney, who most recently worked as the director of the school of foreign service at Georgetown University, will serve as Harris’ national security adviser. McEldowney worked in the U.S. foreign service for 30 years and is a former ambassador to Bulgaria. 

Harris' announced staff is so far a majority women of color. Symone Sanders, who will serve as Harris' senior adviser and chief spokesperson, and Ashley Etienne, who will be Harris' communications director, are also both Black women. 

Georgia Secretary of State: Trump's rhetoric causes 'growing threat' to election workers

WASHINGTON — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger doubled down on his condemnation of President Trump's repeated false claims of voter fraud on Wednesday. 

“Even after this office requests that President Trump try and quell the violent rhetoric, being born out of his continuing claims of winning the states where he obviously lost, he tweeted out, ‘expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia’ — this is exactly the kind of language that is at the base of a growing threat environment for election workers who are simply doing their jobs,” Raffensperger said.

In a passionate speech at the state capitol on Tuesday, Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling said the rhetoric “has gone too far,” citing violent threats against ex-Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Chris Krebs, Raffensperger and his wife and a young local contractor for a voting system company in Gwinnett County, Ga.

“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” Sterling said. “Senators, you've not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up and if you're going to take a position of leadership, show some."

He added, "This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.”

Raffensperger also tried to lower the temperature on Wednesday.

“I want to extend grace to those that seemingly have hate in their heart,” Raffensperger said. “We've all been through an awful lot. As many of us have said, we wish that our guy would have won the election, but it doesn't look like our guy has won the election, and it looks like Vice President Biden will be carrying Georgia, and he is our president-elect.”

President Trump is set to visit Georgia this Saturday to campaign for both of the state's Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, ahead of their respective runoff elections on Jan. 5.

Iowa congressional race likely to be one of closest in modern history

WASHINGTON — When Iowa's State Canvassing Board certified its 2020 election results on Monday, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks edged out Democrat Rita Hart in the state's Second Congressional District by just six votes, making it one of the closest U.S. House races in modern history. 

Hart had requested a recount after the Secretary of State's unofficial results found her 47 votes behind the Republican. But while the margin narrowed during the recount, Miller-Meeks remained on top. 

NBC's Decision Desk has not yet projected a winner, and it's possible that the contest may move to the courtroom. 

Such narrow margins were more common in the 18th and 19th Centuries, when the electorate was far smaller than it is today. But over the last half-century, there have still been some House nail-biters almost as close, or in some cases, closer. 

Here's a non-exhaustive look at some of the closest U.S. House races in recent memory:

2014: Arizona Republican Martha McSally defeats Democrat Ron Barber by 161 votes 

After then-Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords resigned months after she was shot, her district director, Barber, won both the 2012 special election and the general election later that year. McSally lost the GOP special election primary, but was the party's nominee that fall and fell short to Barber by just a few thousand votes. 

The 2014 rematch made that tight race look like a breeze — McSally ultimately defeated Barber by 161 votes after a long recount that stretched into December.  

2006: Connecticut Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney defeats Republican Rep Rob Simmons by 83 votes

The 2006 midterms were good for Democrats in the House — the party took back the body's majority for the first time in more than a decade. But Courtney, then a state representative running against Simmons for the second time, eked out a victory after a mandatory recount

2002: Colorado Republican Bob Beauprez defeats Democrat Mike Feeley by 121 votes

Long before his gubernatorial bids, Beauprez (then the state GOP chairman) entered the House after the first-ever election in Colorado's 7th District, which was newly created after redistricting. The tight race forced a recount with Beauprez narrowly ahead, but according to reporting from UPI, the Republican lost a net of just one vote during that recount and was declared the winner. 

1994: Connecticut Democratic Rep. Samuel Gejdenson defeats Republican Edward Munster by 21 votes 

There must be something about Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District, which appears on this list twice. Twelve years before Courtney's narrow victory, Gejednson won a nailbiter of his own. Two years prior, the incumbent edged out Munster by a few thousand votes, and the 1994 race was one of the closest in recent history, needing a 98-page state Supreme Court decision to settle.  

1986: North Carolina Republican Rep. Howard Coble defeats Democrat Robin Britt

Long before the 2000 election came down to "hanging chads," the ballots played a key role in the controversy surrounding this House race. According to the Greensboro News and Record, the Democrat pushed for a full recount after a partial count of ballots accidentally left at two precincts ended up in her picking up a few votes, but that request was denied by the GOP-led county and state election boards. 

1984: Democratic Rep. Frank McCloskey defeats Republican Rick McIntyre by 4 votes

One of the most infamous House elections in modern American history can best be described by two of NBC's biggest election junkies — Steve Kornacki and Chuck Todd. 

Perdue, Ossoff race slated to be most expensive Senate race in ad spending

WASHINGTON — There's been an enormous amount of money pouring into Georgia ahead of the two pivotal Senate runoffs in the state, with one of the races already slated to shatter Senate advertising spending records. 

More than $293 million has already been spent and booked on TV and radio ads for both runoffs combined, according to Advertising Analytics, just between Nov. 4 and the Jan. 5 election. 

The special runoff, pitting Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock, already has $159 million devoted to it ($95 million from Republicans and $64 million from Democrats). The runoff between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff has drawn $135 million in spending and bookings ($81 million from Republicans and $54 million from Republicans). 

Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock, left, and Jon Ossoff hold a campaign rally in Marietta on Nov. 15, 2020.Brynn Anderson / AP

And if all that spending and booked spending is combined with what was already spent in the general elections, both elections begin pushing into the most expensive Senate races in history. In total, there's been $271 million booked and spent on TV and radio ads in the general election matchup between Perdue and Ossoff so far, with $208 million booked and spent on the Loeffler seat. 

That puts the Perdue v. Ossoff race in a position to break the record for most advertising spending across a Senate race, a record set by the North Carolina Senate race this cycle, which drew $251 million in total TV/radio spending and $265 million with digital spending included. 

The totals for these races aren't set in stone, as groups can shuffle around money that's only been booked but not spent. But there's likely to only be more money flooding into the state as both parties dig deep into the piggybank for two races that will decide control of the Senate for the next two years.

Biden meets, outpaces Trump and Obama's Cabinet nomination timelines

WASHINGTON — Even though President-elect Joe Biden's 2020 victory took a few days longer than usual to determine, that lag time hasn't stopped Biden from outpacing or matching President Trump and former President Obama's timelines for nominating cabinet members. 

Biden has so far announced his picks for Secretary of State, Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, Ambassador to the United Nationals, National Security Adviser, Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. For the nominees that will have to go through the Senate confirmation process, his nominees for State, DHS and DNI were all announced earlier than Obama's first term picks and Trump's picks. 

The president-elect rolled out his national security team first: Announcing Antony Blinken as his Secretary of State nominee on Nov. 23 — 21 days after Election Day. Trump announced Rex Tillerson as his nominee 36 days after Election Day, and Obama named Hillary Clinton 28 days after Election Day. 

Similarly, Biden announced Alejandro Mayorkas would be his pick to lead DHS three weeks after Nov. 3. Trump issued his first DHS pick, Gen. John Kelly, 35 days after Election Day 2016. Obama named Janet Napolitano 28 days after his election in 2008. 

President-elect Joe Biden announces members of his cabinet in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 24, 2020.Chandan Khanna / AFP - Getty Images

Biden outpaced his two most recent predecessors by over a month when it came to picking a Director of National Intelligence. Biden nominated Avril Haines on Nov. 23 — 21 days after Election Day — while Trump and Obama took 59 and 67 days, respectively. 

So far the one office that Trump filled before Biden was the spot for U.N. Ambassador. Trump nominated Nikki Haley just 16 days after the 2016 election, while Biden announced his pick three weeks after Nov. 3. Obama nominated Susan Rice 28 days after the 2008 election. 

Obama outpaced both Trump and Biden when it came to naming who would lead the OMB. Obama announced Peter Orszag 22 days after Election Day, while Trump and Biden took 39 and 27 days to announce their nominees, respectively. 

NBC News confirmed that Janet Yellen would be Biden's Treasury nominee on Nov. 23, however the official announcement from the Biden camp didn't come until Nov. 30. The official call was 28 days after Election Day — Trump nominated Steven Mnuchin 23 days after Election Day 2016, and Obama named Timothy Geithner to the post 21 days after the election in 2008. 

Bipartisan group of senators seek compromise on a Covid-19 relief package

WASHINGTON — As the stalemate over Covid-19 relief continues between Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress, a bipartisan group of senators have been holding informal discussions about compromise legislation, two sources tell NBC News.

The discussions, which have been taking place over the Thanksgiving recess, could evolve into a new “gang", like the team that put together immigration reform legislation that failed in 2013. But sources warn that the current environment is difficult for success: Covid-19 has kept in-person meetings from happening and leadership has shown little willingness to compromise even if this group does succeed in creating a legislative package.

The lawmakers include Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va.,  Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Dick Durbin, D-Ill.,  Chris Coons, D-Del., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Susan Collins, R-Maine., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, according to two sources.  

On Monday, Warner told MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" that “people of good faith are working together to see if we can get a meaningful package.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks at a Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing on Sept. 9, 2020.Michael Brochstein / Sipa USA via AP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have yet to discuss another round of Covid-19 relief with each other, and talks between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin haven't resumed since Election Day. However, there have been preliminary discussions to include some Covid-19 relief provisions to a must-pass government funding bill. Government funding runs out on December 11. 

Up to 14 million people are set to lose their unemployment benefits right after Christmas because of expiring provisions from the CARES Act. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides unemployment benefits for freelancers and gig workers, as well as the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which extended insurance benefits an additional 13 weeks beyond states’ allowance of 26 weeks, are both set to expire.  

In addition, the rent eviction moratorium and student loan deferment programs are set to expire at the end of the year, putting new pressure on Congress to act soon. 

The bipartisan group of senators agree that the small business paycheck protection program, unemployment insurance and money for vaccine distribution should be central to any deal, one Senate aide said. But the major sticking points are the same ones that have plagued earlier leadership negotiations: State and local funding, which Democratic leadership is demanding, and liability protection, which Republican leadership insists upon. 

Pelosi has maintained that the modified HEROES Act, which costs $2.2 trillion is the baseline for negotiations while McConnell is backing the $500 billion package the Senate voted down in October.

What's at stake if Congress doesn't pass restaurant stimulus

PHILADELPHIA — With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the nation’s economy, Congress will face increasing pressure to pass a new stimulus bill when members return to Washington this week — one that includes targeted relief for the restaurant industry.

Eating establishments across the country have hemorrhaged business since last spring, when the virus forced them to offer limited service or to close outright. With winter coming and the new wave of illness likely to force even tighter restrictions, owners increasingly worry that they’ll have to shut their doors for good. 

Advocates say the RESTAURANTS Act, short for the “Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Need to Survive” Act, could be key to the industry’s survival. The legislation, which boasts bipartisan support, was introduced in the Senate by Republican Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and in the House by Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. 

The legislation proposes a $120 billion dollar grant program focused on independent operators, especially targeting women and minority-owned businesses. The grant would cover a wide range of expenses, including supplies, payroll, rent and personal protective equipment for employees. 

There are some 500,000 independently owned restaurants across the United States, employing millions of people, according to a study by CHD Expert, which analyzes food service and hospitality data.  The average restaurant is still seeing about a 35 percent loss from last year, every day, according to Rally for Restaurants data

Without aid, the Independent Restaurant Coalition — a new organization founded to save small restaurants and bars affected by COVID-19 — estimates that 85 percent of independent restaurants, which annually contribute $760 billion sales to the U.S. economy, could close permanently. 

“I have lived through working during the 1987 stock market crash. I worked through 9/11. I’ve worked through the 2008 recession. I’ve never seen what happened to us in our industry starting March 17 when we were asked to close with about 24 hours notice,” Bobby Stuckey, cofounder of Colorado’s Frasca Hospitality, told NBC News.

The legislation faces an uncertain future — it’s unlikely to pass on its own without being part of a larger deal, and discussions on Capitol Hill over a new broad-based relief package have been at a standstill for weeks. 

President Donald Trump on Friday urged Congress to act, tweeting:

Money granted through the so-called Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) last spring was in the form of a loan, rather than a grant, and for many restaurants it was just a small down payment on a larger crisis. 

“The PPP loans were an eight-week fix to what’s probably an 18-month problem,” Stuckey said. “The restaurant business works on very, very small margins. To make these businesses take on loans to survive this 18 months is punitive; it’s not going to help the survival rate.” 

There were additional frustrations around the paycheck protection loans as restaurant chains like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse cashed in on benefits meant for small businesses. Ruth’s Chris ultimately returned the $20 million loan following public pressure.

The RESTAURANTS act stipulates that the businesses not be publicly traded or part of a chain with 20 or more businesses of the same name. Plus, money awarded through the act would come in the form of a direct grant, rather than a loan. Owners say that’s essential as establishments across the country face closure through the cold winter months. 

“The reality is restaurants do not need more short-term loans right now — restaurants need grants that would help us get through a tough-looking winter,” Leigh Habegger, Executive Director of the Seafood Harvesters of America told NBC News. 

Some Senate Democrats question Durbin's bid to helm Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON — With a Democratic opening at the top of the Judiciary Committee now that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has stepped aside, some Senate Democrats are questioning whether the heir apparent, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., should ascend to the post and also keep his Senate leadership position, according to two sources familiar with the situation. 

The debate among Democrats is a rare internal personnel dispute that could be resolved by an even rarer vote among the caucus in December if not settled before then. The vote, if necessary, would be to determine if Durbin can both be the party's top member on the committee and also be the second-ranking Democratic leader in the Senate as party whip, according to the two sources who were granted anonymity to speak freely about internal dynamics. 

Feinstein stepped aside from the top post on the committee — which oversees judicial nominations to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department and immigration authorities — after progressive groups and some Senate Democrats questioned if she was equipped to handle the partisan nature in the current state of politics. Feinstein's hug with Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at the end of Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings drew ire from Democrats and helped seal her fate. 

Durbin announced his intention to seek the top spot Monday night, pointing to his experience on the committee.

Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 10, 2020.Jason Andrew / The New York Times via AP, Pool

“I intend to seek the top Democratic position on the Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress. I have served on the Committee for 22 years, and I am its most senior member who does not currently serve atop another Senate Committee,” Durbin wrote in a statement. “We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights."

But some Senate Democrats are concerned that Durbin's other big job, as chief vote counter, will be a critical and time consuming position in a narrowly divided House and Senate. Durbin is also the top Democrat on the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which is also adds to the Democrats’ discontent.

His office argues that holding multiple senior positions is not without precedent, noting that Senate Democratic rules that allow it, and that three previous Democratic whips — Alan Cranston, Wendell Ford and Harry Reid — did the same. 

Senate Republican and House Democratic party rules do not allow a top member of leadership to also hold a committee chair. 

One of the last times the Democratic caucus held a vote on a committee leadership issue was in 2008 when the Democratic caucus voted to allow then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., to remain chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee after he campaigned for Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.

After Durbin, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would be next in line for the Judiciary spot. He has not publicly announced that he’d like the position but progressive groups would likely not be opposed.

“In the wake of Ranking Member Feinstein’s announcement, I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus.  I will abide by the caucus’s decision,” Whitehouse says in a statement Tuesday night. 

Sahil Kapur contributed.

What House races are still left to call?

WASHINGTON — Election Day may be three weeks in the past, but there are still a handful of competitive House races still left to be called by NBC'S Decision Desk. 

The vast majority are in California and New York, two states that take a while to count ballots. And there's one race in Iowa that appears to be headed to a recount. 

Here's a look at the uncalled races and where they stand (the incumbent or the candidate representing the incumbent party is listed first): 

California-21: Democratic Rep. TJ Cox v. former Republican Rep. David Valadao 

Valadao, who Cox defeated in the 2018 midterm elections, leads Cox by less than 2,000 votes (1 percentage point) in the Decision Desk's count, as final results keep trickling in. 

California-25: Republican Rep. Mike Garcia v. Democrat Christy Smith 

Garcia v. Smith is a rematch of the spring special election, one of the first general elections run in the coronavirus era, when Garcia won by a comfortable margin. Garcia has declared victory, a decision Smith has criticized, with the margin sitting at just 400 votes. 

Iowa-02: Democrat Rita Hart v. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks

The race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack could turn out to be the closest House race of the cycle. The two candidates were separated by just a few dozen votes, with Hart requesting a recount that's prompted a dust-up between the two candidates. 

New York-02: Republican Andrew Garbarino v. Democrat Jackie Gordon 

These two candidates are running to replace Republican Rep. Peter King, who is retiring at the end of the year. While the election has still not been called yet, the Democrat conceded last week. 

New York-11: Democratic Rep. Max Rose v. Republican Nicole Malliotakis 

This is another race that hasn't been called yet, but where one candidate, Rose, has conceded.  

New York-22: Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi v. former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney 

This rematch of 2018 is extremely tight, with the election ending up in court.

New York-24: Republican Rep. John Katko v. Democrat Dana Balter 

In another 2018 rematch, Balter has conceded to Katko.