IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

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.
Image: The Meet The Press Live Blog Illustration
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Biden announces Science and Technology Policy director, elevates position to Cabinet-level

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden will be announcing one of the last major department heads on Saturday, highlighting his campaign refrain to prioritize "science over fiction."

Biden will name Dr. Eric Lander to serve as his top science adviser and will be elevating Lander's position as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to a Cabinet rank position for the first time. 

During the Saturday rollout of his science team, Biden will also announce he is keeping Dr. Francis Collins as the director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins was first appointed by former President Obama in 2009.

Lander is an acclaimed mathematician and biologist who led the Human Genome Project, and now serves as director of the Broad Institute at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Biden transition team says Lander will lead a team focused on tackling challenges from Covid-19 to climate change, racial justice and the economic downturn.

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

Biden further outlined the questions he wants Lander's team to address in a letter to Lander: What lessons can be drawn from the pandemic about how to better prepare for addressing health challenges in the future; how scientific breakthroughs can be harnessed to address climate change while also promoting economic growth; how the United States can maintain an advantage in developing new technologies over other nations like China; how to ensure scientific advances benefit all Americans; and how to promote science and technology education in America. 

“They are big questions, to be sure, but not as big as America’s capacity to address them,” Biden wrote.

Dr. Alondra Nelson will serve as Lander's deputy director. Nelson is the current president of the Social Science Research Council and is also a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, a research institute located in Princeton, N.J. Biden also will announce that two women: Dr. Frances Arnold, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and Dr. Maria Zuber, a geophysicist who was the first woman to lead a NASA planetary mission, will lead the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. It will be the first time two women will lead the group.

Kei Koizumi will serve as chief of staff for the OSTP, and Narda Jones will join as legislative director. 

“Science will always be at the forefront of my administration — and these world-renowned scientists will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth,” Biden said in a statement announcing the lineup. “Their trusted guidance will be essential as we come together to end this pandemic, bring our economy back, and pursue new breakthroughs to improve the quality of life of all Americans.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said the past year has only “reaffirmed the importance of listening to scientists when it comes to meeting the unprecedented challenges facing the American people.”

Julia Letlow, the widow of congressman-elect who died of Covid-19, will run for his vacated seat

WASHINGTON — Julia Letlow, an education professional whose husband, Luke, passed away last year from Covid-19 shortly after his election to the House of Representatives, will run for the seat her husband had been slated to fill before his death. 

Letlow, a Republican,  announced her congressional bid Thursday in a radio interview, her campaign noting in a statement that her husband announced his race on that same platform last year. 

"Luke and I have been best friends and a team for the last eight years, and we always believed that you have to work hard for your dreams and often that requires stepping out and taking a leap of faith. “During Luke’s campaign for Congress last year, Luke and I traveled to every corner of Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District — from Bastrop to Bunkie to Bogalusa — and all points between," Letlow said in a statement. 

"I am running to continue the mission Luke started — to stand up for our Christian values, to fight for our rural agricultural communities, and to deliver real results to move our state forward."

Julia Letlow.Courtesy Julia Letlow for Congress

Luke Letlow won the runoff election for Louisiana's 5th Congressional District last December, and had been set to take office in 2021 to replace Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham, who unsuccessfully ran for governor. But Letlow contracted Covid-19 and passed away days before he was going to be sworn in. 

Julia Letlow previously worked for the University of Louisiana-Monroe and Tulane University, according to a biography sent out by her campaign. 

A handful of candidates had already announced their bids, but USA Today Network reports that a group of Republicans all have decided not to run now that Letlow is seeking office. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has set the special primary election for March 20 and the general for April 24. 

Shortly after Letlow's announcement, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise endorsed her, saying that she "shares the same commitment to public service" as her husband and "I can't think of anyone better to carry on Luke's legacy in representing Louisiana's 5th Congressional District." 

The GOP impeachment defectors by the numbers

WASHINGTON — Ten House Republicans voted to impeach President Trump on Wednesday. Here's what you need to know about them by the numbers: 

Less than one percentage point: The closest margin of victory in 2020 for any of those 10, for Rep. David Valadao, who won his California seat back from Democrat TJ Cox after being defeated by a narrow margin in 2018.

44 percentage points: The widest margin of victory in the 2020 general election for any of those 10, for Wyoming at-large Rep. Liz Cheney.

Eight out of 10: The number of House Republicans voting for impeachment who won their 2020 general election by more than 10 percentage points.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shows the article of impeachment against President Donald Trump after signing it in an engrossment ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 13, 2021.Leah Millis / Reuters

Eight out of 10: The number of House Republicans voting for impeachment whose congressional districts were won by Donald Trump.

Three out of 10: The number of House Republicans voting for impeachment whose states (Washington and California) have a nonpartisan top-two primary process.

1: The number of people in American history to successfully impeach two presidents (Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton, who voted to impeach former President Bill Clinton, and then to impeach Trump on Wednesday. Upton did not support the first impeachment of Trump.)

1: The number of House Republicans voting for impeachment who also objected to certification of the electoral votes last week.

On a historical note, 46 members who voted Wednesday were also serving during the impeachment of former President Clinton. Of those, nine are Republicans who voted for impeaching Clinton but voted no on impeaching Trump (the other two Republicans who served during both impeachments are Upton, who voted to impeach both, and Texas Rep. Kay Granger, who did not vote on Wednesday and has Covid-19). And 35 are Democrats who opposed impeaching Clinton but voted to impeach Trump. 

Putting Trump’s House GOP defectors into historical context

WASHINGTON — In 1998, five House Democrats broke with their party to impeach Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. 

And in 2019, zero House Republicans defected from Donald Trump when he was impeached over the Ukraine matter. (One GOP senator, Mitt Romney, voted to convict Trump in the Senate trail.) 

That’s the modern-day historical context to evaluate the number of House Republicans who might eventually vote on Wednesday to impeach Trump over his role in last week’s insurrection at the Capitol.  

As of publication time on Wednesday, there are at least five House Republicans who said they will vote for Trump’s impeachment today. 

How high will that number eventually be?

More than $50 mil spent on political cable TV ads in D.C. this cycle, many targeting Trump

WASHINGTON — One unique repercussion of having a president who is an avowed cable news watcher is that a massive amount of money was spent in the Washington D.C. cable market in the 2020 election cycle, much of it targeting Trump himself. 

Analysis from AdImpact shows that advertisers spent $30.3 million on political TV ads on Washington D.C. cable in 2020 and $21.5 million in 2019. Those figures don't even include spending on national TV spots still aimed at the president's viewing habits, and also exclude spending by congressional candidates for districts that include a piece of the D.C. market. 

That kind of spending is significant — the 2020 sum alone is more than was spent on traditional advertising for any House race this past cycle (New Mexico's 2nd District had $29.4 million in total TV/radio spending, although it should be noted that D.C.'s media market is far more expensive than most). 

And a deeper dive at the top spenders and their content indicates that many of these ads were directly aimed at reaching Trump, who regularly tweeted praise and criticism of the various news shows he watched, primarily on cable. 

President Donald Trump walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Jan. 12, 2021.Gerald Herbert / AP

The Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump group started by former Republican campaign hands in exodus, spent more than any other group on D.C. cable with $5.7 million. Many of their spots directly criticized the president for his handling of coronavirus or civil unrest, but it also spent money running spots specifically attacking top Trump campaign hands and criticizing the president for associating with them.

The ads were tailored directly at Trump, sometimes calling him out directly. And the tactics prompted responses from the president, who tweeted about the Lincoln Project ads on at least one occasion.  

Over the past few days, the Lincoln Project also started running a spot using Trump's comments refusing to accept the 2020 election and putting them alongside violent imagery and rhetoric from last week's pro-Trump rally and subsequent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The group's strategy prompted at least one Republican group to give them a taste of their own medicine — the conservative group Club for Growth Action ran a spot of its own in D.C. criticizing the Lincoln Project and its founders. 

Other groups directly called on the White House to make specific policy changes (sometimes targeting the president by name), like this spot from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on drug pricing' one from Americans for Tax Reform specifically asking "Mr. President, please reject socialist price controls for Medicare Part B."  A similar spot from Americans for Limited Government criticized a Trump executive order on health care as "every socialists' dream" and accused the president of adopting socialism. And one from the Pebble Limited Partnership asked "President Trump" to "continue to stand tall and don't let politics enter the Pebble mine review process."

And Trump's presidential campaign spent $1.8 million on cable ads in Washington D.C., despite the fact that the city votes almost universally Democratic in presidential elections and that most Republicans all-but wrote off neighboring Virginia in the 2020 presidential election. That spending sparked questions as to whether the campaign was running the ads so that Trump could see them while watching television

One other thing the spending figures don't include: Those who targeted Trump while he visited his Mar-a-Lago getaway in Florida.

It's not new to see groups spending on the airwaves in Washington D.C. in the hopes of trying to influence decision-makers. But what's been a new feature of the Trump era is how directly many groups targeted the president himself, thanks to his well-known TV diet, to either try to convince him or rattle him. 

Biden said his Cabinet 'will look like America'. Here's his final slate.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden promised that his Cabinet would be the most diverse in history and that it would "look like America." And Biden addressed that pledge on Friday when announced the final round of Cabinet selections.

"This will be the first Cabinet ever with a majority of people of color occupying this Cabinet. And it has more than a dozen history-making appointments," Biden said.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 8, 2021, to announce key nominees for his economic and jobs team.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

Of 21 Cabinet-level positions that require Senate confirmation, Biden will nominate four Latino secretaries:

  • Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security 
  • Xavier Becerra, Department of Health and Human Services
  • Miguel Cardona, Department of Education
  • Isabel Guzman, Small Business Administrator 

If confirmed, Mayorkas and Becerra would be the first Latinos to lead their respective departments. 

And nearly half of Biden's announced Cabinet will be women. In addition to Guzman:

  • Janet Yellen, Department of Treasury
  • Jennifer Granholm: Department of Energy
  • Deb Haaland: Department of Interior
  • Gina Raimondo: Department of Commerce
  • Marcia Fudge, Department of Housing and Urban Development 
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.N. Ambassador 
  • Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence
  • Neera Tanden, Office of Management and Budget Director 
  • Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative 

Yellen and Haines would be the first women to hold their positions and Haaland would be the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet. 

Biden also chose four Black members to serve in his Cabinet: Fudge, Thomas-Greenfield, Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin and Michael Regan.

If confirmed, Austin would be the first Black secretary of Defense, and Regan would be the first Black man to head the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Biden's pick to lead the Transportation Department, Pete Buttigieg, would be the first openly gay member of a Cabinet confirmed by the Senate. President Trump's former acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, was the first openly gay Cabinet member. 

Kamala Harris continues to build out staff with new hires

WASHINGTON — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced additional staff hires Friday morning including economic and policy advisers as well as additional communications staff. 

Mike Pyle, who served on former President Obama's economic policy team, will serve as Harris' chief economic adviser. He is a former clerk for President-elect Biden's attorney general-designee, Merrick Garland.

Harris also announced her deputy chief of staff will be Michael Fuchs, who currently works at the Center for American Progress, and served as a foreign policy adviser to Bill Clinton. Fuchs will work closely with Harris’ chief of staff Tina Flournoy, who also comes from the Clinton orbit.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris delivers remarks after President-elect Joe Biden introduced key nominees for the Department of Justice at The Queen theater Jan. 7, 2021 in Wilmington, Del.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

“These deeply experienced public servants reflect the very best of our nation, and they will be ready to get to work building a country that lifts up all Americans,” Harris said in a statement. “Their counsel and expertise are grounded in a commitment to making sure our economy works for working people and all those looking to work. And their leadership will be critical as we work to meet the challenges facing the American people — from the coronavirus pandemic to this economic recession to our climate crisis and long-overdue reckoning on racial injustice.”

Harris’ speechwriting director will be Katie Childs Graham, who led the speechwriting team for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, and worked as Sen. Amy Klobuchar's, D-Minn., communications director. 

Also joining Harris’ office are Sabrina Singh as deputy press secretary, Vincent Evans as deputy director of the office of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs, Deanne Millison as deputy policy director and Peter Velz as director of press operations. Singh, Evans and Velz all worked for Harris during the general election campaign and Millison comes from Harris’ Senate office.

Some of Harris’ hires could be an indication of where her policy focuses will be as Biden's V.P. One incoming policy adviser, Dr. Ike Irby, specializes in marine science and is an expert in climate change. 

“President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have a bold agenda that will build our nation back better than before. These appointees will work tirelessly for the American people, and I am proud to have them join our White House team,” Flournoy said.

Biden likely to be inaugurated with no confirmed Cabinet secretaries

WASHINGTON — When George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump took their initial oath of office, they did so the same day that several of their Cabinet secretaries were confirmed by the Senate. President-elect Joe Biden will likely not have that reality. 

Senate confirmation hearings routinely happen before a president-elect's inauguration because the Senate has been sworn in and in session before Jan. 20. And in most cases, that means that the newly inaugurated president will be able to start work with at least some key Cabinet secretaries in place to receive briefings and lead departments.

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

In President Trump's case, his secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security were both confirmed on Inauguration Day. And confirmation hearings for his picks for attorney general, and to lead the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury all began prior to Jan. 20. 

It was a similar story for Obama's first term. Obama's secretaries for six departments were confirmed on Inauguration Day: Agriculture, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior and Veterans Affairs. Hillary Clinton, Obama's first secretary of state, was confirmed the day after inauguration, and Obama's first secretary of defense was a holdover from the Bush administration and was able to start work on Jan. 20 because he had already been Senate confirmed. 

Even Bush, whose presidential win wasn't confirmed until nearly six weeks after Election Day, was able to start work with a partially confirmed Cabinet. 

Bush's secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, State and Treasury were all confirmed on Jan. 20, 2001. And unlike the process for Obama and Trump's nominees, many of Bush's nominees received hearings when the Senate stood at a 50-50 split with the opposing party in control

Republicans did not hold control of the Senate until Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney were inaugurated.

And that's a similar position Biden's secretary-designees find themselves in. Control of the Senate was decided on Jan. 6 after Georgia Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their respective runoff races. But the Senate does not need to wait for the new Congress to take control and be sworn-in to begin hearings.

Last November, Biden called for his picks to go through the Senate confirmation process before Senate control was determined.

While Biden has announced his secretary-designees for nearly all of the Cabinet positions, no confirmation hearings have been scheduled in the Senate. And after a day of riots in the Capitol on Jan. 6, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate, announcing that the Senate would reconvene for just three pro forma sessions before the inauguration — on Jan. 8, Jan. 12 and Jan. 15.

The Senate is not set to reconvene in full until Jan. 19.

Illinois Republican joins more than 100 congressional Democrats to call for Trump removal

WASHINGTON — Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger became the first Republican member of Congress to support President Trump’s removal from office, as calls mount primarily among Democrats for Trump to be removed for ginning up the rioters that broke into the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday.  

According to an NBC News count, more than 100 House and Senate Democrats have called for either impeaching President Trump or enacting the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. Kinzinger is the only Republican, and the count includes 101 members of the House and seven Senators. 

The highest-ranking Democrat to join the call is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who did so in a statement Thursday morning that said he supports either method of removing Trump. 

Many have done so in bulk — all 17 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Vice President Pence asking him to invoke the 25th Amendment.

“Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the vice president and a majority of sitting Cabinet secretaries with the authority to determine a president as unfit if he ‘is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,’” the letter read. 

They added, “President Trump’s willingness to incite violence and social unrest to overturn the election results by force clearly meet this standard.” 

The calls haven’t just come from lawmakers — the head of the National Association of Manufacturers called for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment in a statement,

How Democrats overperformed in the Senate runoffs from November

WASHINGTON — With Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock projected to win and Democrat Jon Ossoff in the lead, the story from Tuesday's Georgia Senate runoff is that Democrats improved their vote margins in many of Atlanta's most-populous counties. 

That dynamic is especially true in counties with a significant Black population, like Clayton and DeKalb, where they hit or exceeded President-elect Joe Biden's winning margins from November. 

Voters line up early in the morning to cast their ballots in Marietta, Ga., on Jan. 5, 2021.Mike Segar / Reuters

The easiest comparison to make is in the race between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Ossoff because the two faced off one-on-one on November's ballot and again in January (the special election between Warnock and GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler had a jungle primary in November, with all candidates on one ballot regardless of party). 

With at least 95 percent or more of the expected vote in from each county, here's a look at some of those margins in November and where the margin stands now:

The Atlanta suburbs

  • Fulton (the most vote-rich county in the state): In November, Ossoff won 69.8 percent to Perdue's 28.1 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 71.6 percent to Perdue's 28.4 percent.
  • Gwinnett (outside Atlanta's city limits): In November, Ossoff won 56.8 percent to Perdue's 40.6 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 59.9 percent to Perdue's 40.1 percent.
  • Cobb (another Atlanta suburb): In November, Ossoff won 54 percent to Perdue's 43.4 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 55.8 percent to Perdue's 44.3 percent.
  • DeKalb (contains about 10 percent of Atlanta; majority black): In November, Ossoff won 81.2 percent to Perdue's 16.8 percent. Now, Ossoff is at 83.3 percent to Perdue's 16.7 percent.
  • Henry (Atlanta suburb): In November, Ossoff won 58.8 percent and Perdue won 39 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 61.3 percent to Perdue's 38.7 percent.
  • Clayton (was represented by the late Democratic Rep. John Lewis): In November, Ossoff won 84.4 percent of the vote to Perdue's 13.4 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 88.4 percent to Perdue's 11.6 percent.
  • Douglas (another Atlanta suburb that was reliably GOP until 2008): In November, Ossoff won 61.1 percent to Perdue's 36.5 percent. Now, Ossoff is at 64.7 percent to Perdue's 35.3 percent.

Savannah

  • Chatham (Georgia's most populous county outside of Metro Atlanta): In November, Ossoff won 57.6 percent of the vote here to Perdue's 40.2 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 59.1 percent to Perdue's 40.9 percent

The big, GOP-leaning counties

  • Cherokee (exurban Atlanta): In November, Perdue won 69.2 percent to Ossoff's 27.8 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 70.6 percent to Ossoff's 29.4 percent.
  • Forsyth (exurban Atlanta): In November, Perdue won 66.8 percent of the vote here to Ossoff's 30.6 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 68.1 percent to Ossoff's 31.9 percent.
  • Hall (exurban Atlanta): In November, Perdue won 71.1 percent to Ossoff's 26.2 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 72.4 percent to Ossoff's 27.6 percent.
  • Paulding (exurban Atlanta): In November, Perdue won 63.3 percent of the vote to Ossoff's 34 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 63.4 percent to Ossoff's 36.6 percent.
  • Columbia (outside of Augusta): In November, Perdue won 62.9 percent to Ossoff's 34.7 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 63.3 percent to Ossoff's 36.7 percent.

Georgia's runoff rules are in part thanks to state's segregationist past

WASHINGTON — With the 2020 race for the Senate heading into overtime eight weeks after Election Day, casual observers may be asking themselves: Why?

Both Senate races in Georgia headed to runoffs because no candidate in either contest received more than 50 percent of the vote in November. But the state’s election laws are unique in the United States, and their origins — at least in part — lie in the South’s segregationist past. 

While several other states require candidates to receive 50 percent plus one in many federal and state primary contests, Georgia is alone in requiring that share for both primaries and subsequent general elections.

The law requiring the threshold was signed in 1964, a year after being introduced by a Democratic state lawmaker named Denmark Groover from Macon, Ga.

Groover was a vocal segregationist also known for his work to include the Confederate flag in a redesign of the state flag of Georgia, in defiance of federal desegregation efforts.  

Groover understood the electoral power of the Black vote, having lost a race in 1958 when his strength with white voters was outmatched by the 84 percent of the Black vote that went for his opponent. 

Here’s what an Interior Department report on voting rights, published in 2007, had to say about Groover’s reaction to that loss: 

“The Macon politico blamed his loss on 'Negro bloc voting.' … Groover soon devised a way to challenge growing black political strength. Elected to the House again in 1962, he led the fight to enact a majority vote, runoff rule for all county and state contests in both primary and general elections.” 

Groover was a Democrat before a massive political realignment in the South scrambled traditional racial political alliances.

Now, with Black voters firmly in the Democratic coalition, the 50 percent plus one rule has largely been a stumbling block for the party. 

In fact, since 1988 — the first year for which Secretary of State records are available — Democrats have won just one of eight statewide contests that went to a runoff in Georgia, despite receiving more votes in the initial general election contests in several cases. 

The only race they won: A Democrat’s campaign for Public Service Commissioner in 1998. The same candidate later switched parties and will also compete in a runoff on January 5 — as a Republican.