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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.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Top Democrat on tax committee faces left-wing primary challenge

WASHINGTON — Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, announced Monday that he will mount a primary challenge against Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee who has been criticized by progressives for not pushing harder for the release of President Donald Trump's tax returns.

Neal is a relatively low-profile moderate who has for three decades represented a district that encompasses most of Western Massachusetts, a rural but deeply Democratic area. 

Morse, whose parents grew up in public housing, became his hometown's youngest mayor ever and its first openly gay one when he was elected at 22 years old in 2011, just six months after graduating from Brown University. 

In a statement announcing his candidacy, Morse said Neal has not been aggressive enough in using his seat to push progressive ideas.

“There's an urgency to this moment in Massachusetts’ First District and our country, and that urgency is not matched by our current representative in Congress,” Morse said in a video announcing his candidacy. "We need new leadership that understands that we can no longer settle for small, incremental, and compromising progress. We need to be on offense. We need to be fighting for something, not just against."

In addition to Trump's tax returns, The incumbent has also been dinged by progressives for opposing impeachment proceedings against the president, expressing skepticism about Medicare for All, and accepting campaign contributions from corporate PACs.

Since Massachusetts is run almost entirely by Democrats, it has a history of ousting longtime incumbent Democrats who face high-profile challengers, such as Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who is now running for president after wining a primary in 2014, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., a member of the so-called "squad," who was elected last year after a blockbuster primary in Boston. 

Trump team will monitor Mueller hearing but no plans to counter — yet

WASHINGTON — The White House and President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign plan to tune in Wednesday to watch former special counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony without a coordinated plan to counter the appearance ahead of time, according to multiple officials involved in those discussions.

The president himself is expected to monitor the hearings from the White House as Mueller answers questions about the Russia investigation, according to campaign aides, much like he has done with similar events in the past. His schedule for that day only includes a routine lunch with the vice president, and aides point to his morning “executive time” as a natural window for Trump to take in snippets of the coverage.

But when asked directly by reporters last week if he intended to tune in, the president claimed he “won’t be watching.” 

Then, speaking to reporters on Monday, the president said, "I'm not going to be watching. Probably. Maybe I'll see a little bit of it. I'm not going to be watching Mueller because you can't take all those bites out of the apple. We had no collusion. No obstruction. We had no nothing."

Later Wednesday, Trump is expected to travel to Wheeling, West Virginia for a big-dollar fundraiser behind closed doors, a rescheduled event from earlier in the summer — offering a possible opportunity for him to respond to the man he once called “honorable” and now disparages regularly.

When the Mueller hearing was originally announced for July 17, the Trump re-election team decided to hold a signature “Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, North Carolina for that night.  But just days before the long-awaited testimony, lawmakers delayed the timing one week, in exchange for more questioning time. The rally, as well-documented, went on.

Now, Mueller is expected to appear before the Judiciary Committee for three hours, followed by two hours before the House Intelligence Committee.

White House officials, and Trump himself, expect Mueller to largely echo the contents of his 448-page report, which many Democrats say contain multiple instances of criminal obstruction even though he was not ultimately charged.

In a rare press availability in May, Mueller previewed what he might say if called to testify before Congress.  "The report is my testimony," he said, "I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.” 

So far, Trump’s legal team is waiting to see what happens on Wednesday before drafting any formal statements, according to attorney Jay Sekulow, who said they would “respond as appropriate.”

As usual, the president’s first response to Mueller’s testimony may come in the form of tweets. Campaign officials indicated Trump’s rapid response teams would also be monitoring the hearing, ready to pounce on anything that will continue to reinforce their claims that the president he been “totally and completely exonerated.”

The president’s next rally is set for August 1 in Cincinnati, Ohio and campaign officials confirmed to NBC News there are no major events scheduled prior to that event.

Carol E. Lee contributed to this report.

Moulton wins endorsement from former general McChrystal

WASHINGTON — Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who helmed the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, is endorsing Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton's presidential bid. 

McChrystal praised Moulton on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" Thursday, pointing to the need for a leader with "character" and "competence." 

"I think he'd be the best president for our nation, from where we are now and where I think we need to go," he said. 

Moulton did not make the second round of Democratic debates, falling short of the polling and unique-donor thresholds. The congressman downplayed that reality on Thursday, arguing: "I don't think the summer debates are going to decide the election." 

House GOP campaign chairman: There's 'no place' in party for 'send her back' chants at Trump rally

WASHINGTON ¬– Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, condemned the “send her back” chants by rallygoers at President Trump’s North Carolina rally Wednesday night aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

“There’s no place for that kind of talk,” Emmer told reporters at The Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday morning.

The chants by Trump supporters were evocative of Trump's tweet from earlier this week, where he said the minority congresswoman could "go back" to their home countries. House Democrats voted to condemn those comments as racist. 

Emmer defended Trump amid the firestorm over his comments, arguing that “There’s not a racist bone in the president’s body. What he was trying to say, he said wrong," he added. 

During the wide-ranging conversation in Washington D.C., Emmer went on to say that he doesn’t believe that there will be a major uproar in the 2020 election about race.

Some Republicans have voiced criticism of the NRCC's messaging, particularly in how it describes Democratic members of Congress. The NRCC has taken a new hardline approach to its communications strategy under Emmer’s leadership, which has included posting images of Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., in clown makeup and sending blast messages to reporters calling Democratic members “deranged”.

Emmer responded to questions about the NRCC messaging by saying it’s the organization’s job to get Republicans elected, which is different than an individual’s conduct.

“What we’re trying to do with the NRCC, our job, that’s an organization by the way, that’s not a member. That’s an organization whose job is to define who they are to make it clear to the American public this is who we have in the office,” Emmer said.

A focal point the public can expect from the NRCC in 2020 will be “socialism” in the Democratic Party and the so-called “squad” of more progressive Democratic congresswomen, who Trump attacked on Twitter earlier this week and has sought to elevate as a foil on the left.

“If you want to call them ‘the squad,’ you should call them the leadership squad, since they are the speaker in fact, and the rest of their conference you can call the new red army of socialists,” Emmer said.

When asked if there is a specific policy agenda Emmer would like to see Republican candidates run on, he told NBC News he would defer to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

“We do have a whole list of things that we can put out when it comes to health care,” Emmer said. “I have to defer to our leader, Kevin McCarthy. That’s his job to develop that with Liz Cheney and then give us the details that they want us to use.”

Warren targets Wall Street in new economic plan

SIOUX CITY, IA — Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is focusing her sights on Wall Street and private equity firms, an area of the economy that has long been one of her targets for regulation

Warren released a series of new proposals as part of her "economic patriotism" plan on Thursday in a Medium post, targeting private equity firms, calling for new banking regulations, expanding banking at the post office and pushing new regulations on corporations.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks during the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season in Miami on June 26, 2019.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

Private equity firms took a fair share of criticism from Warren—she decried the practice of buying companies to slash jobs and turn profits as "legalized looting." Her solution is to support legislation that would make it harder for private equity firms to destroy companies after purchasing them.

“These changes would shrink the sector and push the remaining private equity firms to make investments that help companies rather than stripping them down for parts,” her campaign wrote.

“Firms that make bad investments would be held accountable instead of walking away from the wreckage with millions in fees and payouts.”

Warren will be hosting several events in Sioux City on Thursday and Friday, where she'll almost certainly address her policy proposals.  

Take a look at some of the other top-lines of her plan below: 

  • Reintroduce Glass-Steagall (a bank regulation law passed during the Great Depression and ultimately repealed in 1999) and introduce new banking regulations to discourage speculative investing
  • Expand low-cost postal banking through USPS and speed up money transfers through the federal reserve
  • Pass bill that requires corporations to focus on long-term financial interests of stakeholders and workers rather than short term financial gain

Trump heads to MAGA rally with a focus on the 'squad'

GREENVILLE, N.C. — President Trump is expected to continue his attacks on the “squad” of Democratic House members at his campaign rally here tonight, according to two senior campaign officials, a preview of a 2020 strategy that is, so far, resonating with his base.

Supporters outside the Williams Arena here said they did not find the president’s attacks on four congresswomen of color to be “racist,” and said they hope Trump continues this approach as an effective tool heading into next year’s election. 

The campaign would not preview exactly of what the president will say tonight and he is known to improvise, but they say they have advised Trump to spend considerable time on the “squad” and continue to paint them as the face of today’s Democratic Party. The president hinted as much in a tweet earlier today when he said he would be talking about “people who love, and hate, our Country (mostly love)!”

The president enjoys having a clear foil for his rallies and tonight's event and enemy and this is just the latest example of that. Special counsel Robert Mueller was originally scheduled to testify before two House committees today but that appearance was postponed until next week.  Now, there's a new message for him to deliver, one that he is promoting ahead of the event:

Granite State voters are taking their time before picking a candidate

MANCHESTER, N.H. — A new CNN/UNH poll of likely New Hampshire voters has former Vice President Joe Biden leading with 24 percent, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on his heels with 19 percent each, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 10 percent, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at 9 percent and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke each at two percent. The DNC qualifying poll is our first snapshot of where candidates stand in the first-in-the-nation primary state since April.   

But while no other candidate passed one percent support, only 16 percent of voters say they are “definitely” decided six months out from voting day, leaving 84 percent of Granite State voters up for grabs, a number reflective of what voters in the state have been telling NBC News. 

Since the first Democratic candidate primary debates, 12 candidates have campaigned in N.H. The majority of voters NBC News has spoken with at campaign events share a common sentiment — it is still early.  

Candidates attract dozens, and in some cases, hundreds of potential voters to come out in person. But the most common attendees at these events are still considering multiple candidates.

"Still shopping,” said Peterborough locals Jamie Harrison and Kathy George while waiting  in line to see Warren on July 8. 

Traci Joy, from Nashua, saw Warren and Cory Booker in the same week. Joy liked their messages, but says she also really likes newcomer Buttigieg and Sanders, one of her favorites since 2015. 

Similarly, at Buttigieg’s town hall in Dover, curious locals came to hear from the South Bend mayor, but are still open-minded. Kathleen Dinan, an elderly woman, is considering Buttigieg, Harris, Warren and Booker but “the important thing is we nominate someone who can beat Trump.” 

Millennial mother of two Jenn Macdonald was a “big Berner” last election cycle, but is intrigued by Tulsi Gabbard and Harris this time around. 

“I’m really looking at more so what they’re standing for and less about who they are at this point because there are so many out there now that it’s really about who’s going to do the whole big picture for us,” she said. 

As voters accustomed to the state’s first-in-the-nation role, residents here tend to be kinds of voters that want to see and meet a candidate in person multiple times in their backyards before pledging their utmost exclusive support. 

For the 18 candidates who aren’t topping the latest poll, it’s evidence that the electorate here remains highly engaged — and largely undecided on who they like the most.

Sanders celebrity buzz muted in crowded field

WASHINGTON — In 2016, Vampire Weekend opened for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Des Moines; director Spike Lee told South Carolina Democrats to “do the right thing,” by supporting the Vermont senator’s presidential bid; comedian George Lopez told Latino voters he was “Feeling the Bern.” 

Four years later, Sanders is seeing his support shrink in a crowded field for the Democratic presidential nomination.

And his celebrity appeal is less pronounced as well, though there have been a few exceptions. Tony! Toni! Tone! opened a California rally in San Francisco during his campaign rollout tour. Actor Danny Glover is still a surrogate and has become somewhat of a regular on the campaign trail, especially at events in the South. In Pasadena, actor Danny DeVito surprised supporters at a rally, briefly speaking on stage to express his appreciation for the senator.  

Sanders also got somewhat of an endorsement Tuesday from New York rapper Cardi B, and campaign officials say the two sides have regular conversations about a potential appearance on the trail.

 

However, the regular sightings of bold-faced names, and rallies drawing thousands at a time have so far been muted during this campaign run. Sanders' team says what has been seen already is not reflective of what is planned for the senator, which includes possible music festival appearances. "There's still a cultural hallmark on this campaign for sure," one official told NBC News. 

Spike Lee cut videos for Sanders and spoke at a 20-thousand plus rally in the Bronx, NY, in 2016 but has been publicly silent about the current race. His daughter, Satchel Lee introduced Sen. Kamala Harris at a Brooklyn fundraiser earlier this month. 

Comedian Sarah Silverman, who initially supported Sanders in 2016, donated to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg according to FEC filings. Silverman still talks favorably of the senator but also shows an affinity for many of the other candidates, tweeting “Love Cory Love Bernie love Elizabeth love Beto — great options and I’m rooting for all!”  

The New York indie rock band Vampire Weekend, on tour with a new album, performed a full set at a Sanders Iowa event in 2016. This march, the band's singer Ezra Koenig told The Times of London that his band may be up for another political swing for Sanders. "If we can help out, sure." And then added:  "but it's hard to be as excited as I was in 2016." 

And there's Rosario Dawson, the actress who stumped for Sanders on a cold New York night in 2016 and described him as someone “I’ve adored and loved for so long.” Dawson is now the the girlfriend of one of Sanders' challengers for the Democratic nomination, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

Gary Grumbach contributed to this report.

The Cardi B and Bernie Sanders relationship, explained

WASHINGTON—With rapper Cardi B. tweeting praise for Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders Tuesday morning, it's worth taking a look back at their history. 

While many of Cardi B’s most popular songs are about her newfound excessive wealth since making it big as a rapper, (see: “Bodak Yellow”) there’s a long relationship here, albeit only publicly on social media at this point, between the democratic socialist and the 26-year-old rapper.

Cardi B has been vocal about her political views online for years, consistently very supportive of the Vermont senator. In a now-deleted (and not safe for work) video posted on Instagram in the summer of 2016, Cardi B told her supporters to "Vote for Daddy Bernie."

And she's shown interest in politics before—talking with GQ last year about her interest in and appreciation for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Sanders regularly evokes FDR an influence for democratic socialism). 

Here's an excerpt from that interview

"…First of all," continues Cardi B, "he helped us get over the Depression, all while he was in a wheelchair. Like, this man was suffering from polio at the time of his presidency, and yet all he was worried about was trying to make America great—make America great again for real. He's the real 'Make America Great Again,' because if it wasn't for him, old people wouldn't even get Social Security."

Sen. Bernie Sanders responded to her comments on social security in this GQ article by saying Cardi B is right. 

Cardi B voiced her support for Sen. Bernie Sanders again in April of 2019, but stopped short of a full endorsement during a red carpet interview with Variety:

VARIETY: Who are you supporting in 2020?

CARDI B: Um, I don’t know. I’ma always go with ‪Bernie.

VARIETY: Yeah? Why?

CARDI B: Because there’s the thing, right, Bernie don't say things to be cool. Like, there's pictures of him being an activist from a very, very, very long time. As a matter of fact I was watching the news and I saw like this guy named Tim Ryan. And his, his speech was very convincing to me. He really wants to give the United States free health care. So that’s a big plus. We need health care. So. I don’t know. We’ll see.

A deeper dive into the second quarter fundraising numbers

WASHINGTON — Monday's second-quarter fundraising filings shed some important light on the financial health of the Democratic presidential field. 

The top-lines are clear: South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former President Joe Biden, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris have separated themselves from the pack as far as fundraising. 

But there are tons of important nuggets in the trove of information turned over by the campaigns Monday night. 

Here are two next-level data-points worth noting from the reports. 

Staff size 

Different candidates have different theories of how to win the Democratic nomination. And many of them are at different points in their presidential bid. So there's no one-size-fits-all approach to staffing. 

All of the top-fundraising candidates have more than 100 salaried staff-members, but their staff totals reflect different strategies. 

Warren's group of 304 salaried staff members is the largest operation in the field. That big investment in staffing is especially important for Warren because she's made the decision to skip the big-dollar fundraising circuit.

Sanders' organization is close behind, with 282 staff members, while Biden has about 194 salaried staff.  

Buttigieg, the second-quarter fundraising leader, is relying on a leaner staff of about 137 salaried positions (his campaign, like many others also relies on staff being paid as consultants too). 

All of those candidates have the deep pockets right now to support such large staffs, while candidates at the bottom of the polls only have a few dozen staff members. 

But the one big outlier is New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker—he has slightly more salaried staff (176) than Buttigieg despite raising one-fifth of the money that Buttigieg raised. Booker is making a similar bet as Warren, one that relies on a big staff. But the question is, can he sustain it?

Campaigns in the red

One way to think about a presidential campaign is to treat it like a unique business. Instead of maximizing profits, it has to maximize votes. And while there may be reasons to spend a business into the red, it's usually not a good sign to do it. 

Along with Booker, John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang all spent more than they brought in last quarter. 

Many of those candidates were cutting big checks in the hopes of qualifying for the first round of Democratic debates (which they all did). But burning through cash like this is a risky strategy, with a slimmer margin of error. 

Biden on Trump: 'I won't get down in the dirt with him'

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday he'd have no problem taking on President Trump on the debate stage, arguing that his experience on the world stage has prepared him to stand up to adversaries.

During an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Biden defended his performance at last month's Democratic debates, where California Sen. Kamala Harris forcefully attacked his record on opposing federally-mandated busing to promote integration. And he said that despite that exchange, he'd be ready to take on Trump if they debated in the general election. 

"I realize that some have  concluded because I didn't respond very tough back to her that, how can I take on Trump? I have never had any trouble taking on anyone from Trump to Putin to Xi Jinping or anyone else," he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Chinese president. 

"I would say come on Donald, come on, man. How many push-ups do you want to do here, pal? I mean, jokingly. Come on, run with me man."

"I won't get down in the dirt with him," he added.