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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Biden releases criminal justice reform plan

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden has unveiled a criminal justice plan that aims to curb the high rate of incarceration after critics have targeted his past support for legislation they say led to high levels of unjust incarcerations. 

Biden’s Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice calls for eliminating mandatory minimum for non-violent crimes, a federal provision passed under the 1994 Crime Bill passed while Biden served as Senate Judiciary Chairman. 

It redirects incarcerated drug users to drug courts and ends the disparity between crack and powder cocaine in an effort to lessen the number of incarcerated people. It would decriminalize cannabis and automatically expunge prior convictions for those jailed for using marijuana. Biden would not federally decriminalize marijuana, saying that is a decision for states. 

Biden’s plan also lays out numerous ways to prevent those with a higher risk of facing jail in their lifetime by investing and improving foster care, education and literacy, and it explains how his administration would invest $1billion towards juvenile justice reform. 

“He believes in opportunity. He believes in fairness. He believes that folks that who have served their time should be able to reintegrate into society and and participate fully, as citizens,” a senior Biden campaign official said. 

His proposal comes at a time when his criminal justice and civil rights record is questioned by opponents and critics for lacking understanding of the issues. Biden has defended his decades long records on the issues, saying that he entered and remained in politics to defend civil rights. 

He recently admitted that though his record on the 1994 crime bill has been “grossly misrepresented,” he acknowledged that it was far from perfect. 

“It worked, it worked in some areas. But it failed in others. Like every major change, you go back and you make it better,” he said at an in Sumter, S.C. earlier this month. 

A campaign official stressed that the timing of the release was not a result of Biden debating the two African Americans candidates in the race, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., at next week’s debate and said he’s prepared to face criticism of his record. 

Kamala Harris teams up with Jerry Nadler on marijuana bill

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. is sponsoring new legislation with Congressman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. to decriminalize marijuana, tax its production, and use the funds to aid neighborhoods and individuals especially impacted by prior enforcement of drug laws. 

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” Harris said in a statement. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives.”

The bill, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, will likely have more opportunity to advance through the Democratic-majority House, where Nadler chairs the Judiciary Committee. 

The bill would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and impose a 5 percent excise tax, which would go to a series of programs to help “communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs” benefit from the new industry, according to Harris. They would include a grant program to help local governments work with residents with marijuana-related convictions to help them with job training, legal aid, and substance abuse treatment. Another program would assist prospective new marijuana entrepreneurs from “socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the costs of the excise tax to business owners would be dwarfed by the benefits of being able to do business in the open. Companies involved in cannabis currently face significant tax and banking barriers in states that have legalized marijuana thanks to the federal prohibition. 

“It’s going to be a much lower tax burden on the industry,” Strekal said. 

The issue has become a rallying point for Democrats in recent years. The entire Democratic field supports ending the federal prohibition on marijuana and Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., has made his own legalization bill a central part of his campaign.

Tom Steyer led presidential pack in Facebook spending last week

WASHINGTON — Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer is already dropping big dollars on his presidential bid, a reflection of how the new candidate's deep pockets are having an impact on the race. 

Steyer has already booked well more than $1 million in television advertising time, and his spots are already up on the air in early primary states.

And new Facebook data shows that Steyer spent more on Facebook ads than any other presidential candidate over the past week, $284,960 from July 14 through July 20

The Democrat's ads hit a variety of notes — some flaunt his work starting the "Need to Impeach" grassroots group aimed at pushing Congress to impeach President Trump; some argue "we need an outsider to fix our broken politics;" others argue that Steyer will put climate change "front and center;" and others argue that Steyer is the best candidate to buck the power that big corporations have in politics. 

New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand spent $195,772 during that time period with ads including some that criticize Trump's "contempt for women and anyone who threatens this president's fragile ego." She also ran ads promoting her record on abortion and calling on supporters to help her reach the September Democratic debate's 130,000 unique donor threshold. 

President Trump's "Make America Great Again Committee" spent $160,581 last week, making it the third-highest spending campaign of the week. Trump's messages included accusations that conservatives are being censored on social media and in the news, a direction to take the campaign's "Official Corrupt Media Censorship Survey," and various messages from the "Women for Trump" team about how the president's economic and border security plans will help women. 

Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker were the only other presidential hopefuls who spent at least $100,000 on Facebook last week. 

Warren warns of coming economic crisis — and how to avert it

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren is sounding the alarm with her latest plan, cautioning Monday — as she did before the 2008 crash — of new “warning signs” in the U.S. economy.

"Warning lights are flashing,” she writes in a Medium post. “Whether it’s this year or next year, the odds of another economic downturn are high — and growing. Congress and regulators should act immediately to tamp down these threats before it’s too late."

In the years before the 2008 crash, Warren saw red flags in subprime lending, rising household debt, and rising foreclosure rates/mortgage-backed securities. Today, it’s in a recession in the manufacturing sector, plus rising household and corporate debt and an uncertain economic backdrop.

And Warren writes that she has a plan to stop it. Here are some highlights:

  • Reduce household debt by raising wages ($15 min wage) and bring down household costs. Those cost reductions include several already-released Warren plans, like her student loan debt cancellation plan, universal childcare/pre-k, free college tuition, and housing (lowering the cost of rent).
  • Increase oversight over corporate lending, specifically through the already-existing Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) better addressing risks of leveraged lending and enforcing current leverage guidance. Trump’s FSOC, Warren writes, “is falling down on the job.” 
  • Reverse manufacturing job losses through Warren’s previously released Green Manufacturing Plan, which puts $2 trillion towards green research, manufacturing, and exporting, creating an estimated 1 million-plus new jobs while also addressing climate change.
  • Limit potential shocks to the economy — like planning for what will happen in the case of a no-deal Brexit, finding an ally-driven approach to dealing with China’s trade tactics (not “trade-war-by-tweet”), and eliminating the debt ceiling or automatically raising it to accommodate spending decisions approved by Congress.

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.