The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Tom Steyer: I’ll declare a national emergency to tackle climate change
WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, the newest entry into the 2020 contest, released an environmental plan on Thursday that includes a promise to declare a “national emergency” over climate change immediately upon taking office.
“We’ve got to stop talking about this, we have to turn the page to action and we should do it Day One by calling it a state of emergency,” Steyer told NBC News in an interview.
“That’s where we are. That’s where the people of America have got to go together.”
He is the first candidate to follow President Trump’s own invocation of emergency powers to finance a border wall with a direct pledge to take similar steps to confront climate change.
According to Steyer, he would “give Congress 100 days to pass a Green New Deal” before using executive authority impose new energy efficiency standards on and redirect federal funding to climate projects.
Steyer’s broader proposal sets a goal of net-zero emissions associated with climate change by 2045.
Planks of the plan include a $2 trillion investment in clean energy infrastructure, hiring 1 million workers into a new civil service program dedicated to combating climate change, and tripling funding for scientific research.
It also includes a $50 billion fund to help transition workers tied to the fossil fuel industry to new jobs, which Steyer said would be distributed in consultation with affected communities. “We want to make sure we explicitly take those workers’ interests into account,” he said.
A leading Democratic donor, Steyer has invested millions in climate activism over the years through groups like NextGen America, which he founded.
Booker and Biden lower the temperature of spat at National Urban League
INDIANAPOLIS — Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., kept recent tensions between them low at the National Urban League conference, with both candidates stressing to the audience their individual commitments to the black community instead of attacking each other’s records on civil rights.
Still, Booker, who was the first candidate to criticize Biden’s criminal justice plan earlier this week, suggested throughout his remarks that the African American should base their support for a candidate on their career long commitment to civil rights and their chances to beat President Donald Trump.
“It is easy to call Donald Trump a racist now — you get no great badge of courage for that. The question is what were you doing to address structural inequality and institutional racism throughout your life?” he said.
Booker then added it was “a problem” that when people ask about electability “they’re not asking about the African-American voters who make up the most reliable constituency of the Democratic Party.”
The New Jersey senator never uttered Biden’s name during his speech Thursday, but his comments came after Booker questioned whether Biden is the appropriate leader for the black community because he was the “architect of mass incarceration” for passing the 1994 crime bill. Biden responded to that attack yesterday stating simply that “Cory knows better.”
Following Booker’s electability remark, Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager and communications director for Biden’s campaign, tweeted that the campaign “couldn’t agree more” with his point. She then pointed to the almost 40 percentage point difference between Booker and Biden in a new CBS poll where 44 percent of African Americans said they would vote for Biden over 4 percent who support Booker.
Biden avoided even making suggestions about his opponents position on the issue while speaking at the conference, but he did stress that he would do everything possible to win over African American voters saying, “I promise I’ll work hard for your support. And if I get elected, I’m with you.”
Many of Biden's opponents have lodged complaints against Biden's assumption that he will easily win the African American community.
Biden leads Dem primary field in South Carolina by 27 points
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden has a wide lead in Monmouth University's new South Carolina Democratic primary poll, with just two other candidates registering double-digit support.
Biden's 39 percent puts him in a league of his own, while his next closest competitors are stuck in a logjam far behind him.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has support from 12 percent of the likely primary voters, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at 10 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at 9 percent.
South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is at 5 percent in the poll, followed by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and billionaire Tom Steyer, who both sit at 2 percent.
The rest of the field hit 1 percent or lower.
Biden continues to draw his support from black voters, which typically make up a majority of the South Carolina primary electorate. More than half (51 percent) of black voters say Biden is their first choice.
Monmouth is one of the pollsters that the Democratic National Committee is using to decide who makes its debate stage in September. But the poll had little effect on the field, outside putting Steyer closer to qualifying for the debate.
Candidates have to hit both a 130,000 unique donor threshold as well as finish with 2 percent or above in four qualifying polls. Six candidates both have hit the poll threshold and say they've hit that unique donor threshold. With this poll, Steyer has hit the 2 percent mark in two polls.
Gillibrand unveils 'moonshot' plan to combat climate change
CHICAGO — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., unveiled a $10 trillion comprehensive climate change plan Thursday, that she says will "save our planet."
“We must aggressively combat climate change not because it is easy, but because it is hard," Gillibrand said evoking the words of former President John F. Kennedy in a statement announcing her climate "moonshot."
"Our race for a green economy will be a measure of our excellence, innovation, and entrepreneurialism as a nation, and I know we’re up for the challenge,” she continued.
Her six point plan includes many elements of the Green New Deal, a resolution outlined by freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now embraced by much of the 2020 Democratic primary field.
The six points, each containing specific goals, initiatives and commitments are:
- Get to net-zero carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and phase out fossil fuels.
- Put a price on carbon and hold polluters accountable.
- Build a green jobs economy.
- Prioritize rural advancement, frontline communities, and marginalized voices.
- Lead a 21st-century clean energy international “space race.”
- Protect clean air, clean water, and public lands.
Climate change has been a top issue area for the Democratic party base, reflected by the priority several of the candidates have placed on detailing large-scale plans to combat the issue.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is making climate change the central issue of his candidacy, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's first policy proposal was a $5 trillion climate plan and former Vice President Joe Biden's plan, announced in early June, totaled $1.7 trillion.
In a nod to workers potentially displaced by a shift to a green energy economy, Gillibrand promises to "establish a 'green jobs recovery fund' to help affected communities build new opportunities."
Her plan includes a commitment to "ensure wage and benefit replacements are guaranteed for displaced workers, and make it easier for workers who are near the end of their career to find paths to retirement."
The Gillibrand campaign says her proposals would be partially funded by a combination of a climate mitigation excise tax, carbon tax and ending fossil fuel subsidies.
Democrats don’t see momentum for impeachment right now
WASHINGTON — Robert Mueller’s testimony is unlikely to reverse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance to launch immediate impeachment proceedings against President Trump, instead lending momentum towards calls for more congressional investigations, Democratic lawmakers and top aides told NBC News.
“He was clear about the things that counted, that he did not exonerate the president, that there were multiple instances of obstruction of justice” Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Penn., told NBC News. "We absolutely have to” call in more witnesses, she said.
“I think it’s a very important first day,” Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Penn, said. “Some people are saying this is the last day. This is the beginning.”
Senior Democratic Intelligence Committee officials who briefed reporters after their hearing said Mueller’s articulation of national security risks that can come from foreign contacts, among other issues, "raises a lot more questions” to pursue.
In a press conference after the hearings, Pelosi was asked by NBC News whether her views had changed on impeachment. "My position has always been whatever decision we made in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts," she said. "It's about the Congress, the Constitution, and the courts. And we are fighting the president in the courts."
Pelosi told Democrats in a closed-door meeting Wednesday evening that the president has engaged in wrongdoing.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., said that Pelosi told members that they can come out for impeachment if that’s what they thought was right based on the testimony. “She was more clear today about” telling members to support impeachment if they want than she has been in the last, Demings said.
Still, Democrats close to the speaker cautioned that the proceedings are unlikely to change her go-slow approach.
Robert Raben, an assistant attorney general under Bill Clinton who is close to Pelosi’s office and has been advising House and Senate Judiciary members, said “if someone was hoping that this would be the surge toward a tipping point, that wasn’t the case.”
“The ground did not shift (on impeachment),” Raben told NBC. “Pelosi’s strategy of investigate, legislate and litigate will remain intact,” he said.
Three Democratic aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the hearings won't cause Pelosi to reverse course.
“The question is how many (Democratic) members come out for it and what’s the threshold that makes it uncomfortable and unsustainable for her” to resist impeachment. Prior to the hearings, there were 88 Democrats who’ve publicly called for an impeachment inquiry.
“If we get into triple digits and 45-50% it might be harder for her” to resist, the aide said.
Alex Moe contributed
Booker and Biden spar over criminal justice
WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former Vice President Joe Biden took aim at each other's records on criminal justice in what could be a preview of next week's presidential debate stage.
Booker has spent the past few days criticizing Biden's support for the 1994 crime bill decried by many progressive criminal justice reform activists for being too harsh on issues like mandatory sentencing.
Biden pushed back Wednesday, pointing to a federal investigation into the Newark Police Department that found that officers "engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, use of excessive force and theft."
The discussion heated up on Tuesday after Biden released his new criminal justice plan, which includes policies like pushing states to eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes and reducing criminal penalties for drug crimes.
In response, Booker called Biden the "proud architect of a failed system."
Booker expanded on that criticism on Wednesday during a Detroit NAACP forum that included 10 presidential candidates, including Biden. There, he argued that "we've seen devastating impact of legislation" like the crime bill" to "destroy communities, that has turned and put mass incarceration on steroids," Booker said.
During his remarks Wednesday, Biden defended his involvement with the 1994 crime bill, arguing it was "overwhelmingly supported" in his community. But he said there should be a shift from "incarceration to rehabilitation" to address the "systemic problem of too many African Americans in jail."
Pressed on Booker's claim, Biden pointed to the Justice Department investigation into the Newark Police Department which found a "pattern or practice of constitutional violations," as well as "policing that results in disproportionate stops and arrests of Newark’s black residents." Booker was the mayor of Newark for a portion of that time.
"If he wants to go back and talk about records, I am happy to do that. But I'd rather talk about the future," Biden added.
Booker addressed that investigation Sunday on CNN.
"Most folks who know New Jersey know I inherited a police department that had decades of challenges with accountability, challenges along racial lines," he said.
"And we actually stepped up to deal with the problem, not only working with the DOJ, but working with the ACLU to put forward what was a national standard-setting level of accountability.
Michigan GOP Rep. says he won't run again in 2020
WASHINGTON — A Republican member of Congress from Michigan says he won’t run for re-election, lamenting that “rhetoric overwhelms policy, and politics consumes much of the oxygen in this city.”
Rep. Paul Mitchell, who was first elected to Michigan’s 10th district in the Detroit exurbs in 2016, said he’ll retire at the end of his term, also in part to spend more time with a young son with special needs.
Mitchell’s district is heavily conservative, but it’s experienced a significant swing in the past decade. Trump won it by 32 percentage points in 2016, and Mitchell won by more than 25 points in both his congressional elections.
That’s a significant shift from 2008, when Barack Obama kept John McCain’s margin of victory there to just two points.
Poll: Majority of Republicans now say they're confident that Mueller probe was fair
WASHINGTON — When former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before Congress on Wednesday, he’ll have a unique distinction that most lawmakers in Congress can only stand back and envy: Both Republicans and Democrats are pretty confident in his work.
New data from the Pew Research Center finds that — for the first time — a majority of Republicans say they’re confident that Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election was fair.
Six-in-ten Republicans express that confidence, with 71 percent of Democrats saying the same thing.
Overall, 65 percent of Americans adults say they have faith in the fairness of Mueller’s probe, with 36 percent saying they’re “very” confident.
Republicans’ enthusiasm for Mueller is up sharply since January, when only 39 percent expressed confidence in Mueller’s work.
Since the publication of his findings this spring, President Donald Trump has pointed to the report as vindication to his claims of “no collusion,” even as he continues to ding Mueller as personally “conflicted.”
Mueller’s report said that while it did not find evidence the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” it did conclude “the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
And while Mueller did not find that Trump committed obstruction of justice, he wrote that “if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
Dem group Priorities USA launches round of weekly, six-figure digital buys
WASHINGTON — Priorities USA, a top Democratic super PAC aimed at defeating President Trump in 2020, is launching a new round of digital ads aimed chipping away at Trump's economic message.
The ads, which started this week, sound a similar message: "Let's be honest: Trump's economy isn't working for us."
Guy Cecil, the group's chairman, told reporters Tuesday that they will ramp up spending in the next few weeks and will ultimately be spending $350,000 to $400,000 per week on the ads in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. He added the campaign will last for the "foreseeable future" with "no end date."
The focus on the economy, Cecil said, is for a variety of reasons. First, he said the news of the day (think: impeachment, the Mueller report, and more recently, Trump's attacks on the four minority freshmen Democratic members) continues to dominate in the headlines at the expense of economic issues that voters say matter to them.
And he argued that while some broad metrics, like the stock market and the unemployment rate may be favorable for Trump at the macro-level, that there's ample room for Democrats to make a more personal argument.
"Americans are experiencing Donald Trump's economy in a way that is fundamentally different from most of the headlines," he said.
"Most Americans describe the economy as being good, but most Americans also describe their personal economic situation as being incredibly tenuous."
Along with the roll-out of the new ads, Cecil also shared a glimpse of the super PAC's internal projections for 2020.
Priorities USA believes that if the election were held today, a Democrat would defeat Trump with 278 electoral votes to Trump's 260. But Cecil cautioned that the lead is not a projection for what the map will look like by next November, only the map as it stands now.
And he described the Democratic lead as slim — if turnout by voters of color drops 2 percentage points or Democratic support from the white working class drops 1 percentage point from Priorities' projections, Democrats would lose, their analysis shows.
"The reality is that we are dealing with an incredibly close election and it requires Democrats, it requires progressives, it requires us to be focused on both things," Cecil said of the argument over whether Democrats should target the white working class or minority voters.
"Choosing one or the other is choosing to lose."
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.