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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

'Sometimes I am misread': On bus tour, Buttigieg looks to pull back the curtain

ELKADER, Iowa — Forty-one hours into his first bus tour through Northeastern Iowa, Pete Buttigieg had done very little complaining. 

After five town halls and another nine or so hours of questioning by the press, the South Bend mayor seemed more composed than when he’d started. But when a reporter asked whether voters view him as emotionally distant, it hit a nerve. 

“Sometimes I am misread as being bloodless,”Buttigieg said, sitting back in an armchair as his bus rolled toward Elkader, Iowa, population 1,273. 

He said it was irritating that the media acts as if his early work as a consultant defined his personality — “or like that I have a technocratic soul,” Buttigieg said. “I do not have a technocratic soul.” 

Pete Buttigieg, South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful, takes a question from the press on his campaign bus during a four day tour of Iowa on Sept. 23, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters

Then he laid out his theory of leadership in terms that were, well, technical. 

“If there’s a way to deal with a problem that can make everybody better off while making nobody worse off, then by definition it should be done, and it doesn’t really take a lot of courage or judgment,” Buttigieg said. “That’s the part of a politician’s job that should be automated.” 

“I think you earn your paycheck in politics dealing with moral issues, not technical issues,” he added. “What do you do when there’s winners or losers? What do you do when one of our values collides with another? That’s why we have human beings.” 

If Buttigieg senses a disconnect in how he’s publicly perceived, it may explain why he decided to rent a luxury bus, load it full of about a dozen reporters, liquor and candy, and drive around Iowa for four days — all on the record. 

Despite massive fundraising and crowds that regularly dwarf those of his rivals, Buttigieg is struggling to break into the top tier in the Democratic race, a triumvirate comprising Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, with Buttigieg a distant fourth in most polls. The most recent survey in Iowa saw his support drop five points, to just 9 percent. 

More than four months still separate the candidates from the first contest, the Iowa caucuses. But ultimately, if Buttigieg cannot convert the clear enthusiasm from rally-goers and donors into hard support from voters, it becomes the existential dilemma of his campaign. 

So Buttigieg is returning to some of the guerrilla-style campaign tactics that transformed him from the unknown mayor of a midsize Indiana town into a household name, a fundraising phenomenon and a history-maker in the form of America’s first major openly gay presidential candidate. 

It’s “radical transparency,” as Buttigieg’s media adviser Lis Smith calls it: a four-day rolling press conference, harkening back to the late Sen. John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express.” 

Buttigieg’s advisers argue that by putting himself at the mercy of endless inquisition, he proves not only agility but also the authenticity of someone who speaks their mind so faithfully that they can’t be pushed off-message.  

“Something absurd could happen in the next 90 seconds and you could ask me about it, and you’ll see how I think in real time,” Buttigieg said during a particularly long stretch on the bus. 

In reality, it’s also a way to use the novelty of seeing a politician in unusual circumstances to generate massive amounts of media attention. The strategy is not unlike how Buttigieg propelled himself into the political conversation earlier this year by saying yes to just about every interview request — not just cable news and magazine profiles but also less obvious, potentially riskier choices like late-night talk shows, niche websites and TMZ. 

“Just out of curiosity, who’s responsible for this?” Buttigieg said with a playful grin as he boarded the bus picked up a near-empty bottle of Bulleit bourbon that had been full when the bus pulled in to Waterloo the night before. 

Yet if the hope was that the cozy intimacy of a bus would lead to deeper conversations and more intimate insights into the candidate, it seemed tempered by the candidate’s tendency to operate at the same measured tempo regardless of the venue.

As the bus ambled through Newton the evening Buttigieg’s tour started, there was all the polite awkwardness of a first date. Reporters lobbed policy questions they already knew the answers to, groping for more lighthearted topics like how many of his signature white shirts he’d brought on the trip (four, plus a single pair of jeans) and what Buttigieg would be doing if not for politics (“happily be living as a literary critic at a university”).

By day two, the obvious topics had been covered and the conversation descended into the more mundane: Buttigieg’s favorite road trip snacks, exercise regimen on the road, least favorite part about the campaign trail (“You miss home”). By the third day, Smith, his communications guru, seemed agitated.

“Can I just say something, guys? We’re all here on the bus. Ask whatever you want. Like, this works both ways,” Smith said. “If you guys keep asking the same questions over and over again, you’re going to get boring answers.”

As the blue-and-gold-wrapped bus rolled out of Waterloo on Monday, Buttigieg seemed to settle into a looser, more edifying style of reflection about himself and the state of the race. He weighed in on why Warren is gaining traction — “because she’s really good” — and sharpened his argument against Biden, without mentioning him by name.

“The part about the electability debate that I'm really trying to turn on its head is the idea that you need the most stable, familiar face to be elected,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t think we’d be here if people liked what they were getting out to the establishment, which means that sending in the establishment is a terrible way to try to win the election.”

Buttigieg has often cited former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod’s theory that holds that voters tend to seek the opposite of their current president — the “remedy,” not the “replica.”

Pete Buttigieg steps off on his campaign bus during a four day tour of Iowa on Sept. 23, 2019.Josh Lederman / NBC News

As he fielded question after question on Iowa’s highways, the unanswerable one seemed to be whether that “opposites” theory still holds true in the era of President Trump: Do voters want a steady, “safe choice” as a counterweight to today’s chaos, or did Trump’s election prove Americans eager for a disruptor who will channel their frustrations?

“We’re so used to candidates that appeal to emotional stuff. He gave a more thoughtful presentation today,” said Jim Klosterboer, a 70-year-old from McGregor, after seeing Buttigieg speak for the first time in nearby Elkader. “I think it’s slow building because the emotional stuff isn’t there.”

“The charisma-type stuff,” chimed in his friend, Jay Moser, a retired pharmacist.

Klosterboer’s wife, Laurie, 67, disagreed.

“Well, he’s got charisma, personality,” the retired teacher said. “And in the White House, you want thoughtful intelligence, experience.”

NBC News' Charlie Gile contributed. 

Booker campaign raises more than $500,000 since Saturday as it seeks to stay afloat in Dem primary

WASHINGTON — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's Democratic presidential campaign has raised more than a half-million dollars since its Saturday morning plea for donors to help the campaign hit its fundraising goal by the end of the month or drop out. 

The Booker campaign told supporters, staff and reporters on Saturday that it needed to raise $1.7 million more by the end of the month, the third fundraising quarter of 2019, in order to stay afloat. 

Booker addressed that ultimatum on Monday's "Morning Joe," revealing that Saturday and Sunday have been "the two best fundraising days of our campaign so far." 

"We got in this race not for an exercise in ego or a vanity project, but we got in to win," he said. 

"We have built a campaign to win but we want to be very honest with people — the fourth quarter is where you grow, and if we don't have the money to grow, we are not going to be able to stay competitive." 

— Vaughn Hillyard contributed. 

NBC/WSJ poll: Voters divided over environmental, energy proposals

As world leaders gather in New York City for a special United Nations summit on climate change, American voters are divided over key proposals for energy and environmental policy, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows.

The poll, released over the weekend, found that about half of voters — 52 percent — back a proposal to shift the United States to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, including stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power.

And 45 percent want to ban hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

Those two proposals, which are among those being backed by environmental activists, have majority support among Democrats. About eight-in-ten Democratic primary voters — 81 percent — back a total move to renewable energy, while 58 percent support a fracking ban.

But both proposals also face strong opposition from Republicans. Three-quarters of Republicans say they oppose a shift away from conventional energy sources, with 58 percent saying they strongly oppose the move.

Opposition to a fracking ban is slightly more muted for GOP voters, although a majority — 55 percent — oppose it. Thirty-five percent of Republicans say they strongly oppose such a ban.

Republicans are far more enthusiastic about drilling for oil off the coast of the United States. That garners the support of 81 percent of GOP voters  and about half — 51 percent — of voters overall. Just 24 percent of Democratic primary voters, however, agree.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Sept. 13-16. The margin of error for all adults is +/- 3.27 percentage points.

Democratic candidates stump at the Iowa Steak Fry – Part 2

DES MOINES, IA – Seventeen Democratic presidential candidates took the stage at the Iowa Steak Fry on Saturday to address the crowd of potential caucus-goers. Here are some highlights from the second half of those candidates: 

Michael Bennet: Bennet played up his moderate side during his time at the steak fry podium when he reminded the crowd that “We won the House back in 2018 with Democrats running on a public option not Medicare for All,” and in 2020, “We need to nominate somebody who has run tough races as I have in Colorado who says the same thing in the primary as they say in the general election.”

Julián Castro: Paging House Democrats, Castro opened his stump speech with a simple call, “It is time for you to do your job and impeach Donald Trump. How many crimes does this president have to commit before Congress will act and impeach him?”

Tulsi Gabbard: Gabbard addressed President Trump's decision to deploy troops to Saudi Arabia and said that she is running for president to end these “regime change wars.” She called the reality of never-ending wars “insanity.”

Tom Steyer: Tom Steyer spearheaded his presidential campaign with his organization "Need to Impeach", and he continued that message in Iowa: "You're never gonna see someone from this stage conspire with the president of Ukraine to use American tax dollars for his political purposes - I can promise you that. That's why I started Need To Impeach two years ago - cause I knew he was a criminal." 

Joe Sestak: Sestak introduced himself to the crowd in Iowa and called out President Trump for dodging the draft during the  Vietnam War, while touting his own Navy service. 

Marianne Williamson: By the time Williamson took the microphone, the crowd had thinned at the steak fry but she stuck to her normal campaign speech about only being able to change the "era of political theatre" by creating a new phenomenon. 

Steve Bullock: Steve Bullock stuck to his campaign stump focusing on this next election being the "most important" in "our lifetimes" and that Democrats need to pick up seats in some areas that they lost "along the way." Of course, that did not lead to a Senate candidacy announcement. 

Tim Ryan: When Tim Ryan grabbed the microphone, the crowd had thinned as it started to pour. But Ryan told the remaining crowd that, "we don't stop playing football" when it rains, so he wouldn't stop politicking either. Ryan told the remaining crowd that he understands rural America and he will "rebuild" small towns.  

Democratic candidates stump at the Iowa Steak Fry – Part 1

DES MOINES, IA – Seventeen Democratic presidential candidates took the stage at the Iowa Steak Fry on Saturday to address the crowd of potential caucus-goers. Here are some highlights from the first half of those candidates: 

Beto O’Rourke: O’Rourke capitalized on his “hell yes” comments regarding mandatory buybacks for certain assault weapons: “People will ask us, they'll say, 'Hey Beto, aren't you afraid that you've gone too far, that you really pissed off the NRA this time?', I'm not afraid of that. No, I'm not afraid of that. I would be afraid if I were a school teacher in a kindergarten classroom and those kids for whom I'd already sacrificed so much were up against a gunman with an AR-15 because we didn't have the courage to stop him while we still had time.”

Kamala Harris: Harris gave an abbreviated version of her stump speech, plugging the joke that she’s going to move to Iowa. She focused on her message of “prosecuting the case of four more years with Donald Trump.” The crowd briefly echoed her, chanting “Dude’s gotta go.”

Cory Booker: Booker did not mention his fundraising needs while at the microphone, and rather stuck to talking about bringing people together: “We will win this election not by dividing democrats but have people who unite us and bring us together.”

Elizabeth Warren: Warren, who was one of the first presidential candidates to call for the impeachment of President Trump began her stump speech with seconding that call: “He has solicited another foreign government to attack our election system, it is time for us to call out this illegal behavior and start impeachment proceedings right now.”

Bernie Sanders: Sanders stuck to his stump speech at the steak fry and discussed combatting white nationalism “in all of its ugly faults.” Per the NBC team, Sanders’ voice seemed to be fading and he has 12 events this week.

Andrew Yang: While Yang waited until about halfway through his speech to discuss his freedom dividend plan, Yang called on Iowans to “solve the biggest problem of all time” – Donald Trump. While the crowd seemed a bit unfamiliar with Yang, the Yang campaign told NBC he will be making more frequent trips to Iowa.

Joe Biden: Biden dug in on a line he made at the last Democratic debate that he’s “with Barack” when it comes to health care. During his time at the microphone Biden said, “I'm opposed to anybody who wants to take down Obamacare,” and, “we have to finish the job and we can do it because the American public now understands what they had and were given by Obamacare as Trump tries to take it away.”

Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg had a hearty reaction from the crowd with continued cheers throughout his speech, and he took a pretty direct aim at former Vice President Joe Biden’s line that President Trump could be an “aberration.” Buttigieg said, “We are not going to be able to replace this president if we think he's just a blip. Just an aberration. It's going to take more than that. We want to win and deserve to win we can't water down our values.”

Amy Klobuchar: The Iowa Steak Fry comes at the end of Klobuchar’s “Blue Wall Tour” and she hit on the need to win back blue wall states during her stump: “I went to Wisconsin, I met with our farmers and then I went to Iowa and all that way from Pennsylvania to Iowa in 2020, my friends, we are going build a blue wall and we are going to make – we are going to make Donald Trump pay for it.” 

 

 

 

2020 Democrats make big entrances at the Iowa Steak Fry

WASHINGTON – Before the Democratic presidential candidates take the stage at the Iowa Steak Fry and speak with potential caucus-goers, they need to make an entrance. 

The NBC team in Des Moines watched as the candidates marched into the steak fry with waves of supporters, a mariachi band and a drum line. Here's a look at how some of the candidates made their appearance: 

Julián Castro

Amy Klobuchar 

Beto O'Rourke 

Pete Buttigieg 

Cory Booker 

Bernie Sanders releases new plan to eliminate medical debt

DES MOINES, IA – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Saturday released his plan to eliminate $81 billion in past-due medical debt and remove and exclude future medical debt from credit reports. 

Under the Sanders plan a public credit registry would be created to replace for-profit credit reporting agencies like Equifax and TransUnion. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, speaks at the New Hampshire State Democratic Party Convention in Manchester on Sept. 7, 2019.Robert F. Bukaty / AP file

The campaign first previewed the plan on Aug. 30 at a town hall in South Carolina when he was asked about what plan he would offer to people dealing with medical debt. At the time Sanders said he was looking at legislation to offer that would eliminate such debt.

Sanders is holding a medical debt and health care bankruptcy town hall tomorrow in Iowa where he's expected to talk about the new plan. 

Some specifics of the plan are: 

  • Eliminate $81 billion in past-due medical debt. Under this plan, the campaign says the federal government will negotiate and pay off past-due medical bills in collections that have been reported to credit agencies.
  • End what the campaign calls “abusive and harassing” debt collection practices, by:
    • Prohibiting the collection of debt beyond statute of limitations
    • Limiting the number of times collectors can attempt to get in contact with individuals regardless of number or about of past-due bills
    • Limit what can be seized/garnished in collection, to ensure Americans do not lose homes, jobs or primary vehicles during this process.
  • Under a Sanders campaign, the IRS would be asked to review “billing and collection practices” of non-profit hospitals to ensure they are following charitable care standards to align with their non-profit tax status
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders also wants to create “public credit registry.” The campaign says this will “end racial biases in credit scores,” and ensure that those with medical debt are not penalized for getting sick 
    • This would allow Americans to receive credit score for free.
    • This would also end the use of credit checks for rental housing, employment and insurance. 
  • All medical debt would be removed and excluded from existing and future credit reports 

DNC offers conditional approval for Iowa’s plan to satellite caucus

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Democratic National Convention Rules and Bylaws Committee announced Friday that it has granted conditional approval for the Iowa Democratic Party’s plan to host a satellite caucus in 2020.

This comes exactly two weeks after, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee struck down the state Democratic Party's proposal to host a “virtual caucus,” due to security concerns.

While presenting the new plan on a conference call, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price acknowledged that setback, but focused on the future.

Voters listen to instructions during a Democratic party caucus in Nevada, Iowa on Feb. 1, 2016.Patrick Semansky / AP file

“I know these last few weeks have been filled with some uncertainty over our process,” he said. “With your approval, we will put an end to that, and allow for all of us, the IDP, the campaigns, and most importantly our voters to get back to the task at hand.”

A satellite caucus, which was was first offered in 2016, allows people to caucus in other locations beyond designated precincts. For example, workers on the third shift at a factory or seniors at a nursing home could gather in those locations to caucus. In addition, Iowa caucus-goers living outside the state will have the option to satellite caucus.

Much like in a traditional precinct caucus, each satellite location will have a trained captain who’s charged with overseeing the room, managing volunteers and reporting the results.

Each satellite site will be considered its own precinct and all the satellite “precincts” within a given congressional district will be counted at one county. Congressional districts will receive  an additional percentage of delegates based on the number of people who “satellite” caucus.

According to the plan, Democrats in Iowa would have less than two months to apply to satellite caucus by the Nov. 18 deadline. Price promises a “robust education effort” in October to inform voters of this option, which includes hiring additional staff to focus on outreach and accessibility. 

Concerns have been raised around legal protections for workers looking to satellite caucus while at work, but Price said an accessibility organizer will work with people in that situation to determine how best to proceed.

While these plans were born out of a new DNC requirement aimed at making caucusing easier following the 2016 Democratic primary, it remains to be seen how many people will actually take advantage of this option. According to the Des Moines Register, in 2016 only four sites participated in the satellite caucus, a disparaging number considering the state has more than 1,600 traditional precincts.

Nonetheless, Price says that he’s confident this plan will increase participation, “I am confident that our 2020 caucuses will be the most successful in our state’s history.”

 

Black progressives condemn 'racist' attacks on Working Family Party leaders after Warren endorsement

More than 100 black progressive leaders penned a letter Thursday condemning "hateful, violent and racist threats" levied by self-described supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders at the minority leadership of the Working Families Party, a campaign of harassment that began after the party endorsed his progressive rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this week.

"These incredible leaders who led an organization to take a risk by lifting up the leadership of Black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander and white communities in coalescing around a candidate with enough time to engage their communities deeply ahead of the 2020 election, are being threatened on a daily basis, by self-identified Sanders supporters, with hateful, violent and racist threats," said the letter, which was obtained by NBC News. 

"'Uncle Tom.' 'Slave.' 'C***.' These kinds of threats have no place in our movements, and are reminiscent of the threats Black people would receive when daring to vote even though the white supremacists would try and discourage Black people from doing so," the letter continued. 

Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, one of the letter’s signatories, also penned a Medium blog post condemning the attacks, saying, "It's agonizing, it’s painful, it's demoralizing.”

Splinter first reported the story. 

Earlier this week, the Working Families Party, a minor political party, endorsed Warren over Sanders after a three-month endorsement process in which Warren snagged 61 percent of the vote to Sanders’s 36 percent. The party previously endorsed Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary. 

The party’s national director, Maurice Mitchell, the first black man to hold the post, said in a statement announcing the endorsement that Warren “offers hope to millions of working people.” 

The leaders who wrote the letter said Mitchell and Nelini Stamp, also a black Working Families Party leader, have received a deluge of threats since then. The Working Families Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mitchell told The Hill on Friday that the threats he, Stamp and others received were “some of the most violent, disgusting, racist and sexist attacks.” 

In a tweet on Thursday, Sanders condemned the attacks against the Working Families Party leaders.

“This campaign condemns racist bullying and harassment of any kind, in any space. We are building a multiracial movement for justice — that’s how we win the White House.”

Sanders struggled with black voters during the 2016 Democratic primary against Clinton. In 2020, former vice president Joe Biden is leading among African American Democratic primary voters and Warren is doing well with liberal and white Democrats, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll

For Democratic presidential field, timing has been almost everything

WASHINGTON — Timing has been almost everything in the 2020 Democratic presidential race — at least when it comes to the candidates who’ve made the debate and those forced to end their candidates.

On Friday morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ended his presidential campaign, just four months after he started it on May 16.

And get this: Among the six Democratic presidential candidates who’ve exited the race — de Blasio, Seth Moulton, Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee and Kirsten Gillibrand — five announced their bids after February (after Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders were already in the contest).

From left, democratic presidential candidates Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell take the stage during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The one exception is Gillibrand, who announced her exploratory committee (and thus started raising money) on Jan. 15, but ended her candidacy on Aug. 28.

By contrast, eight of the 10 candidates who qualified for September’s debate in Houston announced before March 1, giving them more time to raise money and boost their name identification, given the money and polling requirements to make the debate.

The two Democrats who announced after March 1 but still made September’s debate stage: Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke.

  • Tom Steyer (announced July 9)
  • Former Rep. Joe Sestak (announced June 23)
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (announced May 16) Exited on Sept. 20 
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (announced May 14) 
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (announced May 2)
  • Former VP Joe Biden (announced April 25) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Rep. Seth Moulton (announced April 22) Exited on Aug. 23
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (announced April 8) Exited on July 8 
  • Rep. Tim Ryan (announced April 4)
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke (announced March 14) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (announced March 4) Exited on Aug. 15 
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (announced March 1) Exited on Aug. 21
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (announced Feb. 9) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (announced Feb. 10) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Marianne Williamson (filed candidacy on Feb. 5)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (announced Feb. 1) Made Sept. Debate 
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (formed exploratory committee Jan. 23, announced April 14) Made Sept. Debate
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (announced Jan. 21) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (formed exploratory committee Jan. 23, announced March 17) Exited on Aug. 28
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (announced Jan. 11)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (formed exploratory committee Dec. 31, announced Feb. 9) Made Sept. Debate
  • Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro (formed exploratory committee Dec. 12, announced Jan. 12) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Andrew Yang (filed candidacy Nov. 6, 2017) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (announced presidential bid back on July 28, 2017!!!!) 

Congress holds first DC statehood hearing in 25 years

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers held the first congressional hearing on DC statehood in 25 years Thursday, as advocates hope to reinvigorate the decades-long push to give the city’s residents full representation in Congress.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting delegate to Congress, has again led the charge, introducing a new statehood bill in January and amassing a record 220 cosponsors in the House.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on statehood for the District of Columbia on Sept. 19, 2019.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

If passed, the bill would admit the “State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” — a territory that would exclude an enclave of monuments and federal buildings. District voters would elect three voting members of Congress, two Senators and one House member, for the first time in U.S. history.

The legislation faces staunch opposition from Republicans, who call it unconstitutional. GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said at Thursday’s hearing that the move was “not what the Founding Fathers intended.”

And it remains a non-starter in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has derided it as “full bore socialism.”

Still, advocates say the issue is getting more high-profile national attention than ever before, even beyond Thursday’s hearing.

All current 2020 Democratic candidates support the idea of D.C. statehood. And a new national advocacy group, 51for51, has been sending young advocates to early primary states to press presidential hopefuls on the issue. Norton confirmed Thursday that she expects a vote in the House on the statehood issue for the first time since 1993.

Many Democratic backers of the legislation have framed the debate in terms of the disenfranchisement of black voters in a city where about half of residents are African-American.

At the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez said, “The issue of D.C. statehood is rooted in a different evil in our history, which is the history of slavery.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also framed D.C.’s lack of representation as part of a broader conversation about voting rights and disenfranchisement in the U.S.

Despite the looming stonewall in the Senate, advocates say they’re prepared to fight beyond merely a debate in the lower chamber.

Stasha Rhodes, the campaign manager of 51for51, a national advocacy group, said that the group’s goal will require not only more national awareness but a structural reform of the rule requiring 60 votes to pass most bills through the Senate.

“We want [the bill] to pass the House, but we also want success in the Senate,” Rhodes said. And the only way to get success in the Senate is to circumvent the filibuster and get 51 votes.”