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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Tom Steyer's ad spending approaches $20 million

WASHINGTON — Democrat Tom Steyer has now spent nearly $20 million over the TV and radio airwaves — substantially more than any other Democrat running in the 2020 presidential contest, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics.

In total, Steyer has dropped $16.8 million in TV and radio ads, with most of it targeted to the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

And the spending appears to be helping him — at least when it comes to qualifying for the upcoming debates: CNN polls of Nevada and South Carolina released over the weekend showed Steyer reaching or surpassing the 3 percent needed to qualify for November’s Democratic debate.

To participate in November’s debate, candidates must reach at least 3 percent support in four qualifying polls or 5 percent in two early-state polls.

 

Total TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $16.8 million

Gillibrand: $1.7 million (has ended campaign)

Gabbard: $1.0 million

Buttigieg: $900,000

Biden: $688,000

Delaney: $622,000

Harris: $562,000

Bennet: $365,000

 

Iowa TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $5.0 million

Gillibrand: $924,000

Buttigieg: $900,000

Biden: $688,000

Harris: $562,000

 

New Hampshire TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $3.8 million

Gillibrand: $728,000

Gabbard: $229,000

 

Nevada TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $3.0 million

 

South Carolina TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $3.8 million

Gabbard: $297,000

SOURCE: Advertising Analytics

Sixth Texas House Republican announces retirement

WASHINGTON — A sixth Republican House member from the state of Texas won’t run for re-election in 2020.

Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the state’s delegation since 1994, made the announcement in a statement Monday.

“We are reminded, however, that 'for everything there is a season,' and I believe that the time has come for a change,” he said. “Therefore, this is my last term in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Thornberry joins five other Texas GOP colleagues in announcing his retirement. Reps. Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd, Kenny Marchant and Bill Flores have also said they’re calling it quits.

But unlike some of his fellow retirees, Thornberry represents a district that’s very unlikely to be competitive in the next election.

His Panhandle-area district is heavily conservative, voting for both Donald Trump and Mitt Romney with 80 percent of the vote. Thornberry won his last reelection by a similar margin. 

ICYMI: Political stories of the week that didn't include the "I" word

WASHINGTON – The last week in Washington has been filled with information dumps on President Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the whistleblower report and House Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry. With all of that in mind, here are some stories you may have missed that don't include the word "impeachment". 

A federal judge blocked new Trump administration regulations that would have allowed for migrant children to be held indefinitely. The judge ruled that the rule would violate the 1997 Flores agreement sets standards for how and where migrant children are held. 

Migrant families turn themselves to U.S. Border Patrol to seek asylum following an illegal crossing of the Rio Grande in Hidalgo, Texas on Aug. 23, 2019.Loren Elliott / Reuters

Three years after Congress created a federal control board to oversee Puerto Rico's finances, the board filed a plan that would decrease the U.S. territory's debt by 60 percent. If the plan is approved, it would reduce Puerto Rico's annual debt service to under 9 percent – it is currently almost 30 percent.  

Religious-based adoption agencies that contract with the state of Michigan won't have to place children in LGBTQ homes based on a preliminary injunction from a federal judge. The Attorney General of Michigan, Dana Nessel, who argued agencies couldn't discriminate against LGBTQ homes, is the first openly-gay statewide officeholder. 

The Arkansas state government decided to relinquish partial control of the city's schools to be run by a locally-elected school board. The plan was never made available for public comment. Those concerned with the plan say that the part of the schools that will be run by an elected board are the better-performing, majority white areas of the city, while the lesser-performing, majority black and latino parts of the school system will be run by the state or a third party. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) rejected the notion that this would lead to a resegregation of schools. 

Twelve candidates will share the stage at next Democratic debate

WASHINGTON — The October Democratic primary debate will feature all 12 qualifying candidates on one night. 

The debate will be held on Oct. 15 in Westerville, Ohio, and hosted by CNN and The New York Times. The three prior Democratic debates have all limited the size of the stage to 10 candidates. The first two debates were held on two separate nights to accommodate all 20 candidates who qualified for those while the September debate only had 10 candidates who qualified. 

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 12 candidates who have already qualified for the October debate are: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, D-Ind., former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Andrew Yang.

Steyer and Gabbard are the only additions to the debate stage. Gabbard appeared at the first two debates but failed to qualify for the third, and this will be Steyer's first time qualifying for the debate. 

All other candidates have until Oct. 1 to qualify for the debate, but it's unlikely any will do so. 

Elizabeth Warren releases plan to combat lobbyists

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has a new plan to tackle corruption — this time focusing on empowering Congress by funding agencies that would lessen reliance on lobbyist knowledge.

Elizabeth Warren speaks during a Town Hall at Keene State College on Sept. 25, 2019 in Keene, N.H.Scott Eisen / Getty Images

Warren claims that Congress has defunded or underfunded many of the services that lawmakers would ordinarily turn to in order to understand complex legislative topics, resulting in lawmakers turning to lobbyists.

“Members of Congress should have the resources they need to make decisions without relying on corporate lobbyists,” Warren wrote. “My anti-corruption plan reinstates and modernizes the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), strengthens congressional support agencies and transitions congressional staffers to competitive salaries so that Congress can act based on the best expertise and information available.“

The Office of Technology Assessment is an office that used to publish reports to help Congress understand complex science and tech topics. The office was dismantled in 1995 by a Republican congressional majority. Warren says the office should be led by a single director and should also expand on what kind of topics the office can write about, “such as preparing for hearings, writing regulatory letters, and weighing in on agency rulemaking.”

In addition, Warren calls for increased funding for other Congressional support agencies like the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office. Warren says these funding increases will be paid for by “a tax on excessive lobbying.” Warren also calls for increased salaries for congressional staffers in order to better retain staff.

This is yet another piece in Warren’s overall campaign against what she calls corruption in Washington. “These reforms are vital parts of my plan to free our government from the grip of lobbyists — and restore the public’s trust in its government in the process,” Warren wrote.

Warren has also called for the elimination of “lobbying as we know it” and “shutting down the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.”

Booker: Withholding Ukraine aid for political gain would be 'treasonous'

WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called accusations that President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine for political purposes "treasonous," hours after a new report quoted Trump attacking the whistleblower who raised concerns about the president's conversations with the Ukrainian president. 

Speaking from New Hampshire during an appearance on MSNBC, Booker responded to Thursday's testimony from Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire as well as a new report in the New York Times that Trump called the whistleblower "close to a spy" and added: "You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right?"

"It's not surprising that Donald Trump doesn't know the difference between patriotism and treason. If there are any treasonous actions here, it is coming from the White House," he said, before pointing to the allegation that Trump may have linked American aid to Ukraine to the country investigating former Vice President Joe Biden. 

"We as Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, approved that aid. And now we are realizing that this president was withholding that aid, not for national security purposes, in fact, violating national security interests, to pursue his own personal benefit. That's outrageous, and in my opinion, that is treasonous," Booker added. 

Pete Buttigieg’s latest television ad takes aim at Medicare For All

DES MOINES, IA — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is out with his latest TV ad for his presidential campaign Wednesday, which takes aim at some of his opponents’ support of “Medicare for All.”

Throughout the 30-second spot titled, “Your Choice,” Buttigieg explains how his “Medicare for All Who Want It,” plan would work. Graphics on-screen help the viewer follow along,  pointing out how his plan will, “go about it in a very different way than [his] competitors.”

He ends the video looking directly into the camera, delivering this definitive line, “Now, others say it’s 'Medicare for All,' or nothing. I approve this message to say, the choice should be yours.”

The spot is the candidate's third television ad to go up in Iowa, and the campaign says it will air statewide across broadcast, cable and digital platforms. 

Buttigieg used similar language during the September debate when the conversation turned to Medicare for All. “I trust the American people to make the right choice for them. Why don't you?,” Buttigieg said on stage, directing his comments at Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who wrote the primary 'Medicare for All' bill.

This sentiment is echoed by Buttigieg on the campaign trail, who repeatedly touted his health care plan during his recent four-day bus tour through Iowa. 

Buttigieg officially debuted his plan last week, which he says would allow millions of Americans to opt into a public insurance plan. That competition, he argues, would force private insurers to compete, driving costs down or create an organic shift of Americans toward the new public option. Buttigieg's campaign estimates the plan would cost $1.5 trillion over the next decade. 

This might be the first time he's making this argument on television, but Buttigieg's Facebook ads have been more direct in calling out Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., by name for their support for 'Medicare for All.' 

“Medicare for All Who Want It will create a public alternative, but unlike the Sanders-Warren vision it doesn’t dictate it to the American people and risk further polarizing them," one ad reads.

Trump campaign launches rapid reaction to impeachment push

WASHINGTON — Within hours of the news that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was formally launching an impeachment inquiry Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s campaign countered with a multifaceted rapid response strategy

Some of it was as simple as blasting fundraising emails, referencing the new “Official Impeachment Defense Task Force.” Other tactics included a slickly-produced video of Democrats defending their “sole focus” of “fighting Trump” that was long in the making.

 

“We’ve had that ready for weeks in case the Democrats were that dumb. And they were,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News.

About thirty minutes after Pelosi made her announcement, the campaign sent a text from the president that read: “Nancy just called for Impeachment. WITCH HUNT! I need you on my Impeachment Defense Team ALL GIFTS 2X-MATCHED for 1 HOUR. Donate NOW.”

Apart from that, the re-elect effort released multiple reaction statements, fired off dozens of coordinated tweets from senior aides’ accounts and retweeted top surrogates, all decrying the move by House Democrats.

  

The campaign is used to this type of give and take. Some of its best fundraising periods were direct responses to the release of the redacted Mueller report and corresponding testimony on Capitol Hill

Officials said this kind of messaging will sharpen in the coming months and these counterpunches are simply a preview of the Trump campaign approach as 2020 gets into full swing.

13 House Democrats in Trump districts support some action on Trump impeachment

WASHINGTON — Of the 31 Democratic members who hold seats won by Trump in 2016, we now know that 13 are calling for some movement on impeachment, bringing NBC’s count to nearly 180 House Democrats who favor some action regarding impeachment as of 4:30 p.m. ET.

Chris Pappas (NH-1): Trump won district by 2 percent.

Lauren Underwood (IL-14): Trump won district by 4 percent.

Angie Craig (MN-2): Trump won district by 1 percent.

Elaine Luria (VA-2): Trump won district by 3 percent.

Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11): Trump won district by 1 percent.

Elissa Slotkin (MI-8): Trump won district by 6 percent.

Abigail Spanberger (VA-7): Trump won district by 6 percent.

Haley Stevens (MI-11): Trump won district by 4 percent.

Antonio Delgado (NY-19): Trump won district by 6 percent.

Susie Lee (NV-3): Trump won district by 1 percent.

Andy Kim (NJ-3): Trump won district by 6 percent.

Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18): Trump won district by 2 percent.

Cheri Bustos (IL-17): Trump won district by 1 percent.

N.H. poll: Warren holds slim lead, Gabbard qualifies for October Democratic debate

WASHINGTON — A new poll out Tuesday shows Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with a narrow lead in the New Hampshire primary and also appears to have booked Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a spot in October's Democratic presidential debate. 

Gabbard hit two percent support in the new Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire, giving her four qualifying polls of at least 2 percent. That same poll also found Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren narrowly ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, 27 percent to 25 percent. Warren's lead is within the poll's 4.9 percent margin of error. 

Democratic candidates need to hit at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls and raise money from 130,000 unique donors in order to qualify for the October event. So while the Democratic National Committee won't certify the official slate of candidates until next week, an NBC News analysis shows Gabbard is poised to join the stage.

The debate will be on Oct. 15 in Westerville, Ohio. It’s possible that the DNC will divide the field and hold a second debate the following day, but the party doesn’t comment until it has officially certified the participants.

Those who also appear to have qualified are: Former Vice President Joe Biden; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Housing Secretary Julián Castro; former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke; entrepreneur Andrew Yang; and billionaire Tom Steyer.

Both Steyer and Gabbard were not on September's debate stage, but have since qualified. 

The DNC announced Wednesday it was raising the bar for its November debate, a move that could cull the debate stage once again. 

'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.