The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
More than 50 former female ambassadors call on administration to protect Yovanovitch
WASHINGTON — More than 50 former female U.S. ambassadors are calling on President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter to protect foreign service officers from political retaliation in the wake of the ousting of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
The signatories of the letter are members of an organization of current and former ambassadors, Women Ambassadors Serving America. They point specifically to Trump’s comments about Yovanovitch to Ukrainian President Zelenskiy during a July 25 phone call, saying they “demean and threaten” the former ambassador and “raise serious concerns.”
“This appears to be a threat of retaliation for political reasons, which is both shocking and inappropriate,” they write. “For U.S. diplomacy to be an effective instrument of statecraft, it is vital that the non-partisan, non-political work of the dedicated public servants of the U.S. Department of State be respected and honored — just as we honor the contributions of U.S. military service members and other government colleagues.”
Among those who signed the letter are former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power and Dana Shell Smith, former U.S. ambassador to Qatar.
Only one current U.S. ambassador signed the letter: Catherine Ebert-Gray, a career foreign service officers who serves as the U.S. envoy to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Her signature comes with a notable caveat; She adds that “The views expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. government. Signing a public letter critical of the Trump administration could put current ambassadors at professional risk, which likely explains why Ebert-Gray is the only one to sign the letter.
Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who was named ambassador to Ukraine at the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, was abruptly recalled by Trump in May, ahead of when her term in Kiev was scheduled to end.
In Trump’s July 25 call, according to a memo about the call released by the White House, Trump called Yovanovitch “the woman” and “bad news.”
In the letter, the former ambassadors say Yovanovitch is a “highly respected” senior diplomat who may have been “singled out for retribution for partisan, political reasons.” They say allowing partisanship to enter diplomacy risks undercutting “U.S. diplomatic efforts and the safety of U.S. personnel worldwide.”
House Democrats have demanded that Yovanovitch and other U.S. officials named in the whistleblower complaint appear Thursday for a joint deposition with the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees.
But Pompeo released a letter publicly on Tuesday to House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel pushing back, calling it an attempt to “intimidate" and "bully" them and saying he would “use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals whom I am proud to lead.”
Late Tuesday, two congressional committee aides told NBC News that Yovanovitch will indeed sit for a joint deposition – but not until Oct. 11. The aides said that delayed appearance comes with the agreement of both the committees and counsel.
S.C. poll: Biden leads, retains huge advantage with black voters
A new poll of Democratic voters in South Carolina shows that Joe Biden remains the frontrunner in the early primary state. And the former vice president retains a major advantage with African American Democrats, although Elizabeth Warren bests him among white Democrats.
The poll, conducted by Winthrop University, shows Biden leading with 37 percent support overall, followed by Warren at 17 percent. Bernie Sanders receives 8 percent support, while 7 percent of Democrats back Kamala Harris. Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker receive 4 and 3 percent, respectively. No other candidate gets more than 2 percent among all voters.
Among African American voters, it’s 46 percent for Biden, 10 percent for Harris, 9 percent for Warren, 8 percent for Sanders, and 4 percent for Booker. Buttigieg, who has struggled for traction with nonwhite Democratic voters, received zero percent support among African American voters.
Among white Democrats, it’s 29 percent for Warren, 22 percent for Biden, and 10 percent for Buttigieg.
The poll is on the list of qualifying surveys for candidates hoping to meet the DNC’s requirements to participate in November’s Democratic debate. Booker’s 3 percent support in the Winthrop poll puts him just one qualifying poll away from making the stage. The deadline for qualifying will be seven days before the date of the November debate.
The poll was conducted September 21-30, 2019. The margin of error among 463 Democratic registered voters is +/- 4.6 percent.
Sanders to go up on air with first buy of $1.3 million
LOS ANGELES — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is already putting some of the money raised during his $25 million third-quarter to use, with the campaign Tuesday afternoon announcing its first paid TV advertisement of the 2020 cycle.
The $1.3 million ad buy, titled “Fights for us,” will begin hitting the airwaves in Iowa on Thursday and run for two weeks.
The ad focuses on Sanders being what the narrator calls a “fighter” for the working class, and features video from his campaign announcement in February, as well as various campaign stops at Fight for $15 marches and "Medicare for All" rallies.
The campaign says this ad was produced entirely in-house. NBC News confirmed last week that the campaign filmed another, yet to be released, spot during a recent town hall in Des Moines.
The image of Sanders as a lifelong advocate for workers rights and the rights of the middle class has been a key messaging point for the campaign. And the push has picked up in recent weeks as Sanders tries to distinguish himself from Sen. Warren, who is rising in the polls with similar messaging.
The campaign made the decision to begin skipping some of the recent all-candidate “cattle-call” events to instead attend events that include standing on union picket lines and supporting workers.
Until now, Sanders hadn't hit the airwaves in any state. So far, billionaire Tom Steyer has been the largest spender in Iowa on television and radio with $5 million. South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has spent $900,000 so far on ads in the state, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden's $688,000 and $562,000 from California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris' campaign, according to spending data from Advertising Analytics.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., spent $924,000 on television ads in Iowa this cycle. But she dropped out of the race over the summer.
Claudia Tenney joins group of former GOP lawmakers running for revenge in 2020
Former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney announced a comeback bid Tuesday, an attempt to win back the New York congressional seat she held before losing in 2018.
Tenney announced her bid Tuesday morning in a video, shared on social media, that centers on the idea of resilience, sharing the story of her trying to raise her child as a single mother. The video doesn't explicitly mention her past bid or President Trump, who loomed large over her 2018 loss. Trump won the district by 15 points in 2016.
If she makes it through the GOP primary, she'll run against Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi, the former state assemblyman who narrowly defeated her in 2018.
Tenney is far from the only former Republican lawmaker looking to win a federal office in 2020. Here's a look at some of her former colleagues who are trying to do the same thing.
Karen Handel, R-Ga.
Handel is no stranger to a tough race — she won the pivotal Georgia 2017 special House election that took center-stage as the first major referendum on the Trump administration.
But while she vanquished Democrat Jon Ossoff (who is now running for Senate) in that race, she lost her seat slightly more than a year later when Democrat Lucy McBath beat her in the 2018 midterms.
Handel quickly launched her campaign to win back her old seat earlier this year, and has been trying to paint McBath as too liberal for the purple district.
David Valadao, R-Calif.
Valadao jumped back into the fray this past summer with a quest to win back the seat he lost last cycle to Democrat TJ Cox.
Cox has been one of the top freshman targets for Republicans this cycle who have hammered him for his business record.
Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Issa is unique in that he didn't lose in 2018 like his other colleagues on this list—he decided to retire instead of running again in a difficult race. Democrats ultimately flipped his seat in the 49th Congressional District, but Issa is seeking a new home: the 50th Congressional District, currently represented by indicted GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter.
Hunter's fate is uncertain, as he faces charges that he misused his campaign cash, and GOP leaders stripped him of his committee assignments in response to those charges. But Hunter barely beat Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar last November.
Scott Taylor, R-Va.
Taylor's southeastern Virginia seat didn't initially seem like a top candidate to flip in 2018, but when the dust settled, the Republican congressman found himself out of a job, defeated by Democrat Eliane Luria.
Now out of office, he's set to run against Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in a state that's been drifting toward Democrats in recent years.
Jason Lewis, R-Minn.
Lewis is the other member of the class of vanquished Republican congressmen of 2018 seeking to win a new gig in the Senate. After beating Democrat Angie Craig in 2016, Lewis couldn't fend her off again last November.
He announced his Senate bid this summer against Minnesota Democratic Sen. Tina Smith.
Sanders releases income inequality tax proposal
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., unveiled an income inequality tax plan Monday, proposing to raise taxes on companies “with exorbitant pay gaps between their executives and workers.”
This tax comes a week after Sanders released a wealth tax that would tax net worth above $32 million on an increasing scale.
Sanders’ campaign says this income inequality tax plan will raise an estimated $150 billion over the next decade, and the revenue generated will be used to pay for his plan to eliminate medical debt.
Sanders’ proposal would impose tax rate increases on companies with CEO-to-median-worker ratios above 50-to-1, meaning if the CEO is being paid 50 times more than the median worker is being paid, taxes would go up. The tax proposal would apply to all private and publicly held corporations with annual revenue of more than $100 million. According to the plan, if the CEO did not receive the largest paycheck in the firm, the ratio will be based on the highest-paid employee.
In the plan, the campaign calls out American companies by name, including Home Depot, American Airlines and McDonalds, among others. The campaign says if Sanders’ plan had been in effect last year, McDonald’s would have paid up to $110.9 million more in taxes, Walmart would have paid up to $793.8 million more in taxes, JP MorganChase would have paid up to $991.6 million more in taxes, Home Depot would have paid up to $538.2 million more in taxes, and American Airlines would have paid up to $18.8 million more in taxes.
The campaign says that if companies increased annual median worker pay to just $60,000 and reduced their CEO compensation to $3 million they would not owe any additional taxes under this new tax plan.
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
Iowa TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30
Steyer: $5.0 million
New Hampshire TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30
Steyer: $3.8 million
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
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.
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.
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.
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.