The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Biden's higher education plan aims to ease student loan debt
Former Vice President Joe Biden released his higher education plan Tuesday, aimed at providing options to ease student loan debt and accessibility to a two or four-year institution with the goal of having more people enter the middle class.
Unlike his more progressive Democratic rivals Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Biden will only make tuition debt free for those who attend two years of community college or high-quality training programs. The Biden campaign argues that two free years of community college would cut four year education rates in half since students could transfer their credits to complete their college education.
Numerous investments to improve the quality of education in community colleges as well as HBCUs and minority institutions would cost an approximate $750 billion, which will be paid for by increasing taxes on the super wealthy and eliminating the “stepped-up basis” loophole, according to the campaign.
Warren and Sanders are proposing four years of free community and public college tuition and forgiving most if not all existing student debt, respectively.
Biden’s plan would forgive outstanding student debt for those who have responsibly paid it back for 20 years. Those working jobs in “national or community service” like teaching or non-profits, would receive $10,000 student debt relief annually for up to five years for each year that they stay in that vocational job..
People making more than $25,000 would direct pay 5 percent of their discretionary income toward their loan, which is half of the current 10 percent cap. Those who make $25,000 or less would not be expected to pay back the government and would not accrue interest.
DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, would also be eligible to receive a free two-year education. They would also receive financial aid, based on requirements already established under existing financial aid eligibility.
Dr. Jill Biden, who has worked at community colleges for over 30 years and is currently teaching at Northern Virginia Community College, told reporters on a briefing call Monday evening that Biden’s plan will give students like hers the opportunity to succeed because it was crafted by educators who witness the problems with the higher education system daily.
“What means the most to me is that it comes from listening to educators and students, not telling them what we think they need. It goes beyond tuition and supports a holistic approach to retention and completion. That’s what really makes a difference in my students lives,” she said.
The focus on higher education compliments Biden’s education plan, which aims to triple federal government spending to help hire more teachers, pay teachers more, enroll all 3 and 4-year-olds into pre-Kindergarten and increase coursework rigor across the country.
Hillary Clinton camp says former candidate 'just having a little fun' with Trump tweets
WASHINGTON — Is Hillary Clinton running for president again? No, but she sure seems to be relishing the prospect of anything that gets under the president’s skin, as was evident in her response Tuesday to Trump taunting her.
A source close to Clinton indicates that nothing has changed and no, she is not planning to launch another presidential bid. “She’s just having a little fun,” this person told NBC News.
Earlier this year, Clinton stated definitively that she was not running but also that she was “not going anywhere” and “would keep speaking out.”
Still, the former secretary of state has raised eyebrows several times over the past year with cryptic comments and tweets, often trolling President Trump. Those close to her say that’s more about adding her voice to the conversation and less about some secret plan to seek the presidency for the third time.
As you may have seen recently, she and daughter Chelsea have a new book out about “Gutsy Women.” It certainly doesn’t take a publicity tour to get the attention of the Oval Office occupant who defeated her though. Trump consistently tweets about “Crooked Hillary” and continues to bring her up at campaign rallies across the country.
Clinton allies point to this as a major reason for her to continue to respond to Trump’s insults — both online and in interviews — and we can expect to see more of that in the months to come. “Why does he get to have all the fun?” another source said.
California Sen. Feinstein backs Biden over home-state Harris
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden over her fellow California Sen. Kamala Harris Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo confirmed to NBC News on Thursday.
The news was first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle.
Feinstein’s endorsement is in no way surprising. Even before Biden jumped into the race, Feinstein told Capitol Hill reporters in January of this year that Biden was her top choice given his decades of political experience.
She welcomed Biden into her San Francisco home last week where she held a fundraiser for him and her husband Richard Blum has co-hosted numerous fundraisers for Biden since he launched his campaign in April.
But the nod gives Biden a key ally in the delegate-rich state of California. The Golden State's junior senator, Harris, is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Democrat John Bel Edwards at 45 percent in new poll of crowded field days before Louisiana gubernatorial election
WASHINGTON — A new poll out just days before Saturday's election shows Gov. John Bel Edwards, D-La., well ahead of the rest of the field with 45 percent support but short of the 50 percent he needs to avoid a runoff election.
Edwards is running in a crowded field that includes two prominent Republican candidates, Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone.
Assuming Edwards is the top vote-getter on Saturday (an almost foregone conclusion considering his station as the incumbent and the only major Democrat running), he will either win the election outright with 50 percent plus one, or move onto a runoff against the second-place finisher.
The new poll, from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, found Edwards at 45 percent of the vote, followed by Rispone at 18 and Abraham at 17. Ten percent of those surveyed were undecided.
The poll has a margin of error of four percent, which means the majority could be in reach for Edwards and that the two Republican candidates remain locked in a tight race for second place.
That 50-percent threshold is the big prize for Democrats on Saturday, as they’d love to avoid a runoff entirely and lock in Edwards for another term.
But Republicans have sought to drum up enthusiasm for the election to force Edwards to a runoff, and President Trump is traveling to the state for a rally on Friday, the eve of the election.
Edwards has a favorable rating of 39 percent, while 27 percent view him unfavorably. That +12 net favorability rating is the best of the top three candidates—Rispone's net favorability rating is +7 and Abraham's is +9.
The survey also shows Edwards leading both candidates in a runoff, Rispone down 9 points and Abraham down 15 points. And the plurality of voters, 45 percent, believe the state is on the right track, compared to the 41 percent who say it's on the wrong track.
Edwards' job approval rate is 56 percent, while 34 percent say they disapprove of his performance as governor.
He won the 2015 gubernatorial race after a bruising battle with former Republican Sen. David Vitter, whose campaign was kneecapped by a prostitution scandal from a decade prior.
Since he’s taken office, Edwards has been one of the Democratic Party’s more conservative governors, prompting criticism from his own party by signing a strict bill limiting abortion access. But he also racked up a few high-profile wins for the Democrats, including his decision to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.
Mason-Dixon polled 625 registered voters by phone between Oct. 1 and Oct. 4, all who said they were likely to vote in the Saturday primary.
Trump campaign touts Republican rule changes to keep 2020 convention delegates in line
WASHINGTON — For nearly a year, President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has worked to tighten delegate rules among state Republican parties to ensure an orderly convention next summer in Charlotte, according to senior officials.
The goal is to create a “four-day television commercial to 300 million Americans and not an internal debate among a few thousand activists,” an aide told reporters on a conference call Monday.
Last week, 37 states and territories submitted plans to the Republican National Committee with their updated guidelines that would give the campaign more say over delegate selection, mostly to avoid any embarrassment and unnecessary storylines about any potential dissent.
A small group of delegates briefly seized the spotlight during the 2016 convention in Cleveland when they made a failed bid to vote down the convention rules.
This time, senior officials said, the campaign has made a concerted effort to ensure a “predetermined outcome” and essentially plan for more of a coronation than a convention.
“We don’t care at all about the lighting or TV camera angles at the convention in Charlotte. We do care about who is seated in all the chairs on the convention floor,” an official said, arguing a “properly executed convention vote is the single most important thing a campaign can do to put their candidate on the pathway to re-election.”
The 10-month effort was underway long before the impeachment inquiry was announced, but the new backdrop becomes more relevant as he continues to fight the congressional review.
For months, the campaign and the RNC have dismissed the president’s primary challengers: former Rep. Joe Walsh, former Gov. Bill Weld and former Gov. Mark Sanford.
“We don’t pay any mind to the guys trying to run in the primary,” one official quipped, noting their focus extends far beyond the summer and into the general to make sure the president is in “the best position to win” next November.
“If any of them paid any amount of attention to the rules that govern the delegate process, they’d know that the pathway has already been closed.”
Earlier this year, several places canceled their presidential primary contests, including in critical early nominating states Nevada and South Carolina. Officials maintained the newer “nuanced” rule changes in dozens of states are “arguably more impactful.”
Now, many states have passed bylaw amendments to bind their delegates to a “winner takes all” election outcome, effectively streamlining and “reshaping” the selection process for the convention.
Notably, on the call, officials pointed to Massachusetts — Weld’s home state — as a place where the campaign felt delegates might be disproportionately allocated, thought they stressed the rule-altering “is not being done from a position of weakness.”
The campaign also pointed to history and the fact that only five presidents who sought re-election were denied a second term. That’s why it was important to confirm state parties have their “ducks in a row,” they said.
As the titular leader of the GOP, the president gets to control his party rules and dictate strategy. The incumbency also provides plenty of advantages, including a long runway to make and execute these kinds of plans at the state level.
Aides painted the move as a strategic insurance policy to appear as united and organized as possible heading into next year’s election.
The campaign reiterated it is uniquely positioned to have this stronghold since Trump is the only candidate to ever file for re-election on the day of his inauguration.
Harris: I would vote in Senate to remove President Trump from office
WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Monday that she would vote to convict President Trump and remove him from office if faced with the choice in the Senate today, arguing that Trump has shown a "consciousness of guilt and attempt to cover up" an attempt to push a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election.
During an interview on MSNBC Harris entertained the hypothetical vote, which would have to follow a majority vote in the House to impeach Trump. The president can be removed from office after a majority vote for impeachment in the House and a two-thirds vote to remove him in the Senate, a situation seen as unlikely considering GOP control of the Senate.
"The main subject of the impeachment, which is the issue of yet again, Donald Trump eliciting help from a foreign government to interfere in our election of our president of the United States. In this case we’ve basically got a confession. We’ve got a display of consciousness of guilt and attempt to cover up," she said.
"You know, I don’t know how much we need but apparently there’s a second whistleblower, so we’re going to get more. But based on everything we know, including an admission by this president, I don’t know that it leads in any other direction except to vote yes, which is what I believe I will do based on everything I know."
Prominent New York Dems face a new crop of young primary challengers for 2020
In 2018, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was celebrating her longshot primary victory over 10-term Democratic congressman Joe Crowley, two other young progressive New York congressional candidates had fallen just short in their challenges against longtime lawmakers.
Both are back in for 2020, but this time they’re not alone.
Galvanized by Ocasio-Cortez’s victory and the Democratic Party’s resurgent left wing, a young, diverse group of candidates has emerged to take on four more of New York City’s most prominent Democrats.
The two returning candidates are Suraj Patel, a 35-year-old former Obama staffer who lost a 2018 challenge to 13-term Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney by under 9,000 votes, and Adam Bunkedekko, a 31-year-old Harvard Business graduate and son of Ugandan refugees, who came within 1,100 votes of unseating six-term incumbent Yvette Clarke in Brooklyn’s 9th District.
They’re joined by new congressional hopefuls who range in age from 25 to their mid-40s, a youth movement that stands in contrast to the four incumbents, whose average age is over 63 years old.
The challengers all support the progressive policies du jour — Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Many also back abolishing ICE and banning assault weapons, policies that are controversial nationwide but crowd-pleasers in the deep-blue city.
And while the current representatives have served a combined 66 terms and were all once members of the State Assembly or the City Council, none of their rivals have held elected office. Most are political newcomers, and several got their start in politics on recent insurgent campaigns that inspired their own runs.
Shaniyat Chowdhury, a 27-year-old bartender and former Marine, is Ocasio-Cortez’s former deputy policy director. Like his old boss, he is trying to unseat the Queens Democratic Party Chair: Rep. Gregory Meeks, who replaced Crowley last year.
But he faces a steeper challenge than Ocasio-Cortez, who harnessed the shifting demographics of her rapidly-diversifying district to put Crowley, who first won the 14th district when it was 58 percent white in 1998, on the defensive. Meeks’ district is solidly-middle-class, majority black and has seen far less population turnover than the 14th over the past decade.
Mel Gagarin, a 37-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America challenging Rep. Grace Meng, worked as an organizer on Tiffany Cabán’s DSA-backed campaign for Queens District Attorney.
Jonathan Herzog, a 2015 Harvard graduate, previously served as Andrew Yang’s Iowa campaign coordinator before mounting his challenge to Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler. Also challenging Nadler is 25-year-old cryptocurrency analyst Amanda Frankel.
Yet another challenger to Nadler has the backing of more traditional political benefactors. Lindsey Boylan, 35, is a former official in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. She raised a respectable $250,000 to start her campaign, including donations from former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey and former CIA director George Tenet (both work at the same firm as Boylan’s husband). But it’s unclear if Boylan, whose campaign began because of what she called Nadler’s failure to pursue President Trump’s impeachment more aggressively , can maintain momentum as the House launches a full-throated impeachment inquiry.
Only one challenger so far is supported by Justice Democrats, the political action committee that helped power Ocasio-Cortez to victory: Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal running against Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel.
Like Joe Crowley, Engel is white, and like Crowley’s district, the 16th District is majority-minority (31 percent black and 25 percent Hispanic). But Bowman, who is black, cannot count on the same demographic shifts as Ocasio-Cortez. Engel’s district has been majority-minority for the 30 years he has represented it, and Engel has dispatched previous primary challengers with ease.
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez has not made endorsements in her neighbors’ fights. But her 2018 victory remains a guiding light for New York’s newest insurgents.
Of course, it also serves as a warning light for the remaining incumbents. Unlike Crowley, they won’t be caught off guard this time.
Trump remains underwater in Virginia, Northam’s approval jumps up
WASHINGTON — Just 37 percent of registered voters in Virginia approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance, while a majority — 51 percent — now give Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam a thumbs-up in the state, according to a new public poll conducted by the Wason Center at Christopher Newport University.
The turnaround for Northam is statistically significant: Six months ago, after facing allegations that he appeared in a racist photo during his days in medical school, Northam’s job rating sank to 40 percent in the same poll, with 49 percent of state voter disapproving of his job.
After initially saying that he was in the photo and apologizing, Northam later denied being either man in the picture. He did, however, admit he wore shoe polish on his face during a Michael Jackson impersonation at a 1984 dance competition.
Now the poll shows that 51 percent approve of Northam’s job, while 37 percent disapprove.
With Virginia holding important state legislative elections in November, the Wason Center survey also finds grim numbers for President Trump and the Republican Party in the state.
In addition to Trump’s job-approval rating at just 37 percent in the state, Democrats hold a 13-point lead on the generic ballot, with 49 percent of likely voters saying that they’ll vote for a Democrat in November’s elections, while 36 percent will vote for Republicans.
The poll was conducted Sept. 4-30 of 726 registered voters (which has a margin of error of plus-minus 4.1 percentage points) and 566 likely voters (plus-minus 4.6 percentage points).
Trump campaign spends more than $500,000 on anti-Biden, anti-impeachment ads
WASHINGTON — President Trump's re-election campaign has spent more than a half-million dollars over the last eight days on three ads that repeat unproven allegations of impropriety by former Vice President Joe Biden with Ukraine and attack Democrats for trying to impeach him.
The ads are part of a previously announced digital and cable buy from the campaign that it says will total $8 million across both platforms.
The campaign has spent the most money so far ($348,000, according to media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics) on a spot that frames the impeachment inquiry and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as part of an effort to nullify Trump's 2016 victory.
"They couldn't defeat him, so now the swamp is trying to take him out. First, the Mueller investigation. Now, Ukraine. Politics at its worst," a narrator says as images of Mueller and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., are displayed on the screen.
"It isn't pretty, the swamp hates him. But Mr. Nice Guy won't cut it. It takes a tough guy to change Washington — it takes Donald Trump."
Team Trump has also spent almost $174,000 so far on another spot focused primarily on his unproven accusations against Biden, arguing that Democrats are treating the two situations with a double standard
"They lost the election, now they want to steal this one. Don't let them," the ad says.
A third spot that emphasizes similar themes started airing on Sunday as well. So far, the campaign has spent about $14,000 to air that ad.
The attacks primarily accuse Biden of pressuring a Ukranian prosecutor to resign and connecting that act to an investigation by that prosecutor into a company that Biden's son, Hunter, worked for.
But the decision to push out the prosecutor was supported at the time by the international community.
The majority of the spending has gone toward airing ads on national television. But the anti-Biden ads have also been running as part of more targeted buys in states that hold early nominating contests in the Democratic presidential primary like Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina.
Eight presidential candidates stump at SEIU summit
LOS ANGELES — Eight Democratic presidential hopefuls arrived in Los Angeles this weekend to seek the support of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at their 2019 presidential forum.
In attendance: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., former HUD Sec. Julian Castro, ex-Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The candidates faced a wide variety of questions about migrant detention centers, police reform and climate change. While the topics strayed from labor-specific issues, in the eyes of the SEIU, these are questions central to the labor movement.
“We see all these fights is inextricably linked,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the SEIU. “All of these things that impact our lives, we want to hear from the next presidential candidate what they're going to do.”
While all candidates spoke at length about labor issues and their personal connections to unions, some of the biggest responses they got from SEIU members came from their answers on immigration, ending mass incarceration, and health care.
Warren received a minute-long standing ovation during her answer about shutting down for-profit detention facilities along the border, with SEIU members clapping their hands and chanting “yes we can.”
Booker fired up members in his closing remarks about ending mass incarceration and expunging non-violent drug offense records. Biden choked up on stage when recounting the story of his son Beau Biden’s cancer diagnosis and pledged to “protect your right to health care as it were my own family.”
While addressing union members, candidates were also exposed to an active and diverse voter base.
“SEIU represents over 2 million members in all walks of life, and all races, creed, nationalities, orientation, and we can all feel inclusive here,” said Maureen Casey, chapter president of the Hershey Medical Center SEIU in Pennsylvania. “And so we want to know that the President or whoever we support as the union or in our personal views aligns with our principles of being all inclusive for all of all of America.”
SEIU members said they were generally impressed with the candidates but were hesitant to single out a particular candidate.
“I think we really got a chance to see which candidates listen and how they tend to listen,” said Packy Moran, who works as a lecturer at the University of Iowa. “I think that all eight candidates did well to understand that there's a huge intersectionality between everything that goes on in their campaign and the union, and what we're trying to do in terms of organizing workers and organizing everyone to have more say in their quality of life.”
Others thought it was too early to pick a candidate and appreciated the chance to hear from a larger field.
“I think it's too early to say,” said Leonardo Diaz, an Uber and Lyft driver who is working to form a union for gig-economy workers. “Because, you know, we’re just listening to them what they saying because everybody — they can promise a lot of things, but we have to see, or sometimes we have to read more about their backgrounds what they did before.”
While candidates are waiting to see who the SEIU will endorse, the organization doesn't feel its on a deadline.
“I don't know when,” Henry said when asked about when endorsements would come out. “The trigger is local unions, engaging their members through surveys, polls, text messaging, phone banks, meetings, and then listening to our members who, frankly, are kind of all over the map on who they like or what they think.”
But SEIU was impressed with the amount of candidates who came to this forum. Henry suggested that the Democratic field for this cycle has been more pro-union, saying that “they've been way more willing to call out corporations, which is very different than our past experience.”
“They used to do it more in the backchannel,” Henry said. “They would do it politely. Now, they're sort of standing with workers. And I would say that's a big shift.”
ICYMI: Stories that got lost in the shuffle
WASHINGTON – With the news cycle jammed amid each drip of the House's impeachment inquiry into President Trump, here are a few of the week's other political stories that got a little lost in the shuffle:
While the unemployment rate fell to a new low of 3.5 percent, economists had predicted the September job numbers to add 145,000 new jobs. The report showed a gain of 136,000 jobs. The new data was released after a turbulent week on Wall Street with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing over a thousand points.
The Supreme Court will hear a case challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion clinic doctors to have hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Women's groups say the law would leave just one doctor able to perform abortions in the state. This is the first major abortion case the Court will hear since Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the bench.
NBC News was given an exclusive look inside camps thought to be detaining a million Muslim Uighers in China. While it's impossible to know if the conditions of the camp were improved or changed for NBC News' visit, the U.S. government and human rights organizations believe about 10 percent of the Uighur population in Xinjiang is locked up.
According to the South Korea military, North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday. Japan responded saying the missile landed inside of Japan's economic exclusive zone which, if true, would be the closest a North Korean missile got to Japan since November 2017. U.S. and North Korean officials plan to meet within the next week to resume nuclear talks.