The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Sanders' longtime trip director no longer with presidential campaign
WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders’ longtime trip director and de-facto body man William Pierce is no longer with the Vermont Senator's 2020 presidential effort — and hasn't been for several weeks now — the Sanders campaign confirms to NBC News.
In his position, Pierce was responsible for handling logistics and day-of scheduling behind the scenes and also served as a body man of sorts for Sanders, regularly seen working at tasks like making sure the podium was up to Sanders’ specifications at events and controlling crowds around him during rope lines, “selfie” lines, parades and even at airports.
Pierce has been with the campaign since January of 2019, even before the official launch in February. He previously worked for a number of other political organizations including Draft Biden 2016, Obama for America and Sanders’ 2016 run. Pierce left the Sanders campaign in September.
According to Pierce’s publicly available social media profiles, he is now an account executive with iConstituent, a Washington D.C.-based constituent communications software company.
National Advance staffers David Maddox and Jesse Cornett have been filling Pierce’s role in recent weeks.
When contacted by NBC News, Pierce would not comment on the record for this story and Sanders' campaign provided no further comment.
Klobuchar proposes plan to reduce college costs, not make it free
WASHINGTON — Senator Amy Klobuchar is setting up another contrast between herself and her fellow 2020 aspirants, this time on student loan debt and post-secondary education.
In a plan out Friday the Minnesota senator released a plan calling for tuition-free community college, expanded apprenticeship programs, and doubling federal grants to “reduce the burden of student loans.” That approach juxtaposes sharply with others in the race, specifically Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who advocate for universal and near-universal (respectively) student loan debt forgiveness and free college.
Klobuchar is still riding momentum from last week’s debate where she mounted several forceful challenges to Warren and Sanders’ progressive positions; something she will continue doing, both on the trail and on the November debate stage for which she just qualified.
The Klobuchar campaign tells NBC News that the plan’s overall price tag is “about $500 billion.” It will be paid for by raising capital gains and dividends rates for those in the top two income tax brackets, limiting the amount of cap gains deferrals, and a 30 percent minimum tax for people making over $1 million (otherwise known as the "Buffett Rule").
Here are some key provisions to the proposal:
- Tuition-free community college for one and two-year degrees, technical certifications and industry-recognized credentials. To do so, the federal government would match every $1 invested by states for students with $3. States will also be required to maintain spending on higher education and limit the rate of tuition increases if they want to access this federal funding.
- Expand Pell Grants by doubling the max Pell Grant (which don’t have to be repaid) to $12,000/year and expanding it to families making up to $100,000/year.
- Allow borrowers to refinance their student loans to lower rates and overhaul the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to require lenders to give better information about eligibility and progress toward forgiveness to borrowers.
- Create a Worker Training Tax Credit, benefiting businesses who invest in worker training.
Cummings funeral marks first Biden-Obama public appearance of 2020 but the former president remains a campaign fixture
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has made Barack Obama a fixture of his campaign, even without the former president’s endorsement and presence on the campaign trail. On Friday, the public will see the two former running mates together for the first time since Biden launched his 2020 campaign, as they gather for the funeral services for Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
The former president and vice president were both invited by Cummings’ family to attend the services in Baltimore, where Obama will deliver one of the eulogies, at the request of the late Democrat’s widow.
The two were last seen in public together at two other funerals — for former President George H. W. Bush in December 2018, and for the late Sen. John McCain four months earlier.
Since the launch of the campaign, their families joined together this summer to celebrate the graduations of Obama’s younger daughter and Biden’s granddaughter, who became friends at the same elite Washington high school.
But the two have continued to speak and met privately often between then, according to aides for both men. At a fundraiser last week, Biden told the audience that he sees Obama “a lot.”
He mentions Obama on the trail even more. Just Tuesday, at events in Pennsylvania and Iowa, the former president’s name came up often, both in a policy context and to highlight their eight-year partnership in the White House. In Scranton he joked about Obama’s constant descriptions of his local roots as if he “crawled out of a coal mine,” and talked about how they “fought like hell” to pass the Affordable Care Act. In Iowa later he referred to the assignments Obama gave him as vice president, like developing policy to boost the middle class and on post-secondary education.
The former president has continued an active post-presidency, but done his best to stay out of the 2020 presidential primary and largely avoided commenting on politics generally.
The day Biden announced his candidacy in April, a spokesperson issued a statement noting that Obama “has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made,” and noting that they remained close. While short of an endorsement, it was the only statement Obama’s office issued about a 2020 contender; Biden later told reporters he asked the president not to endorse him.
“Whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits,” he said.
Within days, though, Biden’s campaign released a video that replayed Obama’s own words as he awarded his vice president the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Biden campaign informally consults with Obama advisers to ensure that their use of the president’s likeness and words does not cross beyond what they deem to be appropriate.
Also in attendance at the Cummings funeral Friday will be the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and former President Bill Clinton, who will join Obama in speaking. The New York Times reported this week that Clinton has told people privately she would join the 2020 race if she thought she could win, but remained skeptical of there being an opening
Biden downplayed the concern among some Democrats about his candidacy to reporters Wednesday. “Sure I speak to Secretary Clinton, but I haven't spoken to her about this. I have no reason to,” he said.
Sanders wins backing of prominent Iowa Democrat
DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is making his first swing through the Hawkeye state since suffering a heart attack earlier this month, and he’s going to be joined by some local political star power.
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker is set to endorse Sanders at the Vermont senator’s rally in Iowa City, Iowa Friday night, NBC News has learned.
Walker, the 31-year-old Cedar Rapids native, is the first African American to hold a position on the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Prior to serving in local government, Walker worked for several political campaigns at the congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential levels.
Sanders campaign aides tell NBC News they view this as a “big get.” Walker was listed on the Des Moines Register’s “50 Most-wanted Democrats” this cycle, along with names that include J.D. Scholten, running for Iowa’s 4th congressional district in the US House, and Sanders 2016 campaign staffer Pete D’Alessandro.
The Sanders campaign promises Walker is more than just an endorsement on paper- He will also be Sanders’ first Iowa co-chair, hitting the trail on behalf of the campaign across the Hawkeye state.
“Now is not the time for incrementalism or for candidates wishing to capitalize on disaffected Republicans by repackaging the same failed policy programs of yesteryear,” Walker will tell supporters in Iowa City according to prepared remarks obtained by NBC News. “We cannot afford more piecemeal proposals that will be watered down even more during the legislative process, barely moving the needle in the end. We need to reimagine America’s promise, and we only get there with a bold vision.”
Walker is set to appear alongside Sanders at Friday’s “End Corporate Greed” press conference in Newton, and rally in Iowa City.
Buttigieg releases women's health and economic empowerment plan
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Pete Buttigieg Thursday unveiled a new set of policy proposals to address issues involving women’s health and economic empowerment centering on several key areas of improvement including:
- Gender pay and wealth equity
- Women’s health and choice
- Securing power and influence
- Building safe inclusive communities for women and families
“Women’s freedom can’t depend on Washington,” the plan says. “It can only come from systematically building women’s power in our economy, our political system, and in every part of our society.”
The South Bend, Indiana mayor says he will commit to nominating a cabinet and judiciary that is at least half women as well as prioritizing diversity in all presidential appointments across federal agencies, commissions and boards. He also calls for reinstating the White House Council on Women and Girls.
To close the wage gap, Buttigieg says he would implement a $15 minimum wage, require gender pay transparency and hold employers accountable for discrimination, as well as address factors that disproportionately target women of color and widen the racial wage gap.
The plan looks to expand gender diversity in “high priority,” sectors including computer science and construction by requiring all federally funded workforce programs to achieve target goals in women’s participation.
It prioritizes increasing the number of women-owned businesses, and invest in scaling successful businesses, including access to capital and mentorship for women entrepreneurs by over $50 billion. And it details steps to combat sexual assault and harassment in the work place.
The plan also calls for ending the trade off between career and family for women, including reducing the burden on unpaid family caregivers. It calls for caregivers to be considered eligible for Social Security, and says more details are to come in a forthcoming long-term care plan.
Buttigieg would invest $10 billion to end workplace sexual harassment and discrimination against women, including a proposal to empower workers to file formal complaints about sexual harassment and discrimination, and stop companies from hiding problems, as well as banning forced arbitration clauses that deny women their right to challenge workplace harassment and discrimination in court.
Buttigieg emphasizes the need for a “culture change” to occur around issues of sexual harassment and discrimination earlier in life. In order to achieve this a Buttigieg administration would work with states to educate students in public schools on consent and bystander intervention. In addition to reinforcing support for sexual violence prevention programs on college campuses.
In this plan, Buttigieg reiterates many of the polices he’s laid out in previous plans on criminal justice and healthcare aimed at addressing disparities in care and treatment.
Notably, on abortion rights, one of the most fiercely discussed issues in the 2020 election, Buttigieg says he would codify the right to abortion by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, thereby preventing states from interfering in women’s access to abortions. At the ground level the candidate hopes to increase the number of clinicians who offer abortions and expand access to services by allowing them to provide remote medication abortion services.
In battleground Wisconsin, support for impeachment lags behind national polls
WASHINGTON — A new Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin, arguably the most important state for the 2020 presidential race, is a reminder that the national poll results we’re seeing are a bit different than in the attitudes in top battleground states for 2020.
In the poll, 46 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin say there is enough cause for Congress to hold impeachment hearings on Trump, versus 49 percent who disagree. That 46 percent is lower than the majorities we’ve seen in most national polls supporting the impeachment inquiry.
The poll also finds 44 percent of Wisconsin supporting Trump’s impeachment/removal from office, versus 51 percent who oppose it.
Trump’s job rating in Wisconsin is 46 percent in the poll — slightly higher than his national average in the low 40s.
In hypothetical general-election matchups, Biden leads Trump by 6 points in the state, 50 percent to 44 percent. That’s compared with Bernie Sanders’ 2-point lead (48 percent to 46 percent), Elizabeth Warren’s 1-point lead (47 percent to 46 percent), and Pete Buttigieg’s 2-point deficit (43 percent-45 percent).
Most national polling shows all of these Democrats ahead of Trump by double digits or high-single digits.
The poll was conducted Oct. 13-17 of 799 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.
Castro releases "First Chance Plan" for criminal justice
Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro is out with his new criminal justice plan Wednesday, which he's billing as a "First Chance Plan" to give everyone an "effective first chance to succeed" instead of addressing recidivism after a person is already incarcerated.
Check out some highlights from the plan and read more at NBC Latino.
- Close all for-profit prisons, reform civil asset forfeiture process, abolish the death penalty
- Establish “First Chance Advisory Council” + “Second Chance Centers” for formerly incarcerated people to advise on needs to improve prison conditions & prevent incarceration, and provide resources & assistance to newly formerly incarcerated.
- Stricter standards for juvenile incarceration & allow children up to the age of 21 to be tried through juvenile justice system
- Invest in public defenders by re-opening & expanding Obama’s Office for Access to justice + ensure fair caseload limits and pay equality
- Pass legislation “banning the box” on employment application forms
- Return right to vote to formerly incarcerated people.
AOC backs challenger to Texas Democratic congressman
WASHINGTON — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who knocked off an entrenched Democratic congressman in her 2018 primary election, is backing a Texas Democrat's quest to defeat another incumbent in 2020.
Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Jessica Cisneros, a human rights lawyer from Laredo who is challenging Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, the former Texas secretary of state whose represented the south Texas district since 2005.
"Jessica is an incredible candidate who’s rooted in her community, who has served her community, who understands the working families of her community ― and she’s supportive of a progressive agenda,” Ocasio-Cortez told HuffPo as she announced her endorsement.
Cisneros is running from Cuellar's left, linking him to President Trump and attacking his record as too conservative.
Cuellar hasn't previously faced much of a challenge at the ballot box since he first won his seat.
But the moderate Congressman has drawn the ire of progressives for not backing party orthodoxy on issues like abortion, immigration and guns. Recently, Cuellar voted to support the Hyde Amendment (which bans the use of federal funds on abortion services) and to strip grants from sanctuary cities and states. He's also previously received an A-rating from the National Rifle Association.
Cisneros has the backing of Justice Democrats, the same group that helped Ocasio-Cortez mount her underdog bid in 2018. But she's also recently won the endorsement of EMILY's List, the pro-abortion rights group that backs female candidates and wields significant power within the Democratic establishment.
Cuellar and his campaign have argued his record is a reflection of the moderate leanings of his district.
"We feel very strongly that the Congressman represents the values of his district very well and that he knows and understands the priorities for his constituents, and we look forward to comparing his record of service to any candidate that gets in the race," Colin Strother, Cuellar's campaign spokesman, told NBC News after Cisneros announced her campaign.
And he has powerful allies — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, the head of the House Democrats' campaign arm, both said during last month's Texas Tribune Festival that they'll enthusiastically support Cuellar's reelection.
This is Ocasio-Cortez's second endorsement against a sitting Democratic colleague — she previously backed a Democrat challenging Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, another congressman whose voting record on abortion rights has prompted criticism from the left.
Julián Castro warns he'll drop out if he can’t raise $800,000 by end of October
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro sent an urgent email to supporters Monday morning, in bolded red text, reading: “If I can’t raise $800,000 in the next 10 days — I will have no choice but to end my race for President.”
The threat is reminiscent of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign, which warned in a September memo that without another $1.7 million raised in 10 days, Booker's campaign wouldn't have a "legitimate long-term path forward." Booker ended up hitting this goal and has already qualified for the November debate stage.
In Castro's email, he warns that without the $800,000, "I won't have the resources to keep my campaign running." The note ties cash intake to high polling numbers, as the candidate struggles to meet the threshold for the November debate, sponsored by MSNBC and The Washington Post.
“Our campaign is facing its biggest challenge yet,” campaign manager Maya Rupert said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we do not see a path to victory that doesn't include making the November debate stage — and without a significant uptick in our fundraising, we cannot make that debate.”
"This isn’t a gimmick or a threat, it’s the stakes,” Castro’s national press secretary, Sawyer Hackett, tweeted following the email blast. “If we don’t make the debate, fundraising will slow and we will continue to be shut out by the media, leaving us no path to victory. Tom Steyer unfortunately proved cash can get you polls — we need the resources to get there.”
Steyer, who is a billionaire, has injected more than $45 million of his own money into his campaign and has qualified for the debate stage.
The last fundraising quarter was Castro’s best yet, bringing in $3.5 million. But because he spent heavily, his cash-on-hand total rests at about $672,000 — well below other low-polling candidates like Gov. Steve Bullock, Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
Castro’s campaign says it's hit the 165,000 donors needed for the November 20 debate in Georgia, but he has not received any qualifying polls required to be on the stage. The deadline to qualify is Nov. 13.
Buttigieg rises in latest Iowa poll, launches new ad
WASHINGTON — South Bend, Ind. Democratic Mayor Pete Buttigieg has risen to third place in a new Iowa Democratic caucus poll, putting him behind only former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The South Bend, Indiana mayor netted 13 percent in a new Suffolk University/USA Today poll released Monday morning, trailing Biden's 18 percent and 17 percent respectively. The three were the only candidates to finish in double digits — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders finished at 9 points, followed by billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and California Sen. Kamala Harris at 3 percent.
The finish for Buttigieg marks a 7-point gain from his showing in a June poll by the same outlets. He also narrowly led among voters who watched the Democratic primary debates, and finished behind only Warren when voters were asked to give their second-choice candidate.
A new face on the national political scene, Buttigieg has emerged as one of the field's strongest fundraisers. After starting at an organizational deficit to better-known candidates, the mayor has directed his massive resources toward building out an organization in early states — he almost tripled the number of staff on payroll between June and September, Federal Election Commission reports show.
Also on Monday, Buttigieg's campaign released a new ad that will air in the Quad Cities of Iowa. it's aimed at rural communities, arguing that both urban and rural areas should "have an equal shot at success in this country."
Suffolk and USA Today polled 500 likely Democratic caucusgoers between Oct. 16 and Oct. 18 with a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
An energized Klobuchar gets warm reception in New Hampshire
MANCHESTER, N.H. — On the heels of a widely noted performance in Tuesday’s debate, Senator Amy Klobuchar headed straight to New Hampshire for a 30-hour, campaign swing through all of the state's 10 counties where she appeared in various venues this week — from organized town hall event settings to brief stops at breakfast spots and coffee shops.
The Minnesota senator now heads to Iowa for a bus tour and a similar focus on retail politics in another early primary state.
“I just want to make clear that my campaign is yes about debates, yes about reaching out but it's really about this kind of grassroots campaigning,” Klobuchar told reporters after one of her events in Concord.
Her campaign is now touting $1.5 million raised in the 36 hours following the debate. And Klobuchar appeared energized from her performance at many of her events in the Granite State.
“I felt good about the debate,” Klobuchar told reporters in Manchester, ahead of an evening stop at the infamous Red Arrow Diner. “My goal was to make sure that a lot of people understood where I was coming from and how I could lead the country who maybe didn't know who I was or just could heard me once and I think we accomplished that."
"And then we just had this surge of support," she added. "Ever since the debate, we're really doing well online people are really interested.”
Voters that NBC News spoke with at her events were largely impressed with her debate performance, but still skeptical if she could lead the Democratic field and ultimately face President Trump in the general election. One man who said that had voted for Trump in 2016 said he was so frustrated now that he is willing to check out more moderate Democratic candidates, and Klobuchar was the first candidate he’d gone to see in person this cycle.
At an event in Londonderry the evening following the debate, Klobuchar spoke to a large, energized crowd at a town hall of over 250 people. She received a standing ovation as she walked, and chants of “Amy” began to break out from the predominantly elderly audience. As she was introduced, and her debate performance was hinted at, the crowd burst into applause.
When asked about criticisms she made during the debate about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., more progressive position of Medicare for All and how that would be funded, Klobuchar said, “I don't actually focus much on other people's campaigns and my arguments and the issues that I had on that debate, were really about policy and the voters are going to ultimately decide who they think is the best candidate to lead our ticket."
Pressed in Manchester whether her primary opponents are being forthright in their description of Medicare for All and what it costs, Klobuchar told reporters “they've been very clear and it's right there in writing, it's not disputed that it would kick 149 million off their current insurance. 149 million people in just four years. That's right there on page eight and I think just the issue is how are they going to pay for it? As I said last night, who are they going to send the invoice to? And they're going to have to be forthright about that as well.”