The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Michael Bennet says Biden, Buttigieg stole his health care plan
PITTSBURGH – In a rare clash between the candidates over health care, former Vice President Joe Biden last week accused South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of stealing his proposal to build on the Affordable Care Act with a public option. On Saturday, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said Biden and Buttigieg took their public option plans from him.
“I’ve been robbed blind by everybody!” Bennet told NBC News on Saturday, after the MSNBC Public Education Forum. “I mean if Mayor Pete sole it from Joe Biden, Joe stole it from me."
Bennet co-sponsored his Medicare-X plan, which would create a public option, in 2017.
One of the signature policy debates of the Democratic primary has been the most effective way to expand access to health care and lower costs – either through building on the Affordable Care Act or transitioning to a fully public system like Medicare For All. Biden has gone on the offensive against Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren over her Medicare for All proposal, calling it unrealistic and unaffordable.
But during his bus tour of Iowa last week, Biden he turned his attention to Buttigieg, who also has proposed a plan that includes a public option.
“He stole it,” Biden told reporters at the time.
Buttigieg countered that he had been discussing a public option since before Biden even entered the race, and plans like his and Biden’s were hardly new in the Democratic Party.
Bennet said it was his they were modeling their own plans on.
“As Bernie says over and over again, he's the guy who wrote the damn bill on Medicare for All. Well, I'm the guy that wrote the damn bill on the public option,” Bennet said.
Bennet also argued that Buttigieg has flip-flopped on health care since entering the race because he had initially appeared to support Medicare for All.
"I'm not sure where Joe Biden, was but he didn't get it done,” Bennet added. "And, I didn't need to take a poll or get ready to run for president to know what I believe about it.”
Bennet, who has struggled to break into the top tier in the Democratic field, said his policy reflected his experience running and winning in a battleground state.
"I'm the only candidate in the race who has actually won two national elections in the swing state,” Bennet said. "When you’ve done that, you learn to say the same thing in a primary that you say in a general election. And you suck it up and tell people what you think and, and in the end I think people respect you for it even if they disagree with your particular position on any given issue."
Pete Buttigieg will allow Netflix CEO to host fundraiser despite charter school support
PITTSBURGH – South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg said on Saturday he will allow Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to co-host a fundraiser on his behalf, despite Hastings support for charter schools. Buttigieg made the remarks after his appearance at the MSNBC Public Education Forum.
Buttigieg opposes federal school voucher programs.
“I have no plans to make a change there,” Buttigieg said in response to questions about Hastings' appearance.
Hastings sits on the board of a public charter school and has donated millions of dollars to various educational institutions including charter schools. Buttigieg emphasized that his position on the issue will not change despite the views of those who contribute to his campaign.
“There are 700,000 donors to my campaign,” Buttigieg said. “Some of them may disagree with me on some of those issues, but my stance will not change, including my support for teachers and my support for labor.”
Buttigieg recently opened his closed-door fundraisers to the press amid criticism from Democratic presidential opponents like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
In his K-12 education policy, Buttigieg proposes banning for-profit charter schools and hold public charters schools to the same level of accountability, rigor and oversight as traditional public schools. He’s also emphasized the need for the resources to be fair for schools across the board.
Charter schools have become a hot-topic in the 2020 Democratic race, with most candidates declaring opposition to “for profit” charter schools as candidates look to earn the support of teacher’s unions.
Tom Steyer staffs up in South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Billionaire Tom Steyer is doubling down on the South Carolina ground game for his presidential bid and increasing the size of his campaign throughout the state.
The Steyer campaign currently has over 60 paid directors and organizers on the ground in the state, and plans to add an additional 40 by the end of the year, according to Tiffiany Vaughn Jones, the campaign's South Carolina communications director.
A staff presence of over 100 will ensure that the Steyer campaign has a dominating presence in the state. As of mid-December, the Sanders campaign has the second-largest roster of staffers, with over 50 on the payroll.
“The official title for our organizers are community organizers,” said Brandon Upson, Steyer’s National Organizing Director. “We’re hiring people specifically in the communities that they live in, have been raised in, so that they can organize their neighbors, their family members.”
One of those community organizers, Alonzo Canzater, said he decided to support the campaign after learning more about the investments Steyer himself has made to assist with the water crisis in his own backyard and sponsoring local food drives.
For Canzater, he hopes that this personal investment means a President Steyer wouldn't forget about South Carolina voters.
“A lot of presidents, they try to use the African American community to get those votes, but once they get in there, we don’t see them. But I think Tom is going to stick to his word," Canzater said.
Canzater likened his job to being the “face of the campaign” in South Carolina. “I go to a lot of neighborhoods I grew up in," he said, "just try to push them and encourage them to vote because their vote does count.”
While Steyer has focused on his ground game in South Carolina, other Democratic candidates continue to attack him for spending his personal fortune on staying the race.
“Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand — two women senators who, together, won more than 11.5 million votes in their last elections — have been forced out of this race, while billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg have been allowed to buy their way in,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrote in a fundraising email earlier this month.
Steyer campaign South Carolina state director Jonathan Metcalf pushed back on those assertions.
“The idea of a billionaire may conjure up some image." Metcalf said. "But Tom Steyer is the first person in his family to make money. And then what did he do? He decided to give half of it away to good causes he believes in.”
Metcalf also dismissed the idea that Steyer was buying his way into the race, saying the enthusiasm of their' teams community organizers is “something you really can't put a price tag on.”
Michael Bloomberg releases new piece of his climate change plan
WASHINGTON — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing his best to catch up in the 2020 Democratic primary plan race. On Friday, Bloomberg released a piece of his climate change program that calls for slashing emissions by 50 percent in the next 10 years, replacing all coal plants in the United States with clean power and stopping new construction of gas plants.
Friday’s proposal is part of a larger goal to get the U.S. to clean energy status “as soon as humanly possible” and “ideally before 2045 or 2050,” according to Bloomberg, who has invested millions of dollars in environmentally-friendly candidates, and causes, for years.
“The president refuses to lead on climate change, so the rest of us must,” Bloomberg said in a statement, released before he was set to hold an event in Northern Virginia to highlight the plan. “We’ve proven that you can transition to clean energy and strengthen the economy at the same time. As president, I'll accelerate our transition to a 100% clean energy economy.”
Some other details:
- Bloomberg’s plan aims to get to 80 percent clean electricity by the end of his second term in office (2028), by phasing out all carbon and health threatening pollution.
- This plan, as many Democratic plans do, will also reinstate emissions standards instituted by former President Barack Obama and then rolled back by President Donald Trump.
- He also proposes quadrupling investment in federal research and development into clean energy to at least $25 billion per year.
- Environmental justice should be “central to decision-making” for federal agencies
- End fossil fuel subsidies and bar fossil fuel leases on federal lands.
- There are also incentives for clean energy projects around the U.S.
Biden releases new Iowa ads on healthcare
DES MOINES, Iowa — Joe Biden's campaign began running its eighth television ad in Iowa Friday morning emphasizing the candidate's focus on health care — a top issue for a majority of voters in 2020. The ad, combined with supplemental digital ads, is the latest in a $4 million investment in ad buys in Iowa from November through caucus day on February 3.
"Protect" will air on television in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and on Hulu’s streaming service statewide. It plays like a general election ad, directly hitting President Trump’s effort to “destroy Obamacare,” while touting Biden’s plan to build on that health law and reminding viewers that he helped pass the Affordable Care Act with President Obama “in the first place.” Biden’s health care plan would expand Obamacare by adding a public option but also allowing voters to keep their private insurance if they want it.
"Trust" and another complementary video will run on social media platforms statewide. “Trust” features Charlene Harmon, a supporter from Ankeny, who received a cancer diagnosis but luckily had insurance that covered her recovery. Harmon credits Joe Biden’s empathy when discussing her support.
“I know he understands what we’ve been through,” Harmon says to camera. “To me, that makes him real.”
The second video is an addition to the campaign’s “On the Road with Joe” series, highlighting conversations the former vice president has on the rope line following campaign events, including an interaction where a woman from Davenport told Biden that the ACA saved her son’s life. (Differing from the previous two ads somber soundtrack, this ad also plays out under the song, “High Hopes” by Panic At The Disco!, which is notably Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s anthem on the campaign trail).
The latter two ads emphasize the campaign’s messaging in recent weeks, which is Biden’s empathy and ability to connect with those who have suffered. Along the eight-day “No Malarkey” bus tour route through Iowa, many voters brought up Biden’s empathy as a selling factor. During the bus tour, Biden heavily stressed his commitment to strengthening rural communities by recognizing the difficulty they face in accessing quality health care.
Michael Bloomberg releases medical assessment on health
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former New York City Mayor and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg released a recent assessment from his doctor on Thursday, deeming the 77-year-old to be in “outstanding health.” While Bloomberg has had some health issues, for instance atrial fibrillation, those are currently controlled with medicine.
The release comes at a time where fellow 2020 candidates have pushed each other on transparency. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 70, — a fellow 2020 septuagenarian — released a similar medical assessment last week. Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, 78, have yet to release their own health updates this cycle.
Dr. Stephen Sission of John Hopkins University saw Bloomberg in July 2019 and said in his statement, "Mr. Bloomberg is a 77-year-old man in outstanding health. There are no medical concerns, present or looming, that would prevent him from serving as President of the United States."
Sisson pointed out a few other things in his assessment of Bloomberg:
- Bloomberg had a coronary stent put in in 2000.
- He takes a blood thinner and medication to control his cholesterol.
- He’s had small skin cancers removed.
Trump campaign says impeachment has 'ignited a flame' under the Trump base
ARLINGTON, Va. — As the House Judiciary Committee debated the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump Thursday morning, his senior campaign officials were across the river in Virginia arguing the nearly two and a half month long inquiry has motivated Republicans so fiercely that it “makes our job easier in some ways.”
Pointing to increases in recent fundraising and new volunteers, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale claimed that “pretty much every metric that we have” shows that the president’s base is so “frustrated” and “upset” that Democrats have “ignited a flame underneath” them with the election less than a year away.
“Any time he’s attacked, any time people try to lessen that he’s a legitimate president in any way, his voters fight back. And I think that that is a motivation,” Parscale told reporters at a 2020 briefing near their campaign headquarters in Rosslyn, Va.
That said, senior campaign officials conceded they certainly would rather not have the president impeached because they firmly believe he “did nothing wrong.” They pointed to recent campaign polling in congressional districts of vulnerable Democrats as evidence that more moderate politicians in swing districts who vote for impeachment may be voted out of office come November.
Parscale also said impeachment has helped the campaign fill up rallies easier and that interest is at an all-time high with some events garnering 80,000 to 100,000 signups for arenas that won’t accommodate more than 20,000 (at most). That level of interest, especially from potentially new voters, also helps the campaign suck up first-party data that will be critical to reaching additional voters for potential re-election.
Officials argued they are also seeing a trend in recent months from certain independent voters in battleground states who view impeachment unfavorably and see the House Democrats’ latest actions as overreach. The Trump campaign hopes to capitalize on this in at least 17 states they have identified over the next year.
“We’re really proud of where we are but we’re going to run every day like we’re behind in this race and we’re going to work very hard to try to take advantage of everything possible to get the president a chance to win re-election,” a senior aide said.
Booker campaign plans way forward without appearing at December debate
MANCHESTER, N.H. — On a campaign call with reporters Thursday morning, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign manager Addisu Demissie confirmed that while Booker will not appear on the December debate stage, the campaign still sees a path forward.
“We are not expecting to meet the four-poll threshold or being on the debate stage at this point,” said Demissie.
Demissie critically noted that there have only been four qualifying polls in the few weeks since the November debate, none of which were from one of the first four early states where the Booker campaign says it has focused its investment.
“We still see a path to victory in the Democratic nomination that does not include the December debate stage as a requirement,” he said.
In order to qualify for the December debate, candidates had to reach a polling threshold with 4 percent support in at least four national or early state polls, or 6 percent support in at least two early state polls. Booker did not meet either of those thresholds. The campaign did, however, says it did meet the donor threshold which requires candidates to raise money from at least 200,000 unique donors. Candidates have until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday to qualify.
The campaign had previously stated that not making the December debate stage would prompt reevaluation of the campaign's paths and resources. But Demissie cited the following as reasons for a way forward: a financial upswing in past couple of weeks, changes to the 2020 field, increased voter attention and strong ground organization. This is the first debate Booker will not appear at in the cycle.
Demissie took a dig at the two billionaires in the race for buying "name recognition and polling bumps." Philanthropist Tom Steyer qualified for the debate, while former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not. Bloomberg is not raising money from individual donors but registered at 5 percent in two national polls.
Instead of heading to California for the sixth Democratic debate on Dec. 19, Booker will campaign in Nevada next Wednesday before kicking off a bus tour in Iowa on debate day. The multi-day tour will be open to the press and on the record like South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg's, former Vice President Joe Biden's and businessman Andrew Yang's bus tours.
The campaign announced it will also "soon be making a down payment” on a TV and digital ad buy in Iowa starting at half a million dollars to double down on its efforts in the Hawkeye state.
Booker's campaign said it has raised more than $3 million since the Nov. 20 debate, with Demissie indicating this is likely to be the candidate’s best fundraising quarter yet.
Asked if Booker would open fundraisers to the press and disclose bundlers, Demissie told a reporter, “Sure, yeah, wanna come this weekend?” adding the campaign has been working on disclosing its bundlers.
While the December debate will likely be the last Democratic debate before the impeachment trial in the Senate begins, the Booker campaign confirmed that Booker still plans to be in Washington D.C. for the trial and “will do his job no matter the consequences.”
Progressive climate group Sunrise Movement looks to topple three Democratic congressmen
WASHINGTON — The progressive climate group Sunrise Movement is endorsing a slate of insurgent candidates in Democratic primaries Wednesday, the group told NBC News.
The youth-led group, which has made a name for itself since launching in 2017 with confrontational tactics and vocal support for the Green New Deal, is backing three insurgents hoping to defeat entrenched Democratic congressmen, as well as supporting a congressional candidate in a battleground Texas district currently held by a Republican.
The group is throwing its support behind 26-year-old Robert Emmons Jr., who is challenging longtime Chicago Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush. A young former President Barack Obama, in his first political campaign, unsuccessfully challenged Rush in a primary in 2000.
And it's endorsing Morgan Harper, a former lawyer for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who is challenging Ohio Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty.
Meanwhile, the group is also hoping for success in a swing district that is expected to be targeted by both parties next year: Texas’ 10th Congressional District, currently held by GOP Rep. Michael McCaul. Sunrise is backing Mike Siegel, who ran an under-funded campaign in last year’s midterms and came within 5 percentage points of McCaul. Next year, though, Siegel is likely to face competition for his party’s nomination.
The group previously endorsed Jessica Cisneros, who is running against moderate Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas.
Sunrise, which has focused its activism on pushing Democrats to be more aggressive in confronting climate change, says its candidates will take action that it says establishment-backed ones won't.
“The scientists are telling us that 2020 is our last opportunity to elect climate leaders that will immediately enact bold, transformational action over the course of the next decade to save our planet. Meanwhile, establishment politicians of both parties are complacent,” said Evan Weber, Political Director of Sunrise Movement. “These insurgent campaigns are a clear indicator of the appetite for an entire new way of doing things.”
Andrew Yang criss-crosses Iowa in bus tour
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA — Businessman Andrew Yang embarked on a five-day bus tour across Iowa on Tuesday. The tour, billed "A New Way Forward" started in Des Moines and will travel through Grinnell, Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Ames, Waverly, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Dubuque and Iowa City.
While on the bus tour, Yang will visit some of his new field offices in Grinnell and Dubuque, and attend events like “Bowling with Andrew Yang” in Davenport and playing basketball against IA-4 congressional candidate J.D. Scholten.
Yang is following the footsteps of other Democratic presidential contenders who went on bus tours to strengthen their foothold in Iowa like South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden. California Sen. Kamala Harris also completed a bus tour of Iowa before suspending her presidential campaign.
Yang told reporters that he hopes this bus tour will allow him to not only meet Iowans but to have Iowans meet him and get to know him better.
“What I hope they learn from me is that I'm not a career politician so much as I am a citizen,” Yang said. “I'm a parent and a patriot who decided that we need to have a different approach to solving these problems and that the feedback mechanism between the people of Iowa and Washington, D.C. is broken.”
Yang kicked off the tour in Des Moines in front of the state capitol building in sub-freezing temperatures. Yang campaign staffers set up gas-powered heat lamps and handed out hand warmers to keep Yang supporters warm.
“This is the sort of passion and humanity that no amount of money can buy and there will be a couple other candidates who tried,” Yang said to the crowd. “But if you have money on one side and people on the other, I think people win every day of the week.”
On Tuesday, Yang appeared to qualify for the next Democratic primary debate on Dec. 19. As of now, Yang is the only person of color to qualify for the stage. Yang said he was proud, but not stressed, of being the only racial minority on stage.
“I don't feel undue discomfort, because I've been the lone person of color in any number of settings throughout my life and career, as is probably the case for many people of color who’ve been in certain environments,” Yang said. “So I'm proud, but I certainly don't feel any undue pressure.”
“And I think people will understand that I'm speaking from my own perspective,” Yang added. “I can't speak for every community of color. In a way, acknowledging that might be like one of the bigger responsibilities I might have.”
Yang's wife, Evelyn, will join him throughout the bus tour and his family will be hosting an event billed “An Honest Conversation About Autism” in Iowa city on Saturday. One of Yang’s sons is autistic.
Over the course of five days, Yang is hosting 14 events. When asked if campaigning has been taking a toll on him, Yang said that campaigning can be very difficult on both him and his family.
“It's been very hard on the family, and it's been hard on me personally,” Yang said. “My son, even for this trip he said to me, how long are you going away? And when I told him he was very sad and I hugged him.”
“And I told him a little while ago, daddy has a very big deadline," Yang added. “I told him the deadline is February 3rd, when voting starts here in Iowa.”
Joe Biden releases two immigration-focused plans
LAS VEGAS — Former Vice President Joe Biden released two new immigration-focused policy plans on Wednesday — the first highlighting and building upon the work he did in former President Barack Obama's administration to help curb migration from Central America, and the second proposing immediate ways to undo President Donald Trump’s policies.
Biden’s two plans come after the campaign has tried to increase its outreach to Hispanic communities in recent weeks, like launching "Todos Con Biden." However, the campaign has had to overcome activists protesting his role in standing alongside Obama-era policy to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants and pitching more moderate immigration policies than some of his opponents.
The two plans include a first 100 days component in which Biden will undo what senior campaign advisers describe as “horrific” and “cruel and senseless” policies enacted by President Trump like the separation of parents and children at the border. He would also end for-profit detention centers.
The immigration plan promises to reform the asylum system, surge humanitarian resources to the border, end Trump’s Muslim ban and review Temporary Protected Status for those who have fled a violent country. It would also end the Trump-declared “national emergency” being used to redirect federal dollars to build the border wall.
Biden also pledges to reinstate the DACA program, which would immediately protect and expand opportunities for DREAMers — or adults who migrated to the U.S. as young children. He will also search for “all legal options” to protect their parents, a move activists have previously blamed him and Obama for initially causing family separation. Last week on the campaign trail, Biden said he would look to revive the DAPA program even though it was struck down by the court.
However, it would require legislation to pave a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.
After the first 100 days, a Biden administration would spend his first year in office trying to tackle “four pillars”: legislative immigration reform, strengthen communities, steps to secure the border in a sensible manner and focus on the causes of migration in Central America.
Notably, Biden's plan breaks with some of his Democratic opponents who have called for restructuring if not abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Biden instead calls for increased training and oversight of ICE and Customs and Border Protection.
Biden often touts his ability to curb the swell of immigration from Central America after striking a deal between El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, also known as the Northern Triangle, by providing economic resources to strengthen their judicial systems and combat violence.
His new plan would redirect spending from the Department of Human Services budget, currently used on detaining asylum seekers, and commit $4 billion over four years on a Central American regional strategy.