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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Joe Biden releases medical assessment, described as 'healthy, vigorous'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump may call Joe Biden “sleepy,” but the former vice president’s physician states that the 77-year-old is in good health and nowhere near slowing down.

Dr. Kevin O’Connor of The George Washington University released a three-page medical summary of Biden's health on Tuesday at the request of his patient, in which he described Biden as a “healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief.”

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Nashua, N.H., on Dec. 8, 2019.Cheryl Senter / AP

There is no new notable change in Biden’s medical history based on previous medical records released during his time as vice president. Biden survived two brain aneurysms in the late 1980s — one did not rupture. And while the condition was later complicated by subsequent deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, O'Connor states there are currently no serious threats to Biden’s health and medical conditions from his past are currently under control.

Biden is taking blood thinners and medication for acid reflux, cholesterol and seasonal allergies. Dr. John Torres, an NBC News medical correspondent, notes that acid reflux can occasionally cause a hoarse voice, which has become noticeable at times on the campaign trail. 

O’Connor has been Biden’s primary physician since 2009, and also released the results of Biden's most recent physical exam, which showed him to be in stable health. Notably, his doctor points out that Biden’s good health can be attributed to his decision not to smoke, drink and commitment to working out “at least five days per week.”

Critics of the former vice president’s age often suggest the septuagenarian is mentally and physically too old to be president, however, O'Connor makes no mention of any mental deficiencies, stating that Biden’s last physical showed his that his “cranial nerves and vestibular function are normal.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, two of the other septuagenarian Democratic candidates, have also released medical assessments. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has not yet released his. 

Biden has also had his gallbladder removed and has been preemptively treated for non-cancerous polyps and skin abrasions in recent years.

 

Klobuchar to open fundraisers up to press

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., will be opening up her future presidential campaign fundraisers to press starting Wednesday, her campaign tells NBC News.

Amid tensions and a growing debate over fundraising transparency among Democratic primary contenders, Klobuchar is joining candidates South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who recently decided to open up their fundraisers to press.

Amy Klobuchar speaks to moderator Craig Melvin at the Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas on Oct. 2, 2019.Gabe Ginsberg / for MSNBC

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been doing so with a pooled press system from the beginning of his campaign. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has made a central campaign talking point her rejection of high-dollar fundraisers, held her first campaign fundraiser in the Los Angeles area last week. While Warren did not attend in person the event was made open to press. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders does not hold fundraisers for his campaign.

Klobuchar’s campaign confirms to NBC News that they will disclose bundlers for campaign donations on her behalf, but provided no details on the timing.

For all future fundraising events, Klobuchar’s campaign will utilize a pool system for a single reporter to attend and cover fundraising events. The campaign will then distribute the pool report at the conclusion of the event.  

Klobuchar’s first fundraiser open to the press will be Wednesday in Los Angeles ahead of Thursday’s debate.

Biden campaign responds to impeachment vote in new TV ad

Former Vice President Joe Biden 's presidential campaign is out with a new TV ad ahead of Wednesday's House vote to impeach President Donald Trump, a spot that refers to the 2020 election as a fight for America's soul. 

The one-minute cable TV ad, called “Soul of America,” will air in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina through Thursday and rebukes Trump by embracing former Vice President Joe Biden’s core message about the need to unite and restore the country’s soul. The ad buy is part of the campaign’s $6 million paid media expense in the first four early primary states.

The ad features clips of Biden’s first blistering speech against Trump delivered early this summer in Burlington, Iowa, where he strongly assailed Trump for having “no moral leadership” or interest in uniting the country. In that same speech, he went on to accuse Trump of trying to lead “with a toxic tongue” that has “publicly and unapologetically embraced the political strategy of hate, racism and division.”

The ad hinges on the reminder Biden often delivers on the campaign trail about restoring the soul of America: that America has never lived up to its ideal written by Thomas Jefferson in the preamble of the Constitution, but it has never flat-out abandoned it as Trump has.

It starkly contrasts the achievements America has made despite centuries of slavery and racism, which Biden points out took true leadership to try and stamp out such malice. The ad shows famous moments in African American history before quickly pivoting to images of Trump and the flashpoints that have happened under his watch like Charlottesville.

“If we give Donald Trump four more years, this will not be the country envisioned by Washington. This will not be the nation bound together by Lincoln. This will not be the nation lifted up by Roosevelt or inspired by Kennedy,” Biden reminds. “It will not be the nation that Barack Obama proves bends towards justice.”

Though the ad never mentions the word impeachment, it makes clear on Biden’s belief that the most important and reliable place to remove Trump from office is in the ballot box next November.

“We can’t and I will not let this man be reelected President of the United States of America,” the ad ends.

New Klobuchar Iowa ad emphasizes her roots

DES MOINES, Iowa — Amy Klobuchar's campaign has released a new television ad touting her Midwestern roots and her “record of bringing people together.” The six-figure ad buy comes right before the next presidential debate on Thursday and will air in across multiple markets in Iowa. 

The Minnesota senator chose to target President Trump directly, saying, “If we don’t stop Donald Trump this time, shame on us. Americans deserve a President who has their back, who isn’t afraid to take on powerful forces, who has a record of bringing people together. And most importantly, who gets things done.” 

“I know what it takes to win in the Midwest,” Klobuchar adds, reiterating a point Iowans hear often in her stump speech. “It’s not flyover country to me — it’s home.” 

The ad is in line with the Minnesota senator's message on the campaign trail, where she frequently draws contrasts between her own beliefs and Trump’s policies in her attempt to cast herself as a natural opponent to the president.  

“We come from a country where no matter where you come from or who you know or where you worship or who you love that you can make it in the United States of America,” Klobuchar said at a recent event in Dubuque, Iowa. “And that's really where we begin because we have a president right now who tries to shatter those dreams. He tries to shatter those dreams every single morning when he goes after immigrants, when he goes after people of color, when he goes after people that he doesn't agree with.” 

Klobuchar, who frequently jokes that she can see Iowa from her Minnesota porch, will embark on a four-day bus tour through Iowa, vowing to hit 27 counties by the tour’s end. The campaign claims she will have hit 96 counties by the tour’s conclusion — leaving her only three short of hitting all of Iowa’s 99 counties.  

Klobuchar appears to have solidified her spot in fifth place in Iowa following the last two debates. In recent Iowa-specific polls, she garnered 10 percent in Emerson’s latest poll and 6 percent in the famed Iowa Des Moines Register poll in November.

Buttigieg ad takes on Trump by not talking 'Trump'

DES MOINES, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg's campaign is out with a new television ad highlighting his strategy for taking on President Donald Trump, but viewers shouldn’t expect to hear the president’s name or even see him in the 30-second spot — and for Buttigieg, that’s the point.

The ad, titled “Talk About You,” opens with a graphic that reads, “Pete Buttigieg, speaking about Donald Trump,” and that three seconds is the only time Trump is mentioned by name. Throughout the rest of the ad, the president is simply referred to as “him.”

“What it's really going to take is denying him the power to change the subject,” Buttigieg says on screen as he’s speaks to a group of voters. “The more we're talking about him, the less we're talking about you,” he says as voters nod in agreement. 

Buttigieg promises the room full of people that he will, “keep our focus on what matters most, and have the discipline to make sure the conversation stays there too.” 

The ad will run statewide in Iowa beginning on Tuesday. 

While it may be focused on Trump, the ad also seeks to draw a clear distinction between Buttigieg’s approach to taking on the president and that of his opponents for the Democratic nomination. 

Some candidates have released ads that feature Trump prominently, including Former Vice President Joe Biden’s ad titled, “Laughed At.” Senator Bernie Sanders’ first TV ad of this election cycle titled, “Fights for Us,” also includes a clip of the president. 

That Buttigieg’s ad doesn't mention the president directly is no accident. A statement by the campaign announcing the ad states, “The ad highlights how Pete would take on Donald Trump by focusing on the issues that are impacting people every day — rather than keeping the focus on Donald Trump.” 

County-to-County: Do moderate Republicans hold the key to Trump's impeachment and re-election?

WASHINGTON — As the impeachment process hurdles on through a divided Congress (and public) that seems to be ever-hardening, there is one group of voters who could make a big difference in the political equation for the 2020 election and possibly the eventual outcome of the Senate trial: moderate Republicans who have never been die-hard Trump supporters.

To gauge their reaction on the process, "Meet the Press" assembled a group of six voters who fit that bill in Kent County, Michigan to ask them if they were paying attention to the proceedings and what they were hearing from their friends and neighbors. What they responded with was a mix of disgruntlement and shoulder-shrugging inevitability.

All the members of the panel, several of whom said they do not plan to vote for the president in 2020, signaled that they were all-but-certain the impeachment proceedings would lead to an acquittal for the president. Some said they wanted to see him censured. But there was general agreement that the next step was to “bring on the election.”

Kent is a one of the five locales in the County-to-County Project NBC News launched for 2020 to track different kinds of voter communities through the next presidential election and it's important for two big reasons.

First, Kent, the home of former President Gerald Ford, has long been a bastion of what might be thought of as establishment Republicanism. It’s less diverse than the nation as whole, it’s well-educated and it has high incomes. It’s voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election from 1968 onward — except for 2008 when it narrowly voted for Barack Obama.

It was also a weak point for President Trump in 2016. Even as he carried Michigan in the election, he won Kent by the smallest margin of any Republican in last 50 years. In short, it is an ideal place to see if Trump’s support is weakening among those voters.

Second, those moderate Republicans are particularly crucial in the impeachment story right now because they are likely the only voters that could make the process bipartisan and ultimately impact the outcome of the fight. Democrats and strong Republicans are already deeply dug in on the issue.

President Trump’s time in office has been eventful in many ways, but not in the polling data. The majority of voters have made up their mind on him — for or against. Since his inauguration his job approval rating has stayed in a narrow eight-point band in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, between 47 percent and 39 percent. In October, his approval number was 45 percent.

Andrew Yang releases public-option health care plan

MANCHESTER, NH – Andrew Yang on Monday released his health care proposal, one that creates a public option but still retains the ability for Americans to keep their private insurance. 

Yang's campaign said the plan explores  “ways to reduce the burden of healthcare on employers, including by giving employees the option to enroll in Medicare for All instead of an employer-provided healthcare plan.”

The "New Way Forward” care plan is a clear departure from his previous support for Medicare for All – still listed as one of “Andrew’s 3 Big Policies” on his campaign website homepage. The proposal instead more closely resembles the plans for a "public option" being championed by candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. 

“To be clear, I support the spirit of Medicare for All, and have since the first day of this campaign. I do believe that swiftly reformatting 18% of our economy and eliminating private insurance for millions of Americans is not a realistic strategy, so we need to provide a new way forward on healthcare for all Americans,” Yang said in the release.

“As Democrats, we all believe in healthcare as a human right. We all want to make sure there is universal affordable coverage. We know we have a broken healthcare system where Americans spend more money on healthcare to worse results. But, we are spending too much time fighting over the differences between Medicare for All, “Medicare for All Who Want It,” and ACA expansion when we should be focusing on the biggest problems that are driving up costs and taking lives.”

The plan doesn't provide a total cost, or a funding source. His proposal also does not include at what age Americans can opt-in to Medicare, nor does it address the millions of Americans currently uninsured or provide information on how copays, deductibles, and premiums would be impacted for those who are insured.

The "Medicare for All" proposals by candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., envision a landscape where private insurance is rendered obsolete. Yang has changed his stance on Medicare for All over recent months, but has maintained support for keeping private insurers if they can compete in the market.

In a June conversation with a New Hampshire voter, Yang referred to himself as "pro-Medicare for All" and said he thought health care should be a "basic right." 

But by last month, he told reporters that "the difference between my approach and Senator Sanders and Senator Warren is that I disagree that everyone hates their private insurance plan." 

Here are more details from Yang's plan:

  • Control the cost of life-saving prescription drugs, through negotiating drug prices, using international reference pricing, forced licensing, public manufacturing facilities, and importation.
  • Invest in technologies to finally make health services function efficiently and reduce waste by utilizing modernized services like telehealth and assistive technology, supported by  measures such as multi-state licensing laws.
  • Change the incentive structure by offering flexibility to providers, prioritizing patients over paperwork, and increasing the supply of practitioners.
  • Shift our focus and educating ourselves in preventative care and end-of-life care options.
  • Ensure crucial aspects of wellbeing, including mental health, care for people with disabilities, HIV/AIDs detection and treatment, reproductive health, maternal care, dental, and vision are addressed and integrated into comprehensive care for the 21st century.
  • Diminish the influence of lobbyists and special interests in the healthcare industry that makes it nearly impossible to draft and pass meaningful healthcare reform.  

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.

Democratic presidential candidate, philanthropist Tom Steyer speaks at the Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa on Nov. 1, 2019.Scott Olson / Getty Images

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.

Former New York City Mayor and possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks in Manchester, New Hampshire, Jan. 29, 2019.Brian Snyder / Reuters file

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.