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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

John Kerry: Democratic primary is a "circular firing squad", and it's time to "coalesce" around one candidate

DAVENPORT, IOWA — Former Secretary of State and 2004 Democratic nominee for president, John Kerry bemoaned the nature of the “traditional circular firing squad of the Democratic party” while urging Iowa voters in Muscatine to “coalesce” around former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign on Saturday.

Kerry, who's campaigning for Biden on a week-long swing through Iowa, said that the longer it takes for the party to support one candidate, the more the eventual nominee will be hurt. 

“The sooner we can coalesce around a candidate, the sooner we eliminate the traditional circular firing squad of the Democratic party, where we just pop away,” Kerry said. “That hurt Hillary last time, where Bernie went on and on and on and on, so we gotta end this thing and we have a chance to do it.”

And Kerry, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2004, said that Biden, despite trailing Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Ind Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the latest Iowa poll, can still win the Iowa caucuses because he'll be less of a target. 

“I like the way this is tee'd up to be honest with you,” Kerry said. “You know, when we were coming in the last weeks we didn't want to be a target.”

Kerry took the moment to compare Sanders to one of his 2004 rivals, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Dean, who was a leading progressive voice during the 2004 Democratic primary. A day before the 2004 Iowa caucuses, a Des Moines Register poll showed Kerry, Dean and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in a virtual tie with Kerry leading the pack but within the margin of error. 

“You know, Howard Dean was out there, and now Bernie is out there, it's the same thing. Bernie, Howard Dean, da da da da. But Joe Biden can drive a Mack truck right through the hole.”

Kerry endorsed Biden in December and has since campaigned with Biden and alone as a surrogate. 

New poll shows Joe Biden far ahead of 2020 pack in support from black Democrats

WASHINGTON — A new Washington Post/Ipsos poll found that 48 percent of black registered voters who lean Democratic support former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential run. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second, but 28 points behind Biden, with 20 percent support.

The poll is further evidence that black Americans continue to favor Biden despite campaign gaffes, and other candidates attacking Biden’s record on race — like California Sen. Kamala Harris’ criticism of Biden’s stance on busing, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s attacks on Biden’s 1994 crime bill.

The new poll also shows the steep drop off in support candidates have after Biden and Sanders. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren garnered only 9 percent support, followed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Booker tied with 4 percent support. Businessman Andrew Yang had just 3 percent support, and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and philanthropist Tom Steyer garnered 2 percent support. All other candidates had less than 1 percent support of black Democrats in the poll.

Buttigieg has consistently fended off concerns that he would not be able to build a strong coalition as the Democratic nominee because of his lack of support in the black community — one of the strongest Democratic voting blocks. On Thursday, Buttigieg received her first endorsement from a member of the Congressional Black Caucus when Maryland Rep. Anthony G. Brown endorsed him.

Brown said that he expected black support for Buttigieg to “increase dramatically” as communities got to know him. However, this new poll shows that 15 percent of black registered voters who lean Democratic would “definitely not consider supporting” Buttigieg. The only two candidates to register higher than him were Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at 23 percent, and Bloomberg at 17 percent.

Biden’s support in the black community is not just wide, but also strong. Biden has a 69 percent favorable view among black adults and 44 percent of that favorability is “strongly” favorable. While Sanders had a net favorability of 63 percent, only 29 percent of that support was strongly favorable.

Furthermore, 61 percent of those polls said the next president should “generally continue President Obama’s policies.” Only 21 percent said the next president should have “more liberal or progressive policies” than former President Obama’s.

As Biden continues to push his more moderate agenda, that he says adds on to the successes of Obama’s years in office, this support in the black community could buoy him through Iowa and New Hampshire which have less diverse voting demographics than Nevada and South Carolina.

Tom Steyer says lack of military experience doesn't hinder judgment in national security

WASHINGTON — Presidential candidate and philanthropist Tom Steyer has pitched himself to voters as an outsider. On Friday he said that his outsider experience wouldn't hinder his ability to act in a national security crisis because his decisions would come down to "judgment", and "experience alone isn't nearly enough."  

"I don't have military experience and I give people credit for that. But this is a question to me of having judgment, of having clear strategy and then consulting the experts in making your decisions," Steyer said on MSNBC. "At the experience over the last 20 years of the American government and how we've proceeded in the Middle East, in the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War that implies that experience alone isn't nearly enough." 

After this week's events in the Middle East when first President Trump authorized a strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, and then Iran's response which included a rocket strike at an American military base in Iraq, Democratic candidates have been positioning themselves as better suited to handle a military crisis. 

Two candidates, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg are veterans and both have criticized those who voted for the war in Iraq. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has reaffirmed his vote against the war in Iraq and said on Friday that President Trump's decision to "assassinate a high-ranking official of foreign government" could "unleash anarchy." 

The only candidate in the 2020 race who voted to support the Iraq war is former Vice President Joe Biden who voted for the war when he served in the Senate. During the third Democratic debate in September, Biden said he regretted his vote for the war

"I should have never voted to give Bush the authority to go in and do what he said he was going to do," Biden said. 

Democratic online donations hit $1 billion mark in 2019 as Republicans make strides to catch up

WASHINGTON — The Democratic online fundraising juggernaut hit another massive milestone in 2019, but the Republican effort to close the gap between the two parties also took big strides as well. 

The Democratic-aligned online fundraising platform ActBlue raised $1 billion last year, while the new Republican-aligned WinRed raised $101 million since it launched in late June. 

The new numbers, released by the groups in recent days (full reports must be filed by the end of the month), show how Democrats continue to reap the benefits of a well-organized and longstanding effort to invest in and centralize their online donor platform. But Republicans appear to be benefiting from a concerted effort of their own to replicate that. 

Virtually every Democratic organization goes through ActBlue, and since the platform is about 15 years old, it has grown exponentially as the rise of high-speed internet and mobile devices have made it easier to solicit donations. 

That move has paid off for the Democratic Party, making it easier for their grassroots donors to spread money around up and down the ballot and across the country (especially in the age of smartphones).

“Our record-breaking Q4 indicated what we saw in all of 2019: unprecedented grassroots engagement and growth of the small-dollar donor movement, which we only expect to increase from here,“ ActBlue Executive Director Erin Hill said in a statement.

“Our nominee will need at least half of their funds from grassroots donors if they want to beat Donald Trump. Based on what we saw last year, the eventual Democratic nominee will have an army of grassroots donors behind them.”

Data released by ActBlue shows that 6 million people donated through ActBlue in 2019, a record for the site, and that half of those were first-time donors through ActBlue. And even with the presidential race taking center stage, almost 40 percent of those donors gave to a non-presidential candidate or group. 

And the majority, 57 percent, of all 2019 contributions came through mobile devices, another sign of how the robust effort has made it easier for donors to give to Democrats. 

Republicans have been trying to build their own version of ActBlue for years, and after a handful of attempts, WinRed seems to be catching on (with the backing of President Trump and the Republican National Committee). Getting it right now could be particularly fruitful for Republicans as they hope to mobilize Trump's strong grassroots support into a long-term fundraising boon for their candidates. 

WinRed is just six months old, but it's quickly winning over an overwhelming share of the GOP fundraising infrastructure. Every state Republican party, 80 percent of all GOP senators and 78 percent of GOP House members are fundraising through WinRed, the group says.  

And WinRed says that impeachment is good for business, as donation pages discussing impeachment raised over 300 percent more than pages that didn't, and that fundraising spiked after Democrats launched their formal impeachment inquiry on Oct. 31. (That's another advantage of centralizing an online fundraising platform — it's easier to conduct large-scale analysis across a wide range of campaigns).

Tryng to compare WinRed's early fundraising to that from ActBlue's beginnings isn't very useful — massive changes in technology have created a far more fruitful terrain for online fundraising now than ActBlue had when it launched in 2004.

Since WinRed hasn't reached unified status on the right, the numbers don't tell the whole GOP online-fundraising story. And the Trump-era has been good for GOP fundraising, with Trump and the RNC building a massive warchest that will serve as a significant advantage over the eventual Democratic nominee and the Democratic National Committee. 

But the bottom line is: the Democratic juggernaut is continuing to help Democrats pull in massive amounts of money that will be a major benefit for 2020, but Republicans are making their best strides in recent years at closing the gap. 

Michael Bloomberg campaigns in Midwest, but emphasizes learning about the voters

NEW YORK — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a whirlwind trip through three states in the Midwest on Wednesday to learn about what voters in the region are concerned about in 2020 and to further cement his Super Tuesday strategy in the Democratic primary. 

Bloomberg began Wednesday at a community college in Chicago, and ended it at a town hall in Akron, Ohio where he toured an "innovation lab" where herbs and micro-greens are grown with hydroponics. 

“I want to better understand rural America,” Bloomberg said to his hosts at a family farm in Wells, Minn. “You know, I come from the city, but you're the backbone of America, and we eat and live based on what you do.”

He continued, “I think it's easy for us living in big cities to forget about the rest of the world. You know, it just doesn't come up because you don't see them every day.”

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg opens his Tennessee 2020 campaign headquarters in Nashville on Dec. 19, 2019.Harrison McClary / Reuters file

Bloomberg hoped to use the trip to quell concerns that a Bloomberg presidency wouldn't include those who are outside of big cities. But by Bloomberg spending time in states like Ohio and Minnesota, he's confirmed that he's not going to work at all to win the early states in the primary contest. 

And he’s criticized his opponents for placing so much emphasis on states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, telling an audience at an office opening in North Carolina that “Trump is campaigning in swing states while every other Democratic campaign is focused on other states.”

Despite Bloomberg's late entrance into the race, and not competing in the traditional states, he has risen in several polls, and leaped ahead of other candidates who have been campaigning for months like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Bloomberg made the polling threshold for the January Democratic debate but will not be on the stage because he isn't taking individual contributions. 

Instead, his billionaire status is what is giving him the ability to buy about $170 million in television and digital ads and build a staggering staff infrastructure. 

According to the campaign, it has employed more than 800 people, including 500 in over 30 states. 

Bloomberg's campaign has employed an "if you build it, they will come" attitude. But for now, that still includes the former mayor blitzing through states and introducing himself. 

“I’ve started a quest,” Bloomberg said to the Akron audience. “[H]ere I don’t know every name, but I’ll get around to it.”

Jill Biden: Joe has 'a plan,' unlike President Trump

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Second Lady Jill Biden, one of the many surrogates hitting the trail this week for Joe Biden's presidential campaign, drew a sharp comparison between her husband's leadership style and that exhibited by President Donald Trump in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Thursday.   

“I have to say his leadership style is so much different than Donald Trump's,” Jill Biden said, touting her husband as “thoughtful."

"He has a strategy. He has a plan. He thinks things through," she said. "That's the one thing that this president does not do. He makes these snap decisions and then he tweets them out. And that's what people are concerned about.”

Jill Biden recounted a recent encounter she had with the the wife of a military service member stationed in Iraq.  

“She was telling me how her husband was on the base that the missiles went into, and she said how frightening it was and how much damage there was, and she did not talk to her husband for hours and she didn't know whether he was dead or alive.”

Biden said that her own experience of having family members serving in a war zone allows her to connect more personally with others who share similar backgrounds or have concerns.

“We have to remember the stress that our military families are under, and we have to commit to an act of kindness and reach out to our military families because you know they don't know where their loved ones or when they'll next see them or talk to them,” she said. “And as a military family ourselves, I know what it feels like to have a son who's deployed, and how frightening that is.

The interview took place at a phone bank where Jill Biden was reaching out to New Hampshire voters and she spoke to being out on the trail as a surrogate for her husband and her thoughts of its effectiveness for campaigning in his absence.

“I hope it helps because this is hard work,” Biden said. “I've been traveling all over New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, you know the first four states and I try to make the case for why Joe would be the best president. And, you know, what a strong leader he is and I talked to them about his experience and his resilience. And then if voters want to ask me questions if there's something that's close to their heart that they care about, I answer their question. So I'm hoping it makes a difference and so I've been out there every day and hoping that Joe becomes our next president."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti endorses Joe Biden

WASHINGTON – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, giving Biden a boost in the key Super Tuesday state of California. 

Garcetti, who had considered running for president in 2020 but decided against joining against the crowded field, said in a statement that Biden will “bring our nation and world together during these most divided and dangerous times.”

Biden and Garcetti have forged a close relationship since the mayor first took office in 2013. Biden wrote in his 2017 book that Garcetti was among those who encouraged him to run for president in 2016. While in this cycle Garcetti stayed on the sidelines as other California hopefuls as well as friends, like former Oxford classmate New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, joined the fray, he has hosted several of the candidates in Los Angeles.  

Biden joined Garcetti for tacos in California during the first weeks of his campaign, and he praised Garcetti as “one of the best mayors in the country” and “one of the most qualified people” to serve in any office.

“When he decided not to run I called him. And I said I really have mixed emotions about this,” Biden said. “He is qualified to be mayor, to be president, to be a senator, or anything that he decides. He’s total qualified.”

Garcetti told NBC News in 2018 that Biden had encouraged him to consider a 2020 run even as he was doing the same. 

Biden and Garcetti will appear together at an event in Los Angeles on Friday. Biden has been touting a growing list of endorsements as he pitches himself to Democrats as the most electable candidate to win a general election against President Trump. 

Pete Buttigieg picks up first Congressional Black Caucus endorsement

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg landed his first endorsement of his presidential campaign from a member of the Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday when Maryland Rep. Anthony G. Brown, announced his support for Buttigieg. 

Buttigieg has faced mounting concerns about his ability to build a diverse coalition of support, but Brown pointed to Buttigieg's experience in South Bend as proof that he can reach voters from all communities and backgrounds.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg holds a town hall event in Creston, Iowa, on Nov. 25, 2019.Scott Morgan / Reuters file

“He knows the ins and outs of South Bend,” Brown told NBC News. “That only happens when you immerse yourself in your city, when you understand the people, the neighborhoods, the communities, the aspirations the challenges of your of your city.”

Brown joined Buttigieg on the campaign trail in Iowa last month where Buttigieg was confronted by a young black man about his record among African American’s in South Bend. Brown told NBC News he was impressed by the candor Buttigieg offered in his response to the young man.

“He didn't necessarily get it right, but yet it's an ongoing effort, working with a coalition of people in the community to get it right," Brown said.

And on Thursday morning, Brown appeared on MSNBC and said that he expects Buttigieg's support in the black community to "increase dramatically." 

"As Pete becomes more familiar in the African American community, just as he has had and he has done in other communities, I believe that listening to his message about empowering people, investments in education, very purposeful, targeted investments in health care particularly considering the racial disparities in health care in our country you’re going to see support increase dramatically for Pete Buttigieg," Brown said. 

Brown, a veteran of the Iraq war, also pointed to Buttigieg's foreign policy positions and military experience as critical to his decision to endorse as tensions escalated in the Middle East this week

“As we fight for the future of the soul of our country here at home, we also remain entangled in endless wars abroad and the threats to American lives and interests around the world have increased,” Brown said in a statement. “After serving three decades in the Army and Army Reserve and now as Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, I’m acutely aware that the top priority for the President should be the security and safety of our nation, which is why my choice for president is Mayor Pete Buttigieg.”

Brown will serve as a national co-chair for the Buttigieg campaign, hitting the trail over the next few weeks as the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary get underway. 

“I don't just put my name on a list,” Brown told NBC News. “I will be a surrogate for the campaign and I will travel to those communities where the campaign believes and I believe I can add the greatest value.”

This is Buttigieg’s fourth congressional endorsement following Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y. 

New Monmouth poll leaves Yang, Steyer and Booker on outside looking in for January debate

WASHINGTON — None of the Democratic presidential hopefuls currently on the bubble for next week's debate made any strides towards qualifying for the event with the new results of Monmouth University's New Hampshire primary poll, as the top four candidates remain in a logjam at the top. 

Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden topped the poll with 20 percent and 19 percent respectively of likely New Hampshire primary voters. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., were closed behind with 18 percent and 15 percent respectively. 

Democratic presidential hopefuls participate of the sixth Democratic primary debate co-hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2019.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images

Then there's a significant gap between the top four and the rest of the field. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., finished with 6 percent; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and philanthropist Tom Steyer finished with 4 percent each; businessman Andrew Yang finished with 3 percent; Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet finished with 2 percent; and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker finished with 1 percent. 

The poll shows Buttigieg and Sanders both gaining steam in overall support —Buttigieg's share went up 10 points from Monmouth's last New Hampshire poll in September, while Sanders' rose 6 points. By contrast, Warren's share dropped 12 points from that September poll. 

The new results found Sanders with the highest favorable rating at 69 percent, followed by Warren's 64 percent, as well as Biden and Buttigieg both tied at 62 percent.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's 32 percent unfavorable score was higher than all other Democrats tested, followed by Biden's 29 percent, Warren's 27 percent and Steyer's 26 percent. 

The top five candidates in the poll — Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren — have all qualified for next week's Democratic presidential debate in Iowa. But the rest of the field fell short of the mark needed to move closer to securing a spot on the stage. 

Candidates need to raise money from at least 225,000 unique donors and hit a poll threshold of either 4 polls of 5 percent or two early-state polls of 7 percent in order to qualify. 

Steyer still needs two polls of at least 5 percent to qualify; Yang needs either three of at least five percent or two early-state polls at 7 percent; while Booker hasn't hit the mark in any poll.

All three have hit the donation requirement, according to their campaigns. 

While Steyer and Yang both appeared on last month's debate stage, Booker didn't qualify. 

Monmouth polled 404 likely voters between Jan. 3 and Jan. 7, and the poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed by youth-led climate group Sunrise Movement

WASHINGTON — Sunrise Movement, a political action organization of youth climate change activists, has endorsed Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. 

Announcing the endorsement in a video on Twitter, the group pointed to a series of natural disasters to argue that Sanders is the best candidate to immediately address a climate crisis. 

"We are seeing that the climate crisis isn't 30 or 40 or 50 years in the future, it is right now. We need a president in office who understands the immediate threat of that crisis, and Bernie Sanders is that guy," Varshini Prakash, a co-founder and the executive director of the group, said in the video. 

"We're endorsing Bernie Sanders for president because he has proven again and again and again that he understands this issue. He understands its scope, he understands the severity, he understands that it's a social-justice issue, that it's about racial and economic justice, that it's about the fight of our lives." 

The organization, which boasts 10,000 members and more than 300 chapters, voted for Sanders overwhelmingly over Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Climate change is one of the pillars of Sanders’ campaign. The senator spends time discussing what he calls “an existential crisis” during nearly every campaign stop, asking crowds to think about images they’ve seen of Australia wildfires, and recent flooding in Venice, Italy.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Chicago on March 3, 2019.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

While the nod isn't necessarily surprising, it's a boost to Sanders' already-energized young base of support. 

Sunrise Movement activists often attend Sanders campaign events, and the senator has repeatedly singled them out when he saw their t-shirts, to commend them for their work.

In December, Sunrise Movement released a scorecard ranking the top presidential candidate’s plans to tackle climate change, in which Sanders received top marks with 183 out of 200 possible points.

The organization will be at an event with Sanders and surrogates Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ro Khanna, D-Calif., on Jan. 12 in Iowa City, Iowa to formally announce the endorsement.

Here's where the top Democratic candidates are spending on the early-state airwaves

WASHINGTON — Yesterday, we showed you how former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and philanthropist Tom Steyer have spent more than $200 million combined on television and radio advertising. 

But that's far from the whole story.

Bloomberg isn't even competing in the early states, and while Steyer has spent more than $50 million in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina alone, he's not polling in the upper echelon of candidates in any of those states. 

Taking stock of the ad spending in the early states tells an interesting story: Former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are spending virtually all of their ad budget in Iowa; former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders are turning their deep pockets into huge ad budgets; and none of the top candidates are really spending on ads in Nevada yet. 

Here's a look at what the candidates expected to be on next week's debate stage are spending on television and radio ads in early states (Data through Jan. 8, 2020 courtesy of Advertising Analytics). 

Former Vice President Joe Biden 

  • Iowa: $2.7 million
  • New Hampshire: $5,429
  • Nevada: $1,329 
  • South Carolina: $15,000

Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg

  • Iowa: $7.6 million
  • New Hampshire: $1.4 million
  • Nevada: $71,000
  • South Carolina: $941,000

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar 

  • Iowa: $1.9 million
  • New Hampshire: $665,000
  • Nevada: $0
  • South Carolina: $0

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders

  • Iowa: $6.7 million
  • New Hampshire: $3.5 million
  • Nevada: $145,000
  • South Carolina: $1,640

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

  • Iowa: $3.4 million
  • New Hampshire: $0
  • Nevada: $0
  • South Carolina: $0