The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Democratic group pledges millions for state legislative wins
WASHINGTON — The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), the official organization dedicated to electing Democrats to state legislatures around the country, committed Thursday to spending $50 million to help the party get an edge ahead of key redistricting battles of 2021.
That spending will be part of its “Flip Everything” campaign, which the DLCC announced Thursday during a press briefing in Washington D.C.
While the group has a vast range of targeted states, its map also includes presidential battleground states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, and Arizona.
According to DLCC President, Jessica Post, “there’s so much power on the line” when it comes to statewide elections.
“The states are our first line of defense against Donald Trump,” Post said. “The states serve as a firewall against the administration’s policies.”
The stakes are high for this year’s elections specifically because in many states, the legislatures play a key role in drawing the district maps for the next decade of elections. Republicans gained 675 state legislative seats in the 2010 midterm elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which put Republicans in strong shape when maps were drawn in 2011.
The DLCC has helped Democrats win majorities in 10 state legislative chambers since President Trump was elected — flipping a total of 436 seats from Republicans, including wins in 425 districts that the president won in 2016. The organization hopes to bring another 10 state chambers under Democratic control in 2020.
Post credits Democrats’ previous successes in part to the DLCC’s improved infrastructure, candidate recruitment, and voter outreach. She also noted that financial investments have soared with the DLCC on track to spend an unprecedented $50 million this cycle.
Looking forward to 2020, Post said the DLCC will continue to invest time, money, and staff into these targeted states and pointed to state Democrats’ 2019 victory in Virginia where the General Assembly began its latest session under total Democratic control for the first time in 25 years.
Virginia — Post’s “favorite new Democratic trifecta” — received an early $1 million investment from the DLCC and had its own embedded political staffer. The DLCC plans to embed more staff in battleground states in 2020.
Post said that the DLCC is also using “high profile allies” to its advantage on the campaign trail.
In a Texas State House special election on January 28 — a race receiving national attention — former presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro are campaigning for Democrat Eliz Markowitz.
Post said it would be “earth shattering” if Markowitz wins this seat.
On the 2020 presidential election, Post said the DLCC continues to work with several presidential candidates including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg.
“We obviously will beat Donald Trump in 2020,” Post said. “We have to do that but there’s been huge progress in states.”
New grant fund looks to power gender parity in elected office
WASHINGTON — Panorama Global, a nonprofit group, is sponsoring recruitment and training programs for women running for elected office across the country.
The Ascend Fund, announced on Tuesday, is the latest venture for Panorama Global to get involved in gender parity in elected offices. The group received its seed money from Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation company Pivotal Ventures.
Chief executive officer and founder Gabrielle Fitzgerald told NBC News that the fund is one of their “biggest and most prominent” grants yet, and is actively looking to work with nonpartisan and nonprofit organizations that recruit and train women to run for office.
“There are barriers that exist that make it hard for women to run for office,” Fitzgerald said. “It requires you to be away from home, and oftentimes today, women are still the primary caregivers.”
Fitzgerald continued that aside from systematic barriers that preclude women from running, the lack of female candidates creates a pipeline problem for possible recruits.
“It’s not just training that women need to declare candidacy for office, it’s also encouragement,” Fitzgerald said.
Two groups have already received three-year grants: New American Leaders and Vote Run Lead. New American Leaders focuses on recruiting and training people of color, immigrants and refugees to run for state legislatures. While they work with both men and women, they will only use money from The Ascend Fund on programming for women.
“Our programs start at the point of entry, recruitment and training," founder and president of New American Leaders Sayu Bhojwani said.
According to Bhojwani, because of New American Leaders' designation as a 501(c)(3), the group cannot provide support once someone has formally entered a race.
Bhojwani clarified that the Ascend Fund and partners at Panorama Global “will not be involved in designing the programs” at New American Leaders, the partnership “is an opportunity to identify ongoing problems” in recruiting and training women for office.
Vote Run Lead works with women across the country and also specializes in recruiting and training women to run for state legislatures.
Vote Run Lead founder and CEO Erin Vilardi said that the Ascend Fund will act as an “accelerator” for programs the group had already been planning to enact.
“We are going as fast as we can to keep up with demand for women raising their hand [to run],” Vilardi said.
Vilardi continued that this grant will help push against assumptions that ventures supporting “women in politics is fully funded,” or that it’s “a demand problem.”
“Gender equity is really possible,” Vilardi said. “Really at this point, it’s about the resources.”
Vilardi said the additional funding will allow Vote Run Lead to work more to support women who have already won office, and not just help get them there.
According to Fitzgerald, because the groups being selected, and the fund money, are coming from nonpartisan actors, it allows the focus to be going state-by-state to achieve gender parity in state legislatures.
“Obviously different parties have different priorities and quotas for how they think about their recruitment,” Fitzgerald said. “But they don’t have an overall strategy for what we’re describing.”
Liz Cheney will not run for Senate
WASHINGTON — Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney announced Thursday that she would not run for the state's open U.S. Senate seat this year, arguing that she "can have the biggest impact for the people of Wyoming by remaining in leadership in the House of Representatives."
The specter of a Cheney bid to replace retiring Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wy., loomed large over the Wyoming Senate field, even though Cheney's House Republican colleague, Rep. Cynthia Lummis, jumped in only weeks after Enzi's decision.
Cheney repeatedly refused to rule out a bid in recent months, and was seen as a top candidate because of both her stature in the House, where she's the third-ranking Republican, as well as her lineage. Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, served 10 years as Wyoming's congressman and is one of the most famous political figures in the state.
She briefly challenged Enzi's re-election in the 2014 Senate Republican primary, but withdrew from that race pointing to health issues in her family.
Now, Lummis is the odds-on favorite to replace Enzi in a state that hasn't elected a Democratic senator in almost a half-century.
Two New Hampshire state reps switch their support to Amy Klobuchar
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar expanded her support base in the Granite State on Thursday when she picked up endorsements from two state representatives who previously supported Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker respectively.
State Rep. Michael Pedersen had announced his support for Warren in November and State Rep. Linn Opderbecke supported Booker before the New Jersey senator ended his presidential campaign earlier this week.
In an uncommon move of switching public endorsements, especially while both candidates are still in the race, Pedersen said in an interview with NBC News that the primary reason he's switching his support to Klobuchar is due to electability.
“I like both candidates a lot, and am friends with staff on both teams, however I think that Sen. Klobuchar is more electable across the country than Sen. Warren,” Pedersen said. “She has a proven track record of winning in Trump country. And Sen. Warren has a proven track record of winning in liberal northeast.”
Pedersen said that his support had been evolving for the last couple of weeks, but solidified behind Klobuchar after Tuesday night's Democratic debate.
“After the debate, I saw everybody pairing up — Sen. Warren and Sanders competition against one another, and then everyone else. I just think those two as a team, Sanders and Warren, they don’t appeal widely across the nation as Sen. Klobuchar.”
Pedersen said that he plans to knock on doors for Klobuchar in the remaining weeks until the New Hampshire primary.
Prior to Booker ending his presidential campaign, Pedersen also thought he was a strong candidate and noted that Booker's supporters may now turn to candidates like Klobuchar — a sentiment echoed by Opderbecke.
“Amy showed on the debate stage that she’s someone who tells the truth and has people’s backs,” Opderbecke said in a statement. “That is the leadership we need to take on Donald Trump. Amy will not only beat Trump, but also will secure victories up and down the ballot. I’m proud to support her campaign for president.”
In the last week, Klobuchar also picked up endorsements from N.H. state Rep. Jim Verschueren, former state Sen. Iris Estabrook and Deputy Speaker of the N.H. House Karen Ebel.
Elizabeth Warren earns endorsements from over 100 Latino leaders
WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced more than 100 endorsements from Latina, Latino and Latinx community leaders on Thursday. The list include New York Assemblywoman Rep. Catalina Cruz, who was brought to the U.S. undocumented as a child, award-winning writer and poet Elizabeth Acevedo and Rosie Castro, the mother of Julián and Joaquin Castro — both of whom recently endorsed Warren.
The endorsers come from more than a dozen states, including Iowa, as well as influential Super Tuesday states like California and Texas.
“I am grateful for the support of this list of Latina, Latino and Latinx leaders who have made incomparable gains for their communities and continue to trailblaze for the good of everyone,” Warren said in a statement provided exclusively to NBC. “I am proud to stand with them in this fight for big, structural change.”
“These leaders make up the heart of our movement, and with their support, we can make big, structural change. That’s how we win in 2020 and beat Donald Trump,” said Latinx Outreach campaign's director Jonathan Jayes Green.
The endorsements come less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses and as the conversation around the diversity of candidates running for president intensifies. This week’s debate in Iowa included only white candidates.
After former HUD Sec. Julián Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race ended his campaign, he quickly endorsed Warren and has become an active surrogate for her campaign.
Castro has long been complimentary of Warren's outreach efforts to minority communities.
“Senator Warren certainly has done a good job, I think, of reaching out to different communities during the course of this campaign. I’ve been very impressed with the work that she's done both in the African-American community and the Latino community," Castro said in an interview on MSNBC in November.
The duo's campaigning efforts have led to speculation that Warren might consider Castro as a candidate for vice president and that his support may help turnout among Latino voters — Latinos will be the largest non-white voting bloc in this election.
Castro has been campaigning extensively for Warren in early voting states like Iowa and Nevada.
Buttigieg brings selfie style ad campaign to Iowa ahead of the caucuses
MASON CITY, Iowa — With 18 days to go until the Iowa caucuses, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg has his sights set on flipping counties that voted for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and he’s turning to his supporters to help get the job done.
Buttigieg is launching a new digital ad campaign called "River to River: Iowa for Pete,” but instead of hearing from the candidate, viewers will hear directly from voters in their own communities about why they support the former mayor of South Bend Indiana.
“Our campaign is committed to organizing everywhere — in coffee shops, at people’s doorsteps, and online,” Buttigieg’s Iowa Organizing Director Kevin Groh said in a statement. “These online ads will help us reach even more people with Pete’s message.”
The selfie video style ads will hit Facebook and YouTube on Thursday, specifically targeting two-dozen counties that flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016. Each ad will play in the specific county that the featured caucus goer is from.
For example, Allison Rasmussen, will tell neighbors in Bremer County that she’s caucusing for Buttigieg because of his support for public education. Johnson County caucus goers will hear from Donte, who backs Buttigieg because of his plan to tackle systemic racism. Those in Worth County, will meet Alvin Kobernusz, a corn producer who say’s Buttigieg will “go to work for Iowa farmers.”
The Buttigieg campaign has long emphasized this “relational organizing” model on the ground in Iowa. Instead of only reaching out to likely caucus-goers already on the voter rolls, the campaign encourages their supporters to tap into their personal networks in hopes of expanding the electorate and building more meaningful connections with those they’re hoping to win over. Now, the campaign is taking that model to a place where voters spend a lot of their time – the internet and social media.
As the caucus countdown continues additional ads will be released across the state. The 30-second spots are part of an ongoing seven-figure digital ad campaign in Iowa.
Buttigieg gets first N.H. congressional endorsement from Ann Kuster
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster will formally endorse Pete Buttigieg for president at a rally in Concord Friday, both Kuster’s office and Buttigieg’s campaign confirm to NBC News.
Kuster tweeted out her endorsement Wednesday evening, saying, “with our country so consumed by division, @PeteButtigieg is the leader who can finally turn the page on the Trump presidency and bring our nation together."
Kuster will be the first member of the New Hampshire congressional delegation to make an endorsement for the New Hampshire primary, which is just under a month away.
The congresswoman has participated in many campaign events with Buttigieg in New Hampshire, as well as for various other Democratic presidential candidates, including Biden, Warren, Klobuchar, Booker, O’Rourke and more.
“From working to tackle the opioid epidemic and increasing access to health care to honoring our pledge to our veterans and their families when they return home, Rep. Kuster has spent her career delivering results for New Hampshire families,” Buttigieg said in a statement Thursday night in which his campaign also announced Kuster will serve as a national co-chair.
“At a time of so much dysfunction in Washington, Rep. Kuster has brought Americans together to improve the lives of her constituents. She represents the best of our politics and I’m honored to have her serve as our co-chair.”
Michael Bloomberg questioned on NDAs, stop-and-frisk apology on 'The View'
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Wednesday that he would not lift non-disclosure agreements signed by those who have left his companies, and reaffirmed his apology for his 'Stop-and-Frisk' policy while he was mayor, during an appearance on ABC's 'The View.'
A former employee from Bloomberg LP recently asked a judge in New York to invalidate nondisclosure agreements the company used as part of settlements for discrimination complaints against the company.
“We don't have anything to hide but we made legal agreements, which both sides wanted to keep certain things from coming out," Bloomberg said in response to a question about his company's NDAs. "They have a right to do that.”
“Remember, just because you signed a nondisclosure doesn't mean you can't talk about other things. You just can't talk about what was in that agreement where perhaps you don't disparage the other party or you don't want to retell a story, whatever it is," he continued.
Co-host Abby Huntsman also asked Bloomberg about accusations that he's made "lewd and sexist comments."
“Did I ever tell a bawdy joke? Yeah, sure I did,” Bloomberg continued. “Do I regret it? Yes, it's embarrassing, but, you know, that's the way I grew up.”
Bloomberg's appearance on the show followed the latest Democratic presidential debate, which he did not qualify for. While Bloomberg had met the polling threshold to be part of the debate, he is not accepting contributions to the campaign which made him ineligible to participate. On Wednesday, Bloomberg said that not being part of the debate does limit his exposure to voters.
"It's harder to get the message out if you're not in the debates," Bloomberg said. But he said that by self-funding his campaign he can be less corruptible than other candidates.
Bloomberg was also pushed on his apology for his mayoral stop-and-frisk policy, and was asked if his only apologized for the policy to help a presidential run.
"There were 650 murders a year in New York City, most of them were young minority men. And I said we just have to stop this. That’s where my heart is, that’s what I wanted to do," Bloomberg said of his reasoning to enforce the policy. "We had gone way overboard, and we stopped it and before I left office we cut 95 percent of it out. Then I apologized when enough people said to me you were wrong, and I thought about it and I wish I’d done it earlier."
Bloomberg also appeared on 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" directly after the Democratic debate on Tuesday night.
Andrew Yang not worried about lack of conventional endorsements
WASHINGTON — Businessman Andrew Yang brushed aside his lack of endorsements from lawmakers during a Wednesday interview, arguing that conventional political figures are "just waiting for the water to get a little warmer" before jumping in.
"I’m talking to a lot of people who are political figures who are very excited about my candidacy and campaign, uh, they’re just waiting for the water to get a little warmer," he said during a Wednesday interview on MSNBC.
"The thing is, if you’re in D.C. and you’re literally friends with like some of the people that are in the race, it’s kind of hard to endorse Andrew Yang, but it’s coming."
Yang has won some high-profile celebrity endorsements in recent months — including comedian Dave Chappelle, billionaire Elon Musk and actress Teri Hatcher. But he's failed to attract support from any governor, senator or member of Congress.
While there hasn't been an overwhelming rush by lawmakers to one candidate, top Democrats have been fanning out backing their chosen presidential candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden leads the pack with the most endorsements from members of Congress.
But Yang has argued his lack of conventional political experience is an asset, and he told MSNBC that he's the best person to take over the White House because he's "focused on the real problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place."
"We have to stop acting like Donald Trump caused all the problems, he’s actually the symptom of a greater disease that we need to cure together as a party and as a country," Yang said.
Elizabeth Warren wants to cancel student debt — without Congress. Can she do that?
WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a policy splash ahead of Tuesday night’s debate, announcing that she would cancel hundreds of billions of dollars of student debt as president — without approval from Congress.
In this case, it’s a new wrinkle on an old plan. Warren had already put out a proposal to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for individuals with incomes up to $250,000, financed by a proposed wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million.
“I will start to use existing laws on day one of my presidency to implement my student loan debt cancellation plan that offers relief to 42 million Americans,” Warren said in a letter announcing her plan.
The vast majority of student loans are issued by the federal government, and Warren cited experts at the Legal Service Center of Harvard Law School to argue the Higher Education Act grants the Department of Education the authority to modify or cancel that debt.
The concept of using executive power to cancel large swaths of debt gained a burst of attention in left-leaning policy circles last September when The American Prospect published a series of “Day One Agenda” items that academics argued a Democratic president could tackle even if Republicans managed to block legislation. Warren and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders told the publication they were open to the idea at the time, but this is the first formal commitment from any candidate to the approach.
Gregory Cespi, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in student debt policy, told NBC News that Warren’s plan was legally plausible even as he disagreed with her overall approach.
“Given how the Trump Administration has shown how ineffective Congress has become in challenging executive action, I think that Republican congressional opposition to her plan would be ineffective, and litigation to block these actions would grind slowly through the courts, with uncertain results,” he said. “Bottom line, I think President Warren could pull it off.”
While Warren’s call for mass debt cancellation via executive action is new within the field, she’s argued for forgiving some loans based on similar legal reasoning in the past, albeit on a smaller scale.
Alexis Goldstein, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Americans for Financial Reform, noted that Warren joined other progressive Democrats in 2014 in urging the Department of Education to issue a blanket cancellation of debt for students who had gone to a defunct for-profit college. The Obama administration instead pursued an alternate approach that let students apply individually for relief, which the Trump administration then reversed.
“Now she’s taking it further and saying to use this authority to cancel debt for everyone,” Goldstein said.
Student debt, which has surged in recent years, has been a major issue in the Democratic race so far.
Sanders has proposed canceling all $1.6 trillion in outstanding loans. The rest of the field has called for more targeted relief programs and new reforms to student debt repayments rather than mass cancellation, with some rivals criticizing Warren and Sanders for providing too much aid to relatively well-off graduates.
Never Trumper group expands to take aim at vulnerable allies of the president
WASHINGTON — A small but growing group of Republican strategists and thought leaders is escalating efforts to deny President Donald Trump a second term, and is now even going after the president's allies in Congress.
The Lincoln Project, which debuted last month, was founded by several well-known “Never Trumpers” who became his fiercest and most vocal critics in the first years of the administration. Now, the group is gearing up for an 11-month fight against an incumbent who they argue presents a “clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic.”
The project released its first digital ad last week, questioning the president's support from the evangelical community by highlighting some of his more controversial public statements.
This week, the group expanded to target a vulnerable GOP Senator up for re-election this fall, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., releasing a digital ad that criticizes him for siding with Trump over his home state.
The group has plans to the give the same treatment to other GOP senators like Maine's Susan Collins and Martha McSally in Arizona. The group will continue to use digital ads for the time being, with plans to expand to other mediums dependent on fundraising.
“The Republican Party has flopped over and played dead. Donald Trump did not have the ability to take over the party by himself. This happened because Republicans in the Senate handed it over,” said Jennifer Horn, a Lincoln Project adviser and former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
“This is just the beginning,” Horn said, touting a significant response from voters so far, who have backed up their support with donations. “We have the receipts to prove it,” she said.
While President Trump continues to enjoy very strong support from the Republican Party, the Lincoln Project is also expanding, naming several new senior advisers Tuesday who will help amplify their message, including national security expert Tom Nichols.
“Defeating Donald Trump is not a partisan campaign issue,” Nichols said in a release announcing the additions. "It is a call to all Americans to defend our Constitution. That is why I am proud to be a part of the Lincoln Project in this critical effort.”
The undertaking is twofold: help voters oust Trump in November; and also hold those Republicans who have supported him along the way accountable at the ballot box.
The founding members include outspoken Trump detractor and lawyer George Conway, national political strategists like Steve Schmidt and John Weaver and Horn. Many say have abandoned the Republican party in the age of Trump, citing a “lack of integrity” and acknowledging their mission may “cost them” the traditional conservative establishment as it exists now.
Squaring policy discrepancies with Democrats are a concern, said Horn, but “that’s a fight for another day.”
“We have to put differences aside for this one election,” she said.
For its part, the Trump campaign remains unfazed by the effort.
“This is a pathetic little club of irrelevant and faux ‘Republicans,’ who are upset that they’ve lost all of their power and influence inside the Republican Party,” communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News. “When President Trump got elected on a promise to drain the swamp in Washington D.C., these establishment charlatans, who for years enriched themselves off the backs of the conservative movement, were the very swamp he was referring too.”
Still, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon seemed to take notice of the anti-Trump organization and recently posited that “if these guys can peel off 3% or 4%, that’s going to be serious,” he told the Associated Press earlier this month.
The group says it will not endorse or get too involved in the Democratic primary, though the general election may be different.