The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Joe Walsh ends long shot presidential campaign
WASHINGTON — Former Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, one of President Donald Trump’s long shot primary challengers, announced Friday he’s suspending his campaign due to “cult-like” support for the incumbent in the party.
Walsh came in at only 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses, despite spending considerable time in the state in recent months. Walsh told CNN that “any Democrat” would be better than Trump and vowed to help support the eventual nominee, but declined to say which candidate in the opposing party would receive his backing.
With Walsh's exit, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is the president’s lone challenger in the race ahead of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Walsh and Weld both filed to be on the ballot last November.
Michael Bloomberg releases plan for military families
DES MOINES, Iowa – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a policy plan for military families on Friday. The plan focuses on the economic and health concerns of military families and specifically addresses increasing access to mental health services through public-private partnerships and to fully fund the Housing and Urban Development-Veteran Affairs' supportive housing program.
The six main highlights of the plan include:
- Increased access to mental health services, and provide annual mental health exams for active duty service members
- Eliminate co-pays for preventative health care services and expand telehealth services to veterans in rural areas
- Provide resources to cover in vitro fertilization and other fertility services for service-women and female veterans, and expand availability for childcare for military families at on-base childcare centers
- Require people across the Department of Defense and in Veterans Affairs to be trained to handle reported sexual assaults
- Reverse the ban on transgender Americans, and grant honorable discharge to those forced out of the service due to this plan
- Fully fund HUD-VA's supportive housing program
Bloomberg's campaign highlighted some of Bloomberg's work with veterans while he was mayor, like launching the Veterans Employment Initiative and mandating that every city agency appointed a liaison to coordinate with the mayoral office veterans affairs.
Buttigieg gets endorsement from swing-district N.J. Rep. Kim
NASHUA, N.H. — Fresh off a strong performance in Iowa, Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is getting the endorsement of Freshman New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim, a former national security officer in the Obama and Bush administrations.
“I represent a district that Trump won by six points,” Kim told NBC News. “The approach that he’s taking is one that will excite people in places like my district and other parts of this country that are frankly frustrated with how things have been operating and really looking for somebody that's going to do things differently.”
“I used to work at the White House," Kim told NBC News. “I spent a lot of time in the Situation Room, a lot of time in the oval office on tough issues.”
Kim says he has seen first-hand the challenges a President Buttigieg might face, but that the candidate has been “tested in hard times,” and has a strong moral compass that would serve him well in the White House.
Like Buttigieg, Kim knows what it’s like to run as the underdog candidate. In 2018, Kim defeated GOP incumbent Tom MacArthur and acknowledges that Buttigieg still faces a long road to the nomination.
“The challenge is really one of being able to tell your own story,” Kim said. “I've experienced it just in my own congressional district, and to be able to have to do that, across this entire country is just such an enormous task.”
However, with a wave of momentum coming out of Iowa, Kim says Buttigieg has the organization required to go the distance.
“I definitely think he has the capacity, and the organization, and the team that can put him in those types of positions to really get in front of people.“
Buttigieg and Kim have known each other for more than 15 years, the two first met before heading off to Oxford together as Rhodes Scholars. Buttigieg was even there when Kim met his future wife during graduate school orientation and both men attended one another’s weddings.
“He is a really honorable person and he's somebody that's just been extraordinary to watch over the years and developing in his leadership,” Kim said of the former mayor.
Kim first endorsed Senator Cory Booker for president before the New Jersey lawmaker suspended his campaign.
He is the seventh member of Congress to endorse Buttigieg.
New Hampshire poll shows Sanders leading, Buttigieg and Biden fighting for second
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a slim lead in New Hampshire according to a poll from Monmouth University released on Thursday, receiving 24 percent support from likely Democratic voters in the Granite State.
Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden trail with 20 and 17 percent support respectively.
The poll finds Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 13 percent, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 9 percent support, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and businessman Andrew Yang both with 4 percent. Philanthropist Tom Steyer trailed the field with 3 percent support and all other candidates earned 1 percent or less.
Just five days away from the first-in-the-nation primary here, voters minds aren't made up. Just 49 percent of likely voters say they are "firmly set" in their choice. And with the New Hampshire primary just five days away, candidates and their surrogates have descended on the state to make their final pitches to voters.
Even though the difficulties in reporting the winner from the Iowa caucuses stunted one candidate from being able to claim an outright victory, the fallout has changed the thinking of some candidates' supporters. Twenty percent of Biden's supporters said they were less confident in him after the Iowa caucuses, where it appears he came in fourth. On the contrary, 56 percent of Buttigieg's supporters said Iowa made them feel more confident about their choice — Buttigieg is still in a race for first against Sanders in the Hawkeye State.
Perhaps the best news for Biden and Warren though, who is looking at a third place finish in Iowa, is that for 78 percent of New Hampshire voters, the caucuses didn't make them rethink their candidate choice.
Bernie Sanders raises $25 million in January, announces new ad campaign
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign announced a $25 million fundraising haul in the month of January on Thursday. According to the campaign, more than 649,000 people made 1.3 million donations, and over 219,000 of the donors in January had never donation to the Sanders campaign before.
The campaign said the average donation was $18.
“Bernie’s multiracial, multigenerational, people-driven movement for change is fueling 2020’s most aggressive campaign for president,” Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement. “Working class Americans giving $18 at a time are putting our campaign in a strong position to compete in states all over the map.”
Sanders also announced a $5.5 million TV and digital ad buy to build up their footprint in Super Tuesday states as well as expand their airwaves time in early states like South Carolina. The ad campaign funding will be split between 10 total states: Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, California, Texas.
The fundraising announcement comes after Sanders' 2019 fourth quarter filing showed him to have raised the most money of all the Democratic candidates for president. Sanders also ended 2019 with the most money in the bank going into the primary season.
Sanders' fundraising figures were released while he remains in a tight race for first place in in the Iowa caucuses and days before the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11.
Republicans rest on Trump legal team’s arguments for acquittal votes
WASHINGTON — Despite its rejection by more than 500 of the nation’s leading legal scholars and the star constitutional scholar who testified on behalf of House Republicans, several Republican senators said they are leaning heavily on arguments made by celebrity defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz for their votes to acquit President Trump on Wednesday.
During the Senate trial, Dershowitz argued that “abuse of power,” one of the impeachment articles against Trump, is not impeachable unless it falls into certain categories, including treason, and that a modern day statutory crime or criminal like offenses need to have been committed.
When asked which constitutional experts the GOP conference consulted in deliberating their votes, at least three senators referred NBC News only to the president’s own defense team, on which Dershowitz served.
Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Braun of Indiana and Tim Scott of South Carolina cited no opinions other than Trump’s defense team in deliberations over Trump’s guilt or innocence.
Among the team, Dershowitz made the “constitutional case” for the president. Former special prosecutor Ken Starr also participated in the president’s defense presentation.
The arguments forwarded by Dershowitz have drawn the most criticism.
“Alan is completely alone,” said Prof. Frank Bowman, whose area of expertise at the University of Missouri includes impeachment. “There’s no disagreement on the stuff Alan’s peddling. Zero, zip, nadda,” he said. “You can’t find anybody who’s actually an impeachment expert saying what he’s saying.”
More recently, the Harvard assistant professor whose work Dershowitz pointed to in his presentation, Nikolas Bowie, said Dershowitz was incorrectly citing his work.
Dershowitz insisted Bowie’s work product still supports his underlying argument; yet in an email to NBC, he could not reference any other living constitutional scholars who agree with him.
“Several prominent 19th century scholars led by Dean Dwight of Columbia law school agreed that a crime was required. Contemporary professors deserve no more credibility for their views than academics and judges who were closer in time to the adoption of the constitution,” he said.
Even self-identified conservative scholars dispute the legal case Dershowitz made on the Senate floor. Larry Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law expert, called it a “crackpot theory.”
But impeachment is an inherently political process and Republicans like Rob Portman of Ohio, who concede the president acted inappropriately, are voting to acquit based, at least partly, on Dershowitz’s argument.
“In this case, no crime is alleged,” Portman said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
“I think Ken Starr’s a pretty good constitutional scholar and former solicitor of the United States,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told NBC News. “But that’s not the point. The point is what Speaker Pelosi made early and often, which was that impeachment should never be a partisan exercise.”
The Senate heard no additional witnesses, relying solely on arguments made by attorneys for both sides. By contrast, during the 1999 impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Senate heard from 19 constitutional scholars in person and many others submitted written opinions, said Bowman.
Interviews with GOP senators underscore the exceedingly narrow universe of constitutional expertise that informed the Senate’s expected verdict that Trump did not engage in impeachable conduct.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., did not name any scholars GOP senators consulted in deliberations other than Dershowitz for his reasoning.
“I can tell you it gave a framework for many to think about it,” he said. “For many of us … it struggled to rise to where you can have a slam dunk case,” he said, because “it was how it originated.”
When pressed for additional scholars who were consulted, he said: “I don’t know that. All I can tell you the discussion of [Dershowitz’s argument] was a plausible one in terms of how you can look at what rises to the level of impeachment.”
“The partisan nature of it was as compelling as anything,” Braun said.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the retired Harvard professor gave the party a single opinion and that was enough.
“They sort of dressed it up in someone they can point to as a constitutional scholar ... So there you have it,” she told reporters. “At the end of the day, they’re saying ‘he did it, so what?’”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in his floor speech that there are other experts who agree with Dershowitz, before citing only Dershowitz.
“It came from others who were well respected attorneys on each side,” said Inhofe. “The president didn’t commit a crime,” he stated, saying that distinguishes Trump from former presidents Bill Clinton, who committed perjury under oath, and Richard Nixon.
Inhofe’s press office did not return calls and an email seeking names of the attorneys who support Dershowitz.
Scott, the South Carolina senator, declined a request for a reporter to accompany him on a Senate subway to discuss the constitutional case.
“You cannot come with me,” he said.
When asked if he considered opinions other than Dershowitz, Scott said: “You’ll have to ask the president’s team.”
Warren highlights Obama praise in new ad
MANCHESTER — In a new digital campaign ad coming out this morning, Elizabeth Warren is highlighting her relationship with former President Barack Obama and his support of her work building the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The new ad, which the campaign says will also soon air on TV, comes after former Vice President Joe Biden's apparent fourth-place finish in Iowa and on the same day that Michael Bloomberg debuted an ad featuring his work with Obama, as well.
The ad, first shared with NBC News, is titled ‘Elizabeth understands” and begins with a 2010 Rose Garden address, where Obama lauds Warren for her work fighting for the middle class.
“She’s a janitor’s daughter who has become one of the country’s fiercest advocates for the middle class,” Obama says at the top, “She came up with an idea for a new, independent agency standing up for consumers and middle class families.”
On the campaign trail, Warren often ends her town halls telling audiences about her time fighting to build the CPFB, a message that ties into an overall theme in her campaign: she’s a fighter.
The ad also touches on that message, too with a line from Obama, referring to the uphill battle Warren faced while trying to start the CPFB, calling Warren tough.
“She’s done it while facing some very tough opposition. Fortunately, she’s very tough,” he said.
The ad will be released in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Candidates shuffle ad dollars ahead of New Hampshire primary
DES MOINES, Iowa — With the New Hampshire primary less than a week away, the Democratic presidential candidates shuffling their ad spending in the hopes of trying to gain an edge in the next contest and get the kind of bounce that never came from Iowa.
Here's a look at the ad-buy shuffle, with data courtesy of media-monitoring firm Advertising Analytics.
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who sits in third place in Iowa as the results continue to be counted, cut $375,00 in television ad dollars from Nevada and South Carolina on Tuesday.
- Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who's currently in fourth place in Iowa, added $433,000 in TV spending to markets that cover New Hampshire.
- Businessman Andrew Yang placed $280,000 in New Hampshire-area markets.
- Former Vice President Joe Biden cut $58,000 in Nevada TV ads and placed $90,000 in New Hampshire-area TV ads.
- Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg added almost $400,000 in TV ads as his campaign foreshadowed a large increase in TV spending by the billionaire that's already launched a historic ad blitzkrieg.
- Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg placed $137,000 in New Hampshire-area television ads.
- Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer dropped $212,400 onto the airwaves in the New Hampshire area.
- Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard booked $53,000 on the New Hampshire airwaves
- Vote Vets, a progressive veterans group backing Buttigieg, is spending another $191,000 on TV ads in New Hampshire.
- And Unite the Country, a super PAC supporting Biden, announced it's investing $900,000 in television and digital ads backing Biden in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire Democrats say they're ready for their turn in the spotlight
MANCHESTER, N.H. — As Democratic candidates descend upon New Hampshire, the state is ready for its closeup less than a week before its first-in-the-nation primary, according to two New Hampshire Democratic Party officials.
Amy Kennedy, the executive director of the NHDP, said on Tuesday that she expects voter turnout to be at an all-time high, and voter enthusiasm to be strengthening head of next Tuesday's contest.
"There's just such an appetite to remove Donald Trump from office that we're going to see something larger than what we had in 2018 and 2019 with both our midterms and our municipal elections," Kennedy said.
Those expectations come in spite of several of the candidates missing key opportunities to campaign in the Granite State because of the Senate's impeachment trial.
Kennedy pointed out that many of the candidates have been coming to New Hampshire for months and sometimes visiting "before they even start having conversations about running for president."
“I think the energy and excitement is still up. And again, they’ve got six more days now to hear from all the candidates directly," Kennedy said.
And as campaigning heats up in the state, the NHDP feels confident about their turn in the spotlight in the wake of Iowa's struggles.
“This is our hundredth anniversary of the New Hampshire primary, and so we have had a process in place for years with our voting systems that we have absolute confidence in,” said Amy Kennedy, executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. “There’s no reason to doubt their ability to do this properly. And we also have measures like paper ballots and additional counts, recounts that have to happen if there’s any question.”
And after a chaotic end to the Iowa caucuses, some in the Granite State would like everyone to remember the popular saying, "Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidents."
"New Hampshire voters do pick presidents and we think that with the time and the focus that New Hampshire gets for the primary, it's a good place for a candidate to really shine and then decide how they want to run their campaign," Kennedy said.
The Iowa and New Hampshire nominating contests have faced criticism for going first in the primary season because both states are majority white and and aren’t representative of the Democratic Party. After Monday’s reporting issues after the Iowa caucuses, those criticisms renewed.
But Kennedy, and NHDP communications director Holly Shulman said that their state’s contest is evened out by Nevada and South Carolina going third and fourth.
“We’re really excited by the inclusion of South Carolina, and about it into the early state combination here. We’re proud to have them as our sister early states, and with them we believe that this is representative of our Democratic Party as a whole,” Kennedy said.
Shulman added, “The polling of all the candidates here has been really closely tracking what’s happening in South Carolina and Nevada,” so the results aren’t “that different.”
While energy is up in New Hampshire, voters' minds aren't made up. And according to Shulman, candidates would do well to remember that to voters “everyone is someone else’s second choice.”
“[Voters] have lots of choices and they love all of them, and that’s why they’re waiting so long to make their decisions,” Shulman said. “The candidates know that, and they understand that the only way to win over voters is to make sure that they’re focused on the general election, and on their message and on on their policies.”
RGA hits Michigan governor ahead of SOTU rebuttal
WASHINGTON — The Republican Governors Association launched a digital ad campaign Tuesday targeting Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who will deliver the Democratic Party’s response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address tonight.
According to a statement from the RGA released Tuesday, the initiative will call attention to Whitmer’s “broken promises and tanking approval rating.”
The ads are set to air on Facebook and Instagram around the Michigan State Capitol and in the Lansing area — where Whitmer will rebut Trump from a local high school.
One of the ads, titled “Broken Roads, Broken Promises,” includes media coverage accusing Whitmer of failing to fulfill her primary campaign promise best captured by the slogan: “Fix the damn roads.”
About one-minute long, the ad highlights the Michigan Governor’s decision to veto infrastructure funding for Michigan totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. It also features unflattering polling depicting her approval rating on the decline.
Whitmer has said she vetoed that funding because it was only a short-term fix and that she’s focused on achieving a “a real, long-term funding solution that will actually fix the damn roads. “
President Trump even makes an appearance, criticizing Whitmer at a rally in her home state in December.
“I understand she’s not fixing those potholes,” the president says on screen.
When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, announced the Democrats’ selection of Whitmer to represent the party following the State of the Union, he boasted about her action on issues that the RGA scrutinizes in its ads.
"Governor Whitmer's dedication to Michiganders is a model for public servants everywhere," he said. "Whether it's pledging to 'Fix the Damn Roads' or investing in climate solutions, Governor Whitmer's vision for the future is exactly what this country needs, and I'm thrilled she is giving the Democratic response."
In its statement, the RGA also singled out “Whitmer’s attempt to get back on track in her recent State of the State address,” which faced blow back after experts determined that her new transportation plan would “saddle future generations with debt and fail to fix the majority of roads in the state.”
Communications Director of the RGA, Amelia Chassé Alcivar, said Tuesday that Whitmer’s failure to make substantive progress on her campaign pledge is “no joke” for Michigan residents “still driving on the crumbling roads she promised to fix.”
The spokeswoman also stressed that Michiganders need their governor “to do her damn job.”
The ad campaign announcement came around the same time that Whitmer held a press conference outlining her plan to rebut President Trump.
"When I stay tethered to the dinner table issues I know it resonates with people all across our country," the governor said.
Bloomberg: 'No question' that Trump is 'worried about me'
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says there’s “no question” that President Donald Trump fears running against him in a general election, after a feud between the two New Yorkers escalated over the weekend.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News in California, Bloomberg looked past his Democratic rivals who are competing in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, insisting his own future in the race won’t be affected by results of the caucuses. Instead, Bloomberg said he’s “running against Donald Trump.”
“I think there’s no question that he’s worried about me, because otherwise he wouldn’t respond,” Bloomberg says. “Donald doesn’t want to run against me because he knows I’ve taken him on, and every time, I’ve beaten him. I’m trying to tell the public what I did and what I will do and not get into a silly contest. He can’t run on his record.”
Bloomberg’s comments come as the gloves have come off in Bloomberg’s growing rivalry with Trump, who took to Twitter over the weekend to insult Bloomberg over his height — claiming, without evidence, that Bloomberg was arranging to stand on a box during an upcoming debate. That led Bloomberg’s campaign to push back, calling Trump “pathological liar” and asserting that the campaign is now on a “wartime footing” with the Republican president. Trump and Bloomberg also aired dueling ads during the Super Bowl on Sunday at a cost of some $11 million.
With his numbers starting to climb in national polls, Bloomberg has sought to portray himself as above the fray of the Democratic primary and primed to defeat the president, which Democratic primary voters have widely said is the top quality they’re seeking in their nominee. That argument has gained fresh attention amid signs of a surge by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who more moderate Democrats have said they fear may be too liberal to win over centrist voters needed to defeat the president.
In the interview, Bloomberg said he plans to stay in the race even if a candidate like former Vice President Joe Biden emerges as a clear front-runner out of Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the first and second primary contests.
“I'm not running against Joe Biden, or Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, I'm running against Donald Trump and whether they win in one of these states or both of these states or not, it just doesn't influence what I'm going to do,” Bloomberg said.
After entering the race too late to compete in the earliest states, Bloomberg has mounted an unconventional campaign focused on the delegate-rich states that vote later in the calendar, as well as on general-election battlegrounds that will be key to deciding the next president.
So as the other Democrats converge on Iowa on Monday for the caucuses, Bloomberg is in California, which kicks off its early and mail-in voting periods this week.
The stakes are high: California has 10 times the number of delegates as Iowa in the Democratic primary nominating contest. More Democrats are expected to vote early in California than in the Iowa caucuses in total.
In the interview, Bloomberg also lamented the all-but-certain acquittal of Trump in the impeachment trial, where closing arguments are taking place in Washington on Monday ahead of an expected final vote on Wednesday.
“It’s a disgrace, no question about that,” he said, adding that the whole Republican Party was contributing to it. “I don’t like impeachment, but there’s so much evidence we had to do it. I’m not a senator, but I’d vote to convict.”
He added: “It’s obvious they’re going to let him off the hook and the public will have its chance on November 3.”