The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Biden makes emotional speech to pass gun reform legislation
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Former Vice President Joe Biden made an emotional commitment to pass gun reform legislation if elected president of the United States on Thursday — calling anyone who has not and would not support the movement "cowards".
Speaking just miles away from the site of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, Biden delivered a passionate plea for politicians to finally put families touched by gun violence over gun manufacturer’s interests.
During his speech, he scorned Republicans and some Democrats, specifically naming Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for voting to protect gun manufacturers from being sued by individuals touched by gun violence. Even though he acknowledged that Sanders’ viewpoints on the issue has changed, he called it “immoral” for anyone to have ever voted in favor of immunity.
“Folks, it's just flat out immoral. It's just flat out immoral. You know, too many Republicans and some Democrats, like Bernie Sanders, voted five times against the Brady bill that I was passing.”
Biden added, “Every day that we do nothing about this epidemic of assaults and assault weapons, high capacity magazines in our streets, is an insult.”
The former vice president has often referred to the broken and divisive politics surrounding gun violence at his campaign stops, but he has elevated the rhetoric since touching down in Las Vegas where 59 people were killed in a 2017 mass shooting. His more forceful words promising reform both at events and in TV ads are intentional, the Biden campaign says, since the issue is one of the most important to caucus-goers in Nevada.
“Why in God’s name can we say that we can't do anything about a hundred and fifty thousand people being shot dead in the United States of America,” Biden said raising his voice. “Look, why are guns different? Because of cowardness. Because of cowards. Cowards who are afraid to take on these special interest because they are so damn powerful.”
Biden became visibly emotional, putting his hands over his face and wiping away tears at one point, after hearing Stephanie Pizzoferratto talk about losing her four-year-old daughter to a stray bullet.
“For all the people across the country, normal, normal has become living a nightmare,” Biden said after alluding to how quickly one’s life can change due to gun violence.
Biden said that if he’s elected president he will send Congress legislation on day one of his presidency that would repeal the liability protection for gun manufacturers and close the background check loopholes and waiting periods.
But if he’s not elected president, Biden said he would commit the rest of his life to defeating the NRA’s influence.
“Whether I am your president or I am a citizen fighting for it, I promise you I will not rest until we beat these guys because it is immoral what's happening,” Biden said. “I promise you, if I'm your next president they're going to be held accountable because I am coming after them.”
Bloomberg surpasses Warren in major endorsements after debate debut
WASHINGTON — Mike Bloomberg has officially surpassed Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in presidential endorsements from members of Congress and governors after his debut on the debate stage Wednesday night.
With the Nevada caucuses set for Saturday, Warren still does not have any major endorsements from politicians in the Silver State. Bloomberg will not be on the ballot in Nevada.
Joe Biden is the sole Democratic candidate with formal support from a Nevadan. Rep. Steven Horsford, the Democratic member for NV-04, endorsed the former Vice President on February 14. Biden leads the pack with a whopping 49 official backings from members of the House and Senate, along with governors of several states.
Bloomberg picked up three endorsements Thursday following his first debate appearance, stealing Warren’s second place spot. The former New York City mayor has a total of 17 endorsements — 16 from U.S. Representatives and one from Rhode Island’s Democratic governor.
Warren now takes the bronze for endorsements with 14 in total.
Bloomberg’s latest endorsements came from Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer, Pete Aguilar, and Nita Lowey of New Jersey, California, and New York respectively.
Warren, who slipped in the polls as Bloomberg surged, repeatedly took swipes at the billionaire philanthropist at Wednesday’s debate hosted by NBC News.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” she said early in the night. “A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
Bloomberg was a primary target on the debate stage and has been widely criticized for his policies and wealth by other candidates.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., takes fourth place in formal support with nine major endorsements. Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Sound Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg are tied with seven. Klobuchar and Buttigieg are viewed as competing for the same voter support and clashed several times at the debate.
Both Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who is still in the 2020 race, and entrepreneur Tom Steyer — who did not qualify for last night’s debate — have no official support from members of Congress or governors.
New PAC backs Warren with seven-figure Nevada ad buy
LAS VEGAS — A new PAC launched by four female activists is now supporting presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with a seven-figure ad buy in Nevada ahead of Saturday’s caucuses.
The ad aired by Persist PAC, which isn’t authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee, features images of the senator with President Barack Obama, arguing that Warren will take President Trump “on and win.”
“When you don’t grow up rich, you learn how to work. When you take on Wall Street, you know how to fight,” the narrator says.
When asked for comment, the Warren campaign disavowed PACs broadly but did not specifically mention Persist PAC.
“Senator Warren’s position hasn’t changed,” the campaign said. “Since day one of this campaign, she has made clear that she thinks all of the candidates should lock arms together and say we don’t want Super PACs and billionaires to be deciding our Democratic nominee.”
At the last Democratic debate, Warren boasted that everyone on the stage except for her and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is “either a billionaire or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending.”
Warren has also repeatedly criticized former Mike Bloomberg this week for buying the election, even labeling him a “egomaniac billionaire” on Twitter.
A source involved with Persist PAC told NBC News that the group’s founders believe Warren is the best person to become president and that they need to help elect her in order to enact the campaign finance change she often talks about on the trail.
To do that, they said, requires informing voters and getting the word out about her, working within the rules as they are currently written.
Separately, the Vice President of Communications at EMILY’s List, Christina Reynolds, confirmed that her organization has given $250,000 to Persist PAC. It’s not an endorsement, but EMILY’s List is donating to the group along with one outside organization backing Klobuchar.
“EMILY’s List was created to elect pro-choice Democratic women and we are proud of the campaigns both Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are running,” Reynolds told NBC News. “While we respect their views and agree on the need for campaign finance reform, we believe this election is too important and we want to do what we can within the bounds of existing law to support them. We have made equal donations of $250,000 to each organization.”
Biden debuts new web ad hitting Bloomberg on Obama criticisms
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Frustrated over Mike Bloomberg’s television blitz casting himself as a stalwart ally of President Barack Obama, Joe Biden’s campaign is hitting the former mayor with a new online video spotlighting his past criticism of the administration.
Playing off the Bloomberg campaign’s attempt to build a viral online following with Instagram memes, the Biden video includes clip after clip of Bloomberg criticizing Obama on health care (calling Obamacare “a disgrace”), race relations (faulting him for not doing more to “pull people together”), climate change (saying “Obama did basically nothing.”
For good measure, it also features Bloomberg with kind words for President Donald Trump before the fellow New York billionaire ran for president.
After the video's release, Bloomberg released his own video on Twitter which showed Biden complimenting Bloomberg on his work on public health and environmental causes.
Sanders press secretary walks back 'heart attack' comments on Bloomberg
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Sen. Bernie Sanders' national press secretary walked back her false claim Wednesday morning that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg "suffered heart attacks in the past." She later tweeted she "misspoke."
"Rather, he underwent the same stent procedure as Bernie," Briahna Joy Gray tweeted of Bloomberg. "Bernie released 3 detailed medical reports in December — just like the other candidates."
The back-and-forth began when during a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, Sanders said that while he's feeling good, he will not release additional medical records after suffering from a heart attack in October. Despite promising to post his medical records before the first primary contest, the Democratic front-runner in December instead released three letters from doctors stating he is in good health.
“If you think I’m not in good health come on out with me on the campaign trail and I’ll let you introduce me to the three or four rallies a day that we do," Sanders said on Tuesday.
Bloomberg's campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey quickly blasted Joy Gray's original claim saying, "It's completely false."
"Here’s what we know about Sen. Sanders: In October 2019, he had a medical incident in Las Vegas. He didn’t tell the public for days and the full details have never been released. Now his campaign staff is spreading lies about Mike Bloomberg," Sheekey said in a statement.
The increased scrutiny on Sanders' health comes after a new NBC News/WSJ poll found that 57 percent of registered voters were uncomfortable with a candidate who's had a heart attack in the past year, and 53 percent being uncomfortable with candidates older than 75.
Bloomberg, who is 78-years-old like Sanders, has not yet released his medical records, instead released a letter from his doctor saying he’s in “outstanding health.” The two other septuagenarians in the race, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, have also released letters from their doctors detailing their health statuses.
A new Super PAC gets behind Amy Klobuchar ahead of Super Tuesday
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Kitchen Table Conversations, a new political action committee supporting Amy Klobuchar, which filed with the FEC last Friday, is the first Super PAC to back the Minnesota senator's candidacy.
Richard Carlbom, a partner at United Strategies LLC in Minnesota, is spearheading the effort and confirmed to NBC News that “the goal is to introduce Amy to Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday states.” Carlbom told NBC News that he has not been in contact with Klobuchar’s campaign — it is against FEC regulations for campaigns to coordinate with super PACs.
The PAC’s first ad, “Sacred,” focuses on the “sacred space” of time between a newborn and their mother, talking about Klobuchar’s experience being kicked out of the hospital after her daughter Abigail was born and how it fueled her entrance into politics — a story she shares often on the campaign trail.
According to Carlbom, the PAC has received enough commitments where they can place a seven figure investment in paid advertisements.
Back in October, the Klobuchar campaign said they didn't want help from super PACs, and a Klobuchar spokesperson told NBC News that the campaign stands by that statement. Other candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg are also being helped by super PACs.
Carlbom said those who have joined the PAC effort are “individuals who believe in Amy’s message and believe in Amy as a president and want to make sure other votes get to know the same Amy we know.”
Trump counter-programs Dems with West Coast swing
WASHINGTON — As Democrats debate and compete for votes in Nevada this week, President Donald Trump won’t just be looming over the caucuses metaphorically — he’ll also be staying in Las Vegas throughout a jam-packed West Coast swing.
The rare quadruple-state, four-day visit will be full of fundraisers, official White House events, and three back-to-back rallies, culminating with a large campaign event in Vegas on Friday afternoon, the day before final votes are cast there.
The strategy to effectively shadow the Democratic presidential contest started in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this month where Trump deployed dozens of surrogates and dominated local media by headlining rallies in Des Moines and Manchester that attracted thousands of supporters.
But unlike in Iowa and New Hampshire, there is no GOP nominating contest in Nevada this year. The state party decided to cancel it in an effort to consolidate support for the president, working closely with the Republican National Committee to avoid any potential chaos at the convention in Charlotte this summer.
Senior campaign officials continue to make the case that while Democrats battle it out in search of their eventual nominee — with the rise of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg complicating party unity on that side of the aisle — the president’s campaign can capitalize nine months out from the general election, with no significant primary challenger.
Dry runs for November
The Trump campaign also has plenty of money and resources to conduct “dry runs” in these early states, enjoying $200 million in the bank heading into 2020 and raising more than $60 million in January. And the dress rehearsals in the Hawkeye and Granite States were largely successful, with turnout there exceeding recent incumbent presidents.
Trump begins his journey out West with a stop in Southern California on Tuesday, hosting a meeting on the 2028 Olympics, followed by two high-dollar fundraisers in Beverly Hills. This comes after Trump held the most expensive re-elect dinner of his presidency in Palm Beach over the weekend, with couples paying $580,600 each to attend.
On Wednesday, the president will travel to Rancho Mirage, Calif. for two additional fundraisers, and then deliver a speech on water access at an official White House event in Bakersfield.
From there, he heads to Phoenix for a “Keep America Great” rally, before again returning to Las Vegas to spend the night. As Democratic candidates spin their performances at the next debate, hosted by NBC News, the president is expected to be at his self-branded hotel just down the road from the Strip.
On Thursday morning, the president will speak at a “Hope for Prisoners” graduation ceremony at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department headquarters. Later that evening, the president will stump in Colorado Springs, and again fly back to Vegas.
The consecutive campaign events in Arizona and Colorado will also feature two vulnerable senators in key battleground states, Sens. Cory Gardner and Martha McSally respectively. Both supported the president throughout the impeachment trial and voted not to convict him.
Trump’s final event of the multi-day swing will be a rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the caucuses there Saturday.
While there is no clear measure of success for Trump in Nevada this week, he lost the state by only two and half percentage points to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Senior campaign officials say it’s not the top focus for expanding the map this cycle, but the Silver State is still considered a target. And holding rallies in all three states offers fresh voter data in those key states.
The campaign also plans to offer various surrogate gatherings throughout the week ahead of the caucuses, including visits from Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. But aides acknowledge there’s nothing quite like the president’s physical presence in the region.
“When Air Force One lands, there’s no better way to bracket and get your message out,” said Trump campaign spokesman Rick Gorka.
Over 26,000 vote early in Nevada caucuses
The party tweeted that over "26,000 Nevadans participated in the first two days of the early voting process as of 9am PT Monday morning."
According to the Nevada Democratic Party, over half of voters — 56 percent — who took part on Saturday were first time caucus-goers. Approximately 18,000 people voted on Saturday alone.
"Nevada Democrats are showing up to make their voices heard," the group tweeted.
The party released a memo to reporters last week outlining the early voting process occurring ahead of state’s caucuses on February 22.
“From the beginning, NV Dems’ priority has been to execute the most accessible, expansive, and transparent caucus yet,'' Alana Mounce, Nevada State Democratic Party Executive Director, stated in the memo originally sent to Nevada campaign staff last Monday.
The Nevada Democratic Party's memo came after its sister organization in Iowa failed to release results from the caucuses on time citing technological problems and disparities in vote tallies. The chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, Troy Price, was forced to resign from his post following the debacle.
Candidates battle in ad spending race ahead of Nevada caucuses
LAS VEGAS — Ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, Democratic candidates are in an ad spending race throughout the state until the February 22 contest.
Spending the most to hit the airwaves is billionaire and entrepreneur Tom Steyer according to Advertising Analytics. In last place among the candidates is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., with a bill totaling less than a million dollars.
Despite the Independent Vermont senator's visibility, Bernie Sanders is being targeted in several ads. After playing in Iowa with its Bernie-had-a-heart-attack ad but sitting out in New Hampshire, the anti-Bernie Sanders group, Democratic Majority for Israel, is back on the airwaves in Nevada, with a TV ad hitting Sanders for not releasing his medical records.
The ad features several voters stressing the need to vote Donald Trump out of office, claiming that Sanders is "not the guy" to do so. Another voter asks why the senator "won't he release his medical records."
Here's where each candidate's spending on TV and radio ads stands:
- Steyer: $14.0M
- Sanders: $1.8M
- Buttigieg: $1.2M
- Warren: $1.2M
- Biden: $1.1M
- Trump: $859K
- Klobuchar: $792K
- Vote Vets (pro-Buttigieg PAC): $589K
- Democratic Majority for Israel (anti-Sanders lobbying group): $461K
- Vote Nurses Values (pro-Sanders union): $170K
Former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, will not appear on the ballot in Nevada. He has until the end of the day Tuesday to qualify for the upcoming NBC News debate in Las Vegas.
-Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.
Klobuchar campaign releases first Spanish-language ad in Nevada
LAS VEGAS — Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign is airing its first Spanish language TV and radio ad in Nevada. This is the campaign’s third ad on the air in Nevada, and their only Spanish language ad to date.
The ad, titled ‘Bienestar,’ started airing on cable in the Las Vegas and Reno media markets on February 15, the first day of Nevada’s four-day early voting period, and the radio version of the ad is airing in the Las Vegas market. The ads will run through the Nevada Caucuses on February 22.
The campaign would not provide a cost for this Spanish ad buy individually, but said that it was separate from the original seven-figure ad buy for Nevada.
Klobuchar has acknowledged a need for her to build a broad coalition of support to win the nomination, especially among black and Hispanic voters and that effort includes raising her profile through ads like these.
DNC announces debate qualification threshold for South Carolina
WASHINGTON — To qualify for the Democratic debate stage in South Carolina, candidates will need to have won at least one delegate in earlier primary contests or cross a polling threshold of 10 percent nationally in four polls or 12 percent in two polls in the Palmetto State, the Democratic National Committee announced Saturday.
The rules are barely changed from the qualification threshold the party set for next week's debate in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. Those qualifications could help former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's make his first appearance on the stage.
Candidates who won at least one delegate to the Democratic National Convention in either the New Hampshire and Iowa contests, or next Saturday's caucuses in Nevada, will automatically qualify for the Feb. 25 debate in Charleston, which is hosted by CBS News and comes just before the state's Feb. 29 primary.
According to the new thresholds, five candidates have already qualified for the debate stage: Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Bloomberg, who skipped the first four early state contests, has not received a delegate yet and isn't expected to receive on during next week's Nevada caucuses. However, he has been polling above 10 percent in some recent surveys. He still needs one qualifying poll to make the Las Vegas debate stage.
The window to qualify next week's Feb. 19 debate closes the night before the event, while the window to qualify for the South Carolina debate runs from Feb. 4, the day after the Iowa Caucuses, to Feb. 24, the day before the debate.