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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Trump campaign 'proceeding normally,' but no rallies scheduled

WASHINGTON — There are few things President Trump says he enjoys more than a large-scale rally with thousands of cheering supporters. And while he has pledged to keep up the pace amid concerns about large gathering as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies, his re-election campaign has not announced any upcoming rallies for the weeks ahead, marking the first time without one on the calendar this year.

The campaign maintains it is “proceeding normally” and simply hasn’t made any future plans public. “We will announce rallies when we are ready to do so," principal deputy communications director Erin Perrine told NBC News. "President Trump had a town hall this week, a fundraiser, and we have loads of campaign events on the event schedule on the website.” 

Those “events” are mostly smaller gatherings for volunteer trainings but there is one “Women for Trump” event on the books with Second Lady Karen Pence next week in Pennsylvania.

When asked at the CDC on Friday whether he’d considered not having rallies due to coronavirus fears, the president told reporters: “No, I haven’t.” He doubled down on that over the weekend, when he said he expects “tremendous rallies” to take place but did not offer any specifics beyond that.

“We're doing very well.  And we've done a fantastic job with respect to that subject on the virus,” Trump added.

For weeks, the president has maintained that mass gatherings are “very safe.” The president has held 10 rallies so far in 2020 and notably headlined campaign events around every major Democratic voting contest — including in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and North Carolina. This week will mark the first time voters head to the polls without the president continuing his consistent pattern of shadowing the Democratic campaigns this primary season.

It’s worth noting other candidates are continuing to campaign and hold large events, though they have signaled a willingness to adjust plans if guidance from medical professionals changes course. Former Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday his team is “listening to the experts and the CDC” and they will take “advice from them” on any upcoming mass gatherings.

Biden aides also put out a statement late Sunday night, indicating they "will continue to closely follow guidance offered by federal and local public health officials on the types of events we hold and how we execute them."

Trump has a fundraiser in Longwood, Florida tomorrow but, apart from that, there is no public campaign travel on his schedule. Asked on Saturday about whether elderly people should be concerned about attending political rallies, HHS Sec. Alex Azar told reporters during a White House briefing that he didn’t want to comment in his official capacity but that anyone who is older and has an underlying condition should “exercise caution.”

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci echoed that message in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," saying: “If we continue to see the community spread go up I think you need to seriously look at anything that's a large gathering. Again, you have  to understand… particularly if you're an individual who has an underlying condition and are vulnerable.”

Sanders: 'Establishment put a great deal of pressure on Pete Buttigieg, on Amy Klobuchar' to back Biden

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders said Sunday that the Democratic Party establishment pressured his former presidential primary opponents to back Joe Biden ahead of Super Tuesday. 

Both former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar endorsed Biden in the days before the Super Tuesday contests. The former vice president did better than originally expected in those contests last week, racking up a delegate lead over Sanders and upending the nominating fight. 

"The explanation is not complicated. The establishment put a great deal of pressure on Pete Buttigieg, on Amy Klobuchar who ran really aggressive campaigns," the Vermont Independent senator said.

"I know both of them. They worked really, really hard. But suddenly, right before Super Tuesday, they announced their withdrawal. If they had not withdrawn from the race before Super Tuesday, which was kind of a surprise to a lot of people, I suspect we would have won in Minnesota, we would have won in Maine, we would have won in Massachusetts."

Buttigieg senior adviser Lis Smith responded to Sanders in a tweet, saying that his "decision to get out of the race was his and his alone."

On Sunday, California Sen. Kamala Harris also endorsed Biden

Earlier in the interview, Sanders argued his campaign is well-suited to win the state of Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday, taking shots at Biden's record in the process.

"I think we've got a real shot to win here in Michigan because the agenda that we are talking about is an agenda that works for the working families of this state," Sanders said Sunday on "Meet the Press."

"And furthermore, it really contrasts my views with Joe Biden. Now that we're down a two-way race, I think it is clear for the American people to see where Biden's record is and where my record is."

Sanders pointed to Biden's support for trade agreements, which the Vermont senator said cost Michiganders jobs. And he said that Biden's support from some wealthy donors undercuts his ability to represent the working class. 

He went on to defend from the Biden campaign's argument that negative campaigning will hurt Democrats' ability to defeat President Trump in November, a message the Biden campaign is putting up on the airwaves.  

Biden campaign invests $12 million in ad buys

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Former Vice President Joe Biden is taking his recent influx in money and pouring more into TV, radio and digital ads than ever before. The campaign is investing $12 million in total paid media in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — states that all vote within the next two weeks.

Of the $12 million, $8 million is being allotted behind two TV ads in markets across all six states.

In a new ad called "Always", the Biden campaign goes after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, pointing out that after Biden’s numerous wins on Super Tuesday “Sanders has gone on the attack” on Social Security.

 

 

“Politifact has called the Sanders campaign attacks false. Joe Biden has always been a strong supporter of social security,” the narrator says in the 30-second ad. “Negative ads will only help Donald Trump. It's time we bring our party together.”

Both presidential candidates have gone after each other about their Social Security records since January when Sanders said Biden had wanted to cut Social Security benefits. Biden has denied those assertions.

 

The second ad, entitled "Service", has aired in numerous states already and focuses on former President Barack Obama honoring Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

 

President Trump plays on Sanders' supporters dislike of Joe Biden

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has been eager to play up the divisions within the Democratic presidential race, especially when it comes to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters.

"It’s being rigged against — it’s sad — it’s being rigged against Crazy Bernie,” Trump said at his rally in Charlotte, N.C. on Monday after former Vice President Joe Biden picked up endorsements from former presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar ahead of the Super Tuesday contests.

And he tweeted this after Biden’s big victories on Super Tuesday: “The Democrat establishment came together and crushed Bernie Sanders, AGAIN! Even the fact that Elizabeth Warren stayed in the race was devastating to Bernie and allowed Sleepy Joe to unthinkably win Massachusetts. It was a perfect storm, with many good states remaining for Joe!”

Here's the logic — and data — behind why Trump argues that the Democratic race is “rigged” against Sanders, even though he's simply getting out-voted.

Just 38 percent of Sanders voters say they are enthusiastic or comfortable with Biden, versus 60 percent who have reservations or who are very uncomfortable with the former vice president, according to merged data from the January and February 2020 NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls.

That same level of discontent doesn't exist in Biden's supporters. In contrast, Biden voters actually have a net-positive view of Sanders. 

Fifty-five percent of Biden backers say they are enthusiastic or comfortable with Sanders, while 42 percent say they have reservations or are very uncomfortable, according to the same polling.

So when Trump is decrying the raw deal he thinks Sanders is getting, he’s trying to keep many of these Sanders voters from joining up with Biden — if the former vice president ends up being the Democratic nominee.

Sanders cancelling speech in Mississippi as campaign pivots to Michigan

WASHINGTON — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is cancelling a Friday speech in Jackson, Mississippi to campaign in Michigan, a sign the campaign is shifting focus after his poor showing in southern states so far this campaign. 

Sanders had been planning to speak at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson, a campus that houses the state's civil rights museum, with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, who had recently endorsed Sanders. 

But a Sanders aide told NBC News that he's canceling the speech and will instead head to Michigan, which also holds its primary on March 10. 

After Biden outperformed expectations on Super Tuesday, Sanders is hoping he can reset the narrative with big wins next Tuesday in states like Michigan, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington, all states he won during his unsuccessful 2016 bid.

Michigan was a key state to Sanders' unsuccessful 2016 bid, one where his surprise victory gave him a shot of momentum in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But while he won headlines with his victory, he only netted four more delegates from the state than former Sec. State Hillary Clinton.  

Meanwhile, Clinton defeated Sanders 83 percent to 17 percent in Mississippi on the same day, netting 26 more delegates from the state than Sanders. 

Biden threatens to run up the score on Sanders again in Mississippi. Sanders won just 11 percent of black voters in the state's 2016 primary (black voters made up 7-in-10 of the state's primary voters that year), and Biden cleaned up with black voters on this past Super Tuesday. 

Bloomberg's massive Super Tuesday spending netted little

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's unprecedented spending threatened to shake up the Democratic presidential race, but as the dust continues to settle, he appears to have little to show for it. 

Bloomberg dropped about $198 million in television and radio ads in states that held their nominating contests on Super Tuesday, according to ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. And as of 10 a.m. ET, Bloomberg has netted just 18 delegates — $11 million per delegate so far with results still coming in.  

That showing led to Bloomberg dropping on Wednesday morning, arguing that "after yesterday’s results, the delegate math has become virtually impossible — and a viable path to the nomination no longer exists."

Bloomberg's dollar-for-delegate tradeoff has been massive, but that investment is magnified when compared to how many delegates Biden is poised to win in states where he spent markedly less. 

Despite not spending a dime on the air in Massachusetts, Biden is projected to win the state. Bloomberg, who spent almost $10 million there on those ads, is at 12 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting. 

In Texas, Bloomberg spent $52 million on TV and radio ads and appears to be poised for a distant third-place finish. Biden is the projected winner there, having spent about $463,000 on those ads.

Overall, Bloomberg spent just over $112 million on the airwaves in the Super Tuesday states that the NBC News' Decision Desk projects Biden will win. Biden spent $1.4 million on the airwaves in those states he's projected to win. 

So far, Biden is projected to net 400 delegates on Super Tuesday alone.

Sanders launches three new ads targeting Biden

Bernie Sanders launched three new ads on Wednesday in nine states targeting former Vice President Joe Biden as the race rapidly narrowed following Biden's Super Tuesday victories

One of the ads, "Feel the Bern," focuses on past comments then-President Barack Obama made about Sanders, complimenting him for being authentic and someone who has gotten bills passed for veterans. It's a new kind of ad for Sanders, as his campaign typically likes to draw on Sanders being an outsider, rather than a deal-maker. 

Biden has consistently run his own TV and digital ads that show Obama complimenting him and granting him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And the Biden team is responding to Sanders' use of Obama, saying that Obama "chose" Biden, while Sanders considered a primary challenge against him.

"Barack Obama chose Vice President Biden to be his partner over 8 years in the White House, entrusting him with managing the stimulus that saved our economy from a depression, obtaining the deciding vote for the Affordable Care Act, and countless national security priorities," Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said. "By contrast, Senator Sanders explored a primary challenge to President Obama, who he compared to a 'moderate Republican' and said was not a 'progressive.' As recent history has proven, no quantity of ads can rewrite history — and there's no substitute for genuinely having the back of the best president of our lifetimes." 

The Biden team is also re-upping an ad they ran against Sanders in South Carolina that focused on Sanders' consideration of a primary challenge. 

Sanders' two other ads, "Protect Social Security" and "Decimated," take direct aim at Biden's past votes.

The ads call out Biden for comments he made about freezing federal spending, which would have included Social Security benefits for a limited time, and for supporting trade deals, like NAFTA, that Sanders opposed. 

Sanders and Biden have traded barbs on Social Security and trade deals before — Sanders is one of the only Democratic presidential candidates who voted against and spoke out against the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. 

The new ads will run in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Washington — all of which vote on either March 10 or 17. 

'Delegate math': Inside the Biden campaign's Super Tuesday strategy

OAKLAND, Calif. — Joe Biden never expected a coronation, and his campaign prepared accordingly. 

Despite his status as a former vice president and widely-admired party elder, his campaign knew the crowded field and ideological diversity of the party would pose headwinds for him and suggested a long, bruising battle for the nomination. The fact that Biden was never a prolific fundraiser also meant what resources the campaign had would need to be invested with great precision.

So the Biden campaign’s approach to Super Tuesday perhaps best illustrates what became a mantra of his top strategists: if Andrew Yang was the “math” candidate, Biden would be the delegate math candidate.

While much of the focus Tuesday will be on the statewide results in the more than dozen Super Tuesday contests, the Biden team will be looking just as closely for the results district-by-district — especially in the South. Of the more than 1,300 delegates at stake Tuesday, 875 will be awarded not based on the statewide tally but from the results in individual congressional districts (or, in the case of Texas, state senate districts).

Biden’s resounding win in South Carolina, boosted by overwhelming support of African American voters, validated the campaign’s view that by heavily targeting their limited resources into areas with the highest concentrations of black voters, they could in many cases pick off extra delegates across the map that could prove essential to limiting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ ability to gain an insurmountable lead.

Supporters cheer for Joe Biden as polls close in South Carolina on Feb. 29, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

Much of the strategy is based around the work of Biden’s analytics team. Since the earliest days of the campaign, they developed and maintained a ranking of — in the case of Tuesday — the 164 districts in play based on how likely Biden was to earn extra delegates by potentially keeping most if not all of his rivals under the critical 15 percent threshold.

That analysis is based on three factors: demographic and polling information that suggests strong Biden support; number of delegates at stake in a district; and the likelihood that other candidates won’t reach 15 percent support.

The number of delegates at stake in each congressional district varies depending on just how Democratic the district leans. Vermont’s at-large district awards 11 delegates Tuesday, while Rep. Ilhan Omar’s Minneapolis-based district awards 10. Four districts — two in Colorado, one in Maine and one in North Carolina — each award nine.

But not all are necessarily top targets for Biden. While the campaign quickly launched a new ad in Minneapolis on Tuesday seeking to capitalize on Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's endorsement, they have largely stayed out of Vermont and Colorado, which have far lower percentage of minority voters.   

“It’s a delegate game, so we have been focused on targeting districts across the country," that "look like South Carolina, that look like the diversity of this country," Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said on MSNBC Monday.

The Biden team has, though, aggressively courted Alabama’s seventh Congressional District, North Carolina’s fourth, and multiple state senate districts clustered around urban centers in Texas. That includes not just putting money on the airwaves, but careful courtship of key lawmakers — including members of the Congressional Black Caucus and local legislators who represent what are often heavily-gerrymandered jurisdictions.

Biden needs the reinforcements, having not campaign much or at all in most Super Tuesday states. Prior to Saturday, Biden held just one public rally in California, Texas and North Carolina.

Biden’s travel has focused precisely to those types of locations his campaign thinks can provide an extra delegate edge — Saturday in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday in Selma, Ala., Monday in Houston and Dallas, and an Election Day stop in Oakland, where seven delegates are at stake.

“All along the way we’ve been valuing different geographies in terms of where we can win delegates, and planned our delegate and endorsements strategy around that,” said a senior Biden campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to expand upon the campaign’s strategy. 

The official said that having the support of so many key lawmakers who represent these districts is especially useful, since they can help mobilize their own political organizations and offer insights that can supplement — or in some cases act in place of — Biden’s own campaign teams.

Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) said he has been visiting churches and attending community meetings to push the vote for Biden. And he said the endorsement of CBC members like him pays dividends beyond his district’s lines, as more and more African American voters move into suburban parts of Texas.

“The people that live in suburban areas that are not in our district that are African American, they look to us to see what we’re doing,” he said. “The influence in our districts and around our districts is very strong.”

Biden campaign adds ad buy in post-Super Tuesday states

DALLAS — Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign is amping up for its post-Super Tuesday ad campaign. 

Biden's new buy in a trio of states that vote after Super Tuesday is part of a $1.5 million investment the campaign has devoted to spending in Missouri, Michigan and Mississippi. The ad will air in the states' largest markets including Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and Lansing in Michigan; Kansas City and St. Louis in Missouri; and Jackson, Meridien and Hattiesburg in Mississippi.

While the ad buy is new, the ad it's showing isn't. The ad, entitled "Service" evoke supportive words from former President Barack Obama about Biden's lifetime commitment to improving life for Americans. 

Biden rakes in endorsements after definitive South Carolina win

WASHINGTON — Following Joe Biden’s resounding victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary Saturday, the former Vice President has racked up about 20 influential endorsements spanning from activists to current and former members of Congress. More support continues to trickle in Monday.

Biden leads the pack by dozens of congressional and gubernatorial endorsements with Mike Bloomberg in a far-away second place. The former Vice President has 59 endorsements from members and governors while Bloomberg has just 17. 

Joe Biden speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Tom Gralish / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Many of the latest endorsements come from Super Tuesday states and beyond, including seven backers from the House of Representatives, three politicians who held high state or local offices, plus others.

Among the members of Congress now supporting Biden, three are from Virginia, a battleground state where voting takes place tomorrow. Democratic Reps. Bobby Scott, Jennifer Wexton, and Don Beyer —  who previously endorsed Pete Buttigieg — are all on the list.

Reps. Greg Stanton of Arizona, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Gil Cisneros of California — who flipped the seat in 2018 — and Veronica Escobar of Texas are backing Biden as well. 

Current Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois announced her formal support for the candidate Monday afternoon. Previous Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Arkansas, plus former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe also endorsed Biden after his win. 

Among other influential endorsements are gun safety advocate Fred Guttenberg, and late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy’s wife, Vicki Kennedy.

Kennedy tweeted Monday morning that she is “proud” to vote for Biden in Massachusetts because he is the candidate “who solves problems by bringing people together.”

She mentioned that she trusts Biden on expanding health care, a passion of her husband’s throughout his life. 

The former Vice President’s campaign released a statement Monday morning listing nearly ten other endorsers who announced their support for Biden after the latest primary. 

Biden won South Carolina with about a 30 percentage point lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who only garnered 20 percent of the vote. Biden won every county in the Palmetto State and was the favorite of two-thirds of African-American voters there. 

The campaign told NBC News that Biden hauled in more than $5 million on Saturday night plus another $5 million Sunday. 

Buttigieg: Campaign pressing onto Super Tuesday despite South Carolina result

WASHINGTON — Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg told "Meet the Press" Sunday his campaign is pressing on after a fourth-place finish in South Carolina's Democratic primary, arguing that his message has "resonated across the country." 

Buttigieg said that his campaign has been able to "beat the odds and defy all the expectations" before, but he added that he's keeping an eye on how he can best help the party defeat President Trump in November.

"Every day I'm getting up, looking at how we can do what's best for the party. It's why we got into this race in the first place, the belief that a different kind of message and a different kind of messenger could rally people together, could forge new alliances, could help us reach out in the very places where we have the best messaging, yet found ourselves defeated by President Trump in 2016 and we cannot let that happen again," he said.

"And every day we're in this campaign is a day that we've reached the conclusion that pushing forward is the best thing that we can do for the country and for the party."