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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

National parties give House members, candidates new campaign guidelines amid coronavirus

WASHINGTON — Congressional candidates plodding ahead in light of the coronavirus pandemic have received some recent guidance from national party organizations as they look to balance the needs of their campaigns with new public health restrictions. 

A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson told NBC News that the organization is “urging campaigns to follow the guidance of national experts and their local public health experts and make sure that they are continuing to connect with voters, but doing that safely,” while erring on the side of caution to keep their campaign staff, volunteers and voters all safe. 

The DCCC is also recommending that campaigns shift where possible to virtual events like tele-town halls, virtual phone banks or live-streamed roundtables. 

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., sent Republican House members a memo that ran through some suggested “best practices” on issues like fundraising, public events and communications. 

Lally Doerrer, right, and Katharine Hildebrand watch Joe Biden during his Illinois virtual town hall in Chicago on March 13, 2020.Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

Some of that guidance mimics what the DCCC told their members — the NRCC suggests limiting grassroots events, shifting field work to phone canvassing and launching tele-town halls. 

On fundraising, Emmer cautioned that candidates should continue to fundraise but “be sensitive that your donors may have suffered financial losses during this pandemic” and ask their donors how they are holding up in light of the crisis. 

Emmer specifically asked members to reconsider “snarky” comments and be sure not to spread misinformation. 

“At times like this you need to ask yourself if your press release or snarky comment are in poor taste,” Emmer wrote. “If you share information on the coronavirus, do it from trusted sources like the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services. Do not spread misinformation from politicized news stories.” 

Chris Pack, the NRCC’s communications director, told NBC that the campaign arm sent additional guidance to non-incumbent candidates. Emmer left his member with this: “Do not get complacent. Use common sense, but put the health of yourself, your campaign staff and volunteers, and constituents at the forefront of every decision,” he wrote. 

Biden, Sanders campaigns ramping down ad spending amid coronavirus spread

WASHINGTON – With the coronavirus outbreak prompting several states to postpone their primary elections, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders are slowing their ad spending to a virtual halt. 

A Biden campaign spokesman told NBC News there is “no plan right now” to go up with TV or radio ads, largely because their ad strategy focuses on creating ads based on the issues voters in that upcoming primary state find to be most important. Facebook's ad-tracker shows the campaign is still running digital ads on the platform, however. 

That same tracker shows that Sanders isn't currently running any Facebook ads. And data from Advertising Analytics shows that the Sanders campaign is dark on traditional media too (television and radio). 

As the Biden campaign continues to iron out the best ways to campaign in this unprecedented time for presidential politics, the spokesman caveated that their current plan for remaining silent on the airwaves could change. One area where investments could be made is in digital ads now that most people are turning to video websites like YouTube and Hulu while they work from home.

Biden ads featured in states from Michigan to Georgia featured President Barack Obama thanking Biden for his commitment to “Service” and Biden’s call for Democrats to unite in an ad called “Always” to defeat President Donald Trump. They also rolled out new Spanish-language ads in Florida, Arizona and Illinois discussing Biden’s records on guns, healthcare and the need for leadership to prevent future global panic like the one caused by coronavirus.

Unite the Country, the Super PAC supporting Biden’s candidacy, will also not be on the airwaves or on digital in the coming weeks as they focus on expanding their group with sights set on the general election, Steve Schale, a top strategist for the group, told NBC News. 

After projected losses in the Florida, Illinois and Arizona primaries on Tuesday night, Sanders' campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said in a statement that Sanders "is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign" but that "In the immediate term, however, he is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable."

Through March 10, before the campaign was completely upended by coronavirus, the Sanders campaign had significantly outspent the Biden campaign on the television and radio airwaves—$42.2 million to $14.6 million respectively. 

Mike Memoli contributed. 

While Maryland delays primary, special election to replace Cummings will stay as mail-in only

WASHINGTON — As Maryland delays most primary elections from late April to early June in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the state will not push back the special election aimed at replacing the late Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Instead, that election will go on as scheduled, but all voters will cast their ballot by mail. 

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement Tuesday as part of the larger decision to shift the state's primary elections from April 28 to June 2. He directed the state elections board to come up with a plan to conduct a June primary "in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process." 

But Hogan added that while the election board told him it couldn't shift the entire state to vote-by-mail in time for the April primary to go on as scheduled, he felt it was "imperative that the people of the seventh congressional district have a voice in the House of Representatives and that Maryland has a full delegation representing our state in Congress." That's why he decided to keep that district's primary on schedule. 

Maryland's 7th Congressional District has been vacant since Cummings died on Oct. 17, 2019. The state held a special primary for the seat on Feb. 5, with former Democrat Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Republican Kimberly Klacik, a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, moving onto the special general election. 

Biden under Secret Service protection again

WILMINGTON, Del. — After a nearly three year hiatus, Joe Biden is once again a protectee of the United States Secret Service.

A protective detail began its assignment with the former vice president and Democratic front-runner this week, multiple law enforcement officials told NBC News, even as Biden is expected to remain off the campaign trail amid the coronavirus crisis. 

The Biden campaign's formal request for Secret Service protection was submitted last week to senior congressional officials, who by law consult with the secretary of Homeland Security to consider if candidates should receive security from the elite law enforcement agency.

Anti-dairy industry protestors are pulled from the stage as Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at his Super Tuesday night rally in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 3, 2020.Kyle Grillot / Reuters

Since kicking off his campaign last April, Biden has had minimal security on the campaign trail — one private security guard often supplemented by local law enforcement from jurisdictions where he campaigned. The lighter security footprint allowed Biden to engage in the type of one-on-one, retail-oriented campaigning he preferred, especially in the early-voting states where voters place a premium on it.

Campaign officials have long been concerned about his safety given his high profile as a former vice president and the highly partisan environment. A high-profile incident in California this month, when a pair of dairy protestors stormed the stage as Biden celebrated a string of victories on Super Tuesday, pushed congressional Democrats publicly and Biden’s campaign privately to seek more rigorous protection.

Biden is not a stranger to Secret Service protection, of course. He first became a protectee of the agency in August 2008 when Barack Obama chose him as his vice presidential running mate. He and his family had a security detail throughout his eight years as vice president, and Biden for several additional months after he left office in 2017. 

Illinois governor backs Biden for president

WASHINGTON — Illinois Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker is backing former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid, he announced Monday. 

The endorsement came one day before the state's Democratic presidential primary and one day after Biden faced off against Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in a one-on-one debate Sunday night. The endorsement also comes as governors across the country are scrambling to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and spread.

"As our nation faces some of the biggest challenges of our time, I know Vice President Joe Biden is the right candidate to beat Donald Trump and lead us into a new era. It's time to unite as Democrats to restore respect to our nation's highest office," Pritzker said in a statement. 

"Joe will stand on the side of working families and serve as a partner to us in Illinois as we work to create good paying jobs, expand healthcare and invest in education," Pritzker said. "After four years of Donald Trump's failure to lead with honor, tell the truth, or stand up for the middle class, we need a steady hand and a President who is ready to move our nation past the divisiveness and vitriol that have become the norm in 2020. I trust Joe to lead with his head and heart, to do what's right, and to get things done for the American people.” 

During Pritzker's successful 2018 bid for governor, Biden praised the billionaire businessman-turned politician during a campaign swing through Illinois. Biden had already received an endorsement from Penny Pritzker, JB's sister who served in the Obama administration as the commerce secretary. 

Biden already has the endorsement of both Illinois Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as a handful of other prominent Illinois politicians including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and eight Democratic members of Congress from the state. 

—Marianna Sotomayor contributed

Biden touts support of Warren's bankruptcy reform plan as a bridge to progressives

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden surprised audiences when he announced his support for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bankruptcy reform plan during a virtual town hall, an issue both famously sparred over in public 15 years ago. 

In his first virtual appearance before voters since cancelling public events to mitigate coronavirus concerns, the former vice president told a questioner from Illinois that one of the ways he would win over Bernie Sanders supporters is by coming to agreement on “a whole range of things” they’re both passionate about reforming, including bankruptcy.

Elizabeth Warren speaks as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders listen at the seventh Democratic 2020 presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 14, 2020.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters file

“For example, one of the things that I think Bernie and I will agree on — I've endorsed Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy proposal,” he said during the Friday evening livestream. “Allows for student debt to be relieved in bankruptcy. Provides for a whole range of other issues that allows us in fact impact on how people are dealing with their circumstances.”

Biden’s full throttled backing of the proposal is a notable shift from the position he held while serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he faced Warren, then a Harvard professor, in a hearing to debate the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCA). Warren laid out her case against why the bill that Biden supported was unfair because it made it harder for people to file for bankruptcy. The bill was ultimately signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Warren outlined how she would undo parts of BAPCA in a Medium article posted in January when both were seeking the presidential nomination. While Warren campaign allies did not respond to questions about Biden’s newfound support for her plan, former staff members took to social media to encourage any candidate adopt her plan.

“Elizabeth Warren did the homework, now *please* copy it — everyone,” Warren’s former social media director wrote in a tweet.

 

The timing of Biden’s endorsement comes as the former vice president is trying to unite all Democrats, including the most progressive wings of the party, as he faces off with Sanders. In recent weeks Biden has earned 11 endorsements from former 2020 Democratic candidates, but Warren has notably sat out on backing the two final contenders in the primary race.

While Biden said supporting Warren’s plan is one area for finding common ground with the Vermont senator, Sanders has often attacked Biden for his support for the 2005 bankruptcy bill. He often brought it up as a consequential stain in Biden’s Senate record alongside his support of the Iraq War and trade deals.

“The fact of the matter is I'm not beholding to the banks. I supported the bankruptcy bill because I believed taking a very bad bill was going to pass overwhelmingly and make it better made sense,” Biden said in a July 2019 speech where he defended controversial parts of his record that had come under attack by his opponents.

The Biden campaign told NBC News that Biden, who recently reviewed Warren’s plan, will likely speak more about why he supports her proposals at Sunday’s Democratic debate.

Biden's first virtual event encounters technological glitches

WASHINGTON — The virtual campaign is proving a bit complicated, after a Friday event for former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign encountered some technological glitches. 

Biden is the first Democratic candidate to hold a virtual town hall due to concerns surrounding COVID-19 and public events. The attempt to broadcast the first of two scheduled “virtual events” in the next several days involved a garbled-voiced Biden and ended roughly four minutes after the Facebook Live video began streaming in Illinois.

The former vice president acknowledged the issues while ending the livestream.

“Well, I’m sorry this has been such a disjointed effort here because of the connections, but there is a lot more to say and I’ve probably already said too much,” Biden said. 

But the appetite for these events appears to be there — the short event garnered more than 5,000 viewers. 

On Saturday morning, the campaign released a link to a full, updated video without the technical glitches.

Much of the event focused on Biden explaining how he'd work to respond and recover the country from pandemics. He also tried to downplay the need for panic and outlined ways in which everyone can take precautions to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while still connecting to people.

“Campaign events are no exception that’s why we’re connecting virtually today. We’re going to have to get better at the technical side of this,” Biden said.

Biden, Sanders increase ad spending amid virtual campaign

WASHINGTON — While the traditional campaigning in the 2020 race has come to a halt due to concerns regarding COVID-19, the Democratic presidential candidates have increased their TV and radio ad spending for the upcoming March 17 primaries, with millions of dollars on the airwaves in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

Here’s a look at the ad spending in these four states through March 17, according to data from Advertising Analytics:

Arizona

  • Sanders: $1.4 million
  • Biden: $564,000
  • Unite the Country (pro-Biden Super PAC): $522,000

FYI: Michael Bloomberg had spent $8.9 million in the state before dropping out

Florida

  • Sanders: $6.0 million
  • Biden: $5.1 million

FYI: Bloomberg had spent $44.6 million

Illinois

  • Sanders: $2.2 million
  • Biden: $1.9 million

FYI: Bloomberg had spent $18.6 million

Ohio

  • Sanders: $2.3 million
  • Biden: $1.3 million

FYI: Bloomberg had spent $15.4 million

Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman formally backs Biden

WASHINGTON — The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), California Rep. Karen Bass, announced Friday that she is endorsing Joe Biden for president, making her the 37th member of the CBC to back the former vice president.

In a statement released by Bass, the congresswoman said that Biden is the person who can provide a “steady hand that can bring an end to the past three and a half years of daily trauma inflicted” on Americans by the Trump presidency.

Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) speaks at the Congressional Black Caucus prebuttal to the State of the Union address in Washington on Feb. 4, 2020.Michael Brochstein / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Bass added that during his time as vice president, she has come to know Biden as a true leader domestically and internationally — someone who “works tirelessly on behalf of all Americans, especially those purposely forgotten and antagonized by the current administration.”

In an interview with PBS, the chairwoman elaborated on her decision to back Biden and revealed that his rival, Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, “called one time” to invite her to meet “last minute,” but when she couldn’t make it, he never called back. Her and Biden in contrast, have spoken “a number of times” during the campaign.

Bass also told PBS that Biden’s vice presidency reveals a “historic connection with African Americans,” and that Sanders “does not have a historic connection like that.” She continued to criticize Sanders, saying that if she were to run for president, she would work “years in advance on building ties and building relationships — not just with African Americans — with all communities.”  

Sanders will 'wholeheartedly' support Biden if he's the nominee, adviser says

WASHINGTON — Senior adviser to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign Jeff Weaver said Thursday that Sanders will support former Vice President Joe Biden "wholeheartedly" if Biden is the Democratic nominee. 

In an interview on MSNBC, Weaver said that the Sanders campaign is looking at the rest of the Democratic primary on a "week by week" basis, but that if he does not win the nomination, he would campaign for the former vice president. However, Weaver wouldn't say if that decision would come before or after the Democratic convention in July. 

"I don't have a crystal ball," Weaver said. Adding, "Right now we are working hard and working hard to win." 

The campaign is looking to shore up wins in this Tuesday's upcoming nominating contests — focusing specifically on Illinois and Arizona where Sanders performed well in 2016. However, states like Florida and Ohio will also be voting on Tuesday where Biden has a substantial likelihood of winning a larger share of delegates. 

What might Michigan's primary turnout say about the general election?

WASHINGTON — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders had hoped a strong showing in Michigan's Democratic presidential primary would help supercharge his fledgling campaign, but his campaign appears poised for a double-digit loss there. 

NBC News contributor Dante Chinni, the director of the American Communities Project at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, pulled out three important takeaways from Michigan's primary: 

  • There are cracks in Sanders' coalition of young, college-age voters as well as the older working-class voters. 
  • Sanders' success in areas that support President Trump "seems to have fizzled."
  • And turnout suggests Biden "might be the candidate to bring blue-collar voters back to the Democrats in 2020."  

Click here to read his full analysis.