The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Sanders turns his campaign to coronavirus relief
Bernie Sanders is shifting his focus from building political support to supporting efforts to respond to the coronavirus spread. The Vermont senator announced on Friday that he will host an online roundtable in Burlington, Vt., where he is "assessing the state of his campaign."
The roundtable will be the first public comments from Sanders since he snapped at a reporter on Wednesday for asking about his timeline for deciding on the future of his campaign. Sanders has not publicly addressed Tuesday night's primaries, which were unanimously won by former Vice President Joe Biden.
Since then, Sanders senior adviser Tim Tagaris said the campaign has used social media platforms, email and text lists to "educate and activate people around his coronavirus response and raise big-money for charities helping people impacted.” On Thursday, the campaign sent an email to supporters prompting them to use a campaign-established fundraising page to donate to up to five charities helping people during the pandemic.
Sanders also released a $2 trillion proposal on Monday that he said he would present to Democratic leadership that includes having Medicare, as it exists now, pay for all medical bills accrued during this emergency, whether or not the bill is related to the coronavirus.
Bloomberg gives $18 million to DNC in lieu of starting his own group to beat Trump
WASHINGTON — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is transferring $18 million left in the accounts of his now-defunct presidential campaign to the Democratic National Committee and forgoing, for now, creating his own independent political group to help Democrats in November.
“While we considered creating our own independent entity to support the nominee and hold the President accountable, this race is too important to have many competing groups with good intentions but that are not coordinated and united in strategy and execution,” Bloomberg’s campaign said in a memo to the DNC. “The dynamics of the race have also fundamentally changed, and it is critically important that we all do everything we can to support our eventual nominee and scale the Democratic Party’s general election efforts.”
The funds will be put towards the DNC's battleground buildup program, to hire data and operations staffers, among other efforts, in a dozen states that will be important in the general election.
Bloomberg will also offer to transfer campaign field offices the billionaire's campaign set up and paid for to local state Democratic Parties as in-kind contributions. His staff, some of which were planning to transfer to work for Bloomberg's independent entity in six battleground states, are all being laid off. They will be paid through the first week of April and have full benefits through the end of April.
“With this transfer from the Bloomberg campaign, Mayor Bloomberg and his team are making good on their commitment to beating Donald Trump,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement. “This will help us invest in more organizers across the country to elect the next president and help Democrats win up and down the ballot.”
However, this differs significantly from the message the Bloomberg campaign pushed since his entrance into the presidential race in November. The plan, if not the nominee himself, was to fund a sizable campaign effort through the general election working to elect the Democratic nominee, paying his large staff and keeping a sizable amount of offices open.
Bloomberg spent more than $400 million on his presidential campaign and is worth an estimated $50 billion, according to Forbes, so $18 million is a relatively small amount for one of the richest men in the world.
Since ending his campaign earlier this month after a disappointing showing in Super Tuesday contests, Bloomberg has given to other pro-Democratic groups, such as a $2 million contribution to the group Swing Left, and he’s pledged at least $40 million to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Under campaign finance laws, while the contribution is well in excess of contribution limits from individuals, campaigns are allowed to make unlimited contributions to party committees.
Yang nonprofit announces coronavirus relief effort for the Bronx
As Congress and the White House work to pass an emergency economic stimulus bill in response to the coronavirus pandemic, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang is taking matters into his own hands.
Yang’s new nonprofit organization, Humanity Forward, announced Friday it will be distributing at least $1 million in $1,000 cash payments to 1,000 working poor households in the Bronx as part of a coronavirus relief fund in partnership with other organizations.
“Given the nature of this crisis, we thought it was imperative to act now and get money into people's hands, and also demonstrate that this is exactly what our government should be doing,” Yang told NBC News.
The one-time payments will be provided within the next two weeks to clients of Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners, a financial empowerment nonprofit. Additionally, Humanity Forward is also partnering with One Fair Wage, a nonprofit advocacy group, to support service workers across New York City who have been impacted by COVID-19-related closures — through cash relief payments of $213 to symbolize the $2.13 an hour tipped minimum wage.
“The coronavirus has seized up our economy and sent it into a tailspin and the people that are suffering most are service workers,” Yang told NBC News. “New York City is also the most densely populated part of the country, and if there’s any place you would want people to have the ability to stay home and look after themselves and their families, it would be in New York.”
Sources familiar with Yang’s thinking say the entrepreneur is seriously considering a run for New York City mayor, where he could implement UBI at a local level — he even spoke with Michael Bloomberg recently about a potential bid.
His organization’s coronavirus relief effort will also include $100,000 in micro-grants of $250 or $500 to individuals who request emergency funds directly via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Yang said the direct cash payment proposal in the Senate GOP relief bill is going to be an “instrumental and vital” game-changer for millions of Americans.
“I'm thrilled that they're landing on direct cash in Americans’ hands,” he said. “If it had been up to me, I perhaps wouldn't have means-tested it at that level, but it's going to help tens of millions of Americans and that's the goal. So I'm glad that they're heading in the right direction.”
Yang was critical of the Trump administration’s response to the crisis, but hopes the president will support an emergency universal basic income plan regardless of any political downside for Democrats.
“Most everyone thinks that they botched the handling of trying to impede the spread of the virus initially, so I can't imagine anyone who thinks that this is going to be a political positive for the Trump administration,” said Yang. “We’re in this mess, we have to try and take care of our people.”
Yang added that his team has been in communication with the White House legislative office, providing research on cash transfers for citizens to the Treasury Department. Yang says he also has been in contact with former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, but would not speculate on cabinet possibilities.
Yang said his current priority is providing immediate relief to those most affected by the coronavirus, but he hopes to fund UBI pilot programs in the future
“I think people are going to like it, and that after it happens in response to this crisis, then people will say, ‘Wait a minute, I’d probably like it no matter what, and it will prepare us for the next crisis,’” Yang said.
Yang is confident that exploring universal basic income will be part of the conversation in the general election.
“Americans are going to be dramatically impacted by getting money into our hands, and I think there's a real chance that this becomes a major issue in the 2020 election itself -- and it may be in the Democratic Party platform,” Yang told NBC News. “I believe that this is going to become the law of the land sometime in the next number of months and years because it's going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle honestly.”
“I would never be someone who would wish this terrible crisis and pandemic on our country, but I do believe that our campaign might have advanced this particular solution right at the right time.”
Disability community vote up for grabs in 2020, poll finds
WASHINGTON — A new poll finds that more than half of potential voters in battleground states say they have a disability (16 percent), a family member with one (32 percent), or a close friend who does (11 percent), and the voting bloc is largely contested ahead of the 2020 elections.
The results released by the Democratic polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (GQRR), and the disability rights organization, RespectAbility, also show that the disability community favors Joe Biden over Senator Bernie Sanders in head-to-heads with President Trump.
Among battleground voters in the disability community, 49 percent prefer Biden compared to 44 percent who support the president — only a five point difference, which is within the poll’s margin of error. With Sanders as the Democratic nominee however, 45 percent favor Trump while 44 percent prefer Sanders.
For those identifying as personally having a disability, Biden has a greater advantage. 53 percent of the group back the former vice president versus Trump’s 41 percent. Just 45 percent of disabled voters prefer Sanders compared to a close 44 percent who support Trump.
The results from the disability community closely resemble the results from all voters interviewed in battleground states. Similar to that subset, 49 percent and 45 percent of all voters support Biden and Trump respectively. Trump holds a one percentage point lead over Sanders, 46 percent to 45 percent, among all voters.
On a phone call with reporters Thursday, the Chairman of RespectAbility, Steve Bartlett, said that the poll results reveal that the disability community “is a very large segment of the voting public” and that the demographic is really “up for grabs” this election season.
“Candidates should not take this lightly,” he said, noting that attention to disability issues can garner candidates more support from the voting bloc.
In Senate and House races, the poll shows that the disability community leans slightly Democratic but is largely split between supporting Democratic and Republican candidates. In a generic Senate vote in the battleground states, half of the disability community reported they would back the Democratic candidate while 47 percent would support the Republican. On the House side, just over half — 51 percent — said they would vote Democratic compared to 46 percent who would go with the Republican.
Health care was top of mind for voters in the disability community with nearly 40 percent of the group reporting that the issue is an important consideration in determining which candidate to support in the 2020 elections. The economy and jobs came in a close second with just over one third of the disability community highlighting the issue.
Only eight percent said that the novel coronavirus is a major issue for them heading into the elections though, GQRR CEO, Stan Greenberg, said that these numbers will likely change as the pandemic worsens.
The poll was conducted by Greenberg Research and Democracy Corps, and interviewed 1,000 registered voters over the phone from March 9 to March 16 in sixteen presidential and Senate battleground states. The states included Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
590 respondents are members of the disability community and reflect voters in battleground states overall in terms of their demographic makeup. The poll's margin of error is three percent.
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.
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.
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.
“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.