The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Democratic super PAC expands ad on Trump's coronavirus response
WASHINGTON — The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA is expanding their ad buy attacking President Trump on his coronavirus response to Arizona, a source with knowledge of the activity told NBC News.
NBC News reported Thursday that the group had been inquiring about rates in Arizona, a state that tends to vote Republican but has become more competitive for 2020. Later Thursday, Priorities USA announced it would spend $600,000 to run the ad in Arizona.
The ad, titled "Exponential Threat," splices remarks by the president downplaying the threat of the coronavirus alongside a chart that shows growing cases.
The Trump campaign had already issued letters to TV stations Wednesday arguing that the ad should be taken down because it contains "false, deceptive, and misleading information" about the president and threatened to take legal action if they didn't immediately stop airing it.
The ad was part of a $6 million TV and digital buy from Priorities USA in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It is still running in all four states despite the Trump campaign's efforts, the source with knowledge said on Thursday.
Bernie Sanders' big delegate math problem
And the exercise shows just how challenging the math is for the Independent Vermont senator.
Overall, former Vice President Joe Biden leads Sanders by 312 pledged delegates, according to NBC News’ Decision Desk.
Biden has won 1,174 pledged delegates or 53 percent of all allocated pledged delegates, while Sanders has won 862 or 39 percent.
To reach the magic number of 1,991 — a majority of all pledged delegates — Biden needs to win 46 percent of the remaining pledged delegates.
Sanders, by contrast, needs 64 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to obtain a majority.
There are two main reasons why Sanders’ deficit is so daunting.
The first is the Democrats’ proportional-allocation system. Unlike Republicans, who often award their delegates based on winner-take-all rules, Democrats award theirs proportionately — so if you win a state or congressional district 55 percent to 45 percent, you get 55 percent of the available pledged delegates while your opponent gets 45 percent.
So the only way to rack up huge delegate hauls is to win a state decisively — like Biden did last week in Florida, when his 62 percent-to-23 percent victory in the state netted him 100-plus more delegates than Sanders earned in the Sunshine State.
Bottom line: Narrow victories in future contests for Sanders won’t really cut into Biden’s lead.
The second delegate challenge for Sanders is that there are fewer caucus contests than were four years ago.
In 2016, Sanders was often able to keep close with Hillary Clinton because he’d rack up decisive victories in caucus states like Colorado or Washington state. But this time around, those states — and a few others — are holding primaries instead of caucuses, which keeps Sanders’ margin and his resulting delegate hauls smaller than they were in 2016.
Sanders might trail Biden by just 312 delegates. But that deficit is really wider than those numbers suggest.
Former Obama labor secretary among those launching new pro-Biden super PAC
WASHINGTON — A group of Democrats, including former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, are launching a new super PAC backing former Vice President Joe Biden that is aimed at helping him secure pivotal western battlegrounds in a general election bid against President Trump.
NBC News has learned that the group, Win the West, will launch Thursday with Solis, a current member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who served with Biden in the White House, as the group's first co-chair. Former Biden speechwriter Mathew Littman will serve as the executive director.
While Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is still running in the Democratic primary race against Biden, the NBC News Decision Desk projects he trails Biden by more than 312 delegates, as the nominating contest has been upended by the coronavirus outbreak.
Win the West aims to protect two blue-trending states in Nevada and Colorado, while also taking the battle to two red-leaning states where Democrats have had recent success, Texas and Arizona. Its leadership argues that while other groups are focusing on more conventional swing states, it can be effective in those western states where Democrats believe demographics are shifting in their favor.
"America is at a watershed moment in our nation's history. Now, more than ever and especially during this time of crisis, it's vital that we elect a true patriot, someone who values facts and the truth, and who has a profound understanding of how government works and how it can help everyday Americans who are hurting," Solis said in a statement announcing the group's creation.
"The only candidate who meets this criteria is former Vice President Joe Biden, and that is why I was proud to be an early endorser of his campaign for President. I know, because I've worked with Joe and I've seen him in action."
Along with the announcement of the group's launch, Win the West is out with its first video, a digital ad that primarily points to Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic to argue the president has not lived up to the moment.
The digital spot highlights Trump's late January comments to CNBC that his administration had the coronavirus outbreak "totally under control," the administration's decision not to replace top officials who handled pandemics after they had left their jobs, and uses a mash-up of Trump's comments compared to recent headlines to argue that the president "has downplayed the coronavirus."
The Trump campaign and its allies have spent the past few weeks defending the administration's response to the outbreak, arguing that Democrats are politicizing the moment and obfuscating about the president's response.
"While Joe Biden and his allies are spreading falsehoods about the administration’s response to coronavirus, President Trump, his administration and Congressional Republicans are stepping up and making sure Americans are safe," Joe Ascioti, the Republican National Committee's research director and deputy communications director, said in a Wednesday statement criticizing another pro-Biden super PAC's ad hitting Trump on the virus response.
Administration’s mixed messaging on Defense Production Act causes confusion
WASHINGTON — President Trump signed the Defense Production Act (DPA) a week ago today but there has been consistent confusion as to whether it is being utilized to produce medical equipment needed for the coronavirus pandemic.
The bottom line: the DPA has not yet been used in this manner, despite calls from governors and mayors of the hardest-hit areas to fully activate the DPA. Medical professionals have been among the most outspoken on the desperate need for certain equipment and supplies.
The Korean War-era DPA would allow the federal government to control the supply chain and compel companies to produce much-needed items. So far, according to the president, several private sector corporations like 3M, Ford, General Motors and Tesla are already doing this themselves without needing the DPA.
Here's a timeline of how the president and his administration have discussed the DPA in recent days:
March 18, 2020
President Trump at briefing: “We'll be invoking the Defense Production Act, just in case we need it. In other words, I think you all know what it is, and it can do a lot of good things if we need it. And we will -- we will have it all completed, signing it in just a little while. Right after I'm finished with this conference, I'll be signing it. It's prepared to go. So we will be invoking the Defense Production Act.”
Trump tweeted that same day:
March 19, 2020
President Trump at briefing: “We hope we are not going to need that...I've done it. Yeah, if we find that we need something, we will do that, and you don't know what we've done. You don't know whether or not we've ordered. You don't know if we've invoked it. You don't know what's been ordered, what's not been ordered...I also just invoked the Defense Production Act to help facilitate distribution of essential supplies if necessary.”
March 20, 2020
President Trump at briefing: “I did it yesterday...We have a lot of people working very hard to do ventilators and various other things…. We are using it.”
March 21, 2020
President Trump to Kelly O’Donnell at briefing: “ If I don't have to use — specifically, we have the act to use, in case we need it. But we have so many things being made right now by so many — they've just stepped up.”
March 22, 2020
FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor on Meet the Press: “Yeah, so I think it's an insurance policy. Right? It's a lever. If we have to throw that lever we will… And so we haven't had to use it yet. Will we have to use it? Maybe.
March 22, 2020
White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro at briefing: “Now what I can tell you so far is that the Defense Production Act, sir, has given me quiet leverage. When you have a strong leader you can take a light hand initially. So what we've seen with this outpouring of volunteers from private enterprise, we're getting what we need without, without putting the heavy hand of government.”
March 24, 2020
FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor on CNN: “Just a little while ago my team came in and we're actually going to use the DPA for the first time today. There’s some test kits we need to get our hands on. And the second thing we’re going to do it we’re going to insert some language into these mask contracts that we have for the 500 million masks. DPA language will be in that today.”
March 24, 2020
FEMA spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow clarifies in statement to NBC News: “At the last minute we were able to procure the test kits from the private market without evoking the DPA.”
March 24, 2020
President Trump tweet: “The Defense Production Act is in full force, but haven’t had to use it because no one has said NO! Millions of masks coming as back up to States.”
March 24, 2020
President Trump at briefing: “Private companies are heeding our call to produce medical equipment and supplies because they know that we will not hesitate to invoke the DPA in order to get them to do what they have to do. It's called leverage. You don't have to use it from the standpoint of -- actually, it’s been activated, but you don't have to use it. But the threat of it being there is great leverage. And companies are doing as we ask, and companies are actually -- even better than that, they’re coming through and they're calling us. And it’s been, really, something to see. This morning, Ford, 3M, and General Electric Healthcare are making tremendous numbers -- they’ve already started -- of respirators ventilators and face shields. They’re working together. We didn't have to exercise or utilize the DPA in any way. The fact that we have it helps, but we didn't have to. And for the most part, we won't have to.”
Biden says there have been 'enough debates' with Sanders
WASHINGTON — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders may be ready to debate former Vice President Joe Biden, but the frontrunner and current delegate-leader in the Democratic primary thinks it may be time to move on.
In a virtual press conference with campaign reporters on Wednesday, Biden responded to Sanders’ latest signal that he’s staying in the race by wanting to participate in an April Democratic debate. A debate has not yet been scheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we've had enough debates. I think we should get on with this,” Biden said after noting that his focus since stepping off the campaign trail two weeks ago has been devoted to the coronavirus crisis.
Biden and Sanders remain as the only two Democratic candidates still vying for the nomination as the campaign trail has come to a halt. While Sanders continues to mull staying in the race, his announcement to debate Biden and organizing investments in New York suggest he will remain a competitor at least through April’s primaries.
On Tuesday, Biden said on MSNBC that he intends to continue to campaign regardless of how long Sanders stays in the race.
“As I said from the beginning, that's not for me to decide,” Biden said. “I'll continue to make the case why I think I could be president and should be president now and make the case for it. It's in a sense putting all politics aside.”
Brenda Jones announces bid against Rashida Tlaib in 2018 rematch
WASHINGTON — Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib is poised for a rematch against Detroit City Council President and former Rep. Brenda Jones two years after voters briefly sent both women to Congress on the same ballot.
Jones, who officially announced her bid for Congress on Wednesday, narrowly won the Democratic primary in the special election to replace the late Rep. John Conyers and serve out the rest of his term in 2018. But Tlaib edged her out in the party's primary for the next full term, which began on 2019, by a similarly small margin.
With both Democrats cruising through the general election in the deep-blue seat, that meant Jones served in Congress for a few weeks before turning the seat over to Tlaib to start 2019.
Jones officially filed paperwork declaring her bid with the Federal Election Commission on March 18, but announced her bid on Wednesday in a video. She said she recorded the video instead of holding a press conference because she wanted to set an example of following the new social distancing policies being championed to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
In that video, she addressed the "period of uncertainty" as coronavirus has dramatically changed Americans' way of life, let along upended the political campaign process.
"You cannot live without hope. That's why my candidacy is based on hope — hope for a better tomorrow, hope for our children, hope for our families, and hope for the hopeless," Jones said.
She went on to lay out a "three-pronged" plan for the district if elected: Bringing resources to the district, "uniting the district," and focusing on important issues.
And she pointed to her city council experience as indicative of how she'd serve if elected again to Congress.
In 2018, there were six total candidates on the Democratic primary ballot running for the full term in Congress, with four on the ballot to serve out Conyers' partial term. As of Tuesday, Jones and Tlaib are the only two major Democratic candidates running, with a third candidate, Stephen Michael Patterson, having not reported spending or receiving any money so far this cycle.
Tlaib has become a national name since she took office, partially because of her standing among progressives and work with a group of female freshman Democrats nicknamed "The Squad," a group that includes Tlaib as well as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar .
The group of lawmakers has been a top target for Republicans as, particularly President Trump.
Recently, Tlaib has been appearing with Omar and Ocasio-Cortez during livestreamed roundtables with Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, who they've endorsed to be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, on coronavirus.
“Rep. Tlaib looks forward to running a strong campaign and winning re-election regardless of who is on the ballot, but at this time she is 100% focused on responding to the coronavirus and getting our communities and residents the resources they need to protect human health and our local economy," Denzel McCampbell, a Tlaib spokesperson, told NBC by email.
"Rep. Tlaib is hard at work pushing groundbreaking policies to make direct payments to all Americans to weather this storm, leading legislation to save state and local governments from financial collapse, and preventing utility shutoffs, evictions, and foreclosures."
Congressional candidates put elections on back burner
WASHINGTON — While coronavirus has shut most of America behind closed doors, congressional candidates are juggling the uncertainty of the situation with the electoral reality.
The guidelines from the White House aimed at curbing the spread of the virus makes it virtually impossible for candidates to fundraise and campaign in the way they normally would.
“The character of our district and neighborhood is one of social interaction. We don’t have large living rooms, homes and yards to spread out,” Suraj Patel, a Democrat who is challenging Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney for her deep-blue, New York City seat, told NBC News.
Patel told NBC that his entire campaign staff has shifted to remote and digital work, focusing on community service, holding virtual town hall meetings with those affected by the economic slowdown, and releasing policy proposals aimed at recovery.
Meanwhile, he said his staff has used telephone canvassing software to check in with seniors, delivering supplies and handmade cards across the district.
Maloney told NBC her campaign shifted quickly to remote work too, suspending its attempts to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot and pledging not to challenge any opponents’ signatures so that they could keep all staff safe. The primary for the seat is on June 23, and New York has not yet announced if any of their primaries will be moved because of coronavirus.
With her team contacting constituents to keep them informed about the crisis, she said she's remained “laser-focused on taking action to alleviate the suffering that people are experiencing during the crisis, passing bills that will help everyday Americans get through the challenges of the coming months, and holding the administration accountable.”
Another elected official balancing a run for Congress during the crisis is Republican New York State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis — she represents a coronavirus hotspot and is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Max Rose in New York’s 11th district.
But Malliotakis says her priority is no longer her congressional campaign.
“The campaign’s on the back burner. I’m 100 percent focused on doing my job as an Assembly member, making sure that we do important things that need to be taken care of in Albany,” Malliotakis said.
She also said this has been a time to work across party lines — she’s been in constant contact with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as Rose too.
“We may be adversaries often times when it comes to policy,” Malliotakis said of Democrats, but noted that in New York, “we are working together really closely.”
And Rose is on the same page.
“All I care about is addressing the incredibly serious public health crisis,” Rose told NBC. “Elections be damned, we’ve got lives on the line.”
Rose added that when it comes to elections, there is “no balance” with campaigning until this pandemic subsides, and that politics has no place in current conversations.
“Right now, nobody should be talking politics in any way, shape or form. Nobody. Now, the only thing that anybody should be concerned about is saving lives,” Rose said.
On that front, challenger candidates like Malliotakis are hoping that focusing on their current jobs will end up as their biggest campaigning tool.
“Quite frankly, if I don’t do a good job in the position that I’m elected right now, I wouldn’t deserve to be elected to Congress,” Malliotakis said.
Malliotakis’ focus on her current position is similar to that of another state Assemblywoman, Christy Smith in California. Smith and Naval officer Mike Garcia are facing off in the CA-25 special election, currently slated for May 12.
Smith told NBC in a statement that she is “focused on my work as this community’s public servant, ensuring state response to my local constituents and connecting people with essential information, services, and resources.” She added that she’ll “revisit campaign-related issues” after the crisis is at bay.
While Garcia doesn’t hold public office, he told NBC he’s prioritizing getting accurate information out to his would-be constituents, primarily through his website, which includes a list of local and small business resources as well as official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This coronavirus is a serious challenge. We are taking it seriously,” Garcia said “We have no choice. We have to do it with class, we have to do it with grace.”
Sanders campaign ramps up virtual organizing ahead of potential New York primary
BURLINGTON, VT — Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign has shifted to entirely virtual organizing while Americans socially distance due to the coronavirus outbreak but the campaign put out a release Tuesday touting New York state staffing and volunteer organizing. While some states have moved their primaries due to the outbreak, New York's Democratic Primary is still set for April 28.
The Sanders campaign says they hosted a volunteer call with thousands of New York supporters this week, signing up more than 1,300 call and text shifts. The campaign is using their proprietary "BERN" app and old-fashioned phone banking, as well as organizing "Digital house parties," while New Yorkers are holed up at home.
While the Sanders campaign shifts resources to future states, the campaign continues to say nothing has changed since last week's statement that the candidate is assessing the status of his campaign and having conversations with supporters on a path forward.
Sanders has been focused this week on coronavirus, holding multiple campaign live-streams on the topic with experts and congressional colleagues, raising millions for charities involved in coronavirus aid, and releasing a $2 trillion plan of his own.
Biden edges out Trump in new national poll
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a narrow three-point lead on President Trump in a new national presidential race poll from Monmouth University. Forty-eight percent of registered voters prefer Biden, while 45 percent prefer the president — however that lands within the poll's margin of error. The poll did not release data on how Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fared in a general election stand-off with Trump.
The picture changed slightly when the poll shifted to key state voters. According to the poll, 50 percent of voters in 300 "swing counties" — counties in which less than 10 points separated Trump and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — back Biden while just 41 percent support the president. Trump and the leading Democratic candidate essentially split the current vote for Independents — Trump edges out with 45 percent, and Biden garners 44 percent.
While the possible general election contest is extremely close, some key questions could end up affecting whether voters change their allegiances. Twenty-five percent of registered voters said their current financial situation was best described as "struggling", and just 12 percent of registered voters said their financial status was improving. That could magnify as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has some experts saying unemployment could reach 20 percent in a worse-case scenario situation.
However, it's not clear that Americans blame the Trump administration for their financial situations. Fifty-two percent of registered voters said the federal government had "no real impact" on their finances, and 29 percent said the government "helped" their financial situation. The Monmouth University poll was conducted between March 18 and March 22.
Both candidates have also seen upticks in their favorability since February. Forty-six of registered voters view President Trump either very or somewhat favorably, up two points since February, and 43 percent of registered voters view Biden very or somewhat favorably, up three points from the last poll.
Trump re-elect effort campaigns virtually as coronavirus outbreak pauses normal voter interaction
WASHINGTON – Since the coronavirus pandemic has essentially brought the 2020 race to a halt, President Trump's campaign and Republican National Committee have pivoted to a fully virtual outreach plan as millions of voters are confined to their homes.
On Saturday, the Trump re-election effort made a record 1.5 million calls, marking the first time this kind of voter contact has been done purely remotely by the party, according to the RNC. Volunteers highlighted the administration’s response to the current health crisis, while encouraging supporters to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for their own safety.
“With our ability to engage with voters virtually and digitally, Trump Victory is not missing a beat, and we continue to be full steam ahead to November,” RNC Chief of Staff Richard Walters told NBC News in a statement.
After President Trump announced strict new social distancing rules last week, the campaign and RNC had to convert all their in-person campaign events into virtual interactions, including fundraisers. Earlier this month, the campaign had to postpone several high-profile surrogate events, including a multi-day, high-dollar swing for Ivanka Trump and a California trip for first lady Melania Trump.
Since then, Trump Victory – the joint operation between the campaign and the RNC – has held hundreds of volunteer trainings in virtual settings, including using an application called “Trump Talk.” Nearly 50,000 people signed up to use it and make calls from the comfort of their own homes in the last week alone, the RNC said.
This past weekend, during a designated “day of action,” volunteers were provided with scripts that touted the president’s “bold leadership” on the coronavirus that has infected more than 46,000 people in the country and left at least 561 dead, according to data from Johns Hopkins as of Tuesday morning. They were instructed to highlight the “unprecedented, comprehensive, and aggressive whole of America approach,” as the administration faced some criticism from medical professionals that not enough was being done to combat the virus.
To that point, the talking points included that Trump took “quick and decisive action” back in January to restrict entry into the U.S. from foreign nationals who had visited China. If voters didn’t answer, they were left with a voicemail from senior adviser Lara Trump which included information about “how to help slow the spread” of the deadly respiratory illness.
That messaging comes as a Democratic super PAC is launching ads that criticize Trump's response to the virus, arguing that he did not take the virus seriously enough.
The major societal changes that have forced millions to work from home in recent days has also contributed to a surge in online traffic for GOP websites such as Vote.GOP and TrumpVictory.com, nearly doubling their normal visitors, per the RNC. The campaign has also directed supporters to go to ArmyforTrump.com, a tool that allows volunteers to sign up for various outreach opportunities and become “digital activists.”
So far this cycle, Trump Victory has outpaced its 2016 and 2018 voters contacts, boasting 9 million to date. The number of calls made on Saturday alone was bigger than any total week of calls made ahead of the last midterm elections, the group highlighted.
Though fundraising in March may be hampered by the pandemic’s restrictions, the re-elect effort raked in $87 million in February and has more than $231 million in the bank.
Dem super PAC launches ads hitting Trump on coronavirus response
WASHINGTON — Priorities USA Action, the biggest Democratic super PAC working to deny President Trump re-election, is out with a new ad campaign that criticizes the president's handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The group released two television ads Monday — one on coronavirus and one aimed at contrasting Trump with former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the Democratic primary race.
The first spot includes various comments of President Trump talking about the virus over a span of months run one after another as a graphic shows the number of coronavirus cases in America rising exponentially.
"The coronavirus...this is their new hoax...we have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China...One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear...When you have 15 people...and within a couple of days, it's going to be close to down to zero," Trump can be heard saying in those spliced-together comments.
The spot then ends with video of Trump telling reporters on March 13 that "I don't take responsibility at all" when asked about the delays in testing.
The second television spots paints a dismal picture of the current situation, "Thousands infected, an economy in free fall, and government unprepared," before showing that same clip of Trump saying he doesn't take responsibility for the test-kit shortage.
The ad then shows Biden's address on coronavirus from earlier this month, where he said "I can promise you this: When I'm president, we will be better prepared, respond better, we'll lead with science."
The Trump administration, his campaign and his allies have been on the defensive as to its response to the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks, arguing that the administration has taken action that has stopped the pandemic from getting worse.
They've also accused Democrats of misrepresenting at least one comment, arguing that he said "this is their new hoax" in referring to Democratic criticism of his administration's coronavirus response, not about the virus itself.
Priorities will run the first TV ad that solely criticizes Trump as part of a $6 million TV and digital campaign across Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the Biden contrast ad could also hit the airwaves after that ad runs, but the timing for that is not clear. The two digital ads will begin running online starting Tuesday.
The group has said it plans to spend $150 million before the Democratic convention, much of it on the airwaves.
“From the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Donald Trump has repeatedly misled the American people and exposed us to unnecessary danger. His failure to lead continues to have real life and death consequences as hospitals, local and state governments, small businesses, and millions of Americans are left without the tools and information they need,” Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said in a statement.
“Tens of thousands of people are sick, hundreds have already died, and millions are losing their jobs. We simply cannot allow Donald Trump to continue to lie and spread misinformation unchecked."
Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director, criticized the Priorities ads in a statement to NBC News.
"It used to be that Americans faced national adversity with unity, but Joe Biden and his allies have abandoned that principle in favor of rank, despicable politics. They offer nothing but partisan sniping from the sidelines and seek to undermine the federal response to the crisis by misinforming and frightening people," he said.
"All Joe Biden knows about handling a public health crisis is that the Obama White House had to apologize for his irresponsible remarks during the swine flu outbreak in 2009. Americans can see that President Trump is out front and leading this nation and is the clear choice to see us through the crisis.”
UPDATE: On Wednesday, the Trump campaign said it sent television stations cease and desist letters calling on the stations to stop running the ad, arguing that the "hoax" comment from Trump was falsely represented in the ad.