The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Laid off Bloomberg staffers docked taxes for campaign phones, computers
WASHINGTON — Laid off campaign staffers to Michael Bloomberg's campaign who received their final paychecks on Tuesday were docked hundreds of dollars to cover taxes on their campaign-issued cellphone and laptop, three former Bloomberg campaign staffers told NBC News.
The deductions came as a lawsuit against the Bloomberg campaign, alleging that the campaign fraudulently promised jobs through November, has grown from one plaintiff to more than 50. The plaintiffs are seeking to get the case certified as a class action in seven states, a move that could raise the number of claimants to over a thousand.
Former staffers told NBC News that their paychecks were docked more than $400. The Bloomberg campaign had touted how they had lured top talent to the campaign with new iPhone 11s and MacBooks, and offered to let staff keep them when they were let go. A campaign spokesperson said staffers were told during the off-boarding process that they’d pay taxes on those items, but several former staffers said they did not realize that it would be automatically deducted from their remaining paychecks.
Sally Abrahamson, an attorney for the former staffers suing the campaign, said her firm, Outten & Golden, is now investigating the campaign’s deduction of “purported taxes on cell phones and laptops.”
“It doesn't sound right. How can workers be expected to pay taxes on something they didn't want?” Abrahamson told NBC News. “The law certainly doesn't allow an employer to pay wages with anything but money.”
Earlier this month, Bloomberg abandoned his initiative to form an independent super PAC to absorb his presidential campaign and instead transferred $18 million to the Democratic National Committee. He laid off his staff of more than 2,400 people in that process and those staff members were invited to enter a competitive hiring process for a job at the DNC. Laid off staff will lose their health insurance at the end of April amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit, filed by a former field organizer, alleges that Bloomberg’s campaign promised potential hires they’d have jobs through November regardless of who won the nomination. Many of the 50 additional plaintiffs who joined the lawsuit in an amended complaint filed in federal court Monday said they left other lucrative jobs and relocated across the country based on the campaign’s assurances.
A Bloomberg campaign spokesperson, responding to both the docked paychecks and the expanded lawsuit, re-issued the campaign's statement from earlier in March.
“This campaign paid its staff wages and benefits that were much more generous than any other campaign this year,” the spokesperson said. “Staff worked 39 days on average, but they were also given several weeks of severance and healthcare through March, something no other campaign did this year.”
Democratic groups significantly outspending GOP groups on airwaves since coronavirus crackdown
WASHINGTON — Democratic candidates and aligned groups are outspending their Republican counterparts in the two weeks since President Trump announced guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
There's been $23.5 million spent on political advertising from March 16 (the day the administration announced its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines) through Tuesday, with Democrats making up 69 percent of that ($16.2 million), Republicans making up 29 percent of that ($6.7 million), and independent groups filling in that last 2 percent.
All of these figures are from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
Four of the top five biggest spenders over this period were Democrats:
- Senate Majority PAC, the group aligned with Senate Democrats, has spent $3 million
- Priorities USA Action, which is backing former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid, has spent $2.8 million
- One Nation, the non-profit aligned with Republican efforts particularly in the Senate, has spent $1.7 million
- American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic-aligned group that plays up and down the ballot, has spent $1.3 million
- And Unite the Country, the pro-Biden super PAC, has spent $741,000
The ad backed by the most spending in that window was from Priorities USA, which is running an ad that's criticizing Trump's response to the coronavirus outbreak. It's spent $1.2 million to run that spot so far.
The ad with the second-most money behind it is from Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, attacking Biden on Social Security and Medicare. Although both Biden and Sanders have wound down their ad spending to a virtual halt recently, Sanders spent $620,000 to run the ad over the time period. Virtually all of that came in the days surrounding the March 17 primaries, the ad has barely run since.
The Republican-aligned ad with the most spending behind it in recent weeks has been from One Nation, a spot that plays up Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst's work on prescription drugs. That spot has had $333,000 behind it since March 16.
During this time period, the top markets were the Portland-Aurburn market in Maine, Phoenix, and two markets in Florida covering Orlando and Tampa.
Maine is home to GOP Sen. Susan Collins' re-election race; Arizona held its presidential primary on March 17 and has a competitive Senate race; and Florida also held its presidential primary on March 17.
Physician embraces his expertise while campaigning in the coronavirus era
WASHINGTON — As candidates across the country adjust to campaigning in the age of coronavirus, Dr. Cameron Webb sees an opportunity and is embracing his experiences as a physician and public health expert on the trail.
“It’s necessary to have the range of professional backgrounds represented in our legislature,” Webb told NBC News in a recent phone interview. “I think the expertise that I have is really useful in a moment like this.”
Webb hopes to be the first Democrat to fill Virginia’s fifth congressional seat since 2008, a GOP-held district the size of New Jersey that includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia. A practicing physician and a public health sciences director at the University of Virginia’s medical school, he has made expanding affordable health care a major focus of his career and campaign.
“My job is to walk into rooms and ask people where it hurts,” Webb explained. “When you have a district that’s this diverse, that’s this broad, you have to be a really skilled listener in order to meet everybody’s needs.”
So far, the candidate thinks this strategy of listening to voters like he does with patients has been effective, and that his background allows him and his campaign to “model the leadership” required during the coronavirus crisis.
Webb, who serves on Virginia’s Medicaid board, remarked that he’s grateful for his state’s 2019 Medicaid expansion as the pandemic takes a toll on patients and businesses.
The candidate previously worked under both Presidents Obama and Trump as a White House Fellow serving on the health care team and a drug pricing task force. When speaking to NBC News, he compared Obama’s track record on public health to Trump’s, commenting that there are “very clear differences'' in how this pandemic would play out under the former president.
Although Webb stressed that he won’t use the novel coronavirus as political leverage, he argued that the crisis reveals “other fault lines” in society and called out the American health care system for failing people.
“We’re seeing the lack of access to health care through the lens of this virus,” he said.
The fifth district is widely-considered a likely Republican seat and includes counties that pivoted from pro-Obama to pro-Trump but Webb doesn’t view the race as an “uphill battle.” The physician must beat out four other candidates in the Democratic primary before facing expected GOP competitor, Rep. Denver Riggleman, who won the district by almost seven percentage points in 2018.
The Riggleman campaign did not respond to a request for comment but the congressman’s Virginia distillery, Silverback, recently began producing hand sanitizer, which it’s offering for free to first responders and health care workers during the coronavirus outbreak.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the UVA Center for Politics, told NBC News last week that Republicans are favored to win the district but that it’s competitive enough to elect a Democrat “under the right circumstances." He noted that Webb may “fit the moment.”
The Democratic primary is currently scheduled for June 9 and the district is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of seats it aims to flip from red to blue.
Sanders: 'There is a path' to the nomination
READINGTON, N.J. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been coy as of late about the future of his presidential campaign, told "Late Night" host Seth Myers on Monday he believes “there is a path” for him to win the Democratic nomination.
Sanders currently trails former Vice President Joe Biden by 312 delegates according to NBC News' delegate tracker, and most of the Democratic primary races that occur in April have been pushed to later this Spring or Summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. But on Monday, Sanders touted his grassroots support which helped him earned first place finishes in a number of the early voting states, including delegate-rich California.
"There is a path. It is admittedly a narrow path," Sanders said.
He added, "We have a strong grassroots movement who believe that we have got to stay in, in order to continue the fight to make the world know that we need Medicare for All, that we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, that we need paid family and medical leave,” Sanders said.
But Sanders did repeat his promise that he would support Biden if he himself is not the nominee.
“We’re seeing just how dangerous [President Trump] is with all of the misinformation that he is providing during this Coronavirus pandemic,” Sanders said, “So, yes, we have got to defeat Trump.”
Earlier this month when asked about the future of his campaign, Sanders said he was “focused” on coronavirus legislation, and heatedly told reporters that that he was not interested in answering campaign questions.
“I'm dealing with a f****** global crisis. You know? We're dealing with it and you're asking me these questions," Sanders told reporters earlier this month.
After suffering a series of losses in primary states in March, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told reporters the senator was “going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign" from Burlington, Vt. which is where Sanders has been when he was not voting in the Senate.
Republican, Democratic super PACs place initial ad buys in fight for Senate
WASHINGTON — Key Republican and Democratic super PACs have announced big spending plans in the fight for the Senate majority.
Both the Senate Majority PAC and the Senate Leadership Fund, groups aligned with top Democratic and Republican leaders respectively, have announced their first round of television advertising investments in recent days. The groups are focusing on five of the same states — Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina — with Senate Leadership Fund spending in Kentucky as well.
SLF is booking $67.1 million, the group announced in a press release last week. And SMP is booking $69.2 million, it said in a press release Monday.
North Carolina is the beneficiary of the most early ad booking, with the Democratic SMP announcing plans to reserve $25.6 million there and the Republican SLF planning to book $21.8 million. There, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis will take on Democratic former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.
An NBC News/Marist University poll taken in late February of that race showed Cunningham up 5 points on Tillis among registered voters, 48 percent to 43 percent, within the margin of error. That poll took place just before the state's primary.
The race receiving the next-most early booking dollars is Iowa, where Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is defending her seat against whichever Democrat wins the primary currently scheduled for June 2.
Ernst's favorability rating fell to 47 percent among Iowa adults in the March Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, but 41 percent of likely voters said they'd definitely vote to re-elect Ernst compared to 31 percent who said they'd definitely vote for someone else.
Close behind in that early-spending figure is Arizona, where SMP is booking $15.7 million and SLF is booking $9.2 million through an affiliate group called Defend Arizona. There, Republican Sen. Martha McSally is looking to win the rest of the term vacated by the death of the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
While McSally lost the state's 2018 Senate race, she was appointed to fill McCain's seat after his death. A recent Monmouth University poll had Kelly up 6 points over McSally among registered voters, within the margin of error.
Then there's Maine, which has already been home to a significant bevy of television ad spending by other outside groups. SMP is booking $9.6 million there while SLF is booking $7.2 million ahead as Republican Sen. Susan Collins seeks to defend her seat. The top Democrat in that race is state House Speaker Sarah Gideon, but Betsy Sweet, the former director of the Maine Women's Lobby, is also running.
The groups are also going toe-to-toe in Colorado, where Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is expected to take on former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. The Democratic SMP plans to book $5.2 million there, with the Republican SLF booking $5.5 million.
And SLF is also putting $10.8 million in early television spending into Kentucky through another affiliated group, Keep Kentucky Great. There, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is running for reelection and will likely face off against Marine veteran Amy McGrath.
These totals don't include what's expected to be a large digital presence by both groups, and the investments are likely to change as it gets closer to election day, with groups moving money around or injecting more money into competitive races.
NYC Democratic House candidate announces positive COVID-19 test
WASHINGTON — New York City Democratic House candidate Suraj Patel has tested positive for COVID-19, he confirmed in a new statement Monday.
Patel, one of the candidates featured in a recent MTP Blog story about how the new social distancing guidelines and the threat of coronavirus has fundamentally upended House campaigns, disclosed his positive test in a new statement posted on social media and on the blogging platform Medium.
He said he began developing symptoms earlier this month — which he described as "troubling tightness in my chest and difficulty breathing followed by a regular fever of 102 degrees. Patel lives with two doctors, one of whom is his brother, which he said underscored the need for him to test to see if had COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, so that his roommates would know whether they were at risk.
Patel said that ultimately, he and his two housemates all tested positive. But he's now "fully recovered" and "asymptomatic."
"New Yorkers and Americans at large are stepping up in a tremendous unified way. We know how important it is to our most vulnerable populations that we slow the growth of this COVID epidemic. But as this becomes less abstract and more personal — when people’s loved ones start to show symptoms — human nature is such that we are going to want certainty and safety," Patel wrote, before calling for universal COVID testing.
"The only proven way to slow and eventually stop this pandemic is to have an accurate picture of who has had the disease, who currently has it, and who is still at risk. Social distancing and the strong leadership of Governor Cuomo and others is buying us vital time, but the question is what is our federal government doing with the time that the sacrifices of so many Americans are buying them?" he wrote.
"If we fail to universally test, we face an indefinite amount of time in social distancing, only to see new cases of the virus arise when we ultimately return to normal life."
Patel is running in the Democratic primary against longtime Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
Texas Republicans back Lt. Governor on controversial coronavirus comments
HOUSTON — Republican leaders in Texas are defending Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's controversial comments on coronavirus as illustrative of his love of country, even as others see those comments as reckless amid a national crisis.
Patrick, a Republican and popular former conservative radio host, drew headlines last week when he said he supported President Trump’s call to restart the U.S. economy as quickly as possible despite the ongoing spread of the virus.
The virus has proven most deadly to older people and those with underlying conditions, which means many of those being treated or hospitalized are elderly. Texas has almost 3,000 cases of Covid-19, the illness produced by the coronavirus, according to NBC News. Some 47 people have died.
Emphasizing the need to “get back to work,” Patrick told Fox News host Tucker Carlson, “those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”
Patrick, who turns 70 this week, added, “No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?' And if that is the exchange, I'm all in.”
Patrick’s comments sparked backlash online, spurring hashtags including, #NotDyingforWallStreet and #TexasDeservesBetter. But in Texas, prominent Republicans said Patrick has a point.
“He's really telling a story which is, you know, he wants to make sure there's an American economy for people to come home to,” Houston area state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, 61, told NBC News. “That’s a big worry. The virus is a big worry, but then the next worry is, ‘do I have a job.’”
McKinney-area state Sen. Angela Paxton, 57, told NBC News: “We want to protect people and keep them healthy. Everyone is going to agree on that. How do we do it, that's where there's differences.”
She added, “But I think on the other hand, there's no one that is going to say, it doesn't matter if we destroy our economy.”
The mayor of Fort Worth, Betsy Price, a 70-year old grandmother of six, said that while the economy is a concern so is respect for the value of life.
“My children and my grandchildren are certainly not ready for their Tootsie to go anywhere or to put myself at risk,” Price said.
“I don't know what talent he would sacrifice? Is it young talent? Is it the experience in seniors? Or where is it?“ Price said. “I just can’t quite get a handle around that.”
Other Texas GOP leaders suggested Patrick had been talking about a sacrifice he would be willing to make — not asking the rest of the country to do so.
“He was talking about himself,” Denton-area state Sen. Pat Fallon, 52, said. “He perfectly has every right to say, ‘I love this country so much that I would sacrifice, if I had to, my own well-being, to ensure the prosperity and opportunity that I had that my kids and grandkids could have.' And I think it’s very noble.”
Not everyone is convinced, particularly Republicans who have been critical of Trump's pull on their party.
“He’s a public official, he knows what he says has policy implications and it's absurd to think that he just meant himself,” said Rick Tyler, a former aide to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and MSNBC political analyst who has frequently criticized President Trump.
John Weaver, a Texan and longtime Republican political strategist who has since founded a group that's aimed at defeating Trump in November, argues Patrick wouldn’t actually be among the most vulnerable if restrictions were lifted. Texans who live along the US-Mexico border or lack access to adequate care, Weaver said, would be the ones who suffer.
“He's talking about those people in the valley, who don't have health insurance because they blocked the expansion of healthcare in this state. He's talking about people in parts of Houston where, because of density and lack of healthcare, they're more at risk.” Weaver said. “He's not talking about himself.”
“There's no real public policy out there where people are going to say, ‘Fine, we'll get the economy moving again at the expense of 2 percent of the population,’” Weaver added.
In a statement released the day after the Fox News interview, Patrick seemed to reframe his message away from senior citizens potentially sacrificing their lives.
“When you close the doors of every business in America, you cannot help but destroy the economy and with it, the opportunity for the next generation to live the American dream,” the statement said.
Here's what the Democratic presidential primary schedule looks like in the age of coronavirus
WASHINGTON — States continue to postpone Democratic presidential caucuses and primaries as the threat of coronavirus looms large and White House social distancing guidelines remain in place for another month.
All presidential contests before March 17 were held as scheduled but the list of states that have altered voting plans due to the novel coronavirus is extensive.
Here's the modified schedule so far listed by original contest date.
Arizona primary (held)
Florida primary (held)
Illinois primary (held)
Ohio primary: now set to be an all-mail election on April 28
Georgia primary: postponed to May 19.
Puerto Rico primary: postponed to April 26 at the earliest.
Alaska Democratic Party-Run primary: in-person voting plans scrapped in favor of all-mail voting with the deadline on April 10.
Hawaii Democratic Party-Run primary: in-person voting plans scrapped in favor of all-mail voting with a deadline of May 22.
Louisiana primary: postponed to June 20.
Wyoming Caucuses: in-person caucuses suspended in favor of mail. The deadline is April 17.
Connecticut primary: postponed to June 2.
Delaware primary: postponed to June 2.
Maryland primary: postponed to June 2.
New York primary: postponed to June 23.
Pennsylvania primary: postponed to June 2.
Rhode Island primary: postponed to June 2, will be “primarily” by mail.
Saturday, May 2
Kansas Party-Run primary (DNC considers this a caucus)
Tuesday, May 5
Indiana primary: postponed to June 2.
Tuesday, May 12
West Virginia primary
Tuesday, May 19
Kentucky primary: postponed to June 23.
Tuesday, June 2
New Jersey primary
New Mexico primary
South Dakota primary
Washington, D.C. primary
Saturday, June 6
Virgin Island caucuses
New Biden digital ad argues Trump's 'ego will cost lives' to coronavirus
WASHINGTON – The Biden campaign is issuing a cautious warning about President Donald Trump’s leadership in a new video, saying that his “ego will cost lives" in the fight against coronavirus.
In a digital video posted to Twitter and Facebook Saturday evening, the campaign uses Trump’s own words during a White House press briefing, where he admitted to telling Vice President Mike Pence not to call Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, two Democrats, because he is “wasting” his time speaking with them.
“You don’t want to call the governor of Washington? You know what I say? If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” the video shows Trump saying.
In response, the campaign posts text on the screen over horror-movie like music that say, “His failure will cost lives. His downplaying will cost lives. His incompetence will cost lives. His ego will cost lives.”
The digital video, which is currently not a paid ad, already has about 5 million views on Twitter and thousands of engagements on Facebook and Instagram.
Biden has spent the past week criticizing Trump for his slow response to preventing the spread of the COVID-19, often pointing to numerous examples of Trump downplaying the seriousness of it earlier this year. The claims in the video are the furthest the campaign has gone in sharply pointing out how Trump’s continued approach to leading the effort could lead to American deaths.
On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Biden's criticisms of the president were not as aggressive as his campaign's.
While his campaign has repeatedly warned that Trump's reaction to the crisis could cost American lives, Biden says he thinks it would be "too harsh" to say Trump has blood on his hands.
“He should stop thinking out loud and start thinking deeply. He should start listening to the scientists before he speaks. He should listen to the health experts. He should listen to his economists," Biden said.
Whitmer also deflected Trump’s direct attacks against her in a "Meet the Press" interview.
“I've talked to the vice president a number of times. We're working with everyone from the White House on down through FEMA, DHS, the Army Corps of Engineers because it's got to be all hands on deck. We are not one another's enemies. The enemy is the virus,” she said on Meet the Press.
Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in latest national poll
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by nine points in the latest Fox News general election poll. The poll, released Saturday, shows Biden garnering 49 percent support of registered voters, and Trump at 40 percent — pushing Biden outside the poll's three-point margin of error.
The subsection groups show even stronger support for Biden. Suburban women, a key group in the 2018 midterms, support Biden over Trump by a 57-34 point margin. Biden also won self-described "moderates" with 53 percent support — Trump garnered just 24 percent support from the same group.
The Fox News poll shows overall stability of Biden's support. In their February poll, Biden led Trump 49-41 percent, and in January he led 50-41 in the same poll. However, this is the first Fox News poll to also measure support of potential general election tickets.
Biden announced at the last Democratic presidential debate that he would choose a woman as his running mate. Registered voters seem to agree with that decision — in this poll, 63 percent of registered voters approve of that choice. And of three potential female senators Biden could pick, each ticket leads the Republican Trump-Pence ticket.
Fox News polled Biden with California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — all former presidential candidates in this cycle. Harris and Klobuchar have since endorsed Biden, while Warren has yet to endorse either Biden or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
According to this poll, a Biden-Harris ticket and a Biden-Klobuchar ticket beat Trump-Pence with a 50 to 42 percent margin. A potential Biden-Warren ticket had a larger margin of victory at 52-42 percent support. All three ticket victories were outside of the poll's margin for error.
The Fox News poll was conducted between March 21 and 24.
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.