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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Pro-Trump Super PAC commits over $25 million for ads in Florida, North Carolina

WASHINGTON — The official pro-Trump Super PAC, America First Action, committed Thursday to additional broadcast spending of over $25 million in two key presidential battleground states for the fall ahead of Election Day. 

According to a statement released by the group this afternoon, America First Action is reserving $26.6 million for pro-Trump advertising set to air from September through November’s general election on Florida and North Carolina’s airwaves. This is in addition to the $10 million it previously said it’s investing in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, which will focus on “Sleepy Joe Biden," the now-apparent Democratic nominee after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign Wednesday. 

President Donald Trump waves to supporters during a "Keep America Great" campaign rally in Sunrise, Fla., on Nov. 26, 2019.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

In Florida, America First Action is reserving a total of $18.5 million with about seven million dollars and $11.3 million for the Tampa and Orlando media markets respectively. In North Carolina, the group will commit $3.8 million for ads in Charlotte’s markets and $4.3 million for Raleigh-Durham’s airwaves. 

“America First is making the Florida and North Carolina reservations because we are confident we can secure inventory at the best possible rates in these crucial battleground states,” PAC President Brian Walsh explained in the statement. He added that more decisions on spending will be made next month. 

The previous investments in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin unveiled last week include pro-Trump digital, cable, broadcast, and mail advertising beginning this month and continuing until late May. Two million dollars will be spent in Michigan’s Traverse City, Flint, and Grand Rapids areas while nearly three million will be spent in parts of Wisconsin including Green Bay’s media markets. In Pennsylvania, $5.5 million will be dedicated to ads in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, among other markets. 

The group's latest broadcast buy comes as President Trump's campaign focuses on digital advertising at the moment. America First Action emphasized that its recent spending commitment is just part of its first wave of independent expenditures in the 2020 cycle.

House super PACS announce more than $90 million in early TV reservations

WASHINGTON — The top Republican and Democratic super PACs in the battle for the House majority have announced more than $90 million in initial television ad reservations as they draw the contours of the 2020 battleground. 

This week, the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC announced $51 million in early television reservations, while the GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund said it will book $43 million for its first wave. Both groups will be advertising through a variety of mediums and are expected to add more money to buys as Election Day draws closer. 

A woman votes in the Wisconsin primary on April 7, 2020.Alex Kormann / Star Tribune via AP

The busiest market right now is Philadelphia, where CLF is booking $6.5 million to the HMP's $6.1 million. It's home to a handful of competitive races in 2020 in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including the reelection races for New Jersey Democratic Reps. Andy Kim and Tom Malinowski, New Jersey Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew (a former Democrat), Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, and Pennsylvania Democratic Reps. Matt Cartwright and Susan Wild. 

Both sides plan to invest heavily in Minnesota as well — HMP is reserving $7.4 million in the state compared to CLF's $3.25 million. The state is home to four freshmen lawmakers who could face competitive reelection fights (Republican Reps. Pete Stauber and Jim Hagedorn, and Democratic Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips), as well as the long-time Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, who has repeatedly defied the odds and held onto his red district. 

The two groups are also investing heavily in Iowa ($8.4 million in TV bookings between the two parties), Atlanta ($7.7 million), Detroit ($6.4 million) and Houston ($5.3 million).

Other big markets for the Democratic group include Las Vegas (HMP is booking $3.5 million there) and Miami ($3.3 million).

Other notable points of emphasis for CLF include Los Angeles (the group is booking $3 million there) and New York's 22nd Congressional District, where CLF says it's booking $2.2 million aimed at dethroning Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi.

Biden holds lead in latest general election polls

Apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is hanging onto his lead in two general election polls against President Trump this week. In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, released Wednesday, and Monmouth University poll released Thursday, Biden leads Trump by eight points and four points respectively — both leads land outside of the polls' margins of error. 

Joe Biden speaks at a press event in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

The polls were both conducted before Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, ended his presidential campaign on Wednesday.  

While Biden maintains a lead against Trump in almost every general election poll, the president's base doesn't look keen to leave Trump. In the Quinnipiac University poll, Republicans back Trump with 91 percent support. And registered voters in the Monmouth University poll show nearly the same favorability toward the president and the apparent Democratic nominee. 

Forty-two percent of registered voters said their opinion of the president is "very" or "somewhat" favorable. When asked about Biden, 41 percent of registered voters said they found him very or somewhat favorable, in the Monmouth poll. So Biden's strength may be coming from independents — a group which broke for Trump in 2016

President Donald Trump speaks at the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 8, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In the Quinnipiac University poll, independents favor Biden 44-35 percent. And the president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic could strengthen that support for Biden. Fifty-one percent of registered voters in the Quinnipiac poll said Biden would do a better job in a crisis than President Trump. And in the Monmouth University poll, about a third of registered voters said that Trump's handling of the pandemic will make it less likely he'll get re-elected: 31 percent said it makes it less likely, 27 percent think it makes it more likely he'll be re-elected and 36 percent said it will make no difference. 

The Quinnipiac University poll was taken between April 2 and 6 with a margin of error of 2.2 points. The Monmouth University poll was completed between April 3 and 7 with a 3.6-point margin of error. 

New Trump campaign ad compares Sanders to Biden after Sanders ends 2020 bid

WASHINGTON — Less than two hours after Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he was suspending his presidential campaign, President Trump's campaign debuted a digital ad closely comparing him to Joe Biden, the now-apparent Democratic nominee.

The new online spot ties the policies of the Vermont senator and former vice president together on issues including immigration and fossil fuels, and refers to them as “a big government socialist and a big government liberal" respectively. 

After listing positions Sanders and Biden both support, the commercial ends by claiming “they’re more alike than you think, but at least Bernie remembers his positions."

President Trump's reelection campaign has invested six figures in the online spot, according to communications director Tim Murtaugh. The 30-second ad makes no mention of coronavirus, which is the main reason the 2020 campaign has been moved from an in-person campaign to a virtual battleground in a matter of weeks.

“With Bernie suspending his campaign, it’s clear that the Dem establishment got the candidate they wanted in Sleepy Joe. But Biden & Sanders agree on all the big issues. They are both the same,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted.

Meanwhile, President Trump is trying to appeal to some of Sanders’ supporters, firing off three messages on the Independent Vermont senator after news broke that he was dropping out of the race.

“This ended just like the Democrats & the DNC wanted, same as the Crooked Hillary fiasco. The Bernie people should come to the Republican Party!” Trump said.

Sanders drops out: How Biden, Sanders (and Obama) got to this point

WASHINGTON — According to multiple sources involved in the process, Joe Biden’s and Bernie Sanders’ teams have been having ongoing conversations since early March, especially once Biden took a more significant delegate lead after Michigan's presidential primary.

Those conversations began initially over process issues – especially about how the campaigns should handle the Arizona debate, which ultimately moved to Washington over the Coronavirus. But lines of communication were then established and conversations continued at a big picture level over how to unite the party and bring this to a conclusion.

President Obama was part of those discussions — he spoke with both Biden and Sanders multiple times over the past month.

Ultimately, they planned out the choreography that's beginning to unfold. But as one source put it, “the dates kept slipping” — in part because Sanders, a member of Democratic leadership in the Senate, was dealing with the congressional response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The sides agreed that Tuesday's Wisconsin primary was an important benchmark — as a Sanders advisor put it, they have been trying to land the plane for some time, but “Wisconsin gave us a natural exit ramp.”

Though Wisconsin’s results would take days to come in, the Sanders team nonetheless knew the trajectory of the race was not changing no matter what the outcome. But he would stay in the race in part to help continue driving Democratic turnout for a state Supreme Court election that was a priority for local Democrats. 

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders greet each other with an elbow bump as they arrive for the 11th Democratic presidential debate in Washington on March 15, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

Biden’s campaign also made clear that they were eager for that specific date to hold firm, and they were prepared, if it did not, to shift their public rhetoric ever so slightly to turn the heat up for Sanders to take steps to begin uniting the party.

Obama especially emphasized that in his conversations with Sanders, another source involved with the process told NBC.  But Obama, and Biden as he has said publicly, never once themselves told Sanders to drop out.

Biden’s team had announced Wednesday's virtual town hall meeting” on unemployment and issues facing working families knowing the timeline in place. That will be Biden’s first opportunity to publicly thank Sanders for moving to unite the party. 

Asked about contacts between the Biden and Sanders campaigns, a Biden aide told NBC: 

“The two campaigns continue to be engaged on a range of topics that will build on the former Vice President’s existing policy proposals and look forward to furthering our shared goals to move the country forward.  We look forward to sharing  more on that front in the near future.”

—NBC News' Kristen Welker contributed

Sanders' campaign ends without expanding his 2016 base

WASHINGTON — As Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign Wednesday his ultimate downfall was that he never expanded beyond his progressive base.

In fact, he ended up underperforming from 2016.

That explains how he went from the frontrunner in a still-crowded race of Democratic candidates in February, to someone who couldn't win a single county in Michigan or Florida when the field whittled down a month later.

And while Sanders had to navigate a much larger field of viable candidates in 2020 than he did four years ago, his vote percentages underscore his difficulty in holding onto a sizable number of 2016 supporters who left his camp for other candidates.  

Consider:

In Iowa's caucuses, the first Democratic contest, Sanders ended up getting 25 percent of the popular vote and 26 percent of the state delegate equivalents — down from 49.6 percent in 2016.

In the New Hampshire primary, the second contest, the Vermont senator won the state with another 26 percent of the vote — down from 60 percent-plus four years ago.

Bernie Sanders at a rally in Los Angeles on March 1, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Sanders' best showing came in the next nominating race, Nevada, where he got 47 percent of the state delegate equivalents in a field that continued to have six major Democratic candidates (not including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who didn't compete in Nevada).

But after that came another underperformance in South Carolina in late February, when those same six candidates were in the race: He garnered just about 20 percent (was 26 percent in 2016) of the vote.

And then on Super Tuesday — after Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg had dropped out of the race and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden — the trend continued:

  • Alabama 16 percent (was 19 percent in 2016)
  • California 36 percent (was 46 percent)
  • Texas 30 percent (was 33 percent)
  • Virginia 23 percent (was 35 percent)
  • Vermont 51 percent (was 86 percent) 

And then after it became a two-person race when Bloomberg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren dropped out:

  • Michigan 36 percent (was 50 percent)
  • Mississippi 15 percent (was 17 percent)
  • Missouri 35 percent (was 49 percent).

After Sanders' exit from the 2020 race on Wednesday, President Trump was blaming Elizabeth Warren for the Vermont senator’s defeat.

But as the numbers show above, Sanders' problem wasn't Warren. Instead, it was his inability to expand beyond his diehard supporters from 2016 — before and after Warren dropped out of the 2020 race.

Sanders urges paychecks for laid off, furloughed in fourth Coronavirus stimulus

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is not pleased with the job President Trump is doing handling the coronavirus pandemic that has cost nearly 13,000 American lives, so he is urging his congressional colleagues in the legislative branch to take the lead. 

In an op-ed published Wednesday in the British newspaper The Guardian, published hours before he suspended his presidential campaign, Sanders wrote he believes President Trump is incapable of “providing leadership."

"This is a frightening and devastating time for our country, and the world. Never before in our lifetimes have we had to deal with both a public health pandemic and an economic meltdown,” Sanders wrote. 

As the focus of the Sanders campaign shifts to Coronavirus response, the senator is out with a list of priorities he hopes makes it into the next congressional package, which is already being discussed on Capitol Hill. 

This includes intensifying the use of the Defense Production Act, which Sanders says Congress should explicitly authorize to compel the private sector to produce more products needed by medical personnel across the country. “We cannot rely on Trump to do it,” Sanders said. 

Trump has invoked the DPA on a handful of occasions, but Democrats have criticized him for not going further. 

Sanders also wants to ensure that every worker in America continues to receive their full paycheck and benefits, through the duration of the pandemic.

“We cannot wait before taking the bold action that is necessary,” Sanders wrote. “In my view, it makes a lot more sense to prevent the collapse of our economy than figuring out how we put it back together after it crumbles."

While Sanders said he knows a full Medicare-For-All bill would not be agreed upon for this stimulus,  he wants to make sure Americans receive all of the healthcare they need regardless of income. He proposed that Medicare pay all deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for the uninsured and the underinsured during this crisis, regardless of immigration status. 

As part of his campaign's focus on coronavirus, Sanders held a livestream Tuesday night focused on how the African American community is specifically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Campaign surrogates discussed racial disparities in treatment during visits to doctors' offices and emergency rooms, and how and why data shows COVID-19 is more deadly in majority-minority communities.

Health officials say those with pre-existing conditions including heart disease, diabetes and asthma are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, as well as the fact that many African Americans in some of the nation’s “hot spots” are employed in essential service industry jobs, requiring face-to-face contact.

Sanders has held nine, similar, livestreams in the past few weeks, all focused on the pandemic.  

New Biden super PAC ad highlights Democrat's coronavirus plan

WASHINGTON — The super PAC supporting Joe Biden is returning to the national airwaves with a new television ad, this time focusing on the Democrat’s plan for tackling the coronavirus outbreak.

The 30-second spot from Unite The Country pivots from the group’s other recent paid messaging, which faults President Trump for how he has handled the pandemic.

Instead, the ad asks what Biden would do differently, before laying out elements of his previously announced plan, including ensuring all states had at least 10 mobile testing sites, greater availability of safety care, free vaccines, and an extended Obamacare enrollment period – something the Trump administration recently ruled out.

The new ad will begin airing early this week on cable airwaves nationally as part of a six-figure buy, a spokesperson for Unite the Country told NBC News. 

That new investment is in addition to the previous, seven-figure campaign behind the earlier ad, which made the point: "Crisis comes to every president. This one failed.”

The Biden campaign itself has been largely off the airwaves during the pandemic. Ahead of today’s Wisconsin primary, the campaign focused on text and phone outreach to voters there.

Last week, the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, announced it will spend $10 million on ads criticizing Biden in swing states.

Wisconsin voters and poll workers head to polls in protective gear

WASHINGTON — After a dramatic battle over whether to even hold its primary on Tuesday in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Wisconsin voters are in fact heading to the polls

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers had attempted to block in-person voting with a last-minute executive order, but on Monday night, courts stepped in to overturn that order.

With public health officials warning against non-discretionary travel and suggesting Americans wear face-coverings while venturing outdoors, Ryan Jenkins from TMJ4, NBC’s Milwaukee affiliate, spotted poll workers and voters donning masks and other protective equipment. 

Be sure to check out today’s First Read for more on how we got here, and for what this could portend for elections to come, particularly the general election.

John Lewis endorses Biden for president

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, endorsed Joe Biden for president Tuesday, saying the former vice president will inspire another generation "to speak up, to speak out, to be brave, to be bold."

"It is my belief that we need Joe Biden now more than ever before," Lewis, D-Ga., told reporters. "He will be a great president. He will lead our country to a better place. He will inspire another generation to stand up, to speak up and to speak out. Be brave, to be bold. That's why I'm committed to supporting him."

In an interview with NBC News' Craig Melvin airing later this morning on "Today," Biden calls Lewis "one of my heroes," praising his courage and sacrifice in the fight for civil rights, especially as part of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. 

Biden said: "The fact that he would endorse me is just — it makes me even more certain that I should be doing what I'm doing. I'm a great, great admirer of John Lewis. He's a man of enormous integrity."  

Georgia has delayed its primary until May 19 because of the coronavirus outbreak. Although he was diagnosed December with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, Lewis said he was committed to traveling across the country to rally support for Biden.

"We need his voice. We need his leadership, now more than ever before. We need someone who will get our country on the right side of history and help save our  planet," he said

As vice president, Biden joined Lewis in 2013 in celebrating the 48th anniversary of the Selma voting rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He also paid tribute to Lewis at a separate commemoration of the march in Selma this year.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill about voting rights on Dec. 6, 2019.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Lewis' backing comes as Biden has a commanding delegate lead over his only remaining challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, but with many states — including Lewis' home state, Georgia — having delayed their primaries. Still, it underscores what has been Biden's greatest asset in arriving at this position — the overwhelming support of African American voters.

Asked whether Biden should pick a woman of color as his running mate in light of that support he's enjoyed, Lewis said it "would be good to have a woman," as Biden has already pledged to choose.

"We have plenty of able women — some are black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native America," he said. "I think the time has long passed for making the White House look like the whole of America."

Behind the scenes of Sunday's unexpected White House coronavirus briefing

WASHINGTON — Sunday was supposed to be a quiet day at the White House, with no briefing scheduled and a decision from senior aides to call a “lid” before noon, indicating there was no expectation of seeing President Trump for the rest of the day. 

The president's top health officials and secretary of defense appeared on the morning shows, warning of a brutal week ahead, conceding the administration was “struggling” to get the pandemic under control, and predicting the coming days could be “the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives.”

President Donald Trump during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 5, 2020.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Given that it was Palm Sunday, the coronavirus task force was slated to meet remotely in the early evening via teleconference, led by Vice President Mike Pence from his residence. 

But President Trump was not satisfied with that plan, according to a source close to the task force, and didn’t want the “dour” messages from the surgeon general and Dr. Anthony Fauci to be the only public-facing moments of the day. He felt it was important to have a presser to stress “glimmers of hope,” according to this person.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams gave a dire projection on Meet the Press hours earlier, saying that this week “is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, it's going to be our 9/11 moment.”

Two officials close to the task force told NBC News that prior to Sunday they had not heard Adams refer to this week as the next Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and thought the language was a bit strong.

Trump therefore decided to convene the group in person in the Situation Room on Sunday and then floated the possibility of an evening press conference on Twitter, which even caught several aides off-guard.

“It came as a surprise,” a senior administration official admitted.

Reporters were ultimately called back to the White House and a lengthy, 83-minute briefing followed. Senior staffers have repeatedly argued a consistent presence from the president is as critical as ever.

“It is important during this unprecedented crisis to hear from the president and these briefings are one of the methods he has chosen to communicate directly to the American people,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told NBC News in a statement.

On Sunday afternoon, members of the task force eventually made their way to the West Wing, marking the second weekend in a row where they were asked to come to an in-person meeting after conference  calls had already been scheduled and publicly announced.

The other instance was when Trump haphazardly floated a quarantine for the tri-state area last weekend and the abrupt nature and frenzied response caused the vice president and others to scramble to the Situation Room for an evening meeting. Hours later, the potential quarantine was walked back and scrapped entirely.