The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Democratic senators ask for $3.6 billion in next relief bill for mail-in voting
WASHINGTON — As lawmakers begin discussing what the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation will include, mail-in voting is becoming one of the major fronts in that fight.
At least 40 Democratic senators are expected to send a letter to all four congressional leaders on Monday, asking for $3.6 billion in funds for universal mail-in voting in the next major relief bill.
The request is likely to receive partisan opposition. Universal mail-in voting has become a contentious issue with many Republicans, including President Donald Trump who said he is opposed. Republicans are likely to point to the $400 million Congress already appropriated to help states accommodate voting changes in the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed last month.
But Democratic supporters say that money isn’t enough. They point to a recent plea from the bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State, who say that they need financial help from the federal government for the upcoming election, noting that states are having to take money from their election fund to help with general COVID-19 health care response.
In the letter to the leadership, written by Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Ron Wyden of Oregon and obtained by NBC News, the senators say “we must prepare accordingly” in case another wave of coronavirus re-emerges in the fall or if it’s still not safe to congregate next November.
“We saw what happened in Wisconsin: their primary election turned into chaos, and American voters were left disenfranchised or left compromising their health to vote,” Coons told NBC News. “Every American voter — Republican, Democrat, or Independent — should be able to cast their ballot safely this fall, and we can guarantee that by giving states the resources to expand vote-by-mail so it’s an option for every eligible voter in every state.”
Ohio governor calls on FDA for help with testing during MTP interview
WASHINGTON — If it's Sunday, does America have enough coronavirus tests to begin the move toward relaxing social restrictions?
Vice President Mike Pence answered that question affirmatively Sunday, telling "Meet the Press" that with testing capacity at 150,000 a day and 4 million already tested, America has enough tests to meet the testing criteria to move into Phase 1 of the federal government's reopening guidelines.
But minutes later, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine joined the show to plead with the Food and Drug Administration to green-light a tweak to test-kits aimed at solving a supply shortage that DeWine said is hampering his ability to "double or triple" testing capacity.
"We really need help. [If] anybody in the FDA is watching, this would really take our capacity up literally overnight," DeWine said.
And the feeling is bipartisan — Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that supply shortages are hampering her state's ability to accelerate testing too, and called on the federal government to use its power to demand states fill the gap.
Moving to Phase 1 doesn't just require tests, and it's a long way from a return to normalcy.
But the differing levels of comfort that the governors and the administration have with America's testing capacity is yet another sign of tension as the Trump administration tries to walk the line between projecting strength and deflecting responsibility.
This is an excerpt from Sunday's edition of First Read, the newsletter from NBC's Political Unit. Sign up by clicking here.
Biden campaign launches general election ad in battleground states
WASHINGTON — With sights set on the general election, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign is launching its first set of targeted digital ads in battleground states that focus on President Trump's lack of preparation in handling coronavirus.
The ad, "Unprepared" will play in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All of the states will see three versions of the ad, an almost two-minute, 15-second and 6-second version, on Facebook and Instagram.
"Unprepared"'s longest version begins with a narrator accusing Trump of failing to preemptively prepare the country for a pandemic. The ad goes on to say that Trump's campaign and its allies are instead launching “negative attacks against Joe Biden to hide the truth.”
Trump and Biden, and respected super PACs, have been attacking each other on China. The Trump campaign launched its own digital ad last week attacking Biden's record on China — suggesting he was sympathetic to China. While Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting Biden, has paid for ads attacking the president's coronavirus response.
This ad continues that back-and-forth by comparing Biden and Trump’s positions on China in their own words. The ad attempts to remind voters that the former vice president said he would've sent officials to China to investigate the virus, while Trump did not.
“Donald Trump left this country unprepared and unprotected for the worst economic and public health crisis in our lifetime and now we’re paying the price. All the negative ads in the world can’t change the truth,” the ad concludes.
This ad marks the Biden campaign's first major investment in targeted ads in states they hope to pick up in the 2020 general election. Aside from Facebook and Instagram, the campaign will also be running the ad in key media markets in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on YouTube to counteract the president's online ad running there.
Biden campaign launches new video attacking Trump on coronavirus response
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign is mounting a new offensive against President Trump and his allies over the administration's response to the coronavirus. The new digital campaign argues that Trump “was more worried about protecting his trade deal with China than he was about the virus that had already come to America."
In a new digital video, first shown to NBC News, Biden says, "The uncomfortable truth is that this president left America exposed and vulnerable to this pandemic. He ignored the warnings of health experts and intelligence agencies, and put his trust in China’s leaders instead. And now, we're all paying the price,” Biden says in a new digital video first previewed to NBC News.
Biden also points Trump ending the Obama administration's "PREDICT" program and reducing the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention's footprint in China as two specific actions that left the U.S. less ready both to identify the health crisis at an early stage, and address it once it had spread.
“When the coronavirus started to spread, the CDC wanted to get into China to get information that could save American lives. China said no. And President Trump refused to insist on access,” Biden said.
The former vice president ended the video by promising to protect the American people during potential future outbreaks if he's elected president — in recent days Biden has said he would re-establish the Obama-era global health pandemic office and elevate it to a cabinet-level position.
The Biden team's new video reflects how China has become an early flashpoint between Trump and Biden. While both men have limited their attacks against each other press conferences or virtual events, super PACs support both candidates have launched China-focused attacks in recent weeks.
America First Action, a super PAC supporting the president, released two new ads on Friday in key battleground states suggesting Biden has been sympathetic toward China throughout his career. And Priorities USA, a group supporting Biden, launched a weeks-long effort of TV ads attacking the president's coronavirus response.
The Biden campaign is expected to continue focusing their attacks against Trump’s responsiveness to coronavirus on China on Friday. Biden's foreign policy senior adviser Tony Blinken and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, whose state will be holding a mail-in-ballot primary this month, will be holding a "Trump's Failure to Stand Up to China" press call.
GOP super PAC releases new ads targeting Biden on China
WASHINGTON — Allies of President Trump are finally responding to Democratic super PAC ads criticizing the president's coronavirus response — with a new set of ads attacking former Vice President Joe Biden.
As part of its multi-million ad buy in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, has released two new TV ads attacking comments Biden has made about China, according to Advertising Analytics.
One of the ads, entitled "Bad Folks", focuses on Biden saying China is "not bad folks" and then flashes to Biden and China's President Xi Jinping together when Biden was vice president. Biden has mentioned on several occasions throughout the campaign that he got to know Xi during his time in the White House when former President Barack Obama sent Biden to China to meet with Xi.
The second ad, "40 Years", also paints Biden as sympathetic toward China. The ad points to a 2011 speech in which Biden said that "a rising China is a positive development". The ad also says that Biden wrongfully admonished Trump's decision to stop travel from China to the U.S. due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Of course, though, these ads left unsaid the president's own positive words about China — especially during the pandemic. On a tweet on Jan. 24, Trump tweeted his thanks to Xi for his "efforts and transparency."
Biden gets backing from organizing and minority-focused groups
Since becoming the apparent nominee, Biden has been accumulating more support from a variety of Democratic groups, including Let America Vote (LAV), which endorsed him Thursday.
Another group that endorsed Biden Thursday, End Citizens United had gone after Biden during the primary when the former vice president signaled he wouldn't disown a super PAC, namely the Unite the Country PAC, from supporting his campaign. While Biden was the first 2020 Democratic candidate to not say no to help from an outside organization, many of his rivals would eventually also tacitly agree to PAC support.
ECU and LAV President Tiffany Muller said the groups are throwing their support behind Biden now because “he’ll work to get big money out of our politics and more Americans participating in our democracy.”
Biden responded to the endorsements with saying he'll work with the groups to reform the campaign finance and electoral systems.
“Our Constitution doesn’t begin with the phrase, 'We the Democrats' or 'We the Republicans.' And it certainly doesn’t begin with the phrase, 'We the Donors.' It begins with ‘We the People.’ Today, our campaign finance and electoral systems are broken. I’m excited to work with End Citizens United and Let America Vote to fix this once and for all,” Biden said.
Biden added that voting groups like LAV are essential during the coronavirus pandemic to advocate for safe vote-by-mail or safe in-person voting systems ahead of the November election.
Voto Latino, a grassroots group that focuses on Latino voters, also announced Thursday they were backing Biden. This is the first time the organization has endorsed a presidential candidate since its founding in 2004. Emgage PAC, an outside group that says it represents Muslim American interests, also endorsed Biden — the group formerly backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The groups' endorsements signal more Democratic coalescing around Biden's campaign, now that he is the party's apparent nominee and has gotten the backing of almost all his former primary opponents.
CORRECTION (April 17, 2020, 9:10 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated who End Citizens United and Let America Vote supported in the Democratic presidential primary. The groups endorsed Joe Biden on Thursday; they had not previously endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Biden's former campaign manager shifts to general-election role
WASHINGTON — One year ago, Greg Schultz was racing to assemble the pieces of a Joe Biden presidential campaign as the former vice president neared his long-speculated, but never 100 percent certain entry into the crowded Democratic primary.
Now, the longtime Biden political adviser is taking on a different challenge as the campaign’s general election strategist, ramping up efforts to align and execute planning among Team Biden, the Democratic National Committee, state parties and other key stakeholders.
The assignment, which became official this week, rounds out the reorganization of the senior ranks of Biden’s campaign operation after Jennifer O’Malley Dillon replaced Schultz as campaign manager last month. Schultz, who has continued to serve as a senior adviser to the former vice president, will also act as a campaign surrogate with a focus on key Midwestern battleground states.
Schultz first joined Biden’s orbit formally in 2013 with a post in the vice president's office, after having worked with the vice president as the Obama reelection campaign’s Ohio state director in 2012.
He worked with other top Biden advisers to position the then-vice president for a potential 2016 bid — which he ultimately passed on — and then oversaw his post-White House political action committee before leading up the 2020 effort.
"Greg's talent and leadership have been an important part of this campaign's success since the beginning, and I'm grateful he's taking on this new role to help ensure we run a well-organized and effective general election campaign to beat Donald Trump and restore the soul of this nation,” Biden said in a statement to NBC News.
To say the Biden campaign is confronting a general election campaign without precedent is an understatement, and not just because it is President Donald Trump they are trying to unseat from the White House. As the nation faces both an economic and public health crisis, Biden’s campaign headquarters in Philadelphia is empty — with staff now scattered throughout the region and Biden himself off the trail, addressing the country from a home television studio.
The unusual pause in the campaign has given Biden and his team a measure of additional space to recalibrate their operation from one focused on winning the nomination to one now exclusively focused on November.
Schultz’s assignment now builds off the work he did mapping out Biden’s strategy in the 2018 midterms, when Biden campaigned in two dozen states for candidates up and down the ballot. He reports to Dillon in the role as part of the campaign’s senior staff.
John Morgan, a top Biden donor who has worked extensively with Schultz since the campaign launch, said Biden told him that Schultz’s role working with the DNC especially would be critical.
“That’s a place that the biggest checks can go, and that’s the place that Michael Bloomberg’s money has already gone and continue to go to,” he said. “I just think it shows the trust that Joe Biden has in Greg.”
Poll: Coronavirus concerns are especially affecting younger Americans
WASHINGTON — A new poll released Thursday finds that younger Americans are experiencing the coronavirus pandemic more acutely than the country overall when it comes to health and the economy. Young people are also significantly more critical of President Trump and his handling of the crisis.
The survey from the Democratic-leaning Super PAC, NextGen America, and left-of-center polling firm, Navigator Research, reveals that Americans ages 18-34 are more likely than the general public to know someone who has lost their job, who has had work hours reduced, or who has been infected with the virus all by about 10 percentage points.
Nearly one-quarter of younger Americans — 24 percent — know somebody who has been diagnosed with coronavirus, versus 16 percent of the overall public. Strong majorities of young people know somebody who has either lost their job (64 percent) or had hours cut amid the public health crisis (74 percent).
That’s compared with 53 percent and 65 percent of all Americans, respectively, who say the same thing.
Almost one-in-four younger Americans also report that they personally have lost their jobs while 14 percent of all Americans say the same.
What’s more, this younger demographic is experiencing the most anxiety about grappling with coronavirus than any other age group and is more likely to worry about finances. According to the poll, young Americans are tapping into their savings and applying for unemployment insurance at higher rates than others.
On a call with reporters Thursday, Bryan Bennett — a Navigator Research adviser — stressed that the pandemic has a “heightened economic impact” on young people of color, especially. The poll reveals that younger Americans from communities of color are starting to spend their savings, and are applying for unemployment insurance or nutritional assistance at slightly higher rates than the broader young American sample.
When it comes to the president, younger Americans disapprove of Trump and his response to the coronavirus crisis far more than the nation does generally. Whereas the overall public is largely split on Trump’s coronavirus response with 49 percent approving and 48 disapproving, his approval is underwater among the youngest Americans — 41 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove — per Navigator’s daily tracking up to this point.
Women and people of color within the young American demographic are particularly critical of the president with approximately two-thirds of both subsets saying Trump didn’t take the crisis seriously enough.
“The blame is falling squarely on Trump,” NextGen Executive Director, Ben Wessel, said on the call. Speakers also noted that state governors and local governments continue to receive higher marks than the president especially among the youth.
Where young people and all Americans vastly agree is in their broader views of the coronavirus crisis. Approximately three-quarters of both younger Americans and older Americans label the pandemic a “major crisis” and say “the worst is yet to come.”
NextGen and Navigator Research’s findings are based on online interviews with over 6,000 registered voters — 1,555 of which fall into the 18-34 age category — conducted as part of their daily tracking poll from March 20-April 11. The broader sample’s margin or error is plus-minus 1.3 percent and the younger subsample’s margin of error is plus-minus 2.5 percent.
Tweet the Press: NBC's Carol Lee discusses the administration's coronavirus response
WASHINGTON — On this week's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News correspondent Carol Lee about the latest developments on the administration's coronavirus response plan.
Hours before President Trump says he will be announcing new guidelines on "opening up America again," Carol ran down what that might look like, what questions still haven't been addressed and what business leaders want to see from the president.
Click here to read the full conversation.
Senate campaigns raise big money ahead of possible coronavirus crunch
WASHINGTON — Senate incumbents and challengers in key states raised big money in the first quarter of 2020 even as societal and financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic could dampen fundraising totals going forward.
A Senate Democratic challenger outraised a Republican incumbent in six of the 10 most competitive races rated by Cook Political Report (where a Republican incumbent is running for reelection).
Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath and Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly leading the pack, having raised $12.9 million and $11 million respectively.
Some Democratic challengers at least doubled (or nearly doubled) their incumbent counterpart’s efforts in the Senate battleground — Kelly, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Maine Speaker Sara Gideon and North Carolina’s Cal Cunningham.
And Kansas’ Barbara Bollier raised $2.4 million while the four top Republicans in the race combined to raise under $900,000.
That’s while Republican incumbents all put up at least six-figures in receipts from this past January through March — with Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell raising the most with $7.5 million and Arizona Sen. Martha McSally close behind with $6.4 million.
Going into April, the average incumbent Republican has $9 million banked away, a nest egg that’s larger than most Democratic competitors’ and one that could become increasingly important if fundraising efforts come to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Take Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst. She outraised her top-raising Democratic challenger this quarter, Theresa Greenfield. But Ernst has about $6.5 million in her war chest, while Greenfield has just $3.8 million.
As Democrats hope that big numbers from people like Kelly, McGrath and South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison can help expand the map, or at least siphon off resources from other key states, Republicans are trying to keep the pressure on the few vulnerable Democratic incumbents up for reelection this cycle.
Republican John James, who lost his 2018 Senate bid, outraised incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters $4.8 million to $4.1 million. And the two are virtually tied in cash-on-hand, with slightly more than $8.5 million banked away.
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones significantly outraised the top two Republicans in the race, former Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. But Jones still has a tough race ahead of him regardless of which candidate makes it out of the runoff, considering how deep-red Alabama is.
In Georgia’s special election, incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler raised $6.2 million — but only about $1 million of that came from individual donors. Loeffler personally contributed about $5.1 million to her campaign. And her Republican challenger, Rep. Doug Collins, raised just $2.5 million and that included a whopping nearly $1.7 million transfer from his House account.
Rep. Justin Amash to decide whether to launch presidential bid 'soon'
WASHINGTON — Rep. Justin Amash is expected to make a decision “soon” on whether he will jump in the race for president his office says, potentially launching the latest attempt by a conservative to challenge President Donald Trump.
The Michigan Independent paused campaign activities for his congressional re-election bid in mid-February “to carefully consider a presidential run."
"He has been discussing the potential campaign with his family, his friends, his team, and others, and a decision can be expected soon,” his office tells NBC News.
Amash, a fierce critic of the president, stoked speculation earlier this week when he responded to Trump saying that a president’s authority is “total.” Amash tweeted that Americans “deserve another option” and that he’s “looking closely” at it.
The libertarian-minded lawmaker would not run as a Republican and would likely have to win the nomination of a third party in order to effectively compete in a significant number of states in November. Amash’s office has not speculated which third party Amash would run under. The Libertarian Party has plans to hold its nominating convention next month.
The Michigan lawmaker left the Republican party in 2019 after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, which Amash said was reason to open impeachment proceedings against the president. In an op-ed in the Washington Post announcing he was leaving the GOP, he didn’t mention the president by name but instead focused on the two party system, saying that “modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral.”