The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Trump campaign touts virtual engagement as coronavirus turns campaign digital
WASHINGTON — Since starting nightly online broadcasts one month ago, President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign says the virtual events have attracted nearly 300 million views across its social media platforms.
The large number could be an indication of voter interest while the re-elect effort continues to convert its traditional operation into a fully digital one with the coronavirus pandemic dramatically transforming the presidential race.
Last week alone, the Trump campaign told NBC it had more than 66 million views for their series of online discussions, which often feature top surrogates and staffers on a variety of topics, from veterans issues to women empowerment.
In the month of April so far, they’ve been watched more than 298 million times.
“Team Trump’s unique, 7-nights-a-week online broadcasts are successful with dynamic guests, timely topics, and are a great way to stay involved in our 100% virtual campaign to re-elect President Trump,” deputy communications director Erin Perrine told NBC News in a statement.
Many of April’s cyber panels were slated to take place right after the president wrapped up his daily coronavirus press conferences. Perrine argued that the double-feature aspect is attractive to many Trump supporters who are craving more voter interaction directly from the president and the campaign.
“Just like President Trump, these broadcasts are bold and hold back no punches on the fake news or Democrat attempts to spread lies about the president. They highlight the strong and growing enthusiasm for President Trump’s America First success," she said.
Though they stream on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and the main campaign website as well, Facebook attracts the most eyeballs, according to a senior campaign official.
The president, who is eager to get back on the campaign trail before November, has yet to participate in one of these livestreams.
And as millions of Americans have been confined to their homes, the Trump team and Republican National Committee say they’ve seen a surge of volunteers. More than 300,000 new people have raised their hands virtually since March 13 the day the campaign went all-virtual.
Since then, Trump Victory – the joint effort between the campaign and RNC – has made 20 million voter contacts, per this official. On particular target dates, Trump supporters have made as many as 4 million calls in one day to Americans nationwide, urging them to visit the CDC’s website and follow social distancing guidelines, while also touting the president’s accomplishments and pushing online voter registration.
Last week’s release of the new Trump 2020 mobile app has also allowed supporters across the country sign up for “Trump Talk,” which allows them to make recruiting calls from the comfort of their own homes.
The Trump and Biden campaigns haven’t held large in-person events since early March. Since then, former Vice President Joe Biden has been appearing from a studio in his Delaware home.
In that time, the Biden campaign says more than 63 million people have engaged with their online content, including livestreams, speeches, press briefings and interviews. The apparent Democratic nominee has done 42 virtual events and appearances since entering self-isolation.
Last Saturday, the Biden team hosted a “SOUL of the Nation” digital rally, which it says attracted 340,000 live views across their platforms.
The Trump campaign notes that while Biden and his digital operation use the three-time presidential hopeful’s Twitter account to reach supporters for their live programming, so far, the president hasn’t promoted his team’s online broadcasts with his more than 78 million followers.
Hillary Clinton endorses Biden during women's virtual town hall
WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton, the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination, first teased her endorsement of Joe Biden for president Tuesday in a tweet where she revealed herself as the apparent Democratic nominee’s special guest at a virtual town hall on the impact of the coronavirus on women.
Then she made it official during the event Tuesday afternoon, saying she was "thrilled" to be a part of Biden's campaign.
"I am thrilled to be part of your campaign. To not only endorse you but to help highlight a lot of the issues that are at stake during in this presidential election," Clinton said.
The endorsement comes as Biden’s campaign has worked over the past month to project the party as fully — and to many, surprisingly — unified heading into the general election fight against President Donald Trump. Former vice president and 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore endorsed Biden last week at an Earth Day event; President Barack Obama and former 2020 rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren backed Biden the week before.
Biden retweeted Clinton's announcement and commented, "I'm with her."
Biden and Clinton’s relationship spans decades. As a senior Democrat on key committees in the 1990s, Biden worked closely with President Bill Clinton’s administration on legislative priorities including the 1994 crime bill and both of his Supreme Court nominations.
In 2001, Clinton joined Biden in the Senate, where they remained through 2008 as they faced off in that year’s Democratic presidential primary before both joining Barack Obama’s administration in 2009, him as vice president and her as secretary of State.
Biden and Clinton appeared on a potential collision course again in the 2016 campaign. Just after Obama’s reelection in 2012, Biden raised eyebrows at a key Iowa Democratic party function the following summer by praising John Kerry, Clinton’s successor at State, as “one of the best secretaries of State” in history.
Clinton met with Biden in early 2015 as she was set to formally declare her candidacy, as Biden’s own deliberations were on hold as his son battled brain cancer. Biden ultimately passed on the race that fall, and threw his support behind Clinton the following year, joining her in their shared hometown of Scranton.
Biden went on to hold dozens of campaign events for Clinton in the fall. After many Democrats were stunned at her loss to Trump, Biden said in an interview shortly after that he was not because the party had lost sight of the type of working class voters that had long been their base of support.
Biden often praised Clinton as he ran in the 2020 primaries, saying often she would have made a great president. But he often noted how close the final margin was against Trump in key battlegrounds, places he felt he could win back if the party was fully united.
“I'm confident we will win those states, not because I’m better than Hillary, but because the time is different,” he said at one party fundraiser last fall.
Brad Parscale, President Trump's campaign manager, issued a statement on the endorsement Tuesday.
“There is no greater concentration of Democrat establishment than Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton together," it reads. "Both of them carry the baggage of decades in the Washington swamp and both of them schemed to keep the Democrat nomination from Bernie Sanders. President Trump beat her once and now he’ll beat her chosen candidate.”
—Marianna Sotomayor contributed
New ad blasts Kobach as GOP Senate primary heats up in Kansas
WASHINGTON — A new ad attacking Kansas Republican Kris Kobach hit the airwaves Tuesday as the state's GOP Senate primary continues to heat up.
The new spot from the Keep Kansas Great PAC focuses on Kobach's 2018 loss as the Republican gubernatorial candidate, arguing "Kris Kobach will lose again, and the liberal radicals will be back in charge."
And it tries to hit Kobach with guilt-by-association by attacking the conservative Club for Growth, which is running ads attacking Kobach's top Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall.
That attack revisits the Club's 2016 decision to run ads against President Trump, a move that sparked a feud with the future president. In 2015 comments repeated in the ad, Trump called the group backing Kobach "a fraud" and "crooked."
But the Club has emerged during the Trump administration as an ally of Trump's — Club for Growth President David McIntosh told "Meet the Press" last August that the group's attacks came during the heat of the GOP presidential primary, when it was supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and that it is happy with how Trump has governed as a "free-market conservative."
The heated spot is just the latest example of the contentious nature of the GOP primary as the party gears up to likely face the well-funded Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier, the Democratic front-runner.
Last week, the Kansas City Star broke the news that the state Republican Party asked two other candidates — state Sen. President Susan Wagle and former Johnson County Commissioner Dave Lindstrom — to drop out.
Kansas Republican chair Mike Kuckelman said in a radio interview on KMCO that he made the "difficult decision" because he felt he "had to act" to keep the seat in Republican hands and that neither candidate had a path to victory.
"We've learned from other elections that having names on the ballot that can't win the race, they can affect the outcome of it," he said.
Kobach responded to the news by blasting "party elites" for trying to put their thumb on the scale.
And after Kobach wrote a letter asking Marshall to repudiate the state party's move, Marshall responded with a letter of his own that warned that "We've seen the consequences of a Democrat administration at the state level when we nominated a person who can't win (2018)," a clear reference to Kobach's failed 2018 gubernatorial bid.
As of now, the primary isn't scheduled until August.
Bloomberg to pay laid-off staffers' health care through November amid lawsuits, public pressure
Mike Bloomberg is agreeing to pay for health care through November for the more than 2,000 campaign staffers he laid off after suspending his presidential bid as he faces public pressure and multiple lawsuits over allegations he let go of workers he’d promised to keep employed through the 2020 election.
The human resources department for Bloomberg’s now-defunct campaign notified former staffers of the decision in an email Monday that was obtained by NBC News. The email says it’s a “difficult and stressful time” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given these extraordinary circumstances, the campaign will cover the cost of COBRA through November, 2020. This is aimed at supporting those who have not already secured replacement healthcare coverage,” the email reads.
The former staffers were set to lose their health care at the end of April, about a month after they got their last paychecks.
Asked to comment, a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson said the insurance costs would be covered for former staffers “who haven't secured other coverage."
There are multiple lawsuits pending against Bloomberg’s campaign by old staffers alleging the campaign fraudulently promised jobs through November, then laid everyone off after he dropped out of the race in March. One lawsuit that has more than 100 plaintiffs is seeking certification as a class action for allegations under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The lead attorney on that case, Sally Abrahamson, called the health care decision “a great development.”
“We think this is likely the result of the work of our over 100 brave clients who came forward and spoke up about what was happening. Our case still moves forward to recover promised wages and unpaid overtime,” Abrahamson said.
Bloomberg abruptly abandoned his promise to form a super PAC to absorb his presidential campaign and help elect the ultimate Democratic nominee, letting go of his staff of more than 2,400 people at the start of the coronavirus crisis. Laid-off staff were invited to enter a competitive hiring process for a job at the DNC, which received an $18 million transfer from Bloomberg in lieu of his own effort.
Sanders' bid to collect delegates takes blow as New York cancels its Democratic presidential primary
The New York State Board of Elections is removing Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' name from its June presidential primary ballot in a decision that effectively cancels the contest over protests from Sanders, whose campaign argued it should be able to stay on the ballot and accumulate delegates despite his recent decision to drop out and endorse former Vice President Joe Biden.
While Sanders suspended his campaign on April 8, Sanders' campaign lawyers sent a letter, obtained by NBC News, to the state board this past weekend asking the party to keep his name on the state's primary ballot.
In the letter, the Sanders legal team's argued that the move only amounted to a "limited suspension of his presidential campaign" because he "intended to remain on the ballot in upcoming primaries, gather delegates, and attend the Democratic National Convention, with an eye to influencing the party's platform."
The campaign's lawyers had been specifically concerned about a new provision of New York's election law, enacted five days after Sanders dropped out, which gives the state election board the power to omit a candidate who has dropped out of a race from the ballot.
The Sanders campaign, through its legal team, requested that the state board either decide the law doesn't apply to Sanders because he dropped out before the measure was signed into law, or exercise its discretion to keep Sanders on the primary ballot in the interest of what the Sanders camp calls "party unification.”
“Senator Sanders has collaborated with state parties, the national party and the Biden campaign, to strengthen the Democrats by aligning the party’s progressive and moderate wings,” said attorney Malcolm Seymour, who works for the New York City-based firm Foster Garvey and represents the Sanders campaign.
“His removal from the ballot would hamper those efforts, to the detriment of the party in the general election.”
But ultimately, the state board disagreed and canceled the presidential primary. But other down ballot primaries will still go on as scheduled.
Senior Sanders advisor Jeff Weaver blasted the decision in a statement as "an outrage," adding that the state should be stripped of its convention delegates if "this is not remedied."
It's the latest example of the Sanders campaign pressing to allow the senator to continue to accumulate ballots despite dropping out.
In California, campaign co-chair Rep. Ro Khanna is urging the governor and Democratic leaders to let Sanders keep delegates he earned during his win on Super Tuesday.
“Stripping him of his delegates is an affront to the primary process and the policies he is fighting for,” Khanna wrote in a tweet.
At issue is a party rule that could cost Sanders a portion of his delegates. Candidates earn pledged delegates in a handful of ways, including those allocated based on primary results in a certain congressional district or based on the statewide results.
But party rules say any presidential candidate who drops out before delegates are selected at a statewide convention loses those statewide delegates (they can keep the delegates allocated to them based on congressional district results).
That could frustrate Sanders' attempt to accumulate enough delegates to have sway at the convention, since convention rules give him more power if he wins 25 percent of the delegates.
What Khanna is arguing is that, despite Sanders' decision to drop out, he should still be able to retain the delegates he won in California's March primary.
—Ben Kamisar contributed
Pelosi becomes highest ranking elected Democrat to endorse Biden
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Monday became the highest ranking elected Democrat to endorse Joe Biden's presidential bid, calling him “a leader who is the personification of hope and courage, values, authenticity, and integrity.“
“He will be an extraordinary president. He knows how to get the job done,” she says in a new video.
Pelosi talks about her work as speaker with the former vice president and apparent nominee on a number of issues, including his work overseeing implementation of the Recover Act. She says he was a “partner in progress” when the House worked to pass the ACA, and “has been with us every step of the day” to protect the health law against Trump administration.
Biden thanked Pelosi for her support in a tweet of his own.
Stacey Abrams: Biden choosing a woman VP of color would promote 'trust' with black community
WASHINGTON — Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, a possible running-mate pick for former Vice President Joe Biden, pitched herself on "Meet the Press" as a truth-teller that can help Biden "lift up marginalized communities."
When asked why she's been so open about her interest in serving as Biden's vice president — Abrams and a handful of other potential picks have made their interest clear, a departure from the typical demurring from politicians in previous cycles — the Georgian said that she wanted to be honest.
"He’s made it clear that he wants someone that he is compatible with, someone with the skills and the capacity to help him lead and help us recover from four years of the incompetence and chaos," she said.
"I am the daughter of two ministers, I was raised to tell the truth. And so when I am asked a question I answer it as directly and honestly as I can. And as a young black girl growing up in Mississippi, I learned that if I didn’t speak up for myself, no one else would."
Biden has pledged to pick a woman as his running mate.
Abrams added that picking a running mate who is a woman of color would be helpful to Biden as he seeks to mobilize the coalition that elected President Obama and Biden in 2008 and 2012. And she pointed to representation as especially acute considering the effect coronavirus has had on minority Americans.
"A President Biden will do what he has always done, which is respect and value communities of color. I think he understands that black communities and people of color are vital to the success of the Democratic Party, and I think he's going to pick the right person" Abrams said.
"I, of course, think that a woman of color can bring certain attributes. We have to lift up marginalized communities, communities that do not trust that they will be served because they've been the hardest hit by this pandemic. In the state of Georgia alone, while we're only 32 percent of the population, African Americans comprise 54 percent of the deaths."
"And so, yes, having a woman of color on the ticket will help promote not only diversity, but trust. But I trust Joe Biden to pick the person he thinks is the right running mate for him.
Biden campaign signs joint fundraising agreement with DNC
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign has signed a joint fundraising agreement with the Democratic National Committee. The agreement will allow the apparent nominee to exert more influence over the party's fundraising, which has lagged President Donald Trump in building a war chest for the fall campaign, the party confirmed to NBC News.
The agreement will dramatically raise the maximum donors can contribute to $360,600 per person, and that number will go up as state parties join the "Biden Victory Fund." The vast majority of that money will go to the party, which has struggled with fundraising for years, since federal law caps donations to campaigns at $5,600.
The DNC will also replace its current CEO, Seema Nanda, with Mary Beth Cahill — a veteran Democratic operative who ran John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and has been serving as a senior adviser to DNC Chair Tom Perez, as first reported by The New York Times.
"Mary Beth will bring her decades of experience and strategy to ensure that Joe Biden becomes the President of the United States and Democrats win at every level," Perez said in a statement.
Cahill, in a statement, said the joint fundraising agreement will help "ensure that we put Joe Biden in the best position possible to beat Donald Trump."
Presidential nominees typically take over the party apparatus after the primary process in preparation for the general election. Even though Biden hasn't amassed the amount of delegates yet to be the official nominee, he's been able to move more quickly in this process because every other major candidate in the 2020 Democratic race has dropped out and endorsed him.
Biden recently assigned his former campaign manager, Greg Schultz, to coordinate between the campaign, the DNC, and state parties. John Morgan, a top Biden donor who has worked extensively with Schultz, said Biden told him Schultz’s role working with the DNC would be especially 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,” Morgan said, referring to an $18 million donation the former New York City mayor made to the DNC. “I just think it shows the trust that Joe Biden has in Greg.”
Biden and the DNC are starting far behind Trump and the Republican National Committee's war chest — the affiliated fundraising committees for the president ended March with $244 million in the bank, while the DNC and Biden had only about $57 million (when the DNC's $5 million in debt is subtracted).
And the coronavirus crisis has complicated fundraising since in-person events are not possible.
"It’s really hard to raise money without that photograph line. People want to meet him in person, they want to get that picture, they want to be with other people who are like them," Morgan said. "I just think that makes the DNC position so much more important for money. You can get bigger checks from wealthier people."
But Morgan said donors are more likely to open their wallets as it becomes clearer Biden is likely to be the party's nominee and possibly the country's next president.
"The inevitability of Joe Biden’s candidacy will translate into money from everywhere," he added.
Trump's coronavirus approval rating underwater in key states, surveys find
WASHINGTON — New surveys out Thursday show President Donald Trump’s approval rating for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic is underwater among voters in four critical states this election while state governors receive high marks for their responses to the virus. By and large, these key voters also oppose protests against stay-at-home orders and efforts to relax social distancing measures.
The polling, conducted by the progressive firm, Public Policy Polling, on behalf of Protect Our Care — a left-of-center health care advocacy group — finds that 45 percent of voters in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin approve of Trump’s management of the crisis while 50 percent disapprove on average. The governors of those states, in contrast, receive a net approval rating for their handling of the pandemic that’s 32 percentage points higher than the president’s with 58 percent approving and 31 percent disapproving.
Asked about who they trust more in general, governors on average held about a 20 point advantage over Trump among those surveyed in the swing states — 57 percent versus 36 percent. Governors also beat Trump by an approximate two-to-one margin with respect to who these key voters trust to reopen their state economies. 61 percent of those surveyed say they trust their state’s executive to take charge compared with 33 percent who place their faith in the president.
And despite the fact that several battleground states have recently been home to protests urging the immediate reopening of the country, the surveys show that an average of 67 percent of participants hold a negative view of these protests. A majority also believes that social distancing practices must remain in place.
Less than one-fifth — 19 percent — of participants on average say social distancing measures should be relaxed. A majority — 54 percent — report that the policies in place are sufficient while just 26 percent say more aggressive efforts should be instituted.
Notably, a state by state breakdown reveals that over half of Michiganders — 57 percent — believe that their state is currently doing the right thing when it comes to social distancing. The governor there, Gretchen Whitmer, has come under fire for instituting particularly strict practices yet out of all states polled, Michigan voters approve of their state’s measures at the highest rate.
The president’s supporters in the crucial states also favor the status quo or more aggressive efforts amid the coronavirus on average. Nearly two-thirds of Trump voters approve of the current or an even stricter social distancing approach versus 34 percent who say that it should be eased.
With respect to concerns about health and the economy, an average of 56 percent of voters report that they’re more concerned about getting the virus or someone in their family getting sick than the economic impact of the pandemic. 20 points behind, 36 percent of those surveyed worry more about the personal financial fallout.
Trump won Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2016 but now appears to be behind the apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden in all four states according to the surveys’ findings, although Biden’s lead is within the margin of error in two states. In Michigan and North Carolina, Biden holds a seven point lead over the president — both 51 percent versus 44 percent. In North Carolina and Wisconsin, Biden is up by 3 points and 5 points respectively, within the margin of error.
The results of the latest surveys are similar to those of other recent polling, which found Trump’s approval rate for handling the coronavirus trailing behind governors in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Other surveys also show Biden winning head-to-heads with the president in those states.
Public Policy Polling conducted half of the polling for Protect Our Care by calls to landlines and the other half via texts to cell phones in the battleground states April 20-21 or just April 20. The average margin of error for the surveys in every state is plus-minus 2.7 percent.
Trump campaign releases new mobile app, tooled for virtual volunteering
WASHINGTON — After teasing it for seven months, President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign finally launched a new phone application to rally supporters on Thursday that has been re-imagined for the virtual political age.
The digital tool was originally pitched as a key way to organize before the coronavirus pandemic brought a traditional presidential race to a halt. Now, it allows volunteers to work remotely and “earn points” for signed memorabilia and special treatment at future events when they return.
Campaign manager Brad Parscale, the architect behind the mobile app, suggested that the new online portal will allow Trump supporters to “get the facts straight” from the president and called it “groundbreaking" contrary to "other lame political apps you’ve seen.”
The “Trump 2020” app also pushes users to check out the online broadcasts the campaign is holding nightly after each White House coronavirus task force briefing. The short, 30-minute virtual shows have attracted millions of views, per senior officials.
Once a supporter logs in, a screen reads: “As a reward for helping us fight against socialist Democrats you can earn items like Expedited Entry and special event access, even a picture with President Trump!”
Under “rewards,” it costs 100,000 points to get a picture with the president and 28,000 points for “expedited entry to skip the line” at a Trump campaign gathering. Netting 5,000 points will earn fans a $25 store discount. Supporters can get 100 points for sharing the app and they can add to their total by sharing stories to Twitter and Facebook.
It’s unclear exactly when the Trump campaign will return to the trail this year with large events but discussions are underway for rallies to begin again later this summer and fall ahead of November’s election.
In the “events” section of the app, all gatherings are currently listed as phone calls or livestreams.
Throughout the health crisis, the re-elect effort has touted its ability to convert a conventional campaign into a virtual one. This app, the campaign says, will help give supporters another opportunity to get involved and help reach new voters who support the president’s agenda.
The app includes a “news” section that features the latest campaign statements, as well as curated attacks on former vice president and apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden. There are also dozens of videos from the campaign’s rapid response team embedded throughout.
One congressional race, three very different ways to advertise on coronavirus
WASHINGTON — Today's First Read Ad Watch heads to northwest Georgia for the battle to replace retiring GOP Rep. Tom Graves, where there are some very different ways that candidates are messaging on coronavirus.
In Clayton Fuller’s recent spot in the deep-red district, he begins by talking about how he was called up by the Air National Guard for coronavirus response, before pivoting to his work as a prosecutor who will stand with President Trump.
In another advertisement, neurosurgeon John Cowan blasts “weak Republicans” like Mitt Romney and “deranged Democrats” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi before shooting a prop with a sign with “COVID-19” written on it.
And in a third spot, Marjorie Taylor Greene calls fines for violating social distancing orders “a dose of Chinese-style socialism,” warning that America could become “a socialist nation under China’s thumb.”
In Georgia's 14th Congressional District, a district that President Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016, the GOP primary is effectively the only game in town. So there's a large field of candidates beyond these three looking to grab the seat.
But on the airwaves right now, these three candidates are taking three significantly different tacks toward messaging on the coronavirus crisis.
This is an excerpt from Thursday's edition of First Read, the newsletter from NBC's Political Unit. Sign up by clicking here.