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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Biden campaign launches digital letter series

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign has launched a new digital feature "Sincerely, Joe" which feature letters he has sent to Americans struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the first installation of “Sincerely, Joe,” Biden wrote to Susan Sahai, a food safety distribution manager from Ridgewood, N.J., who chronicled the numerous essential workers who are working overtime to ensure that the short supply of food is kept safe for consumption in the New York Metropolitan Area and for hospital workers.

Biden responded to her saying he hoped the pandemic will make the public realize the work she and many other essential workers do to keep food on their tables.

“I’ve said from day one of this campaign and throughout my career, American workers are the heart and soul of this nation and too often, we take them and the work they do for granted,” Biden wrote. “We have to not only acknowledge and thank you for your sacrifice, but also fight for your safety and economic security.”

Joe Biden speaks during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, on Aug. 10, 2019.Scott Morgan / Reuters file

The new digital series will highlight a sample of the “hundreds” of letters the Biden campaign says the former vice president receives on a weekly basis. The campaign also asked supporters to write their own submissions to share their “own stories during this time of uncertainty,” as Sahai noted in her letter.

The Bidens have privately reached out to frontline workers since self-isolating in their home in Delaware. The campaign is using what they describe as a “traditional format of communication” to highlight online the conversations between Biden and Americans who “are longing for empathetic leadership and a president who listens to and understands their problems.”

The letter series is the newest example of the digital campaign the apparent Democratic frontrunner is launching while working from home. To reach voters outside of virtual events and TV appearances, Biden has also launched a podcast, a weekly newsletter and is holding "virtual rope lines." Plus, the campaign hopes to build the series — and their digital content — by posting video exchanges or phone calls of these conversations on a regular basis.

Never-Trump group's 'mourning' ad gets presidential reaction

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump took to Twitter overnight to attack the Lincoln Project — a PAC consisting of Never-Trump Republicans including George Conway, the husband of high-ranking White House advisor Kellyanne Conway — for their latest ad criticizing the president’s coronavirus response.

The group’s one-minute ad, titled “Mourning in America,” plays on President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 hopeful re-election campaign ad. In contrast with Reagan’s “Morning in America,” the new spot released Monday takes on a negative tone, pointing to the over 60,000 Americans who “have died from a deadly virus Donald Trump ignored” and the more than 26 million Americans who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic.

“Under the leadership of Donald Trump, our county is weaker, and sicker and poorer,” the ad goes on, adding that Americans are now asking if America will exist if Trump wins reelection this fall.

In response, Trump tweeted: “A group of RINO Republicans who failed badly 12 years ago, then again 8 years ago, and then got BADLY beaten by me, a political first timer, 4 years ago, have copied (no imagination) the concept of an ad from Ronald Reagan.”

The president continued in the thread that the anti-Trump group doesn’t care about GOP causes like tax cuts or the protection of gun rights.

“I didn’t use any of them because they don’t know how to win, and their so-called Lincoln Project is a disgrace to Honest Abe,” Trump noted.

Trump called out several of the Lincoln Project’s members by name, including George Conway, who has been a vocal opponent of the president despite his wife’s work in the administration. Trump also singled out long-time Republican advisers John Weaver, Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, Reed Galen and Jennifer Horn, some of whom have worked for GOP administrations or lawmakers.

The Lincoln Project has spent less than $37,000 on TV ads so far this cycle, according to Advertising Analytics, and another $36,000 is booked through the end of the month.

The group recently announced their endorsement of former Vice President and apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president despite their Republican backgrounds. 

New Montana poll shows Bullock ahead and Biden inching forward

WASHINGTON — A new online poll from Montana State University shows Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock leading incumbent GOP Sen. Steve Daines in Montana’s competitive Senate contest, 46 percent to 39 percent. However, that thin lead falls within the poll's 3.6-point margin of error.  

The poll, which was conducted between April 10 and 27, shows a closer-than-expected presidential race. President Trump leads apparent Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden 45-40 percent. 

Montana Governor Steve Bullock talks to patrons of the Ten Mile Brewery as he launches 2020 U.S. presidential campaign in Helena, Mont., on May 14, 2019.Jim Urquhart / Reuters file

Bullock's lead in the Senate race, and Biden's good showing in the poll, might track with how Montanans are viewing the parties' coronavirus responses. While 53 percent of Montanans approve of the president's coronavirus response, 70 percent of Montanans approve of Bullock's handling of the crisis. 

When that focused flipped to the incumbent senator, just 48 percent of those polled said they approved of Daines' response to the pandemic while 28 percent said they didn't know. And if those views stay in place, the race could help decide which party controls the Senate.

Democrats need to pick up a net of three Senate seats (plus the White House) in November to retake control of Congress' upper chamber, and a Montana win would put them on track to do just that. 

Biden calls for immediate $13 minimum wage increase for frontline workers

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden Monday called for an immediate $13 minimum wage increase for essential workers and criticized President Trump for viewing these front-liners as “disposable” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at a virtual town hall with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the apparent Democratic nominee proposed giving employees required to work through the public health crisis — many of whom are minorities and are working in a “war zone” — a $13 minimum wage increase on top of their current salaries to ensure that they can sustain their families, especially if they were to get sick on the job.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the LULAC National Convention in 2018.LULAC

Biden already supports a $15 minimum wage for federal workers, but is calling for this extra amount just for essential employees working in virus hotspots like meatpacking plants and hospitals while the crisis continues. He said that Congress is considering adding a policy like his latest proposal in the new CARES Act.

During the town hall, the former vice president praised those on the frontlines, saying that the nation “would not survive” without their sacrifices. He stressed the need for essential employees to receive better pay, free coronavirus treatment regardless of their immigration status or health insurance, and paid sick leave during the outbreak.

“We can afford to do that,” Biden said.

Pre-empting the availability of a vaccine, Biden said the country must prepare now to ensure that all vaccines are free and accessible to everyone.

The candidate repeatedly swiped at President Trump and his administration for not empathizing with these workers, some of whom have died from exposure to the virus on the job. 

“They designate them as essential workers, then treat them as disposable,” Biden said. “It’s quite frankly inhumane and downright immoral because these workers are essential to our society. Not just in times of crisis, but always.”

At one point in the town hall, Biden dared Trump to “look one of these essential workers in the eye — the meat packers, delivery drivers, health care workers, grocery store clerks and tell them they don't deserve a livable wage, paid sick leave.”

As he’s often said throughout his virtual campaign, the former vice president emphasized that the teachable moment from this pandemic is that the country is recognizing how much it relies on minority workers. He hopes that this realization will lead to structural reforms in the system that reflects the dignity of their work.

—Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed

New Trump coronavirus ad hits critics, argues America writing the 'the greatest comeback story'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's re-election campaign is out with its new coronavirus television ad aimed at coming to the president's defense on his handling of the virus. 

The new, 60-second spot blends optimism with Trumpian attacks.

It begins by recounting the spat over Nancy Pelosi's decision to rip up a copy of Trump's State of the Union and goes on to take swipes at both former Vice President Joe Biden as well as the media. 

"No matter how hard they try to stop us, they can't," Trump is quoted saying in the ad. 

Then the ad shifts to telling the story of the attempt at recovery, touting the resilience of the American economy, cheering first responders and highlighting praise of the federal response by blue-state governors. 

The campaign says the new spot will run as part of a seven-figure ad buy. 

But as we explored last week on the MTP Blog, the pro-Trump effort has already been significantly outspent by Democratic groups that frame the Trump administration as asleep at the wheel.

And recent polling, including from last month's NBC/WSJ poll, found a clear plurality of registered voters believe he has not taken the threat seriously and also the president lagging Biden on the question of who would handle the virus better. 

So it’s with messaging like this that the Trump administration hopes to turn those numbers around. 

Trump says Biden “should respond” to sexual assault allegation

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump Thursday said he thinks former Vice President Joe Biden should respond to the claim from a former staffer that the then-Delaware senator sexually assaulted her in the spring of 1993 even as he cast doubt on the veracity of the allegation.

“I don't know anything about it,” Trump said when asked by reporters Thursday evening about the allegation. “I don't know exactly. I think he should respond. It could be false allegations, I know all about false accusations. I’ve been falsely charged numerous times. There’s such a thing.”

More than a dozen women have alleged that Trump sexually harassed or assaulted them. The president denies their accounts. 

A former Senate staffer, Tara Reade, told NBC News that Biden — who at the time headed the Senate Judiciary Committee — penetrated her with his fingers under his skirt when she brought him a gym bag. She was a staff assistant in his office on Capitol Hill at the time.

Biden has not responded himself to Reade’s claims, but through his campaign has denied Reade’s account.

On Friday, Biden will conduct his first national news interview in two weeks with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

He has remained off the campaign trail and at his home in Delaware since mid-March, as Reade’s allegation has slowly gained attention and scrutiny. Prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several possible Biden vice presidential selections, have been asked about Reade’s claim, with most defending Biden.

“I have great sympathy for any woman who brings forth allegations. I do support Joe Biden,” Pelosi said in a CNN interview this week.

Tweet the Press: NBC's Kerry Sanders discusses coronavirus impacts in Florida, meat processing plants

WASHINGTON — On this week's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News correspondent Kerry Sanders about the coronavirus' impact in Florida and in meat processing plants. 

President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to force meat processing plants to stay open amid the pandemic. Sanders told us that the concern for workers at this time is the virus is highly contagious and "workers were working elbow-to-elbow. There is now social distancing at plants but there is distrust between employees and employers." So despite the DPA, workers are reluctant to go to work.

Click here to read the full conversation. 

Trump campaign to hit airwaves with seven-figure coronavirus ad buy

WASHINGTON — President Trump's re-election campaign is preparing to spend seven figures on a national advertising buy that will tout the president’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, according to a senior campaign official. 

A new, 60-second television ad will start airing on Sunday and run for one week. This would mark the re-elect’s first major TV ad blitz of the general election, with just about six months to go.

“It’s an inspirational message about the unyielding resolve of Americans. It heralds the great American comeback,” the Trump campaign official said.

The announcement comes one day after the Trump campaign released a digital ad that includes Democratic governors praising portions of the administration's response to the pandemic. 

But the unified anti-Trump effort has already spent millions on attacking the Trump administration's handling of the virus, or praising former Vice President Joe Biden on the issue. 

Since March 1, the Democratic groups Priorities USA, American Bridge and Unite the Country have spent at least a combined $5 million on TV ads on broadcast and national cable that take on Trump or promote Biden on coronavirus, according to Advertising Analytics. 

On the GOP side, the pro-Trump America First Action has spent at least $1.2 million on broadcast and national cable spots over that same time period, with their ads largely attacking Biden through the lens of  China and the spread of coronavirus.

Amid the ad wars, recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling shows Biden with a 9-point edge over Trump on the questions of who would be better at responding to the coronavirus, or at handling a crisis.

A plurality of voters, 45 percent, say Trump "did not take the [coronavirus] threat seriously enough at the beginning and is still not handling it well."  Twenty percent say he didn't take it seriously to start but is handling it well now, and 30 percent say Trump took the threat posed by the virus seriously and "continues to handle it well." 

Thirty six percent of registered voters said they trust what Trump has said on the coronavirus, compared to 52 percent who do not. 

But the plurality of registered voters, 42 percent, say they aren't aware or have no opinion of what Biden has said on the issue. Twenty-six percent say they trust Biden's comments on the virus and 29 percent say they do not. 

The poll was conducted between April 13 through 15 with 900 registered voters and has a margin-of-error of plus-or-minus 3.27 percent.

Amash's possible bid raises concerns about November implications

WASHINGTON — When Independent Michigan Rep. Justin Amash announced on Tuesday that he’s seeking the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination, he joined a list of third-party candidates who aimed to provide a choice to voters outside of the two major parties. Amash, a frequent critic of President Trump, left the Republican Party in 2019 and supported Trump's impeachment. 

Although no third-party candidate has gone on to win the presidency, these candidates can impact elections and have been accused of spoiling the election for one of the two major party nominees.

In an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday, Amash said it’s a “factual issue” to assume his candidacy affects how Americans would have voted come November if he weren't in the race.

“We don't know who people will vote for. It's impossible to say whether more people will vote for Biden or Trump if I'm in the race or not in the race. So I think there's a big, factual issue there,” Amash said. 

But electoral history tells a different story. Take Ralph Nader in the 2000 election. 

Nader’s Green Party run in 2000 is largely seen as one of the major reasons former Vice President Al Gore lost the general election. While the close 2000 election was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, Florida’s valuable electoral votes could have been carried by Gore had Nader’s name not been on the ballot.

According to the Federal Elections Commission, Bush carried 2,912,790 votes in Florida and Gore carried just slightly less with 2,912,253  — only a 537 vote difference. Nader held the significant balance of 97,488 votes. 

Bush’s win, perhaps with help from a more liberal third-party candidate, followed another Bush’s loss helped by Texas billionaire Ross Perot in 1992. Perot’s Independent run for the White House focused on utilizing cable TV — he announced his bid on the Larry King Live show — and used infomercials to sell his message. He ended up with about 19 percent of the vote in 1992 — and then-Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton won the election against President George H.W. Bush by just six points. 

Like Gore supporters in 2000, Democrats last election argued that Green Party candidate Jill Stein detracted votes from their nominee, resulting in Republican victories in key states. Stein received more votes than Trump’s margin of victory over 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 

According to the Michigan Department of State, Stein garnered over 50,000 votes in Michigan  while Trump won just about 10,000 more votes than Clinton in the state. Official results from the Wisconsin Elections Commission show Trump beat out Clinton by just 23,000 votes — Stein received over 31,000 votes. And in Pennsylvania, where Clinton fell nearly 45,000 votes short of her Republican rival, Stein carried 49,941 votes per the Pennsylvania Department of State

It’s plausible that had the majority of Stein’s votes gone to Clinton, she would have carried those three once-Democratic strongholds. 

Perhaps unlike third-party spoilers in the past, Amash’s run has an opportunity to take votes from both parties’ nominees. On some issues, Amash may be able to run to the right of the president and pick up conservative votes. 

And in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he may be able to hinder moderates and Independents from coalescing around Biden.

Biden campaign announces vice presidential search committee

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has named a former Senate colleague, a trusted longtime aide, and two political allies to head up his vice presidential search committee, his campaign announced Thursday. 

Former Sen. Chris Dodd, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester and Cynthia Hogan, a former counsel to Biden in the Senate and the White House, will lead the effort meant to advise Biden as he makes what is likely his most consequential political decision. The campaign says the four will “conduct conversations across the party” to inform the selection.

The inclusion of Garcetti, who is part Mexican, and Rochester, Delaware’s first black congresswoman, provides the kind of racial diversity on the panel that Democrats hope Biden will also consider as he rounds out the ticket.

Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden addresses a crowd at a town hall event at Clinton College in Rock Hill, South Carolina on Aug. 29, 2019.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file

Biden announced during his final primary debate against Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in March that he would choose a woman as his running mate, considerably narrowing the field of possible choices. But he’s under some pressure from key Democrats to go further and select a woman of color in a bid to potentially energize the party’s base in the fall.

Separately, Biden campaign general counsel Dana Remus, former White House counsel Bob Bauer and former Obama administration Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco will oversee the rigorous background vetting process for all potential selections.

“Selecting a vice presidential candidate is one of the most important decisions in a presidential campaign and no one knows this more than Joe Biden,” campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a statement making the announcement. "These four co-chairs reflect the strength and diversity of our party, and will provide tremendous insight and expertise to what will be a rigorous selection and vetting process.  We are grateful for their service to the campaign and for their leadership.”

Biden advisers have suggested that Thursday’s announcement will be the most they will say publicly about the process until the day the former vice president introduces the woman he hopes will be the next one. 

But Biden himself has talked often about the characteristics he is looking for most in a potential White House partner, including someone who is largely aligned with him ideologically, who could take on significant policy assignments, and with whom he enjoys significant trust. He’s also said that, as someone who would assume the presidency at 78 years old, he needs a vice presidential candidate that the country could accept as experienced enough to serve in the Oval Office themselves.

Biden has personally spoken with former President Barack Obama and some of the officials who helped guide his 2008 VP search committee — which, of course, ended with Biden on the ticket. That committee included Obama’s future attorney general, Eric Holder, and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president.

Biden told donors at a virtual fundraiser Wednesday that he hoped to have the vetting process completed in July. He’s previously said his campaign is discussing whether to announce his choice well before the Democratic National Convention in August. Obama announced his choice of Biden the weekend before the 2008 convention in late August; Hillary Clinton also announced her choice of Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine just before the 2016 Democratic convention in July.

Top Senate campaign groups announce biggest early investment in North Carolina, Arizona, Iowa

WASHINGTON — Senate campaign committees and top super PACs are making their biggest investments on the airwaves in North Carolina, Arizona and Iowa, three states where Republican incumbents are looking to fend off Democratic attempts to win back the Senate in November. 

Now that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has released the breakdown of its initial round of television and digital investments, all four top committees in the battle for the Senate have sketched out early buy information — the DSCC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senate Leadership Fund (the Republican super PAC) and Senate Majority PAC (the Democratic super PAC). 

North Carolina is far and away the top target of that initial investment — $66.4 million between the four groups, $37.3 million from the blue team and $29.1 from the red team. There, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis will face off against Democrat Cal Cunningham (with the Democrat leading by 5 points in a March NBC/WSJ poll, just inside the margin of error). 

That comes as North Carolina has seen the most television and radio spending already so far — $20.6 million, according to Advertising Analytics, with Maine a close second at $20.5 million. 

Sen. Thom Tillis speaks during a rally for President Donald Trump in Charlotte, N.C. on March 2, 2020.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Then comes Arizona and Iowa in the second tier of spending, with $37 million and $35.6 million respectively between the four groups. The Democratic effort has the spending edge of these investments in both states — Democrats have booked $22.1 million in Arizona and $20.4 million in Iowa, with Republicans booking $14.9 million in Arizona and $15.2 million in Iowa. 

Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally is expected to face off against Democrat Mark Kelly in that state, while a handful of Democrats are facing off to win the right to run against Republican Sen. Joni Ernst (with Democrat Theresa Greenfield the best-funded of those options). 

Then there's Maine and Colorado bunched closely together — two states where those Republican groups are booking more initial advertising. Republicans are booking $12.3 million of the $21.9 million in initial reservations in Maine, and $11.9 million of the $17.1 million in Colorado. 

In those states, Democrats are looking to dethrone Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. 

In Montana, home to the clash between GOP Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, Democrats are booking $5.2 million compared to Republicans' $2.8 million. 

Then there are two states where only those Republican groups have decided to make initial investments in — SLF is putting $10.8 million into Kentucky, defending Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while the NRSC is spending $2.7 million in Michigan, where it hopes to knock off Democratic Sen. Gary Peters. 

The initial spending plans are just one piece of the puzzle — these groups are all expected to dump more money into the map; there are other outside groups either already running ads or that will in the coming months; and the candidates themselves will hit the airwaves depending on how much money they are able to raise. 

But now that the four big groups have released their initial plans, we can see where they believe their early money may go the furthest.