Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Trump slightly outraises Biden in April, maintains large cash on hand

WASHINGTON — President Trump, apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden and the umbrella of party organizations backing them raised over $60 million in April, according to the two campaigns. The Trump team reported a $61.7 million cash haul, while the Biden camp brought in just slightly less with $60.5 million. 

On top of money raised by their campaigns, the pro-Trump effort includes fundraising from the Republican National Committee as well as other groups affiliated with his re-election effort. And Biden's effort includes the Democratic National Committee as well.

This is the first monthly filing period in which both teams are reporting their fundraising from their joint fundraising committees. April is also the first month in which Biden was the sole Democratic candidate for the majority of the reporting period. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the primary race on April 8. 

President Donald Trump arrives on May 5, 2020 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport during his first trip since lockdowns went into effect.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

While Biden and the Democratic National Committee have not released their cash on hand numbers, the president's campaign says it has over $255 million in the bank — and that juggernaut may be Biden's greatest financial weakness. The last officially reported numbers, filed for March, showed Biden and the DNC with just over $62 million on hand. 

The two campaigns have had to shift their fundraising appeals due to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden and his surrogates have been holding virtual fundraisers — one held by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar brought in $1.5 million in one night. And according to Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale, since shifting to virtual efforts, "Trump Victory, the joint field effort between the RNC and the campaign, has added over 300,000 new volunteers and made over 20 million voter contacts." 

Both campaigns will report their full fundraising filing for April on May 20. 

First competitive special House elections in coronavirus age set for Tuesday

WASHINGTON — With the coronavirus pandemic forcing candidates off of the traditional campaign trail, the 2020 election season gears up Tuesday when the first competitive House special elections since the start of the crisis will take place and produce two new members of Congress representing Wisconsin and California.

Facing off in California’s now-empty 25th House District, where the GOP hopes to reclaim the seat won by Democratic Rep. Katie Hill in 2018, are Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith and former Navy pilot, Republican Mike Garcia.

In Wisconsin's 7th House District, a historically Republican district that President Trump won by 20 points in 2016, Democrat Tricia Zunker and Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany are vying for the seat vacated by GOP Rep. Sean Duffy.

For more about the two races and what they could could mean for effectively campaigning and winning elections in the coronavirus era, read the breakdown from NBC News' political unit here.

Also check out the First Read analysis of how the scandal surrounding former congresswoman Katie Hill could increase Republican chances of taking back the district by looking at the history of scandal-induced special elections.

Lamar Alexander: DOJ argument to repeal Obamacare 'flimsy'

WASHINGTON — Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said Sunday he was disappointed with President Trump's decision to move forward with a lawsuit aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. 

Last week, Trump reiterated his administration's support for a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the landmark health-care law. The federal government has joined a group of states arguing that Congress rendered the entire legislation unconstitutional in 2017 when the GOP-led Congress effectively removed the "individual mandate" that taxed anyone who did not have health insurance. 

"I thought the Justice Department argument was really flimsy," Alexander said when asked about the case.

"What they're arguing is that when we voted to get rid of the individual mandate we voted to get rid of Obamacare. I don't know one single senator that thought that."

The Supreme Court has said it would hear the case in its fall term, which begins in October. 

Debate over reopening gets heated in a key 2020 county

WASHINGTON — The debate over how quickly to reopen businesses without accelerating the spread of coronavirus is happening in every part of America — and it’s gotten heated in one of the key places where the 2020 election could be decided: Beaver County, Pennsylvania. 

The county, which sits northwest of Pittsburgh and borders Ohio, is one of five that NBC’s "Meet the Press" is tracking as part of its County-to-County project. There, President Trump’s reelection campaign will aim to turn out the high share of blue-collar voters who charged to the polls for him in 2016, lifting him to a 19 point victory in a county Mitt Romney only won by 8 points in 2016. 

According to new guidance from the state’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, Beaver County will remain in a locked-down “red” phase next week despite neighboring counties being moved to a less stringent “yellow” classification. In the red phase, only “life-sustaining businesses” can remain open and stay-at-home orders remain in place.

But local officials are bristling at the decision, with the county’s district attorney saying Friday that his office will not prosecute businesses that reopen despite the governor’s order. And County Commissioner Daniel Camp called the governor's move “unwarranted and irrational.”  

As of Friday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 479 confirmed cases in the county and 78 deaths. But local officials argue that the governor’s office is unfairly targeting the entire county based on nursing home outbreaks, where the lion’s share of those cases are. 

In Beaver County, where the median income was significantly lower and unemployment has already been higher than national numbers, anger at a Democratic governor over the economy may prove difficult for Joe Biden to navigate as Trump touts his party’s efforts to reopen the country quickly. 

“From Day One, nursing homes across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were set up to fail by this administration and its Department of Health,” Camp said Friday. “Because of these failures, Beaver County residents, workers and businesses are being sucker-punched — and being sentenced to economic punishment — not for anything done by the great people of this county.”

Dante Chinni contributed. 

How Michigan could affect the 2020 battle for the Senate

WASHINGTON — In some of the most competitive Senate races across the country, Democratic candidates — both incumbents and challengers — have outraised their Republican opponents, often by significant margins. 

But one exception is in Michigan, where GOP challenger John James has raked in more money in the past three fundraising quarters than incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters. 

In the first quarter of 2020, from January to March, James raised $4.8 million to Peters' $4.1 million – both campaigns including committee transfers. However, Peters has slightly more in the bank: $8.8 million to $8.6 million. 

Republicans face a difficult election map this cycle as they cling to their three-seat Senate majority. Plus, most of the competitive races in the 2020 Senate fight have a Republican incumbent. 

However, Democrats have to hold on to their most vulnerable Senate incumbents like Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones and win in battlegrounds like Michigan if they want to take control of Congress' upper chamber. And as of now, Peters may be able to hold on to his Democratic seat in Michigan. 

John James campaigns at the Johnstone Supply Picnic at Adison Oaks County Park on Aug. 5, 2018 in Leonard, Mich.Bill Pugliano / Getty Images file

An April Fox News poll found Peters ahead of James by 10 points (46 percent to 36 percent), and that's up from a February Quinnipiac University poll which showed Peters with a 6-point lead: 45-39 percent. And the Cook Political Report dubbed the race a "lean" Democratic contest. 

But Republicans see James — an army veteran who, if elected, would become the second African-American Republican in the Senate — as a star candidate.

James first stepped into politics in 2018, when he ran to unseat Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. He lost to the Democratic incumbent by 6 points, but it was Stabenow's closest margin since she first won her seat in 2000.  

“Without question, this is a competitive race,” said James' campaign spokesperson Abby Walls. “John has outraised the incumbent three quarters in a row.”

“It’s obvious that Democrats are worried,” Walls added.

However, Peters' campaign is pointing to the senator's track record of winning tough elections to show he's able to pull off another win. In 2014, Peters was the only non-incumbent Democrat to win his seat while the party lost its Senate majority.

“Gary Peters has a clear record of delivering results for Michigan, and working in a bipartisan manner to get the job done,” Dan Farough, Peters' campaign manager, said in a statement. 

Of course, a major factor in this race, that Stabenow didn't contend with against James in 2018, is the President Trump's name at the top of the ticket — Trump won Michigan in 2016, but recent polling shows former Vice President Joe Biden ahead. In 2018, aside from keeping their Senate seats blue, Democrats picked up two House seats in Michigan and won the governorship. 

Democratic super PAC, Trump campaign launch new ad campaigns

WASHINGTON — Unite the Country, a super PAC that supports apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and President Trump's campaign are spending big money ahead of the parties' conventions this summer.

Unite the Country's $10 million ad campaign launched Friday and will last until the Democratic convention. Their first ad of this campaign, entitled "Deserve", focuses on rebuilding the economy and Biden retelling his family's story of leaving Pennsylvania for work opportunities during the 2012 Democratic convention.  

“A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity, it’s about respect, it’s about your place in the community," Biden said in 2012. 

Unite the Country was formed by Biden allies in October to support his candidacy during the Democratic primaries. Now, it is one of several super PACs working to boost Biden in the general election. While this ad signals a positive message, another prominent super PAC, Priorities USA, has been spending heavily on Biden’s behalf with spots strongly critical of President Trump and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the Trump campaign came out with its own 60-second ad attacking the former vice president on China. Like past ads the campaign and PACs supporting the president have run against Biden, the ad alleges Biden would be soft on China. 

The new ad, which is a part of an expected $10 million comprehensive ad buy, focuses on past Biden remarks where he called the Chinese "not bad folks", and footage of Biden meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping when he was vice president. 

Harris, Sanders, Markey push $2,000 monthly payments during coronavirus

WASHINGTON — Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., rolled out legislation Friday that would provide monthly payments of up to $2,000 for U.S. residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill also includes an extra $2,000 per child on top of the initial monthly payment and would begin to phase out for individuals who make more than $100,000 and married couples earning $200,000, according to the 10-page text reviewed by NBC News. The payments would zero out for individuals making at least $120,000 or couples making twice that. 

The payments would be retroactive from March. Recipients would not require Social Security numbers, making undocumented people and certain legal residents eligible after they were excluded from the one-time payments of up to $1,200 in the CARES Act, which passed in late March.

The legislation comes as the Senate returns to Washington and considers the next phase of coronavirus relief. While it faces long odds in the Republican-controlled chamber, the bill carries political undertones, as two of its sponsors ran for president against the apparent Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. Harris is a potential running mate, and Sanders has been nudging him in a progressive direction.

"The CARES Act gave Americans an important one-time payment, but it's clear that wasn't nearly enough to meet the needs of this historic crisis," Harris said in a statement. "Bills will continue to come in every single month during the pandemic and so should help from government."

recent CNBC poll shows that a majority of voters in presidential battleground states support "sustained" direct payments from the federal government while the pandemic continues to affect the economy.

RNC adds public health expert to convention team

WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee added Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge to its convention team as a "senior advisor for health and safety planning.” The addition comes as the Republican Party has promised an in-person convention in Charlotte, N.C. this summer, but as the RNC has begun to consider alternative plans. 

“We are committed to hosting a safe and successful 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte, and Dr. Runge’s background and expertise will be instrumental as we continue to map out our plans that ensure the health safety of all convention participants and the Charlotte community,” said RNC convention president and CEO Marcia Lee Kelly.

Delegates hold signs at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 21, 2016.Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images file

Last month, the RNC said was it moving "full steam ahead" in planning their August convention, but some involved in the planning now say the convention may look drastically different than past conventions. Some alternative considerations include only having delegates and alternate delegates attend the convention and to have less parties and gatherings on the sidelines of the convention. 

Republican Jewish Coalition backs Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King's primary opponent

WASHINGTON — The Republican Jewish Coalition is endorsing Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King's primary opponent, Randy Feenstra, NBC News has learned, a rare rebuke from an organization that almost never gets involved in intra-party races.

"Rep. Steve King's record includes inflammatory rhetoric condoning white supremacists and anti-Semites. He has also met with and endorsed extremist foreign leaders," RJC’s executive director Matt Brooks said, calling King’s record “egregious” enough to warrant the unusual move.

The RJC’s political action committee has cut a $5,000 check to Feenstra and plans to fundraise for him, according to Brooks.

The organization contributed more than half a million dollars to help Republicans in the 2018 elections, according to the nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics.

King, a congressman since 2003 who’s known for his crusade against illegal immigration, was removed from House committees last year after he questioned whether “white supremacist” was an offensive term. 

King has said he was treated unfairly by a "political lynch mob" and told NBC News last year: "I reject white nationalism. I reject white supremacy. It's not part of any of my ideology. I reject anyone who carries that ideology."

Other GOP groups have come out to back Feenstra, a state senator, including the Republican Main Street Partnership. Feenstra has argued that King's diminished stature in Congress makes him an ineffective representative for the district. 

Biden appeals to progressive groups to unite party

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden's campaign is making inroads with key progressive groups in an effort to keep the former vice president's pledge and unite the factions of the Democratic Party. The campaign hopes that finding common ground on policy with these groups will strengthen their ability to defeat President Trump in November.

Biden earned notable endorsements from grassroots to legacy organizations in recent weeks, like Let America Vote and End Citizens United. Some of the groups backed Biden after the campaign engaged them to discuss policy interests and how to best utilize their vast networks to efficiently turnout voters in the general election.  

On Wednesday, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Biden on the eighth anniversary of Biden pre-empting President Barack Obama and announcing his support for legalized gay marriage on “Meet the Press.” The group cited his career-long commitment to fight for LGBTQ rights, and his promise to pass the Equality Act in the first 100 days of his presidency.  

“Joe Biden has said publicly and to us directly that the Equality Act will be a priority in his administration,” HRC president Alphonso David said on MSNBC on Wednesday. He added that Biden also promised to address the high violence rates faced by the transgender community.

Biden also earned the backing of the Progressive Turnout Project on Wednesday after pledging to support nationwide same-day registration and restoring voting rights to those previously incarcerated. 

Earlier this week, the progressive group "Indivisible" endorsed Biden after the apparent nominee incorporated policies championed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The group is still working with the Biden campaign to adopt policies like D.C. statehood and country-wide vote by mail. 

While it isn't rare for organizations to coalesce around their party's apparent nominee, the Biden campaign's added effort to win over these groups shows a commitment to energizing supporters of Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — key constituencies of young and diverse voters who may remain hesitant to embracing his candidacy.

Two senior campaign advisers, Symone Sanders and Cristóbal Alex, and Biden’s policy director Stef Feldman continue working to engage groups that haven't endorsed Biden yet like Sunrise Movement.   

Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for HRC told NBC News that their group's nationally recognized brand and community of 3.3 million members will allow them to promote Biden’s candidacy not just through social media activism, but in battleground states where they have already placed field organizing teams for the election.

“The campaign has made the strongest commitment to the community of any nominee in history and so we’re very confident in Joe Biden as an ally and are ready to start knocking on doors to make sure that we defeat Donald Trump,” Acosta said.

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.