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

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Conservative group launches new ads calling to 'reopen America now'

WASHINGTON — FreedomWorks, the conservative think tank based in Washington D.C., is running a new digital ad campaign aimed atginning up public support to "liberate" states and "reopen society." 

The group started running four different ads on Hulu Wednesday as part of a $50,000 digital ad buy targeting Republicans and independents across the country while also focusing on D.C. 

The ads are all similar. They largely begin by arguing that the mortality rates for COVID-19 infection are significantly lower for those under the age of 65 and without pre-existing conditions, before issuing a call to action for the young and healthy to push for a reopening. 

"This disease is horrible, and it is our American duty to take care of the vulnerable. If you are healthy, it's time to demand we get back to work to support our families and communities," the woman speaking to camera in one ad says.

"Let's be brave and we'll get through this together. Start making a difference by telling your governor to liberate your state and reopen society," she adds, directing viewers to text a message of support for reopening. 

The spot comes as the political pressure on reopening is ramping up — President Trump has repeatedly called on Democratic governors to "liberate" their states, and there have been a handful of protests in states calling for governors to relax coronavirus-related restrictions amid record unemployment numbers.

Recent polling from Gallup shows that social-distancing has decreased as states begin to move toward relaxing some restrictions.

But that even so, 73 percent of adults say it's better for healthy adults to stay home "as much as possible to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus," compared to the 27 percent who say it's better to "lead their normal lives as much as possible and avoid interruptions to work and business."

Jeanne Shaheen takes herself out of veepstakes

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., declined a request from Joe Biden’s presidential campaign to be vetted as a potential running mate, a source with direct knowledge told NBC News. She cited her “commitment to New Hampshire” as she runs for her third Senate term this year.

It’s the latest indication that Biden’s vetting work is well underway. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was the first possible candidate to publicly disclose this week that she has been in touch with Biden’s team. During a "Today" interview she said, “it was just an opening conversation.” Biden has said he expects the vetting process to take five to eight weeks, which would point to an announcement occurring no sooner than July.

“They're now in the process of thoroughly examining a group of women, all of whom are capable in my view of being president. And there's about a dozen of them,” Biden said during a virtual fundraiser last week. "We're keeping the names quiet because if anyone isn't chosen I don't want anybody to think it’s because there was something that was a — some liability that existed." 

Image: Senate Armed Services Nomination hearing for Braithwaite, Anderson and Brown in Washington, DC
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen,D-N.H., during a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 7, 2020.Kevin Dietsch / Pool via Reuters

The Biden team's interest in Shaheen was first reported by WMUR political reporter John DiStaso, who has also reported that Maggie Hassan, the state’s other Democratic senator, has agreed to be vetted by the Biden campaign, something NBC News has not confirmed.

NBC News learned that there were multiple conversations between Shaheen and Biden representatives over the last two weeks — specifically with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who are part of the Biden vetting operation

While Shaheen, who also served three terms as New Hampshire's governor, hasn't been listed as a top possibility, Biden mentioned her multiple times as one of women he might consider. At a campaign event in Iowa last November, Biden cited “the two senators from New Hampshire” as possibilities.

However, there are key factors as to why Shaheen may have declined the opportunity: At 73-years-old, she does not offer an obvious generational balance to the ticket and she's ideologically more moderate. Additionally, if Shaheen were to be Biden's running mate, and Biden were to win in November, the Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu would appoint her replacement. This could hurt Democrats' chances at winning back the Senate. 

Shaheen and Biden have known each other for decades. Shaheen's husband endorsed Biden before the New Hampshire primary and was an active local surrogate for him. Shaheen endorsed Biden in April once he became the apparent Democratic nominee. 

Even though Shaheen will not be campaigning for Biden as a potential vice president, Biden will likely Biden depend on the strength of Shaheen’s formidable and time-tested political operation in New Hampshire. His campaign said last week that as they continue to build up their state-by-state operations, they would be seeking to supplement the work of strong Senate candidates rather than set up their own operations from scratch. 

Marianna Sotomayor contributed. 

A pandemic campaign is a lean campaign, and other campaign finance takeaways

WASHINGTON — Wednesday marked another monthly campaign finance deadline, where presidential campaigns and many committees filed their latest fundraising report through April.

Here are a few takeaways from the Political Unit. 

A pandemic campaign is a lean campaign

There are real concerns among political strategists that the massive job losses and belt-tightening caused by the pandemic may leave campaigns strapped for cash. 

But one benefit — the lack of a real campaign schedule is allowing former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump to stockpile cash away ahead of the fall. 

Biden’s campaign raised $43.7 million and spent just $12.9 million, a healthy burn rate that allowed its cash-on-hand to swell from $26.4 million in March to $57.1 million at the end of April. 

And the Trump campaign raised $16.9 million and spent $7.7 million, closing April with $107.7 million (Team Trump is also supported by a handful of other authorized groups as well). 

Those numbers show Biden’s fundraising kicking into a steady gear as he knocked out his Democratic presidential rivals (he raised $46.7 million in March). And they show how the pandemic is allowing both sides to build up their resources. 

Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden delivers remarks about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Hotel Du Pont March 12, 2020 in Wilmington, Del.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Loeffler’s husband cuts big check for pro-Trump group

It’s been a busy few months in the news for Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. 

She’s been dogged by criticism of stock sales around the coronavirus pandemic. She’s argued her portfolio is handled by outside advisers, and a spokeswoman revealed last week that she had turned over information to the Justice Department about those sales. 

All the while, she’s running in a competitive Senate primary where her opponent, Rep. Doug Collins, has repeatedly highlighted the controversy. 

On Wednesday, FEC reports showed that Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher (the chairman of both the New York Stock Exchange and the Intercontinental Exchange), donated $1 million to the pro-Trump super PAC America First on April 29.

That was the second-largest individual check to the group (New Hampshire businessman Timothy Mellon gave $10 million). 

The battle for Congress

New reports from the House and Senate campaign committees provide a temperature check on the race for both bodies come November. 

Republicans have the slight cash edge on the Senate side — the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $11.5 million in April and has $37.8 million banked away. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $9 million and has $28.8 million in the bank. 

On the House side, both groups virtually tied in fundraising, but it’s the Democrats with the big advantage in the bank. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee raised just over $11.4 million, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee coming in just under that amount. 

But the Democrats have $82.5 million banked away, while the Republican group has $52.3 million cash on hand.

Sanders still has a nice chunk of change

He may no longer be actively seeking the Democratic presidential nomination (even though his campaign has argued he’s still seeking delegates), but Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders still has a lot of money banked away from his presidential bid. 

Sanders' April report shows he closed the month with almost $8.8 million in cash on hand, and that's after spending more than $1 million refunding donations to supporters. 

He, and other presidential candidates can do a lot with leftover campaign cash, including — keep it for a future presidential election; refund more money to donors; spend it to wind down the campaign; donate to a charity that doesn't directly benefit him; contribute (within limits) to other campaigns/committees; make an unlimited transfer to local, state or the national party; or transfer the money to his Senate account.  

Man who helped thwart train attack in 2015 poised to win GOP nomination in Oregon House district

WASHINGTON — Alek Skarlatos, the former National Guardsman who famously stopped a gunman on a Paris-bound train in 2015, appears to have won the GOP's nomination for Oregon's 4th Congressional District, setting him up for a clash against an 18-term Democrat. 

Skarlatos racked up a huge lead in Tuesday night's primary, winning almost 87 percent of the primary vote with almost 77,000 mail-in ballots counted, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's office. 

While more mail-in ballots are likely to be counted, Skarlatos' sizable lead prompted groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee to refer to him as the winner. 

Skarlatos, who served a nine-month tour in Afghanistan for the Army National Guard, was one of three Americans who rushed a gunman on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, ultimately subduing the gunman before anyone was killed. After the attack, Skarlatos received the Soldier's Medal, one of the Army's highest honors, as well as a major award from the French government

He later played himself in the Clint Eastwood movie "The 15:17 to Paris," which portrayed the train episode, appeared on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and lost a close commissioner race in Douglas County, Ore. in 2018 before launching his congressional bid. 

If his lead holds, Skarlatos will face off against Rep. Pete DeFazio, the longtime Democratic congressman who chairs the House Transportation Committee.

DeFazio has regularly cruised to victory over the years, but in 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton beat President Donald Trump in the district by just 0.1 percentage points, according to the Cook Political Report's analysis. 

Senate Democrats still looking for answers on agency cooperation with probes

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is asking the heads of four government agencies if President Donald Trump is “weaponizing” federal agencies by forcing them to cooperate with investigations into Trump’s 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. 

In a letter to the heads of the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Treasury and the National Archives, obtained by NBC News, Murphy asks if they are “applying different standards” to congressional requests for documents and information, suggesting that the agencies are cooperating with Republican investigations while stonewalling probes into the president. 

“I am troubled that President Trump may be weaponizing the executive branch in advance of the 2020 elections by directing agencies to comply with congressional investigations designed to hurt his political opponents," Murphy wrote, "while stonewalling legitimate oversight investigations into the actions of his own administration.”  

Image: Chris Murphy
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., conducts a meeting before the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on April 30, 2019.Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP file

The letter is Murphy's second attempt to receive the information. The senator wrote to the inspectors general of the four agencies in March, asking them the same questions. Three IGs — from State, Treasury, National Archives — told Murphy that his request was not in their purview but that agencies should reply to his request. 

Treasury Inspector General Joseph Cuffari wrote that the Treasury “can provide the factual information underlying your concern” and then-State Department Inspector General Steve Linick wrote that the State Department “may have relevant information” related to his request. 

Trump fired the State Department IG, Steve Linick last Friday at the urging of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

Democrats have pointed to the refusal of the executive branch to comply with congressional requests under President Trump, particularly during the impeachment process last year. 

In contrast, the State Department has handed over thousands of pages of documents to Republican Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of committees investigating Hunter Biden’s work on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings. The National Archives has promised to hand over thousands more documents.  

Johnson’s committee, the Homeland Security Committee, is expected to take a significant step in its investigation Wednesday and hold a vote to subpoena Blue Star Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm who worked with Burisma when Hunter sat on the company’s board. 

In a separate Republican-led investigation into the “unmasking” by Obama administration officials of Michael Flynn during the Trump transition, Sens. Grassley, Johnson and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina released an email of Obama’s former national security aide Susan Rice declassified by the Acting Director of National Intelligence Director Richard Grenell at their request.

Attack ads and bear hugs of Trump dominate airwaves in Tuesday's contested Oregon House GOP primary

WASHINGTON — While the coronavirus pandemic has upended elections across the country, it's business as usual in Tuesday's Oregon primary — that's because the state has voted entirely by mail since 2000. 

The most competitive federal election Tuesday is the GOP primary for the state's 2nd Congressional District, where a crowded croup of Republicans are looking to replace the retiring Rep. Greg Walden. 

It's been busy on the airwaves in the sprawling district that covers most of Eastern Oregon, with $1.7 million spent on television and radio through Tuesday, according to Advertising Analytics. 

Two candidates have spent significantly more than the rest of the field — Knute Buehler (the GOP's 2018 nominee for governor) and Jimmy Crumpacker (an energy investor).

And those ads have gotten fierce — Buehler calls Crumpacker "a fraud with a trust fund" in one ad and a "Portland pretender" in another, hits fellow primary candidates Cliff Bentz (a former state lawmaker) and Jason Atkinson (a former state senator) as "Portland-loving liberals" in a third ad, and Bentz a "tax-and-waste politician" in a fourth.

Besides trying to rhyme his last name with "Trump-backer," Crumpacker has gone on offense too. He calls Buehler, Atkinson and Betnz as allies of "Never Trumpers" in one spot and  Buehler a "career politician" who campaigns on "liberal lies" in a second. 

Bentz's ads play him up as a "conservative Republican" who helped to "lead" one of the walkouts of Oregon Republican lawmakers aimed at frustrating legislative efforts on gun control and vaccines. 

And Atkinson's ad strategy has largely centered on framing him as against abortion and someone who is more down-to-earth than a typical politician. 

A handful of outside groups have jumped into the race too, lobbing bombs and promoting the top candidates. 

So now all that's left is deciding who will be the GOP's nominee, who will have the inside track for the Republican-leaning seat. 

Federal appeals court orders New York to hold Democratic presidential primary

A federal appeals court ordered Tuesday that New York’s presidential primary be reinstated, and that the names former presidential candidates Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders be among those allowed on the presidential primary ballot. 

The new order is the latest, and possibly final, development in a months-long fight between members of the New York State Board of Elections and a handful of former presidential candidates like Yang and Sanders over whether a candidate who has suspended their campaign should be allowed to remain on a ballot and thereby eligible to collect delegates to the Democratic National Convention. 

The New York State Board of Elections confirmed to NBC News they do not plan to appeal this morning's decision, setting the stage for the presidential primary to return to ballots for the state's June 23 primary. 

Last month, the board removed Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders from the ballot, pointing to his decision to drop out of the presidential race and a recent law that gave the board the power to remove candidates from the ballot after they dropped out.

That move effectively canceled the state's Democratic presidential primary. 

But Sanders' lawyers had argued against removing him, arguing that he was still fighting for convention delegates to have influence at the convention despite having ended his quest for the nomination. 

Yang brought a lawsuit against the board over the decision, and the Sanders camp hired a lawyer and penned a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the challenge. 

A federal circuit court judge disagreed with the board's decision, ruling on May 5 that the primary proceed with the candidates who were on the ballot as of April 26. This includes Sanders, Yang, Michael Bennet, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

And on Tuesday, the 2nd District Court of Appeals, the federal appeals court that covers New York, upheld the lower court's decision. 

In a tweet responding to the decision, “America’s Promise,” a super PAC formed by former senior Sanders advisors after his campaign ended, wrote “Democracy prevails.”

Democratic super PAC Priorities USA says it's on track to spend more than $200 million in 2020

WASHINGTON — Priorities USA, one of the chief outside groups working to boost Democrats’ hopes for recapturing the White House this November, says it is on pace to exceed its $200 million budget for the 2020 cycle — and is putting that cash to use with a new set of ads blasting President Trump for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The super PAC said Tuesday it has obtained commitments for more than $25 million since April on top of the $126 million it already raised for November, with the pace of fundraising picking up in May. Priorities says it is already outspending the Trump campaign online and on air in targeted battlegrounds, and will look to expand its role to “go toe-to-toe with the Trump disinformation machine.”

Image: Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Delaware
Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, March 12, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

"Donald Trump and his allies have started advertising in battleground states and it's imperative that Priorities gives Joe Biden the air cover he needs as he builds his general election campaign," Guy Cecil, Chairman of Priorities USA, said in a statement to NBC News. "This election is going to be very close and this early period will be key to a Biden victory.”

While another pro-Biden super PAC, Unite The Country, has turned toward positive advertising promoting Biden’s middle class message, Priorities’ newest ad continues its focus on countering the president, accusing him of “failing America."

“With over 90,000 Americans dead, Donald Trump continues to downplay the threat, ignoring experts who warn of a larger second wave with more death and devastation to our economy," one of two new ads says, featuring Trump recently saying the coronavirus would “go away without a vaccine.”

That spot will air in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania on broadcast and cable television, part of the previously announced $65 million reservation through Election Day. 

Trump and Pence opt for battleground states as backdrop to coronavirus response

WASHINGTON — In the last six weeks, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have prioritized key 2020 battleground states to highlight their administration’s coronavirus pandemic response, sidestepping some hot spots that have been hardest hit by the health crisis. 

The president has traveled to Pennsylvania and Arizona this month and will head to Michigan later this week. Pence has toured more extensively, visiting Wisconsin, Virginia, Minnesota and Iowa since the outbreak exploded and he’s slated to speak in Florida on Wednesday. 

As the traditional campaign trail has effectively come to a halt, White House advisers see a two-fold opportunity in picking swing states as the backdrop for official events: touting their own efforts to re-open the country while reaching critical voters who could sway the election, all while earning important regional media coverage that the Trump campaign amplifies at every opportunity.

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump takes the stage following a tour at medical equipment distributor Owens & Minor in Allentown, Pa., on May 14, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

Trump and Pence haven’t yet been to any of the states with the most cases and deaths of coronavirus, partially because it may not be safe to do so: New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and California. None of them are considered battlegrounds, though the president has hosted the Democratic governors of New York and New Jersey in the Oval Office. Pence has also traveled to his home state of Indiana, which is not considered to be in play for 2020.

The White House doesn’t comment on upcoming travel and internal deliberations when it comes to the president and vice president’s schedules, but an official noted Trump and Pence wouldn’t go to counties that are still considered “hot zones” and the trips are mostly meant to “highlight the next phase of this recovery, showing states that have come out of the worst of it and are on a path to move toward safely reopening.”

The political strategy is not necessarily unique to this incumbent, even though the scale of the pandemic may be. Former President Barack Obama also strategically visited important places in his official capacity when he was running for re-election.   

But Trump has often more obviously blurred the lines between the two entities. During remarks at a medical equipment factory in Allentown, Pa. last week, attendees would be forgiven for confusing the official event for a campaign one. The familiar rally playlist was blasting and Trump attacked “Sleepy Joe Biden,” which was met with scattered laughter in a somewhat muted reaction from the crowd.

Neither Trump nor Pence has participated in an official re-elect fundraiser since early March, which has presented a challenge to their massive war chest efforts. It’s unknown when either will return to the trail for any conventional travel. The Trump campaign, for its part, is eager to take advantage of any visits that help elevate their re-election pitch in key states.

“Americans want to see their president out front and leading in a crisis and that’s exactly what President Trump is doing. He is in command and looking to get the economy reopened as soon as possible. It’s a very positive sign for all Americans that he’s getting out into the country again,” communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement to NBC News.

Senior officials concede large rallies are likely impossible to hold until August, at the earliest, and it’s unclear what those would look like with health officials warning about the safety risks of mass gatherings. The president himself has said it “loses a lot of flavor” to have people socially distanced in large venues.

GOP governors balk at being used in ad by Kentucky Democrat

WASHINGTON — Two GOP governors evoked by Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath in a new campaign ad are criticizing the senate candidate for using their likeness in an ad that attacks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

The spot, which launched Saturday, points to Republican Govs. Larry Hogan, Md., and Mike DeWine, Ohio, along with Democratic governors to argue that "they're all showing us what real leadership is, and political party has nothing to do with it."

Then, she pivots toward an attack on McConnell, specifically pointing to his past comments about preferring to see states struggling with coronavirus-related budget gaps declare bankruptcy instead of receiving what his office later called "blue state bailouts." 

McConnell's comments about state aid initially drew bipartisan criticism from governors, and Hogan told ABC at the time McConnell "probably would regret making that comment."

The Kentucky Republican later said that he would be "open to discussing" more aid to states

Hogan registered his disappointment with the ad in a tweet, saying that "campaign ads politicizing the coronavirus response are not constructive." 

And DeWine called for McGrath to "remove my image from her advertising" in a statement, which added that McConnell "is focused, as I am, on the crisis and I appreciate his leadership." 

McGrath is expected to win the Kentucky Senate Democratic primary in June. 

In a statement, McGrath said "I strongly stand by my ad," framing the criticism as "exactly what's wrong with politics." 

“Every comment is, unfortunately, examined through a red or blue lens. In this case, I'm pointing out that leadership doesn't depend on your political jersey color. It's about your actions. Governors on both sides of the aisle are doing important work. Governor DeWine is one of them. It is disappointing that he rejects sincere appreciation from a Democrat, and it shows how far we have strayed from our ideals as a nation," she said. 

But McConnell's press secretary, Katharine Cooksey, accused McGrath of politicking in a statement. 

“In the same 60 seconds, Amy McGrath claims the coronavirus pandemic response is not about politics while she exploits the image of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine for her own political gain. Governors across the nation, as well as Leader McConnell, are focused on navigating their states through this unprecedented pandemic regardless of approval ratings. Extreme liberal McGrath makes clear that she is only interested in shamelessly cozying up to popular leaders like Governor DeWine to score cheap political points," she said. 

RNC plans in-person convention 100 days out

WASHINGTON — Despite warnings from health officials about the potential risks of mass gatherings this summer, the Republican National Committee says it's still planning an in-person convention for this August in Charlotte, N.C. The RNC expects as many as 50,000 visitors to gather to re-nominate President Trump. 

“This 5-star event will play an integral role in promoting local businesses and generating millions of dollars across the region. It will leave a lasting impact,” the group said on Saturday — Saturday also marks the 100-day countdown to the event.  

Image: Republican National Convention
The stage is left empty after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus left the stage during protests on the floor on the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

Earlier in May, the RNC announced it was adding a medical expert as a senior adviser to the convention planning team to develop “health and safety protocols.” That came after NBC News reported the group was considering alterations to the traditional four-day spectacle due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Democratic National Committee already pushed back their Milwaukee, Wis. convention from mid-July to August because of health concerns. The DNC has left open the possibility that parts of the convention will be held virtually, but officials expect a portion of the event will be held in-person.   

Biden veepstakes heat up with joint appearances, public backings

WASHINGTON — As the interest in who apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden will pick as his running mate grows more intense with each passing week, many of those whose names have been mentioned are also putting in some high-profile appearances while the political handicappers continue to dissect their strengths and weaknesses. 

Here are some of the notable developments from this past week:

Abrams: Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has repeatedly and publicly promoted herself as a strong candidate for the job and on Thursday night she even made her case in a joint appearance with Biden on MSNBC at Biden's invitation.

Stacy Abrams Weighs Her Future
Stacey Abrams on April 23, 2019 in Atlanta.Elijah Nouvelage / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

“Stacey Abrams has done more to deal with the fair vote and making sure there is a fair vote than anybody,” Biden said when asked if the interview was an audition for Abrams. “She has a great, great capacity to explain things and to lay out exactly why it will be so critically important in this election.”

And when Abrams was asked why she was willing to be vice president but not run for the U.S. Senate, she emphasized her interests were in getting Biden elected. For his part, Biden chimed in and said she was “capable of doing any or both" jobs.

"My interest is, no matter what, that I help make certain that Joe Biden is the next president of the United States, that we win every election up and down the ballot so that we can right-size our country and move our nation forward,” Abrams said. 

Rice:  While Susan Rice, President Obama’s former national security adviser and U.N. Ambassador, is one of Biden’s more under-the-radar contenders, she told PBS Thursday that she “would say yes” if Biden asked her to run with him. 

“I’m committed to do all I can to help him win and to help him govern. So I will do as I best can in whatever capacity makes most sense,” Rice said.  

Rice doesn’t have the same name recognition as some of Biden’s other choices, but their relationship could already be simpatico — a key metric for the former vice president. The two served together for eight years in the Obama administration, and she has several years of foreign policy and Washington experience.

Whitmer: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's national profile has risen during the coronavirus pandemic — making headlines for controversial statewide orders and mentions in President Trump’s tweets — and Biden has heavily praised her.

On Thursday, during a town hall with Whitmer and the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, Biden told Whitmer, “Well look, you'd expect me to say this, I know because I think you're such a great governor, I think you've done one hell of a job.” 

And that comes after Whitmer defended Biden against sexual assault allegations and Biden said on MSNBC in March that Whitmer was always on his VP list, even before the coronavirus crisis.

“She didn't lengthen the list, she made the list in my mind two months ago,” Biden said. 

Warren: Though Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has been quieter in responding to speculation about Biden selecting her as his veep this week, there are signs that supporters of her former presidential primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, could unite around her.

California Rep. Ro Khanna, who served as Sanders’ national campaign co-chair, even tweeted Thursday that Warren “needs to be on the ticket” and listed examples of her legislative leadership throughout the pandemic. Khanna’s backing could signal a way for Biden to get progressives to coalesce around his candidacy. 

Projection: $6.7 billion could be spent on advertising in 2020 election

WASHINGTON — The spread of the coronavirus has halted live campaign rallies, door-to-door organizing and traditional sit-down interviews with candidates.

But it hasn’t stopped TV, radio and digital advertising.

Far from it.

Advertising Analytics projects $6.7 billion will be spent on advertising in the 2020 election cycle. And here are some other numbers to consider via Advertising Analytics: 

  • So far, a cumulative $2.19 billion has been spent during the 2020 cycle
  • This is over $1 billion more than what was spent at this point in 2016 and 2018
  • Excluding Michael Bloomberg, the $1.58 billion spent so far is nearly 2 times that of any other cycle
  • In 2016 and 2018, 54 percent of the cycle’s total cash was spent in the final 10 weeks
  • $443 million has already been reserved for the Fall of 2020

Progressive Super PAC targets Sanders supporters, urges support of Biden in new memo

Former senior advisors to Sen. Bernie Sanders are sounding the alarm about a significant portion of Sanders' supporters who remain unsupportive of the apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden, calling it a "clear and dangerous trend" in a memo obtained by NBC News.

“Despite best intentions, the Biden campaign and the DNC are far behind on digital organizing, Latino outreach and progressive coalition building," former senior advisor Jeff Weaver wrote in the four-page document from his newly formed "America's Promise" PAC.

In an interview with NBC News, Weaver said that it is with these three priorities in mind that his Super PAC will spend the next six months persuading Sanders supporters to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden in November. 

“We have an opportunity in this election to elect somebody who certainly is not anywhere near as progressive as Bernie Sanders,” Weaver told NBC News, “but who will allow us to lock-in legislatively and institutionally, some of the gains that the progressive movement has earned through it's hard work of these last five or six years.”

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Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in Houston, Texas on Sept. 12, 2019.Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

While he said he is aware that not everyone who supported Bernie Sanders would be supporting Joe Biden, he pointed to issues including Biden’s support of a $15 minimum wage, making colleges and universities tuition free for families making less than $125,000 and expanding health care access as progress in the policy arena as common ground.

But it’s filling up the hypothetical arenas with Sanders supporters that Weaver’s super PAC is pledging to be laser-focused on, with recent polling of Sanders supporters showing less than favorable numbers for Biden. The super PAC’s memo points to an April USA Today/Suffolk University poll, which reported 1 in 4 Sanders supporters saying they would vote for a third party candidate, vote for President Donald Trump, not vote in November or were undecided about who to vote for, as a reason for the group to step in and provide support. 

Currently an eight-person operation, Weaver said he hopes for the Super PAC to be able to replicate the robust digital operation of Sanders’ presidential runs, in support of Joe Biden. “We cannot afford to have these constituencies ignored or talked to in an ineffective way during this process,” Weaver said. He told NBC News there have been internal discussions about the reservation of digital buys, focused towards the latino voting base. 

For Weaver, getting this super PAC off the ground was not without controversy. America’s Promise PAC was, until Tuesday, called “Future to Believe In” PAC. Sen. Bernie Sanders has famously been opposed to Super PACs and used his spokesperson to release a statement separating himself from this organization. He was unhappy with a name that mirrored his 2016 campaign slogan, leading to the renaming this week to “America’s Promise,” according to Weaver.

Tweet the Press: NBC's Ken Dilanian discusses Sen. Richard Burr and Chinese hacking

WASHINGTON — On this week's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News national security and intelligence correspondent Ken Dilanian about Sen. Richard Burr vacating his post as the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman and reports that China is trying to hamper coronavirus vaccine development in the U.S.

The Republican senator from North Carolina announced Thursday that he's temporarily stepping aside from his post as the head of the powerful committee after the FBI seized his cell phone as part of a possible insider trading investigation. Dilanian explained that "the use of a search warrant means the FBI convinced a judge there was probable cause to believe a crime has been committed." Burr insists that his February stock sales were based on public information rather than classified information provided to Congress about the coronavirus.

On China, Dilanian tells us that the FBI and DHS "issued a rare public warning" that they have seen China attempting to hack government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and labs "seeking info about coronavirus vaccine and treatment research" amid the global race for a vaccine.

Click here to read the full conversation. 

Steve King committee flap comes as GOP primary opponents hammer him for absence

WASHINGTON — A renewed dust-up over whether House Republicans will restore Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King's committee assignments comes as King's lack of standing on House committees has been a central issue in his primary race. 

King said Monday at a forum ahead of next month's primary that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told him he would "advocate" to Republican lawmakers that they restore positions stripped from him after his comments about white supremacy. 

But as prominent Republicans balked at the idea, a McCarthy spokesperson told NBC News that King's "past comments cannot be exonerated" and that King "will have the opportunity to make his case" to the committee that controls those assignments. 

While King had held his seat comfortably since he first took office in 2003, Democrat J.D. Scholten gave him a scare in 2018 in a race King won by just 3 points as King weathered the fallout from his comments and his lost assignments. 

Now, King faces another tough election, the 2020 primary, where his top opponent, state Sen. Randy Feenstra, has made King's lack of influence in the House a top issue. 

When President Trump faced impeachment in the House, Feenstra argued that because King lost his seat on House Judiciary, "King is unable to help due to his bizarre behavior and his removal from key committees," a move that left Iowans "without a seat at the table." 

In a recent ad sporting a delivery truck emblazoned with the words "Steve King Can't Deliver," Feenstra called King "the congressman who couldn't." 

And it's a message that outside groups opposing King have embraced too. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce dropped a recent ad criticizing King for getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee, "hurting our farmers." 

And the Republican Main Street Partnership, which has endorsed Feenstra, has used similar language in explaining their endorsement. The group's affiliated super PAC has said it is spending $100,000 on direct mail, phone calls and social media advertising in the primary. 

White House quietly sets up panel for possible Biden transition

WASHINGTON — Mark Meadows will helm the White House panel, required by law, to begin planning for a possible transition of power to a new Democratic administration, the Trump administration informed lawmakers on Wednesday.

A memo to House and Senate committee leaders from a representative in the General Services Administration was the first public acknowledgment by any administration official that the White House was fully complying with legal deadlines, only recently established, to ensure a smooth transfer of power in the executive branch.

Meadows, the new White House chief of staff and a former North Carolina congressman, will serve as chair of the White House Transition Coordinating Council. Chris Liddell, deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, will serve as vice chair. 

The panel will also include Office of Management and Budget Director Russel Vought, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and other West Wing officials. There will also be a “transition representative for each eligible candidate” — this is likely to be former Vice President Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee.

Image: us-politics-trump-congress-republicans
President Donald Trump walks with Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the White House on May 8, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

Four years ago, the Obama administration repeatedly touted the steps it was taking to help guide a new administration into office. In March 2016, then-chief of staff Denis McDonough convened a Cabinet meeting to outline the transition process and the steps agencies would be required to take throughout the year. The White House announced on May 6 that Obama signed an executive order establishing his White House Transition Council, two days ahead of that year’s initial deadline. 

More than two weeks ago, after NBC News first reported concern among Democrats about whether the administration would comply with both the letter and spirit of legal transition requirements, Vought issued a memo asking executive departments and agencies to identify senior career officials who would serve on a separate Agency Transition Directors Council. 

That council is led jointly by the Federal Transition Coordinator, Mary Gibert, and Michael Rigas, the acting deputy director of OMB, as specified under law. 

Vought’s memo said the first meeting of agency council would occur on May 27. It is unclear yet if the White House council would also meet, or whether President Trump has played a role in creating the panel. None of the 20 executive orders published in the Federal Register this year relate to the transition process. 

Biden said last month that he has already begun transition planning along with one of his closest and longest-serving aides, Ted Kaufman. Kaufman, who was appointed as a senator to fulfill the last two years of Biden's term in 2008, helped write the legislation that now guides these transition procedures. 

“You can't wait until you win if you win. You've got to start right now,” Biden told donors last week during a virtual fundraiser. “How do we go out and find 2,800 employees, 2,800 employees that need to be filled right away?”

There are no immediate deadlines for the Biden campaign to meet under law. But come September, Biden would be offered more robust government resources to aid its own preparatory work, including office space near the White House for a designated transition team to begin work. 

The GSA memo on Thursday identified the Department of Commerce headquarters as the location for such offices and said upgrades are now underway to the physical and IT infrastructure of that space.  

The memo also said that the GSA is “preparing to convene meetings” with the Justice Department, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to begin transition planning, which would include the facilitation of security clearance requests for key Biden advisors who would need access to classified information. In 2016, the Obama administration began providing intelligence briefings for Trump and Hillary Clinton representatives after the nominating conventions. 

The next legal deadline for the Trump administration will come after the parties’ nominating conventions, scheduled for August, when the administration has to enter into a formal memorandum of understanding with the Democratic nominee’s representatives, and also identify succession plans for federal agencies. 

New Planned Parenthood ad campaign seeks to show coronavirus’ abortion access impact

WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood Action Fund is launching an “accountability” campaign across eleven states, highlighting efforts to roll back, or expand, American’s access to reproductive healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic.

The $5 million buy, reported first by NBC News, includes digital, radio, mailers, and online organizing events in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Almost all of these states are battlegrounds in the coming November election. Some of the ads laud politicians for the work they’ve done; others urge voters to call their representatives to push back.

Image: Anti-abortion rights demonstrators outside the Supreme Court
Anti-abortion rights demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on March 4, 2020.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

The awareness project is the first of several steps Planned Parenthood’s advocacy and political arms will undertake in the next several months, Rachel Sussman, Vice President of State Policy and Advocacy for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told NBC News, calling it “a starting point to help connect the dots for people” about actions taken in their states during the pandemic.

Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, blue and red states have, unsurprisingly, responded to questions of reproductive health access in non-uniform fashion.

Some states, including Iowa, Ohio and Texas, classified abortions as non-essential procedures, counting them among the elective procedures suspended until the public health crisis abated. Activist groups challenged these decisions in court, resulting in varying rulings and appeals. But those states stand in contrast to rules set by governors in states like New York, Virginia, and Washington, where abortion was deemed essential and allowed to continue during the pandemic.

Other states have tried to legislate around reproductive issues during the pandemic, something PPAF and their state partners are seeking to highlight in the campaign.

Pennsylvania, for instance, has seen what once was a bipartisan push for expanded tele-health access grind to a halt because of the addition of an amendment that would prohibit doctors from prescribing certain kinds of pills used to induce abortion. Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Tom Wolf recently vetoed the bill, saying the added language “interferes with women’s health care and the crucial decision-making between patients and their physicians,” while Democrats and Republicans continued to spar over the inclusion of the amendment. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Michigan’s Health and Human Services Department has taken steps to increase access to reproductive health tools — including a campaign where condoms can be mailed to Michiganders who request them via email.

House Republicans balk at idea of giving Steve King back his committee assignments

WASHINGTON — Top House Republicans are voicing opposition to allowing Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King to get his committee assignments back, including the highest-ranking Republican woman.  

King was stripped of his spot on House committees last year after he made controversial comments about white supremacy and Western Civilization to the New York Times, which he claims were taken out of context by the newspaper.

A spokesperson for Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney told NBC News “Cheney does not support” giving King back his committee assignments.  She was the first Republican leader to condemn King’s comments and even called for him to resign from Congress.

At a forum on Monday night in Spencer, Iowa, King claimed that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was going to advocate for giving him his committee assignments back, as first reported by the Sioux City Journal.

“On April 20, Kevin McCarthy and I reached an agreement that he would advocate to the steering committee to put all of my committees back with all of my seniority because there is no argument against my fact-check document, I have disproven all of those allegations," King said at the republican forum Monday. 

“When Congress comes back into session, when the steering committee can get together, I have Kevin McCarthy’s word that then, that will be my time for exoneration."

In response, a McCarthy spokesperson told NBC News that "Congressman King’s past comments cannot be exonerated." But the spokesperson added that "committee assignments are determined by the steering committee and he will have the opportunity to make his case."

Former NRCC Chairman and Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, a current member of the Republican Steering Committee that controls the House GOP committee selection, wrote on social media Wednesday that he opposes restoring King to House committees. 

"As long as I am a member of the Steering Committee, I will not allow that type of person or that type of ideology to influence the legislation passed by Congress. He will not be serving on any committee. Steve King does more to hurt Republican and conservative caucuses than help.”

 

King criticized Stivers in a statement to NBC News, calling him "only one vote on Steering" and a "Never-Trumper."

King is facing a competitive primary in Iowa on June 2nd following his controversial comments. His opponents are running ads pointing to his absence from committees, arguing that means he can't properly serve the district. 

Michigan's Peters drops TV spot touting tough-on-China approach

WASHINGTON — Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is up with two new TV ads that highlight the unique position he's in as one of the few Democratic incumbents facing a tough challenge this cycle.

The first spot emphasizes Peters’ call for increased testing, employment protection and a focus on American manufacturing as he plans to get “Michigan back to work.” It's a message that's right in line with how Democrats are framing their priorities for a pathway forward as states push to re-open. 

But the second is focused entirely on China.

In it, Peters calls for a reopening that “puts Michigan first.” And he goes on to tick through how he’s “always been tough on the Chinese government, supporting the China travel ban, demanding the truth about the spread of COVI-19” as well as a push to move drug manufacturing from China to America.

That kind of messaging stands out amid the GOP's push to shift criticism surrounding the crisis toward China and away from President Trump. Peters' spot doesn't mention the president's name or litigate the debate over his response to the crisis, but it still highlights areas where they agree, all while embracing the "tough-on-China" approach. 

The new ads come days after Peters' likely Republican challenger, John James, released a bio ad of his own.

The seat is considered "lean Democrat" by the non-partisan election handicappers the Cook Political Report, the most competitive race featuring an incumbent Democrat outside of Alabama, where Sen. Doug Jones is trying to win reelection in very-Republican Alabama. 

There's already been a boatload of television spending in the state as both sides gear up for the fall, with Democrats having already spent almost $7.7 million on TV and radio to the GOP's $2.7 million, according to data from Advertising Analytics.

Democrats lay the groundwork for possible virtual convention

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee moved Tuesday to allow for a virtual 2020 convention if the party determines that to be necessary as the coronavirus continues to claim American lives.

A resolution approved by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee lets delegates vote and “participate in the Convention in person or by means that allow for appropriate social distancing.”

DNC Chairman Tom Perez said he still expects and hopes to see a full convention in Milwaukee, and that a “precise format” has not been decided.

“This will give the convention team the tools necessary to adapt and plan in order to ensure that every delegate is able to accomplish their official business without putting their own health at risk – whether that be participating in person or by other means to allow for social distancing,” he said.

The Milwaukee convention had already been pushed from July to the week of August 17.

Also on Tuesday, the DNC panel approved waivers by states seeking to move their primary dates as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Nebraska Democratic House primary pits Medicare-for-All candidate against one calling for more 'realistic' plan

WASHINGTON — Voters are voting Tuesday (or, in many cases, have already sent in their mail-in ballots) in special elections in California and Wisconsin, but also in an interesting primary in Nebraska. 

That state's 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary features two top candidates who both have a history in the district. 

Ann Ashford is the wife of Brad Ashford, the former congressman who flipped the seat for Democrats in a 2014 midterm election year that was otherwise tough for the party. Brad Ashford served for just one term before losing to Republican Don Bacon in 2016, who still holds the seat to this day. 

The former congressman tried to win the seat back in 2018, but lost to Democrat Kara Eastman in the primary — and Eastman went onto narrowly lose to Bacon that fall. 

So this Tuesday's Democratic primary pits Eastman against Ann Ashford, who despite considering a run in 2018 has never run for federal office before. 

Eastman and Ashford represent two different wings of the Democratic Party.

Eastman supports Medicare-for-All and has the backing of prominent progressive Democrats like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and both co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal. 

And she's running an ad arguing she's not "afraid of a fight." 

Ashford's endorsements include two former Nebraska Democratic Senators, Ben Nelson and Bob Kerrey. And she's been running ads attacking Eastman both for her loss in 2018, arguing Eastman's loss proves she can't win. And Ashford has criticized Eastman's health-care stance as unrealistic (Ashford supports expanding coverage through a public option but not universal government coverage). 

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. 

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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. 

Image: John James
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.

Image: Delegates hold signs at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 21, 2016.
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.”

Image: Joe Biden
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, Montana
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.
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.

Image: Joe Biden, Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Holds South Carolina Town Hall
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. 

President Trump Holds Keep America Great Rally
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. 

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. 

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office on April 28, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

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.

Image: Democratic presidential candidate, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks  during a rally held at the Bricktown Events Center
Democratic presidential candidate, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks during a rally held at the Bricktown Events Center on Feb. 27, 2020 in Oklahoma City.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

“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." 

Image: Sen. Bernie Sanders arrives for a campaign rally in Chicago on March 7, 2020.
Sen. Bernie Sanders arrives for a campaign rally in Chicago on March 7, 2020.Scott Olson / Getty Images

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."

Image: Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Campaigns Ahead Of Primary In South Carolina
Joe Biden addresses a crowd during a campaign event at Wofford University Feb. 28, 2020 in Spartanburg, S.C.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file

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. 

Image: Wisconsin
A woman casts her ballot in a Democratic presidential primary election at the Hamilton High School in Milwaukee, Wis., on April 7, 2020.Kamil Krzaczynski / AFP - Getty Images

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.

Image: President Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Wildwood, New Jersey
President Donald Trump speaks at an evening Keep America Great Rally on Jan. 28, 2020 in Wildwood, N.J.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

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

Al Gore backs Joe Biden in Earth Day online event

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden earned another notable endorsement on Earth Day from the influential climate change activist and former Vice President Al Gore. 

Gore endorsed Biden via Twitter Wednesday before joining him in a question-and-answer live stream to discuss how best to curb climate change and help communities that have been disproportionately affected by the warming global temperatures.

He told Biden and the over 3,000 viewers tuning into the livestream that it’s “not rocket science” who they should vote for if they prioritize ending the climate crisis.

"If there is anyone out there who has any doubt whatsoever about the choice to be made in this election, it is simple, it is not complicated, it is clear cut. Vote for Joe Biden, vote against Donald Trump, put us on the road to solving the climate crisis," Gore said. 

Since leaving the White House in early 2001, Gore, who served as President Bill Clinton’s vice president, has been one of the lead voices raising the alarm on the devastating consequences brought forth by climate change, and calling for immediate action. Gore was also the Democratic Party's 2000 presidential nominee. 

During the town hall, he warned that some permanent damage is already irreversible, but that the world is at a “tipping point” that requires cooperation to prevent the globe from becoming completely uninhabitable. 

His endorsement comes hours after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who ran a climate-focus campaign for president last year, also backed Biden Wednesday. The Biden campaign hopes that endorsements like these can help attract Sen. Bernie Sanders’ young progressive supporters who cite global warming fears as a key issue of concern for them.

In recent weeks, Biden has shown a commitment to hear progressive groups concerns about climate change by announcing a joint-task force with Sanders that would propose policies to enhance his current climate proposal. Gore has also pledged to quell skeptics worries that Biden is not progressive enough on climate reform.

“Your election is absolutely crucial,” Gore said. “And I want to do everything I can to convince everybody that cares about the climate crisis that this is a no-brainer. This is a real simple choice. And if anybody has any doubt about that, come talk to me.”

Warren endorses down-ballot women candidates for the fall

Senator Elizabeth Warren is announcing endorsements of 20 candidates in federal, state and local races across the country on Wednesday morning. All of those she's endorsing are women.

In an email provided exclusively to NBC News, the Massachusetts Democratic senator told supporters: “Now, here’s something I’ve learned about how to make real change: It takes a grassroots movement fighting from the outside — and leaders fighting from the inside. Today, I’m endorsing leaders who know how to fight and win.”

Image: Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters after casting her vote in Cambridge, Mass., on March 3, 2020.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters in Cambridge, Mass., on March 3, 2020.Scott Eisen / Getty Images file

The list highlights candidates running for re-election, like Democratic House incumbents Sharice Davids of Kansas, Lauren Underwood of Illinois, and Katie Porter of California who were part of the “blue wave” of women elected to the House in 2018. Porter was also one of the co-chairs of Warren’s presidential campaign.

Two women on the list, Tricia Zunker running in Wisconsin's seventh district and Christy Smith running in California's twenty-fifth district, are receiving Warren’s endorsement right before they face special elections next month.

In Nebraska's second district, Warren is backing progressive Kara Eastman who’s facing a moderate Democratic opponent in a competitive district.  

Warren’s list also throws light on several local races, including Sarah McBride, a transgender activist running for a senate seat in Delaware. Highlighting candidates in local races is in line with the former 2020 candidate's message of electing Democrats “up and down the ballot.”

”This November, statewide and state legislative elections will be especially critical as we recover from the coronavirus crisis in the short term and rebuild our economy in the long term,” Warren writes in the email to supporters.

The email doesn’t directly call for monetary donations to the candidates, but asks Warren’s supporters to fill out to a survey for how they plan to help the candidates listed.

Warren noted in her email that she will announce more endorsements in the future.

Jay Inslee endorses Biden for president

WASHINGTON — Washington Gov. and former 2020 presidential candidate Jay Inslee endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday in a special Earth Day edition of Biden's "Here's the Deal" podcast. 

"You're going to have a concrete plan for action within the next 10 years to develop a clean energy plan, so we just don't plan to 2050. I know that you have efforts to really do things in the next 10 years and I'm very excited about this," Inslee said. 

Notably, Inslee endorsed Biden’s climate change plan — even though many green groups and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have been critical of it. Specifically, groups have argued that Biden's goal of reducing carbon emissions by 2050 instead of 2030 doesn't go far enough. 

Image: Jay Inslee
Jay Inslee smiles as he takes questions during a news conference Monday, April 13, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.Ted S. Warren / AP

Inslee, who focused most of his presidential bid on climate change, ended his campaign in August. He has since been back in the national spotlight due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Seattle area saw one of the country's first major outbreaks and has over 12,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Inslee has been applauded for issuing an early stay-at-home order. On Tuesday, Inslee said he wouldn't be lifting the movement restrictions by May 4, when the current stay-at-home order was supposed to be lifted. 

Inslee listed coronavirus as one of the many reasons he's endorsing Biden because of “his willingness to follow science and really help us get us out of the COVID-19 crisis” by bringing “a reasoned approach rather than just ignoring doctors.” He also believes Biden’s empathy that guides how he helps people will lead him to be honest with the American people during times of crisis.

"I know that you have a willingness to follow science and really help us get us out of the COVID-19 crisis. You're going to bring a reasoned approach to that rather than just ignoring doctors. You're going to follow their advice," Inslee said. 

Biden has been consolidating support in the Democratic Party since Sanders ended his presidential campaign and endorsed Biden. Inslee is one of the last 2020 presidential candidates to endorse Biden and the two had gone head-to-head during the campaign about Biden's climate plan. 

RNC says "full steam ahead" with convention plans, Biden remains unsure for DNC

WASHINGTON — The Democratic and Republican parties are on different tracks when it comes to planning their nominating conventions during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the apparent Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden said he wasn't sure if a traditional convention could happen at all, while Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said the party is moving "full steam ahead" in planning an in-person convention for late August in Charlotte, N.C.  

"We don't build out our convention until July. So I think we have at least until the end of June or early July to make a decision if we have to switch from a traditional convention to something  scaled back. But we will have to have an in-person convention. Those are the bylaws of the RNC and so currently, going forward, we're planning on a full-scale convention," McDaniel said on Monday. 

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C., on March 2, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP file

The Democratic National Committee has already postponed their convention to Aug. 17 from their original week in July due to the pandemic. However, the apparent nominee said that unless science makes that possible, it still might not happen. 

"I very much, as any candidate would, wants to have an actual convention, be in a position where  the middle of August, we're able to actually have a convention where people show up, and you have businesses being able to open up more than they are now, but it requires the president to take action now to do the things that need to be done. So that we have adequate testing," Biden said on Monday to a local Wisconsin news outlet. 

When asked about the likelihood of any traditional, in-person convention for his apparent nomination, Biden said, "I, honest to God, don't know." 

Image: Joe Biden Campaigns In Kansas City Ahead Of Tuesday's Primary
Joe Biden speaks to a full crowd during the Joe Biden Campaign Rally at the National World War I Museum and Memorial on March 7, 2020 in Kansas City, Mo.Kyle Rivas / Getty Images

The differences in the parties' plans tracks with how their candidates' campaigns have been responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, the Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said he intends for the president to hold in-person rallies before the general election in November. 

"We will get back to those rallies. Never fear, the president is certain that we're going to be back out there speaking directly to the American people," Murtaugh said. 

Biden has been a bit more conservative with his campaigning plans. Before the DNC announced they would postpone their convention to mid-August, Biden got ahead of them and said that he would want the convention pushed back or made into a virtual convention.

Similarly, the two candidates have been on opposite sides of possible voting mechanisms for the November election with the president saying he doesn't support mail-in ballots, while Biden has said it's time to start considering a virtual election. 

Joe Biden's presidential campaign raised $46.7 million in pivotal month of March

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden raised $46.7 million in March, according to new campaign finance filings, as he was tightening his grip on the Democratic Party's nomination. 

His campaign spent $32.4 million in March, ending the month with $26.3 million banked away, Biden's latest report to the Federal Election Commission shows. 

The total is a dramatic increase from Biden's fundraising in recent months — he raised $8.9 million in January and $18.1 million in February. In March, Biden began to widen his lead in the Democratic presidential nominating fight by scoring big victories on Super Tuesday and in contests the subsequent weeks before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered much of American life and caused many states to delay their nominating contests. 

Biden pointed to the difficulties of campaigning (and living life) during coronavirus in a Monday-night message to supporters. But he also thanked those supporters for helping him turn the tide after poor showings in the early weeks of voting and spoke of his focus on making President Trump a "one-term president."

"It was your support which has made us the presumptive nominee of our party. That is something no one was predicting just a little over a month ago. Many of the so-called experts had declared our campaign over. Not you. You and so many others lifted us up on your shoulders, generated record levels of turnout, and propelled us in state after state to a historic comeback victory," he said.

"Now I am especially proud to say that every one of our primary opponents has endorsed our campaign. We are leading a unified Democratic party to take on Donald Trump."

While the big fundraising quarter shows Biden's ability to galvanize Democratic dollars behind him, Biden and the Democratic National Committee trail the joint Republican effort aimed at reelecting Trump by a significant margin. 

When the two joint fundraising committees affiliated with Trump's reelection effort are added in, the full Republican effort closed March with about $244 million in cash on hand, while the DNC and the Biden campaign had about $57 million (when the DNC's $5 million in debt is subtracted). 

As the incumbent, Trump has had the luxury over the past three years of raising big money through joint fundraising committees, which allow donors to spread out money across a handful of committees involved in a unified effort. Biden will have that luxury as well, without Trump's head start. 

That said, Biden's campaign raised more than three times that of the Trump campaign in March (Trump's campaign raised $13.6 million last month). 

And through February, the Democratic presidential candidates combined this cycle raised $768 million through February, outraising the combined effort of the Trump campaign and the RNC by more than $300 million over the same time period. 

Mike Bloomberg spent over $1 billion on presidential campaign, new FEC reports show

WASHINGTON — New FEC reports released Monday reveal that former 2020 candidate Mike Bloomberg spent over $1 billion on his brief presidential bid. 

The reports show that he spent a total of $1,051,783,859.43 through March of this year. Bloomberg, one of the richest men in the world, didn't accept individual contributions during his bid and instead self-funded his campaign. According to Advertising Analytics, Bloomberg spent $453 million on television ads and at least $82 million on digital ads. He also invested heavily in polling and building up a large campaign of over 500 staffers across the country.

Image: Mike Bloomberg
Mike Bloomberg speaks during a campaign rally at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 3, 2020.Matias J. Ocner / AP file

Late last month, Bloomberg announced he’d pour $18 million into the Democratic National Committee, transferring the funds from his campaign to boost the party apparatus instead of creating his own super PAC.

The former New York City mayor's campaign now faces a potential class action lawsuit for allegedly promising jobs through November to over one thousand campaign staffers and then laying them off after the campaign was suspended. The staffers stopped receiving paychecks in the first week of April, and will stop receiving health care benefits at the end of the month.

Bloomberg announced his candidacy in November and dropped out of the race on March 4 after a poor performance on Super Tuesday. The billionaire entrepreneur’s only electoral victory was in American Samoa. 

GOP Super PAC pledges $100,000 to support Rep. Steve King's primary challenger

WASHINGTON — The GOP Super PAC, Defending Main Street, announced that it will spend $100,000 to support the Republican state legislator challenging Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in the fourth district congressional primary.

The group said Monday it would invest in direct mail, phone calls, and social media advertising aimed at boosting state Senator Randy Feenstra over King, who has been thrown off all congressional committees after making racist comments in an interview.

Image: Steve King
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens to a question during a news conference on Aug. 23, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall / AP file

“Now more than ever, the people of Iowa’s 4th District need a voice in Washington, D.C.,” Defending Main Street Treasurer, Sarah Chamberlain, said in a statement.

“The small businesses, farmers, and families of this district are being excluded from eminently crucial decision-making amid the pandemic. It is time to restore the level of comprehensive representation these Iowans deserve," she added.

King was stripped of his committee assignments by House Republicans last year after they repeatedly condemned his remarks. The final straw for those House Republicans were comments last January about white nationalism. 

King had asked in a New York Times interview: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

In a statement shortly after, King told NBC News: "I reject white nationalism. I reject white supremacy. It's not part of any of my ideology. I reject anyone who carries that ideology."

Feenstra has argued that King can’t “defend President Trump” thanks to his hindered position in Congress. And he has run ads touting his pro-life credentials, support for Trump’s border wall, and ability to “deliver” for the area in the state Senate. 

Feenstra has raised $844,000 and had $416,000 in his bank account at the end of March. King has raised $301,000 and had $27,000 in his bank account through March. The winner of that primary — which is now scheduled for June 2 — will likely face J.D. Scholten, the Democrat who was just 3 percentage points away from beating King in 2018.

Defending Main Street is a Super PAC aimed at supporting what it calls "governing Republicans." It's aligned with the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that endorsed Feenstra earlier this year.

Prominent environmental group endorses Joe Biden

WASHINGTON — Former vice president Joe Biden embraced an endorsement from a prominent environmental advocacy group, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Monday and suggested that he’s open to building on his climate plan with environmental leaders and organizations.

The LCV, which aims to elect pro-environmental candidates nationwide, announced its formal support for the apparent Democratic nominee in a statement Monday morning. That statement applauded Biden’s proposed climate plan and the candidate’s record of protecting the environment and addressing the climate crisis. 

Senate Democrats Hold News Conf. On Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Drilling
League of Conservation Voters activists attend a news conference outside the Capitol in 2017 to oppose legislation that would open the Alaskan wilderness to oil drilling.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

“We are proud to endorse Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States,” LCV Action Fund Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tiernan Sittenfeld, stated. “We cannot afford the cost of inaction or another four years of a Trump presidency.” 

Responding to the endorsement, the Biden campaign said in its own statement Monday that it’s committed to working with the LCV on expanding its current climate policy.

“I have asked my campaign to commence a process to meaningfully engage with more voices from the climate movement,” Biden said. Together, his campaign along with leaders and organizations like the LCV will “collaborate on additional policies in areas ranging from environmental justice to new, concrete goals we can achieve within a decade, to more investments in a clean energy economy.”

Biden stressed that climate change is an important issue this election cycle, especially for younger voters — a more progressive demographic that his Democratic primary opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, had more success with during the nominating fight — and that it will be a top priority under his leadership if elected president.

“In the months ahead, expanding this plan will be one of my key objectives,” Biden said. “I know this is an issue that resonates with many, including young people and those who have seen floods, fires, and drought destroy lives and livelihoods.”

Biden released his original climate agenda last June. His "Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice" includes a push for the United States to reenter the Paris Climate Agreement, to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050, to expand clean jobs and to take other actions to mitigate climate change. 

Some progressive environmental groups, like the Sunrise Movement, have criticized Biden's plans for not going far enough, and have instead embraced more progressive candidates like Sanders. 

In the LCV’s endorsement of the candidate, the group slammed President Trump for being an anti-environmental president and said that Biden will restore the U.S.’s status as a global environmental leader.

“Since day one, Donald Trump has threatened our planet and risked the health of our communities — especially communities of color and low-wealth communities — undermining the unprecedented climate legacy of the Obama-Biden administration,” Carol Browner, LCV Board Chair and former Clinton EPA Administrator, said in the statement. 

“We are all in to help elect Joe Biden,” she added. 

The LCV has invested $14 million in a direct-mail campaign and online advertising aimed at Trump in several swing states including Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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

WASHINGTON — Following a week of endorsements from his one-time opponents as well as former President Barack Obama, Joe Biden is racking up more support from key Democratic mobilization 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.”  

Image: Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally in Kansas City, Mo., on March 7, 2020.
Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally in Kansas City, Mo., on March 7, 2020.Charlie Riedel / AP file

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.

Image: Super Tuesday voting in Arlington, Virginia
A woman fills out her ballot at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, on March 3, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

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.

Image: Mark Kelly speaks with guests at a summit in Atlanta in 2014.
Mark Kelly speaks with guests at a summit in Atlanta in 2014.Branden Camp / AP file

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.

Image: Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., near the Capitol on May 23, 2019.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., makes his way to the Capitol on May 23, 2019.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call file

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.”  

Elizabeth Warren endorses Joe Biden

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid Wednesday, making her the latest prominent Democrat to publicly throw their support behind Biden in recent days. 

Warren announced her decision in a message on Twitter, where she said that America needs an empathetic president like Biden to help Americans reconnect with the federal government. 

"In this moment of crisis, it is more important than ever that the next president restores Americans' faith in good, effective government," she said. 

"Joe Biden has spent nearly his entire life in public service. He knows that a government run with integrity, confidence and heart will save lives and save livelihoods."

She connected Biden to her call for big, structural change to America, arguing that she's seen his commitment to helping everyday Americans in how he handled the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008. 

"When Donald Trump is gone, we will need to do more than heal a nation that has been bitterly divided. We will need to rebuild and transform our country. And I've seen Joe Biden help a nation rebuild," she said. 

And Warren emphasized that Biden is open to new ideas as he's made a handful of policy announcements in recent weeks that echo policies Warren or Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders promoted on the campaign trail. 

During a virtual town hall last month, Biden touted his support for a Warren that would make it easier for people to file for bankruptcy, which includes allowing bankruptcy to relieve student debt. He's also supported expanding his free-college plan, adopted portions of her language on corporate bailouts to his COVID-19 relief plan, pressed for conditions on corporations that receive stimulus money and endorsed Warren's legislation calling on a CDC study on the racial disparity of the effects of COVID-19. 

"Among all the other candidates I competed with in the Democratic primary, there's no one I've agreed with 100 percent of the time over the years. But one thing I appreciate about Joe Biden is he will always tell you where he stands," she said.

"When you disagree, he'll listen. And not just listen, but really hear you and treat you with respect, no matter where you are coming from. And he's shown throughout this campaign that when you come up with new facts or a good argument, he's not too afraid or too proud to be persuaded." 

Warren's backing punctuates a recent flood of endorsements to Biden, a sign the Democratic Party is coalescing around their party's presumptive nominee. 

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Biden on Monday, joining Biden's livestream and saying that "I will do all that I can" to see Biden defeat Trump. 

Then, former President Barack Obama unveiled his endorsement Tuesday in video message where he said that Biden “has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery.“

—NBC's Mike Memoli contributed

The Democratic Party still looks like Obama's party

WASHINGTON — With former President Barack Obama endorsing his vice president, Joe Biden, on Tuesday, it’s worth recalling that the 2020 exit polls revealed that more Democratic primary voters said they wanted the next president to return to Obama’s policies — rather than pursue a more liberal course. 

That could be one of the biggest reasons why Joe Biden’s message of restoration beat out Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ revolution during the Democratic primary season. It’s also why we saw almost all of the Democratic presidential candidates — from Biden and Sanders, to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and even former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — feature Obama in their TV ads.

Image: Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama at the White House in 2016.
Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama at the White House in 2016.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

In New Hampshire, a plurality of Democratic primary voters — 40 percent — said the next president should return to Obama's policies, and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Biden overwhelmingly won those voters, according to the exit poll. 

By contrast, 39 percent of Democrats in the Granite State wanted the next president to change to more liberal policies, and Sanders got 43 percent of those voters on his way to his narrow victory in that primary. 

In South Carolina's primary, which Biden won overwhelmingly, 53 percent of the Democratic voters said the next president should return to Obama's policies, and Biden won 62 percent of those voters. Just 27 percent wanted the next president to change to more liberal policies, and 17 percent wanted a more conservative president.

The pattern also played out in the big Super Tuesday states:

  • Virginia (which Biden won): 47 percent return to Obama’s policies, 28 percent more liberal.
  • North Carolina (which Biden won): 56 percent return to Obama’s policies, 29 percent more liberal.
  • Texas (which Biden won): 50 percent return to Obama’s policies, 34 percent more liberal.
  • California (which Sanders won): 43 percent return to Obama’s policies, 40 percent more liberal.

But in Obama's endorsement video of Biden, the former president acknowledged that he would be pursuing different policies if he were running for president today instead of 2008.

“You know, I could not be prouder of the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency. But if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008. The world is different, there’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future,” he said.

AFT launches ads blasting Trump for PPE claims

WASHINGTON — The American Federation of Teachers is launching a new round of television and online ads featuring nurses and health care workers blasting President Donald Trump for accusing them of stealing personal protective equipment (PPE), the tools these workers have needed to protect themselves while caring for COVID-19-positive patients. 

The spots, obtained by NBC News ahead of Tuesday's launch, feature health care professionals urging Americans to contact the White House to demand masks and other PPE as they still face shortages at hospitals and health care facilities across the country.

The ads start with a clip of Trump last month questioning how New York hospitals are using PPE, saying, “Something’s going on. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door?”

Several different nurses respond, with one saying, “President Trump suggested that nurses like me are possibly stealing masks.”

“We don’t have the protective equipment,” another nurse says. 

Then another nurse says, “Do your job Mr. President,” and another follows up by saying, “…and give us the equipment we need to do our job.”

AFT membership doesn't just include teachers — the union has a smattering of members from other vocations, including a large group of nurses. 

In a Tuesday statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten said that health care workers are targeting the president “for his odious suggestions that they are somehow thieves and demanding that he does his job as they do theirs.”

“Trump calls himself a wartime president, but our states don’t have the funds or testing they need, and our hospitals and healthcare professionals remain dangerously ill-equipped to fight this pandemic,” she said. “His refusal to do his job means our heroes will remain exposed and at risk.”

AFT’s ads called “Thieves” cost in the mid-six-figures, the group told NBC, and will air in 15-second and 30-second versions in the Washington, D.C. and New York City markets on a number of channels including CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.

Klobuchar and Abrams team up to promote vote-by-mail, other expansions

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams are teaming up in a new video promoting efforts to expand voting-by-mail and early voting ahead of the November general election.

The roughly three minute video, which features Klobuchar and Abrams separately, largely focuses on issues of voting safety during the coronavirus pandemic and ask people to sign a petition to support expanding vote-by-mail.

Klobuchar pointed to recent concerns about Wisconsin's primary last week, held at a time when statewide shut-downs and social distancing measures are critical, according to public health officials. 

“As we saw in Wisconsin, voters were faced with things that should not happen in the United States of America,” Klobuchar says in the video. “Everything about it was wrong. People should not have to decide between their own health and their own right to vote. We can do both, we can protect people's health, and we can allow them to vote.”

Klobuchar is a lead sponsor of legislation introduced last month seeking to protect voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic by implementing vote-by-mail and expanding early voting nationwide for November.  Abrams, a former Georgia House Democratic Leader, is also the founder and chair of Fair Fight Action, which works to promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country and encourages voter participation.

Klobuchar and Wyden’s bill calls for funding to be given to the states so they can expand voting, keep  polls open 20 days in advance, ensure no-excuse mail-in voting and train a “new generation of poll workers.” 

“Voting by mail is easy, secure, and the healthiest and safest way to cast your ballot,” Abrams says in the video. “You can vote by mail while you are socially distancing and stay at home. Just as we adapt to new norms to protect ourselves and our loved ones, we must also adapt to how we conduct our elections.”

“Republicans and Democrats can certainly agree that we must be prepared in November,” she says. “We need the resources now to help states conduct elections and expand vote by mail. The stakes are too high in this election, and we must get this done.”

Former first lady Michelle Obama’s organization “When We All Vote” formally announced support for Klobuchar’s vote-by-mail bill on Monday. 

“When We All Vote recently announced its support for the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, which represents the organization’s first time supporting federal legislation,” the press release said. “The reforms in the bill are aligned with When We All Vote’s three voting principles.”

Klobuchar tweeted her thanks to Obama for supporting her bill, saying, “During a time of crisis, we must protect the right to vote AND Americans’ health. Let’s pass this bill.”

The partnership of Klobuchar and Abrams comes amid speculation that both could be considered by apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as his running mate for the fall.

Poll: Majority of public says Trump’s urge for NFL season to begin on time was inappropriate

A Seton Hall Sports poll released Monday showed that a majority of Americans believe medical experts — rather than President Trump — should decide when the National Football League season begins amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This comes after the president spoke to league commissioners last Saturday, encouraging them to start the NFL season on time — a move that most of the public disapproved of according to this same survey.

Image; Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky leads teammates out of the tunnel for a game against the New England Patriots in Philadelphia on Nov. 3, 2019.
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky leads teammates out of the tunnel for a game against the New England Patriots in Philadelphia on Nov. 3, 2019.Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters file

The poll shows that six-in-10 Americans believed Trump’s conference call with sports commissioners, in which he expressed his desire to have fans at games by August, was inappropriate given current medical guidance on the coronavirus.

Just 36 percent said the president’s comments were appropriate.

When asked who should determine when the NFL resumes play, a clear majority of respondents  — 61 percent — said medical experts should decide. Only 7 percent said the president should decide, and another 11 percent said it should be up to state governors.

About 20 percent of the nation believes the NFL should decide whether to hold games in September on its own. 

In a separate question, 55 percent of those polled said the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak was not strong enough, while 38 percent labeled the government’s handling appropriate. A mere 6 percent called the government’s response excessive. The numbers were about the same for those self-identified as sports fans. 

As to when the NFL season should start, nearly half of respondents — 46 percent — said it should not go on as planned for September 13, versus 36 percent who said it should. By a vast 57-point margin, 77 percent of the public argued that the college and professional football seasons should be delayed if players don’t have sufficient training ahead of time compared to 20 percent who said a delay wouldn’t be necessary. 

The poll also found that 62 percent of those surveyed credited sports leagues for cancelling their seasons early-on because of the novel coronavirus, saying they played a role in making government officials take the outbreak more seriously. 

The Seton Hall Sports Poll was conducted by the Sharkey Institute within the university's Stillman School of Business April 6-8 via landline and cell phones. It surveyed 762 adults in the United States, and it’s margin of error is plus-minus 3.6 percentage points. 

Conservative group to launch ads opposing mail-in voting

WASHINGTON – A conservative group has launched a paid advertising campaign against mail-in voting amid the escalating, partisan battle over alternative ways to vote as the coronavirus pandemic rages. 

The group, Honest Elections Project, is launching a week-long $250,000 digital and television ad campaign on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN to protect against the “brazen attempt to manipulate the election system for partisan advantage.” Honest Elections Project is a non-profit group that is not required to release its donors. 

Jason Snead, the executive director of Honest Elections Project, told NBC News in a phone interview that “there are a lot more opportunities for malfeasance” with mail-in voting. He said that ballots could go missing, get lost or invite ballot harvesting. 

Mail-in voting has become the latest partisan battleground in the fight over voting access.

With stay-at-home orders and uncertainty over when the risk of coronavirus infection will dissipate, Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation and federal funding to enable states to implement mail-in voting ahead of the November election.

When We All Vote, the group backed by former First Lady Michelle Obama, on Monday launched a grassroots effort to pressure states and the federal government to adopt widespread mail-in voting, online voter registration and early in-in person voting.

While some Republicans, like New Hampshire’s Governor Chris Sununu, are also moving in that direction, many Republicans, including most in Congress and President Donald Trump, have resisted, saying it increases the opportunity for fraud.

During a late-March interview on Fox News, Trump said that Democrats were proposing "levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

Honest Elections Project and many Republicans have said that absentee-ballot voting is a good alternative. While many absentee ballots are also sent in by mail, states often limit access to specific groups of people who must request absentee ballots and provide a reason why they can’t make it to the polls. 

In contrast, a massive expansion of mail-in voting would cover more people and not require an excuse to request a ballot by mail. 

A spokesman for Honest Elections Project said they will spend “whatever it takes” to combat an effort to move the election to be conducted by mail. It has also hired the law firm Consovoy McCarthy PLLC to file counter-lawsuits when voting-access groups in states around the country push for mail-in voting.

Massive Trump re-elect fundraising dips in March amid coronavirus

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s re-election announced Monday it raised a combined $212 million in the first quarter of 2020, with contributions dipping in the month of March compared to the earlier part of the year even as the effort still maintains a strong financial advantage over Democrats.

In one of the first concrete signs that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on fundraising, the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee brought in $63 million last month compared to $86 million in February.

The pro-Trump groups reported more than $240 million in the bank, an increase of $40 million since January.

The total comes from both the main campaign entity, the RNC and its authorized joint fundraising committees, combined. And in a sign the effort is ramping up significantly in the on-year, the $212 million raked in last quarter was up from the $156 million generated from January to March of 2019. 

The campaign and the RNC pivoted to virtual voter interactions, including fundraisers, after the White House announced strict new social distancing rules in mid-March. Several high-profile surrogate events, including a multi-day, high-dollar swing for Ivanka Trump and a California trip for first lady Melania Trump, were postponed indefinitely.

The Trump team’s transition to a fully digital operation took place almost immediately, with the entire re-elect effort converting volunteer events to phone banks and the campaign’s online arm is now holding daily events on social media platforms. 

Trump Victory, the joint venture, is boasting that their volunteers have already made more than 17 million voter contacts since most of the nation went into lockdown exactly one month ago.

Despite the challenges of cyber-organizing and fundraising, the campaign remains confident Trump's handling of the coronavirus challenge can help his political standing.

“Americans can see President Trump leading this nation through a serious crisis and they are responding with their continued enthusiastic support for his re-election,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee NC have yet to report their first-quarter hauls for 2020. From the start of 2019 through February, the RNC had significantly outraised the DNC  — $294 million for the RNC to $115 million for the DNC. 

But while Trump's campaign lapped Biden's in fundraising, Democratic donors were divided between a large field of candidates. The Democratic presidential campaigns combined significantly outraised Trump's campaign in 2019, so Democrats are hopeful a unified effort will help close the resource gap. 

In total, the Trump campaign and RNC committees have raised $677 million to date this cycle, which is $270 million more than former President Barack Obama’s re-elect teams had at this point in 2012, when the Democratic incumbent was seeking re-election. 

“The enthusiasm for President Trump and our Party remains strong, and we continue to be all systems go toward November," RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. 

Cuomo: 'I’m not running for president'

 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will not run for president in 2020.

“I’m not running for president. I'm not running fro vice president. I'm not running anywhere," Cuomo said at a coronavirus news conference on Saturday. "I'm not going to Washington, I'm staying right here.

Cuomo said that is was "flattering" that some Democrats wanted to see him replace former Vice President Joe Biden as the nominee, but also called it "irrelevant" in a time of crisis. 

"There is no politics here. I have no political agenda, period," Cuomo said. 

Trump campaign renews focus on Hunter Biden in controversial China ad

WASHINGTON — As President Trump's campaign gears up for a general election face-off with apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden, it's also reintroducing attacks against the former vice president’s son and his business dealings with China.

In a new digital ad released on Thursday, the president’s re-election team is attempting to paint Biden as lenient on China when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic and travel ban, and specifically highlights a trip to Beijing that Hunter Biden joined his father on in 2013. The two-pronged approach is an effort to weaken Biden, while using his son’s work with overseas companies to create a perception of corruption.

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.Reuters; AFP - Getty Images

“During America’s crisis, Biden protected China’s feelings or perhaps China’s investment?” the text on the screen reads, spliced between news reports of the visit and Biden praising various Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping.

Beyond the 60-second online spot, the Trump campaign and its allies have started to highlight more news reports about the former vice president’s trip, which came under scrutiny again as the impeachment investigation began last fall after the president tried to dig up damaging information against the Bidens amid unproven allegations related to Hunter’s work with a Ukrainian energy company. 

Almost immediately, reporters and the Biden campaign noticed that the commercial on China featured an image of Biden and former Washington governor and Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, who was also on the 2013 trip. The photo appears in a montage with other Chinese officials, implying that Locke was among them. Locke is Chinese-American and also served as ambassador to China.

“The shot Biden’s campaign is complaining about is relevant because it’s Joe Biden standing in front of Chinese flags during his 2013 trip to Beijing — the trip where Hunter accompanied him and met with Chinese business partners. It’s immaterial who else is in the shot with Biden,” Trump communications director, Tim Murtaugh, said in a statement to NBC News.

The Biden campaign is now calling for the spot to be removed. 

“This is utterly disgusting and should be pulled immediately,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates tweeted.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang also condemned it, tweeting: "Gary Locke is as American as the day is long. Trump rewriting history as if he effectively responded to the virus is utter garbage."

As coronavirus spread across the country, Asian-American lawmakers have spoken repeatedly about a rise in xenophobia and discrimination directed at them, warning of the dangers of linking blame for the respiratory illness to any group of people.

Murtaugh says the campaign has no plans to take the ad down or re-edit it to make clear Locke is not a Chinese official. It will also continue to highlight questions about Hunter Biden’s business activity while his father was vice president, much as Trump’s defense team did during the impeachment trial.   

The focus on China and Biden comes as the White House continues to argue Trump was tough on China when the coronavirus outbreak began spreading beyond Wuhan, specifically pointing to travel restrictions on foreign nationals traveling from China to the United States in late January.

A recent New York Times investigation found, however, that 430,000 people have flown from China to the U.S. since the outbreak started with as many as 40,000 arriving since the rules went into effect.

The ad implies that Biden linked the travel limitations to “Trump’s record of hysterical xenophobia,” but there is no proof that the former vice president was referring to the new guidelines when he delivered those remarks.

Still, the bite is used repeatedly in the spot, followed later by a clip of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, praising the decision as “a very smart move.”

Calls mount for Postal Service investigation into Wisconsin absentee ballots

WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin are calling for a formal investigation by the U.S. Postal Service into its handling of absentee ballots for Tuesday's election, ballots that many voters say they never received in the first place. 

The Republican Johnson and the Democrat Baldwin made the request in a Thursday letter where they cited widespread reports of concerns from across the state. They cited one report that three tubs of absentee ballots were discovered at a USPS center after polls closed, and concerns from the Milwaukee Election Commission about voters saying they'd never received the ballots they requested. 

"Unfortunately, there have been numerous accounts from the state that USPS failed to fulfill that critical function for some voters," the senators wrote. 

"We are concerned there may be more examples, and request that you promptly open an investigation to determine the cause of these failures, which appear to have disenfranchised many Wisconsin voters. As the COVID-19 crisis continues and as more voters are likely to request to vote by mail where available, this year’s forthcoming elections will require that USPS’s existing vote-by-mail procedures are strictly and effectively followed. It is critical that you quickly identify what has gone wrong and propose solutions that USPS can swiftly implement."

The two senators are not the only ones raising concerns about absentee ballots after an election upended by the coronavirus pandemic

In a letter to the United States Postal Service on Wednesday, Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht said that the city had received a "high volume of communication from voters that had never received ballots that had been mailed, or were waiting for ballots that had been mailed more than 10 days prior." 

The commission narrowed down the complaints primarily to ballots sent on March 22 and March 23 — the return rate for ballots sent on those two days was under 25 percent, compared to a city-wide rate the commission expects to be above 65 percent once all votes are counted. And Albrecht wrote that more than 1,000 people who were sent ballots on those two days reached out to the commission to say the ballots never came. 

"Due to the severity of this situation, and the number of Milwaukee voters that have been prevented from voting while waiting for their ballots, I am asking for a formal investigation by the United States Postal Service into the whereabouts of these ballots and a report back to me as to the outcome of this investigation," Albrecht wrote. 

While a rash of other states moved quickly to postpone their elections in light of guidance to avoid public gatherings as a way to slow the spread of the virus, Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has said the election would go on as scheduled, initially calling on the Republican-led legislature to approve a plan allowing all voters to be sent an absentee ballot so they could still vote even if concerned about leaving their home. 

But just one day before the election, and after imploring the legislature to postpone the election, Evers issued an executive order of his own postponing in-person voting. 

However, courts directed that the election would go on as scheduled. Voters, particularly in Milwaukee, had to wait on long lines in order to cast their ballots for both the presidential primary as well as general elections for some down-ballot races. 

—NBC's Shaquille Brewster and Nadine Comerford contributed

Environmental group bets $14 million on moving swing voters against Trump

The League of Conservation Voters, a deep-pocketed environmental group, is preparing a $14 million ad campaign against President Donald Trump, targeting a relatively narrow band of swing voters that the league believes can be moved by environmental messages, the group told NBC News. 

Based on polling and analytic modeling, the group identified 1.5 million voters in six battleground states — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — who it thinks could be persuaded to vote in November in part, they hope, based on messages about clean water and air or the climate. 

LCV Victory Fund, the league's super PAC, will inundate those voters throughout the late spring and early summer with recurring digital ads and direct mail literature — the literature will arrive at voters’ mailboxes over six times before the parties’ national conventions in August

Pete Maysmith, who runs LCV's campaign operations, says the idea is to expose these voters to potentially new information about what the Trump administration has done to roll back environmental protections and then “burn that in over a relatively long period of time."

The 101 freeway in Los Angeles in 2019.
The 101 freeway in Los Angeles in 2019.Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images file

Maysmith also said that they believe these issues can move people because their views on green issues are less hardened since they've flown under the radar during Trump's administration. According to Maysmith, the relatively unknown Trump policies on climate make it easier to persuade people to change their opinions — unlike something such as President Trump's border wall. 

"People already know that’s happening," Maysmith said of the wall. “It doesn’t really move vote choice in the same way as when you tell that same swing voter about clean water protections that have been torn apart. Because they don’t know that, it’s new information.”  

LCV’s digital ads will be run in partnership with the massive Democratic super PAC Priorities USA in four states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. Maysmith said these ads and their direct mail are "an opportunity to educate."

Research from Democratic pollster Geoff Garin found only 33 percent of potentially persuadable voters in those key states were familiar with what they say is “Trump’s actual environmental record” and that when those voters were told about Trump's record, their support for Democrats grew by 20 points.

Other recent research has also found that climate could be a surprisingly effective message in trying to peel voters away from Trump. 

Sanders to keep staffers on health care plan through November

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders will cover the costs of health care for everyone on his campaign staff through the end of October, campaign manager Faiz Shakir told staff Thursday afternoon on a conference call. 

The approximately 500 Sanders staffers now looking for employment after the senator suspended his presidential bid Wednesday will continue to be covered through COBRA on the campaign's dime

A campaign spokesperson explained that while the Sanders campaign staff won't be paid their salaries alongside their health care, they will receive severance checks on May 1. 

Staffers who were with the campaign for more than six months will receive two pay-periods worth of pay. Staffers who were with the campaign for less than six months will receive one pay-period of pay. 

The move stands in stark contrast to billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who laid off campaign staffers despite initially saying he would pay staff to mount an effort against President Trump's reelection even if Bloomberg was not the Democratic Party's nominee. 

The remaining Bloomberg staffers, many of whom were focused on battleground campaign states before being let go, will receive health care through the end of April, according to a statement from a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson.

The news comes the same day as former Vice President Joe Biden announced he planned to expand access to Medicare and forgive some student debt, seen as a nod to Sanders' supporters because of his focus on both issues. 

In nod to Sanders, Biden looks to adopt more progressive policies

WASHINGTON — On his first day as the apparent Democratic nominee, Joe Biden is extending another olive branch to backers of his more progressive rivals, announcing his intent to expand access to Medicare and forgive loan debt for many students.

The former vice president said Thursday that he would seek to lower the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 60, and forgive federal loan debt for those making less than $125,000 who graduated from any public undergraduate colleges and universities along with those who attend private Historically Black Colleges and Universities or Minority Serving Institutions. 

Image: Sen. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden speak at a Democratic presidential debate on Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 25, 2020.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden speak at a Democratic presidential debate on Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 25, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

While Biden cast these announcements as a nod in the direction of Senator Bernie Sanders on key priorities of his movement — saying Sanders and his supporters “can take pride in their work laying the groundwork for these ideas" — the campaign also notes that the policy moves are driven by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Recovery will require long term changes to build a more inclusive and more resilient middle class, and a greener and more resilient economy,” Biden writes in a new Medium post. "We have to think big — as big as the challenges we face. As we start to lay the groundwork for recovery, we have to build back better for the future."

Before Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign Wednesday, Biden had already adopted another piece of Sanders’s platform — to make public colleges and universities free, but only for families whose income is below $125,000. Separately, he had also embraced Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy reform plan, an area where the two clashed in the past. 

One of the key differences between Biden and Sanders in the Democratic primary was whether to build on, or overhaul entirely the Affordable Care Act. Biden proposed the former, saying he would add a public option and enhance subsidies for purchasing ACA plans, among other changes. Sanders instead offered voters a Medicare for All program that would move most Americans from private health insurance to a government-run plan.

Sanders said Wednesday he intends to continue pressing for the Democratic Party to embrace Medicare for All in its platform. Sanders’ campaign did not comment on Biden’s announcement Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden holds lead in latest general election polls

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

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

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

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

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

White House Coronavirus Task Force Holds Daily Briefing At The White House
President Donald Trump speaks at the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 8, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—NBC News' Kristen Welker contributed

Sanders' campaign ends without expanding his 2016 base

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

In fact, he ended up underperforming from 2016.

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

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

Consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Biden super PAC ad highlights Democrat's coronavirus plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisconsin voters and poll workers head to polls in protective gear

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

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

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

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

John Lewis endorses Biden for president

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: U.S. President Trump leads the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 5, 2020.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DNC reserves $22 million in YouTube ads for general election

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee announced on Monday that it will reserve $22 million in YouTube ads ahead of the general election as the party looks to fight President Trump's fundraising and online campaign behemoth. 

The ads will start in September in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and then in October in Arizona, Colorado,  Georgia, Minnesota, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. 

While the party hasn't announced the content of the ads yet, it said in a release announcing the effort that the strategy is aimed at boosting turnout for the party's presidential nominee as well as the entire Democratic ticket.

Campaigns and political groups typically get better rates for ads when they make earlier investments. 

“Now more than ever, it’s critical that we reach voters where they are online — and this digital program will help us mobilize the voters we need to make Donald Trump a one-term president,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement.

“By making these kinds of historic, early investments in our battlegrounds and campaign infrastructure, the DNC is putting our eventual nominee and Democrats running at every level of the ballot in the strongest possible position to secure victory in November.” 

Patrick Stevenson, the party's chief mobilization officer, added in a statement that the party had been already planning an "aggressive general election online strategy" before the coronavirus pandemic upended American life, and the campaign trail. 

"The pandemic has only reinforced the importance of communicating with voters across a wide range of online channels and utilizing a variety of innovative, data-driven digital tactics," Stevenson said.

"That's the approach we’re taking, and these ads will be another important tool that will help our eventual nominee and Democrats running at every level win in November.”

While the new DNC ads will hardly be the only digital ad spending from Democratic groups this cycle — other outside groups have already begun announcing commitments of their own — the party says it's working to reserve more ads across "several other platforms." 

But as the eventual nominee stands to help the party significantly up its digital investments, Democrats will face a robust digital operation on the Republican side, one that's spent heavily on digital platforms in the hopes of re-electing Trump. 

The Trump campaign alone has spent more than $48 million on Facebook and Google since the start of 2019, according to a digital tracker by the Democratic communications firm Bully Pulpit Interactive, with more coming from the Republican National Committee and other allied groups. 

Much of that online spending has gone to ads encouraging supporters to sign up and donate to the Trump campaign. 

Wisconsin primary confusion leaves Biden campaign scrambling to mobilize voters

WASHINGTON — As Wisconsin chaotically moves ahead with its presidential primary on Tuesday, Joe Biden’s campaign is scrambling to figure out the best ways to target and mobilize voters amid a major pandemic that has fully upended the 2020 presidential contest.

Wisconsin, which has been under a stay at home order since March 25 to combat the coronavirus crisis, had been scheduled to hold its primary over the objections of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who unsuccessfully pressed the Republican-led legislature to halt in-person voting, and others who are warning it's too dangerous to hold an election with the pandemic raging.

But it's unclear what that primary will look like after Evers' last-minute decision Monday afternoon to issue an executive order suspending in-person voting and moving it to June 9. 

Image: Joe Biden speaks at Tougaloo College in Miss., on March 8, 2020.
Joe Biden speaks at Tougaloo College in Miss., on March 8, 2020.Rogelio V. Solis / AP file

While Sanders bested Democrat Hillary Clinton by 13 points in Wisconsin's 2016 primary, polling shows Biden well ahead of Sanders this time, but given the unusual circumstances of this contest, no outcome is assured. And Wisconsin is a key general election battleground that Trump narrowly carried in 2016. So Biden’s team, which has been following work from home guidelines set by the campaign in early March, has been forced to campaign in earnest.

Biden has not visited Wisconsin during the primary season and the campaign has done no television advertising there. Outside of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who carpet-bombed the airwaves during his brief bid, no candidate has spent significant money on the Wisconsin airwaves this presidential cycle. The former Vice President's campaign spent about $600 to run a new digital ad featuring Biden asking Americans to help protect COVID-19 frontline workers that Wisconsinites saw over four days last week on Facebook and Instagram. 

Most of the campaign efforts have been spent on direct voter contact, advisers say. 

Organizers have retired their door-knocking clipboards, turning their attention full-time to reaching voters on the Team Joe app and Pencil, a voter-database texting app that allows them to text persuadable voters and have ongoing conversations with them. The Biden campaign says that they have sent 3.1 million initial text messages from their texting platform since the March 17 primaries to voters living in key states like Wisconsin. 

But instead of solely focusing on selling their candidate, campaign staffers say they are consoling Wisconsin supporters and key constituencies amid the distress caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Besides restructuring their direct voter contacts, staffers are being trained on how best to engage and inform voters about the virus in an effort to not just win over their support, but also solidify their trust in the candidate in a key battleground state as they eye the general election against President Donald Trump.

“We’re calling supporters and would-be volunteers to ask them how they’re doing, how they’re staying safe,” Molly Ritner, the campaign’s states director, said in an interview with NBC News. “Sometimes we’re the only ones interacting with these people on a daily basis.”

The Biden campaign is banking on their “aggressive” shift to a phone-calling and texting approach to put them over the edge in Wisconsin, the first real test for them to mobilize voters at a time when they are being told to stay at home. Achieving success and turnout in the Badger state could lay a rough template for how the campaign approaches future contests next month, most of which have become vote-by-mail primaries. 

Concerned about the potential public health dangers of in-person voting on Tuesday, the campaign has prioritized getting as many supporters as possible to sign up for absentee ballots instead. 

“The health and safety of our staff, supporters, and the general public is Biden for President’s number one priority. We encourage voters to take advantage of absentee ballots,” Biden said at the end of a recent statement announcing his endorsement of Jill Karofsky in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race.

So far only 1.2 million Wisconsinites have requested an absentee ballot according to the Wisconsin Election Commission, a much lower number than the 2.1 million who voted in the 2016 primaries.

Image: A group with C.O.V.I.D., Citizens Outraged Voters in Danger, including, from left, Ron Rosenberry Chase and Jim O'Donnell, protest while wearing masks outside the State Capitol during a special session regarding the spring election in Madison, Wis
A group with C.O.V.I.D., Citizens Outraged Voters in Danger, including, from left, Ron Rosenberry Chase and Jim O'Donnell, protest while wearing masks outside the State Capitol during a special session regarding the spring election in Madison, Wis., Saturday, April 4, 2020.Amber Arnold / AP

Ahead of Tuesday’s contest, the Biden campaign has also relied on endorsers in and outside the state to tap into key constituencies in congressional districts they are targeting. Last week, they tasked a campaign co-chair, Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, to lead a call with faith leaders and urge them to inform their congregants to sign up for absentee ballots and vote safely.

The forced pivot to digital has moved them away from traditional campaigning strategies like airing TV ads in Wisconsin, instead prioritizing having Biden appear regularly on national TV and participating in virtual events that a broader swath of voters can view live or after it airs. The campaign targeted young Wisconsin voters on social media to attend Biden’s young adult happy hour last week viewable from the campaign’s livestream page.

“Virtual events don’t have physical borders like a state does, so we’ve been able to target events broadly to Wisconsin voters to have them participate,” campaign states director, Molly Ritner, said.

Pete Buttigieg launches PAC aimed at electing young leaders

HOUSTON, TX — Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who dropped out of the presidential race just over a month ago, is launching "Win the Era," a political action committee aimed at electing a new generation of leaders.

The PAC, named after a common refrain Buttigieg used while on the campaign trail, will represent a continuation of his work to support generational change candidates running in down-ballot races.

Pete Buttigieg appears on "TODAY" on March 9, 2020.
Pete Buttigieg appears on "TODAY" on March 9, 2020.Nathan Congleton / NBC News

“The work of electing a forward-thinking generation of Democratic candidates never ends,” Buttigieg senior advisor Lis Smith said in a statement. “Pete will do his part by building and leading the Win the Era PAC as we get closer to the November election."

In an email to supporters, Buttigieg leans into a sense of urgency related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the need for strong state and local leadership.

“Our nation and world are in a period of upheaval right now, which will make it more important than ever to support and elect good leaders this November and into the future,” Buttigieg writes. He later adds, “In the past few weeks especially, we’ve seen the importance of our institutions and the reality that local and state leadership is extremely important.”

Per the email, the PAC will be rolling out endorsements focused on candidates who represent “a successor generation of leadership,” and Democrats who are competing in conservative places highlighting “areas with emerging diversity in the electorate not yet reflected in leadership,” among other attributes.

Buttigieg, known for being a fundraising powerhouse throughout his presidential bid, hopes to create that same energy around his latest project.

The Buttigieg campaign will refund general election donations made to his campaign, as required by law. Buttigieg ended up with about $3 million in money earmarked for the general election, an NBC News analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. He is urging his donors to instead put that money toward his newly formed PAC with an option to donate up to $5,000 via the PAC's website.

In addition, to asking his supporters for donations, Buttigieg is also urging them to send along information on lesser-known candidates who the PAC should consider supporting.

Biden leads Trump in new national poll

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump in the latest Grinnell College national poll. The poll of likely voters, released Wednesday, shows Biden garnering 47 percent support to Trump's 43 percent support.

The poll also measured a hypothetical head-to-head contest between Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Trump leads Sanders, 44 percent to 43 percent, well within the poll's 3.5-point margin of error for likely voters.

And while the poll shows a close race between either potential Democratic nominee and Trump, support among self-proclaimed Trump supporters is stronger than support for either Sanders and Biden supporters.

Of those who identify as Biden supporters in a head-to-head match-up with Trump, just 55 percent said their "mind is made up" on supporting Biden. Forty-three percent of them said they could be persuaded to support a different candidate.

Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden delivers remarks at his primary night election event in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

The same story seems to be true of Sanders supporters. Of likely voters who identify as supporters of Sanders, 50 percent said they're steadfast in their decision — and 44 percent of them could be persuaded otherwise. The president, meanwhile, continues to see strength in his base.

Eighty-two percent of self-identified Trump supporters say their mind is made up on who they'll support in the general election, with just 17 percent saying they could be persuaded to vote for someone else. 

The Grinnell College poll was taken between March 27 and March 30 as concern about the coronavirus pandemic rose and as new guidelines for social distancing were put in place. But as unemployment rates rise due to the pandemic, Americans are split on if they think the economy is in a better or worse place than when President Trump took office. Forty-three percent of Americans said the economy is better than at the beginning of 2017, while 42 percent said it is worse. 

Trump campaign demands Sessions stop tying his Senate campaign to the president

WASHINGTON – President Trump’s re-election campaign sent a scathing letter to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, calling him “delusional” for tying himself to the president in his current Senate campaign and demanding it stop circulating any mailers that imply Trump supports his bid. 

The Trump campaign specifically called out Sessions’ team for an advertisement that mentioned the president by name 22 times and “even makes the delusional assertion that you are President ‘Trump’s #1 Supporter.’”

“We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump’s loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the President supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary run-off election. Nothing could be further from the truth,” wrote Trump campaign chief operating officer Michael Glassner in a letter obtained by NBC News. 

The New York Times first reported on the letter. 

Trump endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, Sessions’ primary opponent, last month after the two men advanced to a runoff. Aides close to the president had tried to get him to hold off on slamming Sessions until after the primary, which Trump did, until the morning after.

The president famously told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that the single “biggest mistake” of his administration was appointing Sessions as attorney general and wishes he would have made that decision differently. 

Sessions, for his part, has repeatedly complimented Trump in this race, tweeting adoring videos and reminding voters that he was the first senate backer of then-candidate Trump back in 2016.

 The Trump campaign letter to Sessions includes text from the president’s tweets in mid-March endorsing Tuberville, with bolded emphasis added to underscore the point.

 “We want to be absolutely clear about it: President Trump and the Trump Campaign unambiguously endorse Tommy Tuberville,” the letter included, with a stark warning at the end. “We demand that you and your campaign immediately stop circulating mailers—or any other similar communication—that wrongly suggest otherwise.”

Session’s team did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment, but spokeswoman Gail Glitcho told the New York Times that "Alabamans don't like to be told what to do," pointing to the 2017 Alabama special election where Trump's preferred candidates lost the GOP primary and the general election. She went onto argue that Sessions is "indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda." 

The Alabama Senate race has now been postponed until July 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tweet the Press talks with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres

WASHINGTON — In case you missed today's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres about the latest on coronavirus. 

The wide-ranging discussion touched on what to expect across the country, how the virus is affecting young people, whether Americans should wear masks and what to expect about the treatments being explored. 

Click on the link here to read the full conversation on Twitter

With Biden or Sanders at the top of the ticket, Democrats look down-ballot for diversity

WASHINGTON — With the party's presidential race having been whittled down from a historically diverse field to two white men, Democrats are pointing to at least one bright spot when it comes to diversity among their candidates in 2020: state legislative elections.

According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which aims to elect Democratic state legislators nationwide, there are over twice as many Democratic women serving as state delegates or senators compared to their Republican counterparts — 1,455 versus 670 respectively. And in some key battleground states, the party has recruited more diverse candidates considering race and sexual identity than the GOP.

Virginia Gov. Northam Delivers Annual State Of The Commonwealth Address
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn shakes hands with Gov. Ralph Northam before his State of the Commonwealth address at the Virginia State Capitol on Jan. 8, 2020 in Richmond, Va.Zach Gibson / Getty Images file

DLCC president, Jessica Post, told NBC News in a recent phone interview that diversity matters because it energizes the Democratic base and leads to victories.

“Diversity is our winning strategy,” she said. “We’ve recruited great communities thinking about the voices that need to be represented.”

The efforts to attract a diverse field of candidates is especially crucial in states where election outcomes will affect congressional redistricting. For example, the DLCC reports that Democrats are running eight LGBTQ+ candidates for the Texas state House versus none for Republicans. There are 20 Democratic candidates of color seeking seats in the North Carolina state Senate compared to Republicans’ six. For the state House there, 40 Democratic minority candidates are running against the GOP’s single candidate of color.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) — the DLCC’s counterpart — did not respond to NBC News’ request to confirm these numbers but answered several other questions last week, saying they are supporting candidates of various backgrounds in pivotal states.

The RSLC reports that over fifty Republican women are running for Pennsylvania's state legislature while in Florida, there are about 30 GOP minority candidates. In Georgia, almost 40 Republican women along with four Asian-American and two African-American candidates are seeking state seats, according to the GOP committee. 

RSLC communications director, Stami Williams, said these examples reflect the GOP’s “great success” in recruiting diverse candidates and noted that Democrats flipped less than half the amount of legislative seats during Trump’s first three years than Republicans did in the same period under President Obama. 

The DLCC's Post argues that the GOP views legislative diversity as a mere “add-on” to their agenda, saying that the party has “fallen down on the job.”

Yet despite growing diversity down-ballot, Democrats face criticism for lacking diversity at the party’s upper echelons after the most minority and female-heavy field narrowed down to two older, heterosexual, white men — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

For Post, the boost in state-level Democratic diversity isn’t purely a reaction to the party’s dilemma at the top. She believes that Trump and his party have been “repellent to women and people of color,” and have motivated diverse candidates to run for state office.

The DLCC president said that she’s encouraged by Biden’s commitment to choose a female running mate. 

Image:
Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang arrive onstage for the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia on November 20, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP - Getty Images

“We would’ve loved to see many of these diverse candidates stay longer in the presidential field,” Post stated. “I do think it’s notable that we have a direct way to point to our state legislative pipeline of diversity right now with Stacey Abrams [former Georgia state minority leader] potentially being a vice presidential nominee.” 

Director of the Center for American Women and Politics, Debbie Walsh, told NBC News last week that an “almost primal” desperation to beat Trump this election drove Democratic primary voters to make a “calculated choice” to back candidates they deemed electable — not personally preferable.

These voters, Walsh emphasized, assumed that nontraditional presidential candidates couldn’t defeat Trump. She pointed to the spike in down-ticket diversity as evidence that less conventional candidates can win. 

State legislative primaries began in March and will continue through September. The results of the November general elections will significantly impact the 2021 congressional redistricting cycle. 

Biden leads Sanders in Wisconsin primary poll

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by over 30 points in Wisconsin, according to the latest Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday. Per this poll, Biden garnered 65 percent support among likely Democratic voters versus Sanders' 32 percent support.

Wisconsin's primary, which is still scheduled to take place on April 7 despite the coronavirus pandemic, is one of the only contests still taking place in April — and it could be a stunning defeat for Sanders. In 2016, Sanders won the Wisconsin primary by 14 points. On Wednesday, Sanders called for the Wisconsin primary to be postponed, have early voting extended and encouraged people to vote by mail. 

Despite lagging poll numbers, Sanders has said he will continue to assess his campaign and stay in the race. On Wednesday he said on MSNBC, "We're taking a hard look at our campaign. We do have a narrow road, a path to victory. It's going to be a tough fight." 

Image: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks about coronavirus pandemic at event in Wilmington
Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters file

Biden has since said that there isn't a need for more Democratic debates, but that he will not call for Sanders to exit the race. 

The new poll also shows Biden just narrowly pushing ahead of President Trump in a general election match-up, where Sanders lags slightly behind Trump. Forty-eight percent of registered voters support Biden in a general election, with 45 percent supporting the president — however that falls within the poll's 4.2-point margin of error. The poll's February tracker showed the president and Biden tied in the state. 

Wisconsin could become a must-win state for both the president and the eventual Democratic nominee. President Trump was the first Republican nominee to win Wisconsin since former President Ronald Reagan in 1984. And much of Biden's campaign has been focused on restoring the so-called "Blue Wall" in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 

Laid off Bloomberg staffers docked taxes for campaign phones, computers

WASHINGTON — Laid off campaign staffers to Michael Bloomberg's campaign who received their final paychecks on Tuesday were docked hundreds of dollars to cover taxes on their campaign-issued cellphone and laptop, three former Bloomberg campaign staffers told NBC News.

The deductions came as a lawsuit against the Bloomberg campaign, alleging that the campaign fraudulently promised jobs through November, has grown from one plaintiff to more than 50. The plaintiffs are seeking to get the case certified as a class action in seven states, a move that could raise the number of claimants to over a thousand.  

Former staffers told NBC News that their paychecks were docked more than $400. The Bloomberg campaign had touted how they had lured top talent to the campaign with new iPhone 11s and MacBooks, and offered to let staff keep them when they were let go. A campaign spokesperson said staffers were told during the off-boarding process that they’d pay taxes on those items, but several former staffers said they did not realize that it would be automatically deducted from their remaining paychecks.

Image: Mike Bloomberg
Mike Bloomberg greets Jewish voters at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Aventura, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2020.Andrew Uloza / AP file

Sally Abrahamson, an attorney for the former staffers suing the campaign, said her firm, Outten & Golden, is now investigating the campaign’s deduction of “purported taxes on cell phones and laptops.”

“It doesn't sound right. How can workers be expected to pay taxes on something they didn't want?” Abrahamson told NBC News. “The law certainly doesn't allow an employer to pay wages with anything but money.”

Earlier this month, Bloomberg abandoned his initiative to form an independent super PAC to absorb his presidential campaign and instead transferred $18 million to the Democratic National Committee. He laid off his staff of more than 2,400 people in that process and those staff members were invited to enter a competitive hiring process for a job at the DNC. Laid off staff will lose their health insurance at the end of April amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The lawsuit, filed by a former field organizer, alleges that Bloomberg’s campaign promised potential hires they’d have jobs through November regardless of who won the nomination. Many of the 50 additional plaintiffs who joined the lawsuit in an amended complaint filed in federal court Monday said they left other lucrative jobs and relocated across the country based on the campaign’s assurances.

A Bloomberg campaign spokesperson, responding to both the docked paychecks and the expanded lawsuit, re-issued the campaign's statement from earlier in March. 

“This campaign paid its staff wages and benefits that were much more generous than any other campaign this year,” the spokesperson said. “Staff worked 39 days on average, but they were also given several weeks of severance and healthcare  through March, something no other campaign did this year.”

Democratic groups significantly outspending GOP groups on airwaves since coronavirus crackdown

WASHINGTON — Democratic candidates and aligned groups are outspending their Republican counterparts in the two weeks since President Trump announced guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. 

There's been $23.5 million spent on political advertising from March 16 (the day the administration announced its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines) through Tuesday, with Democrats making up 69 percent of that ($16.2 million), Republicans making up 29 percent of that ($6.7 million), and independent groups filling in that last 2 percent. 

All of these figures are from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. 

Four of the top five biggest spenders over this period were Democrats:

  • Senate Majority PAC, the group aligned with Senate Democrats, has spent $3 million
  • Priorities USA Action, which is backing former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid, has spent $2.8 million
  • One Nation, the non-profit aligned with Republican efforts particularly in the Senate, has spent $1.7 million
  • American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic-aligned group that plays up and down the ballot, has spent $1.3 million
  • And Unite the Country, the pro-Biden super PAC, has spent $741,000

The ad backed by the most spending in that window was from Priorities USA, which is running an ad that's criticizing Trump's response to the coronavirus outbreak. It's spent $1.2 million to run that spot so far. 

The ad with the second-most money behind it is from Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, attacking Biden on Social Security and Medicare. Although both Biden and Sanders have wound down their ad spending to a virtual halt recently, Sanders spent $620,000 to run the ad over the time period. Virtually all of that came in the days surrounding the March 17 primaries, the ad has barely run since. 

The Republican-aligned ad with the most spending behind it in recent weeks has been from One Nation, a spot that plays up Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst's work on prescription drugs. That spot has had $333,000 behind it since March 16. 

During this time period, the top markets were the Portland-Aurburn market in Maine, Phoenix, and two markets in Florida covering Orlando and Tampa.

Maine is home to GOP Sen. Susan Collins' re-election race; Arizona held its presidential primary on March 17 and has a competitive Senate race; and Florida also held its presidential primary on March 17.

Physician embraces his expertise while campaigning in the coronavirus era

WASHINGTON — As candidates across the country adjust to campaigning in the age of coronavirus, Dr. Cameron Webb sees an opportunity and is embracing his experiences as a physician and public health expert on the trail. 

“It’s necessary to have the range of professional backgrounds represented in our legislature,” Webb told NBC News in a recent phone interview. “I think the expertise that I have is really useful in a moment like this.” 

Dr. Cameron Webb for Congress
Dr. Cameron Webb.Dr. Cameron Webb for Congress

Webb hopes to be the first Democrat to fill Virginia’s fifth congressional seat since 2008, a GOP-held district the size of New Jersey that includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia. A practicing physician and a public health sciences director at the University of Virginia’s medical school, he has made expanding affordable health care a major focus of his career and campaign. 

“My job is to walk into rooms and ask people where it hurts,” Webb explained. “When you have a district that’s this diverse, that’s this broad, you have to be a really skilled listener in order to meet everybody’s needs.” 

So far, the candidate thinks this strategy of listening to voters like he does with patients has been effective, and that his background allows him and his campaign to “model the leadership” required during the coronavirus crisis. 

Webb, who serves on Virginia’s Medicaid board, remarked that he’s grateful for his state’s 2019 Medicaid expansion as the pandemic takes a toll on patients and businesses.

The candidate previously worked under both Presidents Obama and Trump as a White House Fellow serving on the health care team and a drug pricing task force. When speaking to NBC News, he compared Obama’s track record on public health to Trump’s, commenting that there are “very clear differences'' in how this pandemic would play out under the former president.

Although Webb stressed that he won’t use the novel coronavirus as political leverage, he argued that the crisis reveals “other fault lines” in society and called out the American health care system for failing people. 

“We’re seeing the lack of access to health care through the lens of this virus,” he said. 

Denver Riggleman
Republican candidate for Virginia governor, Denver Riggleman, speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, Jan. 31, 2017.Steve Helber / AP

The fifth district is widely-considered a likely Republican seat and includes counties that pivoted from pro-Obama to pro-Trump but Webb doesn’t view the race as an “uphill battle.” The physician must beat out four other candidates in the Democratic primary before facing expected GOP competitor, Rep. Denver Riggleman, who won the district by almost seven percentage points in 2018. 

The Riggleman campaign did not respond to a request for comment but the congressman’s Virginia distillery, Silverback, recently began producing hand sanitizer, which it’s offering for free to first responders and health care workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the UVA Center for Politics, told NBC News last week that Republicans are favored to win the district but that it’s competitive enough to elect a Democrat “under the right circumstances." He noted that Webb may “fit the moment.”

The Democratic primary is currently scheduled for June 9 and the district is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of seats it aims to flip from red to blue.

Sanders: 'There is a path' to the nomination

READINGTON, N.J. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been coy as of late about the future of his presidential campaign, told "Late Night" host Seth Myers on Monday he believes “there is a path” for him to win the Democratic nomination.

Sanders currently trails former Vice President Joe Biden by 312 delegates according to NBC News' delegate tracker, and most of the Democratic primary races that occur in April have been pushed to later this Spring or Summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. But on Monday, Sanders touted his grassroots support which helped him earned first place finishes in a number of the early voting states, including delegate-rich California. 

"There is a path. It is admittedly a narrow path," Sanders said. 

He added, "We have a strong grassroots movement who believe that we have got to stay in, in order to continue the fight to make the world know that we need Medicare for All, that we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, that we need paid family and medical leave,” Sanders said. 

But Sanders did repeat his promise that he would support Biden if he himself is not the nominee.

“We’re seeing just how dangerous [President Trump] is with all of the misinformation that he is providing during this Coronavirus pandemic,” Sanders said, “So, yes, we have got to defeat Trump.”

Earlier this month when asked about the future of his campaign, Sanders said he was “focused” on coronavirus legislation, and heatedly told reporters that that he was not interested in answering campaign questions.

“I'm dealing with a f****** global crisis. You know? We're dealing with it and you're asking me these questions," Sanders told reporters earlier this month. 

After suffering a series of losses in primary states in March, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told reporters the senator was “going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign" from Burlington, Vt. which is where Sanders has been when he was not voting in the Senate. 

Republican, Democratic super PACs place initial ad buys in fight for Senate

WASHINGTON — Key Republican and Democratic super PACs have announced big spending plans in the fight for the Senate majority. 

Both the Senate Majority PAC and the Senate Leadership Fund, groups aligned with top Democratic and Republican leaders respectively, have announced their first round of television advertising investments in recent days. The groups are focusing on five of the same states — Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina — with Senate Leadership Fund spending in Kentucky as well. 

SLF is booking $67.1 million, the group announced in a press release last week. And SMP is booking $69.2 million, it said in a press release Monday. 

William P. Barr Confirmation
Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 15, 2019.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

North Carolina is the beneficiary of the most early ad booking, with the Democratic SMP announcing plans to reserve $25.6 million there and the Republican SLF planning to book $21.8 million. There, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis will take on Democratic former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.

An NBC News/Marist University poll taken in late February of that race showed Cunningham up 5 points on Tillis among registered voters, 48 percent to 43 percent, within the margin of error. That poll took place just before the state's primary. 

The race receiving the next-most early booking dollars is Iowa, where Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is defending her seat against whichever Democrat wins the primary currently scheduled for June 2.

Ernst's favorability rating fell to 47 percent among Iowa adults in the March Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, but 41 percent of likely voters said they'd definitely vote to re-elect Ernst compared to 31 percent who said they'd definitely vote for someone else. 

Close behind in that early-spending figure is Arizona, where SMP is booking $15.7 million and SLF is booking $9.2 million through an affiliate group called Defend Arizona. There, Republican Sen. Martha McSally is looking to win the rest of the term vacated by the death of the late Republican Sen. John McCain.

While McSally lost the state's 2018 Senate race, she was appointed to fill McCain's seat after his death. A recent Monmouth University poll had Kelly up 6 points over McSally among registered voters, within the margin of error. 

Then there's Maine, which has already been home to a significant bevy of television ad spending by other outside groups. SMP is booking $9.6 million there while SLF is booking $7.2 million ahead as Republican Sen. Susan Collins seeks to defend her seat. The top Democrat in that race is state House Speaker Sarah Gideon, but Betsy Sweet, the former director of the Maine Women's Lobby, is also running. 

The groups are also going toe-to-toe in Colorado, where Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is expected to take on former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. The Democratic SMP plans to book $5.2 million there, with the Republican SLF booking $5.5 million. 

And SLF is also putting $10.8 million in early television spending into Kentucky through another affiliated group, Keep Kentucky Great. There, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is running for reelection and will likely face off against Marine veteran Amy McGrath. 

These totals don't include what's expected to be a large digital presence by both groups, and the investments are likely to change as it gets closer to election day, with groups moving money around or injecting more money into competitive races. 

NYC Democratic House candidate announces positive COVID-19 test

WASHINGTON — New York City Democratic House candidate Suraj Patel has tested positive for COVID-19, he confirmed in a new statement Monday. 

Patel, one of the candidates featured in a recent MTP Blog story about how the new social distancing guidelines and the threat of coronavirus has fundamentally upended House campaigns, disclosed his positive test in a new statement posted on social media and on the blogging platform Medium

Suraj Patel
Suraj PatelSuraj Patel for Congress

He said he began developing symptoms earlier this month — which he described as "troubling tightness in my chest and difficulty breathing followed by a regular fever of 102 degrees. Patel lives with two doctors, one of whom is his brother, which he said underscored the need for him to test to see if had COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, so that his roommates would know whether they were at risk. 

Patel said that ultimately, he and his two housemates all tested positive. But he's now "fully recovered" and "asymptomatic."

"New Yorkers and Americans at large are stepping up in a tremendous unified way. We know how important it is to our most vulnerable populations that we slow the growth of this COVID epidemic. But as this becomes less abstract and more personal — when people’s loved ones start to show symptoms — human nature is such that we are going to want certainty and safety," Patel wrote, before calling for universal COVID testing. 

"The only proven way to slow and eventually stop this pandemic is to have an accurate picture of who has had the disease, who currently has it, and who is still at risk. Social distancing and the strong leadership of Governor Cuomo and others is buying us vital time, but the question is what is our federal government doing with the time that the sacrifices of so many Americans are buying them?" he wrote. 

"If we fail to universally test, we face an indefinite amount of time in social distancing, only to see new cases of the virus arise when we ultimately return to normal life."

Patel is running in the Democratic primary against longtime Rep. Carolyn Maloney. 

Texas Republicans back Lt. Governor on controversial coronavirus comments

HOUSTON — Republican leaders in Texas are defending Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's controversial comments on coronavirus as illustrative of his love of country, even as others see those comments as reckless amid a national crisis. 

Patrick, a Republican and popular former conservative radio host, drew headlines last week when he said he supported President Trump’s call to restart the U.S. economy as quickly as possible despite the ongoing spread of the virus.

The virus has proven most deadly to older people and those with underlying conditions, which means many of those being treated or hospitalized are elderly. Texas has almost 3,000 cases of Covid-19, the illness produced by the coronavirus, according to NBC News. Some 47 people have died.

Emphasizing the need to “get back to work,” Patrick told Fox News host Tucker Carlson, “those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”

Patrick, who turns 70 this week, added, “No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?' And if that is the exchange, I'm all in.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks in McAllen, Texas, on Jan. 10, 2019.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks in McAllen, Texas, on Jan. 10, 2019.Sergio Flores / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Patrick’s comments sparked backlash online, spurring hashtags including, #NotDyingforWallStreet and #TexasDeservesBetter. But in Texas, prominent Republicans said Patrick has a point.

“He's really telling a story which is, you know, he wants to make sure there's an American economy for people to come home to,” Houston area state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, 61, told NBC News. “That’s a big worry. The virus is a big worry, but then the next worry is, ‘do I have a job.’”

McKinney-area state Sen. Angela Paxton, 57, told NBC News: “We want to protect people and keep them healthy. Everyone is going to agree on that. How do we do it, that's where there's differences.”

She added, “But I think on the other hand, there's no one that is going to say, it doesn't matter if we destroy our economy.”

The mayor of Fort Worth, Betsy Price, a 70-year old grandmother of six, said that while the economy is a concern so is respect for the value of life. 

“My children and my grandchildren are certainly not ready for their Tootsie to go anywhere or to put myself at risk,” Price said.

“I don't know what talent he would sacrifice? Is it young talent? Is it the experience in seniors? Or where is it?“ Price said. “I just can’t quite get a handle around that.”

Other Texas GOP leaders suggested Patrick had been talking about a sacrifice he would be willing to make — not asking the rest of the country to do so.

“He was talking about himself,” Denton-area state Sen. Pat Fallon, 52, said. “He perfectly has every right to say, ‘I love this country so much that I would sacrifice, if I had to, my own well-being, to ensure the prosperity and opportunity that I had that my kids and grandkids could have.' And I think it’s very noble.”

Not everyone is convinced, particularly Republicans who have been critical of Trump's pull on their party. 

“He’s a public official, he knows what he says has policy implications and it's absurd to think that he just meant himself,” said Rick Tyler, a former aide to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and MSNBC political analyst who has frequently criticized President Trump. 

John Weaver, a Texan and longtime Republican political strategist who has since founded a group that's aimed at defeating Trump in November, argues Patrick wouldn’t actually be among the most vulnerable if restrictions were lifted. Texans who live along the US-Mexico border or lack access to adequate care, Weaver said, would be the ones who suffer.

“He's talking about those people in the valley, who don't have health insurance because they blocked the expansion of healthcare in this state. He's talking about people in parts of Houston where, because of density and lack of healthcare, they're more at risk.” Weaver said. “He's not talking about himself.”

“There's no real public policy out there where people are going to say, ‘Fine, we'll get the economy moving again at the expense of 2 percent of the population,’” Weaver added.

In a statement released the day after the Fox News interview, Patrick seemed to reframe his message away from senior citizens potentially sacrificing their lives.

“When you close the doors of every business in America, you cannot help but destroy the economy and with it, the opportunity for the next generation to live the American dream,” the statement said.

Here's what the Democratic presidential primary schedule looks like in the age of coronavirus

WASHINGTON — States continue to postpone Democratic presidential caucuses and primaries as the threat of coronavirus looms large and White House social distancing guidelines remain in place for another month. 

All presidential contests before March 17 were held as scheduled but the list of states that have altered voting plans due to the novel coronavirus is extensive.

Image: A voter casts their ballot at a polling station in Hillsboro, Va., on March 3, 2020.
A voter casts their ballot at a polling station in Hillsboro, Va., on March 3, 2020.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Here's the modified schedule so far listed by original contest date.

March 17

Arizona primary (held)

Florida primary (held)

Illinois primary (held)

Ohio primary: now set to be an all-mail election on April 28

March 24

Georgia primary: postponed to May 19

March 29

Puerto Rico primary: postponed to April 26 at the earliest.

April 4

Alaska Democratic Party-Run primary: in-person voting plans scrapped in favor of all-mail voting with the deadline on April 10

Hawaii Democratic Party-Run primary: in-person voting plans scrapped in favor of all-mail voting with a deadline of May 22

Louisiana primary: postponed to June 20

Wyoming Caucuses: in-person caucuses suspended in favor of mail. The deadline is April 17

April 7

Wisconsin primary

April 28

Connecticut primary: postponed to June 2.

Delaware primary: postponed to June 2.

Maryland primary: postponed  to June 2.

New York primary: postponed to June 23.

Pennsylvania primary: postponed to June 2.

Rhode Island primary: postponed to June 2, will be “primarily” by mail.

Saturday, May 2

Kansas Party-Run primary (DNC considers this a caucus)

Guam caucuses

Tuesday, May 5

Indiana primary: postponed to June 2.

Tuesday, May 12

Nebraska primary

West Virginia primary

Tuesday, May 19

Kentucky primary: postponed to June 23.

Oregon primary

Tuesday, June 2

Montana primary

New Jersey primary

New Mexico primary

South Dakota primary

Washington, D.C. primary

Saturday, June 6

Virgin Island caucuses

New Biden digital ad argues Trump's 'ego will cost lives' to coronavirus

WASHINGTON – The Biden campaign is issuing a cautious warning about President Donald Trump’s leadership in a new video, saying that his “ego will cost lives" in the fight against coronavirus. 

In a digital video posted to Twitter and Facebook Saturday evening, the campaign uses Trump’s own words during a White House press briefing, where he admitted to telling Vice President Mike Pence not to call Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, two Democrats, because he is “wasting” his time speaking with them.

“You don’t want to call the governor of Washington? You know what I say? If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” the video shows Trump saying.

In response, the campaign posts text on the screen over horror-movie like music that say, “His failure will cost lives. His downplaying will cost lives. His incompetence will cost lives. His ego will cost lives.”

The digital video, which is currently not a paid ad, already has about 5 million views on Twitter and thousands of engagements on Facebook and Instagram.

Biden has spent the past week criticizing Trump for his slow response to preventing the spread of the COVID-19, often pointing to numerous examples of Trump downplaying the seriousness of it earlier this year. The claims in the video are the furthest the campaign has gone in sharply pointing out how Trump’s continued approach to leading the effort could lead to American deaths.

On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Biden's criticisms of the president were not as aggressive as his campaign's.

While his campaign has repeatedly warned that Trump's reaction to the crisis could cost American lives, Biden says he thinks it would be "too harsh" to say Trump has blood on his hands.

“He should stop thinking out loud and start thinking deeply. He should start listening to the scientists before he speaks. He should listen to the health experts. He should listen to his economists," Biden said.

Whitmer also deflected Trump’s direct attacks against her in a "Meet the Press" interview.

“I've talked to the vice president a number of times. We're working with everyone from the White House on down through FEMA, DHS, the Army Corps of Engineers because it's got to be all hands on deck. We are not one another's enemies. The enemy is the virus,” she said on Meet the Press.

Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in latest national poll

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by nine points in the latest Fox News general election poll. The poll, released Saturday, shows Biden garnering 49 percent support of registered voters, and Trump at 40 percent — pushing Biden outside the poll's three-point margin of error. 

The subsection groups show even stronger support for Biden. Suburban women, a key group in the 2018 midterms, support Biden over Trump by a 57-34 point margin. Biden also won self-described "moderates" with 53 percent support — Trump garnered just 24 percent support from the same group. 

Image: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters at his South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
Joe Biden addresses supporters at his South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters file

The Fox News poll shows overall stability of Biden's support. In their February poll, Biden led Trump 49-41 percent, and in January he led 50-41 in the same poll. However, this is the first Fox News poll to also measure support of potential general election tickets. 

Biden announced at the last Democratic presidential debate that he would choose a woman as his running mate. Registered voters seem to agree with that decision — in this poll, 63 percent of registered voters approve of that choice. And of three potential female senators Biden could pick, each ticket leads the Republican Trump-Pence ticket. 

Fox News polled Biden with California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — all former presidential candidates in this cycle. Harris and Klobuchar have since endorsed Biden, while Warren has yet to endorse either Biden or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

According to this poll, a Biden-Harris ticket and a Biden-Klobuchar ticket beat Trump-Pence with a 50 to 42 percent margin. A potential Biden-Warren ticket had a larger margin of victory at 52-42 percent support. All three ticket victories were outside of the poll's margin for error. 

The Fox News poll was conducted between March 21 and 24. 

Democratic super PAC expands ad on Trump's coronavirus response

WASHINGTON — The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA is expanding their ad buy attacking President Trump on his coronavirus response to Arizona, a source with knowledge of the activity told NBC News.

NBC News reported Thursday that the group had been inquiring about rates in Arizona, a state that tends to vote Republican but has become more competitive for 2020. Later Thursday, Priorities USA announced it would spend $600,000 to run the ad in Arizona.

The ad, titled "Exponential Threat," splices remarks by the president downplaying the threat of the coronavirus alongside a chart that shows growing cases.

The Trump campaign had already issued letters to TV stations Wednesday arguing that the ad should be taken down because it contains "false, deceptive, and misleading information" about the president and threatened to take legal action if they didn't immediately stop airing it. 

The ad was part of a $6 million TV and digital buy from Priorities USA in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It is still running in all four states despite the Trump campaign's efforts, the source with knowledge said on Thursday.

 

Bernie Sanders' big delegate math problem

WASHINGTON — With Senator Bernie Sanders deciding to remain in the Democratic presidential race — possibly all the way through June — it’s time to crunch the delegate numbers once again.

And the exercise shows just how challenging the math is for the Independent Vermont senator.

Overall, former Vice President Joe Biden leads Sanders by 312 pledged delegates, according to NBC News’ Decision Desk.