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Amid Floyd fallout, Clyburn says it's not the right time for Klobuchar to be named VP
WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Friday that he believes it’s not the right time to choose Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate in light of the developing events in Minnesota following the death of George Floyd.
While Clyburn acknowledged that Klobuchar “absolutely is qualified” to serve as vice president, he said that the protests that have erupted in her state this week have complicated her chances.
“We’re all victims sometimes of timing and some of us benefit tremendously from timing,” Clyburn said on a call with reporters Friday. “This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar, who I respect so much.”
Asked to clarify whether he believes her chances to be chosen are less likely today than they were a few weeks ago, Clyburn said: “That is the implication, yes.”
The senior congressman from South Carolina added that his belief is based on a “gut feeling,” not any personal conversations he has had with Biden or his campaign.
Klobuchar’s record as Hennepin County attorney has come under fire in recent days even though she has not been involved with the police officer who is being accused of killing Floyd. Even so, she has faced increased scrutiny from the African American community in numerous op-eds over the last week that say she should not be chosen as Biden’s vice president because of her lack of prosecuting police misconduct in Minnesota during her tenure.
Prior to ending her presidential campaign in early March, Klobuchar was forced to cancel a campaign event in St. Louis Park, Minn. because black activists overtook the stage to protest her decision to sentence a Minnesota teenager to life in prison for murder while serving as county attorney.
Clyburn, whose endorsement ahead of the South Carolina primary was credited with delivering a jolt of energy into Biden's campaign, did not say outright that this moment calls for Biden to pick an African American woman as his running mate.
However, Clyburn did speak highly of Democratic Florida Rep. Val Demings, who was formerly a police chief in Orlando.
“I think she's a very fine woman. I think she's a very qualified woman. She has the kind of compassion and sensitivity I would like to see in the last president,” he said.
President Trump to resume in-person fundraisers
WASHINGTON — After foregoing in-person fundraisers due to the coronavirus pandemic in March, President Trump is expected to resume the campaign staple in mid-June, according to a Republican National Committee official.
The president will participate in two high-dollar fundraisers next month: one on June 11 at a private home in Dallas — there will be approximately 25 guests and it will cost about $580,600 per couple to attend. The second will take place at Trump's Bedminster, N.J. golf club on June 13. There will also be about 25 attendees and each person will pay $250,000 to attend. POLITICO first reported the campaign's decision.
“Trump Victory’s top priority is ensuring the safety of President Trump and our attendees, and that includes testing all attendees as well as several other safety measures that align with CDC’s guidance,” the RNC official explained.
The White House Medical Unit and U.S. Secret Service will also evaluate all attendees in order for them to be admitted to the event. All attendees will have to test negative for coronavirus on the day of the fundraiser, complete a wellness questionnaire and pass a temperature screening.
The costs of the tests will be covered by Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee that includes the Trump campaign, RNC and 22 state parties. Each event site will be “professionally cleaned and sanitized” prior to the fundraisers, according to the RNC official.
Trump last attended an in-person fundraiser on March 9 in Orlando, Fla.
Biden's VP list narrows and unrest in Minnesota enters discussion
WASHINGTON — Another week of veepstakes news and speculation is ending as apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden says he hopes to pick his running mate by Aug. 1 and that his team continues to be steeped in the vetting process.
While New Mexico Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina to be elected to the U.S. Senate, formally withdrew from the V.P. selection process Thursday, others vying for the job have put their markers out. Here are some of this week's developments.
Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris: Sens. Warren and Harris will have a chance to prove their ability to share a stage with Biden — albeit virtually — at the Texas Democratic convention next week where both are set to speak ahead of Biden’s concluding address.
The upcoming event could be seen as a trial run for Biden’s eventual nomination at the Democratic National Convention. Not only is there a possibility for the Democratic convention to be held virtually in August, it could be either Warren or Harris speaking before Biden as his running mate. Plus, any V.P. pick will be campaigning in places in Biden’s absence, and Texas could be a red state that his campaign looks to play.
Amy Klobuchar and Val Demings: The death of George Floyd in Minnesota this week, and the ensuing fallout, have also called attention to the resumes of two other veep contenders.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents Minnesota, also once served as chief prosecutor for Hennepin County — the county now charged with investigating Floyd’s death. While Klobuchar has not worked as an attorney for the county since 2007, upon her election to the Senate, the focus on the county’s police force renews criticism that she had a poor record on prosecuting police brutality cases.
During an MSNBC interview, Klobuchar was asked if she’d withdraw from the vetting process due to the crisis in Minnesota. Klobuchar left it up to Biden himself to decide.
“He's going to make the best decision for him, for our country, for the pandemic and the crisis we're facing,” Klobuchar said.
She added, “With his strong support and understanding of the African American community, he will make that decision.”
The latest in Minnesota has also put a spotlight on Florida Rep. Val Demings. Demings served as the chief of police in Orlando and could offer Biden unique insight as an African American woman with a law enforcement background. In an op-ed in The Washington Post Friday, Demings detailed her experiences as a black police officer and called for a nationwide review of police practices.
“As a former woman in blue, let me begin with my brothers and sisters in blue: What in the hell are you doing?,” Demings wrote.
Michelle Lujan Grisham and Gretchen Whitmer: These two governors may have seen their stocks fall in the veepstakes this week after their personal activities during the coronavirus pandemic made for unappealing headlines.
In New Mexico, non-essential businesses, like retail stores, are still closed. But according to local news reports, Lujan Grisham purchased jewelry from a store over the phone in April and an employee left the purchase outside of the store for someone else to pick up. However, curbside pickup for retailers was not allowed until earlier this month. Lujan Grisham’s office says no laws were broken.
In Michigan, Gov. Whitmer’s husband reportedly used Whitmer’s status to try and get a business to place his boat in the water before Memorial Day Weekend. Whitmer called the name-drop a “failed attempt at humor.”
Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.
Despite Trump's threats, Charlotte convention preparations continue
WASHINGTON — Despite President Donald Trump’s continued threats to yank the Republican National Convention from North Carolina, GOP officials and the state’s Democratic governor are preparing adjustments for the mass gathering to take place in Charlotte, as planned, and there haven’t been any serious discussions with new venues in other states yet, according to people involved in the discussions.
And NBC News obtained a letter from top Republican officials to Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, dated Thursday, on proceeding with the convention, asking the governor to sign off on some “safety protocols,” including pre-travel health surveys and thermal scans of all mandatory attendees.
Once the state signs off on these proposals, the RNC says it will move forward to plan the event in Charlotte. “We are asking for a partner in leadership to make this happen,” the letter says, which requests a response from the state by Wednesday.
The president, however, remains frustrated that his re-nominating convention may turn into a pared back event — deprived of the massive crowds that fuel him — due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, per two people close to the White House.
Trump arbitrarily set an unofficial deadline for Tuesday in a Rose Garden press conference last week, asking Cooper’s office to put forward proposals for an alternate convention plan, in consultation with Republican officials.
“We are still waiting for a plan from the RNC, but our office will work with state health officials to review the letter and share a response tomorrow,” a spokeswoman for the governor said.
But none of that will seemingly satisfy the president, who wants a full-scale event with no modifications, including open restaurants and bars where thousands of his supporters can congregate and celebrate, according to these people.
Trump’s warning and demands even caught his own Republican officials working on the event off guard, according to those involved in the conversations. Trump later walked back the intimidation slightly, saying he would still like the event to take place in North Carolina.
“We still want this to work out in Charlotte,” one person said, echoing the preference not to uproot an event several years in the making.
Last week, these people said, Republican National Committee officials acknowledged they would need to come up with contingencies plans and the re-elect effort is currently working on a new set of proposals for what a scaled-down event would look like.
These same people were surprised the president is mandating that those ideas be finalized this week, though the conversations were already underway for a smaller and safer convention in late August. The president hasn’t been shy about telling his aides he rejects this concept, according to a Republican familiar with the discussions.
Cooper’s office was expecting the suggestions “in the coming weeks,” ranging from an entirely virtual convention — which the president and RNC have stated is out of the question — to an in-person, four-day spectacle. That timeline has now been accelerated by the president’s ask for a solution “very soon.”
The North Carolina governor has long said any final decisions about how the political conference will be held will depend on health data and science, not the president’s desires.
For months, Trump has told people he wants to see his supporters packed shoulder to shoulder, which officials involved in the planning have acknowledged is close to impossible given current health concerns over the virus.
But the conflict allows Trump to blame Democrats if he doesn’t get the event he’s hoping for, according to those people.
“He wants it to be Cooper’s fault,” one person said.
Republicans are making a political calculation based on a belief Cooper will “blink” according to a senior administration official, who predicted it would cost him “a ton of good will, if not votes.” Failing to come to an agreement with the opposing party could leave “thousands of North Carolina businesses, contractors in the lurch” and deprive them of tens of millions of dollars.
There is an emergency provision that would the RNC to move the convention under extenuating circumstances, according to a former Senior White House official, and that could still be triggered late in the process.
Meanwhile, “the preference is to go full steam ahead with an in-person convention in Charlotte,” according to a White House official, stressing that a move to a new state would be unlikely at this stage.
“Time is of the essence and we will need some answers sooner rather than later, or be forced to consider other options. Given the major financial investments and anticipated revenues to the city and state, it should be Charlotte. But it can’t be Charlotte or nothing,” the official said.
Trump campaign committee Facebook ad draws mask on Biden
WASHINGTON — President Trump's re-election committee ran a Facebook ad on Thursday featuring former Vice President Joe Biden in a drawn-on mask as the president continues to poke at his Democratic rival's decision to wear a mask in public, a decision based on public health guidance.
While Biden is depicted in front of a Chinese flag wearing the mask, which says "Sleepy Joe" on it, Trump is maskless and in front of the American flag.
Trump's campaign ran the ad from his verified account and was paid for by the "Trump Make America Great Again Committee," a joint fundraising committee affiliated with both the campaign and the Republican National Committee. Facebook data shows that the campaign spent less than $100 promoting the ad.
The president has not donned a mask during any public events, but did during a private portion of his recent trip to a Ford plant in Michigan. This week, he retweeted a photo mocking Biden wearing a mask during a Memorial Day ceremony. And he tweeted an article by The Federalist warning that masks are about "social control," adding the commentary "So many different viewpoints."
Biden has been supportive of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that says people should cover their mouth and nose with "a face cover" when around other people in order to slow the spread of the virus. He changed his Twitter picture to one of him in a mask after Trump's tweet, and he recently appeared in a TikTok social media video with The Washington Post promoting mask use.
As Kansas Republicans squabble in Senate primary, Democrat pitches herself a 'sensible centrist'
WASHINGTON — While the Kansas Republican primary has been dominated by attack ads, calls for candidates to drop out and other partisan tensions, Democrat Barbara Bollier is going up on the air seeking to present herself as above the partisan fray.
In a new ad released this week, the state senator's campaign pitches herself as "a sensible centrist; a leading moderate voice; independent."
"At a time like this, we need a reasonable voice like hers in the U. S. Senate," the narrator says, adding she'll "work with both parties" on issues like health care and jobs.
Bollier, a former Republican, has raised the most money of any candidate on either side of the race so far — almost $3.5 million through March. And she is the far-and-away favorite to win the August Democratic Senate primary and face off against whoever wins the heated Republican primary.
That GOP primary has gotten chippy.
Some Republicans believe that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach would cost their party the race if he wins the primary, pointing to his 2018 gubernatorial loss. And they're running ads to that effect.
But opponents of Rep. Roger Marshall are piling onto him too, as the state party chairman has called for a handful of other candidates to drop out so that voters can have a more clear choice. That's rubbed some people the wrong way.
The whole back and forth prompted state Sen. President Susan Wagle, one of those candidates asked by the chairman to drop out, to release an ad of her own framing her as above the "food fight" herself.
Biden condemns death of George Floyd, says black lives are 'under threat'
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden publicly condemned the “horrific killing” of George Floyd, which he says serves as a reminder to all Americans that racism still courses deeply through the country’s bloodstream.
“George Floyd’s life matters. It mattered as much as mine. It matters as much as anyone's in this country. At least it should have,” Biden said during a Wednesday livestream, expanding on his initial statement made in a Tuesday evening tweet.
He acknowledged that watching the video of 46-year-old Floyd being pinned down to the ground by a police officer’s knee triggered the memory of Eric Garner who also died at the hands of police. Though both black men died almost six years apart, Garner and Floyd each repeatedly told police that they could not breathe while being pinned to the ground, ultimately playing a role in their deaths that reignited public outcries of racist-motivated police attacks.
Biden said Floyd’s passing is the latest “tragic reminder that this was not an isolated incident, but a part of an ingrained systemic cycle of injustice that still exists in this country.”
“It cuts at the very heart of our sacred belief that all Americans are equal in rights and in dignity, and it sends a very clear message to the black community and to black lives that are under threat every single day,” he added.
The apparent Democratic nominee’s condemnation of Floyd’s death came during a virtual discussion with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who endorsed him ahead of the state’s primary next Tuesday. Besides discussing Floyd’s death, they also spoke about the persistent inequalities in the U.S. that have been exposed to a greater degree as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“If some of us can't count on our freedom, some of us are not free. None — none of us is,” Wolf said. “And we have got to make sure that is something that all of us, every single American, recognizes is something that gets to the heart of our self-interest.”
While Biden applauded the Minneapolis mayor’s decision to fire the officers involved in Floyd’s arrest, he said the move wasn’t enough and that an investigation by the FBI and DOJ is necessary to “ensure that the Floyd family received the justice they are entitled to.”
Biden, who recently faced renewed criticism for how he speaks about the African American community, has regularly mentioned the need to get the country to a place where black parents can feel confident that their children — regardless of age — can walk safely on the streets without having to worry about them getting stopped or even killed by police.
“I don't think we can move forward unless we take aggressive action to rip out the insidious race-based inequalities that corrupt every part of our society,” Biden said.
The most expensive 2020 Senate races so far, by ad spending
WASHINGTON — As Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, the political calendar shifts to a smattering of primaries that will set the stage for the key Senate races this cycle.
But while voters haven't chosen nominees in many contests yet, there's already been more than $133 million spent on TV and radio advertising in Senate races so far, according to Advertising Analytics.
Here are the top ten most expensive Senate races so far, by ad spending:
- Maine: $25.6 million
- North Carolina: $20.9 million
- Iowa: $13.3 million
- Michigan: $13 million
- Kentucky: 12.4 million
- Georgia (special election for the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson): $10.1 million
- Arizona: $9.3 million
- Alabama: $6.1 million
- Colorado: $5.4 million
- Texas: $4.2 million
Joe Biden nabs AFL-CIO endorsement
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic nominee, earned the AFL-CIO's endorsement on Tuesday.
The organization, which says it has about 12.5 million members across 55 union groups, said in a press release announcing the endorsement that it plans to draw contrasts between Biden and President Trump's union records up until the general election.
"Joe Biden is a lifelong supporter of workers and has fought his entire career for living wages, health care, retirement security and civil rights,” president of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka said in the statement. “Our members know Joe has done everything he could to create a fairer process for forming and joining a union, and he is ready to fight with us to restore faith in America and improve the lives of all working people.”
The group highlighted "Trump’s record of slashing rules designed to protect us on the job, cutting workplace health and safety inspectors to their lowest level in history, and taking away overtime pay from millions of workers" as points they intend to make against the president.
Trump and Trumka traded jabs in September 2019 when Trumka criticized the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. The president responded that union members should stop paying their dues in protest. The president has made a play for union workers both during the 2016 election and the 2020 election, and has made recent trips to factories in battleground states producing personal protective and medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden's campaign has often touted the former vice president's support for unions — and it's usual for him to use lines like, "The country wasn't built by Wall Street, CEOs and hedge fund managers, it was built by you, the American middle class and the middle class is built by unions," at rallies and events.
—Marianna Sotomayor contributed.
Democratic super PAC wades into New Mexico GOP primary
Patriot Majority PAC has booked $150,055 worth of ads set to hit the television airwaves between Tuesday and next week’s June 2 Republican primary in New Mexico’s second House District, according to ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
A recent ad from the group depicts former state legislator Yvette Herrell as loyal to President Trump and criticizes her GOP rival, oil executive Claire Chase, for once labeling the president “unworthy of the office.”
“She's 100 percent loyal to Trump, backed by 11 pro-gun sheriffs and Cowboys for Trump, and she's even for Trump's border wall,” a narrator says of Herrell, ticking through some popular characteristics among Republican voters.
By underlining Herrell’s pro-Trump credentials and attacking Chase as disloyal, the Democratic group is echoing Herrell’s own strategy in the primary.
The spot has come under fire from some Republicans, including Chase, who suggested in a letter issued Sunday that the Democratic group is attempting to boost the GOP candidate they view as weaker against Democratic incumbent Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who flipped the seat as part of the 2018 blue wave. Torres Small narrowly defeated Herrell that year.
“The group has a history of meddling in GOP primaries to support candidates they view as less electable in general elections,” the letter reads, according to the Associated Press.
Herrell disavowed the spot, per the AP, saying in a statement that, “Liberal Super PACs have no business getting involved in this primary, and they should stop immediately.”
Patriot Majority PAC’s heavy spending comes as the contest has gotten more controversial — and personal.
Earlier this month, Chase demanded that her opponent drop out of the contest after spreading what Chase argues are false rumors about her first marriage.
Herrell denied the accusations and stressed that she’d stay in the race.
The contest has drawn significant outside spending. GOP super PAC Defending Main Street, which is backing Chase, has booked $85,200 to spend in the race’s final week. Another anti-Herrell group, Citizens for a United New Mexico, has booked approximately $61,000 for the final week, with the anti-Chase Make New Mexico Great PAC and House Freedom Action booking about $61,000 and $56,000 respectively.
The campaigns of Herrell and Chase are scheduled to spend only $26,000 and $24,000 on TV and radio waves during the culminating week of the primary respectively, Advertising Analytics shows. However, it’s possible more money may pour into the heated race in its final days.
—Ben Kamisar contributed.
The NBC Political Unit's Senate primaries and run-offs to watch
WASHINGTON — The battle for control of the Senate is on in November, but before vulnerable senators have to defend their seats, there are a few more primaries to watch out for this summer.
Here are the Senate races that the NBC News Political Unit has eyes on over the next few months.
- Iowa Senate Democratic Primary: Who will take on GOP Sen. Joni Ernst in the fall? Theresa Greenfield is the favorite, but the Des Moines Register has endorsed rival Mike Franken, and there are three other candidates on the ballot, too. If Greenfield doesn’t get to 35 percent support, the nomination will be decided by a party convention later in June.
- Montana Senate Democratic Primary: How much strength will Gov. Steve Bullock show in his likely lockup of the nomination to face GOP Sen. Steve Daines?
- Georgia Senate Democratic Primary: Former special House election candidate Jon Ossoff competes against former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, former Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico, and others for the chance to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue. If no one gets 50 percent, there’s a runoff August 11.
- South Carolina Senate Democratic Primary: Jaime Harrison hopes for a strong showing as he preps for an expected run against GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.
- Kentucky Senate Democratic Primary: Well-funded Democrat Amy McGrath wants a solid performance in the primary as she prepares a general election run against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
- Colorado Senate Democratic Primary: Former governor and onetime White House hopeful John Hickenlooper is the heavy favorite against progressive and past Senate and House candidate former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to take on vulnerable GOP Sen. Cory Gardner.
- Alabama Republican Senate Run-off: Jeff Sessions wants his old Senate seat back, but President Trump endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. The winner takes on vulnerable Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.
- Maine Senate Democratic Primary: State House Speaker Sara Gideon is the favorite for the nod to take on vulnerable GOP Sen. Susan Collins.
- Texas Senate Democratic Run-off: Deep-pocketed M.J. Hegar is fighting against longtime state Sen. Royce West before taking on Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
- Arizona Senate Democratic Primary: Mark Kelly has to dispatch a challenge from his left in order to face Republican Sen. Martha McSally in one of the cycle’s marquee races.
- Kansas Senate Republican Primary: Some Republicans fear that if polarizing candidate Kris Kobach wins the Republican primary, they risk losing this open seat in November. The likely Democratic nominee is a state senator and former Republican, Barbara Bollier.
- Michigan Senate Republican Primary: Republicans think likely nominee John James is a rising star in the party. He’ll likely take on Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in a state where coronavirus has had a huge impact.
- Tennessee Senate Republican Primary: This contest will likely decide Tennessee’s next senator in a reliably red seat. The frontrunner to replace retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander is former ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty.
The NBC Political Unit's House primaries to watch
WASHINGTON — While the pandemic has upended the primary calendar this election season, there are still a whole lot of interesting primary races that will either set the stage for high-profile general election battles or effectively decide who will join Congress.
Here's a breakdown of the House primaries that the NBC Political Unit is watching.
- IA-01: Republicans are looking for a candidate to knock off freshman Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer, with current state Rep. Ashley Hinson backed by the state's Republican governor and lieutenant governor.
- IA-04: Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King is fighting for his political life, with his opponents hoping Randy Feenstra can end King's political career.
- NM-02: The fight between Republicans Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase has gotten nasty and personal. The winner faces Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.
- GA-14: In this crowded field for a solidly Republican open seat, the contest has featured some vastly different messaging on the coronavirus pandemic.
- SC-01: Democrat Joe Cunningham unexpectedly flipped this seat blue in 2018. A handful of Republicans want to be the one to win it back, including state Rep. Nancy Mace, an author endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing, backed by former Sen. Jim DeMint.
- NV-03: In another swing district, a crowded field of Republicans faces off for the chance to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Susie Lee.
- NV-04: Incumbent Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who recently admitted to an extramarital affair, faces a handful of challengers in the Democratic primary as well as a group of Republicans looking to defeat him in November.
- VA-5 GOP convention: This Republican district convention will decide an ugly contest between challenger Bob Good and incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman, who took heat with conservatives for officiating a same-sex marriage.
- KS-04: Incumbent GOP Rep. Thomas Massie was publicly blasted by President Trump for holding up an early coronavirus relief bill. His primary opponent, Todd McMurtry, is an attorney who represented Covington Catholic High School in a defamation suit against CNN.
- NY-14: Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aims to bat down a primary challenge from former CNBC reporter Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and others.
- NY-16: Progressive challenger and high school principal Jamaal Bowman hopes to topple longtime incumbent Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel.
- OK-05: Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn shocked political observers by flipping this seat in 2018. The GOP primary decides who will face her in November.
- NJ-02: After Rep. Jeff Van Drew switched parties to join the GOP, Democrats are eager for revenge. They just have to pick a candidate first.
- KS-03: A handful of Republicans are vying to take on Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids.
- MI-13: “Squad” member Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib faces a rematch against Brenda Jones, who briefly held this seat in 2018.
- MN-05: Another “Squad” member, Rep. Ilhan Omar, faces a field that includes political newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux, who argues he’d offer more low-key representation for the district.
- MN-07: Republicans have been unable to unseat Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson despite his district going for President Trump by 30 points in 2016. Who will take him on in 2020?
While some veep contenders confirm they're being vetted, others make subtler moves
WASHINGTON — The selection process — and competition — for the vice presidential slot on the ticket with apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden intensified this week with several contenders confirming that they’re being vetted for the job. Though some potential picks were forthcoming about their ambitions, others made subtler moves hinting at possible interest in the job or further cooperation with the Biden camp.
In the past week alone, NBC News and other outlets have reported that the Biden campaign has asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both New Hampshire Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, and Florida Rep. Val Demings to provide the team with information required for the veep review process.
Shaheen and Demings left little to the imaginative race when Shaheen announced she declined Biden's offer to be vetted, while Demings claimed to be on the "shortlist."
Other rumored picks for the job haven’t been as outspoken about their running mate ambitions, if existent. Here’s a roundup of the past week’s veepstakes developments that went under the radar.
Harris: California Senator and Biden's former primary opponent Kamala Harris has long been floated as a possible VP pick, performing well in polling and proving to be a popular choice for the former vice president. Though Harris is set to headline an upcoming Biden fundraiser and has repeatedly voiced her support for the apparent Democratic nominee, she hasn’t publicly clamored for the job.
Tuesday however, the Biden campaign hired Julie Chávez Rodríguez — who once served as Harris’ 2020 co-national political director — as an adviser for Latino outreach. Notably, Rodríguez will continue serving as a Harris consultant while simultaneously working with Biden’s team. The hiring shouldn’t be read into too much but could signal further cooperation between the Harris and Biden camps.
Warren: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has expressed in the past that she’d agree to be on the ticket with Biden if asked and this week, she raised eyebrows by appearing to shift away from her position on Medicare for All — a primary policy focus of her 2020 campaign — and closer towards Biden’s health care plan.
"I think right now people want to see improvements in our health care system, and that means strengthening the Affordable Care Act," she said at a virtual University of Chicago Institute of Politics event.
Warren added that she hopes the United States will have a single payer health care system in the future, but the move could be viewed as an attempt to adopt a more moderate health care policy that builds on the Affordable Care Act instead of overhauling it, a position Biden backs and that Warren has previously criticized for not being ambitious enough.
Duckworth: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said one week ago that his fellow Illinois colleague in the Senate, Tammy Duckworth, will interview for the vice presidential slot soon, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"I support Tammy Duckworth. She’s spectacular, a great colleague and I hope that she fares well in this interview, which I think is going to take place soon,” Durbin said.
Duckworth, while a less high-profile contender compared to Warren and Harris, brings a unique perspective to the table as an Asian-American woman and Iraq War veteran who lost both legs after her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. Duckworth hasn’t answered questions about whether she’d accept the veep offer directly but Durbin’s statement about the veteran could be considered meaningful given that he’s a longtime ally of Biden’s. In 2016, he publicly honored the former vice president before he left office.
Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.
Most Americans favor mail-in voting, here's how states are adapting
Sixty-three percent of registered voters favor mail-in voting for the November election due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Fox News poll. While President Trump has argued that mail-in voting would lead to fraudulent ballots, several states already allow all mail-in ballot elections, and even more states have loosened absentee voting rules due to the pandemic.
Here's the breakdown on how to vote by mail in each state:
Mail-in voting allowed
Before the coronavirus pandemic, 34 states, plus Washington D.C., already allowed mail-in voting or no-excuse absentee voting. In states like Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington every registered voter is automatically sent a mail-in ballot to fill out if they don't want to head to the polls.
In the other 16 states, registered voters need to provide an excuse, such as illness or temporarily living out of state, in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. Each state also has its own deadlines on how long before an election an absentee ballot must be requested. In a state like Georgia, which has no-excuse absentee voting, a voter must request their ballot 180 days before the election.
Several states have changed their absentee ballots rules for rescheduled primaries and/or the general election in November. In the 16 states that require excuses, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia lifted restrictions on what qualifies a voter for an absentee ballot for either the rescheduled primaries in June and July or for statewide elections in the same time period.
And in Georgia, while there's never an excuse needed, all registered voters were sent a mail-in ballot application for the state's May 19 primary. Similarly in Maryland and Delaware, all voters will receive a ballot for their new primaries.
In New Hampshire, restrictions have been lifted for the November election as well.
Ongoing fights for mail-in voting
While some states have yet to go forward with updating their absentee voting rules, there are many ongoing efforts to open up voting possibilities. In Texas, a federal judge ruled that all registered voters should qualify for a mail-in ballot during the pandemic — the state Attorney General is reviewing the order.
The Connecticut Secretary of State said they would send every registered voter an absentee ballot, however the state law has not been modified to allow those ballots to be counted if the voter doesn't have an excuse (like illness, age or temporary relocation) listed.
New Biden digital ad compares Trump to a 'deer in the headlights' on coronavirus
Joe Biden's presidential campaign Friday launched a new digital ad charging that President Donald Trump has reacted to the coronavirus pandemic like a “deer in the headlights" and has been "too scared to act, too panicked to tell the truth, too weak to lead."
The one-minute ad, targeted to voters living in key battleground states, blasts Trump's reaction to the pandemic since its onset, charging that the president was “unprepared, indecisive, frozen” in place and “paralyzed by fear” to act against the Chinese government and risk ongoing trade deal negotiations.
“Panicked at the thought of what a stock market collapse could mean to his re-election, he failed to act and the virus got out of control and shut down the nation and crushed the economy,” the narrator says as images of frontline workers and Americans in masks waiting to get tested flash on the screen.
The ad will play across key battleground states including Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
This is the third consecutive digital ad in which the Biden campaign has honed in on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a message senior campaign aides announced last week is one of the defining pillars of their general election strategy.
The campaign has not run television advertisements since the March 17th primaries, pivoting its investments towards online spending in an effort to catch people on their laptops and phones while they stay-at-home.
In an effort to unlock the best way to immediately draw in viewers and keep them interested enough to watch the entirety of an ad, the campaign employed a new advertising technique called “micro-teasing” foe this new ad that they adopted from the entertainment industry.
The first five seconds are devoted to hooking in the viewer by previewing their core argument and contrasting the look of those first moments to the rest of the ad. “When the coronavirus came, Trump froze like a deer in the headlights,” a narrator says as the ad opens.
The campaign says it will continue to test different advertising strategies like this one in an effort to improve its video completion rates as it tries to find lasting ways to engage with supporters in the digital campaign era.
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."
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
"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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
A 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.
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.”
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.
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.