The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Trump campaign announces TV ad buys in five key states
WASHINGTON — The Trump campaign is going on the air this week with TV ad buys in five key states: Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Minnesota, senior adviser Jason Miller told reporters on Monday, returning to the airwaves in battleground states it pulled out of during the GOP convention.
All but Minnesota are seen as essential to Trump's path to re-election as he trails Democrat Joe Biden nationally and in most battleground state polls.
Miller said the new buy is focused on states where voting starts earliest. He said the campaign plans to spend $200 million on air between Labor Day and the election — the Biden campaign has announced it plans to spend $220 million in TV ads over that same time period.
The campaign stopped running television spots in battleground states during the GOP convention, only running national cable ads and spots in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign outspent the Trump campaign from the start of the Democratic convention through the Republican convention by $24 million on the airwaves.
Two notable absences from the campaign's newest announcement are Pennsylvania and Michigan — The Trump campaign hasn't run television ads in Michigan since late July and Pennsylvania since early August.
The president's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, added on the call with reporters that Trump has a path to victory even without them. "We will defend the 2016 map," Stepien said. "If he holds all other states that he won in 2016, the president need only win one of the three: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania."
A look back at Trump's 2016 RNC nomination speech
WASHINGTON ― President Trump is set to accept the Republican Party presidential nomination Thursday night with a speech at the White House. In his first acceptance speech in 2016, then-candidate Trump laid out a litany of complaints about President Barack Obama's administration and set some benchmarks for his own plans. Here’s the state of play on just some of those campaign promises:
Law and order
Four years ago, Trump argued that the Obama administration had rolled back criminal enforcement, pointing to increases in violent crime in cities across the country.
“Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities,” he said. “That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”
That 17 percent rise in the homicide rate from 2014 to 2015 appears to be from an analysis by The Washington Post and does represent the largest increase since 1990 ― though the homicide rate did not increase in every single one of those 50 cities.
While President Trump has recently discussed crime rising in Democratic-run cities, like New York and Chicago, the New York City and Chicago police departments report that violent crime is slightly down this year compared to 2019. And in general, violent crime in New York and Chicago have decreased over the last 20 years.
In 2016, Trump said that nearly 40 percent of African American children and 58 percent of Latinos were living in poverty. A Washington Post fact-check found those numbers misleading. In 2018 the poverty level of Black children had fallen to about 30 percent.
Trump also pledged to lower the national trade deficit but it has actually grown over the last three years. And he talked about reducing the national debt, which rose to $19 trillion under Obama but has now ballooned to over $26 trillion under Trump.
He also highlighted his intention to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with individual trade agreements. However, one of the signature accomplishments of Trump’s first term was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which keeps several of NAFTA’s principles in-tact ― a multi-country agreement.
One of Trump's first legislative wins as president was his 2017 tax cut bill. The $1.5 trillion tax cut reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent and lowered individual tax rates while doubling the standard deduction.
In 2016, Trump said there were three things needed to curb international terrorism: “have the best gathering of intelligence,” “abandon the failed policy of nation-building” in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria, and work with allies to destroy ISIS.
“We are going to win, we’re going to win fast,” Trump said.
There are differing ideas on what ending “nation-building” means. But through the lens of where troops are, there are currently about 5,200 American troops in Iraq. In Dec. 2016, there were 6,812 troops in Iraq. According to The New York Times, ISIS has been re-establishing itself in areas where it began 17 years ago, and attacks have started to surge.
When President Trump pulled troops out of Syria, there were several criticisms that Americans were leaving allied Kurdish forces unprotected and unable to hold territory back from ISIS. Kurds helped to guard 30 detention facilities that hold nearly 10,000 ISIS detainees across northern Syria.
Today, there are about 500 troops still in Syria, despite the president’s calls for a withdrawal of all 1,000 troops.
President Trump, however, would point to actions such as the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a U.S. raid as proof that ISIS has been stymied.
Trump promised in 2016 to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” And in the first two years of his administration, when he had unified control over Congress, there were attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act but they failed.
The one aspect of the law that was repealed was the individual mandate, which zeroed out the tax penalty on Americans who didn’t buy health insurance. But the president and Republicans in Congress have yet to put forward a new health care plan to replace the ACA. The Trump administration is also currently involved in a Texas lawsuit where they are arguing that the ACA is unconstitutional on the whole and should be overturned.
President Trump has teased a new health care plan throughout the summer, saying about a month ago, “We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks.” None of the president’s multiple past pledges have materialized and there are no signs that this next one will either.
Trump made immigration a pillar of both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, underlining the numbers of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. as a rationale for building a wall at the southern border.
“The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015,” Trump said at his first convention.
“We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities,” he added.
While total apprehensions were higher in fiscal year 2016 than in 2015, those 2016 numbers were lower than those of both 2013 and 2014. And according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the 2016 totals represented “a fraction of the number of apprehensions routinely observed from the 1980s through 2008.”
After President Trump took office, the total number of apprehensions initially decreased to then hit its highest level since 2007 in 2019, which prompted the president to make an emergency declaration to acquire funding for his promised border wall.
Almost all border wall construction during Trump’s tenure has encompassed replacing barriers put in place by previous administrations ― not building up additional wall. As of last month, barriers cover approximately one-third of the border, a number that’s gone barely unchanged under Trump.
Two House Democrats ask for probe into possible Hatch Act violations
WASHINGTON — Two congressional Democrats are asking the U.S. Office of Special Council to investigate whether acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and “other senior members of the Trump administration” violated the Hatch Act during the Republican National Convention on Tuesday evening, according to a letter provided to NBC.
The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits federal employees from engaging in most political activity inside federal buildings or while working for the federal government.
“They coordinated a citizenship ceremony and a pardon as elements in the convention’s nationally-televised programming,” wrote Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Don Beyer of Virginia. “These officials mixed official government business with political activities as part of one of the largest political campaign events of the year,” the two wrote. Krishnamoorthi sits on the House Oversight Committee.
OSC spokesman Zachary Kurz told NBC News the OSC, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, does not comment on specific complaints nor confirm whether there are open investigations.
While the president and vice president are exempt from the Hatch Act, administration officials and federal employees are not. The office has previously reprimanded a number of Trump officials, including counselor Kellyanne Conway, even recommending she be removed from her post for being a “repeat offender.”
During the second night of the Republican National Convention, Trump granted a presidential pardon from the White House, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared from Jerusalem, where he was on a taxpayer-funded official business trip, first lady Melania Trump delivered a speech from the Rose Garden and Wolf performed a naturalization ceremony inside the White House and standing next to Trump.
A White House official told NBC News in a statement that the naturalization ceremony and pardon were official events held prior to Tuesday evening. "The White House publicized the content of both events on a public website this afternoon (Tuesday) and the campaign decided to use the publicly available content for campaign purposes," the statement said. "There was no violation of law.”
The House Democrats' letter maintains that is not enough. “The publicization of the event offers no defense for actions clearly orchestrated for the purpose of influencing an election as part of a nationally-televised partisan event carefully planned days, if not weeks, in advance,” it says.
In a Wednesday statement, the OSC said there are certain areas of the White House where the Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from engaging in political activity.
“The West Lawn and Rose Garden are two such areas. Therefore, covered federal employees would not necessarily violate the Hatch Act merely by attending political events in those areas,” said the statement, in an apparent reference to the Rose Garden audience.
In the statement, Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner did not address Wolf’s immigration naturalization ceremony but said this: “OSC’s role does not include grandstanding or holding press conferences about potential violations that may or may not occur.”
“Ultimately, officials and employees choose whether to comply with the law. Once they make that choice, it is OSC’s statutory role to receive complaints, investigate alleged Hatch Act violations, and determine which ones warrant prosecution," Kerner said.
Analysis: Trump and the GOP appear comfortable in mixing politics and the federal government
WASHINGTON — Conversations with Americans from inside the White House. The first lady's speech from the Rose Garden. The secretary of state giving an address while on an official overseas trip. The president's acceptance speech from the White House's South Lawn. Fireworks from the Washington Monument.
All are events at this week's Republican convention. And all either approach the fine line of violating the federal Hatch Act — or blatantly cross over it.
But there's an even bigger story at play: The Trump White House simply doesn't seem to care about the Hatch Act's principle of prohibiting executive-branch employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or in government buildings.
For example, when the U.S. Office of Special Counsel recommended last year that outgoing White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be removed from federal service for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act —because she engaged in partisan political activity in her official capacity — the White House objected.
The "overbroad and unsupported interpretation of the Hatch Act risks violating Ms. Conway's First Amendment rights and chills the free speech of all government employees," White House lawyer Pat Cipollone wrote.
As it turns out, Conway is addressing the GOP convention on Wednesday night.
The 1939 Hatch Act exempts the president and vice president, so it doesn't prohibit President Trump delivering his convention acceptance speech Thursday from the White House's South Lawn. (It also most likely doesn't apply to First Lady Melania Trump’s address, either, since she's technically not a government employee.)
But the U.S. Office of Special Counsel recently said in a letter that other employees are covered, "so there may be Hatch Act implications for those employees, depending on their level of involvement with the event and their position in the White House."
That includes any federal staffers who work on the speeches, who directly assist with the fireworks display, or who deliver a speech during a party's political convention, government ethics experts tell NBC News.
“Working on a party convention speech absolutely is partisan political activity, and is prohibited while on duty and while in federal government buildings," said Kathleen Clark, a law professor and expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis.
Republican convention planners have defended convention speeches from prominent administration figures like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by saying that the Republican National Committee is paying for the costs, and that the speakers are addressing the county as a private citizen — not in their official capacity.
Yet government ethics experts say that all of this activity — including the president's convention speech — is at least ethically questionable because of the Hatch Act's underlying principle to not use the federal government for explicit political activity.
“Nobody is supposed to be using the functions of government for political gain,” says Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
But the Trump White House and the GOP convention planners don't seem to care.
Trump campaign off TV airwaves this week with convention in spotlight
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's campaign isn't running any television ads this week in key battleground states, as the Republican National Convention takes center stage.
The only television ads Trump has booked from Tuesday through Friday are in Washington D.C., to the tune of about $171,000, according to Advertising Analytics.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden's campaign has more than $9 million booked on the TV and radio airwaves during that time — including $3 million in Florida, $1.5 million in Pennsylvania, $1.3 million in North Carolina, $1.1 million in Wisconsin and almost $1 million in both Michigan and Arizona.
It's not like the Trump campaign will be absent from the airwaves this week — the Republican National Convention will likely draw millions of eyeballs in primetime, and the coronavirus-related restrictions allow for the party to control its message.
But the decision to go dark on TV outside of it means that if Trump doesn't go back up on the air through Friday, then the Biden campaign will have outspent him $28.4 million to $4.5 million on TV and radio from the start of the Democratic convention through this coming Friday.
Democrats offer counter-programming around GOP convention site
WASHINGTON — With the 2020 Republican National Convention hitting the airwaves this week, the Democratic National Committee is hitting the road with a series of counter-programming measures.
If you’re driving around the nation’s capital Tuesday, you may see a mobile billboard funded by the Democratic National Committee. With stops at the White House, the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium and the Republican National Committee’s offices, the DNC hopes to attract eyeballs and tweets with its message focused on the unemployment rate, small businesses and evictions.
“Over 100,000 small businesses have shuttered for good,” one slide says. “As many as 7 million could close forever by the end of 2020,” says the next, as video of President Trump golfing plays.
The goal is not to respond to what is said each night during the RNC, a DNC spokesperson told NBC News, but to share messages about what they believe to be Pres. Trump’s policy failures.
“Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis has cost millions of Americans their jobs, forced small businesses to close, and wrecked our economy,” DNC War Room senior spokesperson Lily Adams said. “He may want to spend their convention avoiding that reality, but we won’t let him escape his record of chaos that has hurt the American people.”
The DNC is also broadcasting its message in a new ad released Monday that called the RNC the "Republican National Chaos", and attacked President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
And just blocks from the White House, the former site of the Newseum will be lit up this week with a projected slideshow of rising coronavirus statistics.
Biden campaign to air new spot across cable channels during RNC
WASHINGTON — Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign announced Monday that it will air a new television spot contrasting Biden's vision for the United States with President Trump's presidency on cable airwaves during the Republican National Convention as part of a $26 million ad campaign this week across broadcast, cable, radio and digital platforms.
The 60-second spot, entitled, "Heal America," argues that the United States needs a team that's "up to the task" of handling the four simultaneous crises plaguing the nation — public health, economic, climate, and racial injustice.
"Together, they'll lead America, unite America and heal America. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris: because a united America will be a better America," the ad narrator concludes.
Everytown booking $6 million in Florida ads to target President Trump
WASHINGTON — Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund is booking $6 million in television and digital ads to boost former Vice President Joe Biden in Florida, NBC News has learned.
The group is partnering with Priorities USA, the major Democratic super PAC that's supporting Biden and attacking President Trump, on production and strategy. Everytown plans to spend $4 million in TV ads in the Orlando and Tampa markets and $2 million in statewide digital ads starting after Labor Day and running for five weeks.
“Facing a gun violence crisis that claims 100 American lives every day, President Trump has chosen the gun lobby over the safety of the American people at every turn,” John Feinblatt, the head of Everytown Victory Fund, said in a statement. “Together with Priorities, we're going all-in to make sure Trump’s a one-term president. Everytown has an aggressive plan to mobilize voters in Florida, who know the pain of gun violence all too well and are poised to play a decisive role in electing Joe Biden, a proven gun sense champion.”
The announcement marks the group's first formal entry into the presidential race's TV ad wars of the cycle, and its largest-ever investment in a presidential race. The state has seen a handful of mass shootings in recent years, including at an LGBT-friendly nightclub in 2016 and a Miami-area high school in 2018.
Everytown grew out of two groups aimed at curbing gun violence — Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense — and pushes for reforms like universal background checks. The group was co-founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has sunk millions into the effort.
The group is expecting to play a larger role in the 2020 presidential election than it has in any previous presidential election. It's said it plans to spend $60 million on the 2020 elections up and down the ballot, twice what it spent during the 2018 midterms.
Kanye West won't appear on Illinois or Ohio ballots
WASHINGTON — Kanye West won't appear on either the Ohio or Illinois presidential ballots this November, the states respectively officially announced on Friday.
In Illinois, West's home state, the board ruled unanimously that West hadn't submitted enough signatures from registered Illinois voters to be on the ballot. The board of elections requires 2,500 signatures for independent candidates, and West only filed 1,200.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that West failed to meet the requirements to appear on the ballot in that state as well. According to LaRose, the information and a signature on the nominating petition and statement of candidacy submitted to the secretary of state's office did not match the nominating petition and candidacy statement used to circulate "part-petitions", or circulated nominating materials.
“A signature is the most basic form of authentication and an important, time-honored, security measure to ensure that a candidate aspires to be on the ballot and that a voter is being asked to sign a legitimate petition,” LaRose said in a statement. “There is no doubt that the West nominating petition and declaration of candidacy failed to meet the necessary threshold for certification.”
One of West's best chances to appear on a battleground state's ballot was Wisconsin. On Thursday, Wisconsin's state election board ruled 5-1 that West's application was submitted too late to be counted.
West's long-shot presidential campaign has been marred by allegations that Republican operatives are trying to bolster West's candidacy to peel voters away from Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Commuted by President Trump, Alice Marie Johnson aims to bolster him with RNC speech
WASHINGTON — When Donald Trump was on the ballot in 2016, Alice Marie Johnson couldn’t vote for him even if she wanted to because she was in prison. Now, even though her voting rights haven’t been restored, Johnson says she’ll do everything she can to ensure the man who granted her clemency is re-elected to a second term.
Johnson was convicted in 1996 of nonviolent drug and money laundering chargers and served nearly 22 years of a life term before the president commuted her sentence.
Next week, she’ll be a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in Washington D.C. The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, called Johnson personally to make the ask.
She didn’t hesitate. “It gives me an opportunity to share my heart with America,” Johnson told NBC News in an interview this week. “People can tell when you’re authentic.”
Johnson will use her time to tout the Trump administration’s work on criminal justice reform and outreach to African-American supporters. “I’m hoping that my story will remind everyone that’s there’s many others just like me who are waiting for mercy and a chance for redemption.”
The 63-year-old great-grandmother is scheduled to deliver her address at the GOP convention live, either from the White House or the Andrew Mellon auditorium nearby.
Her case was championed by Kim Kardashian, who is married to rapper and presidential hopeful Kanye West. Johnson said she hasn’t spoken to either of them since Kanye announced his White House bid but wouldn’t “judge” his decision to get into the race yet.
Johnson didn’t watch much of the Democratic National Convention but she said a portion of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech resonated with her.
“It’s very, very important to vote this year. I agree with her that people do need to vote,” she explained.
Johnson has already been featured heavily by the Trump campaign in their re-election pitch to voters, most notably as a part of a $10 million ad buy that aired during this year’s Super Bowl. Johnson was also a special guest at the State of the Union, where she received a bipartisan standing ovation.
For her, participating in this election in any way possible is incredibly personal, even though she won’t be able to cast a ballot this fall.
“From prison to the White House to literally being able to speak to the president and make a difference, this has been a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s not only been an honor. It’s my duty to go.”
Pelosi endorses Kennedy ahead of tight Massachusetts Senate Democratic primary
WASHINGTON — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi endorsed Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., Thursday in what is expected to be a close Senate primary race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Ed Markey on Sept. 1.
“Never before have the times demanded we elect courageous leaders as today. And that is why I'm proud to endorse Joe Kennedy for Senate,” Pelosi says in a video released by the Kennedy campaign.
The Speaker credits the congressman for his work campaigning across the country to help Democrats reclaim the House in 2018, adding that Kennedy “knows that to achieve progressive change you must be on the frontlines leading movements of people.”
“Massachusetts and America need Joe Kennedy's courage and leadership in the Senate to fight for the change we need,” Pelosi concludes.
The Speaker’s endorsement of Kennedy, the 39-year-old grandson of late Sen. Robert Kennedy and grandnephew of former President John F. Kennedy, comes less than two weeks before the primary, where polls show a close contest.
Both Kennedy and Markey are viewed as progressives with little daylight between their policies, though the four-term congressman has cast himself as a representative of the next generation of politicians.
Markey, 74, is nearly twice Kennedy’s age and has served in Congress for decades (overlapping with Pelosi in the House for many of those years), but earned the support of one of Democrats’ youngest and most progressive members — New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — last year.
Ocasio-Cortez and several progressive groups immediately criticized the Speaker's endorsement, arguing that a party establishment that regularly backs incumbents over challengers shouldn't now support a candidate running against a progressive incumbent.
Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez are not the only prominent Democrats to weigh in on the race.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both endorsed Markey. The incumbent is also backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
In the Kennedy camp are late Rep. John Lewis, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and now the House Speaker, who selected the congressman to give the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018.
“Nancy Pelosi is a force. No one has done more to take on Donald Trump and build our Party’s future. Proud and humbled to have her with me in this fight,” Kennedy tweeted in response to the Speaker’s endorsement.