The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Some Senate Democrats question Durbin's bid to helm Judiciary Committee
WASHINGTON — With a Democratic opening at the top of the Judiciary Committee now that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has stepped aside, some Senate Democrats are questioning whether the heir apparent, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., should ascend to the post and also keep his Senate leadership position, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
The debate among Democrats is a rare internal personnel dispute that could be resolved by an even rarer vote among the caucus in December if not settled before then. The vote, if necessary, would be to determine if Durbin can both be the party's top member on the committee and also be the second-ranking Democratic leader in the Senate as party whip, according to the two sources who were granted anonymity to speak freely about internal dynamics.
Feinstein stepped aside from the top post on the committee — which oversees judicial nominations to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department and immigration authorities — after progressive groups and some Senate Democrats questioned if she was equipped to handle the partisan nature in the current state of politics. Feinstein's hug with Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at the end of Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings drew ire from Democrats and helped seal her fate.
Durbin announced his intention to seek the top spot Monday night, pointing to his experience on the committee.
“I intend to seek the top Democratic position on the Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress. I have served on the Committee for 22 years, and I am its most senior member who does not currently serve atop another Senate Committee,” Durbin wrote in a statement. “We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights."
But some Senate Democrats are concerned that Durbin's other big job, as chief vote counter, will be a critical and time consuming position in a narrowly divided House and Senate. Durbin is also the top Democrat on the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which is also adds to the Democrats’ discontent.
His office argues that holding multiple senior positions is not without precedent, noting that Senate Democratic rules that allow it, and that three previous Democratic whips — Alan Cranston, Wendell Ford and Harry Reid — did the same.
Senate Republican and House Democratic party rules do not allow a top member of leadership to also hold a committee chair.
One of the last times the Democratic caucus held a vote on a committee leadership issue was in 2008 when the Democratic caucus voted to allow then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., to remain chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee after he campaigned for Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.
After Durbin, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would be next in line for the Judiciary spot. He has not publicly announced that he’d like the position but progressive groups would likely not be opposed.
“In the wake of Ranking Member Feinstein’s announcement, I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus. I will abide by the caucus’s decision,” Whitehouse says in a statement Tuesday night.
Sahil Kapur contributed.
What House races are still left to call?
WASHINGTON — Election Day may be three weeks in the past, but there are still a handful of competitive House races still left to be called by NBC'S Decision Desk.
The vast majority are in California and New York, two states that take a while to count ballots. And there's one race in Iowa that appears to be headed to a recount.
Here's a look at the uncalled races and where they stand (the incumbent or the candidate representing the incumbent party is listed first):
California-21: Democratic Rep. TJ Cox v. former Republican Rep. David Valadao
Valadao, who Cox defeated in the 2018 midterm elections, leads Cox by less than 2,000 votes (1 percentage point) in the Decision Desk's count, as final results keep trickling in.
California-25: Republican Rep. Mike Garcia v. Democrat Christy Smith
Garcia v. Smith is a rematch of the spring special election, one of the first general elections run in the coronavirus era, when Garcia won by a comfortable margin. Garcia has declared victory, a decision Smith has criticized, with the margin sitting at just 400 votes.
Iowa-02: Democrat Rita Hart v. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks
The race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack could turn out to be the closest House race of the cycle. The two candidates were separated by just a few dozen votes, with Hart requesting a recount that's prompted a dust-up between the two candidates.
New York-02: Republican Andrew Garbarino v. Democrat Jackie Gordon
These two candidates are running to replace Republican Rep. Peter King, who is retiring at the end of the year. While the election has still not been called yet, the Democrat conceded last week.
New York-11: Democratic Rep. Max Rose v. Republican Nicole Malliotakis
This is another race that hasn't been called yet, but where one candidate, Rose, has conceded.
New York-22: Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi v. former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney
This rematch of 2018 is extremely tight, with the election ending up in court.
New York-24: Republican Rep. John Katko v. Democrat Dana Balter
In another 2018 rematch, Balter has conceded to Katko.
Freshman Republicans look to form conservative 'Squad'
WASHINGTON — There’s a new crew on Capitol Hill — "The Squad" is facing opposition from a record breaking diverse republican class of freshman members. And they are calling themselves "The Force."
“I want to create a force within my freshman class that will have to be reckoned with. A force of reason, a force for freedom, a force for democracy,” Florida Republican Congresswoman-elect Maria Elvira Salazar, a Cuban-American former journalist, told NBC News.
Salazar is part of the most diverse freshman Republican class in history with eight members who identify as a person of color or minority. And they plan to be a counter the progressive “Squad”, led by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with what they say is a message against socialism.
“When I hear this Democratic socialism that is being presented within the Democratic Party, I can only tell you that only brings misery, oppression and exile. And how do I know? Because I have lived it and I have covered it,” Salazar said.
Newly elected Nicole Malliotakis, a Greek-American and the only Republican New York City will send to Congress, embraced the conservative crew.
“We need to form our own ‘squad.’ We have a group of new Republicans who love America. We value freedom, liberty and opportunity,” Malliotakis told The New York Post last week.
And Congresswoman-elect Victoria Spartz of Indiana, who grew up in Ukraine, claimed ‘The Squad’ brings a kind of message she didn’t think she’d see in the United States.
“I grew up in a socialistic country, the Socialist Republic of Ukraine. I saw what happens when it runs out of money and it is not pretty,” Spartz told Fox News. “And now we’re building socialism. I’m kind of going full circles. I can tell you what is going to be next. It’s very sad for me to see that.”
In 2018, Democrats elected progressive women who became known for challenging the establishment. The group, which includes Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., has more than doubled with young progressives winning districts around the country this year.
Congressman-elect Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., one of the incoming progressive members, says they disagree on the Republican counter-group’s definition of socialism.
“I believe that some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, when they think of socialism, they think of communism and think of the government controlling everything and people being disempowered within democracy, and I think that's an incorrect definition, that's not how I define it," Bowman said.
He added, “What's going to be important is how we engage the rest of the caucus in these conversations and then the sense of urgency around the issue of climate change, the issue of universal health care, the issue of a federal jobs guarantee and meeting the needs of the American people.”
Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said the negative connotation used against the progressive faction of the Democratic caucus during the election wasn't successful.
“It didn’t work, I mean Joe Biden flipped five states against an incumbent president and so I just say that that's ineffective because people see when you have folks in huge wealth generating districts, calling for these policies,” Khanna said. “I don't think that's a very effective attack.”
“I mean it sounds ridiculous to me. I think they think they’re in high school. We’re in Congress,” Omar said when asked about the new group.
Trump camp keeps up torrid pace of fundraising appeals post-election
WASHINGTON — The Trump campaign has sent more than 300 fundraising appeals via email since Nov. 4, the day after the election. Most are seeking donations for an “official election defense fund,” as President Trump continues to question the integrity of the race he lost. But the fine print shows as much as 75 percent of that money can be repurposed for the president’s new leadership political action committee, “Save America.”
Two weeks ago, the GOP effort was sending as many as 24 emails a day, averaging one per hour. More recently, the campaign — which formally ended as a re-elect operation this week — has been requesting funds around 15 times on any given day.
In that time, they have also fired off more than 80 text messaging, ranging from personal appeals from the president that falsely claim “the Left will try to STEAL this Election!” to messages from the eldest Trump sons saying “We need to FIGHT BACK!”
Michigan lawmakers could be treading on thin legal ice with White House meeting
WASHINGTON — Michigan Republican lawmakers slated to meet Friday with President Donald Trump at the White House could be risking legal exposure back home depending on what actions they take in regards to the state's election results.
Trump has falsely claimed he won Michigan, alleging major voter fraud in Detroit while providing no evidence. After a series of failed lawsuits seeking to prevent election officials in the state from certifying the results for President-elect Joe Biden, the president and his allies have sought to ratchet up the political pressure on GOP officials in the state.
Trump allies, including conservative radio host Mark Levin, are advocating for state legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and other swing states to override voters and appoint their states’ electors. And according to the New York Times, Trump has also pressed his own advisers on the matter.
But Michigan law is clear. According to the secretary of state: The state’s 16 representatives to the Electoral College must go to the candidate who won the popular vote. Trump lost the popular vote to Biden by nearly 150,000 votes in Michigan. That discrepancy remains even with a clerical error that involved 367 votes in Detroit remain at issue, Detroit Free Press.
Following a contentious meeting of the Wayne County canvassing board earlier this week where the results there were certified, Trump personally called one GOP board member, who then said she wanted to change her vote to certify, something the secretary of state in Michigan said is not possible. While individual counties have certified their votes, the full state certification has not yet taken place.
In the latest apparent attempt to exert political pressure on Republicans, Trump has invited the state's Senate leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield — both Republicans — to fly to Washington to meet with him Friday at the White House. Their offices did not return NBC calls seeking comment.
In recent a local news interview prior to the Trump invitation, Shirkey cited Michigan law and said the idea of the GOP-led legislature attempting to seat a Trump-friendly slate of electors is “not going to happen.”
And Shirkey and Chatfield are well aware of state law awarding Michigan’s electors on a winner-takes-all basis and requiring the appointment of electors from the party of the candidate who wins the popular vote, according to a Republican close to them.
“Shirkey and Chatfield are going to follow Michigan law,” the individual said.
But the exposure for the two state lawmakers is real, according to legal experts.
“If I were their lawyer I would think twice about letting them put themselves in that kind of compromised position,” said Richard Primus, a constitutional law professor at the University of Michigan who also wrote an op-ed recommending the pair cancel the meeting.
Under Michigan law, any member of the legislature who “corruptly” accepts a promise of some beneficial act in return for exercising his authority in a certain way is “forever disqualified to hold any public office” and “shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 10 years[.]” Primus said in his op-ed.
“Why, exactly, does President Trump want to see these two men in person, in his office?" wrote Primus. “It isn’t to offer evidence that Michigan’s election was tainted and should therefore be nullified. If he had any such evidence, his lawyers would have presented it in court."
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel declined to comment to NBC News and said, "we don’t comment on pending investigations.”
Still, University of Michigan criminal law expert Dave Moran said the meeting itself probably isn’t actionable.
“It’s one thing to actually meet with somebody and corruptly conspire to do something,” said Moran. “But to just have a meeting with somebody at which various options, some of which might be illegal, are discussed, is not a crime."
He added, “I don’t think he would be so stupid as to nakedly offer a bribe but rather appeal to their duty as ‘good Republicans’ to back him up."
Georgia can begin sending absentee ballots in pivotal Senate runoffs
WASHINGTON — It's that time again: Voters can start voting soon in Georgia's Senate runoffs.
Or at least, voters can start voting.
Wednesday was the first day that Georgia registrars could begin sending out absentee ballots for the two Senate runoffs between GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock, and GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff.
There were about 1.28 million absentee-by-mail votes cast in the Senate primaries in November, per the unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State's office. (Unlike in many states, Georgia pits congressional candidates against each other in a November primary, with the two top vote-getters moving to a runoff unless one candidate wins a majority). That means total made up more than one-quarter of the total votes cast in the rate.)
With the pandemic to new heights in daily cases and hospitalizations, there are likely to be a significant number of mail-in ballots cast for the Senate runoffs too.
The likely influx of absentee voting provides yet another level of uncertainty to the races, particularly as the president refuses to accept the results across the country and makes unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, zeroing in on mail-in ballots.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Peacock TV’s Medhi Hasan that he believes it was Trump’s own discrediting of mail-in ballots that cost him the election in November.
“I believe so because the numbers show that. There were actually 24,000 Republican voters that voted absentee in the June primary, and those same 24,000 voters, did not show up to vote in either absentee or in person on the day of election or the 15 days of early voting we have. So they just disappeared and they were ripe for the picking, they were there in June for the primary and they should have come home and voted for President Trump in the fall. So that’s 24,000 . That's his difference right there,” he said.
And the president is not relenting in his attacks on mail-in voting, particularly in Georgia, where he continues to attack election officials there amid the presidential recount.
Obama administration vet Psaki to lead Biden's Senate confirmation team
WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden's transition team is formally unveiling a team put in place to sherpa nominees through Senate confirmation processes.
The team is being led by Jen Psaki, a former top Obama White House and State Department official, who was part of the communications team at the start of the Obama administration and has experience from Obama’s transition. Others on the team include his Senate aides and former 2020 campaign staffers for Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Psaki is overseeing the nominations team, with Olivia Dalton, a Democratic consultant and former Biden Senate aide who also served in senior Obama administration and campaign roles, running point on communications.
Additionally, Stephanie Valencia is handling outreach and Louisa Terrell will run congressional affairs for the transition, helping to support the nominations team.
Reema Dodin, the floor director for Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, will oversee legislative strategy. Jorge Neri, a former senior advisor to the campaign, will be the deputy outreach director for Confirmations.
Andrew Bates, the rapid response director from the Biden campaign will also serve in a leadership role, as will Saloni Sharma, who was most recently Warren's deputy communications director, and Sean Savett, formerly press secretary to Illinois Democratic Sen. Senator Tammy Duckworth and rapid response director for Buttigieg.
The confirmations team will expand over the coming days with additional positions.
The Biden transition team said that they believe there will be substantial pressure on the Senate, which right now stands to be controlled by Republicans unless Democrats can sweep both Georgia Senate runoffs in early January, to act fast in the midst of the pandemic and concerns about the economy.
The transition added that they also want to "introduce nominees to the American people," which would mean "throwing away the old playbook dictating that nominees say nothing in public until their hearings."
In an earlier interview, a senior transition official told NBC News that the team learned from the 2008 transition that it needed to build out an infrastructure to prepare to support nominees similar to the ones built out for a presidential nominee's vice-presidential pick or a president's Supreme Court nomination.
“We built a more robust apparatus ready to tell the story of our nominees post-election, once we start having nominees in November, in a more robust theory of the case then I think has just been done in prior transitions,” the official said. “You need infrastructure. You need really clear process and infrastructure the way a White House has but a transition doesn't have the benefit of having."
Here are the two Wisconsin counties where the Trump campaign wants a recount
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's presidential campaign has requested — and paid for — a partial recount in the state of Wisconsin. But rather than a statewide recount, which would have cost the campaign about $7.9 million, they're zeroing in on two vote-rich, heavily Democratic counties: Dane and Milwaukee. (The partial recount still will cost them $3 million.)
Biden currently leads Wisconsin by 20,565 votes, and the two counties are where the Democrat racked up his biggest leads. As in other states, Biden's huge vote margins in urban and suburban Democratic strongholds offset Trump's strong performances in more rural counties.
Together, the two counties alone account for about a quarter of the statewide vote cast.
Biden won Milwaukee County, 69 percent to 29 percent. (That's 317,270 votes for Biden to Trump’s 134,357.)
Biden won Dane 75 percent to 23 percent. (That's 260,185 votes for Biden to Trump’s 78,800.)
According to Census data, Milwaukee County is about 51 percent white alone, 27 percent Black, 16 percent Latino and 5 percent Asian.
For Dane County — home to Madison and the University of Wisconsin — it’s 79 percent white alone, 6 percent Black, 7 percent Latino and 6 percent Asian. Dane also has a population of about 51 percent of residents who have bachelor's degrees or more, a rate far higher than the national average.
Loeffler, Warnock will debate ahead of Georgia runoff, Perdue and Ossoff will not
ATLANTA — After a debate over having runoff debates, there will be at least one ahead of Georgia’s Senate runoff elections. The Atlanta Press Club told NBC News Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., has agreed to debate Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock on Dec. 6.
“Georgians need to know who he is and I welcome that chance to debate him as many times as he wants,” Loeffler said during a Fox News interview before her participation was announced.
GOP Sen. David Perdue declined APC’s invitation to debate Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff. Ossoff will still appear during the debate time slot but will be besides an an empty podium representing Perdue.
Perdue's campaign manager Ben Fry said in a statement, "We've already had two debates in this election," and added, “We’re going to take our message about what’s at stake if Democrats have total control of Congress directly to the people."
“That is not our preference,” the APC wrote in a release, adding the organization will hopes Perdue changes his mind and will “leave the door open” for him to participate.
“The Atlanta Press Club works hard to provide a platform for all candidates running for public office. We believe it is an essential part of the democratic process for voters to have an opportunity to hear an exchange of ideas from the candidates so they can be better informed when they cast their ballots.”
Ossoff attacked his opponent for refusing to debate ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff election.
“If Senator Perdue doesn't want to answer questions in public, or debate his opponent that's fine, he just shouldn't run for re-election to the United States Senate,” Ossoff told reporters on Tuesday.
Graham denies Georgia Sec. State charge he inquired about tossing ballots
WASHINGTON — South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham denied that he asked the Georgia secretary of state about throwing out mail-in votes in certain Georgia counties, an allegation made by Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger earlier this week.
Graham told NBC News the allegation was "ridiculous" and said that he called Raffensperger, a top election official in a state Graham doesn't represent, because "the future of the country hangs in the balance." He added he’s spoken to Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey as well as “people in Nevada.”
"That's ridiculous. I talked to him about how you verify signatures. Right now a single person verifies signatures and I suggested as you go forward can you change it to make sure that a bipartisan team verifies signatures and if there is a dispute, come up with an appeals process," Graham said.
In an interview with the Washington Post on Monday, Raffensperger sad that Graham had inquired as to whether the election official could toss ballots in counties that had higher-than average rates of ballot signatures that didn’t match the voter signature on file. He told the paper it seemed that Graham was suggesting throwing out legal ballots.
Raffensperger doubled down on the accusation in an interview on "CBS This Morning."
"Senator Graham implied for us to audit the envelopes and then throw out the ballots for counties who had the highest frequency error of signatures," he said.
And in an interview with NBC News, he criticized Republicans for making "bold-faced lies" as they seek to discredit the results of the state's presidential election and said he agreed that former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be the president-elect.
—Garrett Haake, Josh Lederman and Julia Jester contributed.
Small businesses are suffering from the pandemic amid stalemate on Capitol Hill
WASHINGTON — Amid an ongoing explosion of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths, it’s important to remember that some of the damage of the coronavirus is entirely self-inflicted.
For six months, the White House and leaders of both parties in Congress have failed to reach an agreement on more emergency relief, with each side holding out at various points for a better deal. The political calendar has made things harder — Democrats assumed their leverage would increase post-election with a Biden win, Republicans now have a stronger hand with down-ballot victories — as well as Trump’s chaotic approach.
There’s a severe human cost to the failure to pass even a nominal emergency package, however, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent in American neighborhoods where beloved small businesses are going bankrupt waiting for relief from Washington.
NBC News viewers submitted over a hundred names of their favorite local establishments that had gone under recently, including beloved barbershop in New York City to a quirky boutique in Lincoln, Nebraska, and their owners were acutely aware that of the congressional inaction.
“I just sort of saw the writing on the wall, that we weren't going to get any money in the near future,” said Jason Rudofky, who closed his family's Jewish deli in Denver, Zaidy’s, after 35 years. “They cared more about the election and they don't realize what’s happening in America.”
These dilemmas are also exacerbated by the ongoing lack of aid for jobless Americans, whose emergency unemployment benefits expired months ago, for school districts waiting for long-promised funding to help them function in extreme circumstances, and for health care workers trying to fight the pandemic and prepare for vaccination programs. And because state and local governments can’t deficit-spend the way the federal government does, only Washington can fill in the gaps.
“If we're going to control this virus out in our communities right now, we're going to have to support those who are going to be suffering economically,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an adviser to President-elect Joe Biden, said on Meet The Press. “You know, you have a choice: do you want to have schools open, or do you want to keep bars and restaurants open?"