The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Biden's Cabinet picks leave House Democrats with a narrow majority
WASHINGTON — President-elect Biden's decision to select Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to be his Housing and Urban Development secretary could have a major impact on the Democrats' House majority.
As of right now, the 2020 elections reduced the Democratic majority to 222 seats. That majority will get even slimmer with Fudge and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., departing for jobs in the Biden administration. With the majority, assuming Fudge is confirmed, down to 220, Democrats will hold just two seats more than a majority of a full House (218).
Special elections will be held for Fudge and Richmonds' seats, but it could take months for those elections to determine a winner in these heavily Democratic districts.
And narrow majority could be worrisome for Democrats.
If Biden picks more House Democrats to serve in his administration, or if other Democrats in the House resign or pass away, the party could potentially lose its majority.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters that he was concerned about the slimming majority and indicated as much to the Biden team.
"I’m certainly concerned by the slimming of the majority. I indicated to the administration very early on that I wanted them to be very careful in terms of the members that they appointed from Congress," Hoyer said.
That means it doesn’t look good for any other House Democrats to get a Cabinet nod — like New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who’s a contender for Interior Secretary.
But even if Democrats do retain the House majority, it won't be an effective governable majority. Democrats are bound to need Republican help to pass big-ticket items, because it's likely they'll see defections from either progressives or moderates on any legislation.
Terry McAuliffe to announce Virginia governor's bid Wednesday
Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will announce Wednesday morning that he will run again for his former seat, according to aides involved in his emerging campaign.
McAuliffe, who entertained a run for president in 2020, is up against three other Democrats, all of whom are Black: current Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, state senator Jennifer McClellan and former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy. Either McCllellan or Foy, if elected, would be the nation’s first Black woman governor.
McAulliffe will announce his candidacy at an elementary school in Richmond to focus on his education plan.
“[McAuliffe’s] plan will call for the largest ever investment in education in the Commonwealth, and will include raising teacher salaries above the national average for the first time in Virginia history,” the campaign says.
Since McAuliffe’s term as governor ended in 2018, he’s stayed heavily involved in engaging and fundraising for Virginia Democrats, particularly in the aftermath of the controversy that engulfed current Gov. Ralph Northam over a picture of him in blackface was found in a medical school yearbook.
McAuliffe’s PAC “Common Good” has raised more than $1.7 million as of July.
McAulliffe will also announce his campaign co-chairs tomorrow, all of whom all Black leaders in the commonwealth, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
Virginia’s gubernatorial race has long been an early bellwether test for both parties ahead of the next midterm elections since it takes place in an otherwise off-year for elective politics.
Joe Biden won Virginia by more than 10 points, but with more progressive candidates in the primary like Jennifer Caroll Foy, the conversation could shift left.
McAuliffe is also jumping in the race at a moment when Republicans in Virginia have been battling over how to hold their own party’s primary, and on Saturday decided to hold a convention versus a primary vote to choose their nominee. State senator Amanda Chase, who is running on a far right agenda, initially announced her gubernatorial run as a Republican, but now said she would seek the nominee as an independent.
Clyburn: Expect Marcia Fudge to be nominated to Biden's Cabinet
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration committee chair, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, said he expects Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge to be nominated for a position in Biden's Cabinet.
Fudge, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, would be the second Black woman to be nominated to Biden's Cabinet. Biden nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the Ambassador to the United Nations in late November.
"Marcia Fudge, I look for her to be in the Cabinet. I spoke with her last night, I have been talking with other people, I don't know that she will be the Secretary of Agriculture, that may not be. But she will be a member of the Cabinet. At least to be nominated for a Cabinet position," Clyburn said Tuesday on "Morning Joe".
Clyburn, whose influential endorsement helped Biden secure his win in South Carolina, he had been disappointed in the lack of Black Cabinet nominees ahead of of Biden decision to nominate Rt. Gen. Lloyd Austin to head the Department of Defense.
“From all I hear, Black people have been given fair consideration," Clyburn told a columnist in November. "But there is only one Black woman so far."
On Monday, NBC News confirmed that Biden would nominate Austin, who if confirmed, will be the first Black man to lead the Defense Department.
And Clyburn applauded the pick on Tuesday.
"I look for this to be a pretty smooth hearing and confirmation and I like him very much. I think he is going to be a good fit for us," Clyburn said.
Talking policy with Benjy: Big fat beautiful checks edition
WASHINGTON — The big bipartisan deal on COVID relief continues to chug along, but there’s some prominent dissent from the left and right — and, unusually, they both have the same complaint.
On Monday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., urged President Donald Trump to veto any bill that doesn’t include direct payments to Americans along the lines of the $1,200 checks that went out at the start of the pandemic. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. has also said he opposes the emerging deal on those lines. While not yet threatening to vote against a bill, big names on the left in the House are also pushing for more payments, led by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
Trump is also on record calling for more COVID payments in October — his name went out on the previous round of payments — though he has not done much to push for them in the current round of negotiations. Hawley and Sanders also have other concerns, with the former upset over aid to state and local budgets and the latter worried about protections for business against COVID-related lawsuits.
While the coronavirus is the cause of the current debate over payments, it’s part of a broader trend in both parties towards promoting direct cash benefits to families rather than more complicated benefits tied to specific needs. Andrew Yang was the most prominent evangelist with his push for basic income, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also made big refundable tax credits her signature domestic policy.
On the GOP side, some Republicans see it as a way to compete with Democrats on populist grounds. Even before the pandemic, Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee were rolling out a bill to expand child tax credits — and notably pay for it by raising taxes on wealthy heirs, a rare break from conservative orthodoxy.
All of this could present a President-elect Joe Biden with some bipartisan opportunities once he takes office. On paper, Hawley and Sanders could easily work out a bipartisan bill on stimulus and maybe even get Trump to endorse it on Twitter. But in practice, Biden knows from experience that it’s hard getting Republicans to back even tax cuts when it means a victory for a Democratic president. This could be an early test of how much has changed since then.
Mike Pompeo set to deliver speech in Georgia ahead of runoff elections
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will appear in Atlanta on Wednesday for an official speech ahead of next month's Georgia Senate runoff elections, which will determine control of the Senate.
Pompeo’s speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology entitled, “the China challenge to U.S. national security and academic freedom,” will highlight the Trump administration’s tough on China approach including the closing of their consulate in Houston, travel restrictions for communist party officials, and a series of financial sanctions on those responsible for cracking down on Hong Kong.
But Pompeo's appearance in Georgia could reignite the debate over the traditional non-partisan role of a secretary of state. Pompeo is currently facing two investigations from the Office of the Special Counsel for potentially politicizing his position.
In September, Pompeo flew to Wisconsin to address Republican lawmakers in a speech to the Madison Senate chamber and to Plano, Texas to address an evangelical church. In October he virtually addressed a conservative Christian organization in Florida.
Pompeo's address to the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem prompted an investigation by the anti-corruption Office of the Special Counsel. The office said it was investigating a possible violation of the Hatch Act which restricts U.S. officials from mixing electioneering with official government business.
While Pompeo has said that he was making the speech in his "personal capacity", he had flown to Israel for an official visit as secretary of state.
In October, House Appropriations Committee Chair, Rep. Nita Lower, D-N.Y., and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. released a statement criticizing Pompeo's "brazen" misuse of taxpayer dollars to fund "vehicles for the Administration's, and his own, political ambitions."
The Office of the Special Counsel opened a second investigation following Pompeo’s pledge to release more of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails ahead of the presidential election.
In 2019, amid talk that Pompeo was considering running for Senate in his home state of Kansas, Pompeo traveled to Kansas on a three-state domestic tour. The secretary of state has also hosted private dinners with potential GOP donors, conservative media hosts and entertainers in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department.
But as Pompeo is slated to speak in Georgia, all political eyes are on the state's two Senate runoffs. President Trump and Vice President Pence have both recently visited Georgia to campaign for Republican Sens. Kelly Loefller and David Perdue.
Since the November election, Pompeo has yet to formally recognize that Joe Biden won the election, or publicly confirm if he's had contact with his likely successor Anthony Blinken, but Pompeo has acknowledged that the transition process at the State Department has begun.
Clyburn to lead Biden inaugural committee alongside new co-chairs
WASHINGTON — Longtime South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, whose key endorsement of now President-elect Joe Biden helped turn the tide in his Democratic primary race, will chair Biden's inaugural committee.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee made the announcement Monday morning, also unveiling the group's co-chairs: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond and Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.
Clyburn has been a stalwart ally of Biden's who helped him whip support in the pivotal South Carolina Democratic primary. The lawmaker also serves as the House Majority Whip.
Whitmer also served as a key endorser for Biden in the swing-state of Michigan, which he won by about 3 percentage points, and was on his vice-presidential shortlist.
Richmond and Rochester are close allies of Biden's who also served as co-chairs of the Biden campaign, along with Whitmer and Garcetti. Richmond is heading to serve in the White House, and Blunt Rochester has long been a friend of the Biden family.
"These leaders reflect the strength, spirit, and diversity of America and have always held a steadfast commitment to restoring the soul of the nation, building back the middle class, and unifying the country," Biden said in a statement.
"We are proud of their support and know they will help plan an inauguration that will reflect our nation’s shared values."
—Mike Memoli contributed
Top Georgia Republican officials buck Trump's call to push legislators to overturn Biden victory
WASHINGTON — Georgia’s Republican leaders poured cold water on any hopes of convening a special session of the General Assembly to override the state’s election results and select presidential electors in favor of President Trump.
In a Sunday night statement, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) & Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R-GA) said such a move is “not an option that is allowed under state or federal law.”
"The judicial system remains the only viable - and quickest - option in disputing the results of the November 3rd election in Georgia,” their statement added.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted his support of the governor’s office.
“The election of presidential electors has already taken place in the manner directed by Georgia’s legislature at the time set by Congress,” he wrote Monday morning. “There is no applicable legal avenue for replacing the choice of electors after the election.”
Lt. Gov. Duncan expanded on their statement in an interview with CNN.
“To think I would wake up one day and decide that 2.5 million people’s vote didn’t count just because it wasn’t the way I wanted the election to turn out, that’s certainly not democracy,” he said. “So I personally think it’s a bad idea and oh, by the way, I’ve got the benefit of the law supporting that decision.”
The Georgia officials’ rejection of GOP calls to convene a special session comes two days after President Trump called Kemp, a call in which Trump tried to pressure Kemp into leaning on the legislature to make the extraordinary decision to overrule the voters and elect pro-Trump delegates to the Electoral College.
On Sunday night, Trump tweeted that both Kemp and Duncan could "easily solve this mess" by re-checking signatures on ballot envelopes and with a "special session," an allusion to the plan he and some allies have floated, which would require state legislatures in key swing states to dismiss the election results.
Trump campaign pushes challenges in Georgia ahead of president's visit
SAVANNAH, Ga. — With just one month until the two runoffs here that will determine control of the U.S. Senate for the next two years, President Donald Trump's campaign and the chairman of the state Republican Party filed a lawsuit Friday to block last month’s recertification even as Vice President Mike Pence and other Georgia Republicans are pleading for voters to turn out despite “doubts about the last election.”
The Trump campaign’s latest litigation, filed Friday night in Fulton County superior court, calls for the decertification of the state’s election results, a new presidential election, and injunction and allowing the state legislature to appoint electors.
The lawsuit — filed against GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and multiple county election directors — alleges that, “due to significant systemic misconduct, fraud, and other irregularities occurring during the election process, many thousands of illegal votes were cast, counted, and included in the tabulations.”
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office has yet to recertify the election results based on the recount requested by the Trump campaign, which shows President-elect Joe Biden with a margin of victory of 11,769 votes.
As Trump continues to sow distrust in Georgia’s election system, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to harness a Republican electorate whose president explicitly said the runoffs should be “called off” because they will not be fairly administered.
Pence joined in on that message Friday, arguing that a Republican Senate majority could be the party’s “last line of defense” against Democrats in the House and White House.
“I know we've all got our doubts about the last election,” Pence told the crowd of supporters in Savannah as he rallied for the GOP incumbents. “I actually hear some people saying, just don't vote. My fellow Americans. If you don't vote they win.”
Former Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the state's last federal runoff winner and signatory on a recent letter from 18 Republican leaders in the state calling for the GOP to unify and focus on the Senate runoffs, is concerned about Trump’s arguments when he visits Georgia Saturday.
“I do worry about the president coming down and being focused on something other than and his total unabashed support of the election of Kelly and David on January 5,” he told NBC News.
“Clearly, Trump has the opportunity to put to rest any theory of ‘this election was stolen from us, and therefore you ought not to get out and vote again because it's already done.’ If he comes down and says, ‘Look, I want everybody here to vote I don't care whether you vote by mail early voting, or voting on January 5, every Republican needs to turn out and vote,’ then I think he puts to rest that undercurrent that's out there. And I hope that's what he does.”
Trump will be addressing his base days after Rudy Giuliani appeared at a state senate committee meeting to share debunked conspiracy theories about the Dominion voting system and “connection” to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
“This is not a machine, you want counting your votes,” he said Thursday at the state capitol. “It does cast doubt on the entire legitimacy of the vote.”
Such rhetoric — echoed by Trump in his White House video statement this week — is what worries Republicans like Chambliss.
“I think you can look at the vote on November 3, and it's pretty easy to reach a conclusion that from a presidential standpoint, that was a referendum on Trump,” Chambliss told NBC News of the tens of thousands of Biden-Perdue voters.
“I think that we won't have that scenario this time around, it's going to be just people coming up to vote for David, and that gives me confidence. If we can get the turnout, then we're going to be successful on January 5. But if you have these continued distractions, then you just wonder if those folks who did cross over are going to come back again.”
New campaign filings show Trump's fundraising haul off claims of voter fraud
WASHINGTON — President Trump's full campaign effort raised $495 million between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23, according to new FEC filings, a total that includes the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and other affiliated committees.
Nearly half of that — $207.5 million — was raised since Election Day (between Nov. 3 and Nov. 23). Much of this haul has come from fundraising appeals that include unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and it's an enormous amount for the GOP effort to be able to raise after losing an election. The Trump fundraising effort has sent more than 500 fundraising emails since Nov. 4, plus hundreds of text messages soliciting donations.
Much of the money being raised to help fund election challenges, like donations being solicited through requests to challenge the election outcome, isn't being funneled to a specific group. The campaign is allocating some money for recount efforts, and the same "election defense" rhetoric is being used to direct money to Trump's new political action committee, “Save America”.
Trump started "Save America" in mid-November to fuel his post-presidency plans. It will allow the president to raise money for potential future travel, rallies or pay political consultants. But this money can't be used for any future campaign, should Trump decide to run for president again in 2024. The group raised about $570,000 through Nov. 23.
The campaign filings also show more than $4.7 million in legal fees between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23. Legal adviser Jenna Ellis was paid $30,000 in consulting fees over that timeline, and overall the campaign has spent about $8.8 million on fees related to the recount effort in the same timeframe.
Tweet the Press: A look into Michael Flynn's firing, and eventual pardon, with Carol E. Lee
WASHINGTON — In case you missed Thursday's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News Correspondent Carol E. Lee about the events that led up to President Trump firing, and then pardoning, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Lee reported on the timeline from when Flynn was first contacted by the FBI about his phone calls with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, to the moment he was fired, his guilty plea and the once wavering, but now full-throated support, from the White House.
Click the link here to read the full conversation.
Kamala Harris adds to V.P. team with a majority of women of color
WASHINGTON — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced on Thursday she hired three more women to be on her senior staff. Harris’ chief of staff, domestic policy adviser and national security adviser will all be women, two of whom are women of color.
Harris has a long history of hiring and elevating women of color in her senate office and primary campaign and in the general election, as well.
“Together with the rest of my team, today’s appointees will work to get this virus under control, open our economy responsibly and make sure it lifts up all Americans, and restore and advance our country's leadership around the world,” Harris said in a press release.
Tina Flournoy, who currently serves as former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, will become Harris' chief of staff. Flournoy is a member of "The Colored Girls", a group of Black women who work in public service. Other members include Donna Brazile and Minyon Moore. Harris pointed to Flournoy's "deep experience, public policy expertise and accomplished career in public service" as her reasons for the pick.
Harris' domestic policy adviser will be Rohini Kosoglu. Kosoglu was a senior adviser on Harris' presidential campaign and worked in Harris' office. She previously held positions with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
Nancy McEldowney, who most recently worked as the director of the school of foreign service at Georgetown University, will serve as Harris’ national security adviser. McEldowney worked in the U.S. foreign service for 30 years and is a former ambassador to Bulgaria.
Harris' announced staff is so far a majority women of color. Symone Sanders, who will serve as Harris' senior adviser and chief spokesperson, and Ashley Etienne, who will be Harris' communications director, are also both Black women.