The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
More than $50 mil spent on political cable TV ads in D.C. this cycle, many targeting Trump
WASHINGTON — One unique repercussion of having a president who is an avowed cable news watcher is that a massive amount of money was spent in the Washington D.C. cable market in the 2020 election cycle, much of it targeting Trump himself.
Analysis from AdImpact shows that advertisers spent $30.3 million on political TV ads on Washington D.C. cable in 2020 and $21.5 million in 2019. Those figures don't even include spending on national TV spots still aimed at the president's viewing habits, and also exclude spending by congressional candidates for districts that include a piece of the D.C. market.
That kind of spending is significant — the 2020 sum alone is more than was spent on traditional advertising for any House race this past cycle (New Mexico's 2nd District had $29.4 million in total TV/radio spending, although it should be noted that D.C.'s media market is far more expensive than most).
And a deeper dive at the top spenders and their content indicates that many of these ads were directly aimed at reaching Trump, who regularly tweeted praise and criticism of the various news shows he watched, primarily on cable.
The Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump group started by former Republican campaign hands in exodus, spent more than any other group on D.C. cable with $5.7 million. Many of their spots directly criticized the president for his handling of coronavirus or civil unrest, but it also spent money running spots specifically attacking top Trump campaign hands and criticizing the president for associating with them.
The ads were tailored directly at Trump, sometimes calling him out directly. And the tactics prompted responses from the president, who tweeted about the Lincoln Project ads on at least one occasion.
Over the past few days, the Lincoln Project also started running a spot using Trump's comments refusing to accept the 2020 election and putting them alongside violent imagery and rhetoric from last week's pro-Trump rally and subsequent attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The group's strategy prompted at least one Republican group to give them a taste of their own medicine — the conservative group Club for Growth Action ran a spot of its own in D.C. criticizing the Lincoln Project and its founders.
Other groups directly called on the White House to make specific policy changes (sometimes targeting the president by name), like this spot from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on drug pricing' one from Americans for Tax Reform specifically asking "Mr. President, please reject socialist price controls for Medicare Part B." A similar spot from Americans for Limited Government criticized a Trump executive order on health care as "every socialists' dream" and accused the president of adopting socialism. And one from the Pebble Limited Partnership asked "President Trump" to "continue to stand tall and don't let politics enter the Pebble mine review process."
And Trump's presidential campaign spent $1.8 million on cable ads in Washington D.C., despite the fact that the city votes almost universally Democratic in presidential elections and that most Republicans all-but wrote off neighboring Virginia in the 2020 presidential election. That spending sparked questions as to whether the campaign was running the ads so that Trump could see them while watching television.
One other thing the spending figures don't include: Those who targeted Trump while he visited his Mar-a-Lago getaway in Florida.
It's not new to see groups spending on the airwaves in Washington D.C. in the hopes of trying to influence decision-makers. But what's been a new feature of the Trump era is how directly many groups targeted the president himself, thanks to his well-known TV diet, to either try to convince him or rattle him.
Biden said his Cabinet 'will look like America'. Here's his final slate.
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden promised that his Cabinet would be the most diverse in history and that it would "look like America." And Biden addressed that pledge on Friday when announced the final round of Cabinet selections.
"This will be the first Cabinet ever with a majority of people of color occupying this Cabinet. And it has more than a dozen history-making appointments," Biden said.
Of 21 Cabinet-level positions that require Senate confirmation, Biden will nominate four Latino secretaries:
- Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security
- Xavier Becerra, Department of Health and Human Services
- Miguel Cardona, Department of Education
- Isabel Guzman, Small Business Administrator
And nearly half of Biden's announced Cabinet will be women. In addition to Guzman:
- Janet Yellen, Department of Treasury
- Jennifer Granholm: Department of Energy
- Deb Haaland: Department of Interior
- Gina Raimondo: Department of Commerce
- Marcia Fudge, Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.N. Ambassador
- Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence
- Neera Tanden, Office of Management and Budget Director
- Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative
Biden also chose four Black members to serve in his Cabinet: Fudge, Thomas-Greenfield, Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin and Michael Regan.
If confirmed, Austin would be the first Black secretary of Defense, and Regan would be the first Black man to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Biden's pick to lead the Transportation Department, Pete Buttigieg, would be the first openly gay member of a Cabinet confirmed by the Senate. President Trump's former acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, was the first openly gay Cabinet member.
Kamala Harris continues to build out staff with new hires
WASHINGTON — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced additional staff hires Friday morning including economic and policy advisers as well as additional communications staff.
Mike Pyle, who served on former President Obama's economic policy team, will serve as Harris' chief economic adviser. He is a former clerk for President-elect Biden's attorney general-designee, Merrick Garland.
Harris also announced her deputy chief of staff will be Michael Fuchs, who currently works at the Center for American Progress, and served as a foreign policy adviser to Bill Clinton. Fuchs will work closely with Harris’ chief of staff Tina Flournoy, who also comes from the Clinton orbit.
“These deeply experienced public servants reflect the very best of our nation, and they will be ready to get to work building a country that lifts up all Americans,” Harris said in a statement. “Their counsel and expertise are grounded in a commitment to making sure our economy works for working people and all those looking to work. And their leadership will be critical as we work to meet the challenges facing the American people — from the coronavirus pandemic to this economic recession to our climate crisis and long-overdue reckoning on racial injustice.”
Harris’ speechwriting director will be Katie Childs Graham, who led the speechwriting team for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, and worked as Sen. Amy Klobuchar's, D-Minn., communications director.
Also joining Harris’ office are Sabrina Singh as deputy press secretary, Vincent Evans as deputy director of the office of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs, Deanne Millison as deputy policy director and Peter Velz as director of press operations. Singh, Evans and Velz all worked for Harris during the general election campaign and Millison comes from Harris’ Senate office.
Some of Harris’ hires could be an indication of where her policy focuses will be as Biden's V.P. One incoming policy adviser, Dr. Ike Irby, specializes in marine science and is an expert in climate change.
“President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have a bold agenda that will build our nation back better than before. These appointees will work tirelessly for the American people, and I am proud to have them join our White House team,” Flournoy said.
Biden likely to be inaugurated with no confirmed Cabinet secretaries
WASHINGTON — When George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump took their initial oath of office, they did so the same day that several of their Cabinet secretaries were confirmed by the Senate. President-elect Joe Biden will likely not have that reality.
Senate confirmation hearings routinely happen before a president-elect's inauguration because the Senate has been sworn in and in session before Jan. 20. And in most cases, that means that the newly inaugurated president will be able to start work with at least some key Cabinet secretaries in place to receive briefings and lead departments.
In President Trump's case, his secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security were both confirmed on Inauguration Day. And confirmation hearings for his picks for attorney general, and to lead the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury all began prior to Jan. 20.
It was a similar story for Obama's first term. Obama's secretaries for six departments were confirmed on Inauguration Day: Agriculture, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior and Veterans Affairs. Hillary Clinton, Obama's first secretary of state, was confirmed the day after inauguration, and Obama's first secretary of defense was a holdover from the Bush administration and was able to start work on Jan. 20 because he had already been Senate confirmed.
Even Bush, whose presidential win wasn't confirmed until nearly six weeks after Election Day, was able to start work with a partially confirmed Cabinet.
Bush's secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, State and Treasury were all confirmed on Jan. 20, 2001. And unlike the process for Obama and Trump's nominees, many of Bush's nominees received hearings when the Senate stood at a 50-50 split with the opposing party in control.
Republicans did not hold control of the Senate until Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney were inaugurated.
And that's a similar position Biden's secretary-designees find themselves in. Control of the Senate was decided on Jan. 6 after Georgia Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their respective runoff races. But the Senate does not need to wait for the new Congress to take control and be sworn-in to begin hearings.
Last November, Biden called for his picks to go through the Senate confirmation process before Senate control was determined.
While Biden has announced his secretary-designees for nearly all of the Cabinet positions, no confirmation hearings have been scheduled in the Senate. And after a day of riots in the Capitol on Jan. 6, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate, announcing that the Senate would reconvene for just three pro forma sessions before the inauguration — on Jan. 8, Jan. 12 and Jan. 15.
The Senate is not set to reconvene in full until Jan. 19.
Illinois Republican joins more than 100 congressional Democrats to call for Trump removal
WASHINGTON — Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger became the first Republican member of Congress to support President Trump’s removal from office, as calls mount primarily among Democrats for Trump to be removed for ginning up the rioters that broke into the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday.
According to an NBC News count, more than 100 House and Senate Democrats have called for either impeaching President Trump or enacting the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. Kinzinger is the only Republican, and the count includes 101 members of the House and seven Senators.
The highest-ranking Democrat to join the call is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who did so in a statement Thursday morning that said he supports either method of removing Trump.
Many have done so in bulk — all 17 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Vice President Pence asking him to invoke the 25th Amendment.
“Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the vice president and a majority of sitting Cabinet secretaries with the authority to determine a president as unfit if he ‘is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,’” the letter read.
They added, “President Trump’s willingness to incite violence and social unrest to overturn the election results by force clearly meet this standard.”
The calls haven’t just come from lawmakers — the head of the National Association of Manufacturers called for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment in a statement,
How Democrats overperformed in the Senate runoffs from November
WASHINGTON — With Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock projected to win and Democrat Jon Ossoff in the lead, the story from Tuesday's Georgia Senate runoff is that Democrats improved their vote margins in many of Atlanta's most-populous counties.
That dynamic is especially true in counties with a significant Black population, like Clayton and DeKalb, where they hit or exceeded President-elect Joe Biden's winning margins from November.
The easiest comparison to make is in the race between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Ossoff because the two faced off one-on-one on November's ballot and again in January (the special election between Warnock and GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler had a jungle primary in November, with all candidates on one ballot regardless of party).
With at least 95 percent or more of the expected vote in from each county, here's a look at some of those margins in November and where the margin stands now:
The Atlanta suburbs
- Fulton (the most vote-rich county in the state): In November, Ossoff won 69.8 percent to Perdue's 28.1 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 71.6 percent to Perdue's 28.4 percent.
- Gwinnett (outside Atlanta's city limits): In November, Ossoff won 56.8 percent to Perdue's 40.6 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 59.9 percent to Perdue's 40.1 percent.
- Cobb (another Atlanta suburb): In November, Ossoff won 54 percent to Perdue's 43.4 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 55.8 percent to Perdue's 44.3 percent.
- DeKalb (contains about 10 percent of Atlanta; majority black): In November, Ossoff won 81.2 percent to Perdue's 16.8 percent. Now, Ossoff is at 83.3 percent to Perdue's 16.7 percent.
- Henry (Atlanta suburb): In November, Ossoff won 58.8 percent and Perdue won 39 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 61.3 percent to Perdue's 38.7 percent.
- Clayton (was represented by the late Democratic Rep. John Lewis): In November, Ossoff won 84.4 percent of the vote to Perdue's 13.4 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 88.4 percent to Perdue's 11.6 percent.
- Douglas (another Atlanta suburb that was reliably GOP until 2008): In November, Ossoff won 61.1 percent to Perdue's 36.5 percent. Now, Ossoff is at 64.7 percent to Perdue's 35.3 percent.
- Chatham (Georgia's most populous county outside of Metro Atlanta): In November, Ossoff won 57.6 percent of the vote here to Perdue's 40.2 percent. In the runoff, Ossoff is at 59.1 percent to Perdue's 40.9 percent
The big, GOP-leaning counties
- Cherokee (exurban Atlanta): In November, Perdue won 69.2 percent to Ossoff's 27.8 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 70.6 percent to Ossoff's 29.4 percent.
- Forsyth (exurban Atlanta): In November, Perdue won 66.8 percent of the vote here to Ossoff's 30.6 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 68.1 percent to Ossoff's 31.9 percent.
- Hall (exurban Atlanta): In November, Perdue won 71.1 percent to Ossoff's 26.2 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 72.4 percent to Ossoff's 27.6 percent.
- Paulding (exurban Atlanta): In November, Perdue won 63.3 percent of the vote to Ossoff's 34 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 63.4 percent to Ossoff's 36.6 percent.
- Columbia (outside of Augusta): In November, Perdue won 62.9 percent to Ossoff's 34.7 percent. In the runoff, Perdue is at 63.3 percent to Ossoff's 36.7 percent.
Georgia's runoff rules are in part thanks to state's segregationist past
WASHINGTON — With the 2020 race for the Senate heading into overtime eight weeks after Election Day, casual observers may be asking themselves: Why?
Both Senate races in Georgia headed to runoffs because no candidate in either contest received more than 50 percent of the vote in November. But the state’s election laws are unique in the United States, and their origins — at least in part — lie in the South’s segregationist past.
While several other states require candidates to receive 50 percent plus one in many federal and state primary contests, Georgia is alone in requiring that share for both primaries and subsequent general elections.
The law requiring the threshold was signed in 1964, a year after being introduced by a Democratic state lawmaker named Denmark Groover from Macon, Ga.
Groover was a vocal segregationist also known for his work to include the Confederate flag in a redesign of the state flag of Georgia, in defiance of federal desegregation efforts.
Groover understood the electoral power of the Black vote, having lost a race in 1958 when his strength with white voters was outmatched by the 84 percent of the Black vote that went for his opponent.
Here’s what an Interior Department report on voting rights, published in 2007, had to say about Groover’s reaction to that loss:
“The Macon politico blamed his loss on 'Negro bloc voting.' … Groover soon devised a way to challenge growing black political strength. Elected to the House again in 1962, he led the fight to enact a majority vote, runoff rule for all county and state contests in both primary and general elections.”
Groover was a Democrat before a massive political realignment in the South scrambled traditional racial political alliances.
Now, with Black voters firmly in the Democratic coalition, the 50 percent plus one rule has largely been a stumbling block for the party.
In fact, since 1988 — the first year for which Secretary of State records are available — Democrats have won just one of eight statewide contests that went to a runoff in Georgia, despite receiving more votes in the initial general election contests in several cases.
The only race they won: A Democrat’s campaign for Public Service Commissioner in 1998. The same candidate later switched parties and will also compete in a runoff on January 5 — as a Republican.
Georgia Senate elections set new ad spending records powered by massive outside spending
WASHINGTON — Election day in Georgia's Senate runoffs is Tuesday, and both races have already seen enough TV and radio spending to become the two most expensive Senate contests (by ad spending) in U.S. election history.
Combining runoff spending with the general election, both contests (GOP Sen. David Perdue v. Democrat Jon Ossoff, and GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler v. Democrat Raphael Warnock) easily clear the record of $251 million spent on the airwaves in North Carolina’s 2020 Senate race.
The Perdue-vs.Ossoff race is set to have about $382 million spent on TV and radio, and the Loeffler-vs.-Warnock race is set to have about $284.3 million in TV and radio spending (this total includes money booked to be spent on Monday and Tuesday), per AdImpact.
The majority of that spending has come in the compressed runoff window — $250 million in the Perdue/Ossoff race and $235 million in the Loeffler/Perdue contest.
Another trend that's common across both races since the runoff began is that Democratic candidates have been consistently outspending their GOP rivals on the airwaves, but GOP outside groups have more than filled the void to give Republicans a final spending edge.
Through Tuesday, Ossoff is expected to spend about $87 million to Perdue's $50 million, compared to Warnock's $70 million and Loeffler's $50 million. But in both races, GOP outside groups have outspent Democratic outside groups by more than 3 times — with Democratic groups spending about $26 million in each race to the GOP's more than $80 million.
Biden taking longer than most former presidents to name his attorney general
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden still hasn't announced his attorney general designee. With Election Day being 62 days ago, Biden is on track to announce his attorney general pick later than the last 7 seven presidents.
According to Senate confirmation records that date back to former President Jimmy Carter's Cabinet picks, Biden has taken longer to announce his attorney general designee than most. Prior to Biden, Carter had the longest gap (48 days) between Election Day and announcing his attorney general designee.
Here's how that looks by the numbers:
- President Trump announced his AG pick 11 days after Election Day.
- Barack Obama announced his first pick (just including first terms) 28 days after Election Day.
- George W. Bush named his pick after 46 days.
- Bill Clinton’s first 1992 pick was announced 52 days after Nov. 3 1992.
- George H. W. Bush announced his attorney general 21 days after Election Day.
- Ronald Reagan named William French Smith 38 days after Election Day 1980.
- Jimmy Carter announced his pick after 48 days.
Biden's incoming press secretary Jennifer Psaki told reporters to expect more Cabinet announcements this week, but didn't clarify if that would include Biden's designee for attorney general. However, outgoing Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and former deputy attorney general and acting attorney general Sally Yates are all rumored to be under consideration.
Biden also hasn't named his picks to lead the Commerce and Labor departments, the Small Business Administration and the CIA director.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp dismisses Trump's call to resign
LAWRENCEVILLE, GA. — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp dismissed President Trump's call for him to resign on Wednesday and said that any pressure to challenge the 2020 presidential election results should be focused in Washington D.C., not in Georgia.
“There is a constitutional and legal process that is playing out, and I'm very comfortable letting that process play out,” Kemp told reporters. “But that horse has left the barn in Georgia and it's headed to D.C. right now. The next vote is going to be there, not here. So people need to focus on the vote that is happening here.”
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that Kemp should resign from office and called the governor an "obstructionist".
Kemp said that his constituents would rather him be focused on distributing the Covid-19 vaccines and helping keep the Republican Senate majority, not on the president's tweets.
“That's what everybody else, quite honestly, should be focused on while the rest of the process is playing out," Kemp said.
He added, "I've supported the legal process that [the president] or any other campaign can go through in this state, but at the end of the day I also have to follow the laws and the Constitution."
Ahead of the Jan. 5 Georgia Senate runoffs, Republican Sen. David Perdue said on Wednesday that Trump's criticism of Kemp and other Georgia officials wasn't making his race more difficult.
"I think that what the president is doing is exercising his rights,” Perdue said during a Fox News interview.
Perdue also defended the president's claims of voter fraud in Georgia.
“We know there are potentially some improprieties there and the president has done nothing but asking for some questions to be answered," Perdue said.
Georgia's secretary of state's office released a signature match audit of Cobb County's absentee ballots which found "no fraudulent absentee ballots".
Kemp said he would continue to support both Perdue and fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, but hasn't been invited to President Trump's Jan. 4 Georgia rally.
"I don't want to wake up on January the sixth and wonder what else I should have done. I'm doing everything I can with the time that I have to support sending them back up there," Kemp said.
Georgia breaks runoff turnout record for Senate races
WASHINGTON — Georgians have already broken the state's runoff turnout record in the dual Senate runoffs that will decide control of the U.S. Senate, new numbers show Tuesday, a mark reached about a week before the day of the election.
More than 2.3 million voters have cast their ballots, with more than 800,000 voting absentee by mail and 1.5 million voting early, in person, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. The previous runoff turnout record was set in 2008, when Georgians cast 2.137 million total ballots in the entire election.
More than 78,000 Georgians who did not vote in the general election have already voted in the runoff race, according to the analysis of early vote data by the Democratic political data firm TargetSmart. Tom Bonier, TargetSmart's CEO said Monday that a majority of those voters were voters of color, with African-Americans making up a strong portion.
Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock have been holding GOTV rallies targeting key constituencies within the Black, Latino, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islander communities, as well as young voters with key surrogates like President-elect Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama.
Republicans have been rallying their supporters with key figures as well, and President Donald Trump will rally for Republicans Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler on Jan.4 (the day before the election) in the northwest Georgia congressional district of Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Green, a Republican who has been amplifying Trump's unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud.
Some Republicans are anxious that Trump's false claims and repeated undercutting of the state's election results could turn off voters the party needs in January.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office tells NBC News 3,283 absentee ballots have been rejected as of Tuesday morning. Those voters have until the Friday after Election Day to cure their ballots.