The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Trump rewards Sarah Huckabee Sanders with early endorsement for Arkansas gov
WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump didn't wait long to throw his support behind his former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in her bid to be Arkansas' governor.
Sanders announced her gubernatorial bid Monday morning in a Twitter video where she played up her work in the Trump administration and framed her bid as a fight to be the "last line of defense" for the state against a Democratic-controlled Washington.
And by the end of the day, Trump endorsed her through his political action committee in a statement that closely mimicked his typical endorsement script, calling her someone who "is strong on Borders, tough on Crime, and fully supports the Second Amendment and our great law enforcement officers" and offering his "Complete and Total Endorsement!"
Her profile, along with the former president's backing in a state where he's enjoyed significant support (especially in the state GOP), helps add rocket fuel to her bid to replace GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is term-limited.
But she's not the only candidate in the race, which includes current Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and current state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
Griffin welcomed Sanders into the race with a statement that chided her for supposedly not paying enough attention to the issues facing the state: "It sounds like she needs to catch up on what's been going on in Arkansas," he said, in response to some of the policy points Sanders emphasized in her video.
And Rutledge, who vocally supported the Texas Attorney General's lawsuit that challenged the 2020 presidential election results, noted her friendship with Sanders and the Huckabee family in a statement where she continued to tout her support for Trump's agenda as well as that "Arkansas must have a leader with a proven record of accomplishments against the liberal left."
What Rob Portman's 2022 decision means for the Senate map
WASHINGTON — Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, became the third GOP senator to announce he’s not running in the 2022 cycle on Monday. Portman joined North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey. All three hail from important past and present battleground states that could hold the key to the Senate majority.
While Portman's decision may free him to consider convicting former President Trump in a Senate impeachment trial, Portman’s decision also has ramifications for the 2022 Senate map with the Senate now divided 50-50. Democrats hold the Senate majority with Vice President Kamala Harris available to cast tie-breaking votes.
Republicans will have to defend 20 seats in the 2022 cycle, including the three now-open seats, as well as Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson's and Marco Rubio's Florida seat.
Democrats, meanwhile, have to defend 14 seats, including Mark Kelly’s in Arizona and Raphael Warnock’s in Georgia who are serving out the remainder of terms. Democrats will also defend seats in battleground states like Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada.
While midterms have traditionally been more difficult for the party holding the White House, open seats like Portman's are tougher to defend than if a senator were running for re-election.
Jaime Harrison elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee
WASHINGTON — Former South Carolina Senate candidate Jaime Harrison was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee at a virtual meeting Thursday afternoon.
President Joe Biden tapped Harrison to lead the party, and the committee overwhelmingly voted to affirm the pick a day after Biden's inauguration.
It also voted to elect Biden's choices for vice chairs: Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. of Texas.
Harrison, who ran the South Carolina Democratic Party and was associate chairman of the DNC, broke candidate fundraising records last year when he ran against Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., even though he lost. He also ran against the party's outgoing chairman, Tom Perez, in the 2017 DNC chairman's race.
At the virtual meeting, Perez, who did not seek a second term, took a victory lap after overseeing the party when it reclaimed the House, Senate, White House and several governors' mansions, with a video featuring praise from former President Barack Obama and others.
Harrison, who hails from a red state, pledged to make sure Democrats compete in all 50 states and seven U.S. territories. "I have no intention of turning victory into complacency. Because we've seen what happens when we don't invest everywhere," he said.
Biden sent a congratulatory video message that was played during the virtual meeting, and Vice President Kamala Harris called into the meeting to say she was excited to work with Harrison and thank Perez and DNC members.
"Joe and I, the president and I, would not be here without you. You all did the work," she said to the DNC.
History suggests he'll face an uphill battle in defending narrow Democratic majorities in Congress, since backlash to new presidents typically leads to the opposition party gaining seats in the midterms.
Tweet the Press: Mike Memoli reports on Biden's first week plans
WASHINGTON — NBC's Mike Memoli has covered President Joe Biden since Biden's second run for president in 2007 and through his tenure as Barack Obama's vice president.
On this week's Tweet the Press, Memoli reflects on memorable moments from Biden's Inauguration Day — including the importance of the amount of "ever"s in his speech — and the actions Biden is taking in his first week of office.
Click here to read the full conversation.
Pro-immigration reform group calls for pathway to citizenship in new ad buy
WASHINGTON — FWD.us, the immigration advocacy group co-founded by Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, is dropping a new ad campaign on President Joe Biden's first full day in office that calls for the government to build a "humane, modern immigration system" that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The new spot, which will run on national cable as well as digital for what the group said is a "mid-six-figure buy," begins by fading out of a picture of former President Donald Trump and posing the question: "What if we had a fresh start, a new opportunity to build the country all of our families need?"
It goes onto evoke the role immigrants play across the country, including in the health care, education, manufacturing, delivery and other sectors hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The group's analysis finds that more than 5 million essential workers in America are undocumented.
"Immigrants work on the front-lines of our recovery, but many are trapped as undocumented by our long-failed immigration system," the ad's narrator says.
"We have a chance to rebuild together, stronger than we've ever been."
The Obama administration shaped immigration policy in a significant part through through executive order after Congress failed to come to a compromise on an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
But the Trump administration repeatedly sought to end the Obama-era DACA program, which provided a respite from deportation for many immigrants brought to America as children illegally. After the Supreme Court blocked the administration's attempt to nix the program, the administration rejected new applicants this past summer. In December, a federal judge reinstated the program and ordered the administration to accept new applicants.
Now, Biden is proposing a new immigration bill of his own, legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, provide them with legal status, fund border security measures (but not Trump's signature border wall) and a slew of other proposals, including more aid to countries from which people are emigrating to America.
On Wednesday, he issued a proclamation calling for the protection of the DACA program and the administration announced it would temporarily halt some deportations in its first 100 days.
In a statement announcing the new ad buys, FWD.us President Todd Schulte said the group is "heartened" by the administration's immigration reform proposal.
"The time is now to build a humane, commonsense approach to immigration that keeps families safe and together — beyond merely undoing the terrible harms visited on immigrant families and communities that were relentlessly targeted by the Trump Administration using our all-too-easily weaponized immigration system," he added.
Georgia certifies Senate victories for Ossoff, Warnock
WASHINGTON — The Georgia Secretary of State certified the state's two Senate runoffs, won by Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, officially bringing to end the tumultuous 2020 Election Cycle that saw Democrats flip the White House and the Senate majority.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has repeatedly pushed back on President Donald Trump's accusations of election fraud, announced the certified results on Tuesday. Warnock defeated GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler by about 93,000 votes while Ossoff defeated GOP Sen. David Perdue by about 55,000 votes. The 4.48 million votes cast was short of the approximately 4.9 million votes cast in November, but even so, January's special election broke the state's record for runoff turnout.
While Loeffler faced the voters for the first time in 2020 (she was appointed to the seat, making this her first election), Perdue was first elected in 2014 by a margin of about 200,000 votes.
A spokesperson for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's office confirmed the governor certified the results and that the certification has been hand-delivered to the U.S. Senate.
That means both Warnock and Ossoff will be sworn in soon — two sources familiar with the schedule told NBC that three new Democratic senators (the two Georgians and former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who is replacing Vice President-elect Kamala Harris) will be sworn in on Wednesday afternoon after the President-elect Joe Biden and Harris are inaugurated.
Once Biden and Harris are sworn in, along with the new Democratic senators, the Democratic party will hold the majority in the Senate (although the Senate is split 50/50, the vice president breaks ties).
GOP fundraising apparatus faces new uncertainty amid backlash from pro-Trump riot
WASHINGTON — The brewing storm of a GOP reckoning with President Trump for the soul of the party turned into a Category Five hurricane after rioters, stoked by Trump’s rhetoric, stormed the Capitol. The violent scene left five dead, including a police officer and a woman trying to break into the inner depths of the Capitol.
But as the party confronts the fallout from the attack and the serious questions about how it moves forward, some are concerned that the new reality is putting the party's fundraising operation in a precarious place, both with grassroots and corporate donors.
It’s an evolving situation, particularly as the Senate weighs whether to conduct an impeachment trial that could end up barring Trump from holding federal office again. But the fundraising fallout, and the political ramifications from it, could be significant.
“This is a real serious, potential problem,” said one top GOP strategist who requested anonymity to share their candid perspective.
“This can all be done tomorrow, this might be a blip on the radar, it might have nothing to do with anything. But it certainly feels different.”
The Republican Party has spent years reorienting itself in Trump’s image, despite him being a repeated magnet for controversy, looking to him as the key to supercharging their grassroots and catching up to the Democratic small-dollar juggernaut.
The president commands a loyal legion of small-dollar donors that helped him set grassroots fundraising records during his campaigns. National committees and politicians adopted his harsh and combative tone in fundraising pitches, and tempted donors by giving away books by top Trump allies, building out their own small-dollar networks on the back of Trump’s fundraising strength.
But it was a double-edged sword, as Democrats rallied around their opposition to Trump to raise tons of money too.
Congressional Republicans spent the entire Trump presidency virtually in lockstep with the president, with even his critics hesitating to speak out considering the command he held on the party.
But now, a significant number of Republicans blame Trump’s rhetoric for feeding the flames of the Capitol attack, a reality that will test the durability of the GOP’s Trump-centric fundraising approach.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., a loyal Trump ally, declared during the impeachment debate that Trump was partly to blame for the rioting. Ten Republican lawmakers ultimately voted for Trump’s impeachment last week — none did so during his first impeachment in 2020.
And Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., has kept the door open to convicting Trump during the Senate trial, a stunning development considering the lack of widespread GOP support during Trump’s first impeachment. And the AP reports he’s been sounding out donors too.
So now, after priming the small-donor pump with Trump for years, it appears more likely that Republicans could go into the Biden presidency in an open war with their top fundraiser.
Then there are the big-money problems, too.
More and more corporations — like Dow Chemical, Marriott International and American Express — have announced that they are re-evaluating their political donation policies in the wake of the attack. Some plan to stop donating to lawmakers who objected to Biden’s victory, a list that includes top Republicans and those with future presidential ambitions, but others are pausing or suspending donations all together.
“Last week’s attempts by some congressional members to subvert the presidential election results and disrupt the peaceful transition of power do not align with our American Express Blue Box values; therefore, the AXP PAC will not support them,” American Express Chairman and CEO Stephen Squeri wrote in a public memo.
It remains to be seen how any retribution for those votes could hurt the objectors with larger ambitions, or the more than 100 House members who joined their calls. Republicans received $26 million in the 2020 cycle from PACs that are halting donations, according to an analysis by Punchbowl News.
There are other revenue streams for Republicans to tap, and it’s possible corporations will quietly restart their political giving soon. But right now, the GOP is threatening to leave a significant amount of money on the table, and it’s possible the sentiment prompts others to reevaluate their giving too.
On top of all this, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, arguably the party’s most influential donor, passed away. Adelson gave more than $200 million to GOP groups this past election cycle alone, mostly to outside groups that helped keep the GOP in the hunt.
The story is far from written — it’s unclear whether party leaders will attempt to make a clean break with Trump, or if they do, how he and his supporters both in Washington and across America will respond.
Trump allies are openly musing about primary challenges to House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, or in the case of Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, a push to remove her from House leadership. And Trump has also repeatedly floated a bid in 2024, with his children and top allies are being discussed as potential candidates in the next few cycles too.
"The president and his family and close supporters, as we saw last week, are not going to go quietly into the night unless drastic action is taken,” the top GOP strategist said in the days after the attack.
“It’s not going to be neat and clean."
Democrats need a better messaging strategy in Florida, a new report says
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden did not need Florida’s 29 electoral votes to capture the White House in 2020. But a new report out Tuesday has advice for future Democratic candidates: aggressively and consistently invest in courting the state's diverse Hispanic vote or risk losing ground in future elections.
The report from the polling and research firm LD Insights, obtained exclusively by NBC News, asserts that Democrats must commit millions of dollars in Florida in an effort to expand outreach, test paid media messages and increase their presence in order to compete in future elections. The report also suggests a "stick to the basics" policy platform on goals like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and touting legislative achievements like improving health care.
The new study comes about two months after Biden won the Latino vote, but with less support than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. After working with Democratic state party leaders, elected officials, activists and consultants, the study's authors concluded this happened because the Democratic Party failed to communicate consistently with Latino voters in off-year elections. That lack of communication allowed Republicans to define Democratic candidates as socialists.
Hispanics in Florida wanted candidates to focus on bolstering the economy and ending the Covid-19 pandemic. But the report suggested that Democratic candidates running for local office in the state were "caught up on pushing or responding to national messages like Black Lives Matter protests and ‘defund the police’ that didn’t actually lineup with where the Hispanic electorate is, which tends to be more culturally conservative," Kevin Munoz, the Biden campaign's Florida press secretary, said.
Matt Barreto, co-founder of LD Insights and an adviser to the Biden campaign, said Biden would have done better with Florida's Hispanic voters if the campaign understood how Biden’s Covid-19 and economic message wasn't direct enough for many Latinos.
Barreto said that Floridian Hispanics told researchers and pollster that they agreed with Biden's call for wearing a mask and listening to scientists, but they were unfamiliar with his economic recovery plan. By contrast, President Trump’s simple and direct call to reopen businesses immediately resonated with many Latinos.
Republicans in Florida have spent decades investing in communication tools, and have built loyal audiences through conservative Spanish-language TV, radio and social media. The report said Democrats' more limited approach in paid media and outreach is insufficient to mobilize a community already discussing politics through a Republican lens.
“Now that Democrats have the majorities, they need to fully lean into their support for populist, economic ideas. They must lean in now and take credit for those and they need to continue to talk about them every day between now and the midterms of what we’re doing as a party, what we’re doing for the Latino community specifically and not let the Republicans try to block that,” Barreto said.
Barreto found that Florida precincts with 80 percent or higher Latino makeup shifted toward Trump in 2020 compared to 2016 because of longtime Republican communication networks where information is spread most effectively by word-of-mouth. That help explains what happened in Miami-Dade County, where Cuban-American communities saw large gains for Republicans. Biden won the county by just 7.3-points. That was a 23-point decrease from Clinton's margin in 2016.
The report argues that the Florida Democratic Party needs to maintain and fund the ethnic-focused grassroots groups the Biden campaign invested in to create reliable channels of communication for future elections.
And according to Barreto's team, Democrats also have two new ways to reach Florida Latinos: maintain and grow turnout among Puerto Ricans in Central Florida’s I-4 corridor, and an education campaign in South Florida that tells voters about the Democratic Party's principles. Both rely on targeting younger Latinos who tend to not lean one party or the other and are crucial for cultivating the next generation of voters.
The next election that can test the report's theories is right around the corner. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, is running for re-election in 2022. And according to this report, Democrats have an uphill battle to defeat him if they don't recruit candidates who directly address the concerns of Latino voters.
Harris to step down from Senate seat Monday
WILMINGTON, Del. — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will resign from her senate seat Monday, according to a transition official.
Harris, who was sworn in as California’s junior senator in 2017, has begun the process of vacating her seat and has informed California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Harris won't be leaving the upper chamber too far behind her, however, as she will move to the position of president of the Senate and serve as the tie-breaking vote in a chamber split evenly with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.
And a Harris aide tells NBC she has already been working on getting support from Republicans and Democrats alike for President-elect Joe Biden's nominees and policy agenda.
“It is her hope that she doesn't have to break many ties, because we believe that we are going to garner bipartisan support for a number of these issues,” the official said, noting that Harris is in lockstep with Biden’s commitment to working in a bipartisan manner.
Harris championed issues in the senate such as black maternal mortality, making lynching a federal crime, and protecting DREAMers. During her Senate career, she also partnered with Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul on reforming the cash bail system.
Beyond policy, Harris made a name for herself with her aggressive questioning during senate confirmation hearings for Trump officials like Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr.
Harris’ seat will be filled by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who was selected by Governor Newsom.
Biden announces Science and Technology Policy director, elevates position to Cabinet-level
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden will be announcing one of the last major department heads on Saturday, highlighting his campaign refrain to prioritize "science over fiction."
Biden will name Dr. Eric Lander to serve as his top science adviser and will be elevating Lander's position as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to a Cabinet rank position for the first time.
During the Saturday rollout of his science team, Biden will also announce he is keeping Dr. Francis Collins as the director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins was first appointed by former President Obama in 2009.
Lander is an acclaimed mathematician and biologist who led the Human Genome Project, and now serves as director of the Broad Institute at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Biden transition team says Lander will lead a team focused on tackling challenges from Covid-19 to climate change, racial justice and the economic downturn.
Biden further outlined the questions he wants Lander's team to address in a letter to Lander: What lessons can be drawn from the pandemic about how to better prepare for addressing health challenges in the future; how scientific breakthroughs can be harnessed to address climate change while also promoting economic growth; how the United States can maintain an advantage in developing new technologies over other nations like China; how to ensure scientific advances benefit all Americans; and how to promote science and technology education in America.
“They are big questions, to be sure, but not as big as America’s capacity to address them,” Biden wrote.
Dr. Alondra Nelson will serve as Lander's deputy director. Nelson is the current president of the Social Science Research Council and is also a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, a research institute located in Princeton, N.J. Biden also will announce that two women: Dr. Frances Arnold, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and Dr. Maria Zuber, a geophysicist who was the first woman to lead a NASA planetary mission, will lead the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. It will be the first time two women will lead the group.
Kei Koizumi will serve as chief of staff for the OSTP, and Narda Jones will join as legislative director.
“Science will always be at the forefront of my administration — and these world-renowned scientists will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth,” Biden said in a statement announcing the lineup. “Their trusted guidance will be essential as we come together to end this pandemic, bring our economy back, and pursue new breakthroughs to improve the quality of life of all Americans.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said the past year has only “reaffirmed the importance of listening to scientists when it comes to meeting the unprecedented challenges facing the American people.”
Julia Letlow, the widow of congressman-elect who died of Covid-19, will run for his vacated seat
WASHINGTON — Julia Letlow, an education professional whose husband, Luke, passed away last year from Covid-19 shortly after his election to the House of Representatives, will run for the seat her husband had been slated to fill before his death.
Letlow, a Republican, announced her congressional bid Thursday in a radio interview, her campaign noting in a statement that her husband announced his race on that same platform last year.
"Luke and I have been best friends and a team for the last eight years, and we always believed that you have to work hard for your dreams and often that requires stepping out and taking a leap of faith. “During Luke’s campaign for Congress last year, Luke and I traveled to every corner of Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District — from Bastrop to Bunkie to Bogalusa — and all points between," Letlow said in a statement.
"I am running to continue the mission Luke started — to stand up for our Christian values, to fight for our rural agricultural communities, and to deliver real results to move our state forward."
Luke Letlow won the runoff election for Louisiana's 5th Congressional District last December, and had been set to take office in 2021 to replace Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham, who unsuccessfully ran for governor. But Letlow contracted Covid-19 and passed away days before he was going to be sworn in.
Julia Letlow previously worked for the University of Louisiana-Monroe and Tulane University, according to a biography sent out by her campaign.
A handful of candidates had already announced their bids, but USA Today Network reports that a group of Republicans all have decided not to run now that Letlow is seeking office. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has set the special primary election for March 20 and the general for April 24.
Shortly after Letlow's announcement, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise endorsed her, saying that she "shares the same commitment to public service" as her husband and "I can't think of anyone better to carry on Luke's legacy in representing Louisiana's 5th Congressional District."