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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Trump filled political war chest with tens of millions to close 2020

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump raised tens of millions of dollars to support his political ambitions on the back of his unfounded push to discredit the presidential election results, money that positions him to be a financial force as he looks to wield power over the GOP from Florida instead of the White House. 

Trump's political action committee, Save America, raised more than $31 million in the final five weeks of 2020, new filings with the Federal Election Commission show. The group's only spending was on administrative fees, leaving it with with $31.2 million left in the bank at the end of the year. 

As Trump spent the weeks after Election Day trying to overturn the presidential election and make unfounded claims of sweeping fraud, his campaign directed supporters to help fund the effort. But the fine print of those fundraising solicitations showed that most of the money would be directed to Save America.

Save America is a Leadership PAC, which is largely restricted from paying a candidate's personal campaign expenses — those expenses need to be paid by the candidate's official campaign account. Instead, Leadership PACs can cover other politically-adjacent expenses like donating to other campaign accounts, or paying for the travel and staff of a politician who doesn't hold office and isn't currently running. 

So despite that big fundraising push to Save America, the group didn't spend a dime on anything related to the campaign's election fraud push.

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in support of Senate candidates Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in Dalton, Ga., on Jan. 4, 2021.Brynn Anderson / AP file

Trump's official campaign committee also filed its report on Sunday, showing that it raised $27 million from Nov. 24 through Dec. 31. It spent about $34.7 million over that time, ending the year with $10.75 million left in the bank and $2.7 million in debt. 

That's the primary vehicle the campaign appears to have used for its election fraud push. But while previous reports showed the campaign had spent about $8.8 million on recount related fees, the Trump campaign's largest expenditures in the latest reports are about influencing the court of public opinion instead of a court that would have say on voter fraud complaints. 

Between Nov. 24 and Dec. 31, Trump's campaign spent $6.5 million on online and text-message advertising, all through American Made Media Consultants LLC, a media firm with ties to the Trump orbit.

The campaign also paid out about $1.1 million in legal fees, the lion's share ($1 million) to the law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres. One of the firm's named partners, Marc Kasowitz, represented Trump during the Russia investigation and had also previously represented him before he took office.

Even out of office, Trump has not drifted far away from the political arena. His impeachment trial in the Senate will begin next week, and he spent his first days out of office trying to use carrots and sticks to keep his influence up in the Republican Party. And last week, he met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as House Republicans look to chart a path forward in a Washington controlled narrowly by Democrats. 

Republican senators propose slimmed-down Covid relief plan

WASHINGTON — Ten Republican senators wrote a letter Sunday requesting a meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss a slimmed-down coronavirus relief plan they say can win bipartisan support.

The Republicans propose a relief package that is much smaller than Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal. Their offer includes $160 billion for vaccines, $4 billion for health and substance abuse services, the continuation of current unemployment aid and unspecified "targeted" economic assistance and help for schools.

"We recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your Administration to meet the health, economic, and societal challenges of the COVID crisis," read the letter, which includes Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and others.

It is a Republican-only proposal at a time when Democrats control the White House and Congress. But it will test Biden’s calls for unity and bipartisanship while promising lofty policy goals.

Republican lawmakers have largely rejected Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan, balking at the price tag. But the new GOP offer is likely to face progressive pushback as Democrats like Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., have described Biden’s offer as only a "promising start."

The new letter comes as Democrats are eying a special budget process known as reconciliation to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold and approve a larger relief bill without GOP support.

Thousands of Republicans changed voter registration after Capitol attack

WASHINGTON — Since the violent attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6, thousands of Republicans changed their party registration in key swing states. 

As of this week, 9,891 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their party registration. In North Carolina, that number was just above 7,400 and more than 9,000 Republicans in Arizona did the same. While Florida statewide numbers aren't available yet, Orange County, Fla. saw over 1,200 Republicans change their party. Just about 100 Democrats did the same in Orange County since Jan. 6. 

Jim Jordan announces he will not run for Senate in 2022

Washington — Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, will not run for Ohio's open Senate seat in 2022, a spokesperson for his congressional campaign said on Thursday. 

On Monday, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced he would not run for re-election on Monday, leaving the seat without an incumbent for the mid-term elections.

Ohio's Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on Wednesday said the he also would not run for the seat

Jordan, a leading member of the House's Freedom Caucus, has been a staunch ally to former President Trump and led the House Republican floor speeches against the vote to impeach Trump on Jan. 13. President Trump won Ohio by about 8 points in the 2020 election. 

Rep.Jim Jordan speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 6, 2019.Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

When asked whether Jordan would run for Ohio governor, his spokesperson said, "He's going to run for Congress." 

The open Ohio Senate seat could be key for Republicans hoping to retake control of the Senate majority. Republicans will have to defend 20 seats in the 2022 cycle including three open seats: Portman's Ohio seat as well as one in North Carolina stemming from Sen. Richard Burr's decision to not seek re-election and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey who announced he will also retire from Congress. 

In first week since leaving office, Trump and his PAC stick to carrot-and-stick politics

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump and his super PAC have sent two clear public messages to fellow Republicans since he left office on Jan. 20 — one to reward a Trump ally and another to pressure a foe within the party. 

The first move was the endorsement of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former Trump press secretary who is running for governor in Arkansas. Hours after her official announcement Monday, Trump issued his "complete and total endorsement" of his former aide through his Save America super PAC.

The second came Wednesday night, when the PAC released results from a poll it commissioned from former Trump campaign pollster John McLaughlin purporting to show that Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney is losing support because she backed Trump's impeachment. (The campaign released a polling memo with top-line info but not the wording or order of questions.) 

It's far from common practice for a former president's political operation to commission a poll about a congresswoman and release it more than 600 days before Election Day (and more than a year before a primary election). But quickly after the poll's release, many of the president's allies pointed to it as fodder to fan the flames of the president's feud against Cheney. 

Liz Cheney arrives for a press conference at the Capitol on Dec. 17, 2019.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

The poll's release, along with the Sanders endorsement earlier this week, shows that the carrot-and-stick politics of rewarding Trump's allies and punishing his perceived enemies is alive and well. 

Cheney and Trump had long been at odds well before the attack on the Capitol — Trump specifically name-checked her derisively during his speech hours before his supporters stormed the Capitol, telling the audience “we got to get rid of the weak Congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world.” 

Cheney directly blamed Trump for the Capitol riot, saying in a statement announcing her decision to support impeachment that “the president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his own doing.” 

With Trump kicked off social media and his bully pulpit limited, his allies have sought to pressure her still. Allies like Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz have been calling on Cheney to step down from leadership and rallying supporters to back a primary to Cheney — he’s criticized her for being disloyal to Trump and is holding a rally today in Wyoming to prosecute the case.

Poll: Most Americans want Biden, Congress to focus on the economy and Covid-19

WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden starts his second full week in office, Americans are united in saying they want him and Congress to focus on the economy and addressing the coronavirus. 

Beyond those goals, it gets a little more complicated.

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, eight in ten (80 percent) Americans list strengthening the economy as a “top priority for the president and Congress to address this year,” while 78 percent say the same of dealing with the virus. 

A registered nurse administers the COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of a woman at the Corona High School gymnasium in the Riverside County city of Corona, Calif. on Jan. 15, 2021.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images

Other top issues include improving jobs (67 percent) and defending the country against terrorism (63 percent). 

But the survey also lays out some stark divides by party, gender and race when it comes to issue priorities. 

While majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say that the economy, terrorism and coronavirus should be top priorities, there are major partisan splits over policy moves — which Biden has already begun to address through executive orders — like addressing climate change (a priority of 59 percent of Democrats and just 14 percent of Republicans) and addressing racial issues (a priority of 72 percent of Democrats and just 24 percent of Republicans). 

And as concerns about the cost of programs are raised by Republicans who oppose some of Biden’s key campaign promises, more than half — 54 percent — of Republicans prioritize reducing the budget deficit, while just 29 percent of Democrats agree. 

Additionally, Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to prioritize dealing with the coronavirus, education, race relations and the issues of the poor than their white counterparts. 

Just 40 percent of white adults say issues of race should be a top priority for the president and Congress this year, while 68 percent of Hispanics and 83 percent of Black Americans say the same. 

Biden thanks firefighters union for support, pitches Covid-19 package

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden thanked a key group of early supporters on Wednesday. During the International Association of Firefighters' annual legislative conference, Biden told the union, "I owe you." 

“The nation owes you." Biden said in a recorded message, "especially as we keep asking more of you, to deal with raging fires made more dangerous by the climate crisis. And now, today, to see you on the frontlines of a deadly pandemic and deepening economic crisis.”

Biden also pitched his $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” to the union. The president said a key component of the package was ensuring first responders like them are able to get protective equipment, and Biden noted that direct relief to state and local governments would ensure sufficient funding for fire departments. 

“I'll always fight for your right to be treated with dignity and respect you deserve,” he said. 

The IAFF was the first major labor union to endorse Biden’s candidacy. The union’s 2019 legislative conference was something of an early kick-off for the Biden campaign. Weeks before Biden officially launched his 2020 campaign, he was greeted at the event to chants of, “Run Joe Run.”

Biden began his video message, taped from the White House, with a warm sendoff to Harold Schaitberger, the retiring IAFF general president.

“I don't believe you're really going to retire, but, you know, don't kid yourself. I'm still going to be calling you,” Biden said.

Health care group lobbies Biden to keep hospital transparency regulations in place

WASHINGTON — With President Biden undoing a series of his predecessor’s executive actions, one advocacy group is trying to get ahead of any attempt to reverse a health care policy that went into effect a few weeks before he took office.

The group, Patient Rights Advocate, sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday making the case that Biden leave in place a regulation that requires hospitals to disclose to patients the details of costs for medical procedures and devices.

“The need for real price transparency in healthcare has never been greater,” the letter states. “As we continue to fight a major health crisis and financial hardships, the ability to see prices in healthcare will give power to American patients to control both their physical health and financial savings.”

Medical worker and hospital beds.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

Hospital groups have challenged the rule, unsuccessfully, arguing it could actually raise costs. They’ve also urged the Biden team not to enforce the rule, citing difficulty in complying with the rule while medical personnel are overwhelmed with the coronavirus pandemic.

In the letter, PRA, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization, cites new polling it commissioned on the measure, called Healthcare Price Transparency, that shows overwhelming support for the issue among Republicans and Democrats.

The letter was sent to Biden, via his chief of staff, and a copy was forwarded to Susan Rice, head of the Domestic Policy Council.

A White House spokesperson said they had no update on the topic when asked whether the Biden administration plans to reverse this rule or leave it in place. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s letter.

The rule on healthcare price transparency went into effect on Jan.1.

PRA argues the rule should remain in place to “protect Americans and their right to know upfront” and give patients “the power to prevent overcharging, price-gouging, and erroneous or fraudulent billing.”

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.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, questions Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 19, 2021.Joshua Roberts / AP

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. 

Jaime Harrison in February.Mark Makela / for NBC News

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.