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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:

A new 'Medicare X' bill looks like Biden's public option plan

WASHINGTON — Teeing up what’s likely to be a major Democratic policy priority this year, two Democratic senators have unveiled the latest edition of their bill to create a government-run health plan — popularly known as a public option — to compete with private insurance and put pressure on health care providers to lower prices.  

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. and Tim Kaine, D-Va. released their new “Medicare X” bill on Wednesday, which would create a public option plan to be sold alongside private plans on the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces. Health care providers who accept Medicare or Medicaid plans would also have to accept “Medicare X."

While versions of this bill have been introduced before, the senators emphasized that their latest proposal tracks closely to what President Biden promised during his 2020 campaign. 

“We think what we’re introducing is the closest match to the Biden campaign,” Kaine said in a Zoom call with reporters. 

The senators also said they crafted their plan to be passed through budget reconciliation — meaning they only need to get a simple majority of senators to approve the proposal (or all 50 Democratic senators and Vice President Kamala Harris' vote).

And in addition to consulting with the White House, Kaine and Bennet said they spoke with key Senate votes like Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“If it’s a blend of this proposal and others, we think that that’s great,” Kaine said. “We’re not going to mourn another bill passing.”

There's wide Democratic support for a public option but there’s also a wide range of proposals, some of which are functionally close to single-payer Medicare for All and others that would fill more narrow gaps in the current system. 

Bennet and Kaine's bill falls in the latter category. It would initially be available only in places with few private insurance options, then gradually open up to everyone on the ACA exchanges. Medicare X would reimburse health care providers at up to 150 percent of Medicare rates depending on local costs. 

Biden also ran on a relatively narrow, if more vaguely defined, public option proposal. Kaine and Bennet noted that their bill reflects Biden's 2020 policy papers by capping premiums at 8.5 percent of income. It would also cover people whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to qualify for subsidized insurance. In line with Biden’s campaign promises, the new Medicare X plans would also come with no-cost primary care services.  

Biden’s 8.5 percent income cap on ACA plans is included in his Covid-19 bill being debated in the House, but it would last for only two years.  

While a public option has broad support within the party, this proposal is likely to face pushback from progressives who want a public option that more aggressively supplants private plans.

“These issues were litigated fiercely in the last presidential campaign in both the primary and the general election and the place where Biden started the race and ended up is essentially where Tim and I are,” Bennet said. 

Milwaukee Bucks vice president announces run for Senate

WASHINGTON — The senior vice president for the Milwaukee Bucks, Alex Lasry, announced his Wisconsin Senate run on Wednesday. 

Lasry, who served as an aide to former President Barack Obama before joining the Bucks, said he is entering the Democratic primary to bring a "new perspective" to Washington.

"We've lived through three systemic shocks to the system over the last 20 years: 9/11, the Great Recession and now this pandemic, and we still haven't fixed things," Lasry said in his announcement video. 

The 2022 Senate race in Wisconsin is still wide open. Incumbent GOP Sen. Ron Johnson hasn't said whether or not he'll run for a third term. And the state's Democratic Treasurer, Sarah Godlewski, has said she's considering a run. 

But grassroots Democratic groups are already mobilizing. On Tuesday, a progressive labor group launched a $1 million ad buy against Johnson. It's the first step for Wisconsin Democrats to try and capitalize on President Biden's narrow victory in the state in 2020. 

In his announcement, Lasry said he wants companies to "earn" tax cuts by increasing their manufacturing in America and paying their workers $20 an hour, and create a "worker's bill of rights." 

Lasry served as chair of the Bid Committee and Finance Chair for the Democratic Convention's Host Committee, and he will take a leave of absence from the Bucks for the duration of the campaign. 

"Through my work with the Milwaukee Bucks, I have shown that progressive values are good for business. Making sure that we are paying people family sustaining wages, providing workers with good union jobs, and investing in projects that respect our communities and our environment should be the new model for business across our state,” Lasry said in a press release. 

Perdue takes first step toward possible bid against Warnock

WASHINGTON — Former Sen. David Perdue, D-Ga., filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission Monday night that moves him closer toward a possible challenge to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. 

Perdue lost his bid in last month's runoff against now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff. But while that race was for a full six-year term (as Perdue's term expired in 2020), Warnock is up for re-election in 2022 because his 2020 election was for the right to fill the final two years of the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

So with the Warnock seat on the ballot in 2022, Perdue took a first big step toward a bid against him by filing a statement of candidacy with the FEC. 

But while the move means he's formally a candidate in the race, it's not an explicit announcement of his intentions. That's because candidates considering running for office have to file this paperwork once they hit certain thresholds (typically fundraising) in order to stay on the right side of campaign finance law. So candidates who file with the FEC don't always follow through with an actual campaign, although they typically do end up running. 

Perdue described the filing as a "necessary legal step that will allow me to continue to keep all options open," adding that he's considering running again. 

It's unclear whether Perdue would face a primary challenge as Republicans look to take advantage of typically-favorable midterm headwinds to win back the Senate seat. But if Perdue does decide to run, he'll start with a nice nest-egg, as he ended his 2020 campaign with $5.7 million left in the bank, which he can use on a subsequent bid for federal office. 

Wisconsin labor group targets Johnson on Covid-19 relief votes

WASHINGTON — Ahead of President Biden’s visit to Milwaukee on Tuesday, a Wisconsin labor group is on the airwaves with a $1 million ad buy targeting Republican Sen. Ron Johnson over his votes against Covid-19 relief. 

The spots, as well as a full page newspaper ad in Johnson’s hometown paper in Oshkosh, feature personal stories of Wisconsinites struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. Johnson voted against the December omnibus package that included additional Covid-19 relief, and has blocked votes for direct stimulus checks from coming to the floor. 

The ads mark a grassroots push for Biden's agenda. This week the House is moving Biden's Covid-19 relief package through committees and will likely vote on the bill by the end of February.

But the labor group's mobilization is an early look into how Democrats plan to use Covid-19 relief in the Wisconsin 2022 Senate contest.

Johnson, the GOP incumbent, has not yet signaled if he will run again or not, but the ads showcase how votes on Covid-19 relief could be weaponized politically in coming races.

Pennsylvania Democrat Lamb says he'll 'look' at running for Senate

WASHINGTON — Rep. Conor Lamb, the Pennsylvania Democrat who won a pivotal special election in 2018 in his Pittsburgh-area district, told MSNBC's "Way Too Early" that he is considering whether to run for Senate to replace retiring Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey. 

"I will look at it, I think. For me, it's about the work. I really feel lucky to get to serve in Washington D.C. and try to have an impact on some legislation," he said.

"I'll spend some time trying to figure out: Where can I do that most effectively? Where can I help people?"

Lamb said he has not spoken to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., about any potential bid. And while many House members looking for the exit typically argue that they can have more influence in the Senate, Lamb pointed to the work Congress is doing on passing laws like the latest round of pandemic relief to say: "We're doing a lot in the House."

The race to replace Toomey could be a crowded one, with a laundry list of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle weighing bids.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced a bid last week, and a handful of other prominent members of Congress and state lawmakers are seen to be considering a bid. And the long list of possible Republican contenders include former Rep. Ryan Costello, who has acknowledged he's considering a bid, as well as a host of other politicians. 

Hogan: I 'probably' would have voted to convict Trump in impeachment trial

WASHINGTON — Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan would "probably" have joined the seven Republicans and 50 Democrats in the Senate to vote to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting last month's attack on the Capitol had he been a member of the Senate during this week's impeachment trial

Hogan told "Meet the Press" Sunday that he was "proud" of Republicans who did so despite pressure from their base. 

"I probably would have voted with some of my colleagues that were on the losing side," he said. 

"I was very proud of some of the folks who stood up and did the right thing. It's not always easy. In fact, it's sometimes really hard to go against your base and your colleagues, to do what you think is right for the country."

Hogan also pointed to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's comments after the vote, arguing that while "he didn't vote to impeach, his words were pretty strong."

"I think time will tell, you know, how that impacts Donald Trump and how it impacts the Republican Party," said Hogan. 

"It's going to go far beyond just that vote yesterday in the Senate. There's going to be potentially courts of law and the court of public opinion, and we're going to decide how history remembers this day and what people did and said."

Pompeo State Department spent $10k on “Madison Dinner” pens shipped from China

WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department spent more than $10,000 on customized pens ordered from China to dole out as gifts for guests for then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's dinner guests, new documents show, while Pompeo was publicly pushing an aggressive stance toward Beijing.

In May, NBC News revealed that Pompeo had been hosting a series of elite, private dinners funded by the taxpayer at the State Department for Republican leaders, billionaire CEOs, celebrities and even Supreme Court justices. State Department officials had raised concerns internally that Pompeo was using federal resources to build a powerful rolodex for his own political future.

Now, government documents obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and released Thursday show that the State Department bought 400 customized pens for Pompeo to give to his guests.

At about $26 each, each pen was embossed with the Madison Diner logo.The emails show State Department officials engaged in lengthy conversations with a Florida-based vendor for pens embossed in China and shipped from there to Chicago before being routed to Washington, the documents show.

During his tenure helming State, Pompeo repeatedly warned that a menacing Beijing was threatening the U.S. and its economy

A representative for Pompeo did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the National Press Club in Washington on Jan. 12, 2021.Andrew Harnik / AP Pool

Republicans are eying Pompeo, a staunch Trump ally, as a likely contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Pompeo is one of the only high-ranking Trump officials to serve for all four years in Trump’s administration without ever publicly breaking with the president, potentially positioning him as an attractive successor to the Trump brand and his political base.

Emails turned over to NBC News in response to a separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the news organization filed against the State Department revealed Pompeo’s wife, Susan Pompeo, was heavily involved in directing State Department employees on carrying out the Madison Dinners.

Former Ohio treasurer jumps into Senate race amid jockeying for Portman seat

WASHINGTON — With a full-throated endorsement of former President Donald Trump's agenda and an attack on career politicians on both sides of the aisle, former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel announced Wednesday that he is running for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen Rob Portman, R-Ohio in 2022. 

Mandel tweeted that he's jumping into the race in the midst of the ongoing impeachment largely to come to the defense of the former president. 

"Watching this sham impeachment has made my blood boil and motivated me to run. I’m going to Washington to fight for President Trump’s America First Agenda," Mandel tweeted.

"In Washington, I will pulverize the Uniparty — that cabal of Democrats and Republicans who sound the same and stand for nothing. My candidacy is about standing up for working people, economic freedom and individual liberty. We must stop the far left’s assault on American values."

Mandel served two tours in Iraq as a Marine, and has spent much of his post-Marine professional life in politics. After a stint as a city councilman, he won a seat in the state House in 2006 when he was just 29 years old. In 2010, he won the state treasurer post, serving two terms in the position. 

The Republican is no stranger to a Senate bid — he was the GOP's nominee who ultimately lost to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in 2012. He ran again against Brown in 2018, but dropped out citing his then-wife's illness. 

Mandel's move is the latest in a busy few weeks for Ohio Senate hopefuls. A handful of big-name Republicans — Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Rep. Jim Jordan and Attorney Gen. Dave Yost — all recently announced they were not running. Former Rep. Jim Renacci, Rep. Steve Stivers, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and former state GOP chair Jane Timken are among those discussed as other potential candidates. 

On the Democratic side, Rep. Tim Ryan, former state health department head Amy Acton, Rep. Joyce Beatty and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley are among those openly considering bids. 

Impeachment trial carries 2022 campaign considerations for some

WASHINGTON — While politics in general will loom large over former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Republican senators up for re-election in 2022 may have the most at stake, at least in the near future.

Twenty Republicans senators’ terms expire after the 2022 cycle. Four of them (Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Patrick Toomey, R-Penn.) have announced they will not run again, relieving at least some pressure from them about how their electorates might react to their decision.

While campaign politics won’t be the only question on the minds of Republican senators, the political pressure will be clear. Depending on their situations, some running for re-election will face more potential backlash from their own party, while others may be looking toward a general election. 

Four Republican senators up in 2022 voted that the impeachment trial was constitutional: Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah. Toomey joined them in that vote. That leaves 15 who voted that the inquiry shouldn't take place. 

One senator up for re-election in 2022, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., voted to object to the Electoral College count in several states on Jan. 6.

Murkowski was one of the few Republican senators who supported the House's impeachment, saying that “Trump’s words incited violence.”

While a vote for impeachment could anger Republican voters at home (Trump himself has floated supporting a primary against Murkowski), she’s proven to be politically durable in a state with an independent streak. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ark., speaks on Capitol Hill, on Feb. 4, 2021, during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee nomination hearing.Graeme Jennings / Pool via AFP - Getty Images

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., expressed regret for following the former president’s lead on Jan. 6 by initially objecting to the 2020 election results. And while he hasn’t said how he’ll vote in the Senate trial, he called the former president’s election claims “inflammatory.” 

Most red-state Republicans aren't expected to vote to convict — their pvoters still overwhelmingly support the president and voting against him could spark a primary challenge.

But a few may be more concerned about their general elections. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., is a strong supporter of Trump. But Biden won Wisconsin by less than a point in the 2020 election, and statewide elections there are typically decided by thin margins.  

And in Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio — who is running for re-election in a state Trump carried by 3 points but also one where Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has been rumored to be considering a GOP primary challenge — has said it’s “arrogant” to impeach the former president so he can’t seek public office again.

Republican Claudia Tenney to return to Congress after election finally certified

WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., has won her seat back in Congress after a lengthy vote count that stretched on for months and into courtrooms. 

The New York State Board of Elections certified New York's 22nd Congressional District election by a unanimous vote on Monday,giving Tenney a victory over Democratic incumbent Rep. Anthony Brindisi.  Shortly after, Brindisi conceded in a statement

The results end the drawn-out contest in an election that saw significant delays in counting the votes and then court fights

Tenney previously served one term in the House, losing to Brindisi in the 2018 midterms before winning again. 

Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y, participates in the press conference calling on Sept. 6, 2018.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images file

The race is the final undecided race of the 2020 cycle, but the second-to-last to be fully adjudicated. While the House is provisionally seating Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, her Democratic opponent, Rita Hart, has officially contested the results with the House and is asking for the body to step in and recount ballots. 

High profile exit boosts Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Arkansas gubernatorial bid and cements Trump’s influence on GOP

WASHINGTON — A decade before becoming Arkansas’ lieutenant governor, Tim Griffin served as the Republican Party’s research director during George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.

After that, Griffin worked in the Bush White House under Karl Rove, was appointed by Bush as an interim U.S. attorney and then ran for Congress and won – all impressive credentials for any emerging Republican politician, particularly one looking at higher office. 

But with his announcement Monday that he was ending his gubernatorial bid in Arkansas and running for attorney general instead, it more than further cleared the field for GOP gubernatorial frontrunner (and former Trump White House Press Secretary) Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

It showed how today’s Republican Party continues to be remade in Trump’s image, even three months after the former president’s defeat and as he stands trial for an unprecedented second presidential impeachment. 

That someone with Griffin’s resume – and ties to the last GOP president before Trump – has less political currency than Trump’s former press secretary underscores how loyalty to Trump beats everything else in today’s Republican Party.

To be sure, Huckabee Sanders has a political identity outside of Trump. She’s the daughter of the state’s former governor, Mike Huckabee, who worked at high levels on her father’s past presidential campaigns.

FOX News Contributor Sarah Huckabee Sanders visits "The Story with Martha MacCallum" on Sept. 17, 2019 in New York.Steven Ferdman / Getty Images file

And the field isn't completely clear for her, either — Arkansas' current attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, is also running for governor. 

But Huckabee Sanders' most prominent, and recent, job was as Trump's White House press secretary, with Trump endorsing her last month

And in her statement welcoming Huckabee Sanders to the race last month, Rutledge in part celebrated her own support for the Trump agenda, a reminder of his standing in the party, even as she argued that the race "is about Arkansas's future and who has a proven record and not merely rhetoric." 

Loyalty to Trump trumping experience among GOP primary voters isn’t anything new.

In the 2018 cycle, then Rep. Ron DeSantis beat Adam Putnam in Florida’s GOP gubernatorial primary due in large part because DeSantis was seen as a more loyal Trump ally. Putnam had spent a decade in the House (including a stint in leadership) and two terms as the state's agriculture commissioner before his 45th birthday, a resume that had him seen as one of the state GOP's rising stars. 

In 2020, former college football coach Tommy Tuberville defeated Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the runoff for Alabama senator – because Trump had grown dissatisfied with his former Cabinet official. Tuberville had never held a job in politics, while Sessions sat in that Senate seat for two decades. 

And now in 2021, weeks after he left office, loyalty and service to Trump — like Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ work for the former president — trumps everything else.