The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Town Hall Project merges with Indivisible as progressive groups chart path after Trump presidency
The Town Hall Project, a progressive group that sprung up after the 2016 election to track members of Congress’ public forums, is folding into Indivisible, one of the prominent so-called “resistance” groups that emerged to oppose former President Donald Trump’s agenda.
The Town Hall Project filled a simple, but valuable niche of crowdsourcing and publicizing information on lawmakers' local town halls so constituents — and journalists — could attend to ask questions and push lawmakers in the interest of transparency and accountability.
That mission was upended by the pandemic, but the group has continued to track virtual town halls and host their own, while also starting an offshoot to aggregate local mutual aid groups.
The merger, which includes the group's town hall database and a small handful of staff, comes at an inflection point for the liberal activism that flourished in opposition to Trump, now that Democrats control Washington.
“The moment is obviously different, not just because of who’s in the White House and controlling Congress, but the work is different. It was pretty straightforward in 2017,” said Nathan Williams, the founder of the Town Hall Project. “Now we're at a moment where there is a really broad assault on democratic institutions to try to really remove the possibility of accountability and representative democracy.”
Indivisible has made what they call "democracy reform" — voting rights, anti-gerrymandering efforts, filibuster reform and more — their new raison d'etre, especially after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which they say fits well with the Town Hall Project.
“The Town Hall Project's work of focusing on how constituents can directly put pressure on their elected representatives are directly aligned with what we’re trying to do,” said Ezra Levin, an Indivisible co-founder. "(Some lawmakers) don't really care about what national progressives say, they don't care about what the national media really says, but they do care what their constituents say.”
Ivanka Trump won't run against Rubio in 2022 Senate race
WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump, former President Donald Trump's eldest daughter, called Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio a few weeks ago to offer her support for Rubio’s re-election, multiple aides confirm to NBC News.
Trump informed Rubio that she was behind his campaign and will not run for Florida's Senate seat in 2022, which would have pit her against Rubio in a GOP primary. The two had a “great talk,” an aide for Senator Rubio adds.
A person close to Ivanka Trump confirmed the conversation and told NBC News that Ms. Trump was never considering a Senate run in Florida.
In a statement provided to NBC News, Trump said that Rubio is a “good personal friend and I know he will continue to drive meaningful progress on issues we both care deeply about.”
There was also discussion on the call of holding a joint event to highlight Rubio and Ivanka Trump’s push to expand the Child Tax Credit, a Rubio spokesperson added.
The New York Times first reported the news.
Asked about the potential for Ivanka Trump to enter the race, here’s what Sen. Rubio told Fox News' Chris Wallace on Jan. 24th:
“When you decide to run for re- election in a state like Florida, you have to be prepared for its competitive race. You run it like a competitive race. So that's what I'm preparing to run, a very competitive race against the tough opponent.”
“I like Ivanka. We've worked very well together on issues," Rubio added. "Look, anybody can decide to run if they want to. I mean I'm not entitled to anything and so forth. I've got to earn my way forward.”
Trump previously worked as an executive at the Trump Organization, her father's business, before joining him in the White House as a senior adviser.
Job guarantee resolution joins a growing list of progressive proposals
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., is introducing a resolution Thursday calling for a federal job guarantee, seeking to actualize an idea from Franklin Delano Roosevelt 77 years after it was proposed.
The 16-page resolution states that "it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Federal job guarantee," in order to "finally eliminate the moral and economic scourge of involuntary unemployment."
The idea is the latest in a flurry of proposals from the new Democratic-led Congress that paints a portrait of a party embracing its more economically liberal roots and throwing caution to the wind after decades of moderating its platform in response to a series of defeats in the 1980s.
Biden to mark anniversary of initial coronavirus shutdowns next month
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to mark the one-year anniversary of the country’s initial coronavirus shutdown by addressing Americans next month, according to two White House officials.
The occasion will allow the president to reflect on the difficulties the country has endured since March 11, 2020, the day that the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic, the NBA canceled its season and Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S. — then at roughly 1,000 cases — would get worse, officials said.
While Biden intends to give a significant nod to the sacrifices Americans have made, he also would outline how he sees the path forward, officials said.
“He’ll acknowledge how far we’ve come,” one White House official said. Officials said plans are for him to do so on March 11 or close to that date.
As of Wednesday the number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. was nearing 28 million and the number of deaths caused by the pandemic is more than 490,000. Some 55 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine also have been administered in the U.S., with Biden promising this week that all Americans eligible to receive it should be able to do so by the end of July.
White House officials said they are discussing specifically what Biden might do to mark the one-year anniversary of shutting down the country, including whether it’s simply a speech or a broader event and if it’s held in Washington our elsewhere in the country.
Biden, a month into his presidency, is making his first official travel outside of Washington this week with a trip to Wisconsin on Tuesday and one to Michigan planned for Thursday.
During a CNN town hall in Milwaukee Tuesday night, he telegraphed his vision for when life may return to some semblance of normal for the country.
“By next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today,” Biden said. “A year from now I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, but we don't know. So I don't want to over promise anything here."
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.
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.