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Meet the Press Blog Archive

Catch up with Meet the Press blog posts from past years leading up to May 17, 2022
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Look back at our archive of previous Meet the Press blog posts.

For the latest posts from the journalists at NBC News and the NBC News Political Unit, click here.

Progressive coalition push Democrats to go fast and go big with trillions at stake

As President Biden weighs his next big legislative package, progressive groups are looking to sell voters on his first one and push Democrats to go keep going big. 

A coalition of progressive and labor groups, Real Recovery Now!, are launching a $1 million advertising campaign and $1 million organizing campaign timed around Biden’s trip to Pittsburgh Wednesday, where he will begin to lay out his infrastructure plan.

The ads, which include digital banners (and real-life airplane ones), credit Democrats in competitive states with securing $1,400 checks and money for schools while naming Republicans who voted against them. They refer to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan as a “down payment” and promote Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan to go further. 

Backers who spoke to NBC News say they hope to whip Democrats to move quickly with a maximalist agenda on investments in clean energy and caregiving jobs as well as a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented or temporary immigrants, rather than slow down to court Republican votes. 

“Our main focus is this needs to be done speedily,” Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, told NBC News. “The longer this drags out, the more time Republicans have to try to spread lies and rumors — which they will do — to drag down the popularity of an already incredibly popular potential package.” 

The joint effort reflects the high stakes of the next set of legislation in Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan as the White House weighs $3 trillion or more in spending on infrastructure and other economic priorities. Every interest group in the progressive sphere is jockeying to make sure their policies are included, especially given the long odds of passing items outside of the 50-vote reconciliation process. 

“We get once every several generations an opportunity to reset our economy and democracy for the next era,” Ai-Jen Poo, a senior advisor to Care in Action, said. “Oftentimes those moments come on the heels of crises and times when social movements have organized and mobilized. This is a time like that.”

Some of the toughest fights could be over immigration, where there are questions about whether Senate rules will allow Democrats to include significant provisions and some moderates may be wary of loading too much onto an infrastructure bill.

The House recently passed bills that would provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers and farmworkers that Real Recovery Now! Is pushing to include. The coalition is also calling for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are considered essential workers. 

“There is a core belief among advocates in this movement for immigrant justice that there need to be early breakthroughs on immigration,” Lorella Praeli, co-president of Community Change and a longtime immigration activist, said.

Ohio GOP Rep. eyeing Senate bid raps potential primary foes for courting Trump's support

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who on Monday took a step toward a possible Senate bid in 2022, thinks little of would-be GOP primary rivals who’ve been auditioning for former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.

“I think this race should be about Ohio, and I think their focus certainly communicates to the state that Ohio voters come second,” Turner told NBC News when asked about reports that four Republicans running or preparing to run for the seat soon-to-be-vacated by Sen. Rob Portman traveled to Florida last week to have an audience with Trump. 

The side meeting during a Trump-hosted fundraiser for a House candidate in Ohio — described to Politico as a “Hunger Games”-like exercise in political survival — included former State Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, and businessmen Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno. Each had a chance to talk up his or her campaign and field questions from Trump, who has not endorsed in the race. Mandel and Timken are the only announced candidates, and both have been strenuously courting Trump and his supporters.

“I think Ohio voters are what's important in this race,” Turner said. “I have a record, and I can understand if people who have no record have to seek other people to validate them.”

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, questions Gordon Sondland during a House impeachment inquiry hearing on Capitol Hill on Nov. 20, 2019.
Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, questions Gordon Sondland during a House impeachment inquiry hearing on Capitol Hill on Nov. 20, 2019.Samuel Corum / Pool via AP file

A 10-term congressman from Dayton, Turner will launch a listening tour of Ohio that he said will help him decide whether to launch a full-fledged Senate campaign. He would run as a Trump ally. (He earned a Twitter attaboy from Trump after defending the then-president during the first impeachment hearings.) But fealty to Trump would not be his core argument to win. He said he’s received “pressure” to join the race from other Republicans unhappy with the developing field.

“Obviously my communications with people about this race are very different than the others running, because I actually can talk about what I've done,” said Turner, who plans to emphasize his service on the House Armed Services Committee.

In announcing the tour listening tour Monday, Turner released a 3-minute video with flourishes of the Trump era sprinkled in. One 25-second montage is nothing but footage of cable news hosts and talking heads introducing Turner to their viewers or mentioning him in coverage. Another clip shows Trump praising Turner. And Turner himself, in straight-to-camera remarks, asserts himself as an “America First” lawmaker. 

There also are moments that seem designed to neutralize potential rivals. The video opens with Turner touting his Appalachia and Rust Belt roots, reminiscent of the personal story J.D. Vance — whom GOP mega-donors, including Peter Thiel and the Mercer family, are attempting to lure into the race with more than $10 million in donations to a super PAC — wrote in his bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” And there are choices that present Turner as an original: a Republican who can win in Democratic Dayton and also has a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo.

Turner won re-election last year by nearly 17 points against an upstart candidate with a national fundraising profile. But Democrats have long seen his district as one that could flip under the right circumstances. This year’s redistricting could change the boundaries.

“My congressional district is a swing district,” Turner said. “In order for us to have anybody who wins in November, they have to win all of Ohio, and that means bringing people together and being able to support issues and communicate across the state.”

No Democrat has announced a candidacy for the Senate seat. Rep. Tim Ryan of the Youngstown area, former Ohio health director Amy Acton, and Danny O’Connor, the elected recorder of property deeds in Franklin County, are among those considering the race.

Colorful GOP ad maker signs on with Josh Mandel's Senate campaign in Ohio

Fred Davis, a Hollywood-based ad maker who specializes in attention-grabbing political commercials, said Friday that he is working with Senate hopeful Josh Mandel in Ohio.

It’s a pairing of two in-your-face Republicans. 

Davis is known for the 2008 “Celeb” ad comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, the bizarre “Demon Sheep” web video on behalf of Carly Fiorina’s California Senate bid in 2010, and Christine O’Donnell’s “not-a-witch” spot from that same year. (O’Donnell, a Senate candidate in Delaware at the time, was trying to walk back past comments that she had dabbled in witchcraft.)

A Marine Corps veteran and former state treasurer now running as a devotee to former President Donald Trump, Mandel is known for his combative presence on Twitter.

Image: Josh Mandel
Josh Mandel speaks to the crowd gathered for the Ohio Republican Party election night event following the announcement of his loss to Democrat Sherrod Brown on Nov. 6, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.Joel Prince / for The Washington Post via Getty Images file

He frequently trolls one of his GOP rivals, Jane Timken, and Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, whom Mandel has branded as a Joe Biden Democrat. Twitter briefly restricted Mandel’s account last week after he violated the social media site’s rules against hateful conduct. Mandel had posted a poll asking which type of undocumented immigrants — “Muslim terrorists” or “Mexican gangbangers” — will commit more crimes.

Mandel also has criticized Timken for her past support of former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a vocal Trump critic. Davis produced ads for Kasich’s super PAC during the 2016 presidential primaries. One memorable spot depicted other Republican candidates, including a mean-mugging Trump and a water-chugging Marco Rubio, covered in mud. 

The first spots from Mandel are set to debut next week, over Easter weekend. A Mandel representative did not disclose how much the campaign is spending on the opening salvo. But Davis’s more memorable ads have a way of earning free media coverage beyond what campaigns pay for on TV.

Bipartisan group of 16 senators meets to discuss immigration

A bipartisan group of 16 senators – 8 Republicans and 8 Democrats – met Wednesday to discuss prospects for  immigration legislation, according to two Senate aides. 

The meeting was convened by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and comes as challenges mount for the Biden administration and prospects for passing immigration legislation in the Senate have diminished. 

Durbin has been speaking with senators individually for a couple of months.  The in-person meeting inside the Capitol had no specific policies on the agenda but was an initial discussion to determine whether consensus on any immigration sub-issue exists. 

One Democratic aide described the meeting as a test to determine whether Republicans are serious about wanting to find a solution to immigration problems. 

In addition to Durbin, the Democratic senators in the group are Alex Padilla of California, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Coons of Delaware, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico. The Republicans invited were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Rounds of South Dakota. 

Murkowski and Crapo were unable to attend but sent staff instead, signaling that they want to be part of the conversation. 

The group agreed to meet again, most likely after the two-week recess that starts Friday. 

A group of 19 Republican senators are traveling to the border on Friday, including Graham, Tillis and Collins, who attended the Durbin meeting.  

Republicans have been slamming the Biden administration for the influx of immigrants, including thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. 

“It’s a crisis. It is a crisis that was created by the Biden administration by their own policies as soon as Joe Biden was sworn in as president,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Wednesday. Cruz was not in the Durbin meeting.  

Graham has introduced legislation addressing the asylum system. It would require immigrants to apply for asylum in their country of origin.

Republican faith in elections dropped quickly as Trump spread unfounded claims of fraud

The debate over voting access and election integrity continued Wednesday, as a key Senate committee debated Democrats’ sweeping legislation to set federal standards for early and mail-in voting.

Democrats describe the bill as a much-needed bulwark against efforts — many coming from GOP-led state legislatures nationwide — to roll back expanded ballot access. Republicans say the legislation is a major federal overreach that would further erode faith in elections and invite fraud. 

With that backdrop, it’s worth taking a look back at what faith in America’s elections looked like leading into the 2020 presidential election — and how it eroded after former President Trump’s loss and subsequent unfounded claims of fraud. 

According to the national exit polls for the general election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in November, few American voters were actually worried that their own vote wouldn’t be counted fairly. 

An overwhelming 86 percent of voters said at the time they were polled that they were very or somewhat confident that the votes in their state would be counted accurately. 

Image: Mail-in ballots are counted in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania
Mail-in ballots are counted in Lehigh County, Pa., on Nov. 4, 2020.Rachel Wisniewski / Reuters

It’s true that Biden voters were somewhat more confident than their Trump-backing counterparts nationwide; of the 18% of all voters who said they were NOT confident, two-thirds backed Trump. 

But big majorities of both Biden and Trump supporters did NOT have significant qualms about the count in their state as of November, despite the then-president’s warnings that the vote could be “rigged.”

How did the election results, and Trump’s loss, change those attitudes? Georgia offers an interesting test case. 

As of exit polling up to Election Day in November, 84 percent of Georgia voters said they were confident that votes in the state would be counted accurately. In fact, more Georgia Trump voters were confident (89 percent) than Georgia Biden voters (79 percent). 

But the exit polls from the January 5 special runoff election in Georgia showed a different story. 

While overall faith in the vote count remained high, it fell by 10 percentage points — down to 74 percent.  

And while just 10 percent of Trump voters in Georgia in November said they did NOT have faith in the vote count, that was up to 47 percent for backers of Republican Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler and 46 percent for those backing Republican Senate incumbent David Perdue in January. 

Missouri AG jumps into race for Senate while Alabama Dem will skip her state's Senate contest

Two high-profile, potential Senate candidates are making moves in Alabama and Missouri, with one jumping into a marquee Senate race and one deciding to sit one out. 

Missouri Republican Attorney Gen. Eric Schmitt announced his bid for Senate Wednesday morning on Fox News.

"You look around and increasingly it feels like our culture and our country is slipping away. And all the levels of power right now in Washington D.C. are tilted toward the Democrats," he said. 

He went on to frame his role as attorney general as "defending President Trump and the America First agenda and all the prosperity that came with that," saying now he's "spending my time pushing back against Joe Biden as he tries to dismantle that." 

"Washington D.C. needs more fighters, needs more reinforcements to save America. So after a lot of reflection, support from folks back home and on behalf of the people of the great state of Missouri, I'm announcing my candidacy for the United States Senate," he added. 

Schmitt's announcement came two days after former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens announced his own bid on the same channel. The two men are the only high-profile Republicans in the race right now, but the field remains fluid. 

On the Democratic side of the aisle, there was another development in Alabama's 2022 Senate race. Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, who had been actively considering a bid for Senate in the heavy Republican-leaning state, said Wednesday she would not run because she wanted to focus on her work in the House. 

"The unfinished business of my home district, Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, is far too important for me to seek higher office at this time," she said, pointing to her push to get voting rights reforms enacted in Congress and to "expand economic opportunities for my constituents." 

Sewell is the only Democrat representing Alabama in Congress, and had been among the highest-profile Democrats considering a bid. But winning the seat would be difficult for any Democrat, as both former President Donald Trump and future Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville won their November elections by more than 20 points. 

On the GOP side, former Ambassador Lynda Blanchard and Rep. Mo Brooks are running, Brooks having announced his campaign this week. 

Slim majority of GOP backs gay marriage, highest mark in the poll's history

For the first time, a new annual survey from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that a slim majority of Republicans now support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally.  

Data from the sweeping American Values Atlas survey, which was conducted between February and November of 2020, finds that 51 percent of Republicans back legal gay marriage, up from 47 percent support in 2019. 

Overall, about two-thirds of Americans — 67 percent — say that gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry legally, also an all-time high for the poll. The two-thirds majority represents nearly a doubling of support since the late 2000s, when similar studies found only a third of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage. 

Support for same-sex marriage is also at an all-time high for independents, with backing from 72 percent; among Democrats, support stands at 76 percent. 

Majorities among various religious groups also back legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples, a finding that may be particularly notable among Catholics.  

Last week, the Vatican said that the Roman Catholic Church “does not have and cannot have” the power to bless nuptials between same-sex couples. But the poll finds that 75 percent of white Catholics and 71 percent of Hispanic Catholics support such marriages. 

In fact, support for same-sex marriage is the minority position only in one major American faith group: White evangelical Protestants. Just 43 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. 

The poll also finds that, overall, 76 percent of Americans back laws to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination. That’s a slight uptick from previous years, when support for such measures clocked in closer to 70 percent. Just one in five Americans — 19 percent — oppose such nondiscrimination protections.

While 85 percent of Democrats back those anti-discrimination measures, it’s 79 percent for independents and 62 percent of Republicans, although younger Republicans remain notably more supportive of LGBT protections than their older counterparts. 

Six-in-ten Americans — 61 percent — also oppose allowing a small business to refuse service to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons, including 73 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of Republicans. White evangelical Protestants are split, with 49 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed.

Who are the House Democrats representing Trump country?

Last week, we took a look at the House Republicans representing districts that President Joe Biden won in 2020. Now, we'll look at the other side of that coin: Who are the House Democrats representing districts that former President Donald Trump won? 

The number of these "crossover districts" continues to dwindle, and there are just seven currently represented by Democrats, according to the data folks at The Daily Kos. Here's a look at those seven: 

Iowa 3: Rep. Cindy Axne 

Just two years after Democrats held three of the four Iowa congressional seats, Axne is the lone Democrat remaining. Her district narrowly backed Trump by 0.2 percentage points in 2020, down from 3.5 percentage points in 2016, but backed Obama by just under 4 percent in 2012. In recent months, she's sought to play up the Covid relief legislation's effect on her district, as well as other legislation on issues like flood insurance.

Illinois 17: Rep. Cheri Bustos 

After going 17 percentage points for Obama in 2012, Trump won the district narrowly each of the past two presidential elections. But Bustos, who took office after the 2012 election, has bucked the trends. During her tenure in the House, she also ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and been a member of Democratic leadership. 

Maine 2: Rep. Jared Golden 

Representing another district that went for Trump twice after going for Obama in 2012, Golden, a former staffer for Republican Sen. Susan Collins, has repeatedly bucked his party on high-profile votes. He voted against the recent Democratic Covid-relief package (he said it wasn't targeted enough); he voted against gun background-check expansions passed by Democrats earlier this month (he said existing laws need to be enforced more strongly; and he voted against the Democrats' police reform bill (he had concerns with how it handles protections for officers and wanted a bipartisan agreement). 

Michigan 8: Rep. Elissa Slotkin 

Slotkin's district backed Trump by less than 1 point in 2020, after backing him by almost 7 points in 2016 (and Mitt Romney by 2 points in 2012), making her the only one on this list whose district went for the GOP in the three presidential elections over the last decade. Slotkin has leaned into her past experience in the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency and is vocal on foreign policy issues. 

New Jersey 3: Rep. Andy Kim 

While Obama won this seat by about 3.5 points in 2012, Trump won the seat by about 6 points, before Biden narrowed Trump's victory to just 0.2 percentage points. Hes recently promoted a fix for prescription drug costs and has been outspoken about racism against Asian Americans. 

Pennsylvania 8: Rep. Matt Cartwright 

Like many of these members, Cartwright has faced repeated, well-funded attempts to wrest him from his seat, which backed Trump twice after going for Obama in 2012. As Republicans have criticized Democrats over the politics of school reopenings, Cartwright has pointed to the latest round of Covid relief as a way to get kids back into school. 

Wisconsin 3: Rep. Ron Kind 

Kind's district also went from supporting Obama to backing Trump twice. He was one of the only Democrats who didn't back Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for Minority Leader in 2017. Kind joined Golden in voting against a measure to extend the length of time needed for gun background checks in a vote this month.

White House misses its own 60-day review deadline for border wall construction

President Joe Biden's administration has missed its own, self-imposed, 60-day review into whether border-wall construction projects should be resumed, modified or terminated.

Biden issued a pause on all current border-wall construction on the day he took office, a timeout meant to allow the review to make recommendations for next steps. But the White House says the assessment has not been completed or presented to the president.

“When the Administration took office, funds had been diverted from military construction and other appropriated purposes toward building the wall, and wall construction was being challenged in multiple lawsuits by plaintiffs who alleged that the construction was creating serious environmental and safety issues,” a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget said. “Under those circumstances, Federal agencies are continuing to develop a plan to submit to the President soon.” 

Image: Border wall
A wall under construction along the Texas-Mexico border on March 19, 2021.Julio Cortez / AP

Biden’s Inauguration Day proclamation stipulated that the review should be completed within 60 days, which was this past Sunday.

That order — among the first signed by Biden — also made it U.S. policy that no more taxpayer dollars would be diverted to build the border wall and it revoked the national emergency that former President Trump had declared in order to access funds for construction.   

It's unclear how much longer the White House is taking to complete the review, as officials did not provide a detailed explanation for the delay.

Once the proposal is complete, Defense Sec. Austin and Homeland Security Sec. Mayorkas are expected to deliver it to the president and then “take all appropriate steps to resume, modify, or terminate projects and to otherwise implement the plan.” 

Fudge's move to HUD will leave House seat vacated until November

Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that the state will hold the special election to replace newly-minted Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge in November, leaving the seat empty for eight months in the process. 

The primary will be on Aug. 3, with the general election to follow on Nov. 2. 

Under state law, special elections are only allowed to be held "on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May, August, or November," and Ohio can't have May special elections except during a presidential primary year, per the Ohio Secretary of State's office

Image: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge speaks at a press briefing at the White House on March 18, 2021.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge speaks at a press briefing at the White House on March 18, 2021.Andrew Harnik / AP

The seat is overwhelmingly favored to be retained by Democrats, as Fudge never won the seat with fewer than three-quarters of the vote.

That's why it's attracted a large group of Democratic congressional hopefuls, including Nina Sanders, the former co-chair for Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential bid, who is backed by a bevy of progressive members of Congress and figures, Cuyahoga County Councilor Shontel Brown, who has the backing of Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and a host of other candidates, including a handful of state lawmakers.

While the seat will remain empty for a significant amount of time, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose's office pointed out the length of time the seat will remain vacant is similar to the schedule after two republicans, former Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Pat Tiberi, resigned from Congress in the last few years. 

Who are the House Republicans representing Biden country?

Just 17 members of Congress represent districts that supported the 2020 presidential nominee from the opposing party, according to recent, district-level analysis by the Daily Kos, the liberal-leaning blog that sports a robust data program. 

The number of these "crossover districts" is the lowest in recent memory — there were 35 of those kinds of districts after the 2016 election and 83 after the 2008 election. 

The slim majority (nine) of these districts are currently represented by Republicans, including a majority who won their seats in 2020 (and one who first won in an early 2020 special election). 

Here's a look at those Republican members, and how they've been able to buck their districts' presidential voting trends:

California 21: Rep. David Valadao

Valadao is a familiar face in this district, first winning the seat in 2012 before a loss to Democratic former Rep. TJ Cox in 2018. Valadao regained the seat — which backed President Joe Biden in 2020, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, and former President Barack Obama in 2012 —  after defeating Cox in a 2020 rematch. Valadao was one of the 10 House Republicans who backed impeaching then-President Donald Trump, and said at the time that Trump was "without question, a driving force in the catastrophic events that took place on January 6."  

California 25: Rep. Mike Garcia 

Garcia had a busy 2020, defeating Democrat Christy Smith in a March special election to replace former Rep. Katie Hill and again in November's general election in a district that went for both Biden and Clinton (but narrowly backed 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney). Garcia is one of the two "crossover district" members of Congress who voted to object to Biden's Electoral College certification and so far has focused on issues like school reopening and criticized the Democrats' Covid-19 relief plan as too broad. 

California 39: Rep. Young Kim

Kim's district backed Biden, Clinton and Romney in the last three elections, and has been represented by a Republican since 2012 (except for a two-year gap when Democrat Gil Cisneros served one term). Kim has crossed the aisle in support of a program to help DACA recipients (those brought to America as children illegally), voted with Democrats to strip Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green of her committee positions (along with three other "crossover" members) and criticized Trump in 2020 for referring to coronavirus with "hurtful" language that associates it with Asians. Along with California's Michelle Steel, Kim is one of the three women elected in 2020 who became the first Korean-American women in Congress. 

California 48: Rep. Michelle Steel 

Steel's district also backed the same three presidential candidates as Kim's — Biden, Clinton and Romney — but tilts a bit more Republican. She's recently led efforts in the House to condemn hate crimes against Asians, and has spoken about giving DACA recipients "a break," while also coming out against sanctuary cities and for a "physical barrier" on the border. 

Florida 27: Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar 

Salazar represents a district that went for Democrats in each of the last three presidential elections, but has been represented by a Republican in the House for most of the last decade. She's expressed openness to a carbon tax and backs a more moderate immigration plan than most Republicans — on Wednesday, she released a draft of her "Dignity Plan" which increases border security, gives DACA recipients "immediate legal status" with a permanent pathway to legalization, and creates pathways to legal status for many undocumented immigrants. 

Nebraska 2: Rep. Don Bacon

Bacon's district had leaned Republican at the presidential level, backing Trump in 2016 and Romney in 2012, before swinging narrowly to Biden and delivering him its Electoral College vote in 2020. Last cycle, Bacon won the endorsement of former Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford, who Bacon beat to win the seat back for the GOP in 2016. Bacon's opponent the last two cycles, Democrat Kara Eastman, was from the party's more progressive wing.The Republican has supported protections for DACA recipients and bucked Trump by working to rename bases named after Confederate leaders.

New York 24: Rep. John Katko 

Katko is another Republican in a district that backed Democrats in the past three presidential races. He, too, voted to impeach Trump in 2021 (the first GOP member to signal support for doing so), and has led the moderate Republican Tuesday Group in the House. 

Pennsylvania 1: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick 

Also representing a district that went for Biden, Clinton and Obama, Fitzpatrick has crossed the aisle on a variety of issues in his career. He's won the backing of the League of Conservation Voters for his climate record, supports DACA protections, defended the special counsel's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and voted with Democrats to expand background checks for firearms (along with Salazar). 

Texas 24: Rep. Beth Van Duyne 

Van Duyne represents one of the two districts on this list that went for Romney and Trump before switching to Biden (Bacon's district is the other). She won her bid after the retirement of longtime former GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant. She's just the second Republican woman to represent Texas in the Senate, and comes from a stint serving as the mayor of Irving, and then working in the Trump administration's Department of Housing and Urban Development. She's been a vocal critic of the Biden administration's border policy and criticized the Covid-19 relief package as not targeted enough.  

New Mexico sets date for House special election to replace Interior Sec. Haaland

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has set the special House election to replace Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's former seat in the First Congressional District for June 1. 

The major parties will choose their own candidates, instead of holding a more traditional primary. By state law, the parties must declare their nominees by 56 days before the election (in this case, by April 6) — Democrats have already announced their plans to do so on March 30.

Parties will have to choose from a large list of potential nominees, including a handful of state lawmakers, businesspeople and a former top aide to New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Aubrey Dunn Jr. the state's former Public Lands Commissioner, is also running as a Libertarian.  

Democrats have represented the seat for more than a decade, and the district historically backs Democrats at the presidential too, most recently picking President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump by a margin of 60 percent to 37 percent, according to data crunched by the Daily Kos

The New Mexico race is the latest election aimed at replacing a Biden administration official. On Saturday, New Orleans-area voters will decide who will replace former Rep. Cedric Richmond, who left to be one of Biden's senior advisers.

Lousiana's special elections put every candidate on the same ballot, regardless of party, and if no candidate wins the majority, the top-two vote-getters move onto a runoff. The top two Democrats in the race are state Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson.  

And Ohio is poised to announce the date for the election aimed at replacing Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, who previously represented Ohio's Eleventh Congressional District. The seat is overwhelmingly Democratic, making it likely the party retains the seat.

Current candidates there include Nina Turner, the former co-chair of Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaigns, as well as a handful of state lawmakers.  

Significant majority of Republicans don’t believe Biden’s win was fair

Almost two-thirds of Republicans believe that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election, even as more than six-in-ten Americans overall believe he won fair and square, according to a new Monmouth University poll.

The survey, conducted February 25 – March 1, found that 65 percent of Republicans believe that Biden’s win was solely the result of voter fraud. What’s more, 29 percent of Republicans say they will never accept Biden as president. 

The belief in widespread fraud among Republicans persists despite a multitude of probes, intelligence assessments and court rulings that have found no evidence that either domestic fraud nor foreign interference affected the election results. But former President Donald Trump spent months spreading baseless allegations of widespread fraud nonetheless. 

That belief was also echoed by rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6 in the effort to stop the election results from being certified. 

Trump supporters protest  in Phoenix, AZ.
A young boy holds onto a fence as pro-Trump supporters rally to defy the election results hours after Biden was named President-elect, outside the Maricopa County elections building on Nov. 7, 2020 in Phoenix.Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

The Monmouth poll found that a majority —  53 percent of Americans — support an independent commission to look into the Capitol breach. That includes 62 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans.

Another 37 percent of Americans say internal investigations into the breach should suffice. 

Americans broadly support investigating into the failures of Capitol Police preparation for the attack (81 percent), the growth of militant groups (76 percent), the role of white nationalists in the insurrection (70 percent), and allegations of voter fraud (59 percent.) 

Still, a combined 26 percent of Americans — and 40 percent of Republicans — say that the anger that led to the Jan 6. riot was either fully (8 percent) or partially (18 percent) justified.

The poll also showed relatively high awareness of white nationalism and the QAnon conspiracy theory, both of which have been linked to those arrested in connection with the events of January 6. 

About two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans say that white nationalism is a problem in the United States, while 34 percent say it is not a problem at all. 

And two-thirds of Americans have heard of QAnon. Twenty-seven percent have heard a lot, while 38 percent have heard a little. But just two percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the theory.

Congress gets boost of Covid-19 vaccines for staffers

As access to Covid-19 vaccines expands across the country, Congress will soon be increasing the number of staff that will receive the vaccine, multiple sources tell NBC News.

8,000 new vaccine doses were expected to be delivered yesterday, a source familiar told NBC News. The doses will be split evenly between the House and Senate, 4,000 each. 

Lawmakers were previously given access to the Covid-19 vaccine in December as an emergency measure for continuity of government purposes. In the personal office of each Senator, five staff members were given access to the vaccine, with two additional staff per Senator given access just last week. In the House, however, only two staffers per congressman were given access to the vaccine.

Image: The U.S. Capitol building exterior is seen at sunset in Washington,
The U.S. Capitol building exterior is seen at sunset in Washington, March 8, 2021.Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images

That’s all changing now, after a notice sent to House offices last night by the Capitol physician gave further details on distribution. Each House office is getting 6 doses for staff, and 16 per committee, with additional doses allocated to institutional and support staff, two sources add. 

A Senate aide says the additional doses allocated to the upper chamber continue to be prioritized for restaurant workers, custodians and all the support staff that make the Capitol run.

While most Senators have been vaccinated, NBC News spoke to four that haven’t gotten their shots — yet. Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) say they haven’t gotten the vaccines for different reasons.  

Johnson and Paul, who both had Covid-19 in the last year, told reporters they don’t need the vaccine because they’ve already had the virus — something studies show is not a scientifically-sound reason for choosing to ditch the shot. Scott, meanwhile, said he is still consulting with his doctor on whether or not to get the vaccine.

As of early March, 1 in 4 House lawmakers have still not been fully vaccinated despite having access to the vaccine since December, according to a letter from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Biden gets chance to show his Irish roots on St. Patrick's Day

The White House is going green — literally, not figuratively, as President Joe Biden would put it. The presidential mansion's north facade will be illuminated in green Wednesday evening in one of many tributes to Ireland planned on Biden's first St. Patrick's Day as president. 

Recent presidents have all laid claim to at least some Irish ancestry every March 17 — President Barack Obama even joked about the missing apostrophe in his last name — but Biden boasts the most direct claim to the Emerald Isle of any president since John F. Kennedy. 

His great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan brought his family to New York from County Louth in 1849, and Patrick Blewitt, another great-great grandfather, brought his family from County Mayo two years later. Biden's maternal grandparents, Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt, married each other in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1909.

Image: St. Patrick's Day at the White House
Green water flows in the fountain on the South Lawn of the White House in celebration of St. Patrick's Day on March 17, 2012.Joshua Roberts / Getty Images file

Covid-19 protocols are putting a damper on what would otherwise be a more robust celebration of St. Patrick's Day in the Biden White House. But officials say they're making the most of the holiday nonetheless. In addition to lighting the White House green, they will dye both the North and South Lawn water fountains green, reprising Obama's tradition, which was an homage to Chicago. 

Biden will start the day at home in Wilmington, Delaware, attending a St. Patrick's Day Mass, before he returns to Washington for a virtual bilateral meeting with Ireland's prime minister, Micheál Martin. A White House official said he will be wearing an array of shamrocks sent straight from Ireland on his lapel. The bowl of shamrocks, traditionally presented in person by the taoiseach, as the Irish prime minister is called, was sent ahead to Washington by the Irish government. 

And officials fully expect that Biden will be quoting Irish poets a time or two during the day, including at the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon traditionally held at the U.S. Capitol, which is also going virtual this year. Biden, who is especially fond of Seamus Heaney, often jokes that he quotes Irish poets so often not because he's Irish, "but because they're the best poets."

Biden made a multiday visit to Ireland in his final year as vice president in 2016, touting the resilience and inherent optimism of the Irish and Irish Americans. "I think we Irish are the only people in the world who are actually nostalgic about the future," he said in his keynote address in Dublin. 

Asked in an interview Sunday whether he expected Biden to return now as president, Martin told CBS News: "I invited him  to Ireland, and he just said to me, 'Try and keep me out.'"

Poll: Majority of Iowans, one-third of Republicans, hope Grassley won't run again in 2022

Fifty-five percent of Iowans, including a significant portion of Iowa Republicans, say they hope Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, decides not to run for what would be his eighth term in the Senate in 2022, a new poll out of the state shows. 

The new survey from the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, conducted by the prominent Iowa pollster Ann Selzer's Selzer & Co., found that just 28 percent of Iowans hope Grassley will run for another term. Another 17 percent say they are not sure. 

A majority of Democrats and independents (77 percent and 54 percent respectively) say they hope Grassley does not run, a sentiment shared by 35 percent of Republicans. Fifty percent of Republicans, however, say they hope he does decide to run, compared to 11 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents. 

Grassley is currently 87 years old and is the oldest Republican senator serving in the body (Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is just a few months older than him). Grassley's age has prompted questions as to whether he'll run again — he's told reporters he'll decide later this year and has, in the meantime, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to begin fundraising for a possible reelection.

Image: Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, questions Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Adewale Adeyemo during his Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing on February 23, 2021 at Capitol Hill.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, questions Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Adewale Adeyemo during his Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing on February 23, 2021 at Capitol Hill.Greg Nash / Pool via Getty Images file

The poll is a mixed bag for Grassley — while he retains a 48 percent approval rating among Iowan adults (with 38 percent disapproving), it's his lowest Iowa Poll approval rating since 1982, according to the Des Moines Register. 

It also found that the favorable rating for Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, has dipped below her disapproval for the first time since the poll began testing her rating in 2015. Forty-three percent of Iowans say they approve of how Ernst, who just won reelection last November, is handling her job, compared to 45 percent who say they disapprove. In February of 2019, the poll found Ernst's approval at 57 percent. 

The Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll surveyed 775 Iowa adults between March 7-10 by telephone (landline and cell phone) in English. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percentage points. 

Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. tells MTP he won't run for Senate in 2022

Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan will not run for Senate in 2022, he told “Meet the Press” on Sunday, saying instead he wants to focus on helping to “rebuild” the GOP after a difficult election that saw Democrats flip both Senate seats and former President Donald Trump raise unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud in the state.  

One of the top Republicans in the state, Duncan had been seen as a possible candidate to run against Sen. Raphael Warnock in 2022. The Democrat won his election to fill the remainder of the term vacated by retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. But Isakson’s term would have ended in 2022, Warnock will be on the ballot again then.  

“My family and I have talked about it, and we’re not going to run for the U.S. Senate seat. We’re going to stay focused on being the lieutenant governor here in Georgia and we are going to focus hard on trying to rebuild this party and refocus GOP 2.0,” Duncan said Sunday.  

Even though Democrats flipped both Senate seats in 2020, next year's election is expected to be one of the marquee Senate races of the cycle. Former Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Warnock, has kept the door open to another bid, while other Republicans have been considering it too. Former President Donald Trump recently encouraged Herschel Walker, once a standout football player for the University of Georgia, to run. 

Duncan and other top GOP officials spent much of the past few months defending the state from Trump's unfounded allegations of massive voter fraud, accusations that he said lost Republicans "credibility" in the state. He went onto criticize Trump's tone as "divisive" and add that the former president's "strategy is unwinnable in forward-looking elections." 

Even so, many Georgia Republicans are supporting widespread new restrictions to election laws sparked in part by Trump's baseless allegations. The GOP-led legislature is weighing changes such as ending no-excuse absentee voting and limiting weekend early voting.

Duncan opposes the changes to absentee voting, recently vacating his role presiding over the debate on the issue in protest. He also told "Meet the Press' he was sensitive to concerns that limiting early voting on weekends could primarily hurt black voters since "souls to the polls" drives are popular events at predominately black churches in the south. 

"There’s a lot of solutions in search of a problem. Republicans don’t need election reform to win, we need leadership," he said. 

"I'm one of the Republicans that want more people to vote. I think our ideas help people."

Democratic groups are spending big to support the Covid-19 relief law

WASHINGTON — Unite the Country, a Democratic Super PAC, is the latest outside group to release paid advertisements celebrating the Covid-19 relief package President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday.  

"It's more money in your pocket, billions to speed up vaccinations, safely reopen schools, and help small businesses come back," a narrator says in the new ad

"Joe Biden kept his word, and that's exactly what your president should do," the ad concludes.  

According to a spokesperson from Unite the country, the ad is a seven-figure buy targeted in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all which Biden narrowly won last November, and all of which hold key Senate and gubernatorial contests in 2022. The ad campaign will be mostly featured on digital platforms.

The buy is the latest in a group of Democratic organizations with campaigns airing across the country. 

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee released a new ad that will air nationally and in battleground markets. Entitled, "Help is here", the ad features parts of Biden's speech explaining the Covid-19 relief bill. 

Also this week, the Democratic group Priorities USA said it was placing digital ads — like this one — in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — in support of the new legislation.  

And House Majority Forward, the Democratic outside group that focuses on House races, said it’s launching a $1.4 million ad campaign across nine competitive House districts — like one focused on Texas' 7th district — thanking Democratic members for voting for the relief package.  

Steve Schale, chief strategist for Unite The Country, said it’s critical for Democrats’ chances in the 2022 midterms to see support remain strong for both the rescue plan and for Biden.

“We know the next year is pretty important. All of us who lived in the 2010 trenches remember how hard it was to get across the finish line in a world where almost all of the messaging around the first two years of Obama was negative,” he said.

A look back: How presidents have used their first primetime TV address

WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden makes his first national prime-time address on Thursday night, he’ll be following in a long tradition of presidents focusing their first televised evening speech on a key White House priority.

Biden will use his address — scheduled to begin just after 8 p.m. ET — to commemorate the one-year anniversary of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19. He is expected to talk about the more than 500,000 Americans who have lost their lives to Covid-19, as well as his efforts to increase the number of vaccines available to Americans. The president is set to sign the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill into law Thursday afternoon. 

Image: President Biden Delivers Remarks For International Women's Day
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on International Women's Day as Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost, from left, and Army Lieutenant General Laura Richardson, from right, listen during an announcement at the East Room of the White House on March 8, 2021.Alex Wong / Getty Images

Here’s how some of Biden’s predecessors used their first major prime-time TV addresses: 

President Donald Trump: Trump made his first national address on Aug. 21, 2017 to discuss his strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia. Unlike many former presidents, Trump didn’t make his first prime-time speech from the White House. Rather, the former president spoke from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia.

Trump used the speech to outline new pillars of his foreign policy plan and to announce he wouldn’t pull all troops out of Afghanistan and South Asia. 

“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you're president of the United States,” Trump said.  

The former president also used the speech to solicit support for his foreign policy strategy from NATO allies. 

Trump also addressed a joint session of Congress in February 2017. 

President Barack Obama: Obama’s first prime-time televised address was different than both his predecessors and successors: He held a prime-time press conference on Feb. 9, 2009. 

Before taking questions, Obama focused his prepared remarks on the economy and his wish for Congress to pass the stimulus plan. The bill was signed into law about a week later. 

“As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work,” Obama said. 

Obama Holds First White House Press Conference
Political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News Chuck Todd asks a question to President Barack Obama during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 9, 2009.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

President George W. Bush: Bush’s first national address didn’t end up being a long-term focus of his administration – especially given it occurred one month before the Sept. 11th attacks. 

Rather, on Aug. 9, 2001, Bush announced that he would allow federal taxpayer money to be used on stem cell research. The decision was controversial given Bush’s pro-life stance because some stem cell research includes cells extracted from embryos. 

“The issue is debated within the church, with people of different faiths, even many of the same faith coming to different conclusions. Many people are finding that the more they know about stem cell research, the less certain they are about the right ethical and moral conclusions,” Bush said, pointing to the “great promise” embryonic stem cell research offers in discovering treatments and cures for serious diseases.

President Bill Clinton: Clinton used his first televised address on Feb. 24, 1993, to drum up support for his economic proposals ahead of a speech to Congress later that week. 

He called for Americans’ support for a significant shift in economic policy from the Republican presidents before him, laying out plans to hike taxes on the rich and cut spending to control the deficit and reshape the government.

Days later, he took his appeal to a joint session of Congress. Ultimately Congress narrowly passed much of Clinton’s economic plan (former Vice President Al Gore needed to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

President George H.W. Bush: In his Sept. 5, 1989 address to Americans on “the gravest domestic terror threat facing our nation today,” Bush announced his national strategy on drugs.  

The plan hinged on greater law enforcement spending, a program aimed at fighting drug crime in public housing, fighting international cartels, an investment in drug treatment programs, and an anti-drug education effort. 

That speech included the iconic scene of Bush holding up crack cocaine seized near the White House (media reports later found agents “lured the seller” to the spot). 

President George Bush holds a bag of crack cocaine in the Oval Office of the White House on Sept. 5, 1989, after delivering his first nationally televised speech.
President George Bush holds a bag of crack cocaine in the Oval Office of the White House on Sept. 5, 1989, after delivering his first nationally televised speech.Dennis Cook / AP file

President Ronald Reagan: Reagan made his first address to the nation just about two weeks after his inauguration. 

On Feb. 5, 1981 Reagan began his economic address by telling Americans “we’re in the worst economic mess since the Great Depression.” 

Reagan’s message to Americans was that the federal deficit was unmanageable and required spending cuts, a hiring freeze and a hold on pending regulations. 

Reagan also introduced his legislative economic package during the address that he would present to Congress about two weeks after his speech. 

President Jimmy Carter: Carter’s first address also came at about the two-week mark — Feb. 2, 1977— and included a heavy emphasis on his national energy policy

He spoke almost immediately after signing the Emergency Natural Gas Act to give him expanded powers to address the natural gas shortage stemming from the oil embargo against America during the 1979s.

“The real problem — our failure to plan for the future or to take energy conservation seriously — started long before this winter, and it will take much longer to solve,” Carter said, before asking Americans to conserve energy while the government would make efforts to expand energy production while providing Americans with tax incentives.

Missouri Secretary of State Ashcroft declines Senate bid to replace retiring Blunt

WASHINGTON — Missouri Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced Wednesday he would not run to replace the retiring Sen. Richard Blunt, R-Mo., as the senator's retirement has prompted a scramble to fill the open Senate seat. 

"Our hearts are in Missouri and we cherish the opportunity to continue raising our family here. Service to Missourians is a profound privilege in which we intend to persist and honor in every respect," he tweeted to explain his reasoning for not running. 

"We hope those who pledged support to me will devote their efforts to electing the eventual Republican nominee."

Ashcroft is the latest high-profile name to rule out a bid, but the first major Republican to do so after Blunt's announcement. Former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (now an NBC and MSNBC analyst) and 2016 Democratic nominee Jason Kander have both said they will not run. 

On the GOP side, there are still a handful of prominent candidates publicly weighing a bid. 

Rep. Ann Wagner said in a statement that she's considering a bid, as did Rep. Billy Long in an interview with Springfield's KY3

Former Gov. Eric Greitens has also signaled his openness to running. He resigned in 2018 amid investigations related to allegations of campaign finance violations, as well as an unrelated affair where he was accused of blackmail, invasion of privacy and sexual misconduct.

And other Republicans may jump in as well. 

On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Scott Sifton announced his bid last month and has the backing of dozens of state lawmakers, as well as State Auditor Nicole Galloway and former Kansas City Mayor Sly James. And Marine veteran Lucas Kunce announced his bid after Blunt made his decision.

With weeks to go before Louisiana special House elections, new filings show best-funded candidates

WASHINGTON — Just weeks before two special elections in Lousiana, new campaign finance reports show there's a clear gap between the haves and the have nots looking to win each seat. 

Each party is favored to hold onto the seats each won in November. Republicans have the edge in the Fifth Congressional District, where Republican Luke Letlow won a runoff last December but passed away from Covid-19 before he could take office. And Democrats are the favorite in the Second District, which was vacated by Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, who decided to join the White House.  

Julia Letlow, the widow of the former congressman-elect who is running as a Republican, leads the cash race in the Fifth District. She raised $682,000 through February and started March with $521,000 banked away. Letlow has won a smattering of Republican endorsements in her quest for Congress, including House Minority Whip and Lousiana Rep. Steve Scalise, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Lousiana State GOP. 

The only other Republican who appears to have filed by the FEC's Monday deadline is Sancha Smith, who raised less than $10,000. Sandra Christophe, a Democrat and social worker who ran last cycle, just short of $70,000 for her bid and closed February with $50,000 in cash on hand. 

In the Second District, three candidates raised at least $100,000, two Democrats and one Republican. 

State Sen. Troy Carter, Sr., raised more than any other candidate with $519,000, ending February with almost $292,000 in cash on hand. Karen Carter Peterson, who previously ran the state's Democratic Party and was in leadership at the Democratic National Committee, raised about $450,000 and had $208,000 cash on hand. Along with others who have weighed into the race, Richmond is backing Carter while Democratic voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams endorsed Carter Peterson. 

Claston Bernard, the former Olympic decathlete endorsed by the Louisiana Republican Party, raised $113,000 and had $38,000 in the bank at the close of February. 

Voters will cast their ballots in both races on March 20, with the top two vote-getters (regardless of party) moving onto a runoff election if no candidate can win the majority in March. 

Former FDA officials urge Biden to nominate a permanent commissioner

WASHINGTON — Five former U.S. Federal Drug Administration officials sent a letter to President Biden on Tuesday pressing him to name a new permanent commissioner for the agency. 

The call comes as some medical experts and members of Congress are raising questions about whether a leadership void compromises approval of additional tools, beyond vaccines, needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, like rapid antigen testing.

The letter, obtained by NBC News, urged Biden to prioritize securing the FDA's leadership team including "seeking a formal nomination and confirmation of an FDA Commissioner." 

Signage is seen outside of FDA headquarters in White Oak, Maryland
The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Md., on Aug. 29, 2020.Andrew Kelly / Reuters

"The coming days and weeks will require further timely and effective actions, for example to support the development of antiviral treatments and advance the availability of reliable, easy-to-use tests,” wrote former commissioners Robert Califf, Scott Gottlieb, Mark McClellan, Margaret Hamburg and Andrew von Eschenbach.

FDA veteran Janet Woodcock has been serving as acting commissioner since Biden took office. 

Rapid antigen testing is being used in other countries, but the FDA has been slow to approve the tests because of accuracy concerns. 

During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University's school of public health, said the tests could still be useful.

"The FDA has been slow to approve these cheap, rapid antigen tests primarily due to concerns about accuracy and lack of thorough data and maintaining the rigor and high standards of FDA approval are important. However, rapid tests serve a different role than PCR tests and should be evaluated accordingly," Jha said. 

Mike Pence will make first post-White House speech in South Carolina

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence will make his first post-vice presidential speech on April 29 in Columbia, S.C. 

The Palmetto Family Council confirmed Pence's speech, and announced Pence will speak to roughly 500 guests. The Palmetto Family Council is a faith-based group that describes itself as having been “on the front lines of the fight to keep biblical values a consideration in the culture at large and in public policy decision.”

Image: Vice President Mike Pence Campaigns In Georgia For Republican Senate Candidates
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to Rock Springs Church to campaign for GOP Senate candidates on January 4, 2021 in Milner, Georgia.Megan Varner / Getty Images

The Associated Press first reported the speech. 

Pence is widely believed to be planning his own presidential run in 2024, which casts a light on Pence's decision to make his first post-White House appearance in an early primary state like South Carolina. 

Since leaving the White House, Pence joined the Heritage Foundation and the Young America's Foundation, with plans to deliver lectures and launch a podcast. 

Ralph Northam makes first endorsement of 2021 cycle — bucking his attorney general

WASHINGTON — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam endorsed state delegate Jay Jones for Virginia attorney general on Thursday, bucking incumbent Mark Herring who served with Northam and is seeking his third term.

The governor’s endorsement is the first he’s made for Virginia’s 2021 election cycle. And the choice to back Jones — who is young, Black and more progressive — could represent a wider shift in the direction of the Virginia Democratic Party.

“[I]t is time for a new generation of leaders to take the reins. Jay Jones has stood with me every step of the way in our journey to make Virginia a more just and equitable place to live. He has been my partner as we have worked to change our Commonwealth. He also understands the deep scars of racism and will represent the diversity of our Commonwealth,” Northam wrote in a statement.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and his wife, Pamela Northam, arrive to watch first Lady Jill Biden participates in a panel discussion on cancer research and care at the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 24
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and his wife, Pamela Northam, arrive to watch first Lady Jill Biden participates in a panel discussion on cancer research and care at the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 24, 2021.Ryan M. Kelly / AFP via Getty Images file

Northam’s endorsement also raises eyebrows about his relationship with Herring. In 2019, Herring called for Northam's resignation after a yearbook picture surfaced alleging Northam was either in blackface or a Klu Klux Klan costume in the photo. Northam later revealed he wore blackface as a student.

However, days after the initial scandal, Herring revealed he had also worn blackface. He tried to clarify his calls for Northam to resign by saying it was Northam’s flip-flopping explanation of the yearbook photo that was problematic. 

The governor resisted resignation calls and later pushed issues of racial justice and equity to the forefront of his administration. Democrats in Virginia passed legislation banning the death penalty and expanding voting rights. Northam has also been outspoken about changing the names of schools and highways that are named after confederate leaders, and has committed to removing confederate monuments in Richmond.

Northam has not yet made announcements on who he would endorse in the races for governor and lieutenant governor, but Northam served as lieutenant governor when former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was in office. McAuliffe is now a frontrunner in the Democratic primary.  

The Virginia Democratic primary takes place on June 8.

Chuck Grassley files FEC paperwork for possible 2022 re-election bid

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission Wednesday morning, setting up a possible re-election bid for the 2022 cycle.

Grassley, elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives in 1974 and then the Senate in 1980, is the oldest Republican currently serving in the Senate and would be 89 by Election Day of 2022.

The Iowa senator filed a new statement of candidacy with the FEC on Wednesday for the 2022 cycle, which allows him to kickstart his fundraising for a potential bid. Though the paperwork makes him an official candidate in the eyes of the FEC, it doesn't guarantee he'll actually run for an eighth term. Former Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue, who in January lost his Senate seat in a runoff to now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, announced last week he wouldn't launch another campaign just days after he filed paperwork with the FEC and tweeted he was considering a 2022 bid

Chuck Grassley
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2021.Mandel Ngan / Pool via Reuters

Grassley has told reporters he'll make a decision "sometime in September, October or November," according to the Des Moines Register.

Grassley tested positive for Covid-19 in November but reported his case was asymptomatic and he recovered.

A handful of senators have already announced plans to retire at the end of 2022, with more potentially on the way. 

Alabama’s senior GOP Sen. Richard Shelby announced last month he won’t seek re-election in 2022 after serving in Congress for over 40 years. And Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard Burr of North Carolina have also said they won’t pursue re-election bids in 2022.

Two other Republican senators have not said if they'll run again in 2022: Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Johnson said in 2016 he would only serve two terms in the Senate but has not recently addressed whether he would seek a third one. Blunt told POLITICO earlier this year he had no timetable on deciding whether to run again. 

Hawley ends his confirmation no-vote streak by backing Biden's pick to chair Council of Economic Advisers

WASHINGTON — After voting against all 12 of President Joe Biden's previous Senate-confirmable nominees, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., backed his first nomination on Tuesday, Cecilia Rouse, who the Senate confirmed as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers by a wide margin.

Hawley's vote makes Rouse the first of Biden's nominees to win the senator's support, as he had previously opposed Biden's whole slate of nominees, including about half that passed with support from at least 80 senators. 

He told NBC News last week that he didn't have an explicit strategy of opposing nominees, adding his test is that he hopes Biden "will nominate folks and pursue policies that will be good for working Americans and good for the middle of the country." 

Ethics watchdog says Rep. Palazzo may have improperly spent campaign, official funds

WASHINGTON — The Office of Congressional Ethics found there is "substantial reason to believe" Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., improperly gave special favors to his brother and misused campaign and official funds on a variety of expenses, including renovations to a riverfront home, according to a new report released Monday. 

The nonpartisan OCE, an independent group that advises the House Committee on Ethics, voted unanimously to recommend lawmakers continue an investigation into Palazzo.

In a 47-page report, the OCE board laid out allegations of wrongdoing by Palazzo that mainly fall into two tranches — improper conduct related to Palazzo's brother, who worked for his campaign, and spending related to a river home he owned and listed as his official campaign headquarters. 

Palazzo's office denied the allegations in a statement, arguing that his conduct was proper and that he will cooperate with the investigation. 

While the board found that Palazzo's brother "provided at least some bona fide services to the campaign committee," it also alleged that "the work Kyle Palazzo performed may have not justified the salary he received." Campaigns must pay employees fair market value, and a failure to do can be seen as receiving (or giving) an improper campaign contribution. CQ Roll Call first reported on the potential wrongdoing in December. 

The congressman's office is also accused of special treatment in helping his brother attempt to update his re-enlistment code with the Navy.

The home in question has been owned by Palazzo's family for about 20 years, the OCE board said. Palazzo himself bought it from his mother and a business associated with her in 2017. The report found the congressman's campaign paid Palazzo's LLC $60,000 in rent for the property, as well as another $22,000 in expenditures for things like landscaping and utilities.

The report claims there's "substantial reason to believe there was not a bona fide campaign need for the space and that the campaign committee did not pay fair market value for its actual use of the property" and that the upkeep expenses "more accurately represented campaign-funded improvements to Rep. Palazzo's personal property." 

There are also other allegations related to Palazzo's use of his staff — that his congressional staff ran personal errands or campaign work during their official work hours.

Colleen Kennedy, Palazzo's communications director, said in a statement that he "welcomes the opportunity to work through this process with the House Committee on Ethics and will fully cooperate with the Committee to show that he has complied with all relevant rules and standards."

She called the matter "a direct result of false allegations made by a primary opponent and the Campaign Legal Center," the campaign finance watchdog group that first raised questions about Palazzo's spending. 

Former Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., a former House Committee on Ethics member, is representing Palazzo, she added. 

"Congressman Palazzo will continue to serve his constituents with honor and integrity, and he looks forward to having this matter concluded as soon as possible," Kennedy said. 

In a statement, House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., acknowledged the referral from the OCE and noted that "the mere fact of conducting further review ... does not itself indicated that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee."

McConnell says Senate GOP campaign arm will back Murkowski despite Trump's criticism

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Monday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the official Senate GOP campaign arm, will back Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, for reelection in 2022 despite former President Donald Trump's push for the party to oppose those who voted against him during his second impeachment. 

McConnell told the Congressional press pool in brief comments that the NRSC will "absolutely" back Murkowski's reelection and that he's not concerned Trump's opposition could hurt her ability to win another term. As the Senate GOP leader, McConnell plays a large role in setting the party's political strategy. 

The NRSC's long-standing policy has been to support incumbents. But Trump has regularly threatened members of his party that he felt were not loyal enough to him, a dynamic that doesn't appear to have changed now that he's out of the White House. 

During a Sunday speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual event in Florida, Trump criticized Republicans who are "attacking me, and more importantly the voters of our movement," before 

"The Democrats don't have grand-standers like Mitt Romney, Little Ben Sasse, Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Pat Toomey," Trump said of Republican senators who voted for his conviction. 

It's far from the first time Trump and Alaska's senior senator have locked horns. She called on him to resign in the wake of the attack on the Capitol earlier this year, questioning whether she wanted to continue in the Republican Party if it's "become nothing more than the party of Trump."

And last June, she applauded former Defense Secretary James Mattis' criticism of Trump, prompting the then-president to tweet that he would endorse any candidate with a "pulse" to run against her. 

Murkowski has deep roots in Alaska politics. She has served in the Senate since 2002, winning three elections to the seat after being appointed that year to fill her father's term when he left to serve as governor. 

She also has experience weathering a divided party — after losing the Republican primary in 2010, she won a write-in campaign to secure reelection. 

Plus, Murkowski is running in a non-traditional style of primary next year, a ranked-choice vote where all candidates will be on the same ballot, regardless of party, and the top-four candidates move on to a general election. 

Elizabeth Warren and two House Democrats introduce wealth tax bill

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., rolled out a wealth tax bill on Monday with two House Democrats, aimed at raising trillions of dollars to help finance investments in infrastructure, clean energy and other Democratic priorities.

The bill would impose an annual 2 percent tax on households with a net worth above $50 million, and an additional 1 percent annual tax on assets above $1 billion.

Warren, who was recently added to the Senate Finance Committee, unveiled her legislation with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the leader of the Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. 

Image: Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks about a proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act on Capitol Hill on March 1, 2021.Susan Walsh / AP

"It is time for a wealth tax in America," Warren told reporters on Monday. "A two cent wealth tax would just help level the playing field a little bit, and create the kind of revenue that would let us build back better, as Joe Biden says."

The Massachusetts senator made the wealth tax a primary issue in her 2020 presidential campaign. 

Warren said she has spoken to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., about the legislation but wouldn't say if they support her bill.

"You should ask them," she said. "I don't want to speak for them."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki demurred Monday when asked if President Joe Biden favored a wealth tax. Psaki said his priority now is Covid-19 relief and that he has "a lot of respect for Sen. Warren" but will consider how best to tax the wealthy at a later time.

Cruz received a special ‘welcome back’ message in Senate gym

Sen. Ted Cruz’s colleagues had a little fun at the Texas Republican’s expense when he returned to Washington this week following his infamous trip to Cancun.

When senators arrived at the Senate gym on Wednesday morning, they found that one of them had taped memes on the lockers welcoming Cruz home and showing him in the short-sleeve polo shirt, jeans and Texas-flag mask that he had at the airport, according to two people familiar with the prank. “Bienvenido de Nuevo, Ted!” was the “welcome back” message typed at the top of the color printouts, one of which was viewed by NBC News.

The rendering featured a manipulated photo of Cruz from his well-documented trip to Mexico, dragging his luggage across an arctic landscape while holding a tropical cocktail garnished with a slice of fruit in his other hand. He is shown walking toward an image of a masked Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. with his arms crossed and wearing striped, knitted gloves — a pose famously captured during January’s inauguration.

Image: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) carries his luggage at the Cancun International Airport before boarding his plane back to the U.S., in Cancun
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, carries his luggage at the Cancun International Airport before boarding his plane back to the U.S., in Cancun, Mexico on Feb. 18, 2021.via Reuters

The memes were taken down sometime Wednesday, according to the people familiar with them.

It's unclear whether Cruz saw the memes and a spokesperson for the senator did not respond to a request for comment.

The Senate gym is only used by current and former senators. The Senate Rules Committee hadn’t received a complaint about the prank, according to a committee aide.

Cruz has been widely mocked on social media — and criticized in his home state — for hopping on a plane last week to Cancun for a family trip while millions of Texans were without water and power in frigid temperatures. He returned to Texas after the controversy erupted and said the trip was a “mistake.” 

Mike Memoli contributed to this report.

Meet the Republican senator who's voted against every Biden nominee so far

WASHINGTON — Just one Republican senator has voted against each of President Biden's Cabinet nominees so far: Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley. 

And Hawley's "nay" voting record on each of the 10 nominees who have had a vote is particularly visible given how bipartisan the majority of the confirmations have been. 

Hawley was just one of:

  • Two senators who voted against Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's confirmation
  • Seven senators who voted against Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
  • Seven senators who voted against VA Secretary Denis McDonough
  • 10 senators who voted against the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines 
  • 13 senators who voted against Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg 
  • 15 senators who voted against Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen 

Biden's four other confirmed Cabinet members (Secretary of State Antony Blinken, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm) were all confirmed with closer margins. 

Image:
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks at the confirmation hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, nominee to be Attorney General, on Feb. 22, 2021.Drew Angerer / AP

Hawley may be one of many Republicans eyeing a potential 2024 presidential bid. He told NBC News' Frank Thorp and Garrett Haake that he didn't have a strategy of opposition. 

"I just I hope that he will nominate folks and pursue policies that will be good for working Americans and good for the middle of the country," Hawley said. "So, that's my only test."

Hawley said he was undecided on how he'd vote on Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland.

New York Democratic Senator and former presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand boasted of having “the best voting record against Trump nominees of anyone else running for president” on the trail in 2019. She voted against 20 of 22 nominations for former President Trump's original Cabinet. She casted the only "no" vote against former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.  

Five other Democratic senators voted against at least 80 percent of Trump’s original Cabinet nominees, and four of those senators also sought the Democratic presidential nomination: Sens., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and now-Vice President Kamala Harris.  

Several of Biden's Cabinet nominees are still awaiting a vote: 

  • Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland
  • HHS nominee Xavier Becerra 
  • Interior nominee Deb Haaland 
  • Education nominee Miguel Cardona
  • Commerce nominee Gina Raimondo
  • Labor nominee Marty Walsh
  • HUD nominee Marcia Fudge
  • EPA nominee Michael Regan
  • SBA nominee Isabel Guzman
  • U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai 

And of course embattled OMB Director nominee Neera Tanden. 

Virginia Republicans decide on drive-up convention to pick 2021 statewide nominees

WASHINGTON — The Republican Party of Virginia on Tuesday night approved a plan to nominate its gubernatorial candidate by a convention – instead of a primary – in what’s shaping up to be the marquee general-election race of 2021,

The convention will take place on May 8 at conservative Liberty University, whereby convention delegates will drive up and cast their pick for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general under ranked-choice voting

By contrast, Democrats will be selecting their nominee at the ballot box, through a statewide primary contest on June 8. 

This drive-up GOP convention at Liberty University is the same process that took down then-incumbent Congressman Denver Riggleman, R-Va., who lost the GOP nomination last year to conservative Bob Good; Good ended up winning the general election and now represents Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. 

But this time around, the conventional wisdom is that this convention process is a bad outcome for the most controversial GOP candidate in the field: state Sen. Amanda Chase. 

Chase denounced the process after its approval, arguing relying on a process that relies on people driving from all over the state to Lynchburg will disenfranchises voters. 

“I would like the VA GOP State Central Committee to answer a question. 1,962,430 voters voted for President Trump in Virginia. How are you going to accommodate these people who will want to cast a vote for our statewide candidates?” she tweeted

The assumption in this multi-candidate GOP field — which not only includes Chase, but also House Delegate Kirk Cox, businessman Pete Snyder and former Carlyle Group executive Glenn Youngkim — is that the percentage of the field a candidate needs to win could be as low as 25 or 30 percent. That could leave the door open for someone like Chase if the rest of the field splits the vote. 

But it will likely be more difficult for Chase to win a process where she’ll need more than 50 percent, even at a convention at Liberty University, where the former university president has been a stalwart backer of former President Donald Trump and has hired a handful of Trump allies in recent months. 

But the convention process also has a downside for Republicans trying to win back the governor’s mansion: It encourages less participation. And since Virginia is an open-primary state – where primary voters can request either a Democratic or Republican ballot – the only option that primary voters will have on June 8 is on the Democratic side.

Perdue opts out of 2022 Senate race after runoff loss

WASHINGTON — Former Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., announced Tuesday he will not join the field for the 2022 Senate race in the state — a surprising move coming a week after he publicly signaled he was considering a run. 

Perdue told supporters in an email that he and his wife, Bonnie, "have decided that we will not enter the race for the United States Senate in Georgia in 2022." He called the decision "personal," not "political," and said he plans to "do everything" to help the eventual Republican nominee defeat Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in the fall. 

Image: Senator David Perdue (R-GA) speaks during a campaign event as he runs for reelection at the Olde Blind Dog Irish Pub, in Milton
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks at a campaign event in Milton, Ga., on Dec. 21, 2020.Al Drabo / Reuters file

There were two runoff elections for Georgia's Senate seats in January because Georgia election law mandates runoffs between the top-two vote-getters if no candidate wins a majority of the vote on Election Day. Perdue lost his runoff to now-Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., by just over 1 percentage point in January. 

That race was for a full term, so Ossoff is not on the ballot in 2022. But Warnock, who defeated then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., by 2 percentage points, is on the ballot, because his race was a special election to fill the remainder of the term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who retired in 2019.

On top of Democrats winning both Georgia Senate seats, President Joe Biden won the state narrowly during the presidential election. All of those races saw record-breaking turnout

Perdue declared in his statement that the 2020 election cycle proved that "Georgia is not a blue state" and "the more Georgians that vote, the better Republicans do."

"These two current liberal US Senators do not represent the values of a majority of Georgians," he said. 

Perdue had been publicly weighing a 2022 bid, filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to kickstart a potential candidacy and tweeting last week to confirm he was considering another campaign. 

While Perdue is passing on a bid this cycle, Loeffler continues to float a comeback bid against Warnock. She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she's starting a group to mobilize Republican voters in Georgia and that a possible Senate bid is "certainly on the table." 

Manchin undecided on supporting Deb Haaland for Interior

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is undecided on whether he'll support Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland, Manchin's spokesperson Sam Runyon told NBC News. 

Haaland, a Democratic congresswoman representing New Mexico, would be the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency and will testify before Manchin's committee on Tuesday. Haaland has been a fierce public lands defender, and has been critical of fossil fuel energy development on those lands. 

Manchin “hasn’t made a decision on Haaland yet. He’s looking forward to her hearing tomorrow,” Runyon said.

Manchin's support will be critical for Haaland's nomination, as Democrats can't afford to lose any one of their members' votes before needing Republican Senators to confirm a Cabinet nominee. Manchin flexed his political muscle in the nomination process when he announced he wouldn't support Neera Tanden to be Office of Management and Budget director, likely sinking her nomination. 

President-Elect Biden Announces Climate And Energy Appointments
Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 19, 2020.Joshua Roberts / Getty Images

When Haaland testifies on Tuesday, in addition to Manchin, she will also face a committee stacked with western-state Republicans who strongly support energy development. At least two Committee members, Sens. John Barasso, R-Wyo., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., have expressed reservations about Haaland. 

After Barrasso spoke with Haaland on the phone, Barrasso said, "energy development on our nation’s public lands is essential to Wyoming’s economy and America’s global energy dominance. The United States is a world energy powerhouse. We need to act like one.”

And Daines called Haaland “radical” and pointed to her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and her support of the Green New Deal as likely reasons to oppose her. Daines also threatened to try and block her confirmation.

Senate Parliamentarian to decide if $15 minimum wage can be in Covid-19 relief

WASHINGTON — The Senate Parliamentarian, who officially advises the Senate on Senate rules, could determine as early as Tuesday if a minimum wage hike could be included in the Covid-19 bill, according to a senior Democratic aide. 

The decision by the parliamentarian could come before the House of Representatives completes its work on the $1.9 trillion plan which currently includes an incremental increase to the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next four years. 

If the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, rules that a minimum wage measure can be included in the budget package, Democrats would just need 50 votes with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chair of the Budget Committee has repeatedly expressed optimism that the minimum wage would satisfy the budgetary requirements for inclusion. 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., participates in a meeting of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 10, 2021.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., participates in a meeting of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 10, 2021.Michael Brochstein / Sipa USA via AP file

If she rules that it is acceptable, Democrats will still have to work to ensure all 50 Democrats are on board. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have come out against raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. 

If MacDonough rules that the minimum wage hike isn't germane to the Covid-19 package, Democrats will need to find a new way to get this priority through an evenly-split Senate. Democrats are aiming to pass the Covid-19 relief bill through budget reconciliation to avoid a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. But that would require all 50 Senate Democrats voting together. 

MacDonough will need to determine if a federal minimum wage hike will meet the specific parameters of a budget reconciliation, including if the wage hike has to have significant budgetary impact.  

Update: A meeting with the Senate parliamentarian is now slated for Wednesday, two Democratic aides tell NBC News. 

This meeting will consist of Republican and Democratic staff who will present their cases to the parliamentarian as to why the minimum wage should or should not be allowed to be included in the Covid-19 budget reconciliation bill. 

A decision could come as early as Wednesday night, one of the aides said.

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.”

Image: Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks during a town hall at the Proulx Community Center in Franklin, N.H.
Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks during a town hall at the Proulx Community Center in Franklin, N.H.Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images file

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. 

Ivanka Trump,Marco Rubio,Tim Scott
Ivanka Trump listens to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speak during a news conference in Washington on Oct. 25, 2017.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP file

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.

Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the National Press Club in Washington
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. 

Image: US-POLITICS-CONGRESS-LABOR-WALSH
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
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.

Mike Huckabee And Sarah Huckabee Sanders Visits "The Story With Martha MacCallum"
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.

In first interview since Senate announcement, John Fetterman promises to be 'sedition-free'

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced his run for Senate on Monday morning. Fetterman, a Democrat, is running for the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn. 

In his first TV interview since announcing his candidacy, Fetterman echoed language that gained him national attention in the wake of the 2020 election: attacking former President Trump's false claims of voter fraud in Pennsylvania and responding to the violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

"I would promise to the people of Pennsylvania, I plan to be 100 percent sedition-free if I'm elected," Fetterman said on MSNBC. "There's already too many sedition-curious members of the United States Senate and I would never be one." 

However, in a state that President Biden won by under two percentage points and which Trump carried in 2016, Fetterman's more progressive policy points could be a sticking issue for voters. 

During his Monday interview, Fetterman said he supported ending the Senate filibuster, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and legalizing marijuana.

"In order to get those kind of important things passed, whether it's climate change or things like that, you need to get rid of the filibuster," Fetterman said. "This idea that some random senator from a state with 600,000 people can holdup the democratic will and the sense of urgency that these policies are coming from — I don't think that's very democratic at its core." 

Fetterman also said that he agreed with Biden's decision to end construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline, but supported maintaining the balance between "transitioning away from fossil fuels, but also safeguarding and holding the union way of life sacred." 

"We had a president who was actively tearing up the Paris Accords and other agreements, and throwing environmental concerns away. And now you have a president who's building that back and making decisive actions like canceling the Keystone Pipeline, which some people don't support, and I think he made the right call," Fetterman said. 

 

Why Democrats and Republicans are competing to throw cash at you

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden wants to send up to $300 a month per child next year to families as part of his Covid-19 relief bill. Now Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah. wants to up the number to $350 and make it a permanent child allowance for nearly all Americans.

The proposals are the latest sign of a sweeping change in the policy conversation, one in which prominent Republicans and Democrats are increasingly competing to offer benefits to families that previous generations of politicians would have dismissed as welfare for the undeserving poor.

Romney’s specific plan is unlikely to get traction with Democrats, since he proposes offsetting its cost by eliminating or scaling back similar antipoverty programs and ending a deduction on state and local taxes that’s popular with Democrats.

Image: Senators Sworn-In As Judges And Jurors For Impeachment Trial As Summons Is Issued To Donald Trump
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, heads to the floor of the Senate on Jan. 26, 2021.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

But it received a warm reception in progressive policy circles. An accompanying analysis by the center-right Niskanen Center estimated it would cut child poverty by a third. 

On both sides of the aisle, there’s more appetite for simply sending Americans cash rather than routing aid through more complicated programs.

“There’s a new generation of policy thinkers on both the left and the right who have a different set of experiences than those who were around during welfare reform,” Samuel Hammond, one of the co-authors of the Niskanen Center’s analysis, said. “It brings together anti-poverty values on the left and pro-family values on the right and unites them in a really nice way.”

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Mike Lee, R-Utah have pushed for larger child tax credits and got a pared-down version of their proposal into the GOP tax bill, for example. And Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan is similar to a bill championed by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. 

Democratic presidential candidates, including Vice President Kamala Harris, proposed an array of new cash benefits and tax credits during the 2020 campaign while Andrew Yang ran on a universal basic income of $1,000 per month.

In the last year, the pandemic turbocharged the conversation, setting the stage for the ongoing debate over $2,000 relief checks that’s produced an odd alliance of Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. on the left and former President Trump and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. on the right.

Republicans have gone through a transformation since the days when Romney himself bemoaned in 2012 that the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax are “dependent upon government” and “believe that they are victims."

Now conservatives may have a tougher time making that case due to political changes wrought by Trump.

While Trump’s economic team was driven by mostly conventional conservatives, his political rhetoric swung 180 degrees from the tea party’s “47 percent” talk. Instead of bemoaning Americans who don’t pay income taxes, he proposed sending them a tax return with “I WIN” printed on it.

He also dropped the tea party’s obsession with deficits, and his push for pandemic checks have gotten Americans in both parties more used to the concept. Trump's success with working class voters has made some social conservatives argue that the party's business wing is too focused on corporate tax cuts, and not enough on benefits for families. 

Democrats have gone through their own transformation. The party’s rising left wing, led by figures like Sanders, emphasized universal benefits in contrast to more limited programs designed to stave off accusations that aid would go to freeloading “welfare queens” or higher incomes who don't need it. 

For more traditional Republicans who are worried that expanded benefits might discourage recipients from working, there’s some concern that the party is losing its identity.

If conservatives want to stop it, though, they may have to re-educate their base. Millennials are now the largest share of the electorate, and many have no memory of either the 1990s-era battles over work requirements or the deficit fears that drove calls for scaling back benefits.

First on NBC: 62 progressive groups pressure Democrats to kill the filibuster

WASHINGTON — In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Friday, 62 progressive groups called for him to abolish the filibuster to give Democratic priorities a chance in Congress. It's the latest signal that the filibuster issue isn't fading despite some vocal holdouts in the caucus. 

"We urge Senate Democrats, under your leadership, to take speedy action to fix the broken Senate and make progress possible by changing the rules to end the gridlock and dysfunction," the groups wrote in the letter, first obtained by NBC News. "The best way to restore a functioning Senate is to eliminate the filibuster as a weapon the minority can use to block an agenda that a majority of Americans have just embraced at the ballot box."

Image: Congressional Democrats Hold Press Conference On Canceling Student Debt
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a press conference about student debt outside the Capitol on Feb. 4, 2021.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Signatories include March For Our Lives, MoveOn Civic Action, Communications Workers of America, Voto Latino, Greenpeace, Demos, Demand Justice, Indivisible and Our Revolution. The groups represent causes ranging from gun control, climate action, a minimum wage hike, liberalizing immigration and others that are likely to be hindered by the 60-vote rule in a split Senate.

Fix Our Senate, an umbrella group for the campaign against the filibuster run by former Senate Democratic leadership aide Eli Zupnick, led the letter effort. Zupnick praised Schumer for rejecting Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's demand to preserve the filibuster. But he signaled that activists are expecting Schumer to persuade holdouts like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to help turn the chamber into a majority-rule body.

Schumer is up for re-election in New York next year.

"We know some Democrats are still reluctant to eliminate the filibuster, but we're going to keep making the case that the promises Democrats made to deliver results must be prioritized over an outdated and abused Senate rule that is no longer working and can easily be changed," Zupnick said.

Tweet the Press: Garrett Haake reports on the GOP's Cheney vote, Marjorie Taylor Greene decision

WASHINGTON — House Republicans voted to keep Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in her leadership position on Wednesday night after several Republicans called for her expulsion because of her vote to impeach former President Trump.

NBC's Garrett Haake reports on what that vote means for the caucus and how Republican leadership has responded to Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's controversial comments on conspiracy theories. 

Click here to read the full conversation. 

Moderate GOP group plans to spend $25 million on midterms in fight for future of the party

WASHINGTON — The Republican Main Street Partnership, a moderate GOP group that has supported efforts to repudiate the party's fringe before, is making its pitch in the fight for the future of the party with new plans to spend $25 million on congressional races this cycle

The group is also releasing its post-election examination of the 2020 cycle to members and allies — an assessment that lays out its argument for a post-Donald Trump GOP as a party that can harness the frustration of some voters while attracting suburban and minority voters in the process.   

“The Republican Party is not dead. We have a chance to come back stronger than ever if we give the voters what they are looking for,” Sarah Chamberlain, Main Street’s executive director, told NBC News in an interview. 

Chamberlain pointed to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as well as the controversy surrounding Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., as two serious issues threatening to derail the party.

“We had the Jan. 6 situation, now we have the congresswoman from Georgia, we have [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy flying down to see Trump. I get a lot of questions from voters around the country about: ‘What’s happening? Where is my party?’” 

A central theme of the group’s autopsy is a focus on traditional GOP bread-and-butter issues like the economy, foreign policy and national security. The group also wants to rebuild the party’s “ethics and moral standing” in a way that looks nothing “like the family values, Moral Majority” politics of the past, while offering solutions on issues like Covid-19 and mental health, according to the report. 

To keep Trump voters on board, which the plan makes clear constitutes an “important wing of the party,” the group argues that the way forward is connecting to them through a populist pitch that skips the “vulgar and disrespectful” rhetoric that could alienate more voters than it brings in.   

"We have to make a decision: Do we want to be a party of 180 bright red congressmen and women? Or do we want to have 240 and 250 where there are purple districts that we hold," Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a Main Street member, asked on Wednesday's "MTP Daily" on MSNBC. 

Even though Trump lost his re-election bid, many Republicans saw a silver lining in November’s election results as the party narrowed the Democratic House majority with swing-seat wins, leading to hope voters were open to distinguishing between Trump and other Republicans.

But then Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to halt the Electoral College certification in an attack where five lost their lives. Virtually all Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans blamed the attack on the president himself, and the House voted to impeach Trump over it. Shortly after, 147 Congressional Republicans voted to object to the Electoral College certification. 

And now Republicans are facing pressure to punish freshman Rep. Green for espousing conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric.

Democrats have quickly moved to marry the two controversies to define the GOP. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began running TV and digital ads Tuesday accusing Republicans of refusing to stand up to extremists by not voting to impeach Trump. 

“Trump may have been malignant, but now it's metastasized,” DCCC chairman and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said Tuesday on “Morning Joe.” 

“If they want to deny the pandemic or throw out the election, they certainly cannot be trusted with power.” 

The Republican Main Street Partnership operates as an outside group that has a membership of lawmakers who align with its goals. 

Nine out of the 60 Main Street members voted against the Electoral College certification, Chamberlain told NBC, quick to note that she had 51 members vote to certify the presidential election. Weeks later, eight of the 10 GOP votes for Trump’s impeachment came from Main Street members. 

While Main Street helped to knock off disgraced Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King last cycle, Chamberlain said that the group has no current plans to try to unseat another incumbent Republican. 

Instead, the group’s priorities are protecting its incumbent members, as well as recruiting like-minded candidates to help win control of the House for Republicans, while growing Main Street’s political and policy clout.

The internal fight within the GOP is still in the early stages, and Trump is still looking to wield significant influence in the party. But pointing to trends in states like Arizona, which has seen both Senate seats flip to Democrats in the past two election cycles, Chamberlain is throwing down the gauntlet.

“We can’t lose a generation of 18-to-21-year-olds right now who register as Democrats because they’re watching what’s going on and say they can’t relate to that. We can’t afford to lose these suburban areas because they can swing House seats and Senate seats, she said.

“If they leave, we may not get them back.”

Progressive group takes on Manchin, Sinema

WASHINGTON — A new progressive group co-founded by former aides to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., announced Tuesday that it was recruiting primary challengers against Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., over their opposition to eliminate the Senate’s legislative filibuster. 

Neither Manchin nor Sinema are up for re-election until 2024.

The campaign by this group, No Excuses PAC, against these two moderate Democratic senators was first reported by POLITICO.

“Democrats have a couple years, max, to improve the lives of the American people. If they blow it, Republicans take back over, and then we’ll get another Trumper back in the White House — maybe Trump himself,” said Corbin Trent, the president of No Excuses PAC, who worked for Ocasio-Cortez, as well as for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.  

“Senators like Sinema and Manchin seem to think we need more talk and less action in the Senate. If they are dictating the agenda, it’ll be hard to hold on to the majority,” Trent added. 

No Excuses PAC has already aired radio ads against both Manchin and Sinema.

 

It’s unclear, however, how effective this progressive campaign will be against these two senators in these two states.

In addition to both not being up for re-election for another three years, Manchin easily bested a liberal primary challenger in 2018 on his way to a narrow re-election victory — in a state Donald Trump won by nearly 40 percentage points two years later. 

Sinema, meanwhile, faced no primary opposition in her 2018 Senate bid, and won the general election with 50 percent of the vote.

But one political observer believes the campaign will be beneficial — for both the progressive group’s coffers, and for Manchin’s and Sinema’s moderate credentials in these two states.

Republican campaign groups ask for campaign funds to be used for personal security

WASHINGTON — The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee asked the Federal Election Commission to amend campaign finance rules to allow senators and House members to use campaign funds to pay for personal security for themselves and family members.

In a letter submitted on Jan. 27, the NRSC and NRCC listed "current events involving concrete threats of physical violence" as the reason for the FEC to allow members to pay for bodyguards from campaign contributions. The FEC currently doesn't allow members to use campaign funds for personal uses that aren't connected with the duties of holding office. The NRSC and NRCC argue in their request that the use wouldn't be personal because the threats are being made based on the members' status as a federal lawmaker.

"The responsibilities associated with being elected representatives constantly require Members (and their families) to appear in public settings, and in such settings, the most practical and effective solution for protecting the safety of members and their families is the employment of personal security personnel," the letter says. 

Image: ***BESTPIX*** Acting Capitol Police Chief Recommends Permanent Fencing Around US Capitol
An eight-foot tall steel fence topped with concertina razor wire circles the U.S. Capitol Jan. 29, 2021.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

There's some precedent for campaign funds being used for security payments. After Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise was shot, the FEC issued an opinion that allowed members of Congress to use campaign funds for "costs associated with installing (or upgrading) and monitoring a security system at the members' residences." 

The ask comes in the wake of the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Since then, members have asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for more flexibility in their congressional allowances to hire security for their district offices. And members of Congress said they wore body armor to President Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20. 

Some lawmakers have even reported being concerned for their safety in the presence of other members of Congress. 

The NRSC and NRCC aren't the only groups asking for increased security measures to be made. Last week, the acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police called for permanent fencing around the Capitol. The barriers originally went up to respond to the Jan. 6 attack and stayed up through inauguration. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn't respond to a request to comment.

The FEC usually responds to written requests within 60 days, but the NRSC and NRCC asked for "expedited consideration" given the "threat environment facing members." 

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.

Image:
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. 

Image: Jim Jordan
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. 

Image: Liz 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. 

Image: US-HEALTH-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.”

Image: Coronavirus Pandemic Causes Climate Of Anxiety And Changing Routines In America
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.

Image:
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. 

Image: Jaime Harrison
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.

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. 

Image: US-VOTE-BIDEN
Democratic candidates for Senate Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and President-elect Joe Biden stand on stage during a rally outside Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

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.  

Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden waves to supporters during a drive-in voter mobilization event at Miramar Regional Park, on Oct. 13, 2020 in Miramar, Fla.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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.

Image: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris delivers remarks after President-elect Joe Biden introduced key nominees for the Department of Justice at The Queen theater
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris delivers remarks after President-elect Joe Biden introduced key nominees for the Department of Justice at The Queen theater Jan. 7, 2021 in Wilmington, Del.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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.

Image: US-VOTE-POLITICS-SECURITY-DIPLOMACY-TEAM
President-elect Joe Biden announces members of his cabinet in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 24, 2020.Chandan Khanna / AFP - Getty Images

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."

Image: Julia Letlow
Julia Letlow.Courtesy Julia Letlow for Congress

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." 

The GOP impeachment defectors by the numbers

WASHINGTON — Ten House Republicans voted to impeach President Trump on Wednesday. Here's what you need to know about them by the numbers: 

Less than one percentage point: The closest margin of victory in 2020 for any of those 10, for Rep. David Valadao, who won his California seat back from Democrat TJ Cox after being defeated by a narrow margin in 2018.

44 percentage points: The widest margin of victory in the 2020 general election for any of those 10, for Wyoming at-large Rep. Liz Cheney.

Eight out of 10: The number of House Republicans voting for impeachment who won their 2020 general election by more than 10 percentage points.

Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shows the article of impeachment against President Donald Trump after signing it in an engrossment ceremony
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shows the article of impeachment against President Donald Trump after signing it in an engrossment ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 13, 2021.Leah Millis / Reuters

Eight out of 10: The number of House Republicans voting for impeachment whose congressional districts were won by Donald Trump.

Three out of 10: The number of House Republicans voting for impeachment whose states (Washington and California) have a nonpartisan top-two primary process.

1: The number of people in American history to successfully impeach two presidents (Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton, who voted to impeach former President Bill Clinton, and then to impeach Trump on Wednesday. Upton did not support the first impeachment of Trump.)

1: The number of House Republicans voting for impeachment who also objected to certification of the electoral votes last week.

On a historical note, 46 members who voted Wednesday were also serving during the impeachment of former President Clinton. Of those, nine are Republicans who voted for impeaching Clinton but voted no on impeaching Trump (the other two Republicans who served during both impeachments are Upton, who voted to impeach both, and Texas Rep. Kay Granger, who did not vote on Wednesday and has Covid-19). And 35 are Democrats who opposed impeaching Clinton but voted to impeach Trump. 

Putting Trump’s House GOP defectors into historical context

WASHINGTON — In 1998, five House Democrats broke with their party to impeach Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. 

And in 2019, zero House Republicans defected from Donald Trump when he was impeached over the Ukraine matter. (One GOP senator, Mitt Romney, voted to convict Trump in the Senate trail.) 

That’s the modern-day historical context to evaluate the number of House Republicans who might eventually vote on Wednesday to impeach Trump over his role in last week’s insurrection at the Capitol.  

As of publication time on Wednesday, there are at least five House Republicans who said they will vote for Trump’s impeachment today. 

How high will that number eventually be?

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. 

Image:
President Donald Trump walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Jan. 12, 2021.Gerald Herbert / AP

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.

Image: US-POLITICS-BIDEN
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 8, 2021, to announce key nominees for his economic and jobs team.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

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 

If confirmed, Mayorkas and Becerra would be the first Latinos to lead their respective departments. 

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 

Yellen and Haines would be the first women to hold their positions and Haaland would be the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet. 

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.

Image: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris delivers remarks after President-elect Joe Biden introduced key nominees for the Department of Justice at The Queen theater
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris delivers remarks after President-elect Joe Biden introduced key nominees for the Department of Justice at The Queen theater Jan. 7, 2021 in Wilmington, Del.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

“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.

Image: US-VOTE-POLITICS-SECURITY-DIPLOMACY-TEAM
President-elect Joe Biden announces members of his cabinet in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 24, 2020.Chandan Khanna / AFP - Getty Images

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. 

Image: U.S. Senate run-off election, in Marietta, Georgia
Voters line up early in the morning to cast their ballots in Marietta, Ga., on Jan. 5, 2021.Mike Segar / Reuters

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.

Savannah

  • 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.

President-elect Joe Biden introduces key Cabinet nominees and members of his climate team in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 19, 2020.
President-elect Joe Biden introduces key Cabinet nominees and members of his climate team in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 19, 2020.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images file

Here's how that looks by the numbers: 

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." 

Image: Georgia Gov. Kemp Visits Chatham County Health Department As First COVID Vaccinations Are Administered
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to the media before health care workers receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine outside the Chatham County Health Department on Dec. 15, 2020, in Savannah.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file

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.

Andrew Yang files paperwork for New York City mayoral bid

WASHINGTON — Former Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has filed paperwork with New York City to run for mayor, marking the next political chapter for the entrepreneur who mounted an underdog bid for president in 2020. 

Yang, who had been reportedly eyeing a bid for New York City mayor, filed on Wednesday with the city's Campaign Finance Board. An affiliated committee, Yang For New York, which is associated with a top Yang aide, also registered with the city board.

Yang has not yet commented on the filing, but a source close to Yang told NBC that the filing is "just procedural" and that "no decision has been made," but that since Yang was "seriously considering it" that filing "was the necessary next step."

Image: Presidential Candidates Attend Gun Safety Forum In Des Moines
Andrew Yang speaks during a forum on gun safety in Des Moines, Iowa, on Aug. 10, 2019.Stephen Maturen / Getty Images file

With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio term-limited, the mayoral race is expected to be wide open. 

New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose, who lost his re-election bid this year, is exploring a bid. Other prominent candidates include New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former de Blasio aide and police oversight board head Maya Wiley (a former MSNBC legal analyst), former Housing and Urban Development Sec. Shaun Donovan, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.

Yang announced his 2020 presidential campaign in late 2017, far before almost any other major candidate. And while he was initially viewed as a long-shot, his campaign caught a jolt of momentum as he pitched his plan for all Americans to receive monthly $1,000 checks as part of a universal basic income.

He ultimately dropped out of the race after the New Hampshire primary and started a nonprofit aimed at advancing his ideas, including universal basic income. He endorsed President-elect Joe Biden in March.

For the first time, New York City will be running the mayoral primary races with ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank a slate of candidates. If no candidate wins a majority vote, the votes for the lowest-finishing candidates will be reallocated to their next preferred candidate, with the process repeating until one candidate hits a majority. 

DNC will elect new chair at Jan. 21 virtual Winter Meeting

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee will pick its new chair during its virtual Winter Meeting on Jan. 21, NBC News has learned, one day after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. 

The party informed committee-members today of the date of its Winter Meeting, one of the seasonal gatherings where it conducts party business, a DNC aide told NBC. 

The centerpiece of the Winter Meeting will be the party's officer elections, which will include the election of a new chair. Current DNC Chairman Tom Perez has said he will not serve another four-year term, opening the vacancy at the top of the organization. 

With Biden entering the White House, he'll have significant sway over who leads the party. While there are no official candidates yet, former South Carolina Senate nominee Jaime Harrison has expressed openness to running, telling The Washington Post last month "If that's something that they are interested in me doing, I'll definitely take a good look." 

Harrison proved to be a strong fundraiser during his failed bid for the Senate this past cycle, raising more money in a single fundraising quarter than any candidate in American history. He ultimately lost that race to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham by about 10 points. 

The Democrat has sought to lead the party before — he ran for DNC chair after the 2016 election, and Perez tapped him to be the DNC's associate chairman after that election. Before that, he led the South Carolina Democratic Party. 

And he's close with one of Biden's key allies, South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, after having worked as one of his top aides in the House. 

While other DNC seasonal meetings include various caucus forums and committee work, including the work that helps to shape the party's rules, the party will just focus on electing its new officers during the January session. On top of the chairperson's race, the party will also be electing vice chairs, secretaries, treasurers and national finance chair. 

Image: Tom Perez
Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez speaks before the start of the Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C.Patrick Semansky / AP

Perez will leave the party after one term as its leader, in which the party won back both the House and the White House in the 2018 and 2020 elections respectively. The former Labor Secretary during the Obama administration, he inherited a DNC in turmoil after the party's loss in the 2016 presidential election, as well as after hacked emails showing some key party leaders deriding Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders were released. 

Perez faced criticism from some Democrats and DNC members for the party's fundraising in the early years of his tenure. And even as the party won back the White House in November, Democrats lost ground in the House and underperformed its targets in the Senate (control of that body will now be decided in the two runoff Senate elections in Georgia). 

But Perez and top Democrats have pointed to the steps taken to dig the party out of its 2016 hole to help its eventual nominee, Biden, defeat President Trump, including investments in organizing staff and its voter file, emphasizing targeting key constituencies, and helping to fund expansive voting-rights litigation effort across the country. 

Iowa Democrat Rita Hart files challenge to six-vote defeat in the House

WASHINGTON — Iowa Democrat Rita Hart is officially contesting Iowa's Second Congressional District election, asking the House of Representatives to recount ballots and arguing that she would have won but for lawful votes left uncounted. 

Hart ran against Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks in November's election, and the state's election officials certified the Republican's narrow victory, by just six votes, late last month.

But in an official "notice of contest" filed with the House, Hart's campaign claims it has identified "at least 22 lawful ballots" that were left out of the count (the vast majority of those votes, but not all, were for Hart). The campaign says that if those votes were correctly added to the tally, the Democrat would have won.

The request goes on to request a "hand recount of every ballot" to be sure all votes are captured. 

"We believe that in a democratic system, that it is important that this process be abided by, and that every vote be counted. It is better to get it done right than to simply ignore the fact that voters have been disenfranchised because it might be more convenient," Mark Elias, the Hart campaign's lawyer, said in a briefing with reporters. 

Miller-Meeks and fellow Republicans slammed the decision.

"Every vote has been counted under Iowa law, and recounted under Iowa law. The canvas of votes was approved unanimously by a bipartisan board, and certified by the state of Iowa. I'm proud that a narrow majority of you elected me," Miller-Meeks said in a video statement Tuesday

"Unfortunately, Rita Hart now wants Washington politicians to override the will of Iowa voters and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Iowa voters." 

And in a statement, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Bob Salera called the decision to petition the House a "naked power grab."

The challenge is the latest twist in what's slated to be one of the tightest House races in modern American history. First, the state's unofficial results found Hart 47 votes behind Miller-Meeks, but the margin narrowed to six votes after a recount requested by Hart. 

Ultimately, the House has control over who it decides to seat, so it will be up to the Democratic-controlled body as to whether to investigate and ultimately decide who should be seated. One high-profile example of the process happened in 1984, when the House conducted a recount that ultimately overturned the results in Indiana's 8th Congressional District. 

The request for the House to weigh in comes as Democrats have criticized President Donald Trump for claiming, without evidence, that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election, even despite all votes being certified and electoral votes already cast.

The 176-page challenge from the Hart campaign specifically identifies ballots the campaigns believe should have been counted, and includes affidavits from those involved in the counting process, as well as from voters. The campaign says the votes weren't counted for a variety of reasons, including an error by an election worker, a misplaced signature, and ballots not being sealed properly. 

Asked about the GOP criticism of bringing the challenge to the Democratic-controlled House, Elias said that the move wasn't partisan, but that they were only following the process laid out in federal law to contest federal elections. And he added that while the ballots he identified were not counted for a handful of reasons, he’s not suggesting any animus. 

“Elections are, under the best of circumstances, challenging to administer. In the middle of a pandemic, they are even more challenging,” he said.  

Larry Hogan celebrates bipartisan Covid relief deal in new 'No Labels' ad

WASHINGTON — Maryland RepublicanGov. Larry Hogan is appearing in a new ad campaign applauding the "bipartisan leadership" that led to Congress passing a Covid-relief deal over months of stalemate, NBC News has learned. 

The new ad campaign is from No Labels, the moderate advocacy group that champions bipartisanship, which named Hogan its national co-chairman earlier this month. 

In the ad — on which No Labels says it will spend $350,000 to run on cable and digital across the country — Hogan pitches a hopeful message about Congress' way forward, calling the agreement "how our government needs to work," by putting partisan "labels aside and put the country first." 

"This is what real, bipartisan leadership looks like. This relief package will save lives, save businesses and save jobs. It's what Americans have been waiting for," Hogan says in the ad. 

"So many people are hurting, and I know it's hard to see our way through this. But if we unite as Americans and work together, I promise you, we can come out of this stronger and better than ever." 

Lawmakers have been struggling to reach a consensus on a new round of relief for months, but broke the logjam over the weekend. But a deal materialized over the last few weeks, and Congress ultimately passed an almost $900 billion relief package late Monday. The deal includes new stimulus checks and an extension of the expanded unemployment benefits, and also provides more funds for areas including the vaccine rollout, for schools and for businesses. 

No Labels supports the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group that has been pushing for compromise in the House on Covid relief and other issues. A handful of the top negotiators in the latest round of Covid relief in the Senate are allies of the group too.  

In a statement to NBC, Ryan Clancy, the chief strategist for No Labels, applauded those allies who "kept working" when "congressional leaders weren't talking, and a deal seemed impossible" because "they knew the stakes and that millions of Americans desperately needed help.

"This deal simply would not have happened if not for the work of this group. So No Labels wanted to highlight this rare and welcome act of bipartisanship but just as important, to let Americans know we can see a lot more of this in 2021 if we demand it," Clancy said. 

The new ad appearance comes in the early weeks of Hogan's term at the helm of the organization. The Maryland Republican has sought to stake out an independent lane in recent years within a GOP dominated by support for President Donald Trump. 

The former head of the National Governor's Association, Hogan has been out-front on his state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, and told "Meet the Press" in July that he's a "lifelong Republican who has not been afraid to stand up and disagree with the president on any number of issues."

"I don't know what the future holds in November, but I know that the Republican party is going to be looking at what happens after President Trump and whether that's in four months or in four years. And I think they're going to be looking to, “How do we go about becoming a bigger tent party?” he said at the time. 

Here's where Joe Biden fell short with critical Hispanic voters

WASHINGTON — In the early days of the 2020 Democratic primaries, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign began polling to learn why their candidate was struggling to gain traction with Hispanic voters, in comparison to primary rivals like Bernie Sanders. Their data found that many Hispanics knew little about Biden — remembering him as Barack Obama’s vice president, and almost nothing else. 

That lack of familiarity spelled trouble once Biden became the Democratic nominee, and left him vulnerable to President Trump and other Republicans' campaign to paint Biden and other Democrats as supporting socialist policies that could hurt Latinos economically.  

Nationally, Biden fell just one percentage point behind 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton among Latinos, 65 to 66 percent respectively per exit polls. But several factors — like varying ideologies, countries of origin and where they live in the U.S. — influence the political leanings of Latinos, especially in key battleground states where Republican investment and communication infrastructure are prominent. 

Among Latino men: Biden won 59 percent, a drop-off of four points from Clinton in 2016. The Trump campaign had prioritized outreach to them after identifying Latino business owners could be persuaded by Trump's economic message.

Image: Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Biden campaigns in Las Vegas, Nevada
Joe Biden speaks about the disproportionate ways coronavirus has impacted Latinos in Nevada during a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Oct. 9, 2020.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The Biden campaign also did little door-to-door campaigning during the pandemic, which may have also affected his ability to persuade a group that doesn't have a set party affiliation. 

Biden advisers insist the campaign jumped into action when they realized Biden wasn't gaining ground with Hispanic voters. They allotted millions for paid media to micro-target Latino communities. And Biden still won an overwhelming majority of voters against Trump nationally. 

Matt Baretto, whose polling firm Latino Decisions assisted the Biden campaign, said the campaign had done a good job reintroducing the candidate to Hispanic voters by describing his nearly-five decade political record and his commitment to his family and Catholic faith.

But he said the campaign, and the Democratic Party broadly, needed to do much more.

“You can only give the campaign so much criticism and credit. This is something that the party as a whole needs to be engaged with consistently from now on starting the day after inauguration,” Baretto said.

The Biden campaign’s chief strategist Mike Donilon echoed that point in a recent press briefing, noting that the party and Biden’s White House “are focused on and fully intend to strengthen” their outreach to the Latino community.

In Arizona and Nevada, investments and cohesion between Hispanic grassroots groups and state Democratic parties helped put Biden over the top. And Hispanic turnout also jumped in other battleground states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin

But Biden saw a concerning dip in Hispanic support in Florida where Republicans worked to convince Miami-Dade County’s Cuban-American community that Biden was sympathetic to socialism. Biden won the county by just 7.3 points, a 23 point swing from Clinton’s total in 2016. And in south Texas, the once heavily Democratic Rio Grande Valley along the border with Mexico saw a steep drop in support for Biden compared to Clinton in 2016. 

Strategists there said Trump's law enforcement message turned many voters in the region away from Biden even as Biden publicly stated that he didn't support the "defund the police" effort.  

“A lot of the border patrol, law enforcement are heavily Latino in the Rio Grande valley. So when you are talking about ‘defunding the police’ and you don’t stand up to those types of rhetoric, then it leaves an opening for Republicans,” Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said during a post-election virtual press conference in November. 

Image: People promote the importance of the Latino vote in Maryvale, Phoenix
Joe Biden's supporters promote the importance of the Latino vote in the majority Hispanic neighbourhood of Maryvale in Phoenix on Oct. 31, 2020.Edgard Garrido / Reuters

Hispanic grassroots operatives and campaign officials told NBC News the campaign and party lacked a firm effort to combat attacks and misinformation spreading about Biden. 

Advisers also saw Biden fall victim to a trend they believe has badly served Democrats for some time: Assuming Latino voters would support them because of Trump and Republicans’ anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

While Trump’s attacks on illegal immigration and his effort to build a border wall with Mexico may have alienated many Hispanic voters, others were attracted to his economic record and warnings that Democrats would slow the economy. Trump’s messages were quickly and repeatedly disseminated through established conservative Spanish language T.V., radio and social media channels, as well as messaging platforms like WhatsApp.

Multiple aides said they pushed Biden to forcefully disassociate himself from socialism, which he did often when pressed in interviews. But he mentioned his record of taking on dictators in Central America just once in a speech in Miami — a missed opportunity, they say, since he gave nine speeches in Florida ahead of Election Day.

Former campaign officials, Hispanic operatives and state party leaders also said Biden needed to convey a much stronger economic message to voters who liked Trump’s record. And Biden’s support for strict regulations to control the pandemic, including the temporary closures of some businesses, left many voters fearing that they would lose their jobs if he were president, strategists said.

“I think it’s deeper than saying Biden needed to do more. It’s that the Democratic Party needs to assess how we can more effectively communicate our answers to misinformation,” Baretto said. “So let’s find that message and have other Latino Democrats communicating and sending the leaders of your party to do that. They should be echoing it.”

Biden cuts ad with Warnock and Ossoff for Georgia Senate runoffs

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Democratic Senate hopefuls Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are out with a new ad featuring none other than President-Elect Joe Biden as they look to give Democrats their second statewide win in a span of a few short months. 

The minute-long ad opens with Biden speaking straight to camera, telling Georgians that while "things are tough right now," that “help is on the way,” outlining his plan to combat COVID, get folks vaccinated, and help business.

But Biden pivots to the Senate race, connecting Democratic success next month to his agenda. 

“Let me be clear, I need Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the United States Senate to get this done," he says, adding: “There are folks in Congress threatening to do everything in their power to block our efforts,” and implorign Georgians to vote for the Democrats in their respective races. Ossoff is running against GOP Sen. David Perdue and Warnock against GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. 

While former President Barack Obama narrated an ad in support of both candidates, this is Biden's first, and it comes days after the president-elect joined the pair for a rally in Georgia.  

Inauguration committee announces limited attendance amid Covid-19 pandemic

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration will look more like a State of the Union, with the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announcing Tuesday that they'll limit tickets and guests for lawmakers. 

In a statement released Wednesday, Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt noted that the JCCIC has concluded alongside public health and medical experts that they will strictly “limit attendance at the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies to a live audience that resembles a State of the Union” address.

Image: US-POLITICS-INAUGURATION-PREPARATION
Workers construct the stage for the presidential inauguration in Washington on Dec. 1, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

While the JCCIC traditionally gives out 200,000 tickets for members of Congress to distribute to constituents, the committee will now only distribute tickets to members of the 117th Congress and one guest to see the ceremonies on the Capitol’s West Front. Constituents, however, can still request memorabilia tickets and program packets, but they will not allow for access to the Capitol grounds.

The latest safety protocols follows the Presidential Inaugural Committee announcement Tuesday that they are also planning a largely virtual inauguration and parade to encourage supporters celebrate at home rather than gather in Washington, D.C.

State Department to receive first Covid vaccines this week

WASHINGTON — The State Department will be receiving its first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine this week, according to internal agency communications obtained by NBC News. 

The “very limited number,” of the vaccines received by the department in the first tranche will be administered to a small prioritized group of staff undertaking “mission critical” work, according to an email sent to employees Tuesday by Under Secretary of State Brian Bulatao. He did not say how many doses would be immediately available to diplomats, but noted more would arrive “incrementally over the next several months.”

Frontline medical personnel are among those first to receive the vaccine as well as State Department employees serving on the frontlines in Kabul, Afghanistan; Baghdad, Iraq and Mogadishu, Somalia, where poor healthcare systems put them even more at risk. Diplomatic Security agents in Washington, D.C. performing critical operations and coming into close contact with the Secretary of State will also be a priority for vaccinations.  

Image: A vial of Pfizer?EUR(TM)s COVID-19 vaccine that receive emergency use authorization is seen at George Washington University Hospital, in Washington
A vial of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine that receive emergency use authorization is seen at George Washington University Hospital, in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 14, 2020.Jacquelyn Martin / Pool via Reuters

“While we would have preferred to vaccinate our entire Department workforce at once, we will have to do so incrementally based on vaccine availability,” Bulatao said in the State Department-wide email. In the meantime, Bulatao advised employees “to continue to wear face coverings, physically distance, and follow [Department] guidance.”

Bulatao noted the State Department is working closely with Operation Warp Speed, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, and will “deploy the Covid-19 vaccine to the broader workforce as soon as it is made available.”

A State Department spokesperson declined to expand on the timing or logistics of agency’s plan due to “operational sensitivity,” but said vaccine distribution “will allow the Department to advance U.S. national security interests and ensure America’s essential diplomacy continues unimpeded.”

The State Department prioritization comes as officials across the U.S. government, in particular at national security agencies, are working to decide how and when to dole out the vaccine to critical staffers while avoiding the perception that government workers are skipping the line. 

President Donald Trump has said White House staffers should get it “somewhat later in the program” and that he isn’t currently scheduled to do so until “the appropriate time.” Two sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence will get the vaccine by week’s end. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller received the Covid-19 vaccine on camera on Monday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Nina Turner announces bid for potential Ohio House special election

WASHINGTON — Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner announced her campaign for Rep. Marcia Fudge's, D-Ohio, seat on Tuesday. Turner was the co-chair of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign. 

Fudge's seat will become vacant if she is confirmed as President-elect Joe Biden's Housing and Urban Development secretary. Biden announced Fudge as his choice to lead HUD on Dec. 8

Turner touched on her Cleveland roots — a large part of Ohio's 11th district — in her announcement video. 

"I am a daughter of Cleveland. I was raised in this community by parents who worked very hard. My mother was a nurse's aid, my father a truck driver. I can relate to people who live in the 11th Congressional District from all walks of life," Turner said. 

The district has been represented by just two representatives since 2000: Fudge and former Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Turner, like Fudge and Jones, is also a woman of color. 

Turner served as a state senator from 2008 to 2014 in the Cleveland area, and was on the Cleveland city council prior to that. She has already amassed support from Sanders campaign alums like California Rep. Ro Khanna and the progressive group, Our Revolution, that was created after Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign. 

Gov. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, will call a special election if and when Fudge formally leaves her seat to lead HUD. 

GOP holds spending edge five weeks into Senate runoffs

WASHINGTON — Republicans hold a narrow TV and radio spending edge in the Georgia Senate runoffs, an edge powered by a big boost from outside groups. 

There's already been about $220 million spent on the airwaves in both races combined, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, with more than $400 million in total already slated to be spent over the two-month runoff period. 

That type of spending, in such a small period, means that Georgians have already been inundated with TV ads — AdImpact estimates that as of last Thursday, every Georgian adult (aged 35 or above) had seen about 328 Senate runoff ads already. 

Republicans overall have a larger spending advantage in the special runoff, which pits GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock. Republicans have spent $60.9 million through Monday to the Democrats' $50.4 million. 

The GOP spending edge in the race between GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff is smaller — $55.7 million to $53 million. 

Image:
Supporters of Sens. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and David Perdue, R-Ga., wait for the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence at his Defend the Majority Rally on Dec. 10, 2020, in Augusta, Ga.Curtis Compton / AP

Under the hood, both races are following similar trends, with the Democratic candidates the largest individual TV ad spenders in their races, but with Republican outside groups filling the gap, and then some. 

Warnock leads the pack in his race with $37.3 million spent on TV and radio ads, with Loeffler at $25 million. But the GOP-aligned American Crossroads is right behind her at $24.8 million, with the top Democratic outside group Georgia Honor at $11.8 million. 

Ossoff similarly is outpacing Perdue, spending $41.1 million to the Republican's $22.7 million. Senate Leadership Fund, the GOP-aligned group, spent $22.5 million, with the Democrat-aligned Georgia Way spending $10.6 million. 

In-person early voting in Georgia Senate runoffs begins Monday

WASHINGTON — Voters are voting in person in Georgia's Senate runoff.

Georgians could already vote absentee to choose between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock, as well as GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. But Monday marked the first day when voters could cast their ballots for the pivotal elections in person. 

Image: Early Voting Starts In Georgia Ahead Of Senate Runoff Elections
Voters line up for the first day of early voting in Atlanta on Dec. 14, 2020.Jessica McGowan / Getty Images

Early, in-person voting made up 54 percent of total votes in the Senate races’ first round, so it’s going to be important for the candidates to bank these votes (you can see more of the breakdown at the Secretary of State’s website, they refer to it as “advanced voting”).

For what it’s worth, GOP Sen. David Perdue won those advanced votes in his race by a margin of about 54 percent to 46 percent. In a massive field (reminder: the special election held a jungle primary), GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and GOP Rep. Doug Collins, the two top GOP candidates, won a combined 49 percent, per the Secretary of State’s website, while Warnock, far-and-away the top Democrat in the crowded field, winning 30 percent (the second-place Democrat, Deborah Jackson, had another 7 percent of the early votes). 

Cobb County, the state's most populous county, announced last week it would add two more locations for early voting in response to "concerns" that its initial plan of more limited locations could hamper the ability of minority voters to make have access to the polls. 

Biden to share staff, financial resources with Warnock and Ossoff

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is sharing both staff and financial resources from his presidential campaign with Georgia’s Democratic Senate candidates ahead of their closely-watched runoff elections on Jan. 5.

The Biden campaign — in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee — has spent roughly $5 million in the runoff races so far and has raised nearly $10 million for Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, two Democratic officials confirmed to NBC News.

Image: Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater, on Dec. 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.Andrew Harnik / AP

Biden won Georgia by less than a point in the November presidential election, and the runoff races will decide which party controls the Senate.

The Biden campaign is paying for about 50 staffers to continue working in Georgia and has shifted another dozen data analytics and technology staffers to help the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns. The staffers will be led by two senior members of Biden's Georgia effort, and their focus will be on the ground game: organizing Democrats and outreach to critical constituencies and voter contact.

And Biden isn't just lending his team to help Ossoff and Warnock. The president-elect will visit Atlanta on Tuesday to campaign for the candidates. 

Lamar Alexander criticizes GOP lawsuit aimed at overturning election

WASHINGTON — In an interview with "Meet the Press," retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., dismissed the attempt by a handful of Republican state attorneys general to get the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the election results in four pivotal states that helped President-elect Joe Biden win November's election. 

Alexander, in an excerpted part of the interview released Friday, argued the lawsuit would infringe on states' rights. 

"That doesn't sound like a very Republican argument to me," he said of the challenge led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican.

"I mean, our position, my position, Republicans believe that states are in charge of elections. And Texas is a big state, but I don't know exactly why it has a right to tell four other states how to run their elections. So I'm having a hard time figuring out the basis for that lawsuit."

Paxton's lawsuit, filed this week against Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, argues that the Court should allow state legislators to pick the slate of presidential electors because of what he claims was widespread fraud. 

But a bipartisan group of top election officials in those four states pushed back on allegations of fraud, the president and his allies have lost dozens of lawsuits claiming fraud, legal experts have raised serious questions about the lawsuit, and Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse called the case a "PR stunt" in an interview with the Washington Examiner

Tune in to Meet the Press on Sunday for more of the interview with Sen. Alexander, including his response to the president’s attempts to overturn the election results, and his thoughts on the future of the Republican party as he  prepares to retire after decades in politics.

Outgoing Rep. Max Rose files paperwork for potential NYC mayor run

WASHINGTON — Outgoing Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., filed paperwork on Thursday for a possible run for New York City mayor.

Rose, who lost his House seat to incoming Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., in November, represented New York's 11th district. 

Rose previewed the news in a tweet on Thursday night, after filing the paperwork that will allow him to raise money for a potential run. He hasn't formally announced his candidacy. 

Before losing his re-election bid, Rose said he wouldn't run for mayor if he lost his congressional seat. 

"You think that a short, bald Jewish guy from Brooklyn is gonna get elected mayor? I'm running for reelection and that's the position I want," Rose said at the time. 

But Rose also made criticizing the current mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, a central point in his campaign. Rose cut an ad in September saying, "Bill de Blasio is the worst mayor in the history of New York City." He then added, "That’s it guys. Seriously. That’s the whole ad.”

Rose won New York's 11th District in 2018, ousting Republican Rep. Dan Donovan, and was the first Democrat to win the seat in eight years. Malliotakis will now be New York City's only Republican congressperson. 

And another name from 2020 could follow Rose's lead into the mayoral race. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has reportedly told some New York City leaders that he's considering a run. 

Doug Emhoff to join Georgetown Law faculty in 2021

WASHINGTON — Georgetown University Law Center announced Thursday that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, will join their faculty in January 2021.

Emhoff will join as a "distinguished visitor from practice" and fellow. Prior to President-elect Joe Biden and Harris' electoral win, Emhoff worked as a media and entertainment attorney in California. Emhoff will teach a two-credit course at Georgetown entitled “Entertainment Law Disputes.”

Emhoff and Biden's wife, Jill Biden, both plan to work during their spouses' term. Biden plans to continue teaching after inauguration, making her the first first lady to hold a job outside of the White House. 

Image: Douglas Emhoff
Senator Kamala Harris and husband Douglas Emhoff smile while standing on stage during the Democratic National Convention at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 19, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

“I’ve long wanted to teach and serve the next generation of young lawyers,” Emhoff said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more excited to join the Georgetown community.”

Emhoff has not yet announced what kind, if any, work he'll do as the vice president's husband. 

“This role at Georgetown will be separate and apart from his official role as Second Gentleman, and Mr. Emhoff continues to work with the Biden-Harris transition team to develop the portfolio he will focus on to support the work of the Administration,” a transition spokesperson said.

During the general election, Emhoff repeatedly mentioned interest in working on “access to justice” in his role as second gentleman. And during a stop in Washington D.C. before Thanksgiving with Harris, he mentioned an interest in food insecurity.

Arizona gov elected chair of Republican Governors Association amid Trump's criticism

WASHINGTON — Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has been elected the chair of the Republican Governors Association despite President Donald Trump's repeated attacks on him for certifying the state's electoral results. 

The association announced Ducey's election in a statement Wednesday confirming Ducey would lead the group and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds would serve as vice chair. Both will serve one-year terms effective immediately. 

Trump publicly turned on Ducey in the last two weeks, tweeting that Ducey has betrayed Arizonans and suggesting that “Republicans will long remember” that Ducey did not fight the state's narrow election results.

Over the weekend, Trump followed in a tweet: “Between Governor @DougDucey of Arizona and Governor @BrianKempGA of Georgia, the Democrat Party could not be happier. They fight harder against us than do the Radical Left Dems. If they were with us, we would have already won both Arizona and Georgia…” 

Image: Doug Ducey, Cara Christ
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question about the arrival of a Covid-19 vaccine in Arizona as he holds a news conference regarding the latest Covid-19 information as Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ listens, on Dec. 2, 2020, in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin / Pool via AP

But despite the push from Trump and his legal team to discredit the state's leaders and its election results, top Republicans in the state, including Ducey, have defended their state's count. 

"I’ve been pretty outspoken about Arizona’s election system, and bragged about it quite a bit, including in the Oval Office. And for good reason," Ducey tweeted last month.

"In Arizona, we have some of the strongest election laws in the country, laws that prioritize accountability and clearly lay out procedures for conducting, canvassing, and even contesting the results of an election."

Biden's Cabinet picks leave House Democrats with a narrow majority

WASHINGTON — President-elect Biden's decision to select Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to be his Housing and Urban Development secretary could have a major impact on the Democrats' House majority.

As of right now, the 2020 elections reduced the Democratic majority to 222 seats. That majority will get even slimmer with Fudge and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., departing for jobs in the Biden administration. With the majority, assuming Fudge is confirmed, down to 220, Democrats will hold just two seats more than a majority of a full House (218).  

Special elections will be held for Fudge and Richmonds' seats, but it could take months for those elections to determine a winner in these heavily Democratic districts. 

And narrow majority could be worrisome for Democrats. 

If Biden picks more House Democrats to serve in his administration, or if other Democrats in the House resign or pass away, the party could potentially lose its majority.  

Image: Nancy Pelosi Holds News Conference After Democratic Leadership Elections
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talks to reporters after she was re-elected to lead her conference along with Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., in Washington on Nov. 18, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters that he was concerned about the slimming majority and indicated as much to the Biden team.

"I’m certainly concerned by the slimming of the majority. I indicated to the administration very early on that I wanted them to be very careful in terms of the members that they appointed from Congress," Hoyer said.

That means it doesn’t look good for any other House Democrats to get a Cabinet nod — like New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who’s a contender for Interior Secretary.  

But even if Democrats do retain the House majority, it won't be an effective governable majority. Democrats are bound to need Republican help to pass big-ticket items, because it's likely they'll see defections from either progressives or moderates on any legislation. 

Terry McAuliffe to announce Virginia governor's bid Wednesday

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will announce Wednesday morning that he will run again for his former seat, according to aides involved in his emerging campaign.

McAuliffe, who entertained a run for president in 2020, is up against three other Democrats, all of whom are Black: current Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, state senator Jennifer McClellan and former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy. Either McCllellan or Foy, if elected, would be the nation’s first Black woman governor.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe arrives at the election night rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe arrives at the election night rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia on Nov. 7, 2017.Aaron Bernstein / Reuters file

McAulliffe will announce his candidacy at an elementary school in Richmond to focus on his education plan.

“[McAuliffe’s] plan will call for the largest ever investment in education in the Commonwealth, and will include raising teacher salaries above the national average for the first time in Virginia history,” the campaign says.

Since McAuliffe’s term as governor ended in 2018, he’s stayed heavily involved in engaging and fundraising for Virginia Democrats, particularly in the aftermath of the controversy that engulfed current Gov. Ralph Northam over a picture of him in blackface was found in a medical school yearbook.

McAuliffe’s PAC “Common Good” has raised more than $1.7 million as of July.

McAulliffe will also announce his campaign co-chairs tomorrow, all of whom all Black leaders in the commonwealth, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. 

Virginia’s gubernatorial race has long been an early bellwether test for both parties ahead of the next midterm elections since it takes place in an otherwise off-year for elective politics. 

Joe Biden won Virginia by more than 10 points, but with more progressive candidates in the primary like Jennifer Caroll Foy, the conversation could shift left.

McAuliffe is also jumping in the race at a moment when Republicans in Virginia have been battling over how to hold their own party’s primary, and on Saturday decided to hold a convention versus a primary vote to choose their nominee. State senator Amanda Chase, who is running on a far right agenda, initially announced her gubernatorial run as a Republican, but now said she would seek the nominee as an independent. 

Clyburn: Expect Marcia Fudge to be nominated to Biden's Cabinet

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration committee chair, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, said he expects Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge to be nominated for a position in Biden's Cabinet. 

Fudge, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, would be the second Black woman to be nominated to Biden's Cabinet. Biden nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the Ambassador to the United Nations in late November. 

"Marcia Fudge, I look for her to be in the Cabinet. I spoke with her last  night, I have been talking with other people, I don't know that she will be the Secretary of Agriculture, that may not be. But she will be a member of the Cabinet. At least to be nominated for a Cabinet position," Clyburn said Tuesday on "Morning Joe". 

Clyburn, whose influential endorsement helped Biden secure his win in South Carolina, he had been disappointed in the lack of Black Cabinet nominees ahead of of Biden decision to nominate Rt. Gen. Lloyd Austin to head the Department of Defense. 

“From all I hear, Black people have been given fair consideration," Clyburn told a columnist in November. "But there is only one Black woman so far."

On Monday, NBC News confirmed that Biden would nominate Austin, who if confirmed, will be the first Black man to lead the Defense Department. 

And Clyburn applauded the pick on Tuesday. 

"I look for this to be a pretty smooth hearing and confirmation and I like him very much. I think he is going to be a good fit for us," Clyburn said. 

Talking policy with Benjy: Big fat beautiful checks edition

WASHINGTON — The big bipartisan deal on COVID relief continues to chug along, but there’s some prominent dissent from the left and right — and, unusually, they both have the same complaint.

On Monday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., urged President Donald Trump to veto any bill that doesn’t include direct payments to Americans along the lines of the $1,200 checks that went out at the start of the pandemic. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. has also said he opposes the emerging deal on those lines. While not yet threatening to vote against a bill, big names on the left in the House are also pushing for more payments, led by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Senate Vote
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at the Capitol on June 17, 2020.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call Pool file

Trump is also on record calling for more COVID payments in October — his name went out on the previous round of payments — though he has not done much to push for them in the current round of negotiations. Hawley and Sanders also have other concerns, with the former upset over aid to state and local budgets and the latter worried about protections for business against COVID-related lawsuits.

While the coronavirus is the cause of the current debate over payments, it’s part of a broader trend in both parties towards promoting direct cash benefits to families rather than more complicated benefits tied to specific needs. Andrew Yang was the most prominent evangelist with his push for basic income, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also made big refundable tax credits her signature domestic policy.

On the GOP side, some Republicans see it as a way to compete with Democrats on populist grounds. Even before the pandemic, Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee were rolling out a bill to expand child tax credits — and notably pay for it by raising taxes on wealthy heirs, a rare break from conservative orthodoxy.

All of this could present a President-elect Joe Biden with some bipartisan opportunities once he takes office. On paper, Hawley and Sanders could easily work out a bipartisan bill on stimulus and maybe even get Trump to endorse it on Twitter. But in practice, Biden knows from experience that it’s hard getting Republicans to back even tax cuts when it means a victory for a Democratic president. This could be an early test of how much has changed since then.

Mike Pompeo set to deliver speech in Georgia ahead of runoff elections

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will appear in Atlanta on Wednesday for an official speech ahead of next month's Georgia Senate runoff elections, which will determine control of the Senate.

Pompeo’s speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology entitled, “the China challenge to U.S. national security and academic freedom,” will highlight the Trump administration’s tough on China approach including the closing of their consulate in Houston, travel restrictions for communist party officials, and a series of financial sanctions on those responsible for cracking down on Hong Kong.  

But Pompeo's appearance in Georgia could reignite the debate over the traditional non-partisan role of a secretary of state. Pompeo is currently facing two investigations from the Office of the Special Counsel for potentially politicizing his position. 

In September, Pompeo flew to Wisconsin to address Republican lawmakers in a speech to the Madison Senate chamber and to Plano, Texas to address an evangelical church. In October he virtually addressed a conservative Christian organization in Florida.  

Image: U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo and Kuwaiti FM Al-Sabah meet in Washington
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media prior to meeting with Kuwait's Foreign Minister in Washington on Nov. 24, 2020.Saul Loeb / Pool via Reuters

Pompeo's address to the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem prompted an investigation by the anti-corruption Office of the Special Counsel. The office said it was investigating a possible violation of the Hatch Act which restricts U.S. officials from mixing electioneering with official government business. 

While Pompeo has said that he was making the speech in his "personal capacity", he had flown to Israel for an official visit as secretary of state.

In October, House Appropriations Committee Chair, Rep. Nita Lower, D-N.Y., and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. released a statement criticizing Pompeo's "brazen" misuse of taxpayer dollars to fund "vehicles for the Administration's, and his own, political ambitions." 

The Office of the Special Counsel opened a second investigation following Pompeo’s pledge to release more of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails ahead of the presidential election.

In 2019, amid talk that Pompeo was considering running for Senate in his home state of Kansas, Pompeo traveled to Kansas on a three-state domestic tour. The secretary of state has also hosted private dinners with potential GOP donors, conservative media hosts and entertainers in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department.

But as Pompeo is slated to speak in Georgia, all political eyes are on the state's two Senate runoffs. President Trump and Vice President Pence have both recently visited Georgia to campaign for Republican Sens. Kelly Loefller and David Perdue.

Since the November election, Pompeo has yet to formally recognize that Joe Biden won the election, or publicly confirm if he's had contact with his likely successor Anthony Blinken, but Pompeo has acknowledged that the transition process at the State Department has begun.

Clyburn to lead Biden inaugural committee alongside new co-chairs

WASHINGTON — Longtime South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, whose key endorsement of now President-elect Joe Biden helped turn the tide in his Democratic primary race, will chair Biden's inaugural committee. 

The Presidential Inaugural Committee made the announcement Monday morning, also unveiling the group's co-chairs: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond and Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester. 

Clyburn has been a stalwart ally of Biden's who helped him whip support in the pivotal South Carolina Democratic primary. The lawmaker also serves as the House Majority Whip.

Whitmer also served as a key endorser for Biden in the swing-state of Michigan, which he won by about 3 percentage points, and was on his vice-presidential shortlist

Richmond and Rochester are close allies of Biden's who also served as co-chairs of the Biden campaign, along with Whitmer and Garcetti. Richmond is heading to serve in the White House, and Blunt Rochester has long been a friend of the Biden family. 

"These leaders reflect the strength, spirit, and diversity of America and have always held a steadfast commitment to restoring the soul of the nation, building back the middle class, and unifying the country," Biden said in a statement.

"We are proud of their support and know they will help plan an inauguration that will reflect our nation’s shared values."

Mike Memoli contributed

Top Georgia Republican officials buck Trump's call to push legislators to overturn Biden victory

WASHINGTON — Georgia’s Republican leaders poured cold water on any hopes of convening a special session of the General Assembly to override the state’s election results and select presidential electors in favor of President Trump.

In a Sunday night statement, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) & Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R-GA) said such a move is “not an option that is allowed under state or federal law.” 

"The judicial system remains the only viable - and quickest - option in disputing the results of the November 3rd election in Georgia,” their statement added.

 

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted his support of the governor’s office.

“The election of presidential electors has already taken place in the manner directed by Georgia’s legislature at the time set by Congress,” he wrote Monday morning. “There is no applicable legal avenue for replacing the choice of electors after the election.”

Lt. Gov. Duncan expanded on their statement in an interview with CNN.

“To think I would wake up one day and decide that 2.5 million people’s vote didn’t count just because it wasn’t the way I wanted the election to turn out, that’s certainly not democracy,” he said. “So I personally think it’s a bad idea and oh, by the way, I’ve got the benefit of the law supporting that decision.”

The Georgia officials’ rejection of GOP calls to convene a special session comes two days after President Trump called Kemp, a call in which Trump tried to pressure Kemp into leaning on the legislature to make the extraordinary decision to overrule the voters and elect pro-Trump delegates to the Electoral College. 

On Sunday night, Trump tweeted that both Kemp and Duncan could "easily solve this mess" by re-checking signatures on ballot envelopes and with a "special session," an allusion to the plan he and some allies have floated, which would require state legislatures in key swing states to dismiss the election results.

Trump campaign pushes challenges in Georgia ahead of president's visit

SAVANNAH, Ga. — With just one month until the two runoffs here that will determine control of the U.S. Senate for the next two years, President Donald Trump's campaign and the chairman of the state Republican Party filed a lawsuit Friday to block last month’s recertification even as Vice President Mike Pence and other Georgia Republicans are pleading for voters to turn out despite “doubts about the last election.”

The Trump campaign’s latest litigation, filed Friday night in Fulton County superior court, calls for the decertification of the state’s election results, a new presidential election, and injunction and allowing the state legislature to appoint electors.

The lawsuit — filed against GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and multiple county election directors — alleges that, “due to significant systemic misconduct, fraud, and other irregularities occurring during the election process, many thousands of illegal votes were cast, counted, and included in the tabulations.”

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office has yet to recertify the election results based on the recount requested by the Trump campaign, which shows President-elect Joe Biden with a margin of victory of 11,769 votes.

As Trump continues to sow distrust in Georgia’s election system, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to harness a Republican electorate whose president explicitly said the runoffs should be “called off” because they will not be fairly administered.

Pence joined in on that message Friday, arguing that a Republican Senate majority could be the party’s “last line of defense” against Democrats in the House and White House.

“I know we've all got our doubts about the last election,” Pence told the crowd of supporters in Savannah as he rallied for the GOP incumbents. “I actually hear some people saying, just don't vote. My fellow Americans. If you don't vote they win.” 

Former Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the state's last federal runoff winner and signatory on a recent letter from 18 Republican leaders in the state calling for the GOP to unify and focus on the Senate runoffs, is concerned about Trump’s arguments when he visits Georgia Saturday.

“I do worry about the president coming down and being focused on something other than and his total unabashed support of the election of Kelly and David on January 5,” he told NBC News. 

“Clearly, Trump has the opportunity to put to rest any theory of ‘this election was stolen from us, and therefore you ought not to get out and vote again because it's already done.’ If he comes down and says, ‘Look, I want everybody here to vote I don't care whether you vote by mail early voting, or voting on January 5, every Republican needs to turn out and vote,’ then I think he puts to rest that undercurrent that's out there. And I hope that's what he does.”

Trump will be addressing his base days after Rudy Giuliani appeared at a state senate committee meeting to share debunked conspiracy theories about the Dominion voting system and “connection” to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

“This is not a machine, you want counting your votes,” he said Thursday at the state capitol. “It does cast doubt on the entire legitimacy of the vote.”

Such rhetoric — echoed by Trump in his White House video statement this week — is what worries Republicans like Chambliss.

“I think you can look at the vote on November 3, and it's pretty easy to reach a conclusion that from a presidential standpoint, that was a referendum on Trump,” Chambliss told NBC News of the tens of thousands of Biden-Perdue voters. 

“I think that we won't have that scenario this time around, it's going to be just people coming up to vote for David, and that gives me confidence. If we can get the turnout, then we're going to be successful on January 5. But if you have these continued distractions, then you just wonder if those folks who did cross over are going to come back again.”

New campaign filings show Trump's fundraising haul off claims of voter fraud

WASHINGTON — President Trump's full campaign effort raised $495 million between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23, according to new FEC filings, a total that includes the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and other affiliated committees. 

Nearly half of that — $207.5 million — was raised since Election Day (between Nov. 3 and Nov. 23). Much of this haul has come from fundraising appeals that include unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and it's an enormous amount for the GOP effort to be able to raise after losing an election. The Trump fundraising effort has sent more than 500 fundraising emails since Nov. 4, plus hundreds of text messages soliciting donations. 

Image: President Donald Trump returns from Camp David
President Donald Trump waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return from Camp David on Nov. 29, 2020.Yuri Gripas / Reuters

Much of the money being raised to help fund election challenges, like donations being solicited through requests to challenge the election outcome, isn't being funneled to a specific group. The campaign is allocating some money for recount efforts, and the same "election defense" rhetoric is being used to direct money to Trump's new political action committee, “Save America”. 

Trump started "Save America" in mid-November to fuel his post-presidency plans. It will allow the president to raise money for potential future travel, rallies or pay political consultants. But this money can't be used for any future campaign, should Trump decide to run for president again in 2024. The group raised about $570,000 through Nov. 23. 

The campaign filings also show more than $4.7 million in legal fees between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23. Legal adviser Jenna Ellis was paid $30,000 in consulting fees over that timeline, and overall the campaign has spent about $8.8 million on fees related to the recount effort in the same timeframe. 

Tweet the Press: A look into Michael Flynn's firing, and eventual pardon, with Carol E. Lee

WASHINGTON — In case you missed Thursday's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News Correspondent Carol E. Lee about the events that led up to President Trump firing, and then pardoning, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Lee reported on the timeline from when Flynn was first contacted by the FBI about his phone calls with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, to the moment he was fired, his guilty plea and the once wavering, but now full-throated support, from the White House. 

Click the link here to read the full conversation. 

Kamala Harris adds to V.P. team with a majority of women of color

WASHINGTON — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced on Thursday she hired three more women to be on her senior staff. Harris’ chief of staff, domestic policy adviser and national security adviser will all be women, two of whom are women of color.

Harris has a long history of hiring and elevating women of color in her senate office and primary campaign and in the general election, as well.

“Together with the rest of my team, today’s appointees will work to get this virus under control, open our economy responsibly and make sure it lifts up all Americans, and restore and advance our country's leadership around the world,” Harris said in a press release.

Tina Flournoy, who currently serves as former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, will become Harris' chief of staff. Flournoy is a member of "The Colored Girls", a group of Black women who work in public service. Other members include Donna Brazile and Minyon Moore. Harris pointed to Flournoy's "deep experience, public policy expertise and accomplished career in public service" as her reasons for the pick. 

Image: U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris visits the Downtown Holiday Market in Washington
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris talks to repor