Is Howard Schultz a real threat to hurt Democrats in 2020? Or are they overreacting?

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Image: Howard Schultz
Former Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, speaks during the presentation of his book "From The Ground Up" on Jan. 28, 2019, in New York City.Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — The protester who heckled former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at his book event Monday night in New York City summed up how Democrats are greeting his potential third-party White House bid: “Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire [expletive].”

We get the math why Democrats are worried. The larger the third-party vote in 2020, the lower winning percentage Trump needs for re-election — when his job-approval ratings and re-elect numbers are stuck in the high 30s and low 40s.

And there’s a good argument that if the combined Gary Johnson/Jill Stein/other vote in 2016 was closer to 2 points (where it was 2012) than 5 points (where it was in '16), Donald Trump wouldn’t be president today.

But are Democrats right now overreacting to someone who has almost zero name identification — unlike Ross Perot in 1992 or Trump in 2016? Someone who champions deficit reduction and entitlement reform — in this current political environment?

Are Democrats worried that their nominating process won’t produce a nominee that can win over both progressives and independents? Is it possible that the threat of Schultz running as an independent makes them nominate someone who’s, well, more pragmatic and able to win over independent voters?

Don’t get us wrong: We get the math. We get the ideological argument that Schultz should be running as a Democrat instead of as an independent. We also get why Trump is tweeting about Schultz instead of, say, Kamala Harris. (“Trump told the crowd at the Trump Hotel tonight fundraiser that he was trying to get Howard Schultz into the race with his tweet earlier today because he thinks he'll help him, per attendee,” The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman noted.)

But what we don’t get is the panic attack — in January 2019 — about someone who has very little following, very little name ID, and no political experience whatsoever running as an independent.

Sure, a lot of this is Democrats who are absolutely fired up to face off against Trump in 2020, and who want no obstacle in their effort to defeat him. But are they telling us something more about how they view their field — which has yet to take full shape — when they’re this nervous about Howard Schultz?

What should scare Democrats more than Schultz right now is that there’s the OPENING for someone with a less partisan, more independent message — especially when both parties are under water in our latest NBC/WSJ poll.

It’s unclear that Schultz can take advantage of this opening. But if he — or someone else outside the party does — then Democrats are free to panic away.

Roger Stone appears before federal judge in D.C.

“After a publicity-filled weekend spent asserting his innocence and slamming investigators, Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone will appear before a federal judge who may look to muzzle him as the case moves forward,” the AP writes.

“Stone faces a Tuesday morning arraignment in Washington and is expected to plead not guilty to charges that he lied to lawmakers, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.”

CBO: Partial government shutdown cost the economy $11 billion

“A report released Monday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the economy took an $11 billion hit, including $3 billion that's gone forever, in the 35 days that parts of the federal government went unfunded,” per NBC News.

More: “‘In CBO's estimation, the shutdown dampened economic activity mainly because of the loss of furloughed federal workers' contribution to GDP, the delay in federal spending on goods and services, and the reduction in aggregate demand,’ the report said.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow took issue with the CBO’s numbers, but he didn’t provide his own numbers. "We frequently disagree with CBO,” he told reporters yesterday.

It will be interesting to see what Friday’s monthly jobs report shows…

Make-up date: Rescheduled State of the Union address set for Feb. 5

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NBC’s Jane Timm: “President Donald Trump has formally accepted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's invitation to deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 5. ‘It is my great honor to accept,’ the president wrote in a letter addressed to the speaker on Monday. ‘We have a great story to tell and yet, great goals to achieve!’”

“The president's traditional remarks, originally scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 29, were delayed due to the government shutdown” – when Pelosi said there shouldn’t be a State of the Union while the federal government was partially closed.

Conference committee on immigration spending to meet on Wednesday

Of course, Friday’s deal to reopen the government lasts only through Feb. 15, as Congress begins work on an immigration-spending compromise. Per NBC’s Capitol Hill team, the joint House-Senate conference to hammer out any compromise will meet on Wednesday.

Here are the members who will participate, according to NBC’s Alex Moe:

REPUBLICAN SENATORS (4)

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Appropriations Committee Chairman

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)

DEMOCRATIC SENATORS (3)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Appropriations Ranking Member

Sen. John Tester (D-MT), Homeland Security Appropriation Subcommittee Ranking Member

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Minority Whip (has been involved with immigration reform for decades)

HOUSE DEMOCRATS (6)

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Appropriations Committee Chairwoman

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Chairwoman

Rep. David Price (D-NC)

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX)

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA)

HOUSE REPUBLICANS (4)

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Appropriations Committee Ranking Member

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Homeland Security Subcommittee Ranking Member

Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS)

On the 2020 trail

Per NBC’s Kyle Stewart:

Michael Bloomberg spends the day in New Hampshire, hitting Manchester (speaking at book event), Nashua (to speak with textile manufacturing employees), Dover (to talk with DNC Committeeman Bill Shaheen) and Concord (for a house party).