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Immigration debate drowns out Dems' congressional agenda

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018, in San Diego, with Rodney Scott, the Border Patrol's San Diego sector chief. Evan Vucci / AP file

WASHINGTON — The top storyline on Capitol Hill last week? Immigration and the government shutdown, which temporarily ended on Friday.

The top storyline yesterday? Try immigration again, with the start of the House-Senate conference committee’s discussions on resolving the fight over immigration spending and President Trump’s border wall.

The No. 1 congressional storyline today? Yep, probably immigration.

And the top issue Congress will likely debate next week with Trump’s State of the Union address? You got it — immigration.

And while any president, especially this one, has the ability to set Washington’s political agenda, the debate over immigration and Trump’s border wall has ended up drowning out the message that House Democrats wanted to discuss after their midterm victory in November.

“Health care was on the ballot and health care won,” Nancy Pelosi said on November 7. “Protect the Affordable Care Act.”

“I’m staying as speaker to protect the Affordable Care Act. That’s my main issue,” she added to CBS on November 11.

But even when the political conversation has turned to health care – and away from immigration – the message has been about the 2020 candidates’ desire for a single-payer system and Medicare for All.

And not protecting the Affordable Care Act.

Also, when is the last time you heard Democrats promote their HR 1 bill — to expand access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of money in politics and strengthen ethics rules — to the American public? (But here was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking about it, calling it a “power grab” for making Election Day a federal holiday.)

The problem for Pelosi and House Democrats, at least so far in the first month of the 116th Congress, is that Trump and 2020ers are dominating the political conversation.

Why is Howard Schultz going to Iowa and New Hampshire — when independents don’t have nominating contests?

“Former Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz is gearing up to visit early caucus and primary states as he mulls an independent run for president in 2020,” CNBC reported yesterday.

“Schultz will likely travel to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to speak with voters while he contemplates entering the race, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.”

The one hitch here: Independent candidates like Schultz don’t face early nominating caucuses and primaries. (Maybe he’s going to where the political reporters are.)

By the way, here’s another question for Schultz: What’s the rationale for his candidacy is someone like Joe Biden runs for president? And perhaps becomes the Democrats’ nominee?

Here was Schultz on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” yesterday:

SCARBOROUGH: I think right now the question is, if Joe Biden runs, do you guys — are you guys fighting over the same — the same —

SCHULTZ: I think it would be great for the country if Vice President Biden runs, if Mayor Bloomberg runs. I think it will be a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful exchange, and let's see what happens.

Cory Gardner endorses Trump for 2020

Meanwhile, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. — arguably the GOP’s most vulnerable senator up for re-election in 2020 — told the conservative IJR that he’s endorsing Trump in 2020, which is a reversal from his stance in 2016.

“Look, there are things here — look, I’ve made it very clear that where I agree with the president, we will agree or where I disagree, we will disagree,” he said. “But I’m going to fight like hell for Colorado, and we’ve done some good things for Colorado.

More from Gardner: “I know what Kamala Harris and I know what Bernie Sanders will do to Colorado, and that’s why I’ll be supporting the president.”

While national and state Democrats are likely licking their chops to use this endorsement against Gardner in a state Trump lost by 5 points on his best day in 2016, realize that Gardner HAD to do this if he’s running for re-election.

If you’re going to win a primary contest — or a convention vote — in a party that the president dominates, you have to be behind the president.

Sherrod Brown: Democrats need to both speak to progressive values and working-class voters

Here’s NBC’s Ali Vitali covering Sen. Sherrod Brown on his 2020 listening tour in Ohio last night:

“In a tight, just-shy-of-20-minutes speech, Sen. Sherrod Brown said it’s not a question of speaking to progressive values or talking to working class voters— he will do both.”

“‘Too often,” Brown said to a crowd of about 200 people, who were undeterred by the cold, “people and Democratic activists and pundits act like our party has to choose between advocating for strong progressive values that excite our base — which we do — or talking to working class voters about their lives. For us it’s not either/or. You govern by speaking to progressive values and fighting for workers. You campaign and win that way that’s why we will always do both.”

NBC’s Lauren Egan has more from Brown: “[Trump] uses his phony populism to distract from the fact that he has used the White House to enrich billionaires like himself,” he said. “Real populism is not racist. It’s never anti-Semitic.”

On the 2020 trail

Per NBC’s Kyle Stewart..

Sherrod Brown continues on his “Dignity of Work Tour,” this time hitting Iowa… Howard Schultz is in Seattle on his book tour… John Delaney remains in Iowa… And Eric Swalwell visits New Hampshire for a meet-and-greet.

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