The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Booker and Biden spar over criminal justice
WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former Vice President Joe Biden took aim at each other's records on criminal justice in what could be a preview of next week's presidential debate stage.
Booker has spent the past few days criticizing Biden's support for the 1994 crime bill decried by many progressive criminal justice reform activists for being too harsh on issues like mandatory sentencing.
Biden pushed back Wednesday, pointing to a federal investigation into the Newark Police Department that found that officers "engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, use of excessive force and theft."
The discussion heated up on Tuesday after Biden released his new criminal justice plan, which includes policies like pushing states to eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes and reducing criminal penalties for drug crimes.
In response, Booker called Biden the "proud architect of a failed system."
Booker expanded on that criticism on Wednesday during a Detroit NAACP forum that included 10 presidential candidates, including Biden. There, he argued that "we've seen devastating impact of legislation" like the crime bill" to "destroy communities, that has turned and put mass incarceration on steroids," Booker said.
During his remarks Wednesday, Biden defended his involvement with the 1994 crime bill, arguing it was "overwhelmingly supported" in his community. But he said there should be a shift from "incarceration to rehabilitation" to address the "systemic problem of too many African Americans in jail."
Pressed on Booker's claim, Biden pointed to the Justice Department investigation into the Newark Police Department which found a "pattern or practice of constitutional violations," as well as "policing that results in disproportionate stops and arrests of Newark’s black residents." Booker was the mayor of Newark for a portion of that time.
"If he wants to go back and talk about records, I am happy to do that. But I'd rather talk about the future," Biden added.
Booker addressed that investigation Sunday on CNN.
"Most folks who know New Jersey know I inherited a police department that had decades of challenges with accountability, challenges along racial lines," he said.
"And we actually stepped up to deal with the problem, not only working with the DOJ, but working with the ACLU to put forward what was a national standard-setting level of accountability.
Michigan GOP Rep. says he won't run again in 2020
WASHINGTON — A Republican member of Congress from Michigan says he won’t run for re-election, lamenting that “rhetoric overwhelms policy, and politics consumes much of the oxygen in this city.”
Rep. Paul Mitchell, who was first elected to Michigan’s 10th district in the Detroit exurbs in 2016, said he’ll retire at the end of his term, also in part to spend more time with a young son with special needs.
Mitchell’s district is heavily conservative, but it’s experienced a significant swing in the past decade. Trump won it by 32 percentage points in 2016, and Mitchell won by more than 25 points in both his congressional elections.
That’s a significant shift from 2008, when Barack Obama kept John McCain’s margin of victory there to just two points.
Poll: Majority of Republicans now say they're confident that Mueller probe was fair
WASHINGTON — When former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before Congress on Wednesday, he’ll have a unique distinction that most lawmakers in Congress can only stand back and envy: Both Republicans and Democrats are pretty confident in his work.
New data from the Pew Research Center finds that — for the first time — a majority of Republicans say they’re confident that Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election was fair.
Six-in-ten Republicans express that confidence, with 71 percent of Democrats saying the same thing.
Overall, 65 percent of Americans adults say they have faith in the fairness of Mueller’s probe, with 36 percent saying they’re “very” confident.
Republicans’ enthusiasm for Mueller is up sharply since January, when only 39 percent expressed confidence in Mueller’s work.
Since the publication of his findings this spring, President Donald Trump has pointed to the report as vindication to his claims of “no collusion,” even as he continues to ding Mueller as personally “conflicted.”
Mueller’s report said that while it did not find evidence the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” it did conclude “the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
And while Mueller did not find that Trump committed obstruction of justice, he wrote that “if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
Dem group Priorities USA launches round of weekly, six-figure digital buys
WASHINGTON — Priorities USA, a top Democratic super PAC aimed at defeating President Trump in 2020, is launching a new round of digital ads aimed chipping away at Trump's economic message.
The ads, which started this week, sound a similar message: "Let's be honest: Trump's economy isn't working for us."
Guy Cecil, the group's chairman, told reporters Tuesday that they will ramp up spending in the next few weeks and will ultimately be spending $350,000 to $400,000 per week on the ads in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. He added the campaign will last for the "foreseeable future" with "no end date."
The focus on the economy, Cecil said, is for a variety of reasons. First, he said the news of the day (think: impeachment, the Mueller report, and more recently, Trump's attacks on the four minority freshmen Democratic members) continues to dominate in the headlines at the expense of economic issues that voters say matter to them.
And he argued that while some broad metrics, like the stock market and the unemployment rate may be favorable for Trump at the macro-level, that there's ample room for Democrats to make a more personal argument.
"Americans are experiencing Donald Trump's economy in a way that is fundamentally different from most of the headlines," he said.
"Most Americans describe the economy as being good, but most Americans also describe their personal economic situation as being incredibly tenuous."
Along with the roll-out of the new ads, Cecil also shared a glimpse of the super PAC's internal projections for 2020.
Priorities USA believes that if the election were held today, a Democrat would defeat Trump with 278 electoral votes to Trump's 260. But Cecil cautioned that the lead is not a projection for what the map will look like by next November, only the map as it stands now.
And he described the Democratic lead as slim — if turnout by voters of color drops 2 percentage points or Democratic support from the white working class drops 1 percentage point from Priorities' projections, Democrats would lose, their analysis shows.
"The reality is that we are dealing with an incredibly close election and it requires Democrats, it requires progressives, it requires us to be focused on both things," Cecil said of the argument over whether Democrats should target the white working class or minority voters.
"Choosing one or the other is choosing to lose."
Biden releases criminal justice reform plan
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden has unveiled a criminal justice plan that aims to curb the high rate of incarceration after critics have targeted his past support for legislation they say led to high levels of unjust incarcerations.
Biden’s Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice calls for eliminating mandatory minimum for non-violent crimes, a federal provision passed under the 1994 Crime Bill passed while Biden served as Senate Judiciary Chairman.
It redirects incarcerated drug users to drug courts and ends the disparity between crack and powder cocaine in an effort to lessen the number of incarcerated people. It would decriminalize cannabis and automatically expunge prior convictions for those jailed for using marijuana. Biden would not federally decriminalize marijuana, saying that is a decision for states.
Biden’s plan also lays out numerous ways to prevent those with a higher risk of facing jail in their lifetime by investing and improving foster care, education and literacy, and it explains how his administration would invest $1billion towards juvenile justice reform.
“He believes in opportunity. He believes in fairness. He believes that folks that who have served their time should be able to reintegrate into society and and participate fully, as citizens,” a senior Biden campaign official said.
His proposal comes at a time when his criminal justice and civil rights record is questioned by opponents and critics for lacking understanding of the issues. Biden has defended his decades long records on the issues, saying that he entered and remained in politics to defend civil rights.
He recently admitted that though his record on the 1994 crime bill has been “grossly misrepresented,” he acknowledged that it was far from perfect.
“It worked, it worked in some areas. But it failed in others. Like every major change, you go back and you make it better,” he said at an in Sumter, S.C. earlier this month.
A campaign official stressed that the timing of the release was not a result of Biden debating the two African Americans candidates in the race, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., at next week’s debate and said he’s prepared to face criticism of his record.
Kamala Harris teams up with Jerry Nadler on marijuana bill
WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. is sponsoring new legislation with Congressman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. to decriminalize marijuana, tax its production, and use the funds to aid neighborhoods and individuals especially impacted by prior enforcement of drug laws.
“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” Harris said in a statement. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives.”
The bill, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, will likely have more opportunity to advance through the Democratic-majority House, where Nadler chairs the Judiciary Committee.
The bill would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and impose a 5 percent excise tax, which would go to a series of programs to help “communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs” benefit from the new industry, according to Harris. They would include a grant program to help local governments work with residents with marijuana-related convictions to help them with job training, legal aid, and substance abuse treatment. Another program would assist prospective new marijuana entrepreneurs from “socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the costs of the excise tax to business owners would be dwarfed by the benefits of being able to do business in the open. Companies involved in cannabis currently face significant tax and banking barriers in states that have legalized marijuana thanks to the federal prohibition.
“It’s going to be a much lower tax burden on the industry,” Strekal said.
The issue has become a rallying point for Democrats in recent years. The entire Democratic field supports ending the federal prohibition on marijuana and Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., has made his own legalization bill a central part of his campaign.
Tom Steyer led presidential pack in Facebook spending last week
WASHINGTON — Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer is already dropping big dollars on his presidential bid, a reflection of how the new candidate's deep pockets are having an impact on the race.
Steyer has already booked well more than $1 million in television advertising time, and his spots are already up on the air in early primary states.
And new Facebook data shows that Steyer spent more on Facebook ads than any other presidential candidate over the past week, $284,960 from July 14 through July 20.
The Democrat's ads hit a variety of notes — some flaunt his work starting the "Need to Impeach" grassroots group aimed at pushing Congress to impeach President Trump; some argue "we need an outsider to fix our broken politics;" others argue that Steyer will put climate change "front and center;" and others argue that Steyer is the best candidate to buck the power that big corporations have in politics.
New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand spent $195,772 during that time period with ads including some that criticize Trump's "contempt for women and anyone who threatens this president's fragile ego." She also ran ads promoting her record on abortion and calling on supporters to help her reach the September Democratic debate's 130,000 unique donor threshold.
President Trump's "Make America Great Again Committee" spent $160,581 last week, making it the third-highest spending campaign of the week. Trump's messages included accusations that conservatives are being censored on social media and in the news, a direction to take the campaign's "Official Corrupt Media Censorship Survey," and various messages from the "Women for Trump" team about how the president's economic and border security plans will help women.
Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker were the only other presidential hopefuls who spent at least $100,000 on Facebook last week.
Warren warns of coming economic crisis — and how to avert it
WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren is sounding the alarm with her latest plan, cautioning Monday — as she did before the 2008 crash — of new “warning signs” in the U.S. economy.
"Warning lights are flashing,” she writes in a Medium post. “Whether it’s this year or next year, the odds of another economic downturn are high — and growing. Congress and regulators should act immediately to tamp down these threats before it’s too late."
In the years before the 2008 crash, Warren saw red flags in subprime lending, rising household debt, and rising foreclosure rates/mortgage-backed securities. Today, it’s in a recession in the manufacturing sector, plus rising household and corporate debt and an uncertain economic backdrop.
And Warren writes that she has a plan to stop it. Here are some highlights:
- Reduce household debt by raising wages ($15 min wage) and bring down household costs. Those cost reductions include several already-released Warren plans, like her student loan debt cancellation plan, universal childcare/pre-k, free college tuition, and housing (lowering the cost of rent).
- Increase oversight over corporate lending, specifically through the already-existing Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) better addressing risks of leveraged lending and enforcing current leverage guidance. Trump’s FSOC, Warren writes, “is falling down on the job.”
- Reverse manufacturing job losses through Warren’s previously released Green Manufacturing Plan, which puts $2 trillion towards green research, manufacturing, and exporting, creating an estimated 1 million-plus new jobs while also addressing climate change.
- Limit potential shocks to the economy — like planning for what will happen in the case of a no-deal Brexit, finding an ally-driven approach to dealing with China’s trade tactics (not “trade-war-by-tweet”), and eliminating the debt ceiling or automatically raising it to accommodate spending decisions approved by Congress.
Top Democrat on tax committee faces left-wing primary challenge
WASHINGTON — Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, announced Monday that he will mount a primary challenge against Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee who has been criticized by progressives for not pushing harder for the release of President Donald Trump's tax returns.
Neal is a relatively low-profile moderate who has for three decades represented a district that encompasses most of Western Massachusetts, a rural but deeply Democratic area.
Morse, whose parents grew up in public housing, became his hometown's youngest mayor ever and its first openly gay one when he was elected at 22 years old in 2011, just six months after graduating from Brown University.
In a statement announcing his candidacy, Morse said Neal has not been aggressive enough in using his seat to push progressive ideas.
“There's an urgency to this moment in Massachusetts’ First District and our country, and that urgency is not matched by our current representative in Congress,” Morse said in a video announcing his candidacy. "We need new leadership that understands that we can no longer settle for small, incremental, and compromising progress. We need to be on offense. We need to be fighting for something, not just against."
In addition to Trump's tax returns, The incumbent has also been dinged by progressives for opposing impeachment proceedings against the president, expressing skepticism about Medicare for All, and accepting campaign contributions from corporate PACs.
Since Massachusetts is run almost entirely by Democrats, it has a history of ousting longtime incumbent Democrats who face high-profile challengers, such as Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who is now running for president after wining a primary in 2014, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., a member of the so-called "squad," who was elected last year after a blockbuster primary in Boston.
Trump team will monitor Mueller hearing but no plans to counter — yet
WASHINGTON — The White House and President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign plan to tune in Wednesday to watch former special counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony without a coordinated plan to counter the appearance ahead of time, according to multiple officials involved in those discussions.
The president himself is expected to monitor the hearings from the White House as Mueller answers questions about the Russia investigation, according to campaign aides, much like he has done with similar events in the past. His schedule for that day only includes a routine lunch with the vice president, and aides point to his morning “executive time” as a natural window for Trump to take in snippets of the coverage.
But when asked directly by reporters last week if he intended to tune in, the president claimed he “won’t be watching.”
Then, speaking to reporters on Monday, the president said, "I'm not going to be watching. Probably. Maybe I'll see a little bit of it. I'm not going to be watching Mueller because you can't take all those bites out of the apple. We had no collusion. No obstruction. We had no nothing."
Later Wednesday, Trump is expected to travel to Wheeling, West Virginia for a big-dollar fundraiser behind closed doors, a rescheduled event from earlier in the summer — offering a possible opportunity for him to respond to the man he once called “honorable” and now disparages regularly.
When the Mueller hearing was originally announced for July 17, the Trump re-election team decided to hold a signature “Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, North Carolina for that night. But just days before the long-awaited testimony, lawmakers delayed the timing one week, in exchange for more questioning time. The rally, as well-documented, went on.
Now, Mueller is expected to appear before the Judiciary Committee for three hours, followed by two hours before the House Intelligence Committee.
White House officials, and Trump himself, expect Mueller to largely echo the contents of his 448-page report, which many Democrats say contain multiple instances of criminal obstruction even though he was not ultimately charged.
In a rare press availability in May, Mueller previewed what he might say if called to testify before Congress. "The report is my testimony," he said, "I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
So far, Trump’s legal team is waiting to see what happens on Wednesday before drafting any formal statements, according to attorney Jay Sekulow, who said they would “respond as appropriate.”
As usual, the president’s first response to Mueller’s testimony may come in the form of tweets. Campaign officials indicated Trump’s rapid response teams would also be monitoring the hearing, ready to pounce on anything that will continue to reinforce their claims that the president he been “totally and completely exonerated.”
The president’s next rally is set for August 1 in Cincinnati, Ohio and campaign officials confirmed to NBC News there are no major events scheduled prior to that event.
Carol E. Lee contributed to this report.
Moulton wins endorsement from former general McChrystal
WASHINGTON — Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who helmed the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, is endorsing Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton's presidential bid.
McChrystal praised Moulton on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" Thursday, pointing to the need for a leader with "character" and "competence."
"I think he'd be the best president for our nation, from where we are now and where I think we need to go," he said.
Moulton did not make the second round of Democratic debates, falling short of the polling and unique-donor thresholds. The congressman downplayed that reality on Thursday, arguing: "I don't think the summer debates are going to decide the election."