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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Beto O'Rourke: 'I'm going to be that candidate that shows up for everyone in America'

WASHINGTON — Former Texas Democratic congressman turned presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke defended his campaign's reboot on Sunday, arguing that he plans to travel the country to "call out the existential threat" of a second term for President Trump.

O'Rourke returned to the campaign trail last week after the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, which authorities say may have been racially motivated, calling the shooter's alleged anti-immigration rhetoric the "real consequence and cost of Donald Trump." 

"Democrats have to address those issues and deliver on those issues," he said about kitchen-table issues like health care and the economy.

"But we also have to call out the existential threat, to use the word that you just employed, that Donald Trump represents right now. Not only are we going to lose more lives, I'm confident that we will lose this country and our democracy, the longer he stays in office. So that is the urgency behind what I'm talking about."

That's why he says he wants to focus on taking his message outside of the early-voting states to voters across the country.

"If everyone counts, we can't just say that. We have to demonstrate that. And I don't think, at a time that this campaign, this selection for who will be the nominee, has become nationalized, that that will be lost on the people of Iowa," he said.

"I also know what it feels like when someone finally shows up. And I'm going to be that candidate that shows up for everyone in America."

Sanford says Trump doesn't deserve re-election, but would still support him over Democrat

WASHINGTON — Former South Carolina Republican Governor and Congressman Mark Sanford, who is considering a potential primary bid against President Trump, said Sunday that the president does not deserve to be re-elected

But he added that if faced with choosing between Trump and any Democratic candidate, Sanford would still vote for Trump because he believes Democratic policies will "exacerbate the problems on spending and the debt and the deficit." 

Sanford spent much of his interview laying out a contrast with Trump on issues like trade and government spending, arguing that the administration's "lack of stability" isn't giving business confidence to invest in America. 

When asked whether Trump deserved to be re-elected, Sanford replied that he doesn't. But when faced with a scenario of choosing between Trump and a Democrat, Sanford said he'd pull the lever for Trump. 

"Everything is relative in politics," he said, before evoking Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

"With all due respect to Warren, the policies that she laid out will exacerbate the problems on spending and the debt and the deficit." 

Mark Sanford speaks to Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" on Aug. 18, 2019.William B. Plowman / NBC News

He added that he wouldn't feel much more comfortable voting for former Vice President Joe Biden either.

"I have not seen him not embrace a lot of what she's talking about," Sanford said of Biden. 

"The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is leading the charge right now — You can see it in the polls of late. And so, I'm not seeing a great differentiation there, but I may be missing it." 

Beto O'Rourke stumps in locations hit by immigration raids

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — After relaunching his campaign in the still grieving community of El Paso, Texas following the mass shooting there earlier this month, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke continued to console Hispanic communities across the South who are living in fear of discrimination and deportation.

Beto O'Rourke visits the Tiendita Anita, a Mexican grocery store, on Aug. 16, 2019, his first day back on the campaign trail after the El Paso mass shootings.Suzi Altman / Zuma Press

Stopping by Tiendita Anita Grocery Store & Distribution Center on Friday in Canton, Miss., O’Rourke embarked on a listening tour of the community where almost one hundred workers were swept up by ICE agents at the Peco Foods poultry processing plant last week. The Canton raid was part of a sweep that detained almost 700 undocumented immigrants in one day and O'Rourke is the only Democratic presidential candidate to visit since the raids.

Anita, the owner of the store, told O’Rourke in Spanish that the raid served as a tipping point in a community that lives in fear of crossing ICE-labeled trucks. She told a story about a woman who refused to cash a check after seeing an ICE vehicle at the bank, and another about a 26-year-old man who hid in a restaurant freezer for nine hours when he spotted ICE agents coming into his workplace. 

The close encounters with agents have left many residents afraid to leave their homes. Some, she said, are considering going back to their home countries because they are exasperated by the fear of possibly knowing what it’s like to be separated from their families in the United States.

“It’s sad. It’s so, so sad,” Anita told O’Rourke in Spanish about how life has been sucked out of the community. “People are shaking in fear.”

Continuing his listening tour Saturday with Hispanic immigrants at a townhall inside Del Campo A La Ciudad, a Mexican owned restaurant and grocery store in Little Rock, O’Rourke passionately spoke out against President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric and the damage the Democrat says he has caused.

“'Predators,' that is a word that the President of the United States used to describe human beings. 'Animals,' that's the word that the president the United States used to describe human beings. 'Infestations,' which is what we call cockroaches. That's what the President of United States use to describe human beings,” he said.

O’Rourke promised to fight for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States and legalizing DREAMers, stressing that families like the ones he met in Mississippi, should not fear the consequences of family separation.

He warned that if Trump is not defeated in 2020, the United States will “lose any idea of America and the ideal of America forever, we will continue to lose more lives in our lives and we cannot stand for that.”

Bernie Sanders, Cardi B discuss police brutality, 'Medicare for All' in new interview

WASHINGTON — Though she says in one of her more popular songs, "Cardi don't need more press," she's about to get it.

In a wide-ranging interview released by the Bernie Sanders campaign Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Grammy Award-winning rapper Cardi B spoke about issues of police brutality, "Medicare for All," immigration and student debt. 

“This was an unfiltered and unscripted talk about real issues,” said Sarah Ford, Deputy Communications Director of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign. “Like Bernie Sanders, Cardi B authentically engages with an audience of young and working-class people who have often been left out of the traditional political process.”

Bernie Sanders and Cardi B met to discuss "the future of America".Bernie Sanders via Twitter

Sen. Sanders was asked about police brutality, and told Cardi B, "If a police officer kills somebody, that killing must be investigated by the United States Department of Justice."

Cardi B got visibly excited when Sanders was talking about his immigration plans with DACA recipients. "They once again would have those protections and I think we’re going to expand that program to their parents as well," Sanders said. "Yeah!" she said, as she danced in her seat. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders asked Cardi B if she could imagine someone today earning nine dollars an hour for the work that they do. "It don't make no sense," Cardi B said. 

“Cardi and her supporters understand the urgency needed to fix our broken health care and criminal justice systems, raise the minimum wage to a living wage and address climate change,” Ford said. 

When it came to the topic of getting involved in the political process, Cardi B told her followers, "please, let’s put our focus on this term’s elections, because I don’t think people understand how serious this is." Sanders replied, "Trump does not want people of color to be participating in the political process." "Participate in the political process!"

After discussing the New Deal, Cardi B explained that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is her favorite president. "It just amazed me that he came up with all of those things plus personal problems, like you know, he had Polio and everything," Cardi B said. "I love him. He’s my favorite."

Sanders shot back, jokingly: "Well I want to be your favorite after I’m elected but we’ll see, alright?" Cardi B did not go as far as to explicitly endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. She did, however, say "Let's feel the Bern!" at the very end of the video, before laughing.

The 77-year-old self-described Democratic socialist and 26-year old rapper filmed the nearly 12-minute conversation at The TEN Nail Bar, a Black women-owned nail salon in Detroit, Michigan. According to the Sanders campaign, the co-founders started the business in an area of the city where woman-owned businesses lack a large presence. 

Elizabeth Warren releases plan to aid Native American communities

NEW YORK — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a new plan Friday designed to benefit the Native American community, including a call to revoke the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline permits.

In a Medium post titled “Honoring and Empowering Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples,” Warren blasted historical mistreatment of Native Americans and vowed legislation to fix systemic inequality and said that “Washington owes Native communities a fighting chance to build stronger communities and a brighter future.”

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks to voters at a campaign house party in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, on Aug. 14, 2019.Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters

 

Warren vowed to revoke the construction permits of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, saying that the they were built despite the protests of Native Americans. She also said that Tribal Nations should get veto power over any decision that impacts tribal sovereignty. “Tribal Nations have deep connections to land now controlled by the federal government but are often denied access and consultation about its use,” Warren wrote.

To address issues of criminal justice and violence against Native American women, Warren rolled out plans to strengthen tribal law enforcement. Warren called for Congress to pass legislation to reverse Oliphant v. Suquamish, the 1978 Supreme Court ruling that decided that tribal governments could not prosecute non-Natives who had committed a crime, even if the crime was committed on Native land. She also proposed a nationwide “Missing Indigenous Woman Alert System,” which she says will be modeled after the Amber Alert system.

Warren said that she and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., will be introducing a bill called “Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act.” The legislation calls for a variety of increased federal commitments to Indian country, including improving access to clean drinking water, increasing funding to expand the electrical grids in rural areas, and providing full funding to Indian Health Service.

This legislation is not yet finalized, as Warren says there will be a public comment phase where “tribal governments, citizens, experts, other stakeholders, and the public to offer input and suggestions in advance of the introduction of a final product in Congress.”

Warren’s plan comes before her appearance at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum on Monday in Sioux City, Iowa. Rep. Haaland, who endorsed Warren earlier this summer, is one of only two Native American members of Congress.

Hickenlooper long lagged other presidential hopefuls in fundraising

WASHINGTON— With Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announcing the end of his Democratic presidential bid on Thursday, it's worth noting how precarious his campaign's financial situation appeared at the end of June (the last time campaigns had to file fundraising reports). 

Hickenlooper had raised just $3.2 million for his bid in the first six months of 2019, behind more than a dozen other Democratic candidates. Last quarter, he spent significantly more money than he raised overall, a troublesome sign for a candidate languishing toward the back of the pack.

He ended that quarter with about $836,000 in the bank — only New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and author Marianne Williamson closed June with less cash on hand than Hickenlooper. 

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to reporters ahead of the first Democratic presidential primary debate in Miami on June 26, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Despite all that spending, Hickenlooper was almost certain to miss the Democratic National Committee's qualifying thresholds for the next round of debates.

Candidates have to raise money from 130,000 unique donors and hit 2 percent in four qualifying polls—as of Thursday, he hasn't scored 2 percent or more in any qualifying poll and FEC records show that through June, Hickenlooper had just one-tenth of that unique donor threshold.

But Hickenlooper may not be sitting on the sidelines for long.

The former Colorado governor said Thursday he's considering the state's Senate race, where Democrats hope to defeat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. And some Coloradans are trying to woo Hickenlooper into the race with polling showing he'd be the odds-on favorite in the crowded Democratic primary field.

The good news for Hickenlooper if he decides to run in the Senate race is that he'll be able to transfer over a significant chunk of the money he raised for his presidential primary bid to his Senate race.

The former governor can transfer donations made to his presidential primary over to a new Senate account. All he'd have to do is keep tabs on whose donations he's transferring to ensure none of his donors break federal election law that limits a person to donate $2,800 to a candidate per election cycle (primary and general elections count as two separate cycles). 

Transferring the small chunk of cash he raised for the general presidential election will be slightly more difficult. Under federal election law, he'd have to reach out to those donors specifically to get their permission to re-designate that money to a Senate primary campaign. 

But even if he struggled to compete in the presidential election, his possible Senate campaign would get an early financial boost because of his attempt to win the White House. 

Beto O'Rourke vows to confront Trump directly in return to campaign trail

EL PASO, Texas — Beto O’Rourke marked his return to the presidential campaign trail Thursday with a promise to confront President Trump more directly, shaking up his campaign strategy and warning Americans: “if we do not wake up to this threat, then we as a country will die in our sleep.”

O’Rourke’s speech marks the end of an emotional twelve-day period for the candidate in his home town, where he returned August 3rd in the wake of a shooting here that killed 22 people. O’Rourke told a small audience of invited guests and reporters that the shooting crystalized his thinking about the urgency of removing President Trump.

"We must take the fight directly to the source of this problem. That person who has caused this pain and placed this country in this moment of peril and that is Donald Trump,” O’Rourke said. "I want to be the leader for this country that we need right now and that we do not have. 

O’Rourke’s return to the campaign trail will, at least in some measure, eschew traditional campaign stops like the Iowa state fair. He said he will instead focus his energy on lifting up those targeted by the administration’s policies. He’ll head next to Mississippi to join families of those affected by ICE raids there last week. 

O’Rourke also introduced one new policy plank in his remarks, calling for a mandatory buy-back of all assault weapons in the United States. He had previously supported banning the sale of “weapons of war,” but after visiting shooting victims in El Paso hospitals, said he now believes the country needs to go farther in getting such weapons off the streets. 

The return to the trail comes as O’Rourke has gained renewed national attention in the wake of the shooting. But his poll numbers remain largely flat — garnering 1-to-2 percent support in most early states, with a larger following in Texas and in some recent national surveys. 

O’Rourke on Thursday again rejected calls to quit the presidential race and pursue Texas’ Republican-held Senate seat.   

"There have even been some who have suggested that I stay in Texas and run for Senate. But that would not be good enough for this community. That would not be good enough for El Paso. That would not be good enough for this country,” O’Rourke said. 

2020 Democrats prepare counter-programming in New Hampshire for Trump visit

MANCHESTER, N.H. — As President Trump prepares to touch down in the first-in-the-nation primary state for a campaign rally Thursday, the Democratic presidential campaigns here are taking advantage of the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the incumbent they're aiming to unseat. 

Then-candidate Trump won the New Hampshire primary in 2016 with  just over a third of the Republican vote. However, he narrowly lost the state to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the general election. This is President Trump's first visit to New Hampshire since the 2016 election. 

Donald Trump greets supporters at a polling station in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 9, 2016.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Here's how some 2020 Democrats are responding to Trump's visit: 

Biden: Biden’s NH team is organizing a rally response that will take place at Portland Pie Company just down the street from the arena where Trump will appear “to stand up against the  divisive rhetoric and hatred that we are seeing from the White House,” according to a campaign statement. They are welcoming Granite Staters to join their campaign staff to send a message to President Trump, and the campaign will be signing folks up to volunteer, collecting Commit to Vote cards and talking to voters about “why Vice President Joe Biden is uniquely qualified to restore the soul of our nation, rebuild the backbone of our country, and unify America.”

Buttigieg: During Donald Trump's rally Buttigieg’s NH staff, volunteers and organizers will be gathering in Concord, New Hampshire to host a “change the channel”  phone banking in support of common-sense gun safety measures.

Gillibrand:  Gillibrand’s New Hampshire team will perform acts of community service to address Trump’s broken promises he made to voters and help those affected by the opioid epidemic. Today the team will hold a food drive, collecting non-perishable items at Gillibrand's Manchester Headquarters to donate to shelters across the city that help those suffering from  Substance Use Disorder. On Friday they will participate in the Old Sol’s 4th Annual Summer Servathon, packaging food to be delivered to Families in Transition/New Horizons, which help local families experiencing food insecurity.

Harris: This week leading up to Trump’s New Hampshire rally, Harris’s campaign has been holding “Dude Gotta Go” phone banks in cities and towns across the Granite State.

O’Rourke: Beto for New Hampshire released a 53-second video in which Beto narrates the rhetoric President Trump has used “to incite violence and mass shootings, calling him out for white supremacist rhetoric and changing the character of this country.” The team is also pushing a “hate not welcome”  social media campaign. “Hate is not welcome here in New Hampshire, and it’s on all of us to call it out and combat it. Donald Trump and his campaign continue to stoke division, racism, and white supremacy — and it doesn’t just offend our sensibilities, it is resulting in violence across the country,” said Beto for New Hampshire State Director Mike Ollen.

Kamala Harris announces plan to require background checks for online gun sales

WASHINGTON — In the week of the two-year anniversary of Charlottesville and the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso, Kamala Harris Wednesday announced a new executive action she would take as president to require background checks for online gun sales as part of an effort to combat domestic terrorism

2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks at a campaign rally in Davenport, Iowa on Aug. 12, 2019.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images

This is the second time Harris has laid out proposed executive actions on gun control. In April, the California senator said she would give Congress 100 days after she is elected to pass comprehensive gun reform and if they did not, she would take steps to require background checks, close the so-called "boyfriend loophole"  and renew the assault weapons ban. This most recent executive action would fall under the same deadline. 

The plan, announced Wednesday afternoon, also includes steps to take on the rise of domestic and white nationalist terrorism. Harris says she would support laws to empower courts to use “Domestic Terrorism Prevention Orders,” to allow law enforcement and family members to petition a federal court to “temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns if they exhibit clear evidence of dangerousness.” 

Harris would also expand the National Counterterrorism Center’s purview to include handling domestic terrorism cases and direct more resources to analyzing and preventing white nationalist terrorism. She would seek Congress’ authority in order to do this. 

Harris’ plan also includes directing the FBI to take “more vigilant steps” in monitoring online platforms where white nationalist rhetoric grows. She says the increased monitoring would put pressure on sites to more closely follow their terms and conditions. 

While Harris does not mention specific websites in her plan, it is worth noting that sites such as 8chan, which have been gathering points for the shooters in recent attacks, are designed in a way so that there are no terms and conditions to begin with. The content is free-flowing and not censored, so it is unclear how Harris plans to take on sites like this in particular. 

Harris also says she would commit $2 billion over ten years to investigate and prosecute domestic terrorism cases. Her plan does not specify where the funding will come from.

Joe Biden holds 19-point lead in latest South Carolina primary poll

WASHINGTON — The most recent Democratic primary poll in South Carolina is clear on one thing: unless your name is Joe Biden, you have some work to do. 

Biden leads the latest Post and Courier/Change Research poll with 36 percent of likely Democratic voters choosing him as their first choice. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is second to Biden with only 17 percent of the vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., follows closely behind with 16 percent, and then California Sen. Kamala Harris trails him with 12 percent. 

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question from Crystal Gadsden White about the importance he places on unions during a town hall on July 7, 2019, in Charleston, S.C.Meg Kinnard / AP file

Biden’s strength in South Carolina isn’t new. Prior to the first Democratic debate in June, Biden led the same poll with 37 percent of the vote. In that poll, Warren was also in second place with 17 percent. While Biden’s lead in the first southern state primary contest hasn’t changed, it comes despite some notable exchanges on race. 

In the first Democratic debate, Biden and Harris sparred about his vote against federally mandated busing — a policy Harris said was the reason she was able to be bused to school as a child in California. Biden has also been forced to defend the 1994 crime bill which led Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. to label Biden as the “proud architect of a failed system.” 

During his recent Iowa swing, Biden delivered a speech in which he said that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” then quickly added, “wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids” — remarks widely described as a gaffe.

Despite the scrutiny on Biden’s record on race, voters in South Carolina don’t seem to be moving towards another candidate, and according to a July Monmouth University poll, 51 percent of South Carolina Democratic black voters prefer Biden as their top choice candidate. 

Of course, a lot can happen before the South Carolina primary in February, most notably the Iowa caucuses. After all, then-Sen. Barack Obama wasn’t primed to win South Carolina until he carried Iowa.

Beto O'Rourke to deliver campaign reset speech Thursday

DALLAS — Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke plans to deliver his first major, written address on Thursday, offering a reset of his presidential campaign, a new focus and a fresh strategy for going forward in the wake of a mass shooting in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso that killed 22 people last week. 

O’Rourke will recommit to holding President Trump accountable for the state of the country — and focus on the stakes of removing a president from office whom he has explicitly linked to the deaths of fellow El Pasoans, according to a senior campaign official.  

He’ll focus heavily on three key issues: racism, white supremacy and guns — and plans to propose what the campaign calls “new, bold solutions."

Beto O'Rourke hugs a woman at a memorial honoring the victims of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 7, 2019.Mario Tama / Getty Images

 

O’Rourke also plans to call on other candidates, elected officials and members of the media to keep the stakes of this race in mind. The former congressman's frustration at the political media’s coverage of Trump boiled over last week, in a moment that went viral and drew praise from many Democrats for his raw, emotional response.  

Back in El Paso since last Saturday’s shooting, the speech will mark O’Rourke’s return to the presidential campaign trail — but don’t expect him to race immediately back to early states, the campaign official said. O’Rourke will lay out a plan to take him to more places typically written off by presidential candidates, and less to “traditional” events — “reflecting the gravity of the situation we’re in, even if that means doing things differently," the official said.

O’Rourke’s campaign hopes the speech and subsequent return to campaigning can propel the candidate back into the top tier. His polling numbers hover between 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent of those surveyed in most early states, with a much stronger base of support in Texas, where voters cast ballots on Super Tuesday. 

O’Rourke’s team remains adamant that despite his strong polling and fundraising base in Texas he will not — now or at any time — withdraw from the presidential contest to instead run for Senate against Republican incumbent John Cornyn. 

While stopping short of endorsing one candidate outright in what has become an increasingly crowded Democratic primary in that race, O’Rourke has regularly praised combat veteran and former House candidate MJ Hegar, and predicted she will defeat Cornyn should she become the nominee.