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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Biden launches new Iowa ad defending Obamacare

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s presidential campaign unveiled a new ad that will begin airing across Iowa Tuesday, a spot featuring an emotional, minute-long narration from Biden himself talking about painful personal experiences to highlight his plan to build on the Affordable Care Act.

Using a part of the Biden stump speech from the earliest days of his campaign, the ad links concerns over about healthcare access to a more recent policy contrast he’s been making with his more progressive rivals on healthcare. The former vice president has argued that pursuing a "Medicare for All" plan is effectively on par with Republican efforts to undermine and repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

“I was sworn into the United States Senate next to a hospital bed,” Biden narrates, as black and white images of Biden are shown, following the 1972 car accident that killed his then-wife and young daughter, as he crouches down to his two young sons. He then invokes the terminal cancer diagnosis of his son Beau. “I can’t fathom what would have happened if the insurance companies had said for the last 6 months of his life you’re on your own,” Biden says.

“The fact of the matter is, healthcare is personal to me. Obamacare is personal to me,” Biden’s voice says over pictures of him and former president Barrack Obama.

“When I see the president try to tear it down, and others propose replace it and start over, that’s personal to me too,” Biden says. “We have to build on what we did because very American deserves affordable health care.”

President Obama and Vice President Biden walk to the Oval Office on June 25, 2015.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters filw

Though he often talks about it on the campaign trail, it’s notable that Biden is recounting the deaths of his wife and daughter in a car accident and later eldest son’s cancer battle in a paid media campaign. In 2015, when Biden was still considering whether to join the Democratic primary race, he called for an outside group to cease its paid ad that featured Biden discussing the 1972 accident. "He has seen the ad and thinks the ad treads on sacred ground and hopes they don't run it,” a Biden source said when the spot debuted. 

“Protecting the ACA from Republicans seeking to tear it down, or from others proposing to replace it, is a crucial and personal issue for Vice President Biden and for Americans across the country,” said Biden’s campaign manager Greg Schultz in a statement. “We are reaching Iowans on the airwaves and online to create a surround-sound message about protecting and expanding their access to health care.”

The new ad is part of the six-figure integrated paid media campaign that was announced last week, targeting Iowa media markets.

Next week Biden’s campaign will start smaller spends on digital platforms targeting voters in Iowa and  highlighting parts of Biden’s health care plan that builds off of the ACA.

Andrew Yang picks climate change plan for his first major policy speech

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Although entrepreneur Andrew Yang has listed more than 150 policy ideas on his presidential campaign website, he chose his plan to combat climate change as the topic for his first major policy speech, and this climate-affected seaside town in the first-in-the-nation primary state as the location.

“Whales like my climate change plan, half a dozen humpback whales are clapping their flippers together saying Yang Gang!” he joked Monday before detailing some of the main points of his five-pronged plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which include proposals to:

  1. Build a sustainable economy by shifting from fossil fuels to other energy sources and upgrading infrastructure and farming techniques;
  2. Build a sustainable world by investing in renewable energy and innovating around the globe, making the U.S. competitive with China;
  3. Move people to higher ground “literally and figuratively” by providing subsidies to help Americans relocate from disaster-prone areas;
  4. Reverse the damage caused by climate change by reforesting oceans and convening a summit on “controversial” field of geo-engineering;
  5. Hold future administrations accountable by introducing a constitutional amendment to safeguard environmental protections.

In a one-on-one interview Monday, NBC’s Garrett Haake asked Yang if his policy prescription of moving Americans to higher ground is alarmist. “The data unfortunately paints a very dark picture about where we're heading on climate change,” he told Haake. “If I thought that we were going to be okay if we went about business as usual I would say that, but that's just not the case.”

For Yang, it all goes back to his universal basic income proposal. “it's hard to galvanize energy around climate change when 78 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck,” said Yang. “They have this day-to-day mentality and so if you get the boot off of people's throats," then "we can speed up on climate change.” 

In contrast to his Democratic rivals calling for a turn away from nuclear power, Yang calls for increasing investment in nuclear energy by mining thorium (not uranium used in nuclear weapons). “If you look at the amount of energy the U.S. needs in the time frame, to me, nuclear needs to be at least on the table as a piece of the puzzle,” he told Haake.

Asked if the current president is the reason Yang included a proposed constitutional amendment to protect environmental actions, Yang said “climate change is not going to be addressed overnight.”

“You have to try and future proof any changes, and Donald Trump's a sign of just how far we have to go sometimes,” he added.

Yang also hopes to create competition, literally, with a federal government-sponsored “Race to the Top” competition offering a pool of $50 billion for utilities to compete in innovative practices to reduce their economic impacts.

Yang's plan did not include details on how he proposed to to pay for its price tag — at least $981.8 billion in named figures, plus $3 trillion in loans offered to homeowners to encourage renewable energy renovations.

Younger Americans now less likely to prioritize patriotism, religion, children

Younger Americans today are less likely to prioritize values that center around religion, “patriotism,” and having children than they were two decades ago, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll

Just under a third of Millennials and Generation Z (ages 18-38) believe having children (32 percent) and religion or “belief in God” (30 percent) are “very important” values, followed by 42 percent who rank patriotism as a top value. 

Those shares represent a sharp departure from their parents and grandparents. Among those 55 and over, majorities rank having children (54 percent), religion (67 percent) and patriotism (79 percent) as very important.

What’s more: Over the past 20 years, these values have seen a decline in importance among younger Americans.

According to data from a similarly designed 1998 NBC/WSJ poll, a majority of Americans who were between the ages 18-29 and 30-49 two decades ago prioritized religion, patriotism, and having children.

The decrease is particularly noteworthy when it comes to raising the next generation. Twenty years ago, 62 percent of Americans ages 30-49 and 51 percent of Americans 18-29 believed it was very important to have children. Today, according to the latest poll, that has decreased by 24 and 20 percent, respectively. 

Similar reductions are seen among the values of religion and patriotism. 

As younger generations shift their priorities away from more traditional values, the new poll finds that a significant number of Millennials and Generation Z rate “hard work” (83 percent) “tolerance for others” (83 percent) and “financial security” (78 percent) as very important.

One thing all Americans seem to agree on: Pessimism about the future they’re leaving for the next generation.

When asked if “life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us,” 68 percent of Americans ages 50-64 as well as 64 percent of Americans over 65 said they do not feel confident that will happen.

And this doubt extends past older generations. The poll shows a majority of Americans share this view regardless of their gender, ethnicity, economic class, region, or political party affiliation.

That includes the youngest Americans. Nearly seven-in-ten (68 percent) of Americans under 35 say they’re not confident that their children’s generation will be better off.  

Facebook ad watch: Steyer and Buttigieg spent most in past week

WASHINGTON — Billionaire Tom Steyer continues to pour money into his presidential campaign through Facebook ads, but South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg was nipping at his heels over the past week. 

Steyer spent $278,000 on Facebook ads between Aug. 17 and Aug. 23, according to the most recent data collected by the Facebook Ad Library Report. Buttigieg spent $221,000 over that time period. 

Tom Steyer listens during a town hall event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2019.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Steyer's spending comes as he's jockeying for a spot on the September debate stage — his campaign says he's hit the 130,000 unique donor requirement but is one poll short of qualifying (candidates need to hit both the donor threshold and register 2 percent in four approved polls). 

A Monmouth University poll released Monday had Steyer below 1 percent, keeping him off the debate stage for now. 

So the billionaire's ads focus substantially on his debate standing, arguing that there should be more polls of Nevada and arguing his voice should be heard on the stage. And with the decision by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (who was running as the climate-change candidate) to drop out, Steyer's ads include a heavy emphasis on climate change as he looks to partially take that mantle. 

Buttigieg has already qualified for the debate, so he doesn't have to worry about that. Instead, his ads highlight his policies on issues like mental health, addiction and gun control, while also trying to encourage supporters to sign up for a contest to travel to Houston to watch the next debate in person. 

In the past three months, Steyer has spent almost $3.9 million, more than every Democratic candidate over that span. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is also looking to secure a spot on the debate stage, has spent the second-most of the Democratic field in the past three months, with $2.2 million. 

President Trump's re-election campaign continues to outpace the field with Facebook spending—between his campaign and his joint fundraising committee, his campaign has spent $4.76 million over the past three months on the platform. 

Joe Kennedy says he's considering primary bid against Ed Markey

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III confirmed Monday that he's "begun to consider a run for the U.S. Senate" that would set up a generational battle in the state's Democratic primary against incumbent Sen. Ed Markey. 

In a Facebook post penned Monday, Kennedy nodded at the recent speculation about a potential bid, admitting "this isn't a decision I'm approaching lightly and — to be completely candid — I wasn't expecting to share my thoughts so soon." 

Kennedy said he hasn't "reached a decision yet," but added: "I hear the folks who say I should wait my turn, but with due respect — I'm not sure this is a moment for waiting. Our system has been letting down a lot of people for a long time, and we can't fix it if we don't challenge it," he wrote.

"I don’t think our democratic process promises anyone a turn. What it does promise is the chance for anyone to earn it — if we think we have something to offer and are willing to put ourselves and our ideas out there."

Kennedy's comment comes amid rampant speculation about a bid against Markey, who has represented Massachusetts in Congress for more than 30 years. He spent the lion's share of his career in the House but won a 2013 bid for Senate after then Sen. John Kerry became Secretary of State. 

A bid would pit the 73-year-old Markey against the 38-year-old Kennedy, whose family is a Massachusetts political dynasty. If Kennedy does run, Democrats believe he'd be a formidable opponent for Markey considering both his youth as well as his family's clout. 

Markey's been making early moves ahead of the potential challenge, releasing an endorsement from fellow Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren last week. 

The congressman didn't give a timeline for his decision, closing his statement promising "more soon." 

Buttigieg on beating Trump: 'Back to normal' is not 'good enough'

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg warned Sunday that defeating President Trump in 2020 won't be enough to solve the "crisis" facing America today. 

Buttigieg's comments on "Meet the Press" evoke his push for a generational change in the White House, as well as a theory of the case that differs from that of the more pragmatic voters in his party who say they are most concerned about wresting Trump from office. 

"The president is certainly a problem, a big one, but he’s not the only problem. Ask yourself how a guy like this ever got within cheating distance of the Oval Office in the first place. I would argue that doesn't happen unless the country is already in a kind of crisis," Buttigieg said. 

"For pretty much as long as I've been alive, even when the economy has been growing, and quickly, most Americans haven’t been getting ahead, one of many reasons why in places like the industrial midwest where I live, back to normal is not going to be a good enough  message because normal was not good enough." 

Buttigieg went on to criticize Trump for his "huge problems," but concluded that "getting rid of the president is not enough" if Americans don't "replace this presidency with something better that actually works for Americans or somebody even more unstable could gain power."   

It's an argument that cuts to the core of one big debate in the Democratic Party between more pragmatic and aspirational voters, an argument that is driving the Democratic presidential primary. 

Former second lady Jill Biden made that dynamic clear earlier this week with blunt remarks in New Hampshire, telling voters to take heed of "electability" while arguing that her husband, former Vice President Joe Biden, is uniquely positioned to defeat Trump. 

"You know you may like another candidate better but you have to look at who’s going to win," she said. 

"Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, healthcare than Joe is, but you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election, and maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, 'Okay, I personally like so and so better,' but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump."

Data from July's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Biden is running away with Democratic primary voters who want their nominee to promote "small-scale change."

But among the slight majority of Democratic primary voters who want "large-scale change," the field is muddier. 

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is winning that segment with 29 percent. She's followed by Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (18 percent), former Vice President Joe Biden (16 percent) and California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris (14 percent). 

Tim Ryan and Charlamagne tha God team up for some meditation

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan is teaming up with a surprising ally to promote the practice of mindfulness: Charlamagne tha God. In a video shared on the radio personality’s Instagram, Ryan and Charlamagne practice meditation while discussing the benefits of social and emotional learning in schools.

“Part of my mission is how do we get [meditation] into these schools where these kids can have a tool as they’re dealing with the trauma,” said Ryan in the video. “You can’t pull them out of a tough school, you can’t pull them out of a tough neighborhood but can you give them the tools to be able to negotiate the worlds that they’re living in?”

Charlamagne praised the practice. “The immediate thing I felt was presence, like being in this moment,” Charlamagne said. “And when I was doing the breathing, I wasn’t thinking about anything else except for the breathing. My thoughts weren’t racing at all, which is unheard of for me.” 

Ryan told NBC News that after he went on Charlamagne’s "The Breakfast Club" radio show — a popular stop for 2020 candidates this cycle — the two became “fast friends” due to their passion for mental health coverage in schools and “really breaking the stigma down, especially in communities of color.”

“Instead of worrying about test scores, worry about the kid. Take care of the kid and you’ll get the test scores, and that’s what Charlamagne and I are working on together,” he said of implementing a new education system focused on trauma-based care.

When Charlamagne joked Ryan needs to meditate before debates, the congressman shared that before the first Democratic debate, he meditated for half an hour periodically throughout the day “just to calm down."

As for whether he’ll make another debate, Ryan told NBC News, “I just met [Charlamagne] and over the course of a couple months he believes in me enough to try to help me with his community to get on the debate stage, and to be a real contender in the election. So as I keep meeting people, I keep picking up steam.”

This isn’t the first time the two have joined political forces -- back in May, Charlamagne and rapper T.I. met with Ryan on Capitol Hill to advocate for transforming distressed communities into opportunity zones.

“He’s a beautiful, beautiful guy and I think we’re going to make a really big difference together,” Ryan said.

Pete Buttigieg’s new mental health plan focuses on ‘healing’ and ‘belonging’

MANCHESTER, N.H. — South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Friday became the latest candidate in the crowded Democratic presidential field to release a policy to address mental health issues with a proposal titled, “Healing and Belonging in America: A Plan to Improve Mental Health Care and Combat Addiction.”

Democratic 2020 presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets voters during a campaign stop in Portland, Maine on Aug. 22, 2019.Brian Snyder / Reuters

 

As the title suggests, Buttigieg’s mental health plan centers on two themes — healing and belonging. 

“Pete’s vision for the future of mental health and addiction care is rooted in embracing prevention and ensuring that every person with a mental illness or a substance use disorder has the resources and support they need to begin to ​heal​,” the introduction to the plan says. “To help those who heal remain well — and to build Americans’ resilience to these illnesses — we must ensure that everyone feels that they ​belong​ in their community and in our country.”

In recent weeks, Buttigieg has spoken often about veterans care, the need to not “criminalize” young people struggling with addiction, and the importance of reminding communities who have been targeted by mass shootings that they belong — he’s now rolling those ideas, and more, out in a robust policy proposal.  

Buttigieg's plan would require insurance companies to cover treatment plans for those with mental health and addiction issues, improve overall access to mental health checkups, and increase training for primary care physicians and medical students to better assist struggling patients. 

And it aims to bolster the number of clinicians able to provide medication-assisted addiction treatment and deregulate buprenorphine a narcotic commonly used to treat opioid addiction.  

This comes along with plans to expand access to opioid overdose reversal drugs by broadening take-home ​Naloxone​ programs to all 50 states by 2024 and removing restrictions on the use of federal funds for syringe service programs. 

The plan also aims to create larger social and communal programs that combat the culture of social isolation and loneliness by fostering interpersonal connections around mental health. 

It calls for addressing mental health stigma and expanding trauma-informed care while also instituting a 10-year $100 billion community-based grant program for communities to leverage their own innovation on the topic.

It also focuses on decriminalizing mental illness and addiction — a topic the candidate has talked about often on the trail — through diversion, treatment and re-entry programs with a goal of decreasing the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance abuse by 75 percent in his first term.

And it addresses veteran suicide prevention and a promise to hold drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies that exacerbate the opioid crisis accountable.

Buttigieg is rolling out his mental health plan during a three-day swing through New Hampshire, a state in which mental health care is a prominent issue especially in connection to its vast veteran population and the ongoing opioid epidemic in the state.

Trump makes surprise call into campaign event to energize women voters

TAMPA, Fla. — White women helped propel Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 but in an apparent sign of concern over his current re-election standing with those critical voters, the president picked up the phone Thursday night.

During a “Women for Trump” campaign event here, headlined by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, a loud dial tone came over the speakers. After three rings and a click, a woman answered and said it would be another minute or two for the president, prompting ear-splitting cheers from the crowd. 

President Donald Trump speaks before presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Celtics basketball legend Bob Cousy in the Oval Office on Aug. 22, 2019.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

“We won with women. We’re doing great with women, despite the fake news, you know that,” Trump told the 600 screaming attendees during the surprise call-in. “I’m with you all the way.”

Trump often claims that he won the female vote last cycle. In reality, Hillary Clinton won women overall 54 percent to 41 percent, according to exit polls. Trump, however, did receive 52 percent of the vote among white women. 

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted earlier this month found a huge drop-off in support among women for the president, with 62 percent overall saying they would vote for a generic Democratic candidate while just 30 percent said they would vote for Trump.

To help generate enthusiasm with this key voting bloc, the Trump campaign organized more than a dozen targeted events across the country Thursday evening, hoping to shore up critical support ahead of the 2020 election.

"I think it’s gonna be easier than last time but let’s pretend it’s even tougher so we work harder because we cannot lose to this competition,” Trump told the convention center room full of mostly middle-aged women Thursday. “If we lose to this competition, that will be a very, very bad day for this country."

The female-centric events were planned to commemorate the 99th anniversary of women’s suffrage and are meant to highlight the economic gains women have experienced during the Trump administration. The president often touts unemployment’s historic low among women and the message was repeated at events nationwide Thursday. 

Similar gatherings Thursday, billed as “an evening to empower,” featured Arizona Jan Brewer in Mesa, Arizona, campaign spokeswomen Kayleigh McEnany in Marietta, Georgia and senior advisor Katrina Pierson in Troy, Michigan. Notably, several of these get-togethers were also planned in states where Trump lost in 2016, such as Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota and Virginia.

The campaign readily admits that the support of women will be central to win re-election, which is precisely why it officially kicked off the “Women for Trump” coalition earlier this summer, even before announcing field teams in some key battleground states.

The president’s top female surrogates — his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka — have largely stayed away from the campaign trail in the lead up to 2020. They both attended the official second term kickoff rally and made select appearances during last year’s midterm elections but have prioritized their White House roles over the campaign trail in recent months. Officials indicated that will shift once again as the election kicks into high gear.

Many of the women NBC News spoke to here Thursday stressed they support Trump overall but take issue with his erratic leadership style, specifically on social media.

“I didn’t vote for him because he was a choir boy. He’s kept his promises. I just wish he would get off Twitter sometimes,” said Linda Cockerham, a retired teacher from Apollo Beach.

Others, like Evella Feldhacker, said they specifically came to Thursday’s event to “dispel the myth” that women don’t like the president’s heated rhetoric. 

“He’s not apologetic,” she said. “And that’s what I love most.”

Biden tweets video on anniversary of being picked as Obama's running mate

DES MOINES, Iowa – Ahead of the 11-year anniversary of then-Sen. Barack Obama asking then-Sen. Joe Biden to be his vice presidential running mate Friday, Biden's presidential campaign has released a one-minute video on Twitter to commemorate the significance of the moment.

The video opens with President Obama telling Vice President Biden that he was the “first decision I made, and it was the best.”

A narrator’s booming voice then says “It was a relationship forged in fire,” before recounting the numerous legislative achievements the pair was able to pass after inheriting “a world in crisis.”

“Now we’re facing a different crisis,” the narrator says before the video shows white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us” and attendees at a Trump rally chanting “Send her back,” in reference to Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.,who was born in Somalia.

Before closing, the video reminds viewers that Obama once called Biden “the best vice president America has ever had,” as the Biden campaign subtly stresses that the endorsement makes Biden “ the president we need now.”

The constant embrace of the popular former vice president has been followed with criticism by Biden’s opponents who have attacked him for invoking popular parts of Obama’s record at times when it’s convenient to him.

Hickenlooper announces Senate bid week after ending presidential candidacy

WASHINGTON — Former Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is jumping into the state's pivotal Senate race, he announced Thursday in a new video. 

Filmed in a pool hall, Hickenlooper criticizes Washington Republicans for playing "games" on health care and public lands, lumping Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, his would-be opponent, in with those Republicans he's criticizing. 

"I don’t think Cory Gardner understands that the games he’s playing with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are hurting the people of Colorado," he says in the ad. 

Hickenlooper instantly becomes the highest-profile politician in the crowded field of Democrats vying for the right to take on Gardner. The race is one of the top opportunities for Democrats in their bid to regain control of the U.S. Senate as Gardner will have to run on a ballot with President Trump, who lost the state by 5 percentage points in 2016. 

But despite his resume, and poll numbers showing he'd be the favorite to win the primary, it's doesn't appear that Democrats will clear the field for him.

In a statement last week responding to speculation Hickenlooper would switch to the Senate race, Democratic state Sen. Angela Williams criticized Hickenlooper for "working and campaigning against bold, progressive solutions" and warning "this won't be a coronation." 

And former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff told local news outlets he wouldn't drop out if Hickenlooper jumped in either. 

The decision to run for Senate comes one week after Hickenlooper ended his presidential bid, where he struggled to find support both from donors and at the polls.

During that bid, he repeatedly brushed aside the idea of running for Senate. 

"If the Senate is so good, how come all those Senators are trying to get out?" he quipped during an interview at Washington's National Press Club in June. 

"The Senate just doesn't attract me at this point." 

Democratic presidential candidate former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa on Aug. 10, 2019.Charlie Neibergall / AP

Republicans are pointing to those types of comments in response to Hickenlooper's announcement. 

“John Hickenlooper is desperate to redeem himself after flopping on the national stage, but we think he said it best just a few months ago: he is ‘not cut out’ for the Senate,'" National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement.

"This crowded Senate field has been in a race to the left and Hickenlooper’s quixotic presidential bid did not do him any favors in proving he can compete in any race in 2020.”

Hickenlooper addresses that criticism in his announcement video, arguing that he feels a sense of urgency to remain in elected politics. 

"Look, I’m a straight shooter. I’ve always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who wants to get things done — but this is no time to walk away from the table," he says. 

"I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot. I’m not done fighting for the people of Colorado.