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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

On climate, pay attention to the priorities as much as the plans

WASHINGTON — Almost every major Democratic presidential candidate now has a detailed plan to combat climate change, with Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Julian Castro all releasing their plans ahead of tonight’s CNN town hall on climate change.

But who’s making it a No. 1 or even No. 2 priority if they become president?

The answer: Very few of them, especially after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ended his presidential bid last month.

Democratic presidential hopefuls participate in the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

In the second night of the first round of Democratic debates, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked the assembled 10 candidates what their top priority would be, and here were their responses:

  • Kamala Harris: a middle-class tax cut, protecting DACA recipients, gun control
  • Bernie Sanders: a political revolution
  • Joe Biden: defeating Donald Trump
  • Pete Buttigieg: fixing democracy (“Get that right, climate, immigration, taxes, and every other issue gets better,” he said)
  • Andrew Yang: his $1,000 per-month payment to every American
  • Michael Bennet: climate change and economic mobility
  • Marianne Williamson: calling the prime minister of New Zealand (remember that?)

That debate stage also included three candidates who have since dropped out — John Hickenlooper, Kirsten Gillibrand and Eric Swalwell. 

The candidates who participated in the first night of the debates in Miami did not get that same priority question, but Elizabeth Warren has said her anti-corruption plan and wealth tax are her top priorities; Beto O’Rourke has listed climate change and fixing America’s democracy; Cory Booker has said it’s criminal justice reform and preventing gun violence; Julian Castro has said it’s universal health care; and Amy Klobuchar has said it’s re-entering the Paris climate deal, protecting the Affordable Care Act and protecting DACA recipients.

Every president works with a finite amount of political capital, resources and time.

So pay attention to the priorities as much as the plans.

A fifth House Republican from Texas says he won't run again in 2020

WASHINGTON — A fifth House Republican from Texas says he's hanging up his spurs. 

Republican Rep. Bill Flores announced Wednesday that he won't seek reelection in 2020, saying in a statement that he's sticking to his pledge to serve six or fewer terms in Washington. 

Four other Texas House Republicans — Reps. Will Hurd, Pete Olson, Kenny Marchant and Mike Conaway — are also retiring at the end of their terms. 

A total of 13 House Republicans so far are either retiring or seeking higher office in 2020. That's compared with just three Democratic House members doing the same. 

First elected in 2010, Flores won his latest reelection race 57 percent to 41 percent. 

President Donald Trump won the Waco-area district by a similar margin in 2016, 56 percent to 38 percent. 

Buttigieg becomes latest candidate to roll out plans to combat climate change

DES MOINES, IA – Pete Buttigieg Wednesday became the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to roll out new policies aimed at tackling climate change.

The policy, “Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge,” centers on three areas of emphasis: building a clean economy, investing in resilience, and demonstrating leadership.

“For too long Washington has chosen denial and obstruction as we’re faced with the imminent catastrophic effects of climate change,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “My plan ensures that no community is left behind as we meet the challenge of our time with the urgency and unity it demands.”

The South Bend, Indiana mayor hopes to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050 through a gradual phase out of carbon emissions. First by achieving a clean electric grid and ensuring all new cars are zero-emission by 2035, then bringing buses and planes into the fold five years later and finally adding the manufacturing and farming industries over the next thirty years.

The plan also aims to put some extra cash in the average American’s pocket, by enacting a carbon-price, with an annual increase, that would be rebated back to tax payers. 

Buttigieg is also proposing efficiency rebates for homeowners to cover the cost of energy-efficient updates. The policy places a specific emphasis on working with Black, Latinx, Indigenous and low-income communities that are particularly harmed by extreme weather to ensure they benefit from the transition to clean energy.

The plan proposes quadrupling federal clean energy research and development funding to $25 billion per year, while also committing nearly $50 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s R&D over the next decade. The policy places a heavy emphasis on U.S. innovation in green technology, creating an investment fund which would provide $50 billion in seed funding to build, “first-of-a-kind technology.”

Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks in Fairfield, Iowa on Aug. 15, 2019.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images

In an effort to gain buy-in for his climate change vision at the local level the South Bend mayor hopes to convene, “The Pittsburgh Climate Summit,” within his first 100 days. The meeting of mayors, governors, and community leaders would focus on collaborating on best practices, developing plans to transition their communities to a clean energy economy.

According to the proposal, most of the polices outlined will be achieved by working with the other branches of government, however the plan also states that if Congress is unable to act on climate change, Buttigieg would, “use every executive authority available to take action to reduce emissions and require resilience in infrastructure.”

On the global stage Buttigieg hopes to lead on climate change, by reentering the Paris Climate Agreement and redeveloping bilateral and multilateral relationships around the issue.

Harris outlines new climate plan ahead of forum

WASHINGTON — Ahead of the Democratic field’s first climate change forum on Wednesday night, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., released a comprehensive climate plan that calls for a $10 trillion private-public investment over ten years and a U.S. electrical grid that is 100 percent carbon neutral by 2030. 

The plan builds on an environmental justice policy outline that she put forward in July with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., which focuses on climate equity and the disproportionate impact of climate change on low income communities and people of color. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at a campaign event on healthcare, in Burlington, Iowa Monday, on Aug. 12, 2019.John Locher / AP

Harris’s expanded plan would require 50 percent of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emissions by 2030, and 100 percent of the new passenger vehicle market by 2035. She would press for a new “cash for clunkers” program, an Obama-era program that offered incentives to old vehicle owners to purchase new zero-emissions vehicles. 

The California senator’s climate plan also calls for an end to all federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, including the end of any federal money for new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. She calls for the implementation of a climate pollution fee, the restoration of environmental rules repealed by the Trump Administration, and a $250 billion drinking water infrastructure investment over five years. 

Harris also says her administration would rejoin the Paris Agreement.

More than once in her plan, Harris mentions enacting other candidates’ proposed climate policies, including proposed legislation from Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Cory Booker, D-N.J.. The campaign also gave a nod in its proposal to a former presidential candidate, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who proposed the most sweeping slate of policies among the Democratic field.

On the campaign trail, Harris has said she supports a Green New Deal, but her climate plan released today is the first time she has gone into specifics on what her idea of addressing climate change would look like. Harris often tells crowds that the crisis is “one of the most urgent reasons we need a new commander in chief.”

Harris, who wasn’t originally planning to be a part of the CNN climate town hall, changed her schedule after pressure from the progressive environmental group Sunrise Movement, who criticized Harris for committing to a fundraiser instead.

CORRECTION: (Sept. 4, 2019, 8:07 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the total proposed cost of the Harris plan. It is $10 trillion, not $1 trillion.

Elizabeth Warren releases new plan to fight climate change

NEW YORK - Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., proposed an additional $1 trillion federal investment over ten years to fight climate change Tuesday, committing to several 100 percent clean energy benchmarks in a plan released ahead of an appearance at a climate-focused town hall. 

“Nothing less than a national mobilization will be required to defeat climate change,” Warren wrote in her published plan. “It will require every single one of us, and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work — there is no time to waste.”

 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks to the crowd at a town hall event in Aiken, S.C., on Aug. 17, 2019.Sean Rayford / Getty Images

Warren plans to require all newly built cars, trucks, and busses to be zero-emission by 2030, and will require zero-carbon pollution for all new commercial and residential buildings by 2028. She also calls for a plan to require energy to be 100 percent carbon neutral by 2030.

Warren’s plan was inspired by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who recently left the presidential race after running as the “climate candidate.” Inslee and Warren met in Seattle when she was there for a rally last week, two sources with knowledge of the previously unreported meeting tell NBC News. 

After dropping out of the presidential primary race last month, several candidates — including Warren — have sought Inslee out on climate-related issues and his endorsement (whenever it comes) is one to watch. 

On Warren’s latest climate-centric policy, Inslee spokesman Jamal Raad says Inslee is “thrilled to see Sen. Warren taking up major elements of his plan. He is particularly impressed that Senator Warren is adopting his aggressive targets to reach 100 percent clean energy in electricity, cars and buildings, ending coal power, and making a commitment to investing in good, union jobs and a just transition for front-line communities.” 

Warren's plan calls for an additional trillion dollars of federal investment towards climate mitigation policies, which she says will be paid by overturning the Trump tax cuts from earlier in 2018. The plan says that the federal investment will “will leverage additional trillions in private investment and create millions of jobs.” 

This investment, along Warren’s other climate plans like her Green Manufacturing Plan and Green Marshall Plan, bring her total planned federal investment for climate change mitigation to $3 trillion over ten years.  

On top of federal dollars Warren plans to commit to grant programs and federal investments, she also plans to use executive action to direct federal agencies to move in a clean energy direction. For example, Warren says that she will direct the federal government to purchase clean energy products for use in federal buildings, both investing in green manufacturers and shifting the government over to zero-emissions standards.

Warren was similarly effusive about Inslee’s climate plan. “[Inslee] provided bold, thoughtful, and detailed ideas for how to get us where we need to go, both by raising standards to address pollution and investing in the future of the American economy,” Warren wrote in her plan. “While his presidential campaign may be over, his ideas should remain at the center of the agenda.”

Warren also hammered home her own climate change credentials, saying that she was an original supporter of the Green New Deal and notes that many of her previous policy proposals had climate mitigation built into them. 

Biden campaign prepares for 'dog fight' that could extend into Spring

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is preparing for a “dog fight” during the primaries that could go well past the first four caucus and primary states, aides said Tuesday, and planning is underway to start establishing a presence in Super Tuesday states including Florida and Texas.

“I can’t see Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren getting out and they shouldn’t expect us to,” one campaign official told reporters.

Three top Biden campaign officials held a background call to discuss their fall strategy as the former vice president continues to maintain a significant lead in the polls and the Democratic primary field winnows down. The officials identified building a diverse coalition of support, continued organizing in key battle ground and Super Tuesday states and avoiding what they termed as “distractions” from opponents or the press as keys going forward. 

Joe Biden speaks during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, on Aug. 10, 2019.Scott Morgan / Reuters file

An acknowledged soft spot for Biden has been attracting support from younger voters, but officials predicted that his “strong record” on gun reform would appeal to a demographic that has consistently that as a top issue.  

But it’s the argument of “electability” that continues to be the campaign's main theme, with one official stressing that polls show voters are still prioritizing supporting a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump, an indicator they are strongly holding onto as their pathway to win the nomination.

“All evidence shows that Biden is the person best positioned to beat Trump and strongest candidate to beat Trump,” a second official said.

Biden will share a debate stage for the first time, in less than two weeks, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is currently polling in the top three. One of the officials said they were aware of the “two candidate head-to-head narrative” going into the debate and stressed that “10 candidates will be on stage, not just two.”

The Biden campaign has been putting a majority of its early organizing efforts into Iowa, where he has visited seven times since announcing his candidacy, the most of any state thus far.

Asked whether Biden losing Iowa could complicate his electability argument moving ahead to other early voting states, one campaign official said it would not.

“Iowa will be critical,” one official said. “Do we think we need to win Iowa? No. Do we think we will win? Yes.”

Coming off a weekend swing through New Hampshire, the campaign said they would now establish a presence in Super Tuesday states, relying on long-term, on-the-ground relationships and Obama campaign connections to help them start organizing in Texas and Florida.

Officials stressed repeatedly throughout the call that no Democratic candidate “can or should win without diverse coalitions” making up their team and their support base. Though they did not specifically mention a campaign that does not have diverse staff, they did repeatedly point out that they were not one of them by citing how they have hired and will continue to hire field organizers who reflect the diversity of the area or state.

“The seriousness that people are bringing to this election choice is really high. And first and foremost, they are going to make an assessment of, ‘is the person I’m supporting, will they beat Donald Trump? Are they the best person to do that?’ And, by the way, if they’re thinking about that relative to Joe Biden, they don’t have to do that holding their nose. The truth of the matter is that his favorability rating is high or higher than anybody else in this primary. He has the strongest personal characteristics, the strongest personal ratings, the strongest leadership qualities.”

Julián Castro releases part of new climate plan, with Jay Inslee's input

DES MOINES, Iowa — While climate-focused Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., may no longer be a presidential contender, remaining candidates are picking up the torch. Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro Tuesday released his policy proposal — created with input from Inslee's team — to address climate change, calling it “the greatest existential threat to our future.”

Castro plans to ultimately put out a five-part plan, with today’s release covering the first two components focused on “environmental justice and resiliency.” Castro references his experience as HUD secretary, where he saw two-thirds of the United States suffer a climate-sparked disaster, to point out the loss of jobs, damages to physical and social infrastructure, school closures, financial instability and risks to the elderly during these disasters. 

Julian Castro speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom, on Aug. 9, 2019, in Clear Lake, Iowa.John Locher / AP

Castro committed that, if elected, his first executive action would be rejoining the Paris Climate Accords and pushing the international community to work toward worldwide net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. His plan outlines a timeline to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, replace coal-generated electricity with zero-emission sources and all-electric power to be carbon neutral in the U.S.

The plan also calls for all vehicles to be zero-emission by 2030. Castro says this plan would put the U.S. on a timeline of clean, renewable electricity by 2035, and have the country reach net-zero emissions by 2045 “at the latest.” Castro also plans to create an “Economic Guarantee for Fossil Fuel Workers,” to support workers in the oil, gas, and fossil fuel industry who would be affected by the transition away from fossil fuels. 

Additionally, Castro says he’d propose new civil rights legislation to address the “disparate impact of environmental discrimination and dismantle structures of environmental racism,” in his first 100 days, similar to Inslee's proposals. The plan notes that communities of color and low-income communities are more likely to live near polluters, therefore breathing polluted air, and more than half of the 9 million people living near hazardous waste sites are people of color. 

The 13-page proposal also outlines the creation of a national clean energy standard, in addition to a $200 billion “Green Infrastructure Fund” to promote clean, renewable buildings, maintenance and operations. And it calls for a renewed Clean Power Plan, the establishment of a National Climate Council and a system of “Carbon Equity Scoring” to measure the impact of federal spending on climate justice goals. 

The lofty price tags would be funded by Castro’s proposed new carbon pollution fee, a reinstated Superfund Tax —designed to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances via consumers of petroleum and chemical products—and the pollution fee included in this plan. He’ll also pull from his inheritance tax and wealth inequality tax proposed in his “Working Families” Economic Plan

Much of Castro's campaign has focused on immigration and refugee rights — to marry these goals, the plan creates a “Climate Refugee” category for people who have been displaced because of migration due to climate change, citing a World Bank report that estimates there could be as many as 200 million climate-change-driven migrants by 2050. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar also released a broad outline of her climate plan over the holiday weekend. Various candidates will be on stage this week discussing all things climate change during CNN’s Climate Forum. 

Biden campaign launches new digital ads in Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Joe Biden's campaign is releasing a series of new digital ads Tuesday that will target Iowans watching videos on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Hulu in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. 

Two 15-second YouTube ads focus on the former vice president's commitment to health care by building off an ad his campaign released last week that features him recounting the traumatic death of his first wife and infant daughter and how difficult it would have been for him to pay for his injured son’s health care if he could not afford it. 

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, gets a hug from Ruth Nowadzky, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the Hawkeye Area Labor Council Labor Day Picnic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sept. 2, 2019.Charlie Neibergall / AP

"People have gone through what I've gone through without any of the kind of help that I had,” Biden told reporters in South Carolina last week when asked about the ad. “I can't imagine doing it without insurance and what I wanted to make clear was, it is personal to me.”

In one YouTube ad, titled “Train Home,” a narrator recounts how Biden took the Acela train home every day  while serving in the Senate to take care of his sons even though they “had the health care they needed.”

“The phone call you never hope to get. The emergency room you never hoped to see. Joe Biden has been there,” the narrator says in another ad titled “Been There,” which aims to show that the former Vice President understands the struggle Americans face with the health care system.

The campaign also plans on promoting short six-second ads on Facebook and Instagram videos that highlight Biden’s commitment to expanding the Affordable Care Actcutting prescription costs, and curing cancer.

The latest ads are part of its high six-figure ad buys across the state that follow the release of Biden’s first ad named “Bones” that aired in Iowa last month.

The campaign hopes the ads will “compliment the traditional TV spots and create ‘surround sound’” around the Vice President’s health care message.

Castro: I can 'supercharge' Obama coalition

WASHINGTON — Former HUD Sec. Julián Castro argued Sunday that Democrats "want a new generation of leadership, predicting that he would be able to mobilize voters who may have voted for former President Obama but skipped the 2016 election. 

When asked about why the leading Democrats in the presidential race are among the oldest candidates in the field, Castro praised former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders as "very talented individuals with tremendous experience." 

But he drew a distinction between himself and those names by referring to his candidacy as a "risk" that could pay off by motivating voters to turn out.

“If you take a look at the modern era of presidential campaigns, when Democrats have won, it's because they’ve taken a little bit of a risk, whether it was [John F.] Kennedy in 1960, or [Jimmy] Carter in 1976 or Barack Obama in 2008," he said on Sunday's "Meet the Press." 

“We need to get people off the sidelines in 2020. I believe I can reassemble the Obama coalition and then supercharge that so that we can go back and win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and then get the 29 electoral votes of Florida, the 11 electoral votes of Arizona and I believe even the 38 electoral votes of Texas.

This week's biggest campaign stories

WASHINGTON — Heading into Labor Day weekend, here are the biggest campaign stories from the week that was: 

Longtime Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson announced he will resign at the end of the year due to health concerns. Georgia Republicans will now have to defend two Senate seats in 2020. Favored Democratic recruit Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her gubernatorial bid to now-Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018, took herself out of contention for both seats. 

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ended her presidential campaign on Wednesday after failing to meet either the polling or donor threshold for the September Democratic debate. Gillibrand is the first senator to end drop out of the 2020 contest. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum on Aug. 10, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall / AP

Despite spending nearly $12 million on ads, Tom Steyer failed to meet the polling qualification to make the third Democratic debate in September — Steyer needed one more poll to show him at 2 percent or higher by the Wednesday deadline. Steyer spent six times more money than his closest Democratic competitor. It is possible that Steyer could make the debate stage in October. The October debate qualifications are the same as the September qualifications, with just more time to meet the polling and donor thresholds. 

The third Democratic presidential debate will be a one-night-only affair with 10 candidates. Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang will appear on Sept. 12. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden conflated facts from three events into one story about a Navy captain in Afghanistan who attempted to refuse a medal from the vice president, per The Washington Post. Biden told the story at an event in New Hampshire last week, and yesterday defended his description of the story saying, "the central point is it was absolutely accurate what I said." 

The Democratic National Committee will reject Iowa's Democratic Party plan to hold virtual caucuses to expand the number of people who are able to participate in the caucus. The DNC decided the virtual caucuses wouldn't be doable because the technology isn't sufficiently secure. 

Kamala Harris out of running for progressive group's endorsement

WASHINGTON -- Kamala Harris is out of the running for the endorsement of a prominent progressive group after her campaign said she couldn't participate before its planned decision next month.

The labor union-backed Working Families Party has been conducting live-streamed Q&As with six candidates ahead of a planned mid-September vote by its grassroots members and national board to pick one.

That early endorsement will make the WFP one of the first left-leaning groups to weigh in on the crowded 2020 field.

The five other candidates under consideration — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Julian Castro and Bill de Blasio — have already completed their live-streamed Q&As, which were broadcast to local watch parties across the country. 

Harris, who has tried to thread the needle between the left and right flanks of the 2020 primary, canceled on an announced Q&A with the group two days ahead of her event, which was scheduled for Aug. 22

This week, the California senator's staff told the group she would not be available to reschedule her Q&A before the party holds its endorsement vote. 

Harris spokesperson Ian Sams confirmed to NBC News that "we weren't able to make it work in time for their vote mid-September."

The group planned to ask Harris, a former prosecutor, about criminal justice issues, her support for labor unions, plans to deal with student debt, and to clarify her position on Medicare for All, according to a list of prepared questions.

"The one thing we asked of candidates who wanted to be considered by WFP members is that they had to be willing to take questions from us in a live Q&A," said Nelini Stamp, Director of Strategy and Partnerships at the Working Families Party."We regret that Senator Harris did not agree to a time for an interview, and consequently is not moving forward in our process."

The Working Families Party, which started in New York City and now works to elect progressive candidates in more than a dozen states, endorsed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. The Vermont senator and Warren have been favorites in some of the group's internal surveys so far.