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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Fourth Democratic debate announced

WASHINGTON – The fourth Democratic debate will be held in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, and potentially Oct. 16 if more than 10 candidates qualify and remain in the race. The DNC announced that CNN and The New York Times will co-host the debate. 

The stage before the first Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by NBC in Miami, Fla., on June 26, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

The debate qualifications were previously released after several candidates missed the cut for the third debate. The qualifications for October's debate are the same as the September debate, meaning that any of the 10 candidates on the stage on the third debate will have already qualified for the next one. 

Tom Steyer, who did not participate on Thursday night, has announced that he met the debate qualifications for October. That would make it 11 participants.

The format of the debate has not been announced, but CNN's Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, plus The New York Times' Marc Lacey, will moderate the debate. 

Conservative PAC ad using AOC ran in just three markets during Democratic debate

WASHINGTON — During last night's Democratic debate, some television viewers saw the first TV ad from the new conservative PAC, New Faces GOP. The ad featured a burning picture of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., while the ad's moderator, the PAC's executive director Elizabeth Heng, decried Ocasio-Cortez as "the face of socialism and ignorance". 

The ad is the group's first ad of the 2020 election cycle and it spent $96,000 to run it Thursday night in three media markets: New York City, Washington, D.C. and Fresno-Visalia, Calif. 

Heng, a failed congressional candidate in California, appears in the ad talking about her father's life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime, saying that "forced obedience," and "starvation" are the costs of socialism. Ocasio-Cortez has identified herself as a Democratic Socialist, like presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.  

Ocasio-Cortez responded Thursday, tweeting, "Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren't racist." 

NBC News' Elisha Fieldstadt has more on the ad and the reaction to it here.

Several candidates didn’t make tonight’s debate stage. What are they doing instead?

WASHINGTON — Ten Democratic presidential hopefuls will take the debate stage tonight in Houston. A handful of others will not.

Candidates qualified for the party’s third round of 2020 presidential primary debates by having both 130,000 individual donors and reaching at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls.

Democratic presidential candidates take the stage for the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates on July 30, 2019, in Detroit.Carlos Osorio / AP

Here’s what some of the other, non-qualifying Democratic contenders are up to Thursday night.

Tom Steyer: The billionaire activist — who appears to have qualified for the October debate — will host a town hall in Iowa before tonight’s debate begins, according to his campaign. Steyer held similar town halls this week in South Carolina, where on Tuesday he received his first presidential endorsement.

Tim Ryan: Though he won’t be on the debate stage, the Ohio congressman is hoping to reach voters with a self-released album detailing his policy points. Ryan dropped his album, called “A New and Better Agenda,” earlier this week on Spotify. He also campaigns today in New Hampshire.

Steve Bullock: During the day Thursday, the Montana governor will host two events in Iowa with former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, according to his campaign. On Tuesday, Bullock’s campaign sought to reassure donors ahead of the debate with a memo emphasizing that the race is far from over. 

“Let’s start by acknowledging two facts: First, we won’t see Gov. Bullock on the debate stage in Houston this Thursday,” wrote campaign manager Jennifer Ridder. “Second, not a single Democratic primary voter or caucus — goer will cast a vote until February — and we won’t choose our nominee until five months after that.”

John Delaney: The former Maryland congressman will be doing press interviews in New York on Thursday, “making the case to voters,” his campaign tells NBC News.

Michael Bennet: The senator from Colorado will be meeting with workers in Iowa. A campaign spokesperson says Bennet plans to watch the debate, though he “knows most Americans aren’t yet tuned into this election.”

Marianne Williamson: The self-help author will watch the debate from Los Angeles, where she is hosting a watch party and will livestream her post-debate commentary, according to her campaign.

Tulsi Gabbard’s and Bill de Blasio’s campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

Surrogates for other campaigns preview possible lines of attack against Warren

HOUSTON — It’s been a summer of mostly smooth sailing for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as she has climbed in the polls and doled out near-weekly policy plans, all without much negative attention from her 2020 presidential primary opponents.

That could change Thursday night in Houston — and if it does, we may already have a roadmap to possible attack lines. Not from the other 2020 candidates themselves, but from their surrogates in the waning weeks of summer.

Biden surrogates, for instance, have attacked Warren on what they call hypocrisy — both of her no-big-donor fundraising pledge and her economic pitch.

Ed Rendell talked about the issue in comments to the New York Times this week, asking, “can you spell hypocrite?” Rendell noted that he had held a fundraiser for her in 2018 and also donated to her cause. “She didn’t have any trouble taking our money the year before,” Mr. Rendell told the Times. “All of a sudden, we were bad guys and power brokers and influence-peddlers. In 2018, we were wonderful.” 

He followed the comments with a tough op-ed Wednesday, chiding Warren and saying she “didn’t seem to have any trouble taking our money in 2018, but suddenly we were power brokers and influence peddlers in 2019. The year before, we were wonderful.”

And down in South Carolina, Biden-backing Dick Harpootlian recently gave Politico this quote about the cost of her many plans to address the nation's ills: “She’s promised about $50 trillion worth of benefits in the last 30 days. Her economics are fraud and at some point someone is going to point that out. She’s a multimillionaire professor at Harvard. She can’t rail against the 1 percent — she is one of the 1 percent.” 

Supporters of Sen. Kamala Harris, too, have gone at Warren. Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina lawmaker and now Hardis supporter, told Politico “Warren has gotten a pass in both debates” and said she has an “inability to make her plans actual reality. There are a lot of voters — especially black voters — who will say, ‘A lot of this is pie in the sky and we want pie on the table.’”

And at a late August rally, actress and Sen. Bernie Sanders-backer Susan Sarandon told the crowd: “[Sanders] is not someone who used to be Republican.” She didn’t name names, but the subtle dig could very well apply to Warren, who was previously registered as a Republican until her 40’s. The knock is even more striking, though, because of how Sanders and Warren have avoided going at each other head to head in this race so far.

If she comes under fire from other Democrats on the debate stage Thursday night, those might be some of the lines of attack to expect.

On debate day, Harris nabs endorsement from prominent Latino congressman

HOUSTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has won the endorsement of Rep. Ruben Gallego, a rising star in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a Marine Corps veteran, Gallego said in an exclusive interview with NBC News.

“Kamala, number one, does have the best chance of beating Donald Trump,” Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, said over the telephone Wednesday as he listed his reasons for endorsing Harris. “She’s going to be able to appeal to all angles of our Democratic voting base.”

He will serve as national security chair for the campaign, Harris's team said.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention on Sep. 7, 2019 in Manchester.Scott Eisen / Getty Images

The boost comes at an auspicious moment for Harris: just hours before she and her rivals take the stage in Houston for the third debate of the primary season and at a time when her poll numbers have stagnated in the single digits. Harris currently ranks fourth in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls at 6.9 percent.

While Gallego may not be a household name for most Americans, his endorsement was sought by other contenders for the nomination.

“We did get approached by basically every other campaign,” he said.

"Ruben has been a champion for immigrants, veterans, and Arizonans for his entire career, and I'm honored to earn his endorsement," Harris said in a statement provided to NBC.

"From his service to our nation in Iraq to his work expanding Medicaid in Arizona to his leadership on immigration and veterans affairs in Congress, Ruben embodies the best of who we are as a nation," she said. "I look forward to working with him on the issues that are waking working people up in the middle of the night -- as well as turning Arizona blue in 2020."

Prior to endorsing Harris, Gallego had been chairman of another campaign — that of close personal friend, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who dropped out of the race.

Just 39, a Harvard graduate who left school to serve in the infantry in Iraq, Gallego was viewed as a potential Senate candidate in Arizona this cycle before deferring to astronaut Mark Kelly.

Both Gallego and Harris pointed to her plan to provide access to housing and health care for half a million more veterans as an area of agreement between them. He said in the interview with NBC that Harris's version of a universal health care plan was the best among the candidates and he praised her work on immigration and other issues of importance to the Latino community.

Trump team boasts that the president delivered North Carolina victory

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s re-election team is taking credit for two Republican congressional victories in North Carolina Tuesday, particularly touting a narrow win in a competitive race in a district Trump won by about 12 points in 2016.

In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale argued there’s “no question” Trump’s last-minute rally and “personal efforts” pushed GOP candidate Dan Bishop over the edge in the Ninth District, where he beat Democrat Dan McCready in a special election after last year’s midterm results were tossed out due to allegations of election fraud.

Trump tweeted late Tuesday night that Bishop “asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race.” Campaign aides declined to offer specifics on what exactly shifted and whether the president himself offered the candidate advice.

Despite lowering expectations earlier this week and pushing back on the notion that the congressional district race wasn’t a “bellwether” for next year, the Trump team is now boasting about what the gains mean heading into a general election.

Though Trump wasn’t on the ballot, Parscale maintained the enthusiasm the president is able to generate when he holds rallies like this week’s in Fayetteville and last months’ in Greenville, N.C., contributed to “driving significant turnout.”

In addition to the traditional campaign rallies, the re-elect effort also held fundraisers, organized a multi-stop tour for Vice President Pence, recorded robocalls and targeted online fundraising.

Bishop echoed that praise for Trump in a Wednesday morning appearance on Fox News where he said that “a lot of credit goes to the president” for his victory.

Aides dismissed criticism, however, that the narrow victory spelled trouble for the Republicans heading into 2020.  “These are isolated moments in time so congratulations to the Democrats for taking moral victory laps last night. We Republicans and President Trump will take the actual victory,” senior political adviser Bill Stepien said.

Asked whether there is concern about maintaining suburban voters versus rural voters, the campaign said it is not focused on “geographic targets” and is instead targeting all kinds of communities, regardless of district or state.

On Wednesday, while expressing displeasure with recent polling that shows his approval rating slipping,  the president argued he “hasn’t even started campaigning yet.”

Notably, Trump is the only modern president to ever file re-election paperwork on the day of his inauguration and his campaign has held dozens of rallies since then. The president officially announced his run for a second term in June, and has held five 2020 events since then.

President Donald Trump, from left, gives his support to Dan Bishop, a Republican running for the special North Carolina 9th District U.S. Congressional race as he speaks at a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019.Chris Seward / AP

The House Republican campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged Trump’s impact on the race in a memo released Wednesday, where they called him “the most effective surrogate for Republicans.” The group added it believes Trump will be a helpful boost as they try to win back the seats Democrats flipped during the midterms.

Democrats don’t share that perspective, however. They’re confident that the narrow margin of victory in the conservative district is a harbinger of more bad news to come for Republicans in 2020.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a memo released Wednesday that the result shows “Democrats are pushing further into Republican strongholds and Republicans are on their heels heading into 2020.” They went on to point to McCready’s focus on health care as one reason why the race was so close.

Texas’ Democratic Senate candidates stake out tough positions on guns

HOUSTON — In a state that’s widely known for its expansive gun culture, the candidates competing for the Democratic nomination in next year’s Texas Senate race are staking out tough positions on the issue of guns in America. 

“We have to end open carry,” former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with NBC News. “It negatively contributes to the gun violence epidemic and the gun culture in this country. But more importantly it’s an assault on every bystander.”  

MJ Hegar poses for a portrait at her home in Round Rock, Texas, on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Eric Gay / AP

Texas claims the highest number of guns in the country, and is one of several states that allows licensed gun owners to openly carry handguns as long as they’re in a shoulder or belt holster. 

Hegar says she doesn’t worry how her positions on gun regulations could impact her professional future in a region where political leaders have long sought to expand, not restrict, access to firearms.  

“The idea that any gun safety legislation is an infringement on 2nd amendment rights is a lie that the gun lobby has very effectively told everybody,” she said. “I’m a gun owner. I’m a combat vet. But I’m also a mom. I’m going to protect 2nd amendment rights but I’m not going to allow our country to not protect children, too.” 

The nation’s political focus is concentrating on Texas this week as Houston hosts the third Democratic 2020 presidential debate, but the state has also seen its share of attention in the last month with two major deadly mass shootings that have partially reawakened the gun debate here. 

Other Democratic candidates looking to unseat incumbent Republican John Conyn in next year’s Senate race here are also eager to call for changes to America’s gun laws that go further than simply passing universal background checks and red flag laws, like a mandatory buyback and ban of assault weapons like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke called for after last month’s El Paso shooting.  

“It would be expensive,” former Democratic Rep. Chris Bell acknowledged in an interview Tuesday. “But I don't think that assault weapons should simply be confiscated from people who want them legally. I do think that government needs to make that investment and buy those weapons back, and I think it would be money very well spent. I think that's another area where Texas could lead.” 

Longtime political organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez also said she’d support the idea of an assault weapon buyback. 

“I've been waiting my entire adult life for Congress to act to do very basic things like pass universal background checks, to take assault weapons and weapons of war out of the hands of civilians,” she told NBC News. 

Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards emphasized first focusing on passing the “low hanging fruit” legislation like universal background checks and red flag laws, but acknowledged in an interview that the idea of assault weapons bans or buybacks are “something that we need to be exploring.”  

“That’s a conversation, I don’t know if it has the same slam dunk effect as universal background checks,” she said. “But we’ve got to look at keeping our families and our communities safe.”

Jon Ossoff announces Georgia Senate bid

WASHINGTON — Jon Ossoff, the Georgia Democrat who narrowly lost a pivotal 2017 House special election, will run for Senate against Republican Sen. David Perdue, he announced Monday night. 

Ossoff tipped his hand on Monday night during an interview on MSNBC"s "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," arguing that he will help "mount an all-out attack on political corruption in America." 

And he said that his 2017 bid in a race that was then the most expensive House race in history has made him battle-tested. "I will never be intimidated from telling my own story and touting my own accomplishments," he said. 

Ossoff officially rolled out his campaign Tuesday morning with a video that framed his congressional bid as a starting gun for Democratic efforts to expand the electoral map. 

"We believe the battle that began in Georgia in 2017 will be won in Georgia in 2020 when we flip the Senate and win the White House," he said in the video. 

"The world we are building together is so close we can almost see it. But we have to fight for it — and we know how to fight." 

Ossoff also announced an endorsement from Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the dean of Georgia's congressional delegation and a seminal civil rights leader, an endorsement that could help his efforts to win a crowded Democratic primary. 

The Democrat joins a handful of others running in that primary for the right to face off against Perdue. Former Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry are among the candidates already in the race. 

By running against Perdue, Ossoff decided against running for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson at the end of this year. Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will nominate someone to serve until the November election, but the retirement will put two Senate races on Georgia's ballot next year — one for the seat currently filled by Perdue, and one for the right to serve out Isakson's term through 2022. 

Republicans are already trying to label Ossoff a failure for his 2017 loss, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee labeled him a "failed congressional candidate" in a news release arguing that he is too liberal to represent Georgia voters. 

"The bitter and divisive Democratic primary welcomes another unaccomplished, far-left candidate," NRSC spokesperson Nathan Brand said.

"Failed congressional candidate Jon Ossoff's serial resume inflation and extreme left-wing views will fit in with the rest of the crowded Democratic primary but will stand in sharp contrast to David Perdue's positive record of delivering results for all of Georgia."

But Democrats have signaled they think Georgia could be competitive — 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams sent every Democratic presidential campaign a "playbook" on Monday with her advice on how to win Georgia and other tough states in 2020. 

Abrams narrowly lost her gubernatorial bid, but has decided against running for either Senate seat in 2020. She's considered a possible vice presidential pick for the eventual Democratic nominee. 

Stacey Abrams sends 2020 'playbook' to every presidential campaign

WASHINGTON — Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a rising star in the Democratic Party likely to end up on any nominee's vice presidential shortlist, sent a "playbook" Monday to every presidential campaign with her recommendation for how to win Georgia and the country in 2020.

The 16-page document warns that "any less than full investment in Georgia would amount to strategic malpractice" and urges Democrats to replicate nationally what she did in Georgia by focusing on "expanding the electorate" with people who don't often vote, rather than trying to persuade the "relatively small" number of swing voters.

"Our unprecedented campaign received more votes than any Democratic candidate for any office in Georgia history, fueled by record-breaking support from white voters and presidential-level turnout and support from the diverse communities of color in our state," Abrams wrote.

"However, I am not the only candidate who can create a coalition and a strategy to win this state, and Georgia is not the only state poised to take advantage of demographic changes."

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.Anthony Scutro

Georgia has not been major battleground state in the past. But it could be one next year at both the presidential and congressional levels, thanks to it having an unusual two Senate seats on the ballot after the impending retirement of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.

That means a lot of money from Washington and beyond is likely to flow into the state. 

But in their playbook, which was also sent to major party committees that oversee races for the likes of the Senate and House, Abrams and her team take a relatively dim view of the Democratic Party's conventional wisdom and argue for a new approach.

"Traditionally, Democratic committees, consultants and the media do not factor unlikely voters into their polling, strategy and prognostications, effectively making their analyses by relitigating the prior election as if nothing had changed in the electorate since," wrote Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams' former Campaign Manager. "Our unique approach caused a raft of skepticism and consternation, such as unexpected visits from Washington, D.C. operatives to question our unorthodox approach."

But Groh-Wargo said they were proven right when the race ended up being too close to call on Election Night and they had turned out an unprecedented number of voters and helped candidates win down-ballot races.

"In Georgia, the unthinkable happened: more Democratic voters turned out in a midterm gubernatorial election than did in the presidential election preceding it. More Georgians voted for Stacey Abrams than for Hillary Clinton," Groh-Wargo wrote.

Abrams, who has met with or spoken to about a dozen presidential candidates, recently announced she was joining the boards of the party's biggest super PAC, Priorities USA, and its prominent think tank, the Center for American Progres, despite narrowly losing her race last year.

Last month, she announced she would not run for Senate to fill the seat being vacated by Isakson. 

Hagerty jumps into Tennessee Senate race with Trump's blessing

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty is running for Senate as a Republican in Tennessee, where he jumps in as the frontrunner with President Trump's backing. 

Trump tweeted this past summer lending his endorsement to Hagerty. But at the time, Hagerty was still serving as ambassador — he resigned a few days later amid speculation he would run to replace the retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. 

On Monday, Hagerty made it official in a two-minute video where he painted himself as a potential bulwark against liberal policies gaining steam in Washington.

"Serving in President Trump's administration was the honor of a lifetime, but when I saw the threat to Tennessee and to our country form the Democrat socialist agenda, I felt called to act," he said before showing video of Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

"We must stand up to radical liberals like The Squad, and their socialist agenda that would deeply damage the America we know and love. Their aim is to deliver more government, more crippling debt and less freedom for my children and yours." 

Hagerty instantly becomes the frontrunner both on the Republican side and for the seat itself.

He'll have to contend with surgeon Manny Sethi, country artist Stokes Nielson, and doctor Josh Gapp on the GOP side. Army veteran James Mackler, who ran for Senate in 2018 before stepping aside when former Gov. Phil Bredesen jumped into the Democratic primary, is the top candidate on the Democratic side.  

On the airwaves, NC special election sounds a lot like 2018

WASHINGTON — The special election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District comes to a close Tuesday. And while the calendar is quickly turning towards 2020, the flurry of political ads that have inundated district is more reminiscent of the party's messages from the 2018 cycle.  

As Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Dan Bishop square off after election fraud allegations invalidated last year’s results, Democrats have a slim ad-spending advantage over the GOP.  

And the party is cribbing from the same playbook Democrats used in the midterms, where candidates distanced themselves from the national party and sunk into messaging on health care.  

Those themes have been the centerpiece of the most frequent ad run in the district during the special election cycle, a McCready ad that’s aired more than 2,370 times to the tune of $785,000, according to data from Advertising Analytics.  

In it, McCready shares his biography as a marine and small business owner, emphasizing his “bipartisan” message of putting “country over party” and highlighting his support for a plan to lower prescription drug prices.  

McCready’s third most prevalent ad is completely focused on health care, accusing Bishop of blocking efforts to lower the cost of health care.  

Outside groups are singing in lockstep, even in attack ads.  

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent more than $900,000 on two ads that attack Bishop on health care; Environmental Defense Action Fund Votes has dropped $469,000 on another spot that plays up McCready’s bio while criticizing Bishop on health care; and House Majority Forward’s main spot fleshes out both his biography as a former Marine as well as his “country over party” message.  

While McCready’s campaign is the top Democratic spender in the race, the Republican spending in the race is being paced by outside groups.  

Those outside groups (primarily the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC) appear to have landed on a clear strategy too — tarring “Greedy McCready” as unethical by attacking his business, tying him to lobbyists and energy hikes in the district.  

Both of CLF's two ads make that exact charge, while all five of the NRCC’s ads take aim at McCready’s business record.  

The two groups have spent a combined $4.4 million on ads in the district.  

For the $1 million Bishop’s campaign has spent on ads in the race, he’s taken a different approach — hugging President Trump tight and playing into the culture war/liberal boogeyman argument.  

Bishop’s top ad quotes Trump blasting McCready as an “ultra liberal” during a July rally in North Carolina, accusing him of being “backed by radicals” amid a photoshopped picture of him standing with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. 

Three of Bishop’s five ads evoke some combination of Pelosi, Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar and other prominent, out-of-state liberals. And one attacks a Charlotte sheriff’s immigration policy, mentioning McCready for the first time at the 20-second mark.