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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Elizabeth Warren releases plan to combat lobbyists
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has a new plan to tackle corruption — this time focusing on empowering Congress by funding agencies that would lessen reliance on lobbyist knowledge.
Warren claims that Congress has defunded or underfunded many of the services that lawmakers would ordinarily turn to in order to understand complex legislative topics, resulting in lawmakers turning to lobbyists.
“Members of Congress should have the resources they need to make decisions without relying on corporate lobbyists,” Warren wrote. “My anti-corruption plan reinstates and modernizes the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), strengthens congressional support agencies and transitions congressional staffers to competitive salaries so that Congress can act based on the best expertise and information available.“
The Office of Technology Assessment is an office that used to publish reports to help Congress understand complex science and tech topics. The office was dismantled in 1995 by a Republican congressional majority. Warren says the office should be led by a single director and should also expand on what kind of topics the office can write about, “such as preparing for hearings, writing regulatory letters, and weighing in on agency rulemaking.”
In addition, Warren calls for increased funding for other Congressional support agencies like the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office. Warren says these funding increases will be paid for by “a tax on excessive lobbying.” Warren also calls for increased salaries for congressional staffers in order to better retain staff.
This is yet another piece in Warren’s overall campaign against what she calls corruption in Washington. “These reforms are vital parts of my plan to free our government from the grip of lobbyists — and restore the public’s trust in its government in the process,” Warren wrote.
Warren has also called for the elimination of “lobbying as we know it” and “shutting down the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.”
Booker: Withholding Ukraine aid for political gain would be 'treasonous'
WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called accusations that President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine for political purposes "treasonous," hours after a new report quoted Trump attacking the whistleblower who raised concerns about the president's conversations with the Ukrainian president.
Speaking from New Hampshire during an appearance on MSNBC, Booker responded to Thursday's testimony from Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire as well as a new report in the New York Times that Trump called the whistleblower "close to a spy" and added: "You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right?"
"It's not surprising that Donald Trump doesn't know the difference between patriotism and treason. If there are any treasonous actions here, it is coming from the White House," he said, before pointing to the allegation that Trump may have linked American aid to Ukraine to the country investigating former Vice President Joe Biden.
"We as Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, approved that aid. And now we are realizing that this president was withholding that aid, not for national security purposes, in fact, violating national security interests, to pursue his own personal benefit. That's outrageous, and in my opinion, that is treasonous," Booker added.
Pete Buttigieg’s latest television ad takes aim at Medicare For All
DES MOINES, IA — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is out with his latest TV ad for his presidential campaign Wednesday, which takes aim at some of his opponents’ support of “Medicare for All.”
Throughout the 30-second spot titled, “Your Choice,” Buttigieg explains how his “Medicare for All Who Want It,” plan would work. Graphics on-screen help the viewer follow along, pointing out how his plan will, “go about it in a very different way than [his] competitors.”
He ends the video looking directly into the camera, delivering this definitive line, “Now, others say it’s 'Medicare for All,' or nothing. I approve this message to say, the choice should be yours.”
The spot is the candidate's third television ad to go up in Iowa, and the campaign says it will air statewide across broadcast, cable and digital platforms.
Buttigieg used similar language during the September debate when the conversation turned to Medicare for All. “I trust the American people to make the right choice for them. Why don't you?,” Buttigieg said on stage, directing his comments at Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who wrote the primary 'Medicare for All' bill.
This sentiment is echoed by Buttigieg on the campaign trail, who repeatedly touted his health care plan during his recent four-day bus tour through Iowa.
Buttigieg officially debuted his plan last week, which he says would allow millions of Americans to opt into a public insurance plan. That competition, he argues, would force private insurers to compete, driving costs down or create an organic shift of Americans toward the new public option. Buttigieg's campaign estimates the plan would cost $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
This might be the first time he's making this argument on television, but Buttigieg's Facebook ads have been more direct in calling out Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., by name for their support for 'Medicare for All.'
“Medicare for All Who Want It will create a public alternative, but unlike the Sanders-Warren vision it doesn’t dictate it to the American people and risk further polarizing them," one ad reads.
Trump campaign launches rapid reaction to impeachment push
WASHINGTON — Within hours of the news that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was formally launching an impeachment inquiry Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s campaign countered with a multifaceted rapid response strategy.
Some of it was as simple as blasting fundraising emails, referencing the new “Official Impeachment Defense Task Force.” Other tactics included a slickly-produced video of Democrats defending their “sole focus” of “fighting Trump” that was long in the making.
“We’ve had that ready for weeks in case the Democrats were that dumb. And they were,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News.
About thirty minutes after Pelosi made her announcement, the campaign sent a text from the president that read: “Nancy just called for Impeachment. WITCH HUNT! I need you on my Impeachment Defense Team ALL GIFTS 2X-MATCHED for 1 HOUR. Donate NOW.”
Apart from that, the re-elect effort released multiple reaction statements, fired off dozens of coordinated tweets from senior aides’ accounts and retweeted top surrogates, all decrying the move by House Democrats.
The campaign is used to this type of give and take. Some of its best fundraising periods were direct responses to the release of the redacted Mueller report and corresponding testimony on Capitol Hill
Officials said this kind of messaging will sharpen in the coming months and these counterpunches are simply a preview of the Trump campaign approach as 2020 gets into full swing.
13 House Democrats in Trump districts support some action on Trump impeachment
WASHINGTON — Of the 31 Democratic members who hold seats won by Trump in 2016, we now know that 13 are calling for some movement on impeachment, bringing NBC’s count to nearly 180 House Democrats who favor some action regarding impeachment as of 4:30 p.m. ET.
Chris Pappas (NH-1): Trump won district by 2 percent.
Lauren Underwood (IL-14): Trump won district by 4 percent.
Angie Craig (MN-2): Trump won district by 1 percent.
Elaine Luria (VA-2): Trump won district by 3 percent.
Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11): Trump won district by 1 percent.
Elissa Slotkin (MI-8): Trump won district by 6 percent.
Abigail Spanberger (VA-7): Trump won district by 6 percent.
Haley Stevens (MI-11): Trump won district by 4 percent.
Antonio Delgado (NY-19): Trump won district by 6 percent.
Susie Lee (NV-3): Trump won district by 1 percent.
Andy Kim (NJ-3): Trump won district by 6 percent.
Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18): Trump won district by 2 percent.
Cheri Bustos (IL-17): Trump won district by 1 percent.
N.H. poll: Warren holds slim lead, Gabbard qualifies for October Democratic debate
WASHINGTON — A new poll out Tuesday shows Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with a narrow lead in the New Hampshire primary and also appears to have booked Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a spot in October's Democratic presidential debate.
Gabbard hit two percent support in the new Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire, giving her four qualifying polls of at least 2 percent. That same poll also found Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren narrowly ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, 27 percent to 25 percent. Warren's lead is within the poll's 4.9 percent margin of error.
Democratic candidates need to hit at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls and raise money from 130,000 unique donors in order to qualify for the October event. So while the Democratic National Committee won't certify the official slate of candidates until next week, an NBC News analysis shows Gabbard is poised to join the stage.
The debate will be on Oct. 15 in Westerville, Ohio. It’s possible that the DNC will divide the field and hold a second debate the following day, but the party doesn’t comment until it has officially certified the participants.
Those who also appear to have qualified are: Former Vice President Joe Biden; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Housing Secretary Julián Castro; former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke; entrepreneur Andrew Yang; and billionaire Tom Steyer.
Both Steyer and Gabbard were not on September's debate stage, but have since qualified.
The DNC announced Wednesday it was raising the bar for its November debate, a move that could cull the debate stage once again.
'Sometimes I am misread': On bus tour, Buttigieg looks to pull back the curtain
ELKADER, Iowa — Forty-one hours into his first bus tour through Northeastern Iowa, Pete Buttigieg had done very little complaining.
After five town halls and another nine or so hours of questioning by the press, the South Bend mayor seemed more composed than when he’d started. But when a reporter asked whether voters view him as emotionally distant, it hit a nerve.
“Sometimes I am misread as being bloodless,”Buttigieg said, sitting back in an armchair as his bus rolled toward Elkader, Iowa, population 1,273.
He said it was irritating that the media acts as if his early work as a consultant defined his personality — “or like that I have a technocratic soul,” Buttigieg said. “I do not have a technocratic soul.”
Then he laid out his theory of leadership in terms that were, well, technical.
“If there’s a way to deal with a problem that can make everybody better off while making nobody worse off, then by definition it should be done, and it doesn’t really take a lot of courage or judgment,” Buttigieg said. “That’s the part of a politician’s job that should be automated.”
“I think you earn your paycheck in politics dealing with moral issues, not technical issues,” he added. “What do you do when there’s winners or losers? What do you do when one of our values collides with another? That’s why we have human beings.”
If Buttigieg senses a disconnect in how he’s publicly perceived, it may explain why he decided to rent a luxury bus, load it full of about a dozen reporters, liquor and candy, and drive around Iowa for four days — all on the record.
Despite massive fundraising and crowds that regularly dwarf those of his rivals, Buttigieg is struggling to break into the top tier in the Democratic race, a triumvirate comprising Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, with Buttigieg a distant fourth in most polls. The most recent survey in Iowa saw his support drop five points, to just 9 percent.
More than four months still separate the candidates from the first contest, the Iowa caucuses. But ultimately, if Buttigieg cannot convert the clear enthusiasm from rally-goers and donors into hard support from voters, it becomes the existential dilemma of his campaign.
So Buttigieg is returning to some of the guerrilla-style campaign tactics that transformed him from the unknown mayor of a midsize Indiana town into a household name, a fundraising phenomenon and a history-maker in the form of America’s first major openly gay presidential candidate.
It’s “radical transparency,” as Buttigieg’s media adviser Lis Smith calls it: a four-day rolling press conference, harkening back to the late Sen. John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express.”
Buttigieg’s advisers argue that by putting himself at the mercy of endless inquisition, he proves not only agility but also the authenticity of someone who speaks their mind so faithfully that they can’t be pushed off-message.
“Something absurd could happen in the next 90 seconds and you could ask me about it, and you’ll see how I think in real time,” Buttigieg said during a particularly long stretch on the bus.
In reality, it’s also a way to use the novelty of seeing a politician in unusual circumstances to generate massive amounts of media attention. The strategy is not unlike how Buttigieg propelled himself into the political conversation earlier this year by saying yes to just about every interview request — not just cable news and magazine profiles but also less obvious, potentially riskier choices like late-night talk shows, niche websites and TMZ.
“Just out of curiosity, who’s responsible for this?” Buttigieg said with a playful grin as he boarded the bus picked up a near-empty bottle of Bulleit bourbon that had been full when the bus pulled in to Waterloo the night before.
Yet if the hope was that the cozy intimacy of a bus would lead to deeper conversations and more intimate insights into the candidate, it seemed tempered by the candidate’s tendency to operate at the same measured tempo regardless of the venue.
As the bus ambled through Newton the evening Buttigieg’s tour started, there was all the polite awkwardness of a first date. Reporters lobbed policy questions they already knew the answers to, groping for more lighthearted topics like how many of his signature white shirts he’d brought on the trip (four, plus a single pair of jeans) and what Buttigieg would be doing if not for politics (“happily be living as a literary critic at a university”).
By day two, the obvious topics had been covered and the conversation descended into the more mundane: Buttigieg’s favorite road trip snacks, exercise regimen on the road, least favorite part about the campaign trail (“You miss home”). By the third day, Smith, his communications guru, seemed agitated.
“Can I just say something, guys? We’re all here on the bus. Ask whatever you want. Like, this works both ways,” Smith said. “If you guys keep asking the same questions over and over again, you’re going to get boring answers.”
As the blue-and-gold-wrapped bus rolled out of Waterloo on Monday, Buttigieg seemed to settle into a looser, more edifying style of reflection about himself and the state of the race. He weighed in on why Warren is gaining traction — “because she’s really good” — and sharpened his argument against Biden, without mentioning him by name.
“The part about the electability debate that I'm really trying to turn on its head is the idea that you need the most stable, familiar face to be elected,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t think we’d be here if people liked what they were getting out to the establishment, which means that sending in the establishment is a terrible way to try to win the election.”
Buttigieg has often cited former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod’s theory that holds that voters tend to seek the opposite of their current president — the “remedy,” not the “replica.”
As he fielded question after question on Iowa’s highways, the unanswerable one seemed to be whether that “opposites” theory still holds true in the era of President Trump: Do voters want a steady, “safe choice” as a counterweight to today’s chaos, or did Trump’s election prove Americans eager for a disruptor who will channel their frustrations?
“We’re so used to candidates that appeal to emotional stuff. He gave a more thoughtful presentation today,” said Jim Klosterboer, a 70-year-old from McGregor, after seeing Buttigieg speak for the first time in nearby Elkader. “I think it’s slow building because the emotional stuff isn’t there.”
“The charisma-type stuff,” chimed in his friend, Jay Moser, a retired pharmacist.
Klosterboer’s wife, Laurie, 67, disagreed.
“Well, he’s got charisma, personality,” the retired teacher said. “And in the White House, you want thoughtful intelligence, experience.”
NBC News' Charlie Gile contributed.
Booker campaign raises more than $500,000 since Saturday as it seeks to stay afloat in Dem primary
WASHINGTON — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's Democratic presidential campaign has raised more than a half-million dollars since its Saturday morning plea for donors to help the campaign hit its fundraising goal by the end of the month or drop out.
The Booker campaign told supporters, staff and reporters on Saturday that it needed to raise $1.7 million more by the end of the month, the third fundraising quarter of 2019, in order to stay afloat.
Booker addressed that ultimatum on Monday's "Morning Joe," revealing that Saturday and Sunday have been "the two best fundraising days of our campaign so far."
"We got in this race not for an exercise in ego or a vanity project, but we got in to win," he said.
"We have built a campaign to win but we want to be very honest with people — the fourth quarter is where you grow, and if we don't have the money to grow, we are not going to be able to stay competitive."
— Vaughn Hillyard contributed.
NBC/WSJ poll: Voters divided over environmental, energy proposals
As world leaders gather in New York City for a special United Nations summit on climate change, American voters are divided over key proposals for energy and environmental policy, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows.
The poll, released over the weekend, found that about half of voters — 52 percent — back a proposal to shift the United States to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, including stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power.
And 45 percent want to ban hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.
Those two proposals, which are among those being backed by environmental activists, have majority support among Democrats. About eight-in-ten Democratic primary voters — 81 percent — back a total move to renewable energy, while 58 percent support a fracking ban.
But both proposals also face strong opposition from Republicans. Three-quarters of Republicans say they oppose a shift away from conventional energy sources, with 58 percent saying they strongly oppose the move.
Opposition to a fracking ban is slightly more muted for GOP voters, although a majority — 55 percent — oppose it. Thirty-five percent of Republicans say they strongly oppose such a ban.
Republicans are far more enthusiastic about drilling for oil off the coast of the United States. That garners the support of 81 percent of GOP voters and about half — 51 percent — of voters overall. Just 24 percent of Democratic primary voters, however, agree.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Sept. 13-16. The margin of error for all adults is +/- 3.27 percentage points.
Democratic candidates stump at the Iowa Steak Fry – Part 2
DES MOINES, IA – Seventeen Democratic presidential candidates took the stage at the Iowa Steak Fry on Saturday to address the crowd of potential caucus-goers. Here are some highlights from the second half of those candidates:
Michael Bennet: Bennet played up his moderate side during his time at the steak fry podium when he reminded the crowd that “We won the House back in 2018 with Democrats running on a public option not Medicare for All,” and in 2020, “We need to nominate somebody who has run tough races as I have in Colorado who says the same thing in the primary as they say in the general election.”
Julián Castro: Paging House Democrats, Castro opened his stump speech with a simple call, “It is time for you to do your job and impeach Donald Trump. How many crimes does this president have to commit before Congress will act and impeach him?”
Tulsi Gabbard: Gabbard addressed President Trump's decision to deploy troops to Saudi Arabia and said that she is running for president to end these “regime change wars.” She called the reality of never-ending wars “insanity.”
Tom Steyer: Tom Steyer spearheaded his presidential campaign with his organization "Need to Impeach", and he continued that message in Iowa: "You're never gonna see someone from this stage conspire with the president of Ukraine to use American tax dollars for his political purposes - I can promise you that. That's why I started Need To Impeach two years ago - cause I knew he was a criminal."
Joe Sestak: Sestak introduced himself to the crowd in Iowa and called out President Trump for dodging the draft during the Vietnam War, while touting his own Navy service.
Marianne Williamson: By the time Williamson took the microphone, the crowd had thinned at the steak fry but she stuck to her normal campaign speech about only being able to change the "era of political theatre" by creating a new phenomenon.
Steve Bullock: Steve Bullock stuck to his campaign stump focusing on this next election being the "most important" in "our lifetimes" and that Democrats need to pick up seats in some areas that they lost "along the way." Of course, that did not lead to a Senate candidacy announcement.
Tim Ryan: When Tim Ryan grabbed the microphone, the crowd had thinned as it started to pour. But Ryan told the remaining crowd that, "we don't stop playing football" when it rains, so he wouldn't stop politicking either. Ryan told the remaining crowd that he understands rural America and he will "rebuild" small towns.
Democratic candidates stump at the Iowa Steak Fry – Part 1
DES MOINES, IA – Seventeen Democratic presidential candidates took the stage at the Iowa Steak Fry on Saturday to address the crowd of potential caucus-goers. Here are some highlights from the first half of those candidates:
Beto O’Rourke: O’Rourke capitalized on his “hell yes” comments regarding mandatory buybacks for certain assault weapons: “People will ask us, they'll say, 'Hey Beto, aren't you afraid that you've gone too far, that you really pissed off the NRA this time?', I'm not afraid of that. No, I'm not afraid of that. I would be afraid if I were a school teacher in a kindergarten classroom and those kids for whom I'd already sacrificed so much were up against a gunman with an AR-15 because we didn't have the courage to stop him while we still had time.”
Kamala Harris: Harris gave an abbreviated version of her stump speech, plugging the joke that she’s going to move to Iowa. She focused on her message of “prosecuting the case of four more years with Donald Trump.” The crowd briefly echoed her, chanting “Dude’s gotta go.”
Cory Booker: Booker did not mention his fundraising needs while at the microphone, and rather stuck to talking about bringing people together: “We will win this election not by dividing democrats but have people who unite us and bring us together.”
Elizabeth Warren: Warren, who was one of the first presidential candidates to call for the impeachment of President Trump began her stump speech with seconding that call: “He has solicited another foreign government to attack our election system, it is time for us to call out this illegal behavior and start impeachment proceedings right now.”
Bernie Sanders: Sanders stuck to his stump speech at the steak fry and discussed combatting white nationalism “in all of its ugly faults.” Per the NBC team, Sanders’ voice seemed to be fading and he has 12 events this week.
Andrew Yang: While Yang waited until about halfway through his speech to discuss his freedom dividend plan, Yang called on Iowans to “solve the biggest problem of all time” – Donald Trump. While the crowd seemed a bit unfamiliar with Yang, the Yang campaign told NBC he will be making more frequent trips to Iowa.
Joe Biden: Biden dug in on a line he made at the last Democratic debate that he’s “with Barack” when it comes to health care. During his time at the microphone Biden said, “I'm opposed to anybody who wants to take down Obamacare,” and, “we have to finish the job and we can do it because the American public now understands what they had and were given by Obamacare as Trump tries to take it away.”
Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg had a hearty reaction from the crowd with continued cheers throughout his speech, and he took a pretty direct aim at former Vice President Joe Biden’s line that President Trump could be an “aberration.” Buttigieg said, “We are not going to be able to replace this president if we think he's just a blip. Just an aberration. It's going to take more than that. We want to win and deserve to win we can't water down our values.”
Amy Klobuchar: The Iowa Steak Fry comes at the end of Klobuchar’s “Blue Wall Tour” and she hit on the need to win back blue wall states during her stump: “I went to Wisconsin, I met with our farmers and then I went to Iowa and all that way from Pennsylvania to Iowa in 2020, my friends, we are going build a blue wall and we are going to make – we are going to make Donald Trump pay for it.”