Trump, Biden and Warren all face different obstacles for 2020

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: President Donald Trump leaves the Rose Garden at the White House on June 14, 2019.
President Donald Trump leaves the Rose Garden at the White House on June 14, 2019.Leah Millis / Reuters file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Everyone’s got problems in the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

President Trump’s might be the most challenging of all.

His job rating remains stuck in the low-to-mid 40s; a whopping 69 percent say they don’t like him personally, regardless of how they feel about his policies (Bush 43 was at 42 percent here after Hurricane Katrina); and 49 percent say they’re “very uncomfortable” voting for him next year.

Joe Biden has problems, too: 36 percent of voters say what they’ve seen, heard and read about him have made them less confident of him and his ability to be president, versus just 8 percent who are more confident. Forty-one percent say there’s no difference.

Trump’s numbers on this same question are 36 percent less confident, 17 percent more confident and 40 percent no difference.

And then for Elizabeth Warren (who’s riding higher in the polls) and Bernie Sanders (who is not), the NBC/WSJ poll shows their stances on some issues are out of step with the rest of the country.

While 63 percent of Democratic primary voters say they support Medicare for All and eliminating private health insurance, just 41 percent of all voters agree.

And while 64 percent of Dem primary voters back providing government health care to undocumented immigrants, only 36 percent of all voters approve.

So pick your poison for 2020:

  • A deeply unpopular incumbent president (albeit with an enthusiastic base).
  • A Democratic frontrunner (Biden) who’s sustained damage when it comes to his fitness for the job.
  • And another Democratic frontrunner (Warren) whose support for Medicare for All (41 percent back it) is less popular in the NBC/WSJ poll than eliminating Obamacare (43 percent).

Collusion 2: Electric Boogaloo

The NBC/WSJ poll — conducted Sept. 13-16 — came out before the Trump-whistleblower story started making national headlines.

And here are the latest developments in that story:

  • Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Trump appeared to confirm that he discussed Joe Biden and his son in his July 25 conversation with Ukraine’s president: "The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don't want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating the corruption already in the Ukraine and Ukraine has got a lot of problems.”
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding that the Trump administration turn over the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress – or else. “If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” she wrote to her colleagues.
  • And some GOP senators say they’re concerned about the story. “It is not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly, including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said on “Meet the Press” yesterday, though he added he wasn’t 100 percent sure that’s what happened here. And Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted: “If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out.”

(Hat tip to our colleague Rachel Maddow for Collusion 2: Electric Boogaloo.)

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Warren jumps to first place in Iowa

Speaking of Warren’s rise in the polls, she’s now leading the Iowa horserace, per this past weekend’s Des Moines Register/CNN poll — although that lead is well within the margin of error.

Among likely caucus-goers: Warren 22 percent (up 7 points since June), Biden 20 percent (down 3), Sanders 11 percent (down 5).

But Warren overtaking Biden in Iowa — within the margin of error — shouldn’t be surprising given that much of Biden’s strength in national polls comes from African-American voters. In the NBC/WSJ poll, the Dem horserace among just white voters as Warren 28 percent, Biden 27 percent, Sanders 14 percent.

On the campaign trail today

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Pete Buttigieg continues his bus tour through Iowa… Bernie Sanders also stumps throughout the Hawkeye State on his “Bernie Beats Trump” tour… Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Chicago and Indiana… Mark Sanford is in Iowa… and Kamala Harris raises money in Los Angeles.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

While supporting United Automobile Workers strike in Kansas City, Missouri, Joe Biden reacted to President Trump’s latest comments regarding Biden and his son Hunter Biden discussing the younger Biden’s business deals in Ukraine. NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor has Biden’s response:

Question: "Mr. Biden, President Trump said you did a terrible thing. Do you have any thoughts?"

Biden: "Terrible Trump — Trump did a terrible thing."

Question: "And he is talking more about Hunter's comments to The New Yorker, that he did have one conversation with him about his work in Ukraine, do you have any additional comment on that?"

Biden: "Focus on the violation of the Constitution this president is engaged in."

Talking policy with Benjy

You think the 2020 conversation around paper straws is ugly? Wait until we get to cars, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin observes.

Most of the top-polling Democrats have put out climate plans in the last month that call for phasing out production of fossil-fueled cars by a set date, either 2030 or 2035. Warren, Harris, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Booker all are on board with the concept. Biden doesn’t name a year, but his plan calls for big spending on charging stations and purchase incentives.

The Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction, trying to undo Obama-era efficiency regulations and block California and automakers from negotiating stricter rules on their own. The president seems very personally invested in this fight.

Why Democrats should be concerned: A poll by left-leaning Data For Progress in March found Americans opposed an electric car mandate by a 15-point margin. Cars seem like a natural culture war front and Trump is already mocking electric vehicles at rallies.

Why Democrats should be optimistic: Big business might actually be on the party’s side on this one, at least in the auto industry. The major car companies are betting hard on electric vehicles, in part because countries in Europe and Asia are already pursuing similar rules. Expect a lot of ad dollars selling customers on the concept as more electric models roll out. Amazon also just announced it plans to buy 100,000 electric vans to deliver packages.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 10

Ten.

That’s the number of Democratic candidates who have a net negative rating among Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, according to the new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll.

They’re all lower-polling candidates overall: Bennet, Bullock, Castro, de Blasio, Delaney, Gabbard, Ryan, Sestak, Steyer and Williamson.

The Lid: Yep, the early bird gets the worm

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we observed how the 2020 presidential race hasn’t been kind to late entrants like Bill de Blasio, who dropped out last week.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Nancy Pelosi is threatening a “new stage” of investigation over the administration’s stonewalling of a whistleblower complaint probe.

Turnover at the White House is breaking records — again.

U.S. security agencies are working with the 2020 campaigns to safeguard against cyberattacks.

Don’t miss this development: The GOP in Texas changed the way third party candidates can get on ballots in the Lone Star state.

Alex Seitz-Wald reports on the network of wealthy Democratic women who are directing donations to minority and female candidates.

Trump Agenda: Modi and Me

Trump played an unusual role over the weekend as a warm-up act for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Washington Post looks at how Republican lawmakers have been heading for the exits in the Trump era.

Mike Pence ruffled feathers by taking a large motorcade on carless Mackinac Island in Michigan.

Boris Johnson says he will tell Trump that the National Health Service is off limits in any U.S-U.K. trade negotiations.

2020: Team Trump is pessimistic about Michigan

Team Trump is pessimistic about its chances for winning Michigan again, POLITICO writes.

Some Democrats are starting to get very frustrated over their party’s inaction on impeachment.

Elizabeth Warren is gaining traction — at Bernie Sanders’ expense.

The debate rules are still upending how the 2020 candidates are running their campaigns.

Biden and Warren have momentum in Iowa. Can they keep it?