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Unite or fight? Dueling Democrats offer divergent messages 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: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., announces her candidacy for president in Minneapolis on Feb. 10, 2019.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., announces her candidacy for president in Minneapolis on Feb. 10, 2019.Kerem Yucel / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — In back-to-back presidential announcements over the weekend, we witnessed two very different Democratic messages that highlight one of the main divides within the emerging 2020 field.

The first: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who portrayed herself as a fighter, a smasher, a reformer. Indeed, she mentioned the word “fight” or its variant 28 different times in her announcement speech, according to our count.

“I’m tired of hearing that we can’t afford to make real investments in child care, college, and Medicare for All. Can’t afford things that help create economic opportunity for families,” Warren said. “We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world — of course we can afford these investments. But we need a government that makes different choices, choices that reflect our values.”

The second message: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who cast herself as a bridge-builder, a healer, a uniter. In fact, the backdrop for her announcement in Minneapolis was the rebuilt I-35 bridge, which collapsed in 2007.

"Today, on an island in the middle of the mighty Mississippi, in our nation's heartland, at a time when we must heal the heart of our democracy and renew our commitment to the common good, I stand before you … to announce my candidacy for president of the United States," she said in the falling snow, later adding: “Let us cross the river of our divides and walk across our sturdy bridge to higher ground.”

A year from now, it will be an interesting choice for Democratic primary voters: Is the best messenger to take on Trump a fighter/smasher/reformer (a la Warren or Bernie Sanders), a bridge-builder/healer/uniter (Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke), or some kind of combination of the two (Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand)?

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, liberal activist Markos Moulitsas, founder of “Daily Kos,” said he preferred the idealist over the pragmatist. “‘Yes, we can,’ is actually a very positive messages as opposed to maybe Klobuchar or Sherrod Brown saying, ‘No, we can't.’”

But also on the program yesterday was Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. — who himself sure sounded like someone leaning towards a presidential bid — arguing that leaning in on policies like doing away with private health insurance could hurt the Democratic Party.

“Remember when President Obama said, ‘If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.’ And then, you know, a few people in America actually lost their insurance because of the way that the plan worked. Now what Democrats are saying is, ‘If you like your insurance, we're going to take it away from you,’ from 180 million people that get their insurance from their employer and like it, where 20 million Americans who are on Medicare advantage, and love it. That seems like a bad opening offer for me,” he said.

“I think we'd be much better off with a bill like the one I have with Tim Kaine called Medicare X, that creates a public option. It, it helps finish the work of Obamacare. And it says to America, ‘If you want to be in a public plan, you can choose to be in a public plan. If you want to keep your insurance, you can keep your insurance.’”

What say you, Democratic primary voters?

Re-upping our 2020 list

Who’s in, who’s out, and who we’re still waiting on? With Elizabeth Warren’s formal presidential announcement on Saturday, with Amy Klobuchar’s on Sunday, and with Michael Bennet sounding like a future one himself, here’s our updated list of who’s in, who’s out and who’s still thinking about a 2020 run:

Those who have filed paperwork or announced presidential bids (nine)

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (who announced on Feb. 10)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who formally announced on Feb. 9)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (who announced on Feb. 1)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (who announced on Jan. 21)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (who announced her exploratory committee on Jan. 15)
  • Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro (who formally announced his decision on Jan. 12)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (who announced her decision to run on Jan. 11)
  • Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (who announced his presidential bid back on July 28, 2017!!!!)
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who announced his exploratory committee on Jan. 23)

The other potential candidates we’re watching (in no particular order)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas
  • Former VP Joe Biden
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
  • Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
  • Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
  • Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
  • Outgoing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

Possible 2020 Dems who have declined to run (five)

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
  • Attorney Michael Avenatti
  • Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley
  • Tom Steyer
  • Current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

Trump heads to El Paso, where residents say he’s painted an unfair and misleading picture of life on the border

At 9:00 p.m. ET, President Donald Trump holds a rally in El Paso to sell his border wall. And it’s El Paso, of course, to which he referred in his State of the Union address last week:

“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

But as one of us writes, politicians and business leaders from border cities like El Paso say that Trump’s portrayal is unfair, misleading and exaggerated — hardly reflecting what it’s like living on the United States side of the border.

For example: “In El Paso — a city with a population of about 700,000 — violent crime has been cut in half since the 1990s, and the most up-to-date crime rate there was fewer than 400 incidents per 100,000 people.”

“That’s less than New York City’s rate of nearly 600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents and Washington’s rate of 1,200 violent crimes per 100,000 people.”

“The statistics also contradict Trump’s claim about El Paso’s border fencing: They show that violent crime was already on the downswing before the fencing was completed in 2009, and then it slightly increased after it was finished.”

NBC’s Jane Timm also does a fact-check on Trump’s claims about El Paso.

By the way, guess who’s holding a counter-programming event in El Paso tonight? Beto O’Rourke.

Are we really headed for another government shutdown?

Speaking of Trump’s desire for a border wall, the possibility of ANOTHER government shutdown exists — but this time, the stalemate isn’t over Trump’s wall.

The Washington Post: “The nation faces the real possibility of another government shutdown at the end of this week after bipartisan talks aimed at averting that outcome broke down in a dispute over immigration enforcement, lawmakers and aides said Sunday.”

A senior Democratic aide tells NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell: “Talks have broken down because Senate Republicans are refusing to compromise on limits to the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies. A deal that includes new physical barriers must all include limits on the number of ICE detention beds. If Senate Republicans won’t compromise with us on both, we can’t reach a deal.”

WaPo poll: Virginians split about whether Northam should resign

Over the weekend, a Washington Post-Schar School poll found 47 percent of Virginia residents want embattled Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to resign, while 47 percent want him to stay.

“Northam counts higher support among black residents — who say he should remain in office by a margin of 58 percent to 37 percent — than among whites, who are more evenly divided.”

Where did the negative narratives wind up in the Warren, Klobuchar announcements?

Returning to the Warren and Klobuchar 2020 announcements over the weekend, here’s where news organizations first referred to each candidate’s negative narrative — Native American controversy for Warren, staff controversy for Klobuchar:


NYT: 14th paragraph

WaPo: first paragraph

Politico: put it in headline


NYT: 8th paragraph

WaPo: 17th paragraph

Politico: 8th paragraph

RIP, Walter Jones

“Rep. Walter Jones Jr., a 13-term Republican from eastern North Carolina whose about-face on the Iraq War came to define his congressional service, died Sunday on his 76th birthday, his congressional office confirmed,” per NBC News.