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The White House plugged ‘unity’ ahead of the State of the Union. That’s not what Trump delivered

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — For all of the talk from White House aides about how President Trump’s State of the Union address would center on unity and finding common ground, the thrust of his speech Tuesday night was anything but.

Sure, there were niceties at the beginning. “I stand here ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for all Americans,” Trump remarked. “The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda.”

But at its core, Trump’s speech was a full-throttled demand for his immigration policies and border wall – which precipitated the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. And while he avoided mentioning the past shutdown, he also offered no path forward to avoid the next looming one.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” he said. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

“Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate — it is actually very cruel… Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens.”

“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall. But the proper wall was never built. I will get it built.”

And those weren’t the only points of the speech that aimed more to confront than unite:

  • Here’s what he had to say about abortion: “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful, babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.” (Um, that’s a statement that needs a fact check. More on that below.)
  • And he took an obvious dig at Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with this riff on socialism:“Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
  • And he dismissed the mushrooming investigations into his associates and the 2016 presidential election as mere partisan distractions: “The only thing that can stop [America’s economic growth] are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!”

Overall, we’re not sure Trump’s collection of statements last night added up to a cohesive message at all. It felt mostly like a cleaned-up version of his Twitter feed.

Trump’s biggest whopper of the night: Crime fell in El Paso due to its border fence

In a night full of fact-checking (more on that below), President Trump committed arguably his biggest whopper of the night when he said this:

“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. Simply put, walls work and walls save lives.”

In fact, violent crime in El Paso — one of America’s safest cities — declined BEFORE the border fence was built there in 2008-2009. And it rose AFTER its construction. Here’s the El Paso Times:

“Looking broadly at the last 30 years, the rate of violent crime reached its peak in 1993, when more than 6,500 violent crimes were recorded.

Between 1993 and 2006, the number of violent crimes fell by more than 34 percent and less than 2,700 violent crimes were reported.

The border fence was authorized by Bush in 2006, but construction did not start until 2008.

From 2006 to 2011 — two years before the fence was built to two years after — the violent crime rate in El Paso increased by 17 percent.”

Per NBC’s Anthony Terrell, El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles released this statement: “While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been ‘…considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities.’ And, El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built. President Trump continues to give a false narrative about a great city that truly represents what this great Nation is all about.”

Fact-checking the rest of Trump’s speech

NBC’s Jane Timm and one of us fact-checked the entirety of the State of the Union, so you didn’t have to. Some of the highlights:

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS HE LAUNCHED AN ‘UNPRECEDENTED ECONOMIC BOOM’

“Trump took office amid a booming economy, and he’s been taking credit for it since day one. But there’s no evidence he created this boom. Some economists argue he boosted growth with tax cuts — turbocharging an already booming economy — while others argue the government shutdown, tariffs, and trade war have slowed growth.”

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS UNEMPLOYMENT IS AT ITS LOWEST RATE IN ‘HALF A CENTURY’

“When unemployment ticked down to 3.7 percent in September 2018, that indeed marked the lowest jobless rate since December 1969, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the jobless rate has since ticked back up to 4.0 In January, which is above the 3.8 percent achieved in the Clinton administration in April 2000.”

CLAIM: VIRGINIA GOV. RALPH NORTHAM STATED HE ‘WOULD EXECUTE A BABY AFTER BIRTH’

“Asked on a radio program what happens when a woman who is going into labor desires a third-trimester abortion, Northam noted that this kind of procedure only occurs in cases of severe deformities or a nonviable pregnancy. He said that in this scenario, ‘the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.’”

CLAIM: NORTH KOREA HASN’T TESTED A MISSILE IN 15 MONTHS

“While Trump is correct that North Korea has not launched a missile in 15 months, there’s ample evidence that North Korea is seeking to retain and hide their nuclear capabilities — contradicting the president’s past claims that he’s made great progress in getting Pyongyang to give up their nuclear weapons.”

CLAIM: “WE HAVE MORE WOMEN SERVING IN CONGRESS THAN AT ANY TIME BEFORE”

“This is correct, but it’s also true that those women are overwhelmingly Democrats. In fact, the share of Republican women in the House has gone DOWN since the last Congress. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, of the 127 female voting members of the House and Senate in the chamber last night, 106 were Democrats and just 21 were Republicans.”

Stacey Abrams takes aim at the shutdown in the Democratic response

While the president didn’t mention federal workers or the government shutdown at all, Stacey Abrams took direct aim at the shutdown mess, calling it “a stunt engineered by the President of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people — but our values.”

And/but, she also had this message to the president “Even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems, I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and respect the extraordinary diversity that defines America.”

The Elizabeth Warren/Native American story keeps coming back

The Washington Post: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday that she was sorry that she identified herself as a Native American for almost two decades, reflecting her ongoing struggle to quiet a controversy that continues to haunt her as she prepares to formally announce a presidential bid… [A]s Warren undergoes increased scrutiny as a presidential candidate, additional documents could surface to keep the issue alive. Using an open records request during a general inquiry, for example, The Post obtained Warren’s registration card for the State Bar of Texas, providing a previously undisclosed example of Warren identifying as an ‘American Indian.’”

This is starting to feel like one of those stories that just won’t go away (and, of course, with Trump’s enthusiasm for seizing on this narrative, he’s sure to amplify it every time there’s a new element.)

Here’s a look back at how Warren’s explanations have shifted over time.

  • May 2012: “These are my family stories. This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw. This is our lives. And I’m very proud of it.”
  • September 2012: “Let me be clear. I never asked for, never got any benefit because of my heritage. The people who hired me have all said they didn’t even know about it … As a kid, I never asked my mom for documentation when she talked about our Native American Heritage. What kid would? But I knew my father’s family didn’t like that she was part Cherokee and part Delaware. So my parents had to elope.”
  • February 2018: “I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes — and only by tribes. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.”
  • October 2018: Warren releases DNA test finding that concludes there is “”strong evidence” that Warren’s “DNA sample of primarily European descent also contains Native American ancestry from an ancestor in the sample’s pedigree 6-10 generations ago.”
  • January 2019: “I am not a person of color. I am not a citizen of a tribe. Tribal citizenship is very different from ancestry. Tribes — and only tribes — determine tribal citizenship, and I respect that difference.”
  • February 1, 2019: Per the Cherokee Nation, Warren reaches out to the tribe to apologize. “We are encouraged by this dialogue and understanding that being a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen is rooted in centuries of culture and laws not through DNA tests,” leaders of the Cherokee Nation said.
  • February 5, 2019: Warren expands that apology: “I can’t go back,” Warren said in an interview with The Washington Post. “But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”

Yes, having this story break on the night of the State of the Union blunted its immediate impact, but this still isn’t going away anytime soon. The question is whether she can convince voters to not care about it. While it may not be disqualifying for her individually, in a crowded presidential field, troubling issues can become more problematic since there are so many choices for Democratic primary voters.

Warren has to hope this doesn’t turn off enough activists that it slows her ability to maintain a frontrunner profile. But make no mistake, she still owes voters a longer and more complete explanation for how we got here.

Klobuchar says she’ll make 2020 announcement on Sunday in Minnesota

Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow after last night’s State of the Union address, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she would be making her announcement on a possible White House bid – at an event in Minnesota.

“Okay, so Sunday, come to Boom Island, Minneapolis,” she said. “It’s going to be a little cold, 20 degrees. Wear warm clothes. Maybe have, you know, a little heat warmers with you, but then you’ll find out my decision.”

That doesn’t sound like someone who’s declining a 2020 run.

Beto O’Rourke to decide on 2020 by the end of the month

Speaking to Oprah Winfrey in New York yesterday, per NBC’s Beth Fouhy, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, said that he was definitely thinking about running for president in 2020, and that he would decide by the end of the month.

“O’Rourke said his main consideration was whether his wife and their three children, ages 12, 10 and 8, were “all good” with the decision,” Fouhy adds.

Poll: It’s close in MS-GOV

A new Mason-Dixon poll shows a close hypothetical general-election contest in this year’s gubernatorial race in Mississippi, with Democrat Jim Hood getting support from 44 percent of registered voters and Republican Tate Reeves getting 42 percent. Fourteen percent are undecided.

The poll was conducted January 30-February 1 of 625 registered voters, and it has a margin of error of plus-minus 4.0 percentage points.

The MS-GOV primary is August 6, and the general election is November 5.

On the 2020 trail, per NBC’s Kyle Stewart

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper hits South Carolina, speaking to the South Carolina Hospital Association annual meeting in Columbia.



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Grilled by children, Feinstein tries to teach lesson in politics

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By Dennis Romero

U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-California, isn’t backing the Green New Deal, and she wasn’t shy about letting a group who does support it know it — even if they are children.

A group of schoolchildren visited the senator at her San Francisco office Friday and urged her to get on board with the renewable energy legislation. But the conversation quickly turned into somewhat of a confrontation, and Feinstein has been criticized online for the tone she took. Edited video of the 85-year-old lecturing more than a dozen kids went viral Friday.

One girl implored the senator to back the Green New Deal and argued that the government can afford it. “We have tons of money going to military,” the girl told the lawmaker.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Feinstein said. “I know what I’m doing. You come in here and you say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that.”

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Bigger is not better. Small dollars online are gold for Democrats taking on Trump.

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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — The most coveted donor for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates may not be a Wall Street financier or Hollywood producer, but a grade school teacher in the Midwest who chips in $25 a month to her favorite candidate.

Small dollars are a bigger deal than ever because they can help organize and engage a large and committed group of supporters who invest more than just money in a campaign.

“Small-dollar donors are going to be a pivotal part of this election, both strategically and practically,” said Erin Hill, executive director of ActBlue, Democrats’ central clearinghouse for online donations. “Small-dollar donors don’t just give — they also vote, volunteer and tell their friends why they care about a candidate.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., proved that his supporters, or at least 225,000 of them, are still committed when he raised a whopping $6 million on Wednesday, the day after launching his presidential campaign.

Rufus Gifford, who served as national finance director for President Barack Obama’s re-election effort in 2012, called the haul “truly remarkable,” noting on Twitter that he was skeptical Sanders could match his 2016 effort: “I was wrong.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced raising $1.5 million on her first day in the race, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she brought in $1 million in her first 48 hours. The other candidates have not released numbers, but FEC data shows Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., raised about $300,000 online through ActBlue on New Year’s Eve, when she announced her exploratory committee.

Sanders, of course, had a head start thanks to his previous presidential run, which helped him grow a donor pool the size of every other perspective candidate combined, according to a recent New York Times analysis.

But the good news for the rest of the current field of White House hopefuls is that there is now more opportunity than ever for left-leaning candidates to tap into grassroots fundraising — if they know how to.

“As donors get younger and younger, and people get more and more used to the internet, and campaigns get savvier and savvier, there is very real money available,” said Teddy Goff, who was a top digital strategist on presidential runs by Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Goff recalled that as recently as 2012 people would call into the Obama campaign to make sure it was safe for them to donate online.

Now, thanks to Amazon and everything else that Americans do online, digital financial transactions have become second nature. And thanks to President Donald Trump, Democratic voters are eager to open their digital wallets.

In last year’s midterm elections, ActBlue processed more than $1.6 billion in online donations, up from $782 million in 2016 and $335 million in 2014 — a five-fold surge in four years. (Republicans just last month established their answer to ActBlue after years of false starts.)

And as donating online has become frictionless for Democrats, the party has grown increasingly hostile to traditional modes of funding campaigns and to big money in politics.

For the first time, the Democratic National Committee will allow candidates to qualify to take part in the party’s debates if they can secure donations from 65,000 people in at least 20 different states. In the past, only candidates who registered a certain amount of support in the polls were allowed to participate.

“Because campaigns are won on the strength of their grassroots, we also updated the threshold, giving all types of candidates the opportunity to reach the debate stage and giving small-dollar donors a bigger voice in the primary than ever before,” DNC chairman Tom Perez said in a statement announcing the change.

That’s already altering some campaigns’ strategies, with lesser-known candidates like Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, pursuing that path to the debate stage.

Tara McGowan, the founder and CEO of the Democratic digital firm Acronym, said smart campaigns make donors “feel a sense of ownership” in the campaign and give them other meaningful ways to engage, like by volunteering or posting on social media.

“You run the risk of thinking of digital outreach as an ATM for the campaign,” she said. “You’re missing a real opportunity to help amplify your message if you’re not engaging people who are already raising their hand.”

Meanwhile, big donors simply aren’t as valuable as they once were, excluding groups that can take unlimited contributions like super PACs — and almost every major 2020 candidate has sworn off them already.

For Democrats, big checks also can come with a political cost, especially if they’re written by people who work in certain industries that have been targeted by the left, such as finance, fossil fuels and pharmaceuticals.

While large donors may expect something in return for their largesse, from a photo-op with the candidate to an ambassadorship to France, someone who gives $5 is not counting on much more than a feeling of connection to the candidate and solidarity with other small donors.

For instance, Warren has recalled how during her first run for the Senate in 2012, a young man approached her on a subway platform late one night to tell her he was working extra hours to donate to her campaign every month.

“I felt as if he’d hit me with a spear right between the ribs,” Warren wrote in her book, “A Fighting Chance.” “Good Lord — this kid was working until nearly 11 o’clock on a Saturday night and he was sending me money? I smiled weakly and said something along the lines of: ‘Uh, I’m doing OK in the campaign. Maybe you should keep your money. I’ll be fine. Really.'”

But she says he looked back and replied: “No, I’m part of this campaign. This is my fight, too.”

The first big fundraising test for every candidate will come at the end of March, when they have to file their first quarterly reports to the FEC. Early fundraising numbers are heavily scrutinized by party insiders and the media as a sign of a candidate’s strength, and historically they have been a better predictor of success than early polls.

As Democrats fight their primary race and chase small-dollar contributors, they’re not alone.

Trump’s forces have spent more than $4 million on Facebook ads since November alone to expand their list of supporters, and 75 percent of the money his campaign raised in the most recent quarter came from donors who give $200 or less.

“Realistically,” ActBlue’s Hill said, “our nominee is going to need to be primarily funded by grassroots donors in order to beat Trump, who already has widespread small-dollar donor support.”



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Cohen said to be providing new information to federal prosecutors in NY

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 / Updated 

By Tom Winter, Ken Dilanian, Jonathan Dienst and Monica Alba

President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, facing jail in just over two months, has been speaking with and providing information to federal prosecutors in New York, according to three people familiar with the matter.

According to those sources and public statements, Cohen was questioned about a donor to the president’s inaugural committee, Imaad Zuberi, who is a political fundraiser with a history of donating to both Republican and Democratic candidates.

In addition, the sources said Cohen has discussed matters relevant to the Southern District of New York’s investigation into certain members of the Trump Organization and the Trump Inaugural Committee, investigations that have previously been reported publicly.

The New York Times first reported the discussions, which sources confirm occurred in January, on Friday evening. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

Lanny Davis, an attorney and spokesperson for Cohen, said in a statement to NBC News: “We cannot comment on any matters that are still under investigation by the Special Counsel or the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.”

However, Davis added, “I can say that Mr. Cohen is interested in cooperating with and assisting the SDNY team in any way they believe is helpful.”

An inaugural committee spokesperson declined to comment.

The White House referred questions to the Trump Organization, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Michael Cohen leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 21, 2019.Susan Walsh / AP

Zuberi has previously been mentioned in reports surrounding the investigation into the Trump Inaugural Committee. His spokesperson has previously told the Washington Post that Zuberi’s funds did not come from a foreign donor and that the money he gave was his own.

Friday’s revelations have to do with a proposed consulting agreement between Cohen and Zuberi, an agreement Zuberi’s spokesperson said was never completed.

Steve Rabinowitz, a spokesman for Zuberi, said his client “received what I would call a speculative contract from Cohen to consult on a new, small private New York real estate fund they had spoken briefly of, but that never came to be.”

Rabinowitz said his client issued a check to Cohen as part of initiating the agreement and said Zuberi recently searched his records and found a $100,000 handwritten check to Cohen that was issued in February 2017.

“The check was never cashed and by March [of 2017], Cohen and Zuberi would not speak again,” he said.

“Imaad [Zuberi] did not pursue Cohen; it was the other way around,” Rabinowitz said. “And their would-be relationship fell apart when Zuberi didn’t sign the contract, not when Cohen didn’t cash the check. And how could he? They didn’t have a deal.”

Cohen, who pleaded guilty on charges related to tax evasion and campaign finance fraud, faces a three-year sentence and is expected to report to prison May 6.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to the charges brought by federal prosecutors in New York — six counts related to his personal finances and two related to campaign finance violations involving hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump.

Federal law allows prosecutors to seek a reduction in a jail sentence post-conviction and even post-sentencing for cooperation in an ongoing investigation.

A public court filing from prosecutors indicating that Cohen is cooperating or indicating that they seek a reduction in his sentence has not been made, and there’s no indication that there’s a formal agreement.

Cohen is expected to testify before several committees of Congress next week.



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