Brenda Jones announces bid against Rashida Tlaib in 2018 rematch
WASHINGTON — Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib is poised for a rematch against Detroit City Council President and former Rep. Brenda Jones two years after voters briefly sent both women to Congress on the same ballot.
Jones, who officially announced her bid for Congress on Wednesday, narrowly won the Democratic primary in the special election to replace the late Rep. John Conyers and serve out the rest of his term in 2018. But Tlaib edged her out in the party’s primary for the next full term, which began on 2019, by a similarly small margin.
With both Democrats cruising through the general election in the deep-blue seat, that meant Jones served in Congress for a few weeks before turning the seat over to Tlaib to start 2019.
Jones officially filed paperwork declaring her bid with the Federal Election Commission on March 18, but announced her bid on Wednesday in a video. She said she recorded the video instead of holding a press conference because she wanted to set an example of following the new social distancing policies being championed to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
In that video, she addressed the “period of uncertainty” as coronavirus has dramatically changed Americans’ way of life, let along upended the political campaign process.
“You cannot live without hope. That’s why my candidacy is based on hope — hope for a better tomorrow, hope for our children, hope for our families, and hope for the hopeless,” Jones said.
She went on to lay out a “three-pronged” plan for the district if elected: Bringing resources to the district, “uniting the district,” and focusing on important issues.
And she pointed to her city council experience as indicative of how she’d serve if elected again to Congress.
In 2018, there were six total candidates on the Democratic primary ballot running for the full term in Congress, with four on the ballot to serve out Conyers’ partial term. As of Tuesday, Jones and Tlaib are the only two major Democratic candidates running, with a third candidate, Stephen Michael Patterson, having not reported spending or receiving any money so far this cycle.
Tlaib has become a national name since she took office, partially because of her standing among progressives and work with a group of female freshman Democrats nicknamed “The Squad,” a group that includes Tlaib as well as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar .
Recently, Tlaib has been appearing with Omar and Ocasio-Cortez during livestreamed roundtables with Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, who they’ve endorsed to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, on coronavirus.
“Rep. Tlaib looks forward to running a strong campaign and winning re-election regardless of who is on the ballot, but at this time she is 100% focused on responding to the coronavirus and getting our communities and residents the resources they need to protect human health and our local economy,” Denzel McCampbell, a Tlaib spokesperson, told NBC by email.
“Rep. Tlaib is hard at work pushing groundbreaking policies to make direct payments to all Americans to weather this storm, leading legislation to save state and local governments from financial collapse, and preventing utility shutoffs, evictions, and foreclosures.”
Ben Kamisar and Melissa Holzberg
1d ago / 6:59 PM UTC
Congressional candidates put elections on back burner
WASHINGTON — While coronavirus has shut most of America behind closed doors, congressional candidates are juggling the uncertainty of the situation with the electoral reality.
The guidelines from the White House aimed at curbing the spread of the virus makes it virtually impossible for candidates to fundraise and campaign in the way they normally would.
“The character of our district and neighborhood is one of social interaction. We don’t have large living rooms, homes and yards to spread out,” Suraj Patel, a Democrat who is challenging Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney for her deep-blue, New York City seat, told NBC News.
Patel told NBC that his entire campaign staff has shifted to remote and digital work, focusing on community service, holding virtual town hall meetings with those affected by the economic slowdown, and releasing policy proposals aimed at recovery.
Meanwhile, he said his staff has used telephone canvassing software to check in with seniors, delivering supplies and handmade cards across the district.
Maloney told NBC her campaign shifted quickly to remote work too, suspending its attempts to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot and pledging not to challenge any opponents’ signatures so that they could keep all staff safe. The primary for the seat is on June 23, and New York has not yet announced if any of their primaries will be moved because of coronavirus.
Out of an abundance of caution and due to concerns about public health and safety, my campaign is immediately suspending efforts to collect further petition signatures for ballot access. pic.twitter.com/NYxuPIjRv7
With her team contacting constituents to keep them informed about the crisis, she said she’s remained “laser-focused on taking action to alleviate the suffering that people are experiencing during the crisis, passing bills that will help everyday Americans get through the challenges of the coming months, and holding the administration accountable.”
Another elected official balancing a run for Congress during the crisis is Republican New York State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis — she represents a coronavirus hotspot and is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Max Rose in New York’s 11th district.
But Malliotakis says her priority is no longer her congressional campaign.
“The campaign’s on the back burner. I’m 100 percent focused on doing my job as an Assembly member, making sure that we do important things that need to be taken care of in Albany,” Malliotakis said.
She also said this has been a time to work across party lines — she’s been in constant contact with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as Rose too.
“We may be adversaries often times when it comes to policy,” Malliotakis said of Democrats, but noted that in New York, “we are working together really closely.”
And Rose is on the same page.
“All I care about is addressing the incredibly serious public health crisis,” Rose told NBC. “Elections be damned, we’ve got lives on the line.”
Rose added that when it comes to elections, there is “no balance” with campaigning until this pandemic subsides, and that politics has no place in current conversations.
“Right now, nobody should be talking politics in any way, shape or form. Nobody. Now, the only thing that anybody should be concerned about is saving lives,” Rose said.
On that front, challenger candidates like Malliotakis are hoping that focusing on their current jobs will end up as their biggest campaigning tool.
“Quite frankly, if I don’t do a good job in the position that I’m elected right now, I wouldn’t deserve to be elected to Congress,” Malliotakis said.
Malliotakis’ focus on her current position is similar to that of another state Assemblywoman, Christy Smith in California. Smith and Naval officer Mike Garcia are facing off in the CA-25 special election, currently slated for May 12.
Smith told NBC in a statement that she is “focused on my work as this community’s public servant, ensuring state response to my local constituents and connecting people with essential information, services, and resources.” She added that she’ll “revisit campaign-related issues” after the crisis is at bay.
It won’t be easy to run a campaign for our 5/12 SPECIAL ELECTION while working through this crisis for my community. But- ELECTIONS MATTER and ensuring everyone can VOTE BY MAIL this year is EVERYTHING! Thank you to these leaders: https://t.co/iaQ0BSGs69
While Garcia doesn’t hold public office, he told NBC he’s prioritizing getting accurate information out to his would-be constituents, primarily through his website, which includes a list of local and small business resources as well as official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This coronavirus is a serious challenge. We are taking it seriously,” Garcia said “We have no choice. We have to do it with class, we have to do it with grace.”
2d ago / 5:32 PM UTC
Sanders campaign ramps up virtual organizing ahead of potential New York primary
BURLINGTON, VT — Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has shifted to entirely virtual organizing while Americans socially distance due to the coronavirus outbreak but the campaign put out a release Tuesday touting New York state staffing and volunteer organizing. While some states have moved their primaries due to the outbreak, New York’s Democratic Primary is still set for April 28.
The Sanders campaign says they hosted a volunteer call with thousands of New York supporters this week, signing up more than 1,300 call and text shifts. The campaign is using their proprietary “BERN” app and old-fashioned phone banking, as well as organizing “Digital house parties,” while New Yorkers are holed up at home.
While the Sanders campaign shifts resources to future states, the campaign continues to say nothing has changed since last week’s statement that the candidate is assessing the status of his campaign and having conversations with supporters on a path forward.
Sanders has been focused this week on coronavirus, holding multiple campaign live-streams on the topic with experts and congressional colleagues, raising millions for charities involved in coronavirus aid, and releasing a $2 trillion plan of his own.
2d ago / 3:20 PM UTC
Biden edges out Trump in new national poll
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a narrow three-point lead on President Trump in a new national presidential race poll from Monmouth University. Forty-eight percent of registered voters prefer Biden, while 45 percent prefer the president — however that lands within the poll’s margin of error. The poll did not release data on how Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fared in a general election stand-off with Trump.
The picture changed slightly when the poll shifted to key state voters. According to the poll, 50 percent of voters in 300 “swing counties” — counties in which less than 10 points separated Trump and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — back Biden while just 41 percent support the president. Trump and the leading Democratic candidate essentially split the current vote for Independents — Trump edges out with 45 percent, and Biden garners 44 percent.
While the possible general election contest is extremely close, some key questions could end up affecting whether voters change their allegiances. Twenty-five percent of registered voters said their current financial situation was best described as “struggling”, and just 12 percent of registered voters said their financial status was improving. That could magnify as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has some experts saying unemployment could reach 20 percent in a worse-case scenario situation.
However, it’s not clear that Americans blame the Trump administration for their financial situations. Fifty-two percent of registered voters said the federal government had “no real impact” on their finances, and 29 percent said the government “helped” their financial situation. The Monmouth University poll was conducted between March 18 and March 22.
Both candidates have also seen upticks in their favorability since February. Forty-six of registered voters view President Trump either very or somewhat favorably, up two points since February, and 43 percent of registered voters view Biden very or somewhat favorably, up three points from the last poll.
2d ago / 2:33 PM UTC
Trump re-elect effort campaigns virtually as coronavirus outbreak pauses normal voter interaction
WASHINGTON – Since the coronavirus pandemic has essentially brought the 2020 race to a halt, President Trump’s campaign and Republican National Committee have pivoted to a fully virtual outreach plan as millions of voters are confined to their homes.
On Saturday, the Trump re-election effort made a record 1.5 million calls, marking the first time this kind of voter contact has been done purely remotely by the party, according to the RNC. Volunteers highlighted the administration’s response to the current health crisis, while encouraging supporters to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for their own safety.
“With our ability to engage with voters virtually and digitally, Trump Victory is not missing a beat, and we continue to be full steam ahead to November,” RNC Chief of Staff Richard Walters told NBC News in a statement.
After President Trump announced strict new social distancing rules last week, the campaign and RNC had to convert all their in-person campaign events into virtual interactions, including fundraisers. Earlier this month, the campaign had to postpone several high-profile surrogate events, including a multi-day, high-dollar swing for Ivanka Trump and a California trip for first lady Melania Trump.
Since then, Trump Victory – the joint operation between the campaign and the RNC – has held hundreds of volunteer trainings in virtual settings, including using an application called “Trump Talk.” Nearly 50,000 people signed up to use it and make calls from the comfort of their own homes in the last week alone, the RNC said.
This past weekend, during a designated “day of action,” volunteers were provided with scripts that touted the president’s “bold leadership” on the coronavirus that has infected more than 46,000 people in the country and left at least 561 dead, according to data from Johns Hopkins as of Tuesday morning. They were instructed to highlight the “unprecedented, comprehensive, and aggressive whole of America approach,” as the administration faced some criticism from medical professionals that not enough was being done to combat the virus.
To that point, the talking points included that Trump took “quick and decisive action” back in January to restrict entry into the U.S. from foreign nationals who had visited China. If voters didn’t answer, they were left with a voicemail from senior adviser Lara Trump which included information about “how to help slow the spread” of the deadly respiratory illness.
The major societal changes that have forced millions to work from home in recent days has also contributed to a surge in online traffic for GOP websites such as Vote.GOP and TrumpVictory.com, nearly doubling their normal visitors, per the RNC. The campaign has also directed supporters to go to ArmyforTrump.com, a tool that allows volunteers to sign up for various outreach opportunities and become “digital activists.”
So far this cycle, Trump Victory has outpaced its 2016 and 2018 voters contacts, boasting 9 million to date. The number of calls made on Saturday alone was bigger than any total week of calls made ahead of the last midterm elections, the group highlighted.
Though fundraising in March may be hampered by the pandemic’s restrictions, the re-elect effort raked in $87 million in February and has more than $231 million in the bank.
8h ago / 10:10 PM UTC
Dem super PAC launches ads hitting Trump on coronavirus response
WASHINGTON — Priorities USA Action, the biggest Democratic super PAC working to deny President Trump re-election, is out with a new ad campaign that criticizes the president’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The group released two television ads Monday — one on coronavirus and one aimed at contrasting Trump with former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the Democratic primary race.
The first spot includes various comments of President Trump talking about the virus over a span of months run one after another as a graphic shows the number of coronavirus cases in America rising exponentially.
“The coronavirus…this is their new hoax…we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China…One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear…When you have 15 people…and within a couple of days, it’s going to be close to down to zero,” Trump can be heard saying in those spliced-together comments.
The second television spots paints a dismal picture of the current situation, “Thousands infected, an economy in free fall, and government unprepared,” before showing that same clip of Trump saying he doesn’t take responsibility for the test-kit shortage.
The ad then shows Biden’s address on coronavirus from earlier this month, where he said “I can promise you this: When I’m president, we will be better prepared, respond better, we’ll lead with science.”
The Trump administration, his campaign and his allies have been on the defensive as to its response to the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks, arguing that the administration has taken action that has stopped the pandemic from getting worse.
They’ve also accused Democrats of misrepresenting at least one comment, arguing that he said “this is their new hoax” in referring to Democratic criticism of his administration’s coronavirus response, not about the virus itself.
Priorities will run the first TV ad that solely criticizes Trump as part of a $6 million TV and digital campaign across Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the Biden contrast ad could also hit the airwaves after that ad runs, but the timing for that is not clear. The two digital ads will begin running online starting Tuesday.
“From the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Donald Trump has repeatedly misled the American people and exposed us to unnecessary danger. His failure to lead continues to have real life and death consequences as hospitals, local and state governments, small businesses, and millions of Americans are left without the tools and information they need,” Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said in a statement.
“Tens of thousands of people are sick, hundreds have already died, and millions are losing their jobs. We simply cannot allow Donald Trump to continue to lie and spread misinformation unchecked.”
Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, criticized the Priorities ads in a statement to NBC News.
“It used to be that Americans faced national adversity with unity, but Joe Biden and his allies have abandoned that principle in favor of rank, despicable politics. They offer nothing but partisan sniping from the sidelines and seek to undermine the federal response to the crisis by misinforming and frightening people,” he said.
“All Joe Biden knows about handling a public health crisis is that the Obama White House had to apologize for his irresponsible remarks during the swine flu outbreak in 2009. Americans can see that President Trump is out front and leading this nation and is the clear choice to see us through the crisis.”
UPDATE: On Wednesday, the Trump campaign said it sent television stations cease and desist letters calling on the stations to stop running the ad, arguing that the “hoax” comment from Trump was falsely represented in the ad.
Josh Lederman, Maura Barrett and Julia Jester
3d ago / 6:09 PM UTC
Bloomberg campaign faces potential class action lawsuit for layoffs
WASHINGTON — Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is facing a potential class action lawsuit for allegedly promising jobs through November to more than a thousand campaign staffers and then laying them off last week.
A former field organizer, Donna Wood, filed the suit today in U.S. District Court, in the southern district of New York, on behalf of herself and others seeking to get it certified by the court as a class action.
NBC News first reported in January that Bloomberg was planning to fund a major campaign effort through November and was committing to pay staff through then, even if he lost the nomination. But Bloomberg reversed course last week and laid off his entire staff. He instead transferred $18 million to the Democratic National Committee and told laid off staffers to fill out a Google form if they were interested in entering a competitive hiring process for a DNC job. The staffers will stop receiving paychecks in the first week of April, and will stop receiving health care benefits at the end of April.
“The Bloomberg campaign had represented to folks they were going to keep people on through November, regardless of his candidacy, which is one of the reasons we think he attracted such talent,” Sally Abrahamson of Outten & Golden LLP, one of the attorneys on the case, told NBC News. “He’s terminating, we believe, over 1,000 people at a time when we believe unemployment is likely going to be 20 or 30 percent, and they’re going to lose their health care.”
The Bloomberg campaign responded by saying that their staffers received severance and extended health care, while other campaigns didn’t give those benefits.
“This campaign paid its staff wages and benefits that were much more generous than any other campaign this year. Staff worked 39 days on average, but they were also given several weeks of severance and health care through March, something no other campaign did this year,” a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson said. “Given the current crisis, a fund is being created to ensure that all staff receive health care through April, which no other campaign has done. And many field staff will go on to work for the DNC in battleground states, in part because the campaign made the largest monetary transfer to the DNC from a presidential campaign in history to support the DNC’s organizing efforts.”
NBC News obtained a copy of an interview script that was used by the Bloomberg campaign to evaluate potential hires for the campaign. Among the talking points listed under “At a Glance” is “Employment through November 2020 with Team Bloomberg.”
The lawsuit has three components: unpaid overtime compensation for field organizers who would have to pro-actively join the case — attorneys involved in the case tell NBC they are talking to “dozens” of potential claimants, alleged fraudulent inducement and breach of contract, allegedly suffered by those who were promised jobs through November, and it seeks the compensation they would have received through November.
If the case is certified as a class action, it will move forward on behalf of everyone who falls into that category unless they opt-out of the class action.
3d ago / 4:25 PM UTC
The Affordable Care Act is turning 10. Where does the landmark law go next?
WASHINGTON — The Affordable Care Act is turning 10 this week, and it’s still in the news and still facing an existential threat from Republican critics even as some of its benefits have become widely accepted.
Among the ACA’s core features: It barred insurers from turning away customers or charging more based on pre-existing conditions, created a new subsidized market for individual private insurance, expanded Medicaid to higher income workers, eliminated lifetime and annual caps on benefits and allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26.
In many ways, the 2020 election has been a debate about its legacy. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ran on moving all Americans to a Medicare for All system, rather than private insurance, while former Vice President Joe Biden has argued building on the ACA to make its benefits more generous.
On the Republican side, President Trump is backing a lawsuit to overturn the law in its entirety, which the Supreme Court is set to hear this Fall. He reiterated his support for that effort over the weekend, saying it would allow him to “get rid of the bad health care and put in a great health care” even as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic with a health care system tied to the ACA.
The White House has not announced a detailed replacement plan for the law, and Biden asked Trump and Republican state officials on Monday to drop the lawsuit.
Former Montana Sen. Max Baucus, who shepherded the ACA as chair of the Senate Finance Committee said the law was a “good start” toward universal coverage. The law reduced the number of uninsured by about 20 million people after its implementation, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But that number has ticked up under President Trump and the health care system still faces rising costs for hospitals and drugs. That unsteadiness has led Baucus to embrace a single-payer health care system.
“I felt at the time we were not ready for single payer,” Baucus told NBC News. “But down the road we’re going to move in that direction. Why? Because our current system, even under the legislation that passed, is still too inefficient. Too many dollars are being spent that don’t provide health care.”
While Baucus may agree with Sanders on the broad policy direction, he thinks Biden would be best to shepherd the next health care goal through because the next Democratic administration must seek common ground with Republicans.
“We should try extremely hard for it to be nonpartisan and maybe begin with smaller steps at first,” he said. “Otherwise if you jam something down somebody’s throat, it’s not durable. The other side will try to figure out how to submarine it or undermine it as they did with the ACA.”
There are some signs that the law is becoming more entrenched. The GOP faced a backlash in 2017 when they tried unsuccessfully to partially repeal the law and scale back its benefits. And, while still divided along partisan lines, the latest NBC/WSJ poll found the ACA with its highest net rating: 42 percent of registered voters believe it was a good idea, versus 35 percent who say it was a bad idea.
But the ACA has struggled to meet some of its goals and the way it’s been implemented isn’t the same as supporters envisioned when it was passed.
The law’s regulations on insurers and lack of subsidies for customers making over 400 percent of the federal poverty limit have left many middle and upper income Americans facing premiums that are high or unaffordable.
“If they can’t get coverage through their job, those individuals’ premiums have skyrocketed,” said Avik Roy, founder of The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity and critic of the law. “It could have been done in a much more effective way that guaranteed coverage for people who were sick, but also made it more affordable to people who are healthy.”
The law has also changed over the years. President Trump’s 2017 tax bill zeroed out the ACA’s individual mandate — which penalized people for going without insurance. And some sources of funding, like a tax on more generous employer plans, have been eliminated.
The Supreme Court ruled that states had to voluntarily participate in its expansion of Medicaid, but 14 states haven’t. The Trump administration has also expanded access to insurance options outside of the law’s regulations, including plans that factor in pre-existing conditions.
Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services Secretary under President Obama, told NBC News the law had been undermined but believes its legacy is secure.
“The country has moved to a place where there is a vast majority of people who feel health care is a right,” she said. “I don’t think that was a given 10 years ago and it’s not just in the Democratic Party. People may have a different idea how to get there, but it’s a basic premise that people support.”
3d ago / 3:53 PM UTC
Biden ally Larry Rasky passes away at 69
WASHINGTON —Larry Rasky, a close ally of former Vice President Joe Biden who played a key role in the super PAC that boosted Biden during the Democratic presidential primary, has died.
Rasky’s eponymous public relations firm confirmed his death in a brief statement on Sunday.
“Larry was a giant in so many ways, not just professionally but personally. He loved and was loved by so many. He always treated the company like a family and we are all shocked and saddened by the news of his passing. He has left an indelible imprint on everyone he touched and the company that bears his name will go on in his spirit,” the statement from Rasky Partners read.
He was 69 years old, according to the Boston Globe. The paper said the cause of death was not yet known.
Rasky was a longtime public relations professional who worked with a lanundry list of Democratic politicians — including Biden, then-Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey (who is now a senator), former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and President Jimmy Carter.
Having worked as Biden’s press secretary during his 1988 presidential bid, he served as Biden’s communications director during his 2008 presidential campaign.
This cycle, he served as the treasurer to Unite the Country, the super PAC backing Biden.
“He was also generous and sharp and he just had a spirit about him. His passion for politics was amazing,” Biden told the paper.
“No matter how down I was going into something, that ridiculous laugh of his would always make a difference. He always knew when to kid and when not to kid.”
“I think the reason people loved him was his deep loyalty to his friends and the causes he believes in,” Markey told the Globe. “It’s something that just drew people to him, and it’s why so many people are missing him today.”
Others shared their memories of Rasky on Twitter as the news broke Sunday.
More sad news. I first met Larry Rasky in the ‘80s, when he was comms operative for @JoeBiden, to whom he remained loyal and committed for decades to come. Boston thru and thru, he was a great, ebullient pol. RIPhttps://t.co/eEgeiXrwyD
Larry Rasky was a political legend. But more than that he was a loving husband and father, loyal friend and committed public servant. He will be missed dearly – my prayers are with his family. https://t.co/wu817ryV5H
Larry was a political genius, an inspiring mentor and an incredible friend who was always willing to lend a hand or a sympathetic ear to anyone in need. I’ll always be grateful that he was there for my family when we needed him most. We will all miss him. https://t.co/VTSa3TGq3A
Sanders wins big in Democrats Abroad primary, party says
WASHINGTON — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has won the Democrats Abroad presidential primary, the contest held by Americans living overseas, according to results announced Monday
Julia Bryan, the group’s global chair, shared those results on a Monday morning video conference in part due to the coronavirus outbreak that has paralyzed the world.
She said that Sanders won 57.9 percent of the almost 40,000 ballots, with former Vice President Joe Biden following with 22.7 percent and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren winning 14.3 percent.
“We saw a 15 percent increase in voter participation over our 2016 primary number,” Bryan said on the call.
“It’s particularly impressive considering the challenges we had with the virus shutting down so many of our centers.”
She added that raw voter turnout was the highest in the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, France and Mexico.
NBC’s Decision Desk has projected Sanders’ victory but has not yet allocated Democratic National Convention delegates based on those results. But Bryan said that per the Democrats Abroad rules, Sanders would receive nine delegates and Biden four based on the results.
Not including the Democrats Abroad result, the Decision Desk projects Biden has won 1,165 delegates so far to Sanders’ 851.
3d ago / 11:43 AM UTC
Biden calls on Trump to drop Obamacare lawsuit amid coronavirus crisis
WASHINGTON — On the 10th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law, former Vice President Joe Biden is calling on President Donald Trump and Republicans to put politics aside during the coronavirus crisis and drop their lawsuit against the landmark health care legislation he helped shepherd through Congress.
In a letter addressed to Trump, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and 18 state attorneys general, Biden is asking them to recognize that the law they are seeking to repeal gives Americans the assurance they need during a public health crisis like the one that has currently paralyzed the country.
“At a time of national emergency, which is laying bare the existing vulnerabilities in our public health infrastructure, it is unconscionable that you are continuing to pursue a lawsuit designed to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance,” Biden writes.
“You are letting partisan rancor and politics threaten the lives of your constituents, and that is a dereliction of your sworn duty.”
Biden has staunchly defended building on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, throughout his campaign. His plan calls for adding a public option like Medicare that would provide coverage to Americans if they do not want to keep their private plan or are uninsured. His position has often come under fire by his most progressive rivals who describe his plan as a moderate approach to reforming the broken system.
The former vice president often tells his crowds how difficult it was to pass President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation to remind them that a complete overhaul of the healthcare system, as proposed in Medicare for All, would be impossible to pass through an already divided Congress.
In his first letter addressed directly to the president as a candidate for his job, Biden said that many Americans can rely on accessing healthcare during the coronavirus scare thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
“It is the reason 100 million people with pre-existing conditions—including conditions like asthma and diabetes that make them at higher-risk for adverse health impacts from the coronavirus—don’t have to worry about being charged more or denied coverage,” he writes.
Biden argues that “no underlying constitutional flaw” exists within Obamacare, citing that the Supreme Court has already upheld the law twice. The only reason Texas v U.S. is being argued, Biden said, is because Congressional Republicans zeroed out the individual mandate statute in 2017, bringing into question its legality.
“History will judge all of us by how we respond to this pandemic,” Biden warned. “The public health imperative we now face is bigger than politics and it requires all of us to summon the courage to lead and to do what is right for the American people.”
CONCORD, N.C. — Sen. Thom Tillis has had a busy week.
The first-term Republican senator voted to confirm a new Supreme Court Justice, campaigned with Vice President Mike Pence, given several rounds of media interviews and announced a packed schedule of events in the final days of his re-election bid.
Tillis’ Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, rocked by weeks of controversy, has been a bit harder to find.
His last scheduled interview was several weeks ago, and journalists requesting sitdowns say they’re finding their calls unreturned. While he’s still speaking to voters, many events are entirely virtual, and local reporters complain his campaign is no longer sending out schedules to the media.
And yet his campaign, pivotal in determining who controls the chamber, is still seen as one of the Democrats’ best chances to flip a Senate seat this year.
Tillis announced he tested positive for the coronavirus on Oct. 2 after attending a White House event in honor of Amy Coney Barrett. That same day, Cunningham, a married father of two and an officer in the Army Reserve who has centered his campaign on his character, was caught in a sexting scandal and later admitted to having an extramarital relationship.
Since then, the two candidates in a race on track to be the most expensive Senate in U.S. history have taken vastly different approaches to their campaigns. Cunningham has largely avoided public events and the media, keeping his focus on the virus and health care.
Tillis, on the other hand, has made a point of being out in public. He’s appeared with President Donald Trump and other high-profile Republicans, using whatever opportunity he can to highlight what he argues is a lack of transparency from Cunningham.
“More importantly than anything, he’s broken our trust,” Tillis said of Cunningham while campaigning with Pence on Tuesday in Greensboro. “He’s run on a campaign of trust and honor. Now we know he’s not been truthful to his family and to his voters and he’s not been honorable to the very uniform that he wears.”
While both parties hoped that their opponent’s missteps would lead to their undoing, the race has remained surprisingly stable, with Cunningham consistently polling a few points ahead of Tillis, usually within the margin of error.
A Washington Post/ABC poll conducted between Oct. 12 -17 found Cunningham leading with 49 percent of likely voters, compared to Tillis’ 47 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 points.
In conversations with voters in North Carolina, many expressed negative attitudes about both Senate candidates, but said that their personal feelings would not influence their vote. Rather, the national electoral environment and the presidential race was driving their choice.
“I’ve already voted for Trump,” said James Hatley, 76, from Concord, a Charlotte exurb where Democrats are hoping to cut into the president’s nearly 20 point margin from 2016.
“I’m not much of a fan of Tillis, perhaps they were all being too carefree about the virus. But I voted for him too because I’m not a liberal.”
Doris Hatley, 73, James’ wife, who also voted early for Trump, said she was frustrated with Tillis for publicly criticizing the president earlier on in his term, such as when he wrote an op-ed opposing Trump’s plan to fund his signature border wall.
Hatley said she was initially open to finding another Republican to fill Tillis’ seat, but was left with few options after his only primary challenger dropped out at then end of 2019.
“Tillis is just okay. But I was on my iPad the other night, I’m addicted to that thing, and I was reading something about ’11 reasons why Christians should vote Trump,'” said Doris Hatley. “And so that sums it up. I’m Christian and I’m conservative and I voted Republican on all of the ballots.”
Similarly, many Democrats say that despite their own feelings about marital infidelity, Cunningham’s indiscretions would not impact their vote for him.
“Tillis has to go, Trump has to go,” said Sam Henry, 51, laughing off the suggestion that the revelations about Cunningham might change her mind.
Political watchers in North Carolina say that it will probably be up to the top of the ticket to determine which Senate candidate comes out ahead.
“I’m betting if Biden wins, Cunningham wins. If Trump wins, Tillis wins,” said Pope McCorkle, a longtime North Carolina Democratic consultant who now runs Duke University’s Polis Center for Politics, adding that Trump had “lowered the bar” on the impact of a political sex scandal.
Carter Wrenn, a Republican political consultant in the state who advised Tillis primary challenger Garland Tucker, said he thought voters from both parties will be more than willing to overlook any issues they may have about the candidates given that the balance of the Senate could easily hinge on North Carolina.
“There’s a group of Republicans out there that aren’t enthusiastic about Tillis. But at the end of the day, if their other choice is a Democratic Senate, it’s not that difficult,” he said. “But I’m inclined to think that this race is a coin toss.”
Biden polls about 2.4 points ahead of Trump in North Carolina, according to averages of the state, which mostly mirrors the Senate race polls.
Both parties have privately expressed some optimism about their ability to drag their Senate candidate over the finish line.
“I think Tillis is getting back in this one because his opponent ended up having more affairs than you’re allowed to have at one time,” Trump told donors at a private fundraiser last week in Nashville ahead of his final debate, according to a report from the Washington Post.
During a campaign stop in the Raleigh area with Biden last week, North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was caught on a hot mic by a local TV station acknowledging that Cunningham’s infidelity had caused him some trouble. Still, he said he remained hopeful.
“We’re going to all get across the line,” Cooper said to Biden. “I think Cal’s going to get across the line, too. I know that’s frustrating. We’ll get it across.”
In the final days of the race, neither campaign is backing down from their efforts to capitalize on the other’s perceived weakness.
Tillis has run ads casting doubt on Cunningham’s trustworthiness, trying to cut against the image of an Army officer who weeded out corrupt military contractors in Iraq.
“The Code of Military Justice. All soldiers live by it. Just like the oath we all take,” veterans narrating one video ad for Tillis say. “Cal Cunningham violated his oath when he had an affair with another soldier’s wife.”
On Friday, Tillis tweeted a video from a local news station showing a reporter sitting next to an empty chair and stating: “We continue to reach out to the Cunningham campaign and offer an open invitation for Cal Cunningham to sit down with us for a one-on-one interview, an invitation so far he continues to decline.”
Cunningham released a new ad over the weekend accusing Tillis of trying to distract from his own record.
“Thom Tillis is desperately attacking my personal life because he doesn’t want to talk about his own record. Thousands of families without health care, unfordable prescriptions and a relentless effort to take away coverage from people with preexisting conditions,” Cunningham says in the ad. “It may be my name on the ballot, but it’s your health care.”
Andrew Romeo, a spokesperson for the Tillis campaign, said Cunningham’s ad was evidence that the scandal was having an impact on the race, regardless of what the polls showed.
“It won’t work. North Carolinians know a fraud when they see one and no amount of last-minute, panicked TV ads can change the fact that Cunningham’s lies, hypocrisy and breach of the Military Code Of Justice will lead to his demise on November 3rd,” Romeo said in a statement.
Rachel Petri, a spokesperson for the Cunningham campaign, said that Tillis was relying on “desperate, personal attacks” because he could not defend “botching the COVID-19 response.”
Democrats point to the virtual events that Cunningham has held to push back on the suggestion that he is hiding from the press.
But Cunningham has not willingly answered media questions in weeks.
When he stopped by a local TV station at an unannounced in-person appearance at a barber shop last week, Cunningham did not engage on questions about his scandal.
“I’ve said what I’m going to say about personal matters,” Cunningham responded. “I think the voters of North Carolina want me talking with them about the things that are leading them to vote which are about how we get the economy moving, how we deal with the health care challenges.”
Speaking in Warm Springs, Georgia, Biden took aim at Trump’s responses to the dual public health and economic crises caused by Covid-19, as well as the protests for racial justice seen across the nation this year.
“These are all historic, painful crises. The insidious virus. Economic anguish. Systemic discrimination. Any one of them could have rocked a nation,” Biden said.
When it came to addressing systemic racism, he referred to the protests as a “cry for justice from communities that have long had the knee of injustice on their neck” and vowed “a new wave of justice in America.”
Just a week ahead of Election Day, polls in the key Southern battleground show a tight race. The latest Real Clear Politics polling average in the state shows Biden trailing Trump by just 0.4 percentage points, while they have each led three of the last six polls in the state tracked by NBC News.
To win the state, Biden will need to carry large numbers of the state’s Black voters and large numbers of white suburbanites and white women, political strategists said.
Early voting in the state has already reached historic levels, with ballots cast there thus far already accounting for nearly two-thirds of the total ballots cast in the state in 2016.
In his address, Biden attempted to draw stark contrasts with Trump on how he’d govern if elected, saying he will be “a president who’s in it not for himself, but for others. A president who doesn’t divide us — but unites us. A president who appeals not to the worst in us — but to the best.”
“A president who cares less about his TV ratings — and more about the American people. A president who looks not to settle scores — but to find solutions. A president guided not by wishful thinking — but by science, reason and fact,” he added.
He also drew heavily upon the symbolism of the location of his speech, making frequent reference to the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt had a retreat in Warm Springs where he sought treatments for polio.
“Warm Springs is a good place to talk about hope and healing. This is where Franklin Roosevelt came to use the therapeutic waters to rebuild himself,” Biden noted.
Later Tuesday, Biden will hold a drive-in rally in Atlanta. His running mate, Kamala Harris, visited the state Friday.
Adam Edelman is a political reporter for NBC News.