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Pressure grows from rank and file on Hill to find deal on pandemic relief

Leigh Ann Caldwell, Kasie Hunt and Haley Talbot

49m ago / 11:24 AM UTC

WASHINGTON — As the stalemate in negotiations between Democrats and the administration on another round of pandemic relief enters its sixth week, a bipartisan group of House members is trying to put pressure on negotiators by releasing what it calls a compromise proposal.  

The members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 50 lawmakers divided equally between Republicans and Democrats, say their $1.5 trillion measure is an attempt to meet Democrats and the administration in the middle and provide a path forward. They say that while their bill is not meant to be signed into law, it is meant to get negotiators back to the table. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Aug. 22.Gabriella Demczuk / Getty Images

Talks among House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and the administration have been frozen since early August, when the two sides couldn’t agree on how much money to spend. 

Some lawmakers in both parties, fretting over inaction ahead of the November election, are calling for a deal. Senate Republicans voted on a slimmed-down Covid-19-related assistance bill last week. While it did not pass, it allowed vulnerable Republicans to campaign on the effort. 

The Problem Solvers began meeting shortly after those talks broke down, and they even sat down with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows at least twice. 

Their proposal is cheaper than what Pelosi wants, but it includes some of her priorities.

It would extend the federal weekly unemployment benefit at $450 per week, higher than the administration’s support of $300 per week and lower than the Democrats’ demand of $600 per week. It includes Republican demands for liability protection, and it addresses one of the biggest sticking points between Democrats and the administration in negotiations, state and local funding, by proposing to provide $500 billion for states that have gone into the red during the pandemic.

The proposal also includes funding for a new round of $1,200 payments to eligible Americans and for the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as more money for health care, schools and child care than the Republicans wanted. And it would provide funding for broadband and food assistance programs, which the administration has not supported.  

As the election nears, some Democrats are pressuring Pelosi to put a new pandemic relief bill on the floor during the three-week congressional session to show that Democrats are willing to compromise and keep working toward an agreement.

Some lawmakers are advocating for an updated, cheaper version of the $3.4 trillion House-passed HEROES Act, while others are advocating for votes on individual components of the bill, including unemployment insurance.   

“We want a deal on a robust, comprehensive package, and barring that, we’d like the House to take some sort of action on Covid relief,” Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., the chair of the New Democrats Coalition, a group of more than 100 moderate-minded, economic-focused Democrats, told reporters on a conference call Monday evening. 

Freshman Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., said, “We want to see something done before we leave.” 

Sahil Kapur

15h ago / 9:30 PM UTC

Trump campaign pivots to the economy with eight-figure ad campaign

WASHINGTON — The Trump campaign plans to launch an eight-figure ad buy highlighting the economy as a focus of the presidential race, spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Monday.

The move is designed to elevate a rare issue on which the president holds an advantage over rival Joe Biden in polls, as reported Friday by NBC News. It comes after Trump’s recent focus on crime and safety has failed to deliver gains. The news of the upcoming ad campaign was first reported by Fox News.

One Trump ad titled “Kim” features a woman who says: “Joe Biden could never handle the economy after Covid. There’s no way.” A second ad called “Jobs President” criticizes Biden for the fact that American jobs were “lost to Mexico and China” during his four decades serving in government.

A Fox News national poll released Sunday found that Trump leads Biden by 5 points on the issue of the economy. But Biden leads Trump on who voters trust to handle the coronavirus, law-and-order, racial inequality and Supreme Court nominations. Overall, Biden led 51 percent to 46 percent with likely voters.

Election Day is 50 days away.

Emilie Plesset

19h ago / 4:50 PM UTC

Harrison makes Senate race competitive but must beat Graham as Trump is favored to win South Carolina

WASHINGTON — Jaime Harrison is running the strongest race that any Democrat has made in years for a U.S. Senate seat in deep-red South Carolina. 

In fact, he raised a whopping $10.6 million in August, outraising incumbent opponent Sen. Lindsey Graham’s, R-S.C., entire second-quarter haul in a single month, according to The State newspaper.  

But Harrison’s ultimate challenge in this presidential year is getting more votes than Graham when President Trump is the clear favorite to win the state at the top of the ticket in November. 

Jaime Harrison speaks at a South Carolina Democratic Party dinner in Charleston on Feb. 24, 2020.Meg Kinnard / AP file

“Jaime Harrison is a strong candidate,” said Jordan Ragusa, a political scientist at the College of Charleston. “He’s definitely the strongest candidate Lindsey Graham has faced. He’s a moderate running in a red state, he’s an African American in a state with a large percentage of African Americans, and he’s a highly visible, well-known figure in South Carolina.”

South Carolina has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1998, but recent polls have Harrison, a former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and currently an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, essentially tied with Graham.

And last month, the non-partisan Cook Political Report, which had listed the race as solidly Republican at the start of the election cycle, moved the contest to Lean Republican.

Should he win, Harrison would join Republican Sen. Tim Scott in representing South Carolina, making the state the first to have two Black senators serving concurrently.

But with the president expected to win at the top of the ballot in this traditionally Republican state, Harrison has a narrow path to victory. 

He either has to count on a significant number of Trump voters to cast ballots for him or, as Ragusa says is the more likely possibility, he has to see some Trump supporters voting third party — or not vote at all. 

“We see that all the time,” Ragusa said. “It’s often the case that a lot of people vote at the top of the ticket, in this case, president, and then leave down ballot boxes unchecked.”

Graham is not the only Republican incumbent underperforming Trump in their individual states. According to Real Clear Politics, Sen. Martha McSally is polling almost 2 points below the president in Arizona, while Sen. Tom Tillis is underperforming Trump in the polls by nearly 4 points in North Carolina.

Explaining why Graham is vulnerable, Democrats observing this Senate race say the three-term senator has become a more partisan and polarizing figure over his years in office.

Despite his previous record of independence and bipartisanship and initially being a vocal Trump critic during his own presidential bid, Graham has since become one of the president’s closest allies in the Senate.

“When you have someone like Lindsey Graham who has left South Carolina behind and just wants to play political games in Washington, people ask, ‘What happened with Lindsey?’” said Guy King, the Harrison campaign’s communications director. 

“Jaime is a candidate that upholds the characteristics and values that South Carolinians hold dear,” King added.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., questions Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2020.Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via Getty Images

Given his prior willingness to buck the party line, Graham has not always been popular with conservatives. But Ragusa says Graham’s staunch defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh against allegations of sexual assault in 2018 helped the senator stave off a conservative primary challenge, though it may cause him some problems in the general election.

Republicans with knowledge of the contest question the accuracy of the polls and say that while the Senate race may be more competitive this year, voters in the solidly Republican state will ultimately want to maintain the Senate majority — and they know that Graham will hold the party line.

“Lindsey Graham has always been his own man,” said T.W. Arrighi, Graham’s campaign communications director said.

“Some constituents may not agree with Sen. Graham on every issue, but they’ll know exactly where he stands and can trust that he’s putting South Carolina’s interests first,” he added.

Sahil Kapur

5d ago / 9:33 PM UTC

Harry Reid predicts Democrats will flip the Senate

WASHINGTON — Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made a bullish prediction Thursday that his party will flip six or seven Republican-held seats in the 2020 election and seize the majority.

“I think we’re going to retake the Senate,” the Nevada Democrat told NBC News. “I think we’re going to win in Colorado, Montana, Maine, North Carolina, (Sen. David) Perdue’s seat in Georgia — we’re going to win in Arizona. And we’re in good shape in Iowa.”

He added, “If I’m only right on three of those we’ll still take the Senate.”

Harry Reid acknowledges the audience at the Nevada Democrats’ “First in The West” event in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, 2019.David Becker / Getty Images

Reid served as minority leader and majority leader during the last decade of his 30-year tenure in the chamber.

It’s a challenging cycle for Senate Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority and are defending 23 seats, compared to just 12 Democrats are defending. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Republican Arizona Sen. Martha McSally’s seat as “lean Democrat”, and rates the other six mentioned by Reid as toss-ups.  

And while Republicans are defending seats in vulnerable areas, Democrats are mostly defending seats on favorable terrain with the exception of Sen. Doug Jones, Ala., who is in a race that Cook rates as “lean Republican”. 

Melissa Holzberg and Ben Kamisar

5d ago / 6:55 PM UTC

Mark Kelly apologizes for offensive 2018 comment

WASHINGTON — Arizona Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly apologized on Thursday for 2018 remarks where he joked about the changes his astronaut brother underwent after an extended time in space, saying in jest that he’s begun acting like a monkey and they’ve started calling him “Rodrigo.”

Kelly made the remarks during a 2018 appearance in New Jersey.

“There was a lot written about his DNA, and how his DNA has changed from his year in space,” Kelly said. 

He added, “It’s gotten so bad that we recently had to release him back into the wild. He’s like halfway between an orangutan and a howler monkey. We even changed his name to Rodrigo.” 

Kelly’s twin brother, Scott, is white. 

“The video was recirculated earlier on Thursday by Republican Moses Sanchez who ran for Phoenix mayor in in 2018. Sanchez called the comments ‘racist.'”

Shameful video of Mark Kelly making a racist joke to an all-white crowd. He must think people named Rodrigo look like monkeys. Time to move past this type of racism & time for the media to scrutinize Mark Kelly more thoroughly like they would a Republican https://t.co/uqprgs7CBc

— Moses Sanchez (@SanchezMoses) September 10, 2020

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also tweeted the video and asked for Kelly to answer for the “offensive quote.”

“My brother’s year in space was really hard on him and we tried to bring some light to his difficult ordeal, but this comment does not do that and I apologize and deeply regret it,” Kelly said in a statement. 

Kelly is currently leading in polls against Arizona Sen. Martha McSally. According to 2019 Census Bureau information, Arizona is about 31 percent Hispanic.

Ben Kamisar

5d ago / 1:50 PM UTC

Trump campaign back on Michigan airwaves for first time in seven weeks

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s campaign has returned to the airwaves in Michigan this week for the first time since mid-July. 

The re-elect started running ads in Michigan on Tuesday, data from Advertising Analytics shows. The campaign has reserved $1.2 million in television and radio time in Michigan through Monday, and has another $4 million booked there through the end of the month. 

At least three different ads have run in Michigan, according to Advertising Analytics trackers, ads that typify the different strategies Trump is taking in the hopes of closing the gap with Biden. 

  • One focused on the coronavirus, arguing that America is near the “finish line” for developing a vaccine and that the economy is “coming back to life” but “Joe Biden wants to change that.” 
  • One accusing Biden of being a tool of the “radical left” and a Trojan Horse for their policies
  • And one on that claims that while “lawless criminals terrorize Kenosha, Joe Biden takes a knee” while President Trump is trying to protect Wisconsin

Before this week, the Trump campaign hadn’t run ads in Michigan since July 21. The campaign is still dark in Pennsylvania, where it hasn’t run an ad since July 28.

Biden’s campaign has massively outspent Trump in swing states recently — the Democratic campaign spent $86.4 million in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from July 28 through Sept. 7, compared to the $17.3 million spent by Trump over the same period. 

But big spending by GOP outside groups have cut into Biden’s large TV spending edge in those states. 

Ben Kamisar

6d ago / 6:17 PM UTC

GOP Super PACs have helped Trump narrow Biden’s TV advantage

WASHINGTON — As President Trump and his campaign deflect worries about the campaign’s war chest, GOP super PACs have helped the president chip away at the significant TV and radio ad-spending deficit between him and Democratic nominee Joe Biden on the television and radio airwaves. 

When just comparing spending by the two campaigns, Biden consistently outspent Trump in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin over the six-week span from July 28 through Sept. 7 by a 5-to-1 margin. Biden’s campaign spent $86.4 million in those states over that time period, according to Advertising Analytics, to Trump’s $17.3 million. 

But if outside spending is included, that margin is cut to a 2-to-1 Democratic advantage — $111.9 million by the Democrats and $65.1 million by Republicans. 

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Sept. 8, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The six-week span includes two periods where the Trump campaign went off the battleground airwaves, once at the end of July in what the campaign called “a review and fine-tuning of the campaign’s strategy” after it changed campaign managers, and another during the Republican convention, where campaign officials was only running national ads or in Washington D.C. 

But the spending data over those six weeks shows how pivotal outside groups have been at trying to fill the void left by the Trump campaign’s television spending strategy, and how their support has helped narrow the spending gap on the airwaves. 

A significant portion of the pro-Trump spending in those states, $11.5 million, came from the new super PAC Preserve America, which started running ads at the beginning of this month. Despite the group’s recent entry onto the scene, Preserve America outspent the Trump campaign in both Arizona and Pennsylvania over the six-week timeline. Since the group is so new, it’s unclear who the PAC’s dop donors are. But it’s being helmed by veteran GOP strategist Chris LaCivita, and Politico reported the group is expected to be supported by GOP megadonors like casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.

Alongside his main super PAC, America First Action (which just announced a new $22 million battleground advertising buy), Trump has also been boosted in the Rust Belt by Restoration PAC, a group that’s primarily funded by GOP megadonor Dick Uihlein. 

The Trump campaign has seen its cash reserves dwindle throughout the summer — by the end of March, Trump’s re-election effort had a $182 million cash-on-hand advantage over Biden. But by the end of July, numbers released by both campaigns publicly showed that advantage had dwindled to about $6 million. 

Both campaigns haven’t filed their campaign finance reports covering August with the Federal Election Commission, but Biden’s re-election announced they had raised $364.5 million in August alone, while Trump’s re-election said it raised $210 million that month. 

Trump sought to downplay concerns about his campaign’s cash reserves in a Tuesday tweet where he blamed the heavy spending on needing to counter the message about the coronavirus and pledged to spend his on money if needed. 

Sahil Kapur

6d ago / 4:53 PM UTC

Joe Lieberman endorses Susan Collins, appears in ad for her in Maine

WASHINGTON — Joe Lieberman, a former U.S senator and the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, endorsed Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Wednesday.

Lieberman is also appearing in an ad for Collins as she faces perhaps the toughest race of her career. 

“I’m a lifelong Democrat but I put my country first, always. That’s why I’m supporting Susan Collins for Senate,” Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, said in the ad, which is paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

RJC is spending $400,000 to run the ad on digital platforms, aimed at persuading women voters in Maine, according to the group’s spokesman Neil Strauss. Lieberman called Collins “a fighter for women’s issues” in the ad. 

Lieberman’s relationship with Democrats turned frosty after his strong support for the Iraq war — and he was defeated in a 2006 primary for his Connecticut seat. He ran that year as an independent and won. In 2008, he endorsed Collins for re-election and backed Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid. He left the Senate in 2013.

Collins has easily won her past election challenges, but her brand has suffered at home due to her support of many of President Trump’s initiatives. She currently trails Democrat Sara Gideon, the speaker of Maine’s state house, by 4.5 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average.

Marianna Sotomayor

6d ago / 1:42 PM UTC

Biden campaign releases economic proposals ahead of ‘Made in America’ speech

WASHINGTON — Ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden’s “Made in America” speech in Michigan Wednesday, his campaign released part of a wide-ranging economic manufacturing plan that pulls from previous proposals and adds new ones that specifically address the offshoring of jobs.

The proposals aim to promote “Made in America” products by establishing a new offshoring tax code, rewarding companies for manufacturing in the U.S. and ending loopholes the Biden-Harris camp says were set by President Trump’s administration.

Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Sept. 4, 2020.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The plan punishes American companies that produce products overseas by adding a 28 percent corporate tax rate and an additional 10 percent “offshoring penalty surtax” totaling a 30.8 percent tax rate on profits. To incentivize “Made in America” production, the administration would give companies a 10 percent tax credit on a number of investments like revitalizing closed factories and expanding payrolls.

“President Trump talks and talks — but he has failed to deliver results for American workers,” the plan reads. “That ends under the Biden-Harris administration.” 

Biden also promises to sign new executive actions during his first week as president that ensure that the federal government uses taxpayer dollars to only buy American products and support supply chains in the nation.

The plan comes after Biden said in a Wilmington, Del. speech Friday that he will continue to draw more explicit contrasts between his vision and Trump’s on numerous issues and this is the first policy decision in which he does that.

For months Biden has tried to bring Trump’s economic record to light by challenging it with new proposals as the president continues to lead on the issue in some battleground states like Michigan and Florida with two months to go until Election Day.

Heidi Przybyla

6d ago / 12:18 PM UTC

Broad coalition of progressive groups launches effort to aid with voting protection

WASHINGTON — In the closing weeks of a general election, the vanguard of Democratic advocacy groups would typically be focused on electing candidates championing their various issue agendas — from gun safety to veterans and women’s issues. But this year, a number of such groups are banding together for what they say is an unprecedented and necessary cause: preserving the integrity of the 2020 vote.

The campaign, which includes gun safety, women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ, Latino and veterans groups, launches Wednesday to “serve as a powerful counterweight to President Trump’s and the Republican Party’s relentless and unprecedented voter suppression efforts and attacks on the right to vote, especially in the middle of a pandemic,” according to a statement given to NBC by organizers of the effort.

In late August, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined a video call to encourage representatives of the new campaign to work together to fight voting misinformation, recruit poll workers, register voters and protect voting rights.

Kris Brown, president of Brady, the anti-gun violence organization, said her group began working on the issue and joined the coalition because its activists and supporters have voiced concern about whether the election can be conducted fairly during the pandemic and because of the expected huge spike in ballots cast by mail. Trump has repeatedly attacked mail-in voting, saying without evidence that it is rife with fraud. 

“We are not a voting rights organization, and we don’t pretend to be,” Brown said. “I hope, quite frankly, it’s never required this way again.”

Brady is dedicating resources, including full-time personnel and its legal team, which is filing amicus briefs in lawsuits filed by state attorneys general over U.S. Postal Service disruptions. 

Other participants in the coalition include: NARAL Pro Choice America, J Street, Democracy Docket, the Communications Workers of America, Vote Vets, the Latino Victory Fund, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. 

Democrats argue that Republican-controlled states have tried to curb voting access for years, citing the closing of polling locations in minority districts in battlegrounds like Ohio and, more recently, Georgia.

“Republicans are fighting for a free, fair, and transparent election,” Steve Guest, rapid response director for the Republican National Committee, told NBC News in response to the effort. “Meanwhile, it’s Democrats who are the ones limiting voting options which disenfranchises voters. We want to ensure that all votes are counted properly.  This is about getting more people to vote, certainly not less.”

Tiffany Muller, president of Let America Vote which is organizing the coalition, said the Trump administration’s efforts to challenge the work of the Postal Service persuaded her group to mobilize the effort.

“It’s not enough to just activate our members or do the typical organizing we would have done during campaign times,” Mueller said. “There’s an entire infrastructure on the other side fighting people being able to vote. It’s needed in this moment of crisis that we’re in.”

The campaign aims to serve as a clearinghouse for safe voting information; coordinate rapid response to Trump’s “efforts at voter suppression, including his attempts to undermine the Post Office”; and combat misinformation related to voting and the election. 

Members will also help coordinate the return of absentee ballots and will recruit poll workers, voter registration volunteers and voter protection monitors, as well as conduct a public awareness campaign to remind voters to return their absentee ballots.

Separately, paid digital and mail advertising campaigns will remind voters how to cast ballots, especially during a pandemic.

The coalition adds to a far broader and “unprecedented” infrastructure that has been built over the past several years, beginning with civil rights groups that have been sounding the alarm about voting rights for years, said Guy Cecil, chair of Priorities USA, which says it plans to spend $34 million on voting rights this cycle. 

“The investment is unlike anything I’ve seen,” he said, because “it’s not just established voting rights groups” heading to the front lines of the battle.

Leigh Ann Caldwell and Julie Tsirkin

7d ago / 9:24 PM UTC

GOP scales down pandemic relief proposal but new bill lands with a thud

WASHINGTON — The Senate this week will vote on a new, slimmed down COVID relief bill put forward by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which includes just a fraction of what Democrats are demanding and is much smaller in size and scope than what Senate Republicans introduced as their starting offer in July. 

The proposal comes as negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration remain stalemated, but it will do little to break the log jam. 

Democrats immediately rejected the latest maneuver, dismissing it as a political stunt and far too insignificant to address the economic needs of the country. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill, on July 27, 2020.Susan Walsh / AP

In his search for 51 Republican votes in his divided conference, McConnell’s latest bill is estimated to cost around $300 billion. At least half a dozen vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election in November are anxious to vote on a new bill —which would require 60 votes to pass — to provide relief to voters, but a faction of the GOP conference has been opposed to new spending, forcing McConnell to move ahead on a proposal that is far less than the $1 trillion bill that he introduced in July.  

With the election upcoming, he is also challenging Democrats to vote against relief. 

“It’s easy to tell in Washington whether somebody’s end goal is political posturing or getting an outcome. One way or another, what Democrats do will be revealing,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “I’ll make sure our democratic colleagues get a chance to walk the walk. Every senator who has said they want a bipartisan outcome for the country will have a chance to vote for everyone to see. Senators will vote this week, and the American people will be watching.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure Thursday, where McConnell will attempt to fill a symbolic void to the stalled negotiations between Democratic leaders and the Trump administration where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has rejected returning to the negotiating table until the administration agrees to spending at least $2 trillion. The White House this week has signaled that it is willing to move it’s topline number to $1.5 trillion, moving closer to the Democrats’ position. 

The GOP measure includes the leader’s biggest priority, liability protection for businesses operating amid the pandemic. It also institutes another round of the small business Paycheck Protection Program and provides a $300 weekly federal unemployment insurance, which is less than the $600 people received until the benefit expired at the end of July. In addition, it provides $105 billion for education, $16 billion for COVID testing as well grants for private and religious schools and tax credits for homeschool. 

It doesn’t include another round of direct stimulus payments, which Republicans had previously supported.  It also doesn’t include Democratic priorities of food assistance, rental assistance and money for states. 

“The Republican skinny bill is less than a skinny bill. As Senator Schumer and I have said, it’s an emaciated bill. It falls short of meeting the needs of the American people,” Pelosi told NBC News. 

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