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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Now that the potentially gigantic field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 is beginning to narrow — so long, Michael Avenatti; goodbye, Deval Patrick — the scrutiny is increasing on some of the Democrats who continue to eye the upcoming presidential race.

On Thursday, for example, the New York Times reported how progressives and minority groups criticized Elizabeth Warren for the recent DNA test she took to prove her family’s Native-American origins, and then the Boston Globe’s editorial page implored her not to run for president. “Warren missed her moment in 2016, and there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020,” the editorial page said.

“While Warren is an effective and impactful senator with an important voice nationally, she has become a divisive figure. A unifying voice is what the country needs now after the polarizing politics of Donald Trump” he paper continued. (We don’t remember the Globe telling Massachusetts pols like Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney not to run for president.)

Also this week, a top aide to Kamala Harris resigned “after a report surfaced of a $400,000 harassment settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice in 2016,” per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Dartunorro Clark.

And then there was the criticism that Beto O’Rourke was getting from the progressive left:

  • Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig: “I’m not sure we need another Obama, or another of any Democrat we’ve had recently: I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don’t see that in O’Rourke.”
  • Journalist David Sirota: “Here are some Beto O’Rourke donors who work in the energy industry & who gave more than $1000.” (Reality check: When you raised LOTS of money from individuals, even in small-dollar contributions, you’re going to get donors from all industries.)
  • Jacobin: “Beto O’Rourke Should Not Run for President.”

Welcome to the big leagues, guys and gals. Running for president is the best story in American politics. But the presidential vetting process is like nothing any of these folks have ever seen, even for these senators who’ve run before in high-profile Senate contests.

The opposition research. The ideological criticism. The examination of every wart and flaw. And the totality of this process is why sitting incumbent presidents who don’t get primary challenges from their own parties have an advantage in seeking re-election. See Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2012.

Just how lethal will this vetting process be for Democrats? (In that New York Times piece on Warren, a Cherokee genealogist says she won’t vote for Warren under any circumstance, even against Trump.) Will hard feelings undermine the eventual nominee? (The lack of full party unity definitely hurt the Democrats in 2016.) Or can someone transcend the presidential meat-grinder?

As Mueller prepares to release more documents, Trump rage-tweets on the investigation

NBC’s Ken Dilanian: “Three new court documents are scheduled to emerge Friday that could shed new light on what Donald Trump’s former top aides have been telling — or not telling — federal investigators. A federal judge in New York has ordered that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel’s Office have until 5 p.m. Friday to deliver sentencing memos designed to detail former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s cooperation in their ongoing investigations.”

“And special counsel Robert Mueller is also due to file a document spelling out what his team previously referred to as the “crimes and lies” that led them to cancel a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.”

And it sure seems like President Trump is bracing for bad news. Just check out his tweets from this morning:

Somebody is clearly worried…

Experts say lame-duck curbs on power could violate Michigan constitution

“Republican lawmakers may be violating the state constitution with fast-tracked bills in the lame-luck Legislature that curb the powers of incoming Democratic officeholders or water down proposals backed by Michigan voters, legal experts say,” the Detroit Free Press writes.

“‘They’re just going crazy,’ said Robert Sedler, a Wayne State University law professor. Sedler, who has taught at Wayne State since 1977 and wrote a book on American constitutional law, cited a range of problematic bills — from a package the Senate passed Thursday to strip enforcement of campaign finance laws from the secretary of state to one that restricts the incoming governor’s choices to head the Michigan State Police, and bills that meddle with legislation and constitutional amendments backed by Michigan voters. ‘In the 40 years that I’ve been here, I have not seen any such effort to curtail the powers of the governor and the executive branch,’ Sedler told the Free Press Thursday.”

Republican concedes in CA-21, Democrats’ House gains now at 40 seats

GOP Congressman David Valadao conceded to Democrat TJ Cox in the CA-21 race, giving Democrats a net of 40 House pickups for their haul in 2018, NBC’s Jane Timm writes. As a result, NBC News declared Cox the apparent winner in the contest.

Democrat withdraws concession in NC-9 after the allegations of election fraud

NBC News also withdrew its call for Republican Mark Harris in that NC-9 contest after Democrat Dan McCready took back his concession amid allegations of election fraud in the race.

Here’s NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Rich Gardella: “State investigators are combing through election board records in several counties to discover whether there was an organized effort to unlawfully collect the absentee ballots of thousands of voters and then not turn those ballots over to election authorities. They are especially interested in Bladen County, a rural, low-income area in the southeastern part of the state where investigators are looking at several individuals who turned in requests for absentee ballots on behalf of hundreds of voters.”

“The results of the investigation could put in jeopardy Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris’ unofficial lead of 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.”



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Brexit latest: New exit plan sidelined in favour of backstop legal promises

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THERESA May faces a new battle with Brexiteers after it emerged a compromise plan on how to take Britain out of the EU was last night sidelined.

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Bernie Sanders faces two big challenges as he enters the 2020 race

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Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — For all of the strengths that Bernie Sanders brings to the still-developing 2020 field — name ID, a formidable email list, progressive bona fides — he faces two enormous challenges as he makes his presidential announcement this morning.

The first: Can he compete in a much more crowded liberal/progressive lane than he encountered in 2016? Four years ago, he opened this lane and showed the party that voters will come. But now he’s got company – from progressive Elizabeth Warren, to the likes of Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, who are all running under the “Medicare for All” banner.

This isn’t too different than what the Ron/Rand Paul family found out. In 2008 and then in 2012, Ron Paul opened the door to a much more libertarian message for the GOP. But by the time son Rand jumped into the presidential waters in 2016, other candidates had co-opted that message. (Of course, the un-libertarian in that field, Donald Trump, ended up winning the GOP nomination, though that’s a story for another day.)

In other words, by winning the message war in 2016, Sanders could become an also-ran four years later — because the new presidential field sounds a lot more like him.

The second challenge for Sanders: Can he convince rank-and-file Democratic primary voters to move on from 2016, which is an election cycle many of them want to forget? Consider what happened:

  • It took Sanders 36 days to endorse Hillary Clinton after she became the presumptive Democratic nominee (by contrast, it took Hillary four days to endorse Barack Obama after he became the presumptive nominee in 2008).
  • Even after Sanders endorsed and campaigned for Clinton, some of his top surrogates and supporters (Cornel West, Susan Sarandon) ended up voting for Jill Stein over Clinton.
  • Robert Mueller has evidence about how Russian intelligence strategized with WikiLeaks on the hacked DNC emails to produce divisions inside the Democratic Party before its 2016 convention. “On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, ‘if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after. The Conspirators responded, “ok … i see.’ Organization 1 explained, ‘we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.'”
  • And it worked: Sanders got booed by his own delegates at the convention in Philadelphia when he said that “we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.”

Ask yourself: How many Democratic primary voters still get warm fuzzies thinking about all of that?

Both challenges for Sanders — a more crowded liberal lane and memories of 2016 – underscore this reality for the Vermont senator: The party has moved on and evolved from four years ago.

Can Bernie keep up?

Klobuchar: “I wish … I was a magic genie and could give [free college] to everyone”

While the liberal/progressive lane is much more crowded than it was in 2016, guess which lane isn’t as crowded – at least right now?

The pragmatic middle.

Here was Amy Klobuchar getting a question about free college at last night’s CNN town hall in New Hampshire: “I wish — if I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would. I’m just trying to find a mix of incentives and make sure kids that are in need — that’s why I talked about expanding Pell Grants — can go to college and be able to afford it and make sure that people that can’t afford it are able to pay.”

And here she was on Medicare for All: “Well, I think it’s something that we can look to for the future, but I want to get action now. And I think the best way we do that is something that we actually wanted to do back when we were looking at the Affordable Care Act and we were stopped, was trying to get a public option in there.”

Call it the physics of politics: For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction…

Re-upping our 2020 list

Who’s in, who’s out, and who we’re still waiting on? With Bernie Sanders’ announcement this morning, here’s our updated list of who’s in, who’s out and who’s still thinking about a 2020 run:

Those who have filed paperwork or announced presidential bids(10)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (who announced on Feb 19)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (who announced on Feb 10)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who formally announced on Feb 9)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (who announced on February 1)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (who announced on January 21)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (who announced her exploratory committee on January 15)
  • Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro (who formally announced his decision on January 12)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (who announced her decision to run on January 11)
  • Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (who announced his presidential bid back on July 28, 2017!!!!)
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who announced his exploratory committee on January 23)

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

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

Possible 2020 Dems who have declined to run (5):

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

16 states sue Trump over his national emergency — and they use his words against him

NBC’s Jane Timm: “California, New York and 14 other states filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration… Joining California in the suit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia.”

Oh, and guess what’s on page 30 of the lawsuit:

At a press conference announcing the Executive Actions, President Trump acknowledged that Congress provided more than enough funding for homeland security, and that the Administration has “so much money, we don’t know what to do with it.” In explaining his rationale for the Executive Actions, the President candidly admitted that the emergency declaration reflected his personal preference to construct the wall more quickly, rather than an actual urgent need for it to be built immediately: “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”(The emphasis is ours.)

A new NPR/PBS/Marist poll shows 61 percent of Americans disapproving of Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency.

2020 Vision

Kamala Harris remains in New Hampshire, addressing the “Politics & Eggs” breakfast… John Delaney is in Iowa… And Howard Schultz stops in San Francisco on his book tour.

Data Download

$131,375. That’s how much a Mark Harris-hired political consulting firm paid McCrae Dowless, the man who ran the mail-in ballot scheme that’s now under investigation in the unresolved NC-9 congressional election.

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell has more on what happened in North Carolina yesterday: “A key witness testified Monday that she engaged in fraudulent and illegal activity involving absentee ballots in a congressional race in North Carolina as part of a get-out-the vote operation to benefit the Republican congressional candidate in a race that is still unresolved.”

“In frank testimony before the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Lisa Britt said that she was paid to collect absentee ballots in the 2018 election by McCrae Dowless, a political operative hired by consultants for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris.”

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Mississippi suit to cover all who lost voting rights, judge says

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By Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — A federal judge says a handful of former Mississippi convicts who are suing to have their voting rights restored can represent everyone who falls into that category.

The ruling this week by U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan certifying the lawsuit as a class action raises the stakes considerably. A victory by the plaintiffs could restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Mississippians, not just the handful who sued.

Jordan ruled that the plaintiffs had met the legal tests for a class action, despite arguments by lawyers for the state that a class-action was unnecessary. Jordan said he might decide later whether the class should only include people who have completed all the terms of their sentence, including payment of fines and restitution, or whether to set different limits.

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