WASHINGTON — We are officially 60 days away from the Iowa caucuses, and the Democratic contest couldn't be more wide open.
Right now, there are as many as five candidates who could reasonably win the Hawkeye State — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar (who's been creeping up in the polls in the state).
And at 11:30 am ET from Iowa, Cory Booker will be giving a speech making the case that he's No. 6 after Kamala Harris' exit from the race.
This is the most wide-open Democratic Iowa race since 2004, when John Kerry (the ultimate winner), John Edwards, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt were all legitimate contenders — with Wes Clark as your Mike Bloomberg-like wild card.
In his column last weekend, the Washington Post's Dan Balz summed up the state of the Democratic race pretty well — it's brought more uncertainty than anything else.
"Confusion rather than clarity continues to be the story of their contest for the 2020 nomination," Balz said.
And current events in Washington could make what's happening on the campaign even cloudier.
"In January, an impeachment trial in the Senate could tie up the senators in the race — Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, Harris, Booker and Michael F. Bennet (Colo.) — but notably not Biden or Buttigieg. Whether that gives the non-senators an edge in the weeks when many voters will be making their decisions is the question," Balz said.
Impeachment inquiry update
Pelosi to deliver a statement: Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivers a statement at 9:00 am ET this morning on the status of the impeachment inquiry, per NBC's Geoff Bennett.
And Friday is the House Judiciary Committee's deadline on whether it will mount a defense in the impeachment process.
As for yesterday's hearing before the Judiciary Committee, three prominent legal scholars testified that Trump committed impeachable offenses in asking Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden - and conditioning U.S. aid and a White House visit on it.
"One after another, and at times using blistering language, the trio of professors sitting side by side — who were called to testify by Democrats — told the committee that, according to evidence against Trump that has been made public, Trump was guilty of 'high crimes and misdemeanors' and other impeachable actions," per NBC News.
"A fourth professor who had been called by Republicans to testify — Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University School of Law — said the hurried process being followed by lawmakers was not adequate for something as serious as impeachment."
A Heck of a farewell letter
On Wednesday, Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., announced that he won't be seeking re-election to Congress next year.
But it was the message from his farewell letter that struck us: In Congress, civility is out; constant combat is in.
"The countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary. I will never understand how some of my colleagues, in many ways good people, could ignore or deny the President's unrelenting attack on a free press, his vicious character assassination of anyone who disagreed with him, and his demonstrably very distant relationship with the truth," he wrote.
"As has been observed, however, to some degree he is a symptom and not the cause or at least the only cause. The truth is that civic discourse began degrading before him. At times, it is as though there are no rules or boundaries. Success seems to be measured by how many Twitter followers one has which are largely gained by saying increasingly outrageous things, the more personal the better. There are simply too many hyperbolic adjectives and too few nouns. Civility is out. Compromise is out. All or nothing is in."
Data Download: The number of the day is … 24 percentage points
24 percentage points.
That was Rep. Denny Heck's margin of victory in his last re-election race. His Seattle-area district also comfortably voted for Barack Obama in 2012 (by 15 points) and for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (by 11 points).
2020 Vision: Biden's blistering video
Almost as soon as President Trump returned from his overseas trip, Joe Biden last night tweeted out a video highlighting how world leaders mocked Trump.
"The world sees Trump for what he is - insincere, ill-informed, corrupt, dangerously incompetent and incapable in my view of world leadership," Biden says in the video.
"And if we give Donald Trump four more years, we'll have a great deal of difficulty of ever being able to recover America's standing in the world and our capacity to bring nations together."
On the campaign trail today
There's a lot of activity in the Hawkeye State: Joe Biden continues on his bus tour through the state… Cory Booker delivers remarks on the state of the Dem race from Des Moines before heading to Council Bluffs on his "Lead with Love Tour"… Bernie Sanders attends an organic farming forum in Story City… And Amy Klobuchar also is in Iowa… Elsewhere, Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard spend their days in New Hampshire… Elizabeth Warren attends a DNC gala in Boston… Andrew Yang holds a rally in Chicago… Julian Castro delivers a foreign-policy speech in California… Mike Bloomberg, in Aurora, Co., discusses combatting gun violence… And on the GOP side, Joe Walsh stumps in New Hampshire.
Dispatches from NBC's campaign embeds
After a stop in Iowa Falls, Joe Biden was asked if he would voluntarily appear at a Senate impeachment trial if he's called by the White House. Per NBC's Marianna Sotomayor, Biden said it's a hard no. "No, I'm not gonna let them take their eye off the ball. The president is the one who has committed impeachment crimes and I'm not gonna let him divert from that — not gonna let anybody divert from that," he said.
Earlier this week, Elizabeth Warren was asked if she'd ban Bloomberg News from events given its namesake's entrance into the race — she said she wouldn't. Last night, per NBC's Deepa Shivaram, she appeared on Bloomberg TV, and "she did not hesitate to mention Bloomberg himself and his ad buy, saying: 'For me, what is broken in America is we've got a country that is working great for those at the top … and that is why I'm so concerned about Michael Bloomberg jumping into this race, dropping $37 million in one week on ad buys. I don't think elections ought to be for sale.'"
Talking policy with Benjy
Amy Klobuchar is out with anew public service plan to hire more AmeriCorps workers and establish a new suite of national volunteer programs, NBC's Benjy Sarlin observes.
She's one of many 2020 candidates to propose either expanding public service programs or creating new government job programs focused on areas of need, with climate change and caregiving two popular suggestions. It's a trend that's flown somewhat under the radar this cycle.
Klobuchar's own plan includes a nod to former candidate Jay Inslee, borrowing the Washington governor's idea for a Climate Civilian Conservation Corps to work on environmental projects. Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a major climate jobs program modeled on New Deal-era policies. Elizabeth Warren wants to recruit 10,000 people to work on public land conservation. Julian Castro and John Delaney have their own green job plans.
Other ideas include Pete Buttigieg's call for a 1-million strong national service program that would recruit young Americans to tackle climate, health, and elder care. Cory Booker sponsored a bill to create a pilot guaranteed jobs program for areas like "child and elder care, infrastructure, and community revitalization."
Tweet of the day
The Lid: Things fall apart
Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at some of the big reasons that Kamala Harris's campaign never quite realized its potential.
ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss
The Washington Post talks to undocumented immigrants who worked for the Trump organization — and looked at how his entrance into politics upended their lives.
Melania Trump slammed a Democratic impeachment witness for mentioning her son, Barron.
The upcoming election in the UK is mostly about Brexit, but there are other unexpected factors at play, too.
Our White House teamrecounts what happened behind the scenes as Trump scrapped yesterday's NATO conference.
Matt Bevin says he lost the Kentucky governorship because Democrats "harvested votes in urban communities."
Trump Agenda: A scholarly debate
If you missed yesterday's testimony from legal scholars on impeachment, here's what you need to know.
Trump claims he doesn't know Prince Andrew, but he once called him "a lot of fun" in an interview.
Republicans — so far — are dismissing the idea of a "censure" of the president, which might serve as an impeachment escape hatch.
2020: Yang and Gabbard are on the debate bubble
Will Tulsi Gabbard or Andrew Yang make the debate stage?
Joe Biden is proposing smaller tax increases than other Democratic candidates.
Amy Klobuchar is heading back to Iowa.
Joe Biden says he'd considering picking Kamala Harris for VP.