Democrats sing different tunes on impeachment as GOP closes ranks

Image: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Vi
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders arrive onstage during a Democratic presidential candidates debate in Atlanta, on Nov. 20, 2019. Copyright Brendan McDermid Reuters file
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — If the Democrats have the substance on their side in the impeachment fight — in terms of the public testimony, the released documents and all of the text messages — Republicans are now the ones with the more unified message.

Case in point is what's playing out on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, with the Democratic candidates talking about health care, tax policy and racial equity — but barely mentioning the biggest political story in Washington.

Indeed, consider the Democratic candidates' answers about the impeachment in last month's presidential debate in Atlanta.

Elizabeth Warren said she would work to convince her Republican colleagues to vote to remove President Trump from office. "We have to establish the principle: no one is above the law. We have a constitutional responsibility, and we need to meet it," she said.

But then she changed the subject to the amount of money that wealthy donors contribute to get plum ambassadorships — like Gordon Sondland did for his post to be U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Bernie Sanders called Trump "corrupt" and a "pathological liar," but he argued that Democrats can't be consumed by the president.

"Right now, you've got 87 million people who have no health insurance or are underinsured. We're facing the great existential crisis of our time in terms of climate change. You've got 500,000 people sleeping out on the street and you've got 18 million people paying half of their limited incomes for housing. What the American people understand is that the Congress can walk and chew bubblegum at the same time."

Pete Buttigieg delivered a similar response. "We are absolutely going to confront this president for his wrongdoing, but we're also each running to be the president who will lead this country after the Trump presidency comes to an end one way or the other."

And on the campaign trail in Iowa last week, Joe Biden said, "The question [from voters] is not first and foremost: 'What about impeachment?'"

Bottom line: Republicans are messaging the existential threat that impeachment brings, arguing that the entire process subverts the will of voters.

But Democrats aren't messaging that same existential threat. In fact, they're also arguing that the best way to defeat Trump is at the ballot box in 2020.

At some point, that messaging disparity is going to be unsustainable for Democrats.

How do you make the case that the sitting president of the United States can't run for re-election when your party's presidential candidates aren't making that same case?

On Bill Barr and Tucker Carlson: The other messaging challenge for Democrats

How do they counter Republicans when the attorney general of the United States apparently disagrees that the FBI didn't have enough information to launch its Trump-Russia probe in 2016?

And when anchors at Fox News say the United States should take Russia's side over Ukraine?

"Attorney General William P. Barr has told associates he disagrees with the Justice Department's inspector general on one of the key findings in an upcoming report — that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the matter," the Washington Post writes.

"I should say for the record, I'm totally opposed to these sanctions and I don't think that we should be at war with Russia, and I think we should probably take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine. That is my view," Tucker Carlson said on Fox News last night.

Impeachment inquiry update

Members of the House Intelligence Committee are set to meet at 6:00 pm ET to consider and adopt a report on the panel's findings in the impeachment inquiry, per NBC's Geoff Bennett. The committee is expected to approve the report — likely on a party-line vote — setting it up for consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, which is then expected to draft and consider articles of impeachment.


NBC's Alex Moe reports that today's House Intel vote will happen behind closed doors in the SCIF with a transcript of the meeting to be released following its conclusion.

NBC's Capitol Hill team expects that the report will be shared publicly via press release sometime today.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Biden unloads on his rivals

NBC's Marianna Sotomayor flags Joe Biden's interviews with print reporters on Monday, in which the former vice president unloaded on rivals Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.

Asked if he set the stage for Buttigieg's health-care plan, Biden responded: "Set it up? He stole it! Set it up?"

And on whether there's enthusiasm behind Warren, Biden replied, "Look at the polling everywhere. Tell me. Tell me where this great enthusiasm is coming from," he said. "You don't see that with Warren. Stop kidding a kidder. OK, come on man, give me a break."


On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden remains in Iowa… Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson are in New Hampshire… Pete Buttigieg stumps in South Carolina and Alabama… Mike Bloomberg is in Jackson, Miss…. And Julian Castro campaigns in Los Angeles.

Dispatches from NBC's campaign embeds

During Buttigieg's third stop of the day at the historically black South Carolina State University on Monday, Charles Patton, a senior at the school who was helping guide Buttigieg's tour, pulled the candidate aside to chat with him about perceived comparisons between the struggles of LGBTQ Americans and African-Americans, per NBC's Priscilla Thompson. "Sometimes when you speak I hear what you say when you talk about your experience as a gay man and how got the right to marry and all those things, but it comes across as you comparing struggles," Patton was heard saying to the mayor in the very loud bowling alley. Buttigieg's response was inaudible and he was pulled away shortly after the interlude."

NBC's Deepa Shivaram reports that Warren seems to have switched up her campaigning format a bit, now giving an abbreviated stump speech and leaving more time for questions. After a stop in Iowa City yesterday, Warren was asked if the new format was because of plateauing poll numbers. Warren said, "This is a chance to just talk to more people and hear their questions and field more questions. I've been fielding questions since the very first event I did right at the beginning in Iowa. And I'm just glad to have a chance to do that. We got to do, I think, 15 questions today - and across a whole range of topics."

Data Download: The number of the day is … three out of 12

Three out of 12.

That's how many of the 2020 candidates who ENTERED the race after February of this year — excluding the two most recent entrants, Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick — who are still in the Democratic contest.


Those three are: Joe Biden (who got in the race with nearly universal name recognition), Tom Steyer (who has a personal fortune to spend on his own campaign ads) and Sen. Michael Bennet.

The other nine late entrants, including Beto O'Rourke and John Hickenlooper, have all dropped out.

In contrast, of the 12 candidates who entered the race BEFORE March 1, all but one — Kirsten Gillibrand — are still in the game.

The Lid: (Bul)Locked out

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at what we can learn from Steve Bullock's 2020 exit.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

NATO is celebrating its 70th birthday, but it's not in a very festive mood — and not just because of Trump.


The president is calling Democrats "unpatriotic" for continuing their impeachment inquiry as he meets with foreign leaders.

The Trump administration is releasing military aid to Lebanon — after an unexplained delay.

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter is changing his plea to guilty in a case involving campaign finance misuse.

Trump Agenda: Barr vs. the IG

AG William Barr has told DOJ officials that he's skeptical of an inspector general report finding that the department DID have enough information to open an investigation into Trump associates about 2016 campaign contact with Russia.

Trump is kicking off the NATO summit with harsh words for French President Emmanuel Macron.


Democrats are discussing expanding the impeachment inquiry beyond Ukraine.

Utah wants MORE refugees resettled there — not fewer.

2020: Kemp appears to have made his pick

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to tap a business executive for the state's upcoming Senate appointment, putting him at odds with the White House.

A group of leading progressive organizations are endorsing the primary challenger to Rep. Henry Cuellar.

Here's a relief for North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis — his primary challenger is dropping out.


Bernie Sanders is breaking with Elizabeth Warren by moving further left on foreign policy.

A court decision in North Carolina means that the new congressional district map drawn by Republicans will likely stand.

Bill de Blasio is not happy about Michael Bloomberg's presidential bid.

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