Iran pushes impeachment and the 2020 race off center stage — for now

Image: Supporters of Shiite Hezbollah movement hold posters of slain Irania
Supporters of Shiite Hezbollah movement hold posters of slain Iranian major general Qassem Soleimani as the movement's leader delivers a speech on a screen in the Lebanese capital Beirut's southern suburbs on Jan. 5, 2020. Copyright Anwar Amro AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Anwar Amro AFP - Getty Images
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 — Ukraine and the impeachment of President Trump have dominated American politics over the last three and a half months.

Until now.

Trump's ordered strike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani has put impeachment on the backburner, and it's almost removed the 2020 presidential race from the stovetop altogether — with the Iowa caucuses 28 days away (!!!).

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Elizabeth Warren suggested that the timing of the strike against Iran wasn't a coincidence.

"I think the question people reasonably ask is, 'Next week Donald Trump faces the start potentially of an impeachment trial. And why now?' I think people are starting to ask, 'why now did he do this? Why not delay?' And why this one is so dangerous is that he is truly taking us right to the edge of war. And that is something that puts us at risk. It puts the Middle East at risk. It puts the entire world at risk."

Whatever the reason — to deter an imminent threat as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, or to retaliate against the Iranian-backed attacks on the U.S. embassy in Iraq, or to simply wag the dog as Trump tweeted about back in 2012 — the president's Iran move has knocked impeachment off the front pages.

And it puts pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to send those articles of impeachment to the Senate, which they haven't done as Congress returns from its holiday break.

Indeed, Pelosi said that the House this week will introduce and vote on a war-powers resolution to limit the president's military actions against Iran, per NBC's Alex Moe — but nothing yet on those articles of impeachment.

Other 2020 questions we have as it relates to the hostilities with Iran:

In the Democratic race, does Joe Biden's foreign policy experience become more of an asset? Or does Bernie Sanders and his anti-war message benefit?

For Trump, does the "little noise" that Pompeo said might happen from Iran's ultimate response turn into a deafening problem for the president in a re-election year — both abroad and at home?

And does Trump siding with his neocons on Iran eliminate, once and for all, one of his most potent 2016 messages — no more Middle East wars and focus instead on rebuilding the United States?

The latest news regarding Iran

"Hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran on Monday for the funeral of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani who was killed in a U.S. air strike last week, while his daughter said his death would bring a 'dark day' for the United States," Reuters reports.

"Meanwhile, in Baghdad the Iraqi parliament voted to ask its government to end the U.S. military presence in the country, and Iraq's prime minister has scheduled a meeting with the U.S. ambassador for Monday to discuss the U.S. role in Iraq, according to two officials familiar with the planning," per NBC News.

And Iran said Sunday "that it was ending its commitment to limit enrichment of uranium as part of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, more fallout from the U.S. strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani," according to NBC and the Associated Press.

2020 Vision: In Iowa, it's 15 percent or bust

Here's the most important number to consider when thinking about the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses: 15 percent.

That's the minimum support a candidate must get at an individual caucus site to achieve viability in order to earn delegates. If a candidate doesn't meet that 15 percent threshold, his or her supporters must realign with a different candidate who has achieved viability - or go to the "uncommitted" part of the room.

So for the candidates who are touting rising poll numbers or buzz in the Hawkeye State, if you're not within striking distance of 15 percent, you're simply not a player.


On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden and Andrew Yang stump in Iowa… So does John Delaney… Tulsi Gabbard holds a town hall in New Hampshire… Michael Bennet also is in the Granite State… Cory Booker holds a town hall in New York City... And Michael Bloomberg is in Los Angeles.

Dispatches from NBC's campaign embeds

After a town hall in Iowa, Elizabeth Warren leaned into questioning the timing of President Trump's decision to strike and kill Iranian official Qassem Soleimani - repeating a similar claim she made earlier in the day on Meet the Press that it may have to do with the president's political calculations,

NBC's Deepa Shivaram reports Warren's remarks: "Why didn't this happen a month ago? Why didn't it happen a month from now? Why right now as Donald Trump faces a potential impeachment trial in the United States Senate next week? This administration just keeps telling a lot of different stories just like they did on Ukraine. As soon as people started asking questions about Ukraine and the phone call between the President of Ukraine and Donald Trump, stories all changed and it turned out what was Donald Trump doing? He was doing Donald Trump's own political business."

NBC's Ben Pu reports on a somewhat awkward moment yesterday, when Andrew Yang brought up 2016 controversies between Bernie Sanders and the DNC: "At one point during his stump speech, Yang engaged in his standard practice of soliciting answers from the audience for a point he was making about Trump winning in 2016. 'If you turned on cable news, why would you think that Trump won in 2016?' People normally shout out answers like 'Russia' and 'emails', etc. But today some people shouted out 'Bernie' and 'DNC' to which Yang replied, 'I mean the DNC was trying to help Hillary, so I don't know if that — I — [laughs].' It was a bit of an odd moment from Yang who normally sticks to his stump speech pretty closely. Yang has repeatedly brought up his support of Sanders on the trail and how much Yang admires Sanders."

Data Download: The number of the day is … $143.8 million

That's the amount of money President Trump's campaign raised (total receipts, so including transfers) in 2019 — from the first three quarters it filed with Federal Election Commission, plus its released total for the fourth quarter.

  • Trump: Q1-3 $97.8m estimated Q4 $46m = $143.8m (at least $66.3m in transfers)
  • Biden: Q1-3 $37.8m estimated Q4 $22.7m = $60.5m
  • Sanders: Q1-3 $74.4m estimated Q4 $34.5m = $108.9m (at least $12.7 million in transfers)
  • Warren: Q1-3 $60.3m estimated Q4 $21.2m = $81.5m (at least $10.4 million in transfers)
  • Buttigieg: Q1-3 $51.5m estimated Q4 $24.7m = $76.2m
  • Klonuchar: Q1-3 $17.5m estimated Q4 $11.4m = $28.9m (at least $3.6m in transfers)
  • Yang: Q1-3 $14.5m estimated Q4 16.5m = $31m
  • Booker: Q1-3 $18.5m estimated Q4 $6.6m = $25.1m (at least $2.8m in transfers)

Tweet of the day

The Lid: The magic number in Iowa

Don't miss the pod from Friday, when we looked at that 15 percent threshold for the Iowa caucuses.

ICYMI: New clips you shouldn't miss

The president is doubling down on his threat to Iranian cultural sites, even after his Secretary of State said the U.S. will not violate international law with any strikes.

Democrats want more answers on the decision to target Soleimani, and Nancy Pelosi says the House will vote this week on a war powers resolution to limit Trump's actions on Iran.

Don't miss Alex Seitz-Wald's look at whether Joe Biden is really unsinkable.

Speaking of Biden… he got the backing of three key swing-district Democrats over the weekend.


Harvey Weinstein's trial is beginning in New York.

And an online CBS/YouGov poll found Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden all tied in Iowa - with Elizabeth Warren in fourth place.

Trump Agenda: Backfired?

The New York Times writes that Trump's Iran moves have already backfired.

Lindsey Grahamsays Republicans will "take matters in our own hands" if Nancy Pelosi doesn't send the articles of impeachment from the House.

2020: Booker's next steps


What's next for Cory Booker if he doesn't make the January debate?

The campaign's new focus on foreign policy is showing the big differences between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders on the issue.

Could the Iran story give Pete Buttigieg a new 2020 angle?

Mike Pence is hitting the campaign trail — and he's got his own future in mind.

Georgia's new senator is set to be sworn in.

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