Warren leads first Daily Kos straw poll, Sanders in fifth – NBCNews.com

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has decided to forego a presidential bid, instead announcing he’ll redouble his commitment to calling for President Trump’s impeachment. 

Steyer had been stoking serious speculation about a presidential bid, posting LinkedIn ads for staff in early states and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads for his “Need to Impeach” group in key primary states. But during a speech in Iowa (a backdrop where candidates usually jump into the presidential place, not out of it), Steyer announced that he’s out. 

Instead, he’ll invest $40 million in that “Need to Impeach” effort, which has run ads and campaigns meant to convince Americans and lawmakers to support impeachment. 

Read more from NBC News’ Allan Smith and Ali Vitali here

In a call with GOP donors and surrogates Tuesday night, White House officials said President Donald Trump is still considering whether to declare a national emergency on the southern border if congressional Democrats stand firm in their refusal to fund his border wall.   

Asked by one participant if the controversial move was still on the table, Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp said “we have been working with the White House counsel to look into that,” however, “our primary goal right now is to get this government re-opened and secure our border.” 

NBC News listened to an audio recording of the call — held shortly after Trump’s address to the nation — obtained through a participant.

The president has said he  could declare a national emergency in order to build his long-promised border wall, but it’s not immediately clear that he legally has that authority.

During the call, Schlapp praised the president for showing “incredible leadership in speaking to the American people” from the Oval Office. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also briefly joined the call, praising Trump and saying that he did “a spectacular job, particularly when you put that in contrast to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. I think we all saw why he’s president and they’re not tonight and thank God for it.”

Schlapp assessed that “Democrats made a huge mistake” calling the border situation a manufactured crisis, adding that “clearly the facts are on our side” on the issue. She maintained that the White House offered “common sense” solutions to both the border and shutdown situations.

Regarding the workers impacted by the government shutdown, Schlapp advised: “federal workers are caught in the middle of this, but they will be getting backpay. However, [the slain California officer’s wife] will never get her husband back.”

As far as the president’s border trip on Thursday, callers were told that Trump would walk a piece of the border, as well as participate in a round table with some leaders and law enforcement. He may also meet with families impacted by violence by illegal immigrants, the administration official said. 

Daily Kos, the progressive blog that’s long been a fixture on the left, is out with its first presidential straw poll of the 2020 cycle. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the clear leader, with 22 percent, with former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders bunched up behind her. O’Rourke has 15 percent support, Harris and Biden are tied at 14 percent, and Sanders is at 11 percent. 

The progressive organization says it’ll repeat the straw poll every two weeks, switching out the names of the bottom-two finishers. 

The poll isn’t scientific—anyone who visited the Daily Kos website could vote (one vote per computer), and the blog told NBC News that it sent out the straw poll to a large segment of its email list to give it additional play.

But even with that caveat, there are some interesting takeaways here.

Unlike national polls that largely measure name ID this early on, the Daily Kos figures give a snapshot of what already-engaged progressive activists are thinking. What stood out the most to us, though, was the low standing for Bernie Sanders. It’s an alarm bell for his team that he’s struggling with folks who should be his ideological allies.

Sanders’ standing is especially interesting considering the straw poll has been a good indicator of grassroots enthusiasm in the past.

The first Daily Kos straw poll of the 2008 cycle (conducted in June of 2007) had John Edwards leading, but with Barack Obama the only other candidate in the double-digits even as conventional wisdom pegged Hillary Clinton the far-and-away favorite. 

And last cycle, Sanders dominated the first straw poll (conducted in June of 2015) with 69 percent support at a time where the RealClearPolitics average of national polling had him at less than 12 percent. 

California Democrat Andrew Janz, one of the top House fundraisers of the 2018 cycle, is leveraging that political network into a new organization focused on voting rights. 

Janz’s Voter Protection Project, which he announced Wednesday morning, will work both to help rally support ballot initiatives in the key electoral battlegrounds as well as to support candidates who share his views on the issue.

His priorities include: automatic voter registration, online voter registration, same day registration, expanding early voting and absentee voting, ensuring states devote enough resources to polling places, as well as re-enfranchising felons who have finished prison terms. 

“During my campaign for Congress it became very clear that our Democracy is at risk. It is facing a direct assault from President Trump, Devin Nunes and Republicans across this country who are actively trying to dismantle it,” Janz said in a statement. “We will fight back against every attack on our right to vote by leading the charge to make sure every American — young Americans, people of color, and disenfranchised communities — have the right to cast a ballot.” 

Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor, gained traction for his bid Nunes, then the head of the House Intelligence Committee. The Democrat was able to harness Democratic frustration with the way Nunes handled the committee’s investigation into possible Russian collusion in the 2016 election.

Janz raised more than $9 million during the cycle, more than all but four House candidates (not including self-funders. But Nunes capitalized on the outsized interest on his race too, raising $12.6 million and defeating Janz by almost 6 percentage points. 

Now, the Democrat is hoping to lean on that fundraising network to help power his new group, one of the handful of Democratic-aligned groups looking to back candidates and ballot measures meant to expand voting access. 

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who has spearheaded a multi-million dollar effort calling for the impeachment of President Trump will make an unspecified announcement about his “political plans for 2019 and beyond” during an event in Iowa on Wednesday.

Steyer spent the first two years of the Trump administration vocally calling for Trump’s impeachment while also helping to turn out young voters to the polls in key congressional races across the country. 

He’s made no secret about flirting with a presidential bid, and those efforts helped him compile a huge email list that could be helpful for a future bid. 

If he runs, Steyer would be one of a handful of candidates who have made combating climate change a central issue.

As a billionaire, he’d be able to give his campaign a very helpful head-start by using his own personal wealth on a campaign.

But other than his massive wealth, he’s charted a more progressive path for his potential bid than the other billionaires in the mix—former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who continues to weigh a bid, and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who announced his campaign last year. 

While his deep pockets will be an instant asset, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez announced last month that future debate criteria will include grassroots fundraising figures as well. 

CORALVILLE, Iowa — Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro leaned in to a progressive pitch to voters here Monday night, saying he would push for universal healthcare, a Green New Deal, and disavow PAC money if he entered the 2020 race for president.

The policy prescriptions are all part of his unofficial pitch for president. Castro has not officially announced his candidacy, but repeatedly teased his upcoming Saturday announcement where he says he’ll share more about his future plans.

“Starting on Saturday,” he said, he plans to “be talking about my vision for the future.” 

Castro, who served as HUD Secretary to President Barack Obama, would enter what’s expected to be a crowded field of Democrats vying to take on President Donald Trump in November 2020. Speaking from the corner of a cozy living room packed with anxious Democratic voters, Castro ticked off a progressive check list on a variety of litmus test issues like healthcare. 

“There is no reason…that in the richest nation on Earth anybody should go without healthcare,” Castro said at the Iowa living room meet-and-greet. “I believe that we need universal healthcare. That we should do Medicare for all in this country.”

Castro also echoed a promise made by another fellow Democrat exploring a 2020 run, Senator Elizabeth Warren: not to take money from political action committees — and challenging other would-be candidates to do the same. 

That promise was met with some consternation from one man in the crowd, afraid that Castro would be — as the candidate re-phrased it — “bringing a knife to a gun fight.” 

“The people are more powerful than the PAC,” Castro rebutted, eliciting cheers. 

Asked about climate change, the former HUD Secretary said he wanted to bring the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Agreement and that it would be the first executive order he signed as president. And on talk of a Green New Deal pushed by progressive grassroots groups, Castro said “we should do that.” 

The holidays are in the rear-view mirror and that means the likely Democratic presidential field is gearing up for presidential bids, whether they say so or not. 

As the highest-profile (all-but) candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro have so far had room to tout their own would-be candidacies. But that’s bound to change soon, as all of those who said they were spending their holidays deciding whether to run presumably did just that. 

Here’s the latest roundup of the news on the 2020 front: 

  • California Sen. Kamala Harris, one of the many Democrats who said they’d take the holidays to decide on a presidential bid, is stepping out into the presidential spotlight this week as she launches her memoir. The book launch in the off-year is a tried-and-true strategy for candidates to pressure-test their message and win some buzz ahead of a true presidential launch. Harris previewed the book Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” where she called for leaders to have a “vision of the future” but said she isn’t “going to decide right now” whether to run. 
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, fresh off his bid against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that raised his profile, is planning a road trip from his home in El Paso as he considers a presidential bid. 
  • There are a lot of interesting implications of the Democratic Party’s new primary schedule, which includes California moving to Super Tuesday. But one important one is that Latinos will have more power in the primary process, since Latino-heavy states like Texas and California will start accepting mail-in ballots even earlier. Read Suzanne Gamboa’s new piece for more.

With the early weeks of the shadow 2020 Democratic primary bringing up the age-old questions about the “likeability” of female politicians, Hillary Clinton is weighing in. 

Clinton, the first female presidential nominee from a major party, pointed to the “amazing women officials in the audience today” when she referenced that debate during a Monday speech at an event held by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

“There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether our country is ready for women leaders. Now that really takes me back—but today, I want to thank all of you for your persistence,” she said during an appearance with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday. 

“I know many of you and can can attest as to how smart, determined, effective and, dare I say, likable you all are.”

The debate, which followed Clinton during her own 2016 presidential race, is heating up again now that Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is telegraphing a bid of her own. 

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Warren’s favorability underwater with American voters, Republicans and Independents. But many Democrats have come to Warren’s defense to argue that those numbers are a result of sexism and an unfair perception that has long dogged female candidates. 

Check out Chuck Todd and the “Meet the Press” panel addressing the issue during Sunday’s broadcast. 

With a possible field of Democratic presidential hopefuls numbering in the dozens, there’s no shortage of news nuggets and behind the scenes machinations. Here’s some of the latest news from the trail. 

  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is taking advantage of her early (all-but) entry into the 2020 field. As the highest-profile Democrat that’s closest to a bid, Warren hit the trail for five events in Iowa over three days. NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald followed Warren to the Hawkeye State, penning this report on how she “introduced herself as more personable than Bernie Sanders, her progressive frenemy, and more fiery and populist than other top potential candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden.”
  • The New York Times reports  that former Vice President Joe Biden is concerned that he’s the only Democrat who can beat President Trump in 2020. But how will that messaging play with Democrats who believe the party’s growing gender and racial diversity is one of its best contrast with the GOP, or with those who see the Sun Belt and diversifying suburbs, not the blue-collar Midwest, as home to the party’s best opportunity to grow?
  • Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee appeared on MSNBC’s “Kasie DC” on Sunday night, where he teased travel to New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada in the “near future.” Watch more from the interview below. 

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley says he’s not running for president in 2020, but he’s encouraging former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, to make a bid. (He’s passing the O’Mantle, as NBC’s Benjy Sarlin muses.)

“In 2016, my long-shot presidential candidacy found its flame extinguished between a rock and an angry place in my own party. America wasn’t in the mood for new leadership. We were in a mood of anger, rage and retribution. And in this mood, Donald Trump’s candidacy rose. It was good for ratings, and good for the Russians; but, bad for America. And, we got what we got,” O’Malley writes in a Des Moines Register op-ed.

“But now, there is a different mood in our nation. People are looking for a new leader who can bring us together. They are looking for a unifier and a healer. They are looking for a leader of principle, and they are now looking for a fearless vision.”

Why O’Rourke?

“In his courageous run for U.S. Senate in Texas, O’Rourke ran a disciplined and principled campaign that also managed to be raw, authentic, and real. He spoke to the American values of honesty, compassion for one another, and courage in the face of a rapidly changing future. These are the American values alive and well in the hearts of our young people. These are the values which tell us where America is headed. And with these values, O’Rourke very nearly defeated the incumbent senator and Republican runner-up for president — in Texas.”