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— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she has “no choice” but to ask chairmen to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, which will ramp up the pressure on battleground Democrats.
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— Both Cory Booker and Julián Castro have sharply criticized the Democratic National Committee, saying the national party is overseeing a primary process that’s pushing them (and other candidates of color) out at the expense of billionaires. The DNC defended its process.
— Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has adamantly insisted he will not run for the Senate, even after his presidential run ended. But that’s not stopping Senate Democrats from pining for him, anyway.
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Days until the POLITICO/PBS NewsHour Democratic primary debate: 13
Days until the Iowa caucuses: 59
Days until the New Hampshire primary: 67
Days until the 2020 election: 333
THE I WORD — Pelosi announced Thursday that she asked House chairmen to draft articles of impeachment against Trump, “a historic step that signals the House is increasingly likely to vote to impeach Trump before the end of this year,” POLITICO’s Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris reported.
“The facts are uncontested: The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit, at the expense of our national security,” Pelosi said in an address. “His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution … Our democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act.”
The speaker’s decision will increase the pressure on Democrats in swing seats (and a handful of battleground Republicans as well) to say where they stand, as we get closer and closer to an actual vote on impeachment. We have now moved beyond following an investigation to see where it goes, to the speaker of the House saying “the facts are uncontested.” A question all members of Congress can expect, both from reporters in the halls of Congress and voters at home on weekends: Is Pelosi right?
We’re also drawing closer to the one absolute that will clearly delineate where everyone stands: an honest-to-goodness vote on if the president should be impeached, and not a process vote that lays out the ground rules of an investigation. My POLITICO Playbook colleagues have a good rundown on what comes next.
Democrats need 216 votes to impeach the president, leaving some wiggle room for a bit over a dozen to break from the pack should they choose to do so. Two of those who will almost assuredly break away? Reps. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the pair of Democrats who voted against the ground rules earlier. Both told CNN’s Manu Raju — not in so many words — that they weren’t on board. Van Drew warned his party to “be careful what you wish for.” But the messaging from the party wit large is clear: “Republicans must vote and state plainly whether they will stand up for the rule of law, or continue their attempt to sweep this abuse of power under the rug,” DCCC spokesperson Cole Leiter said in a statement.
One thing to watch: Has the flood of GOP-funded anti-impeachment advertising changed the politics? Since Oct. 1, nearly $11.3 million has been spent on television ads in Democratic incumbents’ districts, according to data provided to Score by Advertising Analytics. A whopping $9.4 million of that has come from Republican groups, led by American Action Network’s $4.4 million — and to that point, AAN launched a new anti-impeach ad hitting Rep. Susie Lee in NV-03 on Thursday.
THE DEBATE STAGE — Booker and Castro have ramped up their criticism of the Democratic National Committee, after Kamala Harris’ exit from race leaves the potential for an all-white debate stage. “I cannot tell you how much I believe in our primaries. And I’ve seen folk here in Iowa belie what all the predictions are and show us what real viability is,” Booker said in Iowa, per POLITICO’s Nolan McCaskill. .
The DNC pushed back against the criticism: “This has been the most inclusive debate process with more women and candidates of color participating in more debates than billionaires,” DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement to Nolan. “While we are legally required to have objective criteria for each debate, our qualifying criteria has stayed extremely low throughout this entire process. Nobody who has failed to reach 4 percent at this point in the race has gone on to be the nominee, and our debate criteria reflects that.”
— Castro said Thursday on a call with reporters that he’s crossed the 200,000 donor threshold for the December debate. But he is almost certain to miss the debate due to the polling threshold, however.
TIT FOR TAT — Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg’s camps fired back and forth Thursday night on transparency, a preview of a likely bigger battle to come. “He should open up the doors, so that the press can follow the promises that he’s making in these big dollar fundraisers,” Warren said, also calling on him to name bundlers and his finance team, per POLITICO’s Alex Thompson. Lis Smith, a senior adviser to Buttigieg, tweeted back that if Warren “wants to have a debate about transparency, she can start by opening up the doors to the decades of tax returns she’s hiding from her work as a corporate lawyer”.
— Buttigieg’s time at McKinsey is shrouded in mystery. But The New York Times’ Michael Forsythe tried to piece some more of it together via interviews with former McKinsey employees, touching on his brief time in Iraq and longer stay in Afghanistan.
WINNING THEM OVER? — The rest of the field is trying to capitalize on Harris’ exit. “Despite Harris’ weak polling, she maintained a sizable well of institutional support that could prove important to the remaining candidates in the early nominating state of South Carolina and in Harris’ delegate-rich home state of California,” POLITICO’s David Siders and Chris Cadelago wrote. “In California, donors and politicians who had endorsed Harris began receiving calls from other campaigns within hours of her withdrawal. Endorsers in South Carolina were fielding a torrent of overtures from rival candidates. And in Iowa, where Harris had attempted to make her final stand, distraught staffers’ phones lit up with text messages from campaigns eager to recruit them.”
— Buttigieg’s camp is pushing to make inroads with the Congressional Black Caucus. “Rep. Don Beyer — one of three members of Congress, all of them white, who have endorsed Buttigieg — is leading the push, distributing a letter to black House colleagues this week imploring them to examine Buttigieg’s ‘Douglass Plan,’ a set of policy proposals focused on black Americans,” POLITICO’s Daniel Strauss and Laura Barrón-López wrote. “Beyer stresses that he’s not pushing for an endorsement right now — just for lawmakers to pay attention to Buttigieg.”
ON THE TRAIL — Biden got into an argument with an Iowa man who “suggested the former vice president helped his son get a sweetheart deal in Ukraine and was ‘selling access,” POLITICO’s Marc Caputo wrote from New Hampton (and here’s a video from ABC’s Molly Nagle). “The fiery exchange with the man, who only identified himself as a non-Republican Iowa farmer, ended with Biden challenging him to a contest of push-ups, running or an IQ test before he yelled at him.”
ENDORSEMENT CORNER — Former Secretary of State John Kerry, the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee, backed Biden’s bid for the White House. “I believe very deeply that Joe Biden’s character, his ability to persevere, his decency and the experiences that he brings to the table are critical to the moment,” Kerry said in an interview with The Washington Post’s Dan Balz. Kerry is set to join Biden on his Iowa bus tour today.
THE SENATE MAP — Washington Democrats are still holding out hope that Bullock runs in Montana. “Even as party officials are desperate for Bullock to run, they’re taking a soft approach for fear going too hard would backfire,” POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and James Arkin reported, adding that Democrats aren’t courting former Rep. Beto O’Rourke to try again in Texas in the same way. “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he hasn’t talked to Bullock or O’Rourke … Still, Democratic senators are publicly encouraging Bullock to join their club.”
More: “The different opinions toward the unsuccessful presidential candidates stem from the fact that Democrats are fairly comfortable with their current roster of Texas candidates. Yet in Montana, Bullock would be a game-changer”. If O’Rourke was to get in, he has to file by Monday. But Montana’s filing deadline isn’t until March 9.
— But Bullock really wants you to know he’s not running for the Senate. “I’ve said it before. I’ve said it during. I said it when I got out,” Bullock told reporters in Helena on Wednesday, per KECI’s Maritsa Georgiou. “So, yeah, I’m not running for Senate.”
— Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) wouldn’t rule out challenging Sen.-designate Kelly Loeffler in the 2020 special election. “We’ll make a statement or we’ll deal with that after the fact,” he said in an interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, referencing the impeachment hearing. “I’m not ruling in, ruling it out” (he is, in fact, not ruling it out).
— Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates reiterated she’s not interested in running for the Senate in Georgia, even with two seats up for grabs. “Running for Senate, that’s just not something that’s ever really felt like me. I really am incredibly flattered by your support. We’ve got some great people that are running,” she said at a podcast taping with former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein.
RETIREMENT WATCH — Rep. Tom Graves, who represents the ruby red GA-14, announced he would not seek reelection, POLITICO’s Jennifer Scholtes wrote. Some Great Mentioning from The AJC’s Tia Mitchell on which Republicans could run for the seat: Paulding County school board member Jason Anavitarte, state Reps. Steve Tarvin and Katie Dempsey, state House Majority Whip Trey Kelley and state Sen. Jeff Mullis.
THE OUTSIDE GROUPS — NARAL Pro-Choice America is laying out its 2020 political plan. The group said it will focus its efforts in eight states — Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Iowa, and Georgia — for the congressional, statehouse and presidential elections. The group said it plans on spending $34.7 million across those states, which would be its largest presidential election year program ever.
TECH TALK — Facebook still has not publicly said if they’ll make changes to political ads on its platform, or what they would be if they were to do so. But The Washington Post’s Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker reported that Facebook has floated ideas that include labeling political ads to say they’ve not been fact-checked, limiting the number of ads candidates can run at a given time, imposing a blackout window and raising the minimum number of people that could be targeted with an ad.
AD WARS — Planned Parenthood announced it will run a “seven-figure” ad campaign targeting three battleground senators — Sens. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — over Title X funding. “Martha McSally lied when she said she supports access to affordable birth control,” the narrator of the television ad targeting McSally said (here’s the Tillis ad and Gardner ad). “Instead, she’s let the Trump-Pence administration force Planned Parenthood out of Title X.” The campaign, which the group said will run stretch through Dec. 20, also includes radio, digital and mailers.
— Protect Our Care, a Democratic dark money group focused on health care, said it would double its ad spend along with other health focused groups to $4 million to back Democrats’ drug pricing bill in battleground districts, Roll Call’s Mary Ellen McIntire reported.
THE GOVERNATORS — New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu raised $467,000 for his reelection bid since June, per WMUR’s John DiStaso.
THE HOUSE MAP — The filing deadline has passed in Illinois, and we now have a clear picture of what to watch for in the March 17 congressional primaries. Campaign Pro’s Ally Mutnick breaks down who is running where in her maiden House recruiting notebook for Pros.
— Republican Matt Mowers, a former New Hampshire state party executive director and Trump State Department alum, is considering a run in NH-01 against freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, WMUR’s DiStaso reported.
ENDORSEMENT CORNER — End Citizens United, the Democratic outside group, endorsed Josh Hicks in KY-06 to challenge GOP Rep. Andy Barr.
CONSULTANTS’ CORNER — Echelon Insights, the Republican polling and research firm, hired Amber Henderson as research director and promoted Kai Chen Yeo to the same role. Alec Bickerstaff is a research analyst.
CODA — QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Let me be more blunt: When your caller ID says it’s a pollster calling, pick up,” Booker in a speech to supporters in Iowa.