Trump opens the door to attacks over Social Security and Medicare: From the Politics Desk

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Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior national political reporter Sahil Kapur notes how Donald Trump has opened himself up to attacks on Social Security and Medicare. Plus, senior political editor Mark Murray explains why Joe Biden is ramping up his campaign activity this week.

Trump gives Biden a target by talking entitlement programs

By Sahil Kapur

Donald Trump stepped right into a debate Monday that Joe Biden is eager to have.

Trump, who had attacked his GOP primary opponents for wanting to spend less on entitlement programs, opened the door to “cutting” Social Security and Medicare during an interview on CNBC.

“So first of all, there is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting,” Trump said when pressed about his plan for resolving the programs’ long-term solvency problems. He went on to blast “bad management.”

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Trump didn’t specify what he would cut, but the Biden campaign rapidly swooped in to share the remarks on social media, saying: “Not on my watch.”

A few hours later, Biden tore into Trump during a speech in the battleground state of New Hampshire. “If anyone tries to cut Social Security or Medicare, or raise the retirement age again, I will stop them,” the president said. “This morning, Donald Trump said cuts to Social Security and Medicare are on the table again.”

Trump’s campaign sought to clean up his remarks, telling NBC News he only meant “cutting waste and fraud.” Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt also circulated a statement claiming that Biden is the real threat to the two programs, claiming that his “mass invasion of countless millions of illegal aliens will, if they are allowed to stay, cause Social Security and Medicare to buckle and collapse.”

Democrats see a big opportunity here to strike a populist tone, as the party that created Social Security and Medicare and has been historically unified in protecting the programs, and as Biden seeks to boost his sagging poll numbers. Progressives cheered Biden for taking the offensive over the issue, and they’ve called on him to champion Social Security expansion.

Republicans are more divided, with many calling for addressing future red ink by reducing long-term benefits with policies like raising the retirement age and using a lower rate of inflation. Biden has emphatically ruled out benefit cuts. In his new White House budget released Monday, he identified some specific tax increases on upper earners and on net investment income to resolve the long-term shortfalls.

Trump has positioned himself against conservative orthodoxy on cutting entitlements, but he hasn’t identified a plan. His campaign didn’t answer questions from NBC News about how he’d shore up the programs, whether tax increases are on the table and how much he would save by cutting waste and fraud.

Biden puts the pedal to the metal as he seeks a post-State of the Union bump

By Mark Murray

Last week was a big one for Biden with his State of the Union address.

But whether he can move poll numbers in his direction in the early stages of the general election could make this week big, too, as he ramps up his campaign activity.

Just look at this week’s schedule: The president was in New Hampshire on Monday to discuss lower health care costs and for a campaign event. On Tuesday, Biden is set to hold a campaign meeting with Teamsters members as he seeks the union’s endorsement. He will travel to two more battleground states, Wisconsin and Michigan, on Wednesday and Thursday. And at the White House, he is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Poland on Tuesday and the prime minister of Ireland on Friday ahead of St. Patrick’s Day.

Then there’s the activity over the airwaves, with Biden touting his administration’s policies and even discussing his age, lightheartedly, in a new 60-second TV ad. “Look, I’m not a young guy. That’s no secret,” the 81-year-old president says to the camera. “But here’s the deal: I understand how to get things done for the American people.”

And over the weekend, the president sat down for an interview with MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart and said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “hurting Israel” and that he regretted calling the man charged with killing Laken Riley an “illegal” in his State of the Union speech.

This stepped-up activity comes after Biden received criticism for not having a vigorous schedule and robust public presence. In fact, Biden has conducted fewer news conferences and media interviews than any of his recent predecessors.

It also comes as special counsel Robert Hur is set to testify Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee on his findings in his investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents. Hur declined to charge Biden with a crime, but also concluded that the president had “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials” and called him an “elderly man with a poor memory” — a description Biden and his allies disputed.

And it comes as polling eight months before the general election finds Biden (at best) running even with Trump and (at worst) trailing the former president, albeit usually within the margin of error.

The big question: Does this ramped-up activity by Biden — more events, new TV ads, a sit-down interview — translate into a stronger poll position, even at the margins?

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at

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