Every issue of the Punchbowl News newsletter, including our special editions, right here at your fingertips.
Join the community, and get the morning edition delivered straight to your inbox.
The ERC is a vital lifeline for job creators and workers in times of crisis. Congress revived it during the pandemic to sustain business and payroll. Over a million await IRS processing; it’s time for promised relief. Demand the IRS to do their job.
Happy Thursday morning.
Schedule update: The Senate will begin voting on the CR to fund the federal government through early March at 12:30 p.m. today. There will be four votes, including amendments that will be rejected. The short-term spending measure will then be sent to the House for quick action.
The Washington area is bracing for a major snowstorm tonight into Friday. The House leadership will be under a tremendous amount of pressure to bring up the CR today instead of Friday.
The immigration jam: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plan to begin pushing through a border security and foreign aid bill as soon as next week throws another problem in Speaker Mike Johnson’s lap at a perilous time for the Louisiana Republican’s 85-day-old speakership.
Consider what Johnson has to deal with right now:
After saying in November he wouldn’t pass any more CRs, Johnson will pass a CR before the week is out.
Conservative hardliners are furious that the speaker is pushing a spending deal with just $16 billion in cuts.
Come March, Johnson will have to fund the entire government over the course of seven days. He is unlikely to achieve any big policy wins, with Democrats vowing to stand firmly in the way.
Johnson has two other major deadlines in the coming months: FAA and FISA. FISA is incredibly thorny. And FAA could quickly turn messy, too.
Johnson already has some lawmakers saying they’re open to booting him from the speakership.
In four days, Johnson will have the smallest House GOP majority in American history.
And if Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have their way, Johnson will be in the hot seat, forced to reckon with a bipartisan bill that is aimed at addressing the border crisis and aiding U.S. allies.
Johnson will be split between his policy and political roles. Republicans have been sounding an alarm about the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border throughout Joe Biden’s presidency, so for the House Republican Conference to not pass some bill when given the opportunity would be risky. But with former President Donald Trump racing toward the nomination, Johnson has political considerations as well. None of this is easy.
Let’s get this out of the way: Schumer, McConnell and Johnson all have relatively similar goals. All three have said Congress needs to fix the problems at the border. Schumer and McConnell are strong proponents of Ukraine aid as well. And since Johnson took the speakership, he has spoken positively about the need to deliver aid, but said he wants to know more about the Biden administration’s endgame. Johnson has pressed the White House on this point since he took the gavel.
The difference is that Johnson has to deal with a House Republican Conference that will be skeptical, to put it charitably, about any bill that emerges from the Senate, especially one with tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid. Johnson’s aides feel as if the House is much more aligned on policy with the average Republicans than is the Senate.
There are some in Johnson’s leadership circle who say openly that anything that emerges from the Senate is too toxic for House GOP lawmakers to consider. If Johnson chooses to take up a Senate bill, he’ll have to navigate the choppy waters of the House Republican Conference.
To wit, in an interview Wednesday night with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Johnson refused to commit to putting the Senate bill on the floor. This highlights the reality that Johnson’s House Republican Conference is going to want to tear the legislation up and inject all of their priorities. This would make it unpalatable to the Senate, where GOP leaders have already warned against that approach. But let us reiterate: Johnson is exceedingly unlikely to just take whatever the Senate passes and put it on the floor.
But Johnson has softened his tone in recent days, as we pointed out in the Midday edition Wednesday. Johnson is no longer saying that he will only accept H.R. 2, the House GOP’s hardline border bill. Although on Fox Wednesday night, Johnson said it has to be “H.R. 2 or the functional equivalent thereof.”
McConnell acknowledged that real differences remain between the two chambers on legislative strategy and said that shouldn’t be surprising. Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), the lead Democrat in the border talks, said Johnson is “in a 24-hour survival mode” in dealing with his right flank. So Senate leaders are full-steam ahead on the supplemental, regardless of how Johnson may handle it. On Wednesday, both Schumer and McConnell were exuding new optimism about the prospects for a deal.
That’s to say nothing of the widespread GOP opposition to Ukraine funding — no matter what it’s paired with.
McConnell has a sizable group of Ukraine-skeptical Republicans to deal with, as well. Many of them banded together to request a conference-wide meeting on Ukraine funding, which is scheduled for next Wednesday. These are the same GOP senators who have complained that they’re still in the dark about what a border deal would entail, and are concerned that it’ll be jammed through on a condensed timeline.
“This has been an exercise in trying to get enough votes to get Ukraine funding. We haven’t even seen the bill yet,” one GOP senator lamented. “What’s the deal even?”
McConnell clearly wants to wrap up what has been a politically treacherous period for Republicans in both chambers. He feels strongly that Republicans shouldn’t squander this opportunity to do what Congress hasn’t been able to accomplish in years on border security and immigration. The Senate’s compromise “is designed to actually pass,” McConnell said Wednesday, and the policy changes on the table as part of the current talks could never be achieved under a unified Republican government.
And McConnell has consistently made the case that there are overwhelming national-security imperatives for moving fast — citing not just Ukraine, but also ongoing threats from Iranian proxies like the Houthis.
“It’s time to act,” McConnell told us after the Wednesday meeting between congressional leaders and President Joe Biden. “And that’s not a decision I get to make, but hopefully that’s what the majority leader will do and we’ll get on the bill next week.”
— Jake Sherman and Andrew Desiderio
PRESENTED BY JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY BLOOMBERG CENTER
Get to know AI as well as it already knows you. As artificial intelligence gets smarter, can policy keep pace? Hear from Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) on the future of AI policy on Thursday, Feb. 29, at 9:30 AM. The conversation, co-hosted by Punchbowl News, kicks off The Bridge, a new series of bipartisan policy discussions at the Hopkins Bloomberg Center. RSVP now.
Top House Republicans are increasingly hopeful they will hear from Hunter Biden as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
We’ve noticed a significant change in their rhetoric this week.
“We don’t have a date, but our counsel has had good conversations with [Hunter Biden lawyer [Abbe] Lowell,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Wednesday when asked if they had nailed down a time for Hunter Biden’s testimony.
As for James Biden, the president’s brother, Jordan said his team has “had a number of talks with his lawyer.” James Biden’s team has been far less adversarial than Hunter Biden’s camp, and there’s widespread expectation he will testify.
To rewind: Just last week, Republicans were moving quickly to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress for defying a congressional subpoena. But those proceedings were called off after Lowell said his client would appear for a private deposition as long as a new subpoena is issued.
The Hunter and James Biden developments are the latest signs of progress in the Republican scramble to hear from witnesses in the impeachment inquiry. After issuing a flurry of subpoenas last fall, the Judiciary and Oversight panels are now focused on deposing figures in and around the Biden family in the first two months of 2024.
House Republicans have yet to find conclusive evidence that Biden committed impeachable offenses. GOP investigators are seeking to connect Biden’s family members’ business dealings to any official actions Biden took as vice president.
Looking ahead: Jordan also confirmed that the committees have scheduled depositions for more key figures in the investigation:
Former Hunter Biden business associates Eric Schwerin and Rob Walker
Hunter Biden’s associate Kevin Morris
Mervyn Yan — a former Chinese energy company executive who worked with both Hunter and James Biden
“We’re gonna have a lot of questions about specific transactional relationships and conversations,” House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) told us.
Republicans hope to use the upcoming transcribed interviews to glean more information on Biden’s alleged involvement in his family’s dealings. When former Hunter Biden business associate Devon Archer testified last summer, Republicans gained the biggest revelation of their investigation.
Archer told members that Hunter Biden would place then-Vice President Joe Biden on speaker phone with his business partners. Archer insisted Joe Biden didn’t discuss business.
— Max Cohen
News: Congressional Leadership Fund and the American Action Network — the House Republican leadership endorsed outside group — raised $112 million in 2023, far outpacing their Democratic counterparts.
House Majority PAC and House Majority Forward, the Democratic groups, raised $76 million in 2023.
CLF and AAN are big money magnets for the House Republican leadership. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy raised record amounts of money for the groups, shifting the balance of power in the GOP fundraising world away from the NRCC.
One of the knocks on Mike Johnson’s speakership in the early days was that he would never be able to raise money from big-dollar donors. He’s clearly been able to hold his own and quiet many of the doubters. Johnson kept much of the McCarthy fundraising base in place, raising $32 million in the final two months of 2023. Johnson did eight trips for CLF after becoming speaker in October 2023.
CLF and AAN’s $112 million haul beat their 2021 haul by $2 million.
— Jake Sherman
PRESENTED BY JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY BLOOMBERG CENTER
Join us for The Bridge on Feb. 29 to hear about the future of AI policy with Senators Mark Warner and Todd Young. RSVP now.
News: House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Richie Neal (D-Mass.) spoke by phone Wednesday as Democrats seek changes to a tax deal that the panel is marking up Friday.
Neal told reporters Wednesday he wants more refundability for the child tax credit as part of the deal, which Smith struck with Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) this week.
Committee staff are discussing Neal’s request for changes, but it’s unclear if they’ll end up in the bill.
Both lawmakers agree they want a bipartisan show of support when the bill is marked up in committee, according to multiple sources.
If the House takes up the bill, it would likely be under suspension of the rules, a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority for passage. This means it would need a significant number of Democratic votes to pass.
Earlier Wednesday, House Democrats huddled on the tax package and several left their meeting offering some praise but saying they wanted to do more on the child tax credit.
We’ve got docs: Ways and Means Republicans also made their markup official on Wednesday night, giving notice that it’ll be on Friday at 9 a.m. and releasing bill text of the package.
The Joint Committee on Taxation weighed in too, releasing its score of the bill. JCT found it would add little to the deficit over 10 years — $262 million. Most of the bill’s cost is covered by over $78 billion in savings from ending claims filed for the pandemic-era employee retention tax credit and cracking down on fraud in the program.
In other tax news: Ways and Means newcomer Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa) is taking over a bill with wide GOP support — and fellow midwest backers — that Smith led before taking over as committee chair. It’s the “Death Tax Repeal Act,” which would end the estate tax, and he’s introducing it today with over 160 colleagues signed on.
In the unhelpful department: The Wall Street Journal editorial page took a bat to the Smith-Wyden deal. In an editorial titled “Mr. Smith’s Lousy Tax Deal,” here’s what the WSJ said:
Republicans haven’t done much in the 118th Congress, and in their scramble to compensate they may now do real policy harm. To wit, House GOP tax writers have struck a deal to give Democrats a huge policy victory in order to please big business.
— Laura Weiss
The House Homeland Security Committee will mark up a resolution to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Jan. 31, according to sources familiar with the plans.
The panel will hold its second — and what’s expected to be its final — hearing today as Republicans try to make the case that Mayorkas should be impeached. The hearing comes as Republicans on the panel have been clashing with Mayorkas over whether he’ll testify during the proceedings.
“We will be reinforcing the fact that every American is at risk because of what’s happening at the southern border,” Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) told us about the hearing today. “This could happen to anyone. It’s happened to these people. It could happen to you.”
The witnesses today include Cochise County (Ariz.) Sheriff Mark Dannels and Deborah Pearlstein, a professor at Princeton University.
Tammy Nobles and Josephine Dunn, two private citizens, will also tell their stories of how the border crisis has impacted them and their families. Nobles and Dannels have both previously testified before Congress.
Of course, impeaching Mayorkas has been a top priority for House conservatives who have blamed the secretary for promoting a porous border that’s led to a mass migrant crisis.
Hardliners’ insistence on trying to boot Mayorkas from office is part of the reason the impeachment proceedings have moved so quickly, after Green spent a year investigating Mayorkas’ “dereliction of duty.”
Dems’ response: Democrats and DHS have repeatedly criticized Green’s efforts as a political stunt to appease the far right.
“This is about adhering to a timeline for impeachment agreed to in a back room deal between the Republican leadership, which is holding on by a thread, and its most extreme MAGA members,” ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told us in a statement.
Mia Ehrenberg, a DHS spokesperson, defended Mayorkas, saying the secretary is “working relentlessly” to fix the issues at the southern border.
House Republican leaders could hold an impeachment vote on the floor as soon as February. With such slim margins right now, Speaker Mike Johnson would need nearly every Republican to vote in favor.
We’ll be following the hearing today. Stay tuned for updates in our Midday edition.
— Mica Soellner
News: In a closed-door presentation on Wednesday, Congressional Black Caucus-aligned PACs told CBC members their groups are aiming to raise $15 million this cycle to reach Black voters in crucial House seats.
The PACs are planning a targeted campaign in two dozen House seats where Black voters will play a big role in potentially flipping the chamber in 2024. The campaign is focusing on Frontline seats, red-to-blue flip opportunities and redrawn Black-majority seats across the South.
— Max Cohen
PRESENTED BY JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY BLOOMBERG CENTER
Don’t miss our AI discussion with Senators Warner and Young. RSVP now.
ALL TIMES EASTERN
President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
Biden will depart the White House en route to Joint Base Andrews. From there, Biden will fly to Raleigh, N.C. Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton and National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby will gaggle aboard Air Force One en route.
Biden will arrive in Raleigh.
Biden will deliver remarks on “Bidenomics” and his Investing in America agenda.
Biden will depart Raleigh en route to D.C.
Biden will return to the White House.
– Dan Lamothe
– Alex Isenstadt, Meridith McGraw and Natalie Allison in Portsmouth, N.H.
PRESENTED BY JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY BLOOMBERG CENTER
In only a few short years, AI has gone from science fiction trope to everyday reality. On Feb. 29 at 9:30 AM, join Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), Punchbowl News founder and CEO Anna Palmer, and senior congressional reporter Andrew Desiderio for a critical conversation about AI policy. They’ll be joined by experts from Johns Hopkins University. We look forward to seeing you at The Bridge, a new bipartisan discussion series at the Hopkins Bloomberg Center, where Washington comes to think. RSVP now.
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
Crucial Capitol Hill news AM, Midday, and PM—5 times a week
Join a community of some of the most powerful people in Washington and beyond. Exclusive newsmaker events, parties, in-person and virtual briefings and more.Subscribe to Premium
The Canvass Year-End Report
And what senior aides and downtown figures believe will happen in 2023.Check it out
Every single issue of Punchbowl News published, all in one placeVisit the archive
The ERC has been an effective and critical measure for economic recovery from the pandemic. Small businesses did their job. They kept employees on payroll. They deserve funds owed to them. It’s time for the IRS to do its job.Take action. Act now.