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Happy Monday morning.
The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, so congratulations to their fans.
Meanwhile, the Senate was in session through the weekend burning the clock on the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. There’s still no agreement on amendment votes, in part because of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Absent a time agreement, the Senate will hold two more procedural votes tonight at around 8:30 p.m., and won’t be able to move to final passage until Wednesday. Some senators are warning of additional procedural maneuvers to drag this out further, including even a “talking filibuster.”
But unless there’s some dramatic, unforeseen shift, the Senate will have the votes to eventually pass the bill. Eighteen Republicans voted with nearly all Democrats on Sunday to move the process along, and that number could rise on final passage.
A fractured Senate GOP: These 18 senators are part of what Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) described Sunday as “the governing coalition” in the Senate GOP — a “core group” of Republicans who “want to see this place run effectively,” he said. They could come up big on the looming FY2024 spending bills as well.
It’s also a group that’s about to be on the receiving end of intense criticism in the coming weeks and months from the Donald Trump-aligned wing of the party.
For now, these Republican senators are making no apologies about their election-year vote amid unrelenting attacks from conservatives. Hardliners believe Senate GOP leaders should have listened to the party’s base and continued to block the bill until action is taken on border security. Of course, these were the same right-wing Republican senators who blocked the long-awaited bipartisan border security bill from moving forward.
“Our base cannot possibly know what’s at stake at the level that any well-briefed U.S. senator should know about what’s at stake if Putin wins,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the ongoing war in Ukraine, which is about to enter its third year.
“Some people around here — if they really are being driven just by the perceptions of their base, they should grow a spine and explain if they think it’s a tough vote. It’s not a tough vote for me…
“For the ones who think it is, look at the consequences of us not getting it done.”
That’s exactly what’s motivating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, too. McConnell, a key Ukraine supporter, has been loudly defending his decision to move on from the border fight after his conference rejected the compromise that Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) hammered out with Democrats.
McConnell is even ignoring some political considerations here. As we scooped last week, NRSC Chair Steve Daines stood up at a closed-door GOP Conference meeting and said flatly that passing the foreign aid package without a border component would kneecap the party’s Senate candidates.
But for McConnell, the national security issues at play should trump any political calculations. On Sunday, McConnell leaned in even further, slamming those with “the dimmest and most shortsighted views of our obligations.”
“I know it’s become quite fashionable in some circles to disregard the global interests we have as a global power. To bemoan the responsibilities of global leadership. To lament the commitment that has underpinned the longest drought of great power conflict in human history.
“This is idle work for idle minds. And it has no place in the United States Senate.”
The view of McConnell’s opponents is that the longtime GOP leader is out of step with the party’s base, which is turning against Ukraine aid and believes it should be used as leverage in the border fight — even if that means jeopardizing the overall national security supplemental.
“The only way you’re going to get a lawless administration to secure the border is to hold something up that they want,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for GOP leader following the 2022 elections.
McConnell’s allies believe a majority of the conference supports the foreign aid package as is. Of course, several GOP senators who vocally support Ukraine aid are still in the “no” camp for various reasons — including being in-cycle.
“Take a look at filing periods for some states — if we don’t need [their vote], it’s very difficult to explain this to people,” Tillis said. “The minority of our conference has an outsized volume on the issue, but they don’t have a majority of our members.”
— Andrew Desiderio
March Events! Join Punchbowl News founder and CEO Anna Palmer on Tuesday, March 5 at 9 a.m. ET for an interview with Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.). They’ll discuss the news of the day and how private equity supports small business in Georgia. Afterward, Drew Maloney, CEO of the American Investment Council and Bernard Acoca, CEO of Zaxby’s will join Anna for a fireside chat. This is the first event in a two-part series, Investing in Your Community, presented by the American Investment Council. RSVP!
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For Speaker Mike Johnson, 110 days into the job, a critical decision is coming up.
At some point in the next few days, the Senate appears poised to pass a $95 billion package that includes aid for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine. Johnson then will have to decide how to handle this package in the House.
Here are his options.
1) Ignore it. This isn’t much of an option but Johnson could just decide that he won’t pay any attention to the package. Remember that more than half of the House Republican Conference voted against a September bill that would’ve provided a measly $300 million to Ukraine. It will be perilous for Johnson’s internal politics to put any bill with Ukraine money on the House floor. Yet given the fact that Johnson has said funding for Israel is critical and has at least acknowledged the fact that the United States should fund Ukraine, we can’t imagine he’ll totally ignore the package.
2) Legislative maneuvering. During a news conference last week, Johnson was noncommittal about how he’d handle the legislation when it passes the Senate. But Johnson did say that he thought Congress should “address these issues on their own merits.” In other words, Johnson clearly doesn’t like the fact that billions of dollars for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine are rolled together into one bill.
Johnson has a few options here. He could split the question, as it’s referred to in the House. In other words, Johnson can design a process that sets up individual votes on aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. This would require cooperation from the House Rules Committee, which is effectively controlled by hardline conservatives.
Johnson could, theoretically, put individual bills on the floor for each of the parts of the Senate package. We don’t think he’ll head in that direction.
Or Johnson could simply pass the Israel-only aid package that he tried to push through the House last week and allow the Senate to amend it with its package when it returns from recess. This is a possibility following last week’s floor debacle over a GOP-drafted Israel-only bill.
3) Discharge petition. If Johnson does nothing, Democrats and GOP Ukraine backers can try a discharge petition to force the bill onto the floor provided they get 218 backers. But getting there wouldn’t be easy.
There’s an existing discharge petition with 213 Democratic signatures (H. Res. 350). But a number of those Democrats could drop off over Israel aid. How many? It’s unclear, but there would be some.
Pro-Ukraine Republicans would be lobbied to come onboard, but they’d have to overcome heavy pressure from their leadership not to do so because of the border security argument. Former President Donald Trump — whose NATO comments are a huge problem for the party — is another issue here.
Yet say all that can be overcome and 218 members from both parties sign onto the resolution. This would be the worst option for Johnson because it would effectively cede the floor to Democrats. Yet if he doesn’t devise a plan on the Senate bill, this could happen.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who supports the foreign aid package, told us Sunday that he has talked with House members about a discharge petition. Tillis said this may be required to ultimately get the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.
“There’s a general belief that we need to get it done,” Tillis said of his conversations. “Hopefully this is something Speaker Johnson will just take up, because I believe you’d have significant support for it in the Republican Conference — whether it’s a majority or not, I don’t know.”
And Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a former House member who’s still close with his former colleagues, said he believes that the speaker understands the importance of passing the aid bill following some high-level classified briefings.
Mullin noted that there are plenty of defense hawks in the House GOP Conference, and said he has talked with House members about various scenarios including a discharge petition.
— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan
News: Democratic staff on the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees are arguing that recent developments in the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden have further exonerated the president from any wrongdoing, according to a memo we obtained.
House Republican investigators have interviewed a wide range of Biden family business associates and personal friends in recent months, searching for any connection between Biden’s official actions and his family’s financial dealings.
Yet time after time, the witnesses have testified that Biden wasn’t a part of their business activities, Democrats note.
“Each witness stated they were not aware of any evidence of any wrongdoing by President Biden or of President Biden being involved in, profiting from, or taking official actions in relation to family members’ business ventures,” Democratic staff wrote in the memo sent to members of the Oversight and Judiciary panels.
The memo features excerpts from transcribed interviews with Carol Fox, Georges Bergès, Kevin Morris, Mervyn Yan, Rob Walker, Eric Schwerin and Joseph Langston. These figures — all private citizens affiliated either with Biden, his brother James Biden or his son Hunter Biden — are seen as auxiliary witnesses before the panel speaks with Hunter and James Biden later this month.
The interviews with James Biden on Feb. 21 and Hunter Biden on Feb. 28 may be the closest the Republicans running the inquiry will get to the president. And considering the lack of smoking guns from the recent spate of witnesses, Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) will be under pressure to produce tangible results.
To date, the investigators haven’t found conclusive evidence of impeachable offenses committed by Biden. Here’s more from the memo:
“Far from yielding any evidence of misconduct by President Biden, these efforts have served only to add to the mountain of evidence rebutting the Chairmen’s false claims about the President and proving that their so-called ‘impeachment inquiry’ rests on nothing but distorted and cherry-picked facts and long debunked conspiracy theories.”
House Oversight Committee spokesperson Jessica Collins told us the panel’s Republicans are looking forward to the upcoming interviews for more information on Biden’s connections to his family’s business deals.
“To date, the interviews with witnesses have given the committees and the public much greater insight into what exactly the Bidens were selling—including that Joe Biden was the brand being sold,” Collins said in a statement.
Witness safety: Democrats also accused Republicans of unnecessarily putting private citizens at risk as part of the impeachment inquiry.
“Many of the witnesses in this latest round of transcribed interviews stated that they have been exposed to harassment and death threats as a result of the Chairmen’s letters and public statements,” Democrats asserted in the memo.
The other impeachment: House Republicans are expected to hold another vote this week to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise is expected back in Washington, which would give Republicans the votes they need to impeach Mayorkas. The GOP effort failed last week in a stunning floor vote after Democratic Rep. Al Green (Texas) came out of the hospital to provide the tying vote.
— Max Cohen
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The race for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is on.
Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), the favorite to chair the panel if Republicans are still in the majority, is hosting a dinner that a source billed as a “kick off” to his campaign for the powerful gavel. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the current chair, is retiring at the end of this Congress. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) will also vie for the gavel.
— Jake Sherman
W&M dinner on deck to rake in cash for DCCC
House Ways and Means Committee Democrats are ramping up for their annual DCCC fundraiser in a push to win the House this fall.
Ranking member Richie Neal (D-Mass.) will headline the Thursday night dinner in D.C. with special guests DCCC Chair Suzan DelBene, a Ways and Means member, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
Ways and Means’ full roster of Democrats — plus members who cycled off this year because of the smaller ranks in the minority — are set to host.
The committee is a plum post for fundraising, and the dinner is already set to bring in over $2 million for the DCCC with a few days to go.
The dinner could also be a chance for Democrats eyeing Ways and Means seats to get in the mix. There are a couple of non-Ways and Means members chipping in for the event so far: Reps. Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.) and Morgan McGarvey (D-Ky.). If Democrats win the House, there would likely be a few spots up for grabs on one of Congress’ most sought-after panels.
McGarvey was excited to contribute to the dinner and is doing all he can to help Democrats win the House this fall, according to spokesperson Gabby Salazar.
— Laura Weiss
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ALL TIMES EASTERN
President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
Biden will depart the White House en route to the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference.
Biden will deliver remarks at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference at the Washington Hilton.
Biden will return to the White House
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will brief.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will welcome King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan to the White House.
President Biden and King Abdullah II will deliver remarks following a meeting.
BIDEN’S WEEK AHEAD
Biden will travel to East Palestine, Ohio, and receive an operational briefing from officials on the continuing response and recovery efforts.
– Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan
– David Sanger in Berlin
– Niha Masih and Rachel Pannett
– Alicia Diaz and Nick Wadhams
– Selcan Hacaoglu
– Lauren Thomas and Laura Cooper
– Colleen Long
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Designing 100% recyclable plastic bottles – we’re making our bottles from PET that’s strong, lightweight and easy to recycle.
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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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