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BY JOHN BRESNAHAN, ANNA PALMER, JAKE SHERMAN AND HEATHER CAYGLE
WITH MAX COHEN AND CHRISTIAN HALL
Happy Wednesday morning.
We’ve been a bit skeptical that Congress could reach a deal on a Covid preparedness funding bill, especially before the Easter recess, as some Democrats have suggested.
But in the last day or so, the body language in the Capitol has shifted slightly.
→ Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the chief negotiator for Republicans, met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Monday evening to discuss the outlines of a package. Remember: Romney’s demand is that the legislation be fully offset and that the Biden administration repurpose some unspent Covid funds. Schumer and Romney have been exchanging offers back and forth.
Schumer said this Tuesday about his talks with Romney:
“We are trying to come to an agreement. He was going to try to persuade his [Republican] colleagues that the agreement [we’re considering], which is fully paid for – that the ideas we talked about, we didn’t shake hands on agreement, can get the support of 10 members of his caucus.”
→ Last night, Schumer filed cloture on a legislative vehicle that would allow the Senate to quickly consider a Covid package should he reach an agreement with Romney.
→ House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told us in a brief interview Tuesday that Congress is “going to get it done” – meaning a Covid prep bill – this work period. In other words, Hoyer believes Congress will pass a package in the next nine days before leaving town for Easter.
→ Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the HELP Committee, has been working with the White House and HHS to understand what exactly is needed in terms of Covid tests, therapeutics and vaccines in order to determine the size – and the ultimate cost – of any Covid package.
Burr, though, says there’s still some confusion about what’s currently in HHS’ inventory:
“We’re still going back to the administration because there are some things we still don’t know. Like the number of tests we currently own or have purchased. I think there are other areas where we have pretty good clarity and agreement. We have a deficiency in therapeutics that needs an immediate investment in. It gets a little fuzzier in vaccines.
“From the info they provided us, we think we have about 400 million vaccines. And [Monday] night, they were telling us they have like 20 million. Twenty million is hard for me to believe if in fact they just approved boosters for [Americans age] 50 and over today. I feel confident they have enough stock for boosters, and they project that to be about 50 million doses. You know, you don’t want to buy 500 million vaccines if you believe new technology might produce a better, more effective vaccine three months from now.”
Burr said Republicans don’t have the cost estimate for these items yet, but he did say it would likely be in the $15 billion range. Which, coincidentally, is what GOP and Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate had agreed to as part of the recent omnibus spending package approved by Congress. That money was later stripped out by Speaker Nancy Pelosi after her own rank-and-file Democrats balked at the offsets used to pay for the Covid prep provisions.
So, in sum, there does seem to be a bit of new urgency in the Capitol to get this done. But, as always, the clock and the calendar are the enemy. The Senate will be busy next week with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation vote. But what’s a getaway week without a big legislative scramble anyway?
Happening today: Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the chair of the New Democrat Coalition, and the caucus’ vice chairs will head to the White House to meet with senior administration officials about their priorities for the rest of the Congress and their strategy for the midterms. President Joe Biden has been dropping by congressional caucus meetings at the White House.
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WASHINGTON AND THE WORLD
Back to the future on Iran nuclear deal
The White House is winning over some Democrats as it looks to sell a potential Iran nuclear deal to Congress, but it’s made zero headway with Republicans.
This shouldn’t be surprising at all. Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the 2015 nuclear deal crafted by former President Barack Obama, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
GOP lawmakers also backed former President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to pull out of that accord and instead apply “maximum pressure” via economic sanctions to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Yet Republicans’ negative reaction to a recent series of briefings by Biden administration officials demonstrates how little difference the change in Democratic presidents has made.
It also shows that the congressional strategy that worked for Obama in 2015 – winning over enough Democratic support to uphold a presidential veto of a resolution of disapproval on an Iran deal – could potentially work for President Joe Biden too. Opponents would need backing from two-third of lawmakers in both chambers for any veto override, and it’s not clear they can do that.
We’ll note that there’s no agreement yet with Iran, and it’s not certain there ever will be one, which members on both sides repeatedly pointed out. Russia’s status as part of the Iran talks even as it conducts a bloody invasion of Ukraine – and is heavily sanctioned by the United States and other European countries – adds huge new complications to an already difficult situation.
“I’m satisfied with the information they gave us,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Tuesday following a briefing by U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and Brett McGurk, the White House’s Middle East coordinator. “I still think it’s a bad idea, but they’re being pretty forthcoming.”
Rogers added: “I’d have to see the deal. But I can’t imagine Iran agreeing to anything that I would support.”
House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik declined to discuss the briefing other than to say she was “concerned about the direction the administration is moving.
“I thought this briefing was excellent. Very comprehensive. And I stayed until the end,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.). “The vast majority of people, including all the Republicans except one, left before the end, so I guess they felt satisfied.”
Moulton said he is undecided on whether to back any reworking agreement with Iran. He did so in 2015. “I was very skeptical initially but became convinced in the end,” Moulton noted. “I take this very seriously. It’s not black and white to me at all.”
Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who requested the briefing following reports that the Foreign Affairs Committee had gotten one, left Tuesday’s session convinced that a new nuclear deal was necessary. She was also very critical of Trump’s decision to withdraw.
“So the question for me was I wanted to know what is on the table in terms of a deal, how viable a deal is, what the alternatives to a deal could look like, and what are the consequences of not having a deal. I have emerged from that briefing feeling very confident about the administration’s approach. I feel they are doing the absolute right thing in terms of trying to pursue diplomatic avenues. I really hope they are successful… I want a deal.”
“My general sense is it’s 50-50 whether or not they get a deal. Is it wrapping up soon? I don’t know. It’s not like tomorrow,” House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told us Tuesday night.
Smith said he’s “worried” about how entrenched members on both sides of the issue are and the ability of the Biden administration to actually change any minds.
“I think the [briefing] really made a pretty compelling case for why we need to get back into the JCPOA. …I think they made that case more broadly so people understand it,” Smith said. “We’ll have the debate. We’ll have the discussion and we’ll see what the agreement ultimately contains.”
Smith – who backed the 2015 agreement — urged the White House to step up its public communications efforts. “Don’t roll this out at the last minute and explain why then,” Smith said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) also told us he thinks the White House “started late” in making the case to Capitol Hill. And while administration officials have stepped up their outreach in recent weeks – Foreign Affairs got a briefing last week – lawmakers are frustrated because the administration still holds too much close to the vest.
“We don’t know whether there’s going to be a deal, so that’s the first thing,” Meeks said. “It’s hard to change minds when you don’t know whether you have a deal or not.”
Meeks said he plans to lead a bipartisan trip to Vienna to visit the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog, in May. “I want to do this in a bipartisan way to get to see and listen to the IAEA on what either the deal is or the deal could be, depending,” Meeks said.
Also worth noting: The House and Senate are getting classified briefings on Ukraine today. The Senate’s is at 3 p.m., the House’s is 4:45 p.m.
BEHIND THE SCENES
House Dem leaders pressure their members to cough up dough
During a closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney and endangered Rep. Angie Craig (Minn.) all made a similar plea – it’s time for Democratic lawmakers to pay their dues to the party committee.
The failure by rank-and-file Democrats to pay their annual assessments from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is more critical now for several reasons: the House Democratic majority is in deep trouble, with both history and the polls against them; and Republicans have overtaken what’s been traditionally a large lead by the DCCC in fundraising, thanks in part to a huge spurt in online fundraising.
The plea from the leadership was followed up with a not-so-subtle reminder. Lisa Walker, the DCCC’s director of member dues, sent a note to Democrats reminding them that Pelosi will “generously match, dollar-for-dollar, every DCCC dues contribution made by March 31st.” Walker also forwarded an email from Maloney with this note:
Earlier this month, Punchbowl [News] reported that House Republicans, including Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and Elise Stefanik, are making large contributions to the NRCC this cycle.
We cannot afford to let those who push the Big Lie retake the House. The time for us to rally together to protect our Majority and defend our democracy is now. To help ensure we have the resources needed to do just that, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is hosting a Members-only Dinner on April 4th at 7pm (or after votes) at our new DCCC office … “
If Republicans win just five seats in November, they will boot Democrats out of the majority after only four years in power.
A member of leadership, speaking anonymously, put it this way to us last night: “The speaker is very focused on exactly who’s paid dues and who hasn’t. You really don’t want to be on the wrong list right now.”
To be clear, there are dues “deadbeats” across the Democratic Caucus – more than 50, by our count.
Rep. Cheri Bustos (Ill.), the former DCCC chair, still hasn’t paid a dime in dues this cycle. Bustos has more than $1 million on hand and isn’t running for re-election.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.), a chief deputy whip and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who is also retiring, has nearly $685,000 in his campaign account. But hasn’t paid any of his cyclical assessment.
Rep. Peter Welch (Vt.), also a chief deputy whip, hasn’t paid dues. Welch is running for the Senate, so he is probably off the hook. Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio), Conor Lamb (Pa.) and Val Demings (Fla.) – all running for the Senate – are stiffing the DCCC as well.
Here are the committee chairs who haven’t ponied up: Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.).
Also delinquent, according to a recent dues sheet: Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.), Danny Davis (Ill.), Michael Doyle (Pa.), Bobby Rush (Ill.), Brendan Boyle (Pa.), Jimmy Gomez (Calif.), Grace Meng (N.Y.), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Charlie Crist (Fla.), Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.), Yvette Clark (N.Y.), Lizzie Fletcher (Texas), Vicente Gonzalez (Texas), Chuy Garcia (Ill.), Sylvia Garcia (Texas), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Dean Phillips (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Richie Torres (N.Y.), Jake Auchincloss (Mass.), Andy Levin (Mich.), Gerry Connolly (Va.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Joaquin Castro (Texas), John Garamendi (Calif.), Frank Mrvan (Ind.), Grace Napolitano (Calif.), Albio Sires (N.J.), Filemon Vela (Texas), Lou Correa (Calif.), Haley Stevens (Mich.), Kweisi Mfume (Md.), Carolyn Bourdeaux (Ga.), Cori Bush (Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Troy Carter (La.), Shontel Brown (Ohio), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (Fla.), Mark DeSaulnier (Calif.), Anthony Brown (Md.), Lucy McBath (Ga.), Val Demings (Fla.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Joe Morelle (N.Y.).
Two notes: We did not include Frontliners in this list, because the DCCC doesn’t expect them to pay dues. And members of the CBC oftentimes skip out on dues.
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→ Senate Minority Whip John Thune is guaranteed to win reelection this year after the South Dakota filing deadline came and went Tuesday without anyone else entering the race. Former President Donald Trump attacked Thune mercilessly in late 2020 and into 2021, claiming Thune’s political career was over after the No. 2 Senate Republican criticized efforts to overturn the last presidential election.
Not only was Trump unsuccessful in getting a Republican to primary Thune, but not a single Democrat will challenge him either. Thune had $15 million in his campaign account at the end of 2021, which may have been a deterrent. There’s very little polling in this race, but Morning Consult had Thune at 80% approval rate in January. So yeah.
Thune is among a trio of Senate Republicans considered as possible replacements for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell whenever the Kentucky Republican gives up the post he’s held the last 16 years. Though that doesn’t appear to be anytime soon.
→ The NRCC has expanded the list of districts it is targeting in 2022 to 72. Just 12 are districts former President Donald Trump won, and 33% are seats President Joe Biden won by more than 10 percentage points. This doesn’t mean the NRCC is going to spend money in all of these districts. Part of this is psychological; Republicans are trying to expand the battlefield as much as possible to win as many seats as they can in 2022. Here’s the list.
House Majority PAC, the House Democratic-aligned super PAC, is reserving $102 million in ads, the group told the New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman. Weisman writes that the “battlefield … is considerably larger and more expensive than it was in the past two congressional elections.”
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10 a.m.: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and members of the Ukraine Caucus will meet with members of the Ukrainian parliament in the Capitol.
10:15 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
Noon: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and other GOP senators will speak about the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
12:30 p.m.: Biden will have lunch with Vice President Kamala Harris.
1 p.m.: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will hold a virtual pen-and-pad briefing.
1:30 p.m.: Biden will speak about Covid-19.
2:15 p.m.: Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold a photo op and give brief remarks with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
2:30 p.m.: Kate Bedingfield will brief.
3 p.m.: Senators will receive a classified briefing on Ukraine. Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and other members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will talk about Iran.
4:45 p.m.: House members will receive a classified briefing on Ukraine.
→ “Sanctioned Oligarch’s Presence Adds Intrigue to Ukraine-Russia Talks,” by Valerie Hopkins
→ “In Kyiv Suburb, Ukrainian Military Claims a Big Prize,” by Andrew E. Kramer in Irpin, Ukraine
→ “Homeland Security Is Making Plans to Handle a Record Surge of Migrants,” by Eileen Sullivan
→ “European Countries Expel Dozens of Russian Officials,” by Laurence Norman and Yuliya Chernova
→ “Poland to end all Russian oil imports; Germany warns on gas,” by Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Frank Jordans in Berlin
→ “Half of Russia’s 20 Richest Billionaires Are Not Sanctioned,” by Stephanie Baker and Tom Maloney
→ “After crossing Trump, Cassidy weighs governor bid,” by Burgess Everett
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