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Happy Monday morning.
It’s May 2, which means there are 190 days until the midterm election. Primary season is in full swing, with voters in thirteen states headed to the polls this month, including two tomorrow – Ohio and Indiana.
Welcome to a special Tally edition of Punchbowl News AM.
We’re closely monitoring three storylines that will tell us a lot about the outlook for both parties heading into November. We’ve been tracking progressive angst on Capitol Hill over an Ohio primary endorsement, as well as gauging former President Donald Trump’s continuing sway over the Republican Party. And tomorrow we’ll have much more, including a deep dive into a new fundraising force in the Democratic Party.
But first, some news of the day. The Senate is in session, the House is out until May 10.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and some top House Democrats made a surprise visit to Kyiv over the weekend. This comes as Congress begins to consider President Joe Biden’s request for $33 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. The Senate will start work on the Ukraine package this week, but first Democrats have to decide whether to attach Covid preparedness funding to the legislation. That would open Democrats up to vote on reversing the Biden administration’s decision to end use of Title 42 public health authority to expel migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s a tough vote for moderate and vulnerable Democrats, so we don’t expect a decision on this until after Senate Democrats huddle for their weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday.
The Senate will spend the bulk of its week voting on 28 “Motions to Instruct” conferees to the bicameral negotiations over the Bipartisan Innovation Act. The high-profile package to boost U.S. competitiveness with China on high-tech research and manufacturing has been moving through Congress for the last year. But the beginning of conference negotiations would be a key step. The Senate will use Tuesday and Wednesday to vote on the motions, and an announcement of the first public hearing for the conference committee is expected later this week. Party leaders and the White House hope to have the talks wrapped up by Memorial Day.
The other big news is on the economic front. The war in Ukraine, coupled with soaring inflation in the United States and other Western economies and a major Covid-19 outbreak in China, are weighing heavily on the financial markets. An ugly April saw trillions of dollars of market value wiped away on Wall Street, and investors are wondering what May will bring. The Federal Reserve is expected to announce an interest rate hike on Wednesday to the tune of 50 basis points – a half percentage point – for the first time in more than two decades. The Fed is also likely to announce how it will shrink its $9 trillion (yep, that’s correct) asset portfolio, which will impact U.S. economic growth as well.
However, the Fed is scheduled to meet without its full roster of officials in place because the Senate is still squabbling over several of Biden’s nominees. Fed Chair Jerome Powell hasn’t been confirmed to another term yet, despite overwhelming bipartisan support. The same is true for another nominee, Philip Jefferson. Senate Republicans have filibustered Michigan State University professor Lisa Cook’s nomination, asserting that she’s “too radical.” Cook would be the first Black woman on the Fed’s Board of Governors. Democrats haven’t wanted to move the Powell or Jefferson nominations without her.
Two Democratic senators – Ron Wyden of Oregon and Chris Murphy of Connecticut – were absent during a cloture vote last week on Cook’s nomination due to Covid, which meant Democrats lacked the 50 votes needed to overcome the GOP filibuster. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) disclosed on Sunday night that he tested positive for Covid, so he’ll be out this week, throwing into doubt whether Cook or any of the Fed nominees will get votes this week. Alvaro Bedoya’s nomination for the FTC faces the same delay.
Front pages this morning: NYT and WSJ.
Ohio rematch divides progressives, sparks backlash
The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ endorsement of Ohio Rep. Shontel Brown, who’s again facing off against liberal Nina Turner Tuesday, has prompted fierce backlash from liberal groups. And in the Capitol, it has also sparked new conversations within CPC leadership over whether they should change their endorsement policies to better reflect the constituencies in the left-leaning caucus.
Brown’s endorsement represents another chapter in the proxy war between establishment Democrats and progressives as they struggle over the party’s direction during the Biden era. CPC members – like the broader Democratic Party – are wrestling with key questions: How big should their tent be? And who gets to be in it?
Turner, who co-chaired Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign, was the favorite heading into the special election last year to replace Rep. Marcia Fudge, now HUD secretary. But the campaign grew heated over Turner’s controversial comments about several high-profile Democrats including now President Joe Biden and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.
Key progressives ranging from Sanders to CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) to members of the Squad – including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) – went all in for Turner. Establishment Democrats campaigned hard for Brown, who ended up winning comfortably.
In the high-profile rematch this cycle, the CPC endorsed Brown – now the incumbent – on April 13. That announcement triggered an immediate uproar from progressive groups and left-leaning media outlets, several of whom accused Jayapal of doing it to further her own leadership ambitions.
In an interview, Jayapal defended the Brown endorsement, describing her as a progressive member “in good standing for four months” who met all the qualifications laid out by the CPC. Jayapal also noted that even with the endorsement, the CPC’s campaign arm hasn’t put any money into the race.
Jayapal denied this had anything to do with her future leadership goals. But she did confirm discussions within the CPC – particularly at a members-only executive board meeting last week – about changing its endorsement rules going forward.
“I understand the frustration. And we’re looking to see if we need to do anything to change the way we look at these things now. …
“We don’t want people to sign up for the CPC like right before an election. …So we’re definitely looking at that. Should we have a certain period of time, whether it’s six months or a year or something, that you have to be a member of the CPC and good standing? …
“The other thing we’re really looking at is do we need to have some kind of a change in endorsement based on whether somebody accepts this kind of giant PAC money, whether it’s from the crypto billionaires or whether it’s from DMFI [Democratic Majority for Israel].”
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who co-chairs the CPC PAC, defended the process for considering endorsements, saying that CPC members are expected to cosponsor priority bills, vote with the caucus and regularly participate in its meetings – all things Brown has done. “If an incumbent is in good standing, which she is, then we have criteria that we’ve never had as stringent as this session,” Pocan said.
The stricter CPC membership requirements came in fall 2020, when Jayapal led a full overhaul of the caucus rules, tightening membership requirements to weed out non-progressives. Any future rules changes – such as endorsement policies – would require approval from the full caucus and likely take time to implement.
But that hasn’t stopped progressives, including members of the Squad, from being upset about the CPC’s decision to wade into this race. Brown joined both the CPC and New Democrats once she entered Congress. This move had progressives questioning whether Brown was committed to their policy goals or seeking an association with the group simply to ward off progressive challengers, including Turner.
Sanders made clear he remains firmly committed to Turner, despite the CPC’s endorsement of Brown.
“Nina is one of the leading progressives in this country. We need her in the Congress to stand up for working people. And I hope very much she gets elected,” Sanders told us when asked about the CPC’s decision to weigh in for Brown. “They have their rules and that’s what they do. But there’s no doubt I’m strongly supporting Nina.”
Turner insisted that the CPC’s endorsement of Brown doesn’t change anything.
“I’ve been busy campaigning. I am laser focused on the people who work, play and live in the 11th congressional district. As you know, the primary election is a few days away, and that has been my sole focus right here in my district.”
Brown also defended CPC membership in a statement shared with us.
“While I’m not aware of any discussions around changes to Progressive Caucus membership, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to fight alongside my colleagues in the caucus for universal health coverage, climate action, and much more.”
But the Brown-Turner rematch isn’t the only race where this could be an issue. Some liberal lawmakers privately said they’re worried this scenario is playing out in Illinois, where incumbent Rep. Danny Davis is seeking to re-join the CPC as he tries to head off a far-left challenger this summer.
Davis pushed back on those accusations in an interview. “People have a right to think whatever they want to think,” he told us. Davis said he was once a member of the CPC but left due to budgetary reasons.
“I would probably say that my voting record is about the same as any member in good standing of the Progressive Caucus. I didn’t need any other reason to join other than that I wanted to, and that it’s relevant to the work that I did.”
The CPC has nearly 100 members, making it one of the largest caucuses in the House. But there have long been questions about whether the group is cohesive enough to wield power like some of the other caucuses in the House. We’ll be following the rules change discussion – and any other power moves the CPC pursues – closely in the runup to the midterms and beyond.
– Christian Hall
THE TRUMP EFFECT
Senate GOP primaries will put Trump’s sway to the test
Former President Donald Trump isn’t on the ballot this cycle. But you wouldn’t know that if you turned on a TV in many parts of the country. Viewers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Alabama — which are hosting the top Republican Senate primaries in May — are seeing Trump mentioned in thousands of commercials worth tens of millions of dollars.
Across these key states, nearly four in ten Republican Senate primary ads broadcast this year mentioned Trump, according to an AdImpact analysis provided to Punchbowl News.
The GOP candidates have viciously battled over Trump’s endorsement — even if he can’t always remember their name afterward. Ohio and Pennsylvania in particular featured brutal contests to win his support.
Yet after Trump endorsed candidates in those races, it hasn’t stopped the passed-over hopefuls from trying to align themselves with the former president in hopes of swinging the race their way.
“Everybody wants it,” NRSC Chair Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in an interview, speaking about Trump’s endorsement. The NRSC stays out of primaries, but Scott said it’s clear any candidate vying to make it to the general election is courting the former president.
The statistics back up the claim. Across the GOP Senate primaries in Ohio, Alabama, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, AdImpact data shows that $19.2 million has been spent on ads mentioning Trump — a total of 54,180 ad spots.
Up until now, much has been made of Trump’s continuing influence on the Republican Party. But in May, we’ll get a real sense of how much weight the de facto party leader’s endorsement still carries.
→ Ohio (May 3): In a state with the messiest Senate Republican primary of the cycle, all candidates except state Sen. Mike Dolan tried their best to win Trump’s endorsement. This primary has often felt like a contest to see which candidate could be the most MAGA.
In the end, “Hillbilly Elegy” author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance won Trump’s backing two weeks ago. Vance, who had been lagging in the polls, promptly shot up to the top spot. In Fox News polling – generally respected by pollsters and political data professionals – Vance’s support rocketed up 12 percentage points, the clearest example of Trump’s endorsement resulting in a popularity boom this cycle. Vance is also enjoying an influx of money following Trump’s endorsement.
But Trump couldn’t get Vance’s name right at a rally in Nebraska on Sunday.
“We’ve endorsed J.P., right? J.D. Mandel,” Trump said during the rally.
Nonetheless, the unwieldy array of GOP primary hopefuls has resulted in a fluid, often unpredictable campaign, with the winner likely to receive well under 50 percent of the vote.
Ad watch: This spot, paid for by pro-Vance PAC Protect Ohio Values, touts Trump’s endorsement of Vance and mentions “Trump” a whopping six times in 30 seconds. Impressive.
The Trump factor by the numbers: 40% of TV ads run in the Ohio race mentioned Trump, totalling 24,200 airings and $8.9 million spent.
→ Pennsylvania (May 17): The self-funding TV ad battle between former television host Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund executive David McCormick has dominated the headlines in the Keystone State. The attacks between the two are unusually nasty as both battle to prove they’re the real MAGA deal.
Trump endorsed Oz last month. Yet while Oz remains highly competitive in the race, available polling doesn’t show the celebrity doctor pulling away from the field or receiving a Vance-sized bump. Like Ohio, the Pennsylvania GOP field is large and messy. Jeff Bartos, Carla Sands and Kathy Barnette are also contenders.
The Trump factor by the numbers: 35% of TV ads run in the Pennsylvania primary mentioned Trump, for a total of 16,185 airings and $6.4 million spent.
Ad watch: Following the endorsement, Oz’s campaign released an entire ad gloating over how Trump passed over McCormick, Bartos and Sands for Oz.
→ North Carolina (May 17): Trump-endorsed House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) is leading the way over former Gov. Pat McCrory. Polling averages have Budd with a lead in the low double digits over McCrory, who’s attempting to run as a more traditional Republican.
The Trump factor by the numbers: 40% of the primary ads mention Trump. The 3,866 ads aired totaled $1.8 million in spending.
Ad: Even though McCrory got passed over for the Trump endorsement, the former governor’s allies are still trying to tie him to the ex-president. In one ad, a pro-McCrory super PAC tries to drive a wedge between Budd and Trump on immigration. The spot pledges McCrory will build Trump’s wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
→ Alabama (May 24): The clearest failure of Trump’s primary strategy to date is in the Yellowhammer State. In April 2021, Trump enthusiastically endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a House Freedom Caucus member and prominent speaker during the Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse.
But as the campaign progressed and Brooks lost ground to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-Ala.) former chief of staff Katie Britt and “Black Hawk Down” pilot Mike Durant, Trump pulled back his endorsement of Brooks. Brooks has now turned on Trump, claiming that the former president asked him to illegally “rescind” the results of the 2020 election and remove President Joe Biden from office.
The entire episode has shown that Trump’s endorsement alone is far from the Midas touch in today’s GOP.
The Trump factor by the numbers: 37% of ads included Trump, totalling 9,929 ad airings and $2.1 million in spending.
Ad: In an ad that first aired on March 18, Brooks tried to stave off a reported Trump un-endorsement by playing up his fiery speech before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Even that didn’t work. Five days later, Trump pulled his endorsement of the struggling candidate.
→ Georgia (May 24): Trump was an early endorser of Herschel Walker, the former football star who’s essentially cleared the GOP field in the Senate race. More so than any other Trump-endorsed candidate up in a competitive primary in May, Walker has run away as the overwhelming favorite.
– Max Cohen
THE TRUMP EFFECT
Does 45 have sway in gubernatorial races?
The Republican Senate primaries have attracted the lion’s share of the ad spending and political attention this cycle. But former President Donald Trump’s political capital is also at stake in key gubernatorial and House primaries this month.
In Idaho and Georgia, Trump is endorsing right-wing challengers to incumbent Republican governors. In Nebraska, Trump is backing a scandal-ridden candidate in an open field, who’s up against a more establishment candidate backed by the outgoing governor.
Trump and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are endorsing different candidates in a Republican-on-Republican House primary in deep-red West Virginia. Plus, North Carolina GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn will find out if a Trump endorsement is enough to save the scandal-ridden candidate from a flood of primary challengers.
→ Georgia: Trump’s grievance-fueled endorsement of former Sen. David Perdue over incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp doesn’t seem to be having the same effect as his endorsement of GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker. Kemp is leading by wide margins in all public polling, despite Trump’s vigorous support of Perdue. The former president soured on Kemp after the governor failed to back up Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in 2020. Republican strategists point to Georgia as an illustration that only a small sliver of primary voters see the 2020 election as the most pressing issue.
→ Nebraska: Nebraska’s race is getting less attention than Georgia, but could be the most applicable to key Senate races where Trump has backed a candidate in an open field. Incumbent GOP Gov. Peter Ricketts is term-limited. Ricketts has endorsed Jim Pillen, a livestock producer and veterinarian who is in his second term as University of Nebraska regent.
Trump has endorsed state Sen. Charles Herbster, who has been accused of sexual harrassment, including groping, by multiple women. Trump held a rally for Herbster on Sunday night in Greenwood, Neb.
→ Idaho: Trump endorsed Lt Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is challenging incumbent GOP Gov. Brad Little.
→ Alabama: Trump has not endorsed anyone. However, incumbent GOP Gov. Kay Ivey is facing two major challengers — Lindy Blanchard and Tim James, who are running Trump-inspired campaigns.
→ Ohio: Jim Renacci is challenging incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine in Ohio. Another Trump-inspired, but not Trump-endorsed, candidate.
→ Pennsylvania: Trump has endorsed against former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, but he has not endorsed anyone else.
→ West Virginia: Trump has endorsed Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), a Freedom Caucus member who is the former Maryland Republican Party chair. Mooney’s opponent, Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), has been attacked for voting in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Manchin released an ad backing McKinley this weekend.
→ North Carolina: Trump-endorsed Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) faces multiple primary challengers who are sharply criticizing the controversial freshman for being a distraction. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), along with several other high profile Republicans in the state, have endorsed Cawthorn’s primary challenger, state Sen. Chuck Edwards.
→Ohio: In the state’s 13th congressional district, Trump is backing Madison Gesiotto Gilbert amid a crowded field. He has also endorsed Max Miller, one of his former aides.
– Max Cohen
We kicked off WHCD weekend and opened our doors to our new headquarters with an inaugural Townhouse soirée celebrating women leaders in politics, media, tech and business.
A big thanks to our partners Blackstone and Female Quotient. And, to Barry’s Bootcamp and Shinola for contributing to our swag experience.
Raising a glass to our community:
Christine Anderson, Kathleen McCarthy, Wayne Berman, Maura Pally, Alex Katz, Kristan Nevins, Ann Chung and Joe Carapiet of Blackstone, Shelley Zalis and Talia Bender Small of The Female Quotient, Mark Isakowitz and Melonie Parker of Google, Brian Shroder of Binance, Marne Levine of Meta, Phil Deutch of NGP Energy Technology Partners, Ruthie Underwood and Tom Forrest of Shinola, Puru Trivedi of Meridian International, Elizabeth Wise of Sazerac, Isaac Reyes of Target, Lisa Roman and Payton Iheme of Bumble, Joe Wall of Goldman Sachs, Jamie Wall of SIFMA, Danielle Burr of McKinsey, Geoff Burr of BHFS, Dannia Hakki of Moki Media, Hugh Gamble of Salesforce, Joey Gonzalez of Barry’s Bootcamp, and Cristina Angelo of Ferox Strategies.
Check out photos from the event here.
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10:15 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
1:45 p.m.: Biden will present the Presidential Rank Awards.
2:30 p.m.: Jen Psaki will brief.
4 p.m.: Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host a reception to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will also attend.
Week ahead: Tuesday: Biden will travel to Alabama to visit a Lockheed Martin plant, which is producing weapons for Ukraine. Thursday: Biden will host a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
→ “Russian Tycoon Criticized Putin’s War. Retribution Was Swift,” by Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko
→ “Pelosi Visit to Ukraine Signals Growing U.S. Resolve Against Russia,” by Steven Erlanger in Brussels, Jane Arraf in Lviv, Ukraine, and Marc Santora in Krakow, Poland
→ “Biden Received Early Warnings That Immigration and Inflation Could Erode His Support,” by Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns
→ “Virus mutations aren’t slowing down. New omicron subvariant proves it,” by Joel Achenbach
→ “Disney’s Clash With Florida Has CEOs on Alert,” by Chip Cutter and Emily Glazer
→ “Evacuation of civilians from Ukrainian steel plant begins,” by Cara Anna and Inna Varenytsia
→ “Dems grimace at Manchin’s bipartisan energy detour,” by Burgess Everett, Anthony Andragna and Marianne LeVine
→ “Arizona GOP Senate frontrunner loses lead amid air assault,” by Natalie Allison
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