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Happy Tuesday morning.
We’re going to focus today on the dilemma that Democrats face as the summer begins. If you’re a House Democrat and you believe it’s good news to have your vulnerable lawmakers down eight points to Republicans, President Joe Biden flatlining in most public opinion polls and Americans struggling to pay for gas, find a used car or new home – not to mention being able to buy baby formula – we can’t help you.
In private, Democrats acknowledge that it would be difficult to envision a trickier – or more perilous – political environment 168 days before a midterm election than now. There’s a reason that 30-plus House Democrats are retiring or have already left office this cycle, compared to only half as many Republicans.
So we’re going to lay out where Democrats are and where they might be able to go before November.
Where they are
The baby formula shortage is impacting families across the United States. When asked how the FDA dropped the ball after an explosive whistleblower report got to Congress, the agency’s commissioner, Robert Califf, had few answers. Faced with a growing crisis, Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to boost supplies to U.S. formula producers. The FDA and Abbott Laboratories reached an agreement to reopen a critical factory shut down over bacteria problems, but it will still take weeks, possibly even months, to ease shortages.
Gas prices are at record highs – a full dollar more than one year ago – and one J.P. Morgan analyst predicted prices could reach $6.20 per gallon by August. There’s not much, if anything, Congress can or will do to address the crisis. Not anything that could lower prices at the pump by Election Day anyway. The House passed a messaging bill to address price gouging last week but there’s no path to get it through the 50-50 Senate.
The recent dip in the stock market has erased nearly all the gains made since Biden took office The market was up yesterday but is pointing lower this morning. The housing market remains strong – overpriced in the eyes of many analysts – but rising interest rates are likely to test that soon. Biden is downplaying the chances of a recession. The problem for Democrats is that the vast majority of Americans already believe we’re headed toward one.
Covid is still rippling through the country, although, to be fair, the cases are far less severe than the horrible days of early 2020. We have vaccines and therapeutics, which makes this a more manageable virus. Children five years and younger are still unvaccinated, but again, it seems like the FDA may have the opportunity to approve shots for kids soon. Now monkeypox is spreading through roughly a dozen countries with 90 cases reported so far. It’s not a second pandemic, yet it feeds into the sense that events are still out of control.
The migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. This is perhaps Biden’s biggest political liability since taking office. He’s failed to effectively lay out an immigration policy that satisfies either pro or anti-immigration advocates in either party. Friday’s court ruling barring the CDC from ending the use of Title 42 public health authority to expel migrants is just a temporary lull in an ongoing political and legal struggle.
Biden’s legislative agenda is stalled. Another round of Covid preparedness funding – which the White House says is urgently needed to purchase vaccines, therapeutics and tests – can’t pass. In the last month, Senate Republicans blocked a bill to codify Roe v. Wade, and they’ll likely derail another proposal this week to empower federal law enforcement to counter the threat of domestic terrorism by white supremacists.
The Senate Commerce Committee will markup legislation to prevent price gouging by oil companies this week but the bill won’t get through the closely divided Senate, as we noted above. Congress has basically given up on gun control. An overhaul of election laws and a massive package to bolster the social safety net are still under discussion, although they are moving at a snail’s pace.
Republicans are on the march. Republican political organizations say they’re competitive in seats that Biden won handily in 2020, recouping the ground lost under Trump – as surprising as that is. The GOP is closing the gender gap, even with the current threat to abortion rights factored in. Thanks to the New York redistricting debacle (see more below), House Democrats have lost an opportunity to pick up a few seats. It’s amazing how Republicans’ political fortunes have flipped even after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump forces.
The DCCC is in turmoil, as House Democrats from across the caucus are furious at Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair, for his political machinations during the redistricting process back home in New York. Now state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, whose grandfather Mario served for nearly 20 years in the House, is challenging Maloney with the backing of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). In other words, the person who needs to protect Democratic incumbents is facing a challenge of his own.
Some of this is natural. Democrats control the White House and Congress, although the latter by the slimmest of margins. The party of first-term presidents always pays a price in the midterms. And U.S. politics remains both intensely polarized and remarkably turbulent all at once. Look at what’s happening in the Senate GOP primary in Pennsylvania. The ongoing feuding by Republicans there could hurt the GOP in November.
Where they could go
Sure, there is some good news for Democrats. Is it enough to change the narrative for the election? We’ll let you decide.
The Biden administration seems to have gotten a handle on the baby formula shortage and what steps can be taken to remedy the situation, which quickly blew up into a crisis. The White House has used military flights to quickly ship tons of baby formula purchased overseas. And Congress passed a bill expanding formula access for WIC participants. The question is can senior officials get sufficient formula on shelves quickly enough to satisfy American parents? The House passed a bill last week to provide $28 million – yes, you read that right, million – to beef up the FDA’s food monitoring program. We can’t imagine that it will get through the Senate without some changes.
The stock market? Forget it. Presidents don’t control financial markets. The Federal Reserve is raising rates to head off inflation. This is widely agreed to be the right move. Yet the question remains whether Fed Chair Jay Powell can execute a “soft landing” for the U.S. economy without triggering a recession.
If you talk to Democrats, the best they can try to do is change the conversation in some fashion. Democrats know it’s all about how voters feel heading into November. And right now, despite a strong job market and unemployment hovering around 3.6 percent – it’s at the lowest level on record in 17 states – Americans don’t feel good about the economy.
Yes, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W-Va.) is still saying he wants to pass a party-line package that would raise taxes on the wealthy, reduce the deficit, lower prescription drug prices and address energy and climate policies. And yes, that would give many vulnerable Democrats a strong rebuttal to Republican attacks on the economy.
And there are ongoing House-Senate talks on a major high tech research and manufacturing bill that will boost U.S. competitiveness with China. And a Big Tech antitrust package is possible as well. Both would be wins, but they’re a long way from being done.
House Democrats will start hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection early next month. This will be a big deal. It will remind voters once again how unprecedented – and frightening – the actions by Trump and his allies were in the days leading up to the Capitol attack. These hearings may not cause a major shift in public opinion, but they’re not going to help Trump and Republicans either.
There will be other developments. What will happen with the Supreme Court on abortion? On guns? Immigration? What will happen in Ukraine? What will happen on Wall Street? What will happen on Covid, and the long, hot summer – with the ongoing drought and wildfires – that experts are predicting?
Yet let’s be real here. Democrats are on the verge of likely losing one, maybe both, chambers of Congress, and with it, the control of Washington they’ve had since January 2021. Even with that reality staring them in the face, the party is attacking each other over primaries and struggling to get basic messaging bills passed. So a big package of significant tax, drug and climate policies coming together in the next few months? We’re skeptical.
– Jake Sherman, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan
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QUOTE OF THE MORNING
How’s this for strategic ambiguity?
President Joe Biden made news Monday when he said he would send U.S. troops to defend Taiwan if it was attacked by China. The White House, of course, walked it back.
Biden was asked about the remarks this morning in Japan. Here’s the back and forth.
Q “Mr. President, is the policy of strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan dead?”
PRESIDENT BIDEN: “No.”
Q “Could you explain?”
PRESIDENT BIDEN: “No.”
Q “Mr. President, do — would you send troops to Taiwan if China invaded?”
PRESIDENT BIDEN: “The policy has not changed at all. I stated that when I made my statement yesterday.”
That’s ambiguous. Whether it’s strategic or not, we couldn’t tell you.
– Jake Sherman
What we’re watching today
Voters head to the polls today in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Texas and Minnesota. Here are the key races we are tracking:
Alabama’s Senate GOP primary: The battle to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has revealed the fickle nature of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement strategy. Trump backed Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) back in 2021 in a show of support for the hard-right conservative. Brooks spoke at Trump’s Ellipse rally shortly before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
But with Brooks slipping in the polls this spring, Trump rescinded his endorsement and never re-endorsed in the race. For weeks, it seemed as if Shelby’s former chief of staff, Katie Britt, was the frontrunner. However, the contest seems to have tightened in the closing stages, as polls show signs of Brooks surging. And “Black Hawk Down” pilot Mike Durant also remains competitive. It seems likely the race will head to a runoff. Brooks could win it – if he makes the runoff.
Georgia’s GOP gubernatorial primary: Former Sen. David Perdue’s (R-Ga.) effort to knock off incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp is one of the clearest instances of Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in 2020 affecting the midterms.
Trump is still furious that Kemp refused to back his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. As a result, Trump is supporting Perdue — who has made 2020 the focus of his campaign. But available polling shows that Kemp is running well clear of his opponent and appears likely to avoid a runoff.
Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence held dueling rallies in support of their respective candidates last night. Pence appeared with Kemp in Kennesaw, Ga., talking up how the “Republican Party is the party of the future” while Trump held a tele-town hall for Perdue.
Georgia’s 7th District Democratic primary: Georgia’s Republican-controlled redistricting process shifted Rep. Lucy McBath’s (D-Ga.) district into a GOP-stronghold. That led McBath to challenge Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in the now-heavily Democratic 7th District.
McBath and Bourdeaux have similar voting records, but Bourdeaux is more closely linked to the party’s centrist wing. In 2021, Bourdeaux joined with a small group of House moderates that demanded the bipartisan infrastructure deal pass before voting for the budget resolution that would advance the Build Back Better package.
Most Democratic leaders have steered clear of endorsing in the member-on-member primary. McBath has the backing of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, Democratic Majority for Israel PAC and the Sam Bankman-Fried-supported Protect Our Future PAC. Bourdeaux has support from former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).
Texas’ 28th District Democratic primary runoff: The primary runoff between incumbent Blue Dog Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros has captivated the Democratic Party.
Cuellar, a longtime representative of this south Texas district, was forced into a runoff in March after his home and campaign office were raided by the FBI. Cisneros came close to knocking off Cuellar in 2020, and with the backing of national progressive organizations, appears to have her best shot yet to defeat the only anti-abortion House Democrat.
Clyburn is the most high-profile House Democrat to stump for Cuellar. While Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reiterated her support for the incumbent, she hasn’t been to Texas to campaign for Cuellar, instead opting for a recorded robo-call. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is also backing Cuellar. Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are campaigning for Cisneros, who notably picked up the support of Congressional Progressive Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) last week.
Arkansas’ Senate GOP primary: Incumbent Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) is facing a primary challenge from former NFL player Jake Bequette. Allies of Bequette’s campaign have tried to style Boozman as a RINO and laughably claimed Boozman is “Biden’s favorite Republican.”
It’s unclear how effective the attacks will be on Boozman, a low-key senator who nonetheless has the backing of Trump and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Sanders will win her gubernatorial primary in a romp.
NYT: “What to Watch For in Today’s Elections in Georgia and Beyond,” by Maya King
Politico: “Kemp vs. Perdue and Trump highlights slate of key primaries,” by Steven Shepard
NPR: “9 primary races to watch Tuesday in Georgia, Texas, Alabama and Arkansas,” by Stephew Fowler and Deepa Shivaram
— Max Cohen
Everyone has an issue in the USICA negotiations. The United States Association of Reptile Keepers has hired Capitol Connections to lobby on their “[c]oncerns over Lacy [sp] Act amendments in USICA.” The Lacey Act “regulates the trade of wildlife and plants and creates penalties for a broad spectrum of violations,” according to a 2014 CRS report. The House version of USICA amends the Lacey Act to prohibit the sale and transport of mink and creates a list of approved species that can be transported.
– Jake Sherman
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Here’s a new ad from Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who is running against Republican J.D. Vance for the Senate seat in Ohio. Ryan’s campaign has compiled clips about Vance saying “a 55-year-old worker in Dayton, Ohio” may not be able to find a “good paying job for the rest of his working life.”
Ryan touts the two Intel factories opening in Ohio as evidence that manufacturing is returning to the Buckeye State. “When J.D. Vance moved to San Francisco, he gave up on Ohio. I never will,” Ryan declares.
Of course, Ohio is increasingly a red state and Vance is favored. But this is a good example of the kind of campaign Ryan will run.
– Jake Sherman
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All times eastern
President Joe Biden is traveling back to D.C. today.
12:15 p.m.: Biden will land at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
1:45 p.m.: Biden will leave Anchorage for D.C.
2:50 p.m.: Vice President Kamala Harris will swear in Alina Romanowski to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
3:15 p.m.: Harris will swear in Deborah Lipstadt to be special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.
7:20 p.m.: Harris will speak at the American Institute for Congressional Studies 20th Annual Awards Gala at the Renaissance Hotel.
8:20 p.m.: Biden will arrive at Andrews. He’ll get back to the White House at 8:40 p.m.
White House Memo: “Biden Veers Off Script on Taiwan. It’s Not the First Time,” by Peter Baker in Seoul
“Smallpox Vaccine Enters Wider Production Amid Monkeypox Outbreak,” by Denise Roland
“U.S. Births Increase for First Time Since 2014,” by Janet Adamy and Anthony DeBarros
“Social Media Stocks Set to Erase $100 Billion on Snap Warning,” by Subrat Patnaik and Thyagaraju Adinarayan
“’I go hungry’: What parents are sacrificing amid soaring inflation to feed their families,” by Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
“In Colorado, Bennet braces for another red wave,” by Burgess Everett
“McCormick takes Pa. Senate ballot fight to court,” by Holly Otterbein and Zach Montellaro
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