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Happy Thursday morning.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s health is a major concern on Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, McConnell froze for more than 15 seconds while speaking at a news conference. He was clearly rattled and had to be ushered away by an aide and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), an orthopedic surgeon. A McConnell aide said the Kentucky Republican was feeling “lightheaded” and noted that the longtime Senate GOP leader returned minutes later to answer reporters’ questions.
McConnell tried to make a joke out of the incident on Wednesday night. He mentioned to reporters that President Joe Biden had called to check up on him. “I told him I got sandbagged. Gotta watch those sandbags,” McConnell quipped. This was a reference to a recent incident in which Biden tripped over some sandbags and fell.
But this wasn’t the only recent health scare for McConnell. Two weeks ago, on July 14, McConnell had a fall at Washington Reagan National Airport, according to a person who witnessed the incident. McConnell was fine afterward and returned to the Capitol because his flight was canceled. NBC first reported this Wednesday night.
CNN’s Manu Raju also reported that McConnell fell in February when he and a U.S. delegation were in Helsinki to meet with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. McConnell “dusted himself off and continued on with the meeting,” CNN reported.
In addition, McConnell has periodically been using a wheelchair. To be clear, McConnell is a polio survivor and has long had some difficulty walking and using stairs. But these details add additional context to what happened on Wednesday.
A McConnell spokesperson told us that the wheelchair is “simply a prudent and precautionary measure in a crowded area.” McConnell continues to walk on his own inside the Capitol.
McConnell carried on with his schedule following the on-camera incident Wednesday, according to aides. He met with Speaker Kevin McCarthy as originally scheduled, for example. The two senior Republicans talked about the defense authorization bill and other issues, we’re told.
McConnell attended Senate votes later in the evening, as well.
And, in public at least, Senate Republicans continue to unconditionally support the Kentucky Republican, the longest-serving leader in Senate history.
“I support Sen. McConnell as long as he wants to serve as leader,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) declared.
Even Republicans who opposed McConnell in the leadership race last year aren’t calling for him to be replaced. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who voted against McConnell because he wanted someone who would address the national debt more directly, said he still has confidence in McConnell as leader.
“He’s shown over years of doing this that he’s tough. If you take a fall though, everybody’s going to have to get back from that, and the older you are, the harder it is,” Braun said of McConell. “I’ve always respected his point of view and his tenacity.”
In private, however, there’s been widespread speculation about the 81-year-old McConnell ever since his return in April following a concussion and broken rib suffered in a March fall at a Washington hotel.
Some senators suggest McConnell isn’t as dominant inside closed-door meetings as he’s been in the past and relies on other members of the GOP leadership to handle more of the workload. He also appears physically frail compared to just a short while ago.
And McConnell — who easily withstood his first real leadership challenge following the GOP’s disappointing 2022 election cycle — has seen McCarthy emerge as the leading Republican on Capitol Hill since the House GOP takeover.
Yet there’s no sign that McConnell’s strategic vision, pragmatism and strong political insights — the traits that have made him so successful — have diminished.
McConnell’s forceful defense of U.S. aid for Ukraine, for instance, has been critical in the Senate. His willingness to let McCarthy take the lead on a debt-limit deal with Biden was important, too. And he’s successfully avoided getting pulled into the incessant drama surrounding former President Donald Trump by simply refusing to answer questions about the issue. Other Republicans wish they could do the same.
Government funding: The Senate Appropriations Committee is on track to clear the remaining four FY2024 spending bills later this morning — but they’ve saved the hardest ones for last.
The most contentious will likely be the Homeland Security funding bill, largely stemming from Republicans’ concerns about the condition of the U.S.-Mexico border. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who chairs the Homeland Security subcommittee, said late Wednesday that he was still working out some “last-minute issues” on the bill.
“There will be lots of things that both Democrats and Republicans will be happy with. Lots of things both Democrats and Republicans will be unhappy with,” Murphy told us.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for one, told us that he’ll be supporting all four — DHS, Defense, Labor-HHS and Interior.
“We need a wall, but we need the money,” Graham said of the DHS bill. “There’s other things. Right now we need a sound policy. But I’m going to advance the bills forward.”
In the House, Republican leaders are considering kicking consideration of the Ag funding bill to September due to a lack of support. GOP leaders are juggling both demands from conservative hardliners for roughly $7 billion in additional cuts and moderate Republicans rebelling over language prohibiting FDA approval of mail delivery for an abortion drug.
— Andrew Desiderio, John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman
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News: Jeffries hosting big-time donor retreat in Torrey Pines
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries will host a major donor event in Torrey Pines, Calif., in August, gathering top Democratic donors and administration officials for what’s expected to be an annual confab.
The event will run from Aug. 18 to Aug. 20 in Torrey Pines.
On Aug. 18, the DCCC will host a welcome reception and dinner featuring Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. On Aug. 19, White House Domestic Policy Director Neera Tanden, economist Mark Zandi and former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will speak at an “issues conference.” Team Jeffries is still working on additional speakers.
Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), an up-and-comer in the House Democratic Conference who represents the San Diego area, will host a “victory fund lunch reception” on Aug. 19. Jacobs’ grandfather, Irwin Jacobs, who co-founded Qualcomm, will host a closing cocktail reception that evening.
The DCCC will host a Frontline breakfast Aug. 20 in La Jolla, Calif.
Jeffries is hosting a separate fundraiser for his leadership PAC and an event for Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) during his trip to San Diego.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi held an August donor retreat in Napa, Calif., when she led the Democratic Caucus. Jeffries has moved the event to Southern California, much to the delight of many House Democrats.
News: The Democratic Governors Association raised roughly $34 million during the first six months of 2023, according to a source familiar with fundraising efforts. The haul included $3.5 million raised online.
— Jake Sherman
Zuckerberg contempt vote still on — for now
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is still planning a panel vote today on a contempt resolution against Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, despite the fact that the giant social media company turned over additional documents to Republicans on Wednesday.
Meta spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed that the company made what one source called “a sizable production” of documents to Jordan’s committee.
However, GOP sources said the Judiciary Committee — as of Wednesday night — was still planning to move forward with a vote on a contempt resolution for Zuckerberg.
Democrats privately speculated that the contempt markup could be canceled due to Meta’s cooperation with Jordan’s subpoena.
Stone told us earlier in the week that Meta has “delivered over 53,000 pages of documents” and has “made nearly a dozen current and former employees available to discuss external and internal matters.”
Jordan subpoenaed Meta in mid-February along with several other tech giants — Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Alphabet — about the companies’ content moderation policies.
The Ohio Republican also sent a letter to Zuckerberg last week raising questions about Threads, the company’s new competitor to Twitter.
Raskin vs. Comer on MTG: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is calling on Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) to “publicly reprimand” and formally condemn Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for displaying nude pictures of Hunter Biden at a hearing.
“If Rep. Greene’s completely gratuitous and irrelevant display of pornographic images at our televised hearing does not violate the Congressional rules of decorum, then we have no rules of Congressional decorum,” Raskin asserted in a letter to Comer.
At the Oversight hearing with two IRS whistleblowers last week, Greene held up a poster board with images of Hunter Biden engaging in sex acts. During her question time, Greene asked the whistleblowers if they believed Biden violated the Mann Act by allegedly covering the travel costs of women he engaged in sexual relations with.
Greene asserted the images she showed at the hearing were evidence of potential human trafficking.
Comer insists Greene’s line of questioning is perfectly legitimate.
“It speaks to Ranking Member Raskin’s priorities that he is more concerned about Hunter Biden’s embarrassment than the young women he involved in his illegal activities,” Comer said in a statement. “I hope Ranking Member Raskin will join me in asking the Justice Department about Hunter Biden’s Mann Act violations and why the victims’ rights have been ignored.”
Comer is referencing a letter he and MTG sent to the DOJ earlier this week. The two Oversight Republicans say they are “concerned DOJ disregarded the victims who were sexually exploited by Hunter Biden.”
On Friday, Hunter Biden’s lawyer filed an ethics complaint against Greene, asking the Office of Congressional Ethics to “condemn and discipline” her over the photos.
— John Bresnahan, Max Cohen and Mica Soellner
House panel advances crypto market structure bill
The House Financial Services Committee cleared a landmark bill Wednesday night that would introduce significant changes to federal securities laws and the regulation of crypto.
The FIT for the 21st Century Act cleared the committee by a vote of 35-15. Every Republican on the committee, led by Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), backed the measure along with six Democrats — a higher number than we expected going into the markup.
Those Democrats — Reps. Jim Himes (Conn.), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), Steven Horsford (Nev.), Wiley Nickel (N.C.) and Brittany Pettersen (Colo.) — bucked serious concerns from senior party members such as Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Stephen Lynch (Mass.). Lynch called the bill the “worst piece of legislation” the committee had marked up in 20 years.
The bill’s bipartisan support is arguably a loss for Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler, whose agency has been leading a crackdown of crypto over the past year. The 200-page package would empower the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to regulate more of the crypto sector while limiting some — but not all — aspects of the SEC’s authority.
The question now is how much bipartisan support this legislation finds in the House. We’ve noted for months that the Senate Banking Committee simply hasn’t shown much interest in wholesale crypto reform. But a robust show of support from the House could increase pressure on the Senate.
— Brendan Pedersen
8:30 a.m.: The advance GDP estimate for the second quarter of 2023 will be released.
9 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily briefing.
9:30 a.m.: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats will talk about the IRA and health care costs.
10:15 a.m.: Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will meet with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
11:45 a.m.: Biden will announce “additional actions to protect communities from extreme heat.”
Noon: Speaker Kevin McCarthy will meet with Meloni.
1:30 p.m.: Karine Jean-Pierre will brief.
3 p.m.: Biden will meet in the Oval Office with Meloni.
7:05 p.m.: Biden will leave the White House for the National Archives, where he will speak at the Truman Civil Rights Symposium. He’s slated to be back at the White House at 8:20 p.m.
Political Memo: “Biden’s Fight With Harvard Is a Political Winner and Policy ‘Band-Aid,’” by Reid Epstein
“Ukraine launches new push, claims gains against Russians in south,” by John Hudson in Odessa, Ukraine, Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia and David L. Stern
“A Post-Fed Wall Street Buckles Up for High-Stakes Economic Data,” by Michael Mackenzie
“Justice Department and EPA Probe Telecom Companies Over Lead Cables,” by Corinne Ramey, Shalini Ramachandran and Susan Pulliam
“Dems weigh censure war over Santos and Greene,” by Nick Wu and Olivia Beavers
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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