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Happy Wednesday morning.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was in Wyoming this week for his annual donor retreat, which was loaded with millionaires and billionaires (including Elon Musk, the world’s richest person) who want him to become the next speaker of the House.
Yet McCarthy still stole away from his own event to raise money for Harriet Hageman, the Republican challenger who last night trounced Rep. Liz Cheney in the GOP primary for Wyoming’s at-large House seat. The outcome was never in doubt. Hageman had been up more than 20 points in two public polls, and the race was called within moments of the polls closing.
In a sign of what’s to come for Cheney, sometime early this morning, the defeated Wyoming Republican filed a form with the Federal Election Commission to reorganize her campaign account – flush with $7 million as of the end of July – to be a leadership PAC called “The Great Task.”
Cheney’s defeat was seen as a win for former President Donald Trump, who gloated over the end of her congressional career by posting “You’re fired” on his social media network.
Yet McCarthy was probably just as happy. While the two were never that close, Cheney was a useful ally to McCarthy in the House GOP leadership at one point, an old school Republican who served as a counterweight to more hardline junior members. Cheney even turned down a Senate run in 2020 – a race she’d have easily won – to remain in the House. There was speculation that Cheney could be speaker herself one day.
That’s all over with now. Cheney may run for president in 2024 as an independent. Or mount some other effort to prevent Trump from getting back to the White House, the defiant three-term lawmaker vowed in her concession speech.
The grudge between McCarthy and Cheney has become deeply personal. McCarthy and his allies think Cheney is an opportunist with poor political instincts. And Cheney and her team think McCarthy is a political coward who put his own ambition before the good of the country.
Both members are convinced history will prove them right.
Cheney’s defeat represents the culmination of McCarthy’s calculation that the House GOP needed to remain steadfast Trump allies and will tolerate little or no dissent in the ranks.
Just hours after the Jan. 6 insurrection, even as the tear gas still wafted through a blood-stained Capitol, McCarthy and 146 other House Republicans refused to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Just weeks after Trump left Washington in disgrace, McCarthy visited him at Mar-a-Lago, kicking off the process of resurrecting Trump’s national standing. And McCarthy worked to derail a separate House investigation into the insurrection, even repudiating a deal that one of his own Republicans made with Democrats to create a bipartisan commission to look into the Capitol attack.
And now, should McCarthy become the speaker in January 2023, he’ll preside over a conference filled with those either disinterested, unwilling, unable or afraid to speak out against Trump. And the result of that dynamic is that the House GOP will be made up of loud voices who want to impeach Biden, investigate the Jan. 6 select committee’s investigation, defund the FBI and take Trump’s revenge tour to the House floor.
Cheney’s exit – combined with the retirement of Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and other middle-of-the-road Republicans – ensures that there will be practically no moderate check to the conference’s red-meat impulses.
Cheney’s 30-plus point loss to Hageman – who once called Trump a “racist and a xenophobe” and led an effort to block him from getting the 2016 GOP presidential nomination – is the coda to a long, tumultuous period for House Republicans.
Instead of running for the Senate seat being vacated by the late Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Cheney decided to stick in the House – much like her father. Cheney was once seen as a rival to McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a conservative who could push either man aside, as the Wyoming Republican did to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) when she successfully ran for the GOP conference chair post that CMR held.
But Trump’s behavior in office led the conservative Cheney to become the 45th president’s No. 1 antagonist inside the Republican Party. That, in turn, caused Cheney huge problems with her colleagues.
Cheney survived one attempt by House Republicans to push her out of the leadership. In February 2021, Cheney – with McCarthy’s backing – easily defeated an effort to oust her. That vote was 145-61, largely on the strength of McCarthy’s intervention. Cheney’s team loathes the idea that McCarthy helped her win, but he did.
Cheney, though, seemed to take that outcome as an approval of her independence in the post-Trump GOP, including her vote to impeach the former president. McCarthy was hoping to put the period of unrest behind him.
By May 2021, McCarthy had dropped his support for Cheney. The Wyoming Republican had spent the previous three months continuing to lambaste Trump, much to McCarthy’s chagrin. He preferred the leadership stay focused on winning the majority and ignore the former president. Plus, Cheney’s detractors said she was a paltry fundraiser for the party who was too focused on herself. McCarthy and Scalise paired up to back Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) as Cheney’s replacement in the leadership. This time, Cheney lost to Stefanik, 134-46.
Cheney, though wasn’t giving up her anti-Trump crusade. In July 2021, she and Kinzinger accepted Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s offer to join the select committee looking into Jan. 6. Cheney was tapped as the vice chair, giving her the national platform to continue to rail against Trump while giving Democrats some bipartisan cover for the probe.
In turn, McCarthy rallied GOP support behind Hageman, holding a fundraiser for Cheney’s rival despite the fact that she was a virtual no-name. Scalise, who doesn’t endorse against incumbent Republican lawmakers, held back and didn’t lend his name to the effort.
Cheney was able to raise more than $15 million for the race compared to $4.4 million for Hageman, according to FEC records. But in this case, money didn’t mean much in a state that’s both overwhelmingly Republican and overwhelmingly pro-Trump.
Cheney’s defeat is particularly gratifying to McCarthy, who has staked his political future on his alliance with Trump and sees her loss as a moment of vindication.
Look across the Capitol, and you’ll see no such Trump litmus test in the Senate GOP, where the likes of Cheney – a traditional, Bush-flavored Republican – still can be found. Some GOP senators openly criticize Trump without fear of reprisal. As a matter of fact, many of Trump’s top critics – Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – have seen their legislative stock rise this Congress.
Perhaps it’s better for Cheney’s goal to be out of the Congress next year. She and Kinzinger can dedicate their remaining time in office to finishing up the Jan. 6 probe and helping write its final report. The “Great Task” will still await them.
“As we leave here, let us resolve that we will stand together – Republicans, Democrats and independents – against those who would destroy our republic,” Cheney told supporters. That doesn’t sound like someone who is going to disappear soon.
Also: Following Cheney’s defeat, it’s instructive to look at how the other nine House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021 have fared.
→ Kinzinger is retiring.
→ Upton is retiring.
→ Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) lost in a GOP primary.
→ Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) advanced to the general election in a top-two, nonpartisan primary.
→ Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) lost in the primary.
→ Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) is retiring.
→ Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) lost in a GOP primary.
→ Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) advanced to the general election in a top-two, nonpartisan primary.
→ Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) is retiring.
Valadao is facing a tough Democratic challenge in November. It’s very possible that come January 2023, the House Republican conference will only have one member who voted to impeach Trump.
— Jake Sherman, Max Cohen and John Bresnahan
Top takeaways from a big Tuesday night
There were primaries in Alaska and Wyoming last night. Here are our takeaways.
→ Harriet Hageman, as expected, trounced GOP Rep. Liz Cheney in the Wyoming Republican primary. This one wasn’t close at all — Hageman won 66%—29%. A 37-point loss for Cheney shows just how poorly the incumbent’s strategy of turning the race into a referendum of former President Donald Trump went.
Cheney won just two counties in the state and did best in tourism-dependent Teton County, home to the liberal enclave of Jackson. Hageman dominated everywhere else.
Victory in the Republican primary all but assures Hageman a place in Congress.
→ Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) advanced to the general election along with her Donald Trump-endorsed challenger, Republican Kelly Tshibaka. As of Wednesday morning, Murkowski led the way with 43% of the vote in the open primary. Tshibaka wasn’t far behind, however, with 41%. Sixty percent of votes have been reported.
The top four finishers in Tuesday’s primary will face off in November’s general election, where ranked choice voting will be used. This is seen as an advantage for Murkowski, who has appeal to Democrats and independents.
→ The special election to fill the late Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) House seat was still too early to call.
Democrat Mary Peltola is currently leading the way with 38%, followed by former GOP Gov. Sarah Palin with 32% and Republican Nick Begich with 29%.
The use of ranked-choice voting in the three-way race means we won’t know the final results until the end of August, state election officials have cautioned.
→ The same three candidates — Peltola, Palin and Begic — also advanced to the general election for next Congress. Peltola again led the way with 35%, Palin trailed in second with 32% and Begich got 27%.
The fourth candidate who will advance to the November general election hasn’t been called yet. A total of 22 candidates were vying for the four spots in Tuesday’s jungle primary.
— Max Cohen and John Bresnahan
Democrats start blaming Democrats for inflation
Democrats running in tough races are increasingly adopting a bold tactic: Blaming Democrats in Washington for making inflation worse.
Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), a vulnerable Frontliner who represents a district Donald Trump won in 2020, has been leading the charge. But Golden isn’t the only Democrat to tell voters that the party that controls the White House, House and Senate is partially at fault for the country’s economic woes.
“I was the only Democrat to vote against trillions of dollars of President Biden’s agenda because I knew it would make inflation worse,” Golden proclaimed in an ad that began airing last week.
Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman joined Golden this week, blaming D.C. for rising costs.
“The truth is our economy is a mess because of Washington,” Fetterman says in an ad released Tuesday. “It’s Washington’s fault. They set the rules, weakened our supply chain and spiked inflation.”
Fetterman doesn’t directly call out Democrats here. But it’s clear who he’s talking about in an era of one-party rule.
And last month, North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley declared, “neither political party is getting it right” in an ad.
Democratic candidates have long sought to distinguish themselves from the national party brand this cycle. But the increasing willingness to directly blame fellow Democrats for inflation — by most measures the defining issue of the midterm elections — is striking.
— Max Cohen
Golden’s chief of staff testifies against Jan. 6 rioter from Maine
Rep. Jared Golden’s (D-Maine) chief of staff, Aisha Woodward, testified on Tuesday during a trial for a Maine resident accused of assaulting police officers during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Woodward confirmed Golden’s office received voicemails from Kyle Fitzsimons ahead of the insurrection where the accused Capitol rioter asked Golden to have “courage to object” to the election results.
Woodward passed along the voicemails to U.S. Capitol Police. Here’s more reporting from Emily Allen of the Portland Press Herald:
“Will you have the courage to object on the 6th?” Fitzsimons could be heard saying in one voicemail to Golden, which prosecutors played Tuesday. “I certainly have the courage to object to my entire life going forward. … My name is Kyle Fitzsimons, and I’ll be in D.C. on the sixth.”
“They were concerning with regard to the indication of being willing to ‘object to the rest of his entire life … ‘ and the comment at the end about coming to Washington on the sixth,” Woodward said. “The tone seemed kind of menacing. It sort of felt intense, in a way.”
Fitzsimons is facing 11 federal charges, including two counts of inflicting bodily injury on law enforcement protecting the Capitol, according to the Press Herald.
— Max Cohen
→New: Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) is continuing the attacks on his GOP opponent Paul Junge in the competitive race for Michigan’s 8th District.
Kildee’s latest ad dings Junge as a “trust-fund millionaire” who isn’t from Michigan.
“Junge sides with the drug companies against allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices,” the ad’s narrator says. This is a good look at how Frontliners are messaging on the Inflation Reduction Act.
→ Third Way is putting $1 million into ads thanking lawmakers for voting for the reconciliation package. Lawmakers benefitting include Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).
→ Carl Paladino, the controversial GOP candidate for an upstate New York seat, put $500,000 into his campaign account Aug. 15. Paladino previously loaned his campaign $1.5 million. Paladino has a history of racist and sexist remarks.
→ Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) is up with a rare minute-long ad in Portland and Auburn, Maine, about her work for the disabled. Hassan has a son with cerebral palsy, as she notes in the ad.
→ The University of North Florida has a poll with Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) beating Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), 48%-44%. This is an early poll, so take it with a grain of salt. Fifty percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the job Gov. Ron DeSantis is doing as the state’s chief executive.
— Max Cohen and Jake Sherman
President Joe Biden is in Delaware and he has no events scheduled.
→ News Analysis: “Biden Signs Climate, Health Bill Into Law as Other Economic Goals Remain,” by Jim Tankersley
→ “F.B.I. Interviewed Top White House Lawyers About Missing Trump Documents,” by Maggie Haberman
→ “Carolyn Maloney’s Campaign Pitch: A Man Can’t Do My Job,” by Nick Fandos
→ “Trump is rushing to hire seasoned lawyers — but he keeps hearing ‘No,’” by Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, Carol D. Leonnig, Jacqueline Alemany and Rosalind S. Helderman
→ “Youngkin plans trip to Michigan, repeats criticism of Justice Department,” by Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella in Williamsburg, Va.
→ “U.K. Inflation Tops 10%, Underlining Gloomy Outlook for Europe,” by Paul Hannon
→ “U.S. to Buy Ukraine Grain, as Ship Traffic Increases,” by William Mauldin and Jared Maslin
→ “Bill Gates and the Secret Push to Save Biden’s Climate Bill,” by Akshat Rathi and Jennifer A Dlouhy
→ “Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe,” by Kate Brumback
San Antonio Express-News
→ “Texas county’s entire election staff steps down, citing death threats and stalking,” by Megan Rodriguez
Crucial Capitol Hill news AM, Midday, and PM—5 times a week
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