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Happy Friday morning.
In the last few days, there have been growing signals that the 118th Congress may end up split – a GOP-run House with a Democratic-controlled Senate.
This isn’t an outcome that a lot of Senate insiders or political experts had picked heading into this cycle. But it’s looking like a real possibility, if not probability, absent a shift.
Let’s put a finer point on that: The Senate is staying Democratic unless GOP candidates in key Senate races start performing dramatically better, raise more money and begin hitting their opponents a lot harder.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who knows a thing or two about elections, said this in Kentucky on Thursday:
“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different – they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”
There’s a lot in this McConnell statement, including an implied dig at former President Donald Trump, who played a key role in endorsing Republican candidates in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. These are the Senate hopefuls who McConnell is referring to when he says “candidate quality.”
Here are some data points from just this week to consider:
→ The NRSC cut back ad buys in three big states – Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – in a sign of fundraising challenges for Republicans. The NRSC spent early to prop up the GOP candidates in these races.
→ Abortion, and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, has become a major campaign focus for Democratic challengers and incumbents.
→ The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter moved the Pennsylvania Senate race to lean Democrat, signaling that Republican Mehmet Oz is struggling to beat Democrat John Fetterman. Cook also moved the question of who will control the Senate to “Toss up.
→ Polling in Georgia has Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock beating Republican Herschel Walker. This race is a true toss-up.
→ The University of North Florida surprised a lot of political onlookers when they released a poll with Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) beating Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), 48%-44%. We’ll have to figure out if this is an outlier since Florida polls have consistently shown Rubio with a lead. This is post-Dobbs and post-Kansas, however, and that’s a plus for Demings.
→ Polling in Arizona consistently shows incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) trouncing well-funded Republican Blake Masters.
→ Emerson College has Republican J.D. Vance narrowly beating Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the Ohio Senate race. Trump won the Buckeye State by eight points in 2020. The Senate Leadership Fund – the Senate GOP super PAC – is reserving a whopping $28 million in Ohio to boost Vance.
There are caveats to this, of course. It’s only Aug. 19, leaving 81 days until the midterms. A lot can change between now and then. Both sides – the candidates, party committees and super PACs – will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to sway voters. A lot of voters don’t really focus on the election until after Labor Day. This means the Senate landscape is still somewhat fluid, although Democratic candidates and incumbents are looking strong right now.
On that note, we have some news. The Senate Leadership Fund, the McConnell-aligned super PAC, has reserved more than $175 million in ads across eight states – including the $28 million in Ohio – beginning post Labor Day.
But we have something new for you this morning. Here’s SLF’s first anti-Fetterman ad. The group has moved up the start date for the proposed $34 million blitz in Pennsylvania to today. GOP candidates have been significantly outspent in key races, including Pennsylvania, up until now.
Wondering about the impacts of a Democratic Senate and Republican House? Keep scrolling. We got you.
– John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman
What a GOP House and a Democratic Senate means
OK, so now let’s dig in. If Senate Republican candidates keep underperforming and the Senate stays Democratic while the GOP takes the House, there are huge implications to explore for D.C.
→ The relationships.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has practically no relationship with President Joe Biden or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. This may seem like a minor point, but in a divided government, it’s crucial. Paul Ryan knew Barack Obama and Biden. John Boehner grew close, in some sense, to Obama and had known Biden for years.
→ If Republicans do win the House, it matters by how much and who gets elected.
This is obvious to some degree, but let’s still walk through it. A Speaker McCarthy with a margin of 15 or 20 seats is a lot stronger than one with a five- or 10-seat margin.
And the Republican House candidates who do win this year will likely be pro-Trump hardliners. This means a lot of 2020 election deniers who don’t see Biden as the rightful president and are ready for any kind of showdown they can get will likely be coming to Congress.
Yet talking about showdowns and “Drain the swamp!” and “Fire Fauci!” is a lot easier said than done when you don’t have the Senate or the White House.
→ There’s a high probability that House Republicans will impeach Biden or other administration officials.
McCarthy will come under enormous pressure to do this, although like Speaker Nancy Pelosi heading into 2019, it’s not something he or other senior Republicans really aspire to do. Trump was impeached twice, meaning there will be an element of revenge for some House Republicans. The former president also isn’t likely to be shy about calling for it either, believing it could help his own political agenda of returning to the Oval Office.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra could also find themselves targeted for removal.
There are a number of ways for House Republicans to justify this – Hunter Biden, the border crisis, the White House’s response to the Covid pandemic, Garland’s October 2021 memo on violent threats to school boards, failure to comply with House GOP investigations, etc. The list could be lengthy, although the reasoning squishy.
Of course, impeachment won’t mean anything in the end since Biden and/or his Cabinet officials won’t be found guilty in a Senate trial and won’t be removed from office. It could help Biden’s standing if he chooses to run for reelection. And if this is all that House Republicans achieve, it won’t be much of an accomplishment to parade before voters in 2024.
McCarthy’s big challenge is to make sure he doesn’t become seen as the roadblock for his new majority – the “Boehner Dilemma” – while still being a somewhat reliable partner in governing.
→ Senate Democrats have a terrible map in 2024.
There will be 23 Democratic-held (including two Independents) seats up for grabs in the 2024 cycle, versus only 10 for Republicans. Some of these Democratic seats are in key presidential battleground states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.
There clearly will be some turnover as Democratic incumbents in their 70s or 80s decide whether to run again. For instance, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is up. He’ll be 77 and facing a reelection campaign where a Republican presidential nominee likely will win West Virginia overwhelmingly. Will Manchin, the only Democrat who could even dream of holding that seat, seek reelection? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will be 83. Will the progressive icon run again?
Senate Democrats and Biden – if he runs – may be looking for some places to do deals. But will House Republicans be able to come to the table?
→ Legislatively, we don’t see a lot of room for compromise.
McCarthy and other top House Republicans will have a majority that is anti-government, anti-Washington and anti-moderation. If House Republicans try to “unwind” some of the Democratic initiatives from this Congress – say the “red flag” gun control law or the Inflation Reduction Act – that’s not gonna fly. If they try drastic cuts to government spending or programs, that won’t work either. As we noted, “Fire Fauci!” isn’t realistic either under this scenario.
House Republicans can and will pass bills, but Biden and a Senate Democratic majority will block them. Of course, the reverse is true for Senate Democrats and Biden in terms of new legislative initiatives. These won’t go anywhere if McCarthy says no. House Republicans will have a lock on any new tax and spending initiatives. Blocking Biden and the Democrats on that front will be a win for them.
Biden, like Trump, Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, can do a lot with a pen and a phone, however. Plus, there’s always judicial nominations. Ask Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
→ Now let’s talk about appropriations and government funding.
This is the one “must do” annual task, and there has to be some compromise in order to make it happen. Yet how that will happen next year under this scenario is uncertain.
There very likely will be an omnibus spending deal in the lame-duck session even if Democrats lose their majority, along with passage of the annual defense authorization bill. After that – as we’ve suggested before – the federal government may be funded for the rest of Biden’s first term by continuing resolutions.
There are a number of Republicans who talk about using these bills to “defund the FBI” or to cut the Justice Department’s budget in retaliation for investigating Trump. They’re considering once again reviving the Holman Rule, which would allow House Republicans to target one federal employee’s salary. Say Dr. Anthony Fauci, for instance.
Of course, the Holman Rule hasn’t worked in decades and won’t under these circumstances either.
There’s also a sizable contingent of lawmakers in both chambers who want to see defense spending increase. That’s not going to happen unless Democrats get something in return. So some common ground will have to be found on Pentagon funding and the annual defense authorization bill. Perhaps another cromnibus?
→ Will there be a government shutdown?
This is a possibility, although it’s really dumb and never works out for Republicans. McCarthy has been through shutdowns – three since he’s been in the leadership – and so have Steve Scalise and Elise Stefanik. McCarthy knows it’s a weak hand to play and Biden has a huge advantage. Also, McConnell loathes shutdowns, so don’t expect Senate Republicans to have the House GOP’s back in that case.
→ What about the debt limit?
In all of our years of covering Congress, this is the one issue that’s worried us the most. The posturing around raising the debt limit has become intensely counterproductive. This is because it’s not just the U.S. government that’s impacted if there’s a debt default. It would cause a global economic crisis.
The current thinking is that the federal government won’t hit the debt limit until late summer or fall of 2023. This gives everyone time to figure something out.
But like government shutdowns, using a debt limit showdown to force changes in tax and spending policy is an enormously risky approach that never works.
– John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman
PUNCH POWER MATRIX
— Max Cohen
→ Yet another example of a company registering a lobbyist to influence infant formula policy. The a2 Milk Company has hired FTI Public Affairs to lobby on “[a]pproval for infant formula entering the U.S. market and expanded opportunities to serve U.S. consumers.” We noted in the AM edition Monday that Nestlé, based in Switzerland, and Perrigo Company, based in Ireland, had enlisted lobbyists to influence infant formula policy. A2 is based in Boulder, Colo.
→ New: Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes is airing a new ad rebutting Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) latest attacks.
“It’s that time of year,” Barnes says in the baseball-themed ad as he squares up at home plate while holding a bat. “My opponent’s throwing everything he’s got at me, hoping you’ll think I’m dangerous. But I can take the heat.”
While taking batting practice, Barnes says he’s for middle class tax cuts and rips Johnson for allegedly praising companies outsourcing jobs from Wisconsin.
Barnes’ spot comes a day after Johnson’s campaign tried to tie the Wisconsin Democrat to the Squad and paint him as weak on crime. Recent polls from Fox News and Marquette University have shown Barnes leading Johnson by single digits.
→ Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D-Nev.) campaign is out with a “Succession”-themed attack ad on GOP opponent Adam Laxalt. Reprising the HBO show’s signature intro graphics and a similar instrumental tune, Cortez Masto’s campaign paints Laxalt as a D.C. insider whose connections fueled his political career.
“If ever there was a child of Washington: Adam Laxalt,” the ad’s narrator says. “The son of a lobbyist, the grandson of a senator. Raised at one of D.C.’s most elite private schools.”
→ Nuestro PAC is airing a major ad buy backing New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera in the NY-10 Democratic primary. Rivera led in early polls of the district and is seen as one of the frontrunners along with former impeachment lawyer Dan Goldman.
The ad prominently highlights Rivera’s roots in the Lower East Side.
“Getting bold, pragmatic leadership for our community starts by electing someone from our community,” the ad’s narrator says. It’s a clear dig at Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), a progressive who previously represented Westchester before running in the New York City district.
— Max Cohen
President Joe Biden is in Delaware. He has no public events scheduled. Vice President Kamala Harris is in Hawaii and has no public events scheduled. The House and Senate are out of session.
→ “Judge May Release Affidavit in Trump Search, but Only After Redaction,” by Patricia Mazzei in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Alan Feuer in New York
→ “Russia’s spies misread Ukraine and misled Kremlin as war loomed,” by Greg Miller and Catherine Belton in Kyiv
→ “U.S. Plans to Shift Bill for Covid Shots and Treatments to Insurers, Patients,” by Stephanie Armour
→ “U.S. Home Sales Dropped in July for Sixth Straight Month,” by David Harrison and Nicole Friedman
→ “Xi and Putin to Attend G-20 Summit in Indonesia, Jokowi Says,” by Faris Mokhtar
→ “Want to know if a red wave is happening? Watch this special election next week,” by Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris with a Woodstock, N.Y., dateline
→ “DeSantis announces arrests in Florida for voting fraud,” by Biana Padró Ocasio and Mary Ellen Klas
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