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Happy Wednesday morning.
Inflation is spiking. The stock market dropped more than 1,200 points Tuesday. President Joe Biden’s approval rating is in the low 40s. More than 30 of their colleagues have retired or announced runs for other offices. The weight of history is against them.
Yet top House Democrats have returned to Washington after a month-long break with a new line – not only will they hold onto their razor-thin majority, but they’re going to pick up seats.
Seriously. They’re saying this.
We caught up Tuesday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, all of whom separately made the same prediction. The trio – who have run the House Democratic Caucus together for a generation – expressed strong optimism about the outlook in November. They insist it isn’t just false bravado but a realistic assessment of the national mood.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, combined with a series of legislative victories on Capitol Hill, has shifted the political landscape in their favor, these senior Democrats insist. Former President Donald Trump’s headlining-grabbing legal troubles also help. Democrats point to upset victories in Alaska and New York special elections, improved polling and strong fundraising as proof of all this.
We spoke to Pelosi twice on Tuesday. Once, as Pelosi entered her office, she responded, “Yes, indeed,” when asked if Democrats would win seats in November.
In our follow-up conversation, Pelosi expanded on her earlier remarks:
“I was just in 12 cities in 12 days. We’re ready. And understand this. Because of the leadership of [DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney], we’re ready.
“So when the Dobbs decision came down, it wasn’t one of those ‘If only we had known.’ No. We believed we were going to win from Jan. 6 on – well, even November of last year on.
“So we’re ready. Mobilizing on the ground … messaging, raising the money. But the biggest factor of all is not only do we believe, the candidates believe. So for a year, 10 months, eight months, terrific people had put themselves out there believing they could win in those districts.”
We followed up by asking Pelosi what she would say to those who believe that 2022 has echoes of 2010, when Democrats lost 63 seats in a historic wipeout powered by the rise of the Tea Party movement. That defeat handed John Boehner the speaker’s gavel and inexorably changed the arc of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Pelosi maintained right up until Election Day that year that House Democrats were going to win. Instead, they suffered a crushing loss and didn’t return to the majority for eight years.
“I don’t know what you mean by that,” Pelosi said, referring to comparisons to 2010. “Nobody’s told me that.”
Let’s be clear here – Democratic fortunes have improved significantly in recent months. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy began the year suggesting 60-something House seats were up for grabs, and now Republicans – and most political analysts – say a net gain of 10-20 seats is far more realistic.
We also understand the role that Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn play here as party leaders. Part of their job is sort of team captains, urging their members – and donors – to keep fighting until the end. There’s no reason to concede defeat publicly now. Whistling past the graveyard sort of comes with the job.
Also, the experts can be wrong. Just look at 2020. Most said Pelosi and Democrats would win House seats. Instead, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Republicans picked up 14 seats, surprising the political world.
House Democrats who have been through losing the majority also say it doesn’t feel like that right now, the vibe just isn’t the same.
Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, who served as Democratic Caucus chair in 2010, said that during the Obamacare debate that year, some of his colleagues were aware that vote would seal their political fate.
“There was a certainty — I’ll never forget the look on the faces of people that knew they were casting a vote, knew they were doing the right thing but that they probably wouldn’t be coming back. So we don’t have that [now].”
“There are a number of factors and they keep helping us out. I mean, Lindsey Graham’s comments today, no way, these are things that we did not have in 2010.”
Larson was referring to a proposed 15-week national ban on abortions introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday to the dismay of Senate GOP leaders.
Hoyer echoed that take.
“In 2010, at this point in time, it was July when the real break came. People were saying, ‘Geez, it doesn’t look good …
“Now we’re in September, the middle of September. People believe this can happen. Therefore, our people are energized. Yes, I think it can happen. Is it easy? Is it a slam dunk? No.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.), chair of the DCCC, joked that he “would never contradict the speaker” when pressed on the outlook for Election Day.
“Look, we understand that challenges remain. But you’re either on offense or defense in politics, and we’re clearly on offense. The Republicans know it. They’ve been cocky and overextended. They’re way out of position on Roe v. Wade, and the voters know it.”
Inside Stefanik’s overwhelming bid for conference chair
As we scooped yesterday, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik is running for another term as House Republican Conference chair.
Stefanik, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, is the only announced candidate for the slot. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) is mulling a run as well.
But we don’t expect this to be much of a race.
Stefanik has locked up the support of the entire House Republican leadership and nearly every ranking committee Republican.
And a source involved in her whip operation told us last night Stefanik has already locked up the support of two-thirds of the House GOP, well more than what she needs to win a secret majority vote in conference.
Stefanik has a massive institutional advantage in this race. She’s raised more than $10 million for House Republicans and GOP candidates, and, in addition, has a successful leadership PAC that she’s used to help boost women candidates and incumbents. Karoline Leavitt, who Stefanik endorsed, beat Matt Mowers, who had the endorsement of the rest of the leadership, in a New Hampshire GOP primary Tuesday night.
Stefanik had previously considered a bid for whip or leaving the leadership for the House Education and Workforce Committee. But she’s well liked in the conference chair slot.
Stefanik’s decision gives a bit more shape to the GOP leadership should the party take the majority on Nov. 8. Kevin McCarthy will be the overwhelming favorite for speaker, Steve Scalise will likely run unopposed for majority leader and Stefanik will almost certainly be conference chair.
The big race will be for majority whip – if the job comes open. Reps. Drew Ferguson (Ga.) and Jim Banks (Ind.) have both expressed interest in the post but will have to face NRCC Chair Tom Emmer (Minn.) for the No. 3 slot.
Reps. Richard Hudson (N.C.) and Darin LaHood (Ill.) are both running for NRCC chair.
Also: House Republicans have pushed back the rollout of their agenda. They were originally scheduled to unveil their “Commitment to America” on Sept. 19 in the Pittsburgh area. But they have pushed it back to Sept. 23 due to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.
— Jake Sherman, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan
TOMORROW: Join us on the livestream (in-person RSVPs are full) at 9:30 a.m. ET for our interview with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) about her role as ranking member of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce and her priorities for 2023. RSVP here!
NEW FEATURE ALERT!
Introducing our newest offering to our great community: The Matrix with Heather and Max on Twitter Spaces. On Friday afternoon, we’ll discuss who’s up and who’s down in D.C. Submit your questions and your Twitter handles here to be invited to our first space this Friday at 2 p.m.
Top takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries
Voters went to the polls in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Delaware Tuesday in the final three primaries of this election year. Here are our top takeaways.
→ Right-wing GOP Senate candidate Don Bolduc will face vulnerable Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) in November.
New Hampshire Republicans backed Bolduc, a retired Army general, over the more moderate state Sen. President Chuck Morse. Democrats ran ads in the GOP primary that attacked Morse, signaling that the party believed the MAGA-adjacent Bolduc would be an easier general election opponent for Hassan.
While Bolduc didn’t receive former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, the Senate candidate strongly supports Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud during the 2020 presidential election. Bolduc has also called New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu a “Communist Chinese sympathizer.” Sununu, who endorsed Morse, nevertheless told reporters last week he would back Bolduc over Hassan if the former Army officer won the Republican primary.
→ Karoline Leavitt, the former communications director for House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, beat Matt Mowers in the GOP primary for a toss-up New Hampshire seat.
Leavitt, 25, would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she can defeat Frontline Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) in November. Leavitt railed against Mowers as the establishment candidate in the Republican primary.
Mowers had support from the Congressional Leadership Fund, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Republican Study Committee Chair Jim Banks. In the end, it wasn’t enough to fend off Leavitt’s surge.
→ Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner will face off against Republican Allan Fung in a competitive House seat.
Magaziner beat a crowded field of contenders in the Democratic primary, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)-endorsed David Segal and Sarah Morgenthau. Republicans believe the retirement of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) paves the way for the party to compete in the state’s blue-leaning 2nd District.
The GOP quickly coalesced around Fung, the former mayor of Cranston, R.I., who is an NRCC-endorsed Young Gun candidate. The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rates the district as a “Democratic Toss-Up.”
— Max Cohen
Inside Adrian Smith’s bid for the Ways and Means post
The GOP battle to lead the Ways and Means Committee has been in full swing for months. Reps. Adrian Smith (Neb.), Vern Buchanan (Fla.) and Jason Smith (Mo.) have been shadow boxing for the top Republican tax-writing slot, dishing out contributions to their colleagues and the NRCC while quietly making the case that they’re best suited to take the coveted job.
We’ve written a good deal about Jason Smith and Buchanan, seen by many as the leading two contenders. But we wanted to spend a moment focusing on Adrian Smith and his strategy in this race.
Let’s say this first: Buchanan and Jason Smith are far ahead in the money contest. Buchanan is the top contributor to the NRCC, having raised or donated more than $2.7 million to the committee. Jason Smith has raised or donated $2.1 million, making him the No. 5 rainmaker.
Adrian Smith has taken a different tact. He’s relied on hard-dollar contributions to members, candidates and committees, shelling out $1.1 million this cycle. Last cycle, the Nebraska Republican gave just north of $565,000. There are lots of ways to shower your colleagues with cash, and some prefer the hard-dollar-to-candidate route over pouring money into the NRCC’s coffers.
The Nebraska Republican also prides himself on mentoring new members of Congress and helping them set up their offices. Even Adrian Smith’s detractors acknowledge he’s well versed on policy. Adrian Smith is tied with Buchanan in seniority on the panel, and a few slots above Jason Smith.
A few interesting facts about Adrian Smith:
→ He’s a close ally of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The two men lived together in their early days in Congress.
→ He sent a box with gloves to members of the GOP steering committee, saying it was time to get to work. And he also sent this video, which is a direct-to-camera bio spot filmed in Nebraska.
The House Republican Steering Committee, which McCarthy essentially controls, will decide committee jobs after the election, whether the GOP wins the majority or not. This three-way race is top of mind for many members of steering with just 55 days until Election Day.
– Jake Sherman
Katherine Clark barnstorms the country to talk abortion access
Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark has a busy schedule ahead of the midterms as she criss-crosses the country to campaign for Democratic members and candidates. And we have some exclusive details.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who was in California last weekend raising money for candidates, will be traveling to at least 11 states over the next several weeks, we’ve learned. This includes stops in Georgia, Arizona, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Connecticut. That’s on top of recent swings through Florida, Texas, Ohio, Nevada and New Jersey.
So far this cycle, Clark has raised more than $7 million directly for House Democrats’ campaign arm, candidates and members.
The No. 4 House Democrat has become a much sought after surrogate on abortion access and family issues – particularly as abortion rights has become a key issue on the campaign trail.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, abortion has by far become the top issue in campaign ads, with more than $90 million being spent on the topic this summer.
Democrats have seen gains after the Supreme Court decision, with upticks in fundraising and voter registration, in addition to closing the gap on the generic ballot. The party also won upset special election victories in Alaska and New York last month.
For Clark, these issues – expanded childcare, family economics and reproductive rights – are ones she’s long advocated for on Capitol Hill while serving in leadership and as a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Clark is in a very interesting spot. The 59-year-old lawyer has been in Congress since 2013, quickly rising through the leadership ranks, first as the caucus vice chair in 2018 and then jumping to the assistant speaker post in 2020.
Now she’s poised to assume one of the top Democratic leadership positions if and when the current Big Three – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn – move on.
Clark’s political dynamics are also very interesting.
Clark doesn’t have as high profile a position as some of her other colleagues. House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries and Vice Chair Pete Aguilar have a weekly press conference, for example.
But as assistant speaker, Clark works closely with new members in the caucus, developing long-term relationships that could definitely be valuable in a future leadership race.
Clark is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus but isn’t considered a liberal bomb thrower. And she has years of experience campaigning for Democrats, going back to her stint as co-chair for DCCC recruitment and the red-to-blue program in 2018. She’s well liked by her colleagues, often described as someone who works hard behind the scenes with a sneaky good sense of humor.
– Heather Caygle
→ New: In Rep. Andy Kim’s (D-N.J.) first ad of the cycle, the Frontline Democrat decries that “partisan politics have lost touch with real life.”
“Real life is why I serve. I fight for you to make your life easier,” Kim says, listing his efforts to lower prescription drug prices and “fight corporate price gouging.”
Kim, who flipped a Republican seat in the 2018 midterms, is up for reelection in a district that the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter lists as “Likely Democratic.”
→ New: Rep. Dan Kildee’s (D-Mich.) campaign is featuring the story of a constituent who got an abortion after she was raped. Sabrina, identified as a rape survivor from Midland County, Mich., recounts how that abortion saved her life.
“Who is Paul Junge to tell me what I can or cannot do after I was raped?” Sabrina says, referring to Kildee’s GOP opponent.
— Max Cohen
8:30 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
8:45 a.m.: Biden will leave the White House for Andrews, where he’ll fly to Detroit. Karine Jean-Pierre will gaggle on Air Force One. He’ll arrive at 10:30 a.m.
10:15 a.m.: House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, Vice Chair Pete Aguilar and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark will hold a news conference after the Democratic Caucus meeting.
10:45 a.m.: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik and Reps. David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) will hold a news conference
11 a.m.: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will hold his weekly pen and pad.
11:15 a.m.: Biden will tour the Detroit Auto Show.
Noon: Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly news conference.
1:45 p.m.: Biden will speak about electric vehicle manufacturing.
3:10 p.m.: Biden will attend a DNC fundraiser in Detroit.
4:05 p.m.: Biden will leave Detroit for D.C. He’ll arrive at the White House at 5:40 p.m.
→ “Sobering Inflation Report Dampens Biden’s Claims of Economic Progress,” by Jim Tankersley
→ News Analysis: “How Fierce Primaries, Abortion and Inflation Transformed the 2022 Map,” by Jonathan Weisman
→ “MyPillow’s Mike Lindell Is Served Search Warrant,” by Charles Homans, Ken Bensinger and Alexandra Berzon
→ “4 convicted in Jan. 6 Capitol west terrace tunnel attacks on police,” by Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu
→ “Twitter Investors Back Musk’s Takeover Bid After Whistleblower Testifies in Congress,” by Alexa Corse and Sarah Needleman
→ “Xi Returns to World Stage With Putin to Counter US Dominance,” by Rebecca Choong Wilkins
→ “White House Weighs Emergency Decree to Keep Vital Goods on Rails If There’s a Strike,” by Jenny Leonard and Jordan Fabian
→ “World shares fall, tracking Wall St dismay over price data,” by Elaine Kurtenbach
→ “It’s on: Walker and Warnock to debate in Savannah on Oct. 14,” by Greg Bluestein and Shannon McAffrey
→ “Political ads continue to hurt migrants, Latinos ahead of Arizona elections, advocates say,” by José Ignacio Castañeda Perez
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