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Happy Tuesday morning.
The Senate returns today after a month-long recess to vote on an appeals court nominee. Election Day is only nine weeks away.
We’re going to talk this morning about political dynamics confronting the Senate’s leaders. But first, we have some news on same sex marriage and a possible Senate vote later this month.
We’re hearing that Democratic congressional leaders are considering attaching a provision codifying same sex marriage protections onto a must-pass spending bill to keep the federal government open past Sept. 30.
This would dramatically raise the political stakes surrounding the vote on the continuing resolution, which will take place at some point in the next couple weeks. The federal government’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and Congress must pass a CR to keep departments and agencies open beyond that date. As we reported yesterday, Democratic leaders are considering a CR that extends funding until either Dec. 9 or Dec. 16, but they haven’t picked an end date yet.
The White House has already sought to attach as much as $47 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine, Covid-19, monkeypox and disaster relief to the CR. There’s also talk about adding Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) permitting reform proposal to the package as well (we have more on this issue below). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised Manchin a vote on that proposal before Sept. 30 as part of the Inflation Reduction Act agreement.
If Democratic leaders include a same sex marriage provision too, the CR vote becomes a pretty significant political moment with broader ramifications. That could make the same sex marriage proposal – which passed the House with solid GOP support – an easier vote for Senate Republicans on the fence over the issue. Or it could cut the other way, giving GOP senators political cover to vote no. Schumer suggested he’d hold a vote on same sex marriage this month, although that’s not set in stone. We’ll get a better sense later this week.
Now let’s talk about the political landscape for Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Schumer – who is up for reelection in November – continues to hold a strong political hand. He’s coming off some big legislative wins before the August break, including passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS bill, a gun control package, NATO expansion and the PACT Act, a major veterans’ health bill.
President Joe Biden also announced that he’d cancel $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower, a move Schumer strongly backed. And the party’s chances of holding the Senate look better and better as they out-raise and out-maneuver GOP candidates in key races.
In fact, Senate Democrats are returning from a recess for the first time in a long time without a huge legislative to-do list hanging around their neck.
Yes, Congress must fund the government. Lawmakers must reauthorize FDA user fees by the end of the month as well. And no, neither of these things may be easy to do. But both parties have a vested interest in keeping the federal government open and reauthorizing FDA programs, particularly so they can get back to the campaign trail.
Schumer plans to focus heavily on judicial nominations this month, especially circuit court judges. A Senate Judiciary Committee aide noted that there are eight circuit nominees pending on the chamber’s Executive Calendar, plus another four who need discharge votes to get them out of the evenly divided committee.
The Senate will vote today on whether to invoke cloture on John Lee’s nomination for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. If he’s confirmed, Lee would be the first Asian American judge to serve on this panel.
Schumer has also filed cloture on Andre Mathis’ nomination for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, although no vote has been scheduled yet. Circuit court nominations take more time to complete than district court nominations, with up to 30 hours post-cloture debate for the circuit court judges versus two hours for district court judges.
The overriding political question for Schumer and the Democrats is how much does former President Donald Trump factor into their closing midterm message? Do Democrats focus on selling their legislative achievements or shift to bashing Trump? How much attention do they pay to the classified document drama engulfing Trump and the “MAGA Republicans” defending him? We’re hearing more and more from Democrats about threats to democracy – so clearly some of this message is seeping through.
As we’ve seen before, making the election a referendum on Trump has had mixed results for Democrats. And it’s particularly tricky this cycle with the former president not on the ballot. Of course, all bets are off if Trump announces he’s running for president before the midterms. Then Trump becomes the focus for both parties, whether they want him to be or not.
Now let’s turn to McConnell. The GOP leader and Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, have clashed over candidates, money and the Republican agenda for the better part of this year. This is unusual territory for McConnell, who prefers to handle disputes with his GOP colleagues in private.
But with the NRSC facing a cash crunch at a critical point in the cycle, the Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with McConnell, will spend tens of millions of dollars in key battleground races before Election Day in a bid to win the Senate majority. Republicans privately believe this SLF effort will pay dividends, and they remain hopeful that they can pick up seats in November.
Despite his recent improvement, Biden’s polling is still significantly underwater. Democrats remain hugely vulnerable on economic issues, especially on sky-high food and housing prices. Crime is a major problem, especially in Pennsylvania, which has one of the nation’s biggest Senate races.
→ Let’s go back to permitting reform for a moment. Manchin has repeatedly talked about how his plan will benefit fossil fuel projects, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a long-stalled natural gas project in his home state.
But a summary document circulating among Senate Democrats in recent days highlights how the proposal could be a boost for clean energy projects as well. Schumer, in fact, noted that “there are a lot of red states that won’t build transmission lines” for wind and solar projects during an Aug. 7 presser.
The Democratic document points out the package would “strengthen the federal government’s permitting authority for interstate electric transmission lines that are determined by the Secretary of Energy to be of national interest.” FERC – the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee – would be given more authority to push through “national interest transmission projects.”
Democrats estimate there are 20 such projects “that would deliver 20-40 gigawatts (or 20,000 to 40,000 megawatts) of clean power to parts of our country that need it.”
Also: We wanted to flag one more thing for you. There’s talk that the “Gang of Eight” – the four party leaders and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees – may get a briefing about the FBI’s raid of Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago. Specifically, the potential damage to U.S. intelligence from Trump’s possession of highly classified documents. This is still under discussion, it’s not certain that a briefing will actually happen. But it’s under consideration, according to multiple sources.
– John Bresnahan, Jake Sherman and Heather Caygle
Our September schedule is full of events! Don’t forget to RSVP to join us in-person or on the livestream.
Thursday, Sept. 8: Later this week we’ll be talking to Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) at Hawk ‘N’ Dove at 9 a.m. ET about the wide ranging use of 5G technology and its impact on transportation. RSVP Here.
→ Stay after the conversation for our first in-person Brown Bag Lunch! BBLs are usually a premium benefit, but this one will be open to all who attend this event in-person.
Thursday, Sept. 15: Join us at The Roost 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.
Tuesday, Sept. 20: We’ll be back at The Roost at 9 a.m. ET for a conversation with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) about the role of private capital in supporting small businesses, jobs, and the economy. RSVP Here.
Who we’re watching
→ John Fetterman. It’s obvious that Republican Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate race is going to keep hammering Fetterman for not vigorously campaigning following his mid-May stroke. Will Fetterman respond to some of the GOP chatter that he’s not up for the job of senator by debating Oz? Or hold a news conference? Oz is making Fetterman’s health – and his refusal to debate – an issue in the race.
→ Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: As we noted Monday morning, Scott and McConnell are openly warring. McConnell suggested that Republicans may not win back the Senate because of the subpar candidates that the party has nominated. Scott responded that those remarks were “treasonous.” This is roughly two months before Election Day. They will be back in the same building this week as the Senate returns to session for the first time a month.
– Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
What we’re watching
→ Tuesday: The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will depose Bruce Allen, the former general manager of the NFL’s Washington Commanders. The committee has been investigating the workplace culture of the team.
→ Wednesday: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will get a closed briefing on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider a number of nominations. Senate Commerce will consider a slate of President Joe Biden’s picks for Amtrak’s board.
→ Thursday: House Natural Resources Committee will hold a field hearing in Morro Bay, Calif., on energy in the American West.
– Jake Sherman
→ This got our attention. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is running an ad talking about how he’s keeping his South Texas district safe. The interesting thing is that he paid for this spot with government money, not campaign funds. The ad isn’t explicitly political – but it’s awfully close. Hat tip to our friend Shane Goldmacher of the NYT who spotted this first.
→ Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) is running a new ad in her Virginia Beach-based district that has a lifetime Republican explaining how she has always voted for the GOP but will now back Luria in her race against GOP state Sen. Jen Kiggans. This appears to be Luria’s first negative television ad against Kiggans. Like many Democratic spots, Luria is trying to make the point that the Republican Party of today is out of line with where it’s been in the past. The ad brings up that Republicans want to end abortion rights.
→ The American Action Network, the non-profit aligned with House Republican leadership, is running a new spot calling President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student loans a “rich kid bailout.” The spot is running in Denver, New York, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, D.C., Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Charlotte.
– Jake Sherman
9 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
Noon: Karine Jean-Pierre will brief.
1:15 p.m.: Biden will hold a Cabinet meeting.
This week at the White House:
→ Wednesday: President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama for a portrait unveiling.
→ Thursday: Biden will attend a DNC fundraiser in National Harbor, Md.
→ Friday: Biden will travel to Licking County, Ohio, to speak about the CHIPS Plus law and to attend the groundbreaking of an Intel semiconductor fab. Biden will then travel to Wilmington, Del.
→ Saturday: Biden will return to the White House from Delaware.
→ Sunday: Biden will attend a ceremony at the Pentagon to honor the victims of Sept. 11.
→ “Biden Administration Has Admitted One Million Migrants to Await Hearings,” by Eileen Sullivan in South Portland, Maine
→ “Judge Grants Trump’s Request for Special Master to Review Mar-a-Lago Documents,” by Alan Feuer, Glenn Thrush and Charlie Savage
→ “As Biden celebrates Labor Day, Democratic candidates tread gingerly,” by Patrick Marley in Milwaukee and Ashley Parker in West Mifflin, Pa.
→ “Russia’s Nord Stream Pipeline Closure Lands Economic Blow Against Europe,” by Joe Wallace and Kim Mackrael
→ “Liz Truss’s Inheritance: A U.K. Economy on Its Knees,” by Max Colchester in London
→ “Biden’s Climate-Bill Win Offers Fresh Chance to Woo Midterm Voters,” by Catherine Lucey in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Ken Thomas in Appleton, Wis.
→ “Russia Privately Warns of Deep and Prolonged Economic Damage,” by Benjamin Harvey
→ “Biden Accuses GOP Senator Ron Johnson of Targeting Social Security Benefits,” by Jennifer Jacobs and Alexis Shanes
→ “Johnson leaves Downing Street to offer resignation to queen,” by Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless
→ “US: Russia to buy rockets, artillery shells from North Korea,” by Aamer Madhani
→ “Reps. Jackson Lee, Green travel to Pakistan after extreme floods,” by Dylan McGuinness
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