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Happy Wednesday morning.
If you’d like a sense of the tension in the Senate GOP Conference right now resulting from the ongoing feud between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and NRSC Chair Rick Scott, consider this:
→ During a 45-minute closed-door leadership meeting Tuesday evening, no one brought up the feud between the two men – a monthslong tiff over politics, policy, strategy and fundraising. McConnell and his leadership team went around the table on the second floor of the Capitol, reviewing the status of the top Senate races. The GOP group still believes they can win the majority back in November, despite a tough couple months for Republican hopefuls on the campaign trail.
Several Republicans on McConnell’s leadership team used the meeting to openly praise the McConnell-affiliated Senate Leadership Fund – a GOP super PAC that’s pouring tens of millions of dollars into several key races – while Scott was sitting there, sources said. There is always some tension between super PACs and the official campaign committees, especially late in an election cycle.
→ Read every word of this CNN story by Manu Raju and Alex Rogers. Here are a few key paragraphs that are going to truly sting a lot of Republicans.
Behind the scenes, GOP senators are maneuvering to make up for the committee’s cash shortfall, with discussions underway to take matters into their own hands to circumvent the NRSC entirely and directly help candidates who need critical resources down the homestretch of the high-stakes campaign, according to multiple GOP sources.
A new fear among Republicans: The NRSC won’t be able to bankroll its part to target voters with direct mail and urge them to come to the polls in key battleground states, something that the party committee spent tens of millions of dollars to do during the 2020 cycle.
McConnell, meanwhile, has been on the phone with big donors for the past several weeks — going well beyond his traditional call list — in an effort to ensure his high-spending super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, is flush with cash to spend huge sums on TV ads in battleground states in the campaign’s final two months, one senior GOP source said.
So just two months out from Election Day, Senate Republicans fear their campaign committee won’t be able to pour enough cash into their turnout operation to win contested races. And they will have to make up the shortfall.
Let’s zoom out for a second. This sniping at Scott and the NRSC is a clear signal that some veteran GOP operatives in Washington are convinced Republicans will fall short of taking back the majority. And these operatives want to make sure that if that occurs, the blame lies squarely with Scott, his subpar fundraising and what critics see as his obsessive focus on his own political brand.
Indeed, one of the biggest criticisms of Scott is that he’s using the NRSC as a springboard for his own future political ambitions. Scott has cut NRSC-funded ads with himself pushing his own legislative agenda, an effort that McConnell strongly opposed. The NRSC’s fundraising has stalled out after a spike early in the cycle, and now the DSCC has more than twice as much cash on hand as the midterm elections loom. Scott is slated to go to Iowa next month for an event with GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Gov. Kim Reynolds. And it’s not the first trip he’s made to the key presidential state this cycle.
We asked Scott about this issue on Tuesday – Are you using the NRSC post to advance the cause of Senate Republicans or Rick Scott? Here’s what he said:
“Look at everything we’ve done. It’s making sure that we get a majority. I’ve traveled the country to make sure to help the NRSC and help our candidates and I’m going to keep doing it.”
One GOP senator, who asked not to be named, said this of the tiff between McConnell and Scott:
“The [McConnell-Scott] thing is between Mitch and Rick. We’re trying to win the majority, and none of this is helping us.”
This all comes as external political forces continue to make it tough for the GOP. President Joe Biden’s approval ratings are slowly improving, although they’re still not great. The crisis over gas prices has eased somewhat nationally, while food and housing prices remain high. Democrats scored some big legislative wins, including passing the Inflation Reduction Act. And former President Donald Trump’s continued outsized influence inside the party – from endorsing candidates to scheduling rallies in battleground states – is a huge part of the challenge for McConnell and his leadership team. Every day that Trump’s legal and political problems dominate the headlines is another good day for Democrats.
→ The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett and Carol Leonnig had a bombshell story Tuesday night on Trump. Here’s what it said:
A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property.
Some of the seized documents detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president, some members of his Cabinet or a near-Cabinet-level official could authorize other government officials to know details of these special-access programs, according to people familiar with the search, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive details of an ongoing investigation.
There will certainly be some Senate Republicans who defend Trump’s decision to stash nuclear secrets as his club in Palm Beach, but it will become far more difficult given these fresh revelations.
→ There has been a steep uptick in women registering to vote following the Dobbs decision. Republicans have been concerned about what the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion rights might mean for their electoral prospects, and this has caught the eye of several Republicans keeping close tabs on the elections.
Still, there are those Republicans who remain confident that the party can take back the Senate. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she heard nothing about abortion rights during her trip back to Hawkeye State last month.
“No, no. They were talking about inflation, gas prices. I’ve got neighbors that are working a second job now where they weren’t before. And that’s what matters to Iowa families, their kids are all back in school right now for the fall. And they can’t afford to buy the cleats they can afford to do what they normally do. So that’s what I want to focus on.”
Ernst said Republicans have “good candidates” running nationwide and she believes they can “still win the Senate.”
“The media tends to skew things. So I mean, look, just look at my own race in 2020. Leans Democrat, are you kidding? And I won by almost eight.”
– John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman
Tomorrow: We’re looking forward to our conversation with Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) about the wide ranging use of 5G technology and its impact on transportation. RSVP here to join at Hawk ‘N’ Dove at 9 a.m. ET, or on the livestream! If you join in person, you can stay after the conversation for an in-person Brown Bag Lunch with Anna, Jake, Bres and Heather.
Backers want standalone vote on same sex marriage
Senate supporters of a same-sex marriage bill are urging Democratic leaders to hold a standalone vote on the measure, rejecting calls to attach the language to a must-pass government funding bill that will be taken up later this month.
Democratic leaders have considered attaching the marriage provision to a short-term continuing resolution that will fund federal departments and agencies beyond Sept. 30, as we first reported Tuesday morning.
But the bipartisan group of senators pushing for a floor vote on legislation codifying federal protections for same sex marriages believe such a move would be a mistake, and they want Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring up the measure on its own.
“Attaching the legislation to a CR is not the senator’s preferred path as she would like to see it taken up sooner,” said an aide to Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), one of the Democrats who has taken the lead on this issue. Here’s more from Baldwin’s team:
“The senator’s goal is to pass the Respect for Marriage Act and she will do whatever it takes to get there. Individuals in same-sex and interracial marriages need, and should have, the confidence that their marriage is legal, and these loving couples should be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms of every other marriage.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the key Republican backers of same-sex marriage, said he’d prefer to “do it on the merits” – in other words to keep it out of the CR. Portman said it was “uncertain” whether there would be 10 GOP votes for the measure.
“I think it will be a reason my colleagues might vote against the CR. And I don’t think it helps on the CR or on the Respect for Marriage Act,” the Ohio Republican added.
Portman noted there will be a bipartisan meeting on Tuesday of the bill’s proponents to talk through their strategy.
And Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who also supports same-sex marriage, said attaching the proposal to the CR would be a “non-starter.”
Senior Republicans are already warning that adding that to the CR could cause big problems. “I think it’s, frankly, a political stunt,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday night.
The language codifying same-sex marriage protections is just the latest potential addition to the must-pass spending bill. As we reported Tuesday evening, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is insisting his permitting reform proposal be part of the spending package.
And the White House is requesting $47 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine, Covid-19, monkeypox and disaster relief be added to the CR. No surprise but Republicans – even those who have supported some of that aid in the past – are balking at the request.
“A bill that comes out with what – $47 billion in requests with no offsets – I think is a very heavy lift,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “Are there parts of it that I would support? Certainly, Ukraine being one of them. But the Covid measure, I think, would be a very hard lift for me and some others.”
— John Bresnahan, Heather Caygle and Max Cohen
THE HOUSE GOP
NEWS: Eyeing majority, House GOP launches professional training course for staffers
As the GOP eyes the House majority, House Republicans are launching a training program this week to prepare staffers to fill key, senior-level congressional roles. By creating the program — titled “Level Up: House GOP Staff Development Course” — Republicans are formalizing what’s long been an informal process.
Level Up is run by the offices of the Republican leader, Republican whip, Republican conference and the House Administration Committee. The first training sessions, designed for staffers looking to be chiefs of staff, kicks off today and runs until Friday. A sign of the interest: More than a hundred staffers applied for the training session, which had a limit of 30 attendees.
Other training sessions focus on the job responsibilities of legislative directors, communications directors and schedulers.
Also interesting: House Republicans are briefing staffers as part of an Oversight Education Series. Oversight of the White House, of course, will be one of the major focuses of the House if Republicans take back the majority.
— Max Cohen
INSIDE THE HOUSE GOP
House GOP to unveil campaign season agenda in two weeks
House Republican leaders will unveil their campaign season “Commitment to America” agenda Sept. 19 in Pittsburgh.
Let’s be perfectly clear: This is a media event, not a political game changer. These election-season manifestos do not account for the realities of governing, especially in a divided Washington. But our sources tell us the event will be large, with House Republicans, candidates and community leaders in attendance.
House Republicans have traditionally rolled out grand pronouncements when they believe they’re on the brink of a Republican majority. Newt Gingrich had the “Contract with America” in 1994. John Boehner had the “Pledge to America” in 2010, which he unveiled in a lumber store in Sterling, Va.
Kevin McCarthy — then the chief deputy whip, now the minority leader — was intricately involved in writing the pledge in 2010. It was one of McCarthy’s first forays into leadership politics. In 2010, McCarthy clashed with House Republicans over how much specificity to include in the Pledge. McCarthy favored issuing promises in broad terms, while other top Republicans wanted to outline more specific policy provisions.
This is an “earned media” play for House Republicans. In other words, it’s an opportunity to try to get a day of good press.
Axios reported some of these details.
– Jake Sherman
→ An ad from North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley’s campaign is spotlighting the support she has from numerous retired state judges who span the political spectrum. In the ad, Republican, Democratic and independent judges praise Beasley — the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court — for being an independent voice and for getting things done.
Beasley’s GOP opponent, Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) is described as a politician interested in personal gain.
The ad is the latest example of Beasley trying to run as a non-partisan candidate in the red-leaning state.
→ Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-Ind.), a Frontline Democrat facing a tough reelection, is airing an attack ad taking aim at his GOP opponent’s abortion views.
“Jennifer-Ruth Green said she would ban all abortions, with absolutely no exceptions,” the ad’s narrator says. “Not even if a woman’s life is at risk… not even if a victim is a 10-year-old girl.”
That last line appears to reference the 10-year-old Ohio girl who became pregnant as a result of rape and traveled to Indiana for an abortion this summer.
Green — a Black combat veteran — is one of the NRCC’s most prized recruits this cycle.
→ The ad wars are heating up in the race to succeed Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) in a western Pennsylvania swing district. Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic candidate Chris DeLuzio are out with ads today highlighting DeLuzio’s veteran background.
DeLuzio’s campaign ad features the candidate speaking direct-to-camera about how he joined the Navy and fought in Iraq following 9/11. In the ad, DeLuzio pledges to produce more in America, bring down costs and keep communities safe.
The DCCC independent expenditure takes a more negative approach, slamming DeLuzio’s Republican opponent — Jeremy Shaffer — as a millionaire who profits from shipping jobs overseas. The voiceover describes DeLuzio as an” Iraq war veteran” who “wants to make things here” and “stand up to the big corporations.”
→ The DCCC is dinging Republican John Gibbs over his abortion stance, arguing the Donald Trump-endorsed candidate in Michigan’s 3rd District is “too extreme for West Michigan.” It’s another example of Democrats targeting Republicans for supporting the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Gibbs, who beat Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) in a GOP primary, is seen as vulnerable in a general election.
— Max Cohen
THE MONEY GAME
→ Check out this fundraiser invite for Washington Republican Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley, featuring Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) as a special guest. Smiley is running against longtime Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
→ Do you like California Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Linda Sanchez? Are you a fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Sherman and Sanchez are hosting a fundraiser at the RHCP show at Nats Park Thursday night. Tickets cost $2,500 per person.
Prefer Billy Joel? Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) has a fundraiser at Madison Square Garden Friday night to see the piano man live. Tickets cost $2,500 for PAC contributors or $1,500 for an individual.
→ House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will appear at a D.C. fundraiser for Russell Fry, the candidate who defeated Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) in a primary earlier this year. Rice voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.
— Max Cohen and Jake Sherman
9 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
1:30 p.m.: Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the unveiling of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House portraits.
2 p.m.: Senate leadership will speak after their party lunches.
2:45 p.m.: Karine Jean-Pierre will brief.
→ “Clean Energy Projects Surge After Climate Bill Passage,” by Jack Ewing and Ivan Penn
→ “Bannon to Surrender to New York Authorities to Face Sealed Indictment,” by Rebecca Davis O’Brien
→ “From the U.S. to China, Major Economies Are Stalling. But Not India,” by Mujib Mashal and Suhasini Raj in New Delhi
→ “Scholz Accuses Russia of ‘Blackmail’ Over Pipeline Shutdown,” by Michael Nienaber
→ “Elected officials, police chiefs on leaked Oath Keepers list,” by Alanna Durkin Richer and Michael Kunzelman
→ “Donald Trump has at least 19 different attorneys dealing with 8 investigations,” by Betsy Woodruff Swan, Nick Wu and Kyle Cheney
→ “California averts widespread rolling blackouts as energy demands ease amid heat wave,” by Grace Toohey, Harriet Ryan, Alexandra E. Petri and Gregory Yee
Crucial Capitol Hill news AM, Midday, and PM—5 times a week
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