The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Moderate GOP group plans to spend $25 million on midterms in fight for future of the party
WASHINGTON — The Republican Main Street Partnership, a moderate GOP group that has supported efforts to repudiate the party's fringe before, is making its pitch in the fight for the future of the party with new plans to spend $25 million on congressional races this cycle
The group is also releasing its post-election examination of the 2020 cycle to members and allies — an assessment that lays out its argument for a post-Donald Trump GOP as a party that can harness the frustration of some voters while attracting suburban and minority voters in the process.
“The Republican Party is not dead. We have a chance to come back stronger than ever if we give the voters what they are looking for,” Sarah Chamberlain, Main Street’s executive director, told NBC News in an interview.
“We had the Jan. 6 situation, now we have the congresswoman from Georgia, we have [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy flying down to see Trump. I get a lot of questions from voters around the country about: ‘What’s happening? Where is my party?’”
A central theme of the group’s autopsy is a focus on traditional GOP bread-and-butter issues like the economy, foreign policy and national security. The group also wants to rebuild the party’s “ethics and moral standing” in a way that looks nothing “like the family values, Moral Majority” politics of the past, while offering solutions on issues like Covid-19 and mental health, according to the report.
To keep Trump voters on board, which the plan makes clear constitutes an “important wing of the party,” the group argues that the way forward is connecting to them through a populist pitch that skips the “vulgar and disrespectful” rhetoric that could alienate more voters than it brings in.
"We have to make a decision: Do we want to be a party of 180 bright red congressmen and women? Or do we want to have 240 and 250 where there are purple districts that we hold," Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a Main Street member, asked on Wednesday's "MTP Daily" on MSNBC.
Even though Trump lost his re-election bid, many Republicans saw a silver lining in November’s election results as the party narrowed the Democratic House majority with swing-seat wins, leading to hope voters were open to distinguishing between Trump and other Republicans.
But then Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to halt the Electoral College certification in an attack where five lost their lives. Virtually all Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans blamed the attack on the president himself, and the House voted to impeach Trump over it. Shortly after, 147 Congressional Republicans voted to object to the Electoral College certification.
And now Republicans are facing pressure to punish freshman Rep. Green for espousing conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric.
Democrats have quickly moved to marry the two controversies to define the GOP. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began running TV and digital ads Tuesday accusing Republicans of refusing to stand up to extremists by not voting to impeach Trump.
“Trump may have been malignant, but now it's metastasized,” DCCC chairman and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said Tuesday on “Morning Joe.”
“If they want to deny the pandemic or throw out the election, they certainly cannot be trusted with power.”
The Republican Main Street Partnership operates as an outside group that has a membership of lawmakers who align with its goals.
Nine out of the 60 Main Street members voted against the Electoral College certification, Chamberlain told NBC, quick to note that she had 51 members vote to certify the presidential election. Weeks later, eight of the 10 GOP votes for Trump’s impeachment came from Main Street members.
While Main Street helped to knock off disgraced Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King last cycle, Chamberlain said that the group has no current plans to try to unseat another incumbent Republican.
Instead, the group’s priorities are protecting its incumbent members, as well as recruiting like-minded candidates to help win control of the House for Republicans, while growing Main Street’s political and policy clout.
The internal fight within the GOP is still in the early stages, and Trump is still looking to wield significant influence in the party. But pointing to trends in states like Arizona, which has seen both Senate seats flip to Democrats in the past two election cycles, Chamberlain is throwing down the gauntlet.
“We can’t lose a generation of 18-to-21-year-olds right now who register as Democrats because they’re watching what’s going on and say they can’t relate to that. We can’t afford to lose these suburban areas because they can swing House seats and Senate seats, she said.
“If they leave, we may not get them back.”
Progressive group takes on Manchin, Sinema
WASHINGTON — A new progressive group co-founded by former aides to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., announced Tuesday that it was recruiting primary challengers against Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., over their opposition to eliminate the Senate’s legislative filibuster.
Neither Manchin nor Sinema are up for re-election until 2024.
The campaign by this group, No Excuses PAC, against these two moderate Democratic senators was first reported by POLITICO.
“Democrats have a couple years, max, to improve the lives of the American people. If they blow it, Republicans take back over, and then we’ll get another Trumper back in the White House — maybe Trump himself,” said Corbin Trent, the president of No Excuses PAC, who worked for Ocasio-Cortez, as well as for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
“Senators like Sinema and Manchin seem to think we need more talk and less action in the Senate. If they are dictating the agenda, it’ll be hard to hold on to the majority,” Trent added.
No Excuses PAC has already aired radio ads against both Manchin and Sinema.
It’s unclear, however, how effective this progressive campaign will be against these two senators in these two states.
In addition to both not being up for re-election for another three years, Manchin easily bested a liberal primary challenger in 2018 on his way to a narrow re-election victory — in a state Donald Trump won by nearly 40 percentage points two years later.
Sinema, meanwhile, faced no primary opposition in her 2018 Senate bid, and won the general election with 50 percent of the vote.
But one political observer believes the campaign will be beneficial — for both the progressive group’s coffers, and for Manchin’s and Sinema’s moderate credentials in these two states.
Republican campaign groups ask for campaign funds to be used for personal security
WASHINGTON — The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee asked the Federal Election Commission to amend campaign finance rules to allow senators and House members to use campaign funds to pay for personal security for themselves and family members.
In a letter submitted on Jan. 27, the NRSC and NRCC listed "current events involving concrete threats of physical violence" as the reason for the FEC to allow members to pay for bodyguards from campaign contributions. The FEC currently doesn't allow members to use campaign funds for personal uses that aren't connected with the duties of holding office. The NRSC and NRCC argue in their request that the use wouldn't be personal because the threats are being made based on the members' status as a federal lawmaker.
"The responsibilities associated with being elected representatives constantly require Members (and their families) to appear in public settings, and in such settings, the most practical and effective solution for protecting the safety of members and their families is the employment of personal security personnel," the letter says.
There's some precedent for campaign funds being used for security payments. After Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise was shot, the FEC issued an opinion that allowed members of Congress to use campaign funds for "costs associated with installing (or upgrading) and monitoring a security system at the members' residences."
The ask comes in the wake of the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Since then, members have asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for more flexibility in their congressional allowances to hire security for their district offices. And members of Congress said they wore body armor to President Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20.
Some lawmakers have even reported being concerned for their safety in the presence of other members of Congress.
The NRSC and NRCC aren't the only groups asking for increased security measures to be made. Last week, the acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police called for permanent fencing around the Capitol. The barriers originally went up to respond to the Jan. 6 attack and stayed up through inauguration.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn't respond to a request to comment.
The FEC usually responds to written requests within 60 days, but the NRSC and NRCC asked for "expedited consideration" given the "threat environment facing members."
Trump filled political war chest with tens of millions to close 2020
WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump raised tens of millions of dollars to support his political ambitions on the back of his unfounded push to discredit the presidential election results, money that positions him to be a financial force as he looks to wield power over the GOP from Florida instead of the White House.
Trump's political action committee, Save America, raised more than $31 million in the final five weeks of 2020, new filings with the Federal Election Commission show. The group's only spending was on administrative fees, leaving it with with $31.2 million left in the bank at the end of the year.
As Trump spent the weeks after Election Day trying to overturn the presidential election and make unfounded claims of sweeping fraud, his campaign directed supporters to help fund the effort. But the fine print of those fundraising solicitations showed that most of the money would be directed to Save America.
Save America is a Leadership PAC, which is largely restricted from paying a candidate's personal campaign expenses — those expenses need to be paid by the candidate's official campaign account. Instead, Leadership PACs can cover other politically-adjacent expenses like donating to other campaign accounts, or paying for the travel and staff of a politician who doesn't hold office and isn't currently running.
So despite that big fundraising push to Save America, the group didn't spend a dime on anything related to the campaign's election fraud push.
Trump's official campaign committee also filed its report on Sunday, showing that it raised $27 million from Nov. 24 through Dec. 31. It spent about $34.7 million over that time, ending the year with $10.75 million left in the bank and $2.7 million in debt.
That's the primary vehicle the campaign appears to have used for its election fraud push. But while previous reports showed the campaign had spent about $8.8 million on recount related fees, the Trump campaign's largest expenditures in the latest reports are about influencing the court of public opinion instead of a court that would have say on voter fraud complaints.
Between Nov. 24 and Dec. 31, Trump's campaign spent $6.5 million on online and text-message advertising, all through American Made Media Consultants LLC, a media firm with ties to the Trump orbit.
The campaign also paid out about $1.1 million in legal fees, the lion's share ($1 million) to the law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres. One of the firm's named partners, Marc Kasowitz, represented Trump during the Russia investigation and had also previously represented him before he took office.
Even out of office, Trump has not drifted far away from the political arena. His impeachment trial in the Senate will begin next week, and he spent his first days out of office trying to use carrots and sticks to keep his influence up in the Republican Party. And last week, he met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as House Republicans look to chart a path forward in a Washington controlled narrowly by Democrats.
Republican senators propose slimmed-down Covid relief plan
WASHINGTON — Ten Republican senators wrote a letter Sunday requesting a meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss a slimmed-down coronavirus relief plan they say can win bipartisan support.
The Republicans propose a relief package that is much smaller than Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal. Their offer includes $160 billion for vaccines, $4 billion for health and substance abuse services, the continuation of current unemployment aid and unspecified "targeted" economic assistance and help for schools.
"We recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your Administration to meet the health, economic, and societal challenges of the COVID crisis," read the letter, which includes Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and others.
It is a Republican-only proposal at a time when Democrats control the White House and Congress. But it will test Biden’s calls for unity and bipartisanship while promising lofty policy goals.
Republican lawmakers have largely rejected Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan, balking at the price tag. But the new GOP offer is likely to face progressive pushback as Democrats like Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., have described Biden’s offer as only a "promising start."
The new letter comes as Democrats are eying a special budget process known as reconciliation to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold and approve a larger relief bill without GOP support.
Thousands of Republicans changed voter registration after Capitol attack
WASHINGTON — Since the violent attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6, thousands of Republicans changed their party registration in key swing states.
As of this week, 9,891 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their party registration. In North Carolina, that number was just above 7,400 and more than 9,000 Republicans in Arizona did the same. While Florida statewide numbers aren't available yet, Orange County, Fla. saw over 1,200 Republicans change their party. Just about 100 Democrats did the same in Orange County since Jan. 6.
Jim Jordan announces he will not run for Senate in 2022
Washington — Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, will not run for Ohio's open Senate seat in 2022, a spokesperson for his congressional campaign said on Thursday.
On Monday, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced he would not run for re-election on Monday, leaving the seat without an incumbent for the mid-term elections.
Ohio's Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on Wednesday said the he also would not run for the seat.
Jordan, a leading member of the House's Freedom Caucus, has been a staunch ally to former President Trump and led the House Republican floor speeches against the vote to impeach Trump on Jan. 13. President Trump won Ohio by about 8 points in the 2020 election.
When asked whether Jordan would run for Ohio governor, his spokesperson said, "He's going to run for Congress."
The open Ohio Senate seat could be key for Republicans hoping to retake control of the Senate majority. Republicans will have to defend 20 seats in the 2022 cycle including three open seats: Portman's Ohio seat as well as one in North Carolina stemming from Sen. Richard Burr's decision to not seek re-election and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey who announced he will also retire from Congress.
In first week since leaving office, Trump and his PAC stick to carrot-and-stick politics
WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump and his super PAC have sent two clear public messages to fellow Republicans since he left office on Jan. 20 — one to reward a Trump ally and another to pressure a foe within the party.
The first move was the endorsement of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former Trump press secretary who is running for governor in Arkansas. Hours after her official announcement Monday, Trump issued his "complete and total endorsement" of his former aide through his Save America super PAC.
The second came Wednesday night, when the PAC released results from a poll it commissioned from former Trump campaign pollster John McLaughlin purporting to show that Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney is losing support because she backed Trump's impeachment. (The campaign released a polling memo with top-line info but not the wording or order of questions.)
It's far from common practice for a former president's political operation to commission a poll about a congresswoman and release it more than 600 days before Election Day (and more than a year before a primary election). But quickly after the poll's release, many of the president's allies pointed to it as fodder to fan the flames of the president's feud against Cheney.
The poll's release, along with the Sanders endorsement earlier this week, shows that the carrot-and-stick politics of rewarding Trump's allies and punishing his perceived enemies is alive and well.
Cheney and Trump had long been at odds well before the attack on the Capitol — Trump specifically name-checked her derisively during his speech hours before his supporters stormed the Capitol, telling the audience “we got to get rid of the weak Congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world.”
Cheney directly blamed Trump for the Capitol riot, saying in a statement announcing her decision to support impeachment that “the president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his own doing.”
With Trump kicked off social media and his bully pulpit limited, his allies have sought to pressure her still. Allies like Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz have been calling on Cheney to step down from leadership and rallying supporters to back a primary to Cheney — he’s criticized her for being disloyal to Trump and is holding a rally today in Wyoming to prosecute the case.
Poll: Most Americans want Biden, Congress to focus on the economy and Covid-19
WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden starts his second full week in office, Americans are united in saying they want him and Congress to focus on the economy and addressing the coronavirus.
Beyond those goals, it gets a little more complicated.
According to a new Pew Research Center survey, eight in ten (80 percent) Americans list strengthening the economy as a “top priority for the president and Congress to address this year,” while 78 percent say the same of dealing with the virus.
Other top issues include improving jobs (67 percent) and defending the country against terrorism (63 percent).
But the survey also lays out some stark divides by party, gender and race when it comes to issue priorities.
While majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say that the economy, terrorism and coronavirus should be top priorities, there are major partisan splits over policy moves — which Biden has already begun to address through executive orders — like addressing climate change (a priority of 59 percent of Democrats and just 14 percent of Republicans) and addressing racial issues (a priority of 72 percent of Democrats and just 24 percent of Republicans).
And as concerns about the cost of programs are raised by Republicans who oppose some of Biden’s key campaign promises, more than half — 54 percent — of Republicans prioritize reducing the budget deficit, while just 29 percent of Democrats agree.
Additionally, Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to prioritize dealing with the coronavirus, education, race relations and the issues of the poor than their white counterparts.
Just 40 percent of white adults say issues of race should be a top priority for the president and Congress this year, while 68 percent of Hispanics and 83 percent of Black Americans say the same.
Biden thanks firefighters union for support, pitches Covid-19 package
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden thanked a key group of early supporters on Wednesday. During the International Association of Firefighters' annual legislative conference, Biden told the union, "I owe you."
“The nation owes you." Biden said in a recorded message, "especially as we keep asking more of you, to deal with raging fires made more dangerous by the climate crisis. And now, today, to see you on the frontlines of a deadly pandemic and deepening economic crisis.”
Biden also pitched his $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” to the union. The president said a key component of the package was ensuring first responders like them are able to get protective equipment, and Biden noted that direct relief to state and local governments would ensure sufficient funding for fire departments.
“I'll always fight for your right to be treated with dignity and respect you deserve,” he said.
The IAFF was the first major labor union to endorse Biden’s candidacy. The union’s 2019 legislative conference was something of an early kick-off for the Biden campaign. Weeks before Biden officially launched his 2020 campaign, he was greeted at the event to chants of, “Run Joe Run.”
Biden began his video message, taped from the White House, with a warm sendoff to Harold Schaitberger, the retiring IAFF general president.
“I don't believe you're really going to retire, but, you know, don't kid yourself. I'm still going to be calling you,” Biden said.
Health care group lobbies Biden to keep hospital transparency regulations in place
WASHINGTON — With President Biden undoing a series of his predecessor’s executive actions, one advocacy group is trying to get ahead of any attempt to reverse a health care policy that went into effect a few weeks before he took office.
The group, Patient Rights Advocate, sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday making the case that Biden leave in place a regulation that requires hospitals to disclose to patients the details of costs for medical procedures and devices.
“The need for real price transparency in healthcare has never been greater,” the letter states. “As we continue to fight a major health crisis and financial hardships, the ability to see prices in healthcare will give power to American patients to control both their physical health and financial savings.”
Hospital groups have challenged the rule, unsuccessfully, arguing it could actually raise costs. They’ve also urged the Biden team not to enforce the rule, citing difficulty in complying with the rule while medical personnel are overwhelmed with the coronavirus pandemic.
In the letter, PRA, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization, cites new polling it commissioned on the measure, called Healthcare Price Transparency, that shows overwhelming support for the issue among Republicans and Democrats.
The letter was sent to Biden, via his chief of staff, and a copy was forwarded to Susan Rice, head of the Domestic Policy Council.
A White House spokesperson said they had no update on the topic when asked whether the Biden administration plans to reverse this rule or leave it in place. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s letter.
The rule on healthcare price transparency went into effect on Jan.1.
PRA argues the rule should remain in place to “protect Americans and their right to know upfront” and give patients “the power to prevent overcharging, price-gouging, and erroneous or fraudulent billing.”