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Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. tells MTP he won't run for Senate in 2022
Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan will not run for Senate in 2022, he told “Meet the Press” on Sunday, saying instead he wants to focus on helping to “rebuild” the GOP after a difficult election that saw Democrats flip both Senate seats and former President Donald Trump raise unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud in the state.
One of the top Republicans in the state, Duncan had been seen as a possible candidate to run against Sen. Raphael Warnock in 2022. The Democrat won his election to fill the remainder of the term vacated by retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. But Isakson’s term would have ended in 2022, Warnock will be on the ballot again then.
“My family and I have talked about it, and we’re not going to run for the U.S. Senate seat. We’re going to stay focused on being the lieutenant governor here in Georgia and we are going to focus hard on trying to rebuild this party and refocus GOP 2.0,” Duncan said Sunday.
Even though Democrats flipped both Senate seats in 2020, next year's election is expected to be one of the marquee Senate races of the cycle. Former Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Warnock, has kept the door open to another bid, while other Republicans have been considering it too. Former President Donald Trump recently encouraged Herschel Walker, once a standout football player for the University of Georgia, to run.
Duncan and other top GOP officials spent much of the past few months defending the state from Trump's unfounded allegations of massive voter fraud, accusations that he said lost Republicans "credibility" in the state. He went onto criticize Trump's tone as "divisive" and add that the former president's "strategy is unwinnable in forward-looking elections."
Even so, many Georgia Republicans are supporting widespread new restrictions to election laws sparked in part by Trump's baseless allegations. The GOP-led legislature is weighing changes such as ending no-excuse absentee voting and limiting weekend early voting.
Duncan opposes the changes to absentee voting, recently vacating his role presiding over the debate on the issue in protest. He also told "Meet the Press' he was sensitive to concerns that limiting early voting on weekends could primarily hurt black voters since "souls to the polls" drives are popular events at predominately black churches in the south.
"There’s a lot of solutions in search of a problem. Republicans don’t need election reform to win, we need leadership," he said.
"I'm one of the Republicans that want more people to vote. I think our ideas help people."
Democratic groups are spending big to support the Covid-19 relief law
WASHINGTON — Unite the Country, a Democratic Super PAC, is the latest outside group to release paid advertisements celebrating the Covid-19 relief package President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday.
"It's more money in your pocket, billions to speed up vaccinations, safely reopen schools, and help small businesses come back," a narrator says in the new ad.
"Joe Biden kept his word, and that's exactly what your president should do," the ad concludes.
According to a spokesperson from Unite the country, the ad is a seven-figure buy targeted in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all which Biden narrowly won last November, and all of which hold key Senate and gubernatorial contests in 2022. The ad campaign will be mostly featured on digital platforms.
The buy is the latest in a group of Democratic organizations with campaigns airing across the country.
On Friday, the Democratic National Committee released a new ad that will air nationally and in battleground markets. Entitled, "Help is here", the ad features parts of Biden's speech explaining the Covid-19 relief bill.
Also this week, the Democratic group Priorities USA said it was placing digital ads — like this one — in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — in support of the new legislation.
And House Majority Forward, the Democratic outside group that focuses on House races, said it’s launching a $1.4 million ad campaign across nine competitive House districts — like one focused on Texas' 7th district — thanking Democratic members for voting for the relief package.
Steve Schale, chief strategist for Unite The Country, said it’s critical for Democrats’ chances in the 2022 midterms to see support remain strong for both the rescue plan and for Biden.
“We know the next year is pretty important. All of us who lived in the 2010 trenches remember how hard it was to get across the finish line in a world where almost all of the messaging around the first two years of Obama was negative,” he said.
A look back: How presidents have used their first primetime TV address
WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden makes his first national prime-time address on Thursday night, he’ll be following in a long tradition of presidents focusing their first televised evening speech on a key White House priority.
Biden will use his address — scheduled to begin just after 8 p.m. ET — to commemorate the one-year anniversary of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19. He is expected to talk about the more than 500,000 Americans who have lost their lives to Covid-19, as well as his efforts to increase the number of vaccines available to Americans. The president is set to sign the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill into law Thursday afternoon.
Here’s how some of Biden’s predecessors used their first major prime-time TV addresses:
President Donald Trump: Trump made his first national address on Aug. 21, 2017 to discuss his strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia. Unlike many former presidents, Trump didn’t make his first prime-time speech from the White House. Rather, the former president spoke from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia.
Trump used the speech to outline new pillars of his foreign policy plan and to announce he wouldn’t pull all troops out of Afghanistan and South Asia.
“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you're president of the United States,” Trump said.
The former president also used the speech to solicit support for his foreign policy strategy from NATO allies.
Trump also addressed a joint session of Congress in February 2017.
President Barack Obama: Obama’s first prime-time televised address was different than both his predecessors and successors: He held a prime-time press conference on Feb. 9, 2009.
Before taking questions, Obama focused his prepared remarks on the economy and his wish for Congress to pass the stimulus plan. The bill was signed into law about a week later.
“As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work,” Obama said.
President George W. Bush: Bush’s first national address didn’t end up being a long-term focus of his administration – especially given it occurred one month before the Sept. 11th attacks.
Rather, on Aug. 9, 2001, Bush announced that he would allow federal taxpayer money to be used on stem cell research. The decision was controversial given Bush’s pro-life stance because some stem cell research includes cells extracted from embryos.
“The issue is debated within the church, with people of different faiths, even many of the same faith coming to different conclusions. Many people are finding that the more they know about stem cell research, the less certain they are about the right ethical and moral conclusions,” Bush said, pointing to the “great promise” embryonic stem cell research offers in discovering treatments and cures for serious diseases.
President Bill Clinton: Clinton used his first televised address on Feb. 24, 1993, to drum up support for his economic proposals ahead of a speech to Congress later that week.
He called for Americans’ support for a significant shift in economic policy from the Republican presidents before him, laying out plans to hike taxes on the rich and cut spending to control the deficit and reshape the government.
Days later, he took his appeal to a joint session of Congress. Ultimately Congress narrowly passed much of Clinton’s economic plan (former Vice President Al Gore needed to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.
The plan hinged on greater law enforcement spending, a program aimed at fighting drug crime in public housing, fighting international cartels, an investment in drug treatment programs, and an anti-drug education effort.
That speech included the iconic scene of Bush holding up crack cocaine seized near the White House (media reports later found agents “lured the seller” to the spot).
President Ronald Reagan: Reagan made his first address to the nation just about two weeks after his inauguration.
On Feb. 5, 1981 Reagan began his economic address by telling Americans “we’re in the worst economic mess since the Great Depression.”
Reagan’s message to Americans was that the federal deficit was unmanageable and required spending cuts, a hiring freeze and a hold on pending regulations.
Reagan also introduced his legislative economic package during the address that he would present to Congress about two weeks after his speech.
He spoke almost immediately after signing the Emergency Natural Gas Act to give him expanded powers to address the natural gas shortage stemming from the oil embargo against America during the 1979s.
“The real problem — our failure to plan for the future or to take energy conservation seriously — started long before this winter, and it will take much longer to solve,” Carter said, before asking Americans to conserve energy while the government would make efforts to expand energy production while providing Americans with tax incentives.
Missouri Secretary of State Ashcroft declines Senate bid to replace retiring Blunt
WASHINGTON — Missouri Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced Wednesday he would not run to replace the retiring Sen. Richard Blunt, R-Mo., as the senator's retirement has prompted a scramble to fill the open Senate seat.
"Our hearts are in Missouri and we cherish the opportunity to continue raising our family here. Service to Missourians is a profound privilege in which we intend to persist and honor in every respect," he tweeted to explain his reasoning for not running.
"We hope those who pledged support to me will devote their efforts to electing the eventual Republican nominee."
Ashcroft is the latest high-profile name to rule out a bid, but the first major Republican to do so after Blunt's announcement. Former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (now an NBC and MSNBC analyst) and 2016 Democratic nominee Jason Kander have both said they will not run.
On the GOP side, there are still a handful of prominent candidates publicly weighing a bid.
Rep. Ann Wagner said in a statement that she's considering a bid, as did Rep. Billy Long in an interview with Springfield's KY3.
Former Gov. Eric Greitens has also signaled his openness to running. He resigned in 2018 amid investigations related to allegations of campaign finance violations, as well as an unrelated affair where he was accused of blackmail, invasion of privacy and sexual misconduct.
And other Republicans may jump in as well.
On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Scott Sifton announced his bid last month and has the backing of dozens of state lawmakers, as well as State Auditor Nicole Galloway and former Kansas City Mayor Sly James. And Marine veteran Lucas Kunce announced his bid after Blunt made his decision.
With weeks to go before Louisiana special House elections, new filings show best-funded candidates
WASHINGTON — Just weeks before two special elections in Lousiana, new campaign finance reports show there's a clear gap between the haves and the have nots looking to win each seat.
Each party is favored to hold onto the seats each won in November. Republicans have the edge in the Fifth Congressional District, where Republican Luke Letlow won a runoff last December but passed away from Covid-19 before he could take office. And Democrats are the favorite in the Second District, which was vacated by Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, who decided to join the White House.
Julia Letlow, the widow of the former congressman-elect who is running as a Republican, leads the cash race in the Fifth District. She raised $682,000 through February and started March with $521,000 banked away. Letlow has won a smattering of Republican endorsements in her quest for Congress, including House Minority Whip and Lousiana Rep. Steve Scalise, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Lousiana State GOP.
The only other Republican who appears to have filed by the FEC's Monday deadline is Sancha Smith, who raised less than $10,000. Sandra Christophe, a Democrat and social worker who ran last cycle, just short of $70,000 for her bid and closed February with $50,000 in cash on hand.
In the Second District, three candidates raised at least $100,000, two Democrats and one Republican.
State Sen. Troy Carter, Sr., raised more than any other candidate with $519,000, ending February with almost $292,000 in cash on hand. Karen Carter Peterson, who previously ran the state's Democratic Party and was in leadership at the Democratic National Committee, raised about $450,000 and had $208,000 cash on hand. Along with others who have weighed into the race, Richmond is backing Carter while Democratic voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams endorsed Carter Peterson.
Claston Bernard, the former Olympic decathlete endorsed by the Louisiana Republican Party, raised $113,000 and had $38,000 in the bank at the close of February.
Voters will cast their ballots in both races on March 20, with the top two vote-getters (regardless of party) moving onto a runoff election if no candidate can win the majority in March.
Former FDA officials urge Biden to nominate a permanent commissioner
WASHINGTON — Five former U.S. Federal Drug Administration officials sent a letter to President Biden on Tuesday pressing him to name a new permanent commissioner for the agency.
The call comes as some medical experts and members of Congress are raising questions about whether a leadership void compromises approval of additional tools, beyond vaccines, needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, like rapid antigen testing.
The letter, obtained by NBC News, urged Biden to prioritize securing the FDA's leadership team including "seeking a formal nomination and confirmation of an FDA Commissioner."
"The coming days and weeks will require further timely and effective actions, for example to support the development of antiviral treatments and advance the availability of reliable, easy-to-use tests,” wrote former commissioners Robert Califf, Scott Gottlieb, Mark McClellan, Margaret Hamburg and Andrew von Eschenbach.
FDA veteran Janet Woodcock has been serving as acting commissioner since Biden took office.
Rapid antigen testing is being used in other countries, but the FDA has been slow to approve the tests because of accuracy concerns.
During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University's school of public health, said the tests could still be useful.
"The FDA has been slow to approve these cheap, rapid antigen tests primarily due to concerns about accuracy and lack of thorough data and maintaining the rigor and high standards of FDA approval are important. However, rapid tests serve a different role than PCR tests and should be evaluated accordingly," Jha said.
Mike Pence will make first post-White House speech in South Carolina
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence will make his first post-vice presidential speech on April 29 in Columbia, S.C.
The Palmetto Family Council confirmed Pence's speech, and announced Pence will speak to roughly 500 guests. The Palmetto Family Council is a faith-based group that describes itself as having been “on the front lines of the fight to keep biblical values a consideration in the culture at large and in public policy decision.”
The Associated Press first reported the speech.
Pence is widely believed to be planning his own presidential run in 2024, which casts a light on Pence's decision to make his first post-White House appearance in an early primary state like South Carolina.
Since leaving the White House, Pence joined the Heritage Foundation and the Young America's Foundation, with plans to deliver lectures and launch a podcast.
Ralph Northam makes first endorsement of 2021 cycle — bucking his attorney general
WASHINGTON — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam endorsed state delegate Jay Jones for Virginia attorney general on Thursday, bucking incumbent Mark Herring who served with Northam and is seeking his third term.
The governor’s endorsement is the first he’s made for Virginia’s 2021 election cycle. And the choice to back Jones — who is young, Black and more progressive — could represent a wider shift in the direction of the Virginia Democratic Party.
“[I]t is time for a new generation of leaders to take the reins. Jay Jones has stood with me every step of the way in our journey to make Virginia a more just and equitable place to live. He has been my partner as we have worked to change our Commonwealth. He also understands the deep scars of racism and will represent the diversity of our Commonwealth,” Northam wrote in a statement.
Northam’s endorsement also raises eyebrows about his relationship with Herring. In 2019, Herring called for Northam's resignation after a yearbook picture surfaced alleging Northam was either in blackface or a Klu Klux Klan costume in the photo. Northam later revealed he wore blackface as a student.
However, days after the initial scandal, Herring revealed he had also worn blackface. He tried to clarify his calls for Northam to resign by saying it was Northam’s flip-flopping explanation of the yearbook photo that was problematic.
The governor resisted resignation calls and later pushed issues of racial justice and equity to the forefront of his administration. Democrats in Virginia passed legislation banning the death penalty and expanding voting rights. Northam has also been outspoken about changing the names of schools and highways that are named after confederate leaders, and has committed to removing confederate monuments in Richmond.
Northam has not yet made announcements on who he would endorse in the races for governor and lieutenant governor, but Northam served as lieutenant governor when former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was in office. McAuliffe is now a frontrunner in the Democratic primary.
The Virginia Democratic primary takes place on June 8.
Chuck Grassley files FEC paperwork for possible 2022 re-election bid
WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission Wednesday morning, setting up a possible re-election bid for the 2022 cycle.
Grassley, elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives in 1974 and then the Senate in 1980, is the oldest Republican currently serving in the Senate and would be 89 by Election Day of 2022.
The Iowa senator filed a new statement of candidacy with the FEC on Wednesday for the 2022 cycle, which allows him to kickstart his fundraising for a potential bid. Though the paperwork makes him an official candidate in the eyes of the FEC, it doesn't guarantee he'll actually run for an eighth term. Former Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue, who in January lost his Senate seat in a runoff to now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, announced last week he wouldn't launch another campaign just days after he filed paperwork with the FEC and tweeted he was considering a 2022 bid.
Grassley has told reporters he'll make a decision "sometime in September, October or November," according to the Des Moines Register.
Grassley tested positive for Covid-19 in November but reported his case was asymptomatic and he recovered.
A handful of senators have already announced plans to retire at the end of 2022, with more potentially on the way.
Alabama’s senior GOP Sen. Richard Shelby announced last month he won’t seek re-election in 2022 after serving in Congress for over 40 years. And Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard Burr of North Carolina have also said they won’t pursue re-election bids in 2022.
Two other Republican senators have not said if they'll run again in 2022: Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Johnson said in 2016 he would only serve two terms in the Senate but has not recently addressed whether he would seek a third one. Blunt told POLITICO earlier this year he had no timetable on deciding whether to run again.
Hawley ends his confirmation no-vote streak by backing Biden's pick to chair Council of Economic Advisers
WASHINGTON — After voting against all 12 of President Joe Biden's previous Senate-confirmable nominees, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., backed his first nomination on Tuesday, Cecilia Rouse, who the Senate confirmed as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers by a wide margin.
Hawley's vote makes Rouse the first of Biden's nominees to win the senator's support, as he had previously opposed Biden's whole slate of nominees, including about half that passed with support from at least 80 senators.
He told NBC News last week that he didn't have an explicit strategy of opposing nominees, adding his test is that he hopes Biden "will nominate folks and pursue policies that will be good for working Americans and good for the middle of the country."
Ethics watchdog says Rep. Palazzo may have improperly spent campaign, official funds
WASHINGTON — The Office of Congressional Ethics found there is "substantial reason to believe" Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., improperly gave special favors to his brother and misused campaign and official funds on a variety of expenses, including renovations to a riverfront home, according to a new report released Monday.
The nonpartisan OCE, an independent group that advises the House Committee on Ethics, voted unanimously to recommend lawmakers continue an investigation into Palazzo.
In a 47-page report, the OCE board laid out allegations of wrongdoing by Palazzo that mainly fall into two tranches — improper conduct related to Palazzo's brother, who worked for his campaign, and spending related to a river home he owned and listed as his official campaign headquarters.
Palazzo's office denied the allegations in a statement, arguing that his conduct was proper and that he will cooperate with the investigation.
While the board found that Palazzo's brother "provided at least some bona fide services to the campaign committee," it also alleged that "the work Kyle Palazzo performed may have not justified the salary he received." Campaigns must pay employees fair market value, and a failure to do can be seen as receiving (or giving) an improper campaign contribution. CQ Roll Call first reported on the potential wrongdoing in December.
The congressman's office is also accused of special treatment in helping his brother attempt to update his re-enlistment code with the Navy.
The home in question has been owned by Palazzo's family for about 20 years, the OCE board said. Palazzo himself bought it from his mother and a business associated with her in 2017. The report found the congressman's campaign paid Palazzo's LLC $60,000 in rent for the property, as well as another $22,000 in expenditures for things like landscaping and utilities.
The report claims there's "substantial reason to believe there was not a bona fide campaign need for the space and that the campaign committee did not pay fair market value for its actual use of the property" and that the upkeep expenses "more accurately represented campaign-funded improvements to Rep. Palazzo's personal property."
There are also other allegations related to Palazzo's use of his staff — that his congressional staff ran personal errands or campaign work during their official work hours.
Colleen Kennedy, Palazzo's communications director, said in a statement that he "welcomes the opportunity to work through this process with the House Committee on Ethics and will fully cooperate with the Committee to show that he has complied with all relevant rules and standards."
She called the matter "a direct result of false allegations made by a primary opponent and the Campaign Legal Center," the campaign finance watchdog group that first raised questions about Palazzo's spending.
Former Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., a former House Committee on Ethics member, is representing Palazzo, she added.
"Congressman Palazzo will continue to serve his constituents with honor and integrity, and he looks forward to having this matter concluded as soon as possible," Kennedy said.
In a statement, House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., acknowledged the referral from the OCE and noted that "the mere fact of conducting further review ... does not itself indicated that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee."
McConnell says Senate GOP campaign arm will back Murkowski despite Trump's criticism
WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Monday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the official Senate GOP campaign arm, will back Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, for reelection in 2022 despite former President Donald Trump's push for the party to oppose those who voted against him during his second impeachment.
McConnell told the Congressional press pool in brief comments that the NRSC will "absolutely" back Murkowski's reelection and that he's not concerned Trump's opposition could hurt her ability to win another term. As the Senate GOP leader, McConnell plays a large role in setting the party's political strategy.
The NRSC's long-standing policy has been to support incumbents. But Trump has regularly threatened members of his party that he felt were not loyal enough to him, a dynamic that doesn't appear to have changed now that he's out of the White House.
During a Sunday speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual event in Florida, Trump criticized Republicans who are "attacking me, and more importantly the voters of our movement," before
"The Democrats don't have grand-standers like Mitt Romney, Little Ben Sasse, Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Pat Toomey," Trump said of Republican senators who voted for his conviction.
It's far from the first time Trump and Alaska's senior senator have locked horns. She called on him to resign in the wake of the attack on the Capitol earlier this year, questioning whether she wanted to continue in the Republican Party if it's "become nothing more than the party of Trump."
And last June, she applauded former Defense Secretary James Mattis' criticism of Trump, prompting the then-president to tweet that he would endorse any candidate with a "pulse" to run against her.
Murkowski has deep roots in Alaska politics. She has served in the Senate since 2002, winning three elections to the seat after being appointed that year to fill her father's term when he left to serve as governor.
She also has experience weathering a divided party — after losing the Republican primary in 2010, she won a write-in campaign to secure reelection.
Plus, Murkowski is running in a non-traditional style of primary next year, a ranked-choice vote where all candidates will be on the same ballot, regardless of party, and the top-four candidates move on to a general election.
Elizabeth Warren and two House Democrats introduce wealth tax bill
WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., rolled out a wealth tax bill on Monday with two House Democrats, aimed at raising trillions of dollars to help finance investments in infrastructure, clean energy and other Democratic priorities.
The bill would impose an annual 2 percent tax on households with a net worth above $50 million, and an additional 1 percent annual tax on assets above $1 billion.
Warren, who was recently added to the Senate Finance Committee, unveiled her legislation with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the leader of the Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
"It is time for a wealth tax in America," Warren told reporters on Monday. "A two cent wealth tax would just help level the playing field a little bit, and create the kind of revenue that would let us build back better, as Joe Biden says."
The Massachusetts senator made the wealth tax a primary issue in her 2020 presidential campaign.
Warren said she has spoken to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., about the legislation but wouldn't say if they support her bill.
"You should ask them," she said. "I don't want to speak for them."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki demurred Monday when asked if President Joe Biden favored a wealth tax. Psaki said his priority now is Covid-19 relief and that he has "a lot of respect for Sen. Warren" but will consider how best to tax the wealthy at a later time.
Cruz received a special ‘welcome back’ message in Senate gym
Sen. Ted Cruz’s colleagues had a little fun at the Texas Republican’s expense when he returned to Washington this week following his infamous trip to Cancun.
When senators arrived at the Senate gym on Wednesday morning, they found that one of them had taped memes on the lockers welcoming Cruz home and showing him in the short-sleeve polo shirt, jeans and Texas-flag mask that he had at the airport, according to two people familiar with the prank. “Bienvenido de Nuevo, Ted!” was the “welcome back” message typed at the top of the color printouts, one of which was viewed by NBC News.
The rendering featured a manipulated photo of Cruz from his well-documented trip to Mexico, dragging his luggage across an arctic landscape while holding a tropical cocktail garnished with a slice of fruit in his other hand. He is shown walking toward an image of a masked Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. with his arms crossed and wearing striped, knitted gloves — a pose famously captured during January’s inauguration.
The memes were taken down sometime Wednesday, according to the people familiar with them.
It's unclear whether Cruz saw the memes and a spokesperson for the senator did not respond to a request for comment.
The Senate gym is only used by current and former senators. The Senate Rules Committee hadn’t received a complaint about the prank, according to a committee aide.
Cruz has been widely mocked on social media — and criticized in his home state — for hopping on a plane last week to Cancun for a family trip while millions of Texans were without water and power in frigid temperatures. He returned to Texas after the controversy erupted and said the trip was a “mistake.”
Mike Memoli contributed to this report.
Meet the Republican senator who's voted against every Biden nominee so far
WASHINGTON — Just one Republican senator has voted against each of President Biden's Cabinet nominees so far: Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.
And Hawley's "nay" voting record on each of the 10 nominees who have had a vote is particularly visible given how bipartisan the majority of the confirmations have been.
Hawley was just one of:
- Two senators who voted against Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's confirmation
- Seven senators who voted against Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
- Seven senators who voted against VA Secretary Denis McDonough
- 10 senators who voted against the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines
- 13 senators who voted against Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
- 15 senators who voted against Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen
Biden's four other confirmed Cabinet members (Secretary of State Antony Blinken, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm) were all confirmed with closer margins.
Hawley may be one of many Republicans eyeing a potential 2024 presidential bid. He told NBC News' Frank Thorp and Garrett Haake that he didn't have a strategy of opposition.
"I just I hope that he will nominate folks and pursue policies that will be good for working Americans and good for the middle of the country," Hawley said. "So, that's my only test."
Hawley said he was undecided on how he'd vote on Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland.
New York Democratic Senator and former presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand boasted of having “the best voting record against Trump nominees of anyone else running for president” on the trail in 2019. She voted against 20 of 22 nominations for former President Trump's original Cabinet. She casted the only "no" vote against former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Five other Democratic senators voted against at least 80 percent of Trump’s original Cabinet nominees, and four of those senators also sought the Democratic presidential nomination: Sens., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and now-Vice President Kamala Harris.
Several of Biden's Cabinet nominees are still awaiting a vote:
- Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland
- HHS nominee Xavier Becerra
- Interior nominee Deb Haaland
- Education nominee Miguel Cardona
- Commerce nominee Gina Raimondo
- Labor nominee Marty Walsh
- HUD nominee Marcia Fudge
- EPA nominee Michael Regan
- SBA nominee Isabel Guzman
- U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai
And of course embattled OMB Director nominee Neera Tanden.
Virginia Republicans decide on drive-up convention to pick 2021 statewide nominees
WASHINGTON — The Republican Party of Virginia on Tuesday night approved a plan to nominate its gubernatorial candidate by a convention – instead of a primary – in what’s shaping up to be the marquee general-election race of 2021,
The convention will take place on May 8 at conservative Liberty University, whereby convention delegates will drive up and cast their pick for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general under ranked-choice voting.
By contrast, Democrats will be selecting their nominee at the ballot box, through a statewide primary contest on June 8.
This drive-up GOP convention at Liberty University is the same process that took down then-incumbent Congressman Denver Riggleman, R-Va., who lost the GOP nomination last year to conservative Bob Good; Good ended up winning the general election and now represents Virginia’s 5th Congressional District.
But this time around, the conventional wisdom is that this convention process is a bad outcome for the most controversial GOP candidate in the field: state Sen. Amanda Chase.
Chase denounced the process after its approval, arguing relying on a process that relies on people driving from all over the state to Lynchburg will disenfranchises voters.
“I would like the VA GOP State Central Committee to answer a question. 1,962,430 voters voted for President Trump in Virginia. How are you going to accommodate these people who will want to cast a vote for our statewide candidates?” she tweeted.
The assumption in this multi-candidate GOP field — which not only includes Chase, but also House Delegate Kirk Cox, businessman Pete Snyder and former Carlyle Group executive Glenn Youngkim — is that the percentage of the field a candidate needs to win could be as low as 25 or 30 percent. That could leave the door open for someone like Chase if the rest of the field splits the vote.
But it will likely be more difficult for Chase to win a process where she’ll need more than 50 percent, even at a convention at Liberty University, where the former university president has been a stalwart backer of former President Donald Trump and has hired a handful of Trump allies in recent months.
But the convention process also has a downside for Republicans trying to win back the governor’s mansion: It encourages less participation. And since Virginia is an open-primary state – where primary voters can request either a Democratic or Republican ballot – the only option that primary voters will have on June 8 is on the Democratic side.
Perdue opts out of 2022 Senate race after runoff loss
WASHINGTON — Former Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., announced Tuesday he will not join the field for the 2022 Senate race in the state — a surprising move coming a week after he publicly signaled he was considering a run.
Perdue told supporters in an email that he and his wife, Bonnie, "have decided that we will not enter the race for the United States Senate in Georgia in 2022." He called the decision "personal," not "political," and said he plans to "do everything" to help the eventual Republican nominee defeat Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in the fall.
There were two runoff elections for Georgia's Senate seats in January because Georgia election law mandates runoffs between the top-two vote-getters if no candidate wins a majority of the vote on Election Day. Perdue lost his runoff to now-Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., by just over 1 percentage point in January.
That race was for a full term, so Ossoff is not on the ballot in 2022. But Warnock, who defeated then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., by 2 percentage points, is on the ballot, because his race was a special election to fill the remainder of the term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who retired in 2019.
Perdue declared in his statement that the 2020 election cycle proved that "Georgia is not a blue state" and "the more Georgians that vote, the better Republicans do."
"These two current liberal US Senators do not represent the values of a majority of Georgians," he said.
Perdue had been publicly weighing a 2022 bid, filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to kickstart a potential candidacy and tweeting last week to confirm he was considering another campaign.
While Perdue is passing on a bid this cycle, Loeffler continues to float a comeback bid against Warnock. She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she's starting a group to mobilize Republican voters in Georgia and that a possible Senate bid is "certainly on the table."
Manchin undecided on supporting Deb Haaland for Interior
WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is undecided on whether he'll support Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland, Manchin's spokesperson Sam Runyon told NBC News.
Haaland, a Democratic congresswoman representing New Mexico, would be the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency and will testify before Manchin's committee on Tuesday. Haaland has been a fierce public lands defender, and has been critical of fossil fuel energy development on those lands.
Manchin “hasn’t made a decision on Haaland yet. He’s looking forward to her hearing tomorrow,” Runyon said.
Manchin's support will be critical for Haaland's nomination, as Democrats can't afford to lose any one of their members' votes before needing Republican Senators to confirm a Cabinet nominee. Manchin flexed his political muscle in the nomination process when he announced he wouldn't support Neera Tanden to be Office of Management and Budget director, likely sinking her nomination.
When Haaland testifies on Tuesday, in addition to Manchin, she will also face a committee stacked with western-state Republicans who strongly support energy development. At least two Committee members, Sens. John Barasso, R-Wyo., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., have expressed reservations about Haaland.
After Barrasso spoke with Haaland on the phone, Barrasso said, "energy development on our nation’s public lands is essential to Wyoming’s economy and America’s global energy dominance. The United States is a world energy powerhouse. We need to act like one.”
And Daines called Haaland “radical” and pointed to her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and her support of the Green New Deal as likely reasons to oppose her. Daines also threatened to try and block her confirmation.
Senate Parliamentarian to decide if $15 minimum wage can be in Covid-19 relief
WASHINGTON — The Senate Parliamentarian, who officially advises the Senate on Senate rules, could determine as early as Tuesday if a minimum wage hike could be included in the Covid-19 bill, according to a senior Democratic aide.
The decision by the parliamentarian could come before the House of Representatives completes its work on the $1.9 trillion plan which currently includes an incremental increase to the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next four years.
If the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, rules that a minimum wage measure can be included in the budget package, Democrats would just need 50 votes with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chair of the Budget Committee has repeatedly expressed optimism that the minimum wage would satisfy the budgetary requirements for inclusion.
If she rules that it is acceptable, Democrats will still have to work to ensure all 50 Democrats are on board. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have come out against raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
If MacDonough rules that the minimum wage hike isn't germane to the Covid-19 package, Democrats will need to find a new way to get this priority through an evenly-split Senate. Democrats are aiming to pass the Covid-19 relief bill through budget reconciliation to avoid a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. But that would require all 50 Senate Democrats voting together.
MacDonough will need to determine if a federal minimum wage hike will meet the specific parameters of a budget reconciliation, including if the wage hike has to have significant budgetary impact.
Update: A meeting with the Senate parliamentarian is now slated for Wednesday, two Democratic aides tell NBC News.
This meeting will consist of Republican and Democratic staff who will present their cases to the parliamentarian as to why the minimum wage should or should not be allowed to be included in the Covid-19 budget reconciliation bill.
A decision could come as early as Wednesday night, one of the aides said.
Town Hall Project merges with Indivisible as progressive groups chart path after Trump presidency
The Town Hall Project, a progressive group that sprung up after the 2016 election to track members of Congress’ public forums, is folding into Indivisible, one of the prominent so-called “resistance” groups that emerged to oppose former President Donald Trump’s agenda.
The Town Hall Project filled a simple, but valuable niche of crowdsourcing and publicizing information on lawmakers' local town halls so constituents — and journalists — could attend to ask questions and push lawmakers in the interest of transparency and accountability.
That mission was upended by the pandemic, but the group has continued to track virtual town halls and host their own, while also starting an offshoot to aggregate local mutual aid groups.
The merger, which includes the group's town hall database and a small handful of staff, comes at an inflection point for the liberal activism that flourished in opposition to Trump, now that Democrats control Washington.
“The moment is obviously different, not just because of who’s in the White House and controlling Congress, but the work is different. It was pretty straightforward in 2017,” said Nathan Williams, the founder of the Town Hall Project. “Now we're at a moment where there is a really broad assault on democratic institutions to try to really remove the possibility of accountability and representative democracy.”
Indivisible has made what they call "democracy reform" — voting rights, anti-gerrymandering efforts, filibuster reform and more — their new raison d'etre, especially after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which they say fits well with the Town Hall Project.
“The Town Hall Project's work of focusing on how constituents can directly put pressure on their elected representatives are directly aligned with what we’re trying to do,” said Ezra Levin, an Indivisible co-founder. "(Some lawmakers) don't really care about what national progressives say, they don't care about what the national media really says, but they do care what their constituents say.”
Ivanka Trump won't run against Rubio in 2022 Senate race
WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump, former President Donald Trump's eldest daughter, called Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio a few weeks ago to offer her support for Rubio’s re-election, multiple aides confirm to NBC News.
Trump informed Rubio that she was behind his campaign and will not run for Florida's Senate seat in 2022, which would have pit her against Rubio in a GOP primary. The two had a “great talk,” an aide for Senator Rubio adds.
A person close to Ivanka Trump confirmed the conversation and told NBC News that Ms. Trump was never considering a Senate run in Florida.
In a statement provided to NBC News, Trump said that Rubio is a “good personal friend and I know he will continue to drive meaningful progress on issues we both care deeply about.”
There was also discussion on the call of holding a joint event to highlight Rubio and Ivanka Trump’s push to expand the Child Tax Credit, a Rubio spokesperson added.
The New York Times first reported the news.
Asked about the potential for Ivanka Trump to enter the race, here’s what Sen. Rubio told Fox News' Chris Wallace on Jan. 24th:
“When you decide to run for re- election in a state like Florida, you have to be prepared for its competitive race. You run it like a competitive race. So that's what I'm preparing to run, a very competitive race against the tough opponent.”
“I like Ivanka. We've worked very well together on issues," Rubio added. "Look, anybody can decide to run if they want to. I mean I'm not entitled to anything and so forth. I've got to earn my way forward.”
Trump previously worked as an executive at the Trump Organization, her father's business, before joining him in the White House as a senior adviser.
Job guarantee resolution joins a growing list of progressive proposals
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., is introducing a resolution Thursday calling for a federal job guarantee, seeking to actualize an idea from Franklin Delano Roosevelt 77 years after it was proposed.
The 16-page resolution states that "it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Federal job guarantee," in order to "finally eliminate the moral and economic scourge of involuntary unemployment."
The idea is the latest in a flurry of proposals from the new Democratic-led Congress that paints a portrait of a party embracing its more economically liberal roots and throwing caution to the wind after decades of moderating its platform in response to a series of defeats in the 1980s.
Biden to mark anniversary of initial coronavirus shutdowns next month
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to mark the one-year anniversary of the country’s initial coronavirus shutdown by addressing Americans next month, according to two White House officials.
The occasion will allow the president to reflect on the difficulties the country has endured since March 11, 2020, the day that the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic, the NBA canceled its season and Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S. — then at roughly 1,000 cases — would get worse, officials said.
While Biden intends to give a significant nod to the sacrifices Americans have made, he also would outline how he sees the path forward, officials said.
“He’ll acknowledge how far we’ve come,” one White House official said. Officials said plans are for him to do so on March 11 or close to that date.
As of Wednesday the number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. was nearing 28 million and the number of deaths caused by the pandemic is more than 490,000. Some 55 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine also have been administered in the U.S., with Biden promising this week that all Americans eligible to receive it should be able to do so by the end of July.
White House officials said they are discussing specifically what Biden might do to mark the one-year anniversary of shutting down the country, including whether it’s simply a speech or a broader event and if it’s held in Washington our elsewhere in the country.
Biden, a month into his presidency, is making his first official travel outside of Washington this week with a trip to Wisconsin on Tuesday and one to Michigan planned for Thursday.
During a CNN town hall in Milwaukee Tuesday night, he telegraphed his vision for when life may return to some semblance of normal for the country.
“By next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today,” Biden said. “A year from now I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, but we don't know. So I don't want to over promise anything here."
A new 'Medicare X' bill looks like Biden's public option plan
WASHINGTON — Teeing up what’s likely to be a major Democratic policy priority this year, two Democratic senators have unveiled the latest edition of their bill to create a government-run health plan — popularly known as a public option — to compete with private insurance and put pressure on health care providers to lower prices.
Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. and Tim Kaine, D-Va. released their new “Medicare X” bill on Wednesday, which would create a public option plan to be sold alongside private plans on the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces. Health care providers who accept Medicare or Medicaid plans would also have to accept “Medicare X."
While versions of this bill have been introduced before, the senators emphasized that their latest proposal tracks closely to what President Biden promised during his 2020 campaign.
“We think what we’re introducing is the closest match to the Biden campaign,” Kaine said in a Zoom call with reporters.
The senators also said they crafted their plan to be passed through budget reconciliation — meaning they only need to get a simple majority of senators to approve the proposal (or all 50 Democratic senators and Vice President Kamala Harris' vote).
And in addition to consulting with the White House, Kaine and Bennet said they spoke with key Senate votes like Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“If it’s a blend of this proposal and others, we think that that’s great,” Kaine said. “We’re not going to mourn another bill passing.”
There's wide Democratic support for a public option but there’s also a wide range of proposals, some of which are functionally close to single-payer Medicare for All and others that would fill more narrow gaps in the current system.
Bennet and Kaine's bill falls in the latter category. It would initially be available only in places with few private insurance options, then gradually open up to everyone on the ACA exchanges. Medicare X would reimburse health care providers at up to 150 percent of Medicare rates depending on local costs.
Biden also ran on a relatively narrow, if more vaguely defined, public option proposal. Kaine and Bennet noted that their bill reflects Biden's 2020 policy papers by capping premiums at 8.5 percent of income. It would also cover people whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to qualify for subsidized insurance. In line with Biden’s campaign promises, the new Medicare X plans would also come with no-cost primary care services.
Biden’s 8.5 percent income cap on ACA plans is included in his Covid-19 bill being debated in the House, but it would last for only two years.
While a public option has broad support within the party, this proposal is likely to face pushback from progressives who want a public option that more aggressively supplants private plans.
“These issues were litigated fiercely in the last presidential campaign in both the primary and the general election and the place where Biden started the race and ended up is essentially where Tim and I are,” Bennet said.
Milwaukee Bucks vice president announces run for Senate
WASHINGTON — The senior vice president for the Milwaukee Bucks, Alex Lasry, announced his Wisconsin Senate run on Wednesday.
Lasry, who served as an aide to former President Barack Obama before joining the Bucks, said he is entering the Democratic primary to bring a "new perspective" to Washington.
"We've lived through three systemic shocks to the system over the last 20 years: 9/11, the Great Recession and now this pandemic, and we still haven't fixed things," Lasry said in his announcement video.
The 2022 Senate race in Wisconsin is still wide open. Incumbent GOP Sen. Ron Johnson hasn't said whether or not he'll run for a third term. And the state's Democratic Treasurer, Sarah Godlewski, has said she's considering a run.
But grassroots Democratic groups are already mobilizing. On Tuesday, a progressive labor group launched a $1 million ad buy against Johnson. It's the first step for Wisconsin Democrats to try and capitalize on President Biden's narrow victory in the state in 2020.
In his announcement, Lasry said he wants companies to "earn" tax cuts by increasing their manufacturing in America and paying their workers $20 an hour, and create a "worker's bill of rights."
Lasry served as chair of the Bid Committee and Finance Chair for the Democratic Convention's Host Committee, and he will take a leave of absence from the Bucks for the duration of the campaign.
"Through my work with the Milwaukee Bucks, I have shown that progressive values are good for business. Making sure that we are paying people family sustaining wages, providing workers with good union jobs, and investing in projects that respect our communities and our environment should be the new model for business across our state,” Lasry said in a press release.
Perdue takes first step toward possible bid against Warnock
WASHINGTON — Former Sen. David Perdue, D-Ga., filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission Monday night that moves him closer toward a possible challenge to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Perdue lost his bid in last month's runoff against now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff. But while that race was for a full six-year term (as Perdue's term expired in 2020), Warnock is up for re-election in 2022 because his 2020 election was for the right to fill the final two years of the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.
So with the Warnock seat on the ballot in 2022, Perdue took a first big step toward a bid against him by filing a statement of candidacy with the FEC.
But while the move means he's formally a candidate in the race, it's not an explicit announcement of his intentions. That's because candidates considering running for office have to file this paperwork once they hit certain thresholds (typically fundraising) in order to stay on the right side of campaign finance law. So candidates who file with the FEC don't always follow through with an actual campaign, although they typically do end up running.
Perdue described the filing as a "necessary legal step that will allow me to continue to keep all options open," adding that he's considering running again.
It's unclear whether Perdue would face a primary challenge as Republicans look to take advantage of typically-favorable midterm headwinds to win back the Senate seat. But if Perdue does decide to run, he'll start with a nice nest-egg, as he ended his 2020 campaign with $5.7 million left in the bank, which he can use on a subsequent bid for federal office.
Wisconsin labor group targets Johnson on Covid-19 relief votes
WASHINGTON — Ahead of President Biden’s visit to Milwaukee on Tuesday, a Wisconsin labor group is on the airwaves with a $1 million ad buy targeting Republican Sen. Ron Johnson over his votes against Covid-19 relief.
The spots, as well as a full page newspaper ad in Johnson’s hometown paper in Oshkosh, feature personal stories of Wisconsinites struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. Johnson voted against the December omnibus package that included additional Covid-19 relief, and has blocked votes for direct stimulus checks from coming to the floor.
The ads mark a grassroots push for Biden's agenda. This week the House is moving Biden's Covid-19 relief package through committees and will likely vote on the bill by the end of February.
But the labor group's mobilization is an early look into how Democrats plan to use Covid-19 relief in the Wisconsin 2022 Senate contest.
Johnson, the GOP incumbent, has not yet signaled if he will run again or not, but the ads showcase how votes on Covid-19 relief could be weaponized politically in coming races.
Pennsylvania Democrat Lamb says he'll 'look' at running for Senate
WASHINGTON — Rep. Conor Lamb, the Pennsylvania Democrat who won a pivotal special election in 2018 in his Pittsburgh-area district, told MSNBC's "Way Too Early" that he is considering whether to run for Senate to replace retiring Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey.
"I will look at it, I think. For me, it's about the work. I really feel lucky to get to serve in Washington D.C. and try to have an impact on some legislation," he said.
"I'll spend some time trying to figure out: Where can I do that most effectively? Where can I help people?"
Lamb said he has not spoken to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., about any potential bid. And while many House members looking for the exit typically argue that they can have more influence in the Senate, Lamb pointed to the work Congress is doing on passing laws like the latest round of pandemic relief to say: "We're doing a lot in the House."
The race to replace Toomey could be a crowded one, with a laundry list of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle weighing bids.
On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced a bid last week, and a handful of other prominent members of Congress and state lawmakers are seen to be considering a bid. And the long list of possible Republican contenders include former Rep. Ryan Costello, who has acknowledged he's considering a bid, as well as a host of other politicians.
Hogan: I 'probably' would have voted to convict Trump in impeachment trial
WASHINGTON — Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan would "probably" have joined the seven Republicans and 50 Democrats in the Senate to vote to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting last month's attack on the Capitol had he been a member of the Senate during this week's impeachment trial.
Hogan told "Meet the Press" Sunday that he was "proud" of Republicans who did so despite pressure from their base.
"I probably would have voted with some of my colleagues that were on the losing side," he said.
"I was very proud of some of the folks who stood up and did the right thing. It's not always easy. In fact, it's sometimes really hard to go against your base and your colleagues, to do what you think is right for the country."
Hogan also pointed to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's comments after the vote, arguing that while "he didn't vote to impeach, his words were pretty strong."
"I think time will tell, you know, how that impacts Donald Trump and how it impacts the Republican Party," said Hogan.
"It's going to go far beyond just that vote yesterday in the Senate. There's going to be potentially courts of law and the court of public opinion, and we're going to decide how history remembers this day and what people did and said."
Pompeo State Department spent $10k on “Madison Dinner” pens shipped from China
WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department spent more than $10,000 on customized pens ordered from China to dole out as gifts for guests for then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's dinner guests, new documents show, while Pompeo was publicly pushing an aggressive stance toward Beijing.
In May, NBC News revealed that Pompeo had been hosting a series of elite, private dinners funded by the taxpayer at the State Department for Republican leaders, billionaire CEOs, celebrities and even Supreme Court justices. State Department officials had raised concerns internally that Pompeo was using federal resources to build a powerful rolodex for his own political future.
Now, government documents obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and released Thursday show that the State Department bought 400 customized pens for Pompeo to give to his guests.
At about $26 each, each pen was embossed with the Madison Diner logo.The emails show State Department officials engaged in lengthy conversations with a Florida-based vendor for pens embossed in China and shipped from there to Chicago before being routed to Washington, the documents show.
During his tenure helming State, Pompeo repeatedly warned that a menacing Beijing was threatening the U.S. and its economy.
A representative for Pompeo did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
Republicans are eying Pompeo, a staunch Trump ally, as a likely contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Pompeo is one of the only high-ranking Trump officials to serve for all four years in Trump’s administration without ever publicly breaking with the president, potentially positioning him as an attractive successor to the Trump brand and his political base.
Emails turned over to NBC News in response to a separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the news organization filed against the State Department revealed Pompeo’s wife, Susan Pompeo, was heavily involved in directing State Department employees on carrying out the Madison Dinners.
Former Ohio treasurer jumps into Senate race amid jockeying for Portman seat
WASHINGTON — With a full-throated endorsement of former President Donald Trump's agenda and an attack on career politicians on both sides of the aisle, former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel announced Wednesday that he is running for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen Rob Portman, R-Ohio in 2022.
Mandel tweeted that he's jumping into the race in the midst of the ongoing impeachment largely to come to the defense of the former president.
"Watching this sham impeachment has made my blood boil and motivated me to run. I’m going to Washington to fight for President Trump’s America First Agenda," Mandel tweeted.
"In Washington, I will pulverize the Uniparty — that cabal of Democrats and Republicans who sound the same and stand for nothing. My candidacy is about standing up for working people, economic freedom and individual liberty. We must stop the far left’s assault on American values."
Mandel served two tours in Iraq as a Marine, and has spent much of his post-Marine professional life in politics. After a stint as a city councilman, he won a seat in the state House in 2006 when he was just 29 years old. In 2010, he won the state treasurer post, serving two terms in the position.
The Republican is no stranger to a Senate bid — he was the GOP's nominee who ultimately lost to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in 2012. He ran again against Brown in 2018, but dropped out citing his then-wife's illness.
Mandel's move is the latest in a busy few weeks for Ohio Senate hopefuls. A handful of big-name Republicans — Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Rep. Jim Jordan and Attorney Gen. Dave Yost — all recently announced they were not running. Former Rep. Jim Renacci, Rep. Steve Stivers, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and former state GOP chair Jane Timken are among those discussed as other potential candidates.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Tim Ryan, former state health department head Amy Acton, Rep. Joyce Beatty and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley are among those openly considering bids.
Impeachment trial carries 2022 campaign considerations for some
WASHINGTON — While politics in general will loom large over former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Republican senators up for re-election in 2022 may have the most at stake, at least in the near future.
Twenty Republicans senators’ terms expire after the 2022 cycle. Four of them (Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Patrick Toomey, R-Penn.) have announced they will not run again, relieving at least some pressure from them about how their electorates might react to their decision.
While campaign politics won’t be the only question on the minds of Republican senators, the political pressure will be clear. Depending on their situations, some running for re-election will face more potential backlash from their own party, while others may be looking toward a general election.
Four Republican senators up in 2022 voted that the impeachment trial was constitutional: Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah. Toomey joined them in that vote. That leaves 15 who voted that the inquiry shouldn't take place.
One senator up for re-election in 2022, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., voted to object to the Electoral College count in several states on Jan. 6.
Murkowski was one of the few Republican senators who supported the House's impeachment, saying that “Trump’s words incited violence.”
While a vote for impeachment could anger Republican voters at home (Trump himself has floated supporting a primary against Murkowski), she’s proven to be politically durable in a state with an independent streak.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., expressed regret for following the former president’s lead on Jan. 6 by initially objecting to the 2020 election results. And while he hasn’t said how he’ll vote in the Senate trial, he called the former president’s election claims “inflammatory.”
Most red-state Republicans aren't expected to vote to convict — their pvoters still overwhelmingly support the president and voting against him could spark a primary challenge.
But a few may be more concerned about their general elections. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., is a strong supporter of Trump. But Biden won Wisconsin by less than a point in the 2020 election, and statewide elections there are typically decided by thin margins.
And in Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio — who is running for re-election in a state Trump carried by 3 points but also one where Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has been rumored to be considering a GOP primary challenge — has said it’s “arrogant” to impeach the former president so he can’t seek public office again.
Republican Claudia Tenney to return to Congress after election finally certified
WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., has won her seat back in Congress after a lengthy vote count that stretched on for months and into courtrooms.
The New York State Board of Elections certified New York's 22nd Congressional District election by a unanimous vote on Monday,giving Tenney a victory over Democratic incumbent Rep. Anthony Brindisi. Shortly after, Brindisi conceded in a statement.
The results end the drawn-out contest in an election that saw significant delays in counting the votes and then court fights.
Tenney previously served one term in the House, losing to Brindisi in the 2018 midterms before winning again.
The race is the final undecided race of the 2020 cycle, but the second-to-last to be fully adjudicated. While the House is provisionally seating Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, her Democratic opponent, Rita Hart, has officially contested the results with the House and is asking for the body to step in and recount ballots.
High profile exit boosts Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Arkansas gubernatorial bid and cements Trump’s influence on GOP
WASHINGTON — A decade before becoming Arkansas’ lieutenant governor, Tim Griffin served as the Republican Party’s research director during George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.
After that, Griffin worked in the Bush White House under Karl Rove, was appointed by Bush as an interim U.S. attorney and then ran for Congress and won – all impressive credentials for any emerging Republican politician, particularly one looking at higher office.
But with his announcement Monday that he was ending his gubernatorial bid in Arkansas and running for attorney general instead, it more than further cleared the field for GOP gubernatorial frontrunner (and former Trump White House Press Secretary) Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
It showed how today’s Republican Party continues to be remade in Trump’s image, even three months after the former president’s defeat and as he stands trial for an unprecedented second presidential impeachment.
That someone with Griffin’s resume – and ties to the last GOP president before Trump – has less political currency than Trump’s former press secretary underscores how loyalty to Trump beats everything else in today’s Republican Party.
To be sure, Huckabee Sanders has a political identity outside of Trump. She’s the daughter of the state’s former governor, Mike Huckabee, who worked at high levels on her father’s past presidential campaigns.
And the field isn't completely clear for her, either — Arkansas' current attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, is also running for governor.
But Huckabee Sanders' most prominent, and recent, job was as Trump's White House press secretary, with Trump endorsing her last month.
And in her statement welcoming Huckabee Sanders to the race last month, Rutledge in part celebrated her own support for the Trump agenda, a reminder of his standing in the party, even as she argued that the race "is about Arkansas's future and who has a proven record and not merely rhetoric."
Loyalty to Trump trumping experience among GOP primary voters isn’t anything new.
In the 2018 cycle, then Rep. Ron DeSantis beat Adam Putnam in Florida’s GOP gubernatorial primary due in large part because DeSantis was seen as a more loyal Trump ally. Putnam had spent a decade in the House (including a stint in leadership) and two terms as the state's agriculture commissioner before his 45th birthday, a resume that had him seen as one of the state GOP's rising stars.
In 2020, former college football coach Tommy Tuberville defeated Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the runoff for Alabama senator – because Trump had grown dissatisfied with his former Cabinet official. Tuberville had never held a job in politics, while Sessions sat in that Senate seat for two decades.
And now in 2021, weeks after he left office, loyalty and service to Trump — like Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ work for the former president — trumps everything else.
In first interview since Senate announcement, John Fetterman promises to be 'sedition-free'
WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced his run for Senate on Monday morning. Fetterman, a Democrat, is running for the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn.
In his first TV interview since announcing his candidacy, Fetterman echoed language that gained him national attention in the wake of the 2020 election: attacking former President Trump's false claims of voter fraud in Pennsylvania and responding to the violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"I would promise to the people of Pennsylvania, I plan to be 100 percent sedition-free if I'm elected," Fetterman said on MSNBC. "There's already too many sedition-curious members of the United States Senate and I would never be one."
During his Monday interview, Fetterman said he supported ending the Senate filibuster, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and legalizing marijuana.
"In order to get those kind of important things passed, whether it's climate change or things like that, you need to get rid of the filibuster," Fetterman said. "This idea that some random senator from a state with 600,000 people can holdup the democratic will and the sense of urgency that these policies are coming from — I don't think that's very democratic at its core."
Fetterman also said that he agreed with Biden's decision to end construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline, but supported maintaining the balance between "transitioning away from fossil fuels, but also safeguarding and holding the union way of life sacred."
"We had a president who was actively tearing up the Paris Accords and other agreements, and throwing environmental concerns away. And now you have a president who's building that back and making decisive actions like canceling the Keystone Pipeline, which some people don't support, and I think he made the right call," Fetterman said.
Why Democrats and Republicans are competing to throw cash at you
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden wants to send up to $300 a month per child next year to families as part of his Covid-19 relief bill. Now Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah. wants to up the number to $350 and make it a permanent child allowance for nearly all Americans.
The proposals are the latest sign of a sweeping change in the policy conversation, one in which prominent Republicans and Democrats are increasingly competing to offer benefits to families that previous generations of politicians would have dismissed as welfare for the undeserving poor.
Romney’s specific plan is unlikely to get traction with Democrats, since he proposes offsetting its cost by eliminating or scaling back similar antipoverty programs and ending a deduction on state and local taxes that’s popular with Democrats.
On both sides of the aisle, there’s more appetite for simply sending Americans cash rather than routing aid through more complicated programs.
“There’s a new generation of policy thinkers on both the left and the right who have a different set of experiences than those who were around during welfare reform,” Samuel Hammond, one of the co-authors of the Niskanen Center’s analysis, said. “It brings together anti-poverty values on the left and pro-family values on the right and unites them in a really nice way.”
Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Mike Lee, R-Utah have pushed for larger child tax credits and got a pared-down version of their proposal into the GOP tax bill, for example. And Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan is similar to a bill championed by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Democratic presidential candidates, including Vice President Kamala Harris, proposed an array of new cash benefits and tax credits during the 2020 campaign while Andrew Yang ran on a universal basic income of $1,000 per month.
In the last year, the pandemic turbocharged the conversation, setting the stage for the ongoing debate over $2,000 relief checks that’s produced an odd alliance of Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. on the left and former President Trump and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. on the right.
Republicans have gone through a transformation since the days when Romney himself bemoaned in 2012 that the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax are “dependent upon government” and “believe that they are victims."
Now conservatives may have a tougher time making that case due to political changes wrought by Trump.
While Trump’s economic team was driven by mostly conventional conservatives, his political rhetoric swung 180 degrees from the tea party’s “47 percent” talk. Instead of bemoaning Americans who don’t pay income taxes, he proposed sending them a tax return with “I WIN” printed on it.
He also dropped the tea party’s obsession with deficits, and his push for pandemic checks have gotten Americans in both parties more used to the concept. Trump's success with working class voters has made some social conservatives argue that the party's business wing is too focused on corporate tax cuts, and not enough on benefits for families.
Democrats have gone through their own transformation. The party’s rising left wing, led by figures like Sanders, emphasized universal benefits in contrast to more limited programs designed to stave off accusations that aid would go to freeloading “welfare queens” or higher incomes who don't need it.
For more traditional Republicans who are worried that expanded benefits might discourage recipients from working, there’s some concern that the party is losing its identity.
If conservatives want to stop it, though, they may have to re-educate their base. Millennials are now the largest share of the electorate, and many have no memory of either the 1990s-era battles over work requirements or the deficit fears that drove calls for scaling back benefits.
First on NBC: 62 progressive groups pressure Democrats to kill the filibuster
WASHINGTON — In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Friday, 62 progressive groups called for him to abolish the filibuster to give Democratic priorities a chance in Congress. It's the latest signal that the filibuster issue isn't fading despite some vocal holdouts in the caucus.
"We urge Senate Democrats, under your leadership, to take speedy action to fix the broken Senate and make progress possible by changing the rules to end the gridlock and dysfunction," the groups wrote in the letter, first obtained by NBC News. "The best way to restore a functioning Senate is to eliminate the filibuster as a weapon the minority can use to block an agenda that a majority of Americans have just embraced at the ballot box."
Signatories include March For Our Lives, MoveOn Civic Action, Communications Workers of America, Voto Latino, Greenpeace, Demos, Demand Justice, Indivisible and Our Revolution. The groups represent causes ranging from gun control, climate action, a minimum wage hike, liberalizing immigration and others that are likely to be hindered by the 60-vote rule in a split Senate.
Fix Our Senate, an umbrella group for the campaign against the filibuster run by former Senate Democratic leadership aide Eli Zupnick, led the letter effort. Zupnick praised Schumer for rejecting Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's demand to preserve the filibuster. But he signaled that activists are expecting Schumer to persuade holdouts like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to help turn the chamber into a majority-rule body.
Schumer is up for re-election in New York next year.
"We know some Democrats are still reluctant to eliminate the filibuster, but we're going to keep making the case that the promises Democrats made to deliver results must be prioritized over an outdated and abused Senate rule that is no longer working and can easily be changed," Zupnick said.
Tweet the Press: Garrett Haake reports on the GOP's Cheney vote, Marjorie Taylor Greene decision
WASHINGTON — House Republicans voted to keep Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in her leadership position on Wednesday night after several Republicans called for her expulsion because of her vote to impeach former President Trump.
NBC's Garrett Haake reports on what that vote means for the caucus and how Republican leadership has responded to Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's controversial comments on conspiracy theories.
Click here to read the full conversation.
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.”
Trump rewards Sarah Huckabee Sanders with early endorsement for Arkansas gov
WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump didn't wait long to throw his support behind his former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in her bid to be Arkansas' governor.
Sanders announced her gubernatorial bid Monday morning in a Twitter video where she played up her work in the Trump administration and framed her bid as a fight to be the "last line of defense" for the state against a Democratic-controlled Washington.
And by the end of the day, Trump endorsed her through his political action committee in a statement that closely mimicked his typical endorsement script, calling her someone who "is strong on Borders, tough on Crime, and fully supports the Second Amendment and our great law enforcement officers" and offering his "Complete and Total Endorsement!"
Her profile, along with the former president's backing in a state where he's enjoyed significant support (especially in the state GOP), helps add rocket fuel to her bid to replace GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is term-limited.
But she's not the only candidate in the race, which includes current Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and current state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
Griffin welcomed Sanders into the race with a statement that chided her for supposedly not paying enough attention to the issues facing the state: "It sounds like she needs to catch up on what's been going on in Arkansas," he said, in response to some of the policy points Sanders emphasized in her video.
And Rutledge, who vocally supported the Texas Attorney General's lawsuit that challenged the 2020 presidential election results, noted her friendship with Sanders and the Huckabee family in a statement where she continued to tout her support for Trump's agenda as well as that "Arkansas must have a leader with a proven record of accomplishments against the liberal left."