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At the Races: Taxes, vets split GOP?

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Nearly three dozen House Republicans sided with Democrats on Thursday on a bill that would expand benefits for sick veterans, showing a glimmer of bipartisan cooperation that campaign-minded members of both parties did their best to obscure by calling public attention to their internal and interparty disputes.

President Biden gave a shoutout to the effort during the State of the Union address, weeks after a more targeted Senate bill passed by voice vote. But before Biden called on Congress to “pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they deserve,” Colorado GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert tried to steal the spotlight, loudly blaming Biden for the deaths of 13 servicemembers last year in the final days of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

While most Republicans voted against the House bill, they indicated they were open to a compromise. That group, led by Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the freshman who won by six votes in 2020, argued the House bill was too expensive and would create backlogs at the VA but said the Senate bill, which they proposed as an amendment, could be a bipartisan win as soon as this week. Not all Democrats were ready to get behind that proposal, though. A group that included several Frontliners desperate for policy wins they could bring back to their constituents argued the Senate version would not help all the eligible veterans and wouldn’t assume that certain respiratory diseases and cancers were because of toxic exposures in the line of duty, reports CQ Roll Call’s Peter Cohn.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly split with a member of his leadership, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, during his weekly news conference. Asked about the 11-point platform that Scott released last week, which says that everyone should pay income taxes to have “skin in the game,” McConnell distanced himself from Scott’s plan. “We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half of the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years,” McConnell said. 

Democrats, eager to highlight the divisions among the opposing party after months of deflecting criticism about their own dysfunction, continued to emphasize Scott’s plan. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced they were sending copies of the plan to Republicans up for reelection this year with the call to raise taxes highlighted.

Starting gate

It’s happening: The 2022 primaries officially began in Texas on Tuesday with more races to watch than you could shake a stick at. Rep. Louis Gohmert, who gave up his safe House seat to challenge embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton, finished last in a four-way primary. Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, was forced into a runoff. Progressives got some other results to feel good about, as did two incumbent Democrats who switched districts after redistricting. And national Republicans’ preferred candidates won their races in two competitive primaries. We have a rundown of all those results plus a primer for what we were watching on the big night. But the real stop-the-presses moment came late Wednesday afternoon when …

Shocker: Two-term GOP Rep. Van Taylor, who was facing internal criticism for his vote to create an independent Jan. 6 commission, was forced into a runoff against retired Army officer Keith Self, a former Collin County judge who thought the 2020 elections were stolen. But hours later, Taylor ended his campaign and admitted to an extramarital affair that was exposed in the days leading up to the primary. That makes Self the nominee in a district that became overwhelmingly Republican after redistricting.

Inhofe out: Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe announced he would leave Congress in January, two years into his fifth term. He endorsed Luke Holland, his chief of staff, to replace him, but Holland will face a crowded primary in the ruby-red state. Rep. Markwayne Mullin said he would enter the race, and state Sen. Nathan Dahm, who was challenging Sen. James Lankford, who is up for reelection, said he would switch to run for Inhofe’s seat. Oklahoma law allows special elections to be held for seats that aren’t vacant yet, a practice one writer on the Election Law Blog questioned

Bowing out: After his district was split by a congressional map chosen by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, GOP Rep. Fred Keller said he would leave Congress at the end of this term rather than continue the challenge of fellow Republican Rep. Dan Meuser that he announced last week. Keller slammed the state court for selecting “a partisan map favored by Democrats,” the same day that Republicans asked the Supreme Court to overturn the chosen map. 

Florida man leaving Congress: Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch said he will leave Congress later this year to become CEO of the American Jewish Committee. The Ethics Committee chairman said he would stay until the House recesses before the midterm elections, currently set for Sept. 30.


Second act?: Trump-targeted Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger ended his bid for reelection in October, but he told a gathering of anti-Trump conservatives over the weekend he’s “not going anywhere” and ducked a question about whether he’ll vie for the 2024 presidential nomination, CQ Roll Call’s Herb Jackson reports.

Late call: Republican Army veteran Wesley Hunt has avoided a runoff in Texas’ newly created, deep-red 38th District in the Houston suburbs. Hunt narrowly lost a nationally watched campaign against Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in the 7th District in 2020, and Republicans in Washington consider him one of their top recruits.

Rejected ballots: Voters in both parties had their ballots rejected in Texas’ first election since the state Legislature joined a rush of GOP-controlled states to pass new voting restrictions. The Associated Press reports that there were no significant issues at polling locations, but counties that had rejected thousands of mail ballots still don’t know how many will end up counting.

#PASen: Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman released the first television ad of his campaign for the state’s open Senate seat, which reviews his life story and how he got into politics. The spot also shows the cash advantage Fetterman has over his Democratic primary opponent, Rep. Conor Lamb, whose allies have launched a new super PAC to support him. But without the support of party leaders in Washington, some people are skeptical the PAC could close Lamb’s fundraising gap, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. 

Advantage GOP: A federal judge found that opponents of Georgia’s new congressional district map, which could help Republicans pick up an extra seat, met many of the tests to show violations of the Voting Rights Act. But relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent order regarding Alabama, Judge Steve Jones denied an injunction to keep the map from being used in this year’s elections, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Ducey still a ‘no’: Senate Republicans have continued to hold out hope that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey would enter the race against vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, but Ducey keeps dashing those hopes. He appears to be a firm no, a setback for the GOP, which already lost out on a top recruit in New Hampshire when Gov. Chris Sununu declined to run for Senate. “If you’re going to run for public office, you have to really want the job,” Ducey wrote in a letter to donors that the Arizona Republic obtained. “Right now I have the job I want.”

Eyes on Alabama: GOP Rep. Barry Moore won’t face a primary challenge from businessman Jeff Coleman in Alabama’s 2nd District after a court ruled that Coleman’s name would not appear on the ballot, according to the local publication Dothan Eagle. Moore will run unopposed in the May 24 primary. The GOP Senate primary, though, continues to raise some eyebrows: Former President Donald Trump, who already endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks in that race, may also help rival Katie Britt, a former chief of staff to Sen. Richard M. Shelby, CNN reported

The Warren primary: Oregon Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner got a boost in her primary challenge to Rep. Kurt Schrader from across the country. Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed McLeod-Skinner’s campaign. The Massachusetts Democrat also endorsed former Rep. Donna Edwards, who is running in Maryland’s 4th District.

Locked on Twitter: Twitter temporarily locked Missouri GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s account after she tweeted that “women’s sports are for women, not men pretending to be women,” and a link to an ad in her Senate campaign saying she “won’t look away while woke liberals destroy women’s sports.” The campaign was informed that the post violated Twitter’s rules against hateful conduct. 

Foreign affairs: Democratic political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker has signed on to help the government of Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion, public documents show. A filing to the Justice Department, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, said the firm would “provide, on a pro-bono basis, speech writing support in connection with the foreign principal’s remarks to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly.” SKDK declined to comment beyond the public filing.

Celebrity PAC woman: A new PAC has invoked the name of Hollywood star and climate activist Jane Fonda, according to a recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. Representatives for the Jane Fonda Climate PAC did not respond to a request for comment, but campaign finance lawyers note that if Fonda hasn’t given it her blessing, the PAC could be at risk of a lawsuit. Fonda, sporting the color red, held climate change demonstrations at the Capitol, leading to her arrest, before the pandemic.  

Minnesota special: Candidates are beginning to file for the special election in Minnesota’s 1st District to replace the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn. State Rep. Jeremy Munson, a Republican, has filed to run, and Democrats Richard Painter, a former GOP ethics counsel, and Red Wing bookstore owner Richard DeVeo have also announced campaigns for the Aug. 9 special election. More candidates are also considering joining the race, according to Axios. 

#MTG: Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker pulled out of an event organized by  Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fellow Republican, after she spoke at a white nationalist rally where attendees cheered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and chanted Vladimir Putin’s name, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. 

VIEW PAC at 25: Value in Electing Women, or VIEW PAC, formally kicked off the 2022 cycle with a 25th anniversary reception at the Capitol Hill Club this week with a crowd of lawmakers and K Street donors. The group backs GOP women candidates for the House and Senate. The event raised more than $500,000, according to organizers. Attendees included Jennifer Strahan, who is running against Greene in a primary in Georgia’s 14th District. Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Tom Emmer, who chair the Senate and House campaign arms, turned out. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst was there, as were Reps. Nicole Malliotakis of New York; María Elvira Salazar of Florida; and Hartzler, who is running for Senate in Missouri. “Over the last 25 years VIEWPAC has contributed and raised over $25 million to help elect Republican women to the House and Senate,” said VIEW PAC’s Julie Conway, who confirmed the aforementioned attendees were among hundreds there. “We’re proud to have played a part in having a historic number of incredible women now serving in Congress.” 

What we’re reading

Getting organized: A meeting between Congressional Democrats and White House officials in which members asked for a point person to work with them on this year’s midterm elections was a turning point as the party is getting organized to campaign, The Washington Post reports. “We wanted to make sure that the proper attention was being paid to the midterms,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Post. “They have an enormous amount of talent down there. We just wanted to know who our point of contact was.”

Taking TV on the trail: Mehmet Oz, who is known for his daytime television program “The Dr. Oz Show” and is seeking the Republican nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania, is hosting town halls around the state to introduce himself to voters. He has also traveled to California to unveil a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and to Florida for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. The Associated Press reports that voters are still deciding whether Oz is for real, as he deals with accusations of carpetbagging and questions about “whether he adheres to strict Republican positions on things like guns and abortion.”

Whose party? Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas back opposing candidates in the Missouri Senate primary, offering a sign of their divergent attempts to put their stamp on the GOP, Politico writes. Cruz endorsed Attorney General Eric Schmitt — starring in a $500,000 ad campaign for him released last week by the Save Missouri Values super PAC — while Hawley has backed Hartzler.

The count: 75%

That’s the percentage of the Senate Republican conference, on average, that voted “no” on President Joe Biden’s nominees last year — the highest level of rejection of presidential picks from an opposition party since Congressional Quarterly began tracking the votes in 1969, according to an analysis by CQ Roll Call’s Ryan Kelly. Niels Lesniewski and Paul V. Fontelo joined Kelly in laying out more details from our annual vote studies about how much support Biden got, how frequently members voted with or against their parties and how often lawmakers missed votes last year. All the data is on CQ Vote Watch.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan’s continuing to rate House races state-by-state. His latest efforts look at how Democrats’ losing streak in Idaho will probably continue and attempts to further shrink the GOP delegation in Illinois could turn into a dummymander.

Candidate confessions

You can tell by his tone that former GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia isn’t entirely over the attacks he faced for writing about Bigfoot believers and officiating a same-sex wedding

But he also used his experiences to get laughs when he spoke Feb. 26 at the Principles First conference of anti-Trump conservatives at the National Press Club.

“There was an 8,000 percent increase in searches for Bigfoot erotica on PornHub,” he said. “They call it the Riggleman bump.”

Defeated at a GOP nominating convention in 2020, the distillery owner is now working as an aide on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurgency. In his speech, Riggleman connected opponents’ portrayals of his Bigfoot book in his successful 2018 campaign with how voters could be so fired up by people trying to make money off of Trump’s lies about the 2020 election that they attacked the Capitol. 

“I was writing a book using Bigfoot as a disinformation system,” he said, noting believers in the furry legend spend large sums to go on Bigfoot expeditions and attend conferences. “And that book was used against me in different disinformation, to actually accuse me of being a Bigfoot-porn-loving Nazi.”

Attacks over the wedding were worse. 

“I didn’t think two years later that I’d also be accused of being a pedophile. I’d be accused of running a money-laundering operation through my distillery for the Democratic Party. I’d be accused of trying to change the sexual orientation of children because I officiated the same-sex wedding. That I would actually, probably be the first congressman to be taken out by QAnon folks,” he said. “In the middle of 2019, I’m giving a speech after the wedding, and all of a sudden I see people coming up, saying, ‘You betrayed us,’ and they’re wearing a little ‘Q.’ I didn’t know what it was at the time.” 

Shop talk: Sharon Yang

Yang serves as the communications director for Building Back Together, an organization that promotes the Biden administration’s agenda. Before joining the group in September, she worked on six campaigns straight for Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, now-Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential primary bid, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign, the 2020 House race of Texan Gina Ortiz Jones, Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff’s runoff race and Virginia state Sen. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s gubernatorial primary. 

Starting out: Yang, who grew up in Houston as the daughter of immigrants, was doing campaign work before she could even vote. She felt inspired to volunteer for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. “I didn’t have my driver’s license yet,” she said. “I’m really glad my mom acquiesced to chauffeur me around.” She worked to help get out the vote by knocking on voters’ doors and making phone calls. “It’s a very unique thing to get on the phone with people you wouldn’t be talking with otherwise,” she recalled. “They share their worries, their hopes. It’s something you really keep with you.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: The day that Harris announced she was suspending her presidential campaign, before the Iowa caucuses, Yang happened to be in the dentist’s chair in the Hawkeye State. “Mostly because I hadn’t been to the dentist in a really long time, I was having three cavities dealt with,” she said. “My dentist was like, ‘I’m really sad about Kamala Harris dropping out.’ In my head I’m like, Don’t worry, me too.” Yang had a more uplifting unforgettable moment, though, in January 2021 after working on Ossoff’s runoff campaign. “It was just an incredible thing to win a runoff in the state of Georgia, flip the state blue, along with Sen. Warnock, to clinch control of the Senate, and all for a candidate who was so inspirational,” she said. 

Biggest campaign regret: Other than deferring her dental visits, Yang said she’s learned a lot from the campaigns that have lost. In Jones’ 2020 race, for example, Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales’ campaign attacked Jones by alleging that she didn’t actually live in the congressional district, because she had worked for the government in Washington, D.C. “It’s demonstrably not true. I knew where she lived in San Antonio,” Yang said. “At the time, I thought I was doing what I could to push back against it. We got a fact check written, but we could’ve been a lot more aggressive about countering it. It’s a lesson learned about countering misinformation.” 

Unconventional wisdom: “The kind of wisdom I find most helpful is remembering this isn’t a rat race,” Yang said. “You don’t have to view your next job as just the next step up on the career ladder. You should enjoy this work, you should be motivated by it. I’ve found it much more rewarding to think about what I like doing — is there a new skill I can learn versus what is the next big flashy thing to add to the résumé. … And I will say taking care of yourself is important.”

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Coming up

House Democrats head to Philadelphia next week for their rescheduled annual issues conference, which had been set to happen earlier this winter but was delayed by the omicron wave of COVID-19. The caucus will meet in person for three days, after holding a virtual event last year.

Photo finish

Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, left, who said this week he would leave Congress before the end of the year, prepares for a 2021 hearing with New Jersey Democratic Rep. Albio Sires, who said in December he would not run for another term this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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