Biden heads to Oregon amid controversy over state’s new House seat

President to tout infrastructure investments, earthquake resilience funds

President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Thursday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Thursday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Posted April 21, 2022 at 12:00pm

President Joe Biden flew to Oregon on Thursday to tout infrastructure investments as super PACs pour big money into the Democratic primary for the state’s newly created House seat, sparking controversy within the president’s party.

Biden highlighted new funding to help secure the Portland International Airport from the risk of potential earthquakes. The Port of Portland is slated to receive $3.75 million intended to make sure that the airport runway can withstand the effects of an earthquake, a real threat to an airport that sits on a fault line.

"We're here today to talk about investments we're making to modernize this airport," the president said. "Through the bipartisan infrastructure law, we're investing $25 billion to upgrade and modernize American airports out of the money that is over a trillion dollars we're spending on infrastructure."

Biden recalled his past comments criticizing American airport infrastructure relative to that in the rest of the world.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter A. DeFazio was among Oregon Democrats who spoke ahead of the president. He highlighted the breadth of the infrastructure spending in the bipartisan infrastructure law and other legislation.

"That's only the beginning," DeFazio said. "In addition to all this funding in the coming months and years to follow, the Department of Transportation and the Biden administration will roll out notices of funding opportunities for states, localities, tribes, territories and others for competitive grant applications for billions more dollars in available funding for infrastructure, and I expect Oregon to be well positioned to compete successfully for this money."

The funding for the airport’s seismic resilience comes from the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill. It was earmarked for inclusion thanks to a community project funding request from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

The trip is part of a two-day western swing, which includes stops in Portland on Thursday and Seattle on Friday.

The president’s trip to Oregon comes as congressional campaigns are in full swing for primaries on May 17, giving voters a little more than three weeks to pick their parties’ nominees.

Incumbent Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, who is facing a primary challenge in Oregon’s 5th District from attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner, appeared with Biden at the airport, along with Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.  Blumenauer and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici were also present.

Schrader, who is running again in the 5th District, outraised McLeod-Skinner in the first quarter, with $710,000 to her $310,000.

Crowded primary for new seat

In the 6th District, a brand new seat with boundaries that encompass part of the Willamette Valley wine country as well as suburban Portland, a big investment from a high-profile super PAC with ties to House Democratic leadership has roiled the crowded primary.

House Majority PAC, the biggest outside group supporting House Democratic candidates, logged its largest tab so far this year in support of Carrick Flynn, an Oregon native and political newcomer who co-founded the Center for the Governance of Artificial Intelligence at Oxford University, according to his campaign website. HMP has disclosed spending more than $500,000 in support of Flynn, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, and plans to spend $1 million, other candidates said.

By contrast, HMP has not disclosed any spending in support of Schrader. “National Democrats have so little confidence in Kurt Schrader and their party’s ability to hold the seat, they’ve moved on to the next shiny object,” said Courtney Parella, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The NRCC has listed two GOP contenders in that district — Jimmy Crumpacker and Lori Chavez-DeRemer — as “On the Radar” candidates in its Young Guns program. Biden would have carried the redrawn 5th District by 9 points and the new 6th by nearly 13 points in the 2020 presidential election.

In the 6th, Flynn also has the backing of Protect Our Future PAC, a different outside group funded in part by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, according to FEC disclosures. Protect Our Future PAC has disclosed spending more than $4 million in support of Flynn’s bid.

But it’s the investment from HMP, which focuses on helping Democrats win the majority and doesn’t typically wade into primaries for nonincumbent Democrats in districts that favor the party, that has raised eyebrows within the party.

“I can’t contend with that kind of money,” said Andrea Salinas, a state lawmaker who has endorsements from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC, Planned Parenthood and elected leaders in the state.

However, she said in an interview with CQ Roll Call that the big money on behalf of Flynn “certainly doesn’t change anything from my perspective. … The thing that I’m going to continue to do is grow this grassroots campaign.”

Salinas and five other Democrats in the race issued a joint statement blasting HMP’s spending in their primary.

“This is a highly competitive Democratic primary with many strong candidates. The field includes four women — three of which are women of color — and two men who all have substantive experience working in the legislature, local office, science, the military, and healthcare,” the statement from Salinas, Kathleen Harder, Teresa Alonso Leon, Loretta Smith, Cody Reynolds and Matt West said. “This effort by the political arm of the Democratic establishment to buy this race for one candidate is a slap in the face to every Democratic voter and volunteer in Oregon — and is especially concerning in a year when all resources must go to protecting the Democratic majority.

“Carrick Flynn, the candidate receiving this financial support, has already benefited from nearly $5 million in support from cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, at a time when the cryptocurrency industry seeks to increase its influence in Washington,” they added.

Salinas’ campaign released its second ad this week, highlighting her support for abortion rights.

Merkley, the state's junior senator, tweeted last week that although he hadn’t endorsed in the 6th District primary, “it’s flat-out wrong for House Majority PAC to be weighing in when we have multiple strong candidates vying for the nomination.”

HMP has worked in Democratic primaries before, including on behalf of Californians Julia Brownley and Gil Cisneros.

“House Majority PAC is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to secure a Democratic House Majority in 2022, and we believe supporting Carrick Flynn is a step towards accomplishing that goal,” said CJ Warnke, House Majority PAC’s communications director, in an email statement. “Flynn is a strong, forward looking son of Oregon who is dedicated to delivering for families in the 6th District.”

Flynn campaign manager Avital Balwit said in an emailed statement that the campaign’s message “is clearly resonating, not only here in the 6th district, but with national advocates for pandemic preparedness, equity and voter engagement, and Democratic leaders across the nation. We are grateful for the confidence and support of these organizations, and remain committed to running our locally-focused campaign.”

Flynn’s campaign raised $830,000 during the first quarter of this year, while Salinas’ campaign raised $340,000, FEC filings show. Reynolds raised $510,000 and loaned his campaign $2 million, while Harder reported raising $85,000 for the period. Leon brought in $68,000; Smith, $70,000; and West, $165,000.

Primary voters in the state will also pick nominees to run for DeFazio's seat because he is retiring. The leading contender on the Democratic side is Val Hoyle, while Republicans expect Alek Skarlatos, who lost to DeFazio last cycle, to be their nominee again. Skarlatos raised $590,000 in the first quarter, while Hoyle raised $410,000 in the period, according to FEC filings.