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At the Races: TikTok takeover

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call campaign team. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

The TikTok debate took over Capitol Hill this week, with CEO Shou Zi Chew testifying before a House committee today and members divided over the future of the popular app and the potential political price of getting rid of it. 

Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok counts 150 million Americans as users but has come under renewed scrutiny for its ties to China’s communist government and privacy concerns. The Biden administration has said the app needs to be sold or face a potential ban.

Members who are active on the platform said it’s another way to meet voters where they are but that it wasn’t a major part of their campaign strategy last year. 

Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson, a freshman from North Carolina, has 1.4 million followers on TikTok. Since he’s been in Congress, Jackson has posted videos about issues including the debt ceiling and his participation in a recent Zoom call with hundreds of other members of Congress about the failure of Silicon Valley Bank. He said he uses a separate phone from his personal phone for TikTok and that he cross-posts the videos to other social media platforms. Congress acted last year to ban TikTok on government-issued devices. 

“TikTok is a useful app for me to reach constituents, but national security comes first. And I think the assessment from FBI Director Wray is to be taken seriously,” Jackson said. “It sounds like we have two serious concerns: one is data privacy, and the other is the algorithm. And after two years of negotiations, I think where we’re at is the ultimatum of the administration, which I think is necessary and appropriate.” 

Others said the political calculations shouldn’t be a part of their considerations.

“So for the person who politicizes this, they should be reprimanded,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who is seeking reelection in Montana next year. “This isn’t about politics, this is about national security. This is about privacy for people.”

Meanwhile, New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman has emerged as one of TikTok’s top allies on Capitol Hill. At a news conference on Wednesday, Bowman said the platform shouldn’t be singled out from other social media platforms and urged a broader conversation about how to ensure social media users’ information is secure. 

Republicans, meanwhile, maintain the app is a threat to national security and can harm children’s mental health. During the House hearing, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio released a video saying that the Chinese Communist Party’s control over TikTok “is an unacceptable national security threat.”

“It’s true every social media company and every tech company collects a tremendous amount of our data, but TikTok is the only one that is controlled by a foreign government, specifically the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. 

At a news conference today, House Republicans noted the differences between the use of TikTok in the U.S. and China and said the app is harmful to children.

“It is time that we take a stand against TikTok and China and stop them from harming our future leaders under our own roof,” said Texas Rep. Troy Nehls. “TikTok is a Chinese surveillance tool and a threat to our country.”

Starting gate

Trail pay: The Federal Election Commission may loosen restrictions on using campaign funds for salaries and benefits for federal candidates. Making it easier for candidates to draw a regular salary, plus health care and other benefits, would help encourage more diversity among House, Senate and presidential hopefuls, supporters told the commission Wednesday. 

Back off: Justice Department lawyers urged the U.S. Supreme Court this week not to rule on a challenge to North Carolina redistricting since that state’s highest court is reconsidering the case, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone writes.

Keeping score: President Joe Biden usually got his way last year when he took a position on votes before the House and Senate, and, largely due to proxy voting in the House, the rate of members participating in votes continued to set records, CQ Roll Call’s annual vote studies analysis by Ryan Kelly, Niels Lesniewski and Paul V. Fontelo found.


Budget battles: House Republicans, at their retreat in Florida over the weekend, were lowering expectations they could balance the budget, CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson reports. Meanwhile, colleague Aidan Quigley details how Democrats are beating up on budget cuts that haven’t been proposed yet.

Not Grandpa Daines’ party: Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who runs the NRSC this cycle, joined the “Ruthless” podcast, discussing the Senate map with GOP host Josh Holmes, a former top aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It’s a really good map,” Daines told Holmes. “But as we remind everybody that looks at that map, Josh, don’t fall in love with it, because these are going to be some brutal races.” Daines offered his views on three key races in Montana, West Virginia and Ohio, where potentially vulnerable Democrats are up for reelection. Those states have shifted right in their voting, Daines said, with blue-collar voters rejecting the more liberal Democratic Party of today. “This is not the party of John F. Kennedy or Mike Mansfield, who was from Montana, the longest serving majority leader until Leader McConnell just surpassed that record. … Now, [those voters are] not ready to go to the next Lincoln Reagan dinner and start blowing up balloons for Republican Party events … but they are voting Republican.” He also noted that his Grandpa Daines was a “die-hard Democrat.” 

Endorsement watch: End Citizens United Let America Vote endorsed Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin in Michigan’s Senate race. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee released a list of more than 90 House and Senate endorsements, including battleground Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Tester.

Women in the Senate: Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith will lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s Women’s Senate Network for this cycle. “I know from my own race how important the support from the Women’s Senate Network is, and I’m excited to be working with the DSCC to help reelect senators like Tammy Baldwin, Jacky Rosen and so many others,” Smith, who is also a DSCC vice chair, said in a statement.

PAC trip: The Psychedelic Medicine Coalition, which advocates for legalization of psychedelics for medical treatment, launched the Psychedelic Medicine PAC. The PAC aims to “help elect leaders who believe in science and want to improve lives through psychedelic medicine,” according to a news release. NBC News has more on the effort.

Sinematic: Republicans need to have a candidate before Arizona’s Senate race really comes into focus, but Democrat-turned-independent Sinema’s slams on her former caucus-mates, as described by Politico, will ensure no shortage of drama.

What we’re reading

Family history: Our friend Jacob Rubashkin at Inside Elections was inspired to compile a very thorough list of political “nepo-babies,” including 11 House members who had a parent serve in the chamber and dozens more whose relatives served in other political offices or roles. Did we mention it’s very thorough? 

Davis exit interview: Former Illinois GOP Rep. Rodney Davis sat down with Illinois Public Media for a far-reaching conversation on Donald Trump (Davis says he’s a “loser”), the Freedom Caucus, polarization in Congress and finally having time to clean out his basement. Davis served 10 years in Congress before losing the Republican primary in a redrawn downstate seat to fellow Rep. Mary Miller.

Ocean State update: Democrat Helena Foulkes won’t be a candidate for Congress this year. Foulkes, a former CVS health executive, 2022 Rhode Island gubernatorial contender and niece of former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, told supporters Monday that she wants to focus on local issues. The Providence Journal assessed the field of candidates seeking to replace Rep. David Cicilline, who is leaving Congress in June. 

Self-funders: The NRSC is looking to independently wealthy potential candidates to run for Senate in a handful of swing states next year, an acknowledgement that their candidates have been outraised by Democrats and their reliance on outside groups has not been sufficient, according to Politico. 

The count: 0

That’s how many times Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy voted in line with Biden’s stated position last year, according to CQ Roll Call’s annual vote studies. Five other Republicans had presidential support scores of 1 percent: Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Clay Higgins of Louisiana and Bob Good of Virginia, plus then-Rep. Van Taylor of Texas.

Nathan’s notes

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did not mention his “cultural” upbringing in another state when he was interviewed as a House candidate in 2012. And his GOP colleagues remember the former Yale baseball captain as performing much better in the annual Congressional Baseball Game than DeSantis’ stats actually show, Nathan L. Gonzales writes. 

Candidate confessions

Democratic Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, the Gen Zer from Florida, shared more Wednesday about the financial struggles he experienced while running for office last year. In testimony to the FEC, Frost urged the commission to allow candidates to tap campaign funds for salaries and benefits with fewer restrictions. 

“I put aside savings and planned to work part time as an Uber driver but quickly realized that the savings didn’t last, especially with the rising rent costs in Orlando and the cost of living, and I found out that I couldn’t find enough hours in the day to run for Congress and also drive Uber, which was unsustainable in and of itself,” Frost said. “I mean, I’d be campaigning from 8 or 9 a.m. in the morning, 10-11 p.m. at night, go Uber till 2 a.m.” 

He quit his full-time job with a gun control group and launched his campaign in August 2021 but, under current rules, wasn’t eligible to take a paycheck from the campaign until mid-June 2022. And then, when he won his election, he could no longer draw a salary from the campaign, even though he said his $174,000 congressional salary didn’t start to arrive until early February. “And so, in the course of a year and a half, I’d only received a paycheck for about four months.” He was turned down at a prospective apartment in the nation’s capital because of his low credit score, he said. 

“I was able to slum it out for a year and a half, but it was difficult. I put myself in a bad financial place, but, I’ll be honest, if I had a family to take care of, I probably would have had to drop out midway through the race. … There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for me now because I’m collecting a great salary, and I will be able to pay off my debts. I will be in a better place at the end of two years. If I wouldn’t have been successful, I would be in a very, very, very bad situation right now, financially and in my personal life, just because I wanted to take the step to put my name forward to serve my community.”

Shop talk: Stefanie Brown James

Brown James is a co-founder and senior adviser of The Collective PAC, which works to elect Black candidates at all levels of government.

Starting out: As a student at Howard University, Brown James learned the basics of advocacy and organizing as a youth member of the NAACP. After serving as the civil rights group’s national field director, she joined President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign as the national African American vote director. “We were able to garner what was at the time the largest Black voter participation in history,” she said. In 2013, she formed Vestige Strategies — a civic and community engagement consulting firm that assists nonprofits, corporations, foundations and countries — with her husband, Quentin James. They launched The Collective PAC in 2016.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: While working on the Obama reelection campaign, she met with a group called African Americans for Obama, leaders who had immigrated from various African countries . “I’m a girl from Cleveland, Ohio, and they looked at me and said, ’We’re African Americans for Obama, you’re just American,’” Brown James recalled. “As a Black woman, it was very eye-opening because … it reminded me that the Black community is not monolithic. There are so many things that bring us together and unite us but so many differences [and] nuances. … We have to be responsive to what we all bring to the table,” she said. “That was a pivotal organizing turning point for me.”

Biggest campaign regret: “I wish I would have spent time working in the White House,’’ Brown James said. “I think having that experience would have been beneficial and given me a different perspective on how the organizing work we do during campaigns translates into how governance happens.”

Unconventional wisdom: ”Garner as many experiences as you can,” Brown James said. “Politics is really about engaging the community to determine who the decision-makers are for them, and I think it’s important to know the advocacy part of the work, so working with a community-based organization or a civil rights organization is important. I think working on a campaign is important. I think working for an elected official is important. Getting those various experiences is important because you see the work from different angles and different perspectives.” A varied résumé teaches you that “there’s no one right way of doing things,” she said. “I remember when I worked on the Obama campaign and I thought I knew everything about organizing. I came from the NAACP — we did the civil rights movement! And I got to Obama world and was like, ‘Oh, metrics are important.’ Political organization is different from civil rights organizing, but all of those experiences helped me when it came time to create my own organization that is designed to change the face of politics in this country and elect new leadership. I don’t think we could be successful with The Collective if it wasn’t for the various experiences we had both on the advocacy side of work and the political side of work.”

Coming up

At the Races regulars Mary Ellen McIntire and Niels Lesniewski join CQ Roll Call’s defense expert John M. Donnelly and editor-in-chief Jason Dick on Tuesday to discuss how the 118th Congress is going and what lies ahead in a webinar on “Navigating the New Congress.” Sign up here.

Photo finish

One of these guys was born to run — and has won 11 general elections since 1970, with maybe one more coming — and the other is a guy from New Jersey who picked up his 2021 National Medal of Arts award this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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