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At the Races: Labor Day blues

President Joe Biden has repeatedly proclaimed his intention to be the most pro-union president in history, and many labor leaders say he’s already made good on that goal.

Just a week after announcing his reelection campaign, Biden was endorsed by the National Education Association, which represents 2.9 million teachers and is the nation’s largest professional employees union. In June, he received the backing of the AFL-CIO, the earliest the labor federation has ever endorsed a candidate for president.

Unionized workers in a variety of sectors, from Starbucks baristas and Amazon warehouse workers to UPS drivers and Hollywood screenwriters and actors, have received encouragement from Biden. 

And on Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted a Treasury Department report showing that labor unions benefit both unionized and non-unionized workers. “On average, union workers earn up to 15 percent more in pay than non-union workers in the same occupations,” Harris said. “Union workers also receive retirement benefits, paid sick leave, life insurance and discounts on child care at a much higher rate.” 

Yet fault lines between Biden and organized labor have emerged. Some labor activists were disappointed with the Democratic president’s role in ending a yearslong collective bargaining process among 12 rail unions in 2022, in part because the agreement lacked the sick leave provisions that the unions had sought.

As the federal holiday to honor organized labor approaches, a new headache looms, in the form of a potential auto workers strike next month. 

The United Auto Workers union backed Biden in 2020 but has yet to endorse him this cycle. The UAW has been frustrated with the administration’s approach to the transition to electric vehicles because EV factories generally pay lower wages and employ fewer workers.

Former President Donald Trump made a play for the group’s backing, but the union has almost always supported Democrats.

The union voted last week to authorize a strike if a tentative agreement can’t be reached. The White House remains “in close touch … with UAW and the Big Three Automakers,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Starting gate

Small change, big issue: Pennsylvania Rep. Chris Deluzio stopped by a handful of small businesses in the town of Bellevue, just outside of Pittsburgh, this week to discuss what the Biden administration is doing to rein in so-called “junk fees.” He’s one of several House Democrats to hold events on the issue this month. 

Small states, big money: Candidates running in the off-year special election primaries for House seats in Rhode Island and Utah have already spent nearly $3.9 million, according to campaign finance reports filed last week. Outside groups have spent another $1.2 million on behalf of Democratic candidates in Rhode Island and close to $70,000 on Republicans in Utah.


Then there were 11: Democrat Don Carlson suspended his campaign for the open seat in Rhode Island’s 1st District after Target 12 in Providence raised questions about his conduct when he worked as a professor at Williams College. Carlson, a renewable energy investor who largely self-funded his campaign, threw his support to state Sen. Sandra Cano, one of the 11 Democrats still competing in the race. Early voting began on Aug. 16, and more than 7,300 Ocean State voters have already cast their ballots.

The clock’s run out, time’s up: Republican presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy performed Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” onstage at the Iowa State Fair earlier this month. But the Detroit rapper told Ramaswamy, a longtime fan, to stop performing his 2002 hit — or any other song in his catalog — on the campaign trail.

RIP: The Ohio man who came to be known as “Joe the Plumber” during the 2008 presidential campaign, after he confronted then-Sen. Barack Obama about what Obama’s tax policies would do for small businesses, died this week. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2012 against Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, was 49.

Gun defender: Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo., was pressed about gun safety legislation at a recent event in his district. In response to a question by a retired school official about what Burlison would do to stop mass shootings, the freshmen said guns were needed to protect against government tyranny, according to an account in The Joplin Globe

Shared by POTUS: The front page of the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill featured an emotional string of text messages sent by students who were locked down during a shooting on campus. President Biden shared an image of the cover on X, formerly Twitter, adding that “no student, no parent, and no American should have to send texts like these to their loved ones as they hide from a shooter.” 

Risch refunds: The 2020 reelection campaign of Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has settled with the Federal Election Commission over what the regulator said was the campaign acting too slowly in returning contributions that exceeded federal limits. The Idaho Capital Sun reports the settlement includes $4,325 in fines.

Masters for Senate: The Wall Street Journal reports that Blake Masters, the 2022 Republican nominee for Senate in Arizona, plans to jump into the contest for the seat now held by independent Kyrsten Sinema. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego is already running, as is Republican Pima County Sheriff Mark Lamb. Kari Lake, the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nominee, is widely expected to run as well.

#MISEN: Former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers also could soon announce he’s running for the state’s open Senate seat, The Associated Press reports. Rogers, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee during his seven terms in the House, would be the most prominent Republican so far to announce a bid. 

Vatican smackdown: Pope Francis said at a meeting of Portuguese Jesuits that some conservatives in the Catholic Church in the United States have replaced faith with ideology and have a “strong, organized reactionary attitude” that he called “backward,” the AP reports, based on an account originally published by the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolicà.

Just in case: Another freeze during a news conference by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell might have some people wondering if Steve Beshear, the state’s Democratic governor, could add to his party’s Senate majority if there’s a vacancy, but no dice. State law in Kentucky says an appointed senator has to be chosen “from a list of three (3) names submitted by the state executive committee of the same political party as the Senator who held the vacant seat to be filled.” 

GOP grumbling: The RNC’s fundraising has not kept pace with the DNC’s, and The Daily Beast relays some of the angst that committee members are feeling.

Polling update: Freshman Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Ohio, has an uphill climb to a second term, according to polling shared by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC. The poll finds that 38.7 percent of 13th District voters think she should be reelected while 43.3 percent say it’s time for someone new, with 18 percent saying they are undecided.

What we’re reading

What could possibly go wrong? The New York Times reports that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is weighing a plan that would open the door to derivatives trading on congressional elections. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., panned the idea, telling the Times such a plan would be “hugely damaging to democracy.”  

Power vacuum: In New Jersey, the deaths of Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and state Sen. Ron Rice along with a loss in the June primary by state Sen. Nia Gill has raised questions about Black representation in the Garden State. NJ Spotlight News looks at the legacies of those three leaders and calls for a more open process to ensure a place for a new generation of Black politicians in government.

Personal business: Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly objected to Indiana’s near-total abortion ban last year, but the pharma firm’s CEO made a big personal donation to a Super PAC backing former Vice President Mike Pence, who has made opposition to abortion a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. David Ricks donated $25,000 to the Committed to America PAC, according to The Indianapolis Star. Pence has called for a national 15-week abortion ban.

The count: 61 percent

That’s the share of likely Republican primary voters in Georgia who believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll taken Aug. 16 to 23 and published Wednesday. At the same time, the poll found that 49 percent strongly approved and 30 percent somewhat approved of the job being done by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, whom Trump tried unsuccessfully to oust in the 2022 primary.

Nathan’s notes

All Toss-ups are not created equal, Nathan reminds us this week. The Inside Elections Baseline metric, which averages federal and statewide elections for the past four cycles into a single score, shows how some Republicans and Democrats in the 12 House races with Toss-up ratings face much steeper challenges to defend their seats. 

Shop talk: Paige Rusher

Rusher is a director at Seven Letter, a strategic communications firm, where she works with clients in the technology, health care and transportation fields. 

Starting out: Rusher said she wasn’t sure she had a great interest in politics until she interned with Kentucky GOP Rep. Andy Barr while a student at the University of Kentucky. “Afterwards I was pretty hooked,” she said. “I loved the fast-paced nature of the work and the challenge of not only having to understand but effectively communicate a range of policy areas.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Before leaving the Hill last year, Rusher was the Republican press secretary for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and the panel conducted oversight of the pandemic response. “We worked to determine what we were doing right and wrong throughout the response and then bringing transparency to the government’s efforts, and then also holding government officials accountable,” she said. “It was really rewarding to be a part of this critical work and to take these lessons and insights that we learned from the pandemic and applying that to new policy to then better prepare us for future public health emergencies.”

Biggest campaign regret: Rusher said she wished that she had more chances to visit communities hit hard by the opioid epidemic earlier in her career. “Having the opportunity to go and see the work that we were doing in D.C. and how it was being applied to real-life circumstances such as securing grant funding for treatment centers for women and their newborns, that was really fulfilling. However, I wish I had more opportunities to visit these centers sooner and to learn more from those on the front lines,” she said. “Experiencing this firsthand puts the work into perspective and makes it that much more meaningful.” 

Unconventional wisdom: “Throughout my time in public service and now in the private sector, I’ve learned that being prepared for new challenges isn’t solely based on qualification but rather your willingness to contribute and to learn,” she said. “I think that this mindset, motivation and the hard work will get you far, and it’s something that’s served me really well throughout my career.”

Coming up

Voting started weeks ago but ends Tuesday in the special primaries in solid blue and red districts to replace Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, who resigned in June, and Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, who submitted a resignation letter effective Sept. 15.

Photo finish

Meeting with voters and small-business owners is one thing, but Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Pa., also got a greeting from Una, state Rep. Emily Kinkead’s dog, after a news conference on junk fees in Bellevue, Pa., on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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