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At the Races: Not the way they drew it up

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Congressional Republicans would probably rather be blasting President Joe Biden over Thursday’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing higher shelter costs and gas prices than dealing with an intramural debate about House leadership.

But after last week’s vote to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the speaker’s race is taking up all the oxygen in the House, where the schedule is effectively frozen.

The internal debates are also giving Democrats plenty of bulletin board material.

For instance, Colorado Rep. Ken Buck said he voted “present” when Republicans huddled behind closed doors in the Ways and Means Committee room to pick Majority Leader Steve Scalise as their nominee for speaker, as neither the Louisiana Republican nor the other candidate — Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio — gave a clear answer to his question about whether Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

“If we don’t have the moral clarity to decide whether President Biden won or not, we don’t have the moral authority to rule in this country, period,” Buck told At the Races and other reporters Wednesday.

And Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who was one of the eight Republican lawmakers who joined with Democrats in voting to vacate the chair last week, put herself in the Scalise critic camp Wednesday, citing long-ago comments comparing Scalise to David Duke, the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“I personally cannot in good conscience vote for someone who attended a white supremacist conference and compared himself to David Duke,” she said in a CNN interview. “I would be doing an enormous disservice to the voters that I represent in South Carolina if I were to do that.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper noted that Scalise condemned the views of the Duke-founded extremist group when the current majority leader’s 2002 appearance came to light more than a decade later.

Roll Call, by the way, spoke to Scalise and then-Sen. David Vitter, R-La., about Duke back in 1999.

Starting gate

California debatin’: ​​The leading contenders for California’s open Senate seat — Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff — found plenty of common ground when they met at a forum in Los Angeles on Sunday. But the three Democrats also spotlighted their differences on everything from the minimum wage to how to deal with Republicans in Congress. The event was held during a conference of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, whose approximately 17,000 members later voted to endorse Porter. Roll Call and Courage California co-sponsored the forum. While it remains unclear if newly appointed Sen. Laphonza Butler will increase the number of Democrats vying, the race got more crowded this week with former baseball great Steve Garvey, a Republican, throwing his cap in — although the cap could have a Dodgers or Padres logo.

New-look Lake: Republican Kari Lake’s Senate campaign launch in Arizona was focused on looking ahead to a potential three-way general election matchup with Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego and Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

#NY03: Former Rep. Tom Suozzi announced a comeback bid in New York’s 3rd District. If he wins the Democratic nomination, he could face GOP Rep. George Santos, who Chris Marquette reports now faces an additional 10 criminal charges. Santos’ fellow New York freshman Republicans are now seeking to expel him from the House, as Michael Macagnone reports.

#SC01: The Supreme Court heard arguments this week about whether South Carolina illegally used racial factors to determine the lines of the 1st District, which is represented by Mace, Ryan Tarinelli reports. That’s an issue the Democrat vying to oust Mace, Michael B. Moore, has some family history dealing with.


New charge: New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez faced an additional charge Thursday, with a new indictment alleging he was acting as an agent of the Egyptian government — so much so that federal prosecutors in Manhattan say the Democrat was required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Lines drawn: A federal court adopted a new Alabama map that creates a second House district where Black voters will have an opportunity to decide the result, Macagnone reports.

The importance of showing up: Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids won reelection in Kansas even after redistricting made the district more hospitable to Republicans. She recently shared her strategy for winning with Jim Saksa: “I just show up everywhere. If people invite me to stuff in Kansas, I try to be there.”

She’s running: Alison Esposito, a former New York Police Department officer who was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2022, launched a campaign to challenge Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan in New York’s 18th District.

Ad watch: The American Action Network announced a $250,000 digital ad campaign thanking 17 of the House Republicans who represent districts that Biden would have won in 2020 for working to avoid a government shutdown. 

Lands after Congress: Former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican who lost a 2022 primary, announced Tuesday that she’s running to be the Evergreen State’s commissioner of public lands. “I spent a dozen years in Congress fighting for more resources to responsibly manage our forests, remove the dead and diseased trees that serve as fuel for the fires that plague us every summer, and quickly fight the fires that do occur. I’ll do the same as Lands Commissioner,” she said in a statement.

DSA under fire: The Democratic Socialists of America helped elect a slew of progressive Democrats to Congress in recent years. But Politico reports that the group is splintering in the face of heavy criticism of its response to Hamas’ attacks on Israel. Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Mich., renounced his DSA membership, citing its unwillingness “to call out terrorism in all its forms.” (The group’s Detroit-area chapter responded that it expelled Thanedar over a month ago.)

Carrillo out: Wrongfully convicted of murder and released after spending two decades in prison, Franky Carrillo Jr. had a compelling personal story that he hoped would propel him to Congress. But his campaign struggled to raise money, and this week he dropped his bid to unseat Republican Rep. Mike Garcia in California’s 27th District. Carrillo endorsed fellow Democrat George Whitesides.

Mitt’s mission: Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney is on a campaign to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the Republican presidential nominee, but he recently disclosed that he’s urged a couple of Democratic senators to challenge Biden. The Deseret News reports that Romney, who is not running for reelection next year, encouraged Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Mark Warner of Virginia to run against the Democratic president.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Democrats should not expect the GOP’s disarray in the House to have much effect in 2024 because so much of the country has taken sides and won’t be persuaded to vote for the other party.

Speaker Dolly? Country queen Dolly Parton is famous for not revealing her political views. “I hate politics,” she told The Guardian. Parton, who is promoting a new book and a new album, says she often sees both sides of an issue. And, she added, “I’ve got as many Democrats as I do Republicans as fans, and I’m not going to insult any of them because I care about all of them.”

Universal vote-by-mail boosts turnout: Sending a ballot to every registered voter is one of the most effective ways to increase turnout, several studies have found. States Newsroom examined the research, which also shows that universal vote-by-mail is especially effective at improving turnout rates among Black and Latino voters and young voters.

Hey Alexa, did Biden win? The Washington Post reports that Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant was spreading conspiracy theories in response to questions about the 2020 election, including falsely stating that Trump carried Pennsylvania.

The count: $44,800

That’s how much the U.S. attorney in New York’s Eastern District alleges Santos charged a contributor’s credit card without their knowledge in a series of transactions, under what’s described in the superseding indictment as a “credit card fraud scheme.”

Nathan’s notes

It’s wrong to blame gerrymandering for the House Republican revolt against McCarthy, Nathan notes, because most of the members who voted to oust him are from districts drawn by commissions, not partisan legislatures.

Shop talk: Viet Shelton

Shelton is the national press secretary for the DCCC. 

Starting out: Shelton’s first job in politics was as a field intern on Washington Gov. Gary Locke’s 2000 reelection campaign. “The joke is a friend of mine told me about all the access to free food they got,” he said. “The real reason is at the time I was flirting with the idea of law school and I had a guidance counselor who was big on saying, ‘Hey, internships are the way to go.’ … What ended up happening was I enjoyed the campaign so much. I enjoyed the team and the folks on the campaign and the candidate himself that I came to the realization this seems more fun and more intellectually fulfilling to me than pursuing the J.D.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “In 2008 I was in Seattle on election night. I was at an election night party for a local ballot measure for a transit measure, so pretty nerdy, pretty localized. The campaign had rented out a pub in Pike Place Market for the election night party. While it was great that the ballot measure for the transit measure had passed, it was also the year Barack Obama won and was elected,” he said. “When the AP had declared Obama the winner, a few of us walked outside of Post Alley, went up to First Avenue in downtown Seattle and we just saw a stream of people celebrating on First Avenue in downtown Seattle on that Tuesday night. And that, hands down, was one of the coolest, most visceral, ‘Holy cow, we’re all a part of something big’ and very, very cool and something historic happened today.”

Biggest campaign regret: “I’m not big on regrets. I try to be a big believer in every mistake has some sort of valuable lesson,” he said. But one moment that sticks out was while working for Suzan DelBene, who now chairs the DCCC, on her 2012 congressional bid. DelBene was participating in a candidate forum on the night of the so-called “Fail Mary” football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, which the Seahawks won in dramatic fashion on Monday Night Football. “The regret was we had to listen to the game and that play on the drive back, and on the one hand she was very happy the Seahawks won. On the other hand, she just sort of stared at me, like, ‘Dude, I’m missing this.’” Shelton says he still hasn’t totally lived down that DelBene didn’t get to watch the game-winning play in person. 

Unconventional wisdom: “Focus a little less on the chess moves,” Shelton said. “I generally encourage people to focus less on the multi-chess career moves, and I always tell people: Pick the job that sounds the most fun to you at that time in your life. It will almost always usually work out in the long run.”

Coming up

Scalise isn’t the only politician from Louisiana trying to drum up votes. The whole state is voting Saturday, and former one-term Republican Rep. Jeff Landry, now the attorney general, is the favorite in the all-party primary for governor. 

Photo finish

From left, California Democratic Reps. Katie Porter, Adam B. Schiff and Barbara Lee participate in the National Union of Healthcare Workers’ Senate candidate forum in Los Angeles on Sunday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023