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At the Races: Campus crunch

As college-educated voters increasingly gravitate toward the Democratic Party, Republicans have ramped up their characterizations of the nation’s universities as havens for an out-of-touch liberal elite.

In recent months, the GOP has pushed back against student loan relief, lambasted college athletic programs that permit transgender athletes to compete, blasted university diversity initiatives and railed against the influence of foreign money in academia. But this week, both parties found broad agreement after a contentious congressional hearing on campus antisemitism.

The presidents of three elite universities were asked during the hearing before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate their institutions’ policies against bullying and harassment. Their carefully worded responses, couched in legalistic language that attempted to draw a distinction between speech and action, drew swift condemnation across the political spectrum.

“It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: Calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Wednesday.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., pressed the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT on how they would respond to student protesters who express support for the intifada, an Arabic term that translates as uprising but is viewed by supporters of Israel as a call for the eradication of the Jewish state. Liz Magill, the president of Penn, responded that whether such chants constitute bullying or harassment depends on the context. 

“That’s your testimony today? Calling for the genocide of Jews is depending upon the context?” Stefanik, a Harvard graduate, asked.

By late Wednesday, following a bipartisan pile-on, Magill released a video message attempting to clarify her comments.

It may be too late: The New York Times reports that a petition calling for Magill’s resignation was gaining steam and Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor and a nonvoting member of Penn’s board, was urging a meeting.

“Frankly, I thought her comments were absolutely shameful,” Shapiro told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “It should not be hard to condemn genocide.”

Starting gate

Give him McLiberty: After being in the eye of the House GOP storm around picking a new speaker in October, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry said this week he won’t run for an 11th term next year. That leaves open a safe GOP seat in North Carolina and the party’s top spot on the House Financial Services Committee, colleague Caitlin Reilly reports.

Wither McCarthy: Rep. Kevin McCarthy will go from former speaker to former member in a matter of months, with the California Republican announcing in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece Wednesday that he will be resigning from the House at the end of the year, colleague Jim Saksa reports. McCarthy, a top GOP rainmaker who had $10.6 million in his campaign account on Sept. 30, said he would still be involved in helping candidates.

Bowman’s bad week: Three Democrats on the NRCC’s target list — Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez of Washington — voted with Republicans on Thursday morning to censure Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., for pulling a fire alarm on his way to a Sept. 30 vote, colleague Justin Papp reports. Probably a bigger problem for Bowman, however, is the primary challenger he got this week: Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

Give and take: A new congressional map adopted by the Georgia legislature Thursday ahead of a federal judge’s deadline creates a new Black-majority district west of Atlanta but may not change the state’s partisan balance because of significant changes to Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath’s 7th District, colleague Michael Macagnone reports.

ICYMI

Who will NY (heart)?: Expelled Rep. George Santos may now be trolling politicians for money, as colleague Chris Marquette reports, but the Empire State is moving on and Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered a special election to replace him to be held a day before Valentine’s Day, on Feb. 13. The race in a district Biden carried by 7 points in 2020 and then backed the Republican Santos in 2022 will be heavily analyzed as a bellwether for November. Democrats are expected to run former Rep. Tom Suozzi after he and Hochul, who ran against Suozzi in 2022, had a sit-down to settle scores, The New York Times reports.

NYC mood: Eighty-five percent of New York City voters, meanwhile, are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the number of migrants seeking sanctuary in the Big Apple, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. And 8 in 10 voters think the federal government is doing too little to help the city deal with the surge of migrants. The poll is likely to provide further fuel for the issue as the 2024 campaigns heat up.

Season’s sniping: Few who have watched the 118th Congress should be surprised: A holiday decorating contest in a House office building features complaints that Arizona GOP Rep. Eli Crane’s decorative references to “border elves” and having “documents ready” are not in the spirit of the season. Crane says he wished “Democrats were as triggered” about “the consequences of an open border,” Papp reports.

Elector update: Nevada indicted six Republican Party officials who said Donald Trump had won their state in 2020 and they were his electors, while 10 fake electors from Wisconsin settled a lawsuit and acknowledged Biden won that state.

#AZSEN: Even as Republican Kari Lake began running in next year’s Senate race, she was challenging her loss in last year’s race for governor. This week she lost her third trial challenging that election when a Maricopa County judge said she could not see signed ballot envelopes of 1.3 million early voters.

Reading smoke signals: The Biden administration is delaying its proposed ban on menthol cigarettes, which surveys show are most popular with Black smokers and younger people, two key blocs the president needs to show up in 2024, colleague Lauren Clason reports.

#CA47: The two Democrats running for an open seat in California’s Orange County each collected an endorsement this week. Joanna Weiss won the backing of California Young Democrats, the youth arm of the state party. Meanwhile, David Min picked up the support of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, which represents 80,000 public safety professionals. 

Tar Heel shuffle: Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel of North Carolina hasn’t said whether he’ll seek reelection in a district that became a whole lot more conservative after redistricting. But at least seven Republicans are running for the seat. One who isn’t: state Rep. Erin Paré, who announced she’s dropping her bid and will run for reelection to the state legislature instead, WUNC reports.  

Big Sky fireworks: The intraparty battle between Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana and national Republicans has once again spilled into public view. The NRSC kicked it off with a news release slamming Rosendale as a possible Democratic plant. Rosendale responded with a three-minute video message attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders. “They’re terrified of having a true conservative in the United States Senate who fights for the American people and not the swamp creatures that govern Washington,” said Rosendale, who has not formally declared his candidacy.

Hovde in?: Meanwhile, NRSC Chair Steve Daines tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Republican Eric Hovde is going to run against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. That news drew a dismissive response from Scott Mayer, a Republican businessman who is also considering a run. “The NRSC does not elect people,” Mayer told the paper. “The people in the state elect the candidates.”  

Trump train: Alabama Sen. Katie Britt endorsed Trump ahead of the GOP primary debate in her home state this week (which Trump, of course, did not attend). Trump also picked up the backing of Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, and, following the suspension of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s campaign, Sen. Kevin Cramer. Cramer’s fellow North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven hasn’t announced a new pick yet, but on Tuesday he told At the Races that we should expect something soon.

What we’re reading

Maryland debate: Maryland’s Democratic Senate candidates met Sunday in Prince George’s County for what turned out to be a rather testy debate, writes Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters. At one point, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said comments by rival candidate Rep. David Trone were “intellectually dishonest for a three-term member of Congress seeking political advancement.”

‘The anti-Florida’: An opinion piece in the Michigan Advance examines the state’s shift from a fading industrial center to a progressive proving ground, “a veritable liberaltopia in the Midwest.” 

Do not congratulate: In less-than-democratic news, the Russian Federation has set its 2024 presidential election for March 17, which The Associated Press reports could clear the path for President Vladimir Putin to win another term. As the AP says, many of his would-be opponents are either out of Russia or in jail.

Wrestling with faith: Religion News Service looks at “the tangle of religion, geopolitics and political pressure that Democratic lawmakers — be they progressives or moderates — have navigated” since Hamas attacked Israel and the subsequent assault on Gaza by Israel. 

The count: 18

That’s how many states have implemented abortion bans that specifically exclude concerns about the mother’s mental health, including the threat of her committing suicide, from being considered as health-related exceptions, CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Raman reports.

Nathan’s notes

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ support in Iowa polls didn’t grow before he visited his 99th county in the state, so completing a “full Grassley” probably won’t appreciably change his chances with caucus-goers next month, Nathan L. Gonzales writes.

Nathan also joined Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick for the Political Theater podcast this week, and they weighed which stories of 2023 will still be of interest 50 years from now.

Key race: Alaska at-large seat

Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola will be seeking a second full term in 2024, and Republicans see the contest for the member of Congress for all of Alaska as a key pickup opportunity. In part that’s because, as one GOP source argued, there will be a real effort to boost Peltola’s negatives this time around now that she has a voting record in Congress — including on crime, as highlighted in an American Action Network ad.

Democrats say she is “perfect” for the state, noting successes since arriving in Congress that include helping to win Biden administration approval for the Willow oil drilling project on the state’s North Slope.

Under Alaska’s top-four primary system and ranked choice voting, Peltola prevailed in a contest against Republicans Nick Begich and former governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. This time, national Republicans appear to be coalescing behind Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom — but the possibility remains of Peltola prevailing, especially if there are GOP divisions.

Begich, himself a member of a prominent Alaska political family, is also running again, lending unpredictability to the contest.

Coming up

Houston’s mayoral runoff is Saturday, with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee facing off against state Sen. John Whitmire in what is officially a nonpartisan contest. The Houston Chronicle describes the turnout during the early voting period as “meager.”

Photo finish

Kevin McCarthy was all smiles on Jan. 7 after the 15th ballot made him speaker, but that job ended in October, and now he’s getting ready to wave goodbye to the Capitol at the end of the year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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