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At the Races: Border battle fallout

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The spectacular flameout of a legislative effort to address what even Democrats say is a crisis at the southwestern border, which came after former President Donald Trump persuaded congressional Republicans to scotch the deal, left Democrats voicing frustration and shock.

“[Republicans] have very clearly decided they want chaos at the border,” Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., told CNN’s Jake Tapper. Murphy negotiated the bill with Republican James Lankford of Oklahoma and independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona that could not get past a key procedural hurdle on Wednesday.

Yet the measure’s rejection by Republicans also provides an opportunity for President Joe Biden and Democrats to reframe an issue that had threatened the party’s hold on the White House and hope of reclaiming the House. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist national poll conducted Jan. 29-Feb. 1 found that 4 in 10 Americans believed the Republican Party would do a better job on immigration. And just 29 percent approved of Biden’s handling of the issue, a drop of 9 percentage points from July 2021.

After the bipartisan bill’s collapse this week, however, Biden pledged to go on the offensive. “Every day between now and November, the American people are going to know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends,” Biden said Tuesday in remarks at the White House.

Democrats in battleground congressional races were singing from the same songbook. 

“The same folks who are talking about what a horrible situation there is on the border — and I agree, we need to fix it — voted against fixing it. Why? Because they want it as a campaign issue,” Montana Sen. Jon Tester, one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable members in November, said Wednesday night on MSNBC.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to say Biden’s policies are to blame for the problems at the border, and they plan to try again to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his role in the situation, after their first impeachment vote came up short this week. 

“Extreme House Democrats know their radical open border policies could very well doom their reelection chances and remain desperate to flip the script,” NRCC spokesman Will Reinert said in a news release outlining the GOP’s plan to push back. “Our response is simple: Bring It.”

Starting gate

Roll Call on the road: Former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi is seeking a comeback to Congress in a special election in New York’s 3rd District on Tuesday. To do so, he’ll have to defeat Republican Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County legislator who could benefit from the area’s strong Republican infrastructure and a climate focused on immigration. 

In, out and back in again: After declaring last year that she would not seek reelection to the House because she wanted to spend more time with her teenage daughters, Indiana Republican Victoria Spartz changed her mind. She announced Monday that she’ll seek a third term.

Running back to the Hill: Former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who rose to prominence speaking out after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, resigned from the force to run for Congress. CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa writes in a new profile that Dunn is shaking up Maryland’s 3rd District race, which also features several local officials running to succeed Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, who is retiring. 

Banging the drum: Republicans railing against their responses to campus pro-Palestinian protests took out two university presidents, and now a House committee chairwoman is calling for the resignation of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Wooing workers: Both Trump and Biden are courting blue-collar voters, and lawmakers from both parties say their leading presidential candidates should lean into issues those voters care about, CQ Roll Call’s John Bennett writes. 

Ballot access: The Supreme Court appeared ready to order Colorado to put Donald Trump on the ballot during oral arguments Thursday morning, CQ Roll Call’s Ryan Tarinelli writes.

ICYMI

Another retirement: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., announced Thursday afternoon she’s not seeking another term.

Abortion revelation: He never mentioned it when he ran for president in 2000, but in his new 91-minute memoir/monologue streaming on Max, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley talks about his very personal experience with abortion dating to when he played on the New York Knicks. CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Rahman puts Bradley’s revelation in the context of other officials who have come forward to share their own abortion stories. Bradley also told Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick and Politics Editor Herb Jackson on the Political Theater podcast he is talking about it now because he’s trying to battle political divisions and that requires being “honest about yourself.”

Ballot battle: A House committee hearing on election administration was either a probe into the nefarious way private funds by the likes of Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg distorted the 2020 election or a chance for Republicans to enable Trump’s tantrums, CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa reports.

Primary challenge: Catherine Templeton, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate in South Carolina, launched a challenge to Rep. Nancy Mace in South Carolina’s 1st District. Her campaign comes after Mace was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year. 

Endorsement watch: Indivisible endorsed New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim for Senate. Brady PAC endorsed Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin for Senate. Brady PAC also endorsed Reps. Veronica Escobar, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, Steven Horsford and Lucy McBath for reelection. 

Progressives back Low: California Assemblymember Evan Low, one of 11 candidates vying for an open House seat in Silicon Valley, picked up the endorsement of the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC. Four progressive Democrats — Reps. Becca Balint of Vermont, Jimmy Gomez of California, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Jill Tokuda of Hawaii — also announced this week that they’re with Low.

Making the list: EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, rolled out three more endorsements of House candidates from California this week. The group is supporting Jessica Morse, who is running in the 3rd District, Julie Lythcott-Haims in the 16th and Luz Maria Rivas in the 29th.

#CA-SEN: Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the front-runner for California’s open Senate seat, collected the support of former Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Pete Aguilar, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus. 

Parker’s departure: Annise Parker will step down as president and CEO of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund after the 2024 election. Parker, the former mayor of Houston, has led the organization since 2017.

Big Sky pack: With Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana expected to announce his Senate bid soon, the field of candidates vying for the House seat he now occupies could be growing. Politico reports that former Rep. Denny Rehberg is weighing a comeback. He would join a Republican field that includes state Auditor Troy Downing, state Sen. Ken Bogner, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, and former state Sens. Ric Holden and Ed Walker. 

Another crowded primary: Prince William County Supervisor Andrea Bailey launched a campaign for Virginia’s open 7th District, touting an endorsement from former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. At least six other Democrats are running to fill the seat, which Rep. Abigail Spanberger is vacating to run for governor next year, while at least six Republicans are also running. 

Dropping out: Democrat Jason Blazakis dropped his campaign for New Jersey’s 7th District, endorsing Sue Altman to challenge GOP Rep. Thomas H. Kean Jr. The primary is scheduled for June 4. 

Getting in? Alex Bruesewitz, a GOP consultant, is considering a primary challenge to Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher after Gallagher’s vote this week against impeaching Mayorkas, according to The Hill.

Infighting: Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is heading to Illinois to campaign against fellow GOP Rep. Mike Bost, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, ahead of a March 19 primary, Politico reports. Bost faces a challenge from Darren Bailey, a former state senator who lost a race for governor in 2022 and has also been endorsed by Illinois Rep. Mary Miller. 

Needs a correction? Our cartoonist RJ Matson had it right that the Senate’s border security deal and the House’s Mayorkas impeachment were each dead on arrival in the opposite chamber, but we probably should have foreseen that they’d never make it to the other sides of the Capitol this week.

Still worth reading: Our roundup of how battleground House incumbents did in fourth-quarter fundraising hit the web after last week’s newsletter. See which members facing competitive races raised the most, had the biggest bankrolls and were outraised by potential challengers. 

What we’re reading

Op-ed roundup: Stu Rothenberg looks at the states that will matter in this year’s election. David Winston looks at the challenge of getting votes from a nation of people who think the country is going in the wrong direction. Walter Shapiro writes about how the best politics around border protection is to put politics aside.

Lee’s crusade: The New Yorker profiles California’s Barbara Lee, a veteran member of the House who is running for Senate. Lee recounts how she received death threats after voting against legislation granting President George W. Bush broad powers to initiate the war in Afghanistan after 9/11. But, she told the magazine, she relied on “my moral compass, my conscience, and my gut for direction.”

Moreno’s business: Ohio businessman Bernie Moreno is running for Senate as a self-made outsider, but an Associated Press investigation found the two government boards he sat on before he entered politics boosted his blockchain business while he served. 

Too long for X: Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., took 10 pages to explain why he opposed impeaching Mayorkas.

The count: 63.7 percent

That’s the share of the 515 “party unity” votes held in the House last year that the Republican majority won — the lowest rate for a majority since 1982, when Democrats were in charge and Ronald Reagan was president, according to CQ Roll Call’s annual Vote Studies analysis. Niels Lesniewski and Ryan Kelly report that in 1982, the Democrats’ problem was members jumping ship to support policies Reagan was pushing. But in the House last year, GOP members were rejecting their own colleagues’ amendments, bills and rules. For comparison, in 2022, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a similar-sized majority, Democrats won 91.4 percent of party unity votes. 

Nathan’s notes

Many of the candidates on the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” list have run before, but that doesn’t necessarily make them losers, Nathan writes. Using campaign geekdom’s favorite metric, Inside Elections’ Vote Above Replacement, Nathan shows some of this year’s retreads have outperformed generic candidates from their party in their districts.

Key race: #AL02

Candidates: This open seat drew quite a crowd. The 11 Democratic candidates on the ballot are James Averhart, the executive director of the NAACP Alabama state conference; state Rep. Napoleon Bracy Jr.; state Sen. Merika Coleman; state House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels; former federal official Shomari Figures; state Rep. Juandalynn Givan; state Rep. Jeremy Gray; education consultant Phyllis Harvey-Hall; retired businessman Willie J. Lenard; real estate broker Vimal Patel; and retired businessman Larry Darnell Simpson. The eight Republicans are state Sen. Greg Albritton; former state Sen. Dick Brewbaker; real estate attorney Caroleene Dobson; former Senate candidate and small-business owner Karla M. DuPriest; former NFL and University of Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry; real estate broker Hampton S. Harris; Bishop State Community College instructor Stacey T. Shepperson; and Newton City Council member Belinda Thomas.

Why it matters: The 2nd District is open after Rep. Barry Moore opted in October to challenge fellow GOP Rep. Jerry Carl in the 1st District when a federal court ordered the state to use a new congressional map that includes a second district where Black voters will have a greater say in selecting their lawmakers. The district is likely to give Democrats a second seat in a ruby red state. 

Cash dash: The race features several self-funders, including Brewbaker, who led the Republicans after loaning his campaign $300,000 and finishing the year with $210,000 on hand. Dobson loaned her campaign $250,000 and had $268,000 on hand at the end of last year. Albritton loaned himself $50,000 and had $119,000 on hand. Harris loaned himself $49,000 and had $52,000 on hand. Gilberry raised and spent $165,000 but terminated his campaign fund on Jan. 31. Neither Shepperson nor Thomas filed reports with the Federal Election Commission. 

The Democrats also have their share of self-funders. Figures put $28,000 of his own money into the campaign and had $149,000 on hand at the end of December. Coleman loaned her campaign $50,000 and had $41,000 on hand at the end of 2023. Bracy loaned his campaign $20,000 and had $40,000 on hand. Lenard loaned his campaign $33,000 and had $17,000 on hand. Givan loaned her campaign $13,000 and had $19,000 on hand. Patel loaned himself $5,000 and had $10,000 on hand. Harvey Hall loaned herself $5,000 and had $5,000 on hand. Averhart loaned himself $5,000 and had $392 on hand. Gray had $62,000 on hand at the end of December, while Daniels had $167,000 on hand. 

Backers: Several candidates are touting endorsements on their websites and social media pages. One group, called Protect Progress, has reported spending $94,000 on direct mail touting Figures. 

What they’re saying: The candidates have used ads to introduce themselves to voters. Some examples include a Daniels ad from last month that highlights a law removing state taxes from overtime pay. Figures’ campaign is up on the air too. His first ad introduces himself to voters, highlighting his experience working for former President Barrack Obama and for former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Coleman touts her work on issues like health care and voting rights in the state Senate. On the Republican side, Brewbaker in one ad touts “liberty, security and limited government,” as well as a promise he said he honored to serve only two terms in the Legislature. A Dobson ad touches on “Alabama values,” like God and family and hits “Biden’s reckless policies.”

Terrain: The district extends across the state and includes Montgomery County and part of Mobile County. Inside Elections rates the 2nd District as Likely Democratic. 

Wild card: With so many candidates on the ballot for both parties, the March 5 primaries could head to a runoff, scheduled for April 16. A winner would need more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Coming up

One of the House’s four vacant seats will be filled in New York’s 3rd District next week. Early voting in the race between Suozzi and Pilip for expelled Rep. George Santos’ seat started Feb. 3, and polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Photo finish

Former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn poses for a photo at the Maryland State Board of Elections office in Annapolis on Thursday after officially filing to run for the open House seat in the 3rd District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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