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At the Races: App politics

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While divided on many other things, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation that could ban TikTok in the United States if the popular platform isn’t sold by its Beijing-based corporate parent within six months.

The measure’s fate in the Senate is murkier, as our colleague Gopal Ratnam reports.

Critics say the company hasn’t done enough to address concerns that the Chinese government could use the app to suppress free speech and access its users’ private data. 

TikTok is fighting back. It has enlisted its army of users to lobby on its behalf, suggesting the fight over the app could become a campaign issue that resonates with young voters. 

The stakes are especially high for President Joe Biden, who has signaled that he would sign the legislation should it reach his desk. Voters under 30 form a key part of the Democratic coalition — and they also make up nearly half of all TikTok users. 

“There are eight years of Generation Z that are now eligible voters in this election year,” a user named Nadya Okamoto posted in a TikTok message addressed to Biden. “Do you really want to piss them all off by taking away their favorite app?”

For now, efforts to force a sale of the platform have brought together some unlikely allies, with social media-savvy members such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both opposing the measure. At the same time, some of the most vulnerable members in both parties, Democrats in districts carried by Donald Trump and Republicans in districts Biden won in 2020, were for the bill in the 352-65 vote.

Speaker Mike Johnson was asked at this week’s GOP retreat whether he’d try to force the Senate’s hand in taking up the TIkTok ban, our colleague Justin Papp reports.

“We’re going to apply every amount of pressure that we can because we think that that’s the right thing,” Johnson said.

“There were some arguments made on the floor … by a few people who were opposed to it suggesting it was somehow a violation of the First Amendment. I mean, I’m a constitutional law attorney. This is not about the content, it’s about the conduct. And I think it’s a serious and direct threat to our national security, and I think it merited being handled in the way that it was.”

Meanwhile, Trump has flip-flopped on the proposal, and Stephen Mnuchin, his former Treasury secretary, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday morning that he’s putting together a group of investors to try to acquire TikTok — if it can be bought.

Starting gate

Bigger map: BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, found success last cycle in states with relatively small but growing Latino populations, and they’re hoping to recreate it this year.

Country roads: House Republicans are holding their annual retreat in West Virginia this week, but as Papp reports, attendance is a bit scarce. “We’ve got one of the best political environments we’ve seen in decades. Because President Joe Biden and the Democrats have failed,” NRCC Chairman Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said at the kickoff news conference. “And it’s because the American people have realized his policies are making them less prosperous and less safe.”

Transition dollars: Biden’s fiscal 2025 budget request includes money that would facilitate the transition back to Donald Trump, should that happen. The funding is designed to provide resources to a new incoming administration, and it is a reminder of the saga that played out in 2020 when Emily Murphy, the General Services Administration administrator at the time, initially declined to provide the ascertainment that Biden had won. On a bigger scale, CQ Roll Call’s David Lerman reports that the spending plan is “an election-year pledge” to lower costs for struggling families, rein in deficits and protect entitlement programs — which Republicans quickly panned because it seeks higher taxes and spending.

Out of Buck: Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., announced Tuesday that he would be resigning from the House on March 22, Megan Mineiro reports. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who is running for that seat in the fall, said Wednesday she will continue to compete in the GOP primary, but she won’t resign her current seat to compete in the special election, which Democratic Gov. Jared Polis set for June 25, the same day as the primary for a full term.

No rebel-lion: Efforts by challengers to use the border wall, vaccines and other base-firing issues against Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and Mike Ezell went nowhere, as both easily won Tuesday’s primaries.

ICYMI

Lyin’ eyes (and ears) election? Election laws are not equipped for the kinds of fake audio and video that can now be produced easily and cheaply, CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa reports. Separately, Saksa and Papp monitored dual Senate hearings this week about other election threats.

California countin’: Votes are still coming in from the March 5 California primary, where the top two finishers regardless of party will face off in November. Recent calls by The Associated Press said: 9th District Democratic Rep. Josh Harder, an NRCC target, will face Republican Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln; GOP Assemblymember Vince Fong, who had the backing of former incumbent Rep. Kevin McCarthy, will face Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, a fellow Republican, in the 20th District; the 22nd District race will be the rematch both parties’ leaders wanted between GOP Rep. David Valadao and Democrat Rudy Salas; and retired fire captain Joe Kerr, a Democrat, will take on Republican Rep. Young Kim in the 40th District. In addition, Republicans finished second in two dark-blue districts that could have been expensive Dem-on-Dem battles: Democratic Assemblymember Laura Friedman will face Republican Alex Balekian in Senate nominee Adam B. Schiff’s 30th District (“Boy Meets World” actor Ben Savage finished seventh in the 15-candidate race); and Democratic former Rep. Gil Cisneros will face Republican Daniel Martinez in retiring Rep. Grace F. Napolitano’s 31st District. A similar dynamic could play out in retiring Rep. Tony Cardenas’ district, where Democratic Assemblymember Luz Rivas won one of the spots and Republican Benny Bernal was about 1,600 votes ahead of Democratic community organizer Angelica Duenas.

Razor thin: Another primary to fill an open seat in the Golden State remained too close to call. As of Thursday morning, Assemblymember Evan Low and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, both Democrats, were 58 votes apart in the 16th District. Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has already been declared one winner of the primary, but Low and Simitian are competing for the second slot on the November ballot to fill the seat held by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, who is retiring.

Adieu #NY17: Former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the DCCC chair from New York in the 2022 cycle, is bound for Paris after the Senate voted 63-31 on Wednesday for his nomination to be the U.S. representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with the rank of ambassador. 

All in: Virginia, which lets parties decide whether they’ll fill nominations through primaries or conventions and in recent years had a mix of each, is going to hold primaries in every House district on June 18.

#NC06 update: Former Rep. Mark Walker won’t be asking for a runoff after finishing second behind Addison McDowell in the March 5 Republican primary because he’s been hired by Trump’s campaign to work with faith groups. McDowell, a lobbyist, had been endorsed by Trump and finished about 1,600 votes ahead of Walker. No Democrat has filed to run for the seat that Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning decided not to defend after it was redrawn by the state legislature to be heavily Republican.

I-NJ? Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez may run as an independent, NBC News reports, citing sources. There’s already an intense battle underway in New Jersey for the Democratic nomination for the senator’s seat, but he could file up until June 4, primary day, to be on the November ballot. His trial is set for May.

Drug price politics: Biden visited New Hampshire on Monday as part of his post-State of the Union tour to focus on drug prices. Ahead of his remarks, the White House highlighted the president’s proposals to expand the $35 monthly price cap on insulin, which currently applies to seniors and others enrolled in Medicare, to Americans more broadly. “If I got you on Air Force One with me, and flew you to Toronto, to Berlin, to London, to Rome, anyplace in the world, with the same prescription you might have for whatever you need, no matter what it is … by the same company, you could get it all those cities — and guess what, it would cost you between 40 to 60 percent less,” Biden said.

DeWine backs Dolan: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran, are supporting state Sen. Matt Dolan in Tuesday’s three-way Republican Senate primary. Bernie Moreno, one of Dolan’s GOP opponents, snagged Trump’s endorsement, and the former president is set to appear with him at a rally in Dayton on Saturday. The primary is Tuesday, with the winner facing Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Hobbs backs Gallego: The predictable endorsements continue for Rep. Ruben Gallego’s Senate bid, with Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs becoming the latest to back him after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s retirement announcement. “Congressman Gallego’s commitment to fighting for Arizona will make him an excellent senator for our state. I’m proud to support my former colleague and my friend in this race, and I know he has what it takes to defeat chaos’s ringleader once again,” Hobbs said. 

Endorsement watch: Trump endorsed former Rep. Mike Rogers, who previously considered a long-shot presidential bid, for Michigan’s open Senate seat. He also endorsed the reelection of South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace — after strongly backing a challenger to her in the 2022 primary.

Sanders endorses Susheela Jayapal: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is backing Democrat Susheela Jayapal, sister of Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, in the crowded contest to fill an open seat in Oregon’s deep-blue 3rd District. 

What we’re reading

Comity? They prefer drama: The atmosphere a week ago in the House was again circus-like for the State of the Union, with Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene dressed in red and sporting a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat as the president approached her via the center aisle of the House floor.

Face time: Colleague John T. Bennett, meanwhile, took a different look at the State of the Union, focusing on Speaker Mike Johnson’s face as he sat above and behind Biden for the address. 

Commentary corner: Both Stu Rothenberg and Mary C. Curtis were animated by North Carolina Republicans nominating Mark Robinson for governor. Stu writes about how picking Robinson could affect other races, including Biden’s prospects, while Curtis questions what it says about North Carolina voters. Columnist David Winston, meanwhile, analyzed the disconnect between what Biden said about the economy and what voters say they’re feeling.

Why she lost: Politico’s post-mortem on Rep. Katie Porter’s failed bid for Senate found that the Orange County Democrat’s insurgent campaign was doomed by tactical errors, muddled messaging, lagging fundraising and anemic turnout among her base. “She said she was going to shake up the system but never said from who or to what,” said Jesse Ferguson, an adviser to a super PAC that backed the primary’s top finisher, Schiff. “What does ‘shake up the Senate’ mean?”

Not seeing green: Emma Dumain reports for E&E News on the change in the color of House member pins, which are now dark blue. Former House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., says the previous green pins were actually meant as “a symbol for a clean environment.” But there was an issue: Many members were not wearing them.

The count: 1,250

That’s how many valid signatures from voters in New York’s 1st District expelled Rep. George Santos will need to get — by April 4, or three weeks from now — if he really wants to challenge fellow Republican Rep. Nick LaLota. The indicted former 3rd District representative announced his challenge to LaLota, who worked to get Santos expelled, as he attended the State of the Union last week. But all that had really happened was Santos had filed a new statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and created a new campaign committee, neither of which gets you on the ballot. Santos’ committee from his prior campaigns still exists, but on Dec. 31 it had $22,000 in cash and owed more than $146,000 for legal bills, fundraising expenses and “election night catering” in 2022.

Nathan’s notes

With Biden and Trump locking up the delegates needed for their parties’ nominations for a rematch this week, Nathan L. Gonzales changed his rating of Michigan’s race and analyzed the overall matchup. 

Key race: #IL07

Candidates: Rep. Danny K. Davis, who was first elected to Congress in 1996, faces a crowded primary field that includes Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, gun violence prevention advocate Kina Collins, schoolteacher and principal Nikhil Bhatia and Kouri Marshall, who has worked for Gov. JB Pritzker and on the 2012 reelection campaign of President Barack Obama.

Why it matters: Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales has this seat solidly in the Democratic column, so the winner of Tuesday’s primary is likely to be in Congress next year. Davis prevailed over Collins by fewer than 5,000 votes last cycle, and the large field lends unpredictability heading into primary day on Tuesday. 

Cash dash: Davis had the most cash heading into the campaign’s final weeks, with $262,000 to Conyears-Ervin’s $87,000, Bhatia’s $35,000 and Collins’ $24,000, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission through Feb. 28. But Conyears-Ervin has raised more than Davis since Jan. 1 and for the cycle spent $523,000 to the incumbent’s $497,000. The United Democracy Project, a super PAC tied to the pro-Israel group AIPAC, had spent $268,000 against Collins through the start of this week, while the National Association of Realtors PAC spent $49,000 supporting Davis.

Backers: The Strokes played a headline set for Collins, as the Sun-Times reported. Davis has the establishment backing, including Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson. Davis also has the backing of the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus.

What they’re saying: Conyears-Ervin is probably the best-known challenger, but she has faced ethics allegations about her current role as treasurer, including the circumstances of the departures of two fired city employees. In a recent interview with CBS 2, she declined to say whether she would challenge potentially adverse findings by an ethics board.

Terrain: The 7th District covers much of downtown Chicago as well as the West Side, sprawling south along the Interstate 90 corridor and west along I-290. The entire district is located within Cook County.

Wild card: The Democratic National Convention takes place in the district, as Davis pointed out in a statement Tuesday night. “This is a testament to the strength and diversity of our community, and it is a privilege to showcase the spirit of unity and progress that defines our district on a national stage,” the incumbent congressman said.

Coming up

Along with the battle Davis faces, primaries on Tuesday in Illinois and Ohio include a challenge to Illinois Republican Rep. Mike Bost and a competitive battle for the GOP nomination to challenge Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. There’s also a nine-candidate special election to fill former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s seat in California’s 20th District, but the winner will need to get over 50 percent or there’s a runoff between the top two in May.

Closer to home, we’re going to miss seeing — but not reading — colleague Niels Lesniewski for a while. After some time off, CQ Roll Call’s chief congressional and White House correspondent and much-sought-after guru on Senate procedure will be working from Asia. You can see and hear him and Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick discuss it and what he’s seen from the Capitol on this week’s Political Theater podcast, which is also on YouTube.

Photo finish

No, the senators’ private lunches haven’t gone downhill, that’s just NRSC Chairman Steve Daines of Montana using props to blame President Joe Biden for “shrinkflation” at a Senate news conference Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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The Illinois candidate that United Democracy Project opposes is corrected in this report.

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