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At the Races: At what cost?

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More than two decades ago, President George W. Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier under a banner reading “Mission Accomplished” and declared, “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Of course, U.S. troops continued to fight in Iraq for eight more years and thousands of people, Americans and Iraqis, died.

“Mission accomplished” has become a cautionary tale about the political risks of claiming a premature victory. And this week’s economic report provided a good reminder of that.

The consumer price index rose 3.5 percent in March over the past year, higher than expectations and topping the 3.2 percent annual rate the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for February.

President Joe Biden had been counting on cooling inflation to lift his reelection campaign; last year, when inflation fell to 3 percent, he issued a statement taking credit for the improved economy. “Good jobs and lower costs: That’s Bidenomics in action,” he proclaimed last July.

This time around, Biden’s comments were more measured. “Today’s report shows inflation has fallen more than 60 percent from its peak, but we have more to do to lower costs for hardworking families,” he said in a statement. “Prices are still too high for housing and groceries, even as prices for key household items like milk and eggs are lower than a year ago.”

Republicans have been hammering the Democratic president on inflation for months, charging that his policies investing trillions of dollars in public programs have hurt the economy.

“One year ago extreme House Democrats coined the ‘Bidenomics’ tagline,” Will Reinert, spokesman for the NRCC, said in a statement. “Three years ago they promised Americans that inflation would be ‘transitory.’ Now four years into the inflation crisis, all Americans see from Washington liberals and Joe Biden are pompous politicians who don’t care to understand their struggles.”

Ron Klain, Biden’s former White House chief of staff, is urging the president to reframe his messaging. In leaked audio obtained by Politico, Klain suggested the president spend less time talking about bridges and other big infrastructure projects and more time on the price of gas and groceries. 

Klain is among the most prominent Democrats cautioning Biden against crowing too much about the economy, given the volatility of consumer prices. “Although inflation has moderated, prices are still high, the price of gasoline is still high, other prices are still high, and people feel that pinch,” Klain said on MSNBC last week.

Starting gate

GOP headaches: This week’s Arizona Supreme Court ruling criminalizing abortion in the state is creating more headaches for Republicans. Senate candidate Kari Lake, a Trump ally, Rep. Juan Ciscomani, a rising star in the House Republican Conference, and Rep. David Schweikert were all quick to criticize the decision. In the 4-2 ruling Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization makes the 1864 law enforceable, but it also issued a 14-day stay against enforcement while a lower court considers “additional constitutional challenges” that have not been resolved.

Student loan redux: Biden is making a fresh attempt to secure student loan debt relief for millions of borrowers, including waiving interest payments on some loans and canceling debt for those who have been in repayment for two decades. The president announced the new plan on Monday during a swing through the battleground state of Wisconsin. It comes 10 months after the Supreme Court scuttled his earlier loan forgiveness proposal. Administration officials expressed confidence that the new plan will pass legal muster, but several Republican state attorneys general have already filed legal challenges.

Ad, bye? The Democratic abortion rights group EMILY’s List is asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate a group that has run a television ad targeting a Democrat vying to challenge Republican Rep. David Schweikert in Arizona. The ad accuses Marlene Galán-Woods, one of several Democrats running in Arizona’s 1st District, of stealing money and opposing gay rights and abortion access. It depicts Galán-Woods as a marionette and concludes by calling her “just another political opportunist.”

‘Bloodbath’: Donald Trump’s recent return to the campaign trail brought yet another escalation in his rhetoric, with him calling immigrants “animals” and tripling down on his “bloodbath” predictions. Roll Call’s John T. Bennett noted in this report that the presumed GOP nominee’s latest bombast even prompted the top White House spokesperson, Karine Jean-Pierre, to set aside her reluctance to discuss the campaign from the briefing room.

ICYMI

Endorsement watch: Trump endorsed former federal prosecutor Brad Knott in the runoff for North Carolina’s 13th District and businessman Tony Wied in Wisconsin’s 8th District. Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster endorsed Democrat Colin Van Ostern to succeed her in New Hampshire’s 2nd District. Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown endorsed Democratic Rep. David Trone for Maryland’s open Senate seat.

Eyes on 26: Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, a former Democratic House member, is considering running for governor of California in 2026.

Florida comeback: Former Rep. Alan Grayson is running for Senate with a campaign that NOTUS Reports describes as “extremely unconventional.” Grayson, who is an underdog in the Democratic primary, has not been spending on campaign staff, but instead said he is “campaigning on an individual basis.”

Paper chase: Biden has been busily raising campaign cash over the past few weeks, with two trips to the Rust Belt and a three-day Southwest swing. Some reports, citing federal filings and experts, have recently estimated the president’s cash advantage over Trump could be as high as $100 million. But just like on the golf course, Trump is known to be competitive, and The Washington Post reported he wants to close the margin — and fast.

What we’re reading

‘Mr. RNC’ gets the boot: A pillar of the Massachusetts Republican establishment and the general chairman of the Republican National Convention has been driven out of his post as national committeeman, according to Politico. Ron Kaufman, a powerful GOP lobbyist who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and worked for President George H.W. Bush, will continue serving as national committeeman until the convention in Milwaukee wraps up.

Recount in CA-16: In California’s nonpartisan primary for an open seat in the 16th District, the two second-place finishers, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and assembly member Evan Low, were tied behind the winner, former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. That meant all three would appear on the November ballot. But earlier this week, two people requested a recount. Low is blaming Liccardo’s campaign. “​​Clearly, Sam Liccardo doesn’t think he can win a three-way race because he’s showing he will do anything to avoid one,” said Low’s spokesperson, Clay Volino.

‘Pro-life extremist’: Two Florida Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights are expected to put pressure on conservative congressional candidates there, The New York Times reported. That list includes GOP Reps. Anna Paulina Luna and María Elvira Salazar, both of whom likely will have to explain the staunchly anti-abortion stances to voters as polls show the procedure remains supported by majorities in that state and nationally. Luna has described herself as a “pro-life extremist.”

False assertions: The RNC, under its new co-chair, Lara Trump, sent out a scripted call falsely alleging that Democrats committed “massive fraud” in the 2020 election, CNN reported. Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, has a long history of amplifying election-related lies, according to a CNN analysis of her past statements.

The politics of Israel: The Democratic primary between Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Westchester County Executive George Latimer in New York’s 16th District, one of the nation’s most Jewish districts, is something of a test case for how views on Israel are changing within the Democratic Party, Politico writes.

The count: $186 million

That’s how many dollars House Majority PAC, a super PAC with ties to House Democratic leadership, announced in television and digital ad reservations in 58 markets ahead of the November elections. 

Nathan’s notes

First-quarter fundraising totals once again demonstrate that Senate candidates are raising dramatically more in races compared with just 20 years ago, Nathan writes.

Key race: #PA12

Candidates: Freshman Rep. Summer Lee faces a primary challenge from Edgewood Borough Councilwoman Bhavini Patel.

Why it matters: The April 23 primary is one of the first major battles between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party.  The race has also highlighted the divisions in the party over Israel, although outside groups like AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel haven’t gotten engaged in the race. 

Cash dash: Lee had a significant cash advantage over Patel at the end of last year. She reported having $1.2 million on hand, while Patel had $238,000 at the end of the fourth quarter. Both candidates are set to file their pre-primary reports with the Federal Election Commission by the end of the day on Thursday. Both candidates have also had support from outside groups. WFP National PAC has spent $343,500 supporting Lee, while The Moderate PAC has spent $594,000 supporting Patel, according to FEC filings. 

Backers: Lee has support from several elected Democratic officials, including home-state Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, as well as outside groups like Justice Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus PAC. Patel is backed by local officials, including the mayors of Bridgeville, East Pittsburgh, Munhall and North Braddock.

What they’re saying: Lee aligns with the party’s progressive wing but has touted bringing funding for projects back to western Pennsylvania. She’s called for a cease-fire in Gaza and has also pushed back on attack ads against her by the Moderate PAC, which received donations from Republican donor Jeff Yass. Patel, meanwhile, has criticized Lee for some votes she has taken, including against a recent government funding bill, and says she’s too extreme for the district.

Terrain: The district includes Pittsburgh and the surrounding area to the south and east. Biden would have won the seat by 19 percentage points in 2020, and Lee was elected by 12 percentage points two years later. Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales rates the district Solid Democratic.

Wild card: When she was elected in 2022, Lee became the first Black woman from Pennsylvania elected to the House.

Coming up

Voters in Alabama’s newly drawn 2nd District will vote in runoff elections for both the Republican and Democratic primaries on Tuesday. On the Democratic side, Shomari Figures, a White House aide during the Obama administration, faces state House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels. Former state Sen. Dick Brewbaker faces attorney Caroleene Dobson for the Republican nomination in that party’s runoff.

Photo finish

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcome Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife, Yuko Kishida, to the White House for a state dinner on Wednesday evening. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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