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At the Races: Border (debate) not closed

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When then-President Donald Trump tried repeatedly to cut off migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, Democrats were quick to criticize him while Republicans offered praise.

This week, President Joe Biden took executive action to block migrants’ asylum claims when illegal border crossings surge, and the partisan reaction was partially reversed.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, called the Biden administration’s border security action “a joke” and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it was “too little, too late.”

Democrats were split. The moderate Blue Dog Coalition branded the president’s action “an overdue step” that won’t secure the border.

The center-left New Democrat Coalition commended Biden for “taking decisive, commonsense action to restore order at the southern border at a time when congressional Republicans continue to use it as a political football.”

Meanwhile, progressives said Biden failed to address underlying problems at the border or the factors driving desperate migrants to flee violence and repression in their own countries.

“When the Democrats try to out-Republican the Republicans, it does not work,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said at a news conference this week hosted by the ACLU, which said it would sue to block the order, and other opposition groups.

Biden’s relationship with the left flank of his party was already frayed by the war in Gaza. But for the president, failing to act could be politically riskier. A Gallup poll released in April found immigration topping concerns about the economy as the most important problem facing the United States.

Trump, who has long made cracking down on the border a core part of his political identity, has ramped up his alarmist rhetoric and false narratives that immigrants who enter the country illegally are responsible for a spike in crime. Biden has long criticized Trump’s anti-immigration policies, including a “zero tolerance” approach that separated children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

While the impact of Biden’s shift to the right on the border won’t be fully understood until November, it’s an illustration of just how much the political calculus on the issue has changed.

Starting gate

Rematches, rejection and Menendezes: Voters in primaries on Tuesday set up rematches for House seats in Iowa, Montana and New Mexico, chose nominees for a solidly Democratic open seat in New Jersey and a solidly Republican seat in Montana. New Jersey Republicans also rejected Trump’s preferred Senate candidate, while Democrats in the state’s 8th District backed Rep. Rob Menendez for another term despite the ongoing corruption trial of his father, Sen. Bob Menendez. Sen. Menendez didn’t run in the primary, but he did file to run for reelection as an independent in November.

#OK04: Recently minted House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma is taking no chances in his Republican primary, reports Aidan Quigley. “It’s like an old-fashioned bar fight,” Cole said in an interview. “The guy who wins a bar fight isn’t the guy with the most money, it’s the guy with the most friends. And I have a lot of friends in that district.”

Field of challengers: There are multiple Republicans who have a chance to win the GOP nomination on Tuesday to take on incumbent Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in Nevada.

Taking names: Neither side expected Wednesday’s procedural Senate vote to start debate on a bill establishing a federal right to obtain contraceptives to succeed, and it didn’t, as Sandhya Raman reports. But with the party’s control of the chamber at stake, it gave Democrats one more argument to use to persuade voters not to give the GOP a majority next year.

ICYMI

Trump reaction: Many Republicans running for reelection in races that will help decide control of Congress, including several from New York, supported Trump after he was convicted on 34 felony charges last week. Some candidates went even further, making a pledge to retaliate against Democrats a focus of their campaigns.

Election funding: A bipartisan group of current and former elections officials says Congress needs to bolster funding for election security ahead of the 2024 elections, but as colleague Jim Saksa writes, House Republicans are so far going in the other direction.

Ad watch: Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign’s new ad focuses on protecting in vitro fertilization. The NRSC and Kari Lake’s campaign in Arizona have a new spot that targets Rep. Ruben Gallego over immigration policy. And in Montana, the DSCC debuted an ad highlighting questions about Tim Sheehy’s biography and business record.

Book closed: The House Ethics Committee concluded that Michigan GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga’s campaign violated House recordkeeping rules over several years but said questionable travel expenses were for trips that were “clearly campaign-related.” The only action taken was to call for better guidance to all lawmakers, colleague Justin Papp reports.

Target list growing: The NRCC added three districts to its list of pickup opportunities this fall, including Texas’ 28th District, held by indicted Rep. Henry Cuellar, and New Hampshire’s 2nd District, where Rep. Ann McLane Kuster is retiring. They’re guaranteed a pickup in the third, North Carolina’s 6th District, where no Democrat is on the ballot in November after Rep. Kathy Manning opted to retire rather than run again in a redrawn district. 

Biden on the ballot: Ohio GOP Gov. Mike DeWine signed a law adjusting the state’s nomination deadline for presidential candidates to accommodate the timing of the Democratic National Convention, WTVG reports. The DNC had announced plans to nominate President Biden virtually.

Coming back? Former one-term Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda was among the candidates filing to run in Kansas’ 2nd District, where incumbent Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner is not running again, the Kansas Reflector reports. Boyda told the publication she is running because “Congress isn’t just broken, it’s also become dangerous.”

After a campaign: Harry Dunn, the former Capitol Police officer who lost a primary for a Maryland House seat last month, is using his fundraising strength to launch a new PAC with the goal of defeating “Donald Trump and anti-democracy MAGA extremists” and to elect leaders “who will strengthen our democracy.” 

Westchester divide: Former Rep. Mondaire Jones, who is seeking a comeback to the House, endorsed a primary challenger to former colleague Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a fellow Democrat. Jones told The New York Times that his endorsement was due to Bowman’s outspoken criticism of Israel. In return, the Progressive Caucus pulled its endorsement of Jones.

Exit here: State Sen. Becky Whitley dropped out of the race for New Hampshire’s 2nd District, leaving Colin Van Ostern, a former member of the state’s Executive Council, and Maggie Goodlander, a former White House senior adviser, as the leading Democrats running. In a statement, Whitley lamented the high cost of running for Congress. “The money flowing into this race could fund my bill to feed all New Hampshire children experiencing food insecurity over the summer and provide more free lunches during the upcoming school year,” she said. “It could fund my bill to support New Hampshire’s childcare workforce. It could fund new homeless shelter beds in our communities and help our community mental health centers keep their doors open.”

What we’re reading 

States of flux: The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics examines the phenomenon we’re seeing in several swing states where Democratic senators or candidates are leading but Biden is not — even as the historical trend has moved away from states splitting their votes for president and senator.

Primary upset: Puerto Rico’s delegate to Congress, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, upset incumbent Gov. Pedro Pierluisi in Sunday’s gubernatorial primary, The Associated Press reports. González-Colón caucuses with Republicans, while Pierluisi caucused with Democrats when he served as resident commissioner. But they competed in a primary because both are members of the New Progressive Party, the pro-statehood party in the commonwealth.

Sound the alarm: Small-dollar donations are drying up for both parties, NOTUS reports. House and Senate campaign committees saw fewer donations under $200 in the first quarter of this year compared with the first quarters of the last two election years. 

Two times is enough: The Atlantic talked to a bunch of voters who supported Trump twice but say they won’t back him this year after his conviction on 34 felony charges.

Catholic voters stand by Trump: But Trump’s conviction is less important to many Catholic voters than his opposition to abortion, the National Catholic Reporter writes. “It boggles my mind how anyone can call themselves a Catholic and vote Democratic,” a Trump supporter who requested anonymity because of his job with the New York City Police Department, told the publication.

The count: $6,600

That’s how much Mendham, N.J., residents Chris and Mary Pat Christie donated on May 23 to Curtis Bashaw, the winner of New Jersey’s Republican Senate primary on Tuesday. About two weeks earlier, Trump had endorsed Bashaw’s opponent, Mendham Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner, saying during a rally in Wildwood, N.J.: “I was going to stay out of it but you’re running against a Christie person.” Christie, the bombastic former two-term governor, was one of Trump’s most aggressive opponents in this cycle’s GOP presidential primaries, and Bashaw in an interview in April with the Bergen Record had downplayed donations he made to Christie’s presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2024. He said the most recent one “wasn’t a massive political statement” and he’d voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. With an estimated 93 percent of the vote counted Wednesday, Bashaw had 45 percent to Serrano Glassner’s 39 percent in the four-candidate field.

Nathan’s notes

After Trump was convicted last week, Nathan had seen enough prognostication about what it would mean for the campaign to call for a pause.

Key race: #VA07

Candidates: Both parties have competitive primaries on June 18 to pick nominees for an open swing seat. On the Democratic side, Eugene Vindman, who built a national profile alongside his twin brother for his role in the first Trump impeachment inquiry, is running against several local officials. Woodbridge District Supervisor Margaret Franklin, Potomac District Supervisor Andrea Bailey, former state Del. Elizabeth Guzman and Del. Briana Sewell are all candidates, as well as Army veteran and attorney Carl Bedell and former diplomat Cliff Heinzer. On the Republican side, retired Green Beret Derrick Anderson and retired Navy SEAL Cameron Hamilton are the leading candidates. Four other Republicans are also on the ballot: Jon Myers, John Prabhudoss, Maria Martin and Terris Todd. 

Why it matters: Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s decision not to seek reelection as she eyes a 2025 run for governor opened a swing seat she flipped in 2018. 

Cash dash: Vindman leads the pack in fundraising. He raised $3.8 million and had $1.8 million on hand at the end of March. Franklin raised $241,000 and had $141,000, while Bailey raised $211,000 and had $190,000 on hand at that point. Guzman had raised $205,000 and had $148,000, while Sewell raised $173,000 and had $55,000 on hand. Anderson led the Republicans at the end of the first quarter. He raised $889,000 and had $581,000 on hand, while Hamilton raised half a million dollars and had $176,000 on hand. Outside groups have so far spent $3.5 million to support their preferred candidates. Protect Progress and VoteVets spent $1.3 million supporting Vindman. House Freedom Fund and Protect Freedom PAC spent $1.1 million supporting Hamilton. American Patriots PAC and the Congressional Leadership Fund spent $938,000 boosting Anderson. And CASA in Action PAC spent $189,000 to help Guzman. 

Backers: Several House members, including Reps. Adam B. Schiff, Chris Deluzio and Don Davis, endorsed Vindman. He also touts endorsements from The Washington Post and VoteVets. Rep. Alma Adams and former Rep. Al Lawson endorsed Franklin. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee backed Guzman. Anderson is supported by Speaker Mike Johnson and the rest of the House GOP leadership, as well as fellow Virginia Republican Rep. Jen Kiggans and several other House Republicans. Hamilton is endorsed by several members of the House GOP’s right flank, including Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good, former Rep. Dave Brat, who previously represented Virginia’s 7th District, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. 

What they’re saying: Vindman’s celebrity and fundraising success is helping to drive the discussion on the Democratic side. He’s focused on pushing back on extremism and has highlighted his role in the impeachment inquiry in ads. But The Washington Post reports that he’s gotten some pushback from local Democratic leaders, while he’s running against local elected officials who are emphasizing their experience and ties to the area. He’s also been criticized for taking a photo with a Confederate-era Virginia flag. On the Republican side, both Hamilton and Anderson note their military background. Anderson says he’ll bring a “fighting spirit” to Congress to solve problems. Hamilton said he is running for office because he’s seen the impacts of bad policies in his work in the military and then at the Department of Homeland Security. 

Terrain: South of D.C. and north of Richmond, the 7th District stretches from the edge of Shenandoah National Park past the Fredericksburg area. Inside Elections rates the race as Tilt Democratic. 

Wild card: If elected, Sewell would be following her cousin, Alabama Rep. Terri A. Sewell, to the House. 

Coming up

The House GOP roster will grow by one member if the favored candidate wins Ohio’s 6th District special election Tuesday to replace congressman-turned-college-president Bill Johnson. Primaries are also happening in Nevada (see item on #NV03 above in Starting gate), Maine, North Dakota and South Carolina. 

Photo finish

Rapper and businessman Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is greeted by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol on Wednesday after Jackson and attorney Ben Crump met with congressional leaders to discuss increasing minority representation in the multibillion-dollar luxury spirits industry. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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