Politics

Sinema, McConnell and the upside down politics of Arizona

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In today’s edition …  The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ PAC will run ads it says are intended to combat misinformation with Hispanic voters … The Senate Electoral Count Act bill faces critical test today … What we’re watching: A key vote for Manchin’s permitting bill … The latest on congressional staff unions … Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, Isaac Arnsdorf and Marianna Sotomayor report on how Kevin McCarthy’s political machine worked to sway the GOP field … but first …

Sinema’s embrace of McConnell fuels Democratic discontent

When Blake Masters was campaigning for the Republican Senate nomination in Arizona, he called for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to be ousted as Republican leader in the Senate.

“I’ll tell Mitch this to his face,” Master said during a June primary debate. “He’s not bad at everything. He’s good at judges. He’s good at blocking Democrats. You know what he’s not good at? Legislating.”

When Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) appeared with McConnell on Monday at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center barely six weeks before the midterms, she was full of praise for him. And McConnell returned the favor, calling her the “most effective first-term senator” he’s seen since joining the Senate in 1985.

The dichotomy illustrates how upside-down party politics have become in Arizona, a state where Democrats and Republicans have been unafraid to harshly criticize their leaders in recent years.

While Masters has backed away from bashing McConnell — “If I’m honest, he’ll probably get another shot at majority leader,” he said in July — Arizona Republicans have gone after their own in recent years. They censured then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2014 for bucking the party. They censured former senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, last year. And they censured state House Speaker Rusty Bowers in July for the sin of crossing former president Donald Trump.

The Arizona Democratic Party, meanwhile, censured Sinema in January after she refused to vote to scrap the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation — a vote for which McConnell praised Sinema on Monday.

An AARP poll made public last week found that only 37 percent of likely Democratic voters and 41 percent of likely independent voters in Arizona have a favorable view of Sinema — but 36 percent of likely Republican voters do. Just 14 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and 6 percent had a favorable view of President Biden.

Sinema’s warm relationships with Republicans prompted Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to tell Politico last year that he “would be surprised if Republicans tried to unseat her” if she runs for reelection. And it’s jokingly prompted Republicans to claim her as one of their own.

“There is no doubt that Kyrsten Sinema is the best Republican to come out of Arizona in years,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona Republican operative.

Looking for another option

Some Democrats, meanwhile, were infuriated by Sinema’s remark on Monday that “control changes between the House and the Senate every couple of years” and that “it’s likely to change again in just a few weeks” — the opposite of the message the party is trying to drive as it labors to hold onto its bare majorities in both chambers.

“I mean you could be out there helping our candidates @SenatorSinema,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who’s mused about challenging Sinema in the primary if she runs for reelection in 2024, tweeted on Monday. “But my sense is that you would actually prefer the Dems lose control of the Senate and House.”

Gallego added that he’d been “raising funds and encouraging people to come out and vote and I have seen you nowhere.”

That’s not entirely accurate. Sinema has given more than $140,000 to Democrats through her leadership PAC this cycle, according to campaign finance filings and a person familiar with the matter. Those contribution include $10,000 to Kelly, who’s up for reelection. She also sent several fundraising emails for Kelly, according to another person.

But Sinema’s appearance with McConnell months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, making most abortions illegal in Arizona, was a poke in the eye to Democrats given McConnell’s pivotal role in confirming the conservative Supreme Court justices, said Alex Alvarez, the executive director of Progress Arizona, a nonprofit. It’s not a question of if she draws a primary challenger in 2024, he added, but how many Democrats will run against her if she runs.

“I think at this point Arizonans are looking for another option,” Alvarez said.

Democrats drive abortion rights message with Hispanic voters

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ PAC is debuting new videos in English and Spanish tying Republicans to the bill introduced by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) earlier this month to ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“Republicans must have been bingeing ‘Handmaid’s Tale” and decided, you know what, this sounds like a great idea,” a man says in the English version.

The videos are part of what Democrats have described as an effort to combat misinformation with Hispanic voters. The videos will be microtargeted at voters in two swing House districts: the one in which Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.) is running for reelection and an open seat in South Texas.

Senate Electoral Count Act bill faces critical test

The Senate bill to strengthen the Electoral Count Act, the 19th century law that governs Congress’ role in certifying presidential election results, will be considered by the Senate Rules Committee this afternoon, the final step for the bill before it heads to the floor for a vote.

All signs point to a major bipartisan victory on an issue that has divided the country since Trump exploited loopholes in the law in his attempt to overturn the 2020 election results. Just nine Republicans, none of whom will face voters in November, voted for a similar version in the House last week.

The Senate process has been much more collaborative, and the bill, authored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), now has the support of 22 members, including 11 Republicans, making it likely to pass.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the Rules Committee chair, and the panel’s top Republican, Roy Blunt (Mo.), have yet to officially endorse the bill, but they’ve helped usher it along.

They’ll propose an agreed-upon substitute amendment that is expected to be adopted and is based on input from election experts. It will make several changes, including clarifying the judicial process if a governor rejects the electors and specifying that only “force majeure events that are extraordinary and catastrophic” can extend elections.

“I look forward to adopting these bipartisan changes at our committee markup so we can continue to advance this critical legislation,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

The McConnell and Schumer factor

Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and McConnell sit on the Rules Committee. While both have given the group time and space to work on the issue, neither has publicly thrown their support behind the proposal.

Schumer withheld his support because he preferred Democrats’ sweeping voting bill that also addressed access to the polls. But after that bill failed in the Senate due to a lack of Republican support earlier this year, the bipartisan working group forged ahead on a narrower bill that would implement guardrails and clarifications regarding how presidential electors are appointed, submitted and approved.

If Schumer and McConnell attend the mark up or vote for the measure in the committee, it will provide a major boost.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Rules panel who worked on his own electoral bill, has not yet signed on as a co-sponsor but said he will “absolutely” support the bill.

“This isn’t comprehensive voting rights reforms but it is important because of the danger that we experienced on Jan. 6,” King told The Early in an interview on Monday, referring to the attack on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters who wanted Vice President Pence to reject electors from certain states.

“It’s critical we do this before next year when we are in the throes of the presidential election,” King said.

Next up for congressional staff unions: Khanna and Omar’s offices

One for the books: There is a staff union on Capitol Hill for the first time in its 233-year history.

Staffers from Rep. Andy Levin’s (D-Mich.) office voted unanimously last week to form a union. The results were announced Monday. “While exercising their right to vote, the workers clearly and emphatically expressed their desire to bargain collectively and have a seat at the table to determine workplace conditions and benefits,” the Congressional Workers Union said in a statement following the vote tally.

Staffers from Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) offices are poised to follow in their colleagues’ footsteps with union elections of their own scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

Here’s how it happened:

  • January: The “Dear White Staffers” Instagram account goes viral after exposing poor working conditions on the Hill.
  • Feb. 3: Latino Rebels’s Pablo Manríquez asks Speaker Nancy Pelosi whether she supports a congressional union. She says yes.
  • Feb. 4: The CWU formally announces its intent to unionize personal offices and committees.
  • Feb. 9: Levin introduces a resolution granting congressional aides the right to organize and bargain collectively.
  • March 2: The House Administration Committee holds a hearing on congressional staff unionization. Republican lawmakers try to throw cold water on the effort, with one calling it a “solution looking for a problem.”
  • May 10: The House votes to recognize Hill staffers’ right to organize and bargain collectively — but the protections don’t kick in until July 18.
  • July 18: Hill staffers from eight offices file petitions with the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to form unions.
  • Sept. 22: Levin’s staffers cast their votes on whether to form a union.
  • Sept. 26: The CWU announces the formation of the first congressional union.

Can Manchin wrangle the votes for his permitting bill? Magic Eight Ball says outlook not so good

Tonight is the big procedural vote in the Senate on the short-term government funding bill. We reported on Monday that it’s unclear if it will advance because of an energy permitting provision authored by Manchin that has been attached to the bill.

Manchin told us Sunday night that he feels “optimistic” as he’s been working the phones lobbying senators of both parties to find 60 votes necessary.

But some Republicans are on a pressure campaign to kill it. As we reported Monday, GOP leadership sent talking points in opposition to Republican Senate offices, and now the Wall Street Journal editorial board has written two opinion pieces opposing it. The second one, published Monday night, zeroes in on the Federal Energy Regulation Commission‘s authority to extend electricity transmission lines into states, an issue that Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told us Sunday was a concern.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he will oppose the continuing resolution because of the permitting language.

If tonight’s vote fails, Schumer could strip the permitting bill to ensure the funding bill passes by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The stopgap government funding bill also includes $12 billion for Ukraine as well as money for Afghan resettlement, a low-income heating program and disaster assistance, including for the Jackson, Miss., water crisis.

Read the bill text and section-by-section here.

How Kevin McCarthy’s political machine worked to sway the GOP field

Inside the effort to weed out McCarthy’s rivals: Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) made a name for himself as a firebrand social media phenomenon who delighted in trolling the left, famously boasting to colleagues that he had built his House office by focusing on communications not legislation,” our colleagues Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, Isaac Arnsdorf and Marianna Sotomayor write.

  • “But the strategy made him vulnerable to forces within his own party that helped end his time in office. Top allies of Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, worked this spring to deny Cawthorn a second term in office, after the Donald Trump-endorsed lawmaker made controversial comments about cocaine use and sex parties in Washington that led McCarthy to announce he had ‘lost my trust,’ according to multiple Republicans briefed on the effort, which has not been previously reported.”
  • “GOP lobbyist Jeff Miller, one of McCarthy’s closest friends and biggest fundraisers, and Brian O. Walsh, a Republican strategist who works for multiple McCarthy-backed groups, were both involved in an independent effort to oppose Cawthorn as part of a broader project to create a more functioning GOP caucus next year.”
  • “Targeting Cawthorn was part of a larger behind-the-scenes effort by top GOP donors and senior strategists to purge the influence of Republican factions that seek disruption and grandstanding, often at the expense of their GOP colleagues. The political machine around McCarthy has spent millions of dollars this year in a sometimes secretive effort to systematically weed out GOP candidates who could either cause McCarthy trouble if he becomes House speaker or jeopardize GOP victories in districts where more moderate candidate might have a better chance at winning.”

Who said what? Our colleague Hannah Knowles wants you to test your memory of some of the most notable quotes from the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings ahead of tomorrow’s hearing.

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @LACaldwellDC.



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