Bloomberg builds momentum on Capitol Hill with new endorsements

Mike Bloomberg has spent years building relationships — and political capital — with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He's now drawing on those contacts to build momentum for his unorthodox Democratic presidential run.

Establishment Democrats in Congress are buzzing about the former New York City mayor and wealthy business titan, whose late entry into the White House race and pledge to spend as much as $1 billion of his personal fortune to defeat Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE has thrown a wild card into the party’s crowded primary.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg landed endorsements from a trio of Congressional Black Caucus members — Reps. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksUS delegation departs Haiti after reports of gunshots at ex-president's funeral Biden announces delegation to attend Haitian president's funeral Critical race theory becomes focus of midterms MORE (D-N.Y.) and Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathCritical race theory becomes focus of midterms Overnight Health Care: Fauci clashes with Paul - again | New York reaches .1B settlement with opioid distributors | Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of US COVID-19 cases Abortion rights group endorsing 12 House Democrats ahead of midterms MORE (D-Ga.), and Del. Stacey PlaskettStacey PlaskettPlaskett slams GOP rep for saying Black Lives Matter 'doesn't like the old-fashioned family' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Plaskett makes history for Virgin Islands after role in impeachment MORE (D-Virgin Islands) — just a day after he came under fire for a 2015 recording of him defending the controversial policing policy known as stop and frisk, used in New York when he was mayor.

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On Thursday, House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchIncorporating mental health support into global assistance programs Ethics panel upholds 0 mask fines against Greene, other GOP lawmakers Sanders reaffirms support for Turner in Ohio amid Democratic rift MORE (D-Fla.) jumped on the Bloomberg bus. The 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took place in Deutch’s district, and he said Bloomberg’s fight against gun violence helped win his support just a day before the two-year anniversary of the mass shooting.

The four announcements bring the number of Bloomberg's House endorsements to 13. More than half of those endorsements have come in the past week alone, as Bloomberg has risen to third place in national polling, behind Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Angst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE, who had disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“I see him gaining in the polls. I see him running a real campaign. I see him putting out messages into paid communications, speaking to people around tackling climate change, addressing gun violence in America … balancing our budget, lowering our deficit and running a government that is inclusive and for everybody,” a fired-up Rep. Haley StevensHaley Maria StevensOvernight Health Care: Fauci clashes with Paul - again | New York reaches .1B settlement with opioid distributors | Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of US COVID-19 cases Abortion rights group endorsing 12 House Democrats ahead of midterms House GOP campaign arm hits vulnerable Democrats on inflation in July 4 ad campaign MORE (D-Mich.) told reporters, just days after she endorsed Bloomberg.

"He’s surging in the polls, and people are responding to the fact that, when they see numbers, he is beating Trump by the most," added Stevens, who flipped a Trump district in 2018.

More than any of his 2020 rivals, the 77-year-old Bloomberg has been aggressively courting congressional Democrats in recent weeks, said several lawmakers who have been contacted. Members of Team Bloomberg have been texting and calling nonstop, listening to ideas and laying out the former mayor’s vision and strategy to win the wide-open primary and oust Trump in November.

“His campaign is probably the most effective when it comes to reaching out to members of Congress, relentlessly and thoughtfully,” said one House Democrat who is backing another 2020 Democrat but has received several phone calls from Bloomberg’s people. “Phone calls and invitations, lots of intentional, proactive conversations and listening sessions with members, which indicate a campaign that is well-staffed, well-prepared, and has a good strategy."

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“Campaigning is a game of invitations,” the lawmaker added. “You don't always accept an invitation, but you remember you got one.”

Bloomberg has been playing the inside game for years. In recent election cycles, the billionaire’s super PAC has showered Democrats with tens of millions in campaign cash. He’s also teamed with Democrats in Washington and around the country on two key issues that have become cornerstones of his presidential campaign: gun control and climate change.

Walk up to a random Democrat on the Hill and almost all of them have some kind of connection to Bloomberg. As a state legislator, freshman Rep. Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanLiberals tone down calls to 'defund police' amid GOP attacks The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-Pa.) said she partnered with Bloomberg on a gun-violence prevention event at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“Gun violence is something I’ve been working on my entire adult life,” said Dean, who has not endorsed any of the 2020 candidates.

Neither has Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelDemocrats repeal prohibition on funding abortions abroad Investing in child care paves the way to a better economy Democrats introduce equal pay legislation for US national team athletes MORE (D-Fla.), but she said she worked closely with Bloomberg on his Mayors Against Illegal Guns initiative when she was mayor of Palm Beach.

“I was a mayor, so that appeals to me. He's competent, he’s smart, obviously, and he has the money,” Frankel, co-chairwoman of the women’s caucus, told The Hill.

“I like a lot of the people in the race. I still have a soft spot in my heart to have a woman president." But she added, "He helped us win the House, and he really has been a leader on the gun violence issue.”

Bloomberg has also worked closely with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE (D-Calif.) on both gun violence prevention and climate change. At a global climate conference in her hometown of San Francisco in 2018, Pelosi praised Bloomberg for his “Beyond Coal” initiative with the Sierra Club, calling it “essential.”

As the highest-ranking Democrat in Congress, Pelosi has steered clear of taking sides in the primary contest. But when pressed about the nearly $300 million that Bloomberg has spent in the race, Pelosi didn’t hesitate to praise the former mayor.

“As far as Michael BloombergMichael BloombergWHO leader issues warning on 'harmful' e-cigarettes Six months in, two challenges could define Biden's presidency Why Democrats' .5 trillion reconciliation bill is a losing game MORE is concerned,” she told reporters in the Capitol, “I think that his involvement in this campaign will be a positive one."

Bloomberg's role in the 2018 campaign was, indeed, a positive one for Democrats — and for Pelosi herself. A New York Times analysis found that Bloomberg spent more than $41 million boosting Democrats in 24 House races last cycle; Democrats won 21 of those races.

More than $400,000 of Bloomberg's money was spent on TV ads in Oklahoma City backing Democratic candidate Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornWhy does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it What should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? MORE. She defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Steve RussellSteven (Steve) Dane RussellKendra Horn concedes to Stephanie Bice in Oklahoma, flipping seat back to GOP GOP women's group launches six-figure campaign for House candidate Bice Bice wins Oklahoma GOP runoff to face Horn in November MORE by just 3,288 votes.

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In the midterm elections, Democrats flipped the GOP-controlled House for the first time in eight years, and Pelosi soon reclaimed her Speaker’s gavel.

“She partly owes her gavel to Mayor Bloomberg and his spending last cycle,” said a senior House Democratic source.

Bloomberg is running a highly unusual campaign, choosing to sit out the first four nominating states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Instead, the billionaire self-funded candidate is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Super Tuesday states — including California, Texas and Virginia — by blitzing voters with endless TV and social media ads and building a massive field organization.

During a recent closed-door Democratic caucus meeting, one lawmaker from a Super Tuesday state stood up and lamented that Bloomberg had hired away two of the lawmaker’s district staffers, probably by paying them more, according to a source in the room.

Sanders supporters have been extremely critical of Bloomberg's spending, even though he’s pledged to help whoever becomes the party’s nominee.

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“I don’t think our democracy should be for sale to anybody,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalAngst grips America's most liberal city Congress must lower the Medicare Age to save the lives of older Americans House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate MORE (D-Wash.), a Sanders backer who is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “This isn’t about who I like or don’t like. I just don’t think anybody should be able to be a billionaire and spend enormous amounts of money promoting themselves; I don’t see how that’s a democracy.”

But other Democrats argue that Bloomberg is playing within the rules and that his spending will almost certainly free up other like-minded donors to focus on efforts to take back the Senate and preserve the House majority.

“He’s in a very good position,” said freshman Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsLawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection Omar feuds with Jewish Democrats Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' MORE (D-Minn.), who is backing his home-state senator, Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE, but is also bullish on Bloomberg. “I don’t want to see our country perpetuate a system where you either have to raise hundreds of millions or an individual has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s not healthy for us."

“But considering the alternative right now” in the White House, Phillips added, “I’m glad there is somebody who won’t have to think about raising resources to win.”