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 John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts 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 MeeksBottom line Democrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Chamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathThis week: House returns for pre-election sprint House Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts Black Lives Matter movement to play elevated role at convention MORE (D-Ga.), and Del. Stacey PlaskettStacey PlaskettDOJ rejects statehood for Puerto Rico — so do Puerto Ricans Bottom line Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins 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 DeutchShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Matt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid 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 SandersNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose The role (un)happiness plays in how people vote MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Biden campaign sells 'I paid more income taxes than Trump' stickers Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose 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 StevensUS Chamber of Commerce set to endorse 23 House freshman Democrats Eric Esshaki wins Michigan GOP primary to challenge Haley Stevens The Hill's Campaign Report: Buzz builds around Warren for VP 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 DeanEyes turn to Ocasio-Cortez as she seeks to boost Biden Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing Democratic lawmakers launch 'Mean Girls'-inspired initiative to promote face masks 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 FrankelShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Hillicon Valley: Democrats demand answers over Russian interference bulletin | Google Cloud wins defense contract for cancer research | Cyberattack disrupts virtual classes 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 PelosiPelosi preparing for House to decide presidency if neither Trump or Biden win electoral college: report Trump seeks boost from seniors with 0 drug discount coupons GOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November 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 BloombergTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Democratic groups using Bloomberg money to launch M in Spanish language ads in Florida 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 HornKate Schroder in Ohio among Democratic challengers squelching GOP hopes for the House GOP women's group rolls out six-figure campaign for Ernst Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report MORE. She defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Steve RussellSteven (Steve) Dane RussellGOP women's group launches six-figure campaign for House candidate Bice Bice wins Oklahoma GOP runoff to face Horn in November House Democrats target Midwestern GOP seats 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 JayapalHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility 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 PhillipsCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Vulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE (D-Minn.), who is backing his home-state senator, Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight 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.”