The Hill’s Morning Report — Putin mobilizes troops; polls fuel Senate midterm suspense
With seven weeks until Election Day and the Senate majority on the line in key races, polls across the country suggest the possibility of photo finishes. In Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere, close poll results and skepticism about the accuracy of this year’s midterm surveys leave campaigns scrambling for advantages with 48 days to go.
In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) is leading Republican challenger Herschel Walker by 5 points in the state’s Senate race, according to a Marist poll released Tuesday. The poll of registered voters shows Warnock with 47 percent, while Walker trails at 42 percent (The Hill).
Warnock and Walker appeared deadlocked Tuesday after Walker posted a modest 2-point lead over Warnock in early September (The Hill). The challenger’s early campaign efforts included stumbles and revelations that prompted hand-wringing among top Senate Republicans, The Hill’s Max Greenwood reports, but party officials said they’re beginning to see a more professional operation from the former football player’s campaign.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to leave nothing to chance in key contests that could put his party in control of the upper chamber next year. He will host a fundraiser for Walker on Thursday. McConnell came under scrutiny last month after he said Republicans were more likely to win the House than the Senate, citing “candidate quality” as a factor (The Hill).
As congressional races come down to the wire and both parties vie for control, measures of voter enthusiasm beyond polls are in focus, including voter registration, fundraising and advertising.
Democrats want to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s June ruling that turned abortion restrictions over to the states. Their hope is that momentum within the party will translate into higher turnout among women, young voters, minorities and perhaps independents. Democrats are on a voter-registration tear since the Supreme Court decision, but there’s a hitch — they are digging out from major Republican registration gains in the previous 18 months (Politico).
Republicans are confronting emerging signs that former President Trump could be complicating their prospects in key congressional races, writes The Hill’s Brett Samuels. Recent polling has shown he’s struggling with voters as he grapples with a slew of investigations — including the key demographic of independents.
But polling isn’t an exact science, as both sides of the aisle have learned over the last few election cycles. Democrats had to contend with a surprise Trump win in 2016, while recent surveys may again be underrepresenting Republican voters (The New York Times).
Nationally, a new NBC News poll finds the two parties’ registered voters tied at 46 percent in generic congressional preference, with Democrats narrowly trailing Republicans in election interest.
“We often think about wave elections,” Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates told NBC News. “But this year, we may think instead about a ‘waves’ election where unprecedentedly strong crosscurrents push voters in different directions, with an end result that may not be what we expected.”
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Democratic Senate candidate and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is stepping up his public appearances after weeks of heavy scrutiny over his health, including from his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz.
Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May, only recently agreed to a live debate against Oz, which is scheduled next month, writes The Hill’s Julia Manchester.
The Senate contest is tighter in Wisconsin, where Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) leads Sen. Ron Johnson (R) by 1 percentage point among likely voters, according to a Tuesday Spectrum News-Siena College poll.
The race is considered a toss-up (The Hill). The Spectrum News poll’s results are the exact opposite of a Marquette University Law School poll from last week, which showed Johnson leading Barnes by 1 point among likely voters, 49 percent to 48 percent.
▪ Time: Why the polls may be feeding liberals another blue mirage.
▪ NBC News: New poll shows Democratic midterm message outperforms GOP’s message.
▪ The Hill: Voters are split on which party they trust more on education, guns and inflation.
▪ The Hill: A Republican super PAC cuts more than $9 million in ad reservations in Arizona.
▪ The New York Times: Perfectly reasonable question: Can we trust the polls?
▪ The Hill: Rep Ted Budd (R) holds 3-point lead over Democrat Cheri Beasley in North Carolina Senate race.
LEADING THE DAY
Senate Democrats, who pushed four major pieces of legislation into law in recent months, now want to play it safe in Washington for the next seven weeks. That means no government shutdown ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline, no votes on controversial issues until after Election Day and avoidance of GOP accusations that Democrats are weak on defense.
The Hill’s Alexander Bolton translates the Senate’s must-dos from its will-dos, reporting that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who wants to crack down on the power of Apple and Amazon, is an example of a Democrat who will have to wait to see action on a bill she is sponsoring on a hot-button issue.
Members of both parties in both chambers insist there will be no lapse in government funding next week, even if a planned stopgap spending bill envisioned to last through mid-December needs a mini “failsafe” backup for days or hours if the fiscal year ends without a budget.
Democrats want to seal off any potential openings for Republican colleagues to assail the majority as equivocal about U.S. defense, so a defense authorization bill is a must-do before leaving town.
Defense spending is important enough to both parties ahead of Election Day that some Republicans want to lock in new Pentagon funding as soon as possible and are balking at some House conservatives who want to wait to lock in spending in case Republicans control the House next year (The Hill).
Democratic senators think they have the votes to fund the government without stumbling, but an add-on backed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), which has stirred criticism from the left and the right before any of his colleagues have seen the legislative language, appears vulnerable in both chambers. And Manchin is unhappy.
The West Virginia centrist says he’ll unveil legislative specifics today to explain a deal he struck with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in exchange for his vote for a major climate, health and tax bill enacted in August. House progressives have erected hurdles, but Schumer is uncertain they would effectively force a government shutdown in an election year to put the brakes on federal help for the fossil fuel industry (The Hill).
Manchin on Tuesday defended his proposal, arguing that “we do not bypass any of the environmental reviews,” which he said is a difference between his package and a separate proposal from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).
The language, according to Manchin, explicitly speeds up the approval process for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is a controversial proposed project that would carry natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.
“It’s like the revenge politics, basically revenge towards one person: me,” Manchin said in response to resistance he’s receiving from Republicans as well. “And I’m thinking, this is not about me” (The Hill).
▪ The Hill: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday urged his members to vote against a stopgap spending bill as a way to challenge border and immigration issues.
▪ The Hill: The House today plans to vote on a bill led by a bipartisan duo on the Jan. 6 panel that would reform the Electoral Count Act, moving swiftly on legislation designed to prevent interference in elections. A competing measure is pending in the Senate, which means such legislation will likely stall until after the elections.
▪ The Hill: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Tuesday that Democrats are eyeing a vote this week on a trimmed policing bill.
▪ The Hill: A competitive GOP House contest for a potential opening to be majority whip next year features three contenders actively vying for colleagues’ support.
➤ MORE POLITICS
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said many things about abortion rights over the years, not all of them welcome within his party or consistent. His latest assertion that abortion is not a states’ rights issue at the same time he is urging federal legislation that would create a 15-week federal ban on most abortions — against the backdrop of a conservative Supreme Court that turned abortion back to the states — gave some Republicans pause again on Tuesday, The Hill’s Al Weaver reports.
GOP candidates are in a dogfight to capture control of the Senate and would much prefer to discuss inflation, crime, border security and prudent federal spending, all of which the conservatives say put Democratic candidates more firmly on the ropes before Nov. 8. Democrats say they are happy to let Graham keep talking.
The abortion debate “is as tough as any candidate wants to make it. The reality is voters who remain undecided at this point are not voting on abortion. They’re voting on the economy, crime, border,” one GOP strategist told The Hill. “Anybody who has very strong feelings about abortion is not an undecided voter. It’s very important for Republicans to talk to the voters who are still gettable at this point, and those are the people who are struggling to buy their groceries and hoping for change.”
The Associated Press: Ad spending shows Democrats are hinging their midterm hopes on abortion.
Separately, migration out of countries led by authoritarian dictators, including Venezuela, has increased, a trend now spotlighted by red-state governors’ decisions to bus and fly immigrants across their borders to convey a domestic “crisis,” explains The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch.
▪ The Hill: On Tuesday, Venezuelan migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard last week by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) filed a class-action lawsuit against him and the state’s transportation secretary.
▪ The Hill: In news about the Mar-a-Lago documents battle between the Justice Department and lawyers for Trump, special master Raymond Dearie on Tuesday advised the Trump team, “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” referring to its reluctance to assert in legal filings whether the former president officially declassified sensitive documents he took when he left the White House. He says he did. There’s no evidence.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
International and domestic money trails:
🛢️Officials with the Treasury and Justice departments on Tuesday defended the effectiveness of wide-ranging U.S. sanctions on Russia following the Kremlin’s February invasion of Ukraine. During Senate Banking Committee testimony, they challenged criticism that sanctions are not working. The administration’s view: Coordinated Western efforts to cut Russia off from the international financial system and energy markets are working to drain resources from Moscow’s war effort and are bolstering Ukrainian military gains, including the recapture this month of territory held by Russian forces. Analysts point out that despite a U.S. embargo on Russian oil enacted in March and European and Russian measures that resulted in fewer natural gas shipments to Europe, India and China have filled energy market voids that help Russia maintain export volumes close to pre-war levels (The Hill).
⚖️ The Justice Department charged 47 people on Tuesday with creating shell companies in Minnesota to launder $250 million in federal COVID-19 pandemic assistance originally intended to provide meals to children from low-income families (The Hill).
📚The Education Department’s announced policies this year to try to reduce or forgive student loan debts and lower the costs of higher education remain under scrutiny among education analysts, who assert that the administration is failing to directly tackle rising college tuition and fees. They say reforms would require Congress but that the Education Department could also introduce new regulations and revive campus-based aid programs (The Hill).
■ Mental health is political, by Danielle Carr, guest essayist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3ShQx5I
■ I paid off student loans but support relief for those who can’t, by Erin Lowry, Bloomberg Opinion columnist. https://bloom.bg/3DGz5Ul
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will proceed to executive session to consider an amendment to the Montreal Protocol. … Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) will participate from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. in a Q&A newsmaker event about climate and energy hosted by Axios.
President Biden is in New York City and will speak at 10:35 a.m. during a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. He will meet for the first time with British Prime Minister Liz Truss at 1:15 p.m. The president will host and speak at a conference of the Global Fund at 4 p.m., which is focused on battling HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Biden hosts a reception at 7 p.m. at the American Museum of Natural History for global leaders who are in Gotham.
Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff at 11 a.m. will attend a “Service of Thanksgiving” for the late Queen Elizabeth II at Washington National Cathedral. The vice president at 2:15 p.m. will join a call with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the news media about the Emergency Capital Investment Program benefiting states.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in New York for events tied to the United Nations and has a full schedule with the president. He will participate at 6:10 p.m. in a Group of Seven working dinner.
Economic indicators: The Federal Reserve at 2 p.m. releases a statement at the conclusion of its two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell holds a press conference at 2:30 p.m. … The National Association of Realtors at 10 a.m. releases an August snapshot of existing home sales, which have fallen for six consecutive months through July.
First lady Jill Biden has a packed schedule while traveling with the president in New York. She and Queen Letizia of Spain at 12:15 p.m. will tour and speak at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center to champion cancer research and global cooperation to try to end cancer. Two hours later, the first lady is scheduled to speak at the Concordia Annual Summit. This evening in New York City, she will co-host with the president a reception for the United Nations gathering at the American Museum of Natural History.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced early today in a rare address from Moscow that he ordered a “partial mobilization” of troops, which he said was necessary to defend Russian sovereignty against the West. Putin, in fact, gave his order to invade Ukraine in February, describing at the time a “special military operation” to seize territory he asserted belonged to Russia.
In his address (Kremlin transcript is HERE), Putin suggested that western countries are attempting to “divide and destroy” Russia and claimed a loss of 6,000 troops. Experts believe Russia’s toll in Ukraine has been much higher.
He made an ominous reference to possible use of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, saying, “we of course will use all the means at our disposal, this is not a bluff” (The Washington Post).
The Russian president, who had been expected to deliver his address on Tuesday night until the Kremlin postponed it, spoke as Ukraine is in the midst of a counteroffensive and as Kremlin-backed officials press ahead with staged referendums that could result in Moscow annexing occupied parts of Ukraine — an act that could mark a major escalation in the conflict.
▪ Reuters: Putin mobilizes more troops for Ukraine, accuses West of “nuclear blackmail.”
▪ The Associated Press: Putin sets martial military call-up, won’t bluff on nukes.
World leaders today are gathered for the U.N. General Assembly in New York, at which Biden will speak this morning about Russia’s “naked aggression” (The Hill). In speeches defending Ukraine, global leaders at the U.N. have been describing Putin’s war as a threat to global order and world peace.
On Tuesday, four Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine announced hastily planned votes this week on whether to become part of Russia. The Moscow-backed referendums could set the stage for a new phase of escalation (The Associated Press).
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesdaywelcomed General Assembly participants with somber remarks describing the world’s current woes, including war, poverty and environmental destruction. “Our world is in peril and paralyzed,” he said. “We cannot go on like this” (CNBC). Biden and Guterres will meet this morning.
The Associated Press: French President Emmanuel Macron said in New York on Tuesday that no nation can stay “indifferent” during Russia’s war with Ukraine. He said any possible negotiated ending to Russia’s aggression can succeed only “if Ukraine’s sovereignty is respected, its territory liberated and its security protected.”
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
New York City on Nov. 1 will end its COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private-sector employees and students participating in sports and extracurricular activities, Mayor Eric Adams (D) announced Tuesday. The city at the same time is trying to kick-start a public campaign to promote COVID-19 boosters tailored for the BA.5 variant of omicron (The Hill).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,054,333. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 355, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And finally … 🏈 Members of Congress tonight will get some help from former NFL players to take on a team of U.S. Capitol Police at Audi Field stadium in Washington for a now-annual sporting event to raise money for charity.
Ticketed at $12.50 and open to the public (information HERE), proceeds go to the U.S. Capitol Police Memorial Fund, Our Military Kids, A Advantage 4 Kids and the Boys & Girls Club of America.
“Football has a way of unifying our country, no matter our politics, and this game brings us together for an especially important cause,” John Booty, who played with the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles, said in a statement as the coach.
“The Guards” police team, with approximately 29 Capitol Police players, will take on “The Mean Machine” team made up of usually necktied-and-loafered lawmakers. The roster includes Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), serving as captains, Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), Jake LaTurner (R-Kan.), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Greg Murphy (R-N.C.), Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), August Pfluger (R-Texas), Mike Bost (R-Ill.), Blake Moore (R-Utah), David Valadao (R-Calif.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), Frank Mrvan (D-Ind.), Colin Allred (D-Texas), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Tracy Mann (R-Kan.), Lou Correa (D-Calif.), Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawaii), Jake Ellzey (R-Texas) and Jack Bergman (R-Mich.).
The former NFLers who are lending their expertise in addition to Booty include Cliff Crosby, Lamont Jordan, Rocky McIntosh and Ken Harvey.