The Hill’s Morning Report — Eyes on Senate candidates; Democrats’ spending bill cliffhanger
There are 43 days until election Day, but early voting is already happening in a handful of states. That means late-breaking candidate debates, speeches, campaign ads, polls and November’s energy prices won’t impact the decisions of early deciders who are turning in their ballots.
Because key Senate contests are neck and neck as we write this, political pundits are leaning on guesses, favored surveys, media coverage, ad buys and political history to foreshadow outcomes. Is President Biden going to face a Capitol under Republican control, one chamber led by conservatives or an outcome that surprises or disappoints many during an unusually fraught midterm year?
One thing’s certain: The GOP path to a Senate majority has narrowed. Democrats appear increasingly likely to hold their Senate seats in once-foreboding battlegrounds such as Arizona and New Hampshire, while Republicans could hold their breath as their Senate prospects hinge on a couple of states, report The Hill’s Al Weaver and Max Greenwood.
The Hill’s Caroline Vakil interviewed experienced political analysts to gauge the status in Senate races in which the parties are most likely to experience reversals, including in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
In the Keystone State where an open seat has been held by a Republican, the contest between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) and Republican celebrity physician Mehmet Oz saw Democrats voicing confidence from the outset. GOP strategist Scott Jennings said voters are still receiving new information about Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May and campaigns as a progressive iconoclast. “Coming out of the primary, the polling was pretty stark — obviously Oz had had quite a few negative ads run against him — Fetterman hadn’t.” That has shifted, Jennings said. “I think some of the definitional work on Fetterman is currently being done.”
In Nevada, a state heavily reliant on tourism, the pandemic and the economy are seen as factors in the Senate contest as voters assess Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), who made history in 2016 as the first Latina to be elected to the Senate, and challenger Republican Adam Laxalt.
Many believe Nevada is a ripe pickup opportunity for the GOP. “I think that this is one of those races where it’s economy first,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau, a former aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Las Vegas especially took a beating during COVID. And folks are still reeling and they’re still recovering, and so I think that’s first and foremost in folks’ minds.”
In Arizona, Republicans sound gloomy as challenger Blake Masters (R) trails Sen. Mark Kelly (D) in poll after poll two weeks before early voting begins, reports The Hill’s Al Weaver. Former astronaut Kelly has “slaughtered” Masters on the airwaves by exploiting his fundraising and Masters’ gaffes, with little response coming from the challenger or outside GOP groups, analysts say.
“Blake wanted to run an unscripted, unconventional campaign, and he has very much succeeded in doing it that way,” a GOP operative based in the state told The Hill. “You cannot turn on a TV and not see an elderly couple talking about how they’ve paid into Social Security since they were 15 and how Blake wants to take it away. … He is dearly paying for that.”
Abortion as a campaign issue nationwide is perceived as a net benefit to Democrats because restrictive state laws since June’s Supreme Court ruling are mobilizing the party’s base ahead of Nov. 8, including younger voters and women.
On Friday, an Arizona state court judge ruled that a state law prohibiting nearly all abortions can take effect, forcing clinics in the state to immediately stop offering the procedure (Politico).
“We’re working alongside our 75,000 members across the Copper State to send a clear message: When you come for our rights, we come for your seat,” responded Caroline Mello Roberson, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s southwest regional director.
In Wisconsin’s oh-so-close Senate contest between incumbent Ron Johnson (R) and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D), Barnes’s early, impressive lead appears to have evaporated, according to polls (The Hill).
▪ The New York Times: GOP Senate candidates, including Masters and Oz, leave the campaign trail for the Beltway money circuit.
▪ The Hill: Five things House Republicans would like to do with a majority in 2023.
▪ NBC News: David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report wrote on Friday that “…the fight for the House has become increasingly competitive.” Offering a deeply reported snapshot, he wrote that 212 races are rated as leaning toward Republicans, 192 races lean toward Democrats and 31 are seen as tossups.
▪ The Hill: For the first time in U.S. history, two openly LGBTQ+ candidates face off in a congressional race.
Here’s what else we’re watching this week:
Wednesday: The House select committee investigating Jan. 6 plans its ninth public hearing since June at 1 p.m. ET. The agenda had not been announced as of Sunday, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said (The Hill, The Washington Times and NPR).
Saturday: 🎂Former President Jimmy Carter celebrates his 98th birthday (check out a weekend photo taken of the former president and former first lady Rosalynn Carter by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
▪ The Hill: The GOP is uneasy about former President Trump’s legal woes. One Sunday example: Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) disputed Trump’s claim on Fox News last week that he could declassify information simply by thinking about it. Interviewed on ABC’s “This Week,” Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, conceded, “I don’t think a president can declassify documents by saying so, by thinking about it” (The Hill).
▪ The Hill: However, some Trump allies are brushing off the New York attorney general’s lawsuit against the former president.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: The National Archives faces a Tuesday deadline to report on whether more Trump files are missing.
▪ The New York Times: The megastate GOP rivalry between Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida.
▪ The Washington Post: Trump and DeSantis: Once allies, now in simmering rivalry with 2024 nearing.
▪ The Hill: How Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin became the governor Republicans want to campaign with. The New York Times (opinion) adds why the governor also is criticized for his national political tour.
▪ The Hill: 2024 watch: Seven Democrats most likely to run for president — if Biden bows out.
LEADING THE DAY
The threat of a government shutdown is growing as lawmakers on the Hill struggle to reach a deal for a short-term spending bill to provide the government with stopgap funding, writes The Hill’s Aris Folley.
With less than a week until the Oct. 1 deadline, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pressing for a bill. But there are several roadblocks holding them back.
Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) oil and gas permitting measure is one of them. The West Virginia senator made a deal with Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to include his legislation in the spending bill, but it’s proven unpopular with Democrats and Republicans alike, leaving some worried that the spending bill won’t pass. Schumer told reporters on Thursday that Manchin’s proposal will be in the bill and that senators are “going to vote next week,” but wouldn’t confirm if he thought the whole package could pass the Senate.
▪ Roll Call: Schumer starts process for taking up stopgap funding bill.
▪ New York Magazine: Senators can grumble, but Joe Manchin is getting his reward.
▪ Politico: Senate moves forward to fund government despite snags over Manchin’s energy plan.
▪ NBC News: Congress faces some key obstacles to averting a government shutdown next week.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was less optimistic when talking to reporters. “I think between Republicans who are not inclined to help Sen. Manchin out of a bind and the Democrats who are going to vote ‘no,’ it doesn’t stand a chance,” he said Thursday.
Senate Republicans are mostly lining up against the controversial bill, with some saying they don’t want to give Manchin a reward after he helped Democrats pass an inflation and tax bill last month.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday”, Manchin said, “This is not about me.”
“My Republican friends — I’ve been working for 12 years with them — and I know their No. 1 item that they’ve had, the No. 1 priority they’ve had, is permitting reform,” Manchin said. “We can’t build anything in America, it takes five to ten years, the developed world takes one to three years. And why should we be so far behind the developed world?”
Meanwhile, lawmakers are still dealing with a White House request for billions in funding to address Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the country’s COVID-19 and monkeypox response efforts, as well as disaster relief. The White House is asking for more than $13.7 billion in funding to provide aid to Ukraine, and while members are debating the details of what kind of aid should be supplied, experts predict most of the funding will be approved.
As The Hill’s Jordan Williams writes, Democrats are divided over whether to send Ukraine long-range weapons, especially as Kyiv “proves itself capable with its recent counteroffensive.”
Ukrainian forces have made significant gains in recent weeks, reclaiming thousands of square miles of land that have been under Russian control since it invaded on Feb. 24 — helped in part by over $15 billion in U.S. security assistance. But Kyiv has been asking for longer-range weapons systems for months, leaving Democrats divided: Some support the Biden administration’s cautious approach, while others are prepared to provide the extra aid.
Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) told The Hill that “the Ukrainians now are transitioning their force — they are starting to look more like a NATO military than a former Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact military.”
“They’ve actually shown their ability to do that — to both fight and make that transition, and learn new systems at the same time,” he added. “So now it is time to start providing those more advanced systems — which the administration is doing — and continue to push them to do more of, and to do it on a faster timeline.”
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
The United States has held private, high-level conversations with Moscow about nuclear weapons, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use them, to try to avoid “a rhetorical tit for tat,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said after warning during three Sunday TV appearances that the U.S. would “respond decisively” (The Hill) to an escalation of its war with Ukraine by using nuclear weapons.
“If Russia crosses this line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia,” Sullivan said during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “In private channels we have spelled out in greater detail exactly what that would mean, but we want to be able to have the credibility of speaking directly to senior leadership in Russia and laying out for them what the consequences would be,” he added. Biden similarly warned Putin this month during a CBS “60 Minutes” interview, “Don’t, don’t, don’t.”
Ukrainian military officials today reported an overnight drone strike near the port of Odesa, which sparked a massive fire and explosion (ABC News via AP).
Putin today will meet in Moscow with President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, an ally (Reuters).
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday that the U.S. is conferring with Ukraine about more weapons, including Kyiv’s request for long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS. “Whatever they put on the table is something we’re going to look at, to consider, and we’re going to give them our best judgment about what can be effective for them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Putin’s repeated and veiled nuclear threats may not be bluff (The Hill). “It could be a reality,” he said. “Let’s look, what is a contemporary use of nuclear weapons or nuclear blackmail? He targeted and occupied our nuclear power plant and the city of Enerhodar.”
Senior Russian lawmakers expressed concern over Putin’s military mobilization call-up and the resulting widespread public protests. An “exodus” of Russian citizens has followed the “chaotic” mobilization (CNN and NBC News).
Vyacheslav Volodin, the Speaker of the Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, said in a Sunday statement that appeals are coming in from those who believe they were incorrectly drafted. “Each case should be dealt with separately,” he said. “If a mistake is made, it must be corrected.”
Zelensky on Sunday said Putin’s mobilization of what Russia identified as 300,000 fighters (and which analysts believe is higher) was a sign the Kremlin is struggling to win the war. “They admitted that their army is not able to fight with Ukraine anymore,” he told CBS during a Sunday interview. “They did not expect the resistance that they received from us.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday told “Meet the Press” that Putin is “very dangerous … and desperate,” predicting “he will not win the war” (NBC News).
The Washington Post: Military mobilization prompts backlash among Russians. Russia’s annexation effort in Ukraine plows ahead. New strikes in Ukraine.
The United States has warned China that the outcome of a potential invasion of independent Taiwan could mirror the costly repercussions of Russia’s war with Ukraine. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall last week said Chinese leaders “would be making an enormous mistake to invade Taiwan,” pointing out Russia’s economic consequences since February’s invasion of its democratic neighbor (The Hill).
The administration is on the verge of a significant breakthrough in Middle East relations as it pursues an agreement between Israel and Lebanon on territorial maritime borders. Negotiations appeared to be nearing the finish line among U.S., Israeli and Lebanese officials who met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week, The Hill’s Laura Kelly reports.
■ The House GOP’s vague “commitment” reveals problems ahead, by Karen Tumulty, deputy editorial page editor, The Washington Post: https://wapo.st/3ReYGH0
■ The cost of Putin’s Ukraine escalation is already clear, by Lara Williams, editor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3DTXZ3c
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate convenes Tuesday at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the motion to proceed to the legislative vehicle for the continuing resolution.
The president will depart Wilmington, Del., and arrive at the White House at 10:35 a.m. Biden will host the Atlanta Braves in the East Room at 11:45 a.m. to celebrate their 2021 World Series championship. He will address the third meeting of the White House Competition Council at 4:15 p.m.
Vice President Harris will arrive today in Tokyo, where she will lead the U.S. delegation at the Tuesday state funeral for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was murdered in July during a campaign speech. Today she will meet at 5:30 p.m. JST with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and attend a dinner he is hosting at Akasaka Palace. The vice president will remain in Tokyo for events and meetings early this week and then travel to South Korea, where she will meet with President Yoon Suk Yeol (CBS News).
The secretary of State meets at 11 a.m. with Belizean Prime Minister John Briceño at the Department of State. Blinken will meetat the department with Pakistani Foreign Minister Bhutto Zardari at 3:30 p.m., and deliver joint remarks about flood relief with Zardari at 4:15 p.m. at Washington’s National Museum of American Diplomacy. The secretary will host a working dinner at 6:30 p.m. in McLean, Va., for Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended its requirement for mask-wearing indoors in nursing homes and hospitals, unless communities see “high” levels of COVID-19 transmission. The guidance change, one of many published Friday evening for COVID-19 infection control for healthcare workers, marks one of the final sets of such revisions that began in August. At the outset of the pandemic, the CDC urged “everyone” to wear “source control,” such as well-fitting masks or respirators, while in healthcare settings (CBS News).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,056,416. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 356, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
➤ STATE & TERRITORY WATCH
Ian is officially a hurricane this morning and is on a projected path northward toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center (WESH).DeSantis on Friday declared a state of emergency in the Sunshine State in advance of Ian’s wrath (Bloomberg News). And NASA delayed its planned Tuesday liftoff of rocket Artemis I to the moon from Cape Canaveral because of Ian’s weather risks and will make a decision today about whether to roll the enormous rocket back into its hangar, which could mean a launch delay until November (Orlando Sentinel).
Restoration challenges from Hurricane Fiona’s recent destruction in Puerto Rico include the island’s vulnerable electricity grid, reports The Hill’s Rachel Frazin. The storm left millions of residents without power for days.
Protests continue in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being arrested by the country’s morality police for “improper dress.” Amini’s death sparked widespread protests across Iran, where crowds are objecting to the country’s strict religious rules.
Demonstrators “in dozens of cities have chanted ‘women, life and freedom’ and ‘death to the dictator,’ rejecting the Iranian Republic’s theocratic rule by targeting one of its most fundamental and divisive symbols — the ailing supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,” The New York Times reports.
Women are removing their headscarves — which, along with conservative dress, are mandated in Iran — in protest, with some burning the fabric in the streets. Iranian state media said Friday that at least 35 people have been killed in the unrest, but human rights organizations said on Saturday that the number is likely to be much higher (The New York Times).
With protests in nearly 80 cities, these demonstrations mark the largest anti-government protests in Iran in over a decade. In response, police and government officials are tightening restrictions, including suspending internet access across the country (BBC).
▪ The Washington Post: Videos show Iran’s violent crackdown as protests intensify.
▪ CNN: Iranians are risking it all to protest. Their families say some of them aren’t coming home.
▪ NBC News: Iran hints at deeper crackdown after woman’s death in police custody triggers violent protests.
▪ The Hill: Why Iranian women are burning hijabs.
Italy is set to form its furthest-right government since World War II, with its first female prime minister. Projections based on a partial vote count on Monday showed a clear victory for a coalition led by Giorgia Meloni and her party, the Brothers of Italy (The Washington Post).
Early Monday morning, Meloni addressed her supporters and members of the media, saying it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.”
“It’s a victory I want to dedicate to everyone who is no longer with us and wanted this night,” she said. “Starting tomorrow we have to show our value … Italians chose us, and we will not betray it, as we never have.”
In the campaign, Meloni vowed to close off pathways to undocumented immigrants, defend “traditional” values and push back against bureaucracy in Brussels. Following her apparent win, Meloni and the coalition are poised to form a new government in the coming weeks (ABC News).
And finally … It’s the stuff of Hollywood movies, transformed into experimental big bang space defense.
NASA tonight at 7:14 p.m. ET plans to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid that is 7 million miles from Earth in a mission named the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) (not a name Hollywood would have dreamed up).
The target is the asteroid “moonlet” named Dimorphos (The Verge), the unsuspecting guinea pig NASA chose to test whether scientists can change the path of a future dangerous asteroid if one heads toward Earth.
Being prepared reflects experience: Some 26,115 asteroids have skimmed past the planet since 1990, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (The Jerusalem Post). The space agency has an acronym for the ominous ones: PHA, or “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid.”
The DART mission launched on Nov. 23, and sent its spacecraft into the atmosphere atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. If successful, the experiment will mark a major first step in NASA’s efforts to devise a “kinetic impactor” that could deflect a dangerous asteroid if it might strike the Earth (The Washington Post).
“Mission success is pretty clear: You need to hit that asteroid,” said Elena Adams, an engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., which is conducting the mission under contract with NASA.
Scientists won’t know what Dimorphos looks like until an hour before the spacecraft is set to hit it, but the aftermath would be captured by telescopes — if the rocket strikes its target (The New York Times).
The Hill: Five things to know about NASA’s mission to hit an asteroid.