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“Show real leadership.”

That was House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows’s message for House Republican leaders Friday, as he and former HFC chairman Jim Jordan took the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

The North Carolina and Ohio Republicans had been scheduled to answer questions Friday morning before President Donald Trump’s CPAC speech, but the program was running behind, so they went on after Trump, who spoke for more than an hour.

“That was not scripted,” Meadows said of Trump’s speech, noting he could see the teleprompter. “About 90 percent of that was from his heart.”

In one of those heartfelt moments, Trump looked for Meadows in the crowd and called him and Jordan “warriors.”

The Freedom Caucus leaders are preparing for a potential war over immigration specifically, understanding that they will likely have to battle Democrats and potentially even some Republicans. Meadows and Jordan have made comments recently that have been interpreted as threats to Speaker Paul D. Ryan and his leadership team regarding their handling of the immigration debate.

As Congress searches for a solution to the coming end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shelters roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation, the Freedom Caucus has been pushing House GOP leaders to bring a conservative measure by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte to the floor.

“Pass a conservative bill in the House and then make the Senate come to us and the president if they really want to deal with it,” Meadows said. “I think that’s what we need to do.”

The Freedom Caucus chairman stood by his comments from last week that the immigration debate “is a defining moment” for House Republican leaders.

“It’s not just the speaker,” he said, pointing to the entire GOP leadership team. “At this particular point, what we’ve got to do is show real leadership. And if we cave the American people will remember it.”

“I’m tired of the talk,” Meadows added. “It’s time that we actually get things done.”

Jordan said a conservative immigration bill must adhere to Trump’s push to fund the border wall and end so-called chain migration (family-based visas) and the diversity visa lottery program. If those matters are addressed, then the American people would be open to addressing the DACA population, he said.

“It has to be done in that prioritizing fashion,” Jordan said, noting that if not it would be inconsistent with the message of the 2016 election during which Trump and conservative Republicans campaigned on beefing up border security and immigration enforcement.

Asked if the Freedom Caucus would push for a change in leadership if Republicans don’t do well in the 2018 midterm elections, Jordan said, “We’ve never been afraid of pushing, but we think the midterms are going to go well for our party.”

Meadows added: “Right now I’m not as worried about who the speaker of the House is as I am about the House leading. And the truth of the matter is you need to make sure that if your member of Congress doesn’t see the light, they need to feel the heat.”

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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is openly rejecting a Democratic candidate in Texas, releasing research Thursday night that accused her of being a “Washington insider” just over one week before the primary.

Laura Moser is running in the crowded March 6 primary in the Houston-based 7th District. Democrats are targeting nine-term Republican incumbent John Culberson’s suburban seat this year, after Hillary Clinton carried the district by 1 point in 2016.

Campaign committees regularly conduct research on their own party’s candidates, but they rarely release it. Thursday’s research drop suggests national Democrats think Moser would not be able to win in November should she win the nomination.

“We are working every day at the DCCC to win the 24 seats that we need to take back the House,” DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly said Friday. “And we believe that voters who have been organizing for more than a year to hold their Republican representative accountable, they deserve to have a fighting chance in November.”

“And towards that goal we’ve always noted that we may need to get involved in primaries if there’s a general election candidate that is disqualified and would not allow them to have that fighting chance to flip the district,” Kelly said.

The information posted on the DCCC website details how Moser “is not going to change Washington.”

The committee said Moser, who recently moved back to Texas, wrote in a November 2014 magazine article that “she’d rather have her ‘teeth pulled without anesthesia’ than live in Texas.” (In the story written for Washingtonian magazine, Moser was more specific, referring to her grandparents’ hometown of Paris, Texas, which is not located in the 7th District.)

The DCCC also alleged that Moser’s husband has benefited from her campaign spending, since he works at Revolution Messaging, which her campaign has paid for online consulting and advertising.

Moser criticized the move in a Thursday night statement.

“We’re used to tough talk here in Texas, but it’s disappointing to hear it from Washington operatives trying to tell Texans what to do,” Moser said. “These kind of tactics are why people hate politics.”

“The days when party bosses picked the candidates in their smoke filled rooms are over,” she said. “DC needs to let Houston vote.”

Moser is one of seven Democrats vying for the party’s nomination. If no candidate garners a majority of the vote next month, the top two will advance to a May 22 runoff.

The other top candidates in the race include nonprofit director Alex Triantaphyllis, who had raised $927,000 as of Dec. 31, and lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who had raised $757,000. Fletcher has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, which backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

Moser has been been close behind in fundraising, raking in $617,000 through Dec. 31, according to Federal Election Commission documents.

A former journalist and writer, she founded “Daily Action,” a text messaging service that is described on its website as “resisting extremism in America, one phone call at a time.”

Liberal groups who have backed Moser criticized the DCCC for openly taking sides in a primary and going after a Democratic candidate.

“The idea that some faceless hacks are calling themselves Democrats while sitting in a DC office throwing bombs at a pro-choice Democratic woman in support of a lawyer who built her career at a law firm for union-busters is precisely why Democrats lost over 1,000 elected offices over the last decade,” said Annie Weinberg, the electoral director at Democracy for America.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Republican.

Watch: Three Things to Watch in Texas' Upcoming Primaries

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By calling for price caps on renewable fuel credits, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday made clear that a wide gulf remains between lawmakers from agricultural states and those from oil patch states over the future of biofuels, even within the GOP.

His comments also dimmed hopes that Cruz would lift his hold on the confirmation of Bill Northey, an Iowan nominated by President Donald Trump to be undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation at the Department of Agriculture. That hold has led to rhetorical skirmishes between Cruz and Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley.

Cruz, speaking at the recently bankrupted Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, sided with the company in arguing that the price of Renewable Identification Numbers or RINS caused the company’s financial troubles, an assertion that has been rejected by the biofuels industry and agricultural state lawmakers, including Grassley.

The “broken” RIN system is threatening the economy and bankrupting refineries, Cruz told company employees, referring to the credits that refiners can buy and sell like stocks in an open market to meet federal renewable fuel standards.

“This is about jobs,” Cruz said, adding that the RIN system isn’t working and needs to be fixed.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, a congressional mandate to add biofuels to the nation’s transportation fuels, is credited as the most successful federal effort to increase the use of plant-based fuels derived from corn, soybeans and other agricultural products. But the policy has faced consistent opposition from the oil industry, which has called for its repeal or overhaul. Refiners, of which Cruz’s state of Texas has many, have complained about RINs being too pricey.

Cruz, like other oil patch lawmakers, argued that the inflated price of RINs have made compliance with the standard costly for refiners like PES, which blamed its bankruptcy on a $218 million RIN obligation in 2017.

RIN prices, Cruz said, should be capped at 10 cents. But biofuels backers fear that setting lower prices for the credits would discourage refiners from buying more plant-based fuels as it would be cheaper to buy the RINS.

Seeking a ‘win-win’

“Senator Cruz’s efforts to secure a so-called ‘win-win’ solution to protect refining jobs are entirely misdirected,” Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen said in a statement following the lawmaker’s speech. “His proposal to cap RIN prices would not protect these workers, and would most assuredly risk agricultural jobs across the country. All Senator Cruz is really protecting is corporate greed, because that’s what’s really at the heart of PES’ financial problems.”

Ethanol advocates have also blamed PES’ corporate decision-making, including reliance on high cost imported crude oil and inefficient refinery technology, for its troubles. Grassley, a staunch RFS defender, shot back at Cruz, calling the PES event an “anti-RFS rally.”

“Every independent study shows the PES bankruptcy was due to management decisions that did not work out, not the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Grassley said in a statement. “It sure looks like PES management and its private equity owners are scapegoating the RFS to distract from their own failings, which have risked the livelihoods of more than a thousand workers. Like the refining industry, America’s biofuels industry creates tens of thousands of middle class jobs that support families across the country.”

This is not the first time the two senators have exchanged words on the topic.

On Feb. 7, Grassley took to the Senate floor seeking unanimous consent to confirm agriculture nominee Northey, who has been blocked by Cruz over the Texas lawmaker’s concerns with the RFS implementation.

The Texas Republican blocked Grassley’s request, prompting a back-and-forth over the efficacy of RINs. Just like he did on Wednesday, Cruz argued for a cap on the price of RINS.

RIN compliance was also the subject of a recent White House meeting that included a dozen senators from oil states. Trump directed the group to find a “win-win” legislative fix to the RFS program that would benefit corn states and oil states.

That direction has prompted a working group on Capitol Hill, although no new ideas have yet emerged to overhaul the RFS. The war of words between Grassley and Cruz may indicate the difficult path ahead for those negotiations.

For Cruz, who is up for reelection in Texas where the primaries are less than two weeks away, taking the position he did Wednesday could win him political points. But the Iowa GOP has warned that if Cruz continues to block Northey over RFS, they’ll oppose him if he ever again seeks national office.

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Vice President Mike Pence spoke at CPAC on Thursday on a variety of topics, including a plug for the president’s request to build a wall on the U.S. and Mexico border and the need to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.

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Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: What’s Buzzing Over Recess?

By Alex Gangitano
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Shannon Edwards, the woman linked to the affair that brought down former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, plans to challenge Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle in Pennsylvania.

Murphy resigned last year after it was revealed that he had pressured Edwards to get an abortion during a pregnancy scare.

Edwards, who is a forensic psychologist, announced her candidacy at the steps of the Allegheny Courthouse, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

“Pittsburgh deserves an active and diligent voice in Washington, D.C,” she said. “I will fight the tough battles that no one else chooses to fight.”

Edwards, who was an independent before registering as a Republican, said she is a moderate on social issues.

Watch: The #MeToo Impact on 2018

“This is an entrenched Democratic district since 1953, and I hold values from both sides of the aisle,” she said. “In our current sociopolitical climate, people are used to checking a box — pro-life, pro-choice. I am pro-life span, not just pro-birth. I want to talk about health care.”

Her relationship with Murphy was revealed when her then-husband Jesse Kelly tried to have Murphy deposed in their divorce case.

“I don’t regret having the relationship,” she said. “We worked very closely on legislation that did a lot for my patients and clients. I can’t rewrite the past, and I don’t know what other course it could have gone.”

Edwards said she expects the affair to play a role in the campaign.

“I was warned. I have been given explanations. I have been told to back down, and I am here to tell you, nevertheless, I will endure,” she said.

So far, no other Republicans have challenged Doyle. After Pennsylvania’s new redistricting map, Doyle’s district is now the 18th District.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the new district Solid Democratic.

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Politics

At the Races: Desert Drama

By Simone Pathé
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The first debate among Indiana’s three Republican Senate candidates began much as this primary race started — with some punches.

In his opening statement, Rep. Todd Rokita came out swinging. “Mike, welcome to the Republican Party. Luke, welcome back to Indiana,” he said.

Rokita was referring to businessman and former state Rep. Mike Braun, who’s been attacked for voting as a Democrat in the state, and to fellow Hoosier Rep. Luke Messer, who moved his family to Virginia to be closer to him in Washington, D.C. Residency issues are a frequent source of attacks in Indiana politics and have already become a source of contention between the two congressmen.

Americans for Prosperity-Indiana sponsored the debate Tuesday night, which was moderated by WIBC radio host Tony Katz in Indianapolis. The primary is on May 8.

All three contenders are graduates of Wabash College, a small men’s only liberal arts college in Indiana. Messer and Rokita dressed almost identically in suits and red ties, while Braun sported just a blue dress shirt — an undeniable attempt to distinguish himself as the “outsider.” It’s a refrain he repeated throughout the night, blaming the two congressman for being part of Washington’s dysfunction.

Here are tonight's sartorial choices from the #INSEN GOP candidates. Which one isn't a congressman? pic.twitter.com/y2YhriElhH

All three candidates tried to come off as President Donald Trump loyalists who would shake up Washington. Messer, a member of House GOP leadership, brought up his proposal to eliminate the legislative filibuster in the Senate several times.

One of the biggest substantive differences between Messer and Rokita in Congress came recently, when they voted differently on the budget deal earlier this month to keep the government open. Messer voted for it; Rokita voted against it.

“The last thing we should do is pile more debt on our kid and grandkids,” Rokita said when asked about his vote. He pointed out that he’d previously voted to fund the military.

Messer cast his vote as an order from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the president. “He could not have been clearer about what he asked us to do,” Messer said of Trump.

Rokita fired back, saying “it’s a false choice” to have to choose between funding the military and growing the debt. With the right leadership, Rokita suggested, those choices wouldn’t be necessary.

“It’s the choice our commander in chief gave us,” Messer replied.

Standing by for this back-and-forth was Braun. When asked how he would have voted on the budget deal, he said he liked how Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul described the deal. Rokita jumped in, accusing him of being just another politician who couldn’t give a straight answer.

Braun has been under attack for voting for a gas tax increase in the state legislature. He explained on Tuesday how constituents told him to “fix the roads,” but said he’s vowed to never support a tax increase at the federal level.

Rokita then delivered a one-liner that may please Democrats. “If you nominate one of these two, Joe Donnelly will be the tax cutter in the race,” the congressman said.

Rokita echoed that sentiment in his closing remarks, telling the crowd: “There’s only one contender up here, and two pretenders. ... Joe Donnelly is going to eat them alive with the vulnerabilities.”

While Rokita has been trying to appeal as the Trump candidate in the race, Messer’s strategy has recently been trying to keep the focus on Donnelly.

“All the time spent throwing stones is time not spent on defeating Joe Donnelly,” he said at the debate. Shortly after the debate, Messer’s campaign released a statement calling him “the adult in the room.”

Braun pointed out that Rokita and Messer were throwing stones well before he got into the race. Blasting Rokita, Messer and Donnelly as “career politicians,” he called them all lawyers “who never really practiced” and touted himself as an entrepreneur. “Who would you trust in DC?” he asked.

Democrats slammed the debate for the infighting among the three GOP candidates.

“Outside of their full-throated endorsement of Joe Donnelly’s Right-to-Try Act, we only got the same personal attacks and mudslinging that made this the ‘nastiest race in politics’ months ago,” Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said, alluding to legislation Donnelly sponsored with Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson giving terminally ill patients access to investigative drug treatments.

“Maybe the Koch brothers found someone tonight with the right mix of far-right policies and a potentially salvageable campaign, but the only winner for Hoosiers is the bipartisanship and common sense of Joe Donnelly,” Zody added.

Elected to the Senate in 2012, Donnelly is running for a second term. He raised $1.2 million during the final quarter of 2017, ending the year with $5.3 million.

Rokita raised $459,000 in the final quarter of 2017, ending the year with $2.4 million. Messer raised $427,000 during the quarter and also ended 2017 with $2.4 million. Braun raised about $166,000 in the fourth quarter and loaned his campaign $2.35 million. He ended the year with $2.3 million.

Braun was the first candidate on the air, releasing his earliest TV ad in early November. The CEO of Meyer Distributing, an Indiana company that distributes automotive and truck accessories, pivots to immigration in his fourth ad buy released Tuesday.

In an early January poll conducted for the Rokita campaign, Rokita led among likely GOP primary voters with 24 percent to Messer’s 9 percent and Braun’s 9 percent. Fifty-eight percent of likely primary voters were undecided. GS Strategy Group surveyed 500 likely primary voters Jan. 6-9.

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Opinion

Opinion: After Billy Graham, the Deluge

By Mary C. Curtis
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