As the August recess nears, candidates and maybe-candidates are making decisions that set the stage for both upcoming special elections and the 2018 midterms.
Indiana Rep. Luke Messer announced on Wednesday he’s running for Senate.
In declaring his bid to challenge vulnerable Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly, the third-term Republican congressman tweeted, “We’re in!!” with a link to his new campaign site just before noon.
Messer, who represents the 6th District, had been widely expected to run for Senate for months. Until he wasn’t.
In recent weeks, rumors have been flying about Messer, a member of House GOP leadership, getting cold feet. Much of that chatter first originated from allies of fellow Hoosier Rep. Todd Rokita of the 4th District, who’s also expected to run for the GOP nod.
A primary between these two Wabash College alumni has been among the worst kept campaign secrets in Washington this year, with both maintaining congressional re-election organizations that have been openly gearing up for Senate bids.
Other Republicans still considering entering the race include Attorney General Curtis Hill, state Rep. Mike Braun and state Sen. Mike Delph.
— Simone Pathé
McConnell “is a swamp critter,” Brooks told reporters at an event organized by the Heritage Foundation. Instead of “draining the swamp” as President Donald Trump has promised, McConnell is enabling old ways of doing business in Washington, the congressman said.
If elected to the Senate, Brooks said, he would not only vote to replace McConnell as the party’s leader but he would also approve of far-reaching changes in the way the Senate works, including getting rid of the legislative filibuster.
Brooks is among nine Republicans vying in the Aug. 15 GOP primary for the solid red seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general.
Sen. Luther Strange, the appointed incumbent, has the backing of McConnell and the Republican Party establishment. A runoff will be held Sept. 26 if no one clears 50 percent of the vote, with the general election on Dec. 12.
— Gopal Ratnam
Former Rep. Cresent Hardy has announced that he will not seek elected office in 2018.
The Nevada Republican said in a statement Tuesday that he would “continue to spend some much-needed time with my wife, children and grandchildren,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
“After having prayed over this issue, and discussed it with my family, I have made the decision that I will not be a candidate for office in 2018,” he said.
Hardy represented Nevada’s 4th District for a single term before losing to Democrat Ruben Kihuen last fall.
Hardy had been considering a comeback in the Silver State’s 3rd District where freshman Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen is vacating her seat to run for Senate.
— Eric Garcia
The 1st District Democratic congresswoman is mulling a run against the vulnerable Republican, but would have to first face off against Rep. Jacky Rosen of the 3rd District in a primary.
Heller led Titus 47 percent to 45 percent, within the poll’s 4-point margin of error, the Las Vegas Review-Journal first reported. Titus’ campaign paid Anzalone Liszt Grove Research to conduct the survey of 600 likely voters in June.
Rosen, who formally announced her challenge to Heller earlier this month, is backed by former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.
Titus said she would make a decision “after spending time in the district during the month of August.”
— Kyle Stewart
Veterans in Congress from across the political spectrum pushed back against President Donald Trump’s announcement banning transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military.
In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, Trump said that based on the advice of military experts, transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to “serve in any capacity in U.S. Military.” The president cited medical costs and unit disruption as part of his reasoning.
The response from veterans in Congress was swift and harsh.
Sen. John McCain said Trump’s statement was “unclear,” adding that all Americans meeting “medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving.” The Arizona Republican, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said no new policy should be introduced regarding transgender individuals until the Department of Defense concludes its current study of medical obligations and military readiness.
“We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are,” said McCain, a Navy combat pilot and POW during the Vietnam war.
A spokeswoman for Trump ally Sen. Joni Ernst , a 23-year Army veteran, said the Iowa Republican disagreed with the new policy and believed that anyone who is qualified should be able to serve.
“While she believes taxpayers shouldn’t cover the costs associated with a gender reassignment surgery, Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity,” an Ernst spokeswoman said.
While reaction on the Republican side were limited, there were an abundance of Democratic veterans who slammed Trump’s announcement.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in combat, called the new policy “discriminatory and counterproductive to our national security.” The freshman Democrat from Illinois was the first female double amputee from the Iraq War and the first woman with a disability to be elected to Congress. Duckworth said anyone who can do the job and is willing to risk their life should be able to do so.
“When my Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender or anything else,” Duckworth said. “All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind.”
Rep. Tim Walz, a retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard, called Trump’s announcement “completely unacceptable.” The Minnesota Democrat, the highest-ranking former enlisted service member to serve in Congress, contrasted Trump’s tweets with President Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the military on this day in 1948.
“Policies rooted in hate always fail in the end and this will be no different,” Walz said.
Rep. Seth Moulton compared Trump’s announcement to past military bans focused on race and sexual orientation. The Massachusetts Democrat served in combat in Iraq as a Marine Corps officer and was awarded a Bronze Star. He called the new policy “wrong, morally and militarily.”
“These are Americans who are willing to put their lives on the line for our country, which is far, far more than President Trump has ever been willing to do,” Moulton said in a statement. “Trump is trying to reverse civil rights, and I’m going to do whatever I can to stop him.”
As veterans in Congress spoke out, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also weighed in.
DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly called Trump’s statement “disgusting” in a statement on Wednesday, adding that it was “made worse by the political calculation behind it.”
“President Trump is a draft dodger and if he wants to talk about 2018, we’ve got dozens of veteran candidates who have already shown what it looks like to step up and serve our country to keep us safe, and are ready to do it again in Congress,” Kelly said.
It is unclear when Trump’s proposed policy would go into effect. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the policy is “something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together on as implementation takes place.”
By JASON DICK and DAVID HAWKINGS
Years from now, when the history of the modern Congress is written, John McCain’s address to the Senate on July 25, 2017, is likely to stand among the defining summations of the era.
“When I hear the Senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body,” he said with his trademark sense of caustic understatement, “I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today.”
The Arizona Republican made his return to the Capitol into a highlight-reel-worthy sampling of his political brand. His timing was impeccable, his presence pivotal. He was, by turns, self-deprecating and histrionic, bluntly combative and sounding impervious to the fray.
He sought to inflict as least as much rhetorical pain on his own Republican leaders as on the Democrats. And then he did the politically pragmatic thing he’d planned to do all along.
Eleven days after surgery that removed a malignant brain tumor, McCain defied prudent medical guidance and flew from his home in Arizona to Washington on Tuesday, arriving just in time to provide an essential Senate procedural vote in favor of his party’s effort to rewrite health care law.
Watch McCain's Arrival and Speech
And then, after the standing ovation upon his arrival and a series of embraces with most senators of both parties, he lambasted the tortured legislative path that had produced his moment for high drama and then excoriated the hyperpartisanship that has spawned such balky policy making.
“Our health care insurance system is a mess. We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it,” the 80-year-old senator said while clutching the rostrum at his desk, a surgical scar over his left eyebrow and a bruised left check clearly visible.
“We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven’t found it yet, and I’m not sure we will. All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it,” he said.
Almost all the other 99 senators sat at attention at their desks, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s cheeks becoming florid as McCain laid much of the blame at the Kentucky Republican’s feet.
“We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing — better than nothing — asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition,” McCain said. “I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.”
He went onto say that, while agreeing to back McConnell on the first procedural hurdle, he would oppose passage of the final health care bill unless provisions to benefit Arizona were included.
Vice President Mike Pence, on hand to cast the tie-breaking vote that allowed debate on amendments to the health care legislation to begin, looked on with his customary impassivity even when McCain delivered a trio of zingers that seemed destined for all ears in the West Wing, starting with those of President Donald Trump.
“Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president’s subordinates. We are his equal,” McCain declared.
“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the internet. To hell with them!” he thundered to applause from senators on both sides of the aisle. “They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.”
And during a part of the 15-minute speech that was a precis about American exceptionalism, and could have come from the draft of the inaugural address he hoped to give in 2009, McCain summarized the national character this way: “We don’t hide behind walls, we breach them.”
Just how complicated his thesis is to “return to regular order” and get back to “incremental progress, compromises that each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems” was underscored by the fact that McCain’s vote delivered a win for Trump and McConnell.
It was Trump after all who questioned McCain’s heroism in 2015 by brushing aside the Arizonan’s nearly six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Despite Trump’s praise for McCain on Tuesday as a “brave man,” the campaign trail derision cuts deep.
And it was McConnell who led the charge to torpedo one of McCain’s signature legislative priorities, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. McConnell then appropriated that law’s acronym — BCRA — for his own health care legislation, the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
“Our system doesn’t depend on our nobility. It accounts for our imperfections, and gives an order to our individual strivings that has helped make ours the most powerful and prosperous society on earth. It is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than ‘winning,’” McCain said, using air quotes to emphasize his derision of one of the president’s favorite terms.
As McConnell and Majority Whip John Cornyn sat stone-faced at the criticism of the current process, along with most of their GOP colleagues, Democrats frequently broke into applause, even with the knowledge that McCain had voted to proceed to the measure they loathe.
His wife, Cindy McCain, in a canary yellow dress, sat in a visitor’s gallery on the GOP side of the chamber and wiped away tears several times.
McCain, never one to grow maudlin, ended his treatise with the customary self-deprecation his colleagues and constituents know well, saying he looked forward to the debate in the days to come on health care and then managing a measure near and dear to his heart, the defense authorization bill that sets Pentagon policy.
“I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you cause to regret all the nice things you said about me. And, I hope, to impress on you again that it is an honor to serve the American people in your company,” he said, yielding the floor and receiving his fellow senators and their further well wishes.
Afterward, McConnell said he agreed with McCain that the parties need to come together, but said health care is one issue that bedevils the two parties — despite his shutting out Democrats and even members of his party from the health care talks that led to this moment.
“There’s a lot of things that we have done and will continue to do on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said. “Regretfully the issue of health care has not fallen into that category on either side.”
McCain had been scheduled to deliver remarks to the media outside the Senate floor in the Ohio Clock Corridor, but after his speech, he canceled the event, perhaps sensing he had left everything on the floor.
His departure from the Capitol on Tuesday underscored his unique status as both lawmaker and cultural icon. No big, black SUV for him, McCain and his wife got into a four-door blue Ford Fusion sedan with a driver. As the senator got into the front seat, tourists flagged him down and thanked him, and wished him well.
“Thank you,” he replied as they snapped photos, flashing the two thumbs up he had just deployed on the floor to indicate his ‘aye’ vote on the health care vote. “Thank you.”
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this story.
Freshman Rep. Ro Khanna, 40, a California Democrat, talks about campaigning for President Barack Obama, getting mentored by former Rep. Tom Lantos, and his grandfather’s role in the independence movement in India.
Q: What has surprised you about Congress so far?
A: I didn’t quite know how the votes work. It reminds me of a school where recess is called or something, the bells go off and then everyone is packed in elevators with 20, 25 people and you scramble to get to the floor. I didn’t have any idea about how the bells would go off — that’s something that was completely new to me. On a more substantive level, I’ve been pleasantly surprised as to how many people will meet with you; interesting thinkers, community leaders. The fact that you’re a member of Congress, a lot of people will meet and share their ideas and that’s been really exciting.
Q: Tell me about your grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar and the lessons you learned from him.
A: I have such admiration for him. He spent his entire life in the Indian independence movement and then became a part of India’s very first parliament. As a young person, he decided [to] work for someone … who was a freedom fighter, as his aide. Later on, he spent years in jail in the 1940s as part of India’s independence movement with [Mahatma] Gandhi. It showed to me the value of someone who dedicated their life to a political cause, it showed that politics could shape human rights and, in fact, the world. He was a real figure in our family. A lot of people would tell stories about him, stories about his life and I’m sure that had a sense of inspiring my public service.
Q: Tell me about campaigning for former President Barack Obama’s 1996 state Senate campaign in Illinois.
A: I really knocked on doors. I volunteered. It gave me an exposure to politics, it was my first exposure to elected politics and I’m sure it put the seed in my mind that politics is something interesting. I always had a passion for human rights and policy issues because of my grandfather’s story. That was my first experience in sort of elected politics and what that’s like.
Q: In 2004, as a 27-year-old, you challenged former Rep. Tom Lantos in a Democratic primary and lost. He later became your mentor. How did they work out?
A: I ran a protest campaign. It was a two-month effort and it was probably a little bit naive in terms of I certainly wasn’t prepared to be in Congress back then. It was more sort of an expression of my views. Lantos, to his incredible credit, invited me to come to the Capitol afterwards and said, ‘Look, you ran a spirited race but let me tell you, politics is an organic process and you’ve got to really build roots in a community and build roots in a party.’ He introduced me to Nancy Pelosi and I ended up getting involved with helping her in the efforts in 2006 to take back the House and Lantos facilitated, in certain ways, my involvement in the community. He was just a very decent person and I think he was struck by sort of the bravado of someone at 27 challenging him.
Q: As a foodie, do you cook yourself?
A: I’ve got to admit, I try more restaurants than I cook. I used to be able to cook and I still do, sometimes, a quiche, which is my one specialty. I enjoy, as does my wife, different restaurants whether it’s Italian, Indian, Asian fusion, and we’re getting to know now some of the restaurants here.
Last book read: Chris Hayes’ “A Colony in a Nation”
Last movie seen: “Hidden Figures”
Favorite song of all time: “One” by U2.
Role model: I really admire Barack Obama.
During the turbulent first six months of the Trump administration, some of the biggest lobbying groups scaled back their spending as his signature initiatives collapsed. But major agenda items, including a tax overhaul, will continue to fuel K Street work.
Other wish-list items in the coming months will include a measure to raise the nation’s debt limit, funding the government for fiscal 2018, and continued negotiations about shoring up the nation’s health care system, even as Republican efforts to dismantle the 2010 health care law have cratered.
“In terms of the business, we’re feeling really confident going into the second half of the year,” said Elizabeth Gore, who heads the lobbying practice for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Her firm’s revenue is up this year after a dip during 2016 when the elections kept Congress from taking up much legislation.
“The debt ceiling and appropriations bills have the potential to be a magnet for other policy issues,” Gore added. “You could certainly envision a number of riders or policy add-ons to those legislative vehicles there.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the top spender on federal lobbying, decreased its tab in the second quarter of this year with $11.7 million, down from the first quarter’s $17.2 million and down from the second quarter of 2016, which was $22.8 million. Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said the business lobby would open its wallet as legislative activity increases in the coming months.
“We expect our spending to increase as Congress turns its attention to, among other topics, tax reform and to infrastructure investment, which are two key priorities for the business community,” she said.
Already, tax issues boosted the National Retail Federation’s federal lobbying spending, according to reports to Congress that were due last week. The group, along with the Koch political and business networks, has worked hard to kill off a proposal backed by House GOP leaders to impose a new border adjustment tax as a way to pay for tax cuts.
The retail group, for example, disclosed spending $5 million on federal lobbying during this year’s second quarter, which covered the months of April, May and June. The figure also included lobbying efforts on financial services policy related to so-called swipe fees, the health care overhaul, trade and infrastructure measures.
“It’s like the entire agenda came to NRF,” said the group’s top lobbyist David French. “Fortunately, our members have been very, very fully engaged in this and want us to be engaged.”
Though the border adjustment tax, known as BAT, appears likely dead, French said his group would continue to lobby against it and, simultaneously, for a comprehensive tax overhaul. “We hope we can support a tax reform plan before the end of the year,” he said.
The drug industry lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America increased its federal lobbying tab to $14 million during the first half of the year as lawmakers debated dismantling the 2010 health care law. Its lobbying spending is up from $10.6 million during the first six months of 2016. However, the group did not report spending as much money in this year’s second quarter ($6 million) as it did during the first quarter ($8 million).
“PhRMA doesn’t comment on our advocacy strategy,” said the group’s Andrew Powaleny.
Tech conglomerate Google, by contrast, sharply increased its lobbying bill in this year’s second quarter to $5.9 million from the first quarter’s $3.5 million and last year’s second quarter of $4.2 million, according to lobbying disclosures.
Google’s top lobbyist, former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., did not respond to an email requesting comment. The company disclosed lobbying on policy issues related to self-driving vehicle technology, a tax overhaul, immigration visas for high-skilled workers, and government funding of scientific research, among other matters.
Following nearly three hours of testimony before Senate Intelligence Committee staffers on Monday, senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner stood outside the White House and denied colluding with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, saying all of his actions were both legal and proper.
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law defended himself during rare public remarks just outside the executive mansion’s West Wing, saying: “I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.”
“I had no improper contacts” during the campaign and transition period, Kushner said under a hot July sun, adding, “I have not relied on Russian funds for my business.”
Kushner briefly spoke of his six-month White House tenure in the past tense, causing some reporters in the steamy West Wing driveway to wonder if he was announcing his departure.
He said it “has been the honor and the privilege of a lifetime,” and described himself as “honored to work on important matters such as Middle East peace and reinvigorating America’s innovative spirit.” But he quickly returned to the present tense and his denial of any wrongdoing.
Kushner described himself as having “been consistent” for months in saying he would share “any information that I have with the investigative bodies.”
“And I’ve done so today,” he said of his testimony and documents he made sure to point out he “voluntarily” turned over to the Senate panel.
“The records and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the course of events of a very unique campaign,” he said, adding that he has provided investigators “all requested information.”
And he contended that Russia did not help his father-in-law pull off what political experts still call a major upset against Hillary Clinton.
“Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign. And that is why he won,” he said. “To suggest otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.”
In prepared remarks leaked Monday morning, the presidential son-in-law told the committee that neither he nor other Trump campaign staffers had illegal or ethically questionable contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign or the subsequent transition period. His testimony was not under oath.
“I did not collude,” Kushner told the panel in his written testimony, which cast his contacts with Russian officials as routine and innocent.
About that June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower set up by his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. with a Russian lawyer, Kushner said he knew little about the topic. He gave no indication he knew that Trump Jr. was told the lawyer was coming with Kremlin-supplied dirt on Clinton. And he told the Senate staffers he left early.
And Kushner contended his first — and brief — interaction with the Russian ambassador to the United States came during an event and only because he was introduced to Sergey Kislyak. He acknowledged meeting a Russian banker during the transition period to attempt to set up a direct line to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but only in the spirit of his father-in-law’s campaign-trail call for warmer U.S.-Russia relations.
Kushner arrived at the Hart Senate Office Building shortly after 9:40 a.m. to deliver his testimony and answer the panel’s questions.
He avoided tough questions from senators, however, as the hearing was run by committee staffers.
Kushner emerged from the hearing just before 12:30 p.m., ignoring questions and narrowly avoiding a protestor waving a Russian flag who called the president the “traitor in chief.”