At the Races: Disorderly transition

Posted January 7, 2021 at 2:30pm

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Donald Trump’s presidency is set to end with a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol that he inspired and the loss of the Senate majority by his Republican Party, due in no small part to his inability to make any election about anything but himself

But his continuing influence over the GOP that has contorted itself to his image over the last four years remains bafflingly unclear.

Over the past 24 hours, several of Trump’s former supporters have abandoned ship. That includes Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a former moderate whose full conversion to Trump acolyte was rewarded when he muddied her self-financed multimillion-dollar campaign in his quixotic fight against the state Republican officials who had championed her. 

Loeffler was still smarting from the loss of her seat in Tuesday’s twin Senate runoffs when she reversed course Wednesday and said that, after witnessing the mayhem in the Capitol, she could no longer “in good conscience” join her Senate colleagues who refused to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. A cynical interpretation of the change of heart might involve a reminder that Loeffler could run again for the seat in 2022 because this week’s race was a special election for an unexpired term. 

And a total of eight Republicans in the Senate and 139 in the House still supported efforts to overturn election results, voting for one or both of the objections to the electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania. 

Objectors in the Senate included Sens. Josh Hawley, of Missouri, Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, who are expected to carry the mantle of Trumpism into their 2024 GOP presidential bids. Scott is also leading the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm for the 2022 cycle. Others who signed on, like Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall and Mississippi’s Cindy Hyde-Smith, courted Trump’s endorsement in their 2020 and 2018 campaigns. 

On the House side, the group included numerous members from districts Democrats targeted or that Republicans flipped in 2020, making them potentially vulnerable next cycle.

Starting gate

It’s official: Democrats will control the Senate following documentary film producer Jon Ossoff’s win over Republican incumbent David Perdue in Georgia.

Making history: Democrat Raphael Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in the special election runoff, will be the first Black senator to represent Georgia

Peach State lessons: So how did Democrats pull off a win in Georgia, and what do their victories mean moving forward? Here are three takeaways

Witnessing history: It was always going to be an extraordinary day because some Republican House and Senate members planned to try to undo the presidential preferences of several states in a last-ditch attempt to prevent Biden from being inaugurated in two weeks. But as a mob rushed the Capitol on Wednesday, it quickly turned from extraordinary to unbelievable, as this account from our CQ Roll Call colleagues who were there shows.

Not likely: Anger on the Hill over the riot led to calls for Trump to be removed before Inauguration Day through impeachment or through the 25th Amendment. But as CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports, there are a couple of reasons not to expect that to happen.

Minority influence: Before the November elections, lobbyists with ties to House Republicans had to wonder how much influence they would have in the 117th Congress. They are not worrying anymore. Such lobbyists are poised to see their fortunes rise this Congress.

Electoral consequences: Meanwhile, K Street adjusts for Democratic control of the Senate after this week’s Georgia runoffs. 

ICYMI

2022 ads begin: Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, launched a “five-figure” digital ad buy Monday targeting vulnerable Democrats over their votes for Nancy Pelosi to remain speaker. The buy includes videos targeting Wisconsin’s Ron Kind, Illinois’ Cheri Bustos and Michigan’s Haley Stevens, and Google search ads targeting voters in 18 other districts held by Democrats.

Runoffs keep rolling: Louisiana will hold an all-party special election primary on March 20 to fill the 5th District vacancy created by GOP Rep.-elect Luke Letlow’s death from COVID-19 on Dec. 29, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate reported. The day could also see a similar primary for the 2nd District seat Democratic Rep. Cedric L. Richmond is expected to give up for a post in the Biden White House. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent in March, the top two vote-getters will face each other in an April runoff. Neither seat is likely to be in play: Richmond got 64 percent in November and Letlow got 62 percent in a December all-Republican runoff.

Mulling: Florida Democratic Rep. Val B. Demings didn’t rule out running for higher office, including for Senate in 2022, in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. And The New York Times reported that Colorado GOP Rep. Ken Buck is considering challenging Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet (whom Buck unsuccessfully ran against in 2010) after fielding a call from NRSC Chairman Rick Scott.

No regrets: Ex-Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Max Rose of New York, both freshman Democrats who lost their seats in November, penned an op-ed to let everyone know they had no regrets about refusing donations from corporate PACs. “To be sure, corporate PACs aren’t the only –– or even the biggest –– problem with money in politics in Washington,” they wrote in The Hill. “But refusing that money was one element under our direct control. And we went further than most. Joe turned away money from all PACs, and Max didn’t take money from lobbyists.”

They’re not running:  Rose also clarified that his future will not include a run for New York City mayor. And Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan said he is not running for Senate in 2022, noting he has more influence as a member of the House Appropriations Committee in the majority than as a freshman senator.

What we’re reading

A reckoning: With chaos unfolding at the Capitol, National Journal talked to GOP strategists who “characterized the dark day as a watershed moment for the party.”

Not so Golden: In November, Republicans recaptured four of the seven House seats in California that Democrats flipped in 2018. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, those victories may not stop the “death spiral” for the Golden State GOP. 

Cashing in: The Nevada Independent details Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s fundraising ahead of the outgoing DSCC chairwoman’s potentially competitive 2022 reelection race.

Higher ground: Our former CQ Roll Call colleague Clyde McGrady, now at The Washington Post, traveled to his home state of Georgia to chronicle Warnock’s campaign for “the moral high ground” during his successful Senate race. 

The count: 4,445,969

That’s how many votes, as of noon today, had been counted in Georgia’s Senate runoff between Warnock and Loeffler (55 fewer people voted in the Ossoff-Perdue race), according to The Associated Press. For comparison, 4.1 million voted in the 2016 presidential race in Georgia and the previous record for turnout in a Georgia runoff was 2.1 million, in the 2008 race between GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin. So much for voters tuning out a post-holiday runoff.

Nathan’s notes

As it began, Nathan L. Gonzales took a look at all that was going on this week and said it was going to seem more like a year. It published Monday — which now seems about a year ago.

Candidate confessions

“I actually put my kids on the first flight home to Charleston on Monday morning,” freshman Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican who supported Trump, told her local TV station WLTX on Wednesday. She did that because she correctly anticipated the potential for violence from the Trump supporters who turned their ire over the president’s electoral loss into a mob on Capitol Hill.  

“This is un-American. This isn’t protesting,” she added. “This is anarchy.” 

“It was scary,” she told NPR on Thursday morning. “At one point, the Cannon Office Building where my office resides was evacuated due to threats.” She said her own life had been threatened by fellow Trump supporters who wanted Congress to overturn the results of the November election. I had my swearing-in on Sunday. I’m a single mom, I brought my two children up to D.C. for this historic moment — I’m the first Republican woman elected to Congress from South Carolina. But I put my kids on the first plane home on Monday because the rhetoric I was hearing gave me great concern. … I’m so grateful that my motherly instincts kicked in,” she added.

Shop talk: Stephanie Schriock

Schriock is still figuring out her next move since deciding to leave EMILY’s List after 11 years as president of the group, which supports female Democratic candidates who back abortion rights. Her book “Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World” hits shelves this month.

Starting out: Schriock first became interested in politics as a young girl growing up in Butte, Montana, after learning there were hundreds of “minuteman missiles” in her home state pointed at the then-Soviet Union. “I was like ‘This is terrible, we have to do something!’ And it really did open my eyes to what was going on in the world,” she said.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “I still get chills thinking about it today,” Schriock said, describing sitting in the House gallery in January 2019, watching the new Democratic women sworn in. She recalled seeing Kansas’ Sharice Davids and New Mexico’s Deb Haaland, the first two Native American women elected to Congress, standing together on the House floor, with Haaland wearing a traditional Pueblo dress. “All of American history sort of flashed through me, realizing what a significant statement it was to have these two women at this moment, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, from two different tribes, representing both their governments as well as our government,” Schriock said.

Biggest campaign regret: Schriock’s career might have looked different due to “a brief stint as a fundraising consultant for this up-and-coming Senate candidate in Illinois by the name of Barack Obama.” After deducing Obama was in a strong position to win, Schriock ended her contract — before the future president captured the national spotlight at the 2004 Democratic convention. “I might’ve made a mistake there,” she said with a laugh.

Unconventional wisdom: Schriock said one political dynamic not getting enough attention is a “significant authoritarian movement in this country and it is not just driven by Donald Trump.” She said Biden’s victory was a “step in the right direction,” but added, “We are far from over. The problem in authoritarian governments is there’s always the blaming of the ‘other.’ And the ‘other’ could be immigrants, it can be women, it can be people of color — there’s always an ‘other’ that is targeted. … We have to be vigilant in protecting our democracy and how our country works.”

Coming up

The first preliminary ratings from Nathan L. Gonzales of the 2022 Senate races will be out Friday afternoon.

Photo finish

CQ Roll Call photojournalist Tom Williams captured this moment Wednesday when Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, an Army veteran, comforted fellow Democrat Susan Wild of Pennsylvania after the House chamber was locked down. Tom and the rest of our photo team, including Caroline Brehman and Bill Clark, braved a dangerous situation to capture the chaos. Here’s what they saw.

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