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At the Races: We have 2020 vision

By Stephanie Akin, Bridget Bowman and Simone Pathé

Welcome back to At the Races! We are relaunching just as the campaign cycle gets interesting. Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

Double standards for 2020 Democratic hopefuls? You don’t say
Kamala Harris was tripped up by obstacles her white counterparts haven’t had to face

Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential bid faced unique hurdles from the start, some of them personal, Curtis writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

OPINION — There is a particular line that stuck with me in the just-opened film “Queen & Slim,” about a black couple on the run after an altercation with a white police officer goes awry in the depressing and terrible way you might imagine. During their perilous road trip, in a quieter moment, he (a retail worker) asks her (an attorney) if she is good at her job. “I’m an excellent lawyer,” she replies, to which he answers with a question that’s really a statement: “Why do black people always got to be excellent? Why can’t we just be ourselves?”

Since the pre-mortems were written a bit ago, it’s time for a post-mortem on the presidential campaign of California Sen. Kamala Harris, who never seemed to quite discover who she was or at least convey authenticity and excellence to enough voters or donors to make a difference.

Democratic lawmakers slowly take sides in 2020 primary
30 percent of congressional Democrats have endorsed, with most backing Joe Biden

From left, Massachusetts Reps. Lori Trahan, Ayanna S. Pressley, and Katherine M. Clark have all endorsed their home-state senior senator, Elizabeth Warren. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

More than two-thirds of Democratic lawmakers have yet to take sides in the presidential primary, a sign that the race remains in flux. But the campaigns that have nabbed congressional endorsements so far could benefit from shows of support, particularly from high-profile freshmen.  

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to back Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley’s endorsement of her home-state senator, Elizabeth Warren, grabbed national headlines. But support from lawmakers with lower profiles can still help presidential campaigns generate local media attention, demonstrate support from key constituencies and provide a team of surrogates who can be deployed across the country. 

Senate confirms Brouillette to succeed Perry as Energy secretary
Republican donor and former business executive will take over one of the most technically complicated departments in the federal bureaucracy

Brouillette before his confirmation hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Nov. 14. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate voted 70-15 Monday evening to confirm Dan Brouillette to succeed Rick Perry as Energy secretary. 

President Donald Trump nominated Brouillette, a long-time Republican donor and former business executive for Ford Motor Co. and USAA who worked at DOE during the George W. Bush administration, after Perry said in October he would step down.

Garland Tucker drops Senate primary challenge to North Carolina’s Thom Tillis
Self funding candidate had forced Tillis to spend money early

A self-funding primary challenger to North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis is dropping his challenge to the first-term senator. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Retired businessman Garland Tucker is not filing for Senate with the state Board of Elections on Monday, dropping his primary challenge to North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020.

Through a combination of loans and contributions, Tucker had given his campaign about $1.3 million by the end of September, which had forced Tillis to spend money early to build up his name recognition and base of support with conservatives. Tillis reserved more than $2 million earlier this year in TV advertising. Trump endorsed Tillis, but the first-term senator was still booed at the president’s most recent rally in the Tar Heel State.

Elise Stefanik’s rise tests new GOP fundraising platform WinRed
After initial concerns, Stefanik has been using WinRed to capitalize on newfound fame

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., has been in the spotlight as one of the Republicans’ strongest questioners during impeachment hearings. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

On Fox News Thursday night, Rep. Elise Stefanik made sure to tell viewers about a website where they could “step up” and donate to her campaign. After her appearance, the New York Republican announced she raised a staggering $500,000 in less than two hours.

Stefanik’s fundraising push is an early test of whether House Republicans, using a new online fundraising platform Stefanik once questioned, can capitalize on national attention to bring in campaign cash.

Fiona Hill forceful, direct in countering Republican defense of Trump
Former NSC aide fills in critical blanks after more than a week of impeachment hearings

Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, and David Holmes, political counselor for the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, are sworn in before testifying during the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House Intelligence Committee's last witness of the week in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump connected the dots between current and former administration witnesses, pushed back against previous accounts and illuminated fault lines in American diplomacy. 

Fiona Hill, a Russia expert who worked on Trump’s National Security Council, delivered perhaps the most forceful testimony countering the Republican defense of Trump and his dealings in Ukraine.

Sondland tells Congress he acted at Trump's direction on Ukraine
Testimony from top ambassador ties Trump, Pompeo and other top officials to Ukrainian pressure campaign

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee during a hearing on the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, on Wednesday told Congress that the president directed him to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Ukrainian energy company Burisma and, in turn, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The Trump donor and appointee stressed that the president never directly told him U.S. military aid to Ukraine was contingent upon the politically motivated investigations. But he testified, among other new revelations, that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on a pressure campaign.

Impeachment news roundup: Nov. 20
Testimony from Laura Cooper contradicts Republican argument that Ukraine did not know about the hold on security aid

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testifies during the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine Laura Cooper told the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday evening that Ukrainian Embassy staff in August were aware of the White House’s hold on military assistance to Kyiv.

Cooper’s testimony ran counter to a key Republican argument about the July phone call between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and President Donald Trump — that Ukraine did not know about the hold on security aid.

Sondland testimony cliffhanger: Will he vindicate or implicate Trump?
Neither Democrats nor Republicans know what Sondland will say about new information since his deposition

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testifies in public on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As the House impeachment inquiry has moved from closed depositions to open hearings, lawmakers largely knew what witnesses would say. But Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who will testify Wednesday, is a cliffhanger.

The House Intelligence Committee will hear from Sondland after three days of testimony with seven other witnesses, many of whom spoke to conversations they’ve had with him. Those accounts place Sondland in the center of the controversy about whether Trump withheld security assistance to Ukraine and a White House meeting with the country’s new president to secure investigations into his political rivals.