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Power Up: These female vets forged a bond in tough House races. Now they're fundraising together.

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with Brent D. Griffiths

Good morning, Power Friends & welcome back. There's a lot on the docket this week, so read up. Thanks for waking up with us. 

The People

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: At a time of crippling partisan polarization, it's the message of public service that made the difference for a handful of Democrats who won in heavily red districts — and in some cases flipped districts carried by President Trump during the 2016 election. 

That's according to Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Elaine Luria (Va.), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.), Chrissy Houlahan (Penn.) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), who make up a record number of women veterans and service members elected to Congress in 2018. They forged a bond given their backgrounds -- ranging from military to CIA and Pentagon-- which carried over to their new gigs on Capitol Hill. 

Now, they're formalizing their relationship — through fundraising. The lawmakers are launching a first-of-its-kind joint fundraising effort — dubbed the Service First Women’s Victory Fund — to raise money for the set of five lawmakers. 

  • Focus on vets: New Politics, a bipartisan organization that recruits candidates from the military and intelligence communities, is facilitating the effort. The lawmakers plan to fundraise together and split the money. 
  • “Through fundraising, speaking events, and policy discussions, the Service First Women's Victory Fund will help amplify the voice of women service leaders in office, encourage more women service veterans to run for office, and build the next generation of political leadership,” New Politics said in a statement. 
  • The key: “Every man for himself, every woman together,” joked Luria, a Navy veteran. 
  • State the obvious: “It's to keep our seats,” Luria added. 

In a freshman class that features a number of progressive rising stars known for their high volume and sometimes-controversial social media presences, it’s easy to miss this gang of self-described worker bees with an aversion to adversarial tweeting. Over bagels and coffee last Friday, the group of female lawmakers described their lower-key style as a product of what their constituents are craving.

  • Without naming names, Slotkin told reporters that figuring out the difference between “who are the work horses and who are the show ponies” cemented their bond. 
  • “We came into this knowing each other already and knowing instinctually that these are the work horses and that I’m going to do something with this group,” said Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and Department of Defense official. “Whereas sometimes if you go into other rooms in Congress, you can see that some people are worried about the messaging more than the substance.”
  • “From my perspective, there has been an overwhelming focus on a small number of members in our caucus who did not flip seats, who did not help win the House, who are doing what is right for their districts but don’t represent my districts,” Slotkin added. “People here in Michigan — we want more pragmatic voices sticking up for us. And we don’t see enough of that.”

A survey commissioned by New Politics shows that public service matters quite a bit to voters in both parties. 

  • “A 64 percent majority of self-ascribed Democrats find this very important, 56 percent among self-ascribed Republicans,” found the survey provided to Power Up. Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies surveyed 1200 registered voters in August last year. 
  • Answer to divisive politics?: “Voters prefer service candidates over other types of candidates because service candidates offer an answer to divisive politics. Obviously, voters find service edifying, but the main reason voters prefer service candidates speaks more to our political times. The single most important trait voters look for now in a candidate is, 'Someone willing to work with people from both parties to solve problems,' (58 percent pick this as one of their two leading traits) higher even than agreement on issues (38 percent)," per a memo accompanying the poll. 
  • This aligns with the traits that voters see in service candidates: Fifty-seven percent of voters associate candidates with military experience as used to “working with a team to accomplish something,” per the poll. And 50 percent associate the candidate as being honest and having integrity. 

The lawmakers acknowledge their quiet approach can make it tougher to get attention — and get out the message for their more moderate policy proposals. 

  • “There is a tension there between wanting to get the message out but representing people who don’t like showboats,” Slotkin said. 
  • “[W]e’re not going to tweet about the president provocatively because we want attention,” said Houlahan, a former United States Air Force officer. “I think that would work but that’s not who we are who our communities are or what our democracy is about . . . We hope to broadcast more broadly our message.”
  • “If I start a Twitter war with a colleague or something or just say something emotionally outrageous that doesn’t move the ball along, then I can’t go to a Republican in a meeting and say, 'hey can you co-sponsor my legislation?'” Spanberger, a former CIA officer, said. 

And this group has advice for candidates seeking to win in Republican districts even as the party drifts leftward during the Democratic presidential primary. 

  • Avoid pie-in-the-sky proposals: “Don’t just have broad sweeping statements about really shiny objects in the sky that actually don’t do anything. People want pragmatic solutions — at least in Pennsylvania.”
  • Build a broad coalition: “All of us won by building broad coalitions across our district and that’s what a presidential candidate has to do to when and you do that by focusing critically on the things that will help families across our country,” said Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot. 

On The Hill

One of the oldest Jewish advocacy organizations is petitioning lawmakers to launch the first-ever congressional Jewish Caucus, a move viewed as an attempt to counter efforts by Democratic freshmen Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) to reshape their party’s outlook on Israel and the Middle East.

  • A first-ever: In a letter obtained by Power Up sent to a lawmaker, the American Jewish Congress is asking “you and your colleagues to advocate for and support the formation of the first-ever congressional Jewish caucus . . . that would help Jewish Americans in both parties and Houses of Congress to come together despite party and ideological lines, and to provide a platform for the voices, interests, and common goals of the Jewish community,” according to the letter. (See below for the full text). 
  • A focus on anti-Semitism: “No challenge has been more persistent than the scourge of anti-Semitism, which rather than being consigned to the dustbin of history, is resurgent in recent years,” the letter reads.
  • Public pressure: The right-leaning group that temporarily shut down due to financial troubles from 2000 until 2010 penned an op-ed last month arguing a bipartisan caucus similar to the Congressional Black Caucus or the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was necessary after the House "watered down" a resolution originally drafted to condemn anti-Semitism.
  • Name-check: “Consider the ongoing firestorm around comments made by Democratic Reps. [Omar] and [Tlaib] who have made comments many considered anti-Semitic,” the op-ed said. “In the recent past, such comments would have been met with swift bipartisan scorn, repudiation and possibly censure. But that’s not what happened.”
  • And on the other side: “Indeed, at a time when Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has commented, 'white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?' we need a Jewish caucus.”

Complicated questions: Veteran Jewish lawmakers have been reluctant to establish a formal Jewish Caucus because of the complicated questions it would raise about who would be allowed in and legislative priorities, advocates and congressional staffers say. 

  • The idea of a Jewish caucus came up among several top congressional Jewish Democrats last week, but they decided not to move forward with it, said a former congressional staffer familiar with the meetings. 
  • “I think we get into trouble when we start identifying what are Jewish values and what aren't,” a congressional staffer familiar with the discussions told Power Up. Determining interpretations of Jewish issues and who should be able to join “is not a conversation we want to have in public,” the staffer said.
  • An informal group: “The Jewish members have met for decades informally. There's always been discussion of whether to formalize in some way and the consensus has always been that it's better not to,” Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street told Power Up. “At the end of the day, people like Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) and John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) have far more in common with the CPC and CBC than they do with Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) — just because he happens to be Jewish.” 
  • Partisan chasm: “If you included all Jewish members, you’d have [Zeldin] sitting there with some of Congress’s most liberal voices who also happen to be Jewish,” Aaron Keyak, the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told Power up. “It’s a fantasy to think that if you have a caucus of all these members in the room they are going to reach a consensus that they haven’t already reached . . . Fundamentally, it sounds like a nice idea but when you consider the steps to implement it, how do you find a consensus between one of Trump’s top supporters in the Jewish community and the head of the Judiciary committee?” 

Some lawmakers are in favor: “I guess I’m in favor of that, but I don’t think it should be a major departure from what we’ve been doing,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) told The Daily Caller's Mike Brest in an interview at the end of April. “ . . . I’ve been in favor of a Jewish caucus before I’d ever heard of Omar. […] You know, I don’t think that’s the decisive reason to create a Jewish caucus. And I don’t think that going from an informal group that doesn’t call itself a caucus to an informal caucus is a huge step.”

MEANWHILE: Tlaib set the dates for her congressional trip to the West Bank this week. Jewish Insider's Laura Kelly reports that Tlaib's congressional delegation to the Palestinian Territories, arranged by the Humpty Dumpty Institute will take place from August 17 to August 22, around the same time as AIPAC and American Israel Education Foundation's trip to Israel for freshmen members. 

At the White House

TARIFF FIGHT CONTINUES: There's still no deal. And after the White House and top Chinese officials failed to head off an increase in tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, future talks are uncertain. 

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Sunday struggled to explain part of President Trump's rationale for ratcheting up the trade war.

  • “In fact, both sides will pay. Both sides will pay in these things,” Kudlow told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, as Wallace pressed Kudlow on Trump’s repeated statements that China, not the U.S., will bear the burden on increased tariffs.
  • Kudlow’s admission that American consumers will end up paying led headlines on an otherwise mostly quiet Mother’s Day.
  • Beijing has promised to retaliate for the latest action, but so far they have not announced a response. Expect that change this week, if not today.
  • The markets are struggling. Initially, Wall Street seemed to shake off any trade fears, but on Friday the Dow closed 139 points and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 2.18 percent last week, its worst week of the year.
  • Quick recap: How do tariffs work? Our colleague Glenn Kessler gave Trump three pinocchios for his past claims about tariffs, but this gets at core of what Trump gets wrong: “China does not pay any of these tariffs. The tariffs — essentially a tax — are generally paid by importers, such as U.S. companies, who in turn pass on most or all of the costs to consumers or producers who may use Chinese materials in their products,” Glenn writes.
National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow contradicted President Trump on May 12, saying American consumers would pay for tariffs on Chinese imports. (Video: The Washington Post)
  • Tea leaves: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he has warned the administration that a protracted tariff battle could cause a recession. “I think there are ways the Chinese market could open up and that would be good, but I still have advised the administration, get this done, because the longer we’re involved in a tariff battle or a trade war, the better chance there is that we could actually enter into a recession because of it,” Paul said on ABC’s This Week.

The takeaway: Our colleagues Damian Paletta, Josh Dawsey and Toluse Olorunnipa reported how the tariff increase is just the latest example of Trump's go it alone approach in the run up to 2020.

  • “The risky moves mark Trump’s attempt to deliver on two of his core campaign promises in the face of a Democratic House and muted GOP opposition in the Senate, as he seeks to cast himself as a defiant chief executive willing to act alone, no matter the global repercussions,” Damian, Josh and Toluse write.

Outside the Beltway

2020 CANDIDATES START ATTACKING EACH OTHER: The debate is beginning. It may just be baby steps now, but increasingly 2020 candidates are criticizing their fellow Democrats. 

If you’re keeping score at home: Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) may have landed the biggest blow so far when he criticized his fellow Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up large tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

  • “It's not me and my own personal opinion about going after folks. That sounds more like a Donald Trump thing to say, I'm going to break up you guys, I’m gonna break — no,” Booker said on ABC’s This Week. When pressed by host Jonathan Karl, Booker said that he was not comparing his friend to the president. (You can read the full transcript here.)

And here's a look at what some others have said so far:

Remember: The first actual debate is 45 days away.


In the Media



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