with Tobi Raji

Good Wednesday morning. Tips, comments, recipes? You know the drill. This is the Power Up newsletter – thanks for waking up with us. 

On the Hill

AUGUST ATTACKS: A new, conservative nonprofit is launching a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, targeting vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in New Hampshire and Arizona over the congressional recess, my colleague Paul Kane and I report. 

Common Sense Leadership Fund is targeting senators with TV and radio ads, along with digital and grass-roots activities, among swing voters it says have concerns about the $3.5 trillion price tag of the package Democrats intend to pass on a party-line vote. 

A source working on the effort told Power Up that more ads will run in additional states. For now, the group plans to target Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), two members facing potentially tough 2022 reelection campaigns. The ads will overlap in areas hosting competitive House races in Arizona and New Hampshire as well. 

  • “Any one senator has the ability to stop this,” the source added. “And in Arizona, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has already made Kelly's life more challenging given her view on this piece of legislation.” Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) supported the budget resolution but both expressed concerns about its cost.
  • “This partisan budget is a liberal wish list of special interest kickbacks that will result in fewer individual choices, less jobs and higher taxes for everyone,” Kevin McLaughlin, president of Common Sense Leadership Fund and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement. “It will increase the cost of living for working class families and force us into socialist price controls that will restrict medication choices and send manufacturing to hostile nations like China, putting us at their mercy.”

While the Biden administration has dismissed inflationary concerns as exaggerated, Republicans have seized on the threat and ramped up attacks on Democrats during the August recess. They say the party's extravagant spending will fuel inflation and hurt pocketbooks. 

The ad campaign comes as a group of centrist House Democrats have threatened to tank the budget resolution if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) doesn't first take up the Senate's bipartisan infrastructure bill for an immediate vote. 

  • Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and other centrist Democrats, some of whom are up for tough reelection bids, argue that crafting and passing the reconciliation package could take months and ultimately delay passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill they're depending on to help win their races.

The White House has recently tweaked its approach to selling the reconciliation proposal, “as the administration responds to polling data suggesting the threat of inflation represents a potent political risk,” our colleagues Jeff Stein and Rachel Siegel reported last week. 

  • “While he still maintains inflationary concerns are exaggerated and will be short-lived, Biden is taking pains to show he recognizes the public’s fears over rising prices while arguing his spending plans are best suited to combat them. These public concerns helped fuel a dramatic one-month plunge in consumer confidence for early August, reported Friday by the University of Michigan.”
  • “While the administration has always partially sold some of its economic plans as easing families’ financial burden, the change in emphasis to directly confront the inflation debate highlights how the administration has adjusted to the new political and economic realities. White House officials have looked at polling data suggesting that rising prices could prove a political head wind for Democrats, particularly among older voters far more likely to be worried about inflation, according to two people aware of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations,” per Jeff and Rachel.

Global power

THE HAUNTING OF ‘AMERICA IS BACK’: President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan has triggered a globe-spanning rethink of America’s role in the world, as European allies discuss their need to play a bigger part in security matters and Russia and China consider how to promote their interests in a Taliban-led Afghanistan,” our Post colleagues John Hudson and Missy Ryan report.

  • “Biden’s defiant address to the nation on Monday, when he stood ‘squarely’ behind his decision to pull out U.S. troops, also renewed one of the most hotly contested debates of the post-9/11 era: Would a withdrawal from Afghanistan convey weakness, provoke aggression and shatter America’s ability to lead on the international stage?”
  • “Or would it reflect a sound realignment of the national interest, put the country on better footing to deal with the new challenges of the 21st century, and clarify to allies and adversaries what the United States is and is not willing to expend resources on?”
  • The actual message: “The images from Afghanistan have put on vivid display an inability to plan, an underestimation of a foreign adversary, an ineffective effort to scramble and make up for it — and, as Biden demonstrated in a brief address Monday, an attempt to deflect full responsibility,” our colleague Matt Viser writes.

“Although history could vindicate Biden’s order, his administration faces difficult questions about squaring the decision with its near-constant refrain that human rights and support for allies will be ‘at the center of U.S. foreign policy,’” Hudson and Ryan write.

  • “‘America is back,’ has been the refrain. But the question will now be raised: To do what?,” the New York Times’ Roger Cohen writes. “A planned summit in December conceived to reinforce democracies looks far less credible now that Afghan schools may be closed to girls again and Afghans who believed in freedom are desperate to flee.”

FROM THE GROUND: “As Afghan women cloistered in their homes on Tuesday, fearing for their lives and their futures under Taliban rule, a pair of female television broadcasters offered starkly contradictory visions of the country’s direction,” the New York Times’ Farnaz Fassihi and Dan Bilefsky report.

  • “On Tuesday morning, Beheshta Arghand, a newscaster with the privately owned Tolo News channel, interviewed a Taliban official, asking him about the Taliban’s house-to-house searches in the Afghan capital.”
  • “The remarkable scene of a Taliban official taking questions from a woman journalist was part of a broader campaign by the Taliban to present a more moderate face to the world and to help tame the fear gripping the country since the insurgents seized the capital on Sunday.”
  • “But hours later, a prominent anchorwoman on state television, Khadija Amin, tearfully told a Clubhouse chatroom that the Taliban had suspended her, and other women employees, indefinitely.”
  • “I am a journalist and I am not allowed to work,” said Amin, 28. “What will I do next? The next generation will have nothing, everything we have achieved for 20 years will be gone. The Taliban is the Taliban. They have not changed.”

“The stories of the two journalists reflect the uncertainty and deep anxiety Afghan women face as they try to assess what will befall them as the Taliban take control of the country.” 

  • “Millions are afraid of a return to the repressive past, when the Taliban barred women from working outside the home or leaving the house without a male guardian, eliminated schooling for girls and publicly flogged those who violated the group’s morality code.”

But others are fighting back: 

ICYMI: “Deep in the concrete wall maze of central Kabul, the seniors of the all-girl Zarghoona High School keep one eye on their homework — and the other on the Taliban’s territory,” our colleagues Alex Horton and Ezzatullah Mehrdad report.

  • “Students in the Class of 2021 are too young to have experienced the Taliban’s brutal years in power, but they’re old enough to understand what they read in history books.”
  • “Among the 1,300 girls in their final year is the Best Friends Group, a squad of three who say the dangers that lurked in their childhoods — extremist attacks on their schools, bombs detonated in their neighborhoods, targeted killings in their communities — have only drawn them closer together.”
  • “The Best Friends Group said Afghanistan can’t go back in time to burqas and women sealed away from modern society.”
  • “The more you oppress women, the harder women will try to fight back,” Safia Hussain, 18, told our colleagues. “We are ready to fight.”

The campaign

BLUE BLOOD IN THE WATER: “A year ago, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom were bandied about as future Democratic presidential candidates,” Politico’s Nick Niedzwiadek, Jeremy B. White and Carla Marinucci write. “By next month, both could be political exiles.”

  • “Such is the oscillating reality of a governor in the pandemic era — and a foreboding sign for national Democrats as they face already challenging midterm elections.”
  • “While the governors’ individual struggles are starkly different — Newsom remains favored to stave off a Sept. 14 gubernatorial recall, whereas Cuomo is resigning in Nixonian fashion in the face of an almost-certain impeachment — Democrats are scrambling to head off the damage of losing their highest-profile governors within weeks.”

Why it matters: “Newsom’s dismissal would be painfully demoralizing to Democrats who wield total control over California’s government. It could also energize Republicans by showing they can win even in the bluest parts of the country. The GOP would inevitably frame Newsom’s defeat as a repudiation of Democratic governance.”

  • “Though the outcome of the recall is still weeks away, some Democrats are already fretting about the potential knock-on effects in New Jersey and Virginia, the only other states with gubernatorial elections later this year and ones that are often viewed as weather vanes for national political currents.”
  • Not just the governors: According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, “Biden’s approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points and hit its lowest level so far as the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed over the weekend, ” Reuters’ Chris Kahn reports.
  • “The cataclysmic series of events over the last several days marked the most devastating period of the Biden presidency, and it comes at the precise moment when a growing number of Americans were already fearful of inflation and doubting Biden’s handling of the covid-19 pandemic and the economy,” Politico’s Natasha Korecki, Christopher Cadelago and Ally Mutnick write.

Translation: Democrats’ majority, which is contingent on Biden’s popularity, could be in jeopardy. 

  • The declining ratings show that the fallout in Afghanistan is eclipsing Democratic gains. With Democrats facing twin backlash from Republicans and the liberal wing of their party, it raises the question: If the midterms were held tomorrow, would Democrats win?

The policies

VOTING RIGHTS’ SECOND ACT: “House Democrats introduced a voting rights bill Tuesday on the site where the late congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) was brutally assaulted in 1965 as he and others marched for civil rights for Black Americans,” our colleague Eugene Scott reports.

  • “Standing at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) led Democrats in advocating for the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would protect voters from discrimination by restoring and strengthening elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
  • “But like other voting rights legislation to come before Congress this year, its chances of passing the evenly divided Senate are exceedingly narrow,” the New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos reports.

One step forward, zero steps anywhere: Meanwhile, “police reform negotiators are no longer considering changes to a controversial legal doctrine known as ‘qualified immunity,’” Politico’s Marianne Levine and Nicholas Wu report.

  • “It is unclear if a police reform proposal without changes to qualified immunity could pass the House, where liberal Democrats like Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a former Black Lives Matter activist, have called the removal of qualified immunity a redline.”
  • “But some Democrats, including House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) have suggested that they’d be open to police reform legislation that didn’t get rid of qualified immunity. He, along with other Democrats, have argued that some progress on negotiations is better than nothing.”