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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Small group of Republicans gambling on big fight over government shutdown

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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Good morning, Early Birds! Stacey Abrams is back for another go at the Georgia governorship, setting up a potential rematch against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Did you have this on your 2021 political bingo card? What about this? Send us your tips and bingo strategies here: earlytips@washpost.com.

👀: Symone Sanders, the senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Vice President Harris, is expected to leave the White House at the end of the year,” Politico’s Eugene Daniels, Christopher Cadelago and Daniel Lippman first scooped

  • “Peter Velz, director of press operations and Vince Evans, deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs in the vice president’s office have also told others in the vice president’s office that they are leaving,” our colleagues Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Tyler Pager report. “Both are expected to take new jobs in or close to the administration.”

🚨: “The Biden administration has reached a deal with the Mexican government to restart the Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ program that requires asylum seekers to wait outside U.S. territory while their claims are processed,” our colleagues Nick Miroff and Kevin Sieff report. “The governments are planning to announce the agreement” today.

On the Hill

Small group of Republicans gambling on big fight over government shutdown

Another shutdown showdown: In 2013, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) were among the GOP lawmakers who precipitated a 16-day government shutdown in a doomed effort to defund Obamacare.

Eight years later, Cruz and Lee are again threatening to shut down the government for reasons related to health care — this time, as part of an attempt to thwart President Biden’s vaccine mandates.

Nearly a third of Republican senators seem willing to risk a government shutdown, according to a letter they sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday in which they accused Biden of “waging a cruel campaign to punish unvaccinated Americans.” The letter includes prominent lawmakers such as Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee; Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who's vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It seems unlikely they'll trigger an extended shutdown, though. Just ask Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom a fellow Republican senator said sat silently and “ate his chicken” on Wednesday while the hard-liners made their case during a conference lunch.

“I think we’re going to be okay,” McConnell said, as our colleagues reported.

Not even close to the same page

The GOP offensive is only the latest indication that Biden and Republicans in some ways are moving in opposite directions on combating the pandemic, even as the omicron variant bears down on Washington and the nation. A government shutdown would hardly help those efforts, of course.

“We’re opposed to the mandate,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), per our colleagues Mike DeBonis, Tony Romm and Seung Min Kim. “We don’t want the federal government to be able to fund them in any way shape or form.”

Johnson and the 14 other Republican senators who signed the letter to Schumer vowed “to use all means at our disposal to oppose” any bill that funds enforcement of Biden's vaccine mandate. Following through on the threat and precipitating a shutdown, though, would be a political gamble at a time when concern over the virus is spiking.

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), one of the lawmakers behind the newest shutdown push, said he wanted Americans to get vaccinated and get boosters.

“But there’s just a group of folks that are not going to do it,” he said — and they shouldn’t be forced to get vaccinated.

“I think the folks back home want to know how hard we’re fighting for them, that the jobs back home are as important as keeping the federal government open,” he said. “That’s the hypocrisy up here.”

Still, Marshall and other Republicans have signaled “they still could be open to a deal, potentially averting a short-term shutdown,” as Mike, Tony and Seung Min report. They're seeking a vote on an amendment cutting funding for the mandates, although the details of a potential agreement aren't clear yet.

Biden's strategy

Biden will today launch new initiatives meant to keep the virus at bay, including a new public education campaign by the Department of Health and Human Services, AARP and pharmacies to convince Americans get booster shots and tighter testing requirements for foreign travelers entering the country, our colleagues Dan Diamond, Lena H. Sun and Tyler Pager report.

The Biden administration has argued it’s hardly hypocritical to hold private businesses to the same standard as the federal government. Federal employees must get vaccinated, as well as employees of federal contractors.

“We have successfully implemented our own vaccination requirement, which is the strictest requirements,” a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday evening. “And we now have 92 percent of our employees vaccinated — and I think over 96 percent complying — and that number goes up every day.”

The new steps don’t include an expansion of the mandates that have incensed Republicans, which Biden put in place in September and which are now tied up in court. The measures will force companies with more than 100 employees to mandate their workers get vaccinated or set up a weekly testing regime once they take effect.

“I think we should use the leverage we have to fight against what are illegal, unconstitutional and abusive mandates from a president and an administration that knows they are violating the law,” Cruz told reporters on Wednesday.

More fuel to the fire: The federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement, raising the specter of a brief shutdown this weekend, “which might have little demonstrable effect on most Americans,” per Mike, Tony and Seung Min.

“A similar fiscal stalemate in 2018, for example, stopped some trash collection at national parks and affected some federal workers’ phones,” our colleagues report. “Yet every hour of obstruction in the days ahead threatens to push the fight further into next week, when a temporary shutdown would carry more dire effects, perhaps furloughing millions of federal workers.”

Such a scenario could recall the shutdown that Cruz, Lee and other Republicans touched off eight years ago, which John Boehner — the House speaker at the time — later castigated as a pointless and damaging.

“It made the Republicans look weak, ineffective and more interested in stunts than in getting stuff done for our voters,” Boehner wrote in his memoir, “On the House.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former Republican whip, on Wednesday described the shutdown gambit succinctly:

“I don't think it ever works,” he said.

Jeffrey Clark has one more chance
The Jan. 6 House committee unanimously voted in support of holding former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in criminal contempt on Dec. 1. (Video: The Washington Post)

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol voted unanimously Wednesday to hold former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in criminal contempt for failing to cooperate with its inquiry.

It's unclear when the full House could take up the contempt resolution, but if it is adopted, it would be up to the Justice Department to determine whether it wants to indict Clark for not complying with a congressional subpoena.

In an interesting twist, Clark was given one more chance to appear in front of the committee on Saturday for a new deposition. That’s because committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said during the hearing that Clark informed the committee he “now intends to claim Fifth Amendment protection,” and that the panel is “willing to convene another deposition at which Clark can assert that privilege on a question-by-question basis.”

The House Rules Committee will still meet tomorrow to begin the process of bringing the criminal contempt referral for Clark for a full House vote but that’s unlikely to happen until next week. 

“You have to assert the privilege against self-incrimination in a specific question,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told reporters after the vote. “You can’t plead the fifth to an entire prosecution — you can’t plead the fifth to every question you might be asked.”

On K Street

Tim Phillips, longtime president of Americans for Prosperity, forced out of his role

A mysterious departure: Tim Phillips, a longtime Republican operative who wielded significant influence as president of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed advocacy group that helped fuel the tea party movement, has been forced out of the organization, according to two people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter,” our colleague Isaac Stanley-Becker reports.

  • Phillips did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did AFP leaders. “But the group provided a statement from Mark Holden, its board chairman, to the conservative Washington Examiner news site.”
  • “‘While the underlying issues involved are personal in nature, Tim’s actions violate our core principles and make it impossible for him to continue in this role,’ Holden said in the statement. ‘This has caught us all by surprise. But we believe Tim’s departure is necessary for him, his loved ones, and for AFP.’”

The campaign

Moderate House Democrats urge party leadership to focus on inflation, supply chain disruptions

Moderates fight back: “The House Democrats at most risk of losing their seats in the 2022 midterm elections are pressuring congressional leaders to focus early next year on economic issues such as controlling inflation and addressing supply chain disruptions amid concerns the party is losing ground with voters who are worried about rising costs and skeptical the economic recovery will continue,” our colleague Marianna Sotomayor reports

  • “Some of these lawmakers have expressed concern that the House has taken too many votes this year on bills that have no chance of passing the Senate, such as changes to the immigration system and gun laws, that are also not popular in their swing districts.”

The Media

What we’re reading: 

Viral

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Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @jaxalemany.

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