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The Early 202

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

Some Democrats are turning their attention to passing voting rights

The Early 202

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

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Good morning, Early Birds. Did you hear? The zebras that escaped from a Maryland farm have finally been captured, ending the most entertaining manhunt in recent memory. Did you see one of the zebras during their 4-month-long jaunt? Stop horsing around and send us your tips, comments and scandalous zebra stories here: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us. 🦓

🚨: “The House on Tuesday voted to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena issued by the bipartisan committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob,” our colleagues Mariana Alfaro and Jacqueline Alemany report. “The resolution was approved on a 222-to-208 vote.”

On the Hill

Some Democrats are turning their attention to passing voting rights

Don't book your flights yet: Democrats' urgency to score a win before Washington closes shop for the holidays may be helping to drive a renewed push on Capitol Hill to pass voting rights legislation.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has insisted he can garner a big victory for President Biden by pushing through Democrats' massive social spending package known as the Build Back Better Act before Christmas. But the hour is getting late, the Senate parliamentarian has yet to rule on all of the bill's components and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) hasn't gotten to yes yet. Also, there's no bill text.

So some Democrats are pushing to make voting rights the party's No. 1 priority instead.

“Voting rights should be the very next thing we do,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) told reporters after a lunch in which Senate Democrats discussed the issue. “We’ve got to get Medicaid expansion, we’ve got to get child care, we’ve got to get relief to farmers. All of those things matter. But the point I’m making in this moment is: we have to have a democratic framework to continue to push for those things.”

And Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), one of the most moderate Democrats in the chamber, reiterated Tuesday that he’d support changing the chamber's rules to pass voting rights legislation. (He made similar comments over the summer.)

Yet there's scant Republican support for any kind of voting rights legislation, as next year's midterms — in which they have a good chance to recapture their congressional majorities — loom. That means Democrats would have to seek a Senate rules change to prevent the GOP from filibustering the effort.

A person familiar with the discussions told The Early that part of the thinking inside the Senate Democratic caucus is that it might actually be easier to try to change Senate rules and pass a voting rights bill than to pass BBB before Christmas. Manchin has warmed to the idea of various rules changes in recent weeks, the person added, and conversations are progressing that could help break a stalemate.

“We have to have some sort of victory,” the person said. Schumer “will want something and the only thing that's raring and ready to go is voting rights.”

But Manchin (again).

After announcing in June he couldn’t support Democrats’ signature voting bill, Manchin spent months working on legislation he hoped would secure bipartisan support. He managed to convince Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to co-sponsor a scaled-down bill with him and two other Democrats.

But Republicans filibustered the bill last month, forcing Democrats to change tactics. Now Democratic senators are pushing to create a carveout in the chamber’s rules allowing the bill to pass with only their votes.

That’s where they lost Manchin.

The West Virginia Democrat, who’s repeatedly ruled out scrapping the filibuster, is open to changing the rules on a more limited basis — but only if Republicans support the change, which seems very unlikely. 

Both parties should “have input in this rules change, because we’ll have to live with them,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday. “Because we’ll be in the minority sometime.”

Democrats and voting rights advocates are working to win over Manchin, but it’s unclear how they might succeed. One advocate working on the issue, granted anonymity to discuss the dynamics candidly, said that while there’s a chance Democrats could pass a voting rights bill before Christmas, it’s more likely that it slips into next year.

Democrats are hustling to pass the bill as soon as possible in part because one of the provisions would restrict partisan gerrymandering — and the redistricting process is already well underway in ways that favor Republicans.

Adam Bozzi, a spokesperson for End Citizens United, which is lobbying on voting rights, said Democrats must pass the bill soon in order for it to take effect before redistricting is completed, taking into account the expected lawsuits over the legislation.

“We really, really have to get it done by January to be able to get through litigation and get it implemented as soon as possible,” Bozzi wrote in an email to The Early.  

Double or nothing?

While negotiating a way to get a voting rights bill through the Senate won't be easy, neither will passing BBB.

There's little agreement among Hill Democrats or on K Street whether Senate Democrats stand much of a chance of finishing their work before the holidays, according to interviews with five Democratic lobbyists as well as Democratic Senate staffers.

“I know that it’s going to be tough, but I still think that Leader Schumer will bring BBB to the Senate floor next week and it will pass,” Paul Bock, a former chief of staff to former senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), wrote in an email to The Early.

Others are more pessimistic.

Asked whether he was telling clients that there was any chance Senate Democrats could pass BBB by Christmas, the top Democratic lobbyist Al Mottur responded in one word: “No.”

“It’s just not even logistically conceivable even if they were much further along than they are, in my opinion,” he said.

One potential obstacle: The Senate parliamentarian still hasn't finished the “Byrd bath” process of ruling whether any provisions in the bill can't be passed under the chamber's reconciliation rules. If parts of the bill don't pass muster, Democrats might need to rewrite them to try to keep them in the bill.

“It is more important to get this right than to get this done, and there’s a balance between pushing on the timeline and having everything you want survive the Senate ‘Byrd bath,’” said Rich Gold, a longtime Democratic lobbyist.

From the courts

New York prosecutors investigating whether Trump lied to his own accountants

Mo' money, mo' problems: “As prosecutors in Manhattan weigh whether to charge [former president] Donald Trump with fraud, they have zeroed in on financial documents that he used to obtain loans and boast about his wealth,” people with knowledge of the matter told the New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich.

  • The documents “could help answer a question at the heart of the long-running criminal investigation into the former president: Did he inflate the value of his assets to defraud his lenders?
  • “In recent weeks, prosecutors in the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., have questioned one of Trump’s accountants before a grand jury as part of their examination of the financial statements … Prosecutors also interviewed his longtime banker.”
  • “If the prosecutors seek an indictment, the case’s outcome could hinge on whether they can use the documents to prove that a defining feature of Trump’s public persona — his penchant for hyperbole — was so extreme and intentional when dealing with his lenders that it crossed the line into fraud.”
  • “While the numbers could implicate Trump, disclaimers in the statements that the data had not been audited or authenticated could help his defense, underscoring the challenge that prosecutors face.”

But wait, there's more: “A federal judge on Tuesday rejected Trump’s long-running effort to block the Treasury Department from turning over his tax records to the House Ways and Means Committee, but put the ruling on hold pending an expected appeal,” our colleague Spencer S. Hsu reports.

  • “Even if the former President is right on the facts, he is wrong on the law,” U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden wrote in a 45-page opinion. “A long line of Supreme Court cases requires great deference to facially valid congressional inquiries. Even the special solicitude accorded former Presidents does not alter the outcome. The Court will therefore dismiss this case.”

The Media

What we’re reading: 

Viral

Dashing through Le Dip 

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

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