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The Early 202

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

Senate Democrats resigned to not passing gun legislation

The Early 202

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

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Good morning, Early Birds. Tips? Comments? earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

In today’s edition … The Post's David Weigel and Josh Dawsey get you ready for a big day of primaries in five states, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina where former president Donald Trump's influence will be put to the test … The FDA came to an agreement with a baby formula factory to resume production … but first …

On the Hill

Democrats focus on racism that allegedly motivated Buffalo shooter amid GOP opposition to gun bills

After more than a decade of frequent mass shootings, a pattern emerged in Washington.

First, an outpouring of condolences would flood in along with condemnations of the gunman. Then Democratic lawmakers would express outrage at the nation's gun laws and vow to pass legislation that would make it more difficult for bad actors to obtain weapons. 

And finally, negotiations would begin with some willing Republicans and in most instances — other than a few incremental gun law changes — talks would dissolve with no agreement and no legislation passing Congress.

But Democrats are saying they don't see much point in running through the same pattern again when they believe nothing will pass with Republicans mostly united against any change to gun laws. 

  • “You know as well as I it takes 60 votes on anything controversial and that is controversial. So we're kind of stuck where we are at the time being,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “We're realists. We know where we are. It'll take an election to change.”

Republicans aren't itching for talks either as the midterm elections approach and as the party has moved even further away from supporting any form of gun restrictions.

“I don't think there's any appetite for anyone to sit around the table and try and gain 60 votes,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told reporters Monday night.

President Biden still plans to push Congress to act. He will be in Buffalo today visiting with the victims of the families of the Tops massacre, where he will call on Congress to take action to “keep weapons of war off our streets and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people who have a serious mental illness,” a White House official said.

Democrats' resignation

The quick admission by senators Monday that Congress is unlikely to act following a weekend where gunmen, allegedly motivated by bigotry, opened fire at a Buffalo supermarket and a church in California is a striking sign of Congress' inability to respond to the mass shootings that have become almost commonplace over the last decade.

Democrats said they don't see any way to win over enough Republicans to pass gun control legislation, which Democrats have long said might be necessary but doesn't go nearly far enough. Republicans said Monday they don't see much for Congress to do, although they floated the idea of some legislation addressing the mental health issues that may have driven gunmen to commit mass killings.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he'd “be surprised” if his past talks with Republican Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to close a loophole on background checks are revived. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. V.) said there is no path for his narrow background check legislation with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), which failed in 2013 and again in 2015. 

  • Senate Democratic leaders have indicated they have no plans to bring up gun legislation. In a clear shift in strategy, Democrats are directing their message to focus on the racist “great replacement theory” and other bigoted arguments that apparently motivated the Buffalo shooter and have also been embraced by some Republicans and conservative commentators.

“Not long ago, views like replacement theory were only found in the darkest places, in deranged minds,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech about the Buffalo shooting. "[But] replacement theory and other racially motivated views are increasingly coming out into the open, and given purported legitimacy, by some MAGA Republicans and cable news pundits.” He singled out popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Republican Reluctance

While Republicans have opposed gun control measures, saying they infringe on Second Amendment rights, they haven't proposed other significant policy steps that could be taken to prevent mass shootings.

In the wake of Buffalo, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he is “not sure” what the conversation around guns would be about. “He obviously was mentally deranged and gotten radicalized,” Thune said, adding that mental health measures would be the most impactful. “A number of our members have been in favor of that in the past,” Thune said.

  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) echoed Thune. “He had real issues, mental illness issues, it appears. So when that is something that becomes obvious, people need to speak up, and there's some laws that might help on that,” Portman said.

But some Republicans disagreed that any legislation was needed.

“I don't think that's the answer to the problem we've got right now,” Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who is more conservative than Portman and Thune, said.

Domestic Terrorism

Democrats are talking about moving legislation to address domestic violent extremism and perhaps legislation about Internet hatred. 

House Democrats are hoping to bring to the floor this week the Preventing Domestic Terrorism Act, which provides more tools and direction to the FBI, Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department to address people or groups planning or committing crimes in the name of domestic political goals. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the House to take up the bill. It was pulled from the floor last month when the American Civil Liberties Union and some progressive members, including Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), had concerns that it would make people of color surveillance targets. 

  • Now, in the aftermath of the Buffalo shooting, negotiations between the ACLU, leadership, authors of the legislation and Bush have accelerated, two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks told The Early.

In another indication of a major shift in politics, the measure passed the House by a voice vote in 2020 — with the support of Republicans. But this year, House GOP Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is encouraging Republicans vote against it. GOP opponents said that it would attack free speech, ignore antifa, target law enforcement in investigations of white supremacists and enable the DOJ to monitor school board meetings where issues such as Critical Race Theory are discussed.

The campaign

Trump seeks to push Oz past Barnette as Pa. primary nears conclusion

The final countdown: “Former president Donald Trump on Monday tried to push his preferred candidate across the finish line in the high-stakes Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, while a surging rival declined to endorse her main opponents if she does not win the nomination,” our colleagues David Weigel and Josh Dawsey report. “The developments underscored the chaotic finish to the primaries in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.”

  • “Trump, who supports celebrity-turned-politician Mehmet Oz in the Republican primary, on Monday criticized insurgent candidate Kathy Barnette, alleging that she has not been fully scrutinized.”
  • Trump’s refusal to back Barnette – who participated in the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021 – has fractured his relationship David McIntosh, head of the influential conservative group the Club for Growth,” our colleagues Josh Dawsey and Isaac Arnsdorf report. “Until recently, McIntosh would meet Trump at Mar-a-Lago to coordinate endorsements in Republican primaries and even urge others to leave races.” But Club for Growth has pumped millions into today’s Pennsylvania primary, favoring Barnette over Oz and “putting two of the most influential forces in the GOP, Trump and the Club for Growth, at odds.”

The politics of tonight’s biggest races:

From the right: “Voters are heading to the polls in five states [today] to pick nominees for the November midterm elections,” Weigel and Dawsey write. “The vote will serve as the latest test of Trump’s influence over his party.”

  • North Carolina: Trump “defended Rep. Madison Cawthorn on Monday even as members of his party have denounced the GOP freshman as a fame-seeking fabulist.” He also endorsed “Rep. Ted Budd in the GOP primary to replace Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican who is retiring.”

From the left: “Many of Tuesday’s most expensive races have unfolded in safe Democratic districts, where the party’s left wing is trying to expand its influence and where well-funded centrist PACs have poured in resources to stop them.”

  • Pennsylvania: “The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its PAC have spent heavily to help attorney Steve Irwin in a close race with state Rep. Summer Lee. The Pittsburgh-based 12th Congressional District was drawn to elect a Democrat, and Irwin, a moderate who has occasionally donated to Republicans, is endorsed by Rep. Mike Doyle (D), who is retiring. Lee, a democratic socialist who would be the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress, has run as a potential ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).”

Choose your fighter: Meanwhile, New York Democrats were dealt a near-fatal blow in a protracted redistricting saga, effectively altering the outcome of the state’s midterm elections. “New York courts on Monday released a proposed map of redrawn congressional districts in the state that, if approved, would pit key sitting Democrats against each other and make it more likely for Republicans to gain House seats in November’s midterm elections,” our colleagues Amy B Wang and Colby Itkowitz report. “The map was drawn by Jonathan Cervas, a court-appointed expert, and is all but final. State Judge Patrick F. McAllister is expected to approve Cervas’s redrawn districts Friday.”

  • “The new map would trigger certain upheaval for many Democrats. Under it, Democratic congressmen Mondaire Jones and Sean Patrick Maloney would be redrawn into the same district, setting up a potential faceoff between Jones, a left-leaning freshman lawmaker, and Maloney, who as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is trying to preserve the party’s slim House majority.”
  • “The new map would also pit Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney, both Democrats, against each other for a redrawn district that would cover much of Manhattan.”

In the agencies

FDA and Abbott reach agreement to resume baby formula production

🚨: “Abbott Nutrition, the maker of Similac and other popular baby formulas, said Monday it has come to an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to fix safety issues at a Sturgis, Mich., factory that has been shuttered for more than three months, contributing to a nationwide formula shortage,” our colleague Laura Reiley reports. “The company has previously said that once the FDA has signed off on the fixes, it will take two weeks to restart production and another six to eight weeks to get the product back on shelves.”

  • Lawmakers will continue to follow the developments on Capitol Hill where the shortage has become a lightning rod for Republicans ahead of the midterms. The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the shortage last week, per NBC News’ Rebecca Shabad and Zoë Richards.

The Media

What we’re reading: 

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

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