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The Early 202

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

What will Sen. Murkowski do on the gun violence package?

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. Happy Bloomsday to all who celebrate. Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

In today’s edition … Pence walks a tightrope between owning Jan 6. role and courting Trump voters … Poll Watch from Emily Guskin: The U.S. economy may not be in a recession, but many Americans think it is already … Fed announces sharp interest rate hike to fight inflation … but first …

On the Hill

What will Sen. Murkowski do on the gun violence package?

As a bipartisan group of senators craft legislation to respond to mass shootings, one Republican to watch is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). 

Murkowski has carved out a position in the Senate as a bipartisan dealmaker who is also willing to buck her party — especially if she believes it is right for her state.

She helped usher through the infrastructure bill that delivered billions of dollars to Alaska and helped to break the stalemate on pandemic relief funding in late 2020, which resulted in a $900 billion bill that included stimulus checks. She voted for President Biden's Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and opposed one of Donald Trump's high court nominees — Brett M. Kavanaugh

But she is not part of the bipartisan group of Senate negotiators led by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) who are writing legislation on enhanced background checks for people under 21 as well as funding for mental health programs and other measures in response to the recent mass shootings.

And she is heading into a potentially tough August primary against Kelly Tshibaka, who is running to her right and whom Trump endorsed. Tshibaka made clear this week she is eager to attack Murkowski on guns even before the senator announces how she'll vote.

“This can’t be understated: Leftists are coming for our guns and after more than 20 years in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski has pledged to help them,” Tshibaka said in a statement.

A complicated political calculus

Murkowski has been a strong supporter of gun rights in the past, representing a state where rural and indigenous residents rely on their guns for survival.

“Guns are such a fundamental part of Alaska, and that’s reflected in her Second Amendment positions,” said Edward Hild, a former Murkowski chief of staff.

But Murkowski indicated this week that she is open to backing the emerging plan, tweeting that the bipartisan framework “appears to be fairly reasonable.” In a chance run-in with David Hogg, a Parkland, Fla., school shooting survivor and founder of March for Our Lives, she told him “we owe some steps here.”

If Murkowski backs the deal, should a final agreement be reached, it would seal her position as a bipartisan lawmaker who doesn't adhere to party orthodoxy, but it would also fuel Tshibaka's argument that she isn't conservative enough.

Some in Alaska said supporting the modest gun framework could be the safer place for her politically.

Murkowski is not relying on the right-flank of the party to win reelection, but on more moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats — all of whom can vote in Alaska's nonpartisan primary system — to defeat Tshibaka.

Longtime Alaska pollster Ivan Moore said it's going to be a difficult decision for Murkowski, but added it is more politically damaging for her to turn off Democrats and independents than the faction of Republicans who already don't support her.

“The consequences would be more damaging to her support if she came out against gun control measures,” he told The Early. 

It would also mark a break with her voting record.

Murkowski has sided with the majority of her party on guns in the past. She opposed background check legislation written by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) in 2013 and again in 2015. (Mark Begich, the Democratic senator from Alaska at the time, also voted against the bill in 2013.) She was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in 2016 when she ran for reelection. 

  • Her website boasts that she “steadfastly opposed” the Manchin-Toomey measure and that she also “opposed the Feinstein gun ban amendment, opposed the Lautenberg amendment to restrict the size of magazines, and opposed all efforts to create a national gun registry” — referencing past gun control proposals in the Senate.

But Murkowski is also a different legislator than she once was and has developed a reputation for working across the aisle on issues big and small.

Are guns an issue where Alaskans will embrace a bipartisan approach that includes new restrictions, even modest ones?

Alaska has a different relationship with guns than other states.

The state has endured only two mass shootings: one in 1997 at a school in Bethel, when a student killed two people and injured two others, and one in Wasilla in 2020, when a teenager killed four members of his family, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

A.L. Lovecraft, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, noted that hunting is prevalent and a means for survival outside the cities. 

“It's a relatively normalized thing to know that people are going to have guns around,” she said. 

Pence walks a tightrope between owning Jan 6. role and courting Trump voters

Round 3: Mike Pence’s top aides will appear before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol today to discuss how they resisted Trump’s demands to “throw out the electoral college results,” per our colleagues Josh Dawsey, Isaac Arnsdorf and Jacqueline Alemany.

A committee aide told our colleagues that the hearing will be divided into four major parts: 

  • The emergence of the theory that Pence could unilaterally reject President Biden’s electors.
  • How the theory was rejected by Pence and his advisers.
  • The pressure campaign applied on Pence driven by the former president.
  • How that campaign directly contributed to the insurrection and endangered Pence’s life.

The guest list

  • Marc Short, Pence’s Chief of Staff: The hearing will likely include video clips from Short’s January deposition of him describing Pence’s demeanor on Jan. 6, per our colleagues.
  • Greg Jacob, Pence’s Lawyer: Jacob will appear before the panel today. He “spoke in his deposition about an Oval Office meeting between Pence, Trump and others on Jan. 4, 2021, in which attorney John Eastman outlined scenarios for denying Biden the presidency.”

The long road to 2024: The hearing, which coincides with the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Nashville – a customary stop for presidential hopefuls – could torpedo Pence’s White House aspirations, our colleagues write. … Though, he won’t appear at either event.  

  • “Pence’s decision to skip both moments highlights his challenge as he positions himself to take on Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. Advisers say the former vice president stands by his actions on Jan. 6 but doesn’t want to be known for attacking Trump like Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), who lost his primary on Tuesday after voting to impeach Trump, or Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who is leading the Jan. 6 committee’s most aggressive broadsides against the former president.”
  • Pence will instead spend the day in Ohio, “fundraising with Gov. Mike DeWine and Rep. Steve Chabot, and joining DeWine for a roundtable with an oil and gas industry group.”

While you wait: 

What we're watching

Will Senate negotiators reach an agreement on the text of the gun bill today? If they do, it would give the Senate time to vote on final passage by the end of next week, which is what most senators would like. If they don’t, it makes passing the bill before the July 4 recess that much harder because of the time-consuming, multi-step voting process.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on director of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives nominee Steve Dettelbach. If the committee vote is a tie, which it is expected to be, we will be watching if any Republicans vote to discharge his nomination on the Senate floor in the afternoon Thursday. All Democrats have come out in support of him, clearing the way for his confirmation.

Biden, meanwhile, will sign an ocean shipping bill today that the White House hopes will help combat inflation. A dozen Democratic lawmakers and one Republican — Rep. Dusty Johnson (S.D.) — are expected to be on hand for the signing, according to a White House official.

Poll Watch

Democrats’ dilemma: The U.S. economy may not be in a recession, but many Americans think it is already

From Post polling analyst Emily Guskin: Amid increasing inflation and rising interest rates, the economy looks bad to many Americans. How bad? A majority think the U.S. economy is already in a recession, according to a new poll.

But that's not the case.

Economists say a recession happens when there is “widespread decline in activity affecting output, income, industrial production and retail sales,” according to Post financial writer David J. Lynch, and that generally a recession occurs when there are two consecutive quarters with falling gross domestic product.

We're not there yet, at least officially.

The country’s economy grew by 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021 but shrunk by 1.5 percent in the first quarter of 2022. Whether that decline continued in the second quarter is an open question, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ June 29 report will be closely watched.

The Biden administration argues there are positive signs for the economy despite worries about inflation and Republican attacks on President Biden's record.

Layoffs are at record lows, job growth has exceeded expectations, and both consumer spending and business spending has recovered from the pandemic. But the economy still looks anemic to most Americans and that overall perception bodes poorly for Democrats — as the party in charge of the government — heading into the midterm elections

An Economist/YouGov poll taken this week found that 56 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is currently in an economic recession. About 2 in 10 each say that we are not in a recession (22 percent) or say they are unsure (22 percent). The poll asked a different group of respondents a question with more response options: a 43 percent plurality said we were in a recession, while 33 percent said the U.S. economy was “slowing down,” 14 percent said it was “stable” and only 10 percent said it was “growing.”

In the two-way question, a larger share of people with incomes under $50,000 (63 percent) said the U.S. economy is in recession than those with incomes of $100,000 or more (52 percent) or those in between (49 percent). And far more Republicans (70 percent), conservatives (74 percent) and Trump voters (79 percent) say the country is in a recession than Democrats (45 percent), liberals (47 percent) and Biden voters (36 percent). But a majority of independents (56 percent) and almost half of moderates (47 percent) say the U.S. is currently in a recession.

These perceptions are unlikely to get better if the country’s economy actually goes into recession. 

In the agencies

Speaking of inflation …

📈: “The Federal Reserve on Wednesday hiked interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point, its most aggressive move yet to try to control inflation as it squeezes the U.S. economy,” our colleagues Rachel Siegel and Abha Bhattarai report

  • “Worries about inflation are impinging on policy discussions over questions like whether to forgive student loans or remove Trump-era tariffs on China,” per Bloomberg’s Nancy Cook, Reade Pickert, Gregory Korte and Anna Wong. “Biden aides are loath to make any move that either contributes to inflation or hands the Republicans a talking point about the economy.”

The Media

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