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The Early 202

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

House Democrats are fighting for relevance

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. Vice President Harris is headed to Orlando today for Alpha Kappa Alpha's 70th annual Boulé, her sorority's governing body convention. Will you be there? Send tips and pics to Thanks for waking up with us.

In today's edition… Democrats keep testing positive for covid, imperiling their agenda… White House debates declaring abortion access a ‘health emergency… Donald Trump eyes a potential fall launch for 2024… which Senate Democratic office has the most diverse staff… but first:

On the Hill

The House is fighting for relevance

House Democrats forcefully pushed back against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's suggestion that they give up on the stalled bicameral negotiations with the Senate over the two chambers' versions of a massive microchips manufacturing bill and simply pass the Senate's version of the bill.

They weren't happy about it. 

“Eliminate the House, which the Senate would like to do, perhaps,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters on Wednesday in reference to McConnell's suggestion.

It's the latest — but far from the only — attempt by the senators to bigfoot the House in passing the upper chamber's legislation, and it's obviously frustrating House Democrats who are trying to move their own bills through a Congress that's nominally under full Democratic control.

It's not just the microchips bill. If Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) reach an agreement on a scaled-back Build Back Better plan, House Democrats will almost certainly need to swallow whatever they negotiate.

“It sounds like, you know, here we go again — the thing with the bipartisan infrastructure bill where we're just told this is the product, take it or leave it,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told The Early. 

Some House Democrats are trying to insert themselves in the negotiations by offering up suggestion of what they want to see in the bill. 

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), a moderate, indicated on Thursday that she doesn't want to see tax increases in the reconciliation bill. She'd also like senators to raise the state and local tax deduction cap, which hurt well-off taxpayers in her district when Republicans imposed it in 2017 to help pay for their tax package.

But those gripes are unlikely to impact negotiations with Manchin, who single-handedly derailed the first version of Build Back Better in December. Schumer is desperately trying to get the legislation back on track before potential Republican gains in the midterms.

The Senate is often where legislation that passes the House goes to die, but in an evenly divided Senate, that dynamic has been reinforced.

The House has been hugely successful in passing legislation, even with an incredibly tight Democratic majority. Some of those bills were never going anywhere in the Senate, including expanding background checks for gun purchases, legislation codifying Roe v. Wade, paycheck equity and even a bill to crack down on gasoline price gouging. 

When the House passes legislation, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told The Early, “I assume we've entered a black hole and we get the Webb telescope up to see what I can find.” 

Most humbling for House Democrats, though, might be the legislation that bipartisan groups of senators have hammered out and forced the House to accept. Manchin, for instance, refused to sign onto Democrats’ big ethics and voting rights bill last year, instead negotiating his own, narrower bill with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). It failed in the Senate.

The Senate ignored the House gun-control package last month in favor of a bill negotiated by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.). And the House ultimately passed the Senate's painstakingly negotiated infrastructure, to the fury of progressives who had held up the bill in an attempt to force the Senate to advance the Build Back Better package first.

Hoyer likened the current situation with the microchips bill — known as the United States Innovation and Competition Act, or USICA — to the recent debate over gun control, saying the House didn't try to force its background checks bill down the Senate's throats, our colleague Tony Romm reports.

With USICA, he said, “their expectation is we will do it.”

Speaking of USICA and Build Back Better…

On microchips negotiations:

After a classified Senate briefing on Wednesday by administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, senators say they're open to breaking off the $52 billion microchip funding portion from the broader USICA bill and passing it alone.

“I think there are votes there for chips component,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told reporters after the briefing.

While the House has been pushing back fiercely against taking the Senate version of the bill (see above), House Democratic leadership has been silent passing on microchips-only measure. If such a gambit loses Democratic votes in the House, the question will be whether the bill can pick up enough House Republicans to overcome Democratic defections. 

Raimondo is offering a similar national security briefing to House members Thursday afternoon. 

On Build Back Better negotiations:

Inflation is once again challenging the Democrats' chances to reach agreement on the scaled-back Build Back Better plan. 

Manchin, who killed the previous, much larger version of Build Back Better, in part, over concerns that government spending would lead to more inflation, reiterated those concerns Wednesday, saying, “We cannot inflame” inflation because of the “hardship” on people.

The pessimism comes just two days after optimism was the highest among Democratic leadership and lobbyists in more than six months on a path to passage. The inflation news is feeding into rank-and-file Democrats' skepticism that an agreement would ever be reached with Manchin. 

“I'll believe the Loch Ness Monster when I see the Loch Ness Monster pop their head out of the water, “ Pocan told The Early. ”Right now, I don't see that head popping out of the water.”

Senate staff diversity climbs

Fresh data on Senate Democratic staff diversity shows that this is the most diverse year since the annual survey began in 2017. 

The data is a “snapshot” of Senate Democratic office staff demographics as of June 30, 2022, and breaks down the percentage of aides in each office by ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. Republicans don't conduct similar surveys. 

Schumer began the survey, conducted by self-reporting, when he became leader.

“Senate Democrats are committed to ensuring every citizen feels represented in our democracy and we understand this starts in our own offices,” Schumer said in a statement to The Early. “And while we're glad that this year we have the highest percentage of staff identifying as people of color, we know much more needs to be done to increase diversity in the halls of Congress.”

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies quickly put this information into charts. The Senate Democrats with the most diverse staffs are: 

  • Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) (70 percent identifying as people of color)
  • Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) (69 percent people of color)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) (67 percent people of color)

The Senate Democrats with the least diverse staffs: 

  • Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) (10 percent people of color)
  • Sen. Angus King (I-Maine.) (10 percent people of color)
  • Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) (10 percent people of color)

The Indian Affairs Committee's Democratic staff, chaired by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), is the most diverse of any Democratic committee or personal office staff, with 88 percent people of color. The Judiciary Committee is No. 2., with 58 percent of its Democratic staffers identifying as people of color.

Democrats keep testing positive for covid, imperiling their agenda

‘Victims of their own diligence’: “In recent months, the members of Congress who have publicly reported coronavirus cases have been overwhelmingly Democratic — including the party’s two top leaders on Capitol Hill — posing a big and ironic problem for the majority party,” per our colleague Mike DeBonis.

  • “By testing more frequently than their Republican colleagues, Democrats are facing the possibility that their strict adherence to public health protocols could backfire as they pursue the passage of major domestic policy legislation through the 50-50 Senate in the coming weeks.”
  • “For Republicans, meanwhile, testing practices appear to be spottier, and largely depend on the whims and schedules of individual lawmakers,” DeBonis writes. “Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he has not taken a coronavirus test since January 2021, when one was required to attend Biden’s inauguration. He said he has not experienced any symptoms since the pandemic began, and ‘I never took a test out of curiosity.’”

At the White House

White House debates declaring abortion access a ‘health emergency’

Pushing his executive authority to the limit: “White House officials are actively debating whether to formally declare abortion access a public health emergency, pitting the belief of many Biden advisers that such a move would be counterproductive against the overwhelming political pressure to show they are fighting hard for abortion rights,” our colleagues Yasmeen Abutaleb and Ashley Parker report.

  • “Several top Biden aides have expressed internal reservations about declaring an emergency, saying it would give the administration little money and few new powers. And outside legal experts advising the administration have warned that an emergency declaration would face inevitable legal challenges, potentially giving conservative judges an opportunity to cut back on the administration’s emergency authority.”
  • “Chief of staff Ron Klain and senior adviser Anita Dunn are among those who do not see a compelling argument for the move, but Klain has told others he would be open to it if he can be persuaded it would allow the administration to do more.”

The campaign

Donald Trump looks to fall launch for 2024, potentially upending midterms

He’s coming: Former president Donald Trump is eyeing September to kick off his reelection campaign, two Trump advisers told our colleagues Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey. “One confidant put the odds at ‘70-30 he announces before the midterms.’ And others said he may still decide to announce sooner than September.”

  • “Trump has begun talking with advisers about who should run a campaign, and his team has instructed others to have an online apparatus ready for a campaign should he announce soon,” two people familiar with the matter told our colleagues. “He also has begun meeting with top donors to talk about the 2024 race.”

What we're watching

Before Biden heads to Saudi Arabia Friday, he will hold the final news conference of his polarizing trip with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. He’s not expected to hold one in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, following a bilateral meeting with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, per White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

That means Thursday could be the last chance reporters have to press Biden about the upcoming sit-down. We expect a barrage of questions surrounding oil, human rights and Jamal Khashoggi. How will he answer?

The Media

Early reeeads 🐣


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