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The Early 202

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

Search of Mar-a-Lago exposes GOP House, Senate leadership divide

The Early 202

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

correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Democrat Jeff Ettinger was leading Republican Brad Finstad in a special election 92 percent to 76 percent. Brad Finstad was leading Jeff Ettinger 57 percent to 41 percent at the time of publishing. The article has been corrected.

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In today's editionTensions rise among House Democrats over public safety bills … Primary results from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Vermont … How Sen. Schumer landed Democrats a streak of wins … but first …

On the Hill

Republicans run to Trump's defense — except for one really important one

The FBI search of Mar-a-Lago on Monday has only further exposed the divide in Republican congressional leadership over Donald Trump, as House leaders rushed to the former president's defense while their Senate counterparts waited a day to release restrained statements saying the Justice Department should be more transparent.

Nowhere is this divide more apparent than between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calf.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

More than 24 hours after the news of the search broke, McConnell released a statement saying the “country deserves a thorough and immediate explanation” and called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to “do so immediately.” He made no reference to Trump, but simply “the events of Monday.” Presumably he meant the search of Mar-a-Lago and not Kanye West trolling Pete Davidson over his breakup with Kim Kardashian.

The Senate minority leader's response was a far cry from McCarthy's aggressive statement a day earlier, charging the Justice Department had “reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization” and vowing investigations should Republicans take control of the House next year.

  • McConnell's two sentence statement didn't call the search unprecedented or a political attack as many Republicans have done. It landed in reporters' inboxes hours after McConnell was asked about the search at a stop while touring damage from recent floods in his home state and responded by saying he was there “to talk about the flood and recovery from the flood.”

McConnell's No. 2, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), issued a statement similar to McConnell's late Tuesday. Trump unsuccessfully sought to recruit a serious primary challenger to defeat Thune this year. The No. 3 in Senate Republican leadership, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), went a little further in calling the search “unprecedented,” but his statement was also muted compared to the rhetoric of many in the party.

Democratic leaders have mostly stayed quiet, saying they only know what they've read or seen in the news.

McConnell and Trump: Not a love story

McConnell's reticence is on brand. He has long been over Trump. The last time they spoke was Dec. 15, 2020, the day after the states Biden won certified their election results, cementing Trump's defeat. He does not mention Trump unprompted and doesn't use his name when asked. He has not disparaged the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and instead said he's interested to see what they find. McConnell has said, however, that he would support Trump if he were the party's nominee in 2024.

McCarthy has taken a completely different tack. Despite satisfaction with Trump among Republicans at an all-time low post Jan. 6, 2021, he visited the former president at Mar-a-Lago that month and a photo of the two smiling was publicly released. The move has been viewed as a signal to any wary Republicans that Trump was still an accepted part of the party.

  • At a regular House GOP conference call Tuesday morning, House Judiciary Ranking Member Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Michael R. Turner (Ohio) briefly spoke about the developments, calling for answers from the Justice Department about the search, two sources familiar with the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private call, told The Early.

Turner on Tuesday sent a letter to the FBI asking for an explanation and also sent one to the National Archives asking the agency to turn over to the Intel committee documents and communication between the National Archives, the FBI and DOJ by August 24. Turner also asked for the preservation of such records on both personal and government accounts. As the ranking minority member of the committee he doesn't much leverage, but given the expectation that Republicans are likely to win the House in the midterms the agencies may give his request more weight.

Many Republicans also expressed outrage Tuesday after Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said the FBI had seized his phone.

As a recent string of primary defeats have shown, crossing Trump is a dangerous thing to do if you're a Republican, which helps explain why so many members were quick to condemn the search. And our colleagues Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman, Jacqueline Alemany and Spencer S. Hsu report that Trump is pleased with what he's hearing.

“One adviser who spoke to Trump after the search said the former president sounded buoyed by the development, bragging about how many Republicans were supporting him publicly, and said Trump thought the search would help him politically in the end,” they write.

More details emerge

Amid the political firestorm are the important questions of why the FBI conducted the raid, what the agents were looking for and what they found. So far, there aren't many answers. The FBI and DOJ aren't talking. But Devlin, Josh, Roz, Jackie and Spencer dug up a few answers.

  • They report that officials “became suspicious that when Trump gave back items to the National Archives about seven months ago, either the former president or people close to him held on to key records — despite a Justice Department Investigation into the handling of 15 boxes of material sent to the former president’s private club and residence in the waning days of his administration.”

“Some officials also came to suspect Trump’s representatives were not truthful at times, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation,” they report.

Meanwhile … Congressional Democrats are one big step closer to getting Trump's tax returns

With all of the other investigations swirling around Trump and his allies, we nearly forgot about another one until the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that Trump has to turn over his tax returns — a culmination of a years-long attempt to gain access to Trump's records.

When will the committee get those returns? Trump has one week to appeal, but he has now lost in court twice. Still, if he can drag it out in court further and Republicans win the midterms he may not have to hand them over after all.

Democrats maintain Congress needs access to the tax returns to assess if legislation requiring presidential tax returns to be released is necessary. In recent history — until Trump — presidents, as well as candidates, released their returns voluntarily.

Tensions rise among House Democrats over public safety bills

A group of moderate House Democrats are becoming increasingly frustrated with progressives who are objecting to moving forward on public safety bills to boost police departments.

During a conference call Tuesday evening, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, spoke in great detail about the physical and deadly threats she has been receiving, according to multiple sources familiar with her remarks. She encouraged her colleagues to take advantage of increased personal safety funding granted to lawmakers.

  • A group of moderate lawmakers on the call, who have been pushing for a vote bills that would increase funding to hire more police, began texting each other to say it's “ironic” she is calling on increased security for lawmakers while refusing to allow bills that would bolster police departments to receive a vote, two lawmakers told The Early.

“Jayapal should absolutely have increased security, but so should our communities,” said one lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private call.

Democratic leadership has no plans to put the bills on the floor when the House returns Friday to vote on the Inflation Reduction Act because a group of progressives are withholding support on a grant program to hire additional police officers authored by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and a second measure from Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) to provide grants to police departments with less than 200 officers. The progressives want the bills to include policies they say will ensure police accountability.

“Progressives understand how important the issue of public safety is for our communities and our colleagues. That's why the CPC spent months researching and putting together a slate of public safety bills that would have unified support across the Democratic Caucus,” Jayapal said in a statement sent to The Early.

The campaign

Trump's pick prevails in Wisconsin primary

Tim Michels, a wealthy construction executive who won Trump’s endorsement, won the Republican primary to challenge Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat facing a tough reelection fight.

Michels defeated former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch 47 percent to 43 percent.

The governor’s race was a proxy battle between Trump and his former vice president, Mike Pence, who endorsed Kleefisch. It’s the second such matchup in two weeks: Trump’s candidate, Kari Lake, narrowly defeated Pence’s pick, Karrin Taylor Robson, last week in the Republican primary for Arizona governor. Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker also endorsed Kleefisch.

Another Trump-backed candidate, Adam Steen, fared worse.

Robin Vos, Wisconsin’s Republican state Assembly speaker, narrowly survived a primary challenge from Steen, winning 51 percent to 49 percent.

Trump endorsed Steen last week after months of pressuring Vos to overturn the 2020 election results in Wisconsin, which Vos said he’s told Trump is impossible. Steen ran on “on decertifying the 2020 results, banning voting machines and ending most early and mail voting,” as our colleague Patrick Marley reported. (He also called for banning contraception.)

Here are a few more notable election results:

  • Minnesota’s 1st District: Republican Brad Finstad defeated Democrat Jeff Ettinger in a special election to the fill the seat of the late Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died in February. The race is one of four special elections this month that could provide a better sense of how the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has induced voters to turn out for Democrats. Trump carried the southern Minnesota district by about 10 points in 2020.
  • Vermont’s At-Large District: State Sen. Becca Balint defeated Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the Democratic primary to fill the seat of Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, who’s running for Senate. Balint won the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while Gray was backed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). She’s all but certain to become the first female member of Congress from Vermont — the only state that’s never elected a woman.
  • Minnesota’s 4th District: Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar barely fought off a primary challenger, Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis City Council member who won the endorsement of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Samuels won 48 percent of the vote, coming much closer to defeating Omar, a member of the progressive “Squad,” that another primary challenger did two years ago.
  • Wisconsin’s 3rd District: State Sen. Brad Pfaff is leading the Democratic primary to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Ron Kind in this swing district that went for Trump in 2020. He would face Republican Derrick Van Orden, who came close to beating Kind in 2020 and later showed up at Trump’s rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (He’s said he didn’t enter the Capitol.)

On the Hill

How Schumer helped Democrats land a streak of wins

How the ‘legislative wizard’ got it done: “Now in his sixth year leading Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer is done trying to live up to comparisons to the original ‘master of the Senate,’ Lyndon Baines Johnson, who mythologically bent Congress’s upper chamber to his will as majority leader in the 1950s and continued to do so later as president,” our colleague Paul Kane writes.

  • “Instead, Schumer is beginning to carve out his own reputation as the courteous and inquisitive majority leader who does not win by punishing wayward Democrats, but instead serves as the cordial collaborator who always keeps his flip phone nearby to start a new discussion toward sealing the deal.”

More on that later. As Biden kicks off his victory lap following a string of legislative victories, he has to compete for the public’s attention with former president Donald Trump. “It’s becoming a striking feature of the Biden presidency that the former president is regularly intruding to steal the public spotlight, less because of his current actions than the aftershocks of his presidency,” our colleague Matt Viser writes. “No president in memory has had to contend with a predecessor who falsely claims he won the last election and hints broadly that he will run again, while land mines from his time in office continue to erupt.”

The Media

Early reeeads

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What happens when the greatest of all time retires? It’s anyone’s game now.

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

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