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The Early 202

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

The campaign to define the IRA for voters has begun

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. President Biden is on vacation in South Carolina. But don't worry readers, we're not! Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today's edition …  The Post's Michael Scherer, Ashley Parker and Tyler Pager report that historians have privately warned Biden that America’s democracy is teetering … Post polling gurus Scott Clement and Emily Guskin explain how a new poll shows why supporting Trump's false claims about the election is a winning message in GOP primaries … Trump pleads the Fifth in deposition for New York AG probe … but first …

⛽: “The national average for a gallon of gas has fallen below $4 for the first time since early March, a key psychological threshold for cash-strapped Americans even as inflation remains elevated,” our colleague Aaron Gregg reports. “The U.S. average dropped 2 cents overnight to $3.99, AAA reported Thursday, a 20 percent pullback from its June peak above $5.”

The campaign

Democrats’ economic package is not yet law, but the campaign to define it has begun

House Democrats are flying back to Washington today so they can vote Friday on the $740 billion climate, health care and tax bill that passed the Senate Sunday.

When it clears the House — which is expected — it will give President Biden another major bill to sign into law and Democrats an infusion of new issues to campaign on ahead of the midterm elections: renewable energy tax credits designed to combat climate change, subsidies for health care insurance provided by Obamacare and higher corporate taxes. 

But on the campaign trail, Democrats are most likely to boast about a new policy aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs. 

Of all the elements in the bill, Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) plans to highlight the $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for seniors, which he helped to write. 

  • “I heard horrible stories from constituents who told me they paid over $500 a month for medicine. With this provision, no senior in America will need to pay over $166 a month,” Kim told The Early. “That's real help.”

Lowering prescription drug costs has been a top campaign issue for Democrats for decades, but they never delivered. That didn't stop several in the party from running on it again earlier this year, hoping this time would be different.

Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), for example, has been campaigning on drug prices for months. After Biden signs the bill into law, as early as next week, he'll be able to say that Democrats actually did something to lower drug costs, including insulin for the elderly.

“There’s a very important ‘promises made, promises kept’ message here that really plays into the understandable cynicism the public has had over time about progress in this area,” said Chris Jennings, a longtime Democratic health policy consultant who worked in the White House during the Clinton and Obama years, told our colleague Rachel Roubein. (Subscribe to Rachel's daily health care newsletter, the Health 202.)

An attack message, too

Not only can Democrats tout their achievements, they can also argue that Republicans blocked them from going further. Senate Republicans stripped provisions that would force private insurers to cap the cost of insulin because the Senate parliamentarian ruled that they didn't comply with the fast-track reconciliation rules, leaving only Medicare patients' insulin costs limited.

“Democrats are putting Americans' interest forward and Republicans are standing against it at every turn,” said Nora Keefe, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

Michael Podhorzer, a former political director of the AFL-CIO labor union, said the bill's passage is one more inflection point against Republicans. 

“While you've been defending a president who sent an armed mob to the Capitol to overturn an election he knew he had lost and the Supreme Court that took away abortion rights, we were addressing voters' greatest concerns,” he said.

Our colleague Tony Romm also has a look at Democrats retooled message for voters.

Inflation Reduction Act or the ‘new Build Back Better?’

Republicans argue Democrats are going to have a far harder time winning over voters than their newfound optimism suggests.

They say the bill — known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — is full of needless spending and will drive up taxes and inflation, which remains a top concern for voters.

One Nation, an outside political group allied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), released a $3.8 million ad buy this week urging Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) to vote against the bill on Friday. Ryan is running for Ohio's open Senate seat. 

  • “Tell Congressman Ryan to stop voting for reckless spending and start fighting inflation,” the narrator says in the ad. One Nation has hit on the theme in ad buys in New Hampshire, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia as well — the states with the most competitive Senate races.

Little nonpartisan polling on the Democrats' bill has been conducted. An Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday found that 42 percent of Americans thought the “$369 billion climate and energy bill” would increase inflation; 13 percent said it would decrease inflation. 

A poll conducted by the conservative American Action Network, which works to elect Republicans to the House, tested how to frame the party's messaging.

The group polled voters in three competitive districts — those represented by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) — and described the bill not as the Inflation Reduction Act but as the “new Build Back Better.”

It took aim at expected targets such as too much spending and making inflation worse. But they also looked at how to best attack the climate provisions.

Describing the tax credits for electric vehicles as a “tax break for wealthy families to buy luxury electric cars and other liberal environmental policies” won the support of 61 percent of the voters in Slotkin's district, 55 percent of them in Maloney's district and 50 percent of voters in Cuellar's district, according to the poll.

“The last thing voters want during an economic recession and record-high inflation is billions more in government spending to fund liberal pet projects, tax hikes, and army of IRS agents,” Michael McAdams, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said. 

Eye on moderate Democrats

One remaining question for Democrats is whether the members facing the toughest reelection battles will vote for the bill or determine they're better off distancing themselves from the party's agenda. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can only spare a few votes.)

Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), for instance, boasted in a new campaign ad this week that he voted against the $2 trillion climate, health care and child care bill that House passed in November. “I was the only Democrat to vote against trillions of dollars of President Biden’s agenda because I knew it would make inflation worse,” Golden says in the ad.

  • Golden praised the prescription drug and deficit reduction provisions in the IRA last week but told the Bangor Daily News he hadn’t decided whether he would vote for the measure. His campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), a onetime DCCC chairman who now heads Cornell’s Institute of Politics and Global Affairs, said one of the strengths of the bill is that Democrats could use it to appeal to the Democratic base and independent voters alike.

“They can excite the base by touching on the historic investments in climate reduction; and speak to swing voters by hitting kitchen table themes like lowering prescription drug costs,” Israel wrote in an email to the Early. “Having said that, a good message is sharply tailored to an individual media market. So my advice is, be surgical.” 

At the White House

Historians privately warn Biden that America’s democracy is teetering

⚠️: Biden met privately with historians for nearly two hours last week “who raised alarms about the dire condition of democracy at home and abroad,” our colleagues Michael Scherer, Ashley Parker and Tyler Pager report. The Aug. 4 gathering follows a series of private White House meetings designed to help Biden tackle the crises facing his presidency. 

  • “Comparisons were made to the years before the 1860 election when Abraham Lincoln warned that a ‘house divided against itself cannot stand’ and the lead-up to the 1940 election, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt battled rising domestic sympathy for European fascism and resistance to the United States joining World War II.”
  • “They included Biden’s occasional speechwriter Jon Meacham, journalist Anne Applebaum, Princeton professor Sean Wilentz, University of Virginia historian Allida Black and presidential historian Michael Beschloss. White House senior adviser Anita Dunn and head speechwriter Vinay Reddy also sat at the table.”

Poll Watch

Why election denial is looming so large in Republican primaries

From Post polling director Scott Clement and Post polling analyst Emily Guskin: At least one-third of Republican primary candidates for House and Senate seats have embraced former president Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, with many winning their party’s nomination. While polls have long shown most Republicans do not think Biden was legitimately elected, a poll released Tuesday highlights why such views have become key in appealing to Republican voters this year.

The Pew Research Center poll found 51 percent of Republicans overall said they like political leaders who assert that Trump is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, while 17 percent said they dislike them and 31 percent said they like neither. But among people who call themselves “strong” Republicans — the vast majority of Republicans — more are likely to express positive views of political leaders who said that Trump won in 2020.

About 6 in 10 strong Republicans have positive views of leaders who say Trump won in 2020 (59 percent), while just 11 percent said they dislike such claims. That compares to 31 percent of “not strong” Republicans who like leaders that deny the election, with a similar 33 percent saying they dislike such leaders. Such claims are less popular still among independents who lean Republican (24 percent), with 33 percent saying they dislike such leaders.

Strong Republicans make up 17 percent of U.S. adults in Pew’s survey, but they account for about 4 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. And they’re more likely to vote in primaries: according to the 2016 American National Election Studies survey, 61 percent of strong Republicans said they voted in their state’s primary or caucus compared to 34 percent of not as strong Republicans and 37 percent of independents who lean Republican.

Put simply, the group of Republicans most attracted to election deniers is also the group most likely to vote in primaries.

It’s unclear how these attitudes will affect the 2024 presidential nomination contest. But saying the 2020 election was stolen has already boosted many candidates to victory in Republican primaries this year. 

From the courts

Trump pleads the Fifth in deposition for New York AG probe

Trump’s week from hell: Trump spent the middle of a tumultuous week invoking his Fifth Amendment right “more than 400 times” in a deposition with New York Attorney General Letitia James, our colleagues Shayna Jacobs, Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett report. “Trump stated his name, formally declared his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, and from then on replied to many questions with two words: ‘Same answer.’”

The hits keep coming: “Less than two years after leaving office, Trump faces legal jeopardy from multiple directions, with criminal probes into his possible withholding of classified documents and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results; James’s civil probe; and congressional inquiries into his taxes and his conduct related to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot,” our Post colleagues write.

  • And the tables keep turning: “Throughout his four years in the White House, Trump tried to turn the nation’s law enforcement apparatus into an instrument of political power to carry out his wishes,” the New York Times’s Peter Baker writes. “Now as the FBI under Christopher A. Wray has executed an unprecedented search warrant at the former president’s Florida home, Trump is accusing the nation’s justice system of being exactly what he tried to turn it into: a political weapon for a president, just not for him.”

The Media

Early reeeads

Viral

Tall, dark and MAGA: Ryann McEnany, sister of former Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, kicked off the marketing for conservative dating app “The Right Stuff” on Wednesday. The app, co-founded by former Trump staffers John McEntee and Daniel Huff, hopes to get conservatives in “the right dating pool, with people who share the same values and beliefs.”

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

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