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The Early 202

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

Inside Chris Christie's antiabortion blitz

The Early 202

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

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In today's edition …  Schumer doles out cash to Democrats in tight contests … Inflation numbers could set tone for Inflation Reduction Act celebration … GOP bill threatens energy permitting changes Democrats want to pass this year … A record number of Black candidates for higher offices aim to reshape U.S. politics … but first …

The campaign

Chris Christie and the antiabortion movement

In the months before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the prominent antiabortion leader Marjorie Dannenfelser started meeting with Republican governors to talk through how the aftermath of the court’s decision might play out.

She was joined in many of those meetings by an unlikely ally: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie was elected twice as a Republican in one of the country’s most liberal states, and he built his 2016 presidential campaign around courting moderate Republican voters in states like New Hampshire. 

But he’s also opposed abortion rights for decades, and he’s leaning into his antiabortion stance as he considers running for the White House again in 2024. His work with a leading antiabortion group could help Christie score points with social conservatives, who play a major role in Republican primary politics. Christie called Dannenfelser during an interview with Axios' Alayna Treene in June, but the extent of their work together hasn't been previously reported.

  • “He's just been a fantastic communicator, and a great mind in terms of the politics of this, in conversation with governors across the country — but especially with governors who are in purple-y type states,” Dannenfelser, the head of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told the Early. “He was in a deep-blue state as a pro-life governor, vetoed Planned Parenthood funding every single time, and remained in office.”

The politics of abortion have become more difficult than many Republicans anticipated after Roe was overturned. There is now an intraparty battle across the country over how far to restrict abortion access, with divisions over whether to include exceptions for rape and incest.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dannenfelser today will debut a new version of Graham's pain-capable abortion bill at a news conference. The expectation is that the bill would impose a federal 15-week limit on abortions, but Graham’s staff did not respond to a request for comment. The legislation is sure to be attacked by Democrats at a time when many Republicans are saying the issue should be left up to individual states rather than the federal government amid evidence the Supreme Court decision is hurting them with voters.

Once a governor, always a governor

Christie and Dannenfelser have known each for at least a decade. They decided to team up after talking at the Republican Governors Association meeting last summer, according to Christie.

The pair spoke with at least eight Republican governors across the country in the months before the court struck down Roe to help prepare states to defend antiabortion laws already on the books, answer questions and discuss the impact of a potential ruling overturning the nearly half-century-old constitutional right to an abortion. Dannenfelser has spoken with many more governors on her own — at least 22 in total.

In an interview with our colleague Rachel Roubein last month, Christie said he hadn't spoken with governors about abortion recently, but didn't rule out getting involved in those discussions again. 

Christie is considering another presidential campaign, he said, and plans to make a decision later this year or early next year. But he said his meetings with governors had nothing to do with his political future.

  • “Whether I was thinking about running for president or not, I would still be helping my fellow governors,” Christie said, adding that he’s continued to raise money and campaign for Republican governors since leaving office.

Still, some Christie critics see his efforts as motivated by an interest in running again.

“I see him doing whatever he can to maintain some kind of national presence,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), who clashed with Christie over Planned Parenthood funding while he was governor, said in an interview. “Because in his delusional mind, he thinks he’s presidential.”

Shifting views

Christie hasn’t always opposed abortion.

He’s said his position shifted around 1995 after he heard the heartbeat of his second child at a prenatal appointment during his wife’s first trimester. When he ran for governor, he eschewed advice to embrace abortion rights as former Republican Govs. Thomas Kean Sr. and Christine Todd Whitman had.

  • “We’d had a number of pro-life Republicans run for the U.S. Senate and lose, so there was the thought that you can’t win unless you’re pro-choice,” said Mike DuHaime, who ran Christie’s 2009 campaign. “He basically said, ‘Well, we’ll find out.’”

His vetoes of $7.5 million in state funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics as governor won him acclaim from New Jersey Right to Life and backlash from abortion providers.

In the states

Republicans in some of the states in which the Christie and Dannenfelser have talked to governors have restricted abortion further, with laws already on the books springing into effect once Roe was overturned.

The pair spoke with Govs. Greg Gianforte of Montana, Spencer Cox of Utah, Mark Gordon of Wyoming, Mike Parson of Missouri, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota, Brad Little of Idaho and Eric Holcomb of Indiana, according to SBA Pro-Life America. 

Christie told Rachel that he and Dannenfelser weren't advocating for a particular gestational limit on the procedure. Dannenfelser has repeatedly said she’s helping states be “as ambitious as they can be.”

  • Some of Christie and Dannenfelser’s conversations with governors included discussions of what states could do to help women who might have gotten an abortion before Republicans outlawed the procedure. “How do we address the needs of the women in your state and help them out of the hole that they're in so that maybe they don't get back there again?” as Dannenfelser put it in an interview in the days after the Dobbs decision.

But many state legislatures have been out of session since the ruling overturning Roe, meaning they haven’t passed new laws bolstering state support for women and children since the Supreme Court’s ruling. And such laws could be a hard sell, given how much policies such as paid family leave could cost state governments. Noem recently called for the South Dakota legislature to create a paid family leave policy. Her conversation with Dannenfelser led in part to Noem’s renewed focus on paid family leave, according to her office.

In Utah, Christie and Dannenfelser “encouraged the governor to focus on helping vulnerable women and children,” according to Cox’s office. A spokesperson said the governor recently launched a new Office of Families, which could come up with new policy initiatives, but said specifics weren’t yet available.

Our colleague Rachel Roubein teamed up with us for this item. Sign up for the Health 202 here.

The campaign

Schumer doles out cash to Democrats in tight contests

As the final primary contests wrap on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is dishing out $15 million from his Friends of Schumer campaign account to Senate candidates and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

Schumer's cash haul is his biggest transfer yet, an aide familiar with the action said. It's also the first election where he's trying to maintain his spot as majority leader. 

Schumer will give $5 million to the DSCC and a million to the victory funds of Sens. Raphael G. Warnock (Ga.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.). He'll also send $1 million each to Democratic candidates Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Cheri Beasley in North Carolina, Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio, and Rep. Val Demings in Florida.

“Keeping and growing the Democratic majority in the Senate is my top priority,” Schumer said in a statement. 

The money can be used for get out the vote efforts and mailed advertising. 

The transfer of funds, while helpful, is also a show of financial strength of Democrats this cycle compared to many of their Republican opponents and the National Republican Senatorial Committee

Meanwhile, the 2022 primaries conclude in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Delaware today “as they began in the spring — with voters in Republican races choosing between far-right, election-denying candidates and more moderate rivals, and party leaders divided in contests factoring into the battle for control of Congress,” our colleagues Colby Itkowitz and David Weigel report.

  • New Hampshire: The Republican primary for U.S. Senate pits retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc – who has echoed Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen – against state Senate President Chuck Morse. Morse is backed by Gov. Chris Sununu (R), “whose family is an institution in New Hampshire politics.”
  • Rhode Island: “An open seat in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin is seen as one of Republicans’ most promising chances to flip a seat in their endeavor to win back House majority.”

At the White House

Inflation numbers could set tone for Inflation Reduction Act celebration

Nearly a month after President Biden signed Democrats' climate, health care and tax bill into law — and more than a year after lawmakers started the tortuous process of trying to pass the legislation — the administration will mark the occasion with a bash at the White House, with thousands expected to attend.

With the midterms less than two months away, Biden is expected to use the occasion to hammer Republicans for opposing the bill and blocking provisions that would cap the price of insulin at $35 for people with private insurance.

The celebration of the law this afternoon — known as the Inflation Reduction Act, although economists say that its impact on inflation will be small — will come hours after the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning makes public Consumer Price Index inflation data for August. Higher-than-expected inflation could darken the mood at the White House, while a low number could brighten it.

On the Hill

GOP bill threatens energy permitting changes Democrats want to pass this year

Senate Republicans sent a strong message to Senate Democrats Monday night on end of year business when Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. V.) released a Republican plan to overhaul the permitting process for energy projects. 

Capito and 38 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), released their permitting bill as Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. V.) and Schumer have been working to garner enough support to pass Manchin's permitting proposal as part of a short-term government funding bill to be voted on before Sept. 30. 

“Republicans are unified in working to deliver needed permitting reform,” Capito said in a statement. 

The GOP version sets up a clash over the issue. Permitting reform has long been a priority for Republicans but McConnell said last week he wants the government funding bill to be “as clean as possible,” which means with few policy riders. 

But 39 Republican votes does not equal 60, which is likely the amount needed for it to pass. 

A Democratic aide argued that Capito and fellow Republicans are sabotaging the small window to pass permitting legislation, which would help advance the West Virginia Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project estimated to bring millions of dollars to the state and that both Manchin and Capito support.

Manchin spoke with Capito several times on Monday about her proposal, said a person familiar with the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private conversations. 

Manchin is also expected to speak to Democrats at their weekly caucus lunch Tuesday about permitting. 

The campaign

A record number of Black candidates for higher offices aim to reshape U.S. politics

A Black wave: “A record number of Black men and women are running for U.S. Senate and governor this fall, with the potential to increase diversity in the nation’s top elected offices, which are still overwhelmingly held by White men,” our colleague Tim Craig reports. 

  • “Since Reconstruction, voters have elected just seven Black senators and two Black governors. This year, 16 Black candidates — 13 Democrats and three Republicans — are major party nominees, from Florida and across the Deep South to traditional Midwestern battlegrounds like Wisconsin.”
  • “While many of them face tough odds, some have posted strong poll numbers and fundraising totals, waging credible campaigns that challenge long-held attitudes about whether Black candidates can be competitive in statewide races.”
  • “The unprecedented number Black contenders for higher office comes at a time of deep racial and cultural fissures in America. And as the fall campaign heats up, some of the candidates are bracing for racially-tinged attacks on their policies and character, highlighting their concern that African Americans still must run near-perfect campaigns to be successful.”

The Media

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