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The Early 202

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

Republicans struggle over what it means to be ‘pro-life’ post Dobbs

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. It's GAME DAY. The annual Congressional Women's Softball Game is tonight. Women members of the press, including one of your co-authors (it's not Theo), hit the field against women members of Congress. Team captains Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) join Leigh Ann on Washington Post Live today at 4:30 to talk about the game and the Congress. Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today's edition …  Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) will run for House Republican conference chair in the next Congress … Don Bolduc narrowly leads in New Hampshire, and Karoline Leavitt defeats Matt MowersDavid Nakamura reports the Biden administration is launching more federal hate-crimes investigations, raising questions from some about which cases are picked … but first …

On the Hill

In a post Dobbs world, Republicans struggle over what it means to be ‘pro-life’

In the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, antiabortion candidates and lawmakers have struggled to find agreement on what it now means to be “pro-life.” 

Immediately after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health decision, many Republicans celebrated and touted their antiabortion credentials, pushing aggressive bans. But as evidence grew that the ruling was costing them politically, particularly with women voters, many have tried to soften their views by scrubbing their websites of past hardline stances or amending their positions on when abortion should be made illegal — all while maintaining their “pro-life” identification.

The whiplash has left the party without a clear-cut message on antiabortion policy. 

Enter Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

On Tuesday, Graham introduced legislation that would establish a federal ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, at a time when many of his colleagues are trying to avoid the issue ahead of the midterms.

  • "What I’m trying to tell my colleagues is that there is a consensus view by the most prominent pro-life groups in America that this is where America should be on the federal government," Graham told reporters.

But consensus wasn't found among his Senate GOP colleagues who seemed none too pleased that Graham decided to introduce his bill on a day when they wanted to highlight another troubling inflation report for Democrats. Republican senators rejected Graham's argument and insisted there is no consensus on abortion and shielded themselves from responsibility.

“I think every Republican senator running this year in these contested races has an answer as to how they feel about the issue. And it may be different in different states, so I leave it up to our candidates who are quite capable of handling this issue to determine for them what their response is," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters three hours after Graham unveiled his bill.

Just last year, though, before Roe was overturned, Republicans were eager to sponsor a national standard on abortion. Forty-five senators backed a Graham bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

Polls show that abortion has motivated Democratic and independent voters and election results on a ballot measure in Kansas and in an August special election in a New York House district revealed that voters are shunning expansive abortion restrictions. 

After Senate Republicans met for their weekly lunch, even Graham admitted there is no consensus on what constitutes a pro-life position. 

"Pro-life people are going to express themselves different ways in different states," Graham said. 

The candidates

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is running for reelection, said Tuesday that Congress, for the moment, shouldn't dictate an abortion standard. 

“I think, appropriately, we the people — we decide this in 50 individual states and that's where this profound moral issue should be decided,” he said.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for an open Senate seat, immediately called out his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, whose spokeswoman dodged answering whether Oz would support Graham’s bill. Republican Senate candidates Herschel Walker in Georgia and Blake Masters in Arizona said they would support the legislation, while Joe O’Dea in Colorado and Tiffany Smiley in Washington said they would not, our colleagues Amy B. Wang and Caroline Kitchener report

Antiabortion activists want more

Standing behind Graham at the news conference were representatives from some of the leading antiabortion groups, Graham acknowledged the “interesting politics” to get the activists to join him, our colleague Marianna Sotomayor notes. 

"This act provides the bare minimum protections for vulnerable unborn children," said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund said of Graham's bill. 

Ninety-one percent of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks. Many of the activists would prefer a six-week or complete ban on abortion.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said there’s no strict definition of what “pro-life” means in policy terms.

“It is in the eye of the beholder,” Dannenfelser wrote in a text message to the Early. “The terms are not that strict. What matters most is the position and not the label.”

SBA Pro-Life America has endorsed candidates in the past who favor exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother in legislation to restrict abortion. But Mallory Carroll, SBA Pro-Life America’s vice president of communications, told the Early the group wouldn’t support Republicans running for Senate who don’t favor barring abortion after 15 weeks.

“If you’re running for the U.S. Senate, that is the minimum that you need to support,” Carroll said.

Elise Stefanik to run for same leadership position

In other election news — but one that won't take place until after the midterm elections — Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) announced she is running for House Republican conference chair in the next Congress, the leadership position she currently holds. 

The decision means Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican, won't run for whip if Republicans retake the House and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) becomes speaker, allowing the current whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), to move up to majority leader. The whip role requires “whipping” House Republicans to vote for legislation, while the conference chair focuses on party messaging.

Stefanik became conference chair last year after Republicans forced Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) out of her leadership position.

She has McCarthy's support, a McCarthy spokesperson said. Stefanik's team said she is a shoe-in for the job, insisting she has the support of every member of House Republican leadership and two-thirds of the conference. But Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a freshman and far-right member, is running for the position, too.

The campaign

Bolduc narrowly leads in New Hampshire, and Leavitt defeats Matt Mowers

Republicans chose their nominees on Tuesday to take on three potentially vulnerable Democrats in New Hampshire: Sen. Maggie Hassan and Reps. Chris Pappas and Ann McLane Kuster.

Don Bolduc, a former Army brigadier general who’s backed former president Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, is narrowly leading Chuck Morse, the state Senate president, 37 percent to 36 percent early this morning in the race to take on Hassan. An estimated 85 percent of votes have been counted, with the results still being too early to call, according to the Associated Press.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a popular Republican, endorsed Morse last week, but a Democratic super PAC spent more than $3 million attacking him in an apparent attempt to help Bolduc win the nomination, as our colleague Dave Weigel reports. Democrats view Morse as a tougher opponent in November.

Karoline Leavitt, a 25-year-old former press staffer in Trump’s White House endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), defeated Matt Mowers, a former State Department official in the Trump administration, 35 percent to 26 percent for the nomination to challenge Pappas. Leavitt is a vocal believer in the false theory that the 2020 election was stolen.

Robert Burns, who owns a local quality control company, narrowly leads Keene Mayor George Hansel, who supports abortion rights, 33 percent to 31 percent in the race to challenge Kuster. Democrats spent money in the race to help Burns, as Weigel notes.

The New Hampshire primaries — along with those in Delaware and Rhode Island — were the last before the November general election.

At the White House

Return to Detroit: President Biden is heading to Michigan today, making his sixth trip to the state since taking office — and his third specifically to talk up his support for electric vehicles.

He's hitting the Detroit Auto Show, where he’ll be greeted by Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman. He’ll announced approval of $900 million in funding from the infrastructure law to build electric vehicle charging stations, according to a White House official.

In the agencies

Alleged New York hate crime sheds light on rare federal prosecution

‘This is a priority for the department’: There has been “a surge of federal hate-crime prosecutions this year under Attorney General Merrick Garland; in the first six months of 2022, the Justice Department filed 20 cases, a pace that would eclipse any single year of the Obama or Trump administrations,” our colleague David Nakamura reports.

  • “Officials tout the prosecutions as one way the Biden administration is trying to address a spike in hate crimes — an effort Biden will highlight Thursday at a White House summit on countering bias-fueled violence.”
  • “A review of recently filed federal cases shows that several involve the damaging of religious institutions, such as synagogues and churches, which are protected under a specific federal statute. Others relate to high-profile crimes — such as the mass shooting at a predominantly Black grocery store in Buffalo in May — that drew national attention. The Justice Department also has begun to prioritize cases exacerbated by the pandemic, after Congress passed new hate-crime statutes last year.”
  • “Experts said the Justice Department appears to be shedding its historic reluctance to press hate-crimes complaints in cases where local authorities already have filed charges.”

What we're watching

A national railroad strike — or a lockout — could become a reality if railroad companies (BNSF and Union Pacific) and unions (Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen) fail to reach an agreement on working conditions by Friday. Conductors and engineers say they’ve been fired for attending routine medical appointments and can’t take a single sick day.

The Biden administration is scrambling to avert the potential crisis by holding daily meetings with the Departments of Agriculture, Transportation and Energy to develop a contingency plan, including using highways, ports and waterways to transport food, energy and health products. 

Happening today: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will meet with rail carriers and unions “to encourage the parties to come to a mutually beneficial agreement,” our colleague Lauren Kaori Gurley tweeted.

The Data

The symbolism in Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral processions, visualized: “The ceremonial processions for Queen Elizabeth II pack more than 1,000 years of monarchical tradition and pageantry into a few symbolic miles,” our colleagues Bonnie Berkowitz, Shelly Tan and Júlia Ledur report. “Each object and location reflects some aspect of the royal family’s place in British life, whether military, administrative or religious.”

Here are two: 

When the queen lies in state in Westminster Hall, the Imperial State Crown will rest on top of her coffin. It has “a 170-carat spinel called the Black Prince’s Ruby that was reportedly worn in battle by Henry V in 1415.”

So will the Sovereign’s Orb, which represents the monarch’s power in the Christian world. “Three bands of jewels represent the three continents British rulers believed existed when the orb was made in 1661.”

The Media

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