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The Early 202

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

House GOP whip race heats up in weeks before midterms

The Early 202

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

Good morning to everyone except Aemond Targaryen and his mom. 🍅 Our colleague Marianna Sotomayor helped report today's newsletter. Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today's edition …  Trail Mix: Sabrina Rodriguez reporting from the ground on the Warnock-Walker Race … What we're watching: The new Supreme Court term begins today … Jeff Stein and Tyler Pager dig into the White House's relationship with Larry Summers … but first …

On the Hill

House GOP whip race heats up in weeks before midterms

Congress has left Washington to campaign ahead of the midterm elections and while the main focus is on winning as many seats as possible, the behind-the-scenes race for leadership positions is also in full gear.

On the Republican side, the top two positions are likely set, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) running unopposed for speaker if Republicans regain the House and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the minority whip, running unopposed for majority leader.

But the race for whip, the No. 3 slot in the hierarchy of the party that controls the House, is crowded and competitive even as most Republicans agree it will be the toughest job in leadership, since the whip will need to corral what would likely be an unruly GOP majority.

“There's no free pass on any of this stuff, and when you're in a leadership position like that, there are no freebies,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.). “So if you win friends, you may lose friends. You may lose more friends than you gain,” 

The three brave souls running for whip are: Reps. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.). All three will spend the final stretch ahead of the midterms building goodwill as they campaign on behalf of Republican candidates.

Meet Emmer

First elected in 2014, Emmer, who played ice hockey in college, has led the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP campaign arm, this cycle and last cycle. His backers say he should be rewarded for helping Republicans gain seats in 2020 despite grim expectations — and for potentially winning the House in November.

His campaign role gives him a distinct advantage in the whip race. The NRCC has raised more than $500 million for Republicans over the last two cycles. Emmer has backed 141 House candidates and traveled to 28 states to help new candidates and incumbents, according to his office.

Emmer has the most moderate voting record of the three, and he was the only one to vote in favor of a recent bill protecting same-sex marriage.

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), who is working overtime to persuade members to back Emmer, says he thinks his “rough and tumble hockey player demeanor” has worked as head of the NRCC and would be just as effective as whip, noting he is also sympathetic to members who represent competitive districts.

His detractors worry Emmer will cave on difficult votes and not fight hard enough for ultraconservative positions as bitter battles are expected over the debt limit and government funding.

Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) pushed back against Emmer's naysayers. “He is one of the best fighters I've actually seen because he picks the things he can win and can rally others to that point,” Hill said. “You have to be able to fight and govern when you're in the majority.”

But the far-right House Freedom Caucus doesn't like to make concessions, and dealing with this crew will likely be the whip's toughest job.

Emmer has won the public support of the former Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), but the group is not united on who they want as whip. Most of its members are staying quiet about the race to maintain their leverage over the candidates.

Meet Banks

Banks is considered the most conservative of the bunch, and he's the only one of three who objected to certifying the election results for Pennsylvania and Arizona. He was also the only one to sign a letter last week with 41 other House Republicans to the rest of the conference urging a vote against the short-term government funding bill. All but 10 House Republicans voted against the bill.

He chairs the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus that boasts 160 members.

In that position, Banks has worked to steer the policy agenda, drafting policy papers and releasing legislative proposals. His focus on countering China is appealing to foreign-policy-minded conservatives.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) said Banks “would be a strong candidate give his record as a veteran and vocal advocate on the House Armed Services Committee.”

Banks has built ties to top conservative influencers. He has become close with McCarthy and is friends with Donald Trump Jr., who speaks highly of Banks to the former president, according to a person close to Trump Jr., who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the dynamics of the competitive race. Banks has also hired the son of Fox News media personality Tucker Carlson to be his top communications aide.

He'll travel to 10 states to campaign for GOP candidates in the next few weeks.

But Banks has been criticized by his colleagues, some of whom say privately he is opportunistic and overtly ambitious.

House Republicans are questioning Banks' commitment to the House, wondering if he will run for Senate if Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) decides not to run for reelection in 2024. Banks tried to squash those rumors, telling The Early “no” when asked if he's considering running for Senate.

While Banks has a conservative voting record, he has not won the support of the Freedom Caucus. Some members are still miffed that he sought campaign funds and support from the HFC during his 2016 campaign but didn’t join the conservative group, according to four people familiar with the situation.

Meet Ferguson

Ferguson has been running for the position of whip since early last year, according to lawmakers. He has raised $2 million for the NRCC and given $1.34 million to fellow Republicans. In the final election sprint, he plans to be on the road for three weeks, campaigning for candidates from Florida to Maine.

Ferguson has a powerful ally in Scalise. He is Scalise’s top lieutenant as chief deputy whip and is playing up his Southern roots, a region where Republicans are well-represented.

“His experience as chief deputy whip, policy wherewithal, and political acumen have been major factors in both members and candidates urging him to have a seat at the leadership table,” Brian Piper, Ferguson's spokesperson, said in a statement.  

While Ferguson has the support of Scalise, critics say whipping in the majority is much more difficult than in the minority. And he is not McCarthy’s preferred candidate.

McCarthy blocked Ferguson from attending leadership meetings early last year. While four people familiar with the decision confirmed the snub, none could say what motivated McCarthy. Another person familiar with the decision said McCarthy has encouraged broadening these meetings to include more members and that Ferguson has stopped by.

“We're gonna promise the American public all these different things, and we need to have someone who can ultimately get that over the finish line,” Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) said. “Drew Ferguson is the one to do it.” 

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly said Rep. Tom Emmer represents a district in Missouri. He represents a Minnesota district.

Trail Mix

Touting the wins while navigating the failures

Sabrina Rodriguez on the trail in Georgia: Vulnerable Democrats for months have been wrestling with much to tie themselves to President Biden and the party’s agenda ahead of the midterms. A recent string of legislative victories has made this job somewhat easier.

But just as interesting is how these Democrats explain to voters the party’s failure to deliver on campaign promises.

I’ve been listening to how candidates talk to voters about these issues for a while now — and Sen. Raphael G. Warnock of Georgia offers a case study in how Democratic candidates embrace the party’s successes while distancing themselves from its failures.

The balancing act being performed by Warnock — who became Georgia’s first Black senator when he won a special election runoff last year — was on display at a recent campaign stop in Atlanta.

  • Voting rights: “We did not get voting rights done but it was not for lack of trying on my part,” he said, adding that he pressed for Democratic leadership to stay focused on the issue even when they turned their attention to infrastructure. Voting rights is a signature issue for Warnock, who has pushed legislation to increase access to the polls and has called for an end to the filibuster so Senate Democrats can push through an overhaul of the nation’s election laws with a simple majority vote.
  • The child tax credit: The Georgia Democrat touted the expanded child tax credit that was offered as part of the American Rescue Plan and has since expired — but he said Democrats did a poor job of making it known to voters the party was responsible for the tax credit. “We didn’t do a good job talking about it,” Warnock said. “A lot of folks don’t even know who sent it. I want you to know you sent it when you elected me and others to the United States Senate.”
  • Student loans: Warnock also embraced the party’s achievements while arguing he pushed leaders to set their sights higher. He highlighted how he pushed Biden to go beyond offering $10,000 in student loan forgiveness. “I would like to believe my urging had something to do with the fact” that the Biden administration is going to forgive up to $20,000 in debt for Pell Grant recipients, he said.

Warnock’s argument boils down to: I contributed to the successes, and the failures can be turned into victories if you reelect me.

Polls have consistently shown a tight race between Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. They also show that Biden and Democratic Party are not particularly popular in the state.

So while Warnock is embracing much of the party’s agenda — both what was enacted and what failed to make it through Congress — he’s not eager to tie himself to its leaders.

Like several other vulnerable Democrats, he has avoided saying if he would campaign with Biden or Vice President Harris. “I’m not focused on who I’m campaigning with but who I’m campaigning for,” Warnock told reporters after the Atlanta event.

Keep an eye out for Sabrina's coverage for The Post ahead of the midterms and follow her on Twitter.

What we're watching

The Supreme Court kicks off another blockbuster term today with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson on the bench, the court’s 6-to-3 conservative supermajority is poised to continue its rightward shift and last term’s judicial abortion bombshell ruling is on everyone’s mind. Here are the cases to watch, per our colleague Robert Barnes:

Environmental protection 

  • Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (today): “The court will take up a long-running challenge that could restrict the agency’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act.”

Voting rights 

  • Merrill v. Milligan, Merrill v. Caster (tomorrow): “The court will consider whether the Voting Rights Act requires Alabama to create a second congressional district favorable to a Black candidate,” Barnes writes. “Civil rights leaders fear the court will weaken federal protections about redistricting decisions that disadvantage minority communities.”
  • Moore v. Harper (TBD): The justices will consider “giving state legislatures sole authority to set the rules for contests even if their actions violated state constitutions and resulted in partisan gerrymandering for congressional seats.”

Affirmative action

  • Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College; Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (Oct. 31): “The Supreme Court once again will look at whether universities may consider the race of applicants when trying to build diverse student bodies.”

Gay rights

  • 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis (TBD): “The justices will consider whether a Colorado designer can tell same-sex couples she will not create a website for their weddings, reviving the issue of where to draw the line between someone’s religious beliefs and state laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.”

Biden, meanwhile, is headed to Ponce, Puerto Rico, today with first lady Jill Biden and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, two weeks after Hurricane Fiona knocked out power to the island. He'll announce more than $60 million in funding for projects in Puerto Rico from the infrastructure law, according to a White House official.

He will also travel to Florida on Wednesday following Hurricane Ian's devastation.

And Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) will be at Syracuse University this afternoon, where she'll be interviewed and receive an award.

At the White House

Larry Summers has President Biden’s ear — but not always his support

Biden’s ‘shadow’ director: President Biden spent more than an hour in the Oval Office in late August with former treasury secretary Larry Summers, prompting some aides to marvel that he had granted such a lengthy audience to a combative economist who had assailed the economic management of Biden and the Federal Reserve as the ‘least responsible’ in four decades,” our colleagues Jeff Stein and Tyler Pager write.

  • “The meeting set off fresh speculation inside the White House about the influence of what some aides jokingly call Biden’s ‘shadow’ director of the National Economic Council — a position actually held by Brian Deese — and the uncertain stature of Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who has sometimes struggled to get Biden to back her recommendations.”
  • “After being ignored in discussions over the White House’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue package early last year, Summers emerged as a powerful critic of Biden,” our colleagues report. “Since then, White House officials have worked on what some privately characterize as a campaign to manage Summers, trying to make sure he feels heard — if not always heeded.”

The Media

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

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