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The Early 202

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

Unions raise alarm in House Democratic campaign chief race

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. Speaking of birds, today is the annual presidential pardoning of the national Thanksgiving turkeys.  After their permanent freedom and safety is granted, they will return to North Carolina and live at the great N.C. State University. We can’t wait to hear their names.  Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today's edition …  Defrauded student loan borrowers in line for relief are still waiting months later, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports … Democrats focus on Court ethics after report of alleged leak of 2014 decision … At the White House, a milestone birthday for Biden and a wedding for his granddaughter … What we're watching: The World Cup … but first …

On the Hill

Unions raise alarm in House Democratic campaign chief race

While the top three rungs of Democratic leadership are probably set, with Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) expected to run unopposed, a number of other leadership races are being hotly contested.

One of those is the race to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee between Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.).

Some national labor unions, including several building trades, industrial and public sector unions, are quietly raising alarm bells about Bera, saying he would be the wrong leader for the Democrats’ campaign arm at a time when the party is struggling to maintain support among union households.

  • Bera’s run for the DCCC was discussed at an AFL-CIO political directors meeting last week, signifying the level of concern union leaders have, according to two union officials familiar with the discussion who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

The trade and public sector unions don’t usually get involved in leadership races and don’t plan on launching a public campaign, but concern over Bera, who ran the program at the DCCC to reelect the most at-risk Democratic incumbents this cycle, is high enough that union officials are planning to call allies in Congress to express their concern, according to three senior union officials.

But how effective the opposition will be is in question given the lack of union officials who would go on the record criticizing Bera.

Bera defended his union record.  

“I think I’ve had a great relationship with labor,” Bera said in an interview. “I’m a very pro-labor Democrat.”

Bera points to a 100 percent score from the AFL-CIO on its scorecard over the past three years and his support for the PRO Act, a bill that passed the House last year that would make it easier for workers to organize. He was endorsed for reelection by the California Labor Federation and the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

But current and former officials at three national unions said Bera should not be in charge of electing Democrats.

Their beef?

  • After being elected in 2012 with broad union support, Bera was one of 28 Democrats who sided with President Barack Obama in support of fast-track Trade Promotion Authority legislation in 2015, which made it easier for the administration to secure trade deals without input from Congress. The AFL-CIO at the time ran ads in Bera’s district and held protests outside his district office encouraging him to oppose it. Unions said the fast-track legislation would send union jobs overseas.

But it wasn't just that vote, multiple current and senior union officials said, that strained their relationship with Bera. They say he has called unions “special interest” groups, that he doesn’t attend DCCC labor events and that his door has remain closed to unions, the officials said.

“He has no relationship with labor,” said an aide to one senior union official. “None.”

Cárdenas’s union score isn’t perfect, either, but officials interviewed for this story said he had an open door and “we were never surprised.”

Democrats and unions

The union officials argue that the DCCC needs union support and union-engaged voters, who often provide the party with campaign contributions and a robust get-out-the-vote effort, to help get Democrats elected.

“It’s not like labor’s gonna walk away from Democrats,” a former union official said. “What they’re gonna do is they’re gonna find other avenues, other things to do, and it’ll make it tougher for … Hakeem [Jeffries] coming in, it’s going to make it tougher on the new DCCC regime.” Jeffries is expected to be the next House minority leader.

  • Bera offered this rebuttal in a statement:  “As Democrats, we win when we fight for working families. Nobody knows that better than our friends in organized labor.”

Since Donald Trump ran for president, the union vote, which has traditionally voted Democratic, has become more competitive.

In elections between 2010 and 2014, Democrats received between 58 and 61 percent support among union households, according to exit polls. But in the 2016 election, that support fell to 51 percent.

This cycle, union households’ support for Democrats increased to 57 percent, according to exit polls. The unions attribute that to Democrats passing legislation that would create jobs through the infrastructure bill, as well as legislation to shore up pensions.

The DCCC chair might not be elected

There might not, however, even be an election between Bera and Cárdenas.

  • A trio of lawmakers — Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Bradley Schneider (D-Ill.) — are urging fellow Democrats to support a motion to make the DCCC chair a position appointed by the Democratic leader instead of elected by the caucus.

The three members represent different factions of the party: Pocan is a former congressional Progressive Caucus chairman, DelBene heads the New Democratic Coalition and Schneider is part of the Blue Dog Coalition as well as a New Democrat. They’re speaking with Jeffries and whipping their members in favor of their amendment.

They argue leadership would be more responsive to members’ concerns and members would raise more money for the DCCC if the directive was coming from leadership. The trio also said the next chair should represent an extremely Democratic district so he or she isn't worried about his or her own race and can focus on winning the House. The DCCC chair for the 2022 cycle, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), lost his reelection bid, and the chair before that, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), was in a competitive race in 2020.

In the interview, Bera said he didn’t have a position on whether Democrats should elect or appoint the next DCCC chair.

“I’m staying neutral,” he said. “I’m staying out of it. It’s really up to the caucus.”

From the courts

Democrats focus on Court ethics after report of alleged leak of 2014 decision

🚨: “Two senior Democrats in Congress are demanding that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. detail what, if anything, the Supreme Court has done to respond to recent allegations of a leak of the outcome of a major case the high court considered several years ago,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein scooped.

  • “Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) are also interested in examining claims about a concerted effort by religious conservatives to woo the justices through meals and social engagements. They wrote to Roberts on Sunday, making clear that if the court won’t investigate the alleged ethical breaches, lawmakers are likely to launch their own probe.”

From The Post: Justice Alito denies disclosing 2014 Hobby Lobby opinion in advance.

In the agencies

Defrauded student loan borrowers in line for relief are still waiting months later

Trading one problem for another: “Since taking office, the Biden administration has approved $14.5 billion in student loan discharges for nearly 1.1 million borrowers defrauded by their colleges,” our colleague Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports. “Yet only 53,000 of those former students have actually had their debts cleared to date, according to data from the Education Department.”

  • “The Biden administration inherited scores of petitions from former students of for-profit schools requesting the department cancel their debt under a statute known as ‘borrower defense to repayment.’ Claims piled up at the department amid a series of college closures and the Trump administration’s efforts to delay and limit loan cancellation.”
  • “Education Secretary Miguel Cardona ended the Trump-era policies and began clearing the backlog. The effort picked up this year with announcements of five sweeping group discharges, including the automatic cancellation of loans held by former students of defunct for-profit chains Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes.”
  • “But the Biden administration has traded one problem for another. Instead of piles of applications awaiting review, the department is now contending with a backlog of discharge requests and no clear time frame for a resolution,” five people familiar with the matter told Danielle.

At the White House

A milestone birthday for Biden. A wedding for his granddaughter.

It was a historic weekend at the White House: President Biden, 80, became the first octogenarian president in U.S. history and Naomi King Biden, 28, became the first presidential granddaughter to have both her wedding ceremony and reception at the White House.

An aging Washington: “At a time when Biden’s age has come up again and again in focus groups and surveys, the fact that he is now the first Oval Office octogenarian is something few in the president’s orbit are eager to highlight,” our colleague Matt Viser wrote over the weekend. “It comes as he considers whether to run for reelection — which, if he wins, would place him at 82 during his inauguration and 86 at the end of a second term.”

  • “Over the last couple of years, the United States has been under the stewardship of the oldest leadership class in its history, with a president, House speaker, House majority leader, House majority whip, Senate president pro tempore, Senate majority leader, Senate majority whip and Senate minority leader all in their 70s or 80s,” per the New York Times’s Peter Baker. “The 117th Congress that will complete its term in January is the oldest the country has ever seen, with nearly one in four members over the age of 70.”

White Wedding: When Naomi married Peter George Heermann Neal, 25, on the South Lawn on Saturday, they became the 19th couple to get married at the White House. Here are the deets from our colleagues Maura Judkis, Tyler Pager and Jada Yuan, who got creative and worked their sources:

  • “Naomi made her entrance from the White House’s Diplomatic Room in a lace-sleeved ball gown with a notched high neckline that channeled actress Grace Kelly’s famous wedding dress. Her dramatic lace-edged veil trailed several meters behind. The groom, in a three-piece navy suit — also Ralph Lauren — wore a floral brooch as a boutonniere.”
  • “The bride was escorted down the aisle by her father, Hunter Biden, and mother, Kathleen Buhle, to the tune of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphon’ by the Verve … [and] the couple wrote their own vows, which were officiated by a Catholic monsignor and a Presbyterian minister.”

What we're watching

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Qatar to meet with several senior Qatari officials and attend one of the largest global events of the year: the World Cup. The U.S. men’s national soccer team will debut against Wales this afternoon. Biden called the team on Sunday to wish the players luck, urging them to “shock ‘em all.” 

But this year’s games have “wreaked global bickering about cultural mores,” our colleague Chuck Culpepper writes. “The country has taken criticism for its practices around human rights, including the treatment of guest workers, especially those whose construction work built this World Cup, and the criminalization of gay relationships.”

The Media

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Coffee Break(s)

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