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The Early 202

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

Eric Cantor on why today's debt limit fight is different from 2011

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. Elon Musk traveled all the way to Washington to wish House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) a happy birthday. That’s so nice of him. Wonder how much they also talked about the likely congressional hearings involving Twitter … Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s edition …  Emma Brown and Isaac Stanley-Becker report that the Santos campaign briefly reported $254,000 in payments to ‘anonymous’ … Trump’s team hopes that his return to Facebook and Instagram will lead to a fundraising windfall, Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Isaac write … The evolution of lies in George Santos’s campaign biography, visualized … What we're watching: The RNC chair vote … but first …

On the Hill

Eric Cantor on why today's debt limit fight is different from 2011

Seven questions for … Eric Cantor: We spoke with the former House majority leader who led Republicans’ negotiations with President Biden over the debt limit during the Obama administration before losing his seat to a primary challenger in 2014. On the agenda: his view of the new House Republican majority, why he give Biden credit and how the debt limit standoff might turn out.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Early: You spent months negotiating with Biden over a deal to raise the debt limit in 2011 before talks collapsed. What did you take away from that experience that might be helpful for Republicans as they contemplate another showdown?

Cantor: You have to look at what was different back then. In 2011, we had a much bigger majority. Remember, we had picked up 63 seats, and so we had a 20-some-vote margin versus what [Speaker] Kevin [McCarthy] is dealing with today. [And because] the preceding Congress had not finished the appropriations process, we were plunged into appropriations, which had to be done in a bipartisan way since there was a Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama in the White House. So that necessitated compromise right away.

The Early: What effect do you think having a much narrower majority will have now?

Cantor: We saw what happened with the election of Kevin as speaker. There were many concessions needed in order to convince the very small group of individuals who were holding out [to vote for him]. I do think that has a lot to do with how the House will proceed, because there were commitments made, and expectations along with those commitments that [certain] things would happen. When you’ve got a 20-some-vote margin, you're not necessarily going to be held hostage the way that we saw on display a few weeks ago.

The Early: Do you see the fight over the speakership as a preview of what the debt limit battle might look like?

Cantor: I don’t know if I’d go that far. Even after going through that very wrenching process on national television, everyone came out thinking they had a win. Kevin and his supporters won because he’s now speaker. Those that were negotiating for reforms, they feel that they got something. And then there were those individuals who just didn’t want to vote for Kevin, and they ended up being able to vote “present.” 

The Early: Biden has said he is not going to negotiate over the debt limit this time around. Do you believe him?

Cantor: It’s somewhat ironic, given the fact that he led the negotiations for the Obama administration. I give him credit for conducting and leading discussions [in 2011] that actually produced results. We actually came up with over $1.6 trillion worth of savings the two sides agreed upon. I’m not sure there's as much now, but there is room for some agreement. So the fact that the administration says we're not going to negotiate, it's just — it's preposterous. It moves things closer to the prospect of default.

The Early: There are all sorts of ideas about what Republicans should seek in concessions, from dollar-for-dollar spending cuts to holding spending at 2022 levels to balancing the budget within 10 years. What do you think Republicans should be asking for?

Cantor: There needs to be something done to effect real progress when it comes to reforms to entitlements. There’s a bill submitted by Sen. [Mitt] Romney [(R-Utah)], the TRUST Act, that [would set up committees] to look at entitlements [such as Social Security and Medicare] that have trust funds — What’s their state? How do we address the long-term viability of these trust funds? — and then force a vote up or down in Congress.

The Early: Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has signed onto Romney’s bill and has talked about it as a potential compromise. Do you see a bill like that as a viable compromise? Or do you think Republicans should also demand more tangible spending cuts?

Cantor: I think it's too early to tell whether that is going to suffice or not.

The Early: You wrote an op-ed in 2021 decrying Republican lawmakers who told voters what they wanted to hear, including that Congress could defund Obamacare if only Republicans fought hard enough, which led to the 2013 government shutdown. Do you think we’re headed for another shutdown?

Cantor: I think it’s just about expectations. We can’t say, “Well, Republicans [won] control in the House, therefore the president and the Democratic-controlled Senate are going to submit to Republican will.” But there should be an expectation that there will be some meeting in the middle — that now at least Republicans can block some of the extremity that was coming out of the administration before. You can’t expect to have it all your way, but you can expect to make some progress [with] a conservative majority in control of the House.

The campaign

Santos campaign briefly reported $254,000 in payments to ‘anonymous’

Follow the money: Our colleagues Emma Brown and Isaac Stanley-Becker continue their deep dive into Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.)’s campaign activities, this time focusing on a series of puzzling payments made to an anonymous recipient. Here’s what they found: 

“In the spring of 2022, Santos’s congressional campaign submitted a handful of filings to the Federal Election Commission that did something unheard of in campaign finance: The campaign reported spending a total of $254,000 — in more than 1,200 small payments — to recipients identified only as ‘anonymous.’”

  • “A month later, in amended reports, those listed expenditures were gone. Campaigns generally are not required to itemize payments under $200, so the removal of the ‘anonymous’ payments reverted, in a way, to customary practice.”
  • “But their brief inclusion stunned experts, several of whom told The Washington Post that they had not seen filings for expenditures to recipients listed as ‘anonymous.’ A review of other federal candidates’ 2022 filings by The Post found only a dozen such instances, most of which appeared to involve money returned to donors who had attempted to give anonymously. (Federal rules require campaigns to disclose the identities of their donors.)”
  • “The Post found that the expenditures by Santos’s campaign, which have not been previously reported, were in amounts just under $200, the threshold that would trigger a requirement for the campaign to keep receipts or other documentation.”

Trump’s return to Facebook, Instagram raises hopes of fundraising windfall

He’s baaack: “No other politician has ever spent and raised money on Facebook and Instagram like Donald Trump. The former president and his affiliated political operations have given the parent company, now known as Meta, more than $159 million to purchase over 1.3 million distinct ads on the social networks since May of 2018, when Meta began keeping public records,” per our colleagues Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Isaac Stanley-Becker.

  • “But when Trump stood at his Mar-a-Lago resort to announce another run for president last November, the advertising, fundraising and political list building — which had continued through a workaround even after Trump was officially booted from the platforms in 2021 — nearly ground to a halt. For the first time in months, even Save America, his political action committee, all but stopped pushing new polls, pitches and products to potential supporters. As a candidate for president, Trump could not make direct appeals.”
  • “Meta’s decision Wednesday to allow Trump back onto the networks clears the way to effectively reopen the financial partnership that proved crucial to Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, allowing him to mine the American public for people who may be willing to give to him money and buy his merchandise. Most of the ads Trump and his groups post on Facebook include links to pages where voters can donate or hand over their contact information.”
  • “Trump’s inner circle is expected to move quickly to capitalize on the new opportunity, and they have been reviewing a return to Twitter as well, where the new owner, Elon Musk, has ended a suspension of Trump’s account and lifted a ban on political advertising that was in place during the 2020 campaign.”

The Data

The evolution of lies in George Santos’s campaign biography, visualized

From our colleagues Azi Paybarah, Luis Melgar and Tyler Remmel: “The evolution of lies in George Santos’s campaign biography, visualized: “George Santos began introducing himself to the world in 2020 when he ran for Congress. By the time he was elected in November 2022, his campaign website had described him as a highly educated Wall Street financier whose family fled the Holocaust and mother escaped 9/11 and who also found time to rescue cats and dogs. By December, journalists began discovering that most of his biography was untrue.”

What we're watching

The campaign: Members of the Republican National Committee will decide whether to reelect Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel for a fourth term today. McDaniel faces challenges from Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC committeewoman from California, and MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell. Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) threw an unexpected wrench in the race Thursday evening when he called for “new blood” and named Dhillon.

The Pelosi’s: Meanwhile, video footage from the October attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is expected to be released today. The violent attack was captured on police body-camera footage and is expected to show what officers saw when David DePape struck Paul Pelosi with a hammer, fracturing his skull. The released evidence will also include a 911 call, home surveillance and parts of the police interview with DePape.

The Media

Weekend reeeads

Coffee Break(s)

Near-record lack of snow means our kids have had a near-record lack of no-school snow days. At least one of us misses the snow. 

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