The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Early 202

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

House GOP tries to stay on message ahead of McCarthy, Biden meeting

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds! What are you doing for Black History Month? Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

Reading this online? Sign up for The Early 202 to get scoops and sharp political analysis in your inbox each morning.

In today’s edition …  House GOP prepares to kick Rep. Omar off the Foreign Affairs Committee … The latest fundraising numbers for competitive Senate races … Haley plans to announce presidential run … What we’re watching: The start of House GOP oversight hearings … but first …

On the Hill

House GOP tries to stay on message ahead of McCarthy, Biden meeting

As House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) prepares to meet with President Biden today, McCarthy and his leadership team are working vigorously behind the scenes to get the House GOP conference on the same page regarding the debt limit. 

House Republicans will gather this morning before McCarthy heads to the White House so leaders can implore members to stay on message. 

Republican leaders want members to speak generally — not specifically — about the potential spending cuts they want in exchange for raising the government’s borrowing limit to avoid a debt default that would probably cause chaos in financial markets and rattle the economy. 

The goal is to avoid talking about cuts to Medicare and Social Security so they don’t give Democrats political ammunition, according to a person familiar with the planning who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private deliberations. 

It’s the latest phase of an education campaign (as we reported last week) to get the party to be united on the debt limit and to make sure members understand the law. 

“There’s an educational moment going on here, which is good,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said. 

A variety of ideas

Republicans have been all over the place on what spending cuts and other policies they want in exchange for voting to lift the debt ceiling. Most members now agree cuts to Medicare and Social Security should not be on the table, but it's unclear where else they can find agreement on cuts that would produce significant savings. 

  • Some say the party should cut domestic spending by departments like the Environmental Protection Agency, but that’s not likely to produce a lot of savings on its own.
  • Some say defense spending should be part of the conversation, while others balk at the suggestion. 
  • Some want to target waste, fraud and abuse (a classic Washington line that GOP leadership has been using). But that’s also unlikely to yield big savings.
  • No one is bringing up tax increases.

“There are different factions within our party that have different ideas and trying to come together and see what that might look like over the next couple of weeks and months,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said. “It’s a conversation that we need to have. We’ve got to have a plan.”

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said his “red line” to vote to raise the debt limit is securing the border, an issue important to the Republican base as he works to clear the field in his run for an open Senate seat in Indiana. “Securing the border is spending,” Banks said.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) is on the other side of the issue, saying he won’t vote to lift the debt limit if his party puts forward “anti-immigrant” legislation and cuts to defense spending.

Other ideas: tie discretionary spending to a rate just below inflation or to a percentage of GDP, or bring spending back to fiscal 2022 levels or even pre-covid levels.

Damage control

McCarthy set the tone over the weekend when he said Social Security and Medicare would not be part of debt limit talks following Democratic attacks. (McCarthy’s statement has not stopped those attacks, of course.) House Republican leaders are directing attention elsewhere, such as vague references to wasteful or fraudulent spending. 

“Does the president not think there’s any waste in Washington?” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said at an America First Policy Institute event on Tuesday. “My God, we will give him a long laundry list.” Scalise pointed to billions of dollars in misspent covid relief funds as an example of government waste. 

This is a real issue — read our colleague Tony Romm, who has covered it extensively — but addressing it won’t balance the budget.

Balancing act

Some Republicans are demanding a plan to balance the budget and calling out Biden for failing to produce a budget proposal by next week’s deadline. (Other presidents have also missed the deadline, including Donald Trump.) Some, like Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), want a balanced budget in seven years. Others, like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), say it should be balanced within 10 years. 

The Republican Study Committee, a conservative group of nearly 170 House Republicans, sent a letter to Biden this week asking him to present a budget that can be balanced in 10 years without tax hikes.

But rhetoric is quickly running into reality. 

Most budget experts say it’s impossible to balance the budget in 10 years if cuts to Social Security, Medicare and defense spending as well as tax increases are not on the table. 

“The answer is no, that cannot be done,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget. “That really can’t be done even if everything’s on the table.”

  • Nondefense discretionary spending (spending for nondefense federal agencies that Congress appropriates every year) is about $770 billion, about 16 percent of the budget

“Jodey Arrington is going to have a really tough job. Jodey’s gonna have to write a budget that he can get 222 Republicans to vote for,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said, referring to the Texas Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee. “Because what you would have to put in place to balance the budget in seven years will cause Republicans to get wiped out [in elections] all over the country.”

Democratic discipline

Meanwhile, Democrats feel like they’re winning the messaging war. Biden is heading into today’s meeting with the party on the same page. 

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on McCarthy to release the budget cuts he wants in exchange for voting to raise the debt limit. Democrats contend budget cuts will be unpopular once the specifics are proposed.

When Biden was asked this week about his message heading into his meeting with McCarthy, he said, “Show me your budget, and I’ll show you mine.”

Republicans say they will present their budget by April 15. The president’s budget is expected in early March. 

Meanwhile in the Senate

Russell Vought, the director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Trump administration, will speak to Republican senators today during their lunch hosted by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) about the debt limit and spending cuts. 

He has argued that “the main priority of congressional Republicans in the upcoming fight over the debt limit should be to deliberately link the effort to rein in out-of-control spending with the removal of the scourge of a woke and weaponized bureaucracy.”

Some Republicans on the right have echoed his framework

House GOP prepares to kick Rep. Omar off the Foreign Affairs Committee

From our colleague Marianna Sotomayor:

After a week-long lobbying campaign by McCarthy to persuade recalcitrant members, the House is now on a path to ousting Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Republican leaders now say they have the votes after convincing Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) to support an amended resolution kicking Omar off the committee. Republicans can afford to lose only three votes with their thin majority.

House Republicans called an “emergency” meeting Tuesday to quickly approve a rule, a necessary step before holding the vote on a resolution condemning Omar and removing her from the committee. Many Republicans argue that Omar has made antiseimitic and anti-American remarks.

The timing of the final vote, however, remains uncertain simply because the House can’t remove a member who hasn’t been formally tapped to serve on said committee.

Democrats are in no rush to formally sit members on the committee now that Republicans rushed to ready the process to remove their own member. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Minority Whip Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), the No. 3 House Democrat, all met late Tuesday to discuss next steps.

The campaign

The latest fundraising numbers for competitive Senate races

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) had $8.2 million in her campaign account on Dec. 31 as she prepares for a potential showdown with Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), according to campaign finance disclosures filed Tuesday.

Gallego announced last week that he was running for Senate, setting up a clash with Sinema — who said in December that she was leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent — if she runs for reelection.

Gallego’s House campaign account had nearly $1.3 million on Dec. 31. His Senate campaign won’t need to file a disclosure until April, but he tweeted last week that he raised more than $1 million since launching his campaign.

Six Democratic senators are facing potentially tough campaigns next year if they decide to run for reelection. Here’s how much they have in cash on hand:

  • Tammy Baldwin (Wis.): $3 million
  • Sherrod Brown (Ohio): $3.4 million
  • Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.): $3.1 million
  • Joe Manchin III (W.Va.): $9.5 million
  • Jacky Rosen (Nev.): $4.4 million
  • Jon Tester (Mont.): $2.9 million

Only Rosen and Brown have confirmed they’re running, as our colleague Liz Goodwin reported last week. Democrats are also facing a competitive race in Michigan, where Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow isn’t running for reelection. Republicans aren’t defending any competitive seats — except maybe Florida, where Sen. Rick Scott is running for reelection.

Haley plans to announce presidential run

Off to the races: Nikki Haley, a former United Nations ambassador and governor of South Carolina, is preparing to announce that she will run for president and could release a video signaling her plans as soon this week — positioning herself to be the first declared Republican challenger to Donald Trump at a time when other prospective candidates have slowed their moves,” our colleagues Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Hannah Knowles scoop.

  • “Much of the consequential action in the race so far has taken place in private conversations and strategy sessions rather than early-state barnstorms, such as methodical preparation by aides to former vice president Mike Pence, and [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis advisers’ behind-the-scenes moves to identify potential staff and plan travel. Even Trump has moved slowly after his early announcement.” But candidates can only wait so long. 

What we're watching

On the Hill: A trio of federal watchdogs will appear before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee today to tell lawmakers about a $5.4 billion theft in coronavirus aid to small businesses using fake social security numbers. The watchdogs are expected to ask for additional funding to combat fraud and abuse, from bringing civil and criminal charges to recovering the stolen money.

  • The hearing is the first of its kind in a Republican-led House that is eager to move on from the pandemic. It comes amid a torrent of Republican-led attacks on pandemic policies, including vaccine mandates, school closures and mask requirements. The attacks — led by Trump and DeSantis — have become the party’s newest campaign message. (Another campaign message: election integrity.) 

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), will hold the first of several hearings on the Biden administration’s handling of the border. Republicans will probably use the hearing to make the case for impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

At the White House: Vice President Harris will attend the funeral of Tyre Nichols today in Memphis. Harris, who was invited to pay her respects by Nichols’s parents, will be accompanied by top White House aides Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mitch Landrieu.

Biden will meet this afternoon with the White House Competition Council to discuss a new rule that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will propose to lower credit card late fees.

In the agencies: The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point today as the central bank concludes the first two-day policy meeting of the new year. It is the eighth interest rate hike in a row. 

World view: King Abdullah II of Jordan is in Washington this week. He met McCarthy on Tuesday and will meet several Democrats, including Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), today. Biden will host the monarch at the White House tomorrow. The pair will probably discuss soaring tensions in the Middle East between Israel and Palestinians.

The Media

Early reeeads 

From us:  

From across the web:  


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