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The Early 202

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

The next battle for the House has already started

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. Just for the record: The 2020 election was neither stolen nor stollen. Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s edition …  Supreme Court justices discussed, but did not agree on code of conduct, Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow report … What will the weaponization committee grow up to be? … What the bickering at the State of the Union means … The state of election integrity … but first …

🚨 Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) was taken to the hospital Wednesday, Joe Calvello, his communications director, said late last night. Fetterman was feeling lightheaded and was taken to George Washington University Hospital in Washington.

Initial tests “did not show evidence of a new stroke,” Calvello said in a statement, but added that more tests are being run. “He is in good spirits and talking with his staff and family.”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Leigh Ann, Theo and our colleague Jonathan Capehart will host a Washington Post Live event showcasing this newsletter today at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. In back-to-back conversations, we’ll speak with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) about a divided Congress, White House senior adviser Mitch Landrieu about the Biden agenda and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) about the key issues affecting his state. Tune in here.

The campaign

The next battle for the House has already started

When House Democrats lost 13 seats in the 2020 election, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the incoming Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, led an after-action review examining why the party did worse than expected.

But as Republicans and Democrats start recruiting candidates and drawing up battle plans for 2024, neither party is planning a similarly critical autopsy of the midterm election — because both parties feel like they won.

  • While Democrats lost control of the House in November and Maloney himself was defeated in an upset, Democrats held their losses to nine seats — a historically impressive accomplishment since the president’s party typically loses seats in midterm elections. Republicans, meanwhile, succeeded in retaking the House, even if they picked up fewer seats than expected.

“After every election, you go back and look and see, what are the things we did well, what are the things we could have done better?” Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), the new National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, said in an interview. “As I look at the last election, my first takeaway is that [NRCC] Chairman Tom Emmer did a fantastic job.”

A high-stakes 2024

The stakes are high. Democrats need to flip only five Republican-held seats to recapture the House majority. Republicans, meanwhile, could secure precious breathing room if they can add a few seats to their perilously narrow majority.

“My plan is not to hold the House,” Hudson said. “My plan is to grow the majority.” (He declined to predict how many seats Republicans will pick up.)

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the new DCCC chairwoman, views the midterms as evidence that Democrats can retake the House next year. “We exceeded expectations in the midterms because the American people are with us,” she said in an interview.

DelBene, a self-described “data geek,” is poring over data from the midterms.

But Democrats don’t see a need to overhaul their strategy the way they did after 2020, in part because the DCCC’s polling didn’t miss this cycle the way it did two years earlier.

A Clarity Campaign Labs analysis found that the committee’s polls “were the most accurate compared to campaign polls, public polls and other partisan polls,” according to a DCCC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an internal analysis.

“We did incredibly well,” DelBene said when asked about her early takeaways from the data she’s been analyzing. “And part of that was our focus on message, the focus that we’ve had in delivering for our communities, on putting people over politics.” 

Missed chances

That’s not to say there aren’t things DelBene and Hudson wouldn’t have done differently.

Democrats lost six House races by less than one percentage point. If they’d won five of them, the party would have retained control of the House. House Republicans lost four races by less than one point — seats that would’ve padded their achingly slim majority.

Hudson believes that if Republican challengers such as Yesli Vega, who lost a tight race against Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), had more money, they might have won.

  • “If you look at what our candidates had to spend versus the Democratic incumbents we were targeting, we were vastly outspent,” Hudson said. “So we've got a game plan to try to close that gap.”

Democrats missed chances of their own, including in Arizona, where Jevin Hodge nearly defeated Republican Rep. David Schweikert and Kirsten Engel came close to keeping retiring Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s seat in Democratic hands. “I know with every bone in my body that Engel will win this district if we can get DCCC investing sooner,” Kirkpatrick told Politico weeks before the election. Engel lost by fewer than 6,000 votes.

Asked whether the DCCC should’ve spent more in Engel’s race, DelBene cited newly elected Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.), who won a Republican-held seat that Donald Trump carried in 2020 despite a relative lack of Democratic support.

“I felt like she could win and there was a strong opportunity there,” DelBene said. “And she did. [But] she was not in a seat that the DCCC had made a priority.”

Early targets (including Santos)

Hudson sees a House battlefield of roughly 50 seats, including the 18 seats held by Republicans that President Biden carried in 2020 that Republicans need to defend and the five seats held by Democrats that Trump won three years ago that they seeking to pick off.

He’s also eyeing open seats, including the one being vacated by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), who’s running for Senate, and the seat held by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who’s considering running for retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat.

  • One early Democratic target: the Long Island seat held by Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who some Republican lawmakers have denounced following revelations that he lied to voters about much of his life story. The Cook Political Report last week rated the race for his seat as “Lean Democrat,” making him the most vulnerable Republican in the House.

Santos is facing federal and local investigations, and the House Ethics Committee is also expected to investigate his deceptions. Asked whether she’d like to see him run for reelection, DelBene quipped, “Well, that assumes Congressman Santos makes it that long.”

“There’s a process in place for this situation, and those processes are currently underway,” Hudson said. “We’re going to let those play out. I can't predict what's going to happen.”

We can predict this: Republicans don’t want Santos on the ballot in 2024.

From the courts

Supreme Court justices discussed, but did not agree on code of conduct

🚨 SCOOP: “The Supreme Court has failed to reach consensus on an ethics code of conduct specific to the nine justices despite internal discussions dating back at least four years,” people familiar with the matter told our colleagues Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow.

  • “It remains an active topic at the court, these people said, and the court’s legal counsel Ethan Torrey prepared a working document of issues for them to consider. There is no timeline for the justices to act, however.”
  • “The inertia has frustrated critics, whose demands for reform have intensified. The court’s profile has only increased as a new majority has moved rapidly on a range of polarizing issues. That has also increased scrutiny on the justices, the activities of their spouses and when the court’s members should recuse themselves from cases.”

On the Hill

What will the weaponization committee grow up to be?

Republicans’ main political weapon, a new committee to attack the federal government, is holding its first hearing today.

Democrats view the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government panel as a political stunt and will push back against conspiracy theories and focus on the facts, aides and lawmakers said.

The committee, which was established as a condition for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to find the votes to become House speaker, has set high expectations in an attempt to crack down on what Republicans call politicization and bias in the federal government.

The basis of the committee’s focus is a 1,000-page report compiled by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the committee’s chairman, during the last Congress through interviews with whistleblowers.

It’s a committee that is likely to encapsulate the grievances played daily on Fox News and conservative media. In fact, Fox News contributor and George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley is one of the witnesses testifying in today’s hearing.

Their first witnesses: Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the latter of whom has espoused conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, will talk about their own investigation into the FBI, the Justice Department and Hunter Biden.

“The hearing is a setting-the-stage hearing, sort of reflecting the big picture before we begin,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), a member of the committee.

It comes a day after the House Oversight Committee held a hearing attempting to show that the government intervened with Twitter and suppressed an article about Hunter Biden's laptop. Instead, the hearing's witnesses, former Twitter employees, indicated that there was no government influence (except for when the Trump White House asked for tweets to be deleted) and that Twitter temporarily made a bad decision.

Del. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), the top Democrat, said she met with Jordan on Wednesday to discuss the committee and its agenda.

“I think [today] will set the tone for how the rest of the select committee goes,” Plaskett said.

What the bickering at the State of the Union means

Tuesday’s State of the Union was marked by loud bickering, shouting matches and several outbursts. Our colleagues Jeff Stein, Isaac Arnsdorf, Matt Viser and Michael Scherer tell us what it all means.

Meaning No. 1: No more “hard choices.” Tuesday night’s boisterous exchange between Biden and Republicans over Social Security and Medicare “encapsulated a newfound reality in Washington,” Jeff writes. “Leaders of both parties have become unwilling to discuss potential changes to Social Security and Medicare — even as time dwindles before they reach financial insolvency and benefit reductions for tens of millions of American seniors will automatically go into effect.”

  • Trump, meanwhile, has “moved to wield the issue as a wedge in the primary, particularly against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis,” Isaac writes. “The emphasis reflects potential vulnerability for Republican rivals who were elected to powerful posts in the pre-Trump tea party era, embracing austerity in the last showdown over raising the federal debt limit.”

Meaning No. 2: Everyone is a political target. The heckling that night also “framed what is becoming a notable dynamic as the 2024 campaign heats up: Biden and the raucous House Republicans are in many ways running against each other, each seeing the other as a useful foil to be called out and ridiculed at every turn,” Matt and Michael write.

The campaign

The state of election integrity

Although the 2022 midterm elections were mostly free from the chaos that plagued the 2020 presidential elections, election integrity is still a concern heading into 2024 and officials need to begin preparing for potential election crises now, according to a new report released this morning.

“There is no question that for many election experts, clenched teeth gave way to sighs of relief over the course of this fall’s election season. For the most part, voting took place without significant disruption,” the National Task Force on Election Crises, a cross-partisan coalition of more than 50 experts who advocate for free and fair elections through preventive reforms, wrote in the report.

But “the 2024 presidential election may face more focused efforts to disrupt it than the 2022 midterms, given the higher stakes.”

The task force lists political violence, election disinformation and election security as some of the key issues that could disrupt future elections.

Former Kentucky secretary of state and task force member Trey Grayson told The Early that he worries about election misinformation and disinformation the most because of its downstream effect: Those are “some of the underlying [reasons] that cause people to commit violence or threaten election officials,” he said.

The recs

The task force made nearly two dozen recommendations in preparation for 2024, including:

  • Sustaining and expanding voting options, including early and mail-in voting;
  • Ensuring funding for election administration;
  • Protecting voters, election workers and officials from threats of violence and intimidation;
  • Holding individuals who knowingly pursue “bad-faith or frivolous legal challenges” accountable;
  • Downgrading or deleting election-related disinformation on social media; and
  • Increasing investments to prevent political violence.

What we're watching

We are watching to see how House Democrats vote on two bills that would block local D.C. bills. One of the bills would alter the criminal code that is opposed by Democratic Mayor Muriel E. Bowser. The other would allow undocumented immigrants to vote in local elections.

While Republicans often interfere in local D.C. affairs when they have the majority, Democrats have long been opposed. But the crime bill is a tough vote for some Democrats who don't want to be painted as weak on crime.

The Media

Early reeeads

From us: 

From across the web: 


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