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The Early 202

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

In interview, McCarthy talks Tucker, debt and more

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. Would the owner of this Honda Civic with an “EARMARK” license plate please drop us a line? We have some questions. Other tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s edition … Republicans say they haven’t seen the news about Fox News … The showdown before the raid … Lightfoot ousted as Chicago mayor … What we’re watching: Senate votes on Labor rule as Biden introduces nominee to lead department … China select committee holds first hearing … but first …

On the Hill

McCarthy’s 'outside-the-box’ idea to start debt negotiations

We had a few minutes with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday afternoon to discuss a variety of issues, including giving Fox News host Tucker Carlson access to the U.S. Capitol security footage from Jan. 6, 2021, which we reported on Tuesday night. (More on that below.)

We also talked to him about his coming showdown with Democrats over raising the debt ceiling and how he plans to avert a debt default that could cripple the economy.

McCarthy said he has invited Congressional Budget Office Director Phillip Swagel to brief the entire House about the government’s fiscal health as early as next week and that he wants to treat it with the seriousness of a classified briefing. He’s going to hold it in the congressional auditorium, which is used for actual classified briefings and rare events, like when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to Congress last year via video. 

  • “I thought we usually only use the auditorium for really special things like classified briefings on issues that are so big. I think this issue is so big,” he said, adding that no cellphones will be allowed but candid conversation will be.

Republicans argue the growing debt is a threat to the country’s economic future, and they’re willing to risk a default if Democrats don’t agree to spending cuts in exchange for raising the government’s borrowing limit. Democrats say they won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling.

So is this briefing a political stunt or an attempt to start serious negotiations?

McCarthy said he’s serious and chose Swagel, whose office put out a fresh debt projection last month, because he’s a nonpartisan figure. He wants Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.), the House Budget Committee’s chairman, and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), the committee’s top Democrat, to sit with Swagel and ask him questions. 

  • “I talked to Hakeem about it. I want to bring Republicans and Democrats together,” McCarthy said, referring to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). “I think our debt is so dire, we’re at that tipping point.”

Jeffries is open to moving forward with the bipartisan briefing, a spokesperson for the Democrat said. 

“I think our three biggest issues are our debt, our education system and China,” McCarthy said. 

McCarthy defends giving Carlson Jan. 6 footage

McCarthy told The Early he gave Carlson an “exclusive” by providing his team with access to security footage from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and that complaints about the decision stem from the press being “jealous” it didn’t get the footage first. 

  • “People like exclusives, and Tucker is some[one] that’s been asking for it. So I let him come in and see it, but everyone’s gonna get it,” McCarthy said in the interview with The Early. “It almost seems like the press is jealous. You know? And that’s interesting because every person in the press works off exclusives on certain things.” 

McCarthy dismissed concerns raised by Democrats that Carlson will compromise security at the Capitol by showing footage that could help anyone looking to harm lawmakers, saying the House Jan. 6 select committee already did that by showing the security exit of his old office without alerting him.

  • “I was really concerned how Jan. 6 [committee] would pick and choose certain things,” McCarthy said. “I'm not picking and choosing. I'm allowing everybody, just like any other story. If I provide an exclusive to one, you're all going to watch more of it.”

Democrats have also criticized McCarthy’s decision to give Carlson the footage because he has questioned the severity of the attack. They say Carlson will cherry-pick footage to argue there wasn’t much violence.

Our colleagues Jacqueline Alemany and Marianna Sotomayor report that a spokesperson for Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), who chairs the House Administration Committee’s oversight subcommittee, said ground rules established by the House prevent Carlson’s staff from recording or removing any videos from the screening area that was set up for the Fox News team to view surveillance video. The footage selected by Carlson will have to go through a vetting process before going to air, the spokesperson added.

Republicans say they haven’t seen the news about Fox News

McCarthy’s decision to give Carlson exclusive access to the Jan. 6 security footage isn’t the only reason the Fox host has been in the news lately.

Carlson is at the center of a brewing controversy over the recent release of emails and texts that show he and other Fox News personalities privately disparaging the false claims of massive election fraud in 2020 that they were helping to promote while on air. Court documents also show Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch acknowledging “in a deposition that ‘some of our commentators were endorsing’ the baseless narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen — and that he wishes the network did more to challenge those conspiracy theories,” our colleagues Jeremy Barr, Sarah Ellison and Rachel Weiner wrote this week.

Fox has argued the information released was cherry-picked and is not relevant to the lawsuit, which concerns whether Fox defamed Dominion.

  • The explosive news about Fox has been hard to miss, but many Republicans who frequently appear on the GOP-friendly network said they haven’t heard about the allegations.

“I didn’t read all that. I didn’t see all that,” McCarthy told us. But he suggested people might not have known the truth at the time.

Here are some reactions from other Republicans to the news about Fox News:

  • “I don’t know anything about it,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who is seeking to block a search of his cellphone by the special counsel investigating the attack on the Capitol. “I have not seen it, literally have not seen it.” 
  • Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) said they haven’t seen the reports, either. 
  • Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the new chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he too is in the dark about the accusation that Fox hosts were promoting a narrative about the election they knew to be false: “I haven’t seen any of that.”
  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) also has yet to catch up. “I honestly have not seen that. I’m not following any of it,” he said.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said he doesn’t know the details but said, “We should have high expectations that everybody, you know, reports facts.”

Fox has not covered the story. Its media reporter, Howard Kurtz, said Fox told him not to report on the lawsuit while the case is open, depriving millions of conservative viewers — and perhaps Republican lawmakers — loyal to Fox from being filled in on the developments. 

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who does not often appear on Fox prime-time opinion shows, said, “I just really don’t have any observations. I mean, I think that [the lawsuit will] play itself out.”

Some Republicans said the allegations are concerning. 

Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) said the lawsuit is “pretty damning.”

“The time was when members of the media subscribe to an ethic of responsibility to be professionals, not just to maximize their reach, or their viewers, but actually to ensure that they subscribe to and upheld certain standards of journalistic excellence and just basic professional integrity,” Young said. 

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) suggested the Fox hosts who allegedly didn’t tell the truth should be more clear about whether they are entertainers or journalists.

“I tell people if you want entertainment, then go and watch entertainment, but recognize that it’s entertainment,” Rounds said. “If you want news, then go where you’re expecting to get news from reporters and anchors that, you know, are trying to provide that.” 

From Mar-a-Lago

The showdown before the raid

Our colleagues Carol D. Leonnig, Devlin Barrett, Perry Stein and Aaron C. Davis provide an exclusive account of the tense behind-the-scenes deliberations and infighting between Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents over how aggressively to pursue a criminal investigation of Trump. Here’s an excerpt:

  • A collision course: “By mid-July, the prosecutors were eager for the FBI to scour the premises of Mar-a-Lago. They argued that the probable cause for a search warrant was more than solid, and the likelihood of finding classified records and evidence of obstruction was high,” our colleagues write. “But the prosecutors learned FBI agents were still loath to conduct a surprise search. They also heard from top FBI officials that some agents were simply afraid: They worried taking aggressive steps investigating Trump could blemish or even end their careers.”

The campaign

Lightfoot ousted as Chicago mayor

She’s out: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her reelection bid Tuesday, “failing to amass enough support to advance to a runoff election after a difficult tenure as the leader of a city overwhelmed by gun violence,” our colleagues Colby Itkowitz, Kim Bellware and Sabrina Rodriguez report

  • “Four years ago, she was a darling among national Democrats. The first openly gay Black woman to serve as mayor of Chicago and only the second woman to do so in the city’s history,” the Chicago Sun-Times’s Fran Spielman writes. “On Tuesday, she joined Jane Byrne and Michael Bilandic as the only elected mayors of Chicago to be denied a second term since Prohibition.”

Mark your calendars: Paul Vallas, a former chief executive of Chicago public schools who secured the endorsement of the police union, will face Cook County commissioner and former teacher Brandon Johnson in the April 4 runoff election.

What we're watching

On the Hill: The Senate is going to vote on another Republican attempt to roll back a Biden administration Labor Department rule that allows retirement fund managers to take into consideration environmental, societal and governance factors (ESG) when investing in retirement accounts. The measure passed the House on Tuesday. Just one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden (Maine), joined all Republicans in supporting it. 

Also, Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, Phillip Washington, is set to appear today before a Senate committee that will consider his nomination, per our colleague Michael Laris. Biden tapped Washington more than seven months ago. 

At Maryland’s National Harbor: The Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off today, with Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) among the first day’s speakers. It’s taking place as Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which puts on CPAC, is trying to fend off anonymous allegations that he groped an aide to Republican Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign last year.

  • As our colleagues Beth Reinhard and Isaac Arnsdorf reported on Tuesday, “dozens of current and former employees and board members interviewed by The Washington Post described a wider range of complaints about the longtime Republican power broker and CPAC’s culture under his leadership.”

In the agencies: Speaking of the Labor Department, President Biden will deliver remarks today introducing deputy Labor secretary Julie Su as his nominee to lead the department. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is leaving the administration. 

The policies: The pandemic-era boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits ends today — threatening more than 31 million Americans’ food security.

  • The cuts are expected to reduce SNAP recipients’ monthly benefits by an average of $182, which means that they will be able to spend an average of only $6 per day for food, per our colleagues Tony Romm and Laura Reiley. The end of the emergency SNAP benefits comes as the U.S. government has shuttered several other pandemic-era aid programs and as food prices continue to soar.

On the Hill

China select committee holds first hearing

Lights, camera, competition: The new House select committee tasked with examining the competition between the United States and China made its debut Tuesday night with a prime-time hearing on the threat China poses to the U.S. — while also stressing that scrutiny of the Chinese government doesn’t mean bashing the Chinese people or Asian Americans.  

The hearing comes as relations between the U.S. and China continue to deteriorate following the discovery of what American officials said was a Chinese surveillance balloon and as the Biden administration warns Beijing against aiding Russia in its war against Ukraine. 

Some Democrats worry that the panel will fuel discrimination against Asian Americans. Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Tex.) questioned Rep. Judy Chu’s (D-Calif.) “loyalty” to the U.S. last week and suggested she should not have access to intelligence briefings. (Chu became the first Chinese American elected to Congress in 2009.) 

  • “We have no quarrel with the Chinese people or people of Chinese origin,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the committee’s top Democrat, said in his opening remarks. “That’s why we should never engage in anti-Chinese or anti-Asian stereotyping or prejudices. Comments that question the loyalty of Asian American members of Congress are completely unacceptable and must be rejected.”

The Media

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