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For today’s issue we chatted with The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch about the Jan. 6 select committee, how its probe is going and what to expect at its next hearing.
What was the mood in the room on Monday?
Monday was a little different from Thursday night, when we saw a lot more graphic images from the riot and heard particularly compelling testimony from a Capitol Police officer who was injured in the attack. It was especially emotional for widows of other officers in the room as well as lawmakers who were of course there during the attack. Monday switched into a bit more focused gear. We’ve been told to expect new evidence, and for reporters who have spent over a year covering this, we’re lasered in on teasing out what’s new, even as we think about how to relay the bigger picture for a wide audience.
A major player (ex-Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien) couldn’t attend Monday’s hearing. How did that affect things? Any idea if he’ll come later?
Chair Bennie Thompson [D-Miss.] initially said he didn’t know, then reversed later and said he would not. I think Stepien’s absence as his wife went into labor illustrates the extent the committee is very organized around the video clips of depositions it’s already done. It would have been interesting to see Stepien in the witness chair, but we’re beginning to see a pattern where witnesses who are present are not heavily questioned by the panel, who are instead turning largely to prior depositions to make their case.
How have GOP members’ ‘counter programming’ efforts worked so far?
I’m sure for some they have and some they haven’t. The committee managed to get 20 million viewers for their first prime-time hearing. Of course, the daytime hearings aren’t expected to reach such a wide audience, but the panel has already had a chance to reach those who wouldn’t otherwise turn into a congressional hearing. One number that has been sticking with me too, is even amid the partisan breakdown in interest over their work, a CBS News poll found 24 percent said it was somewhat important “to find out what happened that day and who was involved.” I think that shows there is a sort of middle ground group here who might be receptive to what the committee has to present, even if they haven’t been hanging on every word.
This ‘election defense fund’ didn’t exist? Can you break down what it means?
This was essentially a Trump campaign fundraising tool, something one campaign aide said was used to allude to “how money can potentially be used.” They raised $250 million, but it went to a smattering of other efforts. Trump created a separate entity, the Save America PAC, which funneled money to conservative groups run by Trump allies, including $1 million to a charitable foundation run by his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, more than $5 million to the event company that oversaw Trump’s Ellipse rally on Jan. 6 and more than $200,000 to the Trump Hotel Collection. The committee has summed this up as “a big rip off.”
Wednesday’s hearing has been delayed. What should we expect next?
The delay of Wednesday’s hearing is the latest hiccup for the committee, something Rep. Zoe Lofgren [D-Calif.] said was a measure to give the committee’s video team more time to assemble clips. If future hearings are anything like the two we’ve seen so far, these hearings are pretty video intensive, but it does raise questions if the committee will be able to keep up the quick clip they laid out in the first hearing.
One big takeaway?
My big takeaway is that the committee has tons of depositions in its video files and it’s going to keep using them to allow Trump officials, both from the campaign and from his own administration, to make the case against the former president. The committee has promised to lay out some serious allegations, but at a minimum, it seems equipped to slowly grind down on the details, offering clips of officials speaking to Trump wrongdoing again and again and again.
Democrats turn to Nevada in bid to keep Senate
Democrats’ fight to keep control of the Senate will largely play out in Nevada this fall, where the GOP is already slamming Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) on high gas prices and inflation.
Polling strongly suggests Tuesday’s primary will cement the race between Cortez Masto, the incumbent running in her first reelection bid, against former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R), who won the endorsement of former President Trump.
Laxalt, leading his opponent Sam Brown by double digits, has already been on the offense against Cortez Masto, doubling down on Nevada’s second-highest gas prices in the country, record levels of inflation and high unemployment rate.
“It’s very hard to convince people what they see with their eyes isn’t actually true,” a Nevada GOP strategist told NotedDC. “And to convince them that despite your voting record and party label, you are somehow to be trusted with another term.”
Laxalt pins Cortez Masto as a President Biden loyalist — she votes with his policies at least 95 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight — making it more difficult for her to separate herself from the criticism Biden receives.
The senator — along with other Democrats such as Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly — opposed Biden’s decision to lift Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic policy that allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants.
Cortez Masto also may face a lack of name recognition among newly registered voters. As The Hill’s Julia Manchester notes, Nevada has seen major surges in population growth over the past decade, especially in Latino and Asian American Pacific Islander populations. “Republicans have been continually gaining with Hispanic voters,” the GOP strategist said. “I think Republicans have a tremendous opportunity this cycle to continue that growth.”
“Congress is a snapshot of America, it truly is, and a lot of people, when they watch TV they don’t think that, but there are people that have very different life experiences, particularly in the House.”
— Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) talking to editor-in-chief Bob Cusack at The Hill’s event Chronic Kidney Disease: Forging Patient Centered Solutions
NRA looms over Senate gun talks
The push for the bipartisan gun reform package in the Senate gained momentum Tuesday with GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) announcing he’d likely back it.
But proponents are eagerly watching for how the National Rifle Association (NRA) handles the legislation.
The Senate proposal excludes much of what the powerful gun rights group lobbies against, like universal background checks, raising the purchase age to 21-years-old and banning any sort of gun or ammunition.
The Hill’s Alex Bolton reports the NRA won’t comment on the proposal until the full legislative text is published, likely at the end of this week. If they do push back, they could threaten to downgrade their ranking of senators who end up voting for it.
Gun rights advocates previously lobbied the Senate to drop a measure targeting the so-called “boyfriend loophole” when lawmakers reauthorized the Violence Against Women’s Act in March, fearing it would risk Republican support.
The proposal would include dating partners in a law that bars spouses and cohabitants from owning a firearm if convicted of domestic violence.
The measure is included in the current gun package. “For myself, I’m comfortable with the framework and if the legislation ends up reflecting what the framework indicates, I’ll be supportive,” McConnell told reporters Thursday.
House sends Supreme Court security bill to Biden
The House passed a bill Tuesday to expand security protections to family members of Supreme Court justices following the arrest of an armed man near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home last week.
House Democrats had pushed to pass a bill that also offered protections to Supreme Court staff, including judicial clerks. But Republicans rebuffed those efforts, saying instead the bill passed by the Senate in May should be sent to Biden’s desk.
Democrats gave up their fight Tuesday, with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) saying that he had “no explanation” for why Republicans were so resistant to including staff members.
The bill’s passage comes ahead of the Supreme Court’s potential announcement overturning Roe v. Wade, which could come Wednesday or in the next few weeks.
Protests erupted last month after Politico published a leaked draft opinion that would overturn the landmark ruling legalizing abortion, with some protests taking place outside of conservative justices’ homes.
NUMBER TO KNOW
The number of Democrats who voted against the bill to provide security protections to family members of Supreme Court justices.
On The Lawn
President Biden is turning his attention to labor unions this week, an issue that has been prominent throughout his presidency.
The Hill’s Alex Gangitano reports that Biden’s “high-profile” trip to the convention for the AFL-CIO in Philadelphia on Tuesday comes as Democrats worry they could lose blue-collar workers to Republicans this November.
“The President vowed to be the most pro-union president in U.S. history while on the campaign trail and lately he has ramped up his engagement,” Gangitano said.
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