Pundits for months predicted the midterm contests were destined to be a clearcut referendum on Joe Biden’s presidency. With 49 days to go until Nov. 8, voters’ decisions might indeed follow that calculus, but an unusually potent stew of issues color this year’s political “choice.”
If Biden, who is not on any ballot this fall, is a threshold hurdle for midterm voters, the upward slope of his job approval trajectory, albeit hovering at 45 percent, is something of a tell.
The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes that the 79-year-old president may have been underestimated by both the left and the right, in part because some mobilized voters appear to be assessing a mix of uniquely consequential concerns, including soaring prices, crime and guns, immigration, constitutional rights, a war in Ukraine, a pandemic and the fate of U.S. elections and democracy. “Biden is bouncing back — but the question is how high his fortunes can rise and how much they can help his party,” Stanage adds.
The presidentis enjoying what appears to be a solid bump in approval, a shift linked to the rare enactment in a midterm year of four major pieces of legislation Democratic candidates are championing, a stark drop in gasoline prices over the summer, the Supreme Court’s dramatic abortion ruling in June and the swirl of former President Trump’s political influence and norm-busting behavior, The Hill’s Max Greenwood reports.
Both parties in Congress are exploiting policy issues to appeal to their base voters. Senate Democrats have now decided to wait until after the elections to try to enshrine same-sex marriage into federal legislation as insurance against a conservative Supreme Court’s potential move, as referenced in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, to rescind justices’ 2015 decision requiring states to grant same-sex marriages.
The Hill’s Al Weaver reports that punting until sometime after Nov. 8 takes the issue off the table for senators, including a few vulnerable GOP incumbents. And that begs the question: Did Senate Democrats undermine the party’s midterm momentum? Will the mix of other issues Democrats placed center stage be enough to hold the Senate and perhaps help the party do better than predicted in close House contests?
Those other issues in heavy rotation include defense of abortion and reproductive rights, reminders of healthy job numbers, policies enacted to battle climate change and specific benefits aimed at students, military veterans and seniors.
Then there’s immigration. Democrats believe a trio of politically ambitious GOP governors in border states who are transporting migrants by bus and charter planes to left-leaning cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Martha’s Vineyard are overreaching at best and downright cruel at worst, reports The Hill’s Rafael Bernal.
Those governors and fellow Republicans, however, disagree. “This is what happens when you have an administration that basically is telling people if you come into this country illegally, you’re going to get to stay,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told supporters in his state last week.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, TexasGov. Greg Abbott and Arizona’s Doug Ducey, all Republicans, believe their focus on a border “crisis” and “failed” immigration leadership under Biden and Vice President Harris is resonating with conservatives and putting Democratic officials on defense during an off-year election cycle.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D), who is working to identify and finance sufficient shelter and services for migrants transported from border states to his metropolis, was criticized in some quarters Monday when he suggested putting migrant families on cruise ships. It’s an idea former Mayor Michael Bloomberg considered but abandoned in 2002 after public pushback (The New York Times). Adams defended the idea and said the city is looking for “creative ways” to address a “humanitarian crisis.”
The New York Times: After Texas sent 29-year-old Venezuelan asylum seeker Lever Alejos to the nation’s capital, he found work and shelter. “I feel fortunate the governor put me on a bus to Washington,” he said.
County authorities in Texas on Monday opened a criminal investigation into DeSantis’ operation to fly roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants from the Lone Star State to Massachusetts last week, exploring whether the migrants were deceived and transported under false pretenses (The Miami Herald).
“I believe people need to be held accountable for it to the extent possible,” said Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, a Democrat, at a news conference. “At this point, I’m not able to definitively say here’s the statute that they broke, either federal, state or local, but what I can tell you is it’s wrong. Just from a human rights perspective, what was done to these folks is wrong.”
▪ Bloomberg News: Republicans want to flip the House, and they’re outspending Democrats to do it.
▪ The Hill: These women could make history in November’s midterms.
▪ The Hill: Maryland Democrat Wes Moore opened up a 22-point lead in his race against Republican Dan Cox to succeed retiring GOP Gov. Larry Hogan in a blue state.
▪ The Dallas Morning News: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) leads challenger Beto O’Rourke (D) by 47 percent to 38 percent, up 7 points from last month, according to a new poll of registered voters from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. The governors’ recent flood of TV ads, which for weeks went unanswered, and voters’ slight rightward tilt on abortion, the border and crime may have helped the two-term incumbent.
▪ The Hill: California law promises aid to LGBTQ+ veterans discharged from the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
LEADING THE DAY
Senate Republicans are threatening to sink Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) side deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on permitting reform, partly because of lingering anger over Manchin’s approval of last month’s Democratic climate, health and tax bill, which Biden signed into law.
As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes, Schumer had been paving a path to passage for an agreement he cut with Manchin, to be attached to a stopgap spending bill that seeks to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month. But now GOP senators say the combination of the bill and Manchin’s construction permitting reform proposal is unlikely to get 10 Republican votes in the Senate.
“They say there’s little appetite for giving Manchin a big political and policy victory after he shocked them over the summer by announcing a deal with Schumer on the Inflation Reduction Act.”
Democratic leaders had promised Manchin they would adopt changes to the permitting process for construction projects in the fossil fuel and renewable energy industries in exchange for his vote on a sweeping measure enacted in August as the Inflation Reduction Act (The Hill). Republicans are now pushing to replace his proposal with permitting reform legislation crafted by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), which they argue would do more to speed the approval of fossil-fuel extraction and other projects (The Hill).
Politico: Revenge? Republicans weigh tanking Manchin’s permitting plan.
Until now, Schumer’s biggest threat to the bill’s passage ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline was progressives in the House, who say they’re opposed to permitting reforms but haven’t explicitly pledged to vote “no” on the bill (The Hill).
Meanwhile, in a nod to environmentalists, Schumer is expected to hold a vote this week to ratify the Kigali Amendment, a global agreement to limit climate-affecting hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions.
Schumer on Monday set the Senate clock for a possible vote later this week on the Disclose Act, a legislative priority for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who is a pro-environment swing vote. Biden today will publicly back the measure, which would impose political donation disclosure requirements on corporations, labor organizations, super PACs and other entities. Analysts believe it is unlikely to clear the Senate (The Hill).
Roll Call reports that some backers of the permitting reform bill — and a West Virginia pipeline that would be approved in the process — “have received thousands of dollars in contributions from the companies behind the project, hold stock in those companies or both.”
▪ The Hill: House, Senate conservatives: GOP should not give “lame duck” Democrats power in a funding bill.
▪ Reuters: Congress still grappling with short-term funding bill.
▪ Roll Call: Conservatives’ ire over stopgap spending presages budget wars to come.
▪ Yahoo News: Government funding bill creates rift over Manchin “side deal.”
In the House, The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch reports that Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), members of the Jan. 6 select committee, introduced legislation to reform the 1889 Electoral Count Act, which outlines how electoral votes are cast and counted following presidential elections. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet on the bill on Thursday.
Lofgren and Cheney’s bill follows a similar announcement in the Senate, where the Rules and Administration Committee said Friday that it would mark up its own bipartisan bill later this month to overhaul the 1887 law (Roll Call).
As Politico reports, the House bill echoes many parts of its Senate counterpart, but lays out certain processes in more detail. Both bills “make clear that the vice president’s role is ministerial, indicate that only a governor or other top official can submit slates of electors to Congress and create an expedited judicial review to challenge a governor’s certification of electors. However, the Senate bill only requires one-fifth support in both chambers in order to force a vote on an objection, compared to the House’s proposed one-third.”
Additionally, the House’s legislation includes a section based on the findings gathered by the Jan. 6 select committee, while the Senate’s version takes a more general, bipartisan approach to updating the centuries-old law.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Biden, who returned Monday evening from London, departs today for New York City where he plans to address the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, hold a meeting with new British Prime Minister Liz Truss and host a reception for world leaders.
The war in Ukraine is set to dominate U.N. discussions while Biden’s speech will take aim at fortifying the international community to back Ukraine, NATO, Europe and other democracies by isolating Russia and collectively pressuring worldwide autocracies (The Hill).
Separately, the Pentagon commissioned an audit of its conduct regarding clandestine information warfare after several social media companies identified and shut down fake accounts found in violation of the sites’ rules and suspected of being run by the U.S. military.
Pentagon officials must provide a full report of their activities next month after the White House and federal agencies expressed concern about the Defense Department’s “attempted manipulation of audiences overseas,” The Washington Post reports.
Elsewhere on Monday, American prisoner in Afghanistan Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran from Illinois who was kidnapped in 2020 while working on a construction contract, was released and flown out of the country as part of a prisoner swap for a convicted Taliban drug lord jailed in the United States. Frerichs was held for more than two years, likely by the Haqqani network, a faction of the Taliban. Biden phoned Frerichs sister to disclose her brother’s freedom (CNN and The Associated Press).
➤ GLOBAL ECONOMY & MONETARY POLICY
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday is expected to raise interest rates for a third time this year at the end of a two-day meeting focused on inflation. The anticipated move will further increase the strength of the dollar compared to rival currencies such as the yuan and Euro. Some critics believe the central bank’s hawkish monetary policy is speeding Europe toward a recession (The Hill).
The Wall Street Journal: Dollar’s rise spells troubles for global economies.
The Hill’s Sylvan Lane reports that the Federal Open Market Committee is on track to raise its baseline interest rate range by another three-quarters of a percentage point, increasing U.S. borrowing costs in the process. Following an unexpectedly high August inflation report, the central bank is projected by analysts to maintain its current aggressive posture on rates.
■ What I saw as the country’s first national climate adviser, by Gina McCarthy, guest essayist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3Lu0Ml2
■ Where’s the permitting bill, Senator Manchin? by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/3LrlK42
■ The puzzling disconnect between production and employment, by Vivekanand Jayakumar, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3UmcPVK
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Florence Pan to be a U.S. circuit judge for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The president at 1:45 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room will speak about the Disclose Act, which is pending action in the Senate and which would require organizations spending money in elections to promptly disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more during an election cycle. He will depart the White House and arrive in New York City at 5:25 p.m. and headline a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at 7:30 p.m. The president will remain in New York overnight ahead of a U.N. General Assembly meeting on Wednesday.
The vice president will travel this morning to Orangeburg, S.C., to join a noon roundtable conversation at Claflin University with students about mental health, entrepreneurship and access to capital. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will join her. Harris at 1:55 p.m. will speak about National Voter Registration Day at South Carolina State University. She will depart at 3:40 p.m. to return to the nation’s capital.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in New York for events tied to the United Nations and has a full schedule beginning at 8:30 a.m. when he meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The secretary will speak at 9:30 a.m. at the launch of the Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience. At 10 a.m., he hosts a Strengthening Atlantic Cooperation ministerial meeting and participates at 11:15 a.m. in the Alliance for Development in Democracy ministerial meeting. Blinken at 1 p.m. speaks about democracy at an event hosted by the U.S. Agency for International Development, followed by a ministerial meeting about food security at 2 p.m. The secretary will meet with Kenyan President William Ruto at 4 p.m. He’ll meet with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly at 4:45 p.m., followed by Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at 6 p.m.
Second gentleman Doug Emoff will appear at the John F. Kennedy Center at 6:40 p.m. to present the Federal Employee of the Year medal, part of a Samuel Heyman Service to America Medals ceremony.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at noon.
Gov. Ducey at 6 p.m. PDT delivers a speech that will be livestreamed about the future of the Republican Party at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, during a Bloomberg TV interview on Monday, said his country seeks more weapons from the West to maintain its counteroffensive against Russia.
The counteroffensive is “a clear message to everyone that it works, that it makes sense to help Ukraine with weapons because we can defeat President Putin and his army in our territory,” Kuleba said in New York.
Ukraine has extended its hold on recently recaptured territory on Monday, with troops heading further east into areas abandoned by Russia. As Reuters reports, this paves the way for potential attacks on Russian occupying forces in the Donbas region.
In response, the Moscow-backed administration in the Donbas region called for urgent referendums that would make the region a part of Russia.
“The occupiers are clearly in a panic,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a regular televised address. He said he’s now focused on “speed.”
“The speed at which our troops are moving,” he said. “The speed in restoring normal life.”
Zelensky is set to address the U.N. General Assembly this week, where he is expected to ask nations for more weapons.
▪ Politico: Ukraine has shot down 55 Russian warplanes, U.S. general says.
▪ Reuters: Ukraine marches farther into liberated lands, separatist calls for urgent referendum.
▪ The Associated Press: ‘We have nothing’: Izium’s trauma after Russian occupation.
▪ The New York Times: One big problem for Ukraine Is clear: glass.
The war in Ukraine, and Europe’s sanctions of Russia, are having repercussions across the continent. After Russian President Vladimir Putin abruptly cut off natural gas supply to Europe indefinitely in early September, energy costs have skyrocketed (CNBC).
For one factory owner in France, energy prices have climbed so fast that he has had to rewrite business forecasts six times in two months, The New York Times reports.
Nicholas Hodler, who owns a wine glass manufacturer, had to put a third of his 4,500 employees on partial furlough and idle four of his factory’s nine furnaces.
“It’s the most dramatic situation we have ever encountered,” Hodler told The Times. “For energy-intensive businesses like ours, it’s crippling.”
Putin on Friday denied Russia had anything to do with Europe’s energy crisis, and said if the European Union wanted more gas it should lift sanctions preventing the opening of Nord Stream 2 — an unused pipeline in the Baltic Sea (Reuters).
▪ The Washington Post: Coal stoves and wood thieves: Europe braces for winter without Russian gas.
▪ Yahoo News: How Europe’s energy crisis will impact U.S. gas prices.
▪ Bloomberg: Europe gas prices drop as nations ramp up efforts to ease crisis
Mexico’s Pacific coast was struck by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on Monday, which set off a seismic alarm in the capital and killed at least one person (NBC News). The earthquake coincided with the anniversary of two other devastating earthquakes in 1985 and 2017 (Bloomberg).
➤ POX, PANDEMIC & HEALTH
Biden told CBS News during a recent interview that the COVID-19 pandemic “is over,” a comment that reflected the administration’s eagerness to see the U.S. return to normal but also challenged his administration’s embrace of the science of virology, booster doses to fight COVID-19’s omicron variants, its push to vaccinate children against COVID-19 during a school year and federal preparations for the next pandemic.
Meanwhile, the White House is trying to persuade lawmakers that COVID-19 is dangerous enough to warrant $22 billion more in federal appropriations to fight it. Mixed messages could undermine that effort. Health experts warn that prematurely declaring the end of the pandemic risks prolonging the hazards and transmission rates, and could scuttle the rollout of updated booster doses available for the BA.5 version of omicron (The Hill).
U.S. health officials are calling for new prevention and treatment efforts for sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea and syphilis. Last year, new reported syphilis cases rose 26 percent and the rate of such cases reached its highest since 1991, while the total number of cases was the highest since 1948. HIV cases are also on the rise, up 16 percent last year. An international outbreak of monkeypox, spread through contact mainly between men who have sex with other men, has underscored the nation’s worsening problem with diseases spread most commonly through sex (The Associated Press).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,053,840. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 360, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
➤ PUERTO RICO
Hurricane Fiona today could strengthen into a major Category 3 hurricane while passing near the British territory of Turks and Caicos Islands, according to forecasters. The intensifying storm since the weekend has dropped copious rain over the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where a 58-year-old man died after police said he was swept away by a river in the central mountain town of Comerio (The Associated Press).
Fiona soaked the U.S. territory with more than 2 feet of rain, knocking out Puerto Rico’s power grid and causing flash floods across the territory.
National Guard troops rescued hundreds who were stranded and authorities said at least 1,300 people spent the night in shelters across the island, which is still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Maria in 2017 (The Associated Press).
Biden phoned Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi (D) Monday to talk about near-term needs following Fiona’s destruction there, and to describe more than 300 federal personnel helping with response and recovery, the White House said (The Hill). Federal assistance and personnel will expand as damage assessments are completed, Biden added. Federal Emergency Management Administrator Deanne Criswell is traveling to the island today to coordinate with local officials and to meet with some affected residents.
And finally … 🚘 On American roadways for at least 12 weeks this year, it’s been the best of times but it’s still among the worst of times — as measured by traffic fatalities, according to the government’s latest statistics.
Projections released Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed the first quarterly decline in crash deaths since the earliest days of the pandemic. But let’s slow down for the next sentence: The improvement measured this spring fades when the entire year’s forecast is taken into account.
An estimated 10,590 people died in U.S. vehicle crashes between April and June, fewer than the 11,135 people killed during the same period last year. But NHTSA estimates that 20,175 people died in the first six months of this year. Ann Carlson, the acting head of the highway safety agency, said the figures for the second quarter were “heartening,” but “the number of people dying on roads in this country remains a crisis” (The Washington Post).
Autos themselves may be safer, but drivers — not so much.
In Washington, D.C., speed limits on two major commuter arteries through the city are dropping to 25 mph to try to reduce fatal crashes (The Washington Post). Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) is reacting to a rising number of serious traffic crashes in the nation’s capital. The new, lower speed limits on Connecticut Avenue NW and New York Avenue NE, two busy routes that together carry nearly 100,000 vehicles daily, take effect this week.