First look: House Republicans’ strategy to jump
By ALLY MUTNICK, SARAH FERRIS, DANIELLA DIAZ and ANTHONY ADRAGNA
08/25/2023 07:46 AM EDT
Updated 08/30/2023 02:27 PM EDT
Alison Esposito, a former NYPD officer who ran for lieutenant governor in 2022, is preparing a run against Rep. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.). | Getty Images
HOW THE HOUSE GOP MADE HEADWAY ON ITS RECRUITMENT CRISIS
Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House GOP leaders gathered earlier this summer to discuss a jarring problem with their 2024 campaign strategy: They lacked strong recruits in too many critical districts.
The field was so sparse, in fact, that nearly everyone on the leadership team committed to help close the gap, according to five people familiar with the strategy who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
As Republicans launched their concerted campaign to woo on-the-fence recruits into a 2024 cycle already dominated by former President Donald Trump, McCarthy, and his top deputies — Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) — met with candidates to ratchet up their sales pitch. They flew many potential hopefuls to Washington to make the case in person.
Bearing fruit: Weeks later, Republicans are making progress in their bid to grow their narrow and unruly majority. While a few holes still remain — most notably in Maine and Alaska — party strategists said their recruitment worries have largely abated as Labor Day approaches.
Candidates have jumped into swing-seat races in Nevada (Heidi Kasama) and Pennsylvania (Maria Montero, Ryan Mackenzie and Rob Mercuri), with more expected to follow soon. Hudson declared himself “thrilled” with how well it’s going, telling us that McCarthy’s entire leadership team acted as “incredible partners.”
Two highlights: That list of forthcoming launches includes two of the GOP’s most eagerly courted recruits.
Other anticipated GOP candidates:
That’s on top of other notable recruitment success stories in blue seats where Republicans hope they can at least force Democrats to spend:
Still, deficiencies in Trump country: Recruiters privately admit, however, that they are struggling to find opponents for Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) or Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska). Republicans are determined to find an Alaska recruit who can pass the “Murkowski test” after the state’s centrist GOP senator endorsed Peltola last cycle.
The big caveat: Recruitment has been particularly tough this year for both parties, each of which is likely facing a historically unpopular presidential nominee atop the ticket. Democrats are relying heavily on failed 2022 candidates, while Republicans involved in recruitment admit that Trump’s early surge and swarm of indictments has given some prospective candidates cold feet.
Strategists in both parties also identified a general political malaise – fatigue that’s affecting donors and candidates themselves. As politics grows seemingly uglier by the minute, potential recruits are questioning … why should I sign up for this?
– Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris
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GOOD MORNING! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Friday, Aug. 25, where we plan to go for a long break and hope you enjoy your last week of recess.
SEE YOU IN A WEEK: Huddle will not publish next week as well as Monday, Sept. 4, in honor of the Labor Day holiday. We’ll return to your inboxes on Tuesday, Sept. 5, just in time for the next congressional work period.
EVERYDAY FOLK ARE TRAVELING
It’s the heart of Congress’ August recess, and Hill travelers have scattered throughout the country — and the world — with all the accompanying travel headaches to boot.
All but the most local-to-Washington lawmakers are frequent flyers, making them extra attuned to the travails of air travel (you may recall a spat from earlier this summer about slots for long-haul flights out of Reagan National Airport).
With members jetting around the country alongside their vacationing constituents, your Huddle hosts thought we’d highlight three big travel issues on lawmakers’ radar.
Facial recognition technology: Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) doesn’t like that the Transportation Security Administration might have your face registered in a database when you go through security, and he’d like to do something about it. The Oregon Democrat has legislation that would prevent the government from using that database for security purposes, a scenario that he likened to a “national surveillance system.”
Merkley believes more Americans should be aware that this technology is being used in airports and also wants bigger and better signage alerting air travelers to the system. He’s posted a series of videos to Instagram highlighting what he says is inadequate signage at Reagan National about the program — especially its voluntary nature.
“The current system seems to be working very well, of having the TSA agents look at your face and then look at your ID,” he said in an interview. “I would say there’s been no demonstrated need to use facial recognition at the TSA checkpoints.”
Merkley is not exempt from the more banal indignities of air travel, either. The senator recalled having to spend the night in an airport a few months ago after a series of canceled flights, first-hand experience, he said, of what the flying public deals with.
“I did not tell (the airline) I was a senator,” he said, jokingly adding that “I have no doubt that I would have been treated exactly the same.”
Passport backlog issues: International travelers haven’t been able to depend on predictable renewals of their passports, delaying trips overseas and frustrating flyers. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) has taken a lead role in pushing the State Department to speed it up after reporting that his office was handling up to 50 individual passport cases per day around July 4, forcing his office to reallocate staff to aid constituents.
“I literally had to be able to move people off other responsibilities in my office just to be able to work on helping passport processing,” Lankford told us. “It is dramatically increasing the cost and the burden for individuals because the State Department’s so far behind.”
Longer term, Lankford is hoping to attach language to the annual defense policy bill — or another legislative vehicle — that would require the creation of an online tracking system for passport holders, let the department reassign staff to handle any backlogs and mandate no more than 12 weeks to process passport applications.
Keeping families seated together: There’s bipartisan interest in requiring airlines to seat families with young children together on flights at no extra cost. The push has been led by Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and Spanberger in the House and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in the Senate.
A provision to that effect was included in the version of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that passed the House in July. Look for the issue to percolate further as the House and Senate work to reconcile the differences between their bills this fall.
“Since [House passage], I’ve heard even more support from both Democrats and Republicans — who all agree that we should ban airlines from charging extra fees for parents to sit next to their kids during flights,” Spanberger told Huddle in a statement. “As a parent and as the representative of thousands of Virginia parents, I’m looking forward to this legislation finally passing — and I feel optimistic about its prospects in the Senate and its inclusion in the final version of the bill.”
— Daniella Diaz and Anthony Adragna
News you can use: There will be two Sweetgreen outposts starting Sept. 6. Huddle is told folks can order Sweetgreen in the app and a courier will drop it off at one of the pickup spots inside the campus. $0 delivery fee on all orders.
Andrew “Drew” L. Ross is now chief of staff for Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). He most recently was deputy chief of staff for McCaul.
Hali Gruber is now legislative director for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). She most recently was legislative director for Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.).
Oliver Edelson is now legislative director for Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.). He most recently was senior legislative assistant for Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.).
TODAY IN CONGRESS
The House convenes at 2 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate convenes at noon for a pro forma session.
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AROUND THE HILL
All quiet on the Capitol Hill front.
THURSDAY’S ANSWER: Benjamin Wainer correctly answered that William Charles Cole Claiborne was the youngest person to serve in the House at 22 years old and he took the seat of Andrew Jackson.
TODAY’S QUESTION from Benjamin: Ronald Reagan met which foreign leader in a 1985 meeting dubbed the ‘Shamrock Summit’?
The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle – reminder, Huddle comes back Tuesday, Sept. 4 (mentioned above). Send your answers to [email protected].
GET HUDDLE emailed to your phone each morning.
Follow Daniella and Anthony on X at @DaniellaMicaela and @AnthonyAdragna.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this report misidentified Prasanth Reddy's current status at Labcorp. Reddy is a former Labcorp executive.