In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he would follow what Republican in 2016 dubbed the “Biden rule” — that Supreme Court vacancies open within a year before a presidential election shouldn’t be filled until after the presidential election — if it happened before the 2020 election. He added that President Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would not agree with the Biden rule if the vacancy opened under Trump.

Grassley’s comments came during an appearance on Iowa Public Radio Friday, where he was asked  if Trump would agree with holding the seat open for a vacancy that occurred in 2019 or 2020.

“It would be the one year of the ’20, if you want to follow the pattern of the Biden rule, and I’d follow that. That would just be the 12 months or, let’s say, the 10 months before the election 2020, no he wouldn’t agree with that,” Grassley said.

He was asked if McConnell would agree.

“No, he would not agree with that,” Grassley said.

Republicans conjured up the “Biden rule” when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, and they sought to block President Obama’s nominee, appeals court judge Merrick Garland. Grassley, whose committee oversees judicial confirmation proceedings, did not grant Garland a hearing. McConnell released a statement declaring that Republicans would keep the seat open through the 2016 election hours after Scalia’s death.

They titled the justification the “Biden rule” because then-Vice President Joe Biden, when he was a Senate Judiciary chairman, gave a speech discouraging then-President Bush from filling any hypothetical vacancies on the court before an election. Before Scalia’s death, there wasn’t much precedent — if any — for a vacancy opening up the year before an election when the party opposite the President control the Senate.

A McConnell spokesman declined to comment, while the White House didn’t respond to TPM’s inquiry.

TPM reached out to Grassley’s spokesman on the Judiciary Committee Taylor Foy when a Iowa Public Radio producer first previewed the comments in a tweet.

Foy said that Grassley was offering “his opinion of how folks may feel about the Biden rule.”

“He certainly wasn’t speaking for the President or the Majority Leader,” Foy said.

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Four top congressional Democratic on Friday called out Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for failing to report to Congress that the agency’s spending on a $43,000 phone booth without congressional approval violated federal law.

The lawmakers called on Pruitt to report the violation regarding the phone booth expenditure and to report other funds spent to refurnish his office to Congress as soon as possible.

In April, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the EPA violated two separate laws by purchasing and installing a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office. The EPA failed to give Congress advance notice of the purchase, and exceeded legally available funds with the purchase, the GAO found.

Upon learning the GAO’s finding that the EPA had violated the Anti-Deficiency Act by overspending, the EPA was required to report that violation to Congress, the lawmakers wrote in the letter. However, the EPA has not reported the violation and has not alerted Congress to other expenditures.

“Several weeks have passed, yet EPA has not transmitted the statutorily-required Antideficiency Act report regarding this violation, nor has the agency fulfilled related notification requirements regarding other expenditures made to furnish or redecorate your office, such as biometric locks and a ‘Captain’s Desk.'” the lawmakers wrote. “We are writing to urge you to immediately comply with the law by providing Congress and the GAO all statutorily-required information to enable our Committees to conduct proper oversight of these expenditures of taxpayer dollars.”

The letter was signed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), all Democratic leaders on committees that oversee the EPA.

Pruitt has faced intense scrutiny over his spending habits since taking over the helm at the EPA. He has flown on several first class flights, installed biometric locks in his office, and purchased the infamous phone booth.

Read the letter:

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House Democrats’ campaign committee has officially chosen sides in the battle to face Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in the fall, throwing their weight behind businessman Harley Rouda (D) over businessman Hans Keirstead (D).

“Harley has demonstrated that he is the strongest Democrat in this race and best prepared for the general election, and with the grassroots and numerous California delegation members strongly behind him, we know we will flip this district this fall,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) said in a statement.

The move is an attempt to avoid the disaster of the two Democrats evenly splitting the vote and giving Republicans a chance of pushing through two candidates in the fall.

California’s unusual top-two all-party “jungle primary” means that the two candidates of any party who finish at the top in the June 5 primary advance to the general election, and this is one of five swing seats where Democrats have been worried they might blow their chances at winning by being locked out completely.

Rohrabacher’s deep flaws as a candidate make him vulnerable in the fall  — but have also opened the door to a serious GOP challenge from Scott Baugh, a popular local lawmaker.

Democrats have been warily watching this race since it might be their biggest risk of getting shut out in June. But national Democratic interference has the risk of backfiring by infuriating local activists. To that end, the DCCC’s endorsement was paired with strong backing by local Democratic activists, with a joint statement with the district’s local Indivisible group.

“We’ve been hard at work for more than a year to defeat Dana Rohrabacher and bring change to our district,” the leaders of Indivisible Orange County 48 said in a joint statement. “We believe that the only way we can accomplish this goal is by Democrats and like-minded Independents and Republicans to unite around Harley Rouda, a strong progressive whom we were proud to endorse last week. We appreciate the DCCC following our lead and standing with Harley Rouda and grassroots organizations like Indivisible.”

Even so, the move is likely to ruffle some feathers. Keirstead has some significant local support as well, including an endorsement from the California Democratic Party, an organization that’s largely been taken over by hardline progressive activists.

 

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For a guy who once said ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship had “blood on his hands,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been notably restrained while discussing the former GOP Senate candidate since Tuesday’s primary.

In a pair of TV interviews following Blankenship’s primary loss to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), Manchin refused to directly criticize Blankenship for his racially charged attacks against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — while favorably comparing him to Morrisey as the true West Virginian (Morrisey moved there from New Jersey a decade ago).

Manchin also wouldn’t directly attack Blankenship for his role in failing to prevent the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 people in 2010.

And he refused to directly say whether he thought Blankenship’s ads attacking McConnell’s “China family” were racist, instead dodging the question in an interview with NBC News while offering tepid criticism.

I’d like to think that wasn’t, the terms he used, and how he used them, I would never take that course. And if Don felt that he was explaining it from his upbringing, the culture that he comes from in West Virginia. And Don’s on that Kentucky-West Virginia border. I don’t know, I can’t say, I haven’t heard that before,” Manchin said in a meandering answer. “There’s Italian-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, you know we’re all ethnic of some derivative. But the way it was said, it was taken in a connotation that might not have been flattering to a person who’s a proud American, no matter what their descent is.”

Manchin also wouldn’t take the bait when pushed on Fox News about Blankenship.

“There was only one truly conservative Republican West Virginian in the race, and that was Don Blankenship. We have had our differences on many issues. But Don, you cannot question Don’s conservatism and also him being a Republican in West Virginia. He’s the only one,” he said in a shot at Morrisey’s roots.

Blankenship had gone scorched-earth against Manchin on TV during the primary, but since his loss has been at least as critical of Morrisey, saying he wouldn’t support his former primary rival.

Manchin isn’t exactly embracing the deeply controversial coal baron in these statements. But he does seem to be looking to avoid antagonizing his on-again, off-again foe, while possibly looking to woo Blankenship supporters who don’t like Morrisey (or at least depress GOP support for Morrisey).

Manchin and Blankenship have had a complicated relationship — they were on cordial terms for much of Manchin’s time as governor, and Manchin even flew on Blankenship’s private plane to get back to West Virginia after the UBB Mine explosion since he couldn’t get a direct flight. But he became much more critical of Blankenship when the facts came out about the disaster and the coal baron took the heat for those miners’ deaths. Blankenship’s Senate race was seen partly as a way to get back at Manchin, who he blamed for an unjust prosecution almost as much as the Obama Justice Department.

Manchin ducked when asked if he’d accept a Blankenship endorsement, saying he’d have “no control” over that and hadn’t talked to Blankenship recently.

“Like I said, we have had our differences. But you cannot questions Don’s West Virginia Republican conservative roots. And we have been head to head down on many issues. I just, with the horrible tragedies we have had, it’s just — my heart still aches for all the families. And I think you know how close I have been to the families,” he said. “But on other issues on that, we have had our differences, and there have been some things we have agreed on politically.”

Manchin alluded to that barrage of ads Blankenship ran in his Fox interview, suggesting he hoped things would quiet down for the sake of the families of the dead miners.

“I hope that, in time, the good lord lets Don find peace in his heart, because these people need to move on with their lives. That’s all I have ever said,” he said. “And I hope that happens. I hope Don finds peace in his life and allows these families to find peace in theirs.”

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Billionaire GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson has made a $30 million donation to the GOP’s main House super PAC, a GOP source familiar with the donation confirms to TPM, a huge donation to try to help save the House majority.

According to Politico, which first reported the donation, the gift was made after a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the casino mogul’s hometown of Las Vegas, after which top officials to the Congressional Leadership Fund made the big ask.

The donation is three times what Adelson gave the group last election cycle — and far earlier, since he didn’t give them money until August 2016.

The money is a crucial boost to the group as it looks to hang onto its majority in the lower chamber of Congress. Strategists in both parties think Democrats have at least a 50-50 shot at winning House control, and Democratic candidates have basically been printing money this election cycle, putting Republicans in a situation where they may struggle to keep up and forcing the CLF to bail out members who fail to prepare themselves for an advertising onslaught.

Super PACs don’t get as much bang for their buck as candidates, who get discounted advertising rates. The CLF has already said it plans to spend huge sums to try to keep the House in GOP hands, with an initial ad reservation of $48 million in 30 House districts, and with Adelson’s help, that number will clearly rise by a large amount.

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A coalition of pro-immigration Republicans, many facing tough reelection battles, are bucking House GOP leaders to try to force a last-minute vote to let undocumented immigrants brought here as children regain their legal status.

The group, led by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), initiated a discharge petition to force a House vote on a bill to reauthorize the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Trump attempted to end last year and is currently in limbo given ongoing court challenges.

Immigration has paralyzed this institution for too long,” Curbelo said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference outside the Capitol.

He is joined on the bill by 14 other Republicans — leaving the petition just 10 votes shy of triggering a free-for-all of voting on the House floor
(assuming all Democrats support it, as expected).

That list reads largely like a who’s who of vulnerable members from diverse districts. Curbelo is in for a tough reelection fight, as are Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), Will Hurd (R-TX), Mia Love (R-UT), Mike Coffman (R-CO), John Faso (R-NY) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

This should have been resolved years ago if not decades ago,” said Denham, who represents a swing district with a large number of Hispanics.

I’m not abdicating my responsibilities to the White House,” said Love at the press conference.

She’s in a tough race in a district where President Trump performed poorly but won — and where the heavily Mormon population is strongly supportive of immigration reform.

Some other members on the bill are longtime Republican moderates who are retiring at the ends of their terms: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Dave Reichert (R-WA).

One interesting person on the bill: Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), a close ally of the White House.

Republican leaders have long fought against this effort, and it may be much tougher for those leading this effort to get the final 10 votes that would force a floor vote on a DACA bill and other immigration measures than the first 15. But the move is a political winner for the group as they look to show some distance from Trump ahead of a tough midterm election.

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Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) has lost his primary to Baptist minister Mark Harris (R), making him the first congressional incumbent of 2018 to lose a primary and boosting Democrats’ chances of winning the seat.

Harris led Pittenger by 48.5 percent to 46.2 percent with all precincts reporting when the Associated Press called the race shortly after 10:30 p.m. EST.

“I have called Mark Harris and conceded the race and I wish him the best,” Pittenger said at his election night event.

That result gives Democrats a major boost as they look to win the Republican-leaning seat, which stretches out from Charlotte and President Trump won by 11 percentage points two years ago.

Democrats were already excited about their prospects in the district — and Republicans were nervous — because of a top-tier recruit, Marine Corps veteran and businessman Dan McCready (D).

But Harris, a hardline social conservative and former state senator who led the efforts to push through the state’s discriminatory and now-overturned “bathroom law” targeting the transgender community, gives them a much easier target.

Besides having a strong moderate against a hardline conservative in the suburban district, Democrats have another big advantage: McCready has well over $1 million in his campaign account, while Harris is basically broke after the primary.

Harris’s win came in rematch — Pittenger barely beat him two years ago.

But while Pittenger went down, independent-minded Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), a frequent thorn in the side of GOP leaders, held on to win a primary of his own. He’s said he’ll retire after his next term in office.

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Republicans avoided a serious disaster in West Virginia Tuesday, as West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) defeated ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship (R) and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) for the right to face Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Morrisey led Jenkins by 35 percent to 29 percent with Blankenship in a distant third at 20 percent as of 10:21 p.m. EST, when the Associated Press called the race.

Blankenship’s loss is a huge relief for Senate Republicans, who feared he might have had last-minute momentum in the race. He is just finishing up his parole after a year in prison for his role in the deaths of 29 of his workers in a mine explosion, and would have likely destroyed the GOP’s chances of defeating Manchin in a state Trump won by 42 percentage points in 2016.

But while Senate Republicans avoided a fiasco in the West Virginia, Rep. Robert Pittenger’s (R-NC) primary loss to a hardline pastor boosts Democrats’ chances in a key House race. Read about all of Tuesday’s big primaries from four states here.

Blankenship’s loss came after a nasty back-and-forth between Blankenship and Senate GOP leaders. A super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dropped more than $1 million on Blankenship’s head, attacking his ethics in TV spots. He responded with racially charged ads attacking McConnell’s “China family” and “Cocaine Mitch.”

But McConnell had the last laugh:

Blankenship conceded earlier on in a short speech, while wondering aloud if President Trump’s last-minute anti-endorsement had knocked him out of the race. 

Morrisey thanked Trump for the tweet as well, before making it clear he’d use the president to hammer Manchin.

“Joe Manchin has become just another rubber stamp for the liberal Washington elite agenda,” he said in his victory speech. “When President Trump needed Joe Manchin’s help, on so many issues Sen. Manchin said no.”

Manchin obviously would have loved to face the toxic Blankenship. But his allies had also strongly signaled that they’d rather face Morrisey than Jenkins — they spent more than $2 million to damage the congressman, seeing Morrisey as vulnerable due to his past as a lobbyist and the fact that he lived in New Jersey for most of his life.

“This out-of-state lobbyist doesn’t know squat about the needs of West Virginia,” Mike Plante, a spokesman for the pro-Manchin group that spent heavily to defeat Jenkins, said in a statement.

Republicans believe Manchin’s opposition to Trump and his daughter’s work for a company that jacked up prescription drug prices leave him vulnerable in the deep red state.

The race is just one of many big primaries on Tuesday across four states. Keep on top of them all here.

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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) and former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray (D) will face off this November for control of the governor’s mansion in the key swing state of Ohio. NBC, Fox News and the Associated Press projected the candidates would win their nominations at around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night. 

Both candidates had the backing of their respective party’s establishments, and fended off challenges from insurgent candidates that tapped into energy from the fringes.

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