September 27, 2023

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POLITICO Playbook PM: SCOOP: Harris invites all 24 female senators to dinner party

VP KAMALA HARRIS has invited all of the female senators to her residence for dinner next week — bringing back what were regular bipartisan dinner parties that dwindled after tough election cycles in 2016 and 2020.

All 24 female senators (16 Democrats and eight Republicans) were invited to the dinner on June 15 at the Observatory, according to three Senate sources — a get-together coming at the height of negotiations over infrastructure. A Harris aide confirmed the dinner is a go.

The quarterly dinners were started by former Sens. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-Md.) and KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-Texas). They were hosted at the home of a different senator every six weeks, with each lawmaker bringing a different dish.

But since Mikulski retired in 2017, the dinners became less regular.

Two Republican sources said the bond between the women started to fracture with the aggressive campaigning against former Sen. KELLY AYOTTE (R-N.H.) in 2016, and then worsened during the 2020 election cycle with the fight against Sen. SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine). One of the Republican sources said there was an “unofficial pact” that the women wouldn’t campaign against each other aggressively.

Another complicating factor was that four Democratic senators were running against each other for president in 2020 — Harris, KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-N.Y.), AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-Minn.) and ELIZABETH WARREN (D-Mass.). The pandemic also kept the women apart.

“The sisterhood has certainly faded,” one of our sources said.

Another source said it’s been difficult to get together because the number of women attending the dinner has expanded substantially. When the dinners started in the 1990s there were fewer women. Now women make up almost a quarter of the Senate, making it more difficult to organize.

Meanwhile, a relative newbie to the Senate club — moderate Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) — may have found her own clique … among Republicans. She was spotted at Charlie Palmer two weeks ago having dinner with Sens. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-W.Va.), DEB FISCHER (R-Neb.) and CYNTHIA LUMMIS (R-Wyo.).

“They are all women who feel comfortable in their own skin and enjoy each other’s company,” the first source said of the women at the dinner.

The source added of the female Republicans: “They’re all in love with [Sinema]. They think she won’t cave.”

Good Tuesday afternoon.

PELOSI PANS MANCHIN’S VOTING RIGHTS ALTERNATIVE: Speaker NANCY PELOSI in a “dear colleagues” letter this morning pushed back on the notion of passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (a.k.a. H.R. 4) in lieu of the more expansive For the People Act. “H.R. 4 must be passed, but it will not be ready until the fall, and it is not a substitute for H.R. 1,” she wrote to her members.

This bill has been introduced many times over in previous Congresses so it’s unclear why it would take so long to get ready. BUT the signal it sends is clear: Pelosi doesn’t see this bill as an ample response to GOP state legislatures scaling back voting access nationwide.

The message is a blow not just to Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) but even some voting rights activists and members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have been nudging leaders to pursue a narrower approach that has a better chance of passing. Pelosi’s letter

HERE’S A QUESTION FOR YOU: Do Democrats want a solution or an issue on this topic? The reality is: H.R.1/S.1 is going to fail. End of story. So if Democrats really want to counter Republican legislatures now, supporters of H.R. 4 say, the party is going to need to change its strategy.

— Meanwhile … Manchin emerged from his meeting with civil rights leaders today sounding a positive, if generic, tone. “We had a constructive conversation,” he told reporters afterward. “I’m very much concerned about our democracy and protecting people’s voting rights.”

So did he change his position? Nope. “No, I don’t think anybody changed positions,” he told the congressional press pool.

HOT ON THE RIGHT — The vice president gave Republicans a fresh clip of ammunition in the battle over the border this morning, when Harris appeared to get frustrated over questions about her commitment and involvement with the issue.

In an interview snippet with NBC’s Lester Holt, the host pressed Harris about why she has not visited the U.S.-Mexico border given her work on immigration issues. Holt: “Do you have any plans to visit the border?” Harris: “At some point. … This whole thing about the border — we’ve been to the border.” Holt: “You haven’t been to the border.” Harris: “And I haven’t been to Europe. I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making.”

Our colleague Alex Thompson notes that Republicans were quick to clip that portion of the interview and blast it out. The full 5-minute snippet The 39-second clip

SPEAKING OF IMMIGRATION — “At least 3,900 children separated from families under Trump ‘zero tolerance’ policy, task force finds,” by Myah Ward: “The Biden administration has determined that more than 3,900 children were separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy from July 2017 through January 2021, according to a Reunification Task Force report released Tuesday — and it’s possible that number will grow as the task force reviews more cases.

“The review concluded that there were 5,636 family-child separations during that time period, but that only 3,913 children fell under the task force’s scope, according to the report. Nearly 400 children have been sent back to their country of origin. As for the other 1,723 children, these cases are under review, a senior official with the Department of Homeland Security said.”

“Advocates chide Biden over ICE funding plan,” Roll Call: “Immigrant advocates are questioning President JOE BIDEN’s proposal to fund U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement at levels similar to the current year despite plans to narrow agency enforcement efforts and reduce detention.

“Under Biden’s fiscal 2022 proposal, ICE would get $7.9 billion, more than half of which would go toward detention and deportation of immigrants — a proportion similar to fiscal 2021. ‘We’re surprised and alarmed by the budget,’ said Heidi Altman, policy director at the National Immigrant Justice Center, criticizing the focus on ‘enforcement-centered policies.’”

“Tearful reunion after mom saw photo of daughter at U.S. border,” AP: “Six years had passed since GLENDA VALDEZ kissed her toddler goodbye and left for the United States — six years since she held Emely in her arms. But here she was, at Texas’ Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, tearfully embracing the little girl she left behind. And it happened only because she had glimpsed a televised photo of Emely, part of an Associated Press story on young people crossing the Mexican border alone.”

PRIMARY PREVIEWS — “Virginia’s Democratic primary is historically diverse. Its frontrunners aren’t,” by Maya King: “Heading into Tuesday’s primary, Democrats are poised to nominate two well-known white men: former Gov. TERRY MCAULIFFE and state Attorney General MARK HERRING. Only the lieutenant governor spot is likely to see Democrats pick a nominee of color.

“A ticket led by two white men is the opposite scenario from what many in Virginia were expecting in 2021, which they believed would be the year voters sent a Black woman to the governor’s mansion, building on the prominence of leaders like STACEY ABRAMS and Vice President Kamala Harris. Even more, the state’s demographic shifts to a younger and more diverse electorate, particularly in vote-rich Northern Virginia, made some optimistic that the faces leading the party would change.”

“Here’s what you need to know ahead of Tuesday’s Virginia primaries,” Richmond Times-Dispatch

“New Jersey voters to select GOP governor nominee after Trump-filled primary,” by WaPo’s Dave Weigel

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION — “Biden to shore up supply chains for four sectors after 100-day reviews,” by Gavin Bade: “President Joe Biden will direct federal agencies to shore up production and delivery of pharmaceuticals, computer chips, advanced batteries and critical minerals after completing reviews of their supply chains.

“The actions include a $60 million investment in research for advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing through the Department of Health and Human Services, and new domestic manufacturing rules and funding for batteries at the Energy Department, a senior administration official said.”

HACK JOB — “U.S. House Email System Vendor Hit With Ransomware Attack,” by Bloomberg’s Erik Wasson and Billy House: “A company that provides email newsletter services to the U.S. House has suffered a ransomware attack, chamber’s Chief Administrative officer confirmed Tuesday. The breach, affecting iConstituent, which provides an external email service that House offices have the option to purchase, didn’t result in any known impact on House data, the CAO said.”

LAB LEAK LATEST — “U.S. Report Found It Plausible Covid-19 Leaked From Wuhan Lab,” by WSJ’s Michael Gordon and Warren Strobel: “A report on the origins of Covid-19 by a U.S. government national laboratory concluded that the hypothesis claiming the virus leaked from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is plausible and deserves further investigation, according to people familiar with the classified document.

“The study was prepared in May 2020 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and was drawn on by the State Department when it conducted an inquiry into the pandemic’s origins during the final months of the Trump administration.”

THE VACCINATION EFFORT — “Millions of J&J Covid-19 Vaccines Are at Risk of Expiring in June,” WSJ

WHEN YOU HAVE NO POWER, DELAY — “Democrats’ Improbable New F.E.C. Strategy: More Deadlock Than Ever,” by NYT’s Shane Goldmacher: “For more than a decade, Democrats seeking more robust enforcement of election laws and transparency measures have been routinely routed at the F.E.C., the nation’s top campaign watchdog agency. They have complained bitterly that Republicans have weaponized the commission’s bipartisan structure — there are three commissioners allied with both parties — to turn it into a toothless, do-nothing bureau.

“Now, the Democratic commissioners have stealthily begun to strike back by leveraging some of the same arcane rules that have stymied enforcement efforts for years — namely, that a bipartisan vote is necessary to do almost anything — to make the agency do even less. The goal appears to be to take a commission widely seen as dysfunctional and create further deadlock, compelling federal courts to fill the breach when it comes to policing federal election law.”

WOWZA — “The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax,” by ProPublica’s Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen and Paul Kiel: “ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including WARREN BUFFETT, BILL GATES, RUPERT MURDOCH and MARK ZUCKERBERG. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings and even the results of audits.

“Taken together, it demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most. The IRS records show that the wealthiest can — perfectly legally — pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year.”

— “Report that ultra-rich duck taxes spurs leak probe, while Dems press case for tax hikes,” by Aaron Lorenzo

IF YOU STRIKE ME DOWN … “NRA’s gun rights message not slowed by legal, money troubles,” AP: “[T]he NRA’s message has become so solidified in the Republican Party that even if the organization implodes from allegations of lavish spending and misuse of funds, its unapologetic pro-gun point of view will live on, as the heated debate increasingly shifts from Washington to the states. …

“Ever confident, the NRA, which is based in Fairfax, Virginia, says the suggestion it is receding is magical thinking on the left. The group promises it will emerge from its failed bankruptcy effort stronger, particularly as it seeks to relocate to the decidedly pro-gun rights state of Texas.”

TRANSITIONS — Reese Goldsmith is now a senior public affairs adviser for Holland & Knight’s energy policy team. She previously was an associate and policy adviser at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. … Dennis Alpert is now head of North America government relations at Accela. He previously was senior director for business development at Calvert Street Group. …

… Madison Olinger is now comms director and senior writer for Winning Connections. She previously was associate for public affairs and strategic comms at Res Publica Group. … Rick Lane has joined REGO Payment Architectures’ board of advisers. He is founder and CEO of Iggy Ventures.