It’s been a busy week! The new jobs report shows strong job growth continues even as inflation dominates how people think of the economy these days. The war in Ukraine reaches 100 days, with no end in sight. President Biden moved to the center of the growing effort on Capitol Hill to find a path to pass gun legislation with a forceful speech yesterday, as a bipartisan group of Senators continue to meet in an attempt to find at least some common ground. We discuss the politics of that below as well as the looming fireworks on Capitol Hill as the January 6 committee prepares the prime time televised hearing that will transfix the beltway starting next week. But will anyone else care? We look into that, and more Game of Thrones style infighting at the White House.
Thanks to everyone for continuing to subscribe the newsletter: https://hacksontap.bulletin.com/subscribe!
Let’s get started…
MURPHY: A few hopeful whispers around the Senate this week about the ongoing effort to find a gun bill that could get 60 votes. It’ll be a small step, far less than Progressives want, but gun politics is a far from comfortable area for most GOP Senators. Still, empowered by the Florida history we wrote about in the last Hacks newsletter, there is growing feeling that a modest bill might be able to get done. Maybe background checks and a red flag measure of some kind. What will not happen is the assault weapons (carbine rifles with large magazines) ban that President Biden mentioned in his speech. Still jumping into that spotlight is not a bad political move for Biden. He gets a small bill and he gets credit for pushing the process along. If he fails, he has a midterm issue to go on the attack with in the vital suburbs (keep in mind few policy proposals test as well far and wide as background checks). Just watch those expectations Joe! Where do you see the situation, Gibbs?
GIBBS: Couldn’t agree more Murphy. Wasn’t terribly surprised to see the President speak on this issue last night to the nation. He visited Buffalo and Uvalde over the past few weeks and met with the families, but didn’t do much in the way of public statements on each trip. Personally, I also think Presidents don’t use the primetime slot to make short speeches like they should. He wants and needs to be involved and show the country his passion and engagement on the issue. It also signals to me, and I’m not trying to be cynical here, that the White House isn’t overly optimistic something will get done on Capitol Hill. I’m sure some felt a speech like this would, as we’ve written about, push people back into their natural corners and away from a deal. And, Murphy, you correctly point out, that despite the polling on this issue, the GOP is more scared of doing anything on guns than literally any other issue. For Biden, the polling and the politics are clear. Last week, Politico/Morning Consult showed HUGE majorities for sensible gun control moves. Requiring background checks on all sales scored 88% support, 8% oppose (+80%). Preventing firearm sales to people reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental health provider was supported by 84% of Americans, with just 9% opposing (+75%). Even an assault weapons ban is supported by two-thirds of the country. For Biden, this is also part of his personal legacy. In 1994, he helped shepherd the assault weapons ban into law. It won’t be part of the package being considered on Capitol Hill and he knows that. However, Biden is now part of this discussion in a bigger way as a result of the speech and the political positioning. If something passes, he’s a winner. If it doesn’t, he’s laid down a marker to create an issue he clearly feels strongly about.
I’m still hopeful that something will pass. Sen. Chris Murphy has said he knows this negotiation won’t solve all that needs to be solved around guns, but if they can produce something that makes progress and shows the GOP that they can take this important step, it may pave the way for greater success later. This, I know is the frustrating part about politics. It rarely happens quickly, particularly in the divided and polarized Congress we have. But, it can still produce results. Or, we can at least hope it does.
MURPHY: So the January 6th committee is about to begin the televised portion of its investigation next week and huge revelations are expected to be aired out in the open. We know that Gibbs’ wine and cheese reporter friends will go crazy over these hearings. But will it breakthrough in the real world of voters quietly cursing at gas pumps and grocery store cash registers? Will it mean anything in the midterms? Denver Riggleman, a former GOP congressman who was an advisor to the Committee as they tried to sort through a mountain of White House and Congressional Republican texting on that awful day, as well as a good card carrying Never Trump Republican, dissected some of the revelations to be expected and they will be juicy…
GIBBS: Ah, Mike, break out the wine and cheese! In all seriousness, I think the potential shock factor could be pretty high here as the Committee connects a lot of dots and tells a deeply sourced story about the events that day and the planning that led up to them. So, count me among those with pretty high expectations about what we will see and hear out of these hearings. Will they change a lot of minds? Will they breakthrough? On those questions, I am a bit more skeptical. I think their potential to dominate news coverage will be very high, but I am not terribly optimistic they’ll be the center of discussion in the swing counties that will decide the 2022 and 2024 elections. I think it’s hard in this political environment and in our very scattered, diffuse media ecosystem to really capture attention in that way from a Congressional hearing, though if anything can do it, this might be it. I do think it will fire up Dems even more heading into the midterms and getting voter enthusiasm up among Dems is needed to prevent a huge red wave.
MURPHY: Well, be it President Biden pounding the table about why no one told him sooner about the baby formula problem or the new batch of unsourced internal White House knife fighting stories, it is clear the White House staff is grinding its gears. These stories never help and usually compound themselves and generate more stories. In a recent Puck piece, the reader got the clear idea that the only hope the White House has of a communications recovery is the return on Biden communications advisor/message genius/only hope we have Anita Dunn. Not sure who such stories – always rabidly enjoyed in DC – really help but I know who it doesn’t help: Joe Biden. The CNN story linked above about how gramps doesn’t understand the brilliant modern communication insights of his junior staff members is another doozy. Biden may not wax on about Tik-Tok, but he does understand loyalty. These carping brats don’t seem to. OK, with that I’ll finish with this while I’m at it: get off of my lawn! (But still, this stuff is so out of line, at least to my old-school standards.
GIBBS: Forget the poll questions about the generic Congressional ballot or voter enthusiasm as the measure for who will do well in the upcoming elections. Mike, the surest sign that the cruise ship is headed right towards the iceberg are these pieces as everyone scurries to blame others (“don’t look over here, it was them!”) so when the post mortem is written they come out just fine. The problem, of course, is these stories not only don’t help President Biden and his staff, they make it harder to push out a narrative that is helpful. Washington is addicted to these stories and they’re terribly demoralizing to the rest of the staff.
MURPHY: Well, it looks like lights are going finally going out for David McCormick in Pennsylvania! We do have to wait for the recount to be tallied, but things continue to tilt in Dr. Oz’s favor. Though the Democrats are already pouncing on both candidates in an ad out this week. As I’ve said before, as crazy as I think John Fetterman is, crazy in this political climate has a fighting chance.
GIBBS: I’m focusing on two states today – Michigan and Arizona. In Michigan, a judge ruled that 2 candidates for Governor are indeed off the August primary ballot and it's likely two more are off as a result of the ruling around fraudulent signature gathering to qualify for that primary race. If this stands, as it looks like it will, it’s a stunning development in what was one of the mostly closely watched races in the country. Is Governor Whitmer out of the woods entirely? That’s not likely the case, but the path is probably a lot easier come November. In Arizona, Trump has weighed in on a big Senate race and endorsed Blake Masters, who already had the support of wealthy benefactor Peter Thiel. Thiel lobbied Trump to weigh in for Masters just as he had for J.D. Vance in Ohio. Just as importantly, Trump was highly critical of another aspiring Senate candidate in Arizona Attorney General Mike Brnovich, who he accused of not doing enough to overturn the election results in the state. Sound familiar? We’ll know shortly if the impact for Masters is the same as it was for Vance.
Have a great weekend!
Murphy and Gibbs