Power Up: Republicans meet to plot future with Trump still dividing them

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  • “The long-awaited announcement is poised to reset the balance of power for the next decade in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College, where each state’s share of votes is tied to its census numbers.” 

On the Hill

A TALE OF TWO LEADERS: House Republicans gathered yesterday for their three-day annual legislative retreat where the elephant in the room, as GOP lawmakers hash out their new policy agenda, continues to be former president Donald Trump. 

  • “ … the former president, residing 170 miles south of the GOP’s Orlando gathering, continues to be a divisive figure, pitting the small band of Republican lawmakers critical of him against the majority that remains loyal,” The Post’s Paul Kane writes.And the fault line in the conference runs over Trump’s role in cheering on the rioting criminals who ransacked the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.”

The retreat is designed to unify GOP lawmakers around a new set of shared ideas. But it’s being led by top Republicans who themselves are divided over the fundamental question of what role the ex-president should play in their party. The agenda has not been made public.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the party’s third-ranking House leader, doesn’t believe that Trump should be “playing a role in the future of the party or the country,” while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has refused to cut ties with the most popular figure in the GOP. 

Cheney and others have repeatedly emphasized the retreat will be focused on policy and substance. But it’s an open question how productive they can be when they seem to fiercely disagree on whether the path toward winning back the House majority in 2022 runs through Trump or not. 

  • After the Jan. 6 ransacking of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump forces, “McCarthy continues to defend his support for Mr. Trump’s bogus assertions that the election was stolen from him,” the New York Times’s Mark Leibovich reports. “Friends say that he knows better and is as exasperated by Mr. Trump’s behavior as other top Republicans, but that he has made the calculation that the former president’s support is essential for his ambitions to become speaker after the 2022 elections, when Republicans have a decent chance to win back the House.” 
  • On Sunday, McCarthy provided a different recollection of Trump’s response to the Jan. 6 events during an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace: “I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on,” McCarthy told Wallace. “He didn’t see it, but he ended the call … telling me he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did. He put a video out later.”
  • “The statement contradicted McCarthy’s initial response to Trump’s role in the attack and a fellow GOP lawmaker’s recollection of what had been a tense call between McCarthy and Trump. In addition, one Trump adviser told The Washington Post that the then-president had been watching live television coverage of the riot, as multiple people were trying to reach Trump and his aides to beg for help,” our colleagues Amy B Wang and Marianna Sotomayor report. 

Cheney, on the other hand, is leading a small faction of anti-Trump House Republicans who view the current tension as a “foundation-shaking moment that must be dealt with, hoping to banish Trump to the political sidelines,” P.K. writes. 

According to the New York Times’s Robert Draper, sources familiar with Cheney’s views say she believes “the G.O.P. has been manifestly weakened by Trump”: 

  • “Twice in a row, Trump lost the popular vote by significant margins, exacerbating a worrisome trend for Republicans that has extended across five of the last six presidential elections,” Draper reports. “Given all this, Trump’s conduct in egging on the rioters presented his party with a political opportunity. By impeaching him, they could wash their hands of Trump and then resume the challenge of winning back majorities of the voting public.” 

Trump is not included in the lineup of speakers who will be making an appearance at the retreat. Though several Trump acolytes will speak, including his former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, and Ronna McDaniel, the head of the Republican National Committee who remains a close ally of Trump, Politico’s Melanie Zanona reports. 

Even without Trump, keeping the retreat controversy free will be a feat as some of the most divisive lawmakers in the conference, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), continue to amplify fringe beliefs: 

  • “One day before the retreat, Greene headlined a Florida rally where she revived Trump’s false claims of voter fraud … Fresh off the controversy surrounding her now-defunct pitch for an ‘America First Caucus’ built on nativist rhetoric, Greene had little interest in heeding her leadership’s policy-first entreaties,” Zanona reports.
  • McCarthy claimed on Sunday that he’s stopped “loud voices” in the party when they’ve gotten too extreme. However, McCarthy notably opposed stripping Greene of her committee privileges after she spread conspiracy theories, racist remarks and urged the execution on social media of Democratic lawmakers.

At the White House

HAPPENING THIS WEEK: President Biden will address a joint session of Congress for the first time on Wednesday and formally unveil a new $1.8 trillion spending and tax plan, per our colleague Jeff Stein.

  • What to watch: “In a potential last-minute change, White House officials as of Friday were planning to include about $200 billion to extend an increase in health insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, according to three people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions,” Jeff reports.
  • And this: “Despite pressure from Democratic leadership, White House officials are also prepared to table a measure they had included in earlier drafts aimed at reducing consumer and government spending on prescription drugs, a measure fiercely opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, the people said.

Meanwhile, Manchin says he’s not in Biden’s way. “Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) on Sunday shot down accusations that he is a ‘roadblock’ in efforts to pass Democratic legislation, saying his opposition was part of ‘good government,’” the Hill’s Joseph Choi reports

  • “I’m not a roadblock at all. The best politics is good government. I can’t believe that people believe that if you just do it my way, that will give us the momentum to get through the next election,” Manchin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We won’t give this system a chance to work. I’m not going to be part of blowing up this Senate of ours or basically this democracy of ours or the republic that we have.”
  • Manchin has said he won’t support changes to the filibuster, which effectively means most legislation needs 60 votes to pass the Senate.

From the courts

SCOTUS, THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND A CHEERLEADER’S SNAPCHAT RANT: “The high school cheerleader relegated to the JV squad for another year responded with a fleeting fit of frustration: a photo of her upraised middle finger and another word that begins with F,” our colleague Robert Barnes reports

  • “‘F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything,’ 14-year-old Brandi Levy typed into Snapchat one spring Saturday. Like all ‘snaps’ posted to a Snapchat ‘story,’ this one sent to about 250 ‘friends’ was to disappear within 24 hours, before everyone returned to Pennsylvania’s Mahanoy Area High School on Monday.”
  • “Instead, an adolescent outburst and the adult reaction to it has arrived at the Supreme Court, where it could determine how the First Amendment’s protection of free speech applies to the off-campus activities of the nation’s 50 million public school students.”
  • “This is the most momentous case in more than five decades involving student speech,” Justin Driver, a Yale law professor, told our colleague. “Much of the speech from students is off-campus and increasingly online … When I talk to school administrators, they consistently tell me that off-campus speech bedevils them, and the lower courts desperately need some guidance in this area.”
  • The Supreme Court will hear the case on Wednesday.

The investigations

CEO OF VACCINE MAKER SOLD STOCK BEFORE COMPANY RUINED J&J DOSES: “The stock price of government contractor Emergent BioSolutions has fallen sharply since the disclosure at the end of March that production problems at the firm’s plant in Baltimore had ruined 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine. Since then, AstraZeneca moved production of its own vaccine out of the facility, and Emergent temporarily halted new production there altogether,” our colleague Jon Swaine reports

  • “Those developments came after Emergent’s stock price had tumbled on Feb. 19, following the company’s published financial results. Emergent stock has fallen since mid-February to about $62 a share from $125 a share, or just more than 50 percent.”
  • “But the decline has had less of an impact than it might have on the personal finances of Emergent’s chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, who sold more than $10 million worth of his stock in the company in January and early February, securities filings show … The transactions were Kramer’s first substantive sales of Emergent stock since April 2016.”

Outside the Beltway

ALL EYES ON ECONOMIC RECOVERY (IN THE WEST): “After the worst year for the global economy since the Great Depression, the U.S. is set to lead a vigorous rebound in the West as mass vaccination against covid-19 propels a return to more or less normal life,” the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Douglas and Paul Hannon report

  • “The revival will come in stages, with the U.S. and countries such as the U.K. recovering faster than those in the European Union, as the timing and speed of recoveries will depend largely on the pace and reach of vaccination.”
  • “Economies in North America and Europe are expected to fire up as shops, restaurants and hotels throng with newly inoculated consumers armed with savings they amassed during the long pandemic.”
  • “American tourists who have been fully vaccinated against covid-19 will be able to visit the European Union over the summer,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commissiontold the Times’s Matina Stevis-Gridneff on Sunday.
  • But “even as vaccines help beat back covid-19 in much of the West, the pandemic is far from over in countries such as India and Brazil, where towering waves of infection are overwhelming hospitals and hammering economic activity,” Douglas and Hannon write.

Global power

U.S. PLEDGES TO HELP INDIA WEATHER CORONAVIRUS TSUNAMI: “The Biden administration, under growing pressure to offer more assistance to India as it struggles to contain a devastating coronavirus outbreak, promised Sunday to provide new aid, including the materials for making vaccines,” our colleagues Claire Parker, Paul Schemm and Sean Sullivan report

  • “The pledge came hours after Indian authorities announced another global record in new daily cases Sunday and the most covid-19 deaths the country has suffered in a 24-hour period.”
  • “The National Security Council said the United States would provide vaccine materials, drugs, test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment.”
  • “Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Sunday evening that the department is ‘currently assessing the equipment we can both procure and draw from our own inventory in the coming days and weeks’ to help India’s health-care workers. He added that the department will assist with delivering supplies, including ‘oxygen-related equipment,’ to India in the next days.”

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