New York is key to Democratic House, and Jeffries is in the redistricting driver’s seat

Editor's note: This file has been updated to correct Rep. George Santos's party affiliation.

Democrats are looking to pick up three, four or even five seats in New York to win back the House majority and make Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) the Speaker.  

Jeffries, the House minority leader, has longtime relationships with leaders in the New York state Senate and state Assembly and will have a major say over the state’s congressional map, New York Democratic sources say. The state is drawing a new map after a court determined a version drawn by a court-appointed special master for the 2022 midterm election was a temporary solution.

Current and former Democratic officeholders and party officials from New York who spoke to The Hill on condition of anonymity say Jeffries will wield significant influence over the redistricting process — and they note that New York stands to benefit substantially if he becomes Speaker.  

If Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) keeps his job as Senate majority leader and Jeffries gains the Speaker’s gavel, it would put two New Yorker Democrats in charge of Congress.  

“If they don’t listen to Jeffries, they’re crazy,” one Democratic official said of the upcoming redistricting process. “They’re going to want to follow Hakeem’s lead. He’s very well-respected, he’s very well-liked.” 

Among the seats New York Democrats are eyeing is the one belonging to disgraced Rep. George Santos's (R-N.Y.). Santos represents the state’s 3rd Congressional District, to which they are likely to add more Democratic voters to ensure it flips.  

Retired Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) is eyeing a comeback to Congress and has indicated he would run as the Democratic candidate for his old seat in the 3rd District if Santos steps down or is expelled from Congress before his term is over, New York Democratic sources say.  

If Santos stays in his job through the end of the 118th Congress, which he says he intends to do, there would be a crowded Democratic primary race to run against him in the 2024 general election. In that case, Suozzi is expected to announce his decision about whether to run again for Congress in the fall.  

Former state Sen. Anna Kaplan, The Next 50 co-founder Zak Malamed and Nassau County legislator Josh Lafazan are in the mix of candidates who would run for the seat if there isn’t a special election to replace Santos.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.), chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), announced in April that House Democrats will target five other first-term New York Republicans in addition to Santos: Reps. Nick LaLota, Anthony D’Esposito, Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro and Brandon Williams.  

A gain of six congressional seats would be enough to flip the House to Democratic control. Republicans currently hold 222 seats while Democrats have 212. 

One of those targeted incumbents, Molinaro, told reporters last week that New York voters are getting “exhausted” by the battles over the House district boundaries. 

“However the lay of the land, you know, adjusts, I’ll roll with the punches. I do think, though, voters are getting a little bit exhausted by the multiple changes in districting and it’s just an utterly confusing situation for too many voters,” he said.  

Democrats are feeling increasingly optimistic about picking up three to five congressional seats in New York next year, given their party’s disappointing performance in the state last year, when Republicans picked up three seats and defeated DCCC Chairman Patrick Maloney.  

“Anything is possible. I wouldn’t take any seat off the table, personally. So we will be fighting to mobilize in all of the districts held by Republicans,” said Rep. Grace Meng, who represents New York’s 6th District in Queens.  

Former Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) says Democrats should be able to pick up four or five seats in the Empire State. He ranked the 3rd and 4th congressional districts on Long Island and two upstate as the best pick-up opportunities.  

He also predicted there will be “close coordination” among Democratic leaders in New York and Washington and “Jeffries will get what he wants.” 

Putting out a Democratic-friendly map is no sure thing. The New York Independent Redistricting Commission is in charge of writing the map, which must be approved with two-thirds majorities in both state chambers.  

Democrats got too greedy in the last election cycle and had their map thrown out, but party officials tell The Hill they believe the legislature can draw up a new map that will help Democrats pick up as many as five House seats while staying within the bounds of state law. 

Several Democratic officials who spoke to The Hill predicted that the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission will fail to reach an agreement and that drawing a new map will fall to the New York state legislature, where Democrats control supermajorities in both chambers.  

If that happens, they say Jeffries will wind up playing a significant role in influencing the new congressional district boundaries. 

The redistricting debate is heating up behind the scenes because New York officials are talking about moving up their 2024 primary to earlier on the calendar — April 2 instead of June 23.   

Jeffries told reporters at the U.S. Capitol last week that he just wants New York to have a “fair map” and urged the Independent Redistricting Commission to do its job.  

“All we want is fair maps to be drawn all across the country,” he told reporters. “We want a fair map in Alabama, a fair map in Louisiana, fair maps in North Carolina and Ohio, in Wisconsin, certainly fair maps in New York.”  

Jeffries kept his distance from the redistricting debate and insisted it will be up to the Independent Redistricting Commission to draw the new lines. 

“In the case of my home state, I think it’s important that the Independent Redistricting Commission, which is bipartisan in nature be given the opportunity to complete its work to try to find common ground and present a congressional map to the legislature that gives every community — urban New York, suburban New York, rural New York — an opportunity to have its voices heard in deciding in what the congressional delegation emerging from New York should look like,” he said. 

A New York appeals court ruled last month in Democrats’ favor that the state must redraw its congressional map before the 2024 presidential election. Republicans, however, have appealed that ruling to New York’s Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, putting the legal battle on hold until September.  

If the Court of Appeals rules for Republicans, then Democrats will be stuck with the same map they had in 2022.  

In the meantime, the Independent Redistricting Commission will be able to hold hearings and solicit input for a new map.  

But Democratic officials are skeptical they will come up with any proposal that can muster the necessary bipartisan support within the commission as well as approval by supermajorities in the state Senate and state House.  

“Either the Independent Redistricting Commission makes a deal or more likely gives it their best effort, fails and then the Democratic legislature steps in, which is what happened last time but they overreached and the rest is history,” said a Long Island-based Democratic party official and former officeholder.  

Jeffrey Wice, a professor at New York Law School and an expert on redistricting, said if the Independent Redistricting Commission deadlocks, Democrats in the state legislature should be able to come up with a map that meets court approval.  

“I think the legislature can draw a lawful map that complies with the criteria included in the Constitution,” he said. “It’s the legislature’s responsibility to comply with the new constitutional amendment’s rules and to produce a map that meets population equality, minority voting rights and other criteria. 

“If it does that, then they’re not going to have a problem. If they violate any of the criteria, they could end up in court all over again."  

Mychael Schnell contributed. 

--Updated at 7:41 a.m.

Gravity of new Trump charges scrambles GOP politics

The indictment brought against former President Trump for trying to halt the transfer of presidential power in 2021 has been met with somber silence from many Republican senators, who view the new charges as more serious than the previous felony counts faced by Trump.

The four new charges unveiled by special counsel Jack Smith on Tuesday focus on Trump's actions in the lead-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which prompted seven Senate Republicans to vote in February 2021 to convict him on the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection.  

Senate Republican aides and strategists say the gravity of the new charges is underscored by the blistering speech Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delivered at the end of Trump’s impeachment trial, in which he called Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the chaos of that day and suggested he could face criminal prosecution.  

Conservative legal experts are raising concerns about the free speech implications of charging Trump for claiming repeatedly over the course of weeks that the election was marred by fraud and for revving up a large crowd of supporters that then marched on the Capitol. 

Related coverage from The Hill

But Republican strategists say the latest indictment could have the biggest impact on Trump’s candidacy for president because the American public is well aware of the chaos and violence of Jan. 6.  

“It’s politically more salient because of Jan. 6. The whole country knows what happens on Jan. 6. Most of the country watched it unfold on television. Whereas the Mar-a-Lago [documents case], while it may be very serious, it’s not something the average person pays a lot of attention to,” said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist and former member of the House GOP leadership.  

“In terms of its political impact, this one is more salient to people, but I’ve also noted that among the conservative legal community, [Tuesday’s] indictment is more controversial on free speech grounds,” he said. “It’s a serious matter but it’s also somewhat debatable.”  

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A Senate Republican strategist who requested anonymity to discuss Trump’s indictment said the latest charges are the ones he most “deserves,” because Jan. 6 was a direct attack on the nation’s tradition of transferring power peacefully and resulted in injuries to more than 100 Capitol police officers.  

“This is the most significant because of what happened on Jan. 6,” the source said.  

Two prominent Trump critics in the Senate GOP conference issued statements underscoring what they view as the significance of the new charges.  

“In early 2021, I voted to impeach former President Trump based on clear evidence that he attempted to overturn the 2020 election after losing it,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a statement responding to the indictment.   

“Additional evidence presented since then, including by the January 6 Commission, has only reinforced that the former president played a key role in instigating the riots, resulting in physical violence and desecration of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021,” she said.  

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asks a question during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

Murkowski was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump on the charge of inciting an insurrection against the U.S. government.  

Of that group, only Murkowski, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) still serve in Congress.  

Romney blamed Trump for inciting an insurrection on the very day of the attack against the Capitol and stood firm in response to Smith charging Trump with conspiring to defraud the United States, obstructing the vote certification proceedings and conspiring to violate civil rights. 

“My views on the former president’s actions surrounding Jan. 6 are well known. As with all criminal defendants, he is entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence,” Romney said in a statement.  

Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written about Trump’s efforts to hold onto power, said the latest indictment puts many Senate Republicans and moderate GOP House members in a tough position.  

“It puts Republicans who are defending Trump in the stance of opposing democracy. The indictment outlines fundamental threats to democracy on the part of Trump, and so it really puts the GOP in a very difficult political stance,” he said.  

Senate Republicans have had an easier time dismissing the charges against Trump for mishandling classified documents at his residence at Mar-a-Lago because investigators have also retrieved classified documents from President Biden’s personal office in Washington and his home in Wilmington, Del. He kept the documents after leaving the vice president’s office at the end of the Obama administration. Biden has cooperated with the Justice Department in returning them.  

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has shrugged off the charges against Trump over holding classified information as a “storage” issue. 

West pointed out that Smith, the special prosecutor, said Tuesday he wants a “speedy trial,” which raises the possibility that a jury may render a verdict on Trump’s actions before the 2024 election.   

“It could be the most ominous” of the charges, he said, because “there could be a verdict before the election.”  

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks to a reporter as he arrives to the Senate Chamber for a vote on Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

McConnell has remained silent on the latest round of federal charges against Trump, in contrast to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who quickly rallied to Trump’s defense after the charges became public.  

McConnell told reporters last month that he wouldn’t have anything to say about Trump if he was indicted for his actions in the lead-up to Jan. 6.  

Asked on July 19 whether it would be legitimate to charge Trump for trying to stop the certification of the 2020 election, McConnell replied: “I’ve said every week out here that I’m not going to comment on the various candidates for the presidency.” 

Referring to his view of Trump’s culpability for inciting the violence on Jan. 6, McConnell said: “How I felt about that I expressed that at the time, but I’m not going to start getting into sort of critiquing the various candidates for president.” 

McConnell was unequivocal two years ago in blaming Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot and suggested at the time that he could face criminal charges.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, returns to his press conference after the 81-year-old GOP leader froze at the microphones and became disoriented, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

He warned that Trump “didn’t get away with anything yet,” adding: “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”  

McConnell’s top deputy, Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), didn’t say anything either about the newest charges.   

The highest-ranking member of the Senate GOP leadership to come to Trump’s defense was Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).  

“The American people have lost faith in Biden’s Justice Department. They are uncomfortable watching the current president weaponize the justice system against his political opponent,” he said in a statement his office provided to The Hill.  

--Updated at 7:28 a.m.

Trump steps up war with Senate GOP

Former President Trump is stepping up his war with Senate Republicans by calling for primary challenges next year against GOP incumbents who do not support investigating President Biden's family finances.  

Many Senate Republicans have made clear they don’t want Trump to win their party’s nomination for president, and they’re leery about rallying to his defense given the former president’s polarizing effect on moderate Republican and swing voters. 

Senate GOP aides and strategists argue they can’t do much regarding the Biden family's business dealings because they don’t have the power to issue subpoenas as the Senate’s minority party.  

But GOP senators aren’t giving Trump much rhetorical support either — in sharp contrast from prominent House Republicans such as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). 

Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former Senate leadership aide, said the Trump call will appear to a number of Senate Republicans like a way for Trump to distract people from the investigations into his own activities.

But he suggested it isn’t likely to work.

“A good number of Senate Republicans take a more measured approach usually. They don’t knee-jerk to pressure,” Bonjean said.

Trump appears to be losing patience with Republican lawmakers on the fence about impeaching Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland, as the federal and state felony charges pile up against him along with his mounting legal bills.   

Trump mocked GOP senators and House members who say they have “other priorities” and would prefer to leave the investigations of Hunter Biden and the Biden family's business dealings to the House committees.  

“They sit back and they say, ‘We have other priorities, we have to look at other things.’ Any Republican that doesn’t act on Democrat fraud should be immediately primaried. Get out. Out,” he declared at a Saturday rally in Erie, Pa.  

The comments came a few days after Trump hit Senate Republicans for not taking a more aggressive approach to Biden’s personal finances.  

“With all of these horrible revelations and facts, why hasn’t Republican ‘leadership’ in the Senate spoken up and rebuked Crooked Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats, Fascists, and Marxists for their criminal acts against our Country, some of them against me,” he demanded in a post on Truth Social. 

Cool to launching impeachment proceedings

Republican senators are cool to the idea of launching impeachment proceedings against Biden in the House and generally have kept their distance from House GOP threats to cut funding to the Department of Justice and FBI in response to more than 30 felony counts prosecutors have brought against Trump.  

Asked last week whether he saw any merit to an impeachment inquiry into Biden, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said impeachment “ought to be rare rather than common.” 

“I’m not surprised that having been treated the way they were, House Republicans last Congress, [they] begin open up the possibility of doing it again,” he said, referring to the two impeachments of then-President Trump by a Democratic-controlled House.  

“And I think this is not good for the country to have repeated impeachment problems,” McConnell warned.  

It was hardly a ringing endorsement of the House Republican-led investigations into the Biden family and the Department of Justice’s handling of criminal allegations against Hunter Biden.  

Bonjean said “in any impeachment, there would be a trial in the Senate,” which is another reason why Republican senators want to preserve an appearance of impartiality and not rush to judgement about allegations of corruption against the sitting president.  

Republicans up for reelection next year include Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), an outspoken Trump critic, as well as Republicans who have largely stayed quiet about the president, including Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).

None of these incumbents appear vulnerable, but GOP strategists warn that Trump’s support could result in several of them facing credible primary challenges.  

“They could. Some Senate Republicans could face primary pressure over the next year, but they have a lot of time to position themselves on the matter and see how things unfold,” Bonjean said.  

Trump tried to drum up opposition in the last election cycle to Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).  

He was more successful in stirring up support for Murkowski's Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, but his efforts to recruit a primary challenge to Thune in South Dakota quickly fizzled. 

Senate Republicans believe they have a good chance to win back the Senate majority in 2024 because Democrats will have to defend 23 seats, while they only have to protect 11 GOP-held seats.  

A tough spot

Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who served several fellowships in the Senate, said Trump’s calls for Republicans to embrace the partisan investigations of Biden’s family puts Republicans facing competitive general-election races next year in a tough spot.  

“These are people who given the political physics of their congressional districts have to play a very exquisite balancing act. The idea that they move to impeach Biden does not play well in those districts,” he said of Republican lawmakers in competitive House districts.  

Baker warned that some Senate Republicans could be in “jeopardy” in primaries next year if Trump decides to launch a full-scale assault against incumbents he views as reluctant allies.  

“Think of people like Roger Wicker, who is someone who is seen as a pretty solid guy who votes the right way but is not an extremist,” Baker said, identifying a senator who might have to watch his right flank. “There are constituencies that will respond to any demand that Trump puts out who will say, ‘I can’t support [a senator] unless he gets on the impeachment bandwagon.’ 

“But I don’t think any Republican who is up for reelection wants to have to do that,” he said.  

Baker said that Senate Republicans up for reelection don’t want to alienate the sizable share of the Republican electorate — which he estimates at about 25 percent of Republican voters — who don’t support Trump and don’t like the idea of GOP candidates embracing his scorched-earth tactics. 

One Senate Republican aide defended the Senate GOP leadership from Trump’s broadsides by pointing out that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, played a key role in publicizing an FBI 1023 form that makes reference to unsubstantiated allegations that Biden was involved in a foreign bribery scheme.  

“We’re not in the majority, and we don’t have subpoena power. You see Chuck Grassley and [Sen. Ron] Johnson [R-Wis.] pulling the levers on oversight and whistleblowers,” the aide said.  

The form, which FBI investigators use to catalogue raw, unverified claims by informants, received little attention from other Republican senators.  

A second Senate Republican strategist who requested anonymity argued that Grassley has made important contributions to the House investigations of Biden’s, even if Senate Republican leaders have generally kept their distance.  

“I can’t imagine any House Republican would say that the stuff that Grassley has uncovered in his ongoing efforts is less important than what they’re doing. But I think it’s really a matter of, House Republicans are in the majority and have subpoena power and can do a lot more that Republicans in the Senate can,” the aide said.  

Updated at 7:23 a.m. ET.

McConnell’s health puts focus on shadow race to replace him 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) health scare has Republican senators wondering whether the 81-year-old lawmaker will stay in the top job beyond the 2024 election and who might eventually replace him.  

McConnell plans to serve out his current term as leader and has given every indication that he intends to return as Senate GOP leader in the 119th Congress, which starts in January of 2025 — hopefully from his point of view with Republicans in control of the Senate majority.  

Yet Republican senators privately acknowledge that McConnell appears to be frailer since falling and suffering a concussion on March 9, which resulted in him being hospitalized for several days. The accident required rehabilitation at an inpatient facility and kept him away from the Capitol for more than a month.  

McConnell’s health came back into the spotlight Wednesday when he froze midsentence while delivering his opening remarks at the weekly Republican leadership press conference and had to step away from the podium and return to his office for a few minutes to recover.  

He later insisted that he was “fine” and declined to comment specifically about any health problems he may have, leaving GOP colleagues to speculate about how much longer he will serve as leader and who has the inside track to replace him. 

“I think the leadership race is well underway and this accelerates that,” said a Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the fallout from McConnell’s health episode before television cameras Wednesday.  

The lawmaker noted that Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) ran the Senate floor this month during the debate and votes on the annual defense authorization bill, with his staff working in close coordination with floor staff to get agreements on amendments and resolve objections.  

“Thune is running the floor, he’s running the [National Defense Authorization Act] negotiations,” the lawmaker said. 

Thune helped get 80 amendments adopted to the defense bill — through the manager's package, roll call votes and voice votes — helping GOP colleagues ring up accomplishments.

The senator said the shadow race to one day replace McConnell has boiled down to Thune, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who previously served as Senate GOP whip, and Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.).  

“Cornyn has been very solicitous” about raising money for Republican senators who are up for reelection next year, showcasing his fundraising ability, which has been one of McConnell’s greatest strengths as leader, the senator said.  

Cornyn’s joint fundraising committee, the Cornyn Victory Committee, has raised $4.12 million for Senate GOP incumbents, future Senate GOP nominees and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) through the first six months of this year.  

Cornyn raised a total of $20 million for Senate Republican candidates in the 2022 election cycle, more than any other Republican senator with the exception of McConnell and then-NRSC Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.).  

“We hope to exceed that,” Cornyn said of what he plans to do for the 2024 election compared to the $20 million he raised for candidates in the 2022 election cycle. 

“Historically, I used to just raise money for the senatorial committee and let them spend it the way they saw fit, but I found that colleagues appreciate the [direct] help,” he said. “It saves them their wear and tear and a little time so they can hopefully maximize their fundraising elsewhere.” 

McConnell continues to be a major force in fundraising and any successor would have big shoes to fill in that area. 

Two outside groups aligned with McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation, raised a combined $38 million during the first six months of 2023, setting a record for the first half of a nonelection year. 

Republican senators say they view Thune, who is 62, and Cornyn, 71, as the front-runners to become the next Senate GOP leader.  

“I think those will be the two that run for leader when that happens,” said a second Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the brewing succession battle.

The senator said “Cornyn’s been raising money for people for years” and has built a solid record as a major GOP fundraiser while pointing out it’s Thune’s “job” as whip to be managing the daily developments on the Senate floor.  

“I’m glad that he stepped up” during the floor consideration of the defense bill, the senator said, which came close to derailing because of an ongoing dispute over the Pentagon’s policy of paying for servicemembers to travel to obtain abortions.  

The senator said neither Thune nor Cornyn have said anything about running for McConnell’s job. But their ambitions to move up to the top job are an open secret.  

“The leadership is interesting times,” the senator remarked, noting that Thune and Cornyn “can’t discuss” their plans because it would be “rude” while McConnell is in the job.

Senators say Barrasso, 71, can’t be ruled out of the mix because he plays an important role as GOP conference chairman in pushing messaging strategy and could run as a more conservative alternative to Thune and Cornyn in a three-way race.

Barrasso, for example, voted against this year’s debt limit deal between Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Biden, which other members of the Senate GOP leadership supported. 

Former NRSC Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who is up for reelection next year, hasn’t ruled out another run for Senate Republican leader.  

He challenged McConnell in November in what became an intense and sometimes acrimonious debate over the future of the GOP conference before losing by a vote of 36-10. 

A Senate Republican aide said Cornyn has had to be more aggressive in angling for a future opening for Senate leader because he does not currently hold a position in the elected leadership. He had to step down as whip because of term limits in January of 2019.

“Thune and Cornyn are the two names that have been in the mix the most because they have both been whip, and everybody knows that Cornyn wants the [leader’s] job more than anything,” the aide said.  

Cornyn has held regular lunches and coffees with fellow Republican senators to help maintain his relationships with colleagues.  

He has kept ties with the conservative wing of the GOP conference by regularly attending Monday evening meetings of the Senate Republican Steering Committee. 

Thune and Cornyn have both publicly expressed interest in becoming leader in the future but have also made clear that the job is McConnell’s for as long as he wants it.  

Thune earlier this year waved off a question about running for Senate Republican leader as putting “the cart before the horse.”  

He stepped in to handle some of McConnell’s responsibilities, such as leading the weekly leadership press conference, while McConnell underwent rehabilitation after his fall.

Likewise, Cornyn this week insisted to reporters that he isn’t actively running to become the next leader. 

“There’s no vacancies,” he said. “And those [leadership] elections won’t be until November 2024. So I guess the short answer is there’s nothing to prepare for.”  

Barrasso has only said he would like to continue serving the Senate GOP conference in whatever way is most helpful to his colleagues.  

The Wyoming doctor was in the spotlight himself Wednesday because he came to McConnell’s aid after he froze in the middle of delivering his opening remarks at the press conference.  

Barrasso acknowledged to reporters immediately afterward that he was “concerned” about McConnell’s health since his accident in March but hastened to emphasize “he’s made a remarkable recovery” and is “doing a great job leading our conference.” 

Some Republican senators downplayed the incident, which McConnell’s office attributed to the leader feeling “lightheaded,” as a blip that doesn’t affect his ability to lead the conference.  

“Naturally, anytime it happens I think you’re concerned, but in terms of his capabilities and ability to lead, no, I’m not worried about his ability to lead,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).  

A third Republican senator who requested anonymity, however, said that some GOP senators feel they aren’t getting the full story about McConnell’s health, which is in turn fueling speculation about how much longer he will remain leader. 

“No one says what’s wrong with him,” the senator said. “I think there ought to be more transparency here.”  

Al Weaver contributed.  

--Updated at 8:00 a.m.

Senate GOP rallies behind Romney call for winnowing anti-Trump field

Senate Republicans are rallying behind Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) call for Republican donors to refrain from giving money to long-shot presidential candidates once it becomes clear they can’t win the GOP nomination. 

GOP lawmakers who are deeply skeptical of former President Trump’s chances of beating President Biden in next year’s general election are worried that long-shot candidates will stay in the race too long and siphon support away from more viable candidates.  

They say the party needs to start winnowing the field earlier than it did in 2016 to help ensure the most electable nominee advances to the general election. 

“I think that’s a pretty practical recommendation,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “I think to have a large field is probably not going to help us win the White House back.” 

Cornyn told reporters in May that he didn’t think Trump could win the general election, adding “what’s the most important thing for me is that we have a candidate who can actually win.”  

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who represents the state that will host the first contest of the 2024 primary, said “if we want to win elections, we need to look toward the general election and making sure our candidates are strong and ready to go.” 

“If people can start coalescing and getting the right candidate into place, that would be very helpful,” she said.  

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who has endorsed North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s (R) presidential bid, said he’s worried about fielding a competitive candidate in next year’s general election, reflecting the widespread view within the Senate GOP conference that Trump’s polarizing effect on voters is a potential political liability.   

Asked if Trump would be the strongest candidate in the general election, Cramer said “as a primary voter, personally, I prefer picking somebody who I agree with and can win.” 

“At the end of the day, there’s no point endorsing somebody who can’t win,” he said. “I wish we just move on to something normal and tap into the talent of 340 million Americans and see what else we can come up with.” 

Romney argues that anti-Trump voters and donors waited too long in 2016 to coalesce behind a single alternative to Trump, splitting their support among several candidates and letting Trump cruise to the nomination. 

He says next year fellow Republicans need to ramp up pressure on long-shot candidates to drop out if they fail to reach the front of the pack after the first primary contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.  

“Republican megadonors and influencers — large and small — are going to have to do something they didn’t do in 2016: get candidates they support to agree to withdraw if and when their paths to the nomination are effectively closed,” Romney wrote in the Wall Street Journal Monday.  

Romney told The Hill he targeted his op-ed at major Republican donors, who in the last competitive Republican presidential primary stuck with their favored candidates for too long, splitting up the support of GOP voters who didn’t initially favor Trump.  

“A number of folks have sent me texts or emails saying, ‘Hey, well done, I agree with you,’” he said. “That was really aimed at large donors and hopefully they take that into stride. 

“Donors feel the loyalty to the candidate and the candidates want to stay in. That’s the nature of a politician, which is, ‘I’m going to fight to the end. I’m not a quitter,’” he said.  

Instead, Romney says donors need to intervene for the good of the party, telling long-shot White House hopefuls: “No, no. Put that aside. What’s the right thing for the country, and your party?” 

Nonpartisan pollsters such as David Paleologos, the director of the political research center at Suffolk University, say the biggest challenge Republican rivals face in defeating Trump in next year’s primary is that they are splitting the anti-Trump vote a dozen ways.  

Polls show Trump has a solid share of what Paleologos calls “tier one” voters who know with confidence which candidate they will back next year.  

That means any candidate who would emerge as the leading alternative to Trump has to win over a large majority of “tier two” voters who are less certain about how they will vote in the primaries. The more candidates running, the tougher it would be for any one candidate to attract enough undecided voters to defeat Trump. 

Trump is leading the rest of the Republican field by more than 30 percentage points in an average of recent national polls.  

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has trended steadily downward in the polls since March 30 as others including entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) have gained more support. 

The field also includes Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), former Vice President Mike Pence, former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R). 

Romney says GOP donors need to start pushing weak candidates out of the race if they fail to gain traction by Feb. 26, a week before Super Tuesday, when 15 states will cast ballots for president. 

The party nominating rules appear to favor Trump even more than 2016 because at least 17 states will allocate all of their delegates to the winner of its primary or caucus — giving a Trump a chance to rack up a huge lead in delegates even if he wins individual states with a plurality of the vote.  

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) thinks the Republican presidential primary field will start narrowing on its own as donor support begins to dry up for struggling candidates. 

“I think by then the field’s going to naturally … narrow down. I think a lot of people are going to be out of money well before that date,” he said of the Feb. 26 target set by Romney. “In theory it would be nice if you could have some control about all that.” 

But Thune cautioned “it’s hard to tell somebody they have to end their campaign.” 

Thune said it was “a much bigger field” in 2016 and the “dynamics were different” because Republicans were running for an “open seat” after President Barack Obama’s two terms in office. 

But he acknowledged that “a lot of the people who are in” the 2024 presidential primary “are all folks who are wanting to be the anti-Trump.” 

“If they want somebody to be the anti-Trump, then they’re probably going to have get behind somebody, drop out of the race and get behind somebody who actually has a shot,” he said. 

Scary moment for McConnell raises questions for GOP

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is helped by Senators and staff after McConnell unexpectedly pauses while speaking to reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (Greg Nash)

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) froze in front of television cameras for about 20 seconds Wednesday as he battled a bout of lightheadedness that forced him to walk away briefly from a press conference.

The scary moment, which prompted members of his leadership team to suggest that he take a rest, raises new questions about the 81-year-old Republican leader’s future.  

“Are you good, Mitch?” asked Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Joni Ernst (Iowa), putting her hand on the back of his arm.  

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.), who is a doctor, ushered McConnell away from the podium after the leader was unable to get more than a couple of sentences into his opening statement.  

“Let’s go back to your office,” Barrasso suggested. “Do you want to say anything else to the press? Let’s go back.”  

Barrasso later revealed that he walked “down the hall” with McConnell toward his office after they both walked away from the podium and that the leader didn’t say anything to him to indicate distress.  

An aide to McConnell later said, “He felt lightheaded and stepped away for a moment.” The aide pointed out that McConnell “was sharp” in answering reporters’ questions after he returned to the event.  

McConnell’s term runs through the end of 2026, and he previously said that he expects to stay on as leader.  

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) told reporters after the troubling moment in front of the cameras that McConnell should stay in his leadership role.  

“And hopefully he gets a good rest over the [August] break,” she said. 

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McConnell has helped recruit top-flight Republican candidates in West Virginia and Montana to maximize the chances of reclaiming his old title of Senate majority leader in January 2025.  

And two outside fundraising groups aligned with McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation, this week reported record-breaking fundraising hauls over the first six months of a nonelection year.  

The groups raised a combined $38 million, with the Senate Leadership Fund collecting $10.1 million and One Nation bringing in $28.2 million. 

But Senate Republican colleagues say McConnell seems to be still suffering the effects of a nasty spill he took in early March, which sent him to the hospital with a concussion and led to weeks of rehabilitation.  

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One Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss McConnell’s health observed that the GOP leader has been more reticent at Republican lunch meetings. The lawmaker speculated that McConnell may be having troubling hearing the conversations at the lunch, just as he sometimes has trouble hearing reporters’ questions at press conferences. 

A second Republican senator said McConnell does not appear fully recovered from his fall. 

“I love Mitch McConnell, he is one of the most strategic political thinkers that we have. I have such admiration and respect for him but I do fear that — you can call it low energy — he is not himself,” the lawmaker said. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is the oldest member of the Senate GOP conference at age 89, said he planned to call McConnell’s office to check up on his health.  

“If I want to know what went wrong, yes,” he said.  

FILE - Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, testifies during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in Washington. A U.S. Senate committee has accused the embattled Swiss bank Credit Suisse of limiting the scope of an internal probe into Nazi clients and Nazi-linked accounts. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

McConnell waved aside questions about his health when he returned to the podium Wednesday afternoon. 

Asked at Wednesday’s press conference why he was unable to complete his statement and whether it was related to the concussion, McConnell responded: “No, I’m fine.”  

“You’re fine, you’re fully able to do your job?” the reporter pressed. 

“Yeah,” McConnell answered.  

McConnell returned to the press conference in time to take the first question from reporters, as he usually does after the weekly Senate Republican policy lunch.  

He made a point of staying at the podium longer than usual to answer questions and appeared calm and confident while providing detailed answers.  

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (Greg Nash)

When a reporter asked Wednesday if he had “anybody in mind” to replace him when he’s “no longer” the Republican leader, McConnell smiled and walked back to his office while members of his leadership team laughed it off.  

Republican senators and aides predict that if McConnell steps down from his leadership job, there would be a three-way race among Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), Barrasso and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the former Senate GOP whip and a current adviser to the Senate GOP leadership team, to replace him.  

Thune and Cornyn, who have both expressed interest in becoming the Senate GOP leader sometime in the future, say the job belongs to McConnell as long as he wants it.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who challenged McConnell unsuccessfully in November, hasn’t ruled out making another run for Senate Republican leader.

McConnell defeated Scott 37-10 in an acrimonious race in which both candidates traded blame for the disappointing results of the 2022 midterm election. 

Barrasso said after the press conference that he was “concerned” about McConnell’s health but pointed out that he led the lunch meeting earlier in the day and appeared in good shape while answering questions from the press.  

“I was concerned since … he was injured a number of months ago, and I continue to be concerned,” he told a crowd of reporters who pressed him for details about McConnell’s condition.

“I was concerned when he fell and hit his head a number of months ago and was hospitalized, and I think he’s made a remarkable recovery. He’s doing a great job leading our conference and was able to answer every question that the press asked today,” he said.  

Barrasso said McConnell didn’t show any signs of impairment at the conference lunch meeting. 

“He spoke at lunch, carried on, led the discussion. Everything was fine,” he said.  

Al Weaver contributed.

McConnell freezes at briefing, concerning colleagues

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) froze for almost 20 seconds while delivering his opening statement at a leadership press conference Wednesday afternoon, prompting murmurs of concern among his colleagues and the assembled press corps.  

McConnell told reporters the Senate was on a path to complete work on the annual defense authorization bill and praised what he called “good bipartisan cooperation” before freezing midsentence and staring straight ahead without uttering another word.  

The awkward and potentially scary moment prompted a couple members of his leadership team to reach out to see if he was OK.

“Are you good, Mitch?” asked Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), putting her hand on the back of his arm. 

“Are you okay, Mitch?” asked Senate Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a doctor, who put his hand on McConnell’s right forearm. “Anything else you want to say? 

“Let’s go back to your office,” said Barrasso. “Do you want to say anything else to the press? Let’s go back.” 

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McConnell, however, appeared reluctant to leave the press conference.

Barrasso then exchanged some remarks with one of McConnell’s aides and soon after led the GOP leader down the hall toward his office.  

McConnell, who is 81 years old, returned to the press conference before the other members of his leadership team finished their remarks and took the first question from reporters, as he usually does every Wednesday.  

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CNN’s Manu Raju asked McConnell to address what happened, and whether it was related to health effects from suffering a concussion earlier this year.  

“No, I’m fine,” McConnell answered. 

“You’re fine, you’re fully able to do your job?” the reporter pressed. 

“Yeah,” McConnell answered. 

He then went on to answer reporters’ questions about an unraveling plea deal between federal prosecutors and Hunter Biden, the prospect of impeachment proceedings in the House and the schedule for considering the annual appropriations bills.  

An aide to McConnell said the GOP leader “felt lightheaded and stepped away for a moment.” 

“He came back to handle Q and A, which everyone observed was sharp,” the aide added.  

McConnell was hospitalized earlier this year after falling and suffering a concussion at a private dinner on March 9 at the Waldorf Astoria.  

He was discharged from the hospital after a few days and entered an in-patient rehabilitation facility. He returned home on March 25 to resume his rehabilitation work and was back at work in the Capitol on April 17.

Updated 3:32 p.m.

Senate Republicans see Biden impeachment as fraught with risk

Senate Republicans see impeaching President Biden ahead of the 2024 election as a risky political strategy that could turn off moderate voters and are hoping to wave their House GOP colleagues off from marching down that road.

GOP senators say the party is better off focused on how to improve Americans’ lives in the future instead of fighting messy battles to settle past political scores. 

“Staying focused on the future and not the past is in my view the best way to change the direction of the country and that’s to win an election,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) told reporters Tuesday.  

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said Tuesday she would prefer to focus on national security policy, which the Senate is debating this week as it wraps up work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  

“I’m really focused on NDAA right now. I really want to see it get done and I want a bipartisan deal between the House and the Senate. I think that’s what we’re focused on,” Ernst told reporters. “We need to get our [appropriations] bills done, too. So, that’s what we’re going to focus on in the Senate.” 

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday strongly signaled to reporters that the House could move forward with an impeachment inquiry.

“How do you get to the bottom of the truth? The only way Congress can do that is go to an impeachment inquiry,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday. “What an impeachment inquiry does, it gives us the apex of the power of Congress for Republicans and Democrats to gather the information that they need.”

However, McCarthy later said no decision had been made, raising doubts about whether he’d move forward with the step.

“I wasn’t announcing it,” he said. “I simply say … that the actions that I'm seeing by this administration, with holding the agencies from being able to work with us — that would rise to the level of an impeachment inquiry. We … still have a number of investigations going forward.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) declined to comment on McCarthy's impeachment push when asked about it on his way to the Senate floor. 

Senate Republicans have generally kept their distance from the House Republican-led investigations into the Biden family’s business dealings and earlier this summer dismissed what they saw as a hastily filed motion by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) to impeach Biden for lacking evidence and due process.  

“I know people are angry. I’m angry at the Biden administration for their policies at the border and a whole host of other things, but I think we also need to look at what’s achievable,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said last month in response to Boebert’s impeachment resolution.  

“And with a Democratic majority in the Senate, I don’t think that’s achievable,” he warned.  

Cornyn on Tuesday remarked that the House standards for impeaching a president have dropped in recent years. 

House Democrats impeached former President Trump in December of 2019 and then again in January of 2021.

He told reporters that impeaching presidents is getting to be "a habit around here," and that's not a good thing.

“Unfortunately, what goes around, comes around,” he said. 

Remembering when it backfired 

Senate Republicans remember the last time a Republican-controlled House impeached a Democratic president in the fall of 1998, it backfired on their party in that year’s midterm election.   

Democrats picked up five House seats that year, marking the first time in 64 years the president’s party didn’t lose any seats in Congress during a midterm election.   

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted twice to convict Trump on impeachment charges during two separate Senate trials, said it’s not unusual for lawmakers to launch baseless attacks against a major party’s nominee for president, as happened to him in 2012.   

Romney said Biden should open up about his family’s business dealings to reassure the public.  

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“There are all sorts of accusations and allegations. I had something of that nature launched against me when I was running for president. I found the best way to respond was full disclosure and transparency. My guess is that’s the way to make it go away,” he said. “I’ll expect to see that from the Biden team.   

Romney reminded his House colleagues that the “bar” for impeachment is “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  

“That hasn’t been alleged at this stage, but we’ll see what develops. I certainly hope that that’s not going to confront us again,” he said.   

Cornyn warned Tuesday that further lowering the bar for impeachment will set a precedent for future Congresses.   

“Once a precedent is established around here, you can pretty well guarantee people will cite that as justification or lower the bar further. I don’t think it’s a healthy thing,” he said.   

Even so, Cornyn acknowledged that House investigators have uncovered some troubling evidence shedding light on Hunter Biden’s business dealings.  

“I’m very disturbed by some of the revelations in the House about the Biden family business,” he said.   

Not eager for battle 

GOP senators are not eager to get drawn into a protracted battle with Democrats over an impeachment trial that may wind up dividing their conference if House investigators fail to come up with compelling evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard set by the Constitution.  

Investigations by the House Oversight, Judiciary and Ways and Means Committees into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and whether he received favorable treatment from the Department of Justice have failed to gain much public traction, or even support from Senate Republicans on the other side of the Capitol.  

Trump on Monday vented his frustration with Senate Republicans for not showing much interest in pursuing Biden.  

“Why hasn’t Republican ‘leadership’ in the Senate spoken up and rebuked Crooked Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats, Fascists, and Marxists for their criminal acts against our Country, some of them against me. How long does America have to wait for the Senate to ACT?” Trump demanded in a post to his social media site, Truth Social. 

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines (Mont.) told reporters Tuesday that it’s the job of the House, not the Senate, to investigate Biden.  

“It will be up to the House to determine what the facts lead them to vote on in the future. That’s their job,” he said.  

Some Republican senators, however, argued Tuesday that House Republicans are justified in moving forward with an impeachment inquiry. 

“Considering what the House Oversight Committee is unearthing — we can’t help that the FBI didn’t do their job for five years — now they’re finding all this information out. They’re still digging and appropriately so,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who asserted that House investigators have found “pretty strong evidence of serious crimes.” 

“Whether we like it or not, we may have to deal with it,” he said. “I think the Speaker is doing what he needs to do and what’s appropriate to do, quite honestly.” 

Asked about his Senate Republican colleagues’ reluctance to wade into another impeachment fight, Cramer said: “I’m not eager to get on an airplane every Monday morning.” 

“We don’t do this for our own convenience, we do this because we pledge an oath and we have a president who clearly has over the years been running a really awful family crime syndicate,” he said. “We’ve got to look into it.” 

He said when Democrats controlled the House during the Trump administration, “We impeached the president twice with no evidence in the kangaroo court.” 

Trump anxiety among GOP senators grows as indictments appear to help him

Republican senators who don’t want to see former President Trump as their party's nominee are feeling increasingly anxious that special counsel Jack Smith is actually helping Trump's presidential campaign through his dogged pursuit of the former president. 

They fear that another round of federal charges against Trump will only further boost his fundraising and poll numbers, solidifying his possession as the dominant front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary field.  

And they worry that Smith’s effect on the Republican presidential primary is being magnified by prominent House Republicans and conservative media personalities who have rallied behind Trump, effectively blotting out the rest of the GOP presidential field.  

“They wish he would go away,” said a Republican senator, who requested anonymity to comment on private conversation, of fellow GOP senators’ concerns that Smith is helping propel Trump to victory.  

“They wish they would both go away,” the senator added, referring to Smith and Trump.  

The senator said constituents are calling on colleagues to “stand by Trump,” essentially turning the GOP presidential primary into a referendum on the former president and his battles with the Biden Justice Department. 

The senator said Smith is “absolutely” the best thing going for Trump’s presidential campaign.

Trump had a 15-point lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in national polls March 30, when news of the former president’s first indictment in New York on 34 felony counts related to a hush money scheme became public.  

Since then, his lead over DeSantis, his closest rival, has grown to 33 points, according to an average of recent national polls.  

A second Republican senator said the Department of Justice will further boost Trump if it brings new charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and stop Congress from certifying President Biden’s victory Jan. 6, 2021.  

Trump already faces 37 counts in a federal indictment related to the classified documents found at his Florida residence.

“The things that one would have thought were disqualifying can be enhancing, can be improving your standing,” said the GOP senator, who also requested anonymity to comment on how Trump’s legal battles are energizing Republican voters to embrace his campaign.  

“I should explain to my constituents who complain that the Democrats are out to ambush Trump: ‘No, they want him to be Republican nominee because he is the one who would lose,’” the senator added.  

The senator said a new federal indictment against Trump “creates increased enthusiasm among his supporters and probably brings other voters along who see this as a rotten system.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who hasn’t yet endorsed any presidential candidate, said Trump is getting “stronger” because of the two indictments and the potential for additional charges from the Justice Department and the Fulton County (Ga.) district attorney.  

“I think he’s getting stronger,” he said, adding, “The primary gets less and less [competitive].” 

Paul speculated that the Biden administration and its allies may be focusing prosecutorial firepower on Trump to boost him in the primary, because Democratic strategists believe Biden has a good chance of beating him again in a general election.  

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“Maybe that’s their strategy. Maybe their strategy is: 'Let’s keep indicting him. We’ll build him up because he’s the one candidate who won’t have appeal to independents.’ And that might be true,” Paul said.  

The Kentucky senator said even Republicans who aren’t Trump fans feel angry and exasperated by the severity of the charges brought against him.

“More and more Republicans, even ones who have disagreements with him, are like: ‘Really, you’re going to indict him for trying to overturn the election?’” he said.  

Paul said he thought the strategy of Trump allies trying to push alternate slates of Electoral College electors in the weeks after the 2020 election was “a stupid strategy.” 

“I voted against it. I said at the time it was a dumb strategy. So I’m against that policy, but never in my right mind would I think that it’s a crime for [Trump] to say, ‘Let’s have an alternate set of electors,’” he said.  

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who has endorsed Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in the 2024 presidential election and has repeatedly warned that Trump is a turnoff to swing voters, said the Department of Justice has only boosted Trump’s fundraising and standing in the polls.

“That seems to have happened so far,” he said. “He seems to have benefited every time that the Justice Department goes after him. 

“I’m hoping that the dynamic changes in a way that Tim Scott starts to break out,” Thune said.  

Trump’s campaign last week sent out a fundraising email to supporters within 24 hours of receiving a letter from Smith informing him that he is the target of a grand jury investigation related to the events of Jan. 6.  

He asked his subscribers to “make a contribution to show that you will NEVER SURRENDER our country to tyranny as the DEEP State thugs try to JAIL me for life.”  

Trump raised $35 million in the second quarter of this year, during which time he pleaded not guilty in separate criminal cases in Manhattan and the Southern District of Florida.  

DeSantis reported raising $20 million in the second quarter. 

Trump has repeatedly bashed Smith to rev up his core supporters.  

He shot off a fundraising email immediately after learning that he had been indicted in early June for violating the Espionage Act and conspiring to obstruct justice because of his handling of classified documents after leaving office.  

“We are watching our Republic DIE before our very eyes. The Biden-appointed Special Counsel has INDICTED me in yet another witch hunt regarding documents that I had the RIGHT to declassify as President of the United States,” he wrote June 8. 

Trump’s strategy of villainizing Smith and the Department of Justice has proven especially effective with small-dollar donors; his campaign reported collecting $6.6 million within days of Smith announcing his first round of charges.  

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted twice to convict Trump of impeachment charges and wants his party to move away from the former president, said: “In the past, an indictment would be terminal for a candidate.” 

“Donald Trump has proven that’s not the case. He was right: He could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t make a difference,” he said.  

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who doesn’t think Trump can win a general election matchup against Biden, said the indictments have rallied Republican voters behind Trump "so far."

“But he hasn’t had a trial yet," he said. "That could change things."  

Frustrated lawmakers demand answers on UFOs

Senior lawmakers are increasingly demanding that military and other government officials provide them with information about intelligence on unidentified flying objects (UFOs) or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs).

The demands reflect frustrations on the part of some lawmakers that they are being kept in the dark about what’s known about UFOs and UAPs.

The lawmakers do not necessarily believe the government is hiding signs of extraterrestrial life from the public and congressional oversight. But they are frustrated they are not learning more about unknown objects flying in restricted U.S. air space.

“My primary interest in this topic is if there are … object[s] operating over restricted air space, it’s not ours and we don’t know whose it is, that’s a problem that we need to get to the bottom of,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“If there’s an explanation for it that’s being kept from Congress, then we need to force the issue. We’re not getting answers,” Rubio told The Hill.  

The Senate has adopted an amendment to an annual defense bill that would require the federal government to collect and disclose all records related to UFOs and UAPs unless a special review board determines they must be kept classified.  

The amendment was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, and is backed by Rubio and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats, as well as Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a former Marine intelligence officer, and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).  

Rubio, the top-ranking Republican on the intelligence committee, has more access to classified information than the vast majority of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He said he suspects there are records related to unidentified aerial phenomena that are being kept secret from congressional oversight.  

“Right now, what I know is reliable people tell us that and we’ve seen objects operating over restricted military and national security airspace. They claim it’s not ours. They claim they don’t know whose it is. That’s like the definition of a national security threat,” he said.  

“Either there’s an answer that exists and is not being provided, or there is no answer. Beyond that, I don’t want to speculate anything,” he added. 

Rubio said he was familiar with the claims of David Grusch, a career intelligence officer who worked for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He claims the federal government has retrieved “non-human origin technical vehicles” that have landed or crashed on Earth.  

“We have a number of people including that gentleman who have come forward both publicly and privately to make claims,” Rubio said.  

“One of two things are true. Either A, they’re telling the truth or some version of the truth or B, we have a bunch of people with high clearances and really important jobs in our government are nuts. Both are a problem. And I’m not accusing these people of being nuts. That said, that’s something we’ll look at and continue to look at seriously,” he said.  

Interest in the subject is also reflected by this week’s House Oversight Committee hearing Thursday on UAPs and UFOs.

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who is chairing the hearing, says lawmakers will hear testimony from Grusch, as well as former Navy Cmdr. David Fravor and former Navy pilot Ryan Graves.  

Burchett claimed on a podcast this month that the federal government has known about UFOs for decades and “they can fly underwater and don’t show a heat trail,” appearing to defy the laws of physics.  

Congressional sources familiar with efforts to gain more information from the Defense Department and intelligence agencies say UAPs and UFOs are being detected more frequently because of improvements in military sensor technology.  

The Department of Defense released three Navy videos in 2020 that show objects flying in extraordinary ways and capturing confused and awe-struck comments of Naval aviators who witnessed the phenomena.  

Grusch, who describes himself as a whistleblower, says senior intelligence officers have told him they participated in a secret UAP task force, though he says he has not personally witnessed nonhuman intelligence. He says he was retaliated against when he tried to gain more information about the program.  

Rubio said “we don’t know” if such a program exists and what evidence it might have collected. 

“Without speculating or adding to intrigue about this whole topic, there’s no doubt that in this field, generally, there’s more than what we know,” he said. “We’re trying to get to a process where at least some people in Congress do know.” 

Asked why he suspects there’s more for Congress to know about UAPs, Rubio said “there’s pieces of puzzles that don’t fit.” 

“Most certainly there are elements of things, whether historic or current, that potentially Congress has not been kept fully informed of — and that would be a problem,” he said. “There’s really no function of the executive that shouldn’t require congressional oversight at some level.” 

The language in the Senate defense bill would require the National Archives and Records Administration to create a collection of records related to UAPs across government agencies that would be declassified for public use. 

“UAPs generate a lot of curiosity for many Americans, and with that curiosity sometimes comes misinformation,” Schumer said Tuesday on the Senate floor.  

Most lawmakers are extremely reluctant to say they suspect aliens from other solar systems are visiting Earth because there isn’t any undisputable evidence of such visits in the public domain. 

Also, the nearest star to planet Earth is 40,000 billion kilometers away, making it seem impossible that any alien craft could travel the distance necessary to span solar systems. The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is so far away that it would take the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which travels at 17.3 km per second, 73,000 years to reach it, according to NASA.  

It’s also hard to fathom that a foreign adversary such as China possesses such advanced technology that it can fly aerial vehicles in ways that appear to defy the laws of physics, as U.S. military personnel have observed of UFOs or UAPs.  

Rounds said he has seen “no evidence personally” that extraterrestrial craft are visiting the planet but said, “I know that there’s a lot of people that have questions about it.” 

“It’s just like with JFK and the [1963] assassination. We set up separate archive for that or central collection place for all that data, which I think gave the American people a sense of security that there was a location where it was being held. This is following that same approach,” he said.  

The White House announced late last month that the National Archives had concluded its review of documents related to the assassination of former President Kennedy and that 99 percent of the relevant records had been made publicly available.

Asked about whether he personally believes military personnel and sensors are encountering extraterrestrial visitors, Rounds said: “I don’t think you can discount the possibility just simply because of the size of the universe.” 

“I don’t think anybody should say that they know for certain either way,” he said. “If we simply refuse to acknowledge there’s even a remote possibility, then we’re probably not being honest.” 

“Some of the items we simply can’t explain,” he said of the Naval videos of UAPs.