Clyburn, Schiff endorse Eliot Engel ahead of competitive primary

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Rep. Adam Schiff are endorsing Rep. Eliot Engel, the pair of Democratic heavyweights offering their full support as the embattled New Yorker fights to hold onto the seat he’s represented for more than three decades.

Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, and Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have considerable influence within Democratic politics. Both men praised Engel for his longtime service to his Bronx district and tenure as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in statements exclusively obtained by POLITICO on Sunday.

“Let me be blunt: We need leaders in Congress with proven records of standing up for civil and human rights,” said Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African American in Congress. “Eliot Engel is not new to the fight for justice and equality — he's been in the fight his entire life, and I have worked with him on these issues for almost three decades.”

Clyburn's support comes as Democrats prepare to move a police reform bill through the House this month, sweeping legislation that’s been offered in response to the national outcry over the police killing of George Floyd. Engel is an original sponsor of the police reform bill.

Schiff, the lead prosecutor in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, said Engel’s leadership as Foreign Affairs Committee chairman was “invaluable” during Democrats’ investigation into whether the president abused the power of his office.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn of S.C., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“Ever since Trump took office, Eliot has helped expose the abuses of his administration, and hold this lawless president accountable,” Schiff continued. “Eliot is a dedicated and talented public servant who knows how to get things done for the people of his district, while working diligently to protect our democracy. He has my full support for his reelection.”

Their endorsements come one day after another prominent lawmaker, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), announced he was endorsing Engel as well. Jeffries served alongside Schiff as an impeachment manager.

But it’s unclear if the cadre of powerful Democrats will be enough to save Engel, who faces off against middle school principal Jamaal Bowman on June 23.

The support of Clyburn and Jeffries, two senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus, is especially notable after the CBC’s political arm came under fire for supporting Engel, who is white, over Bowman, who is black.

Senior members of the CBC have defended the decision, citing Engel’s longtime tenure, representing his district for 31 years. The CBC is a fierce defender of seniority within the House Democratic Caucus and has in the past endorsed white incumbents over black primary challengers.

“During the South Carolina primary several months ago, I endorsed our party's presumptive nominee, Joe Biden for President, because of his long and distinguished record of standing with us,” Clyburn said in a statement. “The same goes for Eliot Engel.”

But Bowman has racked up his own string of high-profile endorsements, including from progressive leaders like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), whose district borders Engel’s. The New York Times — Engel’s hometown newspaper — endorsed Bowman over the weekend, another blow to the longtime lawmaker.

And Engel has had multiple missteps in recent weeks, drawing unwanted attention to himself and giving his opponent plenty of fodder in the run-up to the primary.

Engel came under fire last month after the Atlantic reported he was hunkered down in his Washington-area home as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged his district — particularly New Rochelle, one of the hardest-hit areas in the country and ground zero for the outbreak in New York.

Engel has since traveled back to his district. But two weeks ago, Engel triggered another round of bad headlines when he was caught on a hot mic as he pressed to speak at a press conference in his district. After being rebuffed by Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., Engel tried again, saying, “If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”

Jeffries defended Engel in his endorsement over the weekend, telling the New York Daily News that “an inartful statement” shouldn’t undo Engel’s three decades of “committed compassionate on-the-ground service to the community."

The race has become something of a proxy war between the Democratic establishment — most of which is lined up firmly behind Engel — and insurgents like Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats, a progressive group that is backing Bowman.

Ocasio-Cortez shot to fame after unseating Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), then the House Democratic Caucus chairman, in a stunning upset in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez was also backed by Justice Democrats, which has drawn the ire of senior Democratic lawmakers for it practice of targeting longtime incumbents.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who could face his own progressive challenger in 2022, declined to endorse Engel earlier this week. But most Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have publicly supported Engel in recent weeks.

“Chairman Engel is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He also has unique privilege, which is unique and it wouldn’t happen again ... he is also not only the chairman of Foreign Affairs, he is a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee,” Pelosi told reporters last week.

“That wouldn’t happen again — that’s a lot of power,” Pelosi added.

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Democrats push for federal control during medical supply shortage

A pair of Democrats are mounting an aggressive push for the federal government to take over buying and distributing much-needed medical supplies, as states continue to battle one another for precious equipment to fight the coronavirus.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) is leading the effort with a bill that would give the Federal Emergency Management Agency control over supplying medical equipment to states — from ventilators and X-ray machines to masks and gloves — during this and future pandemics. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate.

“We've got a shortage and scarcity of essential medical supplies and equipment, where states are bidding against one another,” Brown said in an interview. “It's not the most efficient way to either provide or distribute. And the federal government has got to take responsibility.”

In a sign of the sparsity of such equipment, some states are even keeping their limited stock under military guard.

The bill is one of multiple pieces of legislation introduced by Democrats in recent days that would centralize at least some parts of the supply and delivery of medical supplies during an emergency. Brown says their legislation is “the most aggressive” on this issue and something he and Warren hope to see discussed as part of the next round of coronavirus relief package negotiations.

Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. (House Television via AP)

“We can’t confront a national crisis with bidding wars and massive price increases — we need a national strategy,” Warren said. “If President Trump won’t do his job, Congress will do it for him.”

But it’s unclear how much Republicans would be interested, if at all, given GOP lawmakers are loath to support any additional federal control over states.

Brown is undeterred, saying his effort comes after his home-state governor, Republican Larry Hogan, purchased 500,000 coronavirus test kits from South Korea due to states’ limited supplies. Brown’s measure seeks to make such direct purchases unnecessary.

But most of Maryland’s test kits have yet to be used, sitting in a undisclosed location protected by the state National Guard, Hogan told The Washington Post on Thursday. Brown attributes the unused kits to a lack of medical swabs needed to complete the test and says his bill would prevent that kind of mishap from happening again.

The situation in Maryland isn’t unique. As the coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., states have been thrown into a highly competitive effort to procure supplies, competing against each other as they try to secure personal protective equipment for frontline workers, often at a much higher cost than normal.

The dearth of supplies and lack of organization at the federal level — President Donald Trump has waffled between a White House-led response and dismissively telling states the federal government is “not a shipping clerk” — has led some governors to get creative.

For example, in Warren’s home state of Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has relied on the New England Patriots to help deliver 1.2 million face masks purchased from China, using the football team’s private plane and semitractor-trailer.

And even that isn’t a solution — in recent weeks there have been questions in both the U.S. and Britain about the effectiveness of PPE supplies, including masks and ventilators, procured from China.

In addition, some states never even see the supplies they purchased. New York is currently trying to recover $69 million it awarded a Silicon Valley engineer with no medical device experience to produce ventilators that never arrived, BuzzFeed reported Wednesday. And lawmakers in both parties have complained of securing supplies for their states only to see them outbid and shipped elsewhere at the last minute.

The Brown-Warren bill would aim to prevent situations like that from ever happening again, the Maryland Democrat argued, by centralizing the supply chain operation through FEMA. In addition, Congress would receive biweekly progress reports for the duration of the pandemic.

“This establishes the government at the sole payer and distributor. You're going to eliminate states bidding against states, private sector against public sector,” Brown said.

“And not for everything under the sun. Just for those items, the supplies and the devices, where the FEMA director has determined, in consultation with the appropriate officials, that you're seeing price increases that exceed 15 percent.”

If the idea isn’t incorporated into the next coronavirus relief package, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to move in the coming weeks, Brown is already looking at other legislative vehicles that are guaranteed to move through Congress this year.

One option for Brown, who serves on the House Armed Services panel, is the annual defense authorization, which Congress has passed every year since 1961. Leaders of the panel released a statement earlier this week saying they’re still aiming to complete this year’s defense bill, despite the coronavirus interruption.

“I'm less concerned with how what vehicle is used. But more concerned that we get this provision passed,” Brown said.

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Pelosi eyes House return in two weeks

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wants to bring lawmakers back in two weeks after an extended coronavirus-related recess — her statement coming after House leaders abruptly scrapped plans for an earlier return after warnings from the Capitol physician.

"We're not coming back next week. Our plan is to come back the following week," Pelosi told reporters during her weekly news conference Thursday.

The House was initially scheduled to return Monday, May 4, along with the Senate. But Pelosi and her top lieutenants reversed course earlier this week after bipartisan backlash, delaying the chamber’s return after the Capitol doctor warned them it wouldn’t be safe.

The number of coronavirus cases in the Washington area continues to climb, with local officials predicting the region has yet to reach its peak and D.C. remaining under a stay-at-home order until at least May 15. In addition, House leaders had yet to develop robust guidance for how to resume full operations with hundreds of members and thousands of staffers and support staff in the Capitol complex.

Despite the safety concerns, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is moving ahead with plans to return on Monday to advance judicial and executive branch nominees.

“We’re 430 members, the decision was made on the strength of our numbers and people coming together,” Pelosi said Thursday when asked about McConnell’s decision.

“Now, what they advised the Senate, I don’t know. They are 100, we’re four times that. … I can’t speak for the Senate, I just know what our responsibility is in the House.”

Still, the House won’t be completely dark next week. A House Appropriations subcommittee has scheduled an in-person hearing with hopes of having the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, testify. Pelosi said Thursday some other “smaller” committees might also meet, if members were able to maintain proper social distancing.

And House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who joined the speaker at her news conference, said his new select coronavirus oversight panel might convene in some capacity next week as well. Pelosi announced Democratic members of the panel on Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who criticized Pelosi’s picks and slammed the effort as “impeachment 2.0”, hinted that Republicans might not participate in the panel, but said he would make a decision by next week.

“I’m not convinced that we even participate in something like this,” McCarthy told reporters on a press call.

House leaders reversed their plans to return next week after hearing from furious members on both sides of the aisle, who were blindsided by the initial announcement on Monday and said they were given no guidance about how to keep themselves or their aides safe while working in the Capitol’s close quarters.

“We had no choice. If the Capitol physician recommends that we not come back, then we have to take that guidance," Pelosi said earlier this week.

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Pelosi criticizes Trump’s prayer breakfast comments as ‘without class’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi used her weekly news conference to again tear into President Donald Trump, calling his remarks at a prayer breakfast Thursday both “inappropriate” and “without class.”

Pelosi said Trump’s criticism at the National Prayer Breakfast of Sen. Mitt Romney ofUtah, the only Republican to vote to convict the president in his impeachment trial Wednesday, was particularly offensive.

“I thought what he said about Sen. Romney was particularly without class,” Pelosi told reporters later Thursday. “It’s so inappropriate at a prayer breakfast.”

Romney gave an emotional speech on Wednesday before the vote, explaining that his faith was a guiding principle in what he described as the hardest decision of his life. He voted to convict Trump on a charge of abuse of power but to acquit him on the obstruction of Congress charge.

The Utah Republican faced swift blowback after announcing his decision, with Donald Trump Jr. calling for Romney’s ouster from the GOP caucus.

"I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong," President Donald Trump said during his speech at the breakfast.

"Nor do I like people who say, 'I pray for you,' when they know that that's not so,” he added, taking an obvious shot at Pelosi, who often says she prays for the president.

Later Thursday, at a victory lap celebrating his impeachment acquittal, Trump said: "I had Nancy Pelosi sitting four seats away, and I'm saying things that a lot of people wouldn't have said. But I meant everything. I meant every word of it."

The long-simmering feud between the two leaders was reignited Tuesday after Trump appeared to refuse to shake Pelosi’s hand at the State of the Union and she later ripped up his speech, all on national television.

Pelosi then ripped into Trump during a private meeting of Democrats on Wednesday morning, hours before the Senate voted to acquit the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Trump shot back Thursday, holding up newspapers announcing his acquittal as he walked onstage and then taking shots at Romney and Pelosi during his speech.

“To go into the stock market and raising up his acquittal thing and mischaracterizing other people’s motivation, he’s talking about things that he knows little about: faith and prayer,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi has rarely held back from criticizing the president when she has thought it warranted. But the speaker’s sustained criticisms this week are a signal that the feud between Trump and Pelosi is only likely to intensify in the months leading up until the election.

“I don’t need any lessons from anybody, especially the president of the United States, about dignity,” Pelosi said Thursday, adding she feels “liberated” now. “I feel that I’ve extended every possible courtesy, I’ve shown every level of respect.”

The speaker also chided Republicans for breaking out into chants of “four more years” during Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.

“By the way, a serious breach to start shouting 'four more years' on the floor of the House — totally inappropriate,” she said.

And Pelosi said she and other Democrats thought that when Trump’s State of the Union speech veered into talking about a “special” and “beloved” man battling cancer that he was going to honor Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon who is battling advanced pancreatic cancer.

Instead, Trump meant Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio host who has been accused of making racist, sexist and anti-LGBTQ remarks on his show. Trump awarded Limbaugh, who has advanced lung cancer, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation's highest civilian honor — in the middle of his annual address.

“Do it in your own office. We don’t come in your office and do congressional business. Why are you doing that here?” Pelosi said. “That was not a State of the Union, that was his state of mind.”

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