Chip Roy weighs a last-minute challenge to Stefanik for House GOP No. 3

Texas Rep. Chip Roy is considering launching a bid for House Republican Conference chair, according to multiple Republican sources, as conservatives fret that the party is moving too quickly to anoint a successor to newly deposed Liz Cheney.

Roy, a member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, is one of several conservatives to publicly express concern about elevating Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a moderate turned Donald Trump ally who's moving swiftly to lock down support for the No. 3 post. Notably, Stefanik has the backing of the former president and GOP leaders.

Undaunted, Roy sent a memo to every Republican office in the conference on Tuesday arguing that Stefanik should not be serving in leadership and ticking off a long list of issues with her voting record. He also had been pushing for a delay in the election to replace Cheney (R-Wyo.), which will take place later this week.

“I don’t believe there should be a coronation,” Roy told reporters on Wednesday. “I believe that if the leader wants us to be united, then he should take the time to do this the right way.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik is pictured during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.

Roy declined to say whether he was considering an official bid for the position, saying “let’s see what happens over the next 24 hours.” But his spokesperson said in a statement that they’re not “ruling anything out.”

“His focus is on serving Texas' 21st Congressional district, the American people, and the Constitution,” Roy’s spokesperson said in a statement. “But if the position must be filled, then this must be a contested race — not a coronation.”

One source familiar with Roy’s thinking said he plans to jump into the race if no one else does. His potential candidacy for conference chair was first reported by The Daily Caller.

But the Texan, a onetime chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), doesn’t have much time to make a decision. After House Republicans voted swiftly Wednesday to oust Cheney, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that a candidate forum for her replacement will take place Thursday evening and the election will be held Friday morning.

Plus, Stefanik is miles ahead with her whipping operation and her camp is feeling confident that they have all but locked down enough support to win the post. Even Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a prominent member of the Freedom Caucus, is backing Stefanik for the job.

To help ease some members’ concerns, Stefanik has been assuring members she would not buck leadership on big votes and doesn’t plan to stay in the role beyond 2022. The New Yorker told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that she has "great support" from across the conference, regardless of any other potential candidates for the post.

Still, should he throw his hat into the ring, Roy — a trouble-making and Constitution-obsessed former federal prosecutor — could prove to be an appealing alternative for angst-ridden conservatives who want to register their opposition to Stefanik.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) admitted that Stefanik is likely to become the next Republican Conference chair, even if he isn’t thrilled about it.

“I think she’s liberal,” Buck told reporters. “I will not vote for Elise Stefanik.”

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

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The pro-Trump Republican gunning for Cheney’s leadership job

Jim Banks is the head of the House GOP’s biggest caucus. He’s also earning another unofficial title: shadow chair of the House GOP Conference.

The Indiana Republican, who's made no secret of his future leadership ambitions, has used his new platform as chief of the Republican Study Committee to build a messaging operation to compete with that of Rep. Liz Cheney, the House GOP’s current — and embattled — conference chair.

On Banks’ watch, the RSC has begun blasting out weekly newsletters modeled after POLITICO Playbook that try to serve up a buzzy mix of politics, policy and personality. The RSC also regularly compiles talking points for its members that often get leaked to conservative media outlets. Banks crafted his own memo outlining his vision for the GOP’s future that won praise from top Republicans. And the RSC has also helped coordinate media opportunities for its members, with Banks routinely popping up in D.C.-based coverage himself.

Banks’ effort to assemble a rival messaging machine is widely viewed by his colleagues as an audition for Cheney’s job, which governs both communications and member services. That position may be available sooner than he expected: Tensions over Cheney’s outspoken criticism of former President Donald Trump are once again at a boiling point inside the GOP conference, with some senior Republicans predicting she’ll be pushed out of leadership before month’s end.

House GOP leaders (from left) Steve Scalise, Kevin McCarthy, and Liz Cheney have offered limited, restrained comments about the embattled Matt Gaetz.

Banks, a veteran of the Afghanistan war who has aligned himself closely with Trump, has raised his own profile since taking the reins of the conservative caucus earlier this year. And the media-savvy 41-year-old is making clear that he views his RSC’s communications shop as superior to the conference’s formal, Cheney-led hub. Banks described it as "filling a void."

“We’re in the minority, and this is a messaging battle as much as a policy battle,” Banks told POLITICO in an interview. “RSC is providing that framework better than anyone else on Capitol Hill.”

But replacing the highest-ranking woman in GOP leadership with Banks, or any other white male, could be a major optics problem for a party that has made recruiting more women and minorities a key part of its strategy for winning back the House next year. Banks also insists he’s focused on the RSC chairmanship and would rather see Cheney become a team player than get the boot. Still, Banks’ attempt to bigfoot Cheney is only fueling speculation that he’s a top candidate to replace her — whether it’s this month or in the next session of Congress.

“If there’s a role to play, where I can continue to do what I’m doing as RSC chairman, I want to do it,” Banks said, when asked whether he’d run for leadership. “The most natural comparison to RSC chair is conference chair … And that’s something I think I would really enjoy, because it’s what I’m doing now.”

Cheney, once a fast-rising star in the GOP praised for her sharp tongue and conservative credentials, became conference chair as only a sophomore Wyoming lawmaker. The 54-year-old mother of five was unanimously reelected to that post in November.

And even though Cheney publicly split from most of her party when she voted to impeach Trump, her allies argue that she has continued to succeed in her leadership role by providing the conference with important messaging tools. Under Cheney’s leadership, the GOP conference has sent out messaging emails every morning that Congress has been in session, in addition to a weekly email with shareable social media content focused on hitting the Biden agenda, according to sources who have seen the communications.

But Cheney’s critics, who unsuccessfully tried to oust her from leadership in February, are growing ever more frustrated by her readiness to call out Trump and his baseless claims about the 202 election. Days after drawing attention at the retreat, Cheney fist-bumped President Joe Biden before his joint address to Congress, further enraging the far right. Even senior Republicans who had her back earlier this year, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have soured on her.

One senior Republican lamented that some donors will no longer contribute to the House GOP as long as Cheney is still serving in leadership. “It's a liability for us,” said the GOP lawmaker.

But even with her leadership job on the line, Cheney has not backed down. "The 2020 presidential election was not stolen," she tweeted Monday. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system."

The question of who can — or would — replace Cheney is a conundrum that vexed her critics last time around. Besides Banks, two other Republicans considered serious contenders for the role are Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who won over the MAGA crowd defending Trump during his first impeachment, and Rep. Mike Johnson (La.), a former RSC chairman who now serves as vice conference chair. Other names floated to replace Cheney include Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.).

All of the potential candidates voted to challenge certification of Biden's victory in some states.

Banks, however, has earned high marks from McCarthy, and some Republicans think the GOP leader has been grooming Banks for the post. The two have grown extremely close as they’ve criss-crossed the country fundraising together, including in Banks’ hometown. And McCarthy, who stopped showing up to weekly press conferences with Cheney after they awkwardly clashed over Trump on Feb. 25, appeared with Banks on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

“I’ve been very impressed with what he's done as chair,” McCarthy told POLITICO at last week's retreat, shortly after taking a whack at Cheney in the same interview. “He's really made the members rise to the occasion on different things, and that shows real leadership.”

“It’s not just policy,” McCarthy added of Banks' skills. “He’s worked on communication.”

Tensions between Banks and Cheney have simmered for weeks. During a private Congressional Institute call last month, POLITICO reported that Cheney rebutted the contents of a Banks memo on how to connect with the working-class Trump voters who voted for Trump. Cheney argued the GOP is not the party of class warfare and that dividing society into classes while attacking the private sector is neo-Marxist and wrong.

Banks fired back in a fundraising pitch, with his campaign asking his supporters to “join Jim in standing up to Cheney’s attacks.”

And over the weekend, Banks escalated his criticism of Cheney, telling Axios in an interview that Cheney’s behavior at the retreat was an “unwelcome distraction” and “will only serve to hold us back from being focused on that nearly unanimous goal" of taking back the House majority.

At least one pro-impeachment Republican has praised Banks’ working-class memo: Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina.“It’s important that the Republican Party focuses on issues and not on divisions,” Rice said in an emailed statement.

The influential RSC gig is a well-worn springboard to GOP leadership; past chairs include House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and former vice conference chair Mark Walker (R-N.C.). The RSC position is also limited to a two-year term — and Banks doesn’t exactly deny his interest in running for leadership when his time is up. “I'll be looking for something else to do,” Banks said.

But his naked ambition could also rub some Republicans the wrong way, and there’s a risk that his candor could backfire: Members who want to climb the leadership ranks tend to keep their cards close to the vest for a reason.

“He used to be reasonable, but now you see what happened when you get a taste of power,” said one GOP lawmaker. "You sell out."

For now, though, the newly minted chairman said he's focused on his RSC job, where his goal is to marry "the core principles of the party of Reagan with the populist platform in the party of Donald Trump."

In addition to its ramped-up messaging focus, Banks has turned the RSC into a must-visit venue for 2024 presidential hopefuls and other key stakeholders to discuss the future of conservatism. His guest list so far this year has included former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), and former Trump aide Stephen Miller, among others.

On the legislative front, the RSC has assembled a series of policy-focused task forces and already taken formal positions on nine different issues — a fast clip for the group, which only took one such position in the previous Congress.

Banks has also tapped a half-dozen members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus to serve on the RSC’s steering committee, in the hopes of bringing that once-rival group back into the fold.

“I felt that it was very important to bring the family back together again,” Banks said. “On my watch, I want RSC to be relevant."

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

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15 Republican senators vow to swear off earmarks amid intra-GOP tension

Fifteen Senate Republicans on Monday pledged to uphold their party's decadelong ban on earmarks, drawing a battle line days before the GOP is set to vote on whether to reinstate the spending practice.

In a letter obtained by POLITICO, the group — led by conservative Sen. Mike Lee of Utah — made clear they are “committed” to the earmark ban and “will not vote to repeal it.”

“We will not participate in an inherently wasteful spending practice that is prone to serious abuse,” the lawmakers wrote.

The anti-earmark letter includes a diverse mix of lawmakers, illustrating that the opposition to so-called congressionally directed spending spans the ideological spectrum in the GOP. Among the signatories: Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, an ally of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a potential 2024 contender who challenged certification of the election results; Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a member of GOP leadership; Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who voted to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial; and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian Trump ally.

The Senate GOP will vote Wednesday on whether to reinstate earmarks, which were first banned in 2010 after conservatives turned against directing money to projects like the notorious “Bridge to Nowhere" in Ketchikan, Alaska.

With Democrats planning to revive earmarks now that they control Congress, Republicans have wrestled over whether they should take advantage of the spending practice. House Republicans faced a similar internal debate, but ultimately voted in a 102-84 secret ballot to embrace earmarks as long as certain criteria are met.

Republicans' ban on earmarks is one of the last vestiges of the tea party era, and some are reluctant to dispose of the prohibition in the post-Trump GOP. Critics argue that the practice is ripe for abuse and would only lead to “pork-barrel” spending. They also contend that it would be politically unwise to hand Democratic leaders a useful tool to corral gettable Republican votes on major bills, especially given the narrow majorities held by President Joe Biden's party.

But other Republicans contend that they would be at a huge disadvantage if they decided not to earmark while Democrats reaped the rewards of the spending practice. Allowing lawmakers to ensure money for specific projects, those GOP lawmakers say, would restore power to the legislative branch and shift it away from the Biden administration. Earmarks proponents further note that if Republicans don’t want to participate, they don’t have to — lifting the ban would only open up the option for GOP senators, not require them to.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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An unlikely Trump turncoat shows the GOP way to resist his influence

Jaime Herrera Beutler is not one to make waves on Capitol Hill. But during Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, she almost created a tsunami.

After she publicly revealed damaging details about Trump’s phone call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Herrera Beutler was nearly ensnared in the Senate trial herself — an episode that later landed her in the GOP leader's office.

There, during a previously unreported interaction, she got a chance to explain her thinking behind divulging the Trump-McCarthy exchange to reporters, constituents and local officials. And while Herrera Beutler wouldn’t discuss their private conversation, she did emphasize in a 30-minute interview she is no stranger to bucking her own party or having uncomfortable talks with leadership.

In Herrera Beutler’s view, a member of Congress' toughest challenge is "when your own team does something you don't like, and you have to step out and oppose them."

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington, speaks during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill.

Herrera Beutler's stint in the national spotlight hasn't faded yet. After a 12-year House career spent steering clear of controversy, her high-profile moment of rebellion against a former president who's still molding the GOP in his image made her into a potential prototype for how to cross Trump and survive in the party. Though Republicans are already lining up to primary her, she may be more suited than ever for a suburban and rural district that became increasingly competitive under Trump.

Still, Herrera Beutler became one of 10 Republicans to vote for impeachment knowing that she might lose her seat over it.

“It would be easy to do this job if everything was hunky-dory and you had total control and it wasn't so messy,” Herrera Beutler said. “But if I'm going to do this ... I want it to count for something.”

And if that means “making sure that our party thrives and continues to defend those ideals that I think are enshrined in the Constitution,” she added, “then it's worth it. It's so worth it.”

It remains to be seen whether her impeachment vote and public disclosure of the Trump-McCarthy call — in which, as she relayed it, McCarthy unsuccessfully implored Trump to urge the violent mob to stand down — will hurt Herrera Beutler’s hyper-local brand back home. Herrera Beutler didn’t consider herself a so-called Never Trumper, and in fact voted for him in 2020 after writing in former Speaker Paul Ryan in 2016.

Her response to Jan. 6 may simply further reinforce the independent streak she has become known for on Capitol Hill. The 42-year-old mother of three came to Congress amid the 2010 Tea Party wave that put House Republicans back in power. But unlike some of the flame-throwers in her freshman class, her nature ran toward publicity deflection, and she came to occupy a moderate lane in the Republican conference.

While she preferred to operate behind the scenes, notching bipartisan victories on issues such as maternity care, Herrera Beutler faced pressure to take on a more prominent role in party messaging. Even when she was the only Latina member of the House GOP, though, she didn’t try to climb the leadership ladder.

“I knew there were times I was gonna have to kind of chart my own course,” she said.

That course often ran alongside Trump. Herrera Beutler hailed his tax law as one of the “single biggest benefits” for her district and voted against his first impeachment, when Democrats said Trump abused his power in a phone call to the president of Ukraine.

Yet Herrera Beutler was hardly an unquestioning Trump supporter. Over the course of her career, the congresswoman has voted with Trump just 80 percent of the time, which puts her at the bottom of the pack in the GOP. She never liked Trump’s abrasive style and grew increasingly comfortable speaking out against some of his most controversial policies, including separating migrant families at the border.

That’s why Herrera Beutler’s evolution from low-key to line-crosser on impeachment wasn’t exactly a surprise to many of her colleagues.

“She has a remarkable backbone, and she always tries to do the right thing,” said Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who also voted to impeach. “And I respect the hell out of her.”

Herrera Beutler isn’t worried about whether her actions after the Capitol siege — culminating in a Democratic flirtation with forcing her to testify at Trump's trial before agreeing to submit her written statement into the record — will define her legacy.

But it certainly could define her next campaign: Trump has already vowed to exact revenge on each of the 10 Republicans who voted to remove him from office, while members of the Clark County Republican Party voted to censure her.

“The number one thing they made the [2020] campaign about, which is ironic to me ... was about my willingness to vote for Trump,” Herrera Beutler said. “Fast forward to today and the folks stepping up to run, they're like, ‘She's not Trump enough.’”

The blowback she must contend with isn't limited to Trump and voters in her district. Some GOP colleagues were incensed that she publicly relayed what McCarthy told her about his phone call with Trump during the Capitol siege, where the then-president allegedly sided with rioters.

Then, after a CNN report dredged up some of those details near the end of the Senate trial, Herrera Beutler called on anyone with more information about Trump’s state of mind on Jan. 6 to come forward. Conspiracy theorist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) promptly dubbed Herrera Beutler “the gift that keeps on giving to the Democrats.”

“It wasn't something that I had a choice over. … I definitely wasn't thinking, ‘Oh, here's a way to get my name in the news,’” Herrera Beutler said. “But, you know, sometimes the truth also hurts and you can't run from it."

Despite that tension, Herrera Beutler has earned praise from other corners of the GOP and is still considered a valuable asset to the party, which has made electing women and minorities a top priority. Not to mention, Washington’s “jungle” primary system sends the top two candidates to the general election regardless of party, making her path to reelection easier.

Some even think Herrera Beutler's handling of impeachment could help in her increasingly purple district nestled between Seattle and Portland.

Herrera Beutler "has a unique opportunity to continue to draw more women into the Republican Party,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokesperson for the Winning For Women Action Fund, which aims to boost female GOP candidates.

But she won't do that by taking the route of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who has become a mainstay on cable news and launched an entire PAC dedicated to taking on the Trump wing of the party. “I am not going to camp here forever,” Herrera Beutler said of the anti-Trump lane.

What she is doing with the profile she gained during the impeachment trial is gauging how to make progress on "things that benefit this district and this nation," as she put it.

“Maybe part of my role is to help us return to who we are,” Herrera Beutler said. “Right now, when you talk with millennials and younger, I don't know that they want to join this club. Like, it doesn't seem like a fun party, right? There's no room for individual thought.”

Her prescription for how to steer the party away from its obsession with Trump and back toward its conservative roots doesn’t include calling for a shake-up in GOP leadership. Herrera Beutler said she stands by the entire Republican leadership team and would back McCarthy for speaker or minority leader in the next Congress. It’s OK for her leaders to have different views than her, she argued.

But she added: “That's a two-way street. I'm not going to embrace someone who is dividing the party. And they have to be OK with that, too.”

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Trump’s House GOP fans don his mantle as they seek higher office

Some of the Senate GOP’s old bulls are hanging up their voting cards. And there’s a cadre of Trump-loving House members itching to take their place.

At least half a dozen of Donald Trump’s staunchest allies in the House are exploring bids for higher office, eager to carry the Trump mantle into the Senate — as well as into governors' mansions. A wave of retirements by veteran Senate Republicans has created fresh opportunities for the House’s hard-liners in deep red states such as Alabama, Ohio and Missouri. But even in states won by President Joe Biden, such as Arizona and Georgia, some of the former president’s most loyal devotees are willing to test their political fortunes, hoping to seize on a deep but baseless belief on the right that the election was stolen.

The potential crop of Trumpworld candidates could usher in a new era for the more reserved Senate, with negotiators traded in for bomb throwers. And should this new breed of conservative candidate succeed, it could spell even more bad news for Biden’s pledges of bipartisanship during the end of his first term in office.

“It’s pretty clear that our more liberal, establishment brethren in the Senate have not been faring well,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who is considering a bid for the upper-chamber seat of retiring Republican Richard Shelby. “Those were the only ones that lost in 2020. And our conservatives won.”

“So that’s a pretty good sign as to what the American electorate prefers,” he added.

During the Trump years, a cohort of House Republicans built national profiles and padded their war chests defending the ex-president throughout multiple investigations and impeachments. Now, amid an intense internal debate over the future of the GOP, some of those same lawmakers are looking to use their newfound stardom on the right as a springboard to higher office — even after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the GOP lost the House, Senate and White House under Trump.

Among the Republicans considering a Senate run are Brooks, who spearheaded the effort to challenge the election results while Shelby voted to certify Biden’s win; Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who chairs the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and hails from a state where the legislature amplified Trump’s false voter fraud claims; and Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, a hardliner who replaced former Speaker John Boehner in Congress.

“The Trump policy and platform is the direction of the party,” Biggs said. “So I think people that have embraced the America First policy. They really have a good shot at winning their constituencies.”

Davidson could seek the spot being vacated by centrist Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio); he could also mount a run for governor.

“It’s clear to me that the Make America Great Again coalition is the future of the party,” said Davidson, a Freedom Caucus member and critic of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus strategy in Ohio.

Yet another opportunity for ambitious Trump acolytes arose Monday when longtime Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and ally of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), announced his retirement.

No one has officially declared they'll seek the seat, though Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who has hugged Trump tightly and represents a rural part of the state, told reporters Tuesday that he's "considering it." (And more moderate Rep. Ann Wagner, who represents a district in the St. Louis suburbs, isn’t ruling out a run.)

Blunt, speaking in Missouri on Monday, took a subtle shot at lawmakers who refuse to compromise. “The country in the last decade or so has sort of fallen off the edge of too many politicians saying, 'If you’ll vote for me I’ll never compromise on anything',” Blunt said. “That's a philosophy that particularly does not work in a democracy."

Meanwhile, in Georgia, Republicans are jockeying to take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who clinched a special election in January but will need to win a full, six-year term in 2022. Former Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a Trump loyalist who mounted a failed Senate bid, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he may run statewide again. Collins is taking a look at challenging Warnock or Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has become a reviled figure on the right for refusing to overturn Georgia's election results.

Two other hard-core Trump allies in the Peach State, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jody Hice, both signaled through their offices that they are focused on their work in the House.

Then there’s New York, where GOP Reps. Lee Zeldin and Elise Stefanik — who both were catapulted off the back benches of Congress after defending Trump during his first impeachment — are both reportedly mulling a potential bid for governor. A Republican hasn't led the state in 15 years, but some in the GOP see an opening with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo under fire for both sexual harassment and coronavirus scandals.

One factor that could be a tipping point in the decision-making process is a coveted endorsement from Trump. Both Biggs and Brooks said they’ve spoken either to Trump or people around him about a possible bid; Biggs has also been meeting with senators and outside groups to discuss “what it would look like” to run.

“In Alabama, a President Trump endorsement is gold,” said Brooks, who plans to make a decision this month or next.

So far, however, Trump has endorsed just one congressional candidate: Max Miller, a former White House and campaign aide who is running against GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez in what is now a safe red seat in northeast Ohio. Gonzalez likely put himself in danger after he voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot.

Not all the Senate contests where Trump allies may jump in are safe turf for Republicans. That's fueling concern that ultra-conservative candidates could win in primaries, especially if they earn Trump’s backing, and then complicate the GOP’s effort to win back the Senate majority.

The fear is especially acute in Arizona, where Biggs could be the front-runner in a primary but would likely struggle to oust Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), a former astronaut and fundraising juggernaut, in the general election.

“Given that [Biggs’] profile has been increasing significantly because of his alignment with Trump and the things that were happening leading up to [January] 6th, it makes him formidable in a primary. But it will make it very challenging for him in the general,” said Sean Noble, a GOP strategist.

“I would be shocked if he didn't get the president's support, and I would guess he would raise a significant amount of money," Noble added. "But I don't know whether he's got the ability to raise $100 million, which is what Mark Kelly raised last time.”

Brooks would have some competition in the Trump lane, which essentially takes up the whole highway in Alabama. Lynda Blanchard, Trump’s former ambassador to Slovenia, is the only candidate officially running so far, and her campaign announced that she has already poured $5 million into the race.

Yet Brooks said he’s seen polling that has him up by double digits against any potential GOP candidates in the state.

“I think Mo Brooks has positioned himself well,” said Chris Brown, a Republican strategist in Alabama. “We’re the Trumpiest state in the country and he’s the Trumpiest member of our delegation.”

And Brooks also noted that the Alabama GOP recently passed a resolution praising Brooks and the rest of the Republican state delegation — everyone, that is, except Shelby.

“There were two resolutions that they passed. One was strictly about me, the other was about our delegation, excluding Richard Shelby,” Brooks said. “So it complimented Tommy Tuberville, myself, and the other Republican House members from Alabama. And was silent on Richard Shelby, because Richard Shelby voted to support the election results.”

If some House Freedom Caucus lawmakers do land in the Senate, it wouldn’t be the first time that members of the hard-line group have graduated into higher-ranking roles. Other former HFC members include Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, and former White House chiefs of staff Mark Meadows and Mick Mulvaney.

“Say what you want to about the Freedom Caucus,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who himself passed on a Senate bid, “but I think that just shows people appreciate folks who tell them what they are going to do, and then get in office and do what they said.”

James Arkin contributed reporting.

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How Kevin McCarthy fought off a party revolt

On a plane ride back from Houston earlier this week, Kevin McCarthy revealed to a small group of Texas Republicans just how he planned to extinguish a pair of fires that were threatening to engulf their already bitterly divided party.

He was going to try to save Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican who was at risk of losing her leadership post over her vote to impeach Donald Trump. And McCarthy was also going to give frustrated members a forum for their voices to be heard.

But according to multiple sources, the House minority leader also signaled during Tuesday’s trip — which was organized to highlight the impact of President Joe Biden’s climate policies on energy-industry workers — that he would try to head off a floor vote to boot controversial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from her committee assignments for her incendiary behavior.

In the end, Cheney easily kept her job, while Greene lost her committee seats when Democrats insisted on holding a vote on her fate. But in the process, the California Republican made clear this week that the post-Trump GOP is a big tent — even if the party turns into a circus at times.

How McCarthy has approached this dual set of crises — with a mix of crowd-sourcing and people-pleasing that has become a hallmark of his leadership style — offers a preview of how he plans to navigate what will undoubtedly be tricky internal GOP dynamics over the next two years. So far, he has emerged strengthened among his own members — though at what external political cost, if any, remains to be seen.

“I praise leadership for conducting this meeting and for allowing us to have our voices heard,” said freshman Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who has been a staunch critic of Greene. “It's really important to recognize that this is a second chance for all of us to move forward from this day going forward.”

But, she added: “I think we do need to reconcile what our party is going to be in the future.”

And even some of the lawmakers who didn’t see the Cheney outcome they hoped for struck an optimistic tone following Wednesday’s vote.

“We need to move on and work to win the majority,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Cheney critic and co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “The top priority now is to work together to stop the Democrats’ radical agenda.”

With his sights set on winning back the House — and with it, the prized speaker’s gavel — McCarthy is carefully trying to thread the needle between two competing and often overlapping factions in his conference: the Republican establishment and the pro-Trump wing.

But whether McCarthy’s push to unify the GOP will be more of a bandaid than a cure-all for the party’s deep wounds remains to be seen. Congress is still reeling from the deadly attack on the Capitol. Trump, who faces his second impeachment trial next week, promises to remain a major player in the party and has vowed to avenge himself against any defectors. The anger among Cheney’s critics isn’t likely to fade. And never-Trump forces are mobilizing too, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) forming his own super PAC to target the ex-president’s loyalists.

That means the intraparty battles could still turn heated as Republicans continue to confront uncomfortable questions about their future and past, particularly in the lead up to Jan. 6.

And while McCarthy whole-heartedly denounced Greene’s offensive and incendiary remarks — which have included calling deadly school shootings a hoax and endorsing violence against Democrats — the decision not to exorcise her from the party could come back to haunt him in the weeks and months ahead. Democrats are already trying to yoke the entire GOP to QAnon as a central campaign theme in 2022, cutting ads on the topic and elevating Greene at every opportunity.

“They're clearly very torn between embracing it and denouncing it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said of the GOP and QAnon. “They don't know what they have on their hands.”

When asked if he thinks the GOP will now be able to function normally, Kinzinger said he wasn’t sure he had “a ton of confidence.” But he did say he was encouraged by Cheney’s resounding victory — even if it was on a secret ballot.

“I want to be part of a party that's the party I joined, and that's what we're fighting for. And there'll be differences in it and that's OK,” Kinzinger told reporters in the Capitol. “We don't have a litmus test, but I do want to fight for the fact that we've got to have an optimistic, forward-looking future.”

A 'family discussion'

Prior to Wednesday’s closed-door meeting on Cheney’s fate, McCarthy hauled in members of his leadership team and some of his closest confidants: Cheney, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). They huddled for roughly an hour to get on the same page and game out the upcoming showdown.

Then, in a cavernous auditorium in the Capitol Visitor Center, McCarthy pleaded with his members to keep Cheney on the leadership team and trust their judgment.

He also recalled when hard-line conservatives denied him the speakership in 2015 — a stinging professional setback, he said, that came in part because he saw how divided the conference was. That line of thinking, which was described by multiple sources inside the room, illuminates why McCarthy has been desperate to rally Republicans and turn their focus from internecine squabbling to reclaiming the House.

And in another sign he was eager to move on from the internal rift, McCarthy questioned whether a vote on Cheney’s fate was even necessary at the end, especially after several dozen members had already said their peace. But after five hours of an intense "family discussion," the conference voted anyway; 145 Republicans threw their support behind Cheney, a big win for the conference chairwoman — and for McCarthy.

“This Republican Party is a very big tent. Everyone is invited in,” a visibly jubilant McCarthy said afterward. “We continue to grow, and in two years will be the majority.”

McCarthy’s attempt at dousing the House GOP’s other raging inferno — the fate of Marjorie Taylor Greene — turned up mixed results. He tried to prevent a floor vote on Greene by offering to reassign her to a different committee, but that idea was rejected by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

So McCarthy chose not to punish Greene himself. Instead, he bashed Democrats for a “partisan power grab” and offered his members a new line of defense.

With McCarthy standing by Greene, some members at the meeting requested that leadership make their support — and unity — more official by actually “whipping this vote” on the Democrats’ resolution, said one GOP lawmaker. The following day, leaders put out a recommendation of a “no” vote. And just 11 Republicans crossed party lines to kick Greene off her committees; Cheney was not one of them.

McCarthy’s approach stands in sharp contrast to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has made clear the party should purge far-right extremists like Greene from the party. And McConnell hasn’t spoken to Trump since late last year, whereas McCarthy trekked down to Mar-a-Lago last week to make amends with the disgraced ex-president. But the Senate, where members are elected statewide rather than in what are often noncompetitive, gerrymandered districts, is a different beast than the more raucous House.

And the reality is that Greene is popular with the MAGA crowd and still has the backing of Trump. Notably, Greene received a standing ovation from half of the GOP conference after she showed some remorse for her behavior behind closed doors. And McCarthy — who has remained in lockstep with his conference as it turned increasingly pro-Trump — is reluctant to alienate that wing of the party, which makes up a large portion of the GOP’s base.

Yet at the same time, the path to winning back the House runs through suburban swing districts where moderates and independents fled the GOP under Trump. McCarthy knew he couldn’t afford to let Cheney go down while Greene went unpunished, according to sources familiar with his thinking.

And ousting the highest-ranking Republican woman would have been especially disastrous optics after a record-breaking number of GOP women were just elected to the House.

“If we want to rebuild our party and rebuild the country,” said Mace, “we have to maintain seats like mine, swing seats and appeal to the rest of America.”

But sometimes, trying to make everyone happy can backfire. There was already some behind-the-scenes grumbling from the right flank that McCarthy went so hard to the mat for Cheney, while other Republicans were frustrated that they were forced to take Thursday’s tough floor vote over Greene.

When asked whether McCarthy should have just settled matters with Greene internally, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) responded: “I guess how I would answer that is I'm a big John Boehner fan,” he said, referring to the former speaker who wasn't afraid to crack down on conservatives. “And I miss John Boehner every day.”

Then again, John Boehner stepped down as the House GOP leader in 2015 when the right wing of his conference orchestrated a no-confidence vote. And McCarthy — at least for the foreseeable future — is still in charge.

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House Republicans brace for party clash over Cheney and Greene

The GOP’s brewing civil war will take center stage this week, when House lawmakers decide the fates of two Republicans who are on opposite sides of the fight over the direction of the post-Trump party.

First up, the House Republican Conference will huddle in person on Wednesday morning to debate the future of GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, who voted on Jan. 13 to impeach President Donald Trump. A group of hard-line conservatives is leading a charge to oust Cheney from leadership, and says it has commitments from more than 100 colleagues who are willing to vote on a secret ballot to remove her.

But whether Cheney (Wyo.) actually gets the boot likely depends on whether Republican leadership allows the resolution to be considered right away, unless two-thirds of the conference demands an immediate vote. And while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has expressed his own frustrations with how Cheney handled her impeachment vote, the California Republican has also said he wants her to keep her job and has been desperately trying to put on a united front publicly.

McCarthy is also facing intense pressure to discipline another Republican: freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who is under fire for a long list of incendiary and offensive remarks that have surfaced in recent days. That includes questioning the veracity of some of the nation’s deadliest school shootings and endorsing social media posts that called for violence against Democrats.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) wears a

The GOP leader will sit down for a face-to-face conversation with Greene later this week, his office said. But whether McCarthy actually removes her from her committee assignments, as many Democrats and even a few Republicans are calling for, depends on how his private interaction with Greene goes.

Meanwhile, a group of House Democrats are determined to punish Greene for her rhetoric and conspiracy theories, and have drafted a slew of measures to do so. That includes two of the most severe sanctions that can be taken against a member of Congress: a formal censure and expulsion from the House.

Another measure — which Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) plans to introduce later Monday — would expel Greene from all House committees.

For now, Democrats say they’re waiting on McCarthy’s meeting with the Georgia freshman, though few expect him to take action on his own.

“If we are waiting for Kevin McCarthy to have a moral compass ... that's never going to happen,” Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), who represents the site of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, told reporters Monday as she demanded the House act to strip Greene of all committee positions.

Wasserman Schultz said she plans to force a floor vote on her resolution within days, using a fast-track process that is reserved for privileged resolutions. Another resolution from Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) to expel Greene from Congress is also privileged, and can be brought up this week.

So far, Greene has remained publicly defiant, though she has scrubbed some of her past social media posts. And over the weekend, she claimed that she’d spoken with Trump and had his full backing, which could make it tougher for McCarthy to punish Greene.

“I think Republican leaders ought to stand up and say it is totally unacceptable what she has said,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday.

When asked whether Greene should be stripped of her seats on the House Education and Labor Committee and the House Budget Committee, Portman said it could send a strong message.

“I assume that is something they’re looking at, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens,” he said. “And you know, I think that is the way to send a message. The voters who elected her in her district in Georgia, you know, ought to be respected. On the other hand, when that kind of behavior occurs, there has to be a strong response.”

What the GOP decides to do about Cheney and Greene will offer significant clues about the direction of the party in the post-Trump era. Some Republicans are warning that punishing Cheney while letting Greene go untouched — and thereby aligning the party even more closely to Trump — could be a major black eye for the party heading into 2022.

And next week, Trump’s impeachment trial will begin in the Senate. But despite a slew of Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), condemning Trump for inciting a mob that attacked the Capitol, a conviction is highly unlikely; 45 Republicans have said that putting a former president on trial is unconstitutional.

“But the reality is this: This is a time to choose. It’s a time to choose what we’re going to be," Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who voted for impeachment and is launching a new PAC aimed at restoring conservative principles in the GOP, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “And my goal in launching, number one, is just to say, look, let’s take a look at the last four years, how far we have come in a bad way, how backwards-looking we are, how much we peddle darkness and division.”

“And that’s not the party I ever signed up for, and I think most Republicans didn’t sign up for that,” he added.

The looming and messy intraparty battle comes as McCarthy has pleaded with Republicans to stop publicly attacking one another. The minority leader, who is desperate to keep his ranks united as they turn their focus to next year’s midterms, has been trying to make amends with Trump and even met with him at his Florida resort last week. After the rendezvous, McCarthy made clear that the former president would be an integral part of their efforts to win back the House.

“United and ready to win in ’22,” McCarthy tweeted after his meeting with Trump.

Yet some Republicans, including firebrand Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, have blatantly ignored McCarthy’s pleas for party unity. Last week, Gaetz even campaigned against Cheney by flying to Wyoming, where Donald Trump Jr. called into the rally via speakerphone. Notably, the former president’s son has also offered his praise for McCarthy as the GOP leader.

“I’ve seen firsthand since 2016 that @GOPLeader has been the strongest House GOP leader of my lifetime,” he tweeted, alongside a picture of Trump and McCarthy from their recent meeting. “He’s always fought for my father & our movement. Proud to call Kevin a friend & I’m excited to work closely with him to to take back the House in 2022!”

Democrats, meanwhile, are already signaling that their campaign strategy in 2022 will center heavily on trying to yoke the entire Republican Party to Greene and the fringe QAnon movement. Over the weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office put out a news release listing McCarthy’s party affiliation as “QAnon” instead of the GOP.

And a spokesperson for the House Democrats’ campaign arm also put out a statement slamming McCarthy and the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, for embracing Greene. While both men raced to condemn Greene last summer after POLITICO uncovered a trove of racist Facebook videos from her, leadership did little to stop her from winning her primary runoff race.

“Minority Leader McCarthy and NRCC Chair Tom Emmer have not only caved to the mob and welcomed QAnon conspiracist Marjorie Taylor Green into their caucus, they’re putting her front and center as a key player,” said Brooke Goren, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Americans have died at the hand of the QAnon mob, now vulnerable House Republicans will have to answer for that violence.”

House Democrats will try to force a floor vote this week on a resolution to expel Greene from Congress. While expulsion is highly unlikely, since it requires two-thirds support in the House, the vote would still force every single Republican to go on the record over Greene. Democrats are also calling for censure, as well as to remove Greene from her committee assignments — a move that has the backing of at least one House Republican.

“I’d certainly vote her off committee,” Kinzinger said. “In terms of eviction, I’m not sure because I’m kind of in the middle. I think a district has every right to put who they want there. But we have every right to take a stand and say, ‘You don’t get a committee.’ And we definitely need to do that.”

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McCarthy urges House Republicans to stop attacking each other publicly

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday implored Republicans to stop publicly attacking each other amid GOP infighting over the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riots, which has created simmering tensions inside the conference.

During a private conference call, McCarthy told members that they should be spending more time countering the Biden agenda than chastising each other, adding he would no longer have any tolerance for such behavior, according to multiple sources on the call. McCarthy also reminded House Republicans that they will have an opportunity to air their grievances during a closed-door meeting in the Capitol next week, where a conservative-led push to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) over her vote to impeach President Donald Trump is expected to come to a head.

“If you’re not focused on what you’re doing and what the Democrats are doing wrong, and you’re focused on talking about one another, I’m not putting up with that anymore,” McCarthy said on the call, according to a source familiar with the conversation. “But, if you continue to do that, there won’t be a place for you. I want to be very clear to each and every one of you. … It is not a way we’re going to win the majority.”

“You elected me your leader, you can pull me out,” he added. “But I’ll tell you one thing that’s going to happen. I’m not going to sit back and watch us lose. I’m not going to sit back and watch us make self-inflicted wounds either.”

McCarthy issued a similar plea two weeks ago, warning Republicans that calling out a member by name to the press could put their colleagues in danger. There has been an uptick in threats against Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump; one lawmaker who voted to remove Trump from office, freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), even said he’s had to invest in body armor.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) has also quarreled with controversial freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Twitter, posting that Greene’s rhetoric could incite further insurrections.

Much of the fighting, however, has focused on Cheney, the No. 3 House GOP member. Republicans have warned that efforts to oust Cheney, the highest ranking woman in GOP leadership, could hurt the party’s efforts to win back the House in 2022.

Some House Republicans have ignored McCarthy’s advice and the intraparty warfare has continued publicly, to the frustration of the California Republican. It’s unclear, however, how exactly he plans to hold members accountable.

The Cheney question has become almost unavoidable in the press, with McCarthy himself being asked about her in a Sunday interview with Greta Van Susteren. And while McCarthy said he wants Cheney to keep her leadership job, he, too, offered up some public criticism of her during the interview: McCarthy said he has “concerns” with Cheney’s impeachment vote and called her out for not giving him a heads up on her position.

Meanwhile, conservative firebrand Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has been one of the most vocal Cheney critics, will even campaign against Cheney in Wyoming this week.

“My only conversation with Kevin McCarthy, was after a TV hit, he asked me not to name members by name because we've all seen a substantial increase of death threats,” Gaetz told reporters this week. “I've subsided referencing people by name for a day or two. As Liz became more problematic with her divergence with the conference, it became untenable not to identify her as against the America First Vision.”

During Wednesday's call with House Republicans, which was hosted by the House GOP's campaign, multiple members pledged money to the NRCC. And McCarthy, who is fundraising in Florida this week, will meet with Trump on Thursday, sources confirmed. Those plans were first reported by Punchbowl News.

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Pelosi calls for Trump’s immediate ouster after deadly riots

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday called on the vice president to immediately begin the process of ousting President Donald Trump, an extraordinary statement that gives weight to a Democratic effort to remove him from office.

“This is urgent, this is an emergency of the highest magnitude,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol, one day after Trump’s supporters stormed the complex and spurred dozens of Democrats to call for Trump’s removal. “Yesterday the president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America.”

Pelosi said if Vice President Mike Pence did not take action to invoke the 25th Amendment, House Democrats could quickly act to impeach Trump, and did not rule out bringing the House back into session next week, when both chambers are slated to be in recess.

Democrats could swiftly create a commission to begin the process of removing Trump through the 25th Amendment, or take the unprecedented step of impeaching a sitting president for the second time in one term.

“While there’s only 13 days left, any day can be a horror show for America,” Pelosi said.

But she said the “best route” would be for Pence to initiate the action himself, which would involve the vice president and a majority of either the Cabinet, or another body “established by law” — which could include Congress.

Pelosi told reporters she hoped to hear from Pence Thursday on whether he was willing to act and if not, she was prepared to move quickly in the House. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to reach Pence by phone earlier Thursday but weren't able to, Schumer said in a separate press conference in New York. Schumer, too, called on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and said Congress should move to impeach if that did not happen.

“What happened at the U.S. Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president. This president should not hold office one day longer,” Schumer said in a statement.

“The quickest and most effective way,” he said, would be to invoke the 25th Amendment. “If the Vice President and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president,” Schumer said.

The comments to call for Trump’s immediate removal with less than two weeks remaining on his term are remarkable for Pelosi — second in line to the presidency — who had long resisted impeachment before the House went ahead with the proceedings last fall.

The once-unthinkable push for a second impeachment vote had been steadily gaining ground across the House Democratic Caucus, with members incensed at Trump’s role in the deadly chaos on Wednesday that gripped Capitol Hill — and put the lives of themselves and their staff at danger, according to multiple lawmakers and aides.

Shortly before Pelosi’s press conference, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries also endorsed the move, in what many saw as a sign that the House could, indeed, take some kind of action next week.

"Donald Trump should be impeached, convicted and removed from office immediately," Jeffries tweeted.

Across the Capitol, there has also been a very real discussion of Congress pressuring Pence and Trump’s Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, which would install Pence as president for the final two weeks of Trump’s term.

At least one Republican lawmaker has endorsed that option, though many Democrats say it doesn’t go far enough as Pence would still need to agree.

“It’s time to invoke the 25th Amendment and to end this nightmare,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said Thursday, becoming the first Republican to call for invoking it. “The president is unfit and the president is unwell.”

Privately, multiple Democratic members and aides insist that there is a larger group of Republicans beyond Kinzinger that support the move, and are in discussions about how to proceed.

The timeframe for any floor action is impossibly tight: There are just 13 days until President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath, and both chambers are slated to be on recess next week.

"A number of us are planning a full court press to demand we reconvene immediately,” one Democratic member said on the condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions. “A growing number of Republicans have privately indicated support for the removal of the president."

Schumer became the highest-ranking Democrat on Thursday to endorse using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, along with Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the No. 3 Senate Democrat. So far, a single House Republican — Kinzinger, who has been sounding the alarm about Trump’s dangerous and false rhetoric for weeks — has voiced support.

While Senate Republicans are escalating their condemnation of the president, no one so far is calling for Trump to be removed from office. When asked about the 25th Amendment late Wednesday evening, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who unlike Kinzinger voted to impeach Trump last year, said: "I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 days."

But some GOP officials have begun discussing deploying the drastic option, according to multiple reports, while some Trump administration officials have already resigned in protest.

The responsibility for invoking the 25th Amendment falls on the vice president and Cabinet, but some lawmakers believe action in the House and Senate would drum up pressure on the rest of the administration.

Dozens of House Democrats have now publicly called for Trump’s removal, either through the 25th Amendment or another set of impeachment proceedings.

Democrats are currently circulating two different sets of impeachment articles, led by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), respectively. It's unclear for now if either of those articles would be “privileged,” which would mean the House would be forced to move quickly to consider it on the floor.

Within the Judiciary Committee, there is a push by several members to return next week to take further action. Several potential options are being discussed, including someone introducing impeachment articles, a concerted push for the 25th Amendment or something else, according to multiple sources.

Several Judiciary members had discussed impeachment on their group text chat on Wednesday, in the same moments that members were evacuating from the House chamber as Trump supporters breached the Capitol building.

It’s uncertain if more Republican lawmakers will deliver additional public statements rebuking the president. A majority of the House GOP caucus still voted to back Trump’s doomed bid to overturn the election results Wednesday night after a day of mayhem in the Capitol.

Kinzinger, along with many Republicans, directly blamed Trump for inciting the violence that led to yesterday’s deadly riots at the Capitol and then refusing to denounce it forcefully. Meanwhile, all three major social media platforms — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — have suspended Trump’s accounts over his rhetoric.

Kinzinger, a 42-year-old Air Force veteran, has long pushed back on Trump’s foreign policy moves. But while most of the Republican Party was still paralyzed by Trump’s brazen attempts to overturn the election in the immediate aftermath of Nov. 3, Kinzinger was one of the few Republicans willing to stand up to the president.

Marianne LeVine, Kyle Cheney and Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

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Van Drew’s defection to GOP haunts him in tight race

It was supposed to be an audacious act of political survival.

Fearing Democrats’ impeachment push would end his career in a southern New Jersey district won by President Donald Trump, Rep. Jeff Van Drew dropped the “D” next to his name and joined the GOP.

But nearly one year and a global pandemic later, Van Drew’s pledge to give his “undying support” to Trump could end up sinking the freshman lawmaker.

Van Drew, like many of his Republican colleagues, now finds himself having to answer for an unpopular president, whose shaky handling of the coronavirus and inflammatory rhetoric has damaged the GOP’s standing nationwide, especially in the suburbs.

Van Drew currently trails in the polls to a well-funded Democratic challenger in Amy Kennedy, a former public school teacher who married into the Kennedy political dynasty. Kennedy is leading Van Drew by five points among registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll from earlier this month, though it’s within the survey’s margin of error. POLITICO’s election forecasters rate the race as a “toss up.”

Democrats have tried to use Van Drew’s party change and sudden embrace of Trump as a cudgel, branding him as “switcheroo Van Drew” and accusing him of betraying his constituents for his own self interests. In one ad, Democrats even ribbed Van Drew for his taste for flashy suits in a bid to portray him as superficial and inauthentic.

“It felt like he was willing to do or say anything to keep his job,” said Kennedy, who decided to run for office after hearing Van Drew promise his unwavering loyalty to Trump. “There are a lot of people in the district who really respect someone who can be independent-minded, but that’s not what that felt like to them.”

In an interview, Van Drew defended his decision to abandon the Democratic Party, which caught his colleagues off guard and stunned Washington. Van Drew, a dentist who served in the state Legislature for over a decade, noted he was always a conservative-leaning Democrat. But Van Drew argued that the party abandoned its “big tent” principles and was no longer a good fit for him.

Yet despite pledging his fealty to Trump in an Oval Office sit-down, Van Drew now says he is not beholden to any leader — including the president. And Van Drew maintains that voters respect independent-minded politicians, especially in his south Jersey district just outside of Philadelphia, which went for Trump in 2016 but backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“You vote for the person,” said Van Drew, who won his seat by eight points in 2018. “It’s not your job to vote for me, if you were in my district, because I’m a Republican. It's your job to think about the two candidates and which candidate would do a better job for the district.”

“I didn’t betray anybody,” he added. “When people call me up and they need help, whatever party they are, I help them.”

The match-up between Van Drew and Kennedy — which has become one of the most hotly-contested races in the country — has drawn national attention, with outside resources pouring in. Democrats are not only eager to win back a seat they thought they had already seized in 2018, but also seek revenge for Van Drew’s high-profile defection.

Kennedy, who has notched endorsements from Obama and Joe Biden, has outraised and outspent Van Drew. Kennedy has spent $1.2 million on the airwaves, compared to Van Drew’s $367,000, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. But Van Drew had roughly $600,000 more in the bank than Kennedy as of mid-October, according to the latest FEC reports.

Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to reward Van Drew for joining their ranks while also preventing the GOP from slipping further into the House minority. Since joining the party, Van Drew got a rally from Trump, desirable committee assignments from GOP leaders and a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

Notably, Van Drew’s campaign message has focused on calls for bipartisanship and putting country over party. He talks more about American exceptionalism on the campaign trail than he does about Trump, though Van Drew confirmed he plans to vote for the president, despite endorsing home-state colleague Sen. Cory. Booker (D-N.J.) in the Democratic presidential primary.

Van Drew has also tried to label his opponent as a liberal Democrat who supports sanctuary cities, open borders and defunding the police.

“I believe the future of the country depends upon not just my election — of course, I’m not an egomaniac — but on the direction that we take,” Van Drew said. “And the direction that my opponent would want to take is significantly different than the direction I would want to take.”

Switching parties has yielded mixed results in the past, so it was always going to be an electoral gamble for Van Drew, strategists say. He risks infuriating the Democrats who backed him in 2018, while there’s no guarantee Republican voters will trust him. And independents might be turned off by his tight embrace of Trump.

Nearly half of registered voters said they were bothered by Van Drew now running for Congress as a Republican, according to the Monmouth University poll.

Crossing the aisle may have looked like a safer bet for Van Drew during the height of impeachment, when there was widespread concern that swing-district Democrats could suffer at the polls because of the party’s efforts to oust the president.

Had he remained in the Democratic Party and maintained his opposition to impeachment, Van Drew would have likely faced a primary challenge from the left. Before he became a Republican, polling commissioned by Van Drew’s campaign showed just 24 percent of Democratic primary voters believed the congressman deserved to be reelected.

But the political landscape has changed vastly since then. Trump’s approval ratings have slumped both nationally and in Van Drew’s district. The sagging economy is further clouding the outlook for Republicans up and down the ballot. The Monmouth University poll has Joe Biden with a narrow, three-point lead over Trump in a “high turnout” election in the district.

“The president’s popularity has gone down. That hurts someone who pledged undying allegiance to Trump,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican operative and former adviser to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Meanwhile, many frontline Democrats are actually well-positioned heading into November, defying expectations and fueling hopes that their party could actually pad their majority even further. And the election has largely been dominated by the coronavirus — not impeachment.

“No one cares about impeachment anymore. It seems like 10 years ago, not 10 months ago.” DuHaime added.

On the coronavirus, Van Drew has echoed Trump’s rhetoric. He railed against health restrictions dampening the economy, highlighted how Trump overcame the virus, criticized D.C. residents for wearing masks even alone in their cars and called on Washington to “go big” on a stimulus package.

“You know what makes people upset where I am in my district? The people that went out of business, the people that lost everything they own, the people that can’t even keep their homes, the people who work for the casinos,” he said.

Van Drew also said he has worked tirelessly on constituent services during the pandemic, which could help boost him in the race. And GOP strategists say Van Drew will likely once again attract some crossover voters — but it may not be enough.

“He has always won because people transcended party to vote for him. But is that enough in a year where Trump is so dominant on the ballot and affecting how everyone views everything?” DuHaime asked. “Now, just so many people this year are voting party-line to send a message to Trump.”

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