Happy Monday! In a 5:02 p.m. Friday news dump, President Joe Biden offered his first public acknowledgment of his 4-year-old grandchild Navy Joan Roberts, telling People Magazine: “Our son Hunter and Navy’s mother, Lunden, are working together to foster a relationship that is in the best interests of their daughter, preserving her privacy as much as possible going forward.”
Up to Speed
- Donald Trump’s PAC, Save America, has spent more than $40 million on legal costs to defend the former president and his associates during the first half of this year. The total exceeds any other expense incurred by the PAC, which is funded mostly by small-dollar contributions, and is more than Trump’s entire second-quarter fundraising haul. Trump’s advisers say the legal costs will continue to grow as investigations continue.
- When Congress returns from summer recess after Labor Day, members will only have a few weeks to fund the government before the September 30 deadline hits. If the requisite appropriations bills are not passed, a partial government shutdown begins October 1. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy passed the first of 12 appropriations bills shortly before the August recess. McCarthy has faced pressure from conservative House Freedom Caucus members to cut spending, with some members threatening to block movement in the House.
- The Senate passed its annual defense bill in an 86-11 vote on Thursday. In contrast, the House version of the bill only narrowly passed earlier this month after Republicans added controversial provisions restricting abortion access and transgender healthcare for troops. To avoid those controversies, the Senate opted to skip floor votes on the amendments. “One way to gum up the works at this point is to get off into divisive issues like abortion,” Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana told the Wall Street Journal. Lawmakers will now work to combine the two bills.
- Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips, a moderate Democrat from suburban Minneapolis, is meeting with party donors in New York City this week about possibly challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024, Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports.
Virginia Republicans Eye Glenn Youngkin’s Seat in 2025
The shadow race to succeed Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is already underway, with the state’s two top-ranking Republicans already laying the groundwork for possible gubernatorial campaigns in 2025, The Dispatch has learned.
Behind the scenes, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares are both positioning themselves as the strongest possible contenders on the GOP side. Sears, the state’s first black female lieutenant governor, is assembling a new political team ahead of a likely bid for governor, The Dispatch has learned, though she has no plans for an immediate announcement. And sources close to Miyares, a former prosecutor and Virginia’s first Hispanic attorney general, say privately that the attorney general is also expected to take a closer look at the race after the state legislative elections on November 7.
“Miyares of course already has a team in place that has been pretty prolific, pretty well organized,” says one Virginia-based GOP operative familiar with the state’s political dynamics. “And does that mean he runs for reelection or does he run for governor? He’ll have to make that decision, of course, with the Sears piece in mind, because I assume she goes first.”
Virginia law bars governors from serving consecutive terms, meaning Younkgin can’t run for another term when his seat is up in 2025. Early indicators suggest that multiple ambitious Old Dominion politicians in both parties are already jostling to succeed him in the blue-leaning state that Joe Biden carried by ten points in 2020—even as Democrats and Republicans alike maintain they’re squarely focused on upcoming General Assembly races that will determine the balance of power in Richmond this fall.
Publicly, Miyares’ team insists his priority is helping his party hold the House and flip Virginia’s Democratic-controlled state Senate.
“Like Governor Youngkin, the attorney general is focused on getting a Republican majority in the Virginia General Assembly and is dedicated to helping our candidates win in 2023,” says Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Miyares.
Sears is being a little less subtle. In an early sign her team is going on offense and preparing for a gubernatorial run, Sears’ team namechecked the “Youngkin/Sears administration” and took a direct hit at Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a centrist Democrat who is reportedly telling colleagues she plans to run for governor in 2025, according to reporting from Politico. (Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and former House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn are also reportedly weighing runs.)
“Time and time again, Abigail Spanberger has sided with extreme leftists in Washington to burden Virginians with more taxes and spending while voting to keep our borders open and allow criminals to proliferate our communities with drugs and other crimes,” Bryan Piligra, general consultant and spokesman for Winsome PAC, tells The Dispatch. “As president of the Senate, Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears is laser focused on helping Republicans win back the Senate and make significant gains in the House of Delegates in 2023, but she knows the last thing Virginia needs in 2025 is a Democrat to undo the progress of the Youngkin/Sears administration.”
Both parties are spending heavily to win control of the General Assembly. Earlier this month Youngkin announced a new program to boost Republican early-and absentee-voting efforts, mirroring Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s massive turnout operation in Georgia during the 2022 cycle.
“Brian Kemp showed the path to Republicans in Georgia last year and now we’re able to scale and build on that here,” Matt Moran, the executive director of the pro-Youngkin PAC Spirit of Virginia, told reporters in a briefing call earlier this month. “Republicans can’t sit on the sidelines. And the rules are the rules are the rules. And it’s time for us to get into the game.”
Presidential Hopefuls Hit Iowa in Another Cattle Call
Thirteen presidential candidates barnstormed the Hawkeye State over the weekend for the Iowa GOP Lincoln Day Dinner, making their case to Iowa Republicans in Des Moines as the January 15 caucuses quickly approach.
“Anytime these candidates can get in front of people who are gonna turn out to the caucuses is important because I think most Iowa caucusgoers want to kick the tires several times before they make a final decision,” Iowa’s RNC Committeeman Steve Scheffler told The Dispatch earlier this month.
But standing in the way of the Republican presidential nomination in Iowa and other early states is former President Donald Trump, whose name most 2024 GOP hopefuls steered clear of even mentioning in their remarks. The sole exceptions were longshot candidates Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas, and Will Hurd, a former Texas congressman whose onstage criticism of Trump reportedly elicited boos from the audience.
“As it stands right now, you will be voting in Iowa while multiple criminal cases are pending against former President Trump. Iowa has an opportunity to say, we as a party, we need a new direction for America and for the GOP,” Hutchinson told the crowd. “We are a party of individual responsibility, accountability and support for the rule of law—we must not abandon that.”
Trump, the final speaker of the evening, was defiant about the legal problems he faces and dismissive of his rivals for the Republican nomination, particularly Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“If I weren’t running, I would have nobody coming after me. Or if I was losing by a lot, I would have nobody coming after me,” Trump said. He also ticked through multiple polls showing him doing better in a general election against Joe Biden than the Florida governor, whom he referred to as “DeSanctus.”
“In other polls, I’m leading Biden by 6, 7, 8, and 11 points, while DeSanctus is losing to Biden in all cases,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t take a chance on that one.”
Polling suggests that pro-Trump sentiment among Republican primary voters extends far beyond the Hawkeye State, even following a new superseding indictment last week from the Justice Department charging Trump with three new felony counts in the classified documents case.
Friday’s Lincoln Day dinner in Iowa preceded a New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday morning showing Donald Trump in an astounding lead over his primary rivals. Here’s the New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher with a summary: “Overall, Mr. Trump led Mr. DeSantis 54 percent to 17 percent. No other candidate topped 3 percent support in the poll.”
Eyes on the Trail
- Play it Again Phil: Some top advisers to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign for the Republican presidential nomination had worked together at least once before. In 2017, they held senior posts on Republican Ed Gillespie’s campaign for Virginia governor and were part of a larger group assembled by GOP strategist Phil Cox. Recall that Cox, a top consultant on Gillespie’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid, was a senior adviser to DeSantis’ landslide reelection victory in Florida in the 2022 midterm elections before finding himself sidelined from the governor’s presidential bid. But at least one member of the team he helped build for DeSantis is still there: Campaign Manager Generra Peck. Peck was the policy director for Gillespie in 2017. Until recently, two other top Gillespie aides from his 2017 gubernatorial bid also helped form the core of DeSantis 2024: Dave Abrams and Tucker Obenshain (who are husband and wife). Abrams, a media and communications adviser then and now, and Obenshain, now a fundraiser, voluntarily departed the DeSantis campaign to alleviate financial pressure on the campaign. But they continue to assist DeSantis from the outside. Abrams is back working for Ascent Media, whose head honcho, Liesl Hickey, is a media consultant for the governor. At some point, Abrams could rejoin the campaign or transition to Never Back Down, the pro-DeSantis super PAC. Obenshain, meanwhile, was headed to Faithful and Strong, a 501(c)4 political nonprofit supportive of DeSantis, to serve as executive director.
- Scott hits DeSantis on Florida’s slavery curriculum: Also of note in Iowa last week, presidential candidate and GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina joined the growing chorus of black Republicans who are now hitting DeSantis for a new K-12 social studies curriculum in Florida that includes instruction for students in sixth through eighth grade on how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” DeSantis has said he wasn’t involved in the creation of the curriculum. “What slavery was really about [was] separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives,” Scott told reporters in Iowa on Thursday. “It was just devastating. So, I would hope that every person in our country — and certainly running for president — would appreciate that.”
Notable and Quotable
“When hell freezes over, there will be three things left: Chuck Grassley, Mitch McConnell, and cockroaches.”
—Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana in support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after the Senate Minority leader’s mid-sentence freeze-up during a press conference, reported by NBC News, Thursday, July 27