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GOP Lawmakers Threaten Dems With Prosecution
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GOP Lawmakers Threaten Dems With Prosecution

Plus: A quick look at Tuesday’s primary results and upcoming messaging bills in the Senate.

Happy Wednesday! We hope you are in the same mood as Rep. John Rose’s son, Guy, whose antics as he was sitting behind his dad during a Monday speech on the House floor made the internet swoon.

Up to Speed

  • The National Republican Congressional Committee added Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar’s seat to its list of pickup opportunities Monday. “With Henry Cuellar’s recent indictment, the general Latino voter shift towards Republicans and the overall troubling environment for Democrats, Republicans are confident we can flip TX-28,” the group said in a release. The Department of Justice last month indicted Cuellar, a 10-term Democratic congressman whose district includes parts of San Antonio and runs along the U.S.-Mexico border, on charges that he received bribes from foreign entities.
  • Former President Donald Trump’s campaign sent cease-and-desist letters to Rep. Bob Good, telling the congressman to stop producing yard signs that imply the former president was backing him, The Hill reported Saturday. “To be clear, neither you nor your campaign are authorized to use President Trump’s name or the Campaign’s to falsely imply their support of your candidacy,” a Trump attorney wrote in the letter. Trump endorsed Good’s primary opponent, state Sen. John McGuire, last month—days after Dispatch Politics spotted yard signs with both Good’s and Trump’s names on them across the district. 
  • Meanwhile, Republican senators are throwing up their hands at top party leaders’ criticism of Larry Hogan, the former Maryland governor and Republican nominee for Senate in the Old Line State. Politico talked to multiple senators who expressed frustration at Republican National Committee co-chair Lara Trump and chief operating officer Chris LaCivita after both slammed Hogan for calling Americans to respect the verdict in Donald Trump’s hush money case. “It’s completely unnecessary. I don’t know why they would feel the need to come to Donald Trump’s defense in a state he’s not going to win while we have a Senate candidate that could,” Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told Politico. “It’s time to be done with it.” Hogan represents the best chance for the GOP to win a Senate seat in Maryland in decades as he seeks to succeed retiring Democrat Ben Cardin. His opponent in the general election is Democrat Angela Alsobrooks.
  • President Joe Biden took action to curb border crossings Tuesday, signing an executive order that stops migrants from seeking asylum if crossings hit 2,500 per day. On Sunday, about 3,500 people crossed, according to the New York Times, meaning the measure will go into effect right away, and crossings will need to stay below a daily average of 1,500 for seven days before it opens again. Biden’s action mirrors a provision in the Senate’s cross-partisan border deal that Republicans have twice rejected.
  • Absent from the signing were Democrats running for reelection in battleground states—Sens. John Tester, Jacky Rosen, Tammy Baldwin, and Bob Casey, according to Axios. Some of them cited scheduling conflicts in declining the invitation, according to the outlet. Three of the four (Tester was not included in the poll) were running well ahead of Biden in a recent poll from the Cook Political Report that saw Biden losing to Trump in six out of seven battleground states but had Democratic Senate candidates leading their Republican opponents.
  • Former New York Rep. Mondaire Jones, a Democrat running to reenter the House against Republican Rep. Mike Lawler in New York’s 17th Congressional District, disavowed progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman, citing Bowman’s anti-Israel stance. “This is about me standing up for the Jewish community,” Jones told Jewish Insider in a piece published Monday. “I want to be very clear about that.” Bowman faces a primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, whose run as a pro-Israel alternative Jones endorsed.

‘We’ve Crossed That Rubicon, Haven’t We?’ 

Rep. Byron Donalds speaks with a reporter as he leaves the U.S. Capitol on May 17, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Rep. Byron Donalds speaks with a reporter as he leaves the U.S. Capitol on May 17, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

With their anger over Donald Trump’s guilty verdict still fresh, some Republican allies of the former president are pushing to prosecute Democrats in turn for crimes they have allegedly committed—and they even have specific targets in mind.

“If you committed a crime, but they held back prosecution because of politics, seems we’ve crossed that Rubicon, haven’t we?” Florida Rep. Byron Donalds told Dispatch Politics Tuesday.

Asked if there were specific opportunities for Republicans, Donalds noted that he was not a lawyer but said Hillary Clinton’s email server scandal that plagued her while she ran for the White House came to mind.

“She did violate the Espionage Act,” Donalds said. “She took classified material from a secure facility. If any one of us did that, we would be prosecuted by the Department of Justice. So, James Comey could have said whatever he wanted to say back in 2016, but I don’t believe there’s a statute of limitations on that, so we’ll see what Merrick Garland—if he wants to follow the law.” (The statute of limitations for crimes under the Espionage Act is 10 years, so it is unlikely that Clinton could be prosecuted.)

Donalds’ comments reflect how several elected Republicans are looking for retribution after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s successful prosecution of Trump, which they attributed to politics rather than an actual felony, by targeting Democrats. That could mean going directly after Bragg himself as Steve Bannon, the far-right podcaster who is influential within the House GOP conference, recently told Axios. But for now, elected Republicans are focused on either Clinton or Joe Biden’s administration.

Georgia Rep. Mike Collins tweeted last week it was “time for Red State AGs and DAs to get busy” and suggested starting with the infamous Steele Dossier, the spending for which the Clinton campaign misreported, resulting in a fine from the Federal Election Commission. And in comments to Dispatch Politics Tuesday, Texas Rep. Chip Roy said the prosecution of Trump opens “Pandora’s box.”

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be politicizing all this, but if they’re going to do it, then it begs questions. Why wouldn’t you arrest the members of the Department of Homeland Security in charge of deciding that Texans should be in danger?” Roy said, in an apparent reference to the border security policies of President Joe Biden’s administration. “You say, ‘Well, Chip, that’s a political question.’ Well, what are they doing?” 

Some Senate Republicans were less gung-ho about going after Democrats for prosecution. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida lamented that political prosecutions would be something that voters would likely begin to demand.

“If there’s a violation of the law, you ought to look at the case that way. In this country, we expect the laws to be enforced, but just to pick on somebody because they’re your political opponent, I think, is wrong, and it’s a bad path that this country’s going down,” he told Dispatch Politics. “But I tell you what’s happening is Republican voters are going to expect it, because it’s exactly what the Democrats have been doing, and I think our voters expect us to start fighting better.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, who served as Missouri’s attorney general before his election to the Senate, advised legal officers to “just apply the law” and cautioned against using politics as a motivator for prosecution.

“I understand where the impetus comes to want to say, ‘Now, we ought to get our own. You know, we ought to get our pound of flesh,’” Hawley told Dispatch Politics. “I just think the right answer is to say, ‘Listen, we’re gonna be tough in applying the law. We’re gonna go after criminals. We’re gonna go after wrongdoers. We’re not gonna take a back seat to anybody on that.’ But I don’t think we ought to be out there inventing crimes. I don’t think we ought to take what Bragg did and say, ‘That is a great model. We should do that.’ That’s not the rule of law. So, we ought to be for the rule of law, vigorously.”

An Early Summer Primary Roundup

Tuesday kicked off a month of consequential party primaries. Here’s a quick rundown of the results.

In New Jersey, Rep. Andy Kim easily won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, capping off what seemed at first like an uphill battle. Last year, the three-term House member surprised the state’s political class when he announced he was challenging Sen. Bob Menendez in the Democratic primary the day after the incumbent was indicted on federal bribery charges. Shortly after Kim’s launch, Tammy Murphy—the state’s first lady and wife of Gov. Phil Murphy—launched her own bid for the nomination.

But Kim hit the pavement and won endorsements from nearly every county party in New Jersey. By March, Murphy had dropped out and Menendez said he would not seek the Democratic nomination for reelection, leaving Kim with no serious primary challenges. He won 75 percent of the primary vote and swept every county in the state.

Kim’s path to victory in the general election in heavily Democratic New Jersey is complicated by the news Monday that Menendez—who is currently on trial—has filed to run for reelection as an independent. It’s unclear whether Menendez will continue to run if he is convicted. Kim and Menendez will also face Republican nominee Curtis Bashaw, a real estate developer who on Tuesday defeated Christine Serrano Glassner in the GOP primary. Serrano Glassner had been endorsed by Trump. History is working against Bashaw, as no Republican has won a Senate race in the Garden State since Clifford Case in 1972.

While Sen. Menendez was not on the Democratic primary ballot Tuesday, his son, Rep. Rob Menendez, was. The younger Menendez won his primary with just under 54 percent of the vote, giving the freshman congressman a glidepath to a second term in the House. But renomination did not come easy for Menendez, who was dogged by his father’s legal woes and faced a primary challenge from Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla. Bhalla ran to Menendez’s left but also made political hay out of the Menendez family’s corruption. In the end, however, Bhalla received about 36 percent of the vote. The North Jersey district leans strongly Democratic.

Elsewhere in primaries, Republican Tim Sheehy of Montana won his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate, setting up one of the most competitive Senate races of the year. Sheehy and the GOP are trying to unseat Sen. Jon Tester, the three-term incumbent Democrat who has survived despite Montana’s Republican bent. Sheehy is a retired Navy SEAL who received Trump’s endorsement, clearing the field after the short-lived challenge from Rep. Matt Rosendale.

And in Iowa, two House Republicans faced surprisingly strong challengers in their respective primaries. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, seeking a third term representing her southeastern Iowa district, fought off a challenge from the right in David Pautsch, a local businessman and outspoken social conservative. Miller-Meeks defeated Pautsch 56 percent to 44 percent and will face Democrat Christina Bohannan in November, a rematch of her 2022 race when the Republican easily won reelection.

Meanwhile, in the western part of the state, Rep. Randy Feenstra won more than 60 percent of the vote while also facing a challenge from the right from veteran Kevin Virgil, who won just less than 40 percent in the primary. Feenstra had previously challenged a sitting incumbent. In the 2020 primary, he defeated Rep. Steve King, who had been removed from his committee assignments in 2019 after a string of controversial and racist comments. The district leans strongly Republican.

Senate Show-Vote Season in Full Swing

It’s the summer of a presidential election year, which means legislative votes in the Senate are being scheduled with an eye toward influencing the outcome of the elections in November.

Just before Memorial Day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brought up the bipartisan immigration bill killed off by former President Donald Trump and Republicans earlier this year. But key negotiators of the bill—Arizona independent Kyrsten Sinema and Oklahoma Republican James Lankford—voted against it because they were displeased to see their hard work turned into a political messaging bill. “Everyone sees this for what it is,” Lankford said. “It is not an actual effort to make law, it is an effort to do political messaging.” Sinema called it “another cynical, political game.”

Today, another messaging bill will get a vote in the Senate: the Right to Contraception Act, legislation that’s been sitting on the shelf since it was introduced shortly after the Dobbs Supreme Court decision in 2022. The House Democrats who brought the bill argued that after the fall of Roe, Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 decision establishing a constitutional right to contraception, could be next. No states have passed laws to restrict access to contraception, and most congressional Republicans opposed the contraception bill in 2022 on the grounds that it included at least a few poison pills. It would protect federal funding for abortion provider Planned Parenthood; it could create a federal right to an abortion drug commonly used during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy; and it would supersede the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that was sponsored by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer and passed Congress with almost unanimous support. 

Schumer said on Tuesday that Democrats will “put reproductive freedoms front and center before this chamber, so that the American people can see for themselves who will stand up to defend their fundamental liberties.” Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who supports funding for Planned Parenthood and a federal right to abortion, opposed the 2022 measure because of the lack of religious liberty protections. Collins told Dispatch Politics on Tuesday she would vote to proceed to debate the bill, but “it would need to be amended” to earn her vote on final passage. The bill does “not recognize the religious liberty of health care providers who have objections to providing contraception,” Collins said. “I think we should get on the bill and amend it to restore those longstanding protections.” She told the Associated Press that the bill “is clearly a messaging attempt and not a serious attempt in itself.”

Related Senate votes are expected later this month, on establishing a federal right to in vitro fertilization and to require insurance plans to cover the treatments. “In the nearly two years since the MAGA-right Supreme Court released the disastrous Dobbs decision, the Republican party has been on a relentless crusade to strip women of their reproductive rights,” Schumer said in a statement. “Senate Democrats are fighting for women, for families, and for personal freedoms. IVF is just the latest example of Republicans vilifying something that has been an invaluable aide to countless American families and is widely supported by the American people.”

Notable and Quotable

“Bottom line, never trust a man whose uncle was eaten by cannibals.”

—Sen. Joni Ernst to Sen. John Kennedy on a hot mic after a press conference.

Charles Hilu is a reporter for The Dispatch based in Virginia. Before joining the company in 2024, he was the Collegiate Network Fellow at the Washington Free Beacon and interned at both National Review and the Washington Examiner. When he is not writing and reporting, he is probably listening to show tunes or following the premier sports teams of the University of Michigan and city of Detroit.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.

John McCormack is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was Washington correspondent at National Review and a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. When John is not reporting on politics and policy, he is probably enjoying life with his wife in northern Virginia or having fun visiting family in Wisconsin.