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When a ‘Pro-Life’ Republican Defends His State’s Abortion Rights
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When a ‘Pro-Life’ Republican Defends His State’s Abortion Rights

Plus: Will Washington state Republicans again choose a MAGA diehard as they try to retake a congressional seat?

Happy Friday! Just as certain institutions (such as the University of Florida) are eliminating their diversity, equity, and inclusion positions, the Biden campaign is now hiring a DEI director. Any takers?

Up to Speed

  • The Democratic National Committee paid President Joe Biden’s legal bills while he was under investigation by special counsel Robert Hur over whether the president mishandled classified documents, Axios reported Friday. While the Biden campaign has attacked former President Donald Trump for using campaign funds to pay his compounding legal bills, the committee paid $1.5 million—mostly between July 2023 and February 2024—to attorneys and firms representing Biden during Hur’s probe. While Trump has spent funds from his Save America political action committee on legal fees, it is unlikely that his campaign is using money from the Republican National Committee for that purpose.
  • Two years after the RNC withdrew from the Commission on Presidential Debates over “bias,” the Trump campaign is asking the bipartisan group, which has organized general election presidential debates since the 1988 election, to make some changes to its schedule. Trump has requested moving up the first debates between himself and Biden and even adding more to the calendar. Trump campaign senior advisers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita wrote in a letter to the commission that by the time the first debate takes place as scheduled, on September 16, about 1 million people will likely have cast a ballot early. Trump has repeatedly challenged Biden to debate him even though he skipped all of the debates in the Republican presidential primary.
  • Trump leads Biden 48 percent to 46 percent among North Carolina registered voters in a head-to-head matchup in a Wednesday Quinnipiac University poll. Most respondents said they believe Trump would do a better job handling the economy, immigration, and international conflicts, while a majority said they believe Biden would better preserve democracy in America. Down the ballot, Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein led Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson by 8 points in the state’s gubernatorial race, 52 percent to 44 percent.
  • Trump is set to host Speaker Mike Johnson at Mar-a-Lago for a joint press conference, where the two will promote a bill to stop non-citizens from voting, according to a Thursday report from USA Today. Reports had circulated Wednesday that Johnson was headed to the former president’s estate to discuss “election integrity,” and his visit comes as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has begun making the case for her fellow Republicans to expel Johnson from the speakership.
  • Johnson raised more than $20 million in the first quarter of 2024 for Republican House candidates across the country, his office announced in an email Thursday. The haul brings the total he has raised as speaker to $30 million since he took over the position in October. In addition to the money he has brought in, the super PAC he endorses, the Congressional Leadership Fund, saw its first-quarter fundraising total $25 million. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee said it raised more than $33 million in the first quarter, about $16 million of which came in March. That money will help Johnson and Republicans contend with Democrats—who have thus far outraised the GOP significantly—as the speaker fights to maintain his razor-thin majority.
  • The Republican National Committee sent out robocalls last week on behalf of co-chair Lara Trump claiming that “massive fraud” took place in the 2020 election, CNN reported Wednesday. The call listed a lack of voter ID requirements, mass mail-in voting, and deceased people on voter rolls as examples. “If Democrats have their way, your vote could be canceled out by someone who isn’t even an American citizen,” the call said. Weeks ago, Lara Trump told NBC News the committee was “past” the 2020 election. On Sunday RNC Chairman Michael Whatley told Dispatch contributing editor and NewsNation anchor Chris Stirewalt that the committee would be pushing mail-in voting in November.

In Michigan, Mike Rogers Pitches Recalibrated Abortion Position

Senate candidate and former Rep. Mike Rogers speaks during a panel discussion on September 14, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (ZACH GIBSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Senate candidate and former Rep. Mike Rogers speaks during a panel discussion on September 14, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (ZACH GIBSON/AFP via Getty Images)

LANSING, Michigan—What a difference a year makes.

Roughly 12 months ago, some of the most prominent Republicans running for higher office were announcing support for federal legislation that would limit abortion rights to the first 15 or 20 weeks of pregnancy. Where some Republicans wielded political power in the states, legislation was approved banning access to the procedure after the first six weeks—usually but not always with exceptions for rape, incest, and the health or life of the mother.

Today, with the 2024 elections less than seven months away, some Republicans running in some of the biggest races of the cycle are beginning to chart a different course. Take Mike Rogers, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for Senate in Michigan. The former congressman told The Dispatch during an interview here this week that, although he was a “pro-life legislator,” he supports the right of states to control their own fate on the contentious issue.

For a Michigan lawmaker, that means opposing any legislation in the Senate that would undermine abortion rights as codified in the state constitution through a referendum—Proposal 3—approved by a majority of voters in the 2022 midterm elections. So, those 15-week bans that are popular with some Republicans on Capitol Hill you might have heard of, like Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina? Rogers didn’t mince words: He would vote against such legislation if brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

“I could not support it,” Rogers said. “People say, ‘This is a change in his position.’ No, not really. The people decided, and to me that’s the most important vote that they can make, is a ballot vote, on something that’s that personal, for women, they spoke, and we gotta hear ‘em. There’s other ways we can help that doesn’t make it illegal.” 

As a congressman, Rogers opposed abortion rights. His position as a 2024 Senate candidate is different. 

The candidate’s comments to The Dispatch mirror comments he made in 2023 in support of states’ rights and legal access to abortion in Michigan and come as Donald Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican nominee, appeared this week to stake out a similar position to that of Rogers. The 60-year-old Republican seems confident his approach inoculates him from political fallout on the issue in the race for an open Senate seat that will likely pit him against Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, should each prevail in their August 6 primaries.

Republicans have not won a Senate race in Michigan since 1994. But the available polling suggests a close race between Rogers and Slotkin, 47, elected to the House in 2018. 

To push their streak of winning Michigan Senate races past the 30-year mark, Democrats are relying heavily on abortion. And why not? It’s an issue that has worked for the party time and again since the June 2022 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made access to the procedure legal across the country, in all stages of pregnancy. 

Pointing to Rogers’ past support in Congress—pre-Dobbs—for federal legislation that sought to supersede Roe and block access to abortion nationally, Democrats insist the Republican remains politically vulnerable on this issue, no matter his support for abortion rights as enshrined in the Michigan Constitution. “At every step of the way, he has pushed for the most draconian restrictions on women’s reproductive freedom—full stop,” Slotkin campaign spokesperson Austin Cook said in an emailed statement. 

“Sprinting away from his decades-long record on this issue isn’t just dishonest, it’s downright cowardly. As Elissa often says, look at what a politician does, not what they say,” Cook added. 

Under the law here, the state retains the option to “regulate the provision of abortion care after fetal viability,” in some cases approximately 24 weeks of pregnancy, although for now there are no specific limits on gestational age. That leaves open the possibility that some future bill in Congress to limit abortion access—for instance, late in pregnancy—could be presented as not running afoul of the Michigan Constitution. Theoretically (Democrats will say it’s more than theoretical,) such legislation might hold some appeal for Rogers, who told us more than once that he is a “pro-life guy.”

However, Rogers emphasized that his commitment to the cause is being channeled elsewhere.  “There’s other things we need to do if we believe in pro-life, like actually give the woman a choice to have the baby—prenatal care, pregnancy crisis centers; give them the opportunity to have something other than an abortion,” he said.

Can Washington State Republicans Retake a Must-Win House Seat?

One of the closest House races of 2022 flipped a reliably Republican seat in southwest Washington state to Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. The controversial Republican who lost, Joe Kent, is seeking a rematch against Gluesenkamp Perez. But an alternative Republican has emerged to argue Kent won’t be able to win this time, either. The seat, which the Cook Political Report rates a Republican-leaning toss-up, is a must-win for the GOP if it is to grow its minuscule majority in the House of Representatives.

Leslie Lewallen is a former prosecutor who sits on the city council for Camas, a Washington suburb just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. She has positioned herself as a more electable alternative focused on public safety and reining in government spending, criticizing Gluesenkamp Perez, who is relatively moderate but is still a Democrat. Lewallen is very much in the mold of the Republican who held this seat for 12 years, Jaime Herrera Beutler. 

So far, however, Lewallen appears reluctant to directly challenge Kent’s support for the “Stop the Steal” movement and associations with radical far-right figures—factors that contributed to his narrow defeat in the 2022 general election. In a phone interview with The Dispatch this week, she vaguely hinted at these reasons for Kent’s defeat.

“He focused on the past,” Lewallen said. “I think he focused on the other Washington. I think that there’s issues here locally that he did not focus on: transportation issues, our economy, local schools, parental rights. I think that there was just a whole lot of areas that Joe Kent just glossed over.”

In truth, Kent built his 2022 campaign on a Trumpian model of denying Joe Biden victory in the 2020 election and amplifying conspiracy theories about COVID vaccines. During his bid, he found himself promising to prosecute Dr. Anthony Fauci for “murder,” calling the January 6 riot at the Capitol an “intelligence operation,” and dubbing those who were arrested for breaching the Capitol “political prisoners.”

In Washington, all candidates run on the same ballot in a nonpartisan “blanket” primary, with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advancing to compete in the general election. During the 2022 primary, Kent went directly after the six-term incumbent Herrera Beutler, who was one of the 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump for his involvement in the events that led to January 6. 

Not surprisingly, Trump endorsed Kent, helping him eke out a second-place finish in the district’s blanket primary over Herrera Beutler. Gluesenkamp Perez came in first, but the combined votes of Kent, Herrera Beutler, and other Republican candidates more than doubled the Democrat’s share. The district, which had voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, seemed bound to elect Kent in the general election.

But what had boosted Kent with Republican voters in the primary became a liability in the general against Gluesenkamp Perez. In addition to Kent’s controversial statements, he had to contend with reports of his ties to far-right organizations and figures—including employing a member of the Proud Boys and giving an interview to a Nazi sympathizer. Kent’s defeat was emblematic of the failure of Republican House candidates across the country who were closely tied with Trump and “Stop the Steal.”

In her interview with The Dispatch, Lewallen said Kent’s decision to challenge Herrera Beutler did not “do anything good for our party” and focused most of her attacks on the fact that Kent lost the general election, without getting specific about why he did so. She brought up a Gluesenkamp Perez ad from 2022 that featured lifelong Republicans saying they were not voting for Kent due to his extreme statements. But she declined to say whether she herself thought Kent was too extreme.

“Clearly Joe lost,” she replied. “It was his race to lose. He had Trump’s endorsement. He had Speaker McCarthy come out and fundraise for him. He had the Washington state Republican Party endorsement. He underperformed every other Republican on the ballot. It was his race to lose, and he lost and he’s going to lose again by an even wider margin.”

Elsewhere, Lewallen has attacked Kent from the right. She said in a September X post that her GOP opponent has “more in common” with Gluesenkamp Perez than voters in the district, given that “they both want big government involvement, they’re both from Portland and they both voted for Bernie Sanders.” (Both Kent and Gluesenkamp Perez have lived in Portland, a progressive bastion across the border in Oregon, and while Gluesenkamp Perez supported Sanders in 2016, Kent has said he boosted Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primary in Oregon because he considered the socialist senator to be a better opponent for Trump.)

Kent’s campaign did not respond to a request for an interview.

There’s been no public polling of the blanket primary, which will take place on August 6, and the candidates have yet to release their fundraising numbers for the first quarter of 2024. But Kent outraised Lewallen in the last quarter of 2023, taking in more than $411,000 compared to Lewallen’s $120,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Lewallen has earned endorsements from Tiffany Smiley, who ran as the Republican Senate challenger in 2022 against Sen. Patty Murray, as well as a former secretary of state and attorney general. But the state party endorsed Kent at its summer meeting in August and later set up a joint fundraising committee for him. Members of the party were undeterred by his loss in 2022, Washington GOP Chairman Jim Walsh told the Dispatch.

“He ran a credible race two years ago, lost narrowly, and there was a strong feeling among the delegates from the 3rd Congressional District that he had the best chance to win the seat,” Walsh said. He added that Kent’s loss last cycle was “an understandable concern” but that “the actual members of the state party felt differently” as to whether he could defeat Gluesenkamp Perez in November.

One Republican Party operative in Washington said “the real question of the race” was whether Kent could dig himself out of the hole he dug in 2022 because he seems thus far to be “more interested in being kind of a Twitter pundit than being an effective candidate.” Recently, Kent appeared on the far-right One America News Network and implied that the CIA and Ukraine may have had a hand in a recent terror attack in Russia. He later doubled down on his comments on X.

“If he leans into the weird takes,” the operative said, “then that just furthers that branding that he is too extreme.”

Notable and Quotable

“Expect him to be indicted any day now—probably for environmental fraud. He is Crooked Joe Biden’s political opponent, not mine. Biden can’t speak, Biden can’t debate, Biden can’t put two sentences together, so I guess he’s probably going to indict RFK Jr.”

—Former President Donald Trump, commenting on the influence on the 2024 election of independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., in a video posted to Truth Social Thursday.

David M. Drucker's Headshot

David M. Drucker

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Charles Hilu's Headshot

Charles Hilu

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's Headshot

Michael Warren

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.