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The Morning Dispatch: Will Biden's Big Win Matter in the Midterms?
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The Morning Dispatch: Will Biden’s Big Win Matter in the Midterms?

'History suggests that when a party passes a big piece of legislation, they generally don’t get rewarded for it.'

Happy Wednesday! Fashion house Balenciaga has released a $1,790 trash bag, and the cheap knockoffs have already hit shelves—you can get a pack of 25 dupes for $8.08 on Amazon. They’re even scented.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin held primary elections on Tuesday. Some key takeaways:

    • Businessman Tim Michels will challenge Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers this fall after defeating former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary. Michels is backed by former President Donald Trump, while Kleefisch was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence, former Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz, and other top Republicans.

    • Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes won Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary, and will face off against incumbent GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in November.

    • Rep. Ilhan Omar eked out a win in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, defeating Democratic primary challenger Don Samuels by 3 points. Omar won her 2020 primary election by 20 percentage points, and her 2018 primary election by 18 percentage points.

    • Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont will likely succeed retiring Sen. Pat Leahy in the U.S. Senate after winning the state’s Democratic primary. Welch was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

  • President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act into law on Tuesday, enacting the legislation that will provide tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to semiconductor manufacturers in an effort to boost domestic production. He also formalized the United States’ support for Sweden and Finland joining NATO, signing the instruments of ratification Congress approved overwhelmingly last week. All 30 NATO members must approve the Nordic countries’ accession, and the United States was the 23rd to do so. 

  • GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania told Fox News on Tuesday that FBI agents seized his cell phone earlier in the day after presenting him with a search warrant. A strong ally of Donald Trump, Perry was reportedly heavily involved in efforts to install Jeffrey Clark atop the Justice Department in the weeks following the 2020 election, and the seizure of his phone comes one day after FBI agents executed a search warrant at Trump’s Florida estate. “My phone contains info about my legislative and political activities, and personal/private discussions with my wife, family, constituents, and friends,” Perry said. “None of this is the government’s business.”

  • The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the House Ways and Means Committee can receive former President Donald Trump’s tax returns for 2015 to 2020 from the Internal Revenue Service—a ruling Trump will likely appeal. The court ruled the committee has a “legitimate legislative purpose” for accessing the information, and the committee has said it plans to use the records to assess Trump’s audit program. 

  • The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization on Tuesday allowing health care providers to administer the monkeypox vaccine between skin layers—instead of deeper in the fat layer—to adults determined to be at “high risk” for infection. The new method requires about one-fifth the dose of a typical shot and produces a similar immune response, according to the administration, allowing the U.S. to stretch its limited vaccine supply.

  • Russian oil-pipeline company Transneft said Tuesday a Ukrainian pipeline operator has blocked its flow of crude oil through Ukraine to Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic because sanctions prevented it from accepting transit fees from Russia. The countries rely on Russian fuel, and Hungarian refiner Mol Nyrt said it was negotiating to pay the fee directly to Ukraine.

  • The U.S. will spend $89 million to fund 100 demining teams in Ukraine, a State Department official said Tuesday. Ukrainian officials estimate invading Russian forces have mined—or “contaminated” with explosive hazards—about 62,000 square miles of land, and the State Department official said retreating Russian troops have booby trapped car trunks, hospital beds, toys, and other locations.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi extended proxy voting for the House through September 26 on Tuesday, citing the continuing public health emergency over COVID-19. GOP members mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge against the measure, which some lawmakers have used to vote remotely—ostensibly to avoid COVID-19 risk—while appearing in other high-risk settings such as press conferences and campaign events.

  • The Labor Department said Tuesday that U.S. non-farm labor productivity fell at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.6 percent from the first to second quarter—a smaller drop than economists expected, but a second straight quarter of decline. The first quarter’s 7.4 percent fall was the largest in 74 years. Rising productivity allows companies to raise pay without raising prices, so the drop is a sign of economic contraction and more expensive labor, fueling inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is set to release inflation data for the month of July later this morning.

Will the Inflation Reduction Act Save Biden’s Presidency?

President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In modern political journalism parlance, a president is considered to have “notched a win” whenever Congress passes legislation on his or her watch. The actual contents of the bill in question don’t matter much; the press is just looking for a signing ceremony behind the Resolute Desk. Barack Obama secured his first such triumph on January 15, 2009—days before taking office—when the Senate agreed to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars in additional bailout funding. Donald Trump earned his initial victory nearly nine years later, with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

By that rudimentary measure, Joe Biden’s presidency is off to a roaring start. Nearly 40 percent through his term, Congress has passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and devoted hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrading American infrastructure. It’s approved the first major piece of gun reform in decades, advanced legislation boosting domestic semiconductor manufacturing, and expanded health care benefits to millions of veterans. And once the House returns briefly from its recess later this week, Congress will have authorized hundreds of billions of dollars in green energy and health care subsidies. While the first and last measures were enacted entirely along party lines, the others passed with large, bipartisan majorities.

Given its apparent death last December, the latter deal—the Inflation Reduction (née Build Back Better) Act—has earned Biden and his party particular plaudits. One New York Times headline argues Biden is “on a roll that any president would relish,” and a Washington Post story details his “hot streak, from the poolside to the Capitol.” Politico has noted in recent days Biden is “piling up wins” and “a better president than people thought,” and Newsweek claims he just concluded “the best week of his presidency.” Political journalists Shane Goldmacher and Katie Glueck reported yesterday that, on the heels of the Inflation Reduction Act agreement, Democrats are “enter[ing] the fall armed with something new: hope.”

For whatever it’s worth, Biden agrees. “Will I expect it to help? Yes, I do,” the president told reporters Monday when asked about the legislation’s potential impact on the midterms. He was all smiles, having finally tested out of his weeks-long COVID-19 quarantine. “Feeling great,” he boasted. “All good. All is good.”

But the positive vibes have yet to catch on beyond the Beltway. Biden’s approval rating is up ever so slightly from last month’s 38 percent—his nadir—but it’s still under 40 percent, and lower than any president at this point in his term since Jimmy Carter. Nearly 65 percent of Democratic voters in a recent New York Times poll reported wanting a different presidential nominee in 2024, and Democratic lawmakers are increasingly willing to write Biden’s political epitaph.

The president’s allies hope the recent flurry of legislative action can help stop the bleeding, putting progressive victories on the board and projecting an aura of competence that has proven elusive since the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan this time last year. “There are few better feelings in a White House than when the fever of bad news breaks,” former White House press secretary Jen Psaki told Peter Baker this week. “It gives a much-needed boost to the exhausted team and also sends a message to the American people that government can actually do something.”

“It’s potentially a narrative-changing moment,” Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher added, noting the wave of activity could reinvigorate what had become a depressed Democratic base. “It’s kind of hard to say the president hasn’t gotten things done or accomplished anything and kept his campaign promises when you now look at his legislative track record.”

But the next time a legislative victory dramatically improves a party’s trajectory in the midterms might well be the first time. “History suggests that when a party passes a big piece of legislation, they generally don’t get rewarded for it,” Kyle Kondik—political analyst and managing editor of the non-partisan Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia—told The Dispatch. “In fact, sometimes the opposite happens, and the party actually gets punished for it.” A 2012 political science paper concluded the Affordable Care Act likely cost Democrats’ their House majority in 2010, and the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act probably contributed to the Democratic blue wave in 2018. 

“Yes, it is true that Democrats now have more things they can go home and say they’ve done,” Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson wrote in her Codebook newsletter this week. “But the passage of this bill isn’t what will affect Democrats’ midterm hopes; it is whether people actually feel their economic situation improving.”

In that sense, Sens. Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer were politically wise to rebrand their climate and health care deal as the “Inflation Reduction Act,” though there’s no guarantee it will actually have an effect on rising prices—particularly in the three months leading up to the midterms. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers thinks it will—by reducing budget deficits, spurring energy production, and allowing Medicare to eventually negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs—but a University of Pennsylvania model estimated the legislation’s impact on inflation would be “statistically indistinguishable from zero,” slightly increasing it until 2024 and decreasing it thereafter.

“To the extent that this bill reduces inflation, it will be in large part by slowing down the economy—and there are probably better ways to reduce inflation,” Brian Riedl—a budgetary expert at the Manhattan Institute—told The Dispatch last month.

Worth Your Time

  • While the Pentagon still says it doesn’t expect China to attack Taiwan in the next two years, Washington analysts and officials regularly war game what might happen if China does. One recent unclassified war game—which assumed that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense—concluded that China doesn’t have the capability to take Taiwan, but that a conflict over the island would leave the U.S. military weakened for years. Warren Strobel reports on the war game results for the Wall Street Journal. “In the first three weeks after invading Taiwan, China sank two multibillion-dollar U.S. aircraft carriers, attacked American bases across Japan and on Guam, and destroyed hundreds of advanced U.S. jet fighters,” Strobel writes. “China’s situation was, if anything, worse. It landed troops on Taiwan and seized the island’s southern third, but its amphibious fleet was decimated by relentless U.S. and Japanese missile and submarine attacks and it couldn’t resupply its own forces. The capital, Taipei, was secure in Taiwanese hands, and Beijing was low on long-range ballistic missiles to counter America’s still-potent air and maritime power.”

  • However you feel about Congress’ move to give the IRS $80 billion, this photo-heavy piece by Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post is an interesting look behind the scenes at the astonishingly outdated workflow of the papercut capital of the world. “The Pipeline starts with a machine (‘SCAMPS’) that opens and sorts tax returns that arrived by mail,” Rampell writes. “The technology dates to the 1970s—though this particular machine was updated in the ’90s to make it Y2K-compliant. The company that once manufactured SCAMPS no longer exists; when the machine breaks down, an IRS employee fabricates replacement parts on-site. ‘Only one guy knows how to fix the thing,’ says John Desselle, a mailroom department manager. The newest part of the setup is this computer—it uses Windows XP, an operating system from 2001. … It’s astonishing that the system has survived this long, since it seems to be held together with duct tape and string. When I mentioned this to Desselle, the mailroom manager, he corrected me. ‘That’s too generous,’ he said. ‘It’s more like Scotch tape and string.’”

  • Pew Research finds that in recent years, more and more Americans view members of the opposing political party as more immoral, dishonest, and close-minded than other Americans—and are as likely to list their negative view of the opposing party as a reason for their political affiliation as they are to list the positive qualities of their own party. Meanwhile, nearly half of younger adults also wish for more political parties to choose from. “Negative sentiment—the belief that the opposing party’s policies are harmful to the country—remains a major factor in why Republicans and Democrats choose to affiliate with their party,” Pew analysts write. “In fact, nearly equal shares of Republicans cite the harm caused by Democratic policies (78%) and the positive impact of GOP policies (76%) as major reasons why they identify with their party. This also is the case for Democrats, with identical shares (68% each) citing these negative and positive reasons for their decision to affiliate with the Democratic Party.”

Our New Favorite Thing

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 Toeing the Company Line

  • David and Sarah fired up the microphones yesterday for an emergency Advisory Opinions episode about the FBI’s search of Trump’s Florida home on Monday. How would the decision to execute the warrant have been made? Is there another shoe to drop? Is Republicans’ skepticism of the Justice Department warranted?

  • For another angle on the search, David’s Tuesday French Press (🔒) provides a Q&A of what we know so far—and argues we should resist assumptions about what we don’t know. “Two things are true,” David writes. “First, no American is above the law, including presidents and former presidents. Second, we ought not prosecute presidents or former presidents absent overwhelming evidence of guilt under clearly established law.”

  • What’s up with GOP fundraising emails—and what do they have to do with hippos? Sarah explains in Tuesday’s edition of The Sweep (🔒), before taking a look at increased partisan hostility, the Wisconsin primary, and TV ad spending.

  • Manhattan Institute fellow Andy Smarick joined Jonah and Andrew on last night’s Dispatch Live to talk about that FBI raid, the health of our governmental institutions, and family policy—including the hidden costs of giving families cash.

  • For more on the Inflation Reduction Act—particularly the health care aspects of it—be sure to check out Tuesday’s Uphill. “While the expanded [Affordable Care Act] subsidies represent a continuation of the status quo,” Price writes, “the second major change—Medicare drug price negotiation—is more fundamental.”

  • On the site today, Harvest reports on the Wisconsin primary, where Tim Michels defeated Rebecca Kleefisch last night for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Donald Trump endorsed Michels and Mike Pence endorsed Kleefisch, “highlighting a widening rift in the Republican Party. Though the race remained close, it became clear within a couple of hours of polls closing that Michels, Trump’s pick, would win.”

  • Meanwhile, Audrey notes that, while Biden is notching up legislative victories, his approval rating is still near an all-time low. As such, Democrats are walking a tightrope over Biden’s 2024 chances—and whether he should even run.

  • Richard Goldberg paints an alarming picture of the latest round of negotiations over a new nuclear deal with Iran. A new deal would almost assuredly make new concessions to Iran and benefit Russia while doing little to delay the Islamic Republic’s development of a nuclear weapon. 

Let Us Know

Tennis star Serena Williams announced yesterday she will likely retire after the upcoming U.S. Open, wrapping up a career in which she won 23 Grand Slam titles and was ranked the top women’s singles player for more than 300 weeks.

Who do you consider to be the most dominant athlete of your lifetime?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.