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Who or what isn’t facing the heat in Washington? How many different ways can we use the word “meltdown”?
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 81, appealed Tuesday for his colleagues’ confidence that he can do the job after two episodes he and his physicians chalk up to lightheadedness after a March concussion.
Why does it matter? Because Senate and House Republicans are likely headed toward a clash expected to fester beyond available government funding. A shutdown is a potential mess that McConnell and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) each vowed to avoid but will have to untangle. Not a good look for Republicans, if it occurs.
President Biden is feeling the heat, too. He donned a mask (again) for COVID-19 precautions Tuesday at the same time his reelection team launched a new ad campaign trying to distract from his chief vulnerability, according to polls: his advanced age.
LEADING THE DAY
© The Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at the Capitol on Tuesday.
The public learned more Tuesday about what’s not behind McConnell’s recent freezing episodes, according to physicians, as the senator tries to allay concerns among colleagues and to keep his leadership role.
What is still unclear is a conclusive medical diagnosis to explain why the senator experienced two such episodes since a fall and concussion in March. McConnell spoke from the floor Tuesday, saying “I assure you August was a busy month for me and my staff back in [Kentucky],” with a brief reference to “one particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention in the press over the past week” (The Hill).
The Capitol’s attending physician, Brian Monahan, said Tuesday that McConnell does not have a seizure disorder, did not suffer a stroke, transient ischemic attack, or motor disorder, “such as Parkinson’s disease” (The Hill). The Navy rear admiral said he relied on his own examination of the senator, a brain MRI, an electroencephalogram study and a neurological consultation with specialists (The New York Times). “There are no changes recommended in treatment protocols as you continue recovery from your March 2023 fall,” Monahan wrote in a statement.
Senate GOP leaders rallied around McConnell Tuesday and pledged to support him through the end of 2024, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports, but there are growing questions about whether McConnell would remain leader if Republicans take back the majority in the next election. Kentucky Republican colleague Rand Paul, an eye doctor, told reporters he wasn’t sure physicians had provided a “valid diagnosis” of his condition.
Meanwhile, Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 ranking member of the Senate GOP leadership, said that McConnell has his full support to continue serving as leader — something echoed by other GOP senators — but declined to speculate about McConnell’s future beyond the next election.
Also in the Senate, Sen. Tommy Tuberville‘s (R-Ala.) one-man hold on more than 300 military promotions is under fresh and increasing pressure as the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force called on him to relent Tuesday, with Democrats doing the same as the Senate returned to work. The Hill’s Al Weaver reports on the secretaries’ Washington Post op-ed, in which they called for an end to the hold on promotions.
“I served in uniform for 26 years in the United States Navy under six different presidents, three Republicans, three Democrats,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday. “We have never seen another situation like this. And it’s having a real impact on our service members, who demand the trust of all the American people. Tommy Tuberville has to stop this hold on our nominees moving forward.”
CNN’s Manu Raju spoke with Tuberville on Tuesday, asking the senator about the risk of holding up the confirmation of the country’s highest-ranking military officer — Gen. C.Q. Brown, who was nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and needs to be confirmed before Oct. 1, the expiration of the term of Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
“Milley’s going to have to work overtime then,” Tuberville said, calling on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to schedule a vote on the Brown nomination rather than use it as leverage. “That shows you they’re putting politics in front of readiness.”
▪ The Hill: Congressional Republicans ask Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for information about “disturbing” aviation, rail safety failures. (The New York Times last month published an extensive investigation describing the frequency of commercial aviation “near misses” on the ground and in the air.)
▪ Roll Call: Prosecutors handling the federal criminal case of embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) want to push back the date of a status conference by more than a month, noting both the government and Santos are continuing discussions on how to move forward.
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) on Tuesday subpoenaed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas along with three other DHS employees and two Secret Service staffers as the House panel expands its inquiry into whether the Justice Department improperly tipped off the protective agency while investigating Hunter Biden over alleged tax crimes (The Hill).
The president on Tuesday released his first 30-second campaign ad as part of a $25 million ad buy in swing states. The ad will debut on TV Thursday for the NFL prime-time game between the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs. Titled “Got to Work,” the ad outlines job creation and work to bring down inflation during Biden’s presidency; it will air on broadcast and cable TV in select cities, and the spot will run on national cable on MSNBC, CNN and daytime Fox News.
“They said millions would lose their jobs and the economy would collapse. But this president refused to let that happen,” the 30-second ad says, outlining Biden’s work to fix supply chains, fight corporate greed, pass laws to lower the cost of medicine, cut utility bills and make the U.S. more energy independent. “Today, inflation is down to 3 percent, unemployment — the lowest in decades.”
With a focus on a strong economy and a message that there’s more work to do, viewers see but don’t hear from Biden until the very end of the ad, when he approves the message. Notably absent except for a short glimpse: Vice President Harris (The Hill).
Watch the ad HERE.
As he focuses on his economic messaging, Biden is also stepping up his attacks on former President Trump, hitting him over his Oval Office record at a time when the two increasingly appear headed toward a White House rematch next fall. Biden has not named Trump while taking jabs at the last president, but as The Hill’s Alex Gangitano writes, the criticisms have been direct, personal and impossible to miss.
Harris, interviewed by The Associated Press en route on Wednesday to represent the U.S. at a summit in Indonesia, said Trump should face accountability for the Jan. 6 attack, along with others. “I spent the majority of my career as a prosecutor,” she said, speaking of her years as California’s attorney general. “I believe that people should be held accountable under the law. And when they break the law, there should be accountability.” The president and Harris have been reluctant to discuss the indictments of Trump and others tied to the 2020 election to avoid any appearance of political meddling.
Meanwhile in The Memo, The Hill’s Niall Stanage addresses one of the biggest issues in the 2024 campaign that’s not going away — Biden’s age, arguing that if anything, public concern about the topic seems to be growing sharper. A new NewsNation/DDHQ poll released Tuesday found a massive 82 percent of voters concerned about the president’s age. Last week, an AP/NORC poll found 77 percent of voters — including 69 percent of Democrats — believe Biden is too old to effectively serve through a second term. How big of a problem does his age pose to his reelection hopes?
Dig deeper: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is gearing up to return to the GOP presidential campaign trail after responding to Hurricane Idalia. The governor trails Trump by between 35 to 46 points, according to recent primary surveys (The Hill). … After a three-judge panel struck down Alabama’s new congressional map Tuesday, and after a previous rebuke in the Supreme Court (The Hill), the state’s Republican attorney general vows to appeal to the Supreme Court (CNN). … Enrique Tarrio, former leader of the Proud Boys right-wing extremist group, on Tuesday received a 22-year prison sentence for seditious conspiracy for plotting to stop the 2020 election certification on Jan. 6, 2021. Prosecutors had pushed for 33 years behind bars for Tarrio (The Hill). … Defendants in the far-reaching Fulton County election interference case involving Trump are set to be arraigned today, but several of the most high-profile defendants have waived their right to hear the charges against them and enter a plea in front of a judge (The Hill). … Some defendants are embracing a nascent courtroom strategy — pushing the blame on Trump (Politico). … In Texas, the impeachment battle against Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is front and center (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
© The Associated Press / Jacquelyn Martin | President Biden was masked at the White House on Tuesday after first lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19.
The last thing in the world Biden wants as Congress gets back to work and his political campaign tries to downplay his age is to call attention to COVID-19 in the West Wing.
Biden appeared at a White House event Tuesday wearing a precautionary mask because of exposure to first lady Jill Biden, who has mild symptoms of COVID-19 infection, has tested positive and is isolating at the Bidens’ beach house in Delaware. He then ditched the mask indoors while shaking the hand of an 81-year-old Vietnam veteran (The Associated Press).
Biden, who has twice this week tested negative for COVID-19, is planning to travel on Thursday to India for the Group of 20 summit, then fly to Vietnam for weekend meetings (Bloomberg News and The Hill).
Nominations roundup: Biden said Tuesday he’ll nominate Jacob “Jack” Lew to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, selecting a former Treasury secretary, former White House chief of staff and former director of the Office of Management and Budget with experience in academia, Wall Street and on Capitol Hill to be his diplomat in the Middle East’s sole democracy (CNN). … The president said he selected David Huitema, if confirmed, to be director of the Office of Government Ethics, an office that can play an important role during a presidential election. … Biden named Chris Fonzone to be assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, an office that at one point in its history after 9/11 attracted headlines and controversy with interpretations of presidential authority dealing with torture. Fonzone currently is the general counsel advising the intelligence community through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
🩺 Medicare spending is not the budget-busting five-alarm fire Washington once thought it would become. Why is a bit of a mystery, reports The New York Times. Analysts worry that the trend observed over a decade is an aberration.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will convene for a pro forma session on Friday at 1 p.m. Lawmakers return to Washington Sept. 11.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden, who often showcases support for organized labor, will speak at 2:15 p.m. at the White House about the finalization of a contract covering West Coast ports reached between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association.
The vice president is in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit (ABC News).
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen today will travel to New Delhi, India, to participate in the Group of 20 Summit.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1 p.m.
© The Associated Press / Matthias Schrader | Former Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksi Reznikov at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, in April.
Ukraine’s strongest supporters are rallying around President Volodymyr Zelensky following his firing of the country’s wartime defense minister after a series of corruption scandals have plagued the ministry. Kyiv’s backers say Zelensky’s ousting of Oleksi Reznikov is a positive sign that Ukraine is taking its commitment to anti-corruption seriously (The Hill). Russia is holding “farce” elections in occupied territories of Ukraine this week as Russia tightens its grip on land it seized in the early months of the war (USA Today).
▪ The Associated Press: Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Ukraine on an unannounced visit hours after an overnight Russian missile attack.
▪ The New York Times analysis: North Korea finds new leverage in the Ukraine war. Kim Jong-un is likely to seek missile and warhead technology in an expected visit to Russia, and he is already getting a public embrace he has long sought.
▪ The Hill: The U.S. warned North Korea against selling arms to Russia.
▪ The Associated Press: Cluster munition deaths in Ukraine pass Syria, fueling the rise of a weapon the world has tried to ban.
Cuba’s government uncovered a human trafficking ring aimed at recruiting Cubans to fight for Russia in Ukraine, the country’s Foreign Ministry said. While Cuba is a close ally of Russia, the Ministry stressed “it does not form part of the conflict in Ukraine” (BBC).
Bloomberg News: The G-20 summit in India is set to showcase Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to demonstrate that geopolitics goes beyond the U.S. and China.
© The Associated Press / Don Campbell, The Herald-Palladium via AP | Silver Beach on the shores of Lake Michigan on Tuesday.
And finally … If official summer must come to an end, no one toiling in the nation’s capital wants to compare this week’s heat wave to temperatures in Death Valley. Nonetheless, Washington, D.C., and part of the Mojave Desert in eastern California had a mind-melt on Tuesday afternoon.
Some swimming pools and splash parks in Washington are staying open until Sept. 21, well past Labor Day (NBCWashington). In Ohio and Pennsylvania Tuesday, schools closed or let students escape early because of extreme heat (NBC News). Baltimore’s Health Department issued a code red through Thursday (WBALTV).
The Washington Post: After a third straight day of record heat, Wednesday may be hotter. It could hit 100 degrees.
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