POLITICO Playbook: What to watch for in tonight’s special elections

ALL EYES ON OHIO — POLITICO’s senior campaigns and elections editor Steve Shepard writes in about today’s main event … Two special election primaries for Congress in Ohio today offer windows into each party a little more than six months into President JOE BIDEN’s tenure — and DONALD TRUMP’s post-presidency.

First, the Democrats in the 11th District: NINA TURNER began the race to replace now-HUD Secretary MARCIA FUDGE with a big lead, but SHONTEL BROWN, a local establishment figure, is closing strong. The race boils down to two members of the party’s most loyal demographic, Black women, who offer competing versions of what it means to represent a majority-minority, solid-blue Democratic district: Turner’s combative, pro-Bernie drive to the left, or Brown’s more conventional, work-with-Biden approach.

Farther south, Republicans are choosing a new member in the 15th District. Trump made his pick months ago: MIKE CAREY, a coal lobbyist who’s never run before. But a week after the Trump-endorsed SUSAN WRIGHT went down in a Republican-vs.-Republican runoff in Texas, the former president’s sway within the GOP is firmly on the line. There are 10 other candidates, including three sitting state lawmakers (one of whom, state Rep. JEFF LARE, is backed by the former incumbent, STEVE STIVERS).

Polls close at 7:30 p.m. Since these are primaries, the winners won’t take office until after the special elections in November. But questions about where the two parties are headed — Democrats’ driving force under Biden, and Trump’s power over the GOP — will be answered tonight.

THE COVERAGE: “2 House Races in Ohio Will Test Democratic Divisions and Trump’s Sway,” NYT … “Nina Turner Leans Into Establishment Criticism: ‘I Want Them To Be Uncomfortable,’” HuffPost … “Donald Trump’s ‘golden ticket’ is on trial in Ohio, where a special election is again testing his political prowess,” Insider … “Special election ignites battle over who is ‘welcome’ in Black caucus,” POLITICO … “Ohio’s 11th Congressional District race turns negative in final days as outside money ramps up,” Columbus Dispatch

INFRASTRUCTURE UPDATE — For a while now the hottest ticket in town has been an invitation to Sen. JOE MANCHIN’s (D-W.Va.) houseboat. He’s entertained top White House officials like RON KLAIN, but mostly he’s used the boat to bring together bipartisan groups of senators.

But this week Manchin’s ongoing attempts to lubricate the gears of Congress with bonhomie aboard Almost Heaven, as the vessel is called, took a frightening turn when a vaccinated Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), one of his Saturday guests, tested positive for Covid-19.

Manchin, who showed up in the Senate on Monday with a bandage on his forehead — an accident on the boat while he was fixing something, he explained to reporters — was peppered with questions about whether the last Almost Heaven soiree was a delta superspreader event. So far it’s only Graham who has been affected. Manchin said everyone was vaccinated and that he personally has tested negative. But Graham is now quarantining for ten days, and his ability to provide a vote for the bipartisan bill is in doubt.

It’s just another reminder that the longer this process goes on, the more the entire Biden legislative agenda is threatened.

“Let’s start voting on amendments” — that was Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER on Monday afternoon on the Senate floor, and indeed the Senate considered three amendments. There’s one more scheduled at 11:45 a.m. today. But the process is grindingly slow. There’s no chance of finishing by Thursday as Manchin, Sen. SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine) and some White House officials predicted Sunday. Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL seems intent on drawing out the process. Schumer so far has remained patient.

“He’s betting it won’t take long for senators to get so tired, and miss enough events back home, to dramatically speed up the Senate’s endgame on the infrastructure bill,” Burgess Everett reports.

Sen. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.), who is waiting for the BIF drama to wrap up, has also been surprisingly patient. “My hope and expectation is that this hard infrastructure bipartisan bill will get done by the end of the week, and then we will immediately turn to what we call the reconciliation bill,” he told CNN’s WOLF BLITZER on Monday.

Democrats are expecting some divisive votes in the days ahead, and McConnell has warned against any “artificial timetable.” Bottom line: We are looking at weeks, not days, of August work before BIF and the budget resolution are disposed of by the Senate.

But if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic this may all come together, Sen. JOHN THUNE (R-S.D.) articulated to reporters Monday why more Republicans may be leaning toward cooperation on infrastructure: “If you’re a Republican, you want to prove that you’re not just here to completely block and stop the entire agenda if you find areas that are good for the country.”

Tanya Snyder breaks down what’s in the bill — and why progressives are so bummed.

Good Tuesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Sen. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.) is introducing a bill today to address the government response to directed energy attacks, aka “Havana Syndrome.” Shaheen has been a go-to senator on this issue for Americans affected by the mysterious and frightening condition. Her legislation, co-sponsored by Collins, would attempt to improve coordination across the government and provide federal money “to support response efforts and improve access to care for affected U.S. personnel and their families.”

BIDEN’S TUESDAY:

— 10:15 a.m.: Biden and VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive the President’s Daily Brief.

— 1 p.m.: Biden and Harris will meet with Latino community leaders to discuss their economic agenda, immigration reform, voting rights and the second anniversary of the El Paso mass shooting.

— 3:45 p.m.: Biden will speak from the East Room about the vaccination effort domestically and abroad.

Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at 1:30 p.m.

THE SENATE is in, with a recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. for weekly conference meetings. The HELP Committee will hold a markup of several bills and to vote on several nominations, including CATHERINE LHAMON as assistant Education secretary for civil rights.

THE HOUSE will meet at 10 a.m. in a pro forma session.

THE WHITE HOUSE

EVICTION BLAME GAME — “The White House calls on states to prevent a crisis after the federal eviction moratorium expired,” by NYT’s Glenn Thrush and Matthew Goldstein: “On Monday, administration officials made it clear they could only do so much, blaming states for the fact that the $47 billion Emergency Rental Assistance program intended to avoid such a crisis has disbursed only $3 billion — or just 7 percent of the total. … But many Democrats, including Speaker NANCY PELOSI, have called on Mr. Biden to reconsider his decision not to act unilaterally, and have expressed anger at the White House for giving them only two days to ram through legislation to extend the freeze.”

“Liberals erupt in fury at White House over end of eviction moratorium,” by WaPo’s Sean Sullivan, Marianna Sotomayor and Tyler Pager

WHAT HARRIS IS READING — “Children stopped at border likely hit record-high in July,” by AP’s Elliot Spagat: “The number of children traveling alone who were picked up at the Mexican border by U.S. immigration authorities likely hit an all-time high in July, and the number of people who came in families likely reached its second-highest total on record, a U.S. official said Monday, citing preliminary government figures.

“The sharp increases from June were striking because crossings usually slow during stifling — and sometimes fatal — summer heat. U.S. authorities likely picked up more than 19,000 unaccompanied children in July, exceeding the previous high of 18,877 in March, according to DAVID SHAHOULIAN, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security. The June total was 15,253.”

“CDC extends policy that allows migrants to be expelled over COVID concerns,” USA Today: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that Title 42 ‘shall remain in effect’ … Earlier Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant rights organizations resumed a lawsuit challenging Title 42. The lawsuit came after months of negotiations to end the policy ‘reached an impasse,’ according to the lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in D.C.”

MEANWHILE — “Biden taps lawyer to help rescind Trump immigration policy,” by Anita Kumar: “LUCAS GUTTENTAG will serve as senior counselor on immigraton policy and report to the Department of Justice’s Deputy Attorney General LISA MONACO. … Biden had planned since the presidential transition to hire a high-ranking official at the Justice Department to focus specifically on immigration policies. But the hiring has taken six months and immigration activists have been frustrated by the delay, eager to begin the dismantling of one of the areas Trump focused on most intently during his four years in office.”

JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH

TWO MORE TRAGIC DEATHS — “Officer who responded to January 6 attack is third to die by suicide,” by CNN’s Whitney Wild and Paul LeBlanc: “A DC police officer who responded to the US Capitol insurrection has died by suicide, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. GUNTHER HASHIDA joined the Metropolitan Police Department in 2003 and responded to the Capitol on January 6, Metzger said. This is the third known suicide of an officer who responded to the Capitol during the attack, and it is the second known suicide by a DC officer specifically.”

“Fourth officer who responded to the U.S. Capitol on January 6 dies by suicide,” WUSA9: “Officer KYLE DEFREYTAG served in the city’s 5th District and was at the Capitol to enforce curfew violations, Metropolitan Police confirmed. Chief ROBERT J. CONTEE III sent a message to the police force notifying personnel of DeFreytag’s death last month.”

FANNING THE CONSPIRACY FLAMES — “As many Republicans try to rewrite history of Jan. 6 attack, Sen. Ron Johnson suggests FBI knew more than it has said,” by WaPo’s Mike DeBonis: “The comments from Sen. RON JOHNSON (R-Wis.), made after a political event at a Wauwatosa, Wis., hotel, reflect the spread of an unfounded claim that has traveled from far-right commentators to TUCKER CARLSON’s Fox News show to the highest levels of the GOP.

“‘I don’t say this publicly, but are you watching what’s happening in Michigan?’ Johnson said while discussing the Capitol attack with some of the event’s attendees. ‘… So you think the FBI had fully infiltrated the militias in Michigan, but they don’t know squat about what was happening on January 6th or what was happening with these groups? I’d say there is way more to the story.’”

POLICY CORNER

A WORD FROM THE TREASURY — “Janet Yellen Announces Measures to Avoid Breaching Debt Ceiling,” by WSJ’s Paul Kiernan

PANDEMIC

CHINA AND THE LAB LEAK THEORY — Former DNI JOHN RATCLIFFE, in a new Fox News op-ed, is calling on the White House to declassify documents that support his “informed opinion … that the [Covid] lab leak theory isn’t just a ‘possibility,’ at the very least it is more like a probability, if not very close to a certainty.” He argues that China should be barred from hosting the 2022 Olympics over its obstruction of investigations into the origin of the virus outbreak.

ON ITS ORIGINS — “New congressional report says covid-19 likely emerged in Wuhan months earlier than originally thought,” by WaPo columnist Josh Rogin

CRUEL SUMMER INDEED — “Americans Suffer Pandemic Whiplash as Leaders Struggle With Changing Virus,” by NYT’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael Shear: “Vaccines remain effective and highly protective against hospitalization and death, even among those infected with the extremely infectious Delta variant. Mask-wearing prevents transmission of the virus to those most at risk.

“But the crisis Biden once thought he had under control is changing shape faster than the country can adapt. An evolving virus, new scientific discoveries, deep ideological divides and 18 months of ever-changing pandemic messaging have left Americans skeptical of public health advice. So although the White House had promised a ‘summer of joy,’ the nation is instead caught in a summer of confusion.”

WITH DELTA BEARING DOWN — “U.S. hits 70 percent vaccination rate — a month late, amid a surge,” by AP’s Mike Catalini: “The U.S. on Monday finally reached Biden’s goal of getting at least one COVID-19 shot into 70 percent of American adults — a month late and amid a fierce surge by the delta variant that is swamping hospitals and leading to new mask rules and mandatory vaccinations around the country.

“In a major retreat in the Deep South, Louisiana ordered nearly everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear masks again in all indoor public settings, including schools and colleges. And other cities and states likewise moved to reinstate precautions to counter a crisis blamed on the fast-spreading variant and stubborn resistance to getting the vaccine.”

PERSPECTIVE — “America’s Next Pandemic Failure Is Starting Right Now,” by The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer: “Looming over this funding fight is a broader question: What reforms, if any, will the federal government make to its public-health agencies after their significant failures over the past 16 months? After 2,977 people were murdered on September 11, 2001, Congress started a war and revised the country’s approach to policing, surveillance, and national security within six weeks; it opened a new federal agency and commissioned a bipartisan fact-finding panel within 14 months.

“Although the wisdom of some of those decisions is debatable, COVID-19 has now killed more than 600,000 Americans. The federal government’s failures have been, in some ways, just as stark as 20 years ago: The CDC, for instance, did not know how many people were sick throughout the early months of the pandemic. Yet Congress has demonstrated little haste so far in determining what went wrong and how the country’s public-health institutions can prevent it from happening again.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

ABOUT ANDREW — “Cuomo Grilled for 11 Hours in Sexual Harassment Inquiry,” by NYT’s Luis Ferré-Sadurní, J. David Goodman and William Rashbaum: “The videotaped interview lasted about 11 hours, and Mr. Cuomo faced a barrage of questions under oath about his treatment of women, posed by the two lead investigators hired by the state attorney general’s office: JOON H. KIM, the former prosecutor, and ANNE L. CLARK, an employment lawyer.

“There were tense moments: At more than one point during the lengthy session, Mr. Cuomo confronted Mr. Kim, challenging his fairness and independence as a result of his past investigations into the governor and his allies. [But] few details have emerged from the meeting, which took place on Saturday, July 17.”

HOT ON THE LEFT — “NLRB officer says Amazon violated U.S. labor law,” The Verge: “The officer recommends a new election in Amazon’s Bessemer union drive.”

LOOK WHO’S BACK? — “Ex-Gov. Blagojevich files federal lawsuit challenging state law precluding him from running again,” Chicago Tribune

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Jeremy Marcus is joining Rep. Doris Matsui’s (D-Calif.) office as chief of staff. He previously was deputy chief of staff for Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.).

Michael Maitland will join McCarter & English’s government affairs practice in D.C. as an adviser. He most recently was chief of staff for Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.).

Edelman’s building out its international operations. The massive PR firm has acquired D.C.-based strategic consultancy Basilinna, which focuses on the China and Middle East markets, and is launching Edelman Global Advisory, a public affairs advisory firm. Former Basilinna CEO Deborah Lehr will head EGA, and the company’s pumping in $10 million to expand it with new hires and new markets.

MEDIA MOVE — Bruce Collins, longtime general counsel and corporate VP at C-SPAN, retired Monday after almost 40 years with the network. He played a prominent role in First Amendment advocacy issues and helped achieve greater televised access to/coverage of federal courtrooms.

WHITE HOUSE ARRIVAL LOUNGE — Christina Ciocca Eller is now assistant director of evidence and policy at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. She previously was on the faculty of Harvard University.

TRANSITIONS — Nelly Decker is starting as comms director for the House Oversight Dems. She previously was press secretary for Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and is a Marc Veasey alum. … Chitra Ragavan is joining the blockchain analytics firm Elementus as chief strategy officer. She previously was VP of public affairs at the Chamber of Digital Commerce. … Patrick Buhr is starting a Ph.D. in political science at Vanderbilt, consulting regularly with the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. He previously handled the committee as a legislative assistant for Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.).

TRUMP ALUMNI — Laura Cunliffe will be executive director of Family Watch International. She is the former chief of staff to the U.S. Mission to the UN and a Trump OMB and White House alum.

WEDDING — Justin Michael Edwards, a policy and program associate with Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, and Ashley Sexton Edwards, a senior research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board, got married July 18 in The Colony, Texas. They met while on a trip to China with Howard University the summer of 2016. Pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) … James Wegmann of Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-Neb.) office … Michael Frazier … Kaiser Health News’ Rachana Pradhan … FT’s Emily GoldbergTom Qualtere … ABC’s Ben Siegel and John ParkinsonScott ParkinsonRick Murphy of Forbes Tate Partners … Addison Smith and Bernadette Meehan of the Obama Foundation … Claire OlszewskiJeff Dressler of SoftBank … Ann Elise DavisonTom Freedman … POLITICO’s Clarissa Matthews and Geof Koss … CNN’s Joe RuizMatt ComptonKen NahigianJoe McCarthy … former Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) … Jordan BurkeMax SamisErikka KnutiGraham MacGillivray Andrew CraftDmitri MehlhornAlberto PimientaRoger KodatJessica EnnisMatthew FoldiAaron LewisRobin Joy Robinson Brian MorgensternJoe McLean Jacob Weisberg of Pushkin Industries … Josh Cherwin Kelly Ganzberger Jennifer Swanson Josh Greenman … political comedian Tim Young Nick Juliano … City Journal’s Brian Anderson

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