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Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

Two big spending super PACs have plunked down huge sums on TV ad reservations, they announced Monday morning, giving the latest signal about where top strategists see the most important House and Senate races this cycle.

The larger ad reservation came from the Senate Majority PAC, Senate Democrats’ main super PAC, which plunked down $80 million for ads across nine Senate battleground states. But the more telling information came from the Congressional Leadership Fund, House Republicans’ main super PAC, which added $15 million in ad reservations to a big earlier investment, bringing its total reservations for the cycle to $60 million.

The CLF’s new reservations are telling for where the committee sees highly vulnerable seats — and perhaps where it sees some that are past saving.

The committee has reserved $2 million to protect retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s (R-CA) Democratic-leaning seat, as well as $2.1 million for Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and $1 million for Rep. John Faso (R-NY). The money for Royce’s seat comes after his former staffer, former California Assemblywoman Young Kim (R), won her primary there last week, and shows the committee isn’t ready to give up on the expensive district.

Notably, the CLF didn’t make any reservations to protect retiring Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) Democratic-leaning seat, a sign the committee may be walking away from it. They also haven’t reserved any ads for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in a race where it’s still not clear which Democrat will emerge to face him as votes are still being counted, though they could obviously come in later if it appears the stronger Democrat emerges in that race.

The committee also beefed up earlier ad buys for Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Andy Barr (R-KY), Mike Bost (R-IL), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and in a Minnesota ad buy that could go for a number of districts.

“This additional media reservation, along with our House-focused national field program, will help CLF accomplish our mission of protecting the House Republican majority this fall,” CLF head Corry Bliss said in a statement.

The Senate Democratic ad reservations contain few surprises. The $80 million from the Senate Majority PAC will be divided up across six states where Democrats are on defense — Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia — and three where they’re aiming to pick up seats in Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee. A SMP spokesman refused to say exactly how that money will be divvied up, but promised each state would get at least $1 million.

“We look forward to building off our existing momentum with smart, tactical planning to ensure victory in November,” SMP President JB Poersch said in a statement.

That list leaves off two races Republicans have hoped would be competitive — reelection battles for Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) — as well as Texas, where Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) is taking on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in an uphill fight, and Mississippi, where recently appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) is facing hardline conservative Chris McDaniel and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D) in a race Democrats think could become competitive if Espy faces McDaniel in the post-November runoff.

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Hey, readers! I got a great question this week from one of our readers, Miles, that I’ve thought about a fair amount in recent months. Keep ’em coming, and thanks again for being Prime members!

The political thinkers I trust seem to be pushing Dems toward a 2018 campaign/message strategy focused on economic populism, healthcare, inequality, taxes, etc. That seems largely on point to me, but when Republicans push the MS-13/xenophobia narrative, Dems need a response that addresses it without turning everything into a racial/culture war and drown out the economic populism. What kind of messaging are you seeing from Dem candidates that does this effectively? The line I keep coming back to, that I’d love to see out there in every political ad, is the LBJ line, “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice that you’re picking his pocket.” In other words, something that calls out the GOP race baiting for what it is—a political ploy to distract from their primary policy goal of cutting taxes for the rich and taking away health care and other social safety net benefits from everyone else.

This is definitely something Republicans have already been doing in a number of races, with plenty more to come. So far, however, it hasn’t worked all that well for them.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, a one-time champion of immigration reform and big-tent Republicanism, was the first major candidate to attempt this playbook in the Trump era — a development I followed closely last year. Dire warnings about MS-13 and sanctuary cities, and a call to protect Confederate monuments, were central to his campaign in the hope that they would motivate GOP base voters who weren’t enamored with him. His strategy partly worked — Republican turnout was fairly strong in the election. But it didn’t matter in Democratic-leaning Virginia; he got crushed, losing by a nine-point margin as Democrats turned out in record numbers.

In that race, now-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) pushed back with ads of his own blasting Gillespie’s “fear mongering” while laying out his own credentials on crime.

Okay, that strategy worked in Democratic-trending Virginia. But what about in red states?

Well, Republicans have tried the same type of fear-mongering there as well. As they grew increasingly alarmed that now-Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) was going to win a special election this past spring in a largely rural, blue-collar district Trump had carried by 20 percentage points in 2016, Republicans gave up on their attempts to make the election a referendum on 2017’s December tax cut and pivoted to attacks like this one:

Lamb fired back, effectively highlighting his work as a prosecutor and time in the Marines.

It was enough to grind out a close win — and a major upset.

The common thread: The GOP attacks proved effective at firing up GOP base voters, but it wasn’t enough to pull off a victory.

Both Lamb and Northam had the track records to push back on those attacks: They were military veterans who could assert that they were tough on crime. They successfully turned Republicans’ fear-mongering against them by using it to fire up their own base voters, who are strongly turned off by Trump-style culture war attacks.

That’s not going to be true in every Democratic race. Democrats don’t have candidates with such strong resumes in every key race (though the party does have a bevy of vets running for office this time around). Candidates, especially in red states, will have to find their own ways of pushing back. But so far, GOP fear mongering hasn’t been enough to win the day.

 


 

Have a question about the 2018 midterms you’d like our senior political correspondent Cameron Joseph to answer? Send it our way through email, or post it in the Hive.

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The moderate Republicans leading the charge for a last-ditch agreement for young undocumented immigrants said GOP leaders have until Tuesday to find a deal that can placate the conference, or they’ll join forces with Democrats to force a floor vote on a bill along the lines of the DREAM Act.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), one of the moderates’ leaders in ongoing negotiations, told TPM Thursday afternoon that he thought the rough outlines of a pact were emerging. But Denham said the deal itself and actual legislative text needed to be finalized by Tuesday and a guaranteed time for a floor vote, or else they would join with Democrats to force a floor vote on a bipartisan fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

“We’ve set a deadline,” he told TPM. “We’re not pulling back. We have the signatures, we have the people ready to go down and sign, and we’ve been working with leadership to give them enough time to put a bill together and to bring this in front of our conference.”

Denham has helped lead the charge for a discharge petition that would force an open floor debate on how to reinstate DACA. That discharge petition has 215 supporters in the House, just three short of a majority that would force the vote, and Denham has promised he has the votes to get it there if necessary. Tuesday is the deadline to file the discharge petition for it to be counted in June and guarantee a House vote before the August recess.

That push has helped revive the slim possibility of a DACA fix in Congress this year — though even if it passes the House, getting it through the Senate and signed by Trump is still a tough slog, as the moderates acknowledge.

Denham told TPM on Thursday that he thought there was a good chance that his wing of the party and enough hardline conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus could come to an agreement on legislation now that the moderates had forced the issue, but that the devil remained in the details.

“What we’re all missing right now is seeing this written up in legislative text,” he said.

The details of what exactly that deal could entail are still shrouded in secrecy (and very much in flux, according to GOP members on all sides of the fight). But Denham said that conservatives had proposed “a special or a new visa” to allow DACA recipients to remain in the country for eight years while they go through the normal wait for citizenship. He said it was open to it in principle but wanted to see the actual legislative text.

Some of those conservatives disputed that detail and downplayed the threat of a discharge petition, even as they said they thought they were close on a deal.

“I’m not worried about the discharge petition. We’re as close as we’ve ever been, but we’re not there,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), one of the Freedom Caucus members negotiating the deal. “There’s no leverage there” for Denham, Labrador added dismissively, since, he said, President Trump wouldn’t sign into law any deal that Democrats and moderate Republicans could agree upon.

The back-and-forth comes after a conference-wide GOP meeting Thursday morning where broad principles were discussed, but no deal was floated by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The discharge petition has forced conservatives and House GOP leadership to the table. The question now is whether they can get a deal by Tuesday that can pass with mostly GOP support — and whether or not any deal the House can pass can also get approval in the Senate and by the White House. White House legislative director Marc Short was at the Thursday meeting, but in a listen-only capacity.

And Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a Freedom Caucus leader, said his group wasn’t open to a “unique, different path” for DACA recipients to citizenship.

One other possible solution under consideration: Combining a number of other visa programs already existing under law and expanding overall numbers of those to allow DREAMers to apply for citizenship.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), another backer of the discharge petition, told reporters that the details were still being worked out — but that it’s do or die time.

“We don’t have a deal. There have been very productive, real conversations on real issues but there’s no deal,” he said. “This has to be done soon.”

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House Republicans exited a Thursday meeting making happy noises about immigration but no closer to a deal to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as pressure for a discharge petition continued.

Moderate Republicans, many of them from tough swing districts, have been in open revolt against GOP leadership. They’re currently just three votes away from getting the 218 members needed to force a House vote on a bill to allow people who entered the U.S. illegally as children to stay in the country — and after a conference-wide meeting that yielded little the big question is whether three more members decide to cross their leaders and sign on. That could happen any day, though there’s no signal yet from the moderates leading the charge on the discharge petition over whether the huddle could hit pause on the push for three more signatures.

“We’re at the beginning of the family meeting. Family meeting, ‘don’t anybody say anything other than family meeting,'” Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), a discharge petition signee, told reporters as he exited the meeting, before repeating the phrase with an eye roll to indicate he was parroting a talking point from leaders.

Other moderate Republicans backing the discharge petition were less critical of leadership — Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) said he was “very encouraged by the meeting” — but no less insistent that something get done.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), one of many retiring GOP members who’ve signed the bill, told TPM that she’d heard “there’s pressure on our guys to not sign on,” but said that they were “almost there” in reaching critical mass on the discharge petition. She called in Spanish to another reporter that she felt better after the meeting than in previous days.

“It’s just a mystery still whether we’ll be able to get the signatures or they’ll bring back some proposals to the floor. But some of us are really frustrated to not be able to have a vote… we want a permanent legislative fix,” she continued. “It’s just like the last two minutes of a football game — it just goes on forever.”

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has been scrambling to stop the discharge petition from getting 218 signatures, said during a press conference that the GOP conference agreed on some general principles and “the next step is starting to put pen to paper.”

“We now are presenting people with an opportunity to get something on the floor,” he continued. “Our members are talking to each other … having very productive conversations with each other.”

But while he and other members of GOP leadership claimed a successful meeting, none could point to any concrete progress. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said “direct talks” were the meeting’s biggest achievement. That fact that could push the final few moderates over the line to back the discharge petition.

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Quinnipiac University released its latest national polling on Wednesday, and according to their latest numbers, control of the House is all but a pure tossup with five months until Election Day.

In their survey, 47 percent of voters said they want to see Democrats win control of the House, compared to 40 percent who wanted Republicans to win. Those numbers are in line with the six- to seven-point edge in the overall popular vote that Democrats will need to recapture House control.

A new CBS model predicted Democrats would barely capture House control if the election were held today, and other generic ballot polls have found Democrats leading by a bit less than the amount they would need to retake House control. RealClearPolitics’ average of recent polls has Democrats leading by 4.8 points on the generic ballot, just under where they’ll likely need to be on election night.

That’s why last night’s primary results could prove so pivotal come November. Democrats were at risk of getting left without candidates in four different California districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016, districts that are pivotal to their hopes of retaking the House. After spending millions of dollars to avoid that fate, it appears they’ve dodged a bullet in all four — though many votes remain uncounted.

Generic ballot polls go up and down, so it’s not a good idea to give too much weight to what they say at any one moment. They also aren’t great at capturing lopsided voter enthusiasm in favor of Democrats, a phenomenon that seems to exists across the country, which suggests that national polls could be lowballing how well Democrats will do in the fall. That would extend to California, where primary voter turnout is on pace to be almost 50 percent higher in 2018 compared to the last midterm in all-important Orange County.

But right now, it looks like we’re in for trench warfare in the fight for House control, with the outcomes of individual races playing outsized importance in what could be a very closely divided chamber. And that’s why the primary outcomes, giving Democrats a candidate in each of those individual California House races, were so important.

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Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) has won his crowded four-way primary to face Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in what could be a hotly contested race this fall.

Rosendale led the field with 34 percent of the vote to 29 percent for former judge Russell Fagg (R), with two other candidates hovering below 20 percent as of 1:38 a.m. EST. The Associated Press called the race.

Rosendale’s tight win comes in spite of a major edge in outside support in the race. He and Fagg both spent less than $1 million on the race, according to the latest candidate disclosures, but the big-spending conservative group Club for Growth dropped almost $2 million to help boost Rosendale. He also had endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY).

Tester has never topped 50 percent of the vote in the GOP-leaning state, which President Trump carried by 20 percentage points in 2016. And he has done little to ingratiate himself with Trump voters, picking fights with the White House more often than most other red-state Democrats — moves that Republicans think have made him newly vulnerable.

“Not only is Matt Rosendale a staunch fiscal conservative, he is a proven winner who stands an excellent chance of defeating liberal Sen. Jon Tester in the fall. It’s time for Sen. Tester to be held accountable for his tax-and-spend record, and Matt Rosendale is the man for the job,”Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement.

But Democrats say (and some Republicans admit) that Tester starts off as the favorite given his strong fundraising and folksy brand. Democrats also believe they can tar Rosendale, who spent most of his life in Maryland as a real estate developer before moving to Montana more than 15 years ago, as a carpetbagger.

The choice for Montanans this November couldn’t be more clear. Jon Tester is a third generation Montanan who still farms the land homesteaded by his grandparents,” Tester’s campaign said in a statement. “Matt Rosendale is an East Coast developer who looks out for himself. Maryland Matt uses Montana to boost the outside special interests that are funding his Senate campaign.”

 

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After months of worry that they might blow some big chances in California due to the state’s unusual primary system — and millions of dollars spent to try to avoid that nightmare scenario — House Democrats appear to have dodged a bullet with most primary votes counted.

Party strategists have been concerned about getting locked out in five different districts they hope to flip, where two Republicans could emerge in first and second place and get to face one another in the state’s all-party “jungle” primary. Based on election results as of Wednesday morning it appears likely, though not certain, that Democrats have avoided that disaster in all five districts.

Democrats’ biggest worry for months has been the race against Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), whose Russia-hugging and other unusual views have hurt him with GOP loyalists and gave another Republican an opportunity in the race. Their fears were well-founded, but based on results it appears Democrats will get a candidate through in that race.

With all precincts reporting, businessman Harley Rouda, national Democrats’ preferred candidate, clung to second place behind Rohrabacher with 17.3 percent of the vote, with scientist Hans Keirstead (D) behind him by just 73 votes (17.2 percent) and former Rohrabacher protege Scott Baugh nipping at their heels with 16.1 percent of the vote. A trio of Democrats who dropped out of the race when Baugh jumped in were pulling more than 5 percent of the vote, risking playing accidental spoilers in spite of their decisions to drop out for the good of the party.

Democrats are now optimistic about their chances of taking out Rohrabacher with Rouda, a candidate strategists would much rather see given questions about Keirstead’s baggage.

California is notoriously slow at counting votes, and this year is even slower, because for the first time any ballots postmarked by Election Day will be accepted. Los Angeles County also had a major snafu that left more than 118,000 registered voters off voting rosters, meaning there will be many more provisional ballots (a sliver of retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s district is in L.A. County). It could be days before final results are known in all of these key races, as many ballots remain uncounted — but if a Democrat can hold on in Rohrabacher’s district they’ll avoid the shutout scenario party leaders have been so fearful of.

Democrats also look like they won’t get shut out in the race against Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), whose ethics issues have made him potentially vulnerable. A Democrat and a Republican were in a close race with 95 percent of precincts reporting, but the Democrat had 16 percent of the vote to the Republican’s 13 percent.

Even better news for Democrats: They appear almost certain to get a candidate through in the Democratic-leaning seat held by retiring Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). While Republican Diane Harkey held a lead with 25 percent of the total vote, she was trailed by a trio of Democrats who had support in the teens — Mike Levin, Sara Jacobs and Doug Applegate — before the next-closest Republican, who was in the high single digits. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Levin held 17 percent of the vote.

And Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros, their parties’ respected favorites, were in first and second in the race to succeed Royce in another hotly contested race. Kim had 22 percent to 19 percent for Cisneros, 14 percent for Republican Phil Liberatore and 9 percent for Democrat Andy Thorburn, giving Democrats the matchup they were hoping for.

It also appears they’ll also get a Democrat through against Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), with Democrat Josh Harder edging out a Republican sitting in third place.

National Democrats also picked their candidates in three districts Hillary Clinton won two years ago. Non-profit executive Katie Hill led her race to face Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA), while law professor Katie Porter (D) held a slim lead in her primary to face Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA). Democrat TJ Cox was uncontested in his bid to face Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) in the fall.

In statewide contests, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and businessman John Cox (R) advanced to the general election for governor, all but guaranteeing Newsom will be California’s next governor in the heavily Democratic state. Cox easily bested former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) in the race, while Newsom cruised, as expected.

And Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) will face progressive challenger Kevin De Leon (D) in the general election, though her substantial lead in the first round of voting indicates the race won’t be competitive.

This post was last updated at 11:30 a.m. EST.

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A top staffer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has finished a distant third in his bid for a key swing House seat.

Pete D’Alessandro, who ran Sanders’ Iowa operation and a number of other states for the candidate, pulled just 16 percent of the primary vote on Tuesday, far behind newly minted nominee Cindy Axne’s 57 percent showing and trailing another Democrat in the contest. The Associated Press has called the race.

He’s one of the few Democratic candidates Sanders has gone all-in for this midterm cycle — and the latest to fall short in his bid for office, as many of Sanders’ endorsed candidates have lost their elections in the past few months.

Sanders held a February rally for D’Alessandro, cut a TV ad for him and helped him raise nearly half of his campaign funds in the race, but it wasn’t enough.

D’Alessandro told TPM on Monday that he wouldn’t have been competitive at all against Axne, who had most of the establishment support, and second-place finisher Eddie Mauro, who self-funded his campaign, without Sanders’ support. But it doesn’t appear that it ended up doing much for him in the end.

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Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) refused to back President Trump in 2016. Now his voters have exacted their revenge.

Roby was forced into a primary runoff election after failing to win 50 percent of the vote Tuesday night in her heavily Republican congressional district, and she appears to be in for a tough fight ahead of the July 17 runoff election.

Roby led former Rep. Bobby Bright with 39 percent to 29 percent, with three other GOP primary candidates, including Roy Moore’s former campaign manager, splitting the rest of the vote. The Associated Press called the race with 65 percent of precincts reporting at 10:36 p.m. EST.

Roby, a mainline conservative who first won her seat in 2010, had done little to buck her party leadership for most of her career. But she strongly condemned President Trump’s remarks bragging about sexual assault that surfaced during the 2016 campaign, calling them “unacceptable” and demanding he step aside to let running-mate Mike Pence take over at the top of the ticket, and refused to back down when pressure mounted from local GOP activists.

“I cannot look my children in the eye and justify a vote for a man who promotes and boasts about sexually assaulting women,” she said at the time.

That led to a last-minute, right-wing write-in challenge in 2016 that peeled away a good chunk of her support and held her to under 50 percent in her victory that year — a warning sign of things to come for the lawmaker.

Roby has never apologized for those remarks, but she has worked assiduously to make peace with Trump and win back her district’s primary voters. She worked closely with the White House on expanding the child tax credit and to repeal Obamacare, has popped up on numerous occasions at White House ceremonies, and her first campaign ad talked up building Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.

Roby clearly has a problem with Trump supporters in the district. But she may have lucked out with her opponent. Bright is a former Democrat who voted for President Obama and backed Nancy Pelosi for House speaker in his one term in Congress. The former Montgomery mayor is well-liked in his home town and is wealthy enough to self-fund, but his previous support for Democrats toxic in the Alabama district may prove to be even more problematic than her earlier criticism of Trump.

The runoff sets up a rematch — Roby defeated Bright in a less heavily Republican district in 2010 to secure her seat in Congress.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has canceled the Senate’s normal month-long August recess, with a promise to push through the confirmations of more of President Trump’s nominees.

“Due to the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled.  Senators should expect to remain in session in August to pass legislation, including appropriations bills, and to make additional progress on the president’s nominees,” McConnell said in a statement.

The move is a win-win for McConnell and most Senate Republicans. First, working through most of August (they’ll still head home for the first week) means they can ram through a number of President Trump’s nominations — specifically for open judicial slots, many of which they’d kept open for the final years of President Obama’s time in office.

Second, it means that none of the senators up for reelection will be able to be home campaigning during that time — a fact that disproportionately benefits Republicans. There are 10 Senate Democrats up for reelection from states Trump won, including five in deep-red territory, as well as Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who face tough reelection fights. Only Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) will suffer for being forced to stay in Washington for the sweaty month.

Many of those vulnerable Democrats cagily refused to admit any frustration that they’d be stuck doing their day job — Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) said he’s “happy to be wherever I need to be to do what’s right for Indiana,” while Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) said “there’s a lot of work to do.”

But others were more candid — Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) called it a “game.”

“The question is, can Republicans do anything? I don’t think they’re going to make any meaningful progress if they cancel a summer recess,” he said.

But it does handicap Democrats’ ability to campaign, while allowing Republicans to continue to ram through judges at a historically rapid pace.

McConnell has threatened a reduction in August recess before to get Democrats to relent to a faster confirmation of judges. But he said he wasn’t bluffing this time — and even if Democrats acquiesced he planned to keep the Senate around for most of the month.

“I’m all for cooperation but if you look at the amount of work we have to do it’s inconceivable for me we can’t use these weeks even with cooperation,” he said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “We have enough work to do for the American people that we should be here through these weeks.”

Not every Republican was thrilled about the decision.

“I hope we have a purpose,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters, after sarcastically saying he couldn’t “think of a better place to be.”

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