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

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) will remain on the ballot this November, a Republican source with knowledge of his decision tells TPM, a blow to the GOP’s hopes of holding onto a seat once viewed as safely Republican.

The move comes after a month of legal wrangling in which Collins, who’s under indictment for insider trading, sought to get off the ballot and give another Republican a chance to hold the seat for the party this fall.

But the deadline to remove himself had passed — and Collins’ change of heart and decision not to cooperate with local Republicans leaves them stuck with the indicted congressman as their candidate.

“At this point they’d have to accept and cooperate with any plans they’d put in place. They’ve chosen not to do so,” Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said in a Monday press conference. “I’m disappointed.”

With Collins on the ballot, Democrats have a serious shot at winning a conservative upstate New York district that President Trump carried by a 25-point margin just two years ago, the latest headache for the GOP. Republican strategists privately concede that their chances of hanging onto House control are slim.

The Buffalo News first reported Collins’ decision.

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Judge Brett Kavanaugh indicated Monday that he is willing to return to the Senate to testify about newly surfaced allegations that he sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a girl when he was in high school, even as he called the allegation “completely false.”

The new statement comes after Christine Blasey Ford came forward on Sunday to publicly accuse Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while they were in high school. The contents of a private letter she’d written about the event to her congresswoman had earlier leaked to the public. On Monday morning, her attorney said she’s be willing to testify to the Senate.

Kavanaugh was spotted at the White House Monday by CNN.

It remains to be seen whether Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans will agree to delay a planned Thursday vote to move Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate floor — or whether Kavanaugh and Ford will be brought back to testify in public in front of the committee. Committe Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has indicated the committee is full steam ahead, though some other Senate Republicans have begun to make noises that it should be delayed and that Ford and Kavanaugh should be brought back to testify publicly.

Here’s the full statement from Kavanaugh, released by the White House Monday morning:

“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone.

“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.

“I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”

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With 50 days from the midterm elections, the likelihood that Democrats flip the House has never been higher. And for the first time in the cycle, strategists in both parties are seriously contemplating the prospect that the Senate could change hands as well.

In interviews with a dozen House and Senate strategists of both parties granted anonymity to speak candidly, there has been a notable uptick in Democratic confidence and Republican concern about the battlefield for both sides of Congress in the last few weeks.

Top Republicans working on House races concede that holding the chamber is a steep uphill battle.

“The House is probably lost,” one GOP strategist involved in a number of House races told TPM, putting the odds of his party holding the chamber at “20 percent at best — and that’s being generous.”

We’re almost mathematically eliminated from the majority in the House already,” said another senior Republican strategist.

And while Democrats admit their path to a Senate majority remains a narrow one, some Republicans now acknowledge that it could indeed happen.

I still think we hold the Senate — but I’m not as sure,” said one GOP strategist. 

The further erosion of Republicans’ hopes in recent weeks come as much because their dire situation hasn’t improved in the past few months as anything — and time for a major shift their way is running out. But things have grown somewhat worse for them at both the macro level and in particular races in recent weeks, with President Trump dragging his party down and Democrats on offense on both health care and taxes.

Trump’s poll numbers have fallen further into toxic territory for his party in the past few weeks, with his approval ratings slipping back down into the high 30s in many recent polls — his worst standing since last spring. That’s led to a double-digit Democratic lead in the generic congressional ballot, above the 7 percent threshold most strategists believe is the rough line at which Democrats should take the House.

Trump’s downturn came in the wake of heavy coverage of the guilty plea from his former fixer, Michael Cohen, and the guilty verdict against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose decision Friday to plead guilty and cooperate with the FBI probe into Trump’s campaign won’t help any.

That comes after two major inflection points against Trump already occurred over the summer: His decision to separate migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border and his disastrous Vladimir Putin-hugging press conference in Helsinki.

There were two big polling points where there was a huge shift against us: Post-Helsinki and after separating children at the borders. Trump did that to us,” said one House GOP strategist. “If Trump goes any lower, we’re losing a lot more people.”

Dems In Command For House Control

Republicans concede that the House is likely lost — a view supported by a bevy of recent public and private polling, as well as the national parties’ and super-PACs’ spending decisions.

There are almost a dozen open GOP-held House seats that Republicans are essentially admitting with their spending decisions they can’t win, getting Democrats roughly half way to the 23 seats they need to retake House control.

And some recent House polling backs up the theory that suburban Republicans are in for an absolute bloodbath on election day.

Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN) have trailed badly in recent public polls, numbers that track internal surveys. GOP strategists privately concede that they’re unlikely to be able to bounce back in their Democratic-leaning districts, joining Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Rod Blum (R-IA) as incumbent Republicans that face daunting odds at returning to Congress. And they say the fact that the two battle-tested veterans appear cooked is a very bad sign for the map as a whole.

“When you have the guys who are doing everything right in trouble, that’s a really bad sign,” said one House Republican strategist.

More than a dozen other Republican incumbents are already essentially tied with their Democratic opponents in public and private polls — a tough place to be for incumbents with higher name recognition than their challengers. And while Trump’s standing has badly tarnished his party, Republicans’ major policies aren’t helping either. Democrats are running more ads on the GOP tax cuts than Republicans, a sign that it’s not the political winner GOP leaders had hoped for, and Democrats are heavily advertising on Republicans’ aborted attempts to repeal Obamacare.

The one thing Republicans have going for them right now is money, and they’ve looked to leverage that early to keep their hopes of holding onto Congress alive. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP’s main House super-PAC, was the first group to go on air in 21 House districts, and believes it’s helped stabilize floundering incumbents like Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY), Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), giving them a chance to bounce back and win.

The group has also unleashed some brutal ads highlighting Democrats’ personal problems, a move that could disqualify some new candidates. But while those attacks will likely save some seats, for every race Republican strategists think they’ve gotten a handle on two more keep popping up that have them breaking into a cold sweat.

Some district-by-district polling gives Republicans a bit more hope that they can hang onto particular seats they’re worried about. But the overall picture looks grim for the GOP.

The Senate Looks Swingable

Democrats still face a brutal Senate map that by all rights should lead to major GOP gains: They have 10 senators running for reelection in states Trump won to just one Republican in a state Trump lost, and four of those Democrats come from ruby-red territory. They need just about everything to go right to have a chance at winning the Senate. Right now, they think that just might happen — and Republicans are worried they might be right.

“I hope when the smoke clears, we’ll still have a majority in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters last week.

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) are all sailing to reelection in states Trump won. Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) remain on both parties’ radars (and on their ad spending lists) because of the heavily Republican nature of their states, but both hold comfortable leads over flawed GOP opponents in public and private polls.

The core Senate battlefield really comes down to seven states at this point, all of which are basically margin-of-error contests that could go either way. Democrats hope to pick up seats in Nevada, Arizona and Tennessee, while Republicans are seriously targeting North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana and Florida. If Democrats can sweep their pickup opportunities and lose just one incumbent, they’ll be in the majority.

Even six weeks ago, Republicans had remained supremely confident that wouldn’t happen. They were bullish on defeating Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), and skeptical they could lose Tennessee. But recent public and private polls indicate Donnelly and Nelson are clinging to narrow leads, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) is tied or slightly leading Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in most public and private surveys, and McCaskill is in dogfight with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) in a race Republicans had hoped they would have a lead in at this point.

Republicans are confident only about defeating Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who has trailed in every GOP poll this year. But Democrats think even she could still win, believing she trails by just a few points and has rallied a bit in recent weeks.

And while Republicans think Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) could still survive his reelection fight, strategists on both sides think he’s more likely than not to lose his race.

The biggest shifts in Senate races over the last six weeks or so have occurred in Arizona and Florida, with a perception shift in Indiana towards Democrats.

In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has gotten a decent post-primary bump, and Republicans think their attacks on Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) for her past left-wing activism before she moved to the center during her time in the House are paying dividends. Sinema had held a lead all campaign, but the race is essentially tied now.

In Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s (D) gubernatorial primary win gives Democrats a candidate on the ticket who will fire up progressives, African Americans and college students in a way Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) never could, and Nelson has opened up a tiny lead over Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) even though Scott has badly outspent him on the race. President Trump’s recent claim that 3,000 Puerto Ricans didn’t die in Hurricane Maria sure didn’t help either, as Scott has tried to make inroads with the state’s large and growing Boricua population.

One top Republican predicted wins in Arizona, Tennessee and North Dakota, but said, “That’s probably where it stops. Maybe we pick up Missouri or Indiana or all of Rick Scott’s hard work pays off, but I just don’t know.”

That would leave the GOP in control of the Senate by two seats. But Democrats could quite plausibly win two or even all three of those races at this point.

While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) remains favored over Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Republicans have recently been sounding the alarm bells about his race’s competitiveness. They privately concede their public worries may be more a tactical move to boost Cruz’s fundraising in case he does face a tough home stretch, but strategists in both parties think the race has a small chance to become seriously competitive in the race’s final weeks.

Democrats are also keeping an eye on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), whose ethics problems and a big-spending opponent have them a bit concerned.

Democrats are still the underdogs for Senate control, and the high number of essentially tied seats means their chances of losing ground may be as likely as them capturing the chamber. But in past years, most close races tend to break towards one party or the other on Election Day. That could mean Republicans end up netting a seat or two — but it could also give Democrats the narrowest of majorities in the Senate.

“We’ve held the pieces together through Labor Day. If we can hold the pieces together for another two months this could happen,” said one Senate Democratic strategist. “I still wouldn’t call us favorites, we’ve got to hit an inside straight here, but it’s entirely possible.”

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On the anniversary of 9/11, politicians usually refrain from any political activity. That didn’t quite happen this year.

The Republican National Committee and its chairwoman took a few swipes at Democrats even after being asked by the organizers of the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance to refrain from all public partisan activity on the day, breaking a norm that has been largely upheld by both parties since the terrorist attacks 17 years ago this week.

That includes RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, who tweeted the following:

That came just hours after McDaniel criticized MSNBC host Joe Scarborough for politicizing the day:

RNC Communications Director Ryan Mahoney had pledged to the 9/11 organization that the RNC would stop most of its political activities ahead of time — but had stopped short of promising a full cessation of political activity.

“For your awareness, the RNC will suspend the majority of our voter contact activities on 9/11 to honor the victims and those who fought to defend us since that tragic day.  Staff are highly encouraged to engage in community service efforts instead,” Mahoney said in an email to David Paine, the founder and chairman of the 9/11 Day organization, that Paine shared with TPM.

That response drew an emailed thanks from Paine, But after the fact, he wasn’t happy the RNC hadn’t fully abided by his group’s request.

We’re very disappointed that was the decision they made,” he said. To engage in campaign activities on 9/11 is completely inappropriate and unacceptable, any form of it.”

Paine said he wanted to give the RNC “a bit of latitude” because this was the first time the organization had specifically asked the party committees to join the effort. But he said that this was the first time any candidate or committee had ever responded to the organization’s request by promising to cease some but not all of its activities — and said every presidential candidate of both parties since the 9/11 attacks had honored the day by avoiding campaign activities.

You would think they would understand even 17 years later that we all stood up there after the attacks and we made a promise to the 911 families we’d never forget. Any time any party refuses to suspend their campaign activity for 24 hours to us is a violation of that promise, it’s a broken promise,” he said, worrying “that if one side doesn’t abide by it it’ll become increasingly hard” to keep the day free from overt politics.

By contrast, the Democratic National Committee remained fully radio silent on politics for the day on its social media accounts.

“The DNC was proud to commit to honoring 9/11 victims, their families, and the ordinary heroes whose fearless action saved countless lives that day.  This is the least we can do.  We’re thankful to 9/11 Day for their efforts and support,” said DNC spokeswoman Sabrina Singh.

McDaniel’s tweet wasn’t the only political attack the RNC levied on 9/11 this year. Though the organization’s main social media accounts did avoid overtly political messages on the day, its research department sent out a trio of political tweets, two going after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and a third knocking Democrats’ calls for single-payer healthcare.

Those could be attributed to a lower-level staffer not getting the memo, but it’s hard to explain away McDaniel’s tweet.

Mahoney said the RNC had lived up to its promised commitments to cease most of its political activity for the day, including hitting a pause on fundraising and having its 600 staff suspend voter contact efforts.

“The RNC did suspend the vast majority of our campaign activities on 9/11 to honor of the victims and those who sacrificed for all Americans in the 17 years since,” he told TPM.

And to be fair, while the DNC avoided public politics for the day the RNC wasn’t the only candidate or committee who kept up campaign activities on the 9/11 anniversary.

That includes Pelosi:

Other candidates in both parties also kept campaigning through the day, a shift from how most handled the anniversary in previous years.

President Trump himself appeared to wake up on the 9/11 anniversary with other things on his mind. Just minutes after tweeting out “Never forget,” Trump followed up with tweets attacking the Russian investigation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

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Republicans’ newly minted nominee to face Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) this fall recently defended gay conversion therapy, a deeply controversial practice of treating homosexuality and transgender identity as mental illnesses or addictions that can be cured.

Steve Negron, a GOP state lawmaker, won his party’s primary to face Kuster on Tuesday. Just weeks ago, he defended his vote in the state legislature against a bipartisan bill to ban gay conversion therapy for minors.

“I did not vote for that. I believe that’s something that, when you look at these young children that are trying to make a decision, and I remember when I was 15-16 I was confused, I had a lot of options in my life,” he said during a late August Facebook Live interview with WMUR, the state’s largest TV station.

“I think we need to be able to help them understand what it is, give them the right information, and let them get the treatment that they need to understand what the situation is,” Negron continued. “And I think the parents have a huge role in that as well.”

The comments were flagged to TPM by American Bridge, a Democratic research group.

Negron’s views run counter to a number of other Republicans in the state who recently worked in a bipartisan fashion to ban the practice of allowing parents to force gay and transgender youth to undergo conversion therapy. That practice is based on the discredited view that homosexuality is a mental illness. It is often run by religious leaders rather than licensed therapists, and can include everything from talk therapy to aversion therapy, physical punishment and electro-shock treatments.

The American Psychological Association has said the practice can lead to anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

That bill and another bill protecting transgender rights passed both Republican-controlled chambers of the New Hampshire legislature this year with bipartisan support. They were signed into law by the state’s Republican governor this past June, making New Hampshire the 14th state to ban gay conversion therapy for minors.

“Discrimination – in any form – is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die Spirit,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said in a statement on the pair of bills.

The district Negron is running in has swung back and forth between the parties in recent years, and Hillary Clinton carried it by less than a three-point margin in 2016. But Kuster is heavily favored to win reelection this fall in a year that’s shaping up to be a strong one for Democrats.

Negron was also asked about gay marriage in the interview. He said it was settled law, saying that while as a practicing Catholic he believed “marriage is very succinct, what it is, but for [LGBTQ] people that are in a relationship they should have all the rights and privileges as anybody else.”

Negron’s campaign didn’t respond to a call requesting comment.

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President Trump on Tuesday called on America to honor the fallen from 9/11 by fighting for freedom.

“We honor their sacrifice by pledging to never flinch in the face of evil and to do whatever it takes to keep America safe,” he intoned during a memorial ceremony at the crash site for Flight 93.

But in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks the president didn’t respond so selflessly, taking money from a program meant to help small businesses while lying about donating to help the attacks’ victims.

Trump, then a local business mogul with a major building just blocks from the World Trade Center, claimed he had made a $10,000 donation to the Twin Towers Fund, a charity set up by New York City to benefit the terrorists’ victims and their families.

But that wasn’t true, according to a review of documents conducted by New York City’s comptroller at the request of the New York Daily News in 2016.

Trump’s company also tapped into a program designed to help businesses in lower Manhattan stay afloat in the wake of the attacks, receiving $150,000 in state grants.r

Trump claimed he’d taken that money as repayment for allowing local businesses to operate out of his 40 Wall Street building near the crash site.

“It was probably a reimbursement for the fact that I allowed people, for many months, to stay in the building, use the building and store things in the building,” Trump told Time magazine in 2016.

“I was happy to do it, and to this day I am still being thanked for the many people I helped. The value of what I did was far greater than the money talked about, much of which was sent automatically to building owners in the area.”

Records from the Empire State Development Corporation, which administered the recovery program, show that Trump’s company asked for those funds for “rent loss,” “cleanup” and “repair” — not to recuperate money lost in helping people.

The Daily News reported on this as well in 2016.

Trump’s comments following the attacks have also drawn past scrutiny.

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Trump incorrectly claimed that his 40 Wall Street building was the tallest in the city following the fall of the twin towers — comments many took as inappropriate bragging.

“40 Wall street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually before the World Trade Center the tallest, and and then when they built the World Trade Center it became known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest And I just spoke to my people, and they said it’s the most unbelievable sight,” he said.

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is having a blast on the campaign trail.

The senator is up with a new ad in which he literally shoots a copy of a lawsuit supported by his opponent that would gut Obamacare’s preexisting conditions coverage, a spot that looks to reinforce his West Virginia bona fides while at the same time drawing a clear policy contrast on healthcare.

Manchin, who has comfortably led West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) in most polls, uses the spot to reprise a highly effective 2010 campaign spot where he shot a copy of the Cap & Trade bill to show his independence from Washington Democrats.

“I haven’t changed. I might be a few years older, but I’ll still take on anyone who’ll mess with West Virginia,” he says in the spot after highlighting his 2010 campaign ad.

Between then and now, however, Manchin went from being one of the few Democrats endorsed by the National Rifle Association to the leader of the bipartisan efforts to tighten background check laws — and a sworn enemy of the NRA, which is up with ads attacking him.

The ad looks to inoculate him against those attacks and help Manchin keep his lead in the race.

Rural Democrats once often featured guns in their ads to show they were different from the national party. That’s become rarer this cycle as the Democratic Party has leaned much harder into calls for gun control in the wake of numerous mass shootings. But in a state that President Trump won by a landslide and many voters including Democrats own guns, it could still be a winning move, helping protect Manchin from attacks over his support of incremental gun control legislation.

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After weeks of questions from TPM, House Republicans finally said on Friday that they have no plans to give back large donations from an ex-con former business partner of the notorious Jack Abramoff.

The National Republican Congressional Committee received a combined $50,000 in donations in June from Adam Kidan, who served 31 months in prison for fraud and conspiracy for his prominent role in one of Abramoff’s numerous illegal schemes. And they see nothing wrong with spending that cash to try to keep their majority.

“We were unaware of his history. We don’t condone his actions in any way. We believe he’s paid his debt to society and have no plans to refund at this time,” NRCC communications director Matt Gorman told TPM in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

That response comes weeks after the group ignored questions from TPM when it first reported on the donations late last month.

NRCC spokesmen had declined to respond to multiple calls and emails requesting comment on whether or not they planned to keep that money in late August.

When TPM asked NRCC chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) about the cash Friday morning at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, however, he promised an answer.

“I’ll follow up with you directly. I got here in 2011 so that’s a new name for me, but I’ll check it out and personally get back to you, I’ll have Matt or I get back to you,” Stivers responded.

He was true to his word.

The NRCC’s decision to keep the money in spite of Kidan’s shady past, which you can read about more here, stands in contrast to the two House Republican candidates facing tough reelection fights who’d received donations from Kidan — then decided to give that money to charity after media scrutiny.

Before he gave to the NRCC, Kidan had made sizable donations to seven GOP congressmen. The two congressmen in tough races, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Claudia Tenney (R-NY), subsequently said they’d give those donations to charity. The other five stayed mum, and didn’t respond to questions from TPM.

But the size of those donations paled in comparison to Kidan’s summer gift to the NRCC, which TPM first reported on in late August.

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The man in charge of keeping the House under GOP control refused to defend his party’s main super-PAC for using information from what should have been a confidential document to attack a Democratic candidate.

National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said Friday that the Congressional Leadership Fund’s use of information from Democrat and former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger’s private security clearance application shouldn’t be used for attack ads.

That probably deserves some examination,” he said during a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor after a reporter pointed out to him that the CLF had released an ad featuring the information it found in the documents even after the U.S. Post Office admitted that it should never have released that information.

The CLF is closely aligned with House Republican leaders including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who have appeared at events for the group.

The release of what should have been redacted documents for Spanberger set off a firestorm in Washington. Spanberger, who is running against Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), accused the group of improperly obtaining the document, which by law should not have been released.

The USPS publicly apologized for the document’s release, admitting it had screwed up, and said it would “request the return of the information which we mistakenly disclosed.”

Stivers initially argued that while the documents shouldn’t have been released, the CLF hadn’t done anything dishonest.

“I’m sure the Congressional Leadership Fund had no idea that they weren’t supposed to get it and from what I read in the paper this was done by a postal employee who just sent it, it was not nefarious or some sort of collusion… it was an accident,” he said. 

I wish that wouldn’t have happened, but I don’t think the CLF did anything wrong,” he continued. “CLF continues to use it but it’s now out in the press, it’s public information.

A reporter then pointed out that the CLF launched its attack ad even after the Post Office had asked for the document back.

“Just to clarify, the ad came out after the Postal Service said that they mistakenly put it out,” the reporter said.

“Oh, it came out after?” Stivers replied. “So that probably deserves some examination.”

After this story was initially published, the NRCC reached out to argue that Stivers wasn’t criticizing the CLF, and argued that he meant that comment to refer back to the Post Office, not the CLF.

“As I said clearly, CLF did nothing wrong. Spanberger tried to ascribe nefarious motives to the group, when, in fact, the USPS was the only one at fault. Again, the process that allowed the USPS to release this information needs to be examined,” Stivers said in that clarification statement.

This story and its headline were updated at 11:02 a.m. to include Stivers’ response and more of his initial remarks.

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