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By ADAM WREN
Presented by Americans for Prosperity
With help from Ari Hawkins
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) has announced he’s running for Senate. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
STATE OF INTRIGUE — In a week full of Senate developments, with candidates announcing their plans in states like Ohio and Virginia, it was the otherwise sleepy political state of Indiana that found itself grabbing the most eyebrow-raising headlines.
Here, where even the official state bird is red, a potential Republican Senate primary matchup between Rep. Jim Banks — a staunch conservative who’s often focused on social issues — and former two-term Gov. Mitch Daniels has party operatives and officials bracing for an epic ideological battle.
For the most part, Indiana is a staid political state, so much so that one of the nation’s most talented Democrats, Pete Buttigieg, abandoned it for sunnier — and bluer — political climes in Michigan. Long gone are the days when former President Barack Obama improbably flipped the state blue in 2008, and when Republican and Democratic presidential candidates flocked here to find their running mates. Once known as the “mother of vice presidents,” in 10 of 13 elections spanning from 1868 to 1916, nominees of both parties selected a Hoosier running mate (only New York boasts more). As red as it is, the state has shown favor to more pragmatic Republicans like Daniels, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Sen. Todd Young, who worked with Democrats in Congress to pass the CHIPS Act.
“Indiana voters still, and hopefully always will, reward these attributes,” says Cam Savage, Young’s top political aide.
But in 2024, the state could become a hotbed of political drama, boasting all the intrigue of the single-class high school basketball tournaments that inspired the movie Hoosiers. Indiana will have everything! Open primary battles throughout the congressional delegation. A GOP state party chair who could be pulling double duty as Republican National Committee co-chair. And a home state presidential candidate, former Vice President Mike Pence, who is likely to force his own allies to choose sides.
Already this week, Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.) — the ex-veep’s brother — pulled his endorsement of Banks over what those close to him say were unwarranted attacks on Daniels by both the Club for Growth and Donald Trump Jr. If Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) joins the Senate primary, that could leave two open congressional primaries.
There’s still more potential intrigue. If Greg Pence leaves Congress to run for lieutenant governor alongside Suzanne Crouch, the current lieutenant governor who is running in a three-way open primary to replace term-limited Gov. Holcomb — as is widely gossiped about in Hoosier political circles — that could create yet another open House primary.
Throw into the mix a presidential bid from Mike Pence, forcing Hoosier Republicans to declare their loyalties, and the state becomes a veritable political powder keg. A December survey from Bellwether Research’s Christine Matthews, Daniels’ former pollster, found that the former vice president and Indiana governor trails both former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his home state.
Because of its position in the primary calendar, Indiana also has had a decisive impact in some presidential years: Trump vanquished Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, all but locking up the delegates he needed here in May 2016 to assure the presidential nomination. And it’s poised to possibly do it again if the GOP nomination is not decided in the early months of 2024.
“I think the size of the field will be determinative of that,” Kyle Hupfer, chair of the Indiana Republican Party and a candidate for co-chair of the Republican National Committee. “I could see a scenario where the nominee is known by the time they get to Indiana, and I could see one where it’s still an intense battle.”
Indiana Democrats, meanwhile, are already licking their chops after having not won a statewide office since 2012.
“In baseball, they have a bench-clearing brawl where everybody from both benches comes out and fights,” says Kip Tew, the former Democratic Party state chair who helped turn Indiana blue for Obama in 2008. “I think you’re gonna see a bench-clearing brawl in one party.”
Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Reach out with news, tips and ideas at [email protected]. Or contact tonight’s author at [email protected] or on Twitter at @adamwren.
A message from Americans for Prosperity:
Dear 118th Congress: How will you be defined? Like those before you, will you be known for partisanship and political theater? Or, will you help solve the economic crises of our time? For too long, conventional wisdom has been that divided government is a free pass for gridlock. You can be the Congress that bucks that trend and makes life more affordable. Americans need you to succeed. Will you? Learn more at www.Dear118Congress.com.
— Kaine launches Senate reelection bid, giving Dems a 2024 boost: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced today that he will seek a third Senate term next year, a boost for Democrats who face a tough map in 2024. The 2016 vice presidential nominee’s decision follows months of suspense and rumors of a potential retirement. Kaine was coy in the lead-up to his announcement, only telling reporters that he was taking the necessary steps to prepare and raising money. He currently has $3.9 million in cash on hand.
— Gallego set to launch Senate bid, teeing up potential Sinema challenge: Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego (R-Ariz.) is expected to launch his Senate bid next week, accelerating a potential clash with Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in a must-win state for Democrats in 2024. The progressive Gallego is set to announce his bid as soon as Monday, according to two people familiar with his plans. Gallego has been teasing a run for months and recently hired battle-tested campaign aides to assist his bid against Sinema and a Republican candidate in a purple battleground.
— Trump withdraws Florida lawsuit against New York attorney general: Trump’s attorneys today withdrew a lawsuit against New York Attorney General Tish James filed in Florida last November that sought to block her access to a Sunshine State-based trust that holds many of his business assets. There was no immediate comment from Trump’s attorneys on why they dropped his Florida lawsuit, but the federal judge overseeing the case recently ripped his claims as “both vexatious and frivolous.”
— George Santos appears to admit drag queen past in Wiki post: Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) has claimed that reports and videos documenting him performing in drag are both “outrageous” and “categorically false.” But nearly a dozen years ago, Santos himself appears to have confirmed that he participated in drag shows while he was a teenager living in Brazil. A Wikipedia page accessed by POLITICO shows a user named Anthony Devolder — a Santos alias — writing that he “startted [sp] his ‘stage’ life at age 17 as an gay night club [sp] DRAG QUEEN and with that won sevral [sp] GAY ‘BEAUTY PAGENTS [sp].’” As scrutiny of Santos has intensified, the newly elected congressman has also leaned on his ties with “a group of young Republicans with connections to white nationalists, conservative conspiracy theorists and far-right European parties.”
WAGNER’S WAR — The Biden Administration today designated the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group as a “significant transnational criminal organization” amid new sanctions, the latest sign that the White House sees the organization as a rising threat, Ari Hawkins writes for Nightly.
Founded in 2014, the Wagner Group comprises an estimated 10 percent of Russia’s military force, according to British intelligence. Moscow has increasingly relied on the mercenary group amid heavy losses in the war on Ukraine and the group’s leader, Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been raising funds in an effort to support the Russian war effort. On Thursday, the Wagner Group claimed to take control of Klishchiivka, a village near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. The report, which has not been confirmed, would be Moscow’s most significant victory after months of setbacks.
It’s a development that comes amid intrigue surrounding the news of a high-level defection from within the group. Andrey Medvedev, who says he commanded about 15 Russian fighters in Ukraine, illegally crossed the border into Norway and is currently seeking asylum, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and his lawyers confirmed this week.
Medvedev is now vowing to blow the whistle on Wagner’s brutality and role in the Russian war effort, which remains shrouded in secrecy. The mercenary alleges he witnessed extrajudicial killings of Russian soldiers and dissidents as well as suicide missions orchestrated by supervisors.
“I feared dying painfully very much,” Medvedev said in an interview with Gulagu.net explaining why he made his escape. “I don’t like what started to happen there … [it was like] the command was literally throwing us to the meat grinder.”
Medvedev said he deserted the group in November, after a supervisor continued to extend his contract without his consent and after witnessing the execution of a Russian dissident with a sledgehammer. Medvedev contacted Vladimir Osechkin, a Russian human rights activist, who provided assistance in his escape to Norway.
“The Wagner Group is able to carry out different geopolitical interests abroad, while having this layer of deniability because they say they are not affiliated with the Russian government. Of course, that is a lie,” Osechkin, who is on Russia’s wanted list for leaking videos of torture in prisons, told Nightly.
“It’s quietly a division of the Russian army. That’s who supplies their weaponry and where directions are taken from and where the surge in recruitment efforts are coming from,” he added.
The shadowy organization, which refers to a network of loosely connected entities, has faced international scrutiny for allegations of torture, rape and the executions of civilians in its operations in Syria, Libya and Mali.
The group has also escalated recruitment from Russian prisons, according to independent media reports from Russia. In addition, they’ve begun to circulate Serbian-language recruitment videos to pull from a new batch of potential fighters.
“This case really highlights the growing friction we’ve seen within the ranks of Wagner’s soldiers, because there is this influx of new recruits with little to no training, oftentimes with the stigma of being prisoners,” said Catrina Doxsee, who analyzes international and domestic terrorism for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There’s this growing sense as the war continues not to go Putin’s way that they are just being fed into the war machine as cannon fodder.”
A message from Americans for Prosperity:
The percentage of the benefits of tax breaks for capital gains, charitable deductions and small businesses that go to white taxpayers, according to a new Treasury analysis. At the same time, the study found, Hispanic people disproportionately benefit from a trio of refundable credits — the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and a subsidy for health insurance. Black families also disproportionately benefit from the EITC.
GOING (QUIETLY) GREEN — The term greenwashing — which refers to the practice of companies using marketing campaigns to convince audiences that their practices or products are environmentally conscious — is frequently used by environmental activists who criticize the ways in which companies promote environmental issues while avoiding effective action. In this piece for CFO Brew, Kristen Talman explores a new, more relevant term: greenhushing. Talman argues that these companies are now straying away from environmentally friendly PR campaigns, instead choosing to “underreport or avoid publicly disclosing their environmental efforts.” This decision, Talman writes, comes partly from an increasingly complicated ESG reporting process. A lack of results can also lead to increased criticism and present possible legal issues as the Securities and Exchange Commission’s new ESG task force attempts to crack down on related offenses.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. | Markus Schreiber/AP Photo
AMERICA IS BACK. SORT OF — For the American abroad, the signals are unmistakable — and dissonant, writes Matthew Kaminski.
The world is bullish on America and American power.
You read that right. This is the same world that looks on with glee or horror at the carnivalesque, occasionally violent politics on Capitol Hill. The same one that barely a year ago dismissed an America defeated in Afghanistan as a has-been and hailed the rise of a new authoritarian age led by China, with an assist from Vladimir Putin’s confident Russia.
Now some caveats. By the world, we’re referring to C-suite and political mastodons, and their assorted retinues, who spend $1,000 a night on a tiny bed in a drab two-star hotel to slosh around the icy streets of a Swiss town for a week of the World Economic Forum: the so-called Davos Man (and Woman). By bullish, we don’t mean unconditionally in love with America — when has that ever been the case? — but recognizing, sometimes begrudgingly, its deep strengths and appeal. And doing so in ways that were unimaginable recently and jarring to anyone marinated in the daily cycle of American news.
Here are the positives: America is deploying its hard power well. China looks weaker in the wake of a mismanaged Covid response. But some cause for concern remains: the Biden administration’s continued “buy American” approach to trade isn’t making them any new friends. And Europeans are unhappy with the Inflation Reduction Act, which pushes subsidies for American firms.
If America will be both strong again and more willing to go alone, “this is a big thing!” said François Heisbourg, the veteran and often critical French observer of American foreign policy in action. “This is very unlike the America of the past. It looks like this will be a century of disorder, and that’s pretty scary.”
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Congress at a Crossroads: Americans are facing a cost-of-living crisis. Divided government can’t be an excuse to do nothing. The 118th Congress can drive a policy agenda to make life more affordable by reining in spending to get inflation under control, cutting red tape to bring down energy costs, and expanding opportunities for fulfilling work. But to do that, Washington needs to rise above the political dysfunction to get things done. Americans can’t afford to wake up two years from now to a country on the same path. Learn how we can change course at www.Dear118Congress.com.
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