Biden tried an ice-then-court strategy with House Dems. It worked.

For 11 days this spring, President Joe Biden iced out his Democratic allies as he negotiated with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over raising the nation’s debt limit.

With Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries at the table, Biden was convinced the talks had grown too unwieldy. The White House wanted to narrow the conversation, leaving other Democrats to steam.

Progressives openly criticized Biden. Allies, such as Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford, vented that the White House needed to do more to communicate about Republican demands. Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal warned of backlash in the streets if Biden gave in to Republicans.

After the deal was announced Saturday night, his team went into overdrive to ensure that the frustration they’d sparked from within their party didn’t metastasize into a full blown revolt. Administration officials placed over 100 one-on-one calls with House Democrats. They held wonky virtual meetings over the negotiation details and took pointed questions on the policy they’d agreed to.

The ice-then-court strategy worked. On Wednesday evening, 165 House Democratic voted for the Biden-McCarthy bill, more than the 149 House Republicans who supported the measure. Many of those Democrats who had voiced opposition to the bill praised the White House for negotiating what they still consider to be a terrible piece of legislation and, ultimately, supported it.

It was a major victory for Biden, not just preventing an economic calamity that could have come with a debt ceiling breach but proving — five months into a divided government — that the White House and House Democrats have persevered through what seemed, at times, like a rocky relationship.

“It's the most incredible thing,” Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said of the president, a close ally who Biden explicitly asked to help sell the bill in one of their regular conservations throughout the process. “I don't know if he's that lucky or that skillful. Whatever it is, it's damn sure working.”

Not all Democrats left the process happy. Progressives, in particular, remained upset that the president backtracked on his pledge to not negotiate around the debt ceiling at all. But when it became clear that Republicans would not support a “clean” lift of the debt ceiling, Democrats said they felt a collective sense of being in the trenches.

That gave Biden some space to engage in negotiations. Helping matters was that the end deal exceeded expectations that the House Republicans had set after having successfully passed their own, far more conservative version of a debt ceiling hike in late April.

“We were operating with hostage takers who were attempting to take no prisoners. And I think Joe Biden, if I might say, did a miraculous and important job of holding off the tsunami,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who supported the bill. “We were in a bloody war. We were apt to get mutilated. We didn't. We came out, we’re standing.”

The White House’s Hill outreach kicked off shortly after the deal with McCarthy was announced Saturday evening. Several White House officials — including chief of staff Jeff Zients, top adviser Steve Ricchetti, Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young, and legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell, among others — spent the bulk of their Memorial Day weekend on the phone with individual House Democrats. That was followed by six hours of policy-oriented virtual meetings with lawmakers and in-person appearances at caucus meetings by senior officials, according to White House officials granted anonymity to describe the behind-the-scenes blitz.

Once-skeptical Democrats took particular solace in the inclusion of Young, a former House staffer beloved throughout the caucus, in the negotiating room. Not part of the tight circle of longtime Biden advisers, she was viewed as both a credible messenger and trusted negotiator. Jeffries told reporters that she received a standing ovation during Wednesday’s caucus meeting even before she started to speak.

But it wasn’t just the quality of the messenger that mattered to House Democrats. It was the extensiveness of the briefings.

“The White House did something very smart: They spent two days with members, virtually, three hours a day for two days explaining, answering questions, responding,” Clyburn said, adding that he hadn’t seen that level of engagement on an issue since he was elected to Congress in 1993. “I think that's what made the difference.”

Jeffries himself praised the White House’s communication with the Hill and White House officials say they kept in touch with leadership through the process. The full-bore outreach was needed after House Democrats showed initial displeasure at not being briefed about the deal immediately after it was announced Saturday. The White House also knew that Democrats would be called upon to deliver at least some votes for final passage in the House and couldn’t risk further revolt.

“I’ve been through about seven hours of briefings,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee. “We’ve had a pretty good idea of what’s in the bill.”

The debt ceiling battle was the first main test of how Biden would operate as president in a divided government. It came amid a bumpy transition from Democratic to Republican control — along with the handoff of power from longtime Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Jeffries. Many House Democrats have privately expressed frustration that the White House has not been more communicative about its priorities or taken clearer stances on controversial GOP bills. There is a feeling among House Democrats that the White House pays more attention to the Senate, which remains in Democratic hands and is responsible for approving its nominees.

While the experience over the debt bill mended some of those worries, there is still plenty of frustration.

Horsford went public with his criticism of how the White House handled the bill last week — and reiterated his reproach during a virtual meeting with top White House aides on Sunday.

He said he spoke with administration officials about “ways that we can improve the outreach, the communication and the engagement, particularly on the communities who helped deliver the wins that produced the Biden-Harris administration,” adding that they have been “very receptive.”

The secrecy surrounding the negotiations left a sour taste for some progressives as well, including Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, who bristled at being shut out of discussions around energy permitting.

“The whole presence of the Democratic caucus, that wasn’t there,” Grijalva said, adding that he got the equivalent of a shrug from the White House in response to his concerns.

“This is the situation we find ourselves in,” Grijalva said when asked to characterize the response from Biden aides.

The lingering frustration prompted Jayapal to seek a meeting with the White House following the debt ceiling vote, emphasizing the need to talk through Biden's communication strategy even as she praised the president for minimizing the concessions in the deal.

Jayapal voted against the bill’s passage. But it was precisely because the measure was able to pass with a mix of Republican and Democratic votes that a large number of progressives felt comfortable opposing it.

“Since we all expect this deal is gonna get done, then I think it's appropriate for a significant number of progressives to push back” against many of its provisions, said Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas), the Progressive Caucus whip.

The centrist New Democrat Coalition, a group that the White House knew early on would be needed for many of the party’s votes, leveraged that position to advocate for two key policies: permitting reform and funding veterans’ health programs. They said that working with the White House — including giving them their policy positions — paid off, both in keeping lines of communication open and in shaping the legislative product.

“We were able to change the negotiations and get some significant wins for veterans, namely, getting the funding for the toxic exposure fund — the PACT Act — into mandatory funding. That's huge,” said the Coalition chair, Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.).

The nearly 100-member coalition, in turn, came out early in support of the bill, swiftly boosting the measure's whip count and lending a degree of legitimacy to the final product in Democratic circles.

In dozens of private briefings with lawmakers and allies over the last three days, senior White House aides offered variations on the same argument: Compare the compromise bill to what Republicans initially demanded back in April, and then decide which side got the better end of the deal.

"I don’t want to overstate it; it’s still going to be painful," Michael Linden, an OMB aide involved in the negotiations, told outside allies during a private Tuesday call, according to audio obtained by POLITICO. "But it is a much, much, much improved situation from where the Republicans started."

Biden officials put special effort into selling Democrats on work requirement provisions for government food assistance programs, insisting that they’d lessened the blow by expanding access to those programs for veterans and the homeless. Still, those provisions sparked deep concern among large blocs of progressives and Black lawmakers.

Even Clyburn had reservations, saying in an interview that he sought second opinions from Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) on whether the White House’s argument held water.

“I was guided by them, because when I go out to sell something, I want to know what it is I’m trying to sell,” he said.

They both concluded that the White House’s calculations were likely correct, a finding later reinforced by the Congressional Budget Office’s projection released Tuesday.

The twist — which effectively turned one of McCarthy’s touted achievements into a lament for some conservatives — proved critical for dozens of Democratic lawmakers in the final hours ahead of the vote.

“I prefer listening to the complaints of the Freedom Caucus than I do in focusing on the process of arriving at the deal,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “The fact that the ultra-MAGA Republican wing of the MAGA Republican Party is so opposed to this, I think it’s a testament to how successful a negotiation this has been for the Biden administration.”

How Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene helped McCarthy get his debt deal through

Jim Jordan and other key conservative firebrands have caused a fair share of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's biggest headaches. But instead of leading the rebellion this time, they helped him quash it.

As the House Freedom Caucus was preparing to discuss whether to officially oppose the speaker’s bipartisan debt deal — a move that would potentially galvanize conservative opposition — Jordan (R-Ohio) phoned several fellow members with a request, according to a person familiar with the calls. The former chair of the group urged them to hold back, effectively giving conservatives who wanted to vote with McCarthy license to do so.

Jordan, a longtime McCarthy antagonist turned ally, almost got his wish. The group took no official position until hours before the vote, when most members had already made up their minds.

The beloved House Freedom Caucus co-founder — who gravitated toward McCarthy after the now-speaker tapped him for a senior spot on the Oversight Committee — helped out in other ways. The Ohio lawmaker spoke up in favor of the deal in private calls and meetings, including taking the mic at a closed-door huddle on Tuesday night, just hours after many of his fellow conservatives had spent the day trashing the deal.

And he publicly denounced as a “terrible idea” Rep. Dan Bishop’s talk of moving to remove McCarthy over his compromise with President Joe Biden. By Wednesday afternoon, Bishop (R-N.C.) was refusing to discuss his oust-McCarthy idea, dismissing it as a preoccupation of “fascinated” reporters.

Now, McCarthy has triumphed on one of his toughest votes yet, with rumblings of booting him largely extinguished, at least for now. Asked about the possible long-term impact of the debt deal on conservative goodwill, Jordan said he didn’t think there would be any.

“No, I think we’ve got a good record of doing what we told them we were going to do," he said in an interview.

The backing from Jordan, along with other once unlikely conservative allies with virtually no record of supporting past budget deals like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), has proven to be a lifeline for McCarthy. He’s spent months, and in some cases years, taking steps to win them over, with a plum committee assignment here, a desired debt provision there.

Instead of kowtowing to his most far-right members, McCarthy was forced by the reality of divided government to take a divide-and-conquer strategy on must-pass legislation: Cut a deal with Democrats that does just enough to win over a clutch of conservatives with Freedom Caucus cred, and hope the remaining critics lack the collective willpower to tank the agreement.

If most Republicans get on board, it means threats against his speakership won’t gain real traction. And with two-thirds of the GOP conference backing the deal Wednesday, it seemed to be working.

“We didn’t do it by taking the easy route,” McCarthy said in a celebratory post-vote press conference. “It wasn't an easy fight, I had people on both sides upset.”

But he added: “I think we did pretty damn good for the American people.”

It's an approach that McCarthy will likely need to return to repeatedly heading into a packed fall schedule. Government funding, Pentagon policy and a contentious farm bill will all require a sizable GOP majority in addition to Democratic backing.

And this is probably not the last time he'll need to lean on conservative allies like Jordan, a relationship that has paid dividends after McCarthy continuously elevated the most famous face of the House Freedom Caucus on high-profile committees.

“I think it's about like you'd expect. I think the bulk of the center right conference is gonna support this. I think some of the more colorful members on the edges are not,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), an ally of McCarthy, said before the vote. “There was never going to be any kind of a deal that was gonna get Bob Good and Tim Burchett on board. I don't know that this is unfolding in a way that is particularly surprising.”

Some, however, aren't ready to give McCarthy a pass. And others are indicating trouble is still brewing. Asked about whether there are ongoing discussions about a motion to vacate, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said he doesn't know what to make of it after having "multiple" people call him "today really bugged by how this has gone down."

"There are people, not [Freedom Caucus], who came up to me and told me this very same thing today," Biggs said, leaving the floor after the debt bill passed the House. "And they're using rather colorful language. They were telling me that it's not good. And in that, in their opinion, that they probably just shot Republican's agenda next year."

Still, the anger on the right over McCarthy’s debt negotiation illustrates the bind he can’t escape: appeasing conservatives famously hostile to compromise, while also proving the GOP’s ability to govern alongside Biden. Both McCarthy and the president proved they could work together despite frequent frustrations, with the speaker even surprising his own party by praising Biden’s team on their negotiating skills. Regardless, the two proved they were able to secure a joint political win — or enough of one — to keep their bases happy.

But when it comes to House Republicans, the conservatives’ threats against McCarthy reopen wounds from the bruising battle over his speakership election. A handful of the 20 Republicans who sought to block him are now threatening to seek revenge over the debt deal.

“There are still some pretty deep divisions,” said senior Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.). “We’ve rocked along pretty well, got quite a bit accomplished in this Congress. But as I predicted months ago, we really don’t know the true character of this conference until you have your first heavy lift. And this is it.”

Some of that tension was exposed at Tuesday night's roughly two-hour conference meeting, where dozens of members lined up to speak up about the deal. While attendees described a mostly united party, some McCarthy allies had warnings for their conservative colleagues. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), the former Agriculture Committee chair, sought to remind Freedom Caucus members that their tactics with the 2013 farm bill had cost them $20 billion in fiscal cuts.

It’ll only be a few more months before Republicans will need to strike another deal with Democrats on a massive government spending bill. And until then, senior Republicans acknowledge there’s work to be done to rebuild trust that’s been lost between McCarthy, his allies and conservatives. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) is Exhibit A — he'd been a cheerleader of the GOP’s original debt bill but became furious with the bipartisan deal, encouraging “every Republican” to vote against it.

“I’m not going to lie, we have some relationship repair that needs to happen. We do,” said lead GOP negotiator Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who was visibly frustrated by fellow Republicans who have criticized it as a bad deal.

Roy, when asked about efforts to persuade him to support the compromise, argued “no one was confused about my position. The only question is how to move forward.”

Graves and Roy, who were in touch on a near-daily basis during negotiations and even held joint press briefings, have spoken privately about their frustrations with each other. And the Louisiana Republican quipped that they’ve agreed that they will both need to sit down and talk “over several bottles of something” to hash things out further.

“There are some pretty raw feelings, I think, on both sides right now,” Graves said.

For now though, few Republicans are seriously worrying about any real threat to McCarthy’s speakership. Despite some saber-rattling, the GOP’s right flank isn't united on pursuing the idea — and some in the conservative wing voiced disappointment that a small number of their colleagues would leap straight to threatening a no-confidence vote.

“The point was that this is a work in progress. They worked their butts off. And this is a start,” said Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), a Freedom Caucus member who likes the debt bill but says he was “inundated” by his constituents to oppose the bill. “And for the discussion to start being about vacate the chair? Come on.”

“We haven't had a sit down and said, ‘Okay, what's our strategy on the motion to vacate?'” added Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), another Freedom Caucus member who said the talk was premature. “But before we even get down there, there's a lot more discussions that have to happen and they just haven't happened yet.”

One senior House Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a push to oust McCarthy could have the opposite effect: “It’d be a good way to consolidate support around McCarthy,” the person said. “The rest of the conference would circle wagons.”

Jordain Carney contributed.

House passes bipartisan debt deal, sending it to Senate

The House passed legislation Wednesday to raise the nation's borrowing limit through 2024, sending it to the Senate with less than six days until a June 5 default deadline.

The vote united a swath of Republicans and Democrats, and was opposed by a swath of conservative and progressive lawmakers, with a few of the former floating an attempt to strip Speaker Kevin McCarthy of his gavel over the bipartisan debt agreement he negotiated.

The hurdles aren’t over yet. The bill still needs to clear the Senate by Monday’s deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can start setting up votes on the debt bill as soon as Thursday, with the first vote on Saturday absent agreement from all 100 senators. Several senators want votes on amendments as a condition to speed up the process, and Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hope to finish work on the bill before the weekend by crafting a deal on amendments and sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk days before the Monday deadline.

But passing the bill marks the House’s biggest bipartisan victory since Republicans took over the chamber this year. Until now, McCarthy’s repeated wrangling of members has mostly been on a series of messaging bills with no Democratic support and no chance at becoming law. And he faced plenty of questions on whether he could get enough Republican support for the debt plan.

"Don't miss out. Don't sit back and think, 'I wanted something so much more,'” McCarthy said, describing his pitch to members. “Yeah, there's a lot of things I want, too, but this is one that moves us in the right direction."

In the end, McCarthy lost 71 House Republicans, while 149 backed it. But the bill easily passed with support from 165 Democrats, who were torn between voting for a bill that includes some policies they oppose or risking a default.

“I have mixed emotions because, on one hand, I think that what our colleagues are doing is punitive and just bad for a country. But I also recognize the importance of protecting the full faith and credit of my country,” said Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.).

But there was still plenty of internal GOP drama, despite the pre-baked outcome.

In addition to raising the debt ceiling until Jan. 1, 2025, the debt bill sets top-line spending levels for two years. It also, among other provisions, automatically cuts government funding by one percent absent spending bills passed by Jan. 1. Republicans have also touted new work requirements and other restrictions for certain social safety net programs.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and other senior Republicans also tried to prevent a potential last-minute revolt after a CBO score projected the work requirement changes in the bill would actually increase spending for the key food aid program, due to exemptions for veterans, homeless people and young adults recently aged out of foster care, according to CBO.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus also formally came out against the legislation just hours before the vote, making a doomed pitch for their colleagues to sink the bill and “force Democrats back to the negotiating table.”

“The Biden-McCarthy deal … threatens to shatter Republican unity,” they wrote.

McCarthy made a swaggering pitch to his members during a closed-door hours-long conference meeting Tuesday night, which several GOP lawmakers compared to a pep rally meant to drive up support for the agreement.

But that did little to appease his most ardent holdouts. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who ultimately narrowly missed Wednesday night’s vote, said afterward that “the cheering doesn’t move me.” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) also railed against the deal Wednesday, saying: “My beef is that you cut a deal that shouldn’t have been cut.”

McCarthy and his team worked up until the vote to try to drive up the number of Republicans who would support the deal. The more GOP yeas he put on the board, the more leadership could isolate the small crop of conservatives contemplating mutiny — strengthening McCarthy’s hand as he heads into new governing challenges, not to mention the 2024 elections.

The GOP’s whip operation formally began on Saturday, even before the text of the deal was finalized. Since then, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and his team have touched base with “every single” Republican — some members had two or three conversations, according to a Republican familiar with the discussions.

Emmer and chief deputy whip Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) made many of those calls, in addition to one-on-one meetings with members in the whip’s office. But other McCarthy allies jumped in to pitch key corners of the conference including Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) and Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.).

Some of McCarthy’s fiercest detractors also raised the prospect of trying to oust him from the speakership — a likely doomed effort but one that still threatens to reopen old wounds from the high-drama fight over the House gavel.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one of the lead GOP negotiators, said he wasn’t worried about McCarthy being ousted, arguing that he had been constantly “underestimated.”

“The week of the speaker’s vote, the lack of negotiation, there have been multiple times this calendar year alone that he’s been underestimated. The vote tonight will prove out why that is the wrong proposition here,” McHenry said.

But there are already vows among some to try to start a conversation about the motion to vacate — how they could try to oust McCarthy — next week.

“All I’m gonna advocate for at this point is to have a discussion about the motion to vacate,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who opposed the bill.

Sarah Ferris, Burgess Everett, Meredith Lee Hill, Nicholas Wu and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.

Former candidate charged in shooting spree at New Mexico officials' homes

A former GOP candidate for the New Mexico House of Representatives has been indicted for his alleged role in a series of drive-by shootings targeting the homes of four elected officials in the state.

Following his failed bid for the seat in New Mexico’s 14th District during the 2022 midterm elections, Solomon Peña orchestrated shootings at the homes of two Bernalillo County commissioners and two New Mexico state legislators between Dec. 3, 2022, and Jan. 3, according to the Justice Department's indictment, which was unsealed Wednesday.

Before planning the shooting spree, Peña visited the homes of at least three Bernalillo County commissioners, the DOJ said, in an effort to get them not to certify the results of the election, which he claimed had been “rigged” against him.

Peña allegedly worked with two accomplices — Demetrio Trujillo and Jose Trujillo — to carry out the shootings, and carried out one on his own, according to the indictment. Family members of the officials, including children, were in the homes during at least three of the shootings, though no one was wounded or killed in any of the shootings.

“In America, the integrity of our voting system is sacrosanct,” Alexander M.M. Uballez, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, said in a statement Wednesday.

“These charges strike at the heart of our democracy," he said. "Voters, candidates, and election officials must be free to exercise their rights and do their jobs safely and free from fear, intimidation, or influence, and with confidence that law enforcement and prosecuting offices will lead the charge when someone tries to silence the will of the people.”

Worshipper describes fear during gunman’s deadly attack on Pittsburgh synagogue

PITTSBURGH — It was her brother’s active faith that inspired Carol Black to recommit as an adult to being a practicing Jew several years ago, and their shared commitment brought them to the Tree of Life synagogue on the October 2018 day it was attacked.

Testifying on the second day of the trial of the man who carried out the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, Black told jurors Wednesday about how she and others in her New Light congregation heard loud noises as they started Sabbath services. They soon realized it was gunfire, so some of them hid in a storage room.

“I just remained calm. ... I thought by remaining calm, I would not give my position away,” she testified in the Pittsburgh federal courtroom.

Black, 71, recalled how she remained hidden even as she saw congregant Mel Wax, who had been hiding close to her, drop dead after the gunman shot him. Wax, 87, was hard of hearing and had opened the storage door, apparently believing the attack was over, she said. Black didn’t learn until later that her 65-year-old brother, Richard Gottfried, was among the 11 people killed in the attack.

The testimony came in the trial of Robert Bowers, a truck driver from the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin. Bowers, 50, could face the death penalty if he’s convicted of some of the 63 counts he faces in the Oct. 27, 2018, attack, which claimed the lives of worshippers from three congregations who were using the synagogue that day: New Light, Dor Hadash and the Tree of Life.

That Bowers carried out the attack, which also injured seven people, isn’t in question: His lawyer Judy Clarke acknowledged as much on the trial’s first day. But hoping to spare Bowers from the death penalty, Clarke questioned the hate crime counts he faces, suggesting instead that he attacked the synagogue out of an irrational belief that he needed to kill Jews to save others from a genocide that he claimed they were enabling by helping immigrants come to the U.S.

Prosecutors, who rejected Bowers’ offer to plead guilty in exchange for removing the possibility that he could be sentenced to death, have said Bowers made incriminating statements to investigators and left an online trail of antisemitic statements that shows the attack was motivated by religious hatred.

Bowers, who only surrendered on the day of the attack after police shot him three times, had commented on Gab, a social media site popular with the far right, that Dor Hadash had hosted a refugee-oriented Sabbath service in conjunction with HIAS, a Jewish agency whose work includes aiding refugees.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo Song began Wednesday’s proceedings by asking Black about her affiliation with the New Light congregation. She recalled how her brother, Gottfried, became more observant after their father’s death and how she later began attending services regularly, getting so involved that she had an adult bat mitzvah — a Jewish right of passage that she hadn’t had as a teenager.

“I was rededicating myself to Judaism,” she said.

She recalled fondly how in 2017, she and her brother carried Torah scrolls as they paraded from their old synagogue, which the small congregation had sold in a downsizing, to their new location in rented space at the Tree of Life building.

She said Gottfried, Wax and 71-year-old Dan Stein were “the three main pillars of our congregation.” On the morning of the attack, Gottfried and Stein were in a kitchen near the sanctuary planning a men’s group breakfast for the next day when Bowers killed them.

Black said she and fellow member Barry Werber hid in a darkened storage closet for what “felt like a year” before police rescued them. And she said that as she left, she quietly said goodbye to Wax as she had to step over his body to follow the officers.

Werber, 81, also testified about hiding in the closet.

“My mind was clouded with panic,” said Werber, who also saw Wax get killed.

“I heard gunshots,” Werber testified. “Mel Wax fell back into the room, and a short time later the door opened slightly. I saw a figure of a person step over the body and then step back. He couldn’t see us. It was too dark.”

Jurors also heard the recordings of 911 calls made by Werber and Gottfried.

Bowers, like on the trial’s first day, showed little emotion as he sat at the defense table.

Jurors also heard testimony from Dan Leger, who was severely wounded in the attack.

Leger, now 75, and two other members of Dor Hadash were gathered in an upstairs room about to start a Torah study when they heard gunshots. One of the participants fled. Leger, a nurse and chaplain, and Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz decided to see if they could assist anyone who might be injured.

“Jerry was a physician, I’m a nurse. ... We knew instinctively that what we needed to do was try to do something to help. So we both moved into the direction of the gunfire, which perhaps was a stupid thing to do, but that’s what we did,” Leger said.

Rabinowitz, 66, was killed. Leger was shot in the abdomen and lay on the staircase, keeping still so as not to let the shooter know he was still alive.

He heard the voice of Tree of Life member Irving Younger calling out the name of fellow member Cecil Rosenthal in horror. Younger and Rosenthal were both killed.

The pain soon became “excruciating,” Leger said.

While waiting for rescue, Leger said his breathing became labored, and he recognized the symptoms: “I felt that I was dying.”

He uttered the Shema — a Jewish prayer professing faith in one God — and he prayed a final confession of his sins.

“I reviewed my life, I thought about the wonder of it all, and the beauty of my life and the happiness I had experienced,” he said, including with his family and friends.

Although he said he was “ready to go,” Leger was rescued and underwent multiple surgeries. He still suffers from severe injuries, including a hip fracture, nerve damage and abdominal wounds that required the removal of a large section of his intestines.

DeSantis' relatability tour kicks off in Iowa

SALIX, Iowa — When a Slim Chickens fast food restaurant opened in Tallahassee in January, Ron DeSantis told a crowd here Wednesday, the Florida governor loaded his 6-, 5-, and 3-year-olds into the car to go try it for themselves.

They waited for 45 minutes in a jam-packed drive-thru as DeSantis called his wife, Casey, their children screaming in the background. Then his youngest had to use the bathroom.

“'Little potty, little potty,'” the GOP presidential candidate recalled the 3-year-old demanding, shaking her head and refusing to go as he took her inside the restaurant’s facilities. “I’m like, ‘They don’t have little potty in Slim Chickens!’”

Left unsaid inside Port Neal Welding was whether there was any security detail tailing the Florida governor. But this was DeSantis on his first big swing through Iowa after announcing his presidential campaign. Long viewed by critics as aloof, he was attempting to soften the edges. The DeSantises, he suggested in story after story Wednesday, are young, they are energetic and they are just like you.

For DeSantis, it marked a significant effort to come across as relatable in a state whose caucus politics demand it. But he was also seeking to make a point of contrast with former President Donald Trump, who leads significantly in polling and with whom DeSantis remains aligned on many policy issues. Unlike Trump, the governor has described his own upbringing as middle-class. On Wednesday, Casey DeSantis described the couple as “gas station connoisseurs,” noting her favorite snacks so far from Casey’s, a chain of Midwest convenience stores.

DeSantis himself went so far as to call Buc-ee’s, another chain found in southern states, “about like Shangri-La, with respect to service stations.”

It was a full-on barrage of folksy from Ron and Casey DeSantis as they traveled through the state Wednesday, the theme of parenting and family life one DeSantis now brings up at nearly all his campaign appearances.

DeSantis’ whirlwind campaign travel follows months of media attention that called into question the strength of his social skills. Both allies and critics wondered just how committed the Florida governor would be to the campaign trail — whether he would embrace the traditional early-state meet-and-greets in diners and factories that most other presidential contenders make part of their weekly agenda.

DeSantis is still keeping some distance. So far, his campaign stops have not featured a question-and-answer session with the audience, though he speaks with supporters one-on-one afterward. But in trying to make a connection with voters, at each of the governor’s first three stops in Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday, Casey DeSantis opened her remarks with an apology for her slightly hoarse voice: She had been “negotiating with a 3-year-old” about not coloring with permanent marker on the dining room table.

After DeSantis’ stump speech Wednesday, for exactly 10 minutes of the couple’s half-hour “fireside chat” in front of 150 people in a welding shop, the pair regaled the audience with talk of shuffling out of leotards and into T-ball uniforms, coloring on the walls, keeping track of the children's birthday party social calendar and working out naptime. Sitting on stage before a John Deere 8400T tractor, over his dress shirt DeSantis wore a zip-up vest embroidered with “Ron Desantis, Florida Governor” and his wife an athletic jacket with her own personalization: “Casey DeSantis, First Lady of Florida.”

They told the story about DeSantis in January taking their eldest two to Kansas City to cheer on the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs. There, the children joined the opposing team’s fans in the Chiefs’ tomahawk chop, something they recognized from Florida State Seminoles games.

And the 3-year-old, Casey DeSantis said — in an anecdote that might not quite resonate with anyone lacking a security detail — now insists on buckling the seatbelt herself, often holding up the Florida Department of Law Enforcement motorcade. A large point of contention: The buckle doesn’t snap into her car seat cup holder.

The couple, who last month traveled around Japan, South Korea, Israel and the United Kingdom with the eldest children in tow, intend to bring those two to Iowa on Saturday when DeSantis returns to attend Sen. Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride at the Iowa Fairgrounds.

They spoke at length about how their parental duties didn’t stop during that last big trip. DeSantis described a scene of a tired father awake with his kids in a hotel room in the middle of the night, trying to find something they could snack on.

“We never got on a schedule timewise, so they'd be up at 2 a.m. and the one thing I learned — I learned when breakfast room service starts, because they needed food, and it's not open at 2 in the morning.”

When the family got back and his 6-year-old awoke the following evening at midnight, after sleeping most of the day, he and his son loaded up into the car to go get chicken fingers from Raising Cane’s.

“It's like, drunk Florida State students and me and Mason going through the drive-thru,” he said, clearly entertaining the laughing audience. “And I'm just thinking to myself, you know, it's a pretty crazy whirlwind, what we're doing here as parents.”

DeSantis is running far behind Trump at the outset of his campaign, with surveys showing DeSantis must rise as much as 30 points with Republican voters to overtake Trump’s lead. And other Republican candidates fighting to be the Trump alternative, including Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy and soon-to-be-declared Mike Pence, have shown their own commitment to intimate, retail-style campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But Republican operatives and political leaders here caution against using national data to gauge sentiment on the ground in Iowa.

“This isn’t a national race. National polling is really irrelevant for quite some time yet,” said Kim Schmett, who hosts the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale.

He noted that Iowans are likely only slowly turning into this spring’s campaign activity: “Most people right now — unless you’re really a hardcore junkie — don’t know who’s been here yet.”

But that’s all changing — quickly. Schmett acknowledged the deluge of candidates coming through Des Moines just in the course of a few days this week, calling it “full bore.”

After DeSantis’ speeches at his first two stops Wednesday, he stepped down from the stage and mingled with the crowd gathered. DeSantis asked people about where they lived and went to school. “How far is Omaha from here? About 30 minutes?” he asked a supporter while inside a small event center in Council Bluffs, 2 miles up the street from downtown Omaha.

Standing on the outer edge of a crowd of people surrounding DeSantis for photos and autographs after his speech in Council Bluffs, his campaign manager, Generra Peck, told an elderly couple to hang tight and stick next to her, that she would make sure they got to meet him.

Clutching both a three-ring binder and a paper cup of coffee in one hand, Peck took the woman’s phone to snap a photo of the couple with DeSantis.

In the crowd in Salix, Priscilla Forsyth, of Sioux City, said she’d been struck by both candidates she has seen come through her part of Iowa in recent weeks: DeSantis and Scott. She liked Scott’s “positive message” and appreciates how DeSantis has gone after Disney.

She wasn’t worried about the governor’s interpersonal skills.

“You know, I keep hearing how he's stiff and all these things,” Forsyth said of DeSantis. “But it's like, you know, I'm not looking for a friend. I'm looking for a leader.”

Senate advances repeal of Biden’s student debt relief

A Republican-led effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan narrowly cleared a key procedural hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday as several moderate Democrats broke with the White House and backed the measure.

On a 51-46 vote, the Senate advanced legislation that would repeal Biden’s debt cancellation program and nullify the pause on monthly payments and interest.

Vote breakdown: A handful of moderate Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to move forward on the rebuke of Biden’s signature effort to provide student loan forgiveness to tens of millions of Americans.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) as well as independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) voted in favor of the procedural motion to start debate on the measure.

Dem rebuke: Republicans have nearly uniformly opposed mass student loan forgiveness since Biden last August unveiled his plan to cancel up to $20,000 of debt per borrower.

But the Senate vote on Wednesday was the first formal pushback from centrist Democrats who have previously expressed unease with Biden’s effort to forgive large swaths of student debt.

Key context: The House passed the resolution on a nearly party-line vote last week with the support of most Republicans and a pair of Democratic lawmakers.

Under the Congressional Review Act, the fast-track procedure that lawmakers are using to try to stop the student debt relief, the Senate could pass the measure later this week on a simple majority vote.

But the White House has promised that Biden would veto the bill if Congress were to pass it.

The bill hasn’t attracted enough support in either the House or Senate to comprise the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a presidential veto.

Debt deal: The Senate is taking up the measure as Congress weighs a debt ceiling agreement that would also solidify the end of the pause on federal student loan payments and interest that’s been in place since March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

The bill, which the House is expected to take up later on Wednesday, would require the Biden administration to resume collecting student loans and charging interest after Aug. 30.

White House officials fended off Republican efforts to include in the deal a full repeal of Biden’s student debt cancellation plan, to the chagrin of many conservative lawmakers.

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, a lead negotiator, said on Tuesday that Biden’s loan forgiveness was “saved” in the final deal.

"This bill does end the payment pause, but very close to the timeframe we were going to end it,” she said. The Biden administration previously said it would keep the payment pause until the end of August at the latest.

What’s next: A final vote on the Congressional Review Act resolution in the Senate is set for Thursday.

The plan is on hold while the Supreme Court deliberates over legal challenges brought by Republican attorneys general and a conservative group. The justices in the coming weeks are expected to issue a ruling on whether the plan can proceed.

McCarthy tries to hold off last-minute rebellion over work requirements in debt deal

House Republican leaders are trying to stave off another wave of GOP defections just hours before a final vote on a deal to avert a national default — this time over the work requirements for aid programs that Republican leaders have publicly touted as a win for their party.

The latest rebellion was spurred by a Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday night that estimates spending on the food aid program that Republicans attempted to cut during the debt ceiling negotiations would actually increase under the agreement reached by Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden. That has set off a firestorm among conservative lawmakers — threatening a larger revolt within their fractious caucus hours before a final vote on the legislation to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default. With the help of Democratic votes, McCarthy still appeared poised to push the bill through the House later Wednesday — leaving an increasingly angry right flank of his caucus steaming over the GOP concessions.

In addition to expanding the age group of people on food aid subject to work requirements, the deal to raise the debt ceiling creates new exemptions from work requirements for veterans, homeless people and those aging out of the foster care system — something the White House pushed for in the negotiations. CBO analysts found that those series of work requirement changes will collectively increase spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the nation’s largest anti-hunger program for low-income people, by $2.1 billion.

“This is going to hurt with fiscal conservatives,” one House Republican member who planned to vote “no” on the bill texted from the closed-door House GOP caucus meeting just after the CBO report hit Tuesday night.

As word spread about the CBO report’s findings, texts, emails and calls from already restless rank-and-file members surged. Senior Republicans directed anxious members to Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), who has helped push the work requirements policy during the talks. “Dusty has the answers,” was one reply from a senior Republican lawmaker.

While House Republican leaders and McCarthy allies sought to immediately tamp down the furor, reaching out to members late into the night to argue the CBO projections were wrong, their arguments failed to quell some far-right lawmakers’ concerns. One of the debt deal’s most visible critics, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), blasted the bill’s “watered down work requirements that save $0” on Twitter Wednesday morning. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) meanwhile issued a series of scathing tweets about how she “won’t be voting to expand government welfare today.”

Two GOP lawmakers, who were granted anonymity to discuss internal matters, said they worried the CBO projection could push members over the edge, or they could use it as cover to oppose a bill that’s deeply unpopular among several dozen GOP hardliners.

Realizing they needed to stanch the bleeding, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and a lineup of more than half a dozen heavy-hitting senior Republicans quickly assembled a call with reporters to argue the CBO score used “weak information” and double-counted unhoused people, veterans and youth recently aged out of foster care who would be covered for the first time under the deal

Stefanik argued the work requirements in the bill, including stricter measures for adults ages 50 to 54 without children, “will lift millions of Americans out of poverty and reenergize the workforce.”

House Agricultural Chair G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.), who oversees SNAP, said the CBO’s final funding estimate of the SNAP changes “should‘ve been a wash.”

Congressional Republicans have a longtime beef with CBO over the scoring of nutrition program spending and enrollment, but they knowingly rolled the dice with CBO analysts when they agreed to the exemptions sought by White House negotiators. Johnson also pushed back against Democratic arguments that work requirements don’t actually move people into the workforce, but only take away food aid. But, Johnson and other Republicans on the call did acknowledge that the push for stricter work requirements may cost more on “the front end,” by extending aid to certain groups before they can drop off the program and enter the workforce.

Some Republicans on the call defended the work requirements exemptions that the White House was able to insert during the negotiations — especially for former foster youth.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one of the Republicans who helped negotiate the deal, told reporters Wednesday that he generally agreed with some of the exemptions Democrats fought for, saying that the U.S. needs “more thoughtful public policy for those who are emerging from foster care.”

“This is something those of us that know something about foster care are deeply concerned about and that's what we baked into this agreement,” McHenry said.

McCarthy has touted the new work requirements and other restrictions for SNAP and an emergency cash assistance program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as one of the major wins for Republicans in the debt negotiations with Biden — especially since a wide swath of Democrats fiercely oppose such measures. The TANF changes in particular would hit low-income families with children.

In a closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday evening, McCarthy didn’t directly address the new CBO score, but he made clear to his members that the new work requirements for SNAP and TANF would have never passed through a Democratic-majority Senate on their own, and had to be forced through in the agreement with Biden, according to two lawmakers in the room, who were granted anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

White House negotiators knew the work requirement exemptions they secured during the negotiations with Republicans, would likely mean the total number of people covered under SNAP would remain the same — with the new populations covered by the exemptions offsetting the estimated 275,000 adults in their 50s without children who are likely to lose food aid under the deal. White House officials have been aggressively pushing that point with Hill Democrats as they try to secure enough votes for the legislation.

But not all Democratic lawmakers have been comforted by the push.

“This is a food benefit. So moving the deck chairs around and saying, you get food, but you don’t — that’s not a very convincing argument to me,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the House’s leading anti-hunger advocate, said in an interview Tuesday. It’s also unclear to some lawmakers and anti-hunger advocates that the estimates on new SNAP beneficiaries, on paper, will actually bear out in reality, given the immense logistical challenge of signing up several hundred thousand new recipients, many unhoused and without documentation.

Democrats in the Senate are also still alarmed by the loss of food aid for hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans under the agreement, even if other vulnerable groups are successful in gaining new access.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in an interview called the bill “incredibly bad” and claimed Republicans were pushing the country to default unless they could take food away from children. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who chairs the subcommittee overseeing SNAP, has seemingly threatened to oppose any bill that hit the program.

A spokesperson for Fetterman said he “is still reviewing the debt limit legislation to understand SNAP and the Pennsylvania-related impacts, and he’s requested more information on both.”

And there’s no chance at this point for Democrats to strip the SNAP work requirements from the bill, something a group of House Democrats is still trying to push.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key swing vote, said in an interview Tuesday that he doesn’t support voting on any amendments in the Senate. (That also helps protect a key pipeline measure he’s included.) In the case that a SNAP amendment was to come up in the upper chamber. Manchin, who’s previously told POLITICO he supports welfare to work reform, would likely oppose it — killing its chances. Even if some Senate progressives ultimately vote “no,” the chamber is still likely to pass the legislation. If most Republicans vote in favor of the debt deal, they only need a dozen or so Senate Democrats to pass the bill.

White House officials tried to sell Democrats on the debt deal. Some weren't having it.

Top White House officials got an earful from climate advocates Wednesday as they pitched the major energy and climate components of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

White House climate and energy adviser John Podesta was briefing House Democrats on the deal Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill, where he took flak from his own party.

Across town, White House economist Heather Boushey faced protesters who oppose the administration’s fossil fuel policies at a sustainability conference.

The White House and top Democrats are working quickly to sell their allies on the deal, which Congress needs to pass before June 5 to avoid the first U.S. default in history. They are emphasizing that it will keep Democrats’ signature climate law largely intact after Republican attempts to slash it, but they are facing a backlash from environmentalists over the decision to green-light a contentious pipeline and speed permits for energy projects.

Those frustrations were on full display in the hallways of Capitol Hill and the streets of Washington on Wednesday as lawmakers raced to pass the deal.

Podesta attended a closed-door meeting of House Democrats Wednesday morning in anticipation of a vote Wednesday evening on the “Fiscal Responsibility Act,” a 99-page bill to raise the debt ceiling to January 2025, contingent on a slew of policy riders.

Democrats laid out their complaints.

“As the ranking member of oversight on House Natural Resources, and as a water resources professional, it’s a hard pill to swallow to know that folks who were sitting in the room allowed our fundamental environmental laws to get gutted,” said Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.).

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told POLITICO's E&E News he had informed Podesta — who was there on behalf of the administration to pitch members on the energy provisions of the debt ceiling agreement — that it was “pretty cold comfort to tell progressives and environmentalists and [environmental justice] advocates, and millions of young people that care about the climate crisis, that it could have been worse.”

It currently appears as though the bill will pass Wednesday night with votes from members on both sides of the aisle, but Democratic leaders are working hard to line up lawmakers from their party to support the agreement brokered by President Joe Biden.

Among the concessions White House negotiators made on Biden’s behalf to House Republicans are changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that would shorten timelines for energy projects to receive permits. The Biden administration has sold the NEPA changes as a down payment on “permitting reform,” with progressives countering that the provisions would hurt vulnerable communities and sacred lands.

Climate hawks are also furious about the surprise addition of language to green-light the Mountain Valley pipeline, the contentious natural gas project long pushed by West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin (D) and Shelley Moore Capito (R).

“They’re trying to come in and cut environmental protections and trying to ram through an oil pipeline through a community that does not want it,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who plans to vote “no” on the bill Wednesday night.

At the same time, the White House did not secure in the debt limit deal language that would boost transmission deployment for renewable energy projects, which Democrats — including Podesta — have said was a necessary component of any meaningful permitting overhaul push.

“It’s a concern that a lot of people raised” during the Wednesday meeting, said Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), who is furious with the White House for agreeing to mandate a transmission study rather than include full-scale deployment language, which he fears will complicate efforts to address the issue through legislation for the next two years.

Casten suggested he would decide how he will vote based on how many Democrats are needed to make up for a potential Republican shortfall that could tank the bill and raise the prospects for default.

Democrats leaving the meeting with Podesta — who was joined by Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, Biden counselor Steve Ricchetti and National Economic Council Deputy Director Aviva Aron-Dine — described the nearly two-hour meeting as more of a listening session and an airing of grievances rather than a discussion of next steps.

“He acknowledged that [the transmission study] was not really a win by Democrats,” Huffman said of Podesta’s message in the room. “He essentially said they’ll do some cleanup work on transmission, to make sure this study doesn’t sideline and delay transmission projects ... but we’re hearing there’s a side deal of another shoe to drop, where maybe we get a little something on transmission but we give away something on pipelines and more environmental rollbacks.”

Rep. Ro Khanna, another California Democrat, said Podesta communicated “an honest message ... he understood the concerns with the Mountain Valley pipeline. He understood some of the concerns with the environmental regulations. But he said he’s going to work with the caucus.”

Huffman said he planned to oppose the debt limit deal, while Khanna intimated he would, as well.

How IRS cuts might hurt the climate law

Podesta was scheduled to speak at Economist Impact’s sustainability summit Wednesday in downtown Washington, but appeared across town on Capitol Hill instead.

Activists with the group Climate Defiance protested outside the Economist Impact event with signs reading “Stop Manchin’s #DirtyDeal” and “Biden: End Fossil Fuels.”

Inside, protesters interrupted Boushey, a White House official who serves as chief economist to the Invest in America Cabinet.

Podesta was one of several administration officials who canceled their appearances at the Economist summit Wednesday, including national climate adviser Ali Zaidi and Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk.

All three officials were called to brief lawmakers on the debt deal, which was reached after they had confirmed their participation in the event, the White House said.

For Democrats, a huge silver lining in the debt deal is the fact that it spared the climate and renewable energy policies in the sweeping climate law enacted last year, despite GOP attempts to gut those incentives.

But Republicans did win cuts to an agency that’s central to the climate law’s rollout: the Internal Revenue Service.

The deal, which lawmakers are racing to pass this week, would cut $1.4 billion in IRS funding that was included in the climate law Democrats have dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act. The deal would also redirect another $20 billion of the $80 billion the climate law had included to bolster the beleaguered agency.

Those cuts to IRS funding — and the possibility of future attempts to slash the agency’s resources — are worrisome to the Biden White House.

“As people who are concerned about climate, given how much of this is being done through the IRS, we need to be making sure that that is on our checklist of agencies that we are watching very closely,” Boushey said Wednesday.

Of the nearly $370 billion of climate spending in the law Democrats enacted last year, about $270 billion will be delivered through tax incentives for electric vehicles, energy-efficient buildings, solar power and other “clean” energy technologies.

In the short term, Boushey said, “We're hearing from our Treasury colleagues that they will be able to do their work,” even with the cuts, but she said the IRS has been “underfunded for decades” and needs additional resources to do the new work the law has given them.

“I'm both concerned that if we don't have the IRS doing its job, then we aren't going to get the revenue that we need,” she said. Pulling that funding could send a problematic signal, she added, that it's "a cookie jar that we can keep pulling from.”

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, who as chair in the previous Congress shepherded through the clean energy tax portion of the Inflation Reduction Act, expressed little worry about the IRS’ ability to implement these incentives.

“That’s a priority,” he said.

Mike Pence to announce presidential campaign next week

Mike Pence is set to announce his presidential campaign in Des Moines next week.

The June 7 launch, confirmed to POLITICO by a source familiar with Pence’s plans, was first reported by NBC News. The former six-term congressman and one-term Indiana governor has hopscotched around early states in recent weeks, but lavished much of his attention on Iowa, including stops in Des Moines and Ottumwa last week. He’ll be back in the state this weekend for Gov. Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride.

His choice of Des Moines for his announcement is a signal of how important the state’s socially conservative-rich Republican electorate will be to his chances in a GOP primary.

Chip Saltsman, the architect of former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa caucuses victor has been helping Pence lay the groundwork in Iowa.

Pence, who resisted pressure from former President Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election, faces a steep climb. Of all the contenders in a still-growing field, he has been among the most forceful in drawing a distinction from Trump, challenging him, though sometimes obliquely, on everything from foreign policy to federal spending. In return, he has alienated a large portion of the MAGA base.

“Boy, if he’d never been through January 6, and had the ramifications of all that, he'd be particularly well built for the Iowa caucuses now,” said Dave Kochel, the veteran Iowa Republican strategist. “Maybe he can overcome that stuff, but that's why we run the campaign. We'll find out.”

‘Poison in every puff’: Canada to put warning labels on individual cigarettes

In a world first, Canada will soon print health warnings on individual cigarettes.

The labels will feature a rotation of warnings — in French and English, like: “Cigarettes damage your organs,” “Cigarettes cause impotence” and “Poison in every puff.” Each warning will appear in bold, black text at the butt of each cigarette.

“Tobacco use continues to kill 48,000 Canadians each year,” Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s associate minister of health, said Wednesday in a release announcing the news.

“This bold step will make health warning messages virtually unavoidable, and together with updated graphic images displayed on the package, will provide a real and startling reminder of the health consequences of smoking.”

Health Canada said the regulation will go into effect Aug. 1. King-sized cigarettes with the warning will reach stores by April 2024; retailers will carry regular-sized cigarettes with the messaging the following April.

When asked by reporters in Ottawa if there is any evidence that the labels will deter smoking, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said: "Every possible tool works."

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, says he considers direct labeling an effective way to lower cigarette usage — pointing to dozens of studies back to 2006.

He said it should not increase the cost of cigarettes: "Tobacco companies have long been accustomed to printing on the filter overwrap."

Health Canada also announced plans to update tobacco packaging with stronger health warnings and quit-line details that will take up 75 percent of packing.

Canada first added intense visual health warnings to cigarette packaging in 2000. It is estimated 126 countries have, or are finalizing, visual health warnings on packaging, according to 2021 data compiled by Tobacco Free Kids.

Smoking has been on the decline for decades in Canada, with around 3.8 million daily or occasional smokers in 2021 — or just below 12 percent — a drop from 23 percent in 2003, Statista research shows.

The tobacco strategy hopes to lower that number to less than 5 percent by 2035.

Defense hawks prepare to choke down debt deal — and Biden's Pentagon budget

Republicans have spent months hammering President Joe Biden’s Pentagon budget as insufficient. Now they’re faced with a dilemma: support a debt limit deal that locks in Biden’s budget or try to sink the pact just days before a default.

A handful of GOP defense hawks plan to oppose the debt deal between Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy rather than endorse the administration’s $886 billion military budget that they’ve panned as too low. Even more defense-minded lawmakers are gritting their teeth and backing the deal, buoyed by the possibility of padding the defense budget with emergency funding or reopening the pact later.

"It's not as much as I would do,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). “But yet we are cutting non-defense and we got a lot of other concessions. So I'm going to take an overall good deal."

“I think for us to demand more would probably stop the whole deal,” he said.

The same GOP hawks who are losing out will likely be needed to help pass the deal, as McCarthy and his team deal with a revolt from fiscal hard-liners who sought even deeper spending cuts, revealing a deep divide among House Republicans.

“You have got to put together a package that can get the votes,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “And there's some Republicans that, frankly, see spending as a bigger problem than they do defense."

The deal caps national defense spending at Biden’s fiscal 2024 request of $886 billion, a 3.2 percent increase. Military funding would go up by 1 percent in fiscal year 2025 for a total of $895 billion, effectively flattening the Pentagon budget over the next two years.

It would mark the first time Congress hasn’t added money to Biden’s defense plans. But not all defense-oriented Republicans are on board with taking a pause.

"I'm a ‘no’ at this point," Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) told Fox News on Tuesday. "We needed to make deeper cuts on the non-defense side and, meanwhile, we're accepting Biden's defense budget, which is actually a cut."

Beyond the politics of defense spending, there’s a practical effect: The Biden-McCarthy deal forces tougher financial tradeoffs because lawmakers will have less money to fund military priorities that didn’t make the budget than they would with another hike.

Lawmakers would need to trim within Biden’s $842 billion Pentagon proposal to find the $1.7 billion needed to purchase an extra amphibious warship that wasn’t included in the budget, but that Marine Corps brass argue is essential to its mission.

Congressional leaders also want to fund Indo-Pacific Command’s $3.5 billion wish list of items meant to deter China that was left out of the budget. And after a Chinese spy balloon traversed the U.S. this winter, lawmakers are clamoring to provide $266 million from U.S. Northern Command’s wish list to upgrade long-range radars.

House Defense Appropriations Chair Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) plans to save money by forcing Pentagon reforms, but said his panel must “do the best we can under the circumstances."

“We're going to have some tough decisions,” Calvert said.

Top Senate Appropriations Republican Susan Collins of Maine said Biden’s topline “is inadequate,” but added appropriators will craft their bills to levels prescribed by the deal.

“It doesn’t begin to cover inflation,” she said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who quickly condemned the deal for shortchanging defense, hopes to rally hawks around an amendment to fix it. He called for raising the debt limit for three months while defense funding is sorted out.

“So when I hear Republican leaders say this budget deal fully funds defense, I laugh,” Graham said. “You’re not fully funding defense if you're spending below inflation. So I will be on this like a dog with a bone.”

Graham told reporters he is proposing to add $41 billion to the Pentagon with his amendment, but it's unclear if it could garner enough votes. Republican lawmakers may be reluctant to support a measure that would unravel the carefully constructed compromise, split their caucus or delay efforts to avert a default.

Other defense advocates contend that Biden’s topline — which still increases Pentagon funding — is preferable to the alternatives, including a default, yearlong stopgap funding and steep cuts.

"You can be disappointed and also recognize reality as it is, which is [controlling] one chamber of one branch of government will not yield the kind of change conservatives would like to see for the military," said Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Lawmakers also see a potential relief valve in future supplemental funding packages for Ukraine, which would use emergency funding to bypass the caps.

"I think with Ukraine you're going to have to have a supplemental,” Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told reporters. He conceded Congress “might put some other stuff in too."

Lawmakers could also revisit the agreement in a year and attempt to raise the spending cap.

"We will at the minimum be giving the Pentagon what they actually asked for,” Cole said of the debt deal. “And there might be opportunities for adjustment later. It's just hard to tell."

Oklahoma high court strikes down 2 abortion bans; procedure remains illegal in most cases

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that two state laws banning abortion are unconstitutional, but the procedure remains illegal in the state in most cases.

In a 6-3 ruling, the high court said the two bans are unconstitutional because they require a “medical emergency” before a doctor can perform an abortion. The court said this language conflicts with a previous ruling it issued in March. That ruling found the Oklahoma Constitution provides an “inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life.”

The laws struck down Wednesday both included a civil-enforcement mechanism that allowed citizens to sue someone who either performed or helped someone perform an abortion.

“Despite the court’s decisions today on SB 1603 and HB 4327, Oklahoma’s 1910 law prohibiting abortion remains in place,” Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a statement. “Except for certain circumstances outlined in that statute, abortion is still unlawful in the state of Oklahoma.”

Tuberville’s top military adviser bows out

Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) national security adviser told POLITICO that he has resigned over a Washington Post story suggesting he was instrumental in orchestrating the senator’s controversial blockade of hundreds of senior military nominations.

A profile by the Washington Post on Friday depicted Morgan Murphy as taking credit for Tuberville’s hold, which has roiled the Department of Defense.The blockade is a response to the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, which Tuberville opposes.

Murphy said the Post article “overstated” his role in the senator’s blockade, and he resigned on Tuesday out of respect for his former boss. The profile “was factual in many respects, but simply overstated my role in decisionmaking,” he said.

“He is the boss and calls the shots and always has,” Murphy said in a phone interview. “I am, was, at the end of the day, a staffer. I didn’t take kindly to a perception otherwise.” From his 23 years in the Navy, he understands and respects the chain of command, Murphy added.

Two people with knowledge of the discussions around Murphy’s resignation said the Post story’s presentation of Murphy’s role in the blockade irked Tuberville. They were granted anonymity to discuss sensitivities around a personnel move.

Tuberville’s office declined to comment on Murphy’s departure.

Tuberville has rankled his colleagues in both parties with his blockade of hundreds of military promotions, which typically are approved with little controversy, to force the Pentagon to abandon policies that reimburse travel costs and provide leave for troops who seek abortions.

Tuberville’s office said the senator intends to continue his hold on military nominations.

Normally top military nominations move swiftly through the Senate, but it only takes one person’s objection to slow down the process.

In the Washington Post article, Murphy seemed to imply he introduced the idea of the holds to Tuberville saying, “I explained all his options to him.” The option the senator chose was to stall the promotions of more than 200 senior military officers.

Murphy clarified to POLITICO that Tuberville was always the driving force behind the strategy.

“It is my responsibility as a staffer to present the senator with his range of options, which went from sending a letter to offering a meeting to introducing an amendment or to placing holds,” Murphy said.

The nomination blockade could come to a head when the Armed Services Committee considers its annual defense bill in the coming weeks. But if the dispute isn’t resolved, it could ensnare some of President Joe Biden’s picks for the Joint Chiefs, including Gen. C.Q. Brown, his nominee for chair.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has appealed to Tuberville to reverse course and Democrats have hammered him for politicizing the promotions process. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also publicly broke with Tuberville, saying he doesn’t support blocking military nominations, but the Alabama Republican continues to insist on a vote to overturn the policy.