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D.C. Memo: a very Cawthorny situation

This week in Washington news: SCOTUS news, the CD1 special election, and, of course, the latest about orgies and cocaine. 

North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn claimed last week that he's been invited by fellow lawmakers to orgies and has seen some do “a key bump of cocaine right in front of you.”
North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn claimed last week that he's been invited by fellow lawmakers to orgies and has seen some do “a key bump of cocaine right in front of you.”
Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me complaining constantly that D.C. weather has gone back below 60 degrees (I know, poor me). I did manage to go see the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin last Friday before frigid temperatures came back, and tried and failed to get good pictures of my puppy there because he was extremely overwhelmed by the hordes of tourists who were also there to enjoy the sights. This week in Washington: a SCOTUS controversy, an all-but-guaranteed confirmation, and a CD1 special election that’s heating up. Oh, also, claims from the hallowed halls of Congress about orgies and cocaine. 

SCOTUS confirmation and controversy

As we discussed last week, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson went through a grueling week of Senate hearings where she faced some pretty outlandish attacks from some GOP senators. Barring some dramatic reversal, however, Jackson’s all but confirmed, and the 51-year-old judge will become the first Black woman to serve on the high court.

Next week, the Senate will vote on cloture to end debate on the Jackson nomination. Under Senate rules, that will be followed by up to 30 hours of debate time. With the outcome of Jackson’s nomination a foregone conclusion at this point, party leaders will try to reach a time agreement to speed up the process. They will also have a big incentive to finish up next week: Easter recess.

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Speaking of SCOTUS, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has come under fire this week for the political activities of his conservative activist wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas. Text messages between Ginni and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reveal that Ginni was advocating for overturning the 2020 presidential election in the weeks after the vote. 

On November 10, 2020, after Joe Biden had been projected to win the election, Ginni wrote to Meadows: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

Weird capitalization aside, this text and 28 others have thrown the Thomas family into controversy. Many on the left, including some Minnesota lawmakers, are calling for him to recuse himself from election cases or even for him to resign. 

“You have the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice advocating for an insurrection, advocating for overturning a legal election to the sitting president’s chief of staff and she also knows this election, these cases, are going to come before her husband. This is a textbook case for removing him, recusing him from these decisions,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.

“The actions of Justice Thomas and his wife Virginia Thomas have undermined the Constitution and weakened our democracy,” U.S. Rep. McCollum said in a press release. “Virginia Thomas was in direct communication with the Trump White House in a conspiracy to undermine the peaceful transition of power from a free and fair Presidential election. Rather than disclose this conflict of interest and recuse himself from cases related to his wife’s involvement in the Big Lie, Justice Thomas took part in court rulings and voted to prevent the disclosure of White House communication logs… As such, I call on Justice Thomas to resign from the United States Supreme Court.”

Midterm races heating up

We’ve been talking about the special election in Minnesota’s First Congressional District to replace the late Jim Hagedorn for a while now, but with early voting starting on May 24, things are starting to heat up as candidates jockey for constituent support. 

MinnPost reporter Walker Orenstein attended the Olmsted County GOP’s convention over the weekend to figure out just how each of the 10 Republican candidates are trying to stand out from the pack.

“When it comes to policy,” Walker wrote, “three issues were mentioned the most by candidates: high gas prices, school curriculum about race and concerns with the fairness of elections.”

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Jennifer Carnahan, the widow of Hagedorn and a former chair of the Minnesota Republican Party from 2017 until 2021, said President Joe Biden “cares more about climate change and destroying our energy independence” than other issues like “porous borders,” election integrity and critical race theory.

In an interview with the Rochester Post Bulletin, Carnahan also called herself “just like President Trump. I’m still a political outsider,” which is a curious description for two people who have, respectively, headed state and national political parties.

Carnahan also posted on Twitter that she was in Mar-a-Lago on Wednesday where she saw former president Donald Trump. Carnahan said that Trump, speaking from a lectern in the picture Carnahan published, acknowledged Hagedorn “and said he is keeping his eye on the race.” Trump has not made an endorsement in the 1st District, and he did not endorse anyone on Wednesday while Carnahan was in Florida. But if Trump does weigh in on the primary, it could sway voters picking among 10 candidates. Carnahan Campaign spokesman Brandon Wear didn’t answer directly when asked by MinnPost’s Orenstein if Trump invited Carnahan to the resort, only saying “she went down there to meet with him.”

Meanwhile, in Northeast Minnesota, a credible challenger to Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber has emerged. Democratic state Rep. Jen Schultz of Duluth entered the race for the Eighth District on Monday. After making the announcement in Virginia and Duluth, Schultz headed for the State Capitol, where around 20 Democratic lawmakers joined her in a show of support.

“Unfortunately, Pete Stauber, our current congressman in the 8th, has done nothing good for Minnesota or the 8th Congressional District,” Schultz told reporters. According to the Associated Press, “she specifically faulted him for voting against President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill and supporting an unsuccessful Texas lawsuit to invalidate Biden’s election victory.”

But as another story by Walker Orenstein points out, Schultz’s campaign will be a tough one in the Eighth District. It doesn’t help that it’s a midterm election after the election of a Democrat, which historically trends in the minority party’s favor, especially in the House.

Another uphill battle for child care

After trying and failing to pass comprehensive child care funding in 2021, lawmakers are back at it in 2022. Sen. Tina Smith, who has been a longtime leader on the issue, joined colleagues Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in sending a letter to President Biden calling on him to start pushing child care spending through reconciliation again. Here’s an early version of the letter obtained by Politico.

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“Addressing our nation’s child care crisis remains essential to boosting labor force participation among mothers, helping lower everyday expenses for families and child care providers who are facing higher costs due to inflation, and ensuring all children access the benefits of quality child care that support positive physical and brain development,” the lawmakers wrote. “We stand ready to work with you to enact legislation through reconciliation that ensures middle-class and working families do not spend more than 7 percent of their income on child care, expands access to pre-K, and invests in the early childhood workforce and infrastructure.”

More than two dozen senators and 70-plus House members have signed on to the letter. It doesn’t criticize the administration, but it’s clear the left is worried that Sen. Joe Manchin will once again fight against the president’s earlier social spending plan. Unfortunately for these lawmakers, Manchin has made it pretty clear already that he is unlikely to sign off on any reconciliation bill that includes child care provisions.

Orgies and cocaine?

Yeah, you read that right. North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, everyone’s least favorite member of Congress, went on a podcast called Warrior Poet Society last week and made some … interesting claims.

Asked if the Netflix hit House of Cards, about amoral Washington politicians and fixers, was anything like reality, Cawthorn said that reality was pretty close to the show, except that “you could never get a piece of legislation about education passed that quickly.” Fair.

Then the 26-year-old congressman went off the tracks a bit. “Then all of the sudden you get invited to, ‘Well, hey, we’re going to have kind of a sexual get together at one of our homes, you should come.’ I’m like, ‘What did you just ask me to come to?’ And then you realize they are asking you to come to an orgy,” he said. 

Cawthorn also said that he’s seen lawmakers do “a key bump of cocaine right in front of you.”

If I may add a bit of editorializing here, but if anyone is doing lines, my money is on overworked Congressional staffers, not members. And as for orgies, let’s just say that it’s not that I think Cawthorn was lying about them, but I don’t think he’d ever be invited — even by members of his own party. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and chief whip Steve Scalise met with Cawthorn Wednesday for about half an hour, after which McCarthy told reporters, “There’s a lot of different things that can happen. But I just told him he’s lost my trust. He’s going to have to earn it back. I mean, he’s got a lot of members very upset.”

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What I’m Reading

  • “The long history of Black hair in America took center stage at the Oscars,” NPR. If you weren’t already watching the Oscars, by now I’m sure you’ll have seen the clip of Will Smith smacking Chris Rock after Rock made a bad joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair. I saw a lot of pretty terrible takes on social media post-smack, and I think it’s important to center Black voices in this scenario. Alana Wise is NPR’s race and identity reporter, and she wrote this great piece on the significance of Black hair and why Smith’s defense of his wife struck a chord with so many people. “Here was a Black man publicly sticking up for his Black wife — and her Black hair — on a stage where Blackness has historically been overlooked or outright shunned.”
  • “How to stay up-to-date on terrible news without burning out,” Washington Post. Burning out on terrible news is a constant struggle for me, so I really appreciated this article that lays out some ways to create some boundaries for yourself as you navigate the news ecosystem. Two of my favorites mentioned are getting rid of notifications from most apps and setting screen time limits for some social media and news apps (for me, limiting my time on Twitter helps a lot).

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or thoughts on Cawthorn’s wild statements to ahackett@minnpost.com.