Video Games: A New Frontier for Politics?

227 million Americans play video games.  That includes a grow number of US lawmakers, who are not only embracing video games as a hobby but incorporating them into their campaigns.  

Video games come to Washington.  A Politico Magazine article published in 2018 profiled a few members of Congress and their interest in video games.  Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) indicated video games provide a way for lawmakers of different parties to bond, while Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), now Governor of Colorado, said video games improve critical thinking skills.

Politicians haven’t always liked video games, to say the least.  In 1993, then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) first suggested banning violent video games, while then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) introduced legislation to add more restrictions to violent and sexually explicit games in 2005.  Over the past 20-plus years, many politicians have at least partially blamed video games on mass shootings, including then-President Donald Trump with the 2018 Parkland High School shooting, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-CA) with the 2019 shooting in El Paso.

Video Games on the Campaign Trail

However, lawmakers’ changing attitudes on video games has coincided with political campaigns’ increased use of video games.  In September 2020, the Biden-Harris campaign made available virtual yard signs that players of the game Animal Crossing could download and place in their virtual front yards.  The COVID-19 pandemic may have also inspired the Biden-Harris campaign to dive into the world of virtual organizing, as many Democratic campaigns had suspended in-person events and shifted online due to the virus. But, the Biden-Harris campaign wasn’t the first political campaign to use  video games – in 2008, the Obama-Biden campaign placed ads on virtual billboards in Madden NFL 09 and NBA Live 08.  

Given the large number of Americans that play video games, it’s hard to deny the potential video games offer politically.  Campaigns can use video games to target specific demographics such as men aged 18-49, who are disproportionately more likely to participate in gaming.  And unlike print, radio, and television ads, video games offer an interactive format that can be potentially more persuasive than traditional forms of media.

That doesn’t mean video games are the new frontier for campaigns.  Instances of campaigns ads in video games appear to be the exception, not the rule, and it’s unclear to what extent politics will encroach on the world of gaming.  Most video game developers prefer to keep their products apolitical, largely to avoid pushback from their (mostly male) customers.  Additionally, many people turn to video games as a way to take a break from aspects of the real world – like politics.  While politicians may see video games as fertile ground for outreach, fear of backlash from developers and gamers could slow down the adoption of virtually campaigning as a major way to reach potential voters.

All About PACs

To run a campaign, candidates need money, and with the small exception of publicly financed campaigns, a sizeable portion of this money comes from political action committees (PACs).  By providing for a campaign’s war chest, PACs play a massive role in determining how candidates are elected, and in turn, which kinds of policies are enacted.

Overview

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) established the first PAC in 1943 after Congress prohibited unions from directly contributing to political candidates.  Corporations were initially barred from directly contributing to PACs under the Tillman Act of 1907, and the Smith-Connally Act extended this law to include unions in 1943.  Later, a series of campaign laws including the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971 allowed corporations and trade associations to form PACs.  The FECA also notably established the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which enforces PAC laws.

Businesses, organizations, and other entities form PACs as a way to pool resources together to support the candidates they like, and indirectly, oppose candidates they don’t like.  Overall, a PAC’s purpose is to raise money in support of a candidate, to get them elected, and to help defeat candidates they oppose.  Additionally, PACs aren’t limited to candidates for elected office – such as with state ballot measures.   

Types of PACs

There are five types of PACs:

  1. Separate Segregated Funds (SSF).  These are political committees established by labor unions, corporations, membership organizations, or trade associations.  They can only solicit contributions from an individual connected with the sponsoring organization, such as an employee or an association member. 
  2. Nonconnected committees. These entities are not established or sponsored by any particular organization, and unlike separate segregated funds, they can target the general public for solicitation. 
  3. Super PACs.  Created in 2010 after the US Supreme Court rulings for Citizens United v. FEC and SpeechNOW v. FEC , super PACs cannot make contributions to candidates or parties.  However, these PACs do make independent expenditures in federal campaigns, such as running advertisements or sending mail that either supports or opposes a candidate.  Unlike other PACs, there are no limits or restrictions on the sources of funds that can be used for expenditures.  Super PACs are still bound by the rules of other PACs in that they must file regular reports with the FEC.
  4. Hybrid PACs.  Similar to super PACs, hybrid PACs can spend unlimited funds on activities outside a campaign.  What sets hybrid PACs apart, however, is their ability to contribute funds directly to a political party, campaign, or candidate, similar to SSFs and nonconnected committees.
  5. Leadership PACs.  These are committees established by candidates or individuals currently holding federal office.  Both Representatives and Senators can establish leadership PACs to support candidates within their political party.

PAC Rules

PACs must follow numerous rules set out by the FECA and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.  For instance, a PAC has 10 days to register with the FEC after its formation.  The FEC also requires politicians and candidates who create a leadership PAC to be listed when submitting the required documentation.  Furthermore, current laws require PACs to meticulously keep records on how they spend their money, which includes salaries, advertisements, supplies, rent, day-to-day expenses, dinners, and more.

The following chart provides an overview of the limitations on how much different types of PACs can spend and receive.

SSFsNonconnected PACsLeadership
PACs
Hybrid PACsSuper PACs
Limits on
contributions

Can contribute no more than:

$5,000 to a
candidate or
candidate
committee for each election
 
$15,000 to a
political party per year, and
 
$5,000 to
another PAC
per year

Can contribute no more than:

$5,000 to a
candidate or
candidate
committee for each election
 
$15,000 to a
political party per year, and
 
$5,000 to
another PAC
per year

Can contribute no more than:

$5,000 to a
candidate or
candidate
committee for each election
 
$15,000 to a
political party per year, and
 
$5,000 to
another PAC
per year


Can contribute no more than:
 
$5,000 to a
candidate or
candidate
committee for each election,
 
$15,000 to a
political party per year, and
 
$5,000 to
another PAC
per year, but
can spend
unlimited
amounts of
money on
non-candidate or campaign-
related
political
activities




Cannot directly contribute to
candidate or
party but can
spend
unlimited
amounts of
money on
non-candidate or campaign-
related
political activities
Limits on
donations
from
individuals
Can accept up to $5,000 per
year
Can accept up to $5,000 per
year
Can accept up to $5,000 per
year
Can accept up to $5,000 per
year
No cap on
donations

PACs and Advocacy

By influencing elections, PACs indirectly play a pivotal role in lobbying and advocacy.  Different businesses, industries, and interests have PACs, and they work to get candidates elected who support those issues or host fundraisers for other candidates in the hopes of attracting them to their cause.  In turn, once those candidates are elected, advocates can target public officials who are more likely to be favorable to their cause.  Thus, by helping to get friendlier candidates elected to public office, PACs show they can play a massive role in moving organizations’ advocacy objectives forward.

Lay of the Land for 2022 Senate Elections

The 2022 midterm election for the US Senate is a tale of two conflicting narratives.  On the one hand, the map favors Democrats, who only must defend 14 seats compared to Republicans’ 20 seats.  On the other hand, midterm elections typically do not bode well for the party that occupies the White House, giving Republicans an advantage.  Given the current 50-50 split in the Senate, the stakes for either party couldn’t be higher.

To illustrate the current lay of the land, the map below shows all the seats up for the 2022 election along with the party of the incumbent.

The 2022 Outlook

Below is a chart of all the states with a 2022 Senate election, their likely outcome according to the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, and a comparison with 2020 presidential election results.

StateIncumbentPartyProjection2020 Presidential Margin
AlabamaRichard Shelby*RSolid RTrump (+25.5)
AlaskaLisa MurkowskiRSolid RTrump (+10.1)
ArizonaMark KellyDLean DBiden (+0.3)
ArkansasJohn BoozmanRSolid RTrump (+27.6)
CaliforniaAlex PadillaDSolid DBiden (+29.5)
ColoradoMichael BennetDSolid DBiden (+13.5)
ConnecticutRichard BlumenthalDSolid DBiden (+20)
FloridaMarco RubioRLean RTrump (+3.4)
GeorgiaRaphael WarnockDLean DBiden (+0.2)
HawaiiBrian SchatzDSolid DBiden (+29.5)
IdahoMike CrapoRSolid RTrump (+30.7)
IllinoisTammy DuckworthDSolid DBiden (+16.9)
IndianaTodd YoungRSolid RTrump (+16)
IowaChuck GrassleyRSolid RTrump (+8.2)
KansasJerry MoranRSolid RTrump (+14.6)
KentuckyRand PaulRSolid RTrump (+26)
LouisianaJohn N. KennedyRSolid RTrump (19.6)
MarylandChris Van HollenDSolid DBiden (+33.5)
MissouriRoy Blunt*RSolid RTrump (+15.4)
NevadaCatherine Cortez MastoDLean DBiden (+2.4)
New HampshireMaggie HassanDLean DBiden (+7.4)
New YorkChuck SchumerDSolid DBiden (+23.1)
North CarolinaRichard Burr*RToss-upTrump (+1.3)
North DakotaJohn HoevenRSolid RTrump (+33.3)
OhioRob Portman*RLean RTrump (+8)
OklahomaJames LankfordRSolid RTrump (+33.1)
OregonRon WydenDSolid DBiden (+16.1)
PennsylvaniaPat Toomey*RToss-upBiden (+1.2)
South CarolinaTim ScottRSolid RTrump (+11.7)
UtahMike LeeRSolid RTrump (+20.3)
VermontPatrick LeahyDSolid DBiden (+35.4)
WashingtonPatty MurrayDSolid DBiden (+19.2)
WisconsinRon JohnsonRToss-upBiden (+0.6)

*not seeking reelection

Democrats May Have an Advantage…

Five Republican incumbent Senators, Shelby, Blunt, Burr, Portman, and Toomey, are not seeking reelection, and three of them represent states that are currently rated as “toss-up.”  This leaves the GOP without the advantage of an incumbent candidate on the ballot for three key races.  Furthermore, the number of “toss-up” states without an incumbent GOP Senator on the ballot could grow from three to four if Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) decides not to seek reelection.  In contrast, none of the 14 Democratic Senators in the mix for 2022 have announced retirement plans.

Democrats are also heading into the 2022 Senate races with an impressive war chest.  During the second quarter of 2021, several Democratic candidates in competitive states announced sizable fundraising totals, including Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) with $7 million and Sen. Mike Kelly (D-AZ) with nearly $6 million.  The strong fundraising shown thus far is reminiscent of the 2018 and 2020 cycles, where Democrats translated money raised into electoral victories. 

…Or Not

However, there are many other factors to consider, namely the popularity of President Joe Biden.  As mentioned before, midterm elections tend to not favor the party that controls the presidency, and an unpopular president has the potential to hurt Democrats even more.  Recent polling shows that President Biden’s approval rating has dipped below 50% as the Delta variant, inflation, and the evacuation of Afghanistan take a toll on Biden’s agenda.  If these trends persist into 2022, Democrats might find themselves in a tough position to win any “toss-up” seats.

Trump: the X Factor

A major unknown factor heading into the 2022 Senate races is the role of former President Donald Trump.  Since leaving office, Trump has continued to hold rallies with his supporters and endorsed candidates who he perceives as loyal to him.  In June, for instance, Trump endorsed Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) in the GOP primary to succeed the retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) in the race for North Carolina’s open Senate seat.  This endorsement conflicts with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who has expressed a desire for the former president to refrain from endorsing candidates until the primaries have wrapped up.  

While it remains uncertain how much influence Trump will have over Senate races, the former president’s influence over recent House special elections offers clues.  In a July 27 special election for the 6th Congressional District of Texas, Republican State Rep. Jake Ellzey defeated the Trump-backed candidate Susan Wright in a runoff race to succeed Wright’s late husband, Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX).  However, a Trump endorsement may have been helpful to Republican Mike Carey, who won the Republican primary for a special election on August 3 to fill a seat representing the 15th Congressional District of Ohio.  The seat, which was vacated with the retirement of Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), leans Republican, meaning Carey is highly favored to win the general election on November 2, 2021.  Trump’s mixed record on special elections in 2021 further indicates the continued uncertainty on his sway over the Senate races next year.

Uncertain Impact of 2018 Midterm Elections

With the 2022 midterm elections on the horizon, it remains unclear whether the trends from the 2018 midterm elections will carry over into next year, especially for the Senate.  While the 2018 midterm elections saw the highest turnout in over half a century, the results were split between both parties.  While Democrats gained a total of 39 seats in the House, Republicans were able to gain two Senate seats, partially defying a trend that typically sees the party which occupies the White House lose seats in Congress.  However, the 2018 Senate map was historically bad for Democrats, and Republicans face a similar situation heading into 2022.  That said, with a new president and new issues currently dominating the public discourse, 2022 presents a different landscape from 2018, making it difficult to draw any hard conclusions from the previous midterm elections.   

How Restricting Could Determine Control of the House

With each new decade comes a new Census, and with every new Census comes a redrawing of the map of congressional districts for the House of Representatives.   Known as redistricting, the stakes of this process couldn’t be higher, with Democrats clinging to a narrow majority in the House and the electorate bitterly divided among voters of either party.  However, thanks to the pandemic and controversies from the redistricting process 10 years ago, the process to determine congressional district boundaries ahead of the 2022 midterm elections will look more complicated than usual.

How States Determine Congressional Districts

The lines for congressional districts are redrawn at the state-level every 10 years.  Notably, each congressional district is required to be as equal to the population in all other congressional districts in a state as practicable.  Using new census data, states typically determine district boundaries through one of three ways:

  1. State legislature.  The state legislature has ultimate authority to draft and implement maps for congressional districts.  While some states may have advisory commissions who assist with the redrawing process, state legislatures are not bound to follow the commissions’ recommendations.
  2. Commission.  An independent commission is tasked with drawing the boundaries of congressional districts.  Some commissions bar individuals that hold elective office from serving on them, while others may include elected officials.
  3. Hybrid.  Both a state legislature and a commission share redistricting authority.

Below is a map that shows each state’s redistricting process as of 2020.  Notably, states with only one member serving in the House of Representatives do not participate in the redistricting process.

States are tasked every decade with redrawing their congressional districts based on new census data.  With Democrats holding a five-seat majority in the House, how congressional maps are re-drawn could have a huge impact on which seats change hands and what party assumes the majority in the next Congress.  This blog post provides an overview of what the redistricting process will look like and what it means for the 2022 midterm elections in the House.

Since most states have their respective legislatures draw congressional boundaries, some state lawmakers feel an incentive to engage in partisan gerrymandering, which is when districts are drawn in a way that benefits their own party.  Related to this is racial gerrymandering, which refers to when districts are drawn to reduce the electoral power of one racial group in favor of another.  Notably, racial gerrymandering is prohibited under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  While the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June 2019 that federal courts cannot weigh in on partisan gerrymandering cases, several lawsuits on the state level have been successful in changing maps.  In 2019, a three-judge panel in North Carolina threw out the Tar Heel state’s new congressional map for unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, prompting a redrawing of the map that gave Democrats an edge.  One year earlier, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court declared the commonwealth’s 2011 congressional districting map to be in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution, leading the way to a new map that also left Republicans disadvantaged. 

Delayed Census Data, Delayed Maps

Normally, the US Census Bureau releases its apportionment data in December of the year it is collected, with more in-depth demographic data that states use to determine district boundaries released throughout February and March of the following year.   However, COVID-19 delayed the Census Bureau’s ability to gather and process data, and therefore the apportionment data wasn’t posted until April 26, 2021, and the more in-depth data states use to draw district boundaries won’t be available until August 12.  The apportionment data refers to the number of seats in the House of Representatives allotted for a state based on the state’s population, while the more in-depth data includes demographic information such as age, sex, and race as well as geographic boundaries like jurisdictional limits, school districts, property lines, roads, and other features that states will use to redraw maps.

Due to the delay in receiving census data, states are facing tight deadlines on drawing their 2022 congressional maps.  Currently, 12 states are required either constitutionally or statutorily to have their 2022 congressional district boundaries enacted before the end of 2021.  As a result, many states are expected to hold special legislative sessions this fall to focus on redistricting.  Other states are using non-census data to draw new district boundaries.  For example, the state legislatures of Illinois and Oklahoma are both using data from the American Community Survey (ACS) to come up with new maps.  However, some dispute that ACS data can serve as a stand-in for census data, and the Illinois Republican Party has already filed a lawsuit to challenge the forthcoming new map.  By summer 2022, at least half of states are expected to have their new congressional districts finalized.

What to Watch for in 2022

Apportionment data released in April saw a dozen states either gain or lose House seats based on changes in total population.  Below is an overview of the states that will see changes in their delegation, with the current number of seats in the 117th Congress noted in parentheses.

  • States that will lose one seat: California (53), Illinois (18), Michigan (14), New York (27), Ohio (16), Pennsylvania (18), West Virginia (3).
  • States that will gain one seat: Colorado (7), Montana (1), North Carolina (1), Oregon (5).
  • States that will gain two seats: Florida (27), Texas (36).

Going into the 2022 redistricting process, Republicans have the upper hand.  A major reason for this is Democrats currently have a slim five-seat majority in the House, which means Republicans only have to flip a few seats to retake the majority.  Heading into 2022, two factors give the GOP an advantage when it comes to winning new seats.

  • Apportionment data.  Many of the states that are set to lose one seat are Democratic-leaning, while Republican-leaning Florida and Texas gain two seats apiece.  A minor shift in seats away from blue states toward red states could be especially impactful in the House.
  • Control of state legislatures.  The Republican Party holds a supermajority in the legislatures of 30 state governments, meaning party members control both the upper chamber and the lower chamber of a state’s legislative branch.  In contrast, Democrats hold a supermajority in 18 states, while control is split between the parties in two states’ legislature.  This translates to Republicans having direct control over the boundaries of 187 districts, while Democrats only control 75.  Out of the remaining districts, independent commissions will decide 96, both parties will decide 71, and six seats represent at-large districts.  By holding supermajorities in most state legislatures, the GOP is better positioned to engage in gerrymandering and redraw congressional lines in their favor.  Notably, the Republican Party controls the state legislatures of Texas and Florida, both of which will be gaining two seats for 2022. 

However, Democrats have a few tricks up their sleeve to counter Republicans’ advantage in redrawing the congressional map.

  • Lawsuits. Litigation brought about changes in the congressional maps in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in recent years, and new legal challenges could open the door for more changes as redistricting for 2022 heats up.  The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an advocacy organization founded by former US Attorney General Eric Holder, filed lawsuits in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania in April 2021, immediately following the release of the apportionment data.  As a worst-case-scenario for Republicans, some lawsuits could potentially overturn newly drawn maps, meaning some 2022 congressional races could be decided using the 2020 map.  It should be noted that Democrats are not the only party with a redistricting advocacy group, as the National Republican Redistricting Trust has pledged to challenge any maps that it sees as unfairly skewing to the left. 
  • Democratic supermajorities.  State legislatures with Democratic supermajorities may attempt to redraw their lines through gerrymandering to squeeze out Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation, potentially providing a cushion for Democrats in anticipation of any 2022 losses in the House.  States to watch include Illinois and Maryland, where Democratic state lawmakers may redraw lines to make reelection a tough prospect for Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Andy Harris (R-MD).

Redistricting has massive ramification for US politics and this year is no exception.  Between delayed census data, tight redistricting deadlines, strong Republican advantages, and the specter of Democratic lawsuits, intense fights over the 2022 congressional map could be on the horizon. 

Lay of the Land for 2022 Gubernatorial Races

The 2022 midterms aren’t just about Congress.  36 states will be holding gubernatorial elections, and the consequences will not just determine state-level policies but also inform future political players on the federal level for presidential races..  At the moment, 27 states have Republican governors, while 23 have Democratic governors.

Nearly 40 state governorships are up for grabs over the next two years, and the winners of these races will have a broad impact on not just state-level policies but also the potential to reshape rising political stars on the national stage.  This blog post looks at all the upcoming gubernatorial races for 2021-2022 and provides insight on the likely outcome.

The 2021 Races

One indicator of the 2022 midterms will be three gubernatorial races scheduled in fall 2021.  Both New Jersey and Virginia have held their gubernatorial elections off-year to avoid being overshadowed by federal elections, while California’s election is part of a recall effort.

  • In New Jersey, incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy is seeking a second term.  He will face Republican nominee and current State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. The state gubernatorial election will take place on November 2, 2021.
  • In Virginia, former Governor Terry McAuliffe is seeking a second term in a November 2, 2021, where he will face off against Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.  Unlike other state governors, Virginia governors are not allowed to serve consecutive terms, which is why the current Democratic Governor Ralph Northam is not seeking reelection.
  • In California, incumbent Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom faces a recall election on September 14, 2021.  46 candidates have been deemed qualified to appear on the ballot, including 9 Democrats and 23 Republicans. 

However, the 2021 gubernatorial races are unlikely to serve as a bellwether for the 2022 midterms.  All three states are solidly Democratic, with Democrats currently serving as governor, attorney general, and secretary of state.  Additionally, the state legislatures of Virginia, New Jersey, and California all have Democratic majorities.

The 2022 Outlook

Of the 36 states in the mix for 2022, 20 governorships are held by Republicans, while 18 are held by Democrats.  Below is a chart of all states with 2022 gubernatorial elections, their likely outcome according to the Cook Political Report, and a comparison with 2020 presidential election results.

StateIncumbentPartyProjection2020 Presidential Margin
AlabamaKay IveyRSolid RTrump (+25.5)
AlaskaMike DunleavyRSolid RTrump (+10.1)
ArizonaDoug Ducey*RToss-upBiden (+0.3)
ArkansasAsa Hutchinson*DSolid RTrump (+27.6)
CaliforniaGavin Newsom†DLikely DBiden (+29.5)
ColoradoJared PolisDSolid DBiden (+13.5)
ConnecticutNed LamontDSolid DBiden (+20)
FloridaRon DeSantisRLean RTrump (+3.4)
GeorgiaBrian KempRLean RBiden (+0.2)
HawaiiDavid Ige*DSolid DBiden (+29.5)
IdahoBrad LittleRSolid RTrump (+30.7)
IllinoisJ.B. PritzkerDSolid DBiden (+16.9)
IowaKim ReynoldsRLikely RTrump (+8.2)
KansasLaura KellyDToss-upTrump (+14.6)
MaineJanet MillsDLikely DBiden (+9.1)
MarylandLarry Hogan*RLean DBiden (+33.2)
MassachusettsCharlie BakerRSolid RBiden (+33.5)
MichiganGretchen WitmerDLean DBiden (+2.4)
MinnesotaTim WalzDLikely DBiden (+7.1)
NebraskaPete Ricketts*RSolid RTrump (+19.1)
NevadaSteve SisolakDLikely DBiden (+2.4)
New HampshireChris SununuRLikely RBiden (+7.4)
New MexicoMichelle Lujan GrishamDSolid DBiden (+10.8)
New YorkAndrew CuomoDSolid DBiden (+23.1)
OhioMike DeWineRLikely RTrump (+8)
OklahomaKevin StittRSolid R Trump (+33.1)
OregonKate BrownDLikely DBiden (+16.1)
PennsylvaniaTom Wolf*DToss-upBiden (+1.2)
Rhode IslandDaniel McKeeDSolid DBiden (+23.1)
South CarolinaHenry McMasterRSolid RTrump (+11.7)
South DakotaKristi NoemRSolid RTrump (+26.2)
TennesseeBill LeeRSolid RTrump (+23.2)
TexasGreg AbbottRLikely RTrump (+5.8)
VermontPhil ScottRSolid RBiden (+35.4)
WisconsinTony EversDLean DBiden (+0.6)
WyomingMark GordonRSolid RTrump (+43.3)

*Not eligible for reelection due to term limits

†Dependent on results of 2021 recall election

Democrats face an uphill battle in the 2022 gubernatorial races.  In 16 of the 19 midterm elections held since World War II, the party of the president lost bids for governorship.  However, 2022 is unlikely to see a lot of turnovers in the governors’ mansions due to the fact that all but six races feature incumbents, who generally face an advantage in retaining their seats.  Nonetheless, conditions could change for all gubernatorial candidates, depending on the popularity of President Joe Biden, the state of the economy, public health, and countless other measures. 

The Week in Review: June 1-4

Biden Calls Out Manchin, Sinema for Holding Back Democrats’ Agenda

During a June 2 event marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, President Joe Biden said “two members of the Senate who voted more with my Republican friends” is the reason why the Senate has been unable to advance a bipartisan voting rights bill.  The President was referencing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), whose strong support of the filibuster means Democrats are unable to advance key proposals with a simple majority.  Notably, Manchin and Sinema’s record indicates they vote with other Democrats most of the time.

Biden’s All-Out Push to Get 70% of Adults Vaccinated by July 4

President Joe Biden on June 2 announced a “national month of action” to help his Administration meet its goal of having 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19 by July 4.  Some of the key actions Biden outlined to spur more vaccinations include partnering with child-care providers to offer free services to all parents getting vaccinated or recovering from the shots and requesting pharmacies to extend their hours for the month of June.  The Administration also announced an initiative to provide vaccinations at Black-owned barbershops.  Currently, 63% of US adults have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Moderna Files Application for Full FDA Approval of COVID-19 Vaccine

On June 1, Moderna began filing for a Biologics License Application (BLA) with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would allow full approval of its COVID-19 vaccine.  Full approval would allow Moderna to directly market its vaccine as well as make it easier for companies and government agencies to mandate vaccinations for employees.  Full approval is also seen as an important step in addressing vaccine hesitancy.  Pfizer became the first drug maker to seek full FDA approval for its vaccine on May 7.  However, FDA has yet to comment on the timeline for reviewing the BLA for either vaccine.

Administration Announces Plans for Sending 25 Million Vaccines Abroad

On June 4, the Biden Administration formally laid out a plan to send out an initial wave of 25 million COVID-19 doses to help countries that have been hit hard by the virus.  According to the plan, 19 million doses will be distributed via worldwide vaccination initiative COVAX to Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.  Additionally, the US will separately supply 6 million doses to over a dozen countries including Canada, Mexico, and Ukraine.  The first wave of doses is part of a broader Administration effort first announced on May 17 to contribute 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as part of a global vaccination effort.

ICYMI: DC Museum Features George Washington’s Whiskey Writing

Every Friday from now until the end of July, the Stephen Decatur House Museum in downtown DC will have on display a letter penned by George Washington in 1799.  The letter, which is on loan from the Distillery Spirits Council, focuses on Washington’s pre- and post-presidential career as a whiskey distiller.  In the letter, Washington asks his nephew to assist with purchasing with purchasing enough grain to produce 200 gallons of whiskey. 

The Week in Review: May 10-14

CDC: Vaccinated Americans Do Not Need to Wear Masks Indoors, Outdoors          

On May 13, the CDC announced people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.  However, the CDC still recommends individuals continue to wear masks while in large crowds or while riding in planes, trains, or buses.  The update comes as US virus cases reach their lowest rate since September 2020 and COVID-19 deaths reach their lowest point since April 2020.  However, some warn the new guidance is likely to cause confusion, as there is no simple way for businesses or others to determine an individual’s vaccination status.   

House GOP Replaces Cheney with Stefanik as Conference Chair

Republican members of the House of Representatives voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her role as House Republican Conference on May 12 in a closed-door meeting.  The effort to remove Cheney from her House leadership role follows the Wyoming Congresswoman’s public criticism over former President Donald Trump.  On May 14, House Republicans voted to install Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) as Cheney’s successor. While Stefanik has the backing of former President Trump, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), some Republican members including Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) have raised concerns over Stefanik’s moderate voting record.

Over 100 Republicans Threaten to Form Rival Party

Over 100 former Republican officials issued a joint statement on May 13 threatening to create an alternative party if current GOP elected officials continue to espouse falsehoods about the 2020 General Election.  Among the influential Republicans to sign the letter are former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, and former Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock.  The statement also outlines 13 core principles based on preserving democracy, supporting market-based economics, and maintaining ethical governance. 

Nominations for HHS Deputy Secretary, CMS Administrator Advance

On May 11, the confirmed 61-37 Andrea Joan Palm to serve as Deputy of Health and Human Services.  Palm previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration and had most recently served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.  Two days later, the Senate voted 51-48 to advance the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to serve as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Brooks-LaSure’s nomination was previously stalled due to a hold from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in protest of the Biden Administration’s decision to rescind Texas’s Section 1115 Medicaid waiver.  The procedural vote to advance Brooks-LaSure’s nomination indicates she is likely to be confirmed soon.  Notably, Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Susan Collins (R-ME) joined Democrats in the vote to bring Brooks-LaSure’s nomination to the floor.

ICYMI: Jurisdictions Use Cash, Beer to Urge Vaccinations

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) announced the state will give away $1 million each to five vaccinated Ohio residents as a way to entice more Ohioans to get vaccinated.  DeWine’s announcement comes as state and local governments are creating incentives to encourage more people to get their shots.  In Washington, DC, for instance, individuals who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Kennedy Center on May 4 were offered a free beer.  Additionally, West Virginia began offering a $100 savings bond for state residents aged 16-35 who receive a vaccine shot. 

The Week in Review: April 12-16

Survey Finds Drop in JNJ Vaccine Confidence

On April 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended the US pause usage of the Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) vaccine after six women ages 18-48 developed a severe blood clot out of the 6.8 million doses administered so far. According to a poll conducted by YouGov and The Economist in the wake of the recommendation, the number of people who felt the JNJ vaccine was safe declined from 52% to 37%, while those who felt the vaccine was unsafe jumped from 26% to 39%.  Critics of the government’s recommendation say the pause is directly contributing to an increase in vaccine hesitancy, while federal officials say demonstrating the safety of vaccines is paramount to maintaining public confidence.  Notably, the public’s views on the safety of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines remain unchanged.  

CDC Advisory Panel Punts Decision on JNJ Vaccine Pause

On April 14, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) declined to vote on recommendations to continue using the JNJ COVID-19 vaccine, just a day after federal officials announced a pause in JNJ vaccinations over safety concerns.  ACIP opted to maintain the pause to allow more time to gather additional data about the blood clots that occurred in six vaccine recipients.  The Committee will reconvene in 7-10 days to decide whether to continue the pause, allow JNJ vaccinations to continue with certain restrictions, or bar the JNJ vaccine from continued use altogether.  Until the committee votes on recommendations, the pause will likely continue.

Pelosi Has “No Plans” to Bring Bill to Expand SCOTUS to the Floor

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters on April 15 that she has no plans to bring to the House floor a bill from Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) that would add four seats to the Supreme Court, which would effectively tilt the Court in Democrats’ favor.  However, Pelosi said expanding the court is “not out of the question,” and she expressed support for the Biden Administration’s commission to study changes to the Supreme Court, which include adding seats or instituting term limits.

Top W&M Republican Announces Retirement

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), who currently serves as Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced on April 13 that he will not seek reelection to a fourteenth term in Congress.  Brady, who has represented the northern suburbs of Houston since 1997, was term-limited out of being the top Republican on powerful tax-writing committee in the next Congress.  Among the House GOP members eyeing Brady’s seat is Devin Nunes (R-CA), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Adrian Smith (R-NE), Jason Smith (R-MO), and Mike Kelly (R-PA).

Dem Pollsters Admit to Flaws in Predicting Outcome of 2020 Election

Sure, most polls were correct in saying Joe Biden would win the presidency, but hardly anyone predicted Democrats would lose seats in the House and the Senate would be split 50-50.  Six months later, a group of leading Democratic pollsters reconvened to find out what went wrong.  According to a memo they released on April 13, the pollsters underestimated the amount of Republican turnout on Election Day and the reluctance among Republicans to participate in surveys.  Going forward, the pollsters say they are less likely to use live-interview phone calls and more likely to use innovative methods like text messages to prompt survey participation.

ICYMI: Poll Says DC Is the Worst State

A YouGov poll released on April 13 found the District of Columbia – which is not even a state – last in a ranking of US states from best to worst.  The poll, which asked respondents to choose the better of two states in a series of head-to-head matchup, ranked states according to how often they “won” in the matchups.  Fortunately, the District’s neighboring states fared better in the poll – Virginia came in third, while Maryland was ranked 26.

5 Things to Know about In-Person Advocacy

Will we get back to in-person meetings on Capitol Hill?  When??  How?  COVID-19 is still around, even as the country’s mood is lightening about the overall impact of the virus.  And the safety and security of lawmakers and staff are of top-of-mind after the deadly January 6 riot and April 2 attempt at breaching the Capitol grounds.  Let’s explore  when in-person meetings might return and what those meetings could look like.

It is happening?

By and large, in-person advocacy isn’t happening, at least not on the Hill.  Since March 2020, advocacy has shifted online to videoconferencing like Zoom and telephone calls.  However, that doesn’t mean Members haven’t been yearning for a return to normal.  On March 10, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) requesting a timeline on when certain in-person activities can restart, including allowing visitors in House office buildings.  While Pelosi has not officially responded to the letter, many Democrats say it’s premature to relax restrictions, partially due to the fact that a number of Republican lawmakers have yet to be vaccinated.   

Any decision on when to loosen restrictions will ultimately be up to Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, in consultation with the Office of the Attending Physician (OAP).  While the Capitol complex and adjacent congressional office buildings are exempt from public health guidelines from the Government of the District of Columbia, leadership and the OAP are using local COVID-19 health guidances to inform decisions.  These guidelines were last updated February 23 and include masking, de-densifying Hill offices, staggered schedules, and teleworking.

What is open?

Presently, both the House and Senate office buildings are only open to Members, staff, and credentialed press, and while official business visitors are permitted in congressional offices, they must always require staff escorts.  House staff may only escort a maximum of nine visitors at a time, while Senate staff are limited to 15 visitors.  However, this does not mean that advocates have regular, unfettered access to congressional offices. 

What about off the Hill?

Over the past few weeks, some lawmakers and staff, mostly Republicans, have resumed some degree of in-person activities, including fundraising dinners, due to relaxations in local restrictions on event sizes as well as new CDC guidelines that allow small groups of vaccinated individuals to gather in-person.  Republicans are also hosting fundraising trips around the country.  Lobbyists and advocates are also interacting in-person with legislators instates and congressional districts where COVID-19 restrictions have been loosened more considerably. 

When will things get back to normal?

Anecdotally, some congressional staff and lobbyists are saying in-person meetings may not be permitted on Capitol Hill until 2022.  Whether this happens sooner or later depends on countless factors, including the pace of vaccinations, level of vaccination hesitancy, local restrictions in DC, and to what extent any COVID-19 variants impact the effectiveness of current vaccines. 

What will change permanently?

With most details about the future of in-person meetings on the Hill being speculative, one likelihood is the continued use of videoconferencing technology that can complement in-person meetings.  During the pandemic, teleconferencing has been used to great effect to connect advocates who normally wouldn’t be able to make a trip to Washington with lawmakers and staff, which leaves open the possibility for a “hybrid” approach that incorporates building relationships both in-person and virtually.

Furthermore, the aftermath of the January 6 riot on Capitol could serve as the basis for other permanent changes.  Even after the pandemic ends, some congressional staff and lobbyists feel that certain security measures could stick around, meaning limits on in-person meetings could persist.  For instance, limits on group sizes could continue, which would certainly impact large-scale fly-ins.  At the moment, however, both Members of Congress and lobbyists are more focused on removing physical barriers such as fencing and razor wire from the perimeter of the Capitol complex.  On March 15, for example, the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics sent a letter to the Speaker urging the removal of all physical barriers by July 1. 

The Week in Review: April 5-9

Senate Dems Have Two More Opportunities to Use Budget Reconciliation

The Senate Parliamentarian ruled on April 5 that Democrats may use budget reconciliation two more times this year to override a Republican filibuster and pass a major legislative package with 50 votes.  This sets the stage for Senate Democrats to use reconciliation to advance the Biden Administration’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure package if certain conditions on revenue and spending are met.  Senate Democrats already used budget reconciliation in March to advance the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (P.L. 117-2).

Administration Bumps Vaccine Eligibility Date to April 19

On April 6, the Biden Administration announced that every adult in the nation will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination by April 19, nearly two weeks ahead of the original deadline of May 1.  In a press briefing preceding the announcement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the new date can be attributed to an expedited supply of vaccine doses and improvements in distribution.  However, the Administration continues to urge Americans to remain vigilant and adhere to public health guidelines as parts of the nation see an increase in cases.

Florida Congressman Passes Away, Narrowing Democratic Majority

Representative Alcee Hastings (D-IL) died on April 6 at age 84 following a two-year bout with pancreatic cancer.  The Florida congressman’s death narrows Democrats’ majority in the House down to seven, leaving Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) with tighter margins to advance Democratic legislative priorities.  Voters in Hasting’s district, which stretches from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach, will have an opportunity to choose a new Representative in special election that has yet to be announced by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis

Poll Finds Largest Gap between in Party Affiliation since 2012

A Gallup poll conducted in the first quarter of 2021 found an average of 49% of US adults identified with  or lean towards the Democratic Party, while 40% identify or lean Republican.  The nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage is the largest Gallup has measured since the fourth quarter of 2012.  The poll also found 44% of Americans identify as political independents, compared to 38% in the fourth quarter of 2020.  Most of the gains in independent affiliation came at the expense of Republicans who saw a 4% decline in party identification since the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to Democrats’ 1% drop over the same period.  This data means Republicans’ hopes of retaking Congress in the 2022 midterms may hinge on appealing to independent voters.

CMS Begins Proposing FY22 Payment Rates

This week, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services began proposing Fiscal Year 2022 payment rates for the following prospective payment systems:

Comments for all four proposed rules must be received no later than 5 PM EDT on June 7, 2021.

ICYMI: Trump Weighs In on 2022 Senate Races

Former President Donald Trump has already begun endorsing Republican candidates ahead of the 2022 midterms.  Republicans face an uphill battle to retake the Senate in 2022 – while Democrats only have to defend 14 seats, Republicans must defend 20.  On April 8, Trump issued a statement urging the currently undecided Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) to seek reelection.  Democrats flipped Wisconsin from red to blue in the 2020 presidential election, and Johnson’s Senate seat is sure to be hotly contested in 2022.  A day earlier, Trump endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who has opted not to seek reelection.