Democrats are targeting four seats in Illinois, where voters will pick their nominees Tuesday in the second congressional primaries of the year. 

It’s an early test for the party’s ability to nominate candidates it thinks are viable in the general election. Unlike in Texas, which held the cycle’s first primaries two weeks ago, there are no runoffs in Illinois. So a simple plurality would be enough to advance to the November general election. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has added four Republican-held districts to its target list: the 6th, the 12th, the 13th and the 14th. Democratic strategists who know the state admit the 14th is a reach. 

The DCCC has only openly picked a favorite in the 12th District. Last cycle, the party failed to even recruit top-tier candidates in the 12th and 13th districts, both of which were drawn to be competitive for Democrats. 

[Democratic Showdown in Illinois' 3rd District]

EMILY’s List has played an early, influential role in endorsing candidates in five contested Democratic primaries, including in two Solid Democratic seats — the 3rd and the 4th districts. 

The 3rd District race has attracted the most national attention. Seven-term Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski is in the fight of his life against first-time candidate Marie Newman. With social issues a salient difference between the two, the contest has become nationalized as a flashpoint in the fight over the identity of the Democratic Party.

Watch: Blue Dog vs. Progressive — What to Watch in the Illinois Primaries

Democrats need to gain 24 seats (or 23, depending on certification of Pennsylvania’s 18th District special election result) to win the House majority in November. 

The 6th District, represented by GOP Rep. Peter Roskam, voted for Hillary Clinton by 7 points in 2016, leading one Democratic strategist working in the state to call it a “must-win” this year. The affluent suburban Chicago district is the only one of the four targeted districts that Clinton carried. 

But voters here have shown an inclination to split their tickets. In 2016, they also backed Roskam and GOP incumbent Sen. Mark S. Kirk, who lost his bid for re-election.

Democrat Kelly Mazeski, a former financial adviser and local elected official, has been seen as the front-runner in the primary. A breast cancer survivor, she announced her candidacy the day the House voted to repeal the 2010 health care law, which earned her national headlines. She’d raised $843,000 (including a $295,000 personal loan) by the end of the pre-primary Federal Election Commission report, which ran through February. 

[Illinois Primaries Will Be Early Testing Ground for Democrats

Spending from EMILY’s List on direct mail allowed Mazeski to go up early on cable and broadcast. She also has the backing of Illinois Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Cheri Bustos and several of Bustos’ closest female allies in Congress, who have been politically active across the country.

But the delegation is split. Lawyer Carole Cheney, a former district chief of staff to Rep. Bill Foster, has the backing of Foster and Rep. Robin Kelly. She had raised $314,000 by the end of February. 

Clean energy entrepreneur Sean Casten has raised the most money. He had raised $902,000 (including a $630,000 personal loan) by the end of February. Several outside groups have launched last-minute spending backing Casten and attacking Mazeski. 

Amanda Howland, the 2016 nominee who lost to Roskam by 18 points, is also running. Despite initial concerns from national Democrats that her previous name recognition would give her a boost, she’d only raised $141,000 by the end of February. 

The ancestrally Democratic 12th District, held by two-term GOP Rep. Mike Bost, represents the sort of seat that has trended away from the party in recent years that Democrats want to win back. Former President Barack Obama twice carried the seat, and Democrat Tammy Duckworth carried it in her winning Senate bid in 2016. But so did President Donald Trump — and by 15 points.  

The DCCC picked a favorite here when it included St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly on its Red to Blue list. The committee had been after him for years, but this cycle, he finally said yes to running.

Kelly’s campaign launch in July prompted Inside Elections to move the race rating from Solid to Likely Republican. It’s currently rated Leans Republican.

He had raised $911,000 by the end of the pre-primary reporting period, and doesn’t face much opposition in the primary.

Like in the 12th District, Democrats failed to recruit a top-tier candidate in the 13th District last cycle. GOP Rep. Rodney Davis won a third term by 19 points. It’s another district that’s swung to the GOP at the presidential level. Obama carried it by double digits in 2008, and lost it narrowly four years later. Trump carried it by 6 points. 

EMILY’s List got involved early for Betsy Dirksen Londrigan. She also has support from Schakowsky and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, for whom she used to be a fundraiser. Londrigan had raised $561,000 by the end of February (including a $15,000 personal contribution).

Former Illinois Assistant Attorney General Erik Jones had raised $477,000 (including a $35,000 personal loan). He's expected to place second or third depending on perennial candidate David Gill, who beat the DCCC’s recruit in 2012. Gill has since alienated many in the local and national party establishment, though, and only raised $82,000. 

The DCCC says it’s targeting the 14th District, which Trump won by only 4 points. But this exurban Chicago district is tough and expensive territory. GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren won a fourth term by 19 points in 2016. The race here is rated Solid Republican

EMILY’s List is backing Lauren Underwood, a nurse and a former Obama administration official who raised more than double her closest Democratic opponent. But engineer Matthew Brolley has the endorsement of the state AFL-CIO and Schakowsky. 

EMILY’s List is also involved in two primaries for Solid Democratic seats, where first-time candidates are taking on much more entrenched male politicians. 

[Two Democratic Lawmakers Go After One of Their Own in Illinois]

In the 3rd District, EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood Action Fund are now part of a coalition with NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Human Rights Campaign, the Service Employees International Union and supporting an independent expenditure campaign attacking Lipinski. Newman also has the endorsement of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who carried the district during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, and two members of the Illinois delegation

As the son of the former congressman who held this seat, Lipinski has deep ties to the district and strong support from many labor groups. But the latest public polling, conducted for Newman allies, shows a close race

The 4th District is the only Democratic primary in an open seat contest. When Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez announced his retirement at a press conference in November, he backed Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia to succeed him. 

But that hasn’t stopped first-time candidate Sol Flores from getting into the primary. Her team produced a moving digital spot about her experience with sexual assault, but despite generating some national headlines, it’s not likely to be enough to overcome Garcia’s name and cash advantage.

“Chuy is coming to Congress,” said a Democratic strategist not involved in the race who predicted a bright future for Flores in politics. 

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Speaker Paul D. Ryan laughed Tuesday when a reporter asked him if he thinks President Donald Trump should stop attacking Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. 

“The special counsel should be free to follow through with his investigation to its completion without interference, absolutely,” Ryan said. “I am confident that he’ll be able to do that. I’ve received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration.”

The Wisconsin Republican never named Trump in his answer but certainly alluded to him.

“We have a system based upon the rule of law in this country,” he said. “We have a justice system. And no one is above that justice system.” 

Ryan was similarly defensive in answering questions on a range of other topics Tuesday, including the omnibus spending bill, sexual harassment policy and tariffs. 

Watch: Ryan Talks Mueller, Tariffs

The speaker said work was ongoing on the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill that lawmakers need to pass by Friday to avoid another government shutdown. 

“We’re hoping to post today,” he said, echoing an ongoing optimism from lawmakers that work negotiations on the spending will be completed soon — even though their timetable keeps slipping.

Ryan said lawmakers are not talking about another short-term continuing resolution. The government has been running on a series of stopgap funding measures since the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 2018.

Leadership had originally hoped to file the omnibus last Wednesday for a floor vote Friday, and then adjusted their expectation to a Monday filing. Now midday Tuesday several policy matters remain unresolved. 

“There are 20 poison pills plus other issues,” House Appropriations ranking member Nita Lowey said of the ongoing negotiations.

Asked if she thinks those matters can get resolved Tuesday, the New York Democrat said, “I have no idea.”

The only specific issue related to the omnibus Ryan was asked about was a measure that would strengthen existing reporting requirements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The so-called Fix NICS bill lawmakers are discussing attaching to the omnibus does not include a provision House lawmakers included in their version to allow people with concealed carry permits to carry guns across state lines. 

“I think we should do Fix NICS. I agree with Fix NICS,” Ryan said, but did not specify whether he supports it without the concealed carry provision. “That’s something we’re discussing with our friends on the other side of the aisle.”

Rep. Richard Hudson, the author of the concealed carry provision, said adding the Senate version of Fix NICS in the omnibus could be problematic for getting Republican votes.

“A number of members signed a letter saying they wouldn’t vote for anything that didn’t have concealed carry in it,” the North Carolina Republican said.

Ryan was also asked about anti-sexual harassment policy — another policy matter lawmakers have discussed adding to the omnibus — but the question was not about the spending bill but whether the speaker supports revealing the names of lawmakers who’ve used taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims.

“We think the bill that we passed is the right bill,” Ryan said. “We had a bipartisan bill that the House passed that was led by Jackie Speier, by Bradley Byrne, by Barbara Comstock. We like that bill. We think that’s the bill that should become law.”

When the reporter tried to point out that the bill doesn’t require that, Ryan said, “I support the bill because it was a carefully crafted compromise and we think it’s the right way to go.”

The speaker also had a tepid response when asked where things stand on exclusions for aluminum and steel tariffs.

“That’s a really good question. I wish I knew the answer to that,” Ryan said.

“We are hopeful and confident that the administration will continue to narrow their approach so it’s less broad based and more focused on those who are perpetrating these unfair trade practices. So that’s really where this has to go,“ he added. “They’re working on an exclusion and exemption system. We have not seen the details of that yet, but we are strongly encouraging the administration, let’s focus on the people who are perpetuating these unfair trade practices without hurting allies who are not cheating, who are not dumping.”

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Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch on Tuesday issued a blistering critique of the Trump administration’s trade policy and called on the White House to take action to remedy imbalances with trade partners like China and the European Union. 

The Utah Republican, speaking at a Business Roundtable event with the Farmers for Free Trade, highlighted the threat posed to the U.S. economy by “external opponents and internal skeptics.” 

“I have been in the Senate for 42 years, and this is one of the most challenging environments for U.S. trade that I’ve seen,” Hatch said, according to prepared remarks. “When it comes to trade policy, we’re all seeing the dangerous pitfalls that are currently in our path. They threaten to undermine and undo our recent success. Fortunately, in my view, those pitfalls are avoidable.” 

Hatch, whose committee has jurisdiction over trade-related matters, dinged China in particular for, among other things, the overproduction of steel and aluminum  — one of the main reasons why Trump issued tariffs earlier this month on imports of those products

Watch: Trump Signs Steel and Aluminum Tariffs


He also took aim at another rumored Chinese target for the Trump administration: intellectual property. 

Their government and state-owned enterprises have condoned and participated directly in the theft of trade secrets and the violation of intellectual property rights.” he said. “And they’ve used the Chinese regulatory system to restrict U.S. exports and investment and to force the transfer of American technology.”

The White House is preparing to issue new tariffs that could target more than $30 billion a year in Chinese imports and impact more than 100 products from the country, according to media reports. 

But Hatch’s criticism was not limited to only China. He said the European Union “consistently targets American technology companies” and that Canada, India, and Korea “impose price controls that undermine market-based valuations of innovative medicines and medical technology.” 

And while he noted the U.S. could effectively address these problems, Hatch said individuals within the White House could exacerbate them.  

“We have an administration that is willing and capable to do so,” he said. “Unfortunately, some in the administration support foreign challenges to the American-led economic system, challenges that are trying to bring that system down.” 

Hatch singled out the recently announced 25 percent tariff on steel products and 10 percent tariff on aluminum products as particularly damaging. 

“Policies designed to dictate from whom an American manufacturer purchases its inputs and raw materials directly contradict free-market principles, as well as the work that the President and Congress have done to reduce government regulation,” he said. 

Hatch also said the Senate would exercise its power to have the final decision on the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Trump administration is in the process of renegotiating with Canada and Mexico, but did not provide any details. 

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President Donald Trump said Tuesday he likely will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin soon to discuss a range of issues — but the Kremlin’s efforts to tinker with U.S. elections did not make his list of possible topics, even as Republican and Democratic senators urged vigilance against Russian attacks. 

Trump said that summit likely would occur “in the not too distant future.” Among the topics: an arms race the American president said is “is getting out of control.”

“We will never allow anybody to have anything close to what we have,” Trump said of the U.S. military. Also on the potential agenda for the potential meeting: the situations in Ukraine and North Korea.

“So I think we’ll probably be seeing President Putin in the not too distant future,” Trump said following a phone call during which he said he congratulated Putin on his re-election win on Sunday.

Notably, Trump did not mention Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election nor an ongoing cyber attack on the American energy sector that senior officials revealed late last week.

But on Capitol Hill, a group of Republicans and Democrats issued a blunt assessment about the Kremlin’s actions.

Flanked by other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. said the panel’s probe of Russian election meddling is clear that Kremlin was looking to find weaknesses in the U.S. election systems and targeted 21 states for penetration.

A new committee report recommends Congress pass legislation to provide more money for states to beef up the security of their election computer networks. The report also recommends that states take steps to “replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems.”

The Intelligence chairman said he hopes that the coming fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill will include additional funding to assist states with election security.

Gopal Ratham contributed to this report.

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The Supreme Court denied an appeal by Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers to block a new congressional map as the 2018 midterms near.

The decision to deny the Republican lawmakers’ application for stay killed the GOP’s final hope to block a map drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after it ruled the Republican-controlled General Assembly unconstitutionally gerrymandered the congressional map in 2011.

The new court-drawn boundaries will be in effect for 2018, putting a handful of previously safe Republican districts in play for Democrats.

The Supreme Court issued its decision a day before the filing deadline for congressional candidates in the state.

A federal district court in Pennsylvania also declined the Republicans’ long-shot bid to block the new congressional map Monday.

Eight Republican House members from the Pennsylvania delegation joined Republican state lawmakers as plaintiffs in that lawsuit, which a three-judge panel dismissed.

The list of plaintiffs included 2018 Senate candidate Lou Barletta and Rep. Keith Rothfus, whose seat is now in jeopardy with the new court-drawn boundaries.

Todd Ruger and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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Capitol Ink | The Birds

By Robert Matson
Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: What’s Buzzing on Capitol Hill?

By Alex Gangitano
Heard on the Hill

New Group Wants to Bring Staffers Together Through Golf

By Alex Gangitano

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised nearly $10.6 million in February.

That’s the most the committee has ever raised during the second month of the year, according to figures obtained first by Roll Call. 

The DCCC raised $3.38 million from online donations in February, with an average online gift of $18. So far this cycle, the group has raised more than $50 million online, which includes 300,000 first-time online donors, and a total of $125 million this cycle. It ended February with $49 million in the bank.

“It’s been clear all cycle long that the grassroots are energized and unified around the goal of taking back the House,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement. 

“The DCCC’s historic fundraising combined with incredible candidate fundraising will ensure that Democratic candidates have the resources to tell their powerful stories and connect with voters,” he added.

Democrats need to gain 24 seats to win control of the House in November. (The Associated Press still hasn’t called last week’s special election for Pennsylvania Democrat Conor Lamb in the 18th District, although Democrats have claimed victory.) 

The DCCC raised $7.1 million in February 2016, during the height of the presidential contest. This year’s stronger on-year fundraising comes as the fight over control of the House takes center stage, with February marking the final month of fundraising before the first primaries in March. The committee angered some liberal groups with its involvement in the primary for Texas’ 7th District, which was held on March 6

The DCCC raised $9.35 million in January — less than the $10.1 million the National Republican Congressional Committee raised during the same month. 

Watch: Pelosi — Lamb Win in Republican District a ‘Tremendous Victory’

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McConnell, Schumer Defend Mueller

By Thomas McKinless