WASHINGTON — As Republicans prepare to use their new House majority to probe the Biden administration and the business dealings of President Hunter’s son, Democrats are gathering a constellation of groups to respond.
President Joe Biden hasn’t said whether he’s running for re-election, but the groups are designed to defend him and discredit the opposition – including launching intense opposition research efforts on Republicans leading the charge. charge in Congress – ahead of a likely rematch with the former president. Donald Trump in 2024.
Three new “war rooms” have sprung up in the past two weeks to fight Republican House investigations, each backed by multimillion-dollar black money budgets and some of the Party’s best-known operatives. democrat. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee and major outside groups are already reorganizing to move from 2022 to 2024.
“It’s clear the White House has braced for the anticipated barrage of baseless investigations from House Republicans, and outside groups are a critical component,” said Adrienne Elrod, who helped lead Correct. the Record, which defended Hillary Clinton against congressional investigations before her 2016 presidential campaign was launched.
Every White House has faced congressional inquiries. But the glut of well-funded groups shows the eagerness of Democratic donors to defend Biden — or at least stop Trump — and the recognition that the fight against public opinion is at least as important as the legal fight, because it will throw the basis for the next campaign.
“It’s important that the opposition doesn’t take over in defining a false narrative, and outside groups can help mitigate that,” Elrod added.
The White House itself has been preparing for the deluge of investigations for months, adding legal and public relations firepower to the Office of the White House Legal Counsel, who supports its efforts, and encourages federal agencies to take action. similar measures.
This summer, as it seemed likely that Republicans would win one or both houses of Congress, a small group of White House staffers began mapping out likely investigative angles, keeping a close eye on top Republican investigators, including the letters of inquiry they sent to federal agencies.
“There are a lot of constraints on the administration when responding to surveillance investigations — even ones that are completely bogus — but none apply to outside groups,” said Eric Schultz, a former spokesman for AFP. Obama in the White House who mingled daily with Republican congressional investigators. before President Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012.
For example, federal law prohibits government officials from engaging in politics. And the White House prefers to stay above the political fray, anyway. So outside groups can provide political and public relations support, especially in the absence of a Biden campaign, and can get into the mud on particularly sensitive issues like Hunter Biden.
Both sides insist they are just after the truth. But the politics of the situation are undeniable and thinly veiled.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is set to use his likely chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee to aggressively investigate alleged politicization of the Justice Department, told CPAC last month that the majority of the GOP would work to “frame the 2024 race.”
“These are fictional surveys. You can take Jordan’s word for it,” said Kyle Herrig, founder and executive director of one of the new war rooms, the Congressional Integrity Project, which is relaunching to counter investigations. “They don’t have a program that will help Americans. They only have one agenda and it is a political agenda.
The Congressional Integrity Project, which already has focus groups underway, promises to be as much on offense as it is defense. He plans to investigate lawmakers investigating Biden, many of whom hail from safe congressional districts and have never faced a tough election and the kind of opposition research and media scrutiny it does. leads.
“We will leave no stone unturned. No one has done the research that we have done on these investigators. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” Herrig said. “We have a budget of several million dollars and we are equipping ourselves with a team of researchers and communicators.
Herrig’s group works with another, Courage for America, which has just launched. While the Congressional Integrity Project focuses on investigations, Courage for America focuses on legislation and figures from across the House GOP caucus.
Among other things, that means making incendiary freshman lawmakers famous. And that means highlighting and mobilizing opposition to GOP policies, such as a proposed nationwide abortion ban and potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
“The American people need to be introduced and educated about the extremist agenda of this new House and who these members are,” said Zac Petkanas, who was the Clinton campaign’s rapid response director and now runs a hall of war supported by Courage for America. . “This is a very dangerous new caucus and we’re going to be there every day to make sure people know that.”
With a seven-figure budget and backing from the Hub Project, a giant Democratic black money network, the group plans a robust operation including polling, paid advertising and social media campaigns, as well as research and traditional opposition communications.
The third group, Facts First, was started by David Brock, the self-proclaimed former “right-wing hitman” who later had a political conversion and used his talent as a fundraiser to start a series of groups that became key elements of the democratic infrastructure. . These include Media Matters and American Bridge, which he moved away from to launch Facts First.
Brock said an American Bridge donor had already pledged six figures to support Facts First, which he said would likely have a budget of $10 million over two years. Co-founders include former Republican Representative David Jolly, a Trump critic who has since left the party, and longtime Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.
Unlike the other two groups, in order to maintain its independence, Facts First decided not to formally approach the White House for its blessing, although return communications led it to believe the effort was welcome.
Brock, who also founded the pro-Clinton Correct the Record, said the experience taught him the new group needed to be more aggressive on social media and conduct more opinion research to understand how Americans view the controversy of the day.
“I believe that in the absence of a vigorous operation, like the one we are carrying out, I think it is difficult for President Biden to be reelected,” he said, before quickly adding that “it’s the Republicans who are really making this a political issue. We’re doing it in response.
Of the new groups, Brock appears to be working most closely with Hunter Biden and his legal team, led by entertainment attorney Kevin Morris.
Hunter Biden’s relationship, his struggles with drugs and alcohol, and corporate efforts to fund it all will certainly be at the center of Republican investigations. Republicans have long argued that Biden helped his son’s overseas business dealings – the claim was central to Trump’s first impeachment – but are still looking for evidence to prove it.
Brock recently traveled to Los Angeles to meet Hunter Biden and said he left reassured.
“I came out of this not nervous. I came out of this thinking that we will be able to show, over time, that this is a Republican fantasy story driven by many unreliable witnesses and false conspiracy theories,” he said. “For me, the main story here is of an addicted person who has mental health issues the kind you find in most families in America. … I also think it’s the story of Joe Biden as an empathetic father.