Jul 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jan. 6 committee divided on Dem meddling in GOP primaries

Liz Cheney and jamie raskin
Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Members of the House Jan. 6 committee are divided on whether to condemn the growing trend of Democrats meddling in GOP primaries to boost pro-Trump election deniers — a tactic designed to secure more favorable matchups in the general election.

Why it matters: The committee has spent the last year warning that former President Trump and his allies — including candidates running in this year's midterms — are endangering American democracy by casting doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

  • Critics say the message that "this is bigger than politics" and "country before party" — reinforced in the committee's blockbuster summer hearings — is at risk of being undermined.

Between the lines: Public backlash intensified yesterday when it emerged that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is boosting an election denier in his primary against Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) — one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

  • The move is just one of many examples of how official House and Senate campaign arms, as well as outside Democratic groups, have spent millions on ads painting certain Republicans as "too conservative" or close to Trump — a sleight of hand "attack" that often aligns with the candidate's own messaging.
  • "The DCCC is playing with fire. It undercuts the great work of the Jan. 6 committee and makes us look like hypocrites," one Democratic member of Congress told Axios.
  • Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the DCCC, said on MSNBC on Tuesday morning: "If you're talking about trying to pick your opponent, you might see us do that, sure. And I think sometimes it does make sense."

Driving the news: Axios reached out to every member of the House Jan. 6 select committee to ask their views on the Meijer gambit and Democratic meddling overall.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the committee, told Axios: "No party, Democrat or Republican, should be promoting candidates who perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and try to undermine our democracy. We all have a responsibility and obligation to put our duty to the country above partisan politics."

Rep Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said on CNN: "I think it's disgusting. ... While I think a certain number of Democrats certainly understand that democracy is threatened, don't come to me after having spent money supporting an election denier in a primary ... and say, 'Where are all the good Republicans?'"

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), who isn't seeking re-election, told Axios: "This is bigger than any one candidate or campaign. No one should be promoting election deniers and peddlers of the 'Big Lie.'"

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), meanwhile, appeared to support Democrats aggressively spotlighting which GOP candidates are election deniers — including those in her own competitive race.

  • "The overwhelming majority of Republican candidates running for office still refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election and lie to their voters, including every single one of my primary opponents. Voters deserve to know the truth about these candidates and just how dangerous they are to our democracy," she said in a statement to Axios.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) took a more nuanced approach to the question, telling Axios that he "can see both sides of the argument":

"One can certainly understand an argument that it's categorically wrong to do anything that would objectively help insurrectionist election deniers.
But in the real world of politics, one can also see an argument that if the pro-insurrectionist, election-denier wing of the Republican caucus is already dominant, then it might be worth it to take a small risk that another one of those people would be elected, in return for dramatically increasing the chances that Democrats will be able to hold the House against a pro-insurrectionist, election-denying GOP majority.
Jean-Paul Sartre said that in politics we all have dirty hands up to our elbows. Nobody's pure. And we are in desperate times to defend democratic institutions and practices."

For the record: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) declined to comment for this story.

  • Committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The bottom line: In a competitive Republican primary, Democrats sharpening a candidate's conservative credentials — including by highlighting their refusal to accept Joe Biden won the 2020 election — can go a long way in turning out members of the base that still overwhelmingly support Trump.

  • But as some critics pointed out after the Meijer intervention, boosting those candidates with major spending from the Democratic Party itself could backfire.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to former President Obama, put it this way: "Republican [Peter Meijer] placed his young political career at risk by voting to impeach Trump. Disappointing that Ds are trying to help Trump exact vengeance."

  • Rebecca Katz, an adviser to Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman and other progressives, plainly stated what many Democrats fear: "In this year of all years, do we really think there is absolutely no way this could possibly backfire in November?"
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