May 18, 2022

Welcome back to Sneak. Primary voters went to the polls in Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Smart Brevity™ count: 1,066 words ... 4 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: Scoop — Biden's solar storm

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

White House officials told Democratic senators they’re committed to resolving the uncertainty the solar industry is facing because of an investigation into whether China is secretly manufacturing solar panels destined for U.S. markets, Axios' Sophia Cai and Hans Nichols have learned.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is trying to mitigate political fallout of its own making. It erupted after the Commerce Department announced an investigation into whether Chinese companies are circumventing U.S. tariffs.

  • The investigation, requested by Auxin Solar, an American solar manufacturer, has effectively frozen big solar panel installation projects — outraging congressional Democrats.
  • They're concerned the threat of retroactive tariffs will prevent big solar projects from taking off, slowing efforts to combat climate change.

What they're saying: "They needed to resolve this yesterday," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told Axios.

  • "Other than a general sense of quote-unquote 'urgency,' they didn't give a timeline," he said.
  • Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said, "It was a good conversation, but nothing is resolved yet."
  • White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told Axios, “Solar industry representatives and advocates have communicated these concerns to us, and we are reviewing our options, consistent with requirements about independence of such investigations.”

Driving the news: National Economic Council director Brian Deese, White House director of legislative affairs Louisa Terrell, and White House deputy national climate adviser Ali Zaidi held a call with nine senators on Tuesday.

The call itself signaled the White House recognized the seriousness of the issue.

  • The officials told the senators they see the crisis facing the solar industry as a core issue of energy and economic security, as well as a supply chain issue.
  • Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) were also on the call.

Keep reading.

2. GOP's big fear

Kathy Barnette. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Senate Republicans, hungry to reclaim their chamber's majority, were nervously watching tonight's Senate primary in Pennsylvania — fearing a potential win by Kathy Barnette could jeopardize their chances in November.

Why it matters: Barnette and Eric Greitens in Missouri are at the top of a list of extreme or controversial candidates in primaries this year who sitting senators fear may be too much for general-election voters to support, writes Axios' Alayna Treene.

  • Barnette participated in the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally in D.C.; Greitens resigned his governorship four years ago amid scandal and disgrace.
  • Pennsylvania is also a crucial state for Republicans, given it’s a seat they're trying to hold.
  • Barnette's surprise surge in the closing weeks made her a serious challenger in a race that previously seemed between Trump-backed Mehmet Oz and financier David McCormick.

What they're saying: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Axios he thinks Barnette “could be problematic."

  • “We need to do a better job of vetting these candidates," the senator said. "I'm pretty confident Oz is gonna make it, but the fact that she went from zero to 60 — that's a compliment to her, I guess. But we gotta have a system that can catch this better. You don't want to learn all this stuff, like, a week before the election.”
  • Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told Axios, “Yes,” he's very worried that Barnette and other controversial candidates could win the general election.
  • Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) — whose upcoming departure triggered one of the most contested 2022 elections — wouldn’t say whether he’d support Barnette if she won the GOP nomination in his home state.

Keep reading.

3. By the numbers: Word choices

Frequency of select words/phrases in GOP congressional communications, by cycle
Data: Quorum; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

The Republicans' use of action words like "fight," "defend" and "destroy" in press releases, social media posts, floor statements and newsletters has increased substantially between the 2018 midterm election cycle and 2022, according to data compiled by Quorum and reviewed by Axios' Andrew Solender.

Why it matters: The GOP is adopting more polemical rhetoric to both secure renomination of its candidates and to try to end the Democrats' control of Congress and the White House. The language channels the rhetoric of former President Trump.

  • Trump's base has embraced politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who portray themselves as right-wing scrappers willing to take on the establishment in both parties.

By the numbers: Beyond the action words, Republicans have fully embraced more severe terms to describe their opponents: words like "far-left," "radical," "corrupt" and "lies" have seen some of the largest increases.

  • Other terms that have taken on new meaning or significance in recent years have become commonplace in the GOP lexicon, such as "woke," "cancel" and "censor."
  • And "impeach," which had little use to Republicans when Trump was president, has risen drastically in popularity with President Biden in office.

Keep reading.

4. Worthy of your time

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addressed a joint meeting of Congress, a day after his bilateral meeting with President Biden. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

🫀 Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a candidate for his state's Democratic Senate nomination today, said in a statement that he was undergoing a "standard procedure to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator" today after suffering a stroke over the weekend, Andrew also reports in tonight's Sneak roundup.

📝 "The Justice Department has asked the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack for transcripts of interviews it is conducting," the New York Times reported today.

✈️ First lady Jill Biden will travel to Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica later this month to "emphasize the importance of the U.S. partnership with these three nations as well as their commitment to democracy," the White House announced.

📄 House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, asked during a news conference about a subpoena he received last week from the Jan. 6 committee, said, "I haven't put any real thought to the subpoena."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced his support for Michael Barr, President Biden's nominee for Federal Reserve vice chair for supervision, after opposing his previous nominee for the role, Sarah Bloom Raskin.

🥪 Venture capitalist J.D. Vance joined Senate Republicans for the weekly lunch two weeks after winning the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Ohio. He spoke to the conference briefly about his time on the campaign trail.

5. Pics du jour

Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The presidential limousine passed the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York.

President Biden and government officials are seen standing next to a memorial to the Buffalo shooting victims.
Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden, joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and other officials, paid their respects at a memorial to the victims.

President Biden is seen speaking about the mass shooting in Buffalo.
Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The first family also met with the families of the 10 Black people shot and killed in the grocery store by a white gunman, before the president delivered a speech condemning white supremacy.

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