WASHINGTON — As Republicans prepare to use their new House majority to investigate the Biden administration and the business dealings of the president’s son Hunter, Democrats are assembling a constellation of groups to respond.
President Joe Biden has not said whether he will run for re-election, but the groups are designed to defend him and discredit the opposition, including launching intense opposition investigative efforts into Republicans leading the charge in Congress, before of a possible rematch with the former president. Donald Trump in 2024.
Three new “war rooms” have sprung up in the past two weeks to combat House Republican investigations, each backed by multibillion-dollar dark-money budgets and some of the Democratic Party’s best-known operatives. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee and major outside groups are already reorganizing to move from 2022 to 2024.
“It is clear that the White House has been preparing for the anticipated barrage of meritless investigations by House Republicans, and outside groups are an essential component,” said Adrienne Elrod, who helped run Correct the Record, who defended Hillary Clinton from congressional investigations before her 2016 election. The presidential campaign was well underway.
Every White House has faced congressional investigations. But the glut of well-funded groups shows enthusiasm among Democratic donors to defend Biden, or at least stop Trump, and an acknowledgment that the fight for public opinion is at least as important as the legal one, as it will lay the groundwork. for the next campaign.
“It is important that the opposition does not get the upper hand by defining a false narrative, and outside groups can help mitigate that from happening,” Elrod added.
The White House itself has been preparing for months for the barrage of investigations, adding both legal and public relations firepower to the White House Attorney’s Office, which is backing its effort, and encouraging federal agencies to take similar measures.
This summer, as the Republicans seemed likely to win one or both houses of Congress, a small group of White House staffers began mapping out potential investigative angles, closely following top Republican investigators, including letters of inquiry they sent out. to federal agencies.
“There are many limitations on the administration responding to surveillance investigations, even ones that are completely bogus, but none apply to outside groups,” said Eric Schultz, a former Obama White House spokesman who tangled daily with investigators. congressional republicans. before the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012.
For example, federal laws prohibit government officials from engaging in politics. And the White House prefers to stay above the political fray, anyway. So outside groups can provide PR and political support, especially in the absence of a Biden campaign, and can get into trouble on especially sensitive issues like Hunter Biden.
Both sides insist they are only seeking the truth. But the politics of the situation is undeniable and thinly veiled.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is poised to use his likely Judiciary Committee chair to aggressively investigate the alleged politicization of the Justice Department, said last month at CPAC that the Republican majority would work to “frame the 2024 race ”. ”
“These are bogus investigations. You can take Jordan’s word for it,” said Kyle Herrig, founder and chief executive of one of the new war rooms, the Congressional Integrity Project, which is being relaunched to counter investigations. “They don’t have an agenda that helps 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 both offensive and defensive. He plans to investigate lawmakers investigating Biden, many of whom hail from safe congressional districts and have never faced a tough choice and the kind of opposition investigation and media scrutiny that comes with it.
“We will leave no stone unturned. No one has done the investigative research that we have done on these investigators. People in greenhouses shouldn’t throw rocks,” Herrig said. “We have a multi-million dollar budget and we are staffing a team of researchers and communicators.”
Herrig’s group is working with another, courage for america, which has just launched. While the Congressional Integrity Project focuses on investigations, Courage for America focuses on the legislation and personalities from across the House Republican caucus.
Among other things, that means making first-time legislators famous. And it means highlighting and mobilizing opposition to GOP policies, like a proposed national ban on abortion and possible cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
“The American people need to be introduced and educated about the extremist agenda of this new House and also about who these members are,” said Zac Petkanas, who was Clinton’s campaign rapid response director and now runs a war room supported by Courage for America. . “It’s a very dangerous new caucus and we’re going to be there every day to make sure people know it.”
With a seven-figure budget and the backing of the Hub Project, a giant dark-money Democratic network, the group plans a robust operation that includes polling, paid advertising and social media campaigns, along with investigations and traditional opposition communications.
The third group, Facts First, was started by David Brock, the self-described former “right-wing hitman” who later had a political conversion and used his fundraising talents to start a series of groups that they have become key parts of the Democratic infrastructure. . Those include Media Matters and American Bridge, both of which he walked away from to start Facts First.
Brock said one American Bridge donor has 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 Rep. David Jolly, a Trump critic who has since left the party, and longtime Democratic strategist María Cardona.
Unlike the other two groups, to maintain its independence, Facts First decided not to formally approach the White House for its approval, though secondary communications led it to believe the effort is welcome.
Brock, who also founded the pro-Clinton Correct the Record, said the experience taught him that the new group needs to be more aggressive on social media and conduct more opinion research to understand how Americans view the current controversy.
“I think in the absence of a vigorous operation, like the one we’re running, I think it makes it more difficult for President Biden to get re-elected,” he said, before quickly adding that “it’s the Republicans who are really making this a political issue. We are doing this in response.”
Of the new groups, Brock’s appears to be working most closely with Hunter Biden and his legal team, led by entertainment lawyer Kevin Morris.
The Hunter Biden relationship, the fights against drugs and alcohol, and the business efforts to finance it all are sure to be a major focus of Republican investigations. Republicans have long argued that Biden helped his son’s businesses abroad (the claim was at the center of Trump’s first indictment), but they are still looking for evidence to prove it.
Brock recently traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Hunter Biden and said he left calm.
“I came out of it without nerves. I came away from it thinking that we will be able to show, over time, that this is a Republican fantasy narrative fueled by a lot of unreliable witnesses and spurious conspiracy theories,” he said. “For me, the main story here is that of an addicted person who has mental health problems like most families in America have. … I also think it’s the story of Joe Biden as an empathetic father.”