Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) is favored in today’s Kansas primary. His colleague Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) heads into Tennessee’s Thursday primary with renomination fairly certain, too. But even though that may mean no incumbent senator loses renomination this cycle, there’s still ample evidence that anti-incumbent sentiment is as serious and dangerous as ever for sitting senators.
— The No. 1 goal of every campaign is to win, and incumbent campaigns have every reason to be pleased with their records this cycle. But the string of Ws shouldn’t be mistaken for a fade in the anti-incumbent sentiment that contributed to five senators losing bids for renomination from 2006 through 2012.
— The focus on wins and losses makes sense from the perspective of congressional outcomes, but it doesn’t do justice to the electoral atmosphere. Already, five incumbent senators this year have won their primaries with less than two-thirds of the vote, something that happened only 19 times (out of 227 primaries) in the nine previous election years from 1996 to 2012. Roberts, Alexander, and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) could bump that figure up to eight by the end of this week. Sure, no one has lost. (Though Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) was bailed out by Mississippi’s runoff rules after finishing second in the initial primary.) But many incumbents’ margin for error has shrunk considerably.
— And the close calls do have some effect on congressional outcomes. Conservatives especially have been watching certain senators’ voting records move toward them in election years, further polarizing the parties from each other, before sometimes moving back again after a victory. The same phenomenon of more incumbents winning their primaries with lower vote shares is evident in the House, where members have to face their party bases every two years, with obvious effects. In other words, don’t try to tell incumbents there isn’t an anti-incumbent feeling out there. They’re already playing defense against it.
Anti-incumbency shouldn’t be overhyped, given how high reelection rates continue to be. But given how much lower senators’ margin for error seems to be dropping, that sentiment shouldn’t be undersold, either.
— Scott Bland
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The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."
"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.
"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.
Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.