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Pro-McConnell PAC to challenge Trump’s primary endorsements

A super PAC closely aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is prepared to intervene in GOP primaries — and challenge former President Trump — as it looks for the most viable candidates to reclaim the Senate.

Driving the news: Trump’s weekend endorsement of Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) in his state's 2022 Senate race put the GOP establishment on notice that party leaders won’t necessarily get to handpick their preferred candidates for the crucial midterms.


  • Trump and McConnell, former allies, parted ways over the former president's challenge to the 2020 election results and his speech stoking the Jan. 6 insurrection.
  • In some cases, Trump and GOP strategists may agree on who the best candidate is, but the pro-McConnell PAC — the Senate Leadership Fund — also is making clear it will make its own, independent assessment.
  • “As has long been SLF’s policy, we reserve the right to intervene in cases where a candidate is a clear threat to lose a seat in a general election and to protect our Republican incumbents,” Jack Pandol, the PAC's communications director, told Axios.

Why it matters: Candidate selection will be crucial to Republican efforts next year, given the 50-50 split in the Senate and GOP retirements in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and Alabama.

  • McConnell has a personal interest in the outcome, since victory would allow him to regain control of the Senate agenda.
  • The National Republican Senatorial Committee, led by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), has indicated it won’t intervene in open primaries and focus instead on softening up the likely Democratic nominee.
  • “The NRSC has no interest spending any time or money attacking other Republicans,” said Chris Hartline, the NRSC's communications director. “We started Day 1 defining Democrats across the country as the ultra-liberal, big-spending, open borders radicals that they are.”

Flashback: The NRSC did take an interventionist approach in Kansas in 2020 and helped guide their preferred candidate, now-Sen. Roger Marshall, through a winding primary.

  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also has long taken an interventionist approach and refuses to apologize for trying to clear the field in favor of its favored candidates.

Between the lines: Scott has asked the former president to stay neutral in primaries.

  • Trump’s North Carolina endorsement, as well as his attacks on Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is contemplating his own Senate run, suggest Trump has other plans.
  • In Missouri, the GOP establishment is concerned that former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned from office in 2018 after being indicted, could get a nod from Trump.
  • It's unclear, though, if Greitens would be an obvious loser in the general election, especially in a state Trump won by 15 points.

Go deeper: Democrats plan to exploit the Republican internal battles.

  • “In North Carolina — and across the Senate map — Trump is escalating GOP primaries and making the Republican infighting even worse,” said David Bergstein, the communications director for the DSCC.

Be smart: Trump’s Budd endorsement in North Carolina hasn’t cleared the field, and two other candidates — former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker — show no sign of abandoning the race.

Reports: Trump DOJ subpoenaed Apple for records of WH counsel Don McGahn

Apple told former Trump administration White House counsel Don McGahn last month that the Department of Justice subpoenaed information about accounts of his in 2018, the New York Times first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Although it's unclear why the DOJ took the action, such a move against a senior lawyer representing the presidency is highly unusual.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on reports that the Trump-era Department of Justice seized Democrats' and journalists' data records.

Driving the news: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal investigation into the matter, and Pelosi expressed disbelief to CNN's Dana Brash at assertions that neither Barr nor Sessions knew of probes into lawmakers.

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The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark told me on "Axios on HBO" that the business group was right to endorse vulnerable House Democrats last year, despite the flak that resulted from Republicans.

  • Clark, who took over the top job in March, said those House Democrats "had really helped push business's number one priority, which was the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, over the finish line."
  • "All of the Republicans that we work with on tax, on regulation — those people are really, really important to us," she added: "So we have to be willing to have a different coalition on every issue."
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Nuclear watchdog: “Essential” to have deal with Iran

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency tells "Axios on HBO" that it's "essential" to have a nuclear deal with Iran because otherwise "we are flying blind."

Driving the news: Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi sat down with "Axios on HBO" at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, ahead of Iran's June 18 presidential election and a June 24 extension on negotiations seeking to restore curtailed surveillance of Iranian nuclear sites and salvage the 2015 deal.

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U.N. ambassador Thomas-Greenfield sees tough Putin summit

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told me on "Axios on HBO" that President Biden will be candid, frank — and tough — during this week's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • "The president will make clear to the Russians that they cannot harbor cyber terrorists and criminals in their country and not be held accountable for it," she added. "And they need to take the responsibility for dealing with this issue."
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Dems’ go-it-alone approach faces big hurdles as left’s frustrations spill over

If a bipartisan group of lawmakers fails to strike a deal on the infrastructure proposal it's negotiating with the White House, ramming through a package using the partisan reconciliation process isn't a guaranteed solution.

Why it matters: Getting 51 Democratic votes would be a long, uphill battle. And moderates within the party are balking at the cost of President Biden's spending — even as progressives openly lament that the "transformational" change they seek is slipping out of reach.

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America's U.N. ambassador: "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams"

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has argued over her 39-year diplomatic career that educating and empowering women and girls is an investment in peace and security for their nations.

  • "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams," she told me in the State Department Treaty Room, during an interview for "Axios on HBO."
  • "I notice ... when they're not in the room. ... Sometimes I'm the only one," she added with a laugh. "And I will call it out."
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