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 if he is running for re-election, but the groups are designed to defend him and discredit the opposition — including launching intense opposition investigative efforts into Republicans in charge of Congress — ahead of a likely rematch with former President Donald Trump in 2024.
In the past two weeks, three new “war chambers” have sprung up to fight Republican House investigations, each backed by multimillion-dollar budgets of dark money and some of the Democratic Party’s best-known operatives. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee and major outside groups are already restructuring to shift from 2022 to 2024.
“Clearly, the White House has prepared for the expected barrage of meritless investigations from House Republicans, and outside groups are a vital part,” said Adrienne Elrod, who helped run Correct the Record, which defended Hillary Clinton. against congressional investigations before her 2016. presidential campaign was in full swing.
Every White House has faced congressional investigations. But the profusion of well-funded groups shows an eagerness among Democratic donors to defend Biden — or at least stop Trump — and an acknowledgment that the battle 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 in defining a false narrative, and outside groups can help prevent that,” 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 Counsel’s Office, which is opposing its efforts, and encouraging federal agencies to take similar steps.
This summer, when it seemed likely that the Republicans would win one or both chambers of Congress, a small group of White House staffers began mapping likely investigative angles, keeping a close eye on key Republican investigators, including investigative letters. which they sent to federal agencies.
“There are a lot of restrictions on the government when responding to surveillance investigations — even investigations that are completely bogus — but don’t apply to outside groups,” said Eric Schultz, a former Obama White House spokesman who has been in daily contact. with Republican congressional detectives. ahead of President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection bid.
For example, government officials are prohibited by federal law from engaging in politics. And the White House prefers to stay above the political battle anyway. So outside groups can provide political and PR support, especially in the absence of a Biden campaign, and can get in the mire on particularly sensitive issues like Hunter Biden.
Both sides insist they are simply chasing the truth. But the politics of the situation are undeniable and only thinly disguised.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is poised to use his likely chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee to aggressively investigate the Justice Department’s alleged politicization, told CPAC last month that the GOP majority would work to “turn the race of 2024. ”
“These are sham investigations. You can take Jordan at his word,” said Kyle Herrig, the founder and executive director of one of the new war chambers, the Congressional Integrity Project, which is being relaunched to counter the investigations. “They have no agenda that will help Americans. They only have one agenda and that is a political agenda.”
The Congressional Integrity Project, which focus groups are already working on, promises to be as much about offense as defense. It plans to investigate lawmakers investigating Biden, many of whom come from the safe congressional districts and have never faced a difficult election and the kind of opposition scrutiny and media attention it brings.
“We are going to leave no stone unturned. No one has done the investigative research that we have done on these researchers. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,’ Herrig said. “We have a multi-million dollar budget and we work with a team of researchers and communicators.”
Herrig’s group has teamed up with another, Courage for America, which has just launched. While the Congressional Integrity Project focuses on the investigations, Courage for America focuses on the legislation and personalities of the entire House GOP caucus.
That means, among other things, that the first-year legislators become famous. And it means emphasizing and mobilizing opposition to GOP policies, such as a proposed national abortion ban and potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
“The American people need to be introduced and informed about the extremist agenda of this new House as well as who these members are,” said Zac Petkanas, who was the campaign manager for the Clinton campaign and now runs a war room supported by Courage for America . “It’s a very dangerous new caucus and we’ll be there every day to make sure people know about it.”
With a seven-figure budget and backing from the Hub Project, a giant Democratic black money network, the group is planning a robust operation, including polling, paid advertising and social media campaigns, along with traditional research and opposition communications.
The third group, Facts First, was founded by David Brock, the former self-proclaimed “right-wing hit man,” who subsequently underwent a political conversion and used his fundraising talent to create a series of groups that are key components of the Democratic infrastructure become. . Those include Media Matters and American Bridge, both of which he stepped down from to start Facts First.
Brock said a US Bridge donor has already pledged six figures to support Facts First, which he said would likely have a $10 million budget over two years. Co-founders include former Republican Representative David Jolly, a Trump critic who has since left the party, and longtime Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.
Unlike the other two groups, in order to maintain its independence, Facts First decided not to formally approach the White House for its blessing, though back-channel communication meant the effort was 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 do more polling to understand how Americans view the controversy du jour.
“I do believe that without a strong operation like the one we’re putting out, I think it’s going to be hard for President Biden to get re-elected,” he said, before quickly adding, “It’s the Republicans who are really making this becomes a political problem. 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 attorney Kevin Morris.
Hunter Biden’s relationship, his struggles with drugs and alcohol, and business endeavors to fund it all, will certainly be a major focus of Republican investigations. Republicans have long claimed that Biden aided his son’s overseas business dealings — the allegation was central to Trump’s first impeachment suit — but are still looking for evidence to prove it.
Brock recently traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Hunter Biden and said he came away feeling reassured.
“I wasn’t nervous. I came from that idea that over time we will be able to show that this is a Republican fantasy story driven by a lot of unreliable witnesses and false conspiracy theories,” he said. “For me, the main story here is about an addicted person with mental health issues of the kind that run in most families in America. … I also think it’s the story of Joe Biden as an empathetic father.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com