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Is Paul Ryan’s departure a disaster for House Republicans?

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Already, Ryan’s decision to bolt has touched off more jockeying for his job, even though Republicans admit they’re not sure whether their next top official in the House will be speaker or minority leader. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Friday that he will consider whether to run when Ryan steps aside at the end of this Congress, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., are both interested in the job.

Ryan threw his support behind McCarthy in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that airs Sunday.

Given Ryan’s departure, Republicans are in for an even more turbulent stretch before the midterm elections than they were already expecting.

“It’s the general abandoning the battlefield before the battle is fully engaged,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who survived his own re-election bid in the Republican rout of 2010. “The impact of it is demoralizing.”

Republicans say they know they’re going to lose seats if not control of the chamber.

“We are on guard,” said Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., who sits in one of the most heavily contested seats in the country. “I think we will keep the House. I think the majority might not be as strong.”

Lance, who would all but certainly be washed out if Democrats net the 23 seats they need to take the House, suggested Ryan leaving could be a good thing for some candidates.

“Because he’s not going to be our speaker in January,” Lance said, “the question may turn on who the Democratic leader may be.”

Republicans are trying to rally voters against Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has been a fixture in their attacks on Democrats for a dozen years. Several Democratic candidates trying to unseat Republicans have said they won’t vote for her for speaker if they win their races.

But recent special elections and months of polling suggest that Democratic voters are much more enthusiastic about showing up to the polls and that many typically Republican voters in suburbs across the country want to put a check on President Donald Trump. In other words, Republicans may be in denial about just how bad things are for them and Ryan’s role in putting their majority in jeopardy.

“Paul Ryan’s monument will be the putrid and smoldering ruins of the Republican Party and conservative movement that he betrayed with his complicity and cowardice,” political strategist Steve Schmidt, an NBC and MSNBC contributor who was a senior aide at the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2002 election cycle, wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican whose district favored Trump 56 percent to 38 percent in the 2016 presidential election, said he doesn’t think Ryan’s announcement is a bellwether of the GOP’s chances in and of itself. But, he added, Republicans are in a dogfight. “We all know this is going to be a tough year,” he said.

Part of the problem for any majority party in reading the tea leaves of electoral catastrophe is that most incumbents will be re-elected. They are, necessarily, less worried than colleagues who are on the chopping block. That may help explain why so many Republicans either don’t see Ryan leaving as a harbinger or don’t want to admit it publicly.

“Despite Ryan’s departure, many GOPers will indeed survive and return next Congress,” Jolly said. “But it appears it will be to the minority side of the aisle.”

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The GOP’s election review in Arizona is over. Its influence is just beginning, experts say.

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Arizona Republicans on Friday championed the results of their extraordinary partisan election review — which again affirmed President Joe Biden’s victory in Maricopa County — and called for similar examinations around the country.

“We need to do bigger audits on every election, just to make sure that everybody’s following the rules,” said Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, boasting about how many lawmakers from other states had visited the site of the ballot review.

Fann and state Sen. Warren Petersen, also a Republican, listened to hours of testimony from third-party contractors including Doug Logan, CEO of the lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas, as they cast doubt and suggested their work had turned up evidence of improprieties including illegal votes and deleted election files.

But experts and critics say the supposed findings confirm what they already knew: that the hired contractors were inexperienced and failed to use industry best practices, while misunderstanding and misconstruing the basics of election administration and Arizona election code. And with the proliferation of Arizona-inspired efforts spreading around the country, experts say there’s real damage being done to trust in elections.

“They’re doubling down on some of the things that have already been refuted. And just continuing to give oxygen to things that are untrue,” said Tammy Patrick, a former Maricopa County elections official who is now a senior adviser at Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that aims to improve American elections.

“They’re simply taking routine election administration processes and attempting to cast what they don’t understand as suspicious,” said Liz Howard, senior counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Contractors with Cyber Ninjas examine and recount ballots cast in the 2020 general election in Maricopa County, in Phoenix, on May 6, 2021.Matt York / Pool via AP file

Howard was appointed by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, to monitor the review and spent weeks in Phoenix observing the Cyber Ninjas do their work.

“It’s unreasonable to assume that this isn’t unintentional,” she added.

Both Howard and Patrick said the auditors’ findings — which were circulated in a draft on Thursday night, before being presented in a livestreamed event on Friday — made it clear they didn’t understand basic election administration.

For example, contractors reported that there were possibly thousands of out-of-state and out-of-county voters, as well as hundreds of dead voters who cast ballots in November, numbers they calculated by comparing voter rolls with commercial data lists.

Patrick said that such data was poorly vetted, and that political groups who had used commercial mailing lists had at times ended up sending mailers out to people’s pets, because someone, for example, had once signed their cat up for a subscription to Cat Fancy magazine.

Howard agreed that commercial data was unreliable for this purpose and added that there are also valid reasons a voter would be associated with another address but still be an eligible voter in Maricopa County, like students.

Contractors also alleged that election files had been deleted, something Maricopa County tweeted they “strongly” deny, noting they have additional records but that the state Senate had never requested them.

Experts and critics say the impacts of the review, however, are just beginning.

Arizona Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer, who initially backed the review but pulled his support in February over concerns for how it was progressing, said he believes it will make legislating on elections harder.

“I think now you’re going to see a hundred or two hundred election bills next year and no one is going to listen to the experts,” he told NBC News on Friday.

He added that he has spoken to voters who have either left the Republican Party or stopped voting altogether because they don’t have faith in the election.

Around the country, too, experts see the propagation of Arizona-style ballot reviews. Texas launched a “forensic audit” of four counties on Thursday night, just hours after former President Donald Trump called for it. Similar reviews are underway in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Speaking of those legislators from other states who visited the review, Patrick said: “They’re using it as justification and reasoning to promote this sort of activity in states across this country.”

Asked how he’d advise lawmakers beginning a ballot review in their states now, Boyer said he’d urge them to have bipartisan, expert-informed reviews.

“Trust the professionals. They’ve been doing it for decades. They know what they’re doing. Make sure that anybody you hire doesn’t already have their mind made up. We can’t actually call this an audit. This is a partisan investigation,” he said of the Arizona review. “Ironically, it’s going to sow even more distrust when the claim, if you can believe it, is they’re trying to create more confidence.”



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One-on-one with Iran’s new foreign minister

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GOP-backed election review confirms Biden won Arizona

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