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They’ve invested resources, issued endorsements and pinned their hopes on Jessica Cisnerosa 28-year-old immigration lawyer who supports access to the procedure.

All their efforts are coming to a head today. It’s primary day in Texas, where voters in the state’s 28th Congressional District will decide between Cisneros or nine-term incumbent Cuellar.

  • Back in September, Cuellar was the only House Democrat to oppose legislation guaranteeing abortion access nationwide. In an interview with The Health 202, Cisneros said she saw a surge in volunteers and donations after that vote.

The clear divide between the candidates on abortion comes at a fraught moment for the procedure. Texas effectively banned most abortions exactly six months ago, and the Supreme Court could soon undermine Roe v. Wade’s nearly half-century-old protections.

The Democratic party is aiming to use the looming threat to energize its base ahead of November’s midterm elections, just as abortion rights advocates want to use it to oust Cuellar.

  • “She is the only non-incumbent to the House of Representatives that we’ve endorsed,” said Kelley Robinson, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “It’s clear that when it comes to abortion access and reproductive rights, she’s heads ahead of her competitor.”

To be sure… the election is about more than just abortion. Cisneros argues Cuellar is no longer the right fit for Texas, while the congressman dismisses his opponent as having ties to “far-left” celebrities, our colleague Mariana Alfaro reports. It also comes after the FBI raided Cuellar’s home and campaign headquarters in mid-January; the congressman has said he’s innocent but hasn’t specified why he’s under investigation.

The backdrop: “Laredo, which anchors Texas’s 28th Congressional District, is a city at an inflection point where decades-old income inequality and tension between a traditional, more conservative establishment and the activist, unapologetic liberals are colliding,” The Post’s Arelis R. Hernandez and Marianna Sotomayor write in another deep dive on the race.

Yet, the issue of abortion has caught the attention — and endorsements — of prominent groups supporting access to the procedure, like NARAL and Emily’s List.

Par exemple: NARAL increased its presence in the district since the last primary election two years ago, when Cuellar beat Cisneros by roughly 4 percentage points.

  • “We’re heavily invested in the race,” said Kristin Ford, NARAL’s vice president of communications and research.
  • The group has three members of its organizing staff on the ground this year, compared with one staffer back in 2020, per Ford. The organization’s strategy also included knocking on 3,000 doors, sending 10,000 texts, recruiting 150 volunteers, holding 10 events and more.

For Cisneros’s part, she said she supports codifying Roe v. wade so that abortion would continue to be allowed up until the point of fetal viability — which the legislation Cuellar voted against would do.

  • “It is particularly satisfying to be able to go up against that myth that South Texas is very conservative, and that abortion was one of those issues where the typical Democrat down here isn’t pro-choice,” Cisneros said in an interview earlier last month. “But I think that if that was really true, I don’t think we would have gotten so close to defeating Cuellar the way that we did last time around.”

Cuellar’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple inquiries from The Health 202. But Cuellar has dismissed criticism from Cisneros before, such as when she accused him in an op-ed of not acting on behalf of reproductive health.

  • “When people frame this as ‘women’s health’ … if you want to call it abortion, call it abortion, please call it abortion,” Cuellar said in a Zoom conference days after the op-ed, per Mariana’s story. “Women’s health — I have added money for health care for women.”

And some argue the Democratic party risks alienating voters as the number of antiabortion lawmakers dwindles.

  • “I’ve been saying for five, six years that the Democratic Party is really risking pushing more people out of the party because of the increasingly extreme position on abortion that the party is taking,” said former representative Dan Lipinsky (Ill.), an antiabortion Democrat who lost his primary race in 2020.
  • He believes the issue was a significant factor in his loss, he says, pointing to dollars that flowed in to oppose his re-election.

White House prescriptions

On tap tonight: Biden’s first State of the Union

President Biden wanted to use the address to reset his agenda. But now, aides are revising the speech to portray Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a major crisis facing the West, our colleagues Annie Linskey and Tyler Pager report.

But administration officials did begin unveiling new domestic initiatives ahead of today’s address.

One major effort: Cracking down on nursing homes. The White House announced plans to boost facilities’ staffing and oversight, blaming some of the 200,000-plus covid deaths of nursing home residents and staff during the pandemic on inadequate conditions, Dan Diamond and I reported yesterday.

  • The plan would set minimum staffing levels, reduce the use of shared rooms and increase penalties for the poorest-performing nursing homes.
  • The administration also plans to scrutinize the role of private equity firms, citing some data that their ownership was linked with worse outcomes and higher costs.

Meanwhile … the White House says Biden will call on Congress to send him legislation to lower prescription drug costs and health care premiums.

  • Will there be new ideas? It doesn’t sound like it. “The president has already put forward a set of ideas and worked on with Congress a set of ideas … those are the ideas he wants Congress to act on now,” a senior administration official told reporters yesterday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told HuffPost’s Igor Bobic that he’ll skip SOTU because of the requirement for attendees to get covid-tested before it:

Mixed emotions greet a return to pre-pandemic life

  • 56 percent said they’ve “fully” or “mostly” returned to normal life.
  • 63 percent of Republicans gave that response compared with 43 percent of Democrats.
  • Just over a third of adults said the pandemic is “mostly” or “completely” under control; but 29 percent of Democrats say they hold that view, compared with 41 percent of Republicans.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll also found partisan divides in attitudes over easing pandemic restrictions:

  • Split supporter: Republicans report they are more concerned about the consequences of keeping pandemic restrictions — such as on small businesses or the mental health of children — while Democrats say they are more worried the immunocompromised will be left behind.
  • 49 percent of respondents expect it will be safe for most people to resume pre-pandemic activities by late spring.
  • 67 percent of parents of children under 5 say they aren’t confident that a coronavirus vaccine for the age group is safe, though one hasn’t yet been authorized.

Abortion rights bill fails in Senate

As expected, the Senate blocked consideration of a bill to enshrine the right to abortion into federal law yesterday — an election-year measure pursued by Democrats, The Post’s Caroline Kitchener reports.

  • Republican Senators and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), voted against advancing the Women’s Health Protection Act in a procedural vote of 46 to 48.
  • Before the vote: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) proposed a new amendment to codify abortion rights without additional conditions in the bill that they said go beyond protecting access to the procedure.
  • The bill has been reintroduced in Congress four times since 2013. But it wasn’t until Texas’s ban on abortion after six weeks went into effect that the legislation received a vote in either chamber, Caroline notes.

Emerging data: A new study suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protection declined to 12 percent for kids ages 5 to 11, according to findings compiled by the New York State Department of Health. The study, which hasn’t been peer reviewed, raises questions about whether younger children need a different dose, Status reports,

Agency alert: Tea Federal Emergency Management Agency is launching a media campaign to raise awareness about the agency’s covid-19 funeral assistance program among communities hit hardest by the pandemic, officials told reporters yesterday.

On Pennsylvania Avenue: Starting today, fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear masks at the White House, according to an internal memo sent to staff Monday, our colleague Tyler Pager reports.

On the move: Jude McCartin — who served as legislative director for both Sens. Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) and Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) and has led strategic communications and advocacy efforts for the University of California since 2018 — will assume the role of chief of staff for Families USA.

Also, Emeka Egwim will serve as director of the Office of Pharmacy Affairs in the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Thanks for reading! See y’all tomorrow.

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