October has arrived. The United States Congress was able to pass a Continuing Resolution to avoid a Government Shutdown stripping Ukraine Funding as negotiations continue. Republicans are aiming to oust the Speaker from his office. Joe Biden appeared at a Picket LIne as the United Auto Workers continue and expand their strikes as he also visited Arizona to speak at an event to dedicate a new library to the late US Senator JOhn McCain. .
Beyond the shores of the United States, there is on-going elections in Europe as Our team pulled together a snapshot of the final week of September with updates courtesy Politico, The Financial Times, Heather Cox Richardson et, al as we look forward to the continued privilege to serve throughout the quarter: :
This afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to fund the government for 45 days—until just before Thanksgiving—by a vote of 335 to 91.
The maneuver was a huge blow to the MAGA caucus that was demanding dramatic cuts to the government, the embrace of their border policies, and elimination of Ukraine aid in exchange for keeping the government open. The measure the House passed had almost none of that. It was a clean continuing resolution to fund the government at 2023 levels for another 45 days…with two important exceptions: it added disaster funding, and it stripped out additional funding for Ukraine’s war against Russia.
House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s move was enough of a surprise that Democrats had to scramble even to read it, but it essentially means that McCarthy had to turn away from the MAGA Republicans to whom he has been catering and turn to the Democrats for the votes needed to fund the government.
All but one of the Democrats voted in favor; the lone “no” vote came from Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), the co-chair of the Ukraine Caucus, whose district has a high percentage of Ukrainian Americans. The unity of the Democrats is notable and a sign of their strength going forward.
In contrast, the Republicans remain divided, but after months of catering to the extremists, today the rest of the conference asserted itself. One hundred and twenty-six Republicans voted in favor of the measure; 90 voted no. That 90 included all the usual suspects on the far right. The vote to pass the measure was a clear rebuke to the MAGA Republicans who had forced their colleagues in swing districts to vote for dramatic and unpopular cuts in services and then refused to fund the government anyway.
House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said, “The American people have won. The extreme MAGA Republicans have lost. It was a victory for the American people and a complete and total surrender by right-wing extremists who throughout the year have tried to hijack the congress.”
McCarthy, explaining his sudden about-face to work with the Democrats, also blamed the extremists. It was very clear he had done all he could to work with them, he said, but “if you have members in your conference that won’t let you vote for appropriation bills, doesn’t [sic] want an omnibus, and won’t vote for a stopgap measure so the only answer is to shut down and not pay our troops, I don't want to be a part of that team. I want to be part of a conservative group that wants to get things done.”
More colloquially, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) wrote: “Here’s what went down: we just won a clean 45 day gov extension, stripped GOP’s earlier 30% cuts to Social Security admin etc, staved off last minute anti-immigrant hijinks, and averted shutdown (for now). People will get paychecks and MTG threw a tantrum on the way out. Win-win[.]”
Still at stake is funding for Ukraine, but members promise to make sure that happens. “We will get the Ukraine funding next,” Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) wrote. “This is a 45-day bill to make sure government is open and troops/cops/air-traffic controllers etc get paid. With the same leverage we used to bear back MAGA, we will keep Ukraine in the fight.”
The issue of funding for Ukraine is not a small one. Former Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) noted that it was on September 30, 1938, that British prime minister Neville Chamberlain announced he would not stand in the way of Adolf Hitler’s annexation of the Sudentenland, a key move in Hitler’s rise. “Members of the House and Senate who are voting to deny Ukraine assistance on the 85th anniversary of Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 “peace in our time” speech should read some history,” she wrote. “Appeasement didn’t work then. It won’t work now.”
The votes should be there for Ukraine aid. Just two days ago, members of the House voted 311 to 117 for Ukraine funding, and the Senate, too, strongly favors Ukraine aid. But there is no doubt the removal of this funding signals that Trump and the MAGA Republicans favor a foreign policy that helps Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The biggest loser in today’s vote was former president Trump, who had urged his loyalists to shut down the government until they got all their demands. He is an agent of chaos and recognized that hurting the nation—including our credit around the world—would make voters more likely to turn against the sitting president.
Getting himself or someone like him back into the White House is becoming his only hope for turning back his legal troubles, especially now that a judge has decided that he, his older sons, a number of associates, and the Trump Organization engaged in fraud that requires the dissolution of many of his businesses. That is a psychic blow as well as a financial one, and he cannot afford either.
The biggest winner is the American people, not only because Congress has agreed to do as the vast majority of us wish and fund the government. It’s far too early to say Republican leadership might really be breaking away from the MAGA crowd, but for today, at least, we can see what’s possible. It is clear at the very least that McCarthy cannot hold the speakership without Democratic votes.
Tonight the Senate also passed the continuing resolution, by an overwhelming vote of 88 to 9. The nine were all Republicans.
President Biden is expected to sign the measure. Tonight he released a statement saying that the agreement would prevent “an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans. This bill ensures that active-duty troops will continue to get paid, travelers will be spared airport delays, millions of women and children will continue to have access to vital nutrition assistance, and so much more.” “But I want to be clear,” he continued: “[W]e should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker McCarthy and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis. For weeks, extreme House Republicans tried to walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed.”
Biden noted that despite the bill’s lack of aid for Ukraine, McCarthy and the overwhelming majority of Congress have been strong supporters of Ukraine. He said, “We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted. I fully expect the Speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has repeatedly threatened that the passage of a continuing resolution would trigger the introduction of the motion to vacate. | Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images
SPOTTED leaving the Capitol after the House CR vote: House Democratic leaders HAKEEM JEFFRIES, KATHERINE CLARK and PETE AGUILAR all laughing and smiling as they walked back to their offices. “Complete and total surrender,” Jeffries said.
WHAT WILL HAKEEM DO? — Jeffries has a big decision to make.
In the run-up to preventing a government shutdown, any questions about what the Democrats would do in the event of a vote to oust KEVIN McCARTHY as speaker were easily batted aside as too theoretical to entertain.
“We haven’t given any thought to how to handle a hypothetical motion to vacate, because we are entirely focused on making sure that we avoid this extreme MAGA Republican shutdown,” Jeffries said last week.
But avoiding the shutdown has now led directly to a vote on a motion to vacate.
Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) repeatedly threatened that the passage of a continuing resolution would trigger the introduction of the MTV that he’s had in his back pocket for weeks. After the CR passed yesterday, Gaetz promised that it will happen this week.
“If somebody wants to make a motion against me, bring it,” McCarthy told reporters defiantly yesterday.
“Kevin McCarthy’s gonna get his wish,” Gaetz responded this morning on ABC’s “This Week.”
We talked to a lot of Democrats this morning about how they will respond. So let’s unpack the politics of this.
Let’s assume Gaetz starts with only a handful of Republicans — perhaps just five, maybe as many as 10 — and that McCarthy has no chance of turning this group around. It’s not much, and that means Gaetz needs Democrats — perhaps as many as 200 — to oust McCarthy. (Ironic considering that his line today was that McCarthy is the Dems’ speaker.)
The biggest pocket of votes for Gaetz right off the bat will be the Democrats in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. They hate Gaetz, but more important, it could be suicide for any of the CPC’s 100-plus members to vote to save McCarthy. (And a motion to table Gaetz’s resolution, while not technically a vote for McCarthy, will easily be spun that way.)
Not surprisingly, as POLITICO first reported, CPC Chair PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-Wash.) is one of the first Democrats to whom Gaetz reached out. Right on cue, Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, who represents a D+28 district in New York, was on CNN this morning saying she would “absolutely” vote to oust McCarthy.
Both Gaetz and some Democrats we’ve talked to today believe it is naive to assume that some discussion of the motion to vacate didn’t come up in the conversations between McCarthy and Dem leaders that birthed the bipartisan CR vote. Since McCarthy knew that the MTV would follow a CR, it would be unusual if he didn’t have some indication from Dems about their views on the vote that will determine his future. One likely response to nudge McCarthy in the right direction surely would have been that there would be nothing to discuss if he shut down the government. Makes sense, but for now the existence of any kind of backchannel discussions is just speculation.
One senior Democratic lawmaker told us this morning that the instructions from leadership to “all Dems” right now is “keeping powder dry.”
While Gaetz might be right that he can get lots of votes from progressives, his only chance after that is if Jeffries himself locks down the caucus in favor of the MTV. But that could take some persuading. For a bloc of moderates — a mix of perhaps 25 to 40 Blue Dogs, Problem Solvers and Dems in Trump districts — a vote to prove their bipartisan credentials by keeping McCarthy as speaker could be very tempting.
All of this is to say that if Gaetz only has 5-10 Republican votes, McCarthy may have an achievable path to victory.
But that’s also not Gaetz’s only potential move.
If McCarthy survives with the help of Democratic votes, Gaetz will no doubt relentlessly attack him, as he has already, as “the Democrats’ speaker.” The overall effort will have done a lot of damage. What if Gaetz offers a second MTV, as anyone who knows him realizes he surely would, and McCarthy again has to survive with Democratic help? What happens on the second or third vote? Does Gaetz garner more Republican support? Does McCarthy need to find more Democratic support? There’s no limit to how many times Gaetz could do this. Eventually, this would become untenable for McCarthy.
So Democrats who take a position on the first MTV will need to consider that they may be locking themselves into a position on a vote that might be repeated.
What might a deal with McCarthy look like from Jeffries’ perspective? It is highly unlikely that Jeffries would ever demand all Democrats vote to save McCarthy; several Dem members told us this morning that was impossible to imagine. But what he could do is decline to lock down the caucus and let Dems vote their conscience (or their district). That could leave moderates with room to help McCarthy. But surely those individual moderates would also want something from McCarthy. Maybe a promise not to spend NRCC money in their races? There are a lot of ideas floating around out there.
McCarthy has a card to play if he survives the first (or more) attack from Gaetz. He could try to pass a rule that raises the threshold for a motion to vacate from one member, where it is now, to, say, 10 members. How would he get the votes? Perhaps some of the Democrats who cut a deal to save McCarthy agree to vote for this rule as well. That would finally decapitate Gaetz.
STEPPING BACK FROM THE CHESS GAME: The big question all Democrats have to answer — and quick — is whether it’s better to have McCarthy as speaker or not.
On the pro-keeping-McCarthy side of the ledger is that he’s the devil they know, and there is nobody better waiting in the wings. By avoiding the government shutdown, he also just showed he can be more responsible than some Democrats had believed. It could also take two weeks for another speaker to emerge from the ashes of the chaos, all while the White House and Democrats are trying to push through aid for Ukraine and fund the government over the next 45 or so days. And if you are at the White House and care about all of this, in addition to the fate of the impeachment inquiry, which Democrats have already raised as an issue in any discussion of helping McCarthy, then McCarthy may be the better bet. This is the institutionalists’ argument.
The other side of the argument is that McCarthy is the GOP’s greatest fundraiser, and getting rid of him would help Democrats take back the House. No replacement for McCarthy would have the same set of relationships and the donor network and political operation. In addition, the argument goes, the GOP chaos in the House would pay political dividends.
One thing is clear: For the 53-year-old Jeffries, this is an unprecedented situation, one that no minority leader has ever faced. He suddenly has enormous leverage, but will have to weigh carefully how aggressively to use it.
Pundits struggle to decide whether Trump’s rise represents something new in the United States or whether it is a continuation of the growing anti-democratic politics of the Republican Party. As a card-carrying Libra, I’m going to suggest it was both.
If yesterday’s letter was about how Trump’s turn to authoritarianism is unprecedented among major party political leaders, tonight’s is about how the Republican Party prepared the way for this moment in part by rigging the system through gerrymandering so that their politicians no longer need to appeal to voters. Those extreme gerrymanders threaten to skew the 2024 election and are contributing to the Republican Party’s inability to perform the most basic functions of government.
Gerrymandering is the process of drawing legislative districts to favor a political party. The practice was named for Elbridge Gerry, an early governor of Massachusetts who signed off on such a scheme (even though he didn’t like it). Political parties can gain an advantage in elections by either “packing” or “cracking” their opponents’ voters. Packing means stuffing the opposition party’s voters into districts so their votes are not distributed more widely; cracking means dividing opponents’ voters among multiple districts so there are too few of them in any district to have a chance of winning.
The Constitution requires the government to take a census every ten years to see where people have moved, enabling the government to draw districts that should allow us to elect politicians that represent us. Political operatives have always carved up maps to serve themselves when they could, but today’s computers allow them to draw maps with surgical precision.
That created a big change in 2010. Before that midterm election, hoping to hamstring President Barack Obama’s ability to accomplish anything by making sure he had a hostile Congress, Republican operatives raised money from corporate donors to swamp state elections with ads and campaign literature to elect Republicans to state legislatures. This Operation REDMAP, which stood for Redistricting Majority Project, was a plan to take control of state houses across the country so that Republicans would control the redistricting maps put in place after the 2010 census.
It worked. After the 2010 election, Republicans controlled the legislatures in the key states of Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan, as well as other, smaller states, and they redrew congressional maps using precise computer models. In the 2012 election, Democrats won the White House decisively, the Senate easily, and a majority of 1.4 million votes for House candidates. And yet Republicans came away with a thirty-three-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
The results of that effort are playing out today.
In Wisconsin the electoral districts are so gerrymandered that although the state’s population is nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, Republicans control nearly two thirds of the seats in the legislature and it is virtually impossible for Democrats ever to win control of the state legislature. In April, voters elected Janet Protasiewicz to the state supreme court by an astonishing margin of 11 points, in part thanks to her promise to reject the extreme gerrymandered maps.
Protasiewicz’s election shifted the court majority away from the Republicans. Even before she was elected, one Republican senator suggested impeaching her, and now, because she has called the district maps “rigged” and said, “I don’t think you could sell to any reasonable person that the maps are fair,” Republicans are calling for her impeachment before she has even heard a case. (After saying the maps were rigged, she added: “I can't ever tell you what I’m going to do on a particular case, but I can tell you my values, and common sense tells you that it’s wrong.”)
Voters are also evenly split in North Carolina—illustrated by the fact that a statewide race elected Democrat Roy Cooper as governor—but there, too, gerrymandering has rigged the maps for the Republicans. After a Democrat switched sides to give the Republicans a veto-proof majority in both houses of the legislature, the House of Representatives last week passed laws taking away the governor’s power to make appointments to state and local election boards and removing the tiebreaker seat the governor appointed to the state board.
Instead, the legislature has taken over the right to make those appointments itself, meaning that election rules could become entirely partisan. At the same time, the legislature exempted its legislators from complying with the state open-records law that requires redistricting documents be public.
In Ohio, almost 75% of voters agreed to amend the state constitution in 2018 to prohibit political gerrymanders. Nonetheless, when the Republican-dominated legislature drew district maps in 2021, they gave a strong advantage to Republicans. The state supreme court struck the maps down as unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court permitted them to stay in place for the 2022 election. The court will now revisit the question, but it has moved further to the right since 2022.
In Alabama, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision that the maps in place in 2022 were likely unconstitutional and must be redrawn to include a second majority-Black district. But when the state legislature drew a new map the next month, it defied the court. The court was shocked at the refusal to comply, and appointed a special master, who today offered three options. Any of them would offer the Democrats a chance to pick up another seat, and the state is challenging the new maps.
Tennessee shows what gerrymandering does at the state level. There, Republicans tend to get about 60% of the votes but control 76% of the seats in the House and 82% of the seats in the Senate. This supermajority means that the Republicans can legislate as they wish.
Gerrymandered seats mean that politicians do not have to answer to constituents; their purpose is to raise money and fire up true believers. Although more than 70% of Tennessee residents want gun safety legislation, for example, Republican legislators, who are certain to win in their gerrymandered districts, can safely ignore them.
Tennessee shows the effects of gerrymandering at the national level as well. Although Republican congressional candidates in Tennessee get about 65% of the vote, they control 89% of Tennessee’s congressional delegation. In the elections of 2022, Florida, Alabama, and Ohio all used maps that courts have thrown out for having rigged the system to favor Republicans. The use of those unfair maps highlights that the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives by only the slimmest of margins and explains why Republicans are determined to keep their gerrymanders.
Because their seats are safe, Republicans do not have to send particularly skilled politicians to Congress; they can send those whose roles are to raise money and push Republican ideology. That likely explains at least a part of why House Republicans are no closer to agreeing on a deal to fund the government than they have been for the past several months, even as the deadline is racing toward us, and why they are instead going to hold an impeachment hearing concerning President Joe Biden on Thursday.
Michigan was one of the Operation REDMAP states, redistricted after the 2010 election into an extreme gerrymander designed by Republicans who bragged about stuffing “Dem garbage” into four districts so that Republicans would, as one said, stay in power for years. In 2016 a Michigan woman, Katie Fahey, started a movement to get rid of the partisan maps. In 2018, despite a Republican lawsuit to stop them, they successfully placed an initiative to create an independent redistricting commission on the ballot. It passed overwhelmingly.
After the 2020 census the commission’s new maps still slightly favored Republicans because of the state’s demographic distribution—Democrats are concentrated in cities—but the parties were competitive. In 2022, Democrats took control of the state government, winning the House for the first time since 2008.