Monday, January 9, 2023

On Our "Virtual Route 66" This Week: On The First Week of 2023

 It has been quite a first week in our World as the 118th Congress finally got organized,  as supporters of the former President of Brazil stormed the Brazilian Congress, as North Korea expanded its' nuclear arsenal, as the UK grappled with Public Sector Strikes, as Europe said no to Russian Gas and as Ukraine got a boost in armaments.

It is bound to be quite a year as we present a snapshot of the first week of 2023: 


Supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed Brazil’s Congress and presidential offices over false claims of a rigged election.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) holds up the Speaker's gavel after winning the House speakership election.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy holds the gavel. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

For the first time all week, House Republicans were jubilant and KEVIN McCARTHY’s smile finally seemed genuine. It was 10 p.m. Friday night, and word had spread that after days of painful negotiations and 13 failed ballots, McCarthy finally had the votes to be speaker.

But as the clerk started to call the roll, there was a problem. Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) approached McCarthy’s top floor lieutenant, JOHN LEGANSKI, and told him they needed to adjourn the House. The six McCarthy holdouts had discussed a plan to back the GOP leader by voting “present” in tandem so none of them could be fingered as the final vote giving McCarthy the gavel — but Gaetz didn’t have the entire group sold at that moment.

If they waited until Monday, Gaetz said, he could probably deliver.

That wasn’t an option, Leganski told him. There was no guarantee all 222 Republicans would be in attendance Monday, with several members dealing with family emergencies. The wife of Rep. ROGER WILLIAMS (R-Texas) was undergoing treatment for a newly discovered brain tumor, and Rep. WESLEY HUNT (R-Texas) had left his wife’s bedside to fly back for the expected final vote. She has struggled with medical issues, Hunt said Friday, after giving premature birth to a baby boy.

Gaetz went back to his seat, but he wasn’t about to deliver McCarthy the deciding vote for the gavel. Just days before, he had suggested he’d rather be waterboarded. So he voted “present” — leaving McCarthy just short of a majority on the 14th ballot.

McCarthy made a beeline for Gaetz. “Matt, come on,” he told him, according to a person present. “You’ve made your point. People have to go home.” Gaetz replied this wouldn’t be happening if they’d adjourned as he’d suggested.

So began a wild, 28-minute floor scramble that salvaged an unimaginably messy start to the new House Republican majority and finally fulfilled McCarthy’s long dream of wielding the speaker’s gavel.

At 11:03, after confronting Gaetz in the back benches, a defeated and dejected McCarthy headed back to his seat at the front of the chamber. A top ally, Rep. PATRICK McHENRY (R-N.C.), moved to adjourn the House until Monday — a risky plan that would send the GOP’s leadership turmoil into a second week.

Then McCarthy’s whips went back to work. McHenry, who had been leading negotiations with conservatives, reiterated to Gaetz the concessions that his fellow conservative hard-liners had won. What more, he demanded to know, could they do to break the logjam?

Earlier that week, Gaetz had insisted on a House Armed Services subcommittee gavel as his prize for backing McCarthy. McCarthy told him he couldn’t give him that position — that decision was up to committee Chair MIKE ROGERS (R-Ala.). But as they struggled to nail down votes that night, leadership talked through the idea again — even after Rogers had confronted Gaetz on the floor in one of the night’s most dramatic moments.

As McHenry tried to fix the problem, Rep. MATT ROSENDALE (R-Mont.) came into the aisle to cheer Gaetz on. “We got your back,” he said, according to a person present. “Hold the line. You’re not on your own.”

Meanwhile, Majority Whip TOM EMMER sat next to Gaetz, with Chief Deputy Whip GUY RESCHENTHALER standing on the aisle — blocking Gaetz from leaving but keeping other angry Republicans (some of whom had been drinking) from approaching and making things worse. The whips pulled on the holdouts’ heartstrings, reminding them about Rogers and Hunt and their wives.

“Think about the human element of this,” one McCarthy ally told Gaetz.

At one point, Reschenthaler turned to Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) with a request: “I need you to get [DONALD] TRUMP on the phone right now,” according to a person who overheard the remark.

Greene did just that, calling up the former president and putting him on the line with both Gaetz and fellow holdout Rep. LAUREN BOEBERT , as CNN’s Kaitlan Collins first reported. He would later talk to other holdouts, though one McCarthy foe, Rosendale, refused to talk to him, a rejection captured in a striking photo by Al Drago. “Don’t put me in that situation!” he yelled at Greene.

A screenshot of a tweet by Al Drago is pictured.

Twitter screenshot

Trump angrily told the group to knock it off, according to a person familiar with the conversations, arguing that the televised mayhem was making him look bad. “He ripped them a new asshole,” the person said.

Amid the full-court press, the holdouts ping-ponged between huddles before finally agreeing that McCarthy would ultimately get the gavel one way or another and that they should let fate take its course.

Gaetz, who had already voted to adjourn until Monday, walked to the clerk’s desk at 11:31 and pulled a red slip to change his vote. He found McCarthy and told him the group would clear the way for him to get the gavel.

McCarthy immediately yelled for a 15th and final vote, sparking an eruption of cheers from his rank-and-file. Members chanted “One more time! One more time!” as dozens went to change their votes for adjournment.

An hour later, McCarthy prevailed. He won 216 votes, with the six holdouts all voting present. Not a single GOP vote was cast against him.

It was a remarkable and suitably dramatic ending to the wildest speaker race in modern congressional history. We highly recommend diving into the killer accounts of the floor spectacle from our Olivia Beavers, Sarah Ferris and Jordain Carney; from Mel Zanona and the rest of the CNN team; and from WaPo’s Paul Kane and Dylan Wells.

Good Saturday afternoon. Thanks for reading Playbook. Sorry we’re so late sending today! We were working the phones trying to get a full tick-tock on all of last night’s drama! Drop us a line anytime: Rachael BadeEugene DanielsRyan Lizza.

The must-see video clips, via C-SPAN: The McCarthy-Gaetz-Rogers scuffle … McCarthy and Gaetz talking before the final vote… The winning moment… McCarthy sworn in… McCarthy swearing in the members

The deets: “What's in McCarthy's emerging deal with conservatives — and why it could work,” by Olivia Beavers, Sarah Ferris, Connor O’Brien and Meredith Lee Hill

The view from back home: “‘Kevin Who?’ In McCarthy’s Hometown, a Different Take on His Fate,” by David Siders in Bakersfield, Calif. … “Kevin McCarthy wins his dream job, but at a humiliating and stifling cost,” by L.A. Times’ Jeffrey Fleishman and Melanie Mason … “Column: Kevin McCarthy ‘won’ the House speakership. Now the country will pay the price,” by L.A. Times’ Mark Barabak

The view from the other side: “How Democrats could exploit the McCarthy situation,” by WaPo’s Aaron Blake

Knowing Eli Crane: “How the last freshman holdout against McCarthy made it to Congress,” by Ally Mutnick

The media lens: “The flailing, tedious thrill of reporting on the House leadership fight,” by WaPo’s Paul Farhi

More reads: “Speaker Fight Could Preview Months of Turmoil in Congress,” by WSJ’s Lindsay Wise, Andrew Duehren and Kristina Peterson … “McCarthy speaker battle shows a party still incoherent, ungovernable,” by WaPo’s Michael Scherer … “Speaker McCarthy: A weakened leader or emboldened survivor?” by AP’s Lisa Mascaro… “This congressman carried his baby around the Capitol all week,” by WaPo’s Roxanne Roberts

Early this morning, shortly after midnight, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California won enough votes to become speaker of the House of Representatives. Not since 1860, when it took 44 ballots to elect New Jersey’s William Pennington as a compromise candidate, has it taken 15 ballots to elect a speaker.

The spectacle of a majority unable to muster the votes to elect a speaker, while the Democratic opposition stayed united behind House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), raised ridicule across the country. McCarthy tried to put a good spin on it but inadvertently undercut confidence in his leadership when he, now the leader of the House, told reporters: “This is the great part…. Because it took this long, now we learned how to govern.”

But there is no doubt that the concessions he made to extremist Republicans to win their votes mean he has finally grasped the speaker’s gavel from a much weaker position than previous speakers. “He will have to live the entirety of his speakership in a straitjacket constructed by the rules that we’re working on now,” one of the extremist ring leaders, Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told reporters. Gaetz later explained away his willingness to accept McCarthy after vowing never to support McCarthy by saying “I ran out of things I could even imagine to ask for.”

In his acceptance speech, McCarthy first thanked the House clerk, Cheryl Johnson, who presided over the drawn-out fight. Johnson was chosen by Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) when she became speaker in 2018, and has served since 2019. Her work this week was impressive.

McCarthy promised that the Republicans recognized that their responsibility was not to themselves or their conference, but to the country, but then went on to lay out a right-wing wish list for investigations, business deregulation, and enhanced use of fossil fuels, along with attacks on immigration, “woke indoctrination” in public schools, and the 87,000 new IRS agents funded by the Inflation Reduction Act to enforce tax laws. Somewhat oddly, considering the Biden administration’s focus on China and successful start to the repatriation of the hugely important chip industry, McCarthy promised that the Republicans would essentially jump on Biden’s coattails, working to counter communist China and bring jobs home. McCarthy promised that Republicans would “be a check and provide some balance to the President’s policies.”

It was a speech that harked back to the past 40 years of Republican ideology, although he awkwardly invoked Emanuel Leutze’s heroic 1851 painting of Washington crossing the Delaware to suggest that America is a land in which “every individual is equal” and “we let everybody in the boat.” Despite the language of inclusion, just as the Republicans have since 1980, he emphasized that the Republicans would center the “hardworking taxpayer.” The Republican conference repeatedly jumped to its feet to applaud his promises, but it felt rather like listening to a cover band playing yesterday’s hits.

Immediately after his victory, McCarthy thanked the members who stayed with him through all the votes, but told reporters: “I do want to especially thank President Trump. I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence. He was with me from the beginning…. He would call me and he would call others…. Thank you, President Trump.”

Aaron Rupar of Public Notice pointed out that “McCarthy going out of his way to gush over Trump at a time when his influence is clearly diminished & political brand is more toxic to mainstream voters than ever—especially on the anniversary of the insurrection—is notable & indicative of who he'll be beholden to as speaker.”

I would go a step further and say that embracing Trump after his influence on the Republican Party has made it lose the last three elections suggests that, going forward, the party is planning either to convince more Americans to like the extremism of the MAGA Republicans—which is unlikely—or to restrict the vote so that opposition to that extremism doesn’t matter.

Yesterday, Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, signed into law a series of changes in election law that include requiring a photo ID rather than permitting people to use other government documents or utility bills, shortening the time for returning ballots and fixing errors in them (called “curing”), prohibiting curbside voting, and limiting ballot drop boxes to one per county.

Also yesterday, a panel of three federal judges ruled that South Carolina’s First Congressional District is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Following the 2020 census, the Republican-dominated legislature moved 62% of the Black voters previously in that district into the Sixth District, turning what had recently been a swing district into a staunchly Republican one that Republican Nancy Mace won in November by 14 percentage points. District Judge Richard M. Gergel said: “If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know someone put it there…. This is not a coincidence.”

In contrast to McCarthy stood Minority Leader Jeffries, who used the ceremonial handing over of the speaker’s gavel from the Democrats to the Republicans to give a barn-burning speech. He began by praising “the iconic, the heroic, the legendary” former House speaker Nancy Pelosi as “the greatest speaker of all time,” and offering thanks to her lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC).

He reviewed the laws the Democrats have passed in the past two years—the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, gun safety legislation, the CHIPS & Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, among others. “It was one of the most consequential congresses in American history,” he said, accurately. He called for Democrats to continue the fight for lower costs, better paying jobs, safer communities, democracy, the public interest, economic opportunity for all, and reproductive freedom.

“As Democrats,” he said, “we do believe in a country for everyone…. We believe in a country with liberty and justice for all, equal protection under the law, free and fair elections, and yes, we believe in a country with the peaceful transfer of power.

“We believe that in America our diversity is a strength—it is not a weakness—an economic strength, a competitive strength, a cultural strength…. We are a gorgeous mosaic of people from throughout the world. As John Lewis would sometimes remind us on this floor, we may have come over on different ships but we’re all in the same boat now. We are white. We are Black. We are Latino. We are Asian. We are Native American.

“We are Christian. We are Jewish. We are Muslim. We are Hindu. We are religious. We are secular. We are gay. We are straight. We are young. We are older. We are women. We are men. We are citizens. We are dreamers.

“Out of many, we are one. That’s what makes America a great country, and no matter what kind of haters are trying to divide us, we’re not going to let anyone take that away from us, not now, not ever. This is the United States of America….

“So on this first day, let us commit to the American dream, a dream that promises that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to provide a comfortable living for yourself and for your family, educate your children, purchase a home, and one day retire with grace and dignity.”

In this moment of transition, he said, the American people want to know what direction the Congress will choose. The Democrats offer their hand to Republicans to find common ground, Jeffries said, but “we will never compromise our principles. House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy…

“benevolence over bigotry, the Constitution over the cult, democracy over demagogues, economic opportunity over extremism, freedom over fascism, governing over gaslighting, hopefulness over hatred, inclusion over isolation, justice over judicial overreach, knowledge over kangaroo courts, liberty over limitation, maturity over Mar-a-Lago, normalcy over negativity, opportunity over obstruction, people over politics, quality of life issues over QAnon, reason over racism, substance over slander, triumph over tyranny, understanding over ugliness, voting rights over voter suppression, working families over the well-connected, xenial over xenophobia, ‘yes, we can’ over ‘you can’t do it,’ and zealous representation over zero-sum confrontation. We will always do the right thing by the American people.”

The torch has indeed passed to a new generation, at least of Democrats. Between them and the extremists in his own ranks, McCarthy has his work cut out for him.


Bradleys, Self-Propelled Howitzers Head to Ukraine as More Difficult Fight in the South Awaits
By Patrick Tucker and Marcus Weisgerber

The Defense Department on Friday announced its largest aid package to Ukraine to date, a reflection in scale and content of Ukrainian advances in proficiency and territory. 

Read more »

On the heels of a highly-publicized water-contamination crisis in Jackson last fall, Mississippi continues to suffer from Republican austerity policies obliterating the state’s infrastructure. The state’s health-care crisis has become dire enough that medical groups have renewed their calls to call for an overhaul of the entire system of care as the State Legislature’s 2023 session begins. Hospitals are closing across Mississippi because the Republican legislature has continually refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and since 2013 Republicans in the State House have rejected more than $10 billion from the federal government, which could have been used towards that goal. This has led hospitals to seek private buyers, as Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney warned in November that without an influx of funding, 54 percent of the state’s rural hospitals could close. Mississippi is already the poorest state in the U.S. with the worst health outcomes, including during the pandemic. That Republican lawmakers have routinely refused federal funding that could help hundreds of thousands of their constituents, potentially saving thousands of lives, is one of the most transparent examples of the craven depths of conservative ideology in modern American politics.

The Federal Trade Commission proposed a rule to ban employers from imposing noncompete clauses on their workers, which could increase worker earnings by nearly $300 billion per year. Huge!

A staffer for Herschel Walker’s failed Senate campaign alleged that longtime Republican activist, lead CPAC organizer, and chair of the American Conservative Union Matt Schlapp made “sustained and unwanted and unsolicited” sexual contact with him during Walker’s campaign.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) announced today that she will not seek reelection in 2024. Authoring the legislation that disgraced FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried lobbied for tends to do that to you. 


Former Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone wrote a letter to top House Republicans, calling on them to publicly condemn political violence ahead of the two-year anniversary of the attack. The letter was signed by more than 1,000 military veterans, active duty members, and law enforcement, and hand-delivered to the GOP reps today by dozens of military veterans. 


Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but conveyed that he has an “excellent prognosis, as well as the benefit of exceptional medical care.” 

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) is in the process of making several major campaign hires that together look suspiciously like a Senate campaign team, which would set him up to challenge Pharma Money Barbie/Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ). Music to our ears.

In an attempt to address the deluge of Republican attacks against his administration, President Biden announced new immigration restrictions today, including an expansion of programs to remove people quickly without letting them seek asylum. Whether or not this is a smart concession to make to Republicans is dubious, as they will attack Democrats over arriving immigrants and asylum seekers no matter their numbers or the orderliness of the border. The new program will expand Biden’s use of “parole” authority to allow 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Venezuela to enter the United States each month so long as they have U.S. sponsors. Those who try to immigrate without this authorization will face rapid expulsion to Mexico, as the country has agreed to take back 30,000 people from those nations each month. These changes are likely to draw challenges from immigration advocacy groups and have already angered many on the left, but the White House contends that the measures “will expand and expedite legal pathways for orderly migration, and result in new consequences for those who fail to use those legal pathways.”

The Arab world is celebrating this week after Rolling Stone put famed Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum on their list of the top 200 singers ever. The magazine described her as having “no real equivalent among singers in the West.”

A diplomatic row between France and Iran is unfolding after controversial French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons depicting Iran's supreme leader as an executioner. The series was meant to support the uprising in Iran that has seen over 500 protesters killed.

Several factors are leading more and more Syrian refugee women in Germany to divorce their husbands. “I’ve never seen so many people of one nationality want to get divorced,” a family lawyer in Berlin said.

On the two-year anniversary of Qassem Soleimani’s killing, Iraq’s top court is threatening legal action on an arrest warrant for former President Donald Trump in connection to the 2020 assassination of the Iranian Quds Force commander.

The US has returned a stolen artifact to Palestine for the first time ever. The 2,700-year-old spoon was sold by an Israeli dealer to an American billionaire before being discovered in New York.

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