The Surge

Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge. Now that the Senate has rejected an amendment to prohibit “certain human-animal chimeras,” we are free to pursue our master plan. Oh, you’ll see. YOU’LL ALL SEE.

Reader, we are in the thick of it. Congress is coming to a head on a host of issues—infrastructure, a Jan. 6 commission, a tech bill—with more, on gun control, immigration, and police reform still to come. As we write, there are like 8 million different things happening in the Senate to which we don’t entirely know the outcome. Mitch McConnell is trying to kill the Jan. 6 commission because it might not look good in campaign ads, but he’s having to work for it. Republicans want to pay for a bipartisan infrastructure bill by having Democrats sit on a whoopee cushion, while Democrats prefer the funding mechanism of Republicans slipping on a banana peel. They’ll keep talking. As will Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has observed that having to wear a mask is much like the Holocaust. And Senate Republican fervor for Larry Summers is reaching Beatlemania levels.

But first, Republicans are starting to play dirty with the filibuster. Any thoughts, Joe?

Joe Manchin.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Bill O’Leary/Pool/Getty Images.

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Last Week Up from last week #7

1. Joe Manchin

Bad-faith filibustering season has begun. What’s he going to do about it?

Mitch McConnell wants to kill the independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot because he thinks it would create bad headlines for Republicans ahead of the midterms, and he is working like a maniac to ensure legislation setting it up is filibustered this week. This presents a minor crisis for West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s been steadfast in his belief that the chamber’s 60-vote requirement helps make the place work better: It shows McConnell is taking his opposition to eliminating the filibuster for granted. Though Manchin has released a couple of statements this week slamming McConnell’s behavior, it’s not enough—so far—to change his posture on the filibuster. “I'm not separating our country, OK?” Manchin snapped at the 542nd reporter to ask him about it this week. “I don't know what you all don't understand about this. You ask the same question every day and it's wrong. That's enough.” We don’t blame him for getting tired of the question; it was never really in the cards that a filibuster on this would tip him over. If Manchin is ever going to change his mind—and it might be worth taking him at his word that he won’t!—it will come after a series of these episodes. Yes, he would have to go against his word. But after a while, that might be less unpleasant than being Mitch McConnell’s doormat.

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Last Week Down from last week #1

2. Mitch McConnell

Working up a sweat.

We mentioned last week that given the decent House GOP support for a Jan. 6 commission, McConnell “may have some whipping work to do in his own chamber.” That may have understated it. As the vote approached Thursday, the minority leader had to reach deep into his toolkit. Of particular concern was that a member of his conference, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, had been taking the Republican objections to the bill text as something they actually wanted fixed, rather than as excuses to block the whole thing. Collins drafted language to address two issues Republicans had—on the staffing and expiration of the commission—in a last-ditch effort to get Republican support for moving forward with the bill. Further, the mother of deceased Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was lobbying Republican senators, trying to flip their support. All of this made McConnell so nervous that the bill could get 60 votes that he had to press the emergency button: asking senators to vote against as a “personal favor” to him, per CNN’s reporting. At the time of this writing on Thursday afternoon, McConnell was said to have locked up the votes to block the legislation. Hopefully the senators at least remembered to request a favor to be returned later.

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Last Week

3. Shelley Moore Capito

Offering the bare minimum to keep infrastructure talks going.

The Republican group that’s been negotiating with the White House over an infrastructure package, led by West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, unveiled its latest offer at a press conference Thursday. Though the headline was a $928 billion package, up from its previous offer of $568 billion, the White House and Democrats argue that’s an accounting gimmick, and that the net new spending Republicans have offered only increased from $225 billion to $257 billion. That is more than a trillion dollars away from the $1.7 trillion the White House is requesting. Republicans also want to pay for the package by repurposing COVID relief funds, including much of the American Rescue Plan, while the White House wants Republicans to agree to a corporate tax increase. In other words, each side is still insisting that the other agree to undo one of its signature legislative accomplishments. And then Democrats want to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on “human infrastructure” in the package, which Republicans believe is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. But the Capito offer was, at least, good enough to get a constructive response from the White House. The bipartisan talks will go on. And on, and on …

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Last Week

4. Larry Summers

Senate Republicans’ new mascot.

It’s not just Senate Republicans who believe that COVID relief funds should be repurposed to pay for an infrastructure plan. Larry Summers, the former Clinton Treasury secretary and Obama economic adviser, suggested just that in an op-ed this week, warning that pumping trillions of new dollars into the economy would exacerbate inflation. Senate Republicans read the shit out of that op-ed and now cannot stop name-dropping the guy whenever they get a chance. You ask Mitch McConnell a question, and he says, “My answer is Larry Summers.” John Barrasso is running around the Senate with a big foam finger that says “LARRY’s #1” while John Cornyn got a tattoo on his lower back that says “It’s Summerstime” over a graphic of Larry Summers spilling ketchup on himself eating a cheeseburger. These are exaggerations (for now). But Republicans love quoting Summers for a couple of reasons. First, he is a Democratic economist who’s offering outside validation of a lot of Republicans’ fiscal arguments. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a good troll of liberals, who hate Summers for his previous roles in pushing for financial deregulation under Clinton and successfully advocating for a narrower stimulus at the outset of the Obama administration. It’s the 2021 version of “even Democrat Joe Lieberman opposes a public health insurance option.”

Rank 5

Last Week Up from last week #6

5. Joe Biden

The suck-up offensive.

Republicans on infrastructure are working a play on President Joe Biden that Democrats would often run against President Donald Trump on immigration or guns—running a wedge between him and the hacks on his staff and Capitol Hill. When Republicans haven’t been making out with posters of Larry Summers this week, they’ve been pressing another point: that Biden said in a meeting that he could live with an eight-year, roughly $1 trillion physical infrastructure bill “and that baseline funding levels could be included in that target” (i.e., that not all of the trillion had to be net new spending increases). If it was up to our dear, beloved, deal-making former Senate friend Joe Biden, Republicans have been saying, he would take our very excellent deal. But accepting Republicans’ deal would cause a full-on fit among Capitol Hill Democrats, which Republicans know. If, or when, the deal falls through, Republicans will say that Biden broke his word to them, because he’s not really in charge—with all the senility that connotes—and is controlled by Nancy Pelosi and the “woke mob” who insist on things like replacing lead pipes and not melting the planet.

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Last Week

6. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Have you considered another metaphor?

A couple of times per Congress we’re put through a workmanlike news cycle where each side’s leadership tries to prove that it is not their side, but the other side, that tolerates antisemitism. Statements fly around; resolutions condemning this, that, or the other statement are introduced; it ends; they do it again some months down the road. Just as Republicans were criticizing the left for antisemitism attacks—and demanding denunciations—prompted by the fighting between Israel and Palestine, Georgia nutso Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene decided to get in on the action. In discussing vaccine passports and mask mandates, Greene said in an interview that “we can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens—so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.” This comparison earned her a rebuke from House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who nevertheless devoted a paragraph in his statement to how “anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Democrat Party and is completely ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” Pelosi said that she denounces antisemitism all the time, and Greene retweeted and then deleted a tweet calling McCarthy a “moron” and “feckless c**t.” The House of Representatives, man. We’ll see everyone again for another exciting episode in a few months.


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Last Week Down from last week #5

7. Chuck Schumer

Amid all this, a rare episode of the Senate functioning.

As we write, the Senate just finished a nearly four-hour vote to end debate on a piece of legislation they’d been working on for two weeks: the United States Innovation and Competition Act, a sprawling package to counter China on scientific and technological research and manufacturing. It wasn’t such a bad thing, though. Some senators were angry their amendment hadn't made it in, they used their leverage to hold the process up, and leaders worked out a deal to move forward. (The threat of having to work through the holiday weekend, as ever, also worked as a forcing mechanism.) The process behind this bill has been the nearest thing to the Disneyland version of the Senate called “regular order” that only its oldest members—and longest-covering reporters—remember. A bipartisan bill was considered and referred out of committee, came to the floor for consideration, received countless amendment votes over an extended period of time, and was en route to passing on a bipartisan basis. Senators of all stripes grumbled about aspects of it, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Just a great time, all around. Why, you might ask, was the Senate able to operate this way, and exhaust this much floor time, to get this bill done? Well, it helps when the bill is the long-sought brainchild of one Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.