The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, your newsletter ranking the best receptacle for stockpiling gasoline. If you’re out of plastic bags, your next best options are a portable fire pit, a dirty ashtray, the trunk of a Hummer, and your stomach.

It was another sensational week for House Republicans, who booted a member of leadership for being a little too vocal in pointing out how Donald Trump had tried to steal an election. What was the problem with Trump’s big lie about the stolen election anyway? Jan. 6 was just another day of patriotic tourism at the Capitol. Lest Democrats get too cocky about their nutty counterparts, though, they’re running into a brick wall on a top legislative priority while the economy is getting weird. Marjorie Taylor Greene is chasing AOC in the hallway demanding she debate her, and that’s not even an exaggerated, slapstick description of the incident. And has your governor paid you enough to not die yet?

But let’s start off with the line of the week.

Kevin McCarthy.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #2

1. Kevin McCarthy

No one is questioning the election results and everything is fine, tra-la-la.

On Wednesday, House Republicans booted Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position for pushing back against Donald Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him. It was a purge that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was entirely behind. Later in the day, following a meeting at the White House, McCarthy delivered perhaps the most risible line of the week—some choice competition in the next entry, though—when he told reporters that “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election.” Oh? The Surge’s inbox is regularly loaded with statements from Trump still calling the election stolen and supporting “audits” where investigators are searching for traces of bamboo in ballots to prove they’re from China. Any congressional reporter will tell you how difficult it is to get a rank-and-file House Republican to give a straight answer about the legitimacy of the election. A majority of Republicans in the country are questioning the legitimacy of the election. If McCarthy—an “employee of Donald Trump,” as Rep. Adam Kinzinger memorably called him this week—does clean up his remark, expect him to say that yes, people are questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election because they should.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Andrew Clyde

They also think the Jan. 6 riot was good, now.

Shortly after they fired Cheney for saying the presidential election wasn’t stolen, House Republicans then argued that the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was not bad, but in fact very good. At an Oversight Committee hearing on the riot, House Republicans defended the rioters who smashed their way into the Capitol, attacked cops, and sought out Vice President Mike Pence so they could kill him for presiding over the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Freshman Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde conceded, sure, “There were some rioters, and some who committed acts of vandalism”—boys will be boys—but mostly the “TV footage” showed “people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures.” If “you didn’t know that TV footage was a video from January the sixth,” he added, “you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” Fair, normal tourists are always trying to smush police officers’ bodies in doorways. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, the worst member of Congress, described the rioters as “peaceful patriots,” while Georgia Rep. Jody Hice observed that it was Trump supporters who lost their lives, “not taking the lives of others.” Only 140 officers got injured, but sure. This is now an acceptable strain of thought in the House Republican conference, perhaps on its way to becoming the dominant one. Jan. 6 was a normal day at the Capitol. There was a peaceful patriotic protest. It was good. They should do this again.

Rank 3

Last Week Up from last week #5

3. Joe Biden

Oh, are you enjoying us making fun of the Republicans, hmm?

Yes, Joe, we know you are reading the Surge at 6 a.m. as you do every Friday. You’re just loving this so far, right? The House Republicans are completely off their rocker, aren’t they? What a bunch of clowns—yes. And here’s the funniest part: These wackos are going to originate your revenue bills starting in 2023! Democrats have a couple of structural disadvantages to keeping their narrow majority in the next Congress. Republicans have a national gerrymandering advantage, and out parties traditionally pick up seats in midterms. But this has also been one of the more difficult weeks for the Biden administration, as the rapid end of our pandemic slumber has created some janky economic challenges. Job growth last month was way smaller than expectations, while inflation—some of it maybe transitory, some of it maybe not?—is jumping. Weird stuff is happening with wood and used cars (they are expensive). And then some chuckleheads over there in Europe go and hack a fuel pipeline, causing a temporary gas shortage that makes everyone go insane? Sure, House Republicans may have drifted into another dimension. But the administration now has much to smooth out if it wants to avoid being dragged there with them.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Joe Manchin

The future of voting rights (is no voting rights).

We mentioned Republicans’ national gerrymandering advantage. Well, Democrats do have a bill to combat that and other things, the For the People Act, their sprawling election and voting rights legislation. It passed the House months ago, and the Senate version went through a committee markup earlier this week. Democrats have hyped this as their marquee piece of reform legislation for the term. The problem for Democrats is that the For the People Act is … dead. It doesn’t have 50 Democratic votes, and even if it did, Democrats don’t have 50 votes to eliminate the legislative filibuster, which they’d have to do, since Republicans hate this bill more than they’ve ever hated any bill. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who had previously expressed skepticism over the legislation, is now officially opposed to it. What Manchin is pushing, instead, is an emphasis on a separate piece of voting rights legislation—the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—that would restore the Voting Rights Act’s federal preclearance requirements for covered jurisdictions trying to change their election laws. The preclearance formula was tossed out in the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby County decision, and Manchin believes there’s a bipartisan path to 60 votes on restoration if the new preclearance formula is applied nationwide. Republicans may be open to having the conversation, but it’s still extremely unlikely they’d go further than that. The endgame on whether any voting rights legislation passes Congress this term, then, will be: What does Joe Manchin do when his wishful bipartisan fallback option also fails to attract Republican votes for no good reason? Will he then be willing to take another look at the Senate rulebook?

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Chip Roy

The anti-Stefanik resistance.

By the time you read this on Friday, odds are New York Rep. Elise Stefanik has been elected the new chairwoman of the House Republican Conference in a morning vote, replacing Cheney. In the unlikely event that she hasn’t, then the grumbling and muttering about Stefanik’s “coronation” in certain elements of the conference has gotten somewhere, and much of that will have been due to Texas Rep. Chip Roy. While Stefanik’s elevation seemed like a foregone conclusion once Trump, McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, and House Freedom Caucus mascot Jim Jordan rallied behind her candidacy, some conservatives were uncomfortable with her relatively moderate voting record. Roy distilled that dissent into a memo to members this week. “With all due respect to my friend, Elise Stefanik,” Roy wrote, “let us contemplate the message Republican leadership is about to send by rushing to coronate a spokesperson whose voting record embodies much of what led to the 2018 ass-kicking we received by Democrats.” (A lot of Republicans are also angry that leaders are insisting a woman replace Cheney. Identity politics run amok, etc.) Roy decided on Thursday afternoon, just before a scheduled candidate forum, to throw his name into the race. But he, like Cheney, had been opposed to overturning the election result. Almost immediately after Roy’s entry, Trump released a statement saying that Roy “has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district.”

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Literally at the point of chasing AOC demanding to be debated.

You won’t believe us, and that’s fine, but we really don’t intend to write about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene all the time. The Georgia freshman is a nut, got it, move on. ­But on Wednesday, she chased Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez out of the House chamber, yelled at her to get her attention, and demanded she debate her. You don’t get content like this every day. “When Ocasio-Cortez did not stop walking,” the Washington Post reported, “Greene picked up her pace and began shouting at her and asking why she supports antifa, a loosely knit group of far-left activists, and Black Lives Matter, falsely labeling them ‘terrorist’ groups. Greene also shouted that Ocasio-Cortez was failing to defend her ‘radical socialist’ beliefs by declining to publicly debate the freshman from Georgia.” Greene on Thursday defended herself, in very Greene fashion, from the accusation of “screaming,” saying that “You know what screaming is? Screaming is what people do when rockets are fired at them like Hamas terrorists are firing into Israel.” We would say that a restraining order is more in the offing than a debate.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Mike DeWine

Nation of babies.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced this week that for the next five weeks, any resident of the state who’s had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine would be eligible to win a million dollars in a lottery. New York City is offering free french fries, Connecticut and New Jersey are offering free beers, Memphis is holding a free car sweepstakes. And, you know, whatever works. But what a nation, where people need to be offered widdle pwesents to eliminate a chance of death and help end a pandemic. Usually people stop getting offered lollies after doctors’ visits once they grow out of seeing a pediatrician. Maybe those people who don’t have good-faith questions about the vaccine but are just skittish about feeling sicky-poo for 12 hours after the second dose would feel more comfortable in India, where there’s a horrific outbreak and extreme vaccine shortage but no mean government meanies paying them to partake in this miracle of modern science.