The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge. You know, we’ve been in the market for a tagline, and we came up with it this week: “There’s no happiness in life, only a mirage of it on the horizon.” Eh? You say Vladimir Putin already used it? He’s hacked our brains.

The United States Senate is at “Seersucker Thursday” levels of back to normal, and the work is stacking up. A bipartisan infrastructure deal may actually be coming together—and it’s making progressives worried about whether that may be all that comes together. Voting rights and election reform are heading to the floor next week, and Joe Manchin is finally on the move. Congress approved a new federal holiday this week for the first time in 38 years, and that new federal holiday is observed today! Is that great news—or the latest trick in the critical race theory trick book? A grown woman had to go to the Holocaust Museum to learn that the Holocaust was not comparable to wearing a cloth mask, and Congress might finally repeal the president’s authority to send troops to attack anyone in Iraq who’s jaywalking. 

But let’s start with the figure who’s working the most to make order out of chaos.

Chuck Schumer.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Chuck Schumer

What about more stress. Have you considered assuming more stress?

Chuck Schumer realized his longtime dream of becoming Senate majority leader in January, and just five months in, he’s in one of the most difficult binds in recent memory for a Senate majority leader. The two biggest issues on the Democrats’ agenda are coming to a head, and now Schumer’s job requires him to develop some sort of alternative mathematics to the one we’ve been using for several thousand years. On the issue of voting rights and election reform, he is bringing the For the People Act to the floor next week. Schumer has said “failure is not an option”—but the act is presently 11 votes short of the 60 it would need to break a filibuster. On Biden’s spending agenda, he is trying to allow for the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations to accommodate moderates, and a partisan proposal to accommodate liberals, without the bipartisan negotiations sending liberals into rebellion and the partisan proposal sending moderates into rebellion. It’s a lot! A little flexibility from some of his most stubborn senators could go a long way. On that note …

Rank 2

Last Week Down from last week #1

2. Joe Manchin

A little flexibility?

When last we left the Senate voting rights graveyard, the For the People Act was exactly where it had been all year: either dead or never alive. When West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin wrote an op-ed a couple of weeks ago declaring that he would vote against the sprawling measure, Senate Democratic leaders asked him to submit a list of provisions with which he had issues. Even though Manchin agreed to do this homework, it came as a mild surprise this week when he actually turned it in. Democrats greeted it as something they could work with: Manchin wants national voter ID standards, yes, but allows for items like utility bills with voters’ names and addresses on them to qualify as ID. Meanwhile, he is actually onboard with some of the reforms that would make the biggest difference, like an end to partisan gerrymandering. His suggested revisions are a compromise that Stacey Abrams said she would “absolutely” endorse. When voting rights and elections reform comes to the floor next week, it still won’t be able to break a filibuster. But can Senate Democrats, at least, have unanimous support among themselves for a piece of voting legislation? And could a unanimous Republican blockade, on the premise that there is no voting rights problem, push Democrats to change the filibuster? One way to judge the seriousness of this is to gauge the reaction from the opposition. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hates this bill like no bill he’s ever hated before, typically has a Marshawn Lynchian posture toward addressing the national press. But on Thursday, he hastily organized a press conference to trash Manchin’s proposal as, among other things, “endorsed by Stacey Abrams.” He’s treating it as a threat.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. John Cornyn, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Ed Markey

How the first new federal holiday in 38 years came together in 48 hours.

When you read this newsletter the instant it comes out on Friday, as usual, you will be reading it on the observance of a brand-new federal holiday: Juneteenth National Independence Day, the first to be created since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. No one knew this was possible as recently as Tuesday morning. When Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduced legislation last year to create a federal Juneteenth holiday, its passage was blocked in the Senate by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who didn’t think federal workers deserved another paid vacation day with which to sit on their bums. On Tuesday, though, Johnson said that he wouldn’t block the proposal again if it came up. Later that afternoon, the Senate by unanimous consent passed a bill from its lead sponsor this Congress, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, creating a federal Juneteenth holiday. The House passed the Senate bill on Wednesday, and President Joe Biden signed it into law on Thursday afternoon. Though sources had told the Surge during the week that it was unlikely the law could be implemented in time to give workers the observed holiday on Friday, the Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that federal workers would get the day off after all. (It would have been a bummer had they rushed this through ahead of Juneteenth, and then it wouldn’t have even counted for this year. The Surge suspects some high-level calls were made.) Everybody’s happy! Well, almost everybody …

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Matt Rosendale

An incredible week of House Republican bait taking.

This week, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation creating a federal holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves, as well as legislation awarding the congressional gold medal to Capitol Police officers for defending the building on Jan. 6. Even though the voice votes weren’t close in either case, Democrats requested recorded votes. Why? Perhaps they suspected there would be Republican members who might be dumb enough to go on the record opposing either of these things and supply Democrats with talking points. They were correct. Twenty-one House Republicans voted against giving cops(!) medals(!!) for saving their lives(!!!), mainly because they didn’t like how the bill referred to the events of Jan. 6 as an “insurrection.” Fourteen House Republicans, meanwhile, voted against the Juneteenth bill. The most head-spinning of the public statements opposing the bill was from Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale. “Let’s call an ace an ace,” Rosendale said, in one of the most incredible examples we’ve ever seen of a last-minute edit from a communications staffer trying to get rid of a phrase with racial overtones. “This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race theory the reigning ideology of our country.” The left, he said, “do not want to highlight all the good this country has brought to the world—flight, our Constitution, the defeat of communism and Nazism, the internet—but instead our racial sins.” Cornyn summed up the statement pretty well. “Kooky,” he tweeted.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Marjorie Taylor Greene

A field trip to learn that the Holocaust was bad.

When the Surge was in grade school, we took a field trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington to learn about how horrific an event it was in human history. Marjorie Taylor Greene took that same field trip, for that same lesson, this week, as a 47-year-old member of Congress. It came after she said mask mandates were “exactly the type of abuse” that Jews experienced under the Nazi regime. She was facing a possible censure vote in the House of Representatives, all while Republicans were trying to focus their energies on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar as the One True Congressional Antisemite. After the field trip, Greene apologized for the remark in a press conference but did not apologize for remarks comparing the Democratic Party to Germany’s National Socialists. (A footnote on the Juneteenth bill, to cement what exactly we’re dealing with in those 14 members who voted against it: Even Marjorie Taylor Greene voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.)

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Barbara Lee

A win 19 years in the making.

We won’t believe it until we see it. But in the year of our Lord 2021, Congress may pass, and the president may sign, a clean repeal of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq that authorized administrations to do whatever war stuff they wanted to do in Iraq forever. The authorization has been abused by Democratic and Republican administrations alike, well beyond the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Rep. Barbara Lee sponsored the repeal, which, amazingly, has no caveats or replacement authorizations whatsoever in the text. It passed the House on Thursday by a 268–161 margin, with 49 Republicans supporting it. Schumer said this week, for the first time ever, that he supports repealing the 2002 AUMF and that he would put it up for a vote this year. While McConnell does not support repeal, there is enough of a bipartisan coalition in the Senate supporting the repeal that this could really happen. That’s a point of honor for Lee, who called it a “humbling moment” following the Thursday vote. Should the 2002 AUMF be repealed, though, there’s a more substantial target for Lee to pursue next: Repealing the similarly-abused 2001 AUMF against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Many Democrats, infamously, voted for the 2002 authorization. Lee, though, cast the only vote in Congress against the 2001 authorization.

Rank 7

Last Week Down from last week #4

7. Joe Biden

Have a nice vacay? Tremendous. Now it’s time to decide about the future of your agenda.

Biden is back in Washington after a jaunt to Merry Olde England to play in the sand with Boris Johnson, and then to Geneva, where he got weird with Vladimir Putin. It became quite evident by the final press conference that the 78-year-old president was exhausted. Hopefully he slept well on the plane, though, because there’s a major decision facing him. Eleven Republicans have signed on to the bipartisan infrastructure framework that senators have been negotiating. Were Biden to get behind it, it would likely be enough to get it through. But getting behind it would mean risking anger from progressives and the possibility of cannibalizing Democratic support for a partisan package later on. If he doesn’t back it and puts all the pressure on a partisan package, he loses an instance of the bipartisan achievement that he seeks and bets everything on Joe Manchin and Bernie Sanders finding common ground on spending for infrastructure, Medicare, climate change, and even some elements of immigration reform. So, yeah, have fun with that! And as the vice president would say: Enjoy the long weekend.