Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, your weekly politics newsletter. Are you ready for the opening joke? It’s a good one. Here is the joke: It’s Infrastructure Week! (Please, unsubscribe.)
It really is, though. How many times have you heard every dingbat in Washington say for the past 20 years, “Let’s see if we can work together to fix our crumbling roads and bridges,” and then not do anything at all? And yet here we are, and the Senate is a week away from getting it done. Unless we just jinxed it by typing that. Also on the Hill: The House of Representatives is always crazy, but this week was something special. And there was one notable exception to House craziness this week, that rarest of beasts: a good-faith hearing on an important issue.
1. Nancy PelosiThe first high-profile, non-clownish hearing since forever.
Last week, in our Gambit Edition of the Surge, we wrote about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to seat two of the MAGA House members whom House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had requested—Reps. Jim Banks and Jim Jordan—for the Jan. 6 select committee. A widespread interpretation among pundits (though not this one, we have never been wrong) was that Pelosi had gravely erred in giving Republicans an excuse to discredit the committee’s ultimate findings. But after McCarthy’s decision to withdraw the rest of his picks, Pelosi put the other of the two House Republicans who take Trump’s effort to overturn the election seriously—Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger—on the committee, joining Rep. Liz Cheney. What took place in the committee’s first hearing on Tuesday, then, was something of a novelty: a high-profile, well-publicized House hearing in which members of each party questioned the witnesses in good faith. It is difficult to recall the last hearing like this, as it usually takes about two minutes for the ranking member to start flipping tables and throwing pies at the chairman’s face. What was controversial about Pelosi’s decision, in the Surge’s mind, was that it will be played against Democrats when they return to the minority: Republicans absolutely will not seat all of Democrats’ committee picks, as a matter of revenge. But for now, locking Jim Jordan out of a committee with necessary work to do may have been necessary to ensure it could do that work. In other This Is Nancy Pelosi’s Last Term and She Is Simply Going for It news, she called McCarthy a “moron” this week.
2. Chuck SchumerA near-impossible double feat is within view.
The Senate majority leader had two goals this month before breaking for August recess: reach, and pass, a bipartisan “hard” infrastructure deal; then reach, and pass, a budget resolution to clear the way for Democrats’ pricey, party-line reconciliation bill in the fall. Some try-hard Slate reporter earlier this month described the chances of achieving both goals as “extremely difficult, running right up to the edge of impossibility.” But while Schumer hasn’t met these goals quite yet, the finish line is in view. The bipartisan group finalized negotiations on its infrastructure deal Wednesday, and 67 senators voted to advance it. If the group can hold together through floor amendments, that work could be completed sometime next week. Democrats also believe they have the 50 votes they would need to pass the budget after that. Passing the budget that allows for a reconciliation bill, mind you, is not the same thing as passing a reconciliation bill (more on that in just a second). But that can be September and October’s problem. For now, both of Chuck Schumer’s trains are on schedule.
3. Kyrsten SinemaGood and bad news for progressives.
We are all familiar with what centrist Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema believes her haters should do, as she has the message inscribed on a ring. But now her haters can “fuck off” via electrical vehicle on the brand-new Kyrsten Sinema Memorial Highway! Yes, Sinema, the lead Senate Democratic negotiator behind the bipartisan infrastructure deal, achieved her dream of getting a big thing done with her Senate Republican friends, who are writing odes to her in national op-ed pages. While progressives have been, and are, ho-hum about the contents of the bipartisan deal, its consummation has unlocked Sinema’s vote for the budget resolution. Sinema announced in a statement Thursday that she would “support beginning” the reconciliation process by advancing a budget resolution next week. There was a catch, though: While the budget will create space for a reconciliation bill of up to $3.5 trillion later on, Sinema—like Joe Manchin—said in the same statement that, in the end, she will “not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.” She immediately received sharp pushback from progressives. Still, it was always unlikely that the final number would actually be $3.5 trillion, as Manchin and Sinema would want to trim that down as a simple matter of brand maintenance. The skirmishing we see now is each side laying a marker for what that total cost will be when they work out the bill this fall.
4. Kevin McCarthyTo punish or not to punish the “Pelosi Republicans”?
The House Republican leader’s initial response to GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger joining the Jan. 6 select committee was a definitive two words: “Pelosi Republicans.” His response about whether he would punish them was a less definitive two words: “We’ll see.” Stripping Kinzinger and Cheney of their standing committee assignments is trickier than it seems. He cannot just press a button. Committee assignments are decided by House votes, and he does not control a majority of House votes. What he could do is hold an internal House GOP vote to expel them from the House GOP conference, which would automatically rid them of their assignments. Pelosi, though, could hold a floor vote to restore them. Of course, Democrats would have a field day if House Republicans expelled the two from the party for entertaining the truth about Jan. 6. But McCarthy may not presently have the votes to expel them. While certain hard-line Freedom Caucus members are agitating for it, it’s not an urgent priority for the rank and file. It could play out much like Liz Cheney’s removal as conference chair: At first, she beat back efforts for her removal, but as she kept getting more and more publicity for her anti-Trump remarks, the conference came around to a consensus that she had to go.
5. Chip RoyThe mask wars enter a new phase.
The House of Representatives is at all times a madhouse comprised of hundreds of high-strung, volatile midsize manufacturing company executives in desperate need of as-yet-undiscovered forms of therapy. And yet, some days are crazier than others. Wednesday was one such day. After Pelosi—a RADICAL LEFT DICTATOR ruling over the PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF THE HOUSE—reinstated a House mask mandate on the attending physician’s advice, House Republicans reached a breaking point. Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert threw a mask back at a staffer who handed her one. McCarthy gave a speech about how Pelosi and Democrats want to “keep you living in fear with your mask.” One Democratic congressman got into a scuffle with a maskless Republican both on and off the floor. But Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who’s never had an emotion to which he didn’t fully commit, was the most outraged, delivering a furious speech on the House floor in which he called the institution a “sham” that should be “shut down,” which he then attempted by calling a motion to adjourn. (It was not the only adjournment vote of the day.) By Thursday, the mask wars had escalated after Republicans saw a Capitol Police bulletin authorizing officers to arrest members in violation of the mandate, prompting the Capitol Police to issue a statement saying that “there is no reason it should ever come to someone being arrested.” Such a time that we live in! The House is scheduled to recess at the end of the week until mid-September. That’s probably for the best.
6. Donald TrumpSome small signs of his grip weakening.
The former president, who lost the 2020 presidential election, maintains his grip on the Republican party by rewarding those who do whatever he tells them to do and threatening vengeance on those who break even slightly. For the most part, it works. But there were a couple of notable episodes where it failed. After Trump promoted and endorsed Susan Wright in the Texas 6th District special election runoff—a runoff for which he took credit for getting her into—Wright lost to Republican Jake Ellzey. In an incredible interview with Axios, Trump stopped himself midsentence before admitting that he lost. “This is the only race we've … this is not a loss, again, I don't want to claim it is a loss, this was a win,” he said. “The big thing is, we had two very good people running that were both Republicans. That was the win.” Trump has also been releasing statement after statement pressing Republicans not to give Biden a “win” on infrastructure. “Don’t do it Republicans—Patriots will never forget! If this deal happens, lots of primaries will be coming your way!” Seventeen Republicans voted to advance the infrastructure bill on Wednesday anyway—and it would have been 18 had South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds been at the vote—including Trump’s nemesis, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Is this the end of Trump’s grip over the Republican Party? No, of course not. But it is two things!
7. Mo BrooksA new Jan. 6 detail.
Speaking of Trump endorsees: Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks’ leading advocacy to “stop the steal” and overturn the 2020 election results for Donald Trump won him Trump’s endorsement in his 2022 Senate race. But it put him in some hot water when all that “stop the steal” playtime turned into an actual attack on the Capitol. A fellow member of Congress, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Brooks and others for fomenting the rebellion, citing Brooks’ inveighing at the Jan. 6 Ellipse rally that attendees should “start taking down names and kicking ass!” The Justice Department this week said it would not shield Brooks from the lawsuit, not buying his argument that he was speaking at the rally in his official capacity as a congressman. And then, on Wednesday, Brooks told Jim Newell (the Surge’s secretary) that he had actually been wearing body armor during the Ellipse speech, having been tipped off earlier in the week that there might be “risks” associated with upcoming events. Hopefully, for Brooks, Trump’s grip on the party hasn’t really weakened, and his endorsement will do the trick in the Senate race. Because otherwise, the headaches will have been for nothing.