The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, which was so proud to be part of the Pfizer Pfirst Class only to find out the Moderna Middle Children may have been the elite all along.

This was the last week of school for our friends in Congress, but only the popular kids were invited to Joe Manchin’s blowout graduation boat party. The Senate passed its bipartisan infrastructure bill, a process that somehow involved an 87-year-old Alabama senator trolling cryptocurrency posters, as well as the blueprint for the still-to-come $3.5 trillion Mother of All Bills. It’s going to be an abbreviated summer break for the House, which is returning later this month for a pay-per-view wrestling match between moderates and progressives. When the Senate does come back, they have to figure out how not to destroy the global economy, which we guess will just be another Monday.

But first, let’s look at the New York governor who is still, right now, the New York governor.

Andrew Cuomo.
Andrew Cuomo. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #3

1. Andrew Cuomo

He hasn’t resigned yet!

On Tuesday, every news organization watched New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deliver an address to New Yorkers and the consensus headline was, “ANDREW CUOMO RESIGNS.” He did no such thing. He announced his intention to resign in two weeks. Two weeks is a long time. It’s like 10 million years. He is, as we write this on a Thursday, the governor of New York for another 12 days. That’s 9 million years. You all and your fantasies! Look at Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, running around talking about her big, fancy plans for when she’s governor. Well, we’ll see if you get the gig, Kath! Maybe some mysteriously sourced dirt comes out about you in the next 12 days, and then down through the line of succession? You could be in Sing Sing in 12 days, for all we know. We are not dealing with a normal man here. This guy will spend every last minute looking for a way to not resign until the day comes, and then he’ll make a decision about whether he actually leaves. And if he does, he will instantly start preparing for a way back. Andrew Cuomo has not resigned. (He will, we’re just making jokes.) (He may not though!!)

Rank 2

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2. Nancy Pelosi

Bringing House Dems back early to fight it out.

House Democratic leaders announced this week that they would interrupt August recess and bring the chamber back on Aug. 23 for a couple of items of business. First, they hope to vote on a fresh version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that just dropped. Second, Nancy Pelosi is going to smash a pool cue over her knee, hand the moderates one half and the progressives the other half, and the winner of the brawl gets to decide how they proceed on President Joe Biden’s spending agenda. Progressives want to hold the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure deal hostage until the Senate has also sent over an acceptable, multitrillion-dollar reconciliation bill featuring the rest of Biden’s social spending agenda. Moderates want to vote on the bipartisan bill right away. They’re both writing letters to Pelosi, like little children might to Santa Claus, stating their wishes. Pelosi has sided with the progressives, who greatly outweigh the moderates in number. Moderates do have a flex available to them, though, if they’re willing to go there: They vote against everything until they get their way, or cut some sort of deal. That is generally a big no-no and a surefire way to get on Pelosi’s shit list, which is a far worse punishment than being on Santa’s naughty list. But the other option is to not be taken seriously.

Rank 3

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3. Mitch McConnell

What if … he’s not bluffing?

One thing Democrats did not include in the blueprint for their big spending bill, which they can pass without threat of a 60-vote Senate filibuster, is an increase in the federal debt limit, which needs to be done this fall if the United States wants to avoid defaulting on its debt. They don’t want to own the ugly politics of it and leave themselves vulnerable to attack ads. They also, on principle, don’t believe that they should have to do it on their own when they helped Republicans increase it under Donald Trump. This sets up another high-stakes game of chicken for the end of September, when Democrats intend to lump the debt limit increase together with a government funding bill. Senate Republicans are adamant that they won’t help Democrats do that. This week, 46 of them signed a pledge circulated by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson “letting Senate Democrats and the American public know that we will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, whether that increase comes through a stand-alone bill, a continuing resolution, or any other vehicle.” The Democratic response to this well-coordinated and stated position from McConnell, who probably has gamed this out, is some variation of: Eh, they’ll come around. OK! We’ll just sit here with our oxygen tank thinking back to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis and see how it all works out.

Rank 4

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4. Richard Shelby

He may not know what either crypto or Twitter is, but he sure knows how to troll crypto Twitter.

Eighty-seven-year-old Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby does one thing—ONE THING—in Congress, and he’s really good at it. He gets more money, then more money, then even more money for defense projects in Alabama. Alabama sometimes doesn’t even want this money, but it gets it anyway. And if Dick Shelby is told he will not get defense money, he is not shy about holding everything else up that stands in his way. (He and John McCain would regularly go to war over this.) Consider this week, when one of the last hurdles the Senate faced on its bipartisan infrastructure bill was reaching an agreement on cryptocurrency taxation, an episode that prompted a fair amount of discussion on social media. Once senators finally did reach an agreement, they tried to pass it via unanimous consent—and Shelby objected. The amendment died. As he later told reporters, he actually was completely fine with the crypto compromise. But since he couldn’t get his $50 billion defense amendment in the bill, no one else was getting a vote on their amendment, either. Two takeaways here. First, Dick Shelby will get the money he was seeking one way or another. You can bet your life on it. Second, single-handedly blocking a hard-won consensus amendment on a pressing issue because you don’t get your home-state pork is the work of a senator operating at maximum capacity. The answer to the question How do you Senate? should be an image of Shelby saying “I object” to an amendment he likes but is killing anyway. Absolutely elite stuff.

Rank 5

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5. Ron Kind

A devastating loss for House Democrats.

After six months of looking at the sky for signs of what’s to come, some anecdata is trickling in about the 2022 midterm environment and … it does not suggest Democrats are on a path to defying history and picking up seats! Last week, we wrote about DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney’s warning to vulnerable members that they would lose the House if the election were held now, and that their economic accomplishments weren’t breaking through. This week, we saw a key retirement from one of the most vulnerable Democrats, perhaps the first of more to come. Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, after 13 terms in the House, said he’s “run out of gas” and wouldn’t seek reelection. “I had to face a serious job review every two years for 26 years,” he explained, and it’s quite likely the next one would be the one that did him in. Kind won by fewer than 3 points in 2020 in a district that Donald Trump carried by 5, and his 2020 opponent was already raising significant cash for a rematch. Elsewhere, we saw Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, another biennially vulnerable House Democrat, take a plunge into the Senate race. Biden’s approval rating isn’t collapsing, but it is falling. 2022 is beginning to look like a midterm movie we’ve seen before, gerrymandering or no gerrymandering. It helps explain why House moderates are insisting on an immediate vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill: They need something to hold onto.

Rank 6

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6. Tommy Tuberville

Owning the libs by letting them go on the record against defunding the police.

Senate Democrats, in order to pass their budget this week, had to go through one of the chamber’s dumbest traditions, which is really saying something: a “vote-a-rama,” in which meaningless messaging amendments are voted on endlessly until the minority tires out. In one such attempt this week, Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville offered a (nonbinding) amendment that would cut federal funding for municipalities that defund the police. The idea with these amendments is to hit a sensitive spot with the majority and expose the fault lines in your opponent’s coalition. That’s not what happened with Tuberville’s amendment. A very animated Cory Booker rose and said he’d walk over to hug Tuberville if he could, because he had “given us the gift that finally, once and for all, we can put to bed the scurrilous accusations that somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police.” He encouraged all of his colleagues to “sashay down there” and vote in favor of the amendment. It passed 99–0. In a statement afterward, Tuberville said that the unanimous vote signaled “that Senate Democrats agree the ‘Defund the Police’ movement is widely unpopular with the American people.” They do!

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Greg Abbott

The mask wars hit a new low.

Let’s end with a governor who, like Andrew Cuomo, is also still the governor. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, like his pal Ron DeSantis in Florida, has issued an order banning local governments from introducing their own mask mandates. As the delta variant goes completely out of control and hospital ICUs near capacity, some localities are taking Abbott on. Bexar County (San Antonio) issued a school mask mandate, while Dallas County has issued one for schools, child care centers, and businesses. Abbott is not letting it slide and will take them to court. Abbott knows that his base will get a kick out of not letting the libs in blue cities require mask usage, even if that’s what the localities have determined is right for them, and even if this is a “big government” mandate of its own. It may have taken a year-and-a-half to get entirely in order, but this is what fully formed COVID politicization looks like. It’s sick.