The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge. As you watch the entire country flood, except for the parts that are permanently on fire, remember: There’s still snow in certain parts of the world. Does snow seem very “warm” to you?

Our last week of “hot delta summer” was a week of threats, and we don’t even have the space to get into Madison Cawthorn. One congressman snapped at an ambassador for not breaking the law to smuggle him into Afghanistan. Republican voters are warning Mitch McConnell that he’d better find a way to make Nancy Pelosi impeach Joe Biden in another chamber of Congress. The threat of Gov. Larry Elder has snapped California Democrats into action, and what more credible threat is there than Kevin McCarthy saying he’s going to eliminate United States telecommunications companies if they obey congressional orders?

But let’s start with the true credible threat of the week, and whether there’s anything national Democrats can do to combat it.

Joe Manchin is seen in front of red circles and blue lines.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Joe Manchin

What are Democrats going to do about the court? How about nothing? Does nothing work for you?

Late Wednesday night, the Supreme Court quietly gutted Roe v. Wade. At issue was a new Texas law that allows any dipshit to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks, and to collect a $10,000 reward for their efforts. An unsigned, five-justice Supreme Court majority looked at the insane clusterfuck we described in the previous sentence and said, ahhhh our hands are tied, allowing it to go into effect while litigation is pursued, and making Texas’ creepy bounty-hunter abortion ban model legislation for every other red state to pursue. This would be an ideal time for Democrats, including the president, to act on their pledge to codify Roe protections into federal law. They will face substantial pressure to do so. But as with voting rights, the numbers just aren’t there. The relevant legislation here—the Women’s Health Protection Act—has 48 Democratic sponsors and co-sponsors in the Senate. The two not on board are Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who are both anti-abortion. Casey could go wobbly in the next 10 seconds, but Joe Manchin seems far less likely to do so. Democrats would still need to eliminate the filibuster to pass it, too, and they won’t. Democrats are also not going to pack the courts, which, again, neither has majority support as policy nor is a policy over which they’d nuke the filibuster. Democrats will, instead, try to pocket the effective elimination of Roe as a potent wedge issue with lucrative fundraising and turnout potential. They’ll say they need more Democrats in Congress to enact the legislative change necessary to push back on the actions of this court. It will be aggravating to hear them say this. But—[ducks for cover]—they’ll basically be right.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Kevin McCarthy

Nice little phone company you got there, AT&T. Would be a shame …

So this, this is the week that Democrats’ midterms fate appeared sealed enough for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to feel comfortable menacing his enemies with the power of his future majority. Early this week, the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot requested that dozens of tech and telecom companies preserve phone records related to the day, including records of a group of GOP lawmakers involved in “Stop the Steal” efforts. While McCarthy was not among the lawmakers, his statement in response was notable for the straight-up threat it made to these companies, warning them of future repercussions for adhering to present-day federal oversight requests. “If these companies comply with the Democrat order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” McCarthy, who didn’t name the statute which these companies would be violating, said. “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.” Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose phone records the committee is requesting that companies preserve, was slightly more straightforward: Those companies that complied would be “shut down. And that’s a promise.” Is this a deeply discouraging sign of the type of thuggery that could be on display the next time Republicans are in power? Yes. Would it be a little bit funny to watch Kevin McCarthy, who can’t even figure out how to shut out Liz Cheney from weekly House GOP meetings, try to shut down all phone companies? Yes. And in the dim future, we’re just going to have to take the laughs we get.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Joe Biden

At least September can’t be worse. September can’t be worse, right?

There may come a day when President Joe Biden’s legacy is fondly remembered for his courageous decision to end the 20-year scam that was the United States’ war in Afghanistan, regardless of the short-term political pain. Right now, though, he’s in the thick of that short-term-political-pain part. His once-steady approval rating had already been ticking down this summer with the reemergence of COVID and rising prices. Now it’s underwater. Vulnerable Democrats are freaking out, although that’s not a noticeable departure from their baseline state of existence. Biden could use a strong September and October, in which delta variant cases crest and begin to fall and he signs into law the twin spending bills at the core of his domestic agenda. That’s one possibility. Another is that barely anything passes and there’s a debt default?? Oh, and now there’s a new, historic, pressing domestic issue on the horizon.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Mitch McConnell

Is he too weak to make Nancy Pelosi impeach Joe Biden?

The Afghanistan withdrawal has prompted a wave of Republicans to start calling for Biden’s resignation, removal via the 25th amendment, or impeachment. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is all over this. One figure who is not, so far, is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell said at a Kentucky event this week that “there isn’t going to be any impeachment” of Biden and that “the way these behaviors get adjusted in this country is through the ballot box.” He explained that there’s no way impeachment of a Democratic president happens with “a Democratic House” and a “narrowly Democratic Senate.” Hey, Republican base: Are you going to put up with this kind of weakness? Why won’t Mitch McConnell FIGHT and MAKE Democrats impeach Joe Biden? Is Mitch McConnell a liberal Democrat, and a communist? But seriously, looking ahead a couple of years: House Republicans are totally going to impeach Biden on some hallucinatory charge that doesn’t exist outside the Fox News Cinematic Universe if and when (when) they take back the majority. And, as with Kevin McCarthy getting into a boxing match with a Verizon skyscraper, you’re just going to have to take the laughs where you get them.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Mike Rogers

Just brainstorming some ways out of a debt ceiling crisis here.

A brief pivot here to actual governing work Congress is doing. The House Armed Services Committee met this week to mark up the annual Defense authorization bill. And on a comfortable bipartisan basis, the committee passed a Republican amendment to boost defense spending by $25 billion above Biden’s request. The amendment was the work of the Talladega Toupee himself, Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the committee’s ranking member. But it was something else Rogers said this week that offered a clue for how the looming deadlines for government spending and the debt ceiling could be resolved by year’s end. “Whenever they're talking about adding defense money, everything’s negotiable,” Rogers told Politico when asked whether a defense spending boost ultimately could be traded for a hike in the debt ceiling. “I would entertain it.” This could be the key to an endgame for this whole mess. Lawmakers agree to a series of short-term extensions to government funding and the debt ceiling until the end of the year. Republican defense hawks start pressuring their own party to act on appropriations, and everyone caves around Dec. 20, passing one mammoth “global deal” on spending and the debt ceiling so they can get home for Christmas. Just a suggestion! But is it one that passes the smell test of what’s the most Congress-y way that Congress could resolve this standoff? “Giving Republicans, who say they’re more alarmed than ever by the national debt, more money on defense spending after we’ve just ended a war so they’ll increase the debt ceiling” checks all the boxes.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Gavin Newsom

You’re welcome.

A couple of weeks ago, the Surge told Californians to wake up to the fact that its state was in serious danger of falling out of the hands of its relatively popular Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, and into the control of a loony right-wing radio host. Our data, in fact, suggests that not a single resident of the country’s largest state knew this was possible until 100 percent of them read the fourth blurb in the Aug. 20 edition of the Surge. Exclusively because of that paragraph, Newsom is now in much better shape to hold onto office now in the Sept. 14 recall election. One SurveyUSA poll that kickstarted the panic last month—an outlier, but a useful outlier for Newsom’s efforts to stoke panic—showed “remove” with an 11-point lead over “keep.” In this month’s edition, though, SurveyUSA had “keep” leading by 8. The most recent poll, from the Public Policy Institute of California, showed “keep” winning by 19 percentage points, 58–39. The FiveThirtyEight polling average, which had “keep” and “remove” in an essential dead heat as of 10 days ago, now shows “keep” leading by 8 points. Having Larry Elder, and all of his baggage, emerge as the face of the recall effort has certainly helped. Aw shucks, let’s stop being modest: It was all us.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Markwayne Mullin

I’m gonna need a Spruce Goose, $100 million in Spanish doubloons, and unfettered access to Skynet.

Last week, the White House, national security officials, and both Democratic and Republican leaders chastised Reps. Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer for making an unauthorized trip to Kabul to check out evacuation efforts. Everyone in Congress learned their lesso … oo… oh dear god: “The call to the U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan came in Monday. On the line, two U.S. officials said, was Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) with an unusual and urgent request: He needed assistance in transporting a huge amount of cash into the country, saying he was going to neighboring Afghanistan to rescue five American citizens, a woman and her four children, stuck in the country. They planned to hire a helicopter for the effort.” When the Tajikistan ambassador told Mullin that no, he would not help him break various laws to smuggle him into Afghanistan and that the congressman should use proper channels, Mullin freaked out. He went “off the grid” to the extent that few knew where he was, though he had been spotted in Greece and in Tbilisi, Georgia, days earlier. Mullin said in a Wednesday social media post that he was alive, safe, and heading home. So there’s one congressman accounted for. Reader, do you know where your member of Congress is?

Update, Sept. 3, 2021: This piece was updated to clarify that the Texas law allows anyone in the country to sue over an abortion after six weeks, not only people in Texas.