The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, which returns after a two-week hiatus during which the Surge got married to the conceptual brand identity of its dreams, Mrs. the Surge. (Really, hi, I got married.)

So we come back, and … what do we find? Turns out all this “politics” stuff still stinks! Democrats are at least finally passing bills in the bill-passing legislature they control. Paul Gosar got named and shamed. And Kevin McCarthy? That guy can talk, if not much else. One old man decided to go home, and Donald Trump may have picked a fight with a different old man, the last old man you’d want to pick a fight with.

But let’s start with the president, who may come out of this term with some accomplishments after all.

Joe Biden.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Joe Biden

The agenda is finally moving.

President Biden and the Democratic Congress got off to a quick, bold start in enacting their agenda earlier this year when they passed a $2 trillion COVID relief package. But then, competing blocs within the party pivoted to spending the next six or seven months carefully placing banana peels for the other to slip on. Very little was achieved. Whether it was the ass-kicking Democrats suffered earlier this month in off-year elections, or something else, Democrats have finally kicked it into gear. Congress passed, and this week Biden signed, the long-sought bipartisan infrastructure deal. And on Friday morning, the House passed its version of the Build Back Better Act. While the latter still has to make its way through the Senate grinder, Democrats could, by the end of the year, emerge from the complex procedural prison of their own making, having enacted the twin bills at the core of Biden’s presidential agenda. Operative word being: could.

Rank 2

Last Week Up from last week #4

2. Joe Manchin

But he could stop it!

One breakthrough that helped get the agenda moving was when progressives in the House decided they’d drop the demand that the Senate pass the BBBA before the House passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the progressive caucus, said that her group would put its trust in Biden to ensure the BBBA could get 50 votes in the Senate. We shall find out in December how much that trust is worth, because Manchin still hasn’t come out in support of the bill. It’s hard for those of us who cover Joe Manchin to figure out exactly what he wants, but we don’t think it’s much easier for him, either. A typical Manchin answer to any question about his support for the BBBA is, we’re talking, we’re talking, good faith, everyone’s in good faith, just keep talking and talking, that’s all I’m gonna say, talk talk talk talky-too. The one concern he does openly fret about, though, is inflation, saying it’s the single biggest complaint he hears back home in West Virginia. Last week’s inflation report, which came in at a 6.2 percent annualized rate, didn’t help, and the House version of the BBBA would spend a lot more money than it would collect in the first five years. You are so sick of hearing about this man, we understand. But when the Senate returns from Thanksgiving break to take up this reconciliation package, we regret to say that he, and his thoughts about the consumer price index, are all you’re going to hear about.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Paul Gosar

OHHHH, so now it’s not “politically correct” to make gags about stabbing your colleague in the neck?

The veteran Arizona dentist-congressman has been going off the deep end for a few years, and only this week did it catch up to him. Despite playing a big role in President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” efforts, support for conspiracy theories, and speaking at white nationalist rallies, he’s remained a member of Congress in good standing with plum committee assignments. That is until he tweeted an edited anime video depicting him, well, stabbing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the neck, and then going after Biden too. The tweet was the last straw, and on Wednesday, he became the first House member to be censured since Rep. Charlie Rangel in 2010. He was stripped of his committee assignments to boot. But his punishment may not last long. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday that if Republicans retake control of the House next year, both Gosar and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—whom the House stripped of her committee assignments earlier this year—would have those assignments back, or even that “they may have better committee assignments.” Following his censure, Gosar returned to posting memes, as well as retweeting the same anime video that got him in trouble in the first place. Donald Trump endorsed him for reelection the following day.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Marjorie Taylor Greene

If she can’t have committee assignments, why should anyone else?

Nineteen Senate Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, representing nearly 40 percent of Senate Republicans, voted for what is now the bipartisan infrastructure law. No one got particularly pissy about it. In the House, however, just 13 Republicans—6 percent of House Republicans overall—voted for the bill, and far-right elements of the conference want to destroy their careers as retribution. Leading this charge is Greene, who tweeted the office phone numbers of each of the 13 Republican “traitors,” leading to a barrage of death threats against them. Greene, and other Republicans, are calling for these 13 Republicans to lose their plum committee spots and insisting that leadership act. That would be both draconian and stupid, as many of those 13 members are the ones in the most competitive districts, who enjoy voting for popular bipartisan bills. McCarthy understands this but is now fending off concerns from Greene and the rest of the far right—whose votes he could need in a speakership election in 2023—that he’s too wimpy to mete out punishment. For now, McCarthy has just told his caucus it’s “not the time” to punish the 13 Republicans. If only there was some other way to buy time and prove that he’s really truly a super-tough guy …

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Kevin McCarthy

When all else fails, talk.

Before the vote could be held for the Build Back Better Act, Kevin McCarthy got a chance to speak. The first three hours of McCarthy’s rant Thursday night were kind of annoying. Once Democrats announced that the vote would be moved to Friday morning, and the Surge could go to bed, it was fine. When the Surge woke up Friday and saw that McCarthy had spoken for 8 hours and 32 minutes, it was hard not to get a kick out of it all. The sad sap had to break a record for the longest-ever House speech to convince the right-wingers in his conference, and at Mar-a-Lago, who are furious at him for treating moderate Republicans too delicately, that he was a big tough-guy fighter against the Biden Communist Takeover. The speech reviews, from those he needed to please, were mixed. While Greene granted it was a “strong speech,” she still hoped his next move would be to “hold the unlucky 13 accountable for making the horrific BBB vote possible tonight. Kick the traitors out of @HouseGOP, & lead,” she tweeted, adding the hashtag “#ActionsSpeakLouder.” Can McCarthy just bake her a batch of brownies or something? Like, what’s the compromise point here?

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Pat Leahy

A rare senatorial retirement due to “being very old.”

There comes a time when every 81-year-old senator has to make a decision about his future: Will he serve four more six-year terms, or just three? That’s what made the decision from Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy—believe it or not, the only Democrat Vermont has ever elected to the Senate—so shocking this week: He, a senator in his 80s, would simply … retire, instead of run for a ninth term? To enjoy his life? This is not the Senate way. The race to replace him could be interesting. The most obvious candidate would be Rep. Peter Welch, who replaced Bernie Sanders in the House when Sanders won a Senate seat in 2006. The only issue there is that Welch, himself, is 74, and could be well into his 80s by the time he had enough Senate seniority to make a difference. Not that that would be a particular break from the norm.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Don Young

Yes, please, Donald Trump. Pick a fight with Don Young.

Speaking of old guys, Alaska Rep. Don Young is 88-years-old, the dean of the House, and may kill you if you attempt to interact with him. For nearly 50 years, he has gone to Congress to perform one job, which is to fit as much federal cash as he can into a cartoon burlap sack with a dollar sign on the side and then bring it back home. He’s good at it. No one tells him what to do, because they know better. One time John Boehner tried to tell him what to do, and he put a knife to Boehner’s throat on the House floor. Young, naturally, was one of the 13 Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, because he knows an opportunity to secure pork when he sees one. He even attended the White House signing ceremony for the bill and bitched to President Biden about how cold it was. Trump may not know the rules of Don Young, though, because this week, he put out a statement calling for someone to primary, among others, Young. Don Young is truly not in control of his anger, and a face-off between the two could be one of the few joys of the upcoming midterm cycle.