The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, Slate’s newsletter ranking all of politics’ movers and shakers by Googling “politics” and working from there. This week’s first entry will be about Plato.

No one is really doing anything, so to speak, in the halls of power this week, as it’s beginning to be that time of the election year. So we look at a couple of Republican characters flapping around. Poor Ben Ray Luján. Oh, and big payday opportunity for anyone in Chicagoland—just tell Rep. Marie Newman you might primary her.

But first, let us begin with an update about the guy who tried to steal an election a bit ago.

Donald Trump holds up a fist while standing in front of a shattered U.S. flag.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Michael Zarrilli/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Donald Trump

What unaccountability breeds.

The bipartisan group in the Senate working on reforms to the ancient Electoral Count Act hasn’t produced a piece of legislation yet, but its discussions have already prompted Donald Trump to be as clear as he’s ever been about his aims on Jan. 6, 2021. Among the ECA reforms the group is looking at is removing any discretion from the vice president’s hands while presiding over the counting of electoral votes—to essentially make them a piece of furniture or a vote-tally-announcing animatron. Trump, noticing this, released a statement suggesting that this change implies Pence did, under existing law, have “the right to change the outcome. … Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!” There is not much that’s mysterious about Donald Trump. Yet it was still jarring to see him affirm, in his words, that he wanted the vice president to “change the outcome,” or “overturn” “the Election.” Trump also said at a rally that he wants to pardon Jan. 6 protesters, something we’re likely to see become a litmus test in a 2024 Republican presidential primary, whether Trump’s in it or not. These are the sorts of words and actions a person says and takes when he has not been held accountable for his actions and reasonably surmises that he won’t be held accountable for anything in the future.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Liz Cheney

Well, *someone* is being held accountable.

So, maybe Republicans refuse to hold Donald Trump accountable for admittedly trying to end the American republic, and the principle that people elect their own leaders, in a day. You’ve got to understand: It would be a whole hassle. And it’s important to note that Republicans are at least holding someone accountable: Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, for her work … investigating … Trump’s admitted effort to end the American republic and the principle that people elect their own leaders. At a Republican National Committee meeting in Salt Lake City this week, the party voted to censure both Cheney and a fellow end-of-democracy investigator, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, and “shall immediately cease any and all support of them as members of the Republican Party” for their service on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. The RNC also moved to recognize Cheney’s primary challenger, Harriet Hageman, as the party’s presumptive nominee for the seat, paving the way for the GOP to financially support Hageman in the primary. This is not normal behavior from a major political party, a top priority for which is to defend its incumbents—or to not openly fund challengers to them. Cheney almost always votes with Republicans on policy matters too. But alas, you just can’t go around trying to get to the bottom of acute efforts to end the American experiment and expect a seat at the GOP table anymore.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Ben Ray Luján

A new constraint for the threadbare Senate Democratic majority.

Democrats knew that their slim, 50–50 majority could suffer at any time should someone come down with an ailment, or should Father Time continue his endless march. And so it happened this week, as Sen. Dia—wait, wait? Of all of the 140-year-old members of the Senate Democratic caucus, it was the genial, 49-year-old New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján who suffered a stroke? He is, thankfully, expected to make a “full recovery,” in his office’s words, but will be out of action for four to six weeks. The Surge wrote this week about how this won’t be all that different from the way the Senate has been run all Congress, where the agenda depends on any given day’s projected attendance. Some contentious nominees’ confirmation votes may need to be pushed back. But in terms of the schedule, most of Democrats’ hopes for passing party-line legislation have been dashed, and the agenda for the next couple of months will be on bipartisan matters like a government funding bill, a China competition bill, (maybe) a Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, and (maybe) an Electoral Count Act reform bill. It’s just another couple of months of life in the Democratic Majority That Isn’t. Get well soon, Ben Ray Luján! You’re not missing much.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Lindsey Graham

This Week in Linds!

Lindsey Graham is the most chameleonesque, shape-shifting U.S. senator, and you can never be sure which version of him will show up in a given week. Some weeks he’s hassling the Georgia secretary of state about ways to overturn the election for Trump. Other weeks, like this past one, he is giggling with delight at the prospect of voting to confirm Judge Michelle Childs to the Supreme Court should Biden pick her. Graham is getting excellent vibes about her at the dump, where fleets of truck drivers are accosting him to share their takes on elite credentialism. Some weeks he’s badgering Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for being on bad terms with Donald Trump. This week, he was putting himself on bad terms with Trump, saying pardons of Jan. 6 rioters would be inappropriate and earning himself the “RINO” (Republican-in-name-only) tag from the former president. This means he might need a makeup call or two soon to get back in MAGA’s good graces, so maybe he will pee on the White House lawn next week. But then join antifa the week after that. But then visit Hungary the week after that?? You never know. You simply never KNOW with Lindsey!!

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Chip Roy

This Week in Chip!

Texas Rep. Chip Roy is a Graham-esque, ever-hustling character in the House, but he works on longer time horizons. He was vocal a year ago against his House colleagues who were working on Trump’s behalf to overturn the election, but the year since has been one extended makeup call with the base. This man does not take kindly to being asked to wear a mask in his workplace during the pandemic, for example. There were a couple of baffling Chipisodes this week. First, he voted “present” on a bill to name a post office after John Lewis. In a statement, he said he “decided a long time ago not to engage in the swamp games of naming buildings while our nation crumbles.” You be the judge of how long ago 2019 was. He also, twice, amplified a conspiracy theory that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had fled to the United States because he was scared of the anti-vax trucker protesters in Canada, and called for Trudeau to be deported if true. (It’s not.) The Surge is all about deporting Justin Trudeau. But why would he come to America?

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Marie Newman

We did not negotiate the content of this entry with her for any money … but is there any money on the table?

[Summons profound professional-writer words]: Now this here’s a really bad-looking thing. The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating Illinois Rep. Marie Newman for allegedly offering a professor, Iymen Chehade, a job on her congressional staff if he agreed not to run against her. This was not done on a subtle, hush-hush level, either. Per the OCE, the two formalized this into a contract they both signed. “Per a copy of an apparent contract between the two,” as the Daily Beast reported, “Newman guaranteed she would employ Chehade as her chief foreign policy adviser, and either district director or legislative director for the entirety of her time in Congress.” When she didn’t hire him, Chehade sued, and the two settled. But then Newman did end up hiring him through her campaign, paying him about $54,000 during the second half of 2021. Further, it turns out it wasn’t just Chehade’s candidacy they were negotiating. He also tried to negotiate with her various policy positions relating to Israel. This is all in writing! Newman, meanwhile, has a tough task ahead of her for reelection: She’s running against fellow Illinois Democratic Rep. Sean Casten in a primary under the new Illinois map. Say … is Casten open to an above-market-rate advisory gig on the Newman campaign?

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Bill de Blasio

Is Congress ready for the big guy?

Last week, in our special redistricting edition, we observed how the biggest remaining redistricting shoe to drop was New York and how aggressive its Democratic legislature would be. The answer was: quite! In the week since we spoke, New York Democrats have released, passed, and signed into law a gerrymander that will likely convert its current 19D–8R delegation to a 22D–4R delegation. Among the changes: It makes the predominantly Staten Island district a Democratic pickup opportunity by attaching it to a deeply blue part of Brooklyn. But before Max Rose—who represented the district last Congress before losing reelection in 2020 to Nicole Malliotakis—thinks he can just waltz into an easier rematch, consider which blue part of Brooklyn was added to his district: Park Slope. That is home to none other than the big cheese himself, former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is reportedly looking into a run. The good news for Rose is that if de Blasio runs against him, he doesn’t have to spend any money shooting a new attack ad. And if he loses, Marie Newman’s always looking for people.