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 politics newsletter “grooming” its readers to have a wonderful weekend!

Weird one this week! There was a fox roaming the grounds of Capitol Hill, a delightful distraction that became a depressing—and literally rabid—story in the span of just a couple of days. Those few powerful people in Washington who didn’t get bitten by a rabid fox did get COVID at a fancy banquet, so now Sarah Palin gets to run the country.

Let’s start with the one happy thing (better than most weeks!) that went down.

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Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

Rank 1

1. Ketanji Brown Jackson

Confirmation successful! Now go legislate from the bench.

It was quite a scene on the Senate floor as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson became Omnipotent Justice for Life Ketanji Brown Jackson in a 53 to 47 vote. The gallery was full with staff, and more than a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined the chamber, as Vice President Kamala Harris gaveled the vote to confirm the first Black woman in history to the Supreme Court. Democrats gave a standing ovation while Republicans streamed out of the room to catch their flights back home. Jackson—to her undying credit—was graceful about all of the insanity of the confirmation process. Now that that’s over, though, she should totally “legislate from the bench”—to the extent she can in a three-seat minority of Democratic appointees!—and do all the other terrible stuff Republicans warned she would do during the Judiciary Committee hearings. What are they going to do about it? No one goes to jail anymore, and the Constitution keeps being interpreted to mean “whatever sounds good.” You’re set for life! Have a little fun with it.

Rank 2

2. The Gridiron Club

An elite superspreader.

The annual Gridiron Club dinner is one of the few events that fits pretty well with conspiracies about the Washington elite. It’s a formal banquet (that means tails for the lads!) where political A-listers tell jokes about how politics is all just a big game. The many hilarious moments, according to the Washington Post, included when “a Trump look-a-like strode onstage, wearing a crown and robe, and cooed ‘I’ll Be Back’ (a ‘Hamilton’ parody).” It is what it is. But the bigger joke this year was a slow-burning one—that took another half-week to incubate. A fella by the name of “Mr. COVID” was the keynote prankster, and a lot of these hot shots went home sick. Attendees including Attorney General Merrick Garland, Reps. Adam Schiff and Joaquin Castro, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and a top aide to Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for the virus this week. But you know what? If you have a chance to see a fake Trump do an OUTRAGEOUS Hamilton parody, you’ve just got to accept the danger.

Rank 3

3. The Fox

This one went downhill in a hurry.

[Strokes chin, in an extremely writerly way …] THE STORY OF THE CAPITOL FOX this week was a metaphor for the Biden presidency: Early hopes succumbed to damnable reality. No, but really, this news sort of sucked. There was this cute fox hanging around the Capitol grounds early in the week, and everyone was having a great time chatting her up and getting to hear about her life in a dirt hole. But she proved to have a real loose screw, going around biting and “nipping” up to nine people on campus. On Wednesday, animal control euthanized her to determine whether she had rabies, and reader? She had rabies. By Thursday, animal control had to put down three of her kits too. SOOOOOOOOO, yeah, why don’t we move on to something fun, like … who we got on deck here … hmm …

Rank 4

4. Kyrsten Sinema

Not so fast on a revived reconciliation deal.

Among those elated over KBJ’s confirmation to the court was Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who was seen wiping away tears on the floor and hugging a similarly emotional New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker during the vote. Both she and her fellow Senate Democratic centrist, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, are all about the Biden agenda when it comes to his judicial picks. When it comes to Biden’s legislative agenda, though, they take turns being the bad guy. Here’s a fun example: Manchin killed the original Build Back Better reconciliation bill. Recently, though, he’s suggested that the April-May work period in Congress would be a good time to consider a revived, slimmed down package that addresses energy, deficit reduction, raising taxes, and lowering prescription drug costs. Alas, Sinema is always going to have an issue with those last two things. This week, as Axios reported, she “told donors a path to revival is unlikely” for the reconciliation package. The logic is impeccable. It just makes too much sense right now to pass a big bill to make drugs cost less, expand energy production from all sources, lower the deficit, and make rich people pay more in taxes. Something that straightforward hasn’t got a chance.

Rank 5

5. Sarah Palin

Shoot, she was supposed to be the “fun” one after the fox entry.

Is she still “fun” though? Last time the Surge saw her act was in 2016 at Serb Hall in Milwaukee. Crickets. She was en route to ending her reign as the craziest person to come weirdly close to the U.S. presidency. Seems almost quaint. Is Sarah Palin still relevant in a world of Trumps, Cawthorns, Greenes, and Boeberts? She thinks now might be the moment to move back up the rankings and announced late last week that she would run for the open congressional seat in Alaska vacated by the late Rep. Don Young. That she might be Alaska’s most famous unemployed politician, though, doesn’t mean she’s on a glide path to the Capitol. First, there are 47 other candidates running in the special election. That’s not even one of our dumb “let’s pick an absurdly high number to make a point” staple gags; there really are 48 candidates in this race. Second, Alaskans can’t afford to send any old yahoo to Congress for trolling purposes; the state is heavily dependent on federal money and needs someone deft at bringing home the bacon. Third, Palin is a famous unemployed politician for a reason: She’s not popular in her state! The magic doesn’t come back easily.

Rank 6

6. Joe Biden

Democrats are starting to break from him.

The best way for vulnerable Democrats in Congress to save their hides in the upcoming midterms is to raise President Joe Biden’s job approval rating, which improves the party’s image as a whole. Well, that hasn’t happened, and at a certain point you’ve got to believe it’s not going to happen. In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen signs of these endangered lawmakers moving to plan B: create some separation between themselves and the unpopular president. A few examples. Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, who represents a Virginia Beach district that was made redder in redistricting, went on a tear about how Biden’s defense budget proposal “sucks.” This week, Luria and 18 other House Democrats held a press conference outlining their criticisms of the administration’s ongoing negotiations with Iran. In the Senate, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, arguably Democrats’ most endangered incumbent, is no longer a vote Democratic leaders can take for granted, as he voted against a critical Labor Department appointee and has harshly criticized the administration’s recent immigration decisions. If Biden can’t get his numbers up, this list of Democratic dissenters eager to make a show of their dissent is going to get a lot longer.

Rank 7

7. Fred Upton

Four down, six to go.

Michigan Rep. Fred Upton is one of those members the Surge was surprised to see stay around as long as he did. An 18-term veteran of Congress who is not insane, Upton achieved the Big Job of serving as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee years ago (he was term-limited out of that position after the 2016 election). And yet he kept coming back, election after election. Upton announced this week that he wouldn’t run for reelection this year. According to him, it was mainly because he was redrawn into a district with fellow GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga, which left him with little of his geographic base. But one can’t avoid looking at how he was also one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection. Upton is now the fourth out of the 10 who’s opted not to run this year. And as with Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez—another GOP impeacher who chose to retire—Upton mentioned that dealing with “death threats” was a “factor” in his decision. Very healthy, very normal party.