The Surge

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

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, your weekly politics newsletter that wonders: If we enter a recession, does that mean we only have to write six entries?

To the contrary, we need at least seven slots this week: We had much material to work with, as Congress is racing to pass a bunch of stuff ahead of August recess, and next Tuesday will see one of the busiest primary days of the year. Plus, Nancy Pelosi may visit Taiwan and China may see this as an invasion—something worth following! And even Democrats are getting sick of Democrats meddling in Republican primaries.

But for the first time in a while—and perhaps the last time for a while!—Democrats in Congress are having fun and owning the Republicans. All because of this guy …

Joe Manchin in front of a blue West Virginia outline and three horizontal red stripes
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images and Getty Images Plus.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Joe Manchin

After 18 months, Democrats have a deal.

Just a couple of weeks ago, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said he needed to see another month’s inflation numbers before he could vote for a sprawling bill he’d been negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to address climate change and raise taxes on large corporations. Schumer, pissed, washed his hands of it and said the plan instead was to vote on what they had already agreed on before August recess. To most observers, that appeared to be the end of the Big Bill. But as we learned on Wednesday afternoon—to the shock of just about everyone in Washington—Manchin and Schumer had resumed negotiations a few days after that fight, and reached a deal. The Inflation Reduction Act, as it's called, would extend enhanced ACA subsidies, set a 15 percent corporate minimum tax, allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, devote over $300 billion to new clean energy tax breaks and subsidies, close the carried-interest tax loophole for rich finance dopes, and devote $300 billion to deficit reduction. What convinced Manchin not to wait for another inflation report? Well, he talked to a few economists he trusts who assured him this package would not be inflationary—something Manchin understood a few weeks ago when he was designing it as a counterinflationary bill. But whatever! This 18-month, off-and-on, often calamitous process of Democrats negotiating their signature piece of legislation has entered the endgame, and there’s finally a product. Now it just has to do that thing … what’s it called … “pass both chambers of Congress.”

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Mitch McConnell

Republicans throw a fit for the ages.

Democrats are enjoying themselves, and not just because they finally got a bill out of Joe Manchin. They did it in a way that made Republicans comically angry. After Manchin appeared to kill the more ambitious legislation a few weeks ago, Senate Republicans went along with Democrats to pass another important advanced manufacturing bill—the CHIPS and Science Act—that Mitch McConnell had taken hostage to use as a chip in the Big Bill negotiations. CHIPS passed the Senate Wednesday afternoon. Shortly after that, Manchin and Schumer announced their secret reconciliation deal. Republicans had been rolled, by their own admission, and have reacted by throwing a priceless fit. They blocked a veterans bill, the PACT Act, that they had already passed once and just needed to do again for technical purposes. In the House on Thursday, Republican leaders started whipping their members against the CHIPS bill, but were unsuccessful. Republicans are in an ugly-cry phase where they say they may not help pass certain popular bipartisan bills because Democrats are going to pass an unrelated bill they don’t like. “After we just had worked together successfully on gun safety legislation, on the CHIPS bill, it was a very unfortunate move that destroys the many bipartisan efforts that are underway,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins told HuffPost this week. If voting against veterans exposed to toxic burn pits and same-sex marriage rights makes them feel better, they can go for it, I guess?

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Kyrsten Sinema

Will she be the Fun Ruiner?

Most Democrats in Congress, at this point, are ready to just accept what Manchin has agreed to. Progressives in the House are ready to go, even if the final product is a far cry from their initial $6 trillion vision. The Northeastern Dems who swore they wouldn’t agree to a reconciliation bill without changes to the state and local tax deduction are falling in line. Really, there’s one remaining Democrat who’s yet to decide how annoying to be about this: Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. The centrist Democrat was reportedly “frustrated” and “totally shocked” at not being looped in on the deal, and her office has ominously said she is still reviewing the text. But is it really tenable for her to single-handedly stop the legislation, much of which—especially on climate—she likes? She would not get away with killing a signature Democratic bill in Arizona the way Joe Manchin would get away with it (get rewarded, really) in West Virginia. As fellow Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva put it to Politico, she “politically doesn’t have a choice.” There is one element of the bill that seems like it could serve as a sacrificial lamb: the elimination of the carried-interest tax loophole. Sinema has always opposed doing this. And while it would be insane if Democrats had to drop a provision on which they’ve campaigned for years and instead allowed hedge funders to continue paying lower taxes, it’s only a $14 billion piece of the bill, and it would keep the Fun-o-Meter from reverting to Republicans’ favor too quickly.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Nancy Pelosi

Will she or won’t she?

As soon as things are wrapped up in D.C. for the summer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to go on a trip to Asia that could include a stop in Taiwan. She would be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich went in 1997. You can see why there hasn’t been such a visit in 25 years: China is going nuts over it, warning of “forceful measures” and potentially military action—or at least provocative flyovers—if Pelosi goes ahead with it. In a phone call Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping, per Beijing’s readout of the call, warned that “those who play with fire will perish by it.” President Joe Biden has said that Pelosi’s planned visit is “not a good idea right now,” while Pelosi has received unlikely encouragement from Trump administration officials like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It remains to be seen whether she follows through. But let’s consider her mindset. Pelosi, one of the leading statespersons of our time, probably only has a few months left on the stage. She’s in legacy mode, and a throughline of her career has been criticism of China’s human rights abuses. She almost certainly won’t want to back down now. (But maybe she will anyway!)

Rank 5

Last Week

5. John Gibbs

The most controversial instance of Democratic primary-meddling yet.

Democratic candidates and groups across the country this cycle have adopted a strategy of elevating the looniest Republican primary candidates in the hopes of drawing weaker general election opponents. Much of this work has been done in governors’ races in states like Illinois and Maryland, where the Democratic Governors Association spent millions on ads “attacking” weaker GOP candidates as “too conservative,” thus endearing them to Republican primary electorates. It was the Democrats’ congressional campaign arm this week, though, that went too far even for many Democrats. The DCCC bought time for a TV ad “warning” that John Gibbs, a kooky, Trump-endorsed primary challenger to Western Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, is “too conservative” and was “handpicked by Trump.” This was a particularly aggressive, risky move: The Grand Rapids district is one of the few offensive targets House Democrats have this year, but in a bad environment, they’re more than capable of losing it. Do they really want to elevate an election-denying, QAnon-dabbling weirdo over a normal Republican like Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump? Plenty of House Democrats, concerned about what happens if the weirdo wins, aren’t sure they do. “I just really worry about promoting election deniers,” Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a leading progressive, told Politico, “and this idea that we’re going to be able to control what voters want at the end of the day.” Other House Democrats called it a “terrible idea,” “dishonorable,” “dangerous,” and “just damn wrong.” Primary night is Tuesday!

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Eric Greitens

The anti-Greitens brigade just might pull it off.

Polling on the GOP Senate primary in Missouri has moved back and forth all year. At first, Eric Greitens, the disgraced ex-governor whose baggage includes domestic abuse allegations from his ex-wife, built a plurality lead against the rest of the field. Missouri and national Republicans, worried he could blow a safe-state race for them, subsequently freaked out, and Greitens fell out of the lead. Then people moved on and he took the lead back earlier this summer. But the most recent polling suggests that Greitens is at a low point ahead of Tuesday’s primary, thanks to millions of dollars of attack ads run by an emergency super PAC that came together specifically to halt the former governor’s campaign. Greitens never got—or, at least, hasn’t yet gotten—the most effective counter to this barrage of ads, which is an endorsement from Donald Trump. He hasn’t even gotten help from Democrats warning that he’s “too conservative,” and that’s supposed to be automatic these days! The race now appears to be Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s to lose.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Glenn Thompson

Votes nay then toasts the gays.

All right, so maybe the Senate won’t codify same-sex marriage rights because Republicans are mad that Democrats are separately passing a bill to subsidize renewable energy sources. But the Respect for Marriage Act did get 47 Republican votes in the House. Among those House Republicans who did not vote for it was Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn Thompson, who described the bill as “nothing more than an election-year messaging stunt.” Three days later, though, this guy was attending his son’s same-sex wedding where he toasted the wonderful couple. “Congressman and Mrs. Thompson were thrilled to attend and celebrate their son’s marriage on Friday night as he began this new chapter in his life,” Thompson’s spokesperson told NBC News following the nuptials, the right to which Thompson does not believe should be protected through federal legislation. We don’t think Republicans, who’ve hibernated from the political issue of same-sex marriage since the Obergefell decision in 2015, know what they’re supposed to do about it anymore. Most of them don’t give a shit, personally. But do their Republican constituents? They don’t know! It’s flummoxing! And so we get bizarre situations like this.