Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, a politics newsletter that the Supreme Court is expected to ban in the next term for being “too hip.”
The Supreme Court is on vacation, and you are in hell. But a surprisingly close special election in Nebraska could indicate that a maximally conservative SCOTUS term could indeed fire up Democrats to turn out. Another advantage Senate Democrats have: lousy Republican competition. And we’d like to introduce you to our favorite candidate discovery of the week—in Arizona.
But first, it’s Hutch time.
1. Cassidy HutchinsonHere come the goons.
The former aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows testified in a special “bonus” hearing this week that Donald Trump isn’t just unfit to hold the presidency, he’s unfit to eat lunch. Hutchinson alleged that, on Jan. 6, Trump directed a mob that he knew to be armed toward the Capitol; told Meadows that Mike Pence deserved to have the mob that was chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” find him; and then, in a fit of pique with former Attorney General Bill Barr, threw ketchup-coated food against the wall. (There was more, but those are some of the highlights.) The allegation that’s prompted the most post-hearing mudslinging, though, was Hutchinson’s recollection of a former deputy chief of staff, Tony Ornato, telling her on Jan. 6 that Trump, sitting in his vehicle, had lunged for both the steering wheel and his own bodyguard when told they wouldn’t take him to the Capitol. Secret Service sources and “those close to Ornato” (is that you, Tony?) have since denied the accusations of lunging—though not Trump’s righteous anger at not being able to visit the Capitol to do … whatever he was planning to do there. The dispute has since turned into an anonymously sourced dogfight, with MAGA Republicans smearing Hutchinson as a know-nothing striver looking for an MSNBC deal and her defenders leaking stories about Ornato as a Trump loyalist with a history of dishonesty. A few points. First, Hutchinson said plenty that was extremely damaging to Trump beyond the steering-wheel anecdote. Second, the committee should’ve had the tiny details more pinned down before going public so as to deny Trump loyalists an opening to dispute the entire testimony. Third, who are you more likely to believe is on the up-and-up here? The person in her 20s who was willing to blow up her career in Republican politics and be forced to live with extra security for the foreseeable future? Or the one who is intimidating witnesses with mob-ass texts before they testify?
2. The conservative Supreme Court majorityAt least all the bad stuff is out of the way … Wait, they’re taking up WHAT next year??
The first term of the 6–3 conservative Supreme Court—sometimes only 5–4, when John Roberts was worried about his liberal friends being mad!—has concluded. It was insane. The court eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion, swapped in a right to carry guns outside the home, and ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency needs to buzz off if it even thinks about regulating carbon emissions. And that’s just a taste of what they did in the last week of the term. The good news is that the court is now off for the summer. The bad news is that they will come back in the fall. And in one of the last orders they released before bouncing on Thursday, they announced that, come autumn, they will hear a case regarding the “independent state legislatures” theory, a hyper-literalist reading of the Constitution that would give state legislatures sole authority over their election laws for federal office. A maximalist ruling on this could effectively negate anything state courts, governors, or state agencies want to do on gerrymandering or election administration. And since all we really get now are maximalist rulings … well, enjoy the summer!
3. Patty Pansing BrooksIs the Dobbs backlash materializing?
Snooty “conventional wisdom”—of the fancy Washington Elite Establishment kind—holds that the Dobbs ruling should mitigate Democrats’ losses in November, though not reverse the overall pro-Republican lean of the cycle. Well, here’s what we think about this so-called expert opinion from the “Georgetown cocktail party” crowd: Um … yeah, that sounds about right. And yet … we were beginning to get skeptical that Democrats could even successfully use this to mitigate their losses, given how so much of the party seems bent on pointing fingers at one another rather than at the Republicans who installed this radical court. But there was one notable piece of evidence this week that demonstrated that Democrats are pissed off enough to turn out and vote—and it wasn’t a few noisy generic ballot polls. There was a special election in Nebraska this week to replace Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned from Congress to spend more time with his probation. Though Nebraska’s 1st District got a touch more Democratic in redistricting, it’s still, per FiveThirtyEight’s assessment, a safe, R+17 rated district. Republican Mike Flood won the district, but only by a surprisingly narrow six-point margin, 53 to 47, over Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks. Pansing Brooks campaigned hard on abortion rights in the final days of the campaign following the Dobbs decision. So don’t assume that Democrats will blow the post-Dobbs politicking just yet. (Give them, like, two more weeks for that.)
4. Mehmet OzSenate Republicans might have a problem.
FiveThirtyEight also released its early forecast of the midterms this week. And though its House forecast aligns with the popular understanding—Democrats need a miracle to hold it—the Senate forecast was pretty tight, essentially showing that control of the body is a 50-50 proposition. That’s not something you’d expect in a midterm cycle where the Democratic president’s average approval rating is just below 40 percent. But Republicans have candidate problems. In Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz won a nasty Republican primary with a bare plurality of voters and only because Trump asked them to, almost as a personal favor. In the first couple of polls, he’s trailing the Democrat, John Fetterman, and Oz’s favorability numbers are horrible: Only 30 percent of voters viewed him favorably in an AARP poll, and only 28 percent in a Suffolk poll. In Georgia, a Quinnipiac poll this week found Herschel Walker trailing Sen. Raphael Warnock by 10 points. In Arizona, Trump ran off the obvious candidate (Gov. Doug Ducey) and now the Republican front-runner is one of those techie-nationalist Peter Thiel–funded creeps. We should expect some of these early polls to tighten as the fundamentals of the cycle—namely, Biden’s trash approval rating—assert themselves. But candidates matter, too. And Republicans’ Senate crop? EHHHHH, it’s a little stinky, folks. A LEEEEEETLE stinky.
5. Mitch McConnellA fresh McConnell threat means things are getting serious.
For months, it’s been difficult to figure out how seriously to treat Democrats’ efforts to revive a slimmed-down resurrection of the Build Back Better Act. Sens. Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer will meet for hours, and then Manchin will say something like We’re talkin’, talkin’, I don’t know, what’s a bill, and who even am I? when reporters ask him how discussions are going. But NBC News reported this week that Democrats are close enough to a deal on prescription drug costs—a linchpin of any package that would come together—that they’re ready to scrub it to make sure it conforms with Senate rules. The more telling signal that this is getting serious, though, is the seriousness with which Mitch McConnell is taking it—and he’s at the “making threats to unrelated things” stage of seriousness. “Let me be perfectly clear,” McConnell’s office said. “There will be no bipartisan USICA as long as Democrats are pursuing a partisan reconciliation bill.” He’s referring to the United States Innovation and Competition Act, a bill to boost technological competitiveness with China that the House and Senate have been negotiating for months. Is this a threat he can really maintain? Is McConnell just going to, say, tell automakers that they won’t get a flood of cash for semiconductors because Democrats passed a separate bill to cut drug costs? We guess all that matters is how seriously Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema take the threat.
6. Joe BidenOK, maybe you can’t do much … but don’t nominate more anti-abortion dudes to the bench!
Both the Democratic president and the Democratic Congress have been taking heat for not doing enough since the release of the Dobbs decision. But sometimes you just lose, and Democrats lost this in 2014 (when Ruth Bader Ginsburg came to the conclusion that she would live forever). One thing the administration could not do, though, is accede to Mitch McConnell’s requests to appoint more Federalist Society, anti-abortion judges to the federal judiciary. That appears to be in the works, though! Biden is preparing to nominate a certain “Chad Meredith” to the bench in Kentucky. McConnell, in exchange, would apparently stop blocking Democrats’ preferred nominees for U.S. attorney in the state, as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern reported. Democrats in Kentucky are furious at the reported deal. Gov. Andy Beshear said that “if the president makes that nomination, it is indefensible.” Rep. John Yarmuth told Slate that Meredith “represents everything that is anathema to Democrats.” The White House isn’t commenting on the reports. It’s one thing to not be able to magically restore abortion rights with the stroke of an administrative pen. It’s another to say to McConnell, in the aftermath of McConnell’s legacy achievement, Here, have another.
7. Paola Tulliani ZenYour also-ran of the week.
We would like to introduce you to Paola Tulliani Zen, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, who has earned 2 percent in one primary poll and did not register in the other. Now, we all know what the key is to winning a statewide election in Arizona: Capturing the Italian vote. That’s what Tulliani Zen, who has a fantastic website bio with choice art and a rich timeline of her life, is dedicated to doing. We first noticed her strategy in a clip from a gubernatorial debate where, frustrated that she was being interrupted, she delivered a perfectly executed “mamma mia!” We then checked out the ad she had released a few days earlier. In it, she—wielding a butcher knife—says, “I’m going to cut the fat off the government just like I cut the fat off my prosciutto.” Now this is kind of a mixed bag. Her pronunciation of prosciutto is—and we cannot stress this enough—absolutely impeccable. But … “cut the fat off my prosciutto”? Is that what we do with prosciutto? Cut the fat off of it? Hmm. We’ll be monitoring Paola Tulliani Zen closely until the August primary.