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 has been huffin’ gas flames all week to stick it to Joe Biden! We maybe have cancer now, hell yeah!!

(For what is essentially an extended Surge entry of Stove-ghazi content, we direct you here.)

The House of Representatives is settling in after last week’s tumultuous speaker’s vote and is getting down to the people’s business of stripping Fox News’ favorite villains from their committee assignments. George Santos can win a volleyball league championship at a college he didn’t even attend, but can he keep a House seat? PLUS: Financial apocalypse is coming sooner than you think and no one has a plan for it, hooray.

Let’s begin, though, with a look at the second consecutive president to be caught keeping classified documents near his 1980s Playboy stash.  

Joe Biden.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

Rank 1

1. Joe Biden

The Corvette Cache.

You know, it happens. Who among us doesn’t have classified government documents lying around? Just the other day, we were pouring cereal, and top-secret blueprints of the Shanghai electrical grid fell out of the box. But the ability of President Joe Biden and Democrats to dunk on former President Donald Trump for his airlift of classified documents to Mar-a-Lago was meaningfully constricted this week as two caches of classified documents, from Biden’s time as vice president, were found in his possession. One was found in office space he had been using in Washington, the other in the garage of his Wilmington home, next to his Corvette. (No joke.) Is this the same as what Trump did? No. There are—so far!—fewer documents, and when the first batch was discovered, they were immediately turned in (nerd alert) and a self-instigated search was launched to see if there were any others sitting around. There was enough there there, however, for Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a special counsel to handle the matter. You never want one of those sniffing around.

Rank 2

2. George Santos

After a brief interlude, the calls to resign recommence.

As much as everyone was making fun of New York Congressman and former King of England George Santos during the speakership battle, that week was sort of a reprieve for him. Because once Kevin McCarthy locked up the speakership, and Santos’ vote was no longer needed, the calls for him to resign began anew. Four fellow New York House Republicans, and his home-district Nassau County GOP, called on Santos to resign this week, with the Nassau County GOP chair noting that Santos had told him he was a volleyball star at Baruch College (which Santos didn’t attend.) House Republican leaders, however, are not calling on Santos to resign, as they don’t want a special election in a swing district that could trim McCarthy’s slim majority down another seat. So what’s Santos going to do? He told reporters on Thursday that “if 142 people ask for me to resign, I will resign,” later clarifying that he meant the same 142 thousand who voted for him in November. Basically, Santos can’t be an effective congressman, but McCarthy can’t afford to push him out. Maybe he makes it through this term; maybe he doesn’t. Much will depend on the shoes still to drop. But there won’t be another term.

Rank 3

3. Mike Rogers

Who’s the “lunger” here, exactly?

Naturally, within a couple of hours of the Surge finishing last week’s newsletter, an all-time House altercation occurred to cap off a historic speaker’s race. Just our luck! At the center of it was Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, aka the Talladega Toupée. Late Friday night last week, he strode over to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz to tell him off for refusing to put McCarthy over the top. (Gaetz had been holding out for a subcommittee chairmanship on the Armed Services Committee, which Rogers chairs; Gaetz didn’t get it.) Coverage of the event described Rogers as “lunging” at Gaetz. But the only “lunge” we saw, honestly, was from North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, who grabbed Rogers by the face to pull him away. Gaetz and Rogers would quickly make up in public. Rogers, meanwhile, said on Monday that he would step down from the Steering Committee, which determines committee appointments. He changed his mind later in the day. (Earlier in the week he had already gotten in trouble for saying that McCarthy holdouts should be kicked off of committees.) It is highly unlikely that Rogers, who simply wants to maximize the defense budget in peace and quiet, intended to make so much news for himself.

Rank 4

4. Katie Porter

There’s no need to wait for Dianne Feinstein.

The orange-forward Orange County congresswoman entered the 2024 California Senate race this week, becoming the first of several potential House Democrats who are entertaining runs—Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, and Ro Khanna—to announce her intentions. There was some chatter following her announcement about whether it was rude for her to have done this before Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced her own plans (i.e., for retirement). Feinstein, in a statement, said that “everyone is of course welcome to throw their hat in the ring, and I will make an announcement concerning my plans for 2024 at the appropriate time.” Well, the appropriate time was a while ago. Feinstein (sadly!) has been in mental decline for some time. It takes a while to organize support and raise money for a Senate bid in a large, expensive state like California, and the time for niceties has expired. Even if Feinstein opted to run again—can you imagine!!— these people would all enter the race anyway.

Rank 5

5. Janet Yellen

The time to make a debt limit plan is now.

The most frightening agenda item Congress will have to deal with this year is raising the debt limit, a vote which House Republicans plan to take hostage in exchange for spending cuts that the White House and Democratic Senate won’t grant. It was thought this might be a late-summer, early-fall thing. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, however, announced Friday that it’s coming up sooner than expected, pointing to “early June” as a rough estimate of when the cash to pay the bills might dry up. A couple of months here could be critical for one particular scenario. There’s been some discussion that, as a last resort, Democrats and a handful of moderate House Republicans could use a “discharge petition” to bring a clean debt limit increase to a vote. Discharge petitions allow 218 signatories to, essentially, circumvent the speaker and force a vote on a bill. Among the various challenges to this approach, though, is that a discharge petition is a clunky tool for resolving heat-of-the-moment negotiations. The process takes several months to marinate, meaning a coalition of 218 members would need to start coordinating and acting on this strategy soon. And even if there are five House Republicans out there who are terrified of how their right flank will take the debt limit hostage, they don’t want to link arms with Democrats so soon into a new Congress on a plan to circumvent the speaker they just elected. So maybe they can’t get their act together just yet. But you, reader, can start stocking up on canned food now.

Rank 6

6. Buddy Carter

There was a reason McCarthy didn’t want to allow a vote on this bill.

Among the concessions McCarthy made to his holdouts was a vote on legislation implementing the “Fair Tax,” a right-wing proposal kicked around for decades that would eliminate the IRS and most existing taxes and replace it with a substantial sales tax. The bill, introduced this Congress by Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter—not one of the McCarthy holdouts, by the way—will get a vote sometime this year and probably won’t pass the House. Even if it did, it would never become law. So why did McCarthy’s arm have to be twisted to allow this show vote? Well, put yourself in the shoes of a vulnerable, swing-seat House Republican. You have to go on the record for a bill that (some) of the base is pressuring you on, but which would allow Democrats to run ads about how you voted for a regressive, 20 to 30 percent federal sales tax while slashing taxes for billionaires. Those swing-seat members, who make up the majority over which McCarthy presides, would very much prefer not to take that vote. So congratulations to the holdouts for winning the chance to put their majority-making members between a rock and a hard place on a bill that will never go anywhere.

Rank 7

7. Eric Swalwell, Ilhan Omar, Adam Schiff

The sacrificial lambs.

When Democrats last Congress set a new precedent in voting to boot Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from their committee assignments, Republicans promised they would exact revenge when they retook Congress. McCarthy confirmed this week that he would fulfill his promise to take a few scalps for the sport of it and would relieve Democratic villains Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the Intelligence Committee and Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee. (It’s unclear whether they’d be able to keep their other assignments.) So how are they taking it? Schiff is probably running for Senate, so he doesn’t care. Omar, speaking to HuffPost, said of McCarthy, “I do not actually think that he has a reason outside of me being Muslim and thinking I should not be.” Swalwell, meanwhile, said, “if I was an NFL coach, and I could take the best players off the field, you know, on the opposition, I guess I would try and do that too.” Easy, pal.