Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, whose capacity for absorbing cringe expanded when Sen. Richard Blumenthal made a Taylor Swift pun.
This week, we check in on Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to boot a few Democrats off committees, which are running into trouble in one case. (In Adam Schiff’s case, though, it’s money in the bank.) George Santos is either attempting a cunning PR strategy of laughing at himself or succumbing to an anxiety spiral, another former vice president was busted keeping classified docs as bathroom reading material, and Senate Democrats responded with a resounding “tra-la-la” to questions about their Arizona Senate endorsement.
Let us begin, though, with a look at the ambitions of Kevin McCarthy’s bestest friend in the whole wide world.
1. Marjorie Taylor GreeneKevin McCarthy has mainstreamed her. What’s next?
The New York Times this week had a long look at the mutually beneficial relationship that developed between Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Marjorie Taylor Greene over the past two years, which has culminated in the former’s ascent to the speakership and the latter’s placement on the Oversight and Homeland Security committees. (As if those committees wouldn’t get her enough TV time, she was also just appointed to the new subcommittee examining the COVID response.) Greene has given McCarthy political cover with the far right, and he’s mainstreamed her within the House. This effort to rebrand Greene as “a politician who can stand astride the divide between the party's hard-liners and its establishment wing,” as NBC News reported, was not an accident, and according to one of its sources, her “whole vision is to be vice president.” And really, who could you argue is better positioned for the nod right now? If Trump’s the nominee, he’s not going to go with a safe pick again. He’d certainly prefer the die-hard loyalist who’s become an influential player in congressional Republican politics and is all over his TV set. So, yet again, we say to Kevin McCarthy: Hope it was worth it.
2. Ruben GallegoA most uncomfortable situation for Senate Democrats.
Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego made good on a long-simmering potential candidacy this week, announcing his 2024 bid for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. She hasn’t announced her 2024 plans yet, but she did announce in December that she would become an independent. The immediate effect of Gallego’s move was to make every last Democratic senator uncomfortable. On the leadership level, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Gary Peters are split between their twin directives of supporting Democratic-caucusing incumbents and actual Democrats in Senate races. But the discomfort isn’t just at the top. For the next two years, all members of the Senate Democratic Caucus would like to have Sinema’s vote, and appearing to shove her out before she announces any plans of her own wouldn’t go over well. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would say only that endorsing Gallego was “something we would certainly look into.” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that it was “too early” to make any decisions. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, meanwhile, said, “I suspect I’d endorse my colleague.” What would make life easier for everyone is for Sinema to simply announce that she won’t seek another term. But her colleagues know they can’t rush the decision.
3. Adam SchiffIf he asks nicely, could Republicans kick him off Intel again?
Speaker Kevin McCarthy made good on his pledge not to seat Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff on the Intelligence Committee this week, in a letter to Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries that says—emphasis his—“Integrity matters more.” (That’s one way to justify a revenge play against a couple of Democrats that Fox News hates.) Swalwell will have to cool his heels on the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees for at least another couple of years, until Democrats have another shot at taking the House. Schiff will be on the Judiciary Committee. But also, Schiff this week launched a much-anticipated run for Senate in 2024, a step he was likely to take whether or not he stayed on Intel. Frankly, there’s not much more he could’ve hoped for ahead of a Democratic Senate primary than having mean old McCarthy decide that he was too dangerous to serve on a committee. Schiff already represents rich people in Los Angeles and has $20 million in his campaign account. And now he gets to send out fundraising emails to #ResistanceNation about how Republicans kicked him off his committee because he was too close to the truth? In other words: He will not lack for resources. And yet his fellow SoCal House-ejector, Katie Porter, may still have more.
4. Ilhan OmarMaybe she won’t lose her committee spot after all.
The third GOP archvillain that McCarthy planned to kick off a committee was Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, from Foreign Affairs, because of what McCarthy described as “repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks.” (Omar believes that she’s being punished for being Muslim, because punishing Muslims plays well in GOP politics.) But because Foreign Affairs is a standing committee, and not a select committee, whose members are appointed by party leaders, removing Omar from it requires a House vote. And it became clear this week that McCarthy may have a math problem here. Two GOP members, Reps. Victoria Spartz and Nancy Mace, said they would not vote to remove Omar from Foreign Affairs, and others aren’t comfortable with it either. McCarthy was already working with tight margins and doesn’t have the vote of Florida Rep. Greg Steube for the next several weeks as he recovers at home from his fall off a ladder. There’s a certain point at which McCarthy has to decide how much arm-twisting energy he wants to spend on an act of spite.
5. Thomas MassieA revolution in the Rules Committee.
The award for Committee Assignment of the Year, though, would have to go to Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie. The Republican, nicknamed Mr. No over the years for his unwillingness to go with the flow, was appointed to the House Rules Committee, a panel whose slots are typically reserved for only the most loyal of leadership allies. The appointment of Massie, along with South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman and Texas Rep. Chip Roy, to the Rules Committee—which governs which legislation comes to the floor for a vote, and under what conditions—will make for an interesting couple of years on a committee that typically just accedes to the speaker’s wishes. We could see a lot more “open rules” during consideration of legislation, when any member can offer amendments from the House floor. There was a taste of that this week, when a short bill to increase oil and gas production on federal lands took two days to pass on the floor, after dozens and dozens of amendment votes were considered. (The bill still passed, along mostly party lines.) It was a wonderful experiment. We’ll see how long this lasts before members tire of it.
6. George SantosSurvival by irony.
Our good friend from Long Island can’t defend himself on the merits of how he fabricated a persona in order to win a seat in Congress. What he can do to prolong his terminal stay in Washington is to play along with his celebrity, and make himself seem in on the joke. This week, he attempted a time-tested means of defusing the tension with the press horde staking out his office: giving them free food—Dunkin’ Donuts, Chick-fil-A, and cupcakes—each day. He also accepted an invitation to hang out “with a mix of Hill staff, reporters, lobbyists and at least one former member” at a D.C. bar, where he quite nearly sang karaoke. We’d rate the ability of this complete fraud to lighten coverage of the very serious allegations against him by charming D.C. society through ironic stunts as … disturbingly likely to work. Until he either quits, loses a primary or general election, or is indicted, at least.
7. Mike PenceOK, everyone: Out with your classified docs.
This week, we learned that former Vice President Mike Pence had some classified documents at his house too. In a taped-up box. Mother must be so, so disappointed. We’re getting the sense that just about anyone who’s ever had unencumbered access to classified information, and has since left office, is still sitting on it. So, let’s just get this over with. Barack Obama’s house on Martha’s Vineyard is probably made entirely of recycled classified documents. Lord knows what George Bush Sr. had packed into the coffin. Dan Quayle, this is your opportunity to get back in the news! Well, hey, folks, that’s three jokes, and with it, the end of the newsletter. Same time next week!