Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, which is currently heading west with dozens of guns to show that Chinese Communist balloon who’s boss (by shooting the balloon). If the balloon is gone by the time you read this? You’re welcome.
It was a week of vengeance in the corridors of Congress. As it always is with vengeance, some of it was good, some of it less good. The Senate is off to a slow start, though it has had time to tell the traffickers to knock it off with all the trafficking. Donald Trump has begun campaigning for president in earnest, by which we mean he’s workshopping more elaborate stories about how much of a beta Ron DeSantis is.
Let’s start, though, with the first Republican presidential candidate with the guts to challenge Trump for the nomination (after asking for his permission).
1. Nikki HaleyA little amuse-bouche for Trump to start with.
No major Republican candidates have entered the presidential race since Donald Trump announced on Nov. 15. None of them want to be the first to show disloyalty to Trump, or to spend a few weeks or months as the sole subject of his insults. That should change on Feb. 15, though, when former South Carolina governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is expected to launch her campaign. Trump has taken a potshot at Haley for being disloyal—a reasonable one, really, considering Haley’s support for Trump has long depended on the hour of the day—but he otherwise seems pretty zen about it. After all: What is there to fear? This is going to sound harsh, but the Haley candidacy gives off strong Marco Rubio 2016 vibes: the safe, fallback candidate that, when the time comes, primary voters simply don’t fall back on. And while being the resident of an early primary state may seem like an advantage for Haley, it’s the opposite. If she wins the South Carolina contest, it’s dismissed as a home-state thing. If she loses it, she’s deemed a complete loser who can’t even win her home state and should flee the country in shame. Our early verdict on the Haley candidacy is: MEH.
2. Ron DeSantisThe main course.
In the unlikely event that Haley’s candidacy ever shows signs of going anywhere, Trump will be ready to go with … racist nicknames, probably. For now, though, his attention remains strictly on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s trying to pick a few culture-war fights in the state legislative session before launching a campaign. There are a couple of early battle lines between the new mortal enemies. The first is on COVID restrictions, where DeSantis is trying to get to Trump’s right by taking a harsher tone toward vaccines. COVID is the issue that made DeSantis a national hero among Republicans, when he limited Florida’s restrictions in the pandemic’s early days. Trump’s response, then, has been to … just say the opposite, that Florida “was closed for a long period of time.” That’s not true, but truth will have very little to do with anything in this primary. The ex-president’s second, more natural approach is to call DeSantis a disloyal crying baby. “He had nothing,” Trump said this week of DeSantis’ first run for governor in 2018. “He was dead. He was leaving the race. He came over and he begged me, begged me, for an endorsement. There were tears coming down from his eyes. He said, ‘If you endorse me, I’ll win.’ ” This story is going to get more elaborate as the campaign goes on. We’ll learn that DeSantis was wearing a diaper and a bonnet when he asked for the endorsement too.
3. Rick ScottFinally, a little top-down retribution around this place.
When 20-odd House Republican ninnyhammers threaten Kevin McCarthy’s ascent to House leadership, McCarthy takes them to Chuck E. Cheese for pizza and ice cream. It makes us sick to our stomachs. Whatever happened to leaders’ appetite for doling out punishment, vengeance, and terror—the good things in life? Fortunately, that spirit is alive and well in Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republican Conference. You may recall that Florida Sen. Rick Scott, after blowing the midterms as chairman of Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, decided to challenge McConnell for Senate Republican leader during a lengthy airing of grievances. McConnell decisively beat back Scott’s challenge. But he didn’t leave it at that. In committee assignments released this week, Scott—alongside fellow anti-McConnell rebel Sen. Mike Lee—found himself removed from the Senate Commerce Committee. Scott told reporters that it was McConnell himself who “kicked me off” the committee. “He didn’t like that I opposed him because I believe we have to have ideas—fight over ideas,” Scott told CNN. “And so, he took Mike Lee and I off the committee.” Sensational! This genuinely cheers us up.
4. Ilhan OmarThe new legislative pastime.
We saw another act of retribution this week, though this one is on the opposite end of the fun spectrum. Nearly two years to the day that Democrats stripped a minority party member—Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—from her committee assignments, Republicans got the revenge they’ve been plotting ever since. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar was removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee on a party-line vote Thursday. The vote was originally going to be Wednesday, but Republicans first had to allow Democrats to add Omar to the committee in the first place. Why did they remove her? Republicans chalked it up to previous comments that they (and some Democrats) viewed as antisemitic; Democrats accused them of terrorizing a foreign-born Black Muslim woman to please their base. The questions of why it was Omar they removed, though, are secondary to the question of why they removed anyone. And even Republican members who didn’t feel that Omar’s comments merited her ouster voted for it as an exercise in procedural tit for tat, a necessary response to Democrats’ removals of Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar two years ago. Texas Rep. Chip Roy likened it to the practice of intentional beaning in baseball. “I think managers ought to pick the teams, we ought to just stop playing this stupid shit,” he told HuffPost. “But you know, we do, and so my view is, you hit my guy. You come to the plate, we’re gonna pop your guy.” Whenever Democrats take the House majority next, we’ll see whether they call it even or throw a 95-mph fastball at someone.
5. Nancy MaceKevin McCarthy promises he would allow for due process, uh, next time.
In the run-up to the vote, there were some House Republicans who were uncomfortable about throwing a 95-mph fastball at Omar. Among them was South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, who didn’t vote to remove Greene and Gosar and said she wouldn’t vote to remove Omar either. Well, Nancy Mace says a lot of things. She said she wasn’t happy that the GOP was opening its tenure in the majority by passing anti-abortion bills either, but she sure voted for those. And when the time came to vote on Omar, she ultimately voted to remove her. She explained on Thursday that she secured a “commitment” from Speaker McCarthy to set up a fairer process for members facing committee removal. That process would be put in place, uh, later, after they had already given Omar the heave-ho under the process Mace believed was unjust. A similar commitment was made to Indiana Rep. Victoria Spartz, who got a clause inserted into the resolution hinting vaguely at an appeals process for the accused. As a senior GOP aide told Politico, “It’s nonbinding and not actionable.” But just you wait! Fairness is coming to this legislative body any day now. Let’s say tomorrow? Eh, we’ll have to move it to next week …
6. Chuck SchumerWake up, Mr. Senate.
Say what you will about the House of Representatives, but at least it gets out of bed in the morning. Let’s check in on the Senate’s first full month of business. On Jan. 3, the Senate swore in new members and then recessed for three weeks. The body has taken five roll-call votes this year. One was to confirm an assistant secretary of defense, and another two were to confirm board members for the U.S. Institute of Peace. The final two were to vote on resolutions that could have been agreed to in five seconds by unanimous consent: One to observe National Trafficking and Modern Slavery Prevention Month, and another to designate January as National Stalking Awareness Month. Perhaps next week, the Senate can recognize that puppies are cute. What the heck is going on here? Why the “mind-boggling pace,” as McConnell described it this week? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ascribed it to the GOP taking a long time to finalize its committee assignments (McConnell figuring out which committees to kick Rick Scott off of). Even when the Senate ramps up to full speed, though, what exactly is that going to look like? There will be plenty of judicial confirmations to take care of. But with Republicans in charge of the House, that resolution about how stalking is bad might be the most ambitious legislation on the horizon.
7. George SantosNo ship has ever returned from the Liz Truss Polling Death Triangle.
Hey, what if it’s only the fAkE NeWs mEdiA that cares about George Santos fabricating a biography while Americans in the heartland (the North Shore of Long Island, one of the wealthiest congressional districts in the country) don’t get all the fuss? Wouldn’t Santos just love that? He would. But alas, voters in Santos’ district do indeed think he’s trash. A Siena poll released this week found that only 7 percent of voters in New York’s 3rd District view Santos favorably, against 83 percent who view him unfavorably; voters also want him to resign by a margin of 78 to 13 percent. This is former United Kingdom Prime Minister Liz Truss territory. And what’s she doing now? Last we heard, she was holed up in the Dakotas. When will Santos blaze a trail to join her? IN OTHER SANTOS NEWS: A job applicant recorded himself getting fired by Santos. SANTOS, SANTOS, SANTOS: The feds are looking into the cancer dog situation.