Four Days to Iowa: a Town Hall, a Debate, and an Exit

Happy Thursday! He may not have been as formidable as he once was, but a mammoth talent and leader shocked the world yesterday when he announced he was stepping away from the game: Nick Saban, longtime coach of the University of Alabama football team, will retire after 17 seasons with the team. May his tides roll onward.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • U.S. and U.K. military forces intercepted a barrage of 21 missiles and drones fired by the Houthis toward the Red Sea on Tuesday night, downing all of the projectiles in one of the largest attacks launched thus far by the Yemeni militant group as it continues to target international vessels. U.S. Central Command said that, joined by a British destroyer, several U.S. warships and F-18s worked “in a combined effort” to neutralize the assault—the 26th such attack on commercial shipping lanes since November. A Houthi spokesperson said that a U.S. ship was the intended target of the attack. “If this continues, there will be consequences for the Houthis’ actions,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters yesterday. Eleven members of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday voted to demand the Houthis “immediately cease all attacks” in the Red Sea, “which impede global commerce and navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace.” Russia and China abstained from the vote.
  • Two Polish lawmakers taking refuge in the country’s presidential palace were arrested on corruption charges on Tuesday, sparking backlash from the populist minority Law and Justice (PiS) party and Polish President Andrzej Duda, who pardoned the two in 2015 before their conviction. Former Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński and his then-deputy Maciej Wąsik were sentenced in December in a case involving agricultural land transactions. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Coalition that won the country’s election in October 2023, has said that Duda did not have the power to pardon the two members of his party.
  • The House Oversight and Judiciary Committees voted Wednesday to recommend holding Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify at a closed-door meeting last month connected to an impeachment inquiry into his father, President Joe Biden. The committee votes—which will advance the resolution for a full House vote— came hours after Hunter made an unannounced trip to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to attend a hearing to discuss the matter. The younger Biden, who has repeatedly offered to testify in a public setting, reportedly stayed in the hearing room for roughly 15 minutes, causing a stir among the members of the committee.
  • House GOP leadership failed on Wednesday to pass a rule—a procedural vote necessary to start debate on a handful of bills—after 13 Republicans voted with Democrats against the routine measure to signal frustration with the spending deal Speaker Mike Johnson recently brokered with Senate Democrats. “We’re making a statement that the deal as has been announced that doesn’t secure the border and that doesn’t cut our spending … is unacceptable,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Bob Good said yesterday. Johnson signaled Wednesday he’d be open to another continuing resolution to fund the government—a reversal from last month, when the speaker said he didn’t “intend to have the House consider any further short-term extensions.”
  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suspended his campaign for president Wednesday evening at a campaign rally in Windham, New Hampshire. “It’s clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination,” he said. Recent polling has shown former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in second place in the Granite State, leaving Christie in third. “I would rather lose by telling the truth,” he continued, “than lie in order to win.” Christie was caught on a hot mic just before the event disparaging both Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Christie suggested that some of his Republican colleagues who have endorsed former President Donald Trump “know better” and that their ambition had “outstripped their otherwise good judgment.” Christie has not yet made an endorsement in the race.

The Elephants Left in the Room

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks as former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley looks on during the fifth Republican presidential primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 10, 2024. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks as former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley looks on during the fifth Republican presidential primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 10, 2024. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

The most potentially significant development in the GOP presidential primary yesterday came hours before CNN’s debate between former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Fox News’ town hall with former President Donald Trump, when former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a surprise announcement that he was suspending his campaign, leaving Haley and DeSantis as the only two semi-serious challengers to the frontrunner left in the race. 

But according to Christie—caught on a hot mic before his town hall began—neither of them has the juice to actually win. “She’s going to get smoked,” he said, adding that “she’s not up to this.” Pivoting to her competitor, Christie told someone that DeSantis had called him, “petrified”—and then the audio feed cut out.

To quote another infamous hot mic moment, Christie’s departure could be a “big f—ing deal.” Or it could end up not mattering at all.

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