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House Republicans Prepare to Pick Their Leaders
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House Republicans Prepare to Pick Their Leaders

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy faces an uphill battle in his bid for the speakership.

Happy Tuesday! University of Tokyo researchers say they’ve discovered that rats can dance. 

They’ve also discovered that rats have impeccable music taste, bopping their heads to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” and Mozart’s “Sonata For Two Pianos In D Major.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Democrat Katie Hobbs is projected to defeat Republican Kari Lake in the race to become Arizona’s governor, securing 50.4 percent of the vote to Lake’s 49.6 percent with more than 95 percent of ballots counted. Lake has aligned herself with former President Donald Trump and repeatedly claimed the 2020 presidential election was rigged, saying she wouldn’t have certified Biden’s Arizona win had she been governor at the time. Lake had not conceded as of Monday night, insinuating on Twitter she believed the results were “BS.”
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled a Wednesday vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would require state and federal governments to continue recognizing same-sex and interracial marriages even if the Supreme Court overturns precedent supporting those unions—as some believe it might after this summer’s Dobbs decision. The House passed an earlier version of the bill, but it has since been modified to include certain religious liberty protections. The bipartisan group of senators working on the bill—including Sens. Thom Tillis, Tammy Baldwin, Susan Collins, Kyrsten Sinema, and Rob Portman—said Monday they believe it has enough support to pass.
  • After his first in-person meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping since being elected to the White House, President Joe Biden said Monday that he doesn’t believe China has imminent plans to invade Taiwan. “There need not be a new Cold War,” Biden said. “We’re going to compete vigorously, but I’m not looking for conflict.” The leaders made no major policy announcements, but, in a gesture toward de-escalating tensions, agreed to resume communication between high-level officials.
  • Turkish police claimed Monday Monday that a Syrian woman suspected of conducting a Sunday bombing in Istanbul that killed six people and wounded 81 more had confessed to taking direction from PYD, a U.S.-backed Syrian group that Turkey considers an affiliate of the Kurdish militant party PKK. Both groups have denied involvement, but Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the U.S. is complicit in the attack and rejected its condolences.
  • Iranian missiles and suicide drones targeted Kurdish opposition bases in northern Iraq on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring 10 more. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has targeted the region repeatedly in recent months as Iranian officials blame foreign agitators for aiding and abetting the anti-government protests that have ravaged Tehran and other cities since September. The demonstrations were sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, detained for allegedly violating Iran’s religious dress code.
  • Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday the FBI has opened an investigation into the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in May while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority and Abu Akleh’s family have accused Israeli troops of targeting her as a member of the press, but Israel denies the claim, finding in an investigation Abu Akleh was likely killed by “unintentional fire.” The Biden administration also concluded in July that she was likely killed by unintentional Israeli fire, but a ballistics test was inconclusive. Gantz called the Justice Department’s new investigation a mistake and said Israel won’t cooperate.
  • As part of the United States’ ongoing effort to tighten restrictions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, the Treasury Department on Monday imposed sanctions against dozens of people and companies U.S. officials say have helped supply Russia’s military. The Treasury also targeted Swiss businessman Alexander-Walter Studhalter, accused of helping Russian oligarch Suleyman Kerimov launder assets to dodge previous sanctions.
  • Major cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy on Friday—and founder Sam Bankman-Fried resigned as CEO—after rival exchange Binance pulled out of a deal to acquire the company amid a liquidity crunch, citing bookkeeping concerns. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Justice Department began investigating FTX last week after revelations that the company spent some $10 billion in customer assets to fund investments by sister company Alameda Research came to light. Alameda Research, in turn, had an unusually large number of assets tied up in FTX’s native cryptocurrency.
  • Twitter’s heads of cybersecurity, privacy, compliance, and trust and safety all resigned last week amid concerns that product changes made under Elon Musk’s leadership would violate the company’s 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, which requires Twitter to assess privacy, security, and confidentiality risks before launching or changing products. “We are tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern,” an FTC spokesperson said Thursday. “No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees. Our revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are prepared to use them.” After the executives’ departures, Musk said in a company-wide email that Twitter “will do whatever it takes to adhere to both the letter and spirit of the FTC consent decree.” The company has also fired as many as 5,500 contract workers in a surprise second round of layoffs.
  • Google will pay $391.5 million to 40 states to settle a multistate lawsuit that claims the tech giant violated consumer protection laws by continuing to track users’ locations even when they turned off their phones’ location histories—a practice Google spokesman José Castañeda said the company abandoned “years ago.” The settlement also requires Google to give users more information about location settings and offer more user-friendly account controls.
  • Officials at the University of Virginia (UVA) announced yesterday that a student suspected of killing three UVA football players and wounding two more in a campus shooting Sunday was detained Monday morning and charged with three counts of second-degree murder and gun offenses. The shooting occurred aboard a charter bus returning from a class field trip, and, although the suspected shooter’s motive isn’t clear, he briefly played football for UVA in 2018, and was being investigated by the school over claims he owned a gun. In 2021, he was convicted of a concealed weapons violation.

McCarthy: So Close, Yet So Far

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), and House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) listen (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Returning to Washington for the first time since last week’s midterms, GOP lawmakers were in a far less celebratory mood than they expected to be. “[The election] was the funeral for the Republican Party as we know it,” Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri posited. “The Republican Party as we have known it is dead, and voters have made that clear.”

That doomcasting may be a smidge hyperbolic, but Hawley is far from alone in his pessimistic wallowing. “Our voters didn’t show up,” Sen. Rick Scott—chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) told Fox News’ Sean Hannity—last week. “We didn’t get enough voters. It’s a complete disappointment.”

After promising for months they’d be swept into power by a Red Tsunami™, Republicans—and their backers in right-wing media—have spent the past week licking their wounds and coming to grips with one of the most disappointing midterm performances by the party out of power in decades. Democrats will retain control of the Senate—whether they have a 51-49 majority or need Vice President Kamala Harris to continue breaking ties depends on the runoff between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker in Georgia next month—and Republicans are just barely on track to retake the lower chamber. If the last few remaining races break as expected, the GOP will end up with one of the smallest House majorities in modern American history.

Although Republicans’ numbers are smaller than they’d hoped, they still need to settle on who’ll be leading the ranks. And with recriminations over last week’s electoral faceplant in full swing, that’s proving a more difficult task than it probably needs to be.

In theory, today should be one of the best days of Kevin McCarthy’s life. After nearly two decades in the House, the California Republican is slated to complete the first procedural step en route to the speakership, a position he’s dreamt of holding for years. But in order to pass that initial checkpoint, he’s had to spend a not insignificant amount of time groveling before Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG).

House Republicans will have several items on the agenda when they kick off their closed-door meeting later today, deciding between Reps. Elise Stefanik and Byron Donalds for conference chair, Reps. Tom Emmer, Jim Banks, and Drew Ferguson for majority whip, and Rep. Steve Scalise and … nobody for majority leader. But the main event will be the race for the speakership, for now between just McCarthy and far-right Rep. Andy Biggs, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, once a band of small government conservatives but today the ultra MAGA wing of the House GOP.

In terms of fundraising, name ID, and preparation, it’s no contest. McCarthy has been building his career to this moment for years, and Biggs decided to throw his hat in the ring only recently. “We’ll see if we can get the job done and the votes. It’s going to be tough,” Biggs told Newsmax on Monday. “Kevin has raised a lot of money and done a lot of things. But this is not just about Kevin. I think it’s about the institutional direction and trajectory.”

To be the Republicans’ nominee for speaker when the new Congress first convenes in January, McCarthy just needs the backing of a majority of House Republicans today—something he’ll almost assuredly receive. But Biggs’ mere presence in the race portends trouble for McCarthy, as it indicates he may not have the 218 ‘ayes’ he’ll need when the full House votes in the new year. With Republicans projected to control somewhere between 219 and 222 seats when the counting is done, McCarthy won’t be able to afford many defectors.

Would-be defectors know this, and are planning to leverage that reality to make McCarthy’s life a living hell—both in his bid to become speaker and, if he succeeds there, his efforts to get anything done legislatively. “Look at what Joe Manchin has done in the Senate as the one deciding vote, right?” GOP Rep. Thomas Massie—a libertarian-leaning member from Kentucky—told Politico on Election Night as it became clear the Red Wave™ was not going to materialize. “If there’s a one seat majority, my caucus has one person. It’s me. So I can decide whether a bill passes or not.”

In that world, any Republican would be able to decide whether a bill passes or not—and more immediately, who becomes speaker. Suddenly, reports that McCarthy’s allies approached conservative Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas in recent days about a party change make a lot more sense, though Cuellar rejected the entreaties and a spokesman for McCarthy declined his office was behind them.

But the aspiring speaker has spent much of the past week meeting or talking with some of the most cantankerous members of the Republican conference, seeking to head off dissent by offering procedural concessions and/or personal favors. He’s had some success. MTG, for example, has proven a somewhat surprising ally in recent days, telling Steve Bannon on his podcast that it’d be “very, very risky” to challenge McCarthy right now. “If we don’t unify behind Kevin McCarthy, we’re opening up the door for the Democrats to be able to recruit some of our Republicans,” she told reporters yesterday. “They may only need one or two since we don’t know what we will have in the majority.” (In exchange, McCarthy has reportedly offered Greene—stripped of her assignments last year—a perch on the Oversight Committee.)

Rep. Don Bacon—a Republican from Nebraska—signaled Monday he might be open to teaming up with Democrats to nominate a fellow moderate to the post if the hardliners in his party block McCarthy come January. “I will support Kevin McCarthy, but if we do get to that point, I do want the country to work and we need to govern,” he told NBC News. Whether coordinated or not, those words were likely music to McCarthy’s ears, as he could deploy them as leverage in his negotiations with the Freedom Caucus. Don’t want to play ball with me? Would you prefer a RINO—or a Democrat?

But judging by Biggs’ late entry into the race, McCarthy still has his work cut out for him. “What I can tell you as I stand here right now is that Kevin McCarthy does not have 218 votes to become speaker,” Rep. Matt Gaetz—a longtime McCarthy detractor—said yesterday. “I don’t think he has 200.” Biggs’ role is likely to serve as a bridge candidate, jumping in to demonstrate McCarthy’s fallibility and buy time for a representative with broader appeal—possibly Scalise or Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio—to mount a more serious bid. A spokesman for Jordan—a McCarthy rival-turned-ally—called such theorizing “premature,” adding that Jordan “looks forward to chairing the Judiciary Committee next Congress.”

Members of the Freedom Caucus haven’t formally announced the concessions they’re hoping to extract from McCarthy, but it’s safe to assume they want more representation on prominent committees and guarantees that the legislative process will be more bottom-up than it’s been in recent years, with a more permissive amendment process and a 72-hour buffer between legislation being released and voted on so members and their staffs can read through it in its entirety. The biggest sticking point, however, is likely to be the restoration of a rule that would allow any individual member to offer a motion to vacate the chair—essentially recalling McCarthy if they aren’t happy with his performance. Before Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweaked it in 2019, the rule indirectly led to former Speaker John Boehner stepping down in 2015. McCarthy does not want to budge on that one.

But even if he does, it could theoretically end up losing him more support than he gains. “I will oppose the proposed changes to ‘vacate the chair’ rules,” Bacon—co-chair of the GOP’s more moderate Main Street Caucus, which is larger than the Freedom Caucus—said yesterday. “With a small majority we cannot afford to weaken the future Speaker. We need to be able to govern and not build the GOP on a house of cards.”

Worth Your Time

  • To hear Blake Masters tell it, he lost his Senate race in Arizona because Mitch McConnell wouldn’t turn out his pockets. Not so fast, Jack Butler writes in National Review. “Steven Law, the head of a McConnell-aligned super PAC, told [Peter] Thiel that Masters had scored the worst focus-group results of any candidate he had ever seen,” Butler points out. “Thiel himself, after bankrolling Masters through the primary, had to be cajoled into spending more on him in the general, and initially balked when McConnell surrogates suggested he should do more to help the unappealing candidate he had stuck them with.” Instead, Butler argues, Masters misread the moment and modeled himself on a failing blueprint for Republican electoral success. “His failure was, in the end, not one of uniqueness but of imitation: copying the right-wing Twitter vibes of the moment and duplicating Trump’s flaccid brand and his stolen-election nonsense,” Butler writes. “Even when voters there wanted a Republican senator, they chose a Democrat over Masters.”
  • Biden and Xi may have had a relatively amicable meeting on Monday, but tensions over Taiwan aren’t going away anytime soon. On the island, however, the threat of invasion often feels far away. “One day, I sat with Liao Chung Lun, a twenty-four-year-old graduate of National Chung Hsing University, where he studied environmental engineering,” Dexter Filkins reports for The New Yorker. “Liao had just completed his mandatory military training, which he described as something similar to summer camp. During the first month, he said, he and other recruits did pushups, a bit of running, and rudimentary combat drills, like thrusting a bayonet. A handful of times, he fired a gun. Liao told me that the course wasn’t especially rigorous. ‘Nobody fails out,’ he said. His main jobs included collecting the day’s dirty laundry and pulling weeds. ‘They have really high standards for cleanliness.’ Like most of the young people I talked to, Liao said that he felt thoroughly Taiwanese and had almost no connection to China. But, when I asked him if he was worried about Taiwan’s future, he shrugged. ‘We’ve been hearing this for years—that the Chinese are going to invade.’”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! With the midterms behind us, join Steve, Declan, Andrew, and other Dispatchers for a discussion of Republicans’ all-consuming civil war over the direction of the party and Donald Trump’s imminent presidential candidacy. As always, there will be plenty of time for listener questions, and members can keep an eye out for an email with details on joining.
  • Republicans should be careful what they wish for, Nick warns in Monday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒). The GOP is poised to retake the House, but by a slim margin that will give extreme members more power as spoilers. “Marjorie Taylor Greene is a comparatively minor liability to the party as a backbencher in a Republican caucus with no actual power,” Nick writes. “She’s a major liability when she’s the potential deciding vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling.”
  • Is there an LDS voting bloc? In Monday’s Wanderland (🔒), Kevin digs into the data on voting habits and priorities among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Plus: another installment of Economics for English Majors—this one on substitutes—and the disappearance of the word “unleaded” in gas discussions.
  • On the latest episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss a Supreme Court case that could determine who can adopt Native American children and parse a federal court’s ruling that concluded gun ownership bans based on a history of domestic violence are unconstitutional. Plus: Sarah shares some Federalist Society gala gossip.
  • On the site today, Audrey and Price report on efforts by a handful Republican senators to stall the party leadership vote and Kevin shares his takeaways from William D. Cohan’s new book about General Electric, Power Failure: The Rise and Fall of an American Icon.

Let Us Know

Do you think Kevin McCarthy ever fulfills his dream of becoming speaker? If so, how long do you think he’ll hold the position? If not, who do you think takes the role instead?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.