It’s Lame Duck Season

Happy Thursday! McDonald’s announced this week that customers who purchase food on the company’s app in December will have a chance to win a fabled McGold Card, which grants its owner free McDonald’s for life.

It’s like the Lord of the Rings, updated for 21st century America.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The European Union’s statistics agency reported Wednesday that the annual rate of inflation in the Eurozone fell month-over-month in November for the first time since June 2021, dropping from 10.6 percent to 10 percent. Many EU policymakers and economists see the deceleration as a temporary blip, however, and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said this week the ECB “still has a way to go” when it comes to raising interest rates. Federal Reserve President Jerome Powell took a more dovish stance in a speech on Wednesday, signaling the U.S. central bank would likely slow the pace of its rate hikes in December. Stocks surged after his remarks, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing the day up 2.2 percent and S&P 500 up 3.1 percent.
  • The U.S. labor market cooled somewhat last month, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting Wednesday there were 10.3 million job openings in the United States at the end of October—down from 10.7 million one month earlier. The quits rate—the percentage of workers who quit their job during the month—ticked down slightly from 2.7 percent in September to 2.6 percent last month, and the number of layoffs and discharges inched up from 1.3 million to 1.4 million. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported its updated estimate of third quarter real GDP on Wednesday, finding the economy grew at a slightly faster annual pace from July to September than previously thought (2.9 percent v. 2.6 percent).
  • A fragile peace agreement between the main parties in Ethiopia’s civil war is reportedly being undermined by continued attacks on civilians by Eritrean troops. Eritrea, which sits just north of the Ethiopian region of Tigray, backed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s central government in the two-year conflict with Tigrayan rebels.
  • Chinese state media reported yesterday that Jiang Zemin—general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party from 1989 to 2002 and president of China from 1993 to 2003—died on Wednesday at the age of 96. Jiang came to power after the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square, and oversaw a number of market-oriented economic reforms that boosted China’s growth for decades.
  • A spokesman for the Islamic State confirmed Wednesday that the terrorist group’s leader—Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi—was killed “while struggling against the enemies of God,” though he did not clarify who killed al-Qurayshi or where. (U.S. Central Command said yesterday the operation was carried out in mid-October by the Free Syrian Army.) al-Qurayshi—who was tapped for the role in March after his predecessor was killed in a U.S.-led raid—will reportedly be succeeded by Abu al-Husain al-Husaini al-Quraishi.
  • House Democrats held their party leadership elections on Wednesday, unanimously elevating Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York to replace the outgoing Democratic leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California were elected to serve as whip and caucus chair, respectively, and Rep. Ted Lieu of California will serve as vice caucus chair. The race for the fourth-ranking assistant leader position between Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and David Cicilline of Rhode Island will take place today.
  • House Republicans reportedly voted 158-52 in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday in favor of keeping earmarks for annual spending bills, allowing individual lawmakers to negotiate spending bills to include funding for pet projects in their home districts. House Republicans had done away with the process after the Tea Party wave in 2010, but their Democratic counterparts brought them back last year.
  • Republican Sen. Mike Braun filed paperwork on Wednesday indicating he intends to run for governor of Indiana in 2024, when incumbent Gov. Eric Holcomb will be term-limited out. Braun—a former distribution company executive who was first elected to the Senate in 2018—confirmed the filing to Politico, and an adviser said an official campaign announcement will be coming “very soon.” His departure from the Senate will likely set off a fierce battle among a number of House Republicans from Indiana who have eyed the seat for years.

It’s Lame-Duck Season

The stars and stripes flying at the Capitol Building, Washington, USA. (Stock photo via Getty Images.)

It may be deer season elsewhere in the country, but in the nation’s Capital it’s duck season. Specifically, it’s the two-month period after voters have chosen a new Congress, but during which the previous one is still in power. Colloquially, it’s known as the “lame duck.”

For President Joe Biden, the lame duck session represents his last, best opportunity to pass some of his policy priorities before January ushers in divided government. Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives on January 3, and the incoming majority has already indicated it intends to keep the Biden administration busy responding to numerous investigations.

Lawmakers have a lengthy to-do list before month’s end.

Respect for Marriage Act

The Senate checked one item off that to-do list this week by taking up the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that codifies protections for same-sex and interracial marriages into law. The legislation passed on a 61-36 vote Tuesday. The bill does not prevent states from banning same-sex marriages in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Instead, it requires states to recognize marriages legally performed in other states. It would also repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

The new legislation gained momentum after the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion in Roe v. Wade and Justice Clarence Thomas posited in a concurring opinion that the justices should revisit Obergefell. Opponents of the bill argued the Supreme Court is extremely unlikely to overturn Obergefell or, for that matter, Loving v. Virginia, the decision that legalized interracial marriage.

Despite opposition from some social conservative and religious groups, a group of 12 Republicans supported the bill after the Senate added a bipartisan amendment with explicit protections for religious liberty.

Because of the changes introduced in the Senate, the House still has to take up the bill again before it will go to Biden’s desk, a move possible as early as next week. A previous version cleared the House earlier this year with support from 47 Republicans.

Rail strike

A rather unexpected item—preventing a railway strike—has moved near the top of the to-do list. Without intervention, a strike could come as soon as December 9, with big implications for supply chains and consumers.

Such a strike has been a long time in the making. Rail worker unions have been squabbling with industry players for multiple years over improvements to what they describe as grueling work expectations. A tentative deal brokered by the White House in September fell through after several major unions declined to ratify it.

Under that deal, rail workers’ pay would increase by 24 percent by 2024. Several unions, however, bristled that the deal didn’t require companies to offer better paid sick leave. The railroads maintain that unions in the past have foregone short-term sick-leave obligations in exchange for higher base pay and more generous long-term disability protections.

Under the Railway Labor Act, first passed in 1926, Congress has the authority to intervene in rail contract disputes in several ways, up to imposing a new contract without ratification from the unions, in order to prevent disruptions to critical economic infrastructure. This week, Biden urged Congress to do just that by passing the framework negotiated in September into law.

“I think we have to do it,” Biden told reporters Tuesday. “The economy’s at risk.”

A railroad strike would have potentially devastating economic consequences, Biden said. The strike would impact passenger travel, but also disrupt the nation’s drinking water and energy supply and slow the U.S. supply chain in the thick of holiday shopping. 

The House on Wednesday approved the contract by a 290-137 vote. They also voted separately to add a provision to increase paid sick days to seven, which passed by 221 to 2017. The bill now goes to the Senate, where a vote may come as soon as Thursday. The fate of the sick day changes is less clear in that chamber: Sen. Bernie Sanders has signaled he is unlikely to support the deal unless the Senate coalesces around an amendment to increase the sick day provisions.

Government funding

Congress is facing a government shutdown deadline on December 16. Democrats are pushing for a sweeping funding measure known as an omnibus appropriations package that would keep the government running through the remainder of the fiscal year. But to do that, the two parties have to agree on a top-line number, and decide if there are other priorities—for example, natural disaster aid and assistance to Ukraine to combat Russia’s war of aggression—to bundle with the package.

It’s Democrats’ last chance at securing some items House Republicans may refuse in the new year. But if lawmakers can’t reach a deal, they could also avoid a shutdown by approving a continuing resolution or “CR”—which would essentially lock in spending at current levels for a certain amount of time.

With the clock ticking, Biden met with the top four congressional leaders Tuesday at the White House. When they emerged, the group seemed to have reached something of a consensus, that Congress would take the omnibus route.

“We all said we would try to work towards getting an omnibus as opposed to a CR,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the meeting. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell struck a similar chord: “There’s widespread agreement that we’d be better off with an omnibus than a CR.”

The military is urging lawmakers to avoid the CR route, because extending current funding levels would prevent the Defense Department from launching new programs and pursuing priorities it would be able to pursue if they were fully funded.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a letter to Schumer urged lawmakers to fully fund the military for the fiscal year.

“Operating under a CR moves our budget backward, not forward, reducing our topline by at least $3 billion per month,” he wrote. “The CR costs us time as well as money, and money can’t buy back time, especially for lost training events.”

But some Republicans clearly favor waiting, on the grounds that they will have more leverage with the GOP in control of the House in the New Year.

“I read in the morning paper that there was someone—I don’t remember who said there was a consensus among Senate Republicans that we do an omnibus. And I don’t agree with that,” Sen. John Kennedy, a Lousisia Republican, told The Dispatch Wednesday. “I think we’re very split over that.” He added that he believes Republicans could negotiate “a far better deal in terms of curtailing spending” with a GOP House in place.

Electoral Count Act

A bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes to rework the Electoral Count Act (ECA) of 1887 to clarify what role the vice president has in certifying presidential election results. If Congress does go the omnibus route to keep the government funded, some lawmakers have pushed for the ECA to be included in that package.

Reforming the act became a priority after former President Donald Trump and some of his supporters used it to argue that then-vice president Mike Pence had the authority to unilaterally reject state’s slates of electors after the 2020 election.

The revised ECA, if it passes, would spell out that the vice president’s role is essentially a formality.

Debt Ceiling

Raising the debt ceiling allows the government to continue to borrow money to pay for spending that Congress has approved. Democrats seem unlikely to cobble together a deal to raise the federal debt limit prior to January, teeing up what could be a politically fraught battle between the Biden administration and House Republicans next year. Some GOP lawmakers have signaled they will seek cuts to government spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. 

Democrats could raise the debt ceiling unilaterally through the use of reconciliation, but that is a lengthy process that sidelines other priorities in need of floor time, making it unlikely that Democrats will choose that route. The debt ceiling deadline doesn’t hit until mid-2023.

Various and sundry

Other priorities are likely to fall by the wayside as lawmakers simply run out of time, such as restricting the sale of assault-style weapons and immigration reform, two items Biden has called for in recent days that have nowhere near enough consensus for action.

Biden pushed lawmakers to take up immigration reform, including to secure a route to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients. But so far, the math doesn’t seem to be there: Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to support such a measure.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are primarily focused on personnel decisions come the new term. Kevin McCarthy is seeking the speaker’s gavel, but faces recalcitrance from the party’s rowdy Freedom Caucus members. Currently, at least five House Republicans have said they would vote against McCarthy. The GOP is projected to have 222 votes next Congress, and McCarthy needs 218 votes.

House Democrats elected New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries to lead the Democratic Caucus. He will be the first black leader of a caucus in Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell maintained his position in leadership elections prior to Thanksgiving recess. Senate Democrats will pick their leaders in December, most likely once the Georgia runoff election that falls December 6.

Worth Your Time

  • As a jury convicted Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes on charges of seditious conspiracy this week, Tasha and Dakota Adams—his ex-wife and son—were watching from across the country. The BBC’s Mike Wendling reports on the web of paranoia and conspiracy Rhodes’ built over the years—and how his family escaped. “Dakota grew up ‘absolutely believing’ in his father’s view of the world—what he described as a ‘vision of a shadowy, malicious communist conspiracy seeking to institute a New World Order,’” Wendling writes. Rhodes moved his growing family to Arizona, then Nevada, and then Montana—none of the kids receiving formal schooling—and founded his militia movement in 2009. It took years—and a stint as a volunteer firefighter—for Dakota to break free of the Oath Keepers’ philosophy, and even longer to break free of his father. “I started to see Stewart for who he really was, and I didn’t believe in the end anymore,” Dakota remembered. “I didn’t believe in the apocalypse.” Again and again, “his father’s predictions of imminent social collapse and sweeping government crackdowns had failed to come true,” Wendling notes. “That told him something. The end was not nigh. ‘That meant that there was potentially something of my own future that I could still salvage,’ he said. ‘And it meant that I had to get my family away from Stewart.’”
  • In a piece for Politico, Heather Williams reflects on the trauma that comes with spending 13 years in the U.S. intelligence community. “One night in the U.S., while sitting down at a restaurant with my non-work friends, I too casually mentioned that suicide bombers tend to decapitate themselves in their attacks,” she writes, noting she was quickly reminded to keep her work to herself. “A portion of U.S. intelligence professionals are in the military, but many are civilians. That doesn’t stop them from serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and a host of other dangerous places. Many, like I did, wear a Kevlar helmet and body armor, carry a loaded weapon and are classified legal combatants. Others watch hours of beheading videos to identify ISIS trademarks, conduct heart-breaking searches for POWs or identify human remains at the sites of terrorist attacks. In our line of work, being exposed to violent and traumatizing events all day is routine. And then we leave the office to go home to our family. It’s a life that we signed up for, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t real consequences. For too long, the intelligence community has ignored that reality, to the detriment of both its people and the country they serve.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Reminder: The Morning Dispatch is hiring! If you’re interested in helping put this newsletter together on a daily basis, be sure to check out our new job listing here. Have any questions? Shoot a note to with “TMD Job” in the subject line.
  • Jonah got back in the G-File (🔒) saddle yesterday after a COVID-induced layoff, ticking through the latest antics of Elon Musk, Kanye West, Milo Yiannopolous, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Donald Trump. “Kevin McCarthy needs Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene because he’s helped whittle down the party to such an extent that he thinks he can’t afford to lose them—and he’s probably right,” Jonah writes. “We were at a fork in the road seven years ago, and it was obvious—to some of us—that the path the right was going down would ultimately lead to a dead end.”
  • Wednesday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒) considers the “I got mine” ethos of the MAGA, post-liberal right. Trump “vacillates between immoral and amoral in his behavior but his appeal to right-wingers is essentially a moral one,” Nick writes. “He grants them moral license to behave ruthlessly toward their opponents by framing it as a matter of fairness. When you’re ruthless toward the left, you’re only balancing the lopsided scales of classical liberalism that favor them.”
  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah catch up on the latest round of Supreme Court oral arguments, exploring the line between lobbying and bribery and debating the free speech implications of the 303 Creative case. Plus: What to make of the Stewart Rhodes guilty verdict?
  • On the site today, Andrew and Harvest break down how a pair of impending Supreme Court cases could reshape the internet by chipping away at legal liability protections for tech companies, and Shay Khatiri argues that years of U.S. sanctions on Iran have made it easier for Iranian citizens to protest their government.

Let Us Know

Somehow, it’s already December. What music are you most excited to listen to this month?

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