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Kevin McCarthy’s Moment of Truth
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Kevin McCarthy’s Moment of Truth

With the ballot just weeks away, the House minority leader is still battling to become Speaker.

Happy Monday! And Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Japan announced Friday it plans to double its military spending by 2027, from 1 percent of its gross domestic product to 2 percent. Based on current GDP, such a bump would place Japan behind only the U.S. and China in total defense expenditures. Tokyo cited China and its frequent incursions near its airspace in the announcement, and, in a shift from Japan’s defensive military posture, earmarked $3.7 billion over the next decade for missile systems that could strike other countries.
  • Perhaps in response to Japan’s announcement, North Korea on Sunday test-fired two ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan. The launches came days after North Korea tested a solid-fuel rocket engine which could eventually help it more quickly launch long-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads to the continental U.S. Its current liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles take hours to prepare for launch, making surprise attacks more difficult.
  • The Commerce Department last week blacklisted 36 Chinese companies—including Yangtze Memory Technologies, China’s largest memory chip producer—as part of continuing efforts to keep China from developing tech capabilities U.S. officials believe would threaten national security. The move prohibits American businesses from selling goods or services to the Chinese companies without a Commerce Department waiver.
  • The pandemic-era border-security provision Title 42 is scheduled to expire Wednesday. The Trump-era policy allowed border officials to expel migrants without letting them apply for asylum, but a judge last month blocked the Biden administration from continuing to enforce it on the grounds that it’s “arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.” Mayor Oscar Leeser of El Paso, Texas, declared a state of emergency on Saturday ahead of an expected surge of migrants. Leeser, a Democrat, said officials expect street releases of migrants in El Paso to roughly double after Title 42’s end, and said the state of emergency will allow the city to expand its shelters to prevent migrants from sleeping on the streets amid dropping temperatures.
  • Peruvian officials have announced curfew orders for parts of the country amid ongoing protests—which have reportedly killed at least 20 people—over the recent impeachment of left-wing President Pedro Castillo after he attempted to dissolve the country’s congress and rewrite its constitution. New President Dina Boluarte’s proposal to hold early elections and announcement that she will replace her center-right cabinet haven’t quieted the demonstrations, which are blocking the Peru-Bolivia border and stranding some tourists in Machu Picchu.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released two studies on Friday suggesting that updated “bivalent” COVID-19 boosters from Pfizer and Moderna—intended to target the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants—reduce recipients’ risk of an emergency room visit or hospitalization from COVID-19 by at least 50 percent compared to those who received only monovalent vaccine doses. The updated boosters were authorized in September, but only about 14 percent of eligible Americans have thus far received one.
  • The Energy Department announced Friday it will buy up to 3 million barrels of oil—to be delivered in February—in an effort to begin refilling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. In an effort to depress gas prices amid a global oil supply crunch, the Biden administration has sold about 200 million barrels from the SPR this year, shrinking the stockpile to about 380 million barrels—the reserve’s lowest level since the early 1980s.
  • Real estate listing company Zillow reported last week that average asking rents fell 0.4 percent month-over-month nationwide in November—and by more than one percent in markets including Austin and Seattle—in the fastest such drop since the company began reporting this data in 2015. Home prices also slipped, with the typical U.S. home value falling 0.2 percent last month. These drops will take time to filter into national inflation reports, however, as the consumer price index calculates shelter costs using a six-month rolling average.
  • Prosecutors have charged Robert Crimo Jr.—father of the alleged shooter at a July 4 parade outside Chicago—with seven felony counts of reckless conduct for sponsoring his then 19-year-old son’s gun license application in 2019. It’s unusual for a shooter’s parents to face charges, but prosecutors allege Crimo bears responsibility for supporting the application despite his son’s recent suicide attempt and a family member’s report to the police that the young man had threatened to “kill everyone.”
  • After drawing 3-3 through 120 minutes, Argentina defeated France 4-2 in penalty kicks on Sunday to win its first World Cup since 1986. French superstar Kylian Mbappe scored a hat trick in the contest, but Lionel Messi’s two goals—and Emiliano Martinez’s goalkeeping—were enough to secure a victory for Argentina.

Kevin McCarthy Agonizes over January 3 Speakership Vote

Rep. Kevin McCarthy at a news conference on December 14, 2022, in Washington.  (Photo by Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy at a news conference on December 14, 2022, in Washington. (Photo by Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.)

When we last provided an update on the race for the speakership in mid-November, Kevin McCarthy was the presumptive frontrunner who had to win over about 25 members on his right flank. He’s still the presumptive frontrunner a little over a month later, but the political ground beneath his feet is getting shakier—and he’s running out of time to lock it down.

“They have not moved,” McCarthy complained in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday. “It would delay everything, getting committees up and running, being able to do the things that you know we need to get done from the very beginning.”

By “they,” he was referring to five Republican members of Congress—labeled the “Knucklehead Caucus” by Hewitt—who have publicly declared they will never support McCarthy for speaker when the new House convenes on January 3 to vote on Nancy Pelosi’s successor. For one reason or another, Reps. Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, Ralph Norman, Bob Good, and Matt Rosendale have vowed as a bloc to oppose their Californian colleague—no matter how many concessions he makes. When asked by Axios if he could foresee any scenario where he didn’t vote against McCarthy, Biggs shook his head: “I could be dead, I guess.”

There are more than five Republicans with reservations about McCarthy—31 of 222 opposed him in a preliminary vote last month—but the aspiring speaker has spent the past several weeks trying to win his detractors over one by one with promises of procedural changes and plum committee assignments. If he can’t get those five, however, it might not matter: 222 minus 5 is 217, just shy of the 218 votes needed to secure the speaker’s gavel. 

The group is relishing its power. “We all operate as five,” Norman told reporters Wednesday. 

That number could tick even higher by the time January rolls around, as, according to one member of the bloc, additional no-votes could be waiting in the wings. “There are more people who have either told us that they are no vote, or who I know have told the leader himself that they are a no vote who are not being reported among those who have declared publicly,” Good told The Dispatch last week.

The grievances of the anti-McCarthy faction run the gamut, ranging from personal vendettas in Gaetz’s case to budgetary concerns in Norman’s. But just about everyone in that camp is pushing for McCarthy to cave on an arcane rule known as the “motion to vacate the chair,” which would allow any individual member to force a floor vote on removing the speaker at any time—and for any reason. The rule’s proponents say it guarantees a certain level of accountability, its detractors—including McCarthy and his allies—say it paralyzes the chamber and prevents anything from getting done.

Other members of the anti-establishment Freedom Caucus laid out additional demands in a December 8 letter, including the provision of at least 72 hours to read legislation before voting on it, a prohibition on leadership meddling in Republican primaries, and opposition to any effort to raise the debt ceiling. Even if McCarthy checks all those boxes, Rep. Scott Perry—one of the letter’s seven signatories—said it might not be enough. “There’s no guarantee of anything,” he told reporters

Despite all this discontent in some corners of the conference, a real alternative to McCarthy has yet to emerge. Biggs announced himself as a formal challenger so McCarthy’s critics have somewhere to park their vote, but he’s under no illusions that he’ll actually end up with the speaker’s gavel. “I think the person who is ultimately going to be the speaker isn’t even [a] candidate yet,” Gaetz told CNN last week. 

McCarthy is doing everything he can to salvage what was supposed to be the apex of his political career. He confirmed to Politico he will punt contested House Republican committee chairmanship elections until after the speaker vote, and he’s spent the past month tossing red meat in the Freedom Caucus’ direction. Threaten to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas? Check. Attack Mitch McConnell for working with Democrats to fund the government? Check

“They’re trying to jam us right before Christmas,” McCarthy told Fox News host Sean Hannity of his Senate GOP counterparts. “Why would you ever move forward when there’s a change in power in 21 days where Republicans would have a stronger hand?”

But with those public entreaties and behind-the-scenes negotiations making minimal progress with his detractors, McCarthy has begun to drop his carrot and pick up a stick. “This is a presidential year, so you only have so many months to really get out there and govern,” he told Hewitt, arguing any delay in settling on a speaker with hurt the party’s ability to prepare for 2024. “People [will] look at us and [say], ‘Are you ready to be the majority if this is what’s happening? How can you pass the big bills? How can you change the course of history? How can you secure the border? How can you become energy independent? How can you get passed the parent’s bill of rights?’ It’s all in jeopardy.”

If that preemptive blame-shifting—or threat that moderate Republicans could work with Democrats to elect a unity speaker instead—wasn’t enough, McCarthy got a boost from one of his biggest backers over the weekend. “I think it’s a very dangerous game that’s being played” former President Donald Trump told Breitbart, noting House conservatives succeeded in ousting John Boehner years ago only for Paul Ryan—someone “ten times worse” in Trump’s estimation—to take his place. “I think [Kevin] deserves the shot. Hopefully he’s going to be very strong and going to be very good and he’s going to do what everybody wants.”

The problem for McCarthy, of course, is that in a conference as fractious and divided as today’s House GOP, he can’t do what everybody wants. And unless the fundamental laws of mathematics change over the holidays, the speakership election next month is going to require multiple rounds of voting for the first time in nearly a century

“I don’t envy anyone in leadership at this juncture,” moderate GOP Rep. Nancy Mace told The Dispatch earlier this month. “Because of the factions within our party.”

Worth Your Time

  • Canada’s euthanasia laws are failing the vulnerable, Alexander Raikin reports in The New Atlantis. “Since Canada legalized euthanasia in 2016, there has been a strange balancing act at the heart of its medical system,” Raikin notes. “There is a national suicide prevention hotline you can call 24/7, where sympathetic operators will try to talk you out of killing yourself. But today there are also euthanasia hotlines, where operators will give you the resources you need to carry out your wish. Doctors and nurse practitioners are now in the business of saving the lives of some patients while providing death to others.” And stories of healthcare professionals encouraging the latter are “coming fast and hard lately,” Raikin writes. “In internal meetings, those close to the system have long talked openly about red flags that many people are choosing euthanasia because they’re not getting the ‘supports and cares’ they need. The physicians in charge of the process not only know that this is happening, but they have discussed it in seminars, collected evidence, and then kept it quiet in public. The safeguards promised by Trudeau and others to prevent vulnerable people from heading down the road to euthanasia turn out to be vague, pro forma, and easy to get around by doctor-shopping. And interviews with patients and their loved ones show that some of them, perhaps many, are making it to the end.”
  • Victims pressured to stay silent. Warnings—slashed tires, ground beef stuffed in car door handles—to drive off competitors. Police dogs hunting the forests to stop the killings. Welcome to the sometimes cutthroat world of truffle hunting in northern Italy, where hunters competing for a dwindling supply of “white gold” leave meat tainted with snail bait and other poisons to target competitors’ dogs. Martina Aloi’s dog was poisoned by herbicide-laced chicken during a hunt in her family’s private forest. “In her village, Ms. Aloi says she was pressed to hush up the killing,” Margherita Stancatti reports for the Wall Street Journal. “‘They didn’t want me to report the poisoning. They said it would look bad,’ recalled Ms. Aloi. She ignored the advice and went to the police, who temporarily halted truffle hunts in the area and inspected the woods. They could never prove who did it. ‘We have our suspicions.’”
  • If Sunday was Lionel Messi’s final World Cup game, his international career couldn’t have ended on a more picture-perfect note. We’ve got two stories about the 35-year-old GOAT well worth your time, starting with this oldie-but-goodie from ESPN’s Wright Thompson about Messi’s complicated relationship with his hometown, which he left at age 13 to play for Barcelona. Franklin Foer’s reflection on Messi’s skill and grace at his “advanced” age is also great. “His contributions in the tournament relied largely on his guile—flicks, deception, the drop of his shoulder and the swivel of his hips,” Foer writes. “It was the moment when he humiliated the 20-year-old Croatian defender, Joško Gvardiol, spinning around him and then serving the ball into a surging Julián Álvarez. Or the no-look pass that tore through the Dutch defense. This trickery wasn’t just the product of natural gifts but also the accumulated wisdom of a career.”

¡Goooooooooooooooooooooool!

It’s impossible not to smile watching the legendary Andrés Cantor—who moved from Buenos Aires to the United States as a teenager—call Argentina’s game-winning goal.

Is It July 21st Yet?

Presented Without Comment 

Also Presented Without Comment 

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

Toeing the Company Line

  • This year’s final episode of The Dispatch Book Club (🔒) is out: Sarah and David finish the series on what it means to be human with a discussion of John Green’s book, The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet. The Book Club will return after the holidays; stay tuned for more details!
  • In Friday’s Uphill (🔒), Haley reports on that festive annual December tradition: funding the government. Lawmakers are wrangling over the timing of the bill—and whether to include measures like the Afghan Adjustment Act to create a path to legal permanent residency for Afghans evacuated to the U.S. during its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • Donald Trump may be a down-ballot disaster and loser nominee, but he’s still the frontrunner for Republican presidential nomination, Chris argues in Friday’s Stirewaltisms (🔒). That’s because—unlike in the polls—Trump won’t face a head-to-head contest against a strong candidate, but instead a sea of challengers diluting the opposition. “Being a weak candidate and an easy candidate to get rid of are two very different things,” Chris notes. “Republicans have drawn the correct conclusion about Trump and the midterms, but their work is only just beginning.”
  • What’s going on with Elon Musk’s Twitter banning campaign—and why is that question even worth answering? In Friday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick gets into the details and argues Musk is an example of how quickly would-be heroes can stumble. “The new Twitter might be just another reminder of how populist idealism tends to decay into autocracy,” he writes. “If so, enjoy it while it lasts. Rarely do those reminders happen when the stakes are as low as this.”
  • Inspired by a sociologist’s exploration of the rise of religious “nones,” David devotes his Sunday French Press to the role the Cold War—and the perception of a face-off between Christian America and atheist Soviet Union—played in shaping Americans’ faith. “Grow up when religion is perceived as dangerous, and marginal believers might be eager to shun religious labels,” he writes. “Grow up when religion is perceived as a necessary part of citizenship, and marginal believers will identify with a faith even if they aren’t particularly devout.”
  • In the culture section this weekend, Guy Denton dubs the film White Noise “an interminable, monotonous drone” which suffers from too much fealty to its source material, and Jim Lafferty explores the spare details we have about the life of influential blues musician Robert Johnson.

Let Us Know

In honor of Sunday’s nail-biting World Cup final, do you have a sports moment that stands out to you as an all-time favorite–whether it’s your team taking home the trophy or your child hitting his or her first home run?

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.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.