Kevin McCarthy’s Moment of Truth
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
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.”