McConnell Retires From Leadership

Happy Friday! Although he’s arguably the biggest global superstar in professional baseball, Shohei Ohtani is also incredibly reclusive and enigmatic. Last season, he abruptly stopped talking to reporters with two months to go in the season. In December, he refused for weeks to reveal the name of his new dog to fans. And yesterday, he announced on Instagram simply that he “wanted everyone to know [he is] now married” to “someone from [his] native country.”

We’ll see how long that lasts, though, after he answered paparazzi questions about his new wife by describing her as just “a normal Japanese woman.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed and hundreds injured in northern Gaza on Thursday as roughly 30 aid trucks delivered materials to a crowd of thousands, though the exact details of what occurred were not immediately clear due to conflicting reports. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reported that more than 110 Palestinians were killed in a “massacre” as Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd swarming the convoy. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), meanwhile, said the majority of casualties and injuries resulted from a stampede that led to people being run over by the supply vehicles—though the IDF acknowledged that its forces fired on Gazans who approached Israeli troops and tanks shortly after the incident. Following the event, President Joe Biden yesterday walked back his prediction that a ceasefire agreement could be reached by Monday, and discussed the situation—which the White House referred to as an “alarming incident”—separately with both Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin warned in a speech on Thursday that sending NATO troops to Ukraine could result in nuclear retaliation. “Now the consequences for the interventionists will be much more tragic,” he said in remarks delivered to the Russian parliament. “We too have weapons that can hit targets on their territory. This really threatens a conflict with nuclear weapons, and thus the destruction of civilization.” Putin has threatened nuclear war in the past, but his latest saber-rattling follows comments made by French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week that Europe could not “exclude” the possibility of sending ground troops to Ukraine. Macron stood by those comments on Thursday, saying, “Every one of the words that I say on this issue is weighed, thought through, and measured.”
  • The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, showed that prices rose 0.3 percent from December to January, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Thursday, up from December’s month-over-month increase of 0.1 percent. The annual increase fell to 2.4 percent in January, down from a 2.6 percent year-over-year increase one month earlier. After stripping out more volatile food and energy prices, core PCE increased at a 0.4 percent rate from December to January, up from 0.1 percent in December, marking the largest growth in the metric in a year. The Federal Reserve’s next meeting is set for March 19 and 20, and central bankers are widely expected to hold interest rates steady as inflation persists.
  • The Alabama state legislature on Thursday approved legislation protecting patients and doctors involved with in vitro fertilization (IVF) from liability if created embryos are damaged or destroyed. The steps to safeguard IVF followed a state Supreme Court ruling protecting frozen embryos under the state’s wrongful death law. The bills were passed almost unanimously in both chambers, though wording differences between the Alabama House and Senate versions must be worked out before a version can be sent to Gov. Kay Ivey, who is expected to sign IVF protections into law.
  • A federal judge blocked a Texas law on Thursday that would have empowered state police to arrest migrants suspected of illegally entering the country. “If allowed to proceed, SB 4 could open the door to each state passing its own version of immigration laws,” Judge David Alan Ezra wrote in an order granting a preliminary injunction. Also on Thursday, President Biden and former President Donald Trump separately visited Texas to discuss the ongoing migrant crisis. Trump met with Gov. Greg Abbott and delivered remarks in Eagle Pass, Texas, while Biden toured border areas in Brownsville, Texas, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The current president urged his predecessor to encourage Republicans in Congress to take action on the issue. 
  • Former Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian, announced on Thursday he will compete in the GOP primary for Senate in Michigan. “After thoroughly evaluating all aspects of a potential campaign, I’m convinced that no candidate would be better positioned to win both the Republican primary and the general election,” he tweeted yesterday. “We need a principled, consistent constitutional conservative in the Senate—someone with a record of taking on the bipartisan oligarchy, defending sound money and free speech, fighting the surveillance state and military-industrial complex, and protecting all our rights.” He joins former Republican Reps. Mike Rogers and Peter Meijer in the race for retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat.

McConnell’s Next Chapter

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rides in an elevator as he leaves the U.S. Capitol Building on February 27, 2024. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rides in an elevator as he leaves the U.S. Capitol Building on February 27, 2024. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rose to give a speech from the floor of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, the chamber was—as it often is—practically empty. But this was no standard floor speech. “One of life’s most unappreciated talents is knowing when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” McConnell said. “So I stand before you today, Mr. President and my colleagues, to say this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

McConnell’s decision to step away from leadership was both a surprise to his colleagues and entirely expected. The 82-year-old giant of the Senate—the longest-serving party leader in the chamber’s history, having won nine straight elections to the role and served for nearly 17 years—has dealt with several health issues in recent months, stoking questions about how much longer he’d be fit to lead his conference. While the old-school, Reagan Republican leaves a legacy as the man who engineered a conservative Supreme Court for a generation, he has also spent the last several years of his career watching populist isolationism take over his party, putting him increasingly out of step with its new vanguard. The race to replace him is already on, and laying bare the fault lines dividing the Senate Republican conference. 

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