Happy Wednesday! Steve Hayes is out there somewhere breathing a deep sigh of relief that this insane video showing a torrent of red wine cascading down a street was filmed in Portugal and not neighboring Spain.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Chinese naval vessels began amassing in the western Pacific Ocean Monday and Tuesday, marking what is likely the start of China’s largest-ever military exercises in the region. Taiwan’s defense ministry tallied 20 warships in the vicinity of the island—which China considers its property—and Japan also reported eight ships south of Okinawa. The drills follow a series of U.S. joint naval exercises with allies in the region over the last several weeks.
- U.S. median household income fell for the third straight year in 2022, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Inflation-adjusted median household income decreased to $74,580 in 2022, a 2.3 percent decline from its 2021 level. The measure has tumbled 4.7 percent since its 2019 high of $78,250.
- A Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday showed fraudsters stole roughly $1 of every $7 of federal COVID-19 unemployment aid between April 2020 and May 2023, an estimated total of between $100 billion and $135 billion of the approximately $900 billion disbursed. The report indicated that the speed with which Congress passed the expanded unemployment payments—and the Trump and Biden administrations’ haste in disbursing it—made the system vulnerable to fraud.
- Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday formally recommended that “everyone 6 months and older” get the latest COVID-19 booster shot following the vaccine’s approval by a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel on Monday. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 in favor of the broad recommendation for additional vaccination, and the shot could be available at some pharmacies within 48 hours.
- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced Tuesday he was directing the House, led by the chamber’s Oversight Committee, to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, likely focused on determining the extent of Biden’s alleged involvement with his son Hunter’s business dealings. McCarthy is not holding a full vote in the House to commence the investigation, a move he had previously declared was necessary to begin an impeachment inquiry. Former President Donald Trump has reportedly been speaking to House leadership regularly in the lead-up to the impeachment inquiry announcement, and the White House called the investigation “extreme politics at its worst.”
- In an emergency filing late on Monday, the Alabama attorney general’s office asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block, pending appeal, a lower court’s ruling ordering a special master to redraw the state’s congressional maps. The three-judge panel said Alabama legislators disregarded a Supreme Court order earlier this summer to redraw the districts to include a second majority-black district, or something “close to it.”
- A federal grand jury in Memphis, Tennessee, handed up an indictment Tuesday against five former Memphis police officers accused of beating Tyre Nichols, a black man, to death during a traffic stop in January. The grand jury indicted the five men—who are also black—on charges of excessive force and failure to intervene in the beating, deliberate indifference, conspiracy to witness tamper, and witness tampering. If convicted of the federal charges, the men could face life in prison. They are also facing a slew of charges, including second degree murder, in Shelby County, Tennessee.
Election Year Impeachment Redux
On Tuesday, September 24, 2019—two weeks after Congress had returned from its summer recess and a little over a year away from a presidential election—then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Almost four years later—the day Congress returned from recess and 14 months before a presidential election—House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced a formal impeachment inquiry against President Biden.
“House Republicans have uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden’s conduct; taken together, these allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption,” McCarthy said yesterday. “That’s why today, I am directing our House committees to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. This logical next step will give our committees the full power to gather all the facts and answers for the American public.”
The inquiry comes as McCarthy faces rising pressure from hardline members of the Republican conference, but it remains to be seen whether the move will be enough to placate members dissatisfied with the speaker over not only impeachment but also his handling of appropriations as a government shutdown looms at the end of the month.
Over the past several months, House Republicans have been conducting investigations into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and have collected plenty of evidence pointing to shady—and possibly criminal—activity by the younger Biden. He did work for a number of foreign entities, selling what his onetime business partner described as “the illusion of access” to the Biden “brand” while Joe Biden was vice president. Republicans have unearthed some circumstantial evidence indicating Biden was at least somewhat aware of what his son was up to, but efforts to produce a proverbial smoking gun that directly implicates the president in his son’s overseas escapades have thus far fallen flat.
Nevertheless, McCarthy began inching toward impeachment in recent weeks—after dismissing such talk as “premature” earlier this summer—and on September 1 told Breitbart News a full House vote on opening an inquiry would be an important step in the process. “To open an impeachment inquiry is a serious matter, and House Republicans would not take it lightly or use it for political purposes,” he said. “If we move forward with an impeachment inquiry, it would occur through a vote on the floor of the People’s House and not through a declaration by one person.” Back in 2019, he criticized Pelosi for “unilaterally” launching an impeachment inquiry into Trump without a full House vote—something that didn’t come until more than a month later.
On Tuesday, however, McCarthy did the exact same thing, forgoing a House vote and kickstarting the inquiry himself. “[Pelosi] changed that,” he told reporters when pressed on the apparent contradiction, seemingly pushing his recent Breitbart remarks aside. “This is how you do it. So, I warned her not to do it that way in the process, and that’s what she did so that’s what we do.”
What’s really going on? “It’s obviously much more responsive to conference politics than it is anything else,” Brendan Buck, a former counselor to House Speaker Paul Ryan, tells TMD. GOP hardliners like Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene have pushed for an impeachment inquiry for months, threatening to attempt shutting down the government or even ousting McCarthy from the speakership if action wasn’t taken. (Trump himself has publicly called for Biden’s impeachment, and he reportedly spoke with Greene about it this weekend.)
Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, frustrated with the results of the debt ceiling bill, have been demanding spending levels lower than the ones agreed to in the Fiscal Responsibility Act—the compromise McCarthy and Biden negotiated earlier this year. In addition to the cuts, caucus members also want to pass a border security bill, address the “unprecedented weaponization” of the Justice Department and the FBI, and end “woke politics in the Pentagon”—all of which are nonstarters for Democrats. “McCarthy’s bigger problem in the conference is not impeachment related,” Buck says. “It is spending related. A lot of this stuff the Freedom Caucus is demanding, it’s just simply never going to happen.”
With a Democratic-controlled Senate and Joe Biden in the White House, the speaker isn’t in a position to fulfill many Freedom Caucus demands—but he’s likely hoping the impeachment inquiry will placate enough of the hardliners to get through the spending negotiations. “You can’t really deliver on the things that the Freedom Caucus and others are demanding on the spending side, so you have to find other ways to try to build some conference unity,” Liam Donovan, a lobbyist and former Republican Senate campaign operative, tells TMD. “And so obviously, in this case, trying to give them something that they want outside of the scope of the spending is what he’s trying to do here.”
Whether that strategy will be successful remains unclear. Shortly after McCarthy’s announcement, the House Freedom Caucus held a press conference outside the Capitol where they reiterated their spending demands. Rep. Dan Bishop—a Republican from North Carolina—told Politico that the inquiry wouldn’t affect whether he supports a move to oust McCarthy, saying the two topics are “independent of one another.” Rep. Bob Good of Virginia was similarly dismissive: “Him starting an impeachment inquiry gives him no—zero—cushion, relief, brace, as it applies to spending.”
Gaetz—a long time critic of McCarthy—pilloried the leader in a speech on the House floor following the impeachment announcement. “Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role,” the Florida Republican said, referencing the myriad concessions McCarthy made to GOP hold-outs in order to secure the speakership. “The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate total compliance or remove you pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair.” Gaetz was similarly unimpressed with the decision to launch the inquiry. “This is a baby step,” he added, “following weeks of pressure from House conservatives to do more.”
If McCarthy thought he had enough support for an impeachment inquiry, he’d likely have stuck to his original plan of holding a vote. But with such a slim majority, the speaker can only afford to lose four members of his conference—and some moderate Republicans aren’t on board with the push. “We should dig that stuff up before we go down this path,” Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska said yesterday. “I think the American people want a [better] governance and higher bar. Impeachment should be rare.”
But now that the inquiry has been launched without a vote, some Republicans—including some of the 18 in districts that went for Biden in 2020—are cautiously backing the effort. “I’m comfortable with the process as it stands right now,” said Rep. Nick LaLota, a New York Republican in a swing district. Another New York Republican, Rep. Marc Molinaro said he “didn’t come here to impeach anybody, but the responsibility of Congress is to provide the appropriate checks and balances and that next step is now moving forward in a broader inquiry.” Absent a vote, these members can more easily frame the inquiry as merely a fact-finding effort. “Will Democrats use the launching of the inquiry against those members? Sure they will,” Donovan tells TMD. “Will it be as effective as if those people were put on the record? No.”
That didn’t stop the White House and top Democrats from slamming McCarthy’s move on Tuesday. “This isn’t based on anything substantive,” Ian Sams—a White House spokesperson—argued on MSNBC yesterday. “It’s based on the fact that [McCarthy] is being attacked from his right, and he’s throwing them red meat.” Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland—the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee—made a similar argument. “The evidence shows no wrongdoing by President Biden,” he claimed. “But the GOP is obviously forced to launch an impeachment inquiry regardless of the facts.” (Raskin has been an ardent defender of Biden against the GOP investigations into the president, and in some instances, has seemingly stretched the truth in order to back the president.)
Now that the process has commenced, though, it’s only a matter of time before articles of impeachment are produced—and lawmakers won’t be able to dodge a vote on those. The inquiry will be led by GOP Reps. Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Jason Smith—the chairs of the House Judiciary, Oversight, and Ways and Means committees, respectively. The trio released a statement yesterday saying their committees “will continue to work to follow the facts to ensure President Biden is held accountable for abusing public office for his family’s financial gain.”
At this rate, early fall impeachments the year before an election could become a regular pattern. “I’m just wondering if the threshold or the bar for impeachment seems to get lower and lower every year,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Worth Your Time
- David Ignatius’ Washington Post column is reportedly a must-read in the Biden White House. And yesterday, Ignatius urged the president not to run for reelection. “It’s painful to say that, given my admiration for much of what they have accomplished,” Ignatius wrote. “But if he and Harris campaign together in 2024, I think Biden risks undoing his greatest achievement—which was stopping Trump. Biden would carry two big liabilities into a 2024 campaign. He would be 82 when he began a second term. According to a recent Associated Press-NORC poll, 77 percent of the public, including 69 percent of Democrats, think he’s too old to be effective for four more years. Because of their concerns about Biden’s age, voters would sensibly focus on his presumptive running mate, Harris. She is less popular than Biden, with a 39.5 percent approval rating, according to polling website FiveThirtyEight. Harris has many laudable qualities, but the simple fact is that she has failed to gain traction in the country or even within her own party. Biden has never been good at saying no. He should have resisted the choice of Harris, who was a colleague of his beloved son Beau when they were both state attorneys general. He should have blocked then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which has done considerable damage to the island’s security. He should have stopped his son Hunter from joining the board of a Ukrainian gas company and representing companies in China—and he certainly should have resisted Hunter’s attempts to impress clients by getting Dad on the phone. Biden has another chance to say no—to himself, this time—by withdrawing from the 2024 race. It might not be in character for Biden, but it would be a wise choice for the country.”
- Konstantin Dobrovolski has spent his adult life searching for the bodies of missing Soviet World War II soldiers and offering them a proper burial. When he looks at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he says his “‘nation didn’t learn the right lesson from history,’” Pjotr Sauer writes in a piece for the Guardian. “When Russia invaded Ukraine, Putin tapped into the memory, language and imagery of the past war to justify the attack, telling his nation that men were ‘fighting for the same thing as their fathers and grandfathers’ and framing Ukraine as a successor to Nazi Germany. ‘Absolute nonsense,’ said Dobrovolski when asked about the parallel between the two conflicts. ‘These two wars are completely different. Our fathers and grandfathers were heroically defending our country, not invading another one.’ For Dobrovolski, the war in Ukraine was also personal. After having recovered the remains of thousands of Soviet soldiers, last spring he had to bury his own son who died fighting near Bakhmut as part of the notorious Wagner group. Sergei had signed up with Wagner from prison, where he was promised freedom in return for a six-month stint in Ukraine with the group. ‘I tried to do everything to stop him from going, I told him ‘what are you doing son, it’s a one-way ticket’. But I failed.’”
Presented Without Comment
The Washington Post: George W. Bush Recalls Dinner Served by Wagner’s [Yevgeny] Prigozhin: ‘I Survived’
Also Presented Without Comment
The Hill: Trump to Headline Women’s Leadership Summit
Also Also Presented Without Comment
Variety: USA Today Hiring a Taylor Swift Reporter
Toeing the Company Line
- What should we make of the impeachment inquiry into Biden? Is the threat of political violence increasing? How serious is this COVID-19 surge? Kevin was joined by Steve, Drucker, Grayson, and Mary to discuss all that and more on last night’s Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here.
- In the newsletters: Nick wonders whether (🔒) his fellow pro-lifers have a “messaging” problem, Harvest weighs the threats to McCarthy’s speakership, and Kevin offers his perspective on the TV show “The Chosen.”
- On the podcasts: Megan McArdle joins Jonah on The Remnant for a conversation that’s (somewhat) detached from current events. Do ideas actually matter, or have all intellectuals wasted their lives? Just how ugly should we expect 2024 to be? And can Jonah outrun his ongoing mid-life crisis in a ramshackle RV?
- On the site: Jonah dives into the much-debated Pence populism speech.
Let Us Know
Do you think there’s sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to justify opening a formal impeachment inquiry against President Biden?
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