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The (Very Recent) Past is Prologue
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The (Very Recent) Past is Prologue

House Republicans find themselves in familiar territory.

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Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Thursday to implement daily four-hour “pauses” in fighting in parts of northern Gaza to allow for humanitarian aid to enter and civilians to evacuate. The agreement came after several days of pressure from the White House, with President Joe Biden expressing frustration that it’d “taken a little longer than [he had] hoped” for Netanyahu to implement the plan—though National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said these “pauses” were just the “first step” in wider humanitarian accommodations. Meanwhile, the heads of U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies—the CIA and Mossad—met with the Qatari prime minister in Doha on Thursday to discuss the possibility of a deal with Hamas to free 12 hostages, including six Americans, in exchange for a three- or four-day ceasefire and some limited fuel shipments. 
  • Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa announced on Thursday that he would dissolve the nation’s parliament in December and schedule elections for March 2024, after the sudden and unexpected resignation of Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa earlier this week. De Sousa said he will only dissolve parliament after the final vote on the country’s budget in late November, and that Costa—who resigned amidst an investigation over allegations of corruption—will remain as a “caretaker” prime minister until a new leader is elected. 
  • A former conservative politician in Spain, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, was shot in the face on Thursday afternoon outside his home in Madrid before the masked assailants reportedly drove away on a black motorbike. The bullet passed through his jaw and the wound is not life-threatening, the hospital treating Vidal-Quadras said Thursday. The motive for the attack is not yet clear, and the attempted assassins have not yet been found. 
  • Detroit police announced on Wednesday that they have a suspect in custody connected to the murder of Samatha Woll—president of her Detroit synagogue and a former staffer for Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan—who was found stabbed multiple times outside her home last month. Local police have not released the identity of the suspect nor have they indicated whether Woll’s killing was a hate crime—so far, police have not suggested any possible motives for the murder.
  • The General Services Administration (GSA), which manages federal properties, selected Greenbelt, Maryland—northeast of Washington, D.C.—as the site of the new FBI national headquarters to replace the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover building in downtown D.C. The long-awaited decision was met with uncharacteristically blunt criticism from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who said his agency had concerns about the “fairness and transparency” of the selection process and suggested a top GSA decision-maker had a conflict of interest. GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan pushed back on Wray’s criticism. “GSA and FBI teams have spent countless hours working closely together over many months,” she said. “So we’re disappointed that the FBI Director is now making inaccurate claims directed at our agency, our employees, and our site selection plan and process.”
  • Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced on Thursday he would not run for re-election in 2024, a blow to Democrats’ chances of holding onto his Senate seat in ruby-red West Virginia. In his announcement, the moderate Democrat laid out his future plans, stoking political speculation. “What I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together,” he tweeted. Manchin has been floated as a potential third-party presidential candidate. 
  • NewsNation will host the fourth GOP presidential primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on December 6, the network announced Thursday. Former Fox News host Megyn Kelly will moderate the event alongside NewsNation anchor Elizabeth Vargas and Eliana Johnson, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon. The Republican National Committee has increased the threshold for participation in this debate, requiring candidates to be polling at 6 percent—up from 4 percent in the third debate—in at least two national polls or at that same threshold in one national poll and two polls in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina. They must also have 80,000 unique donors, with at least 200 donors in each of 20 or more states. 

House GOP’s Groundhog Day 

House Speaker Mike Johnson during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on November 2, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The government will run out of money in seven days. House leadership tried and failed this week to pass individual appropriations bills and is struggling to unite the Republican conference around a short-term spending measure to avert a government shutdown. Meanwhile, the Senate is preparing a stopgap of its own, and the speaker of the House faces the prospect of relying on Democratic votes to fund the government. 

Sound familiar?

Speaker Mike Johnson, barely two weeks into his new gig, finds himself in much the same position as his predecessor Kevin McCarthy was back in September. Sure, Johnson has made fewer enemies on Capitol Hill than McCarthy (so far) and there don’t appear to be any hardline GOP members threatening his speakership (yet), but the new speaker is facing the same challenge of uniting a disparate conference around a spending plan with only days to spare. 

After burning three weeks in a bitter battle over who would be the next speaker, House leadership has only a handful of working days to come up with a passable, short-term continuing resolution (CR) before the government runs out of money after midnight next Friday. “I’m not going to tell you when we will bring it to the floor, but it will be in time,” Johnson said earlier this week when asked about a CR. “Trust us: We’re working through the process in a way that I think that people will be proud of.” In a Tuesday GOP conference meeting, Johnson outlined three options: (1) a so-called “laddered” CR that funds different portions of the government for different periods, (2) a traditional CR that funds the government until January, or (3) failing to pass anything and getting “jammed by the Senate.” 

As of yesterday, the speaker seemed to be leaning toward the laddered—or two-tiered—approach. The proposal is the brainchild of GOP Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus (HFC), and would fund part of the government—reportedly four separate appropriations bills potentially including defense spending—until one date, possibly January, and the remaining appropriations until a separate date, possibly February. The goal of having bills on different deadlines would be to split up negotiations over spending and avoid an end-of-year omnibus spending package. The laddered approach appears to have support from some of the HFC members, including Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Ken Buck of Colorado. “The idea, I think, is to stagger the CR so you’re not inviting or appearing to implicitly endorse an [omnibus] at any point,” Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, a fellow HFC member, said last week.

But a laddered CR, an approach with little precedent in past spending fights, has its fair share of Republican skeptics—in both chambers. “Having never heard of it before, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, vice chair of the Senate GOP conference, said earlier this week. “I think it would be confusing and difficult to manage.” Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine agreed, saying it could create “the possibility of more than one government shutdown.” When asked on Monday what a laddered CR is, Rep. Tom Cole, the Republican chair of the Rules Committee and vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, said, “I really don’t know”—though he later signaled he’d support whatever strategy Johnson decided on. 

Democrats were far more blunt in their criticism of the novel concept. “That’s the craziest, stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chair of the Appropriations Committee. And Democratic House leadership signaled their caucus would only support a more typical CR. “We will only accept a clean continuing resolution that maintains the status quo to allow for continued negotiations around reaching a year-end spending agreement, consistent with the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act that Republicans themselves negotiated,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said on Wednesday.

Jeffries doesn’t have to worry about seeing a bill he doesn’t like just yet—as passing something Democrats would be willing to accept (or reject) is a step beyond where Republicans currently are in the process. For Johnson, step one is finding something that his conference can get behind to at least give Republicans a negotiating position. “They need to get something across the finish line,” said Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute and a former House Appropriation Committee staffer. “Because if they don’t do that, then it’s just an up-down vote on shutting down the government or eating whatever the Senate gives you, and that’s the choice McCarthy faced.”

The few confirmed details of the proposal—combined with the fact that Johnson hasn’t publicly decided between a traditional and a “laddered” CR—betrays the lack of consensus in the conference on basic strategy, nevermind what kind of bill could get a majority on the House floor. House leadership this week tried to bring two appropriations bills—including funding for Financial Services and General Government and Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development—up for a vote, but had to pull them from the floor when support fell apart. 

The internal implosion came from both wings of the party. More moderate Republicans objected to provisions that would have made significant cuts to Amtrak funding and blocked enforcement of a 2014 D.C. law preventing employment discrimination based on whether women have had abortions. Some GOP members opposed the bills because their amendments—which included cutting funding for a new FBI headquarters, reducing the White House press secretary’s salary to one dollar, and defunding the office of Vice President Kamala Harris—failed.

The run of messaging amendments made clear that a portion of the Republican conference remains content to obstruct House leadership’s efforts to fund the government. “I think there’s a honeymoon period here,” GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said yesterday. “But with what’s going on on the floor today, I think that indicates the honeymoon might be shorter than we thought.”

And just like in the halcyon (Kevin) McCarthy era, this obstruction might be some members’ optimal scenario. “There’s plenty of people who are getting exactly what they need out of the politics right now,” Glassman told TMD.

Most of the Republican conference seems eager to avoid a government shutdown in light of the past month of chaos in the lower chamber, but with such a slim majority, Johnson can only afford to lose a handful of members. As lobbyist and former Republican campaign operative Liam Donovan points out, the key question remains: “Does your marginal House Republican hardliner see more value in declaring victory and taking incremental wins where they exist, or in ensuring losses that they can rail against and blame everyone else for?” The House adjourned for the long holiday weekend, and Johnson will need to produce his CR soon if he wants to abide by the 72-hour rule—which gives lawmakers three days to read the legislation before voting on it. 

There’s some good news for Johnson, at least: For now, his job doesn’t look in jeopardy. Gaetz said this week that, while he wouldn’t vote for a clean CR, he doesn’t think Johnson will be ousted if he ultimately relies on Democratic votes to avoid a shutdown. Gaetz’s archnemesis agreed. “I don’t think anybody can make a motion to vacate for the rest of the term,” McCarthy said in an interview with CNN yesterday. Asked why he’s so confident Johnson won’t be ousted even if he relies on Democratic votes, the former speaker answered, “Who are you going to replace him with?”

Nevertheless, the fact that Johnson is in essentially the same position as McCarthy on spending negotiations speaks to the intractability of managing the Republican conference. As GOP Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas put it, “I don’t think the Lord Jesus himself could manage this group.”

Worth Your Time

  • A trove of undelivered letters to French sailors almost three centuries old revealed that some things—like complicated relationships with one’s in-laws—never change. “For 265 years, more than 100 letters written by family members to the men serving aboard the French warship Galatée languished in piles, still sealed with red wax because they never reached their intended recipients,” Ashley Strickland reported for CNN. “When the ship was captured by the British in 1758, during the Seven Years’ War, the crew was imprisoned and the letters, which just missed reaching the ship, were confiscated and handed over to the Admiralty of the British Royal Navy in London. Now, the letters have been opened and read for the first time, and their contents provide intriguingly rare historical context about a cross section of society at the time, said lead study author Renaud Morieux, professor of European history at Cambridge. Morieux was particularly captivated by a saga detailed across several letters: He uncovered missives from a mother anxious to hear directly from her son and others from his fiancée, who was stuck in the middle in an age-old family dynamic. The mother had used a scribe to send letters to her son, young sailor Nicolas Quesnel, complaining that he wrote more to his fiancée than her. ‘On the first day of the year (i.e. January 1st) you have written to your fiancée (…). I think more about you than you about me. (…) In any case I wish you a happy new year filled with blessings of the Lord. I think I am for the tomb, I have been ill for three weeks. Give my compliments to Varin (a shipmate), it is only his wife who gives me your news,’ his 61-year-old mother Marguerite included in her letter. Quesnel’s fiancée, Marianne, pleaded her future mother-in-law’s case in a separate letter to avoid awkwardness because Marguerite seemed to blame Marianne for the silent treatment from her son. ‘The black cloud has gone, a letter that your mother has received from you, lightens the atmosphere,’ Marianne wrote.”

Presented Without Comment

CNN: DOJ Announces Arrests in “High-End Brothel Network” Used by Elected Officials, Military Officers, and Others 

Also Presented Without Comment

Wall Street Journal: Washington Post Removes Hamas Cartoon After Backlash From Staff and Readers 

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Nick unpacked (🔒) all that Vivek Ramaswamy has to gain by staying in the GOP presidential primary and Sarah and Mike checked in on the House impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. 
  • On the podcasts: In a special edition of the Dispatch Podcast, Steve and Jonah take over a Manhattan bar to recap the third GOP debate. To listen to the Q&A portion of the live taping, head over to The Skiff (🔒). 
  • On the site: Citing Edmund Burke, Roger Scruton, and Michel Foucault, Megan Dent explores the anti-Zionist rhetoric of the far left.

Let Us Know

If you were in Mike Johnson’s shoes, how would you wrangle enough cats (elephants?) to pass a bill to fund the government for more than a few weeks?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.