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It’s Russia and China against the world—maybe.

Happy Friday! The House is set to hold yet another vote for speaker later this morning. Some less-sophisticated publications have labeled the process a dumpster fire. We, however, have chosen to call it a Wednesday afternoon in South Haven, Michigan.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Defense Department said Thursday a U.S. warship stationed near Yemen intercepted and shot down three cruise missiles and several drones believed to have been fired by the Iranian-backed Houthi movement—and reportedly towards Israel. “We cannot say for certain what these missiles and drones were targeting,” said Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, “but they were launched from Yemen heading north along the Red Sea, potentially towards targets in Israel.” In response to growing demonstrations across the Middle East, the U.S. announced on Wednesday it has closed its consulate in Turkey “until further notice.”
  • President Joe Biden delivered a prime-time address from the Oval Office on Thursday night, announcing plans to send Congress a budget request to support both Israel and Ukraine’s ongoing war efforts. “I know these conflicts can seem far away, and it’s natural to ask: Why does this matter to America?” Biden said. “History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction. They keep going. And the cost and the threats to America and the world keep rising.” Biden also underscored the need to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza being used by Hamas as “human shield,” and denounced recent antisemitic and Islamophobic events in the U.S. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that humanitarian aid from Israel to Gaza would be blocked until Hamas returned all hostages—though a limited amount of supplies from Egypt will be allowed into the territory.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on Thursday plans to build an economic corridor linking Beijing and Moscow through Mongolia in order to foster “robust” economic ties. Xi’s announcement came as part of a foreign relations blitz for Russia. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met with Putin in China this past week—prompting criticism from Hungary’s NATO allies, who raised security concerns amid Russia’s war with Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Thursday, decrying U.S. foreign policy toward North Korea as “dangerous.” 
  • A resolution to temporarily empower Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry stalled out in a GOP conference meeting on Thursday, as representatives debated whether to nominate House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan for the third time. “We made the pitch to members on the resolution as a way to lower the temperature and get back to work,” said Jordan, who has already lost two full floor votes for the gavel, after a reportedly heated conference meeting. “We decided that wasn’t where we’re going to go. I’m still running for speaker, and I plan to go to the floor and get the votes and win this race.” A third floor vote has been scheduled for this morning at 10 a.m.
  • Continued strong economic growth could hamper efforts to curb inflation, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a speech on Thursday. “Additional evidence of persistently above-trend growth, or that tightness in the labor market is no longer easing, could put further progress on inflation at risk and could warrant further tightening of monetary policy,” he said. Though the Fed has signaled it probably won’t raise interest rates yet again at its next policy meeting in a few weeks, it is leaving the option open, in case additional hikes are needed to bring inflation back to its 2 percent goal. Environmental protesters disrupted the start of the speech, prompting security to escort Powell out of the room while they removed the disturbance.
  • Sidney Powell, once an attorney for former President Donald Trump, pleaded guilty on Thursday to illegally conspiring to overturn 2020 election results in Georgia. As part of the plea deal, Powell must serve six years of probation, pay several thousand dollars in fines, submit a formal apology letter to the citizens of Georgia, and—most notably—testify at the hearings of her co-defendants, including Trump. Powell is the second of nineteen co-defendants to accept a plea deal requiring testimony in future hearings.
  • Sen. Laphonza Butler of California, who was appointed earlier this month by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat, announced on Thursday that she will not run for a full term in 2024. Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, and Katie Porter—as well as former baseball player Steve Garvey on the Republican side—are currently running for the seat.

Putting the ‘Limits’ in ‘No-Limits’

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin prepare for a group photo with other leaders at the Third Belt and Road Forum on October 18, 2023 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Suo Takekuma-Pool/Getty Images)
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin prepare for a group photo with other leaders at the Third Belt and Road Forum on October 18, 2023 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Suo Takekuma-Pool/Getty Images)

We heard friendship bracelets are all the rage this year, so maybe it’s time Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin made their constant declarations of eternal affection official with an exchange of homemade jewelry. 

The two leaders definitely weren’t short on displays of admiration this week when Putin arrived in Beijing to a warm welcome from Xi. The trip marked only the second venture outside of Russia for Putin since this past March, when the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest over alleged war crimes committed during Russia’s war with Ukraine. Putin, increasingly isolated from the West, was seeking additional support from his “no-limits” partner in Xi—who has, in fact, put some significant limits on the extent to which he is willing to help Russia’s war effort. Even as the relationship remains strong, the friendly reception belied some of the daylight between the two leaders—on the invasion of Ukraine and each nation’s stake in the Israel-Hamas war. 

Their meeting came as the Ukrainian counteroffensive, now several months old, still looks for a breakthrough in the dug-in Russian defensive line. The Ukrainian military has notched a few victories, retaking villages around Bakhmut and Orikhiv, south of Zaporizhzhia, in particular.

Map via the Institute for the Study of War and American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project

This week, Kyiv’s forces used U.S.-supplied Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS)—a long-range missile system that has been at the top of Ukraine’s wishlist since Russia’s initial invasion in February 2022—to strike Russian assets in occupied territory. But even with the addition of such weapons, Ukrainian forces seem unlikely to achieve their goal of reaching the Sea of Azov before the fall and winter weather sets in, potentially stalling any further progress. 

While that may be beneficial for Russia in the short term—as the Ukraine-skeptical position gains strength in the U.S. and Europe, and the prospect of a more Russia-friendly Republican returning to the White House grows—it’s not an unalloyed good for Putin, said Mark Cozad, a senior international defense researcher at RAND Corporation. This trip to Beijing follows a meeting last month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which seems to have resulted in shipments of weapons from Pyongyang to Moscow, likely with strings attached. “I don’t just take that for granted, that [the protracted conflict] is a Russian strength,” Cozad told TMD. “Obviously going to the North Koreans, the Russians are almost surely going to have to give something up. … The North Koreans are not going to give large amounts of weapons without some kind of quid pro quo there.”

But even as Putin forges a stronger relationship with Xi’s neighbor, his “best friend” is still the Chinese president. Putin joined more than 100 representatives from countries across the globe this week in descending on Beijing to mark the tenth anniversary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative—Xi’s global infrastructure-as-diplomacy program that has been a key part of Beijing’s foreign policy, and has provided mixed results for its beneficiaries.  

Even with all those people to greet, Xi still spent three hours Wednesday in a one-on-one meeting with his “dear friend” Putin and offered the Russian president the speech immediately following his keynote address to the forum. (Several European officials present at the event walked out when Putin began speaking.) “He’s spending one-eighth of his total day with his good friend Vlad, who he refers to as ‘my dear friend,’ as well—a term he reserves for only a very select few in the world,” Jeremy Chan, a China and geopolitics analyst at the Eurasia Group, told TMD. “So clearly, [there are] signals in both directions that the relationship is on the rails, that these guys are getting along.”

While signaling a warm relationship between the two leaders is a diplomatic end in itself, Putin also came to Beijing with some requests, almost certainly including lethal aid for the fight in Ukraine—something his Chinese counterpart has so far been unwilling to provide despite their “no-limits” declaration just prior to the full-scale invasion. 

There was no evidence Xi’s position changed after their meeting. While Putin, in a solo press conference following the meeting, said he’d “informed Chairman [Xi] about the situation that is developing on the Ukrainian track,” the official Chinese readout didn’t mention Ukraine specifically at all. “China supports [the] people of Russia in following their choice of path to national rejuvenation and in safeguarding sovereignty, security, and development interests of the country,” read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ statement, in the standard vague language of Chinese foreign policy. 

The language was probably somewhat disappointing to Moscow. “I think Putin is definitely wanting more than what Xi is willing to provide,” Cozad told TMD. “But I also think the sort of political theater this provides, the political messaging this provides for Putin is also very important.”

For China, offering weapons or a full-throated endorsement of Russia’s invasion could attract the further ire of the U.S. and its allies at a time when tensions are already high. Just this week, the Defense Department published declassified images and video showing more than a dozen instances of “coercive and risky” maneuvers by Chinese aircraft since 2022, some of which depicted People’s Liberation Army jets coming within 20 feet of American military planes. In an unprecedented statement on Wednesday, the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance—composed of the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand—jointly condemned Chinese intellectual property theft and spying efforts that “went beyond traditional espionage.” One day later, some dozen Chinese jets entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, the latest in a string of now-common provocations against the island that China claims as its territory. 

But just because China won’t risk sanctions itself doesn’t mean Xi is leaving his friend out in the cold. Economic ties between Beijing and the heavily sanctioned and deeply isolated Russia were front-and-center in both leaders’ statements, and have been crucial for Moscow since it invaded Ukraine. “In terms of China’s willingness to buy Russian energy and raw materials, and the economic trade that’s going back between the two—that’s really propping up the Russian economy,” Cozad told TMD. “We can’t understate that. That is definitely what is allowing the Russian war machine to continue.”

As Putin was meeting Xi, President Joe Biden was in Tel Aviv, offering support to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel was met with tepid reactions from Moscow and Beijing, both of which urged restraint, backed a ceasefire resolution at the United Nations Security Council, and refused to explicitly condemn Hamas. “All these external factors are common threats, and they strengthen Russian-Chinese cooperation,” Putin said Wednesday, confirming he and Xi had discussed the situation in Israel. He also indicated he’d be ordering patrols of Russian military jets over the Black Sea in an effort to monitor U.S. military action in the Mediterranean—which is meant to support Israel and to deter Iran from entering the war, either itself or by proxy. This American-Iranian conflict directly affects Russia, which has been receiving drones from Iran to prosecute its war in Ukraine. 

Putin may be hoping the war pulls global attention away from his ongoing invasion, but for China’s part, per Chan of the Eurasia Group, there’s “real trepidation … among academics and some of the rank and file bureaucracy” about the Middle East conflict, particularly in a region where China had made diplomatic efforts to assert itself. China brokered a deal earlier this year for the Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia to normalize relations, which Beijing hailed as a significant achievement. “Within six months this conflagration blows up in Israel, and it really shows the limits of China’s ‘Global Security Initiative’ and China’s broader kind of foreign policy tilt where it’s telling both sides, ‘Hey stop fighting, respect each other’s sovereignty, and let us know when you want to trade some more with us,’” Chan said. “Of course that’s not a complete offer. That’s not going to resolve this issue here.”

Worth Your Time

  • Congressional Republicans’ drawn-out, public feud over their next speaker for many has become an exercise in futility—confrontation for confrontation’s sake. In a piece for The Atlantic, Philip Wallach of the American Enterprise Institute recalls how Newt Gingrich, as speaker, utilized confrontation as a force for good. “Gingrich’s catechism of confrontation has become an embedded tradition among House Republicans,” he writes. “But as it has been passed down, it has become hollowed out and fetishized. Gingrich’s clashes were in service of a party and a positive program. His descendants often seem to want confrontation for its own sake, even as it is ripping their party asunder and pushing policy away from their preferences. If House Republicans want to find their way back to being a functional party—and that is not a given—they will have to master their urge to fight.”

Presented Without Comment

New York Post: White House Posts—Then Deletes—Photo Outing Special Operators Working to Free Hamas Hostages

“As soon as this was brought to our attention, we immediately deleted the photo,” a White House spokesperson said. “We regret the error and any issues this may have caused.”

Pleased to Meet You

A big thank you to everyone who joined us at Franklin Hall in Washington, D.C., last night. We had a blast, and hope you did too!

(via Ryan Brown of The Dispatch)
(via Ryan Brown of The Dispatch)

Toeing the Company Line

  • The Skiff (🔒), a one-stop destination for all of our bonus podcast content, is officially live! Available for paying Dispatch members only, this feed will host audio versions of Dispatch Live, the Dispatch Book Club, High Steaks, Q&As with Jonah, extended debates between hosts, and a whole lot more. Click here for more information—including a how-to video from Jonah, the most tech-savvy person on staff—about how to add The Skiff to your podcast player of choice.
  • In the newsletters: Mike and Sarah analyzed Sidney Powell’s plea deal, and Nick extracted a few lessons from Jim Jordan’s humiliation.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah, Steve, Chris, and David French discussed the latest from the war in Israel and Western media’s coverage of it. On a second episode of The Dispatch Podcast, Adaam speaks with Adva, whose sister was at the Nova music festival in southern Israel and is still missing after Hamas’ attack, about her efforts to get more information, the shock, and life after the horror.
  • On the site: Paul Miller asks whether Israel is the exception to the argument against nationalism, Haley talks with GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy about a recent bipartisan delegation to China, and Jeryl Bier tracked all the New York Times’ missteps in its coverage of the Gaza hospital explosion.

Let Us Know

Do you think there are actually realistic limits to the China-Russia partnership?

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.