Our Best Stuff From a Week of Congressional Chaos

Israeli forces take security measures in Sderot, Israel, as clashes between Palestinian groups and Israeli forces continue near Israel-Gaza border on October 7, 2023. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Good afternoon. The past week was one for the ages, even by the standards of our dysfunctional and chaotic era. But congressional squabbles, however historic, pale in comparison to the news we woke up to Saturday. 

Israel is at war once again, after Hamas launched a surprise attack on the country from the Gaza Strip. The terrorist group fired thousands of rockets into Israel and sent gunmen into more than 20 towns in southern Israel. Early reports indicate that hundreds of  Israelis have died and more than 1,000  were wounded. The attack came on the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War that pitted Israel against a group of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. Israel has responded to the latest violence swiftly with strikes of its own. Officials in Gaza report that at least 230 Palestinians have been killed, and more than 1,600 injured, though that number should be expected to increase dramatically in the coming days.

According to CNN, Israel is preparing for attacks from the north, possibly from Lebanon or Syria. “The IDF is concerned about a possible attack coming from the northern countries of Lebanon or Syria, [Israel Defense Force spokesman Richard] Hecht said. ‘We are ready in the north [in] case there is some Palestinian faction, in case they decide to come into it we will be ready, something we are looking at and we are ready for it.’”

This violence comes during a tenuous time in the Middle East. Our very own Charlotte Lawson, who is now based in Tel Aviv, recently reported on ongoing negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel to normalize relations. Her piece focused on a trip made by a Saudi delegation to the West Bank, which “suggests the kingdom is trying to secure concessions for the Palestinians as part of its own peace with Israel.” There’s just one problem: “the deteriorating legitimacy of Palestinian leadership, both among its own people and in the entire region, could stand in the way.” Palestinians are frustrated with their own leaders, they feel betrayed by the Arab world, and violence between Israel and Palestinians has been on the rise in the West Bank. 

Looming over all of this is, of course, Iran. In fact, the Israeli ambassador to the Russian Federation has declared,“Israel considers Iran responsible for the actions of Hamas.” The Iranians back not only Hamas but Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon (and explains why the IDF is worried about attacks from the north). And they’ve been particularly bellicose lately, as we noted in a recent Morning Dispatch covering Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s address before the United Nations General Assembly. In response to the attacks Saturday, members of the Iranian Parliament chanted “Death to America! Death to Israel!”

Don’t expect a quick resolution to this conflict: A former Israeli military spokesman has called this a “Pearl Harbor type of moment for Israel.” You can expect to see more in-depth coverage of the new war between Israel and Hamas in Monday’s TMD, and Charlotte will also be reporting from Israel. Thanks for reading. Now, about the week we just had … 

Kevin McCarthy Embraced Partisanship—at His Own Peril

The headline on Uphill sums up this week’s chaos in Congress succinctly. Kevin McCarthy made a devil’s deal to take possession of the speaker’s gavel in January, and it came back to haunt him. As Haley writes, “He elevated hardline Republicans to positions of power, allied himself closely with conspiracy mongers and secession-friendly members like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and changed the rules to make [Rep. Matt} Gaetz’s rebellion possible.” The biggest rule change, of course, was allowing a single member to bring a motion to vacate the speakership, making McCarthy beholden to Gaetz. As a government shutdown loomed, Gaetz played hardball, forcing McCarthy to work with the Democrats to pass a continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown. Then Gaetz used that as justification to introduce his motion to vacate. When eight Republicans voted for the motion and no Democrats came to McCarthy’s rescue, the ousted speaker turned his fire on the Democrats. But that was the risk McCarthy took when, after initially blaming Donald Trump for January 6, he ventured to Mar a Lago to make nice, and then blamed law enforcement and Nancy Pelosi for failing to protect the Capitol. And then a few weeks ago he launched an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. “It’s abundantly clear now that McCarthy’s strategy of appeasement isn’t enough to manage the GOP conference’s right flank,” she writes. 

It’s Time to Hide the Sausage-Making

Jonah has long been a critic of our primary election system, arguing that it rewards the loudest and most extremes. It’s hard to argue with him when you can see the results of those loud and extreme candidates winning seats in Congress. And in his Wednesday G-File, he argues that a little less transparency could have prevented the chaos we saw this week. What if, he asks, the vote to boot McCarthy would have been conducted by secret ballot? “I can imagine that there are a good number of Problem Solver Caucus types and other Democratic moderates who could have been convinced to reject Gaetz’s gambit, as a way to send a signal that the fringes shouldn’t run the show. 

Indeed, rewarding McCarthy for using Democratic votes to keep the government open by rejecting the MTV makes a lot of political sense to me. Outside of the primary and partisan media ecosystems, acting like a grown-up is a good look for both parties.”

Scalise, Jordan Emphasize Republican Unity in Speaker’s Race

With McCarthy out, the House is at a standstill until a new speaker is elected. The two leading candidates to replace him are House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and House Freedom Caucus co-founder and House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan. The Dispatch Politics team reports that Scalise has the inside track, given his leadership position and long history of building relationships within the caucus. But Jordan has earned the backing of Donald Trump and his allies say he can unify the conference. They write: “That this argument is plausible speaks to how far to the right the conference has lurched during the current Congress—not because its individual members have grown more radical, but because its most radical members have proven far more willing to flex their procedural muscles than their counterparts on the supposedly more pragmatic wing.”

Here’s the best of the rest:

  • Why do Americans keep saying the economy is bad while economists keep telling us things are just fine? Scott Lincicome explains in Capitolism: While the indicators that economists look at are largely positive—GDP is up, the labor market’s in good shape, and there are no klaxon alarms sounding about a recession—the past couple of years of inflation mean that we’re still paying a lot more for everyday goods. And that hits home more than GDP numbers. 
  • What if, instead of nuking the filibuster that makes it so hard to get anything done in the Senate, Congress just reformed it? Thomas Harvey and Thomas Koenig, have an interesting proposal for doing so. 
  • Charlotte has a fascinating and deeply reported piece about Iranian efforts to establish a network of Iranian American academics to try to influence U.S. policy on Iran. Two members of that network ended up working for Biden Iran envoy Rob Malley, and Malley relied on a third as an informal adviser after that candidate failed to garner a security clearance. And Malley himself has had his security clearance suspended while federal investigators look into allegations that he mishandled classified information. 
  • Most weeks, a former president being in court for a fraud trial would be the biggest story but … we live in interesting times. Luckily, Kevin is paying attention to Donald Trump’s fraud trial in New York and has a lengthy and colorful explanation of why it’s a big deal in Wanderland.
  • The pods! William Baude, one of the professors behind a forthcoming law review article arguing that Donald Trump is ineligible to serve as president under the 14th Amendment, joined David and Sarah on Advisory Opinions to discuss the issue. On The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Steve, and Jonah discuss the mess in Congress, Joe Biden’s new border wall, and more. And if you’re fed up with our present, check out Jonah’s conversation with AEI’s Jim Pethokoukis about what changes technology will bring to our future and how that might affect conservatism.
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