Our Best Stuff From the Week We Got a Speaker

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson prepares to address the House chamber after winning the speakership on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

Hello and happy Sunday. A common dilemma in the Ohio bureau is what to do for dinner when we can’t or don’t want to cook. My husband and I might want Chinese, but one kid will want wings and the other two might want pizza but insist on entirely different pizzerias. Eventually, we just pile in the car and go out for Mexican. No one gets what they really wanted, but dinner is served. Sound familiar?

After three weeks of chaos and dysfunction, House Republicans sighed, rolled their eyes and settled on Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana to be the new speaker of the House. Johnson helped lead efforts to overturn the 2020 election—which is something that some lawmakers held against Rep. Jim Jordan while voting to deny him the speakership. Johnson’s been a vocal supporter of Ukraine—though his voting record may not reflect that—which annoys the Matt Gaetzes and Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the House Republican conference. But somehow, Republicans put aside their differences and voted unanimously on Wednesday to make Johnson the speaker. 

Johnson wasn’t as well-known as some of the other speaker candidates who came forward after Democrats voted with eight hardline Republicans to oust Kevin McCarthy earlier this month. Michael Warren has some background: “[Johnson] is known internally for promoting conservative policies on abortion and same-sex marriage, yet is regarded highly even by his more socially moderate colleagues as a trustworthy person. His most notable act before becoming speaker was as the architect of an amicus brief in January 2021 supporting a Texas lawsuit to throw out the 2020 presidential election results in four states won by Joe Biden—a last-ditch effort to block the counting of the electoral votes.”

The Friday Dispatch Politics newsletter highlighted Johnson’s work for Alliance Defending Freedom and noted he has been criticized by the left for his stances on gay rights. “Of more immediate concern isn’t where Johnson would have weighed in on the fights of the 2000s, but how he’ll shepherd Republicans through the fights dividing them today,” the team wrote, noting that Johnson is somewhat hawkish on Ukraine but wants to keep any assistance to Israel and Ukraine separated.

In Uphill (🔒), Haley noted that, although Johnson has vowed to decentralize power in the chamber, that other speakers have said the same thing upon assuming the role. Paul Ryan relied on closed rules, and he blocked members from offering amendments to legislation, an approach that Nancy Pelosi used herself. Haley also spoke with Josh Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, about how the role of the speaker has shifted over the years. 

What does Johnson’s victory tell us about the state of the GOP? Nothing good, according to Nick. He looked at (🔒) GOP speakers from the recent past, starting with John Boehner, “an old-guard establishmentarian elevated awkwardly to speaker by a populist Tea Party revolution,” and imagined them along an evolutionary chart. “If McCarthy was an establishmentarian willing to rubber-stamp post-liberalism for his own selfish purposes, we might expect the next leader to be a committed, proactive post-liberal capable of looking and sounding reassuringly establishment. With Mike Johnson’s election as speaker, that’s just what we’ve got.”

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your Sunday.

Anti-Zionism Is Antisemitism at Scale

Kevin wondered if the folks who make a distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism have really thought it through. After all, “Anti-Zionism is the rejection of the idea of a Jewish state.” But Israel isn’t a hypothetical or thought experiment—a matter to be debated over beers and pizza in a college dorm room. He wrote: “It isn’t an argument against a political persuasion: Anti-Zionism means war on a real nation, one that actually exists, one that is full of real people with real families. …  Israel is not a passing historical whimsy. Israel is a fact. It is a lie to pretend that eliminating that fact means anything other than naked violence. Hamas may lie to the world about many things, but it is, at the very least, honest about its ultimate aims.”   

No Confidence

How hard can it be for an incumbent president to defeat an opponent he has already beaten once and who has been indicted four times in federal and state court? Pretty darn hard, Joe Biden is finding out. And the fact that the polling is so close—Nick noted in Boiling Frogs (🔒) that Biden has led Trump by 1 point or less in 40 of the last 45 head-to-head polls tracked by RealClearPolitics—has some Democrats wondering about an alternative. Gov. Gavin Newson? Rep. Dean Phillips? Newsom says he’s not running, but if that’s the case, why has he been trotting around the globe, visiting Israel and China? Meanwhile, Phillips, a third-term congressman from Minnesota, announced his campaign on Friday, and has cited Biden’s age and concerns about his electability as a reason for running. Nick writes: “The fact that one mainstream Democrat will soon be in the race while another is circling overhead like a vulture suggests a certain lack of confidence in the presumptive nominee. … The root of Democratic despair isn’t that the president is failing at the job, I don’t think. It’s that even his apparent successes aren’t doing anything to improve his numbers. His chances at a second term increasingly feel like a pure dice-roll on whether Americans hate Trump so much that they’d rather reelect a geriatric incumbent whom they no longer deem fit for the job.”

I Ignored Baseball for Decades. What It Means to Me This Year. 

Me, personally? I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the new rules implemented by Major League Baseball (the defensive shift was an interesting innovation). But it’s hard to argue against the pitch clock, which has helped reduce the length of the average game by roughly 30 minutes. That has brought back fans like Paul D. Miller. He started this piece by recalling his own experiences as both a player and fan during his childhood, and how he gave up on the sport. But pandemic boredom sent him down to the basement to dig out his baseball card collection. And now that he’s paying attention again, he likes what he sees and appreciates that baseball realized it needed to work hard to earn fans back. “Now every baseball player and manager seems self-conscious about smiling, waving to the crowds, signing autographs, and doing silly celebratory dances when they get a hit or a home run,” he wrote. “They know that baseball needs to be healthy and fun to stay alive for the next generation.” If only his beloved Dodgers hadn’t stumbled early in the postseason.

Here’s the best of the rest:

  • The conflict between Hamas and Israel has prompted discussion of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Emma Rogers explained how the concepts are legally different and where they overlap.
  • Several co-defendants in the Georgia election fraud case have pleaded guilty in exchange for probation and small fines. In The Collision, Sarah and Michael Warren explained what that could mean for Donald Trump. 
  • Pop star Britney Spears published a memoir recently in which she described an abortion she had when she was younger as “agonizing.” Marvin Olasky looked around at how some media outlets handled her acknowledgment and how decades of media coverage have sought to minimize the emotional effects of abortion. 
  • On the pods: Sarah and David took reader questions on Advisory Opinions. On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang discussed Mike Johnson’s ascent to the speakership but also find time to weigh in on pro-Hamas Democrats and an incident in which Jewish college students were harrassed and threatened by pro-Palestinian activists. On The Remnant, Stirewalt filled in for a traveling Jonah, and he didn’t have to look too far to find a guest: David Drucker joined him to talk all things 2024. Have you checked out The Skiff? It’s our home for members-only bonus podcasts. This week, Sarah and Steve indulged in some rare media criticism after the dereliction of duty that marked the Gaza hospital bombing.
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