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Power Rankings: Biden claims top spot, McCarthy cracks top three

GOP chairmen rank fifth, but lack of evidence would bring a tumble

President Joe Biden  greets Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., before delivering the State of the Union address in the House Chamber on Feb. 7.
President Joe Biden greets Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., before delivering the State of the Union address in the House Chamber on Feb. 7. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers return next week for a legislative session that will feature one or both chambers in session for five consecutive weeks, but don’t expect much actual legislating.

When they get back to town, lawmakers will find a president on a roll — at home and abroad. They are not expected to send him any major bills any time soon, but the dynamics of who the big players will be later this year when they must are starting to take shape.

Here is the latest version of your columnist’s Political Power Rankings — and there are many changes at the top.

Top of the mountain

(1) President Joe Biden: Powerful moments, an unexpected domestic spending bill last fall and some crafty State of the Union negotiating — and the return of “Scranton Joe” at home and abroad — have fueled his methodical rise in these rankings.

Biden’s presidency was sputtering last June, when your columnist ranked him ninth, ahead of only Donald Trump. But by September’s version, Biden had moved up to sixth — and, with the hindsight that House Republicans would not win as many seats as initially projected, could have been ranked as high as fifth.

As predicted here, Biden has pivoted hard to foreign policy as prospects to pass major legislation have faded due to the GOP’s House majority. Those powerful moments included his declaration about future Chinese spy balloons flying over U.S. territory: “Make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down.”

Next came his dramatic Monday train trip to Kiev. Air raid sirens blared during his time on the ground there, warning of a possible Russian strike. The next day, he delivered an impassioned speech in Warsaw, Poland that included this message to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Autocrats only understand one word: No. No, no. No, you will not take my country. No, you will not take my freedom. No, you will not take my future.

“Ukraine, Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia,” Biden said. “Never.”

(2) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: The Kentucky Republican just hangs around the top three. That’s vintage Mitch. He seems fine to allow his House counterpart to try working out a debt ceiling deal with the White House.

But he’s ranked high because McConnell will end up playing a big role in any final deal.

What’s more, he’s a fundraising powerhouse. The PAC to which he’s linked, the Senate Leadership Fund, spent $290.9 million during the 2022 cycle. That’s not chump change. It had $3.8 million on hand on Dec. 31, the last reporting deadline, so the powerhouse will need to gear up again.

(3) Speaker Kevin McCarthy: The man who finally secured the gavel in a dramatic late-night vote last month was ranked fifth in September’s Power Rankings. McCarthy gave away some authorities of his office and some sway of the powerful political action committee to which GOP leaders are closely aligned, the Congressional Leadership Fund. The CLF spent $260 million during the 2022 cycle, and had $959,621 on hand as of Dec. 31, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The raucous State of the Union address during which House Republicans heckled Biden, some loudly calling him a “liar,” suggested McCarthy will never be able to tame many on the far right of his conference. But he rebounded by getting the Republican House panels organized and the Biden probes underway.

What’s more, McCarthy is negotiating directly with the president of the United States about how to avert a first-ever federal debt default. And McCarthy has not been shy about reminding members of his caucus that he’s in the room with Biden, not them. That’s power.

But his questionable decision to release security camera footage of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot to Fox News provocateur Tucker Carlson knocked him from No. 2 to No. 3, undercutting his claims he intends a serious speakership and giving credence to Democratic critiques that he will be too beholden to his far-right flank.

Best of the rest

(4) Sen. Joe Manchin III: Though your correspondent has made a case against calling Manchin, unranked in September’s list, the “shadow president,” the moderate Democrat continues finding ways to inject himself in every major legislative matter.

He’s even keeping the embers warm about whether or not he might run for president in 2024, which would pit him against Biden in a primary fight with the president reportedly leaning toward seeking a second term. A Wednesday radio interview in West Virginia brought some vintage Manchin. “I’m not running for president of the United States. I can assure you of that as we sit here today,” he said before saying “that’s fair” when the host said he thinks Manchin is still mulling a 2024 run.

On the debt ceiling, Manchin has something in common with Biden, the actual president: He has held one-on-one talks with McCarthy. He has even urged Biden to avoid a “mistake” by failing to negotiate with Republicans.

(5) GOP Reps. James R. Comer & Jim Jordan: The Kentuckian (Comer) who chairs the Oversight and Accountability Committee has gotten a surprising amount of media coverage, something to which the Ohioan (Jordan) is much more accustomed. Both are making their Power Rankings debuts.

House Republicans’ first few hearings in their Biden investigations haven’t gone as well as they planned. Democrats at one countered with evidence, for instance, that Trump administration officials pressured Twitter to muffle posts to help their boss.

Comer is a major reason the duo is this high — for now. He keeps promising “evidence” that will show all kinds of Biden family corruption. To keep the ranking, though, we’ll need to see some soon. But Comer has been critical of Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former White House aide, and is promising to craft legislation to tighten ethics laws. That’s interesting enough for the No. 5 spot.

“You know, Americans are outraged that China flew a balloon over the United States. Americans are outraged that China is trying to buy farmland. I think Americans would be outraged to know how much money the Biden family has taken in from China,” he told ABC News on Feb. 12. “Now I don’t disagree with the Democrats and their criticism of the previous administration. We have a problem here that needs a legislative solution. There’s a legislative solution to this, and it can be bipartisan. The Democrats complained about Kushner’s foreign dealings.”

(6) House Freedom Caucus: This band of rabble-rousing conservatives was not on the last rankings list, but has gotten busy with the rather mundane work of legislating via their seats on the Rules Committee and other panels.

But with just a five-seat GOP majority, the group has more than enough votes to put a kink in McCarthy’s chain on any bill. How long will this restless bunch hold their fire while helping to craft floor rules or sitting through hours upon hours of testimony about spending bills? Boredom seems inevitable for a bunch that came to Washington riding a wave of anger about how Washington legislates.

(7) Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: Despite picking up a seat in November’s midterms, Schumer falls from the top spot. Gone is his streak from the fall, which included several legislative wins.

The chamber lumbered at getting organized, only recently being able to hold hearings in the 118th Congress. Scant legislation is even available for floor votes, making the chamber a slow-motion mechanism for confirming Biden’s judicial and executive branch nominees.

Schumer and his caucus face an uphill climb in the 2024 elections, but the Senate Majority PAC had $10.3 million on hand as of Dec. 31 after spending $327.3 million in the 2022 cycle, according to OpenSecrets.gov.

Hangin’ around

(8) Senate Intelligence Committee: Making their Power Rankings debuts, Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have lost their patience with the Biden administration over classified documents investigations and all the things it has shot out of the sky with little explanation.

There is a chance for some truly meaningful — and rare — national security oversight. Will they deliver?

(9) House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries: There is not much to say here, other than the New York Democrat managed to get his caucus organized. He also held them together during each speaker ballot vote on the House floor, an impressive debut.

But Jeffries has some work to do to refill the coffers of a PAC closely aligned with leadership. The House Majority PAC had $444,975 on hand as of Dec. 31 — that won’t go very far, considering it spent $95.6 million in the 2022 cycle.

(10) Donald Trump: The 45th president would like to be the 47th. He debuted in these Power Rankings in the No. 10 spot, before climbing to No. 8 in September. But his potential legal problems have only intensified since then, and his 2024 presidential campaign has been underwhelming so far.

Trump’s Truth Social posts and public comments are as difficult to understand and dissect as ever. And he lacks a coherent campaign theme or message — spending most of his public posts and utterances airing grievances about his many foes and spreading falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election.

He has steadily ramped up his public jabs at the man he says would not have been elected Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, without his endorsement, dubbing him “Ron DeSanctimonious.” And though he leads former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley by 40 points or more in most polls, Trump felt a need to try diminishing her after she announced a 2024 bid for the GOP nomination last week.

Methodology: CQ Roll Call compiled the rankings using a metric including poll numbers, fundraising, strategic legislative wins and potential wins, court decisions, endorsements of and victories by political candidates, caucus chaos and overall influence.

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which first appeared in the subscription-only CQ Senate newsletter.

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