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At the Races: The cost of chaos

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This week’s leadership struggle in the House exposed deep rifts within the Republican Party and created a monumental headache for members of the party’s moderate wing.

The 18 Republicans who represent districts that Joe Biden won in 2020 have long sold themselves as political pragmatists who prefer to stay above the fray. 

“If we’re fighting ourselves to the death politically, we’re going to grow weaker,” Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, told Roll Call’s Jim Saksa nearly two years ago

But the current GOP infighting in Congress undercuts that image — and vulnerable Republicans aren’t happy. 

“They just derailed everything we are doing, the crisis at our southern border, the challenges with spending,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., said Wednesday on Newsmax, referring to Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who led the effort to push House Speaker Kevin McCarthy out of leadership, and the seven House Republicans who joined him. “All because of petty personal grievances. They’re an embarrassment and a disgrace to the party, and to the institution itself.”

A political ecosystem that rewards the agents of chaos over steady-as-you-go pragmatists could jeopardize the GOP’s slender House majority next year. Voters in suburban districts have shown little appetite for the antics of hard-liners such as Gaetz and the messy public squabbles that have fractured the party.

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a former NRCC chair, said he thought Republicans have time to move past their inner squabbles before primaries begin. 

“It’s far too early for us to discount the American people. Do we have to get our act together? Yes. Do we have to project what we’re for and gain that knowledge? Yes,” he said. “We do need to make a good decision now, but I don’t think that we’ve done anything to disqualify us.”

One thing Gaetz railed against on the floor this week, McCarthy’s ability to raise contributions from big-dollar donors, helped the party win its majority in 2022, and McCarthy bitterly told reporters that included money spent on some of the members who voted to oust him Tuesday.

The removal of a prolific fundraiser could present another problem for the centrists who had tried to tamp down efforts to use Congress as a defensive shield for former President Donald Trump or a spear to tar Biden ahead of 2024. But defunding the special counsel who indicted Trump is one of Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna’s conditions for the next speaker, and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leader of the probes into Biden’s son Hunter, is among those vying for the speaker’s gavel. 

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking toward another possible shutdown when the temporary spending bill that led to McCarthy’s downfall runs out on Nov. 17.

Starting gate

Remember the looming shutdown? Just five days ago, Biden signed a short-term spending bill that averted a partial government shutdown. As our colleagues Laura Weiss and David Lerman report, the Senate voted 88-9 to clear the House-passed, 48-day funding patch, which generally mirrors the Senate version except for one major omission: There’s no military or economic aid for Ukraine, setting the stage for another battle. And, as Laura and Aidan Quigley report, McCarthy’s ouster has significantly raised the odds of a November shutdown.

McHenry moves: Caitlin Reilly and Jim Saksa chart the progression of South Carolina Republican Rep. and Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry, from “a 29-year-old striver who quickly developed a reputation as a camera-hungry GOP attack-dog-in-waiting” to someone more focused on lawmaking than the limelight.

Cuellar carjacked: Rep. Henry Cuellar was carjacked at gunpoint this week in the Navy Yard neighborhood. The Texas Democrat wasn’t injured, and his car — along with his briefcase, his phone and his sushi dinner — was later recovered, reports Chris Marquette. Cuellar told reporters he used his training as a black belt in karate to assess the situation. A spokesman for the NRCC said the incident is a consequence of pro-crime policies supported by “extreme House Democrats.”

Meanwhile in the Senate: Laphonza Butler made history Tuesday when she was sworn in as the first Black lesbian member of the Senate. Butler will fill the seat left vacant by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death last week. She has not said whether she plans to run for a full term in 2024. 

Change of address: Democrats saw the order that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer vacate their Capitol hideaways as petty retaliation for not saving McCarthy from his own party. Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., said it was a matter of logistics, Justin Papp reports.

Rise and fall: McCarthy’s reign as speaker was the third-shortest in American history, and it started with a disappointing midterm election result.


Redistricting alert: A three-judge court in Alabama ordered the state to use a new map drawn by an outside expert Thursday after finding the state’s original map violated the Voting Rights Act, Michael Macagnone reports. The new map provides a second district where Black voters may decide the result and could result in another Democratic seat in the state.

Endorsement watch: The Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks for Maryland’s open Senate seat. In Arizona, Reproductive Freedom for All, formerly NARAL Pro-Choice America, is backing Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego for Arizona Senate. Their Future PAC is supporting two pediatricians: Democratic Reps. Yadira Caraveo of Colorado and Kim Schrier of Washington. For the open House seat in California’s 31st District, the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund is backing the return of former Rep. Gil Cisneros. Meanwhile, his rival for the Democratic nomination, state Sen. Bob Archuleta, picked up the support of the Teamsters Joint Council 42.

#OH13: Kevin Coughlin, a former state senator, announced he’s running in Ohio’s 13th Congressional District, joining fellow Republicans Chris Banweg, a local city council member, and attorney Greg Wheeler. The winner will face Democratic Rep. Emilia Sykes.

#PA10: In Pennsylvania’s 10th District, former local television anchor Janelle Stelson joins a crowded field of Democrats that includes retired Marine Mike O’Brien, Harrisburg City Council Member Shamaine Daniels, Army veteran Rick Coplen and retired Army Sgt. Bob Forbes. The central Pennsylvania seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Scott Perry, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus.

#WI3: State Rep. Katrina Shankland is the latest Democrat to announce a run against Republican Rep. Derrick Van Orden in one of the Badger State’s biggest battleground districts. Other Democrats hoping to unseat Van Orden include entrepreneur Rebecca Cooke and former La Crosse official Tara Johnson.   

#AZSEN: Republican Kari Lake, who was spotted in Washington this week, is in fact running for Senate in Arizona. The former gubernatorial candidate’s campaign filed paperwork with the FEC on Tuesday, a week ahead of a heavily advertised big announcement in the Phoenix area.

Docketed: A federal judge set a trial date for Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife for May 6, 2024. Menendez’s wife and alleged co-conspirator, Nadine Arslanian Menendez, struck and killed a man while driving her Mercedes-Benz in Bogota, N.J., in December 2018. The Record obtained the police report and dashcam footage from the crash. Arslanian Menendez, who married the Democratic senator in 2020, was not charged.

Justice’s books: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who is running for Senate, has said his finances are an open book, but he deflected questions from local reporters about his most recent financial disclosures, according to a report in The Weirton Daily Times. The newspaper dug into the complexities of Justice’s filing, which was submitted this week, “133 days past a May 15 deadline and 32 days past an Aug. 24 extension deadline.”  

What we’re reading

Bannon stirs the pot: From the basement of a Capitol Hill row house, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast stoked GOP division and pumped up McCarthy’s adversaries, according to an account in The New York Times. Bannon “offers an unfiltered platform where individual rabble-rousers can speak directly to the base.” 

From governor to mayor: Delaware Gov. John Carney told The News Journal he’s thinking about running for mayor of Wilmington. Should he run and win, he’d be following a path charted by former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who served as mayor of Oakland in between his two stints as the Golden State’s chief elected official. 

Neither rain nor snow…: Changes in voting brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have highlighted the vital role the U.S. Postal Service plays in American elections. The Independent looks at new research examining how “this archaic, lumbering and traditionally apolitical institution” could decide the next president.

Sobering portrait: The New York Times looks at the role alcohol has played in the unraveling of Rudy Giuliani’s political reputation and how his drinking has drawn the attention of federal prosecutors pursuing a federal election case against Trump.

Gulf Coast Dreams: The Washington Post visited Sarasota County, Fla., home to white sand beaches, an 85-foot boardwalk and a slew of Trump-aligned stars, from Michael Flynn to Charlie Kirk. The county has become “a cradle — and a proving ground — for the MAGAmerican dream,” the paper found.

The count: 1

That’s how many votes, on each of three different ballots, Trump got in January as the House worked its way toward finally electing McCarthy as speaker.

Nathan’s notes

The end of baseball’s regular season gives Nathan L. Gonzales a chance to assess whether a “war on woke” really had any impact on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Coming up

The three House Democrats running for Senate in California — Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff — will answer questions from reporters, including our newsroom’s Sandhya Raman, at a meeting of the National Union of Healthcare Workers on Oct. 8 in Los Angeles. Roll Call will carry the livestreams in English and Spanish, along with coverage that includes a debate transcript.

Photo finish

Flowers sit at the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s former seat during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. The funeral for California’s longest-serving woman senator is Thursday in San Francisco, the city where she was once mayor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023