For House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the Jan. 3 Speakership election is fast-approaching — and there’s a lot of legwork to be done before he steps in front of the chamber for the vote. As The Hill’s Emily Brooks reports, McCarthy is making overtures to his critics who threaten to keep him from the gavel, as well as mounting a forceful show of support.
But with House Republicans heading into the majority with only 222 seats to 212 for Democrats and one vacancy, the opposition could keep McCarthy from securing the gavel. He needs 218 votes, assuming all members are present and voting for a candidate. If he doesn’t secure that number, the process continues to a second ballot, and McCarthy’s critics gain an opportunity to add a different lawmaker into the mix.
McCarthy has been forceful in courting votes. After several of those withholding support from McCarthy said the House should block bills from GOP senators who vote for the omnibus government funding bill — which passed late last week — McCarthy gave a thumbs-up and pledged those bills would be “dead on arrival in the House” if he is Speaker. And in an acknowledgment of his critics’ call for a “Church-style” committee to investigate alleged government abuses, McCarthy called for such a probe into the FBI and CIA. The name is a reference to a 1975 Senate select committee that investigated intelligence agencies, named for former Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho).
At the same time, the California Republican is whipping up public support, compiling a list of 54 “Only Kevin” House GOP endorsers — some of whom discourage support for his most obvious potential challenger, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Scalise, for his part, has said he’s supporting McCarthy.
“Kevin’s going to get there, and he’s going to have a lot of meetings with members to make sure that we get this result on January 3,” Scalise said Friday.
But roadblocks remain, such as McCarthy not supporting restoring any member’s ability to make a “motion to vacate the chair” — something Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) says is her “red line” for support. The move forces a vote on ousting the Speaker, and while House Republicans adopted a rule that allows the motion to be brought up if half the conference agrees, McCarthy detractors want the bar to be lowered.
▪ The Hill: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) presses Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to go after the Speakership.
▪ The Washington Times: Scalise is waiting in the shadows as McCarthy struggles in his quest to become speaker.
Across the aisle, House Democrats are grappling with a question swirling around their own leadership hierarchy next year: Who is the No. 4 Democrat?
Most think the title falls to incoming assistant leader Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and powerful 30-year veteran lawmaker who played an instrumental role in President Biden’s 2020 win. But incoming vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus Ted Lieu (Calif.) is beginning to call that hierarchy into question.
While the vice chair has always been ranked just below the caucus chair, the caucus chair in the 118th Congress will be the No. 3 position, as Democrats enter minority status in the House. The Hill’s Mike Lillis reports on the confusing reshuffling of the pecking order.
▪ Politico: “A sea change”: Biden reverses decades of Chinese trade policy.
▪ Vox: An incomplete guide to this very weird year, in charts.
▪ Reuters: White House assails Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) over Christmas Eve migrant drop.
▪ Washington Monthly: The final triumph of the January 6. Committee — day 10.
LEADING THE DAY
While Democrats may still be fresh off a triumph in the 2022 fight for the Senate, they now face an even more difficult battle as they try to retain their majority in the next election as they defend nearly two dozen seats. Of the 33 contested 2024 Senate seats, 23 are held by members who caucus with Democrats, including a number in states that former President Trump won or nearly won. Republicans have their sights firmly set on taking down the likes of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and reversing the “candidate quality” issues that plagued them in 2022. The Hill’s Al Weaver breaks down issues to watch that could affect the battle for the Senate playing out over the next two years.
Along with mounting Senate challenges, Republican leaders are also urging their base to take a less skeptical stance on early and mail-in voting, The Hill’s Julia Manchester reports. The party suffered significant losses in the midterms in part due to a heavy reliance on in-person voting on Election Day. Chief in stoking skepticism about early and mail-in voting in 2020 and beyond was Trump, whose message played a key role in costing Republicans Senate seats in Georgia that year and in the 2022 midterms.
The task may be a tall order: according to a study from Pew Research conducted last year, 62 percent of Republicans said voters should only be allowed to vote early or absentee if they have a documented reason.
“While the RNC invested millions of dollars in trying to persuade voters to vote early, our ecosystem must expand our voter turnout window, change the narrative on early voting, and examine the impact of absentee ballot and early vote chasing in states like Florida and North Carolina, as well as ballot harvesting in California, as a model for the rest of the country,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote in a Fox News op-ed earlier this month.
The Washington Post: As Republicans inch away from election denialism, one activist digs in.
Democrats, however, are also ready to go on offense in 2023 — mounting a sweeping defense of voting rights through a long list of proposals that include creating automatic voter registration systems, preregistering young people to vote before they turn 18, criminalizing election misinformation and returning the franchise to felons released from prison.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has directed his fellow Democrats to “think big” on voting issues now that his party controls both chambers of the state’s legislature.
And in Michigan, the Democratic secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, said she would like to see sweeping new rules and penalties for disseminating and amplifying misinformation that interferes with voting (The New York Times).
“The greatest threats to our democracy right now continue to be the intentional spread of misinformation and the threats and harassment of election officials that emerge from those efforts,” Benson said. “We owe it to voters on all sides to ensure we are seeking accountability for anyone who would intentionally try to essentially block someone from voting through misinformation.”
Politico: Pennsylvania politics are heated. It soon could be utter chaos.
Looking ahead to 2024, the differences between potential presidential rivals Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) are coming into sharper focus, writes The Hill’s Brett Samuels. While Trump’s endorsement helped DeSantis succeed in the 2018 GOP primary for the Florida governor’s race, their differences — on issues from vaccines to the pandemic response — are bubbling to the surface as they position themselves for White House runs.
“I think the overall narrative and differentiation will be that DeSantis gets things done, and he’s not a cult of personality,” one Florida-based Republican strategist told The Hill. “While President Trump is running for himself, DeSantis is running for the people and showing he can do effective government.”
▪ The Hill: DeSantis’s request for COVID-19 vaccine probe denounced by health experts.
▪ Politico: 2022 is the year we all finally got tired of narcissists.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
A drone believed to be Ukrainian penetrated Russian airspace, causing a deadly explosion at the main base for Moscow’s strategic bombers. The drone, which crashed at the Engels air base where three service members were killed, is the latest attack that has exposed gaps in Moscow’s air defense.
As the war entered its 11th month, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday hosted leaders of other former Soviet states in St. Petersburg for a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States group, which Ukraine has long since left (Reuters).
“Unfortunately, challenges and threats in this area, especially from the outside, are only growing each year,” Putin said in televised remarks, not directly commenting on the war. “We also have to acknowledge, unfortunately, that disagreements also arise between member states of the commonwealth.”
Swedish authorities leading a criminal investigation into the September incident at the Nord Stream gas pipeline have concluded that a state actor was most likely responsible for the blast that ripped through the pipes, saying that explosives were probably dropped from ships or planted on the seafloor using submarines or divers.
The attack has been a wartime mystery, prompting finger-pointing and speculation about how a vessel could creep up on a crucial energy conduit, plant a bomb and leave without a trace. But it turns out the Baltic Sea was a close to ideal crime scene. It is covered with telecommunication cables and pipes that are not closely monitored. Ships come and go constantly from the nine countries bordering the sea, and vessels can easily hide by turning off their tracking transponders (The New York Times).
▪ The Wall Street Journal: China sends a wave of warplanes near Taiwan in response to U.S. “provocations.”
▪ The New York Times: Nepal’s revolving door produces a new leader but no hoped-for change.
▪ Reuters: Israel’s President-elect Benjamin Netanyahu looks to vote in a new government on Thursday.
“The key question is not what kind of surveillance there was, but why the lack of surveillance for this pipeline — and other pipelines and electric cables and the underwater cables on the seabed,” Niklas Rossbach, deputy research director at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, told the Times.
Starting in January, inbound travelers to China will no longer be subject to quarantine, in a further step to ease the country’s strict “zero COVID” policies that had in recent months hit the economy hard and stoked historic public discontent. As of Jan. 8, people arriving in China will no longer be quarantined, though they will be required to obtain negative COVID-19 test results within 48 hours of departure, the National Health Commission announced Monday (Bloomberg News).
But what could mark the end of “zero COVID” may be just the beginning of China’s pandemic problems. A low vaccination rate is leading to a spike in infections, and experts warn of a possible incoming wave.
“I think in the next couple of weeks, China will be faced with unprecedented pressure to the health system,” Xi Chen, an associate professor at the Yale School Of Public Health, told CNBC.
The New York Times: With “zero COVID,” China proved it’s good at control. Governance is harder. For a powerful government that has bragged about its command of the country, its absence at a moment of crisis has made the public question its credibility.
■ The cynic’s dilemma: As 2022 comes to a close, I feel something unfamiliar, something I can’t entirely trust: optimism, by Franklin Foer, staff writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3vfjaHc
■ How Americans can stand against extremism, by The New York Times editorial board. https://nyti.ms/3PWHd7y
WHERE AND WHEN
👉 The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
The Senate will convene on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. He and first lady Jill Biden will travel to St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands, where they will celebrate the New Year with their family.
The vice president has no public schedule.
The first lady will travel to St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands, with the president.
➤ STATE WATCH
At least 26 people have died over this weekend’s catastrophic snowstorm in western New York, officials announced Monday, marking this blizzard as the area’s deadliest in at least 50 years.
“This is the worst storm probably in our lifetime and maybe in the history of the city,” Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said during a news conference. “And this is not the end yet.”
The National Weather Service has warned that a “reinforcing shot” of cold air from Canada could cause more snowfall across the Great Plains and Midwest this week, and the eastern half of the country would remain in a deep freeze. In Erie County — which includes Buffalo, N.Y. — the death toll jumped to 27 on Monday (The Hill).
At least 55 people have died in weather-related incidents across the country since late last week, according to an NBC News tally. The deaths were recorded in 12 states: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
▪ The New York Times: A South Korean tour group’s van became stuck in the snow outside a house in Williamsville, N.Y. They spent the weekend with the residents — who luckily had a well-stocked kitchen.
▪ Yahoo News: “Travel insanity”: U.S. passengers stranded by winter storm; 2,500 flights canceled.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Southwest Airlines CEO says more cancellations ahead as airline tries to recover.
The nation’s power grid is suffering a decade-high surge in attacks as extremists, vandals and cyber criminals increasingly take aim at critical infrastructure. According to federal records examined by Politico, physical and computerized assaults on the equipment that delivers electricity are at their highest level since at least 2012, with 101 reported this year through the end of August. The previous peak was the 97 incidents recorded for all of 2021.
This year’s tally doesn’t include the most visible recent attack — the shootings of two Duke Energy substations that cut out power for 45,000 people in Moore County, N.C. In Washington State, the lights went dark for 14,000 customers on Christmas Day after four Tacoma Public Utilities and Puget Sound Energy substations were vandalized (Bloomberg News).
The coordinated and deliberate nature of the attacks have sparked questions for federal regulators.
“Is there something more sinister going on?” Richard Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said in a news conference last week. “Are there people planning this?… I don’t think anyone knows that right now. But there’s no doubt that the numbers are up in terms of reported incidents.”
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
The U.S. is in the middle of an infectious disease trifecta — a “tripledemic” of COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus. Officials in New York City and Los Angeles County once again “strongly recommend” masking indoors, and those in other cities may follow soon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now advise wearing one based on COVID-19 community levels — a recommendation that considers hospital admissions, beds available and the number of case rates.
Two experts spoke with Vox about how to best protect yourself and your loved ones this winter.
Beyond the “tripledemic,” the CDC said it’s tracking a “possible increase in invasive group A strep” among children. At least 94 people in the United Kingdom, including 24 children, have died from complications caused by a strep A infection.
“To my knowledge, we’ve never seen a peak like this at this time of year, at least not for decades,” microbiologist Shiranee Sriskandan at Imperial College London told Nature.
Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said it was too soon to say if the United States would see a “large strep A outbreak,” but he warned that it could be a problem if we do see a rise in the bacterial infection at the same time we’re contending with the viral “tripledemic” (The Hill).
The New York Times: The last holdouts: What it’s like to wear masks for COVID-19 when most others have long since moved on.
Information about COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot availability can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,090,218. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,952 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally… 🐢 Scientists have found a new way of measuring how deeply a fossil site was buried before eons of other geological activity, and it’s all down to turtles. A 2012 study about turtle shells — where researchers subjected the skeletal remains of different kinds of turtles to incremental increases in mechanical forces and measured where and how the shells began to buckle — turned out to provide an answer to an entirely unrelated problem.
“It’s actually fun to just play around with them and see how they bend under a point or certain loading regimes,” Holger Petermann, a paleontologist with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, told The New York Times.
The flatness of a turtle shell, Peterman found, could help paleontologists figure out how deeply a fossil site was originally buried. The new name for their measurement method: the Turtle Compaction Index.