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Washington’s question this morning is not just what happens next to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who failed during three ballots on Tuesday in his bid to be Speaker, but what his plight says about the Republican Party, which at the start of the 118th Congress handed House Democrats a chance to appear united as the minority.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) lost 19 GOP votes on the first two ballots and 20 on the third ballot, leaving the narrow new majority in a stalemate about how to proceed (The Hill). He huddled in his office with allies late Tuesday, searching for a strategy that could halt the bloodletting and corral determined renegades who seek concessions while also berating McCarthy for that same willingness to give ground.
“This can’t be about that you are going to leverage somebody for your own personal gain inside Congress,” McCarthy told reporters early in the evening. “This has to be about the country.”
McCarthy later emerged from strategy meetings to suggest he could win a majority of those voting for a nominated candidate because lawmakers who opt to vote “present” do not count. The contest for Speaker does not hinge on getting support from a majority of the entire membership of the House (The Hill).
“You’re sitting at 202 votes, so you need technically just 11 more votes to win,” McCarthy said. “Democrats have 212 votes [with nominee Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)]. You get 213 votes, and the others don’t say another name, that’s how you can win. You can win with 218. You could win with 222,” he told reporters. It is unclear, however, how McCarthy could persuade 11 holdouts to cast ballots for him or get a sufficient number of colleagues to not vote for any specific candidate by voting “present” or being absent, which would lower his threshold.
The House, which cannot administer oaths of office to new members or get down to business without first finding a majority to back a Speaker, is set on Wednesday to return at noon for a fourth ballot. It has been a century since the House needed more than one such vote.
The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that the House mess has sparked alarm among Senate Republicans who fear serious problems ahead when it comes to passage of spending bills, debt limit legislation and the GOP’s direction ahead of 2024.
▪ The New York Times: Speaker fight reveals a divided and disoriented House majority.
▪ The Hill: Five takeaways from Tuesday’s McCarthy drama in the Capitol.
In a new era of divided government, the GOP’s chaos in the House is part of the subtext President Biden will underscore on Wednesday when he leaves Washington to travel to Covington, Ky., to hail political bridge-building while standing near a troubled span between Ohio and Kentucky now helped by federal infrastructure spending. With Biden will be the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had hoped after the midterm elections that he’d be his chamber’s majority leader.
McConnell has publicly blamed former President Trump, in part, for Republicans’ losses in November. McCarthy last year went to great lengths to remain in Trump’s good graces ahead of the elections but on Tuesday found little reward for that loyalty. The former president, now an announced 2024 presidential candidate, declined to commit to backing McCarthy (The Hill).
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told NBC News in a phone conversation when asked if he stands by his endorsement of the House Republican leader.
McCarthy later said the former president reiterated his support during a Tuesday night phone conversation (The Hill).
As Biden leans into what he considers legislative achievements and ponders a bid for a second term, his message continues to be that Republicans are mired in a cycle of extremist discord that lacks vision, momentum and purpose amid tough national and international challenges. The president wants Americans to picture him as focused on the future of governing, on bipartisan problem-solving and especially on the economy at a time of high inflation. In the West Wing, this is the week for Biden to appear to rise above a riven House engulfed in drama, reports The Hill’s Brett Samuels.
Some analysts and business leaders said they will listen closely on Wednesday for possible threads of Biden’s upcoming State of the Union address, expected in mid-February, and a potential presidential campaign announcement that many in Biden’s inner circle have signaled is likely, possibly by next month (Politico).
▪ The Hill: Here are the 20 GOP lawmakers who voted against McCarthy for Speaker. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who captured 20 votes in his caucus but instead endorsed McCarthy for the top job, told reporters there is “no chance” he’ll become Speaker.
▪ The Washington Post: All but two McCarthy defectors in the House are election deniers.
▪ The Hill: Jordan, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) are possible Speakers-in-waiting to watch if McCarthy falls.
▪ The Washington Post analysis, Paul Kane: McCarthy wasn’t “the one” seven years ago. He wasn’t on Tuesday, either.
▪ The Atlantic: McCarthy’s loyalty to Trump got him nothing.
▪ Politico: Health care lobbyists brace for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): “Not business as usual.”
▪ Bloomberg News: The 10 lawmakers to know about in 2023.
LEADING THE DAY
Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.) arrived in Washington on Tuesday amid deep controversy about his largely fabricated background, The Hill’s Mychael Schnell and Mike Lillis report. While the Long Island lawmaker is expected to be sworn in, that step can’t be taken until the election of a Speaker. Meanwhile, Santos faces criticism from Democrats — and even some Republicans — who have accused him of defrauding voters and raised questions about his fitness to serve in Congress. Several investigations — both local and federal — have also been launched into his campaign finances.
▪ The Hill: Embattled Santos votes for McCarthy in Speaker race.
▪ USA Today: After Santos is sworn into Congress, could he be impeached?
Over in the upper chamber, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) on Tuesday became the first Latino sworn in to serve a full Senate term from the Golden State, writes The Hill’s Rafael Bernal. The state that is host to a quarter of all U.S. Hispanics is also central to national Latino politics, but it has historically lagged in representation at the top statewide elected level.
Padilla first entered the Senate in 2021 to fill the seat made vacant by Vice President Harris — who swore him in on Tuesday.
“As we sit here today, Latinos make up approximately 40 percent of the population in the state of California. Still underrepresented at all levels of government, certainly in the statewide offices,” Padilla told The Hill in an interview. “But you have a lot of tremendous young talent and leaders that are, I think, establishing themselves and laying foundations for public service careers.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has begun the new year as one of the hottest commodities in Republican politics, writes The Hill’s Max Greenwood, largely because he’s seen by allies as closer to unveiling a campaign for the White House — despite former President Trump’s official bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
The Hill: DeSantis struck a defiant tone during his inauguration address amid 2024 speculation.
DeSantis entered his second term on Tuesday by hailing his administration’s accomplishments during his swearing-in and adding priorities for his new term. Yet prominent Republicans remain skeptical that the ambitious DeSantis will remain in Tallahassee for another four years given his rising stature on the national stage, especially as he used his speech to bash Biden’s policies on everything from public spending and energy to immigration. DeSantis criticized the “floundering federal establishment in Washington, D.C.” and singled out the federal government’s “inflationary spending binge.”
The current administration “recklessly facilitated open borders, making a mockery of the rule of law,” DeSantis said, without specifically naming Biden (Bloomberg News).
The New York Times: In Florida, where Hispanic evangelicals carry outsize influence, many of their pastors view the budding 2024 Trump-DeSantis rivalry as a sign of the potency of their unabashedly politicized Christianity.
The White House will hold Southwest Airlines accountable to ensure it reimburses qualified customers after a wave of cancellations around Christmas left thousands stranded, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. She added the Department of Transportation will monitor to ensure Southwest covers the cost of rebooking, hotel rooms, meals, and transportation to and from hotels in cases where those costs apply.
Southwest on Tuesday announced vouchers for some affected customers (The Dallas Morning News).
“Southwest Airlines failed its customers, point blank,” Jean-Pierre said. “[The Transportation Department is] monitoring this very, very closely to ensure that this all happens. And we’ll see fines for Southwest if it doesn’t cover a cost.”
In the aftermath of a massive winter storm over the holidays, thousands of travelers faced canceled flights, but Southwest Airlines was by far the biggest source of trouble, canceling more than 60 percent of flights last Monday to Wednesday (The Hill).
Abortion: The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday issued a regulatory change that will allow participating pharmacies and drug stores to dispense the abortion pill mifepristone to customers with a prescription from a certified healthcare provider, either in person or by mail order. The change is expected to expand access to abortion through medication (The New York Times).
Student debt: Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness plan has been hit with a barrage of lawsuits that are casting its future in doubt, at least two of which will be considered early this year by the Supreme Court. The Hill’s Lexi Lonas breaks down where the cases against the plan stand and a rough guide on when borrowers will have some answers about the program’s future.
Nominations: The president will renominate former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) to be U.S. ambassador to India, a choice that has been stalled in the Senate for months, and attempt to fill IRS, Federal Aviation Administration and other key vacancies, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News report. With the Senate in Democratic control, the White House plans to renew efforts to fill judicial and executive branch vacancies.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
A New Year’s Eve strike on a Russian base in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk left dozens of troops dead and sparked fury in Moscow at the officers in charge of the military post, writes The Hill’s Brad Dress. Russia said the strike killed 63 soldiers, while Ukraine claims up to 400 were killed when rockets fired by U.S.-produced HIMARS launchers struck an ammunition depot and a nearby barracks. Some Russian lawmakers are pushing for an internal investigation into the strike and accountability for officers who housed the troops in what they said was an unprotected building.
By Tuesday, however, the initial outpouring of anger began to settle into a familiar pattern — focusing on the West and what critics describe as incompetent officials rather than who is actually overseeing the country’s war effort: President Vladimir Putin.
“Everyone is calling for reaction at the highest level, some conclusions, punishments,” Ruslan Leviev, a Russian military analyst, told The New York Times. “But I doubt that any of it will come.”
▪ Reuters: Russia blames its soldiers’ mobile phone use for deadly missile strike.
▪ Forbes: Russia has a plan for pinning down Ukraine’s super-upgraded M-55S tanks.
▪ The New York Times: Natural gas prices in Europe fall to pre-invasion levels.
TikTok owner ByteDance, based in China, cut hundreds of workers at the end of 2022 to reduce costs. It was a small percentage of the company’s total workforce at a time when international opposition to ByteDance has grown and U.S. legislation to ban TikTok was introduced in the last Congress (Yahoo Finance).
▪ South China Morning Post: Beijing decries “political” curbs on Chinese travelers and threatens to reciprocate.
▪ Reuters: China pledges “final victory” over COVID-19 as outbreak raises global alarm.
▪ Bloomberg News: Biden will meet Jan. 13 at the White House with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio amid concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and China’s military actions in the Pacific.
■ Whoever the next GOP Speaker is, the job will be a living hell, by Karen Tumulty, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3WZGdla
■ Mr. Santos goes to Washington, by James D. Zirin, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3GEBnoh
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will convene at noon for legislative business on the second day of the 118th Congress and hold the fourth vote for Speaker.
The Senate will convene for a pro forma session on Friday at 1:05 p.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8 a.m. Biden will travel to Covington, Ky., to deliver a speech at 12:45 p.m. about an ailing bridge and U.S. infrastructure, the economy, education and revitalizing communities (The Hill). He will return to the White House this evening.
Vice President Harris will fly to Chicago to speak about the economy.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will deliver remarks at the department at 11 a.m. at the launch of the U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, 24, who suffered cardiac arrest after a tackle Monday night in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, remains hospitalized and in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Doctors on Tuesday worked toward getting Hamlin off a ventilator to breathe on his own, according to Hamlin’s uncle, Dorrian Glenn (CNN), who said his nephew is sedated and ventilated to relieve some of the strain on his lungs. Doctors told Glenn his nephew has also been “flipped over on his stomach” in the hospital to help with the blood in his lungs. “It seems like he’s trending upwards in a positive way,” Glenn told CNN. A face-down position for mechanical ventilation is known as proning and is used with some patients to improve oxygenation.
The NFL announced Tuesday it made no changes to its Week 18 schedule but would not reschedule the Bills-Bengals game this week. The Bengals led Monday’s game in the first quarter when Hamlin initially stood upright after the tackle and then collapsed backward as spectators and players reacted with a stunned hush as medical personnel rendered emergency assistance for nine minutes, including with CPR on the field, before Hamlin was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital (Yahoo Sports and Fox News).
Competition was suspended with a 7-3 score about 66 minutes after the live-on-prime-time-TV emergency. The league said late Tuesday that no decision has been made on the possible resumption of the game at a later date.
▪ The Washington Post: The terrifying moment that stopped the NFL cold.
▪ Vox: It’s rare, but a direct hit can cause cardiac arrest. These types of injuries, called commotio cordis, generally cause between 15 and 20 deaths each year.
▪ The New York Times: Five cardiac experts weigh in on what is known and not publicly known about Hamlin’s cardiac emergency on the field.
In a New York federal court on Tuesday, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, 30, pleaded not guilty to criminal and civil charges that he cheated investors and looted customer deposits on his cryptocurrency trading platform (The New York Times). His trial was set on Oct. 2 (Reuters). Caroline Ellison, 28, who ran Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency hedge fund trading firm, and Gary Wang, 29, who co-founded FTX, have pleaded guilty to fraud charges and are cooperating with prosecutors in a bid for leniency. Both are free on bail.
U.S. auto production has not returned to pre-pandemic levels despite improved supply chains and high demand for vehicles, writes The Hill’s Tobias Burns, indicating a deeper shift in the auto industry toward producing a lower number of vehicles with higher profit margins.
Politico: Why Elon Musk’s “X App” could be an even bigger headache for D.C. than Twitter.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
Much of the U.S. is in the middle of a winter surge of COVID-19 infections as cases are poised to eclipse the summer peak, driven by new variants, waning immunity and holiday gatherings, writes The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel. Even as much of the national focus shifts to the outbreak in China and imposing enhanced testing requirements on travelers, hospitalizations in the U.S. are rising quickly, especially amid the vulnerable population over age 60. Public health experts say the U.S. would be better served trying to control its own surge and the rise of new domestic variants, rather than looking at China, where new variants are less likely to occur because the population is less vaccinated.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization invited China to a virtual and closed meeting, which had no media coverage, to discuss COVID-19 variants circulating in China. China lifted its “zero COVID” measures in December. COVID-19 cases are now surging in the country, although official data remains murky (South China Morning Post).
Information about U.S. 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): 1,094,010. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,530 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 … In the U.S. Capitol, exuberant tykes were seen (and heard) on the House floor Tuesday as lawmaker parents waited for the traditional swearing-in pomp that brought their dressed-up family members to Washington at the start of the 118th Congress. The newcomers will still be waiting on Wednesday (and perhaps beyond) for all those historic oath-moment photos.
One new House member, a comic book enthusiast and Democratic former mayor of Long Beach, Calif., suggested through his staff that he’ll use his newfound Library of Congress perks to recite his oath of office (eventually) while standing with a borrowed vintage library copy of Superman #1 valued at $5 million, plus the Constitution (The New York Post). Rep.-elect Robert Garcia, who says he learned to read and write in English with the help of comic books, earned some easy headlines this week with the sort of graphic-arts, Twitter focused PR skills he honed during his campaign (Bleedingcool).
Across the Capitol in the Senate, where new leadership posts were not in an uproar and oaths of office went off without a hitch, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) raised his right hand with his family beside him, wearing a spiffy new suit and tie while reciting the official phrases prompted by the vice president. Sweatshirts and voluminous shorts, known as Fetterman’s signature attire throughout his hard-fought campaign, will no doubt reappear in the Keystone State and around the nation’s capital. The New York Times said the senator dressed “with purpose.”