6 min read

The night Congress went off-script

Republican senators lash their own on the House floor, Democrats help rescue George Santos from expulsion.
The night Congress went off-script
(Sen. Tommy Tuberville / Twitter)

Good morning! It’s Thursday, November 2, 2023. The 2024 elections are 369 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

There are few places as carefully stage-managed as the U.S. Congress. Generally, everyone knows how everyone else is going to vote and what they’re going to say before walking onto the floor of the House or Senate. Day to day, few surprises are delivered.

But last night, both chambers saw an unusual amount of plot twists...

1. Republicans take on Tuberville

Since February, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has been holding up hundreds of military promotions in protest of the Defense Department’s abortion policy. From time to time, Democrats have attempted to push forward with some of the nominations; each time, Tuberville has blocked them.

Although some Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have criticized Tuberville’s blockade, none had directly attempted to put an end to it — until Wednesday. Last night, in an extraordinary display, a group of Senate Republicans marched to the floor to request unanimous consent for 61 individual military nominations to be approved. 61 times, Tuberville objected.

In total, the GOP defense hawks held the floor for more than four hours, as months of frustrations with Tuberville began to spill out. Their rhetoric grew notably personal at times, something you rarely see in public between members of the same party. “You just denied this lady a promotion — you did that,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said to Tuberville, holding up a photo of one of the military officers.

“I do not respect men who do not honor their word,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said, accusing Tuberville of flip-flopping on whether he would allow the nominations to advance if taken up individually, as the GOP senators were doing. “Xi Jinping is loving this. So is Putin,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said at one point. “How dumb can we be, man?”

“We expected fireworks, not a carpet bombing,” a Senate Democratic aide told Punchbowl News.

What’s next: Democrats are mulling a temporary rules change that would allow the Senate to vote on hundreds of military promotions at once. The procedural move will require 60 votes; will GOP frustration with Tuberville extend to helping Democrats amend the rules to get around him?

2. Democrats help save Santos

Similarly, on the House floor, months of frustrations with Rep. George Santos (R-NY) — who lied about nearly every element of his biography before being elected last year — burst out Wednesday.

A group of fellow New York Republicans introduced a resolution to expel Santos from the House, a rare move not taken by the chamber since 2002. The resolution failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority, but the roll call vote revealed a fascinating split.

155 Democrats and 24 Republicans voted in favor of the expulsion, while 182 Republicans and 31 Democrats voted against it. Several Democrats explained that they opposed the resolution because Santos, who has been indicted on 23 fraud-related charges, has not yet been criminally convicted.

“This would be a terrible precedent to set, expelling people who have not been convicted of a crime and without internal due process,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), one of the Democratic “nay” votes, said.

“I never would have [expected] that,” a senior House Democrat told Axios of the Democratic votes against expulsion.

What’s next: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they did not want to censure Santos before the House Ethics Committee had completed its investigation of the New Yorker. According to a statement by the panel, the committee has contacted 40 witnesses and reviewed more than 170,000 pages of documents as part of its probe. The committee said it would “announce its next course of action” on Santos by November 17; it’s possible that a Santos expulsion could gain more support once that investigation is done.

3. Both parties hold their fire on censures

Republicans were given a golden opportunity Wednesday to punish one of their least favorite Democrats, when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) forced a vote on a censure resolution against Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). The censure focused on Tlaib’s comments criticizing Israel and her participation in a rally on Capitol Hill calling for an Israel-Hamas ceasefire; the illegal demonstration led to more than 300 arrests.

But 23 Republicans crossed the aisle to oppose the resolution, ensuring its defeat. “I’ve always said I’m a First Amendment absolutist,” Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY) said. “I will vote to protect free speech at every opportunity. This should surprise no one.”

Other GOP lawmakers took issue with Greene’s description of the pro-ceasefire rally as an “insurrection,” as the resolution called it. “In January 2021, the legal term ‘insurrection’ was stretched and abused by many following the events at the Capitol,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), another Republican who voted against the resolution, said. “We should not continue to perpetuate claims of ‘insurrection’ at the Capitol and we should not abuse the term now.”

Another unexpected twist came Wednesday when Democrats also backed down on a potential opportunity to lash a favorite GOP target. Rep. Becca Balint (D-VT) had been planning to force a vote on a censure resolution against Greene herself, targeting the Georgian’s history of inflammatory comments about a range of groups.

But Balint, expressing surprise that the Tlaib resolution was defeated, decided not to move forward after all. “Tonight, when 23 Republicans said ‘no’ to Rep. Greene’s bigotry, I saw this situation a little differently,” Balint said. “I want to thank them for doing the right thing. And I’m going to hold back on the vote for now.”

What’s next: No immediate action is likely on either censure resolution. But expect to see Greene on conservative media bashing the Republicans who opposed her resolution. “Our country is in the worst crisis in it’s [sic] history in every category and the Democrats are full blown communists and Republicans can’t even censure Rashida Tlaib,” Greene protested on X, posting a list of the 23 Republican “nays” for all of her followers to see.

It’s not every day that you see lawmakers bashing a member of their own party on the floor, trying to expel a member of their own party, or putting principle above partisanship when given an opportunity to punish a member on the other side.

More news to know.

ISRAEL: Biden calls for “pause” in Israel-Hamas war / CBS

CAMPAIGN: Biden officials are closely watching a potential challenge from No Labels / Axios

GOVERNING: Senate passes three funding bills as battle to prevent government shutdown heats up / NBC

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will meet separately with two foreign leaders, President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic and President Gabriel Boric of Chile.

Senate: The upper chamber will hold a procedural vote to advance Admiral Lisa Franchetti’s nomination to be Chief of Naval Operations, the top officer in the Navy. Franchetti is one of the nominations Tuberville has been holding up.

House: The lower chamber will vote on the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, which would provide $14.3 billion in aid to Israel and also cut $14.3 billion in funding for the IRS. The measure would add $26.8 billion to the deficit, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, because of the costs of the Israel aid and the reduced tax revenue brought in as a result of the IRS cuts.

Courts: In New York... Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump will take the witness stand in the New York civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization. In Minnesota: The state Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether to block Donald Trump from the 2024 ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. A similar case is also being heard in Colorado.

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