by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Thursday, September 22, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 47 days away. Election Day 2024 is 775 days away.
What a GOP House will look like
With the midterm elections less than seven weeks away, it can be easy to get caught up in the horse race of it all — who’s up, who’s down — and lose sight of what really matters: what will actually happen after November 8, once the U.S. government undergoes its biennial reconfiguration.
Enter House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The California Republican is reaching for a tried-and-true GOP tactic this week: releasing a pre-election agenda before the party expects to take back the House majority.
Newt Gingrich famously did it with the “Contract with America” in 1994. Then 2010 brought the House GOP’s “Pledge to America.” This year’s version is being dubbed the “Commitment to America.” (The House GOP loves a good thesaurus.)
The website went live this morning; McCarthy will present the “commitment” to his Republican colleagues in a meeting today before launching it publicly with a speech tomorrow.
The agenda is a campaign document, of course, but it also gives us a chance to parse how exactly the House GOP might govern if it becomes the majority come January (as is expected; FiveThirtyEight currently puts the odds at 72 in 100).
Compared to its 2010 counterpart, the “Commitment to America” reveals a Republican Party that’s been thoroughly Trumpified. For one thing, the longest version of the agenda I could find was one page instead of 21, as befitting a newly platfomless-party.
As a result, many of the fairly detailed policy prescriptions from 2010 have been replaced with vague platitudes.
Still, new priorities are clear: While the 2010 version doesn’t address illegal immigration until Page 20, it’s given a place of prominence in the new agenda. China went unmentioned in the 2010 policy proposals; the country is named three times in the single page this year. Both were Trump hobbyhorses, of course.
Legacy Republican priorities have also fallen away. “Repeal and replace” of Obamacare is gone, as is the promise of a “balanced budget,” after Trump failed to do the first and proudly shirked the second.
In their stead are new planks like a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and a pledge to keep transgender athletes out of women’s sports, borrowing from issues workshopped by Glenn Youngkin (VA), Ron DeSantis (FL), and other Republican governors.
Abortion is largely sidestepped, promising to “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers,” without going into specificity about whether that means a national abortion ban and at what cutoff.
One group within the House GOP has notably refrained from embracing McCarthy's new agenda: the hard-right Freedom Caucus, antagonist of many a Republican leader.
McCarthy’s rollout comes as the group is making noise about threatening his prospective speakership, pushing for a promise that the GOP will vote on a new rules package before electing their leaders in the new Congress.
One of the rules changes the Freedom Caucus is demanding is a return of the “motion to vacate the chair,” which allows a single member to call for a vote on throwing out the speaker. The Freedom Caucus used the procedure to great effect in 2015, setting into motion the defenestration of John Boehner. (When Nancy Pelosi took the gavel in 2019, she pushed a change that would require larger buy-in for the motion than just one member.)
While McCarthy is still expected to be tapped as speaker, it’s a reminder that he will be at a knife’s edge the entire time.
Especially if the GOP House majority is small — which it now seems it will be — McCarthy will be left scraping for support from Trump allies who have yet to endorse him for speaker, and may have to make concessions like allowing the ability to motion for his ouster.
That will make him a historically vulnerable speaker, susceptible to all sorts of demands from his right flank.
With that in mind, it’s possible to begin envisioning what a Republican-controlled House will look like.
The 117th Congress’ run of bipartisan legislating — infrastructure, gun control, etc. — will likely come to an end. Aid for Ukraine, opposed by a solid faction of the House GOP, could too. McCarthy will face instant pressure to launch impeachment campaigns against President Biden and top Cabinet secretaries.
Shutdown fights will be frequent, as many House Republicans routinely vote against any continuing resolution that comes before them. (The Freedom Caucus is also attempting to push for a return of the so-called “Hastert Rule,” which prohibits leaders from putting to a vote any measure that isn’t supported by a majority of the majority party.)
Back in July, I wrote about the rash of top lawmakers becoming “party leaders from behind.” But none of them personify this more than McCarthy, who has seen what can happen when the rank-and-file rejects you and wants desperately to avoid a repeat.
While his theoretical predecessor as speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has mostly bucked that trend, McCarthy will be leading from a place of weakness rarely seen at Congress’ high echelons.
And behind the scenes, of course, Trump’s imprint will be ever-present, since the former president has a much deeper well of support among House Republicans than their titular leader.
It’s true that McCarthy has been adept at bringing conservatives into his inner circle, as reflected by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan’s oft-cited evolution from McCarthy enemy to ally. But the nature of a political party is that it is constantly evolving and, often, pushing towards the extremes; what once passed for rebellious will soon seem tame.
In Jordan’s place, a new generation of conservatives has emerged, with names like Gaetz, and Greene, and Boebert. They’re already gearing up to make McCarthy’s life as speaker impossible; if past is prologue, they shouldn’t have much trouble doing it.
What else you should know
➞ Former President Trump did not have a great Wednesday. First, New York attorney general Letitia James filed a sweeping lawsuit against him, his company, and three of his children, accusing them of “staggering” fraud and seeking $250 million in damages.
Then, a three-judge appeals panel — including two of his appointees — sided against him in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, ruling that the Justice Department could continue using classified documents they had seized from him as part of their criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, the January 6th committee has reportedly reached an agreement with activist Ginni Thomas — wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas — about interviewing with the panel in the coming weeks.
➞ The Federal Reserve ratcheted up its fight against inflation Wednesday, with chairman Jerome Powell announcing a substantial, 0.75% interest rate hike for the third time this year. The Fed’s benchmark lending rate, which has far-reaching economic consequences, is now at its highest level since 2008.
Powell acknowledged the possibility that, in addition to taming inflation, the interest rate increases could plunge the U.S. economy into crisis. “No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession or, if so, how significant that recession would be,” the chairman ominously said.
➞ Two notable congressional votes from Wednesday: the House voted to pass the Presidential Election Reform Act — an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1876 — in a 229-203 vote. Nine Republicans, none of whom are on the ballot this November, joined all present Democrats in supporting the measure.
And the Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment, the first climate treaty to gain congressional approval in 30 years. The treaty would commit the U.S. to slashing its use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which warm the climate even more than carbon dioxide. The vote was 69-27, with 21 Republicans joining all present Democrats in support.
I’ll have more on both of these consequential, bipartisan pieces of legislation — and the others passed by Congress this week — in tomorrow’s newsletter.
Today at a glance
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.
➞ President Biden is in New York City. He’ll meet with President Bongbong Marcos (11 am), receive a briefing on Hurricane Fiona (2:15 pm), and participate in a Democratic National Committee fundraiser (4:40 pm). He’ll then return to Washington.
➞ Vice President Harris will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While there, she’ll deliver remarks at the Democratic Attorneys General Association conference (2 pm) and meet with local Latino leaders (3:15 pm). She’ll then return to Washington.
➞ Second Gentleman Emhoff will meet with state and local leaders from North Carolina (10:30 am), deliver remarks at the Labor Department’s “Equity in Focus” (1:50 pm), and hold a roundtable discussion with multifaith college students on the meaning of Rosh Hashanah (4 pm).
➞ The Senate will convene (10 am) and hold three votes:
- A cloture vote advancing the DISCLOSE Act, which would require super PACs, 501(c)(4) groups, and other “dark money” groups to report the names of any donors who contribute more at least $10,000 in an election cycle.
- A vote to confirm Amanda Bennett as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media
- A vote to confirm Arati Prabhakar as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
➞ The House will convene (9 am) and vote on four police funding bills:
- The Mental Health Justice Act, which would create a grant program for state and local governments to train mental health professionals to respond to certain emergencies instead of police officers.
- The Invest to Protect Act, which would create a grant program to help fund city police departments with fewer than 200 officers.
- The Break the Cycle of Violence Act, which would create a grant program for community violence intervention initiatives and another for job training and workforce programs for youth in communities disproportionately affected by gun violence.
- The VICTIM Act, which would create a grant program for state and local law enforcement agencies to hire and train detectives.
➞ The Senate Banking Committee will include an oversight hearing with the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and other large banks (9:30 am).
- Some other committee hearings will focus on inflation (9 am), stopping senior scams (10 am), and threats to federal buildings (10 am).
➞ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference (10:45 am).
➞ The Supreme Court is out until September 28.
➞ Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid will be one of several world leaders to address the UN General Assembly on its third day (9 am). Lapid is expected in the speech to express his support for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the first time he has done so as PM.
➞ The UN Security Council will hold a meeting on Ukraine (10 am).
Before I go...
Here’s something historic: For the first time in U.S. history, Native Americans, an Alaskan Native, and a Native Hawaiian are all serving in Congress — giving full representation to the U.S.’ three main Indigenous peoples.
There are four Native Americans: Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK), Sharice Davids (D-KS), Yvette Herrell (R-NM), and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK).
Rep. Kaiali’I Kahele (D-HI) is Native Hawaiian. And now, with Rep. Mary Peltola’s (D-AK) swearing-in last week, there is an Alaskan Native lamwaker as well.
Read more, via NPR.
That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.
If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.
Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.