House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) can sleep easier now. He has no doubt been up nights worrying about what will happen to his bid to become Speaker of the House if the Republicans get a very small majority and the Freedom Caucus balks at voting for him. After all, they have been using that threat as leverage for a long time. But now they have agreed to make peace with him. Instead, they just want to change the House rules to make a motion to vacate the chair (i.e., fire the speaker) easier. Then he can stop sweating becoming speaker when a Republican-controlled House first meets—and instead every day sweat keeping the job. After all, he knows what happened to Paul Ryan and John Boehner.
What happened? Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the loudest and probably most powerful member of the Caucus, has become buddy-buddy with McCarthy. He's probably the only one who could get the Caucus to vote as a bloc for some other speaker. It would never be himself since, as he isn't all that popular with many Republican members due to being a show horse, not a work horse, and fairly abrasive. But if he wanted to, Jordan could pick some more popular member and get most of the Caucus to back him. Apparently he doesn't want to.
A lot depends on the actual numbers. If the Republicans ended up with only 218-220 members, Republicans would see McCarthy as a failure and there would certainly be a challenge. If they got 230 members, he would survive all challenges. It is even conceivable that with a tiny Republican minority, the Democrats could get two or three Republicans to join with them to elect some moderate Republican as speaker. McCarthy would be beyond furious, but the entire House elects the speaker, not the majority party.
Early in January, the House has to decide on its rules. That is where some of the battles will be. In return for not challenging McCarthy, the Freedom Caucus has some definite ideas about what needs to change. For example, that the speaker not have the power to put his friends in charge of committees. McCarthy might have to swallow rules he doesn't like as the price of the speakership. (V)
Somewhat under the radar, an actual policy fight is going on in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin (Actually-D-WV) has been a loyal Democrat in the past couple of months, in contrast to his earlier obstreperous self. How come? He wants to change the way permits for energy projects are treated and stop the endless delays most of them encounter. Most environmentalists like the idea that energy projects (e.g., pipelines) can be kept in limbo for many years during the permitting process. Manchin's bill would require states and tribes to make a decision on requests for permits within a year. And the price Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had to pay to get Manchin on board with the numerous bills the Democrats passed in the summer was to promise to attach Manchin's pet permitting bill to a stopgap funding bill to prevent a government shutdown on Friday. Schumer kept his word and attached Manchin's bill to the funding bill. However getting the bill passed is far from certain.
Republicans oppose Manchin's bill and so do progressive Democrats, albeit for different reasons. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is still furious with Manchin for allowing Joe Biden to get so many important bills passed during the summer, and wants to stick it to him, even though he probably doesn't really oppose the underlying legislation. In order to pass the Senate, it will need about a dozen Republican votes to invoke cloture and that won't be easy with McConnell against it.
What McConnell would prefer is a different bill from West Virginia, namely one proposed by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), which goes much further in gutting environmental protections than does Manchin's bill and also denies Manchin any credit for sponsoring the bill. Of course, many Democrats oppose Capito's bill. No one really wants a government shutdown less than 2 months before a critical election, so there will probably be a last-minute deal. But whether the deal includes Manchin's bill, Capito's bill, or no permitting bill remains to be seen. But in any event, all the funding bill will do is kick the can down the road until just before Christmas, when the circus will start up again and kick the can into the new year so the new Congress can play with it. (V)
Did we change our minds so fast? No, it is a different bill. This bill is the one that says President of the Senate Kamala Harris cannot just discard Texas' electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2025, because she doesn't like the color of the ink used on the certificate of ascertainment that states who the presidential electors are. The bill, S.4573, updates the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and spells out the role of the vice president when the electoral votes are counted in the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 in the year following a presidential election. It was sponsored by Joe Manchin and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
For a bill that is supposed to eliminate a huge ambiguity, it is rather opaque. Sec. 15 (b) (1), which describes the powers of the President of the Senate, reads: "MINISTERIAL IN NATURE—Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the role of the President of the Senate while presiding over the joint meeting shall be limited to performing solely ministerial duties." What are "ministerial" duties? Does the vice president replace the chaplain on Jan. 6 in leading the joint session in prayer? Can the vice president decide which candidate to pray for? The bill could have been much more explicit and said something like: "The sole task of the president of the Senate is to announce how the electors in each state voted as each state's electoral votes are counted." Then it would be clear the vice president is to serve as an announcer and is not involved in the counting at all. But that's not what is in the bill.
The bill also says that objections to a state's electoral votes must be made in writing and signed by one-fifth of the senators and one-fifth of the representatives to invoke the procedure in which the chambers meet separately to consider whether to count those electoral votes. The bill goes on to say that the only grounds for objection is that the people casting the electoral votes were not the folks on the certificate of ascertainment signed and submitted by the governor of the state. In other words, the discovery of corruption in the election itself is not a ground for objection. That is a matter for the state itself to deal with before submitting the electoral votes. It is not Congress' job.
The bill passed the Senate Rules Committee yesterday on a vote of 14 to 4, with both the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader voting for it. That almost certainly means it will pass the Senate, go to the House, be approved there, and end up on Joe Biden's desk for a signature. (V)
Well, technically, Hurricane Ian, which is building strength in the warm Gulf of Mexico, is almost certainly going to slam into Florida's west coast later this week, but the effect will be felt as far away as Tallahassee. There is almost always a trial by fire—no, scratch that, trial by rain—for Florida governors. Hurricanes are normal in Florida and governors are rated on how well they handle them. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) knows that all too well and will do absolutely everything he can to make sure he manages it well. If he does, his reelection is very likely. If he botches it, it could cost him his job. But knowing that and being able to do what is needed are different things.
Just showing that he has dropped everything else and is working 18, 20 hours a day to get relief where it needs to go is worth its weight in yard signs. Everyone in Florida knows where DeSantis stands on the culture wars. The hurricane will answer the question of whether he can also govern in a crisis. The bigger the hurricane, the bigger the crisis, and the more he will be tested. If there is huge flooding and power goes out for millions of people for days, it could hurt him, but if tons of supplies show up in the Tampa area even before the storm hits, it could help him.
A decision DeSantis is going to have to make soon is whether or not to order evacuations and where. Ordering people to leave their homes won't be popular, especially for people with no means to leave and/or no place to go. Getting it right is tricky. Getting it wrong is disastrous. Also important is how DeSantis interacts with Joe Biden and FEMA. If things go south—well, go east, actually—will he try to put the blame on Biden? And how will that go over? Also important is how Biden plays this and how much he wants to get involved. The politics of hurricanes is complicated, as George W. Bush discovered while he was out in sunny Arizona eating birthday cake with John McCain while New Orleans drowned in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
If DeSantis makes any mistakes, Charlie Crist (D), who didn't have to deal with any major hurricanes when he was governor, is going to play backseat driver and tell people how he would have handled the hurricane relief better. Since he never had to deal with any weather events, he has no track record for DeSantis to criticize.
One issue that could play a role after the storm passes is Florida's rickety property insurance market. Six insurance companies have already gone bankrupt this year, and the storm hasn't even struck yet. If more insurance carriers go under and people who thought they were insured turn out not to be and lose everything, then DeSantis' laissez-faire attitude toward business in general is not going to help him much. While he could not have done anything to prevent the hurricane from landing, he most definitely could have done things to shore up the insurance sector. (V)
Less than a month ago, Donald Trump hired Chris Kise, a Florida attorney specializing in defending people accused of white-collar crimes. He understood Trump's habit of stiffing his lawyers, so he demanded and got $3 million in advance. Now he seems to be out of the picture on the crime that is not only the easiest for the government to prove, but also the only one Trump committed in Florida: violations of the Espionage Act and other crimes related to unlawfully possessing government property.
It was not explained why he is off the case, but it seems very strange since the Florida crime is the kind of thing Kise is good at and it is in a state where he has the most experience. Maybe he will be transferred to the election-tampering case that Fulton County DA Fani Willis is working on, but Kise is a Florida lawyer, not a Georgia lawyer. Or maybe he will get involved in the attempted coup case, but that is in D.C. and coups aren't really his area of expertise. He definitely isn't the guy to handle a case on tax or bank fraud that violates New York state law. Or maybe he worked on the Mar-a-Lago documents case for 500 hours in September so far at $6,000/hour and the $3 million is used up and he wants another $3 million and Trump said no. Who knows? Every reporter who has contacts with Trump insiders is going to try to get the scoop here.
George Conway, always a thorn in Trump's side, tweeted: "Obviously this means the lawyer must have given Trump actual legal advice." Or maybe it was the other way around. Trump told Kise what he should say in court and Kise refused because he didn't want to commit perjury and risk being disbarred and more." (V)
If the Republicans capture the House, even by a teeny tiny margin, they get all the committee chairmanships and other goodies. Committee chairs have huge power, including the ability to strongly influence legislation, determine what gets voted on and when, and issue subpoenas. Some potential chairs can't wait. Here are some House members who will get some of the power and a giant spotlight if the Republicans win.
A few top jobs are going to be competitive. One of the biggest ones is Ways and Means, which writes the nation's tax laws. Lots of folks want that plum. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Adrian Smith (R-NE), and Jason Smith (R-MO) are all in the running. Homeland Security is also going to be competitive because the current ranking member, John Katko (R-NY) is retiring. Among the contenders are Reps. Clay Higgins (R-LA), Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), and Mark Green (R-TN). (V)
Election deniers are running for secretary of state in many states. Then they can determine who won themselves and won't have to challenge the official winners since they will be the ones to determine who won. The candidates can be grouped in three rough categories:
Rick Hasen, a law professor at UCLA and leading election expert, has cautioned anyone who might not be paying attention to these candidacies. Once they win, it will be too late. The difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates is enormous in many states. The Democrats want to make it easier and more convenient to vote. The Republicans are laser-focused on "election integrity," which in practice translates into "The burden of proof that you are allowed to vote falls on you. Prove it." Most are against absentee ballots, early voting, and anything other than standing in line for hours on Election Day. (V)
Although most of our attention has been on Senate races, there are a number of high-profile gubernatorial races this year as well. One of them is in Texas, in which Bobby Kennedy wannabe Beto O'Rourke (D) is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). Texas being Texas, any Republican not under indictment has to be the favorite, and in the case of AG Ken Paxton, even Republicans who are under indictment are still the favorites.
A new Emerson College poll confirms this in the race for governor. Abbott is leading O'Rourke 50% to 42%. O'Rourke has two fundamental problems. First, there are simply more Republicans than Democrats in Texas. Second, during his ill-fated presidential campaign in 2020, he made a point of saying he was going to come for people's guns. That didn't even work in a Democratic primary, and it certainly isn't going to work in a Texas general election. O'Rourke's only real hope is that Abbott makes a serious unforced blunder, but he is a fairly cautious guy and O'Rourke can't count on that.
The poll also showed that 40% of Texas voters see the economy as the top issue and only 16% see abortion as the top issue, even though Texas has one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the county.
A much more competitive gubernatorial election is taking place in Arizona, where Katie Hobbs (D) is leading Kari Lake (R) 46% to 45%, a toss-up. After the Italian election was called for neo-fascist Georgia Meloni, Lake went on Tucker Carlson's show to her support for Meloni. She said: "If you're not being called a 'fascist' and a 'racist' then you're probably not representing the people of your country." That kind of assumes the people in your country (or state, in her case) are fascists and racists. The race between Hobbs and Lake has been close all year as this graph from FiveThirtyEight shows.
In any event, even though Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) is pulling away from Blake Masters, Hobbs and Lake are neck-and-neck. It could be that Masters is so repulsive that many Republicans have ditched him for Kelly, who is much admired for his service as a veteran and astronaut as well as being a popular, moderate senator. Hobbs is not as well known as Kelly. Or maybe Lake is not as repellent as Masters. (V)
See item above: Masters is clearly trailing Kelly. There have been seven reliable polls of the race this year, and Kelly's been up in all of them. (Z)