January 2, 2023
Members are gathering in Washington for tomorrow’s organization of the 118th Congress. The opening of a new Congress is always an exciting time, and this year is particularly interesting.
It appears that House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) still does not have the votes to become speaker when the Republicans take the majority tomorrow, although he has made significant concessions to the 15 or so far-right members who refuse to back him.
He has agreed to make it a great deal easier for members of the House to throw out the speaker, a concession that will put him at the mercy of the far right, and a concession that he vowed he would never make. He has agreed to put more of the extreme right members on committees, and he has said he will create a select committee to investigate the “weaponization of government against our citizens.”
He has agreed to cuts to the Office of Congressional Ethics and to forcing the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol to turn over all of its documents to the Committee on House Administration, rather than the National Archives, which has sparked concerns that Republican members will reveal the identities of national security personnel who testified before the committee.
And yet, it seems the more he concedes, the weaker he looks. On Saturday night, nine members of the far-right congressional delegation, many of whom are implicated in the January 6, 2021, attempt to overthrow the government, indicated his concessions were still not enough. They issued a letter with the warning: “Time to make the change or get out of the way.” The letter complained of “deficiencies” and “dysfunction” and “Republican failures” but was quite vague about what its authors wanted, except perhaps power.
Meanwhile, after it turned out that his campaign biography was entirely made up, Republican representative-elect George Santos of New York is facing investigations into his finances and his citizenship. Today, Brazilian authorities reopened fraud charges against Santos for a 2008 case in which he apparently stole checks from an elderly man. The case had been dormant because authorities had not been able to find Santos. McCarthy and other Republicans have refused to take a stand for or against Santos; his vote for speaker will be crucial. Santos has denied that he committed a crime.
“We’re supposed to be hitting the ground running here, but instead it’s just a big belly flop,” a Republican lawmaker recently told Politico. “Believe me, it’s not just members of the Freedom Caucus who are aggravated. As the days and hours trickle on, the more aggravated people become.”
As the House Republicans’ infighting threatens two chaotic years, the Democratic-controlled Senate will continue to confirm judges who reject the extremism of the Trump-era appointees, working to restore balance and representation in the judicial system. In the first two years of the Biden administration, the Senate confirmed 97 federal judges. Seventy-four have been women—more female judges than the Senate confirmed in Trump’s four years or in George W. Bush’s eight.
The Supreme Court will be harder to rebalance because of Trump’s three appointments, made possible by the refusal of then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to move forward President Barack Obama’s nominee in March 2016 with the argument that it was too close to a presidential election, and then his rushing through of Amy Coney Barrett in late October 2020 after voting in the presidential election had already started.
While the House struggles and the Senate focuses on judges, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the administration will greet 2023 by traveling around the country highlighting what the laws passed in the last two years will mean for Americans.
In that effort, they will be joined by leading Republicans, in what amounts to a rebuke of their far-right colleagues. On Wednesday, January 4, Biden will be in Kentucky with McConnell, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Governor Andy Beshear (D-KY), and Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) to talk about how the bipartisan infrastructure law is rebuilding the country, providing jobs that don’t need a four-year college degree. Harris will be in Chicago doing the same; Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will be in New London, Connecticut; then-former House speaker Nancy Pelosi will be in San Francisco.
The January 6th committee continued to release transcripts over the holiday weekend. Journalists examining those transcripts have uncovered important new information.
Among that information is that an email on January 2, 2021, from January 6 rally organizer Katrina Pierson shows that Trump’s invitation to supporters to march on the Capitol was not spontaneous; it was part of the plan. By January 2, people knew that Trump would urge his followers to march to the Capitol. To another organizer, Pierson wrote: “POTUS expectations are to have something intimate at the ellipse, and call on everyone to march to the capitol. This actually works out, because Ali [Alexander]’s group is already setting up at the Capitol, and SCOTUS is on the way.”
After the riot of January 6, Trump advisor Hope Hicks exchanged horrified texts with Julie Radford, Ivanka Trump’s chief of staff, bemoaning that the Trump family was now “royally f*cked.” “In one day, he ended every future opportunity that doesn’t include speaking engagements at the local proud boy’s chapter,” Hicks wrote, “And all of us that didn’t have jobs lined up will be perpetually unemployed…. I’m so mad and upset. We all look like domestic terrorists now.” “Not being dramatic, but we are all f*cked,” she wrote.
Conservative Atlantic columnist Tom Nichols tweeted: “Their concern for the Constitution they swore to uphold is so touching.”