October 17, 2023 (Tuesday)
This morning, the Ukrainian military launched a surprise attack on two Russian airfields in occupied Ukraine, using a longer-range missile system secretly supplied in the last few weeks by the United States. The Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, has a range of about 100 miles, or 161 kilometers. It enabled the Ukrainians to damage runways and destroy nine Russian helicopters. The missiles also killed a number of Russian soldiers. One of the conditions of Ukraine’s acquisition of these weapons was that they would only be used within Ukraine against the occupiers, not in Russia itself.
The thirty-one M1 Abrams main battle tanks the U.S. had promised Ukraine have all arrived, the U.S. confirmed today. All the Ukrainian military personnel who trained to use those tanks in Germany have also returned.
A recent Russian offensive has been largely unsuccessful, while the Ukrainian goal of dividing the Russian invaders in two (much as the U.S. did to the Confederacy) has been partially achieved but troops have not punched through. At the same time, strategic Ukrainian attacks have pushed Russia’s Black Sea fleet out of its main base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, and the Institute for the Study of War assesses that the attacks on the airfields will force Russia to pull its aircraft back and either to disperse its ammunition depots or to fortify them.
Meanwhile, the struggle in the House of Representatives today looked like a preview of the 2024 election.
Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), a staunch supporter of former president Trump and a key figure in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, is pushing hard for election as speaker, emphasizing how imperative it is for the House Republicans to enable the House to get back to business. As Karoun Demirjian outlined in the New York Times, Jordan and his allies have deployed a pressure campaign against those Republicans opposed to him, as she puts it, “working to unleash the rage of the party’s base voters against any lawmaker standing in his way.”
This is the same tactic that the extremists have used for decades to move the Republican Party to the right. But there is a different dynamic at play in this speakership crisis. Jordan and his allies created the crisis in the first place by supporting Trump’s demands to shut down the government, tossing out former speaker Kevin McCarthy because he would not agree to shut down the government, and refusing to abide by the vote of the Republican conference to accept the choice of the majority: first McCarthy and then Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA).
There is another way in which this moment is different. Jordan is a flamethrower who was one of the original organizers of the right-wing Freedom Caucus. Republicans saw McCarthy, who was an excellent fundraiser, as a pro-business Republican who worked with the far right, but Jordan is the real deal: a far-right extremist. Republican donors have already suggested they are not enthusiastic about working with him to fund Republican candidates.
The third way this moment is different is that putting Jordan in the speaker’s chair makes him, along with Trump, the face of the Republican Party going into the 2024 election. Representative Pete Aguilar (D-CA) previewed the many downsides of Jordan as speaker when he nominated Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) for the speaker’s chair. Aguilar blamed extremism and partisanship for the unprecedented chaos of the House and urged the Republicans to embrace bipartisanship to do the work the American people had sent them to Washington, D.C., to conduct.
Aguilar noted that Jordan was “the architect of a nationwide abortion ban, a vocal election denier, and an insurrection inciter.” He has “spent his entire career trying to hold our country back, putting our national security in danger, attempting government shutdown after government shutdown, wasting taxpayer dollars on baseless investigations with dead ends, authoring the very bill that would ban abortion nationwide without exceptions, and inciting violence on this chamber. Even leaders of his own party have called him ‘a legislative terrorist.’”
Aguilar pointed out Jordan’s opposition to disaster relief, veterans’ relief, support for Ukraine, and military aid to our allies, including Israel, and added: “This body is debating elevating a speaker nominee who has not passed a single bill in 16 years. These are not the actions of someone interested in governing or bettering the lives of everyday Americans.” Jordan as speaker would mean the Republican Party would “continue taking marching orders from a twice-impeached former president with more than 90 pending felony charges.”
Even without mentioning Jordan’s involvement with the cover-up of a sexual assault scandal at Ohio State, Aguilar put Republicans on notice that placing Jordan at the head of the party would have brutal consequences in Democratic campaign ads.
When House members voted for speaker, the Democrats were unified behind Jeffries, who won all 212 of their votes. Jordan won only 200 of the 217 votes necessary to become speaker, with 20 Republicans voting for someone else. His allies initially said they would call a second vote tonight but changed their minds, apparently realizing that another loss would weaken his candidacy significantly. They say they will hold another vote tomorrow.
Tonight, hundreds of people were killed in an explosion at a packed hospital in Gaza City. Palestinian authorities blamed an Israeli airstrike for the explosion; hours later, Israel Defense Forces said the explosion was a misfired missile launched as part of a “barrage of rockets” by the Islamic Jihad militant group. Neither version of events has been confirmed.
Governments around the region have blamed Israel and sometimes the U.S. for the catastrophic loss of life, and protests have broken out in Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey as President Joe Biden travels to the region personally to demonstrate U.S. support for Israel, pressure Israel to permit humanitarian aid into Gaza, learn any new information about the hostages, and to try to keep the conflict from widening and escalating.
Biden will meet in Tel Aviv, Israel, with Israeli leaders, first responders, and families of hostages, but the second leg of his trip—to Jordan, for a meeting with King Abdullah II, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—was canceled as Abbas rushed home. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters Biden would speak with Abbas and Sisi on the trip back to the U.S.